Chapter 1: This Side of Paradise
Steve sat up as his head started to clear. Beside him, Bucky was on his knees clutching his chest.
“What the hell was that?” Bucky asked. His voice sounded strange, but Steve’s ears were still ringing.
“I don’t know, but we have to get him before he uses the stone.”
Steve stood and helped Bucky to his feet. His uniform hung loosely around him, probably damaged in the attack, but there was no time to fix it right now. He picked up his shield and they ran toward the door where Loki had disappeared. A short way down the hall, they came to a large room. Loki stood in the middle surrounded by a green glow.
“Thor, Dr. Strange, we found him!” Steve reported.
Loki grinned slyly. “You’re too late.”
Steve hurled his shield at Loki, but he knocked it away with a wave of his hand. It clattered uselessly to the ground, but while Loki was distracted, Bucky rushed in to grab the gem.
“Bucky wait!” Steve cried, running after him. He grabbed Bucky’s arm as a blinding green flash enveloped them.
Bucky groaned as they woke up in an alley. He looked around at the tall brick buildings. There was something familiar about it, but it didn’t seem right. He reached over to check on Steve and froze. He rubbed his face to clear his vision, but nothing changed. The person he was looking at was Steve, he was sure of that, but his hair fell just past his shoulders in soft blond curls. He stroked Steve’s cheek. His face was slimmer and more delicate.
Steve opened his eyes and sat up holding his head. “Where are-?” He stopped, gazing at Bucky in amazement.
“What is it?” Bucky asked.
“I don’t know,” Steve said. "You look weird.”
Bucky reached up to touch his own face. The stubble was gone and his skin was soft and smooth. Steve reached up to touch Bucky’s cheek. Frowning, he unzipped Bucky’s jacket.
“You have breasts!”
Bucky looked down at his chest. Steve was right. He put a hand between his legs. “Damn it, I’m a dame!”
Steve put a hand to his own chest. “It must have been that blast Loki hit us with.”
“And where is he?” Bucky looked around the alley. “And what about the stone?”
“There’s no telling how long we were out,” Steve sighed. “For all we know they’re both long gone.”
“Where the hell are we.”
“When,” Steve corrected. “It was the time gem, remember.”
Shouting from the street drew their attention. “Quick, hide!” Bucky whispered.
They ducked behind a stack of old crates, as a small blond boy came running down the alley. He turned and put up his fists as two large boys ran in after him. Bucky felt Steve tense up and put a hand on his shoulder to hold him back.
“Nowhere else to run you little punk!” One of the boys yelled.
Young Steve didn't answer. He stood his ground, shaking like a leaf as the boys came toward him. Steve squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face against Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky kissed the top of his head, smiling.
“It’ll be ok,” he whispered. “I know where we are now.”
Another boy ran into the alley. “Hey, pick on someone your own size!”
Bucky peered out, smiling as his younger self advanced slowly toward the bullies with his fists raised.
One of the boys sneered at him. “You mean like you?”
Young Bucky’s eyes went wide as one of them picked him up and tossed him in the dumpster. Steve winced as they threw his younger self in on top of Bucky and slammed the lid. Laughter echoed through the alley as the bullies walked away. Bucky put a finger to his lips and led Steve up the fire escape to the roof of the building.
“What was that, 1928?” Steve asked, as they settled down on the roof to wait. “Why would Loki come here?”
“I think I did,” Bucky replied. “I had my hand on the stone too, remember?”
“Do you think he even came with us?” Steve asked, looking around the city.
“I don’t know,” Bucky said. “But we need to find that stone.”
“My shield!” Steve cried suddenly, running to the edge of the roof.
“You didn't have it when the gem sucked us in,” Bucky reminded him. “It's probably still in the future.”
Steve sat back down, looking at his hands. “I wonder if we still have super strength.”
Bucky gripped the railing of the fire escape and bent it slightly. “Yep.” He looked at the deformed iron. “And that’s what I’m going to do to Loki’s spine when I see him.”
“Well, first things first,” Steve said, taking off his jacket. “We need to change. We’re going to draw too much attention dressed like this.”
“We’re going to have to steal something.” Bucky said. “I left my wallet in the future.”
Steve looked guiltily at the laundry hanging on the clothes lines between the buildings.
Bucky put an arm around his waist. “Don’t worry, we’ll break into a department store. They won’t miss a few dresses.”
“I think we need more than dresses.” Steve examined his new figure, cupping his breasts curiously. “What do we do with these? They keep flopping around when I move.”
“At least yours aren’t that big.” Bucky said, squishing his against his chest. “How am I supposed to run like this?”
“I don’t think you are,” Steve replied, combing his fingers through his hair. They heard a commotion below and looked over the side to see their younger selves climbing out of the dumpster.
“That was the day we met,” Bucky remembered wistfully.
“We need to get out of Brooklyn.” Steve reached over and took his hand. “This isn't our world anymore. We have a life that we need to get back to.”
“I know,” Bucky replied, his voice trembling. Steve was right. They had to avoid interacting with their past as much as possible. If he saw his family, he knew he would never be able to tear himself away. As painful as it was, they had to let history run it’s course. “So where to?”
Steve grinned. “I was thinking Manhattan.”
It was dark when Loki awoke to the sound of water sloshing against the sides of the dock. He was surrounded by stacks of wooden boxes and coils of rope. He didn’t know where he was, but it certainly wasn’t where he had intended to go. For a moment, he considered contacting Asgard, but dismissed the idea. Even if the All Father believed his story, it was likely that he would throw him in a cell and simply wait for him to catch up to his own time. No, he had to find the stone and continue with his plan.
He looked around to see if Thor’s friends were nearby. He might need their help. The colorful one at least was noble enough to set aside his animosity for the greater good.
He saw no sign of them as he walked along the pier but he saw a group of men unloading boxes not far away.. Fixing his clothes he headed toward them. As he approached, they stopped their labors, staring at him in wonderment.
“Get a load of this guy,” one of the larger men said in a thick accent.
“Hey Ethel, you wander off from the opera?” Another one called.
“Who is your leader,” Loki demanded calmly, ignoring their taunts. “Tell him Loki of Asgard demands an audience.”
“I've had enough of this rummy,” one of the men said as he pull out a gun and fired.
The bullet grazed Loki's forehead. As the men approached, he changed it to appear that he had been shot between the eyes. If these men meant to kill him then he would let them claim victory. Playing possum, the mortals called it. It had been a mistake to confront them. Dealing with violent, primitive creatures such as these required subtler means.
One of the men lifted his body and carried it to the edge, dropping him in the river. Loki let himself float down to a quiet part of the docks before climbing out. These men were strong, but they were underlings. He needed to ally himself with their leader, but any man who could control brutes such as these should handled with caution. He would have to bide his time and plan his next move with great care. These men would kneel before him, he need only find the proper means of persuasion.
Chapter 2: Goodbye to All That
Bucky and Steve sneak into Macy's get get some clothes
Steve and Bucky waited until night before they made their way to Manhattan. They kept to the shadows and alleyways, but Bucky slipped out to swipe a few apples from a fruit stand. Steve was too hungry to say anything and ate the apple without a word as they crept through the city.
It was midnight by the time they reached Macy’s. They slipped in through a service entrance in the back. Steve looked around for a moment to be certain the building was empty before he took out his flashlight. He looked carefully at the displays as they made their way through the enormous store.
“I guess we need everything,” he said, shining a light on the list of departments beside the stairs.
“Let’s start with underwear,” Bucky suggested, squishing his breasts flat against his chest. “These things are killing me.”
Steve nodded. They climbed the stairs to the the lingerie department and Steve stared in amazement at the racks of lacy intimates. He couldn’t even begin to guess at what half of them were. He had never really paid attention to what women wore, let alone what was underneath.
“What’s a Maidenform?” he asked Bucky.
“It’s a brassiere, chuckle head,” Bucky laughed. He held one up to Steve’s chest. “This looks about right.”
Steve stripped off his shirt and slipped on the silky brassiere. He fastened the closure and adjusted the straps, trying to make it sit right. The band wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was gapping at the top.
“How is it?” Bucky asked.
“It fits here but the, um, round parts are too big. Might work on you.” He slipped it off and handed it to Bucky to try.
Bucky looked at the tag and handed him another one. “I think the cups on this one are smaller.”
Steve changed into the smaller brassiere, adjusting the shoulder straps slightly. It felt strange, but this one fit much better. “We’re going to have to get some women’s magazines and learn about this stuff.”
“I don’t plan to be here that long,” Bucky said, slipping on the brassiere. He jumped a few times to test the support. “No good. They’re still all over the place.”
Steve looked around for a minute and picked up a sturdy looking garment with laces in the back. He handed it to Bucky. “Try this one. I think it’s supposed to flatten them.”
Bucky examined it carefully and put it on. He turned around to let Steve tie the strings, grunting as Steve pulled them tight.
“How is it?” Steve asked.
Bucky bounced up and down on the balls of his feet. “A little hard to breathe, but they’re not going anywhere.”
Steve chuckled and ran his hand over a pair of flowy, lace trimmed shorts. “I guess we need some of these.”
Bucky held a pair up to test the size and slipped off his pants to try them on. “They feel nice,” he said, running his hands over the slippery fabric. “I never understood why women wore all this stuff, but this actually feels pretty good.”
Steve found a pair that weren’t quite so lacy, and slipped them on. They did feel nice, but they were so thin and loose he almost felt naked. “Let’s go look at the dresses,” he suggested, gathering up his clothes. “What do we do with our stuff?”
“We’ll get a suitcase,” Bucky said, grabbing a few extra sets of underwear. “That way it won’t look suspicious when we’re carrying everything we own.”
Steve nodded and followed him to the luggage department. They each grabbed a suitcase for their things and headed over to the dress department. Steve stopped at the first rack and picked up a short sleeved red frock. He held it out to Bucky.
“This would look good on you.”
Bucky shook his head. “I need long sleeves,” he said, holding out his metal arm. “I don’t know why he couldn’t have given me my arm back while he was at it.”
“At least it’s proportional,” Steve pointed out, pulling the red dress over his head. “You’ll have to get some gloves too I guess. Good thing it’s fall”
“I’m used to it.” Bucky said, pulling a dark blue dress over his head. He buttoned it up and smoothed it over his now curvy hips.
“It looks good.” Steve told him.
Bucky looked at himself in the mirror, running his hands over the loose dress. “I look so strange.”
Steve put a hand on Bucky’s arm and rested his chin on his shoulder. He wasn’t really sure what to make of their situation either, but Bucky seemed extremely unsettled by the whole thing. He ran a hand through Bucky’s hair. “Are you ok?”
“Should I be?” Bucky asked, still staring at his reflection. He looked at his metal hand. “I still have trouble with all of it sometimes. My memory, trying to reconcile everything that’s happened, everything I did. Some mornings I look in the mirror and I don’t recognize the man looking back at me.” He ran a hand over his face. “Now it’s not even a man.”
Steve took his shoulder and turned him away from the mirror. “Close your eyes for a minute.”
Bucky took a deep breath and shut his eyes, gripping Steve’s hand tightly. Steve leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips. “Feels the same to me.”
“Your lips are softer,” Bucky muttered.
Steve stroked his cheek. “So are yours, but the way you hold your head, the way you wrinkle your nose when you close your eyes, that’s all the same.”
“You still like me like this?” Bucky asked nervously.
Steve smiled, smoothing out the collar of the dress. “I love you Bucky, doesn’t matter if you’re wearing combat boots or high heels.”
“Would you tell me that again tomorrow?” Bucky pleaded in a tight voice. “Just in case I forget?”
“I won’t ever let you forget it again,” Steve promised, squeezing Bucky’s hand. “Now come on, we still need shoes.”
“Are you sure about these?” Bucky asked, buckling a pair of black heels. None of the choices seemed very practical, but his old boots no longer fit and they would have looked strange with the dress anyway. He took a few steps in the shoes to test them out, wobbling a bit as he walked.
Steve shrugged. “It’s what women wear.” He buckled a pair of brown leather shoes and took Bucky’s hand, twirling gracefully around the floor. “Come on, we still need makeup, and I’d like to get some sleep tonight.”
Bucky raised an eyebrow. “Makeup?”
“Not too much, but at least some lipstick and maybe a little blush.”
Bucky followed Steve over to the makeup counter. Steve plucked one of the tubes off the display and smeared it on Bucky’s lips. He took a pot of rouge and brushed it lightly on Bucky’s cheeks then handed him the mirror.
“Where did you learn that?” Bucky asked, admiring Steve’s skillful work.
“The USO,” Steve answered, brushing some powder on his own cheeks. He grabbed a few items and tossed them in the suitcase. “I know it’s a pain, but the better we blend in, the less chance Loki will recognize us. Then we can look for the gem without attracting attention.”
“What’s our plan for that anyway?” Bucky asked as they continued through the store.
Steve paused to look at a display of gloves and scarves. “Well, let’s assume the best case scenario for a minute. If Loki is in the city and doesn’t have the gem either, where would he go?”
“Home?” Bucky suggested, trying on a pair of gloves.
Steve shook his head. “I don’t know. Whatever he was planning, I doubt the other Asgardians would approve. If he’s here, he’s going to stay close and try to recover the gem.”
“What if he already has?” Bucky asked quietly.
Steve took his hand. “We’ll figure it out. If we can’t find the gem, we’ll find a way to get a message to Thor and Dr. Strange.”
Bucky yawned. “Let’s talk about this in the morning. I guess we should find somewhere to sleep.”
“We can sleep in the housewares department.” Steve suggested. “But tomorrow we need to figure out something more permanent.”
“Permanent?” Bucky asked as they headed back toward the bedding.
“We can’t live in Macy’s,” Steve insisted, grabbing a blanket off the shelf.
Bucky yawned, helping Steve spread the blanket on the floor. “Of course not, we just have to find the gem and go home.” He slipped off his shoes and lay down.
Steve lay down beside him and spread another blanket on top of them. He slipped an arm around Bucky’s waist. “We don’t know if Loki’s even here,” he said gently. “You were both touching the gem. He might have been sent somewhere else and God only knows where the gem ended up.”
“You mean, we might be stuck here? Like this?” Bucky felt his pulse rise. After 70 years under Hydra, he had finally found some peace. He had started to settle into their life together, now everything had once again been turned upside down.
Steve held him tightly. “It’s not so bad,” he whispered softly. “At least we’re together.”
Bucky laid his head on Steve’s shoulder. Steve was right. While on the run, Bucky had learned not to get attached to anything he couldn’t take with him. He had treasured his notebooks, and the few odd items he had picked up, but the only thing he really cared about was lying here beside him. He squeezed Steve’s hand tightly and drifted into a fitful sleep.
Chapter 3: A Room of One's Own
Steve and Bucky look for a job.
Bucky awoke to the sound of the door slamming. He looked up and saw the light shining through the windows.
“Steve!” he whispered.
Steve groaned but rolled back over. “Five more minutes.”
Bucky shook him. “Wake up!”
“What?” Steve muttered.
“We overslept!” he whispered. “The store is opening.”
Steve bolted up and looked around. “What time is it?”
“No idea, I forgot to steal a watch!” Bucky retorted.
He and Steve put on their shoes and put the blankets away. They crept quietly down the stairs to the back entrance. Bucky stumbled in the heels, almost falling down the stairs, but Steve caught him.
“I told you these things were a bad idea,” Bucky muttered.
“Put your weight on the balls of your feet,” Steve suggested.
Bucky held tightly to the railing as they continued down. They slipped out the back and into the city. They walked a few blocks to put some distance between them and Macy’s before ducking into an alley. Steve took off Buckys hat and smoothed out his hair.
“Can’t have my best girl walk around with bed head,” he teased.
Bucky put the hat back on. “We need to find something to eat.”
“How are we going to pay for it?” Steve asked, fixing his lipstick.
“I wasn’t planning to,” Bucky replied. “We don’t have any money.”
“I guess we need to get a job,” Steve said. “We might be here for a while and we can’t keep stealing.”
“Why not?” Bucky asked. “I did it for two years.”
Steve snapped the lid back on the lipstick and put it away. “Well for one it’s wrong,”
“Wrong?” Bucky exclaimed. “Do you remember some of the stuff we did in the war?”
“And two,” Steve continued unabated, “we have enough to worry about without hiding from the police.”
“Well we’re not getting a job before breakfast!” Bucky argued. He looked out at the people passing on the street. “Wait here.”
“Bucky!” Steve called after him. Bucky turned back and flashed Steve a grin.
He slipped around the corner and walked down the street, carefully eyeing the people around him. It was a nice area of town, and in this era, most of them wouldn’t miss a few dollars. He spotted a man in a nice suit and a fur trimmed coat. As the man passed, Bucky slipped his hand in the man’s pocket and grabbed his wallet. He went back to the alley and opened the wallet to take out the money.
“Breakfast is served!” he announce proudly.
“Can you please make that the last time you pick pocket someone?” Steve pleaded wearily.
“Depends on how long it takes us to find a job,” Bucky replied. He looked down to count the money. “Woah! There’s enough here to eat something good!”
“We need to ration that,” Steve warned.
Bucky waved the money under his face tauntingly. “After the last 24 hours don’t we deserve something nice?” he argued. “Come on, this might be our only chance to really enjoy ourselves.”
“Fine,” Steve conceded. “But after that we look for a job!”
“You're cute when you’re self righteous.” Bucky kissed him on the cheek. “Come on, I’m starving!”
After breakfast, Steve and Bucky wandered over to one of the more modest neighborhoods in Manhattan. Steve had been adamant that they needed to get a job, but he had no idea what they were actually going to do. All of their skills were better suited to jobs that no one was going to hire a woman for. Steve had suggested waitressing, but Bucky was still having trouble walking in heels. Their best option was a shop, but not many places seemed to be hiring at the moment.
They stopped at a hot dog cart for lunch and picked up a few fashion magazines from a newsstand. They strolled down the street as they ate, taking in the sights and sounds of the city.
“So I hate to bring this up now,” Bucky said. “But it’s past noon and we have nothing. We’re going to have to start looking for somewhere to sleep in the next few hours. Even if we find a job this afternoon, we won’t have a paycheck for a few days.”
Steve sighed. Bucky was right. “How much money do we have left?”
“Enough to get a hotel room for a few nights,” Bucky said. “I’m assuming you don’t want to break into a department store again.
“Not if we can help it.” Steve tossed the hotdog wrapper away and caught a glimpse of a sign in a shop across the street. “Look!”
Bucky looked at him uncertainly. “A dress shop? Steve, we don’t know the first thing about clothes.”
Steve grabbed Bucky’s hand and pulled him over to the shop. “I went to art school and you spent half your life chasing girls! We’ll be fine.”
They went in and looked around. The owner was busy helping a customer. While they were waiting, a lady came out of the dressing room in a frilly orange dress.
“Excuse me, could you button this for me?” she asked Steve.
“You don’t want that,” Bucky cut in. “The color doesn’t really suit you.” He looked through the racks quickly and pulled out a green dress. “This goes better with your complexion.”
“Oh, thank you.” She took it back to try on.
Steve smirked. “Don’t know anything about dresses?”
“I know what looks good,” Bucky muttered.
The owner finished with her customer and eyed them curiously. “Can I help you ladies?”
Steve smiled. “Yes ma’am, we saw the sign in the window and we wanted to ask about a job.”
“Oh thank the Lord!” the woman gushed. “I just had two girls quit on me out of the blue and I’m all alone here! When can you start?”
“Don’t you want to interview us first?” Steve asked cautiously.
“No need! I was watching you over there with Mrs.McMillan.” She leaned in to whisper to Bucky. “You have a very good eye. She looks stunning in green but she never seems to remember.”
“We can start right away.” Bucky told her.
The woman looked at their suitcases. “And where are you staying?”
“No where yet.” Steve told her. “We just got off the train.”
The woman clapped her hands together gleefully. “What a happy coincidence! I have a room above the shop that I rent out and it happens to be empty right now. You can take that if you’d like, I’ll give you a week free to let you get settled.”
“That would be wonderful.” Steve said, a wave of relief crashing over him.
The women held out her hand. “I’m Mary O’Sullivan. And you are?”
Steve felt his breath catch. They had never discussed what they were going to call themselves. He looked to Bucky for help.
“Daisy,” Bucky answered, shaking her hand. “Daisy Buchanan, and this is my friend Stella Grant.”
“A pleasure. You can start tomorrow. She handed them a key. “You can go on up, and I’ll come show you around just as soon as I finish with Mrs. McMillan.”
“Thank you!” Steve said, taking the key. They headed back to the apartment.
“Daisy Buchanan?” Steve asked, closing the door to the small apartment. “Isn't that from the Great Gatsby?”
“Is it?” Bucky asked, looking around the room. “Did that come out yet?”
“1922,” Steve told him.
Bucky paused, frowning in concentration.. “Did I read it?”
“Several times,” Steve reminded him. “And I showed you the movies, both versions. You weren’t a fan of Robert Redford for some reason.”
Bucky sighed, testing the faucet. “Well it’s too late now.” He took off his hat and sat down on the bed. “I guess this is real.”
Steve sat down beside him and took his hand. “Yeah, this is real, but we’re going to find that stone. And in the meantime, we should try to have a little fun.”
“Fun?” Bucky asked, looking at him strangely.
“Come on, we’re in the 20’s!” Steve said.
“Who are you and what did you do with Steve Rogers?”
Steve threw his arms around Bucky’s neck. “I’m Stella Grant, and you’re Daisy Buchanan. So let’s paint the town red!”
Bucky smirked and curled a strand of Steve’s hair around his finger. “Let’s read some of these magazines first and figure out what to do with this.”
Steve pushed him away playfully. “Jerk!”
“Punk,” Bucky chuckled.
Loki looked around the club as the men reached for their weapons. He had followed the men from last night to their stronghold, but their leader did not seem any more reasonable than his henchmen. He had forgotten how brutish humans could be.
“Listen here, you dego bastard, this is our turf,” the leader growled. “Get out or I’ll have my boys take you out.”
Loki held up his hand and stepped back. “I apologize for the intrusion. It seems I’ve made a mistake. May I at least stay for a drink?”
“As long as your money’s green,” the boss laughed condescendingly, waving his henchmen down. Loki nodded deferentially and headed to the bar. He took what was handed him and sat quietly, watching the boss.
The man was a manipulator. He hid behind a legion of thugs, never putting himself in harm’s way, but commanding immense authority nonetheless. Loki could certainly admire that, but there was still the matter of how to gain his trust. If he hoped to recover the gem he would need to ally himself with a powerful faction in the city, but as it stood, he had nothing to offer. These men knew nothing of him and they were fiercely defensive of their position. He would need to work his way into their confidence if he hoped to enlist their help.
As Loki watched, he saw a slender woman in a sparkling dress approach the boss. The boss seemed happy to see her and even invited her to sit on his lap. She played with his tie as he continued his business. Loki reasoned that she must be his consort. She occasionally whispered in his ear and he seemed pleased with her counsel. She lacked the bearing of a queen, but she commanded influence all the same. Loki smiled and finished his drink. This was his way into their world.
He paid the bartender and slipped into the women’s powder room. He watched in the mirror as his visage changed to a slender feminine look. He smoothed his wavy curls against his head and grinned.
“That should do.”
Chapter 4: The Age of Innocence
Bucky and Steve settle into their new life.
Bucky and Steve headed down to the shop bright and early the next morning. They had spent the night studying fashion magazines and practicing their hair and makeup. Being a woman was a lot more complicated than Bucky had realized, but as long as they paid attention, he was confident they could manage without too much trouble. He listened carefully as Mrs. O'Sullivan explained their duties.
"Mostly you'll just be helping me keep the shop tidy," she said as she led them through the back room. "Picking up after customers, restocking items, running errands, that sort of thing. Do you know how to use a cash register?"
"I've used one before," Steve said, "I don't imagine it's much different."
She nodded. "I assume you can sew."
"A little. I can mend things," Bucky replied.
Mrs. O'Sullivan nodded. "That'll be fine for now. We'll work on bringing your sewing skills up to scratch. Most of the customers just need small repairs, fixing buttons or beads, and I can handle the alterations. "
"Yes ma'am," Steve replied.
"One more thing," Mrs. O'Sullivan said. "If anyone comes in asking about a delivery, let me know and I'll take care of it. I'm very particular about how that's done."
Something in her tone piqued Bucky's interest, but he let it slide. They needed to focus on the job. "Yes, ma'am."
Mrs. O'Sullivan clapped her hands together. "Well, let's get started. Daisy, would you like to take off your gloves?"
"No, ma'am," Bucky fumbled. He felt his chest tighten as he tried to think of an explanation, but his mind was blank.
"At our last job she had an accident," Steve cut in. "Burned her arm pretty badly."
"Oh you poor thing," Mrs. O'Sullivan cooed with a pitying look. "Well, you girls can start by tidying up the back room, then I'll show you how to work the register. I'll be out front if you need anything."
She handed Steve the broom and headed to the front of the store. Bucky leaned against a shelf to catch his breath. Steve ran over and took his hand, holding it tightly. Bucky felt his pulse slow as Steve gently rubbed his arm.
"Thanks," he mumbled. "I froze up there for a moment."
Steve smoothed his hair gently. "We'll get the hang of this."
Bucky closed his eyes and leaned into Steve's touch. He reminded himself that no one had any reason to suspect the truth about them. He took a deep breath and smiled at Steve. "I'm ok."
Steve kissed him on the cheek and took the broom. "Well, this room isn't going to clean itself."
Bucky nodded and began straightening up the shelves while Steve swept. After that, the day passed by quickly. The store was popular and they had a steady stream of customers to keep them busy. Even so, it was almost relaxing compared to their usual life. There was no danger of him being recognized or arrested. As far as anyone was concerned, they were just a couple of shop girls, hardly worth looking twice at. For the first time in decades, he was able to simply relax and focus on what was in front of him.
Before they knew it, the day was over. They helped Mrs. O'Sullivan close up the shop and went to the diner down the street. They found a quiet booth in the corner and each ordered a cup of coffee. The waitress went to get the drinks while they looked over the menu. Steve ordered soup and a sandwich, while Bucky ordered the meatloaf. Bucky leaned back against the seat and rubbed his neck with his metal hand.
"Now that we have a job and a place to live, we need to start looking for that gem."
"How?" Steve asked, sipping his coffee. "It could be anywhere. We can't just go running around New York looking in random alleys."
Bucky tapped his fingers on the table. "I don't know, but if Loki finds it before we do, we'll be stranded here."
Steve frowned in concentration. "Maybe not."
"What do you mean?"
"We can send a message to Thor and Dr. Strange," Steve suggested.
Bucky leaned forward looking curiously at Steve.
"I saw this in a movie," Steve explained. "We write a letter and find a way to make sure it gets delivered around the time we left."
"Let's say that works," Bucky pressed. "How can they help us without the stone?"
Steve paused as the waitress returned with their food. "We still need to tell them. For all we know the stone is still there."
"Well it can't hurt to try," Bucky said, cutting off a chunk of meatloaf.
Steve reached across the table to take his hand. "I'm going to get us home."
Steve smiled reassuringly, but there was a hint of uncertainty in his eyes. He was trying to be strong for Bucky's sake, but he was afraid. Bucky needed to lean on Steve right now, but he had to be ready when that pillar of strength began to crumble. Steve was the strongest person he had ever known, but when he fell to pieces, he fell twice as hard.
"I know you will," Bucky replied. He gave Steve's hand a quick squeeze and turned his attention to his meatloaf.
They finished their dinner and walked home through the cool autumn night. They changed and climbed into the small bed. Steve was asleep in minutes, but Bucky's mind was still racing. He gently lifted Steve's arm off him and went to sit in front of the vanity, studying the lines of his face in the moonlight. It was a familiar face, not unlike his sister's, but it wasn't his. When he closed his eyes and pictured himself, he still saw a handsome, innocent young man getting ready for a date, but that man was so long dead he might as well have never existed. He ran his fingertips over his cheekbone. The eyes were the same, but everything else had vanished.
"Bucky?" Steve muttered.
Bucky spun around to see Steve sitting up in bed.
"Did I wake you?"
"No, but you need to sleep," he beckoned Bucky to come back. "It's cold."
Bucky listened carefully to Steve's voice. The pitch was higher, but it was still him. Nothing had changed between them. Steve still looked at him the way he always had. Bucky went back and climbed under the covers. Steve snuggled in close and laid his head on Bucky's chest.
"You know," he muttered. "Even with breasts, your heartbeat sounds the same."
Bucky smiled and put his arm around Steve as they drifted off to sleep.
Loki's voice echoed through the empty club as he strutted around the stage. He had spent the last few days carefully studying the minstrels that the establishment employed, as well as the reactions of the club's patrons. He had to confess that their style of dancing was quite alluring. From the little he knew of this society, he had gathered that women wielded very little direct influence, yet select women of great beauty or talent seemed to possess almost unlimited control over their admirers. They were showered with gifts of beautiful flowers, rich garments, and jewels. If he could gain the favor of such men, he could use his influence to find the gem and live in comfort while he was waiting.
Loki finished his song and held his pose for a moment before slowly lowering his head to look at the boss with a coy smile.
"Well, how'd I do?" he asked in a demure voice.
"Beautiful," the man said, leering at Loki's figure. "What's your name doll?"
"Lola," he cooed. "Lola Jotun."
The boss grinned, only half listening as he stared at Loki's breasts. "Well, what's in a name? You're gonna be a star."
"If you want me to be." Loki descended the stairs to sit on the table in front of the man. "As long as you're happy, that's all that matters."
The boss put his hand on Loki's knee and edged his fingers under the hem of his dress. "There's one thing that would make me very happy."
Loki reached out to tickle the man under his chin. This was working better than he had hoped. "Whatever you want, boss."
After a few days at the shop, Steve and Bucky had settled into their new routine. The shop was popular, but they had caught on quickly. Mrs. O'Sullivan was teaching them to sew and they were finally getting the hang of styling their hair. Bucky still seemed a bit on edge, but he began to relax as the week wore on. From time to time he even seemed happy. Mrs. O'Sullivan had a radio in the store which she played to entertain the customers while they shopped. Steve found the selection a little dull, but Bucky seemed to enjoy it. Once, Steve actually caught Bucky waltzing around the store with a dress in his arms. Steve smiled, but went about his work and left Bucky to his dance. Until they found the gem, they should just relax and enjoy themselves a bit.
For the most part their lives were rather mundane, but Steve had noticed a few odd things happening at the shop. Every afternoon around the same time, a man would show up asking for Mrs. O'Sullivan. She would give Bucky and Steve some task to do in the front of the store and show him to the back. They were never gone for more than a few minutes and always spoke in a low whisper that Steve was unable to make out. The man would usually leave with a small package and Mrs. O'Sullivan would go about her work like the encounter had never happened. There was something odd about it, but Steve had been the one to insist that they should be careful about interfering in the past. Beyond maintaining their cover, whatever was going on in the shop was none of their concern.
Finally the end of the week came. After closing up the shop, Mrs. O'Sullivan opened the safe and counted out their pay.
"Good work this week ladies," she said, handing them each a small stack of bills.
"Thank you again for the opportunity," Steve said. "It was such a relief to find something like this so quickly."
"You've been an enormous help!" Mrs. O'Sullivan exclaimed, locking up the safe. "Now, I know you girls are new in town so I assume you don't have any plans for tonight."
Steve shook his head. "Just reading a book."
Mrs. O'Sullivan flashed them a sly grin. "I happen to know quite a few young men you might like. Should I set you up?"
Steve looked at Bucky. He didn't want to insult their employer, but he wasn't sure going on a date was a good idea.
"That sounds swell," Bucky cut in.
Steve sighed. In this time, getting set up was probably inevitable. Making a fuss about it would only draw unwanted attention.
"Wonderful," Mrs. O'Sullivan said. She eyed them carefully. "You might need something a bit nicer."
"We don't really have anything," Bucky confessed.
Mrs. O'Sullivan studied them for a minute and turned to the racks of dresses. She handed Steve a lace trimmed blue dress and gave Bucky a black one with elbow length sleeves and a pair of long gloves. Both were exquisitely embellished with beads and fringe. "I think these will suit you."
Steve gaped at the dress in disbelief. He didn't need to look at the tag to know it cost more than their weekly pay. "We couldn't possibly."
"Nonsense!" Mrs. O'Sullivan insisted, pressing the dress into Steve's hand. "These are from the new line and you're going to model them for me. Just be sure everyone knows where they're from!"
"Thank you," Bucky said, running his fingers through the fringe.
"Off with you now!" Mrs. O'Sullivan said, shooing them toward the door. "I expect you to look your best! I don't play matchmaker for just anyone you know!"
"Thank you ma'am!" Steve called as they hurried up to the room to get ready.
"Well, I guess we have a blind date in an hour." Steve muttered, hanging the dress on the wardrobe door.
Bucky held his dress up and looked at his reflection. "Reminds me of high school," he said, twirling a bit to make the fringe sway. "Except I don't have to pay for dinner."
"We probably shouldn't make a habit of this," Steve cautioned. He slipped off his day dress and went to wash his face.
"You're the one who said we should have some fun while we're here," Bucky reminded him.
Steve sighed and dried off his face. He had always hated dating. He had usually ended up sitting across the table from a total stranger watching Bucky flirt with whatever ditz he'd picked up at the drugstore. It wasn't an experience he was keen to relive. "Going on a blind date wasn't really what I had in mind."
Bucky frowned. "Come to think of it, I'm not really sure how we're supposed to act now that we're dames."
"Well for starters, I never heard women refer to themselves as 'dames'," Steve said, sitting down on the bed to brush his hair.
"Do those magazines have anything?" Bucky asked, hanging up his day dress.
Steve set the brush down and flipped through Cosmopolitan. He came across an article about how to attract a man and skimmed through it. "Wow, this is terrible advice," he said tossing the magazine aside. "They could have saved a page and just said don't speak unless spoken too. You dated a lot, what were you looking for?"
"Nothing really. I was just having fun." Bucky replied, picking up the magazine. "They can't be serious!"
"Well, no one said we had to follow any of that," Steve pointed out, pinning his hair back into place. "We don't want them to be too interested."
"Good point," Bucky laughed, adjusting his brassiere.
Steve stood and went to put his arms around Bucky, kissing him softly on the cheek. "Just remember you're mine."
"I know," Bucky smiled and put a hand on his cheek, giving him a slow affectionate kiss. "Don't ever let me forget again."
Steve reached up a combed his fingers through Bucky's hair. "Come on. If you insist on doing this, we need to hurry up and get ready. I don't want a lecture from Mrs. O'Sullivan on Monday about punctuality."
Bucky chuckled and sat down at the vanity to fix his make up. "Actually this says we should make them wait or they'll think we're easy."
"Not too long," Steve argued, slipping the blue gown over his head. "I'm starving!"
Bucky laughed as he fixed his hair. Steve looked through his things for a pair of gloves to go with the dress. At least this would help them stretch their food budget for the week. He just hoped he didn't have to dance.
Thanks for reading! Please take a minute and review! I know the story is a little slow at the moment but it will start to pick up very soon.
A quick note about Bucky and Steve's names. This story is based on a 1920's Genderbent Marvel cosplay I'm doing with some friends. My friend's concept for Bucky was a mash-up with the Great Gatsby character Daisy Buchanan. James Buchanan Barnes + Daisy Buchanan = Daisy Buchanan Barnes. I decided to just go with Daisy Buchanan for this story. Steve's name Stella was suggested by a reader. I was going to call him Sarah (his mother's name), but Stella had more pop to it. Grant is his middle name.
Chapter 5: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Bucky and Steve go on their first date as women.
Bucky had just finished putting on his gloves when there was a knock on the door. He smoothed his hair and opened it to find were two men standing there with flowers. One of them had bright red hair and happy green eyes. The other had a sullen look and dark blonde hair. Both were tall, solidly built, and dressed in well cut suits.
“Daisy and Stella?” the redhead asked.
Bucky took the flowers. “Yes, I’m Daisy, and this is Stella.”
“I’m Butch and this is Conner. Are you ready to go?”
“We’ll just be another minute if you want to wait for us downstairs,” Bucky said. Butch winked at him and headed down. Bucky closed the door and turned to Steve. “Which one do you want?”
“Does it matter?” Steve asked, putting on his coat.
“Well if we’re going to do this, we might as well have some fun with it. It’s been forever since I went dancing.”
“Then you can have Butch and I’ll take the other one,” Steve muttered. “He doesn’t look like much of a conversationalist”
“His name is Conner.” Bucky took Steve’s hand. “Can you at least give them a chance?”
“Why?” Steve asked. “If they like us, they’ll just ask us out again.”
Bucky let out an exasperated sigh. “No one said you had to kiss him. Just don’t sit there sulking all night.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Fine, but if he lays a hand on me, I’m breaking it.”
Bucky put the flowers in some water and they headed down to meet their dates. Butch whistled, looking Bucky up and down as he descended the stairs.
“That old broad knows how to pick ‘em,” he whispered to Conner.
“You girls like Chinese?” Conner asked dutifully.
“Never had it,” Bucky lied. “Sounds swell.”
Butch offered Bucky his arm. “There’s a few things you should stay away from, but it’s pretty good.”
Butch and Conner led them to the street and hailed a cab. Butch told the driver to head for Chinatown. They stopped in front of an expensive looking restaurant. Conner paid the fare and they headed inside. Bucky made a show of marveling at the elaborate decor, though he was actually quite impressed by the place. He wondered what sort of connections Mrs. O’Sullivan had if she managed to dredge these two up with an hours notice. A hostess in a tight red silk dress led them to a table. Bucky reached for his chair but Butch darted ahead and pulled it out for him. Bucky smiled and sat down, silently berating himself for that slip as they looked at the menu.
“What do you recommend?” he asked Butch.
“Well let’s start with some egg rolls for the table.” Butch called the waitress over and said a few words in Chinese. He looked back at the menu. “Should I order for you?”
Bucky looked at him for a minute but remembered that he used to do that for his dates as well. He smiled and handed the menu to Butch. “Please.”
The egg rolls came and Butch said a few words to the waitress that Bucky couldn’t make out. His Chinese was limited to tactical situations, so he had no idea what he was going to be eating. Conner ordered for Steve who grudgingly allowed it. Bucky nibbled at the eggroll trying to remember how the girls he had dated had acted. Butch hadn’t seemed to notice his slip with the chair but he didn’t want to make anymore errors.
They chatted about the decor while they waited for the food. Butch was charming and far more well spoken that Bucky had originally assumed. Conner was a bit aloof. Steve didn’t seem to mind, but Butch kept glaring at him.
“So you can speak Chinese?” Bucky asked, trying to find a safe topic of conversation.
Butch chuckled. “Just enough to get me in trouble!”
“We work in the import business,” Conner explained. “We’ve picked up enough to get by.”
“That’s impressive,” Bucky said. Steve rolled his eyes and sipped his tea. Bucky nudged him in the leg under the table and continued. “Have you ever been to China?”
“I’ve never been out of the city!” Butch told him. “Wouldn’t that be something though.”
Bucky tried to think of a response, but he was saved by the timely arrival of their meal. He looked curiously at his plate. “So what did I get?”
“If I tell you I’m not sure you’ll want to eat it,” Butch confessed, picking up a chunk of something from Bucky’s plate with his chopsticks. “I promise it’s good.”
He leaned over and held the chopsticks a few inches from Bucky’s lips. Bucky looked at him for a moment before he realized he was supposed to eat it. He leaned in and closed his lips around the small morsel, hoping Butch would assume his hesitation was about the food. He chewed slowly, as a memory of himself doing almost the same thing with Eunice Fisher flashed through his head. It was awkward to be on the other side, but the food was good.
“You’re right. It’s delicious,”
The rest of the meal went smoothly. Bucky tried not to say too much for fear of slipping up, but he managed to keep Butch’s attention. Conner was quiet, occasionally asking Steve a question which Steve would answer politely, but briefly. Then the two would fall back into awkward silence as they ate.
The meal ended and Butch called for the check. Bucky remembered not to pay and excused himself to go powder his nose. He took Steve with him to be sure that he couldn’t stir up trouble. They took a moment to check their hair and headed back out. Butch suggested they walk a few blocks before getting a cab to work off the meal. Bucky’s shoes were starting to hurt a bit, but a short walk did sound appealing. They strolled along, looking in the shop windows as they passed. After a few blocks, Conner hailed a cab and they headed back towards their apartment. Bucky was starting to think the night was over, but Butch told the driver to stop in front of a hardware store.
Bucky got out of the cab with Steve behind him and looked around. The street was lined with shops and while a few of the upper floors had lights on, the area was relatively deserted. He reached for his gun before remembering that he wasn’t carrying one.
“Where are we?” Steve asked.
His stance was defensive as though he expected trouble. Bucky moved to stand back to back with him. If they had to subdue Butch and Conner it was unlikely anyone would see. There was an alley not far away where they could hide the bodies if necessary.
Conner grinned. “I promise it’s nicer than it looks.”
Butch and Conner led them down the alley. Bucky gripped his handbag so that the metal clasp faced out, ready to strike. Butch knocked on a heavy metal door. A small slot opened and he said a few words to the man inside. The door swung open and Butch led them down a drab hallway to another door. He knocked again and it opened into a lavishly furnished night club. The walls were covered in rich fabrics, and ornate chandeliers hung from the ceiling. A band was playing and people were dancing in front of the stage. A maitre d’ came over to greet them.
“Mr. Daly, Mr. Flynn. Right this way.”
Bucky almost laughed, dropping his guard. “I think we’re at a speakeasy,” he whispered as the waiter led them to their table. To his surprise, Steve seemed to perk up.
“I always wondered what these things were like,” he mumbled, looking around at the lavish decor.
Bucky reached for his own chair but remembered himself and let Butch pull it out for him. “Thank you,” he said, sinking gracefully into the plush seat
“You girls drink?” he asked.
“Always wanted to try.” Bucky replied with a smile.
“Whiskey.” Butch told the man. He nodded and retreated toward the bar.
“Do you come here often?” Steve asked.
“Often enough,” Conner replied. “This your first time at a gin joint?”
“Never really knew where to find one,” Bucky said. His father had let it slip once that he’d frequented a couple, but Prohibition had been repealed long before Bucky had been old enough to drink.
The waiter returned and set their glasses on the table. Bucky took a sip and made a show of grimacing. Steve rolled his eyes and drank his in one swallow, setting the glass on the waiter’s tray.
“Can I get another?”
Conner followed suit and ordered another drink as well, eyeing Steve with renewed appreciation. Steve flashed him a thin, disinterested smile and turned his attention to the band. Butch laughed and turned to Bucky.
“She’s something else.”
“She sure is,” Bucky muttered, glaring at Steve. “Excuse me, I need to powder my nose. Come on, Stella.”
“Did you forget how to apply lipstick?” Steve asked.
Bucky scowled and grabbed Steve’s arm, dragging him off to the powder room. He closed the door and turned to Steve. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Drinking,” Steve replied. “I’m kind of curious if this affects my tolerance.”
“You’re acting like a man!” Bucky whispered. “You need to be more lady like!”
“Buc-” Steve caught himself and looked around. “Daisy, I don’t want him to like me!”
“Well you don’t have to be a pill!” Bucky sighed. “You’re the one who said we need to blend in until we figure things out.”
“Blend away!” Steve huffed.
“God I forgot how terrible you were on dates,” Bucky grumbled.
Steve glared at him and adjusted a few of the pins in his hair. Bucky touched up his lipstick and snapped it closed.
“Look, I get the feeling Mrs. O’Sullivan’s going to keep setting us up until we find someone we like, and we could do a lot worse.” He glanced at the door. “These guys seem decent.”
Steve just scowled and finished fixing his hair. They headed back out to the table. Bucky sat down and sipped his drink as they listened to the band. The music changed and Butch turned to him, holding out his hand.
“Care to dance?”
“It’s been a while,” Bucky confessed.
“Just follow me.”
Butch led Bucky off to the floor. He put his hand on Bucky’s hip and took his right hand. He led off, but Bucky stepped forward at the same time and tripped, falling forward into Butch’s arms.
“You weren’t kidding!”
“I used to practice with my sister and she always made me lead.” Bucky said sheepishly.
Butch grinned. “I like a woman who knows how to take charge, but I also like my feet.” He fixed his grip. “Just relax and go where you feel me lead you.”
Bucky nodded and let himself sway as Butch gently guided him. After a few songs he had the hang of it.
“You’re pretty good at this,” Butch said as the song changed.
“I guess you never really forget,” Bucky said. “You’re not so bad yourself. Did you learn that in the import business too?”
Butch laughed. “Well it helps, but my Gran taught me. She always said dancing was a way to a girl’s heart.”
He took Bucky’s hand for the next dance. Bucky smiled at him, letting himself fall into the rhythm as they glided across the floor.
Steve sat at the table watching Bucky and Butch dance. Strangely, Conner seemed to have taken a sudden interest in him. Steve had been polite, but he had tried not to encourage the man. He had expected Conner to be put off by his behavior, but it seemed the less feminine he behaved, the more Conner started to like him. The waiter brought another glass of whiskey.
“Just save yourself a trip and bring the bottle,” Conner told him. “The Irish stuff you keep in the back, not this Canadian rot gut.” He held out his glass to toast Steve as the waiter retreated.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” Steve asked.
Conner smiled and tossed back his drink. “Trying to see if I can! The only other woman I ever knew that could down a glass of whiskey like that was my Mum, and she could out drink any man I ever met.”
Steve suppressed a groan. He should have listened to Bucky and tried to act more dainty. “So are you from Manhattan?”
“Ireland,” Conner told him. “Though I was so young when I left I barely remember it. My Dad always talked about it like it was heaven on earth, but if it was that great, why did we leave?”
Steve couldn’t help but smile at that. “Did he not like New York?”
“Never got a chance to ask him,” Conner replied. He looked at his glass. “The war came and the worthless bum signed right up. Didn’t even wait to be drafted.” Conner took a deep breath and finished his whiskey. “Died in the trenches.”
Steve looked at his glass, feeling a pang of sympathy for Conner. “I lost my Dad in the war too. Mustard gas.”
Conner winced. “My friend’s brother got a lung full of that. Came home, but he didn’t last long.”
Before Steve could think of something to say, the waiter came back with the bottle and two clean glasses. Conner smiled and poured them each a glass.
“Here’s to the living,” he said, holding up his glass. “And while I’m impressed that you can drink so fast, you really should slow down and taste this.”
Steve took a small sip as the song ended. The band took a break and Bucky and Butch returned to the table, saving Steve from an entire conversation about the merits of Irish whiskey. As they took their seats, a pianist and a singer came onto the stage.
Steve looked at the woman. She wore a green velvet dress with gold lace and a black beaded necklace. Her black hair was crimped into waves and covered with a gold and green beaded headband. There was something familiar about her. He couldn’t quite figure out what, but he felt like he knew her from somewhere. The pianist played a few bars and the woman began to sing, her velvety voice filling the room. Even Steve found himself drawn in by her smouldering gaze. The place was completely silent, every eye and ear fixed on the singer as the beguiling melody floated through the club.
The last note hung in the air as the song ended, releasing the crowd from the singer’s spell. The woman stood there for a moment as the room seemed to find it’s breath again. The band leader walked back out as she bowed.
“Big round of applause for our newest singer, Lola Jotun!”
Steve felt the blood drain from his face as the crowd burst into applause. He looked over at Bucky who was staring at the woman in amazement. He slammed back his drink and and grabbed Bucky’s hand.
“Excuse us!” he said quickly, leading Bucky to the powder room. He closed the door and turned to Bucky. “That was Loki!”
Bucky took Steve’s hand. “Are you sure?”
Steve shook his head. “Lola Jotun. Loki is a frost giant from Jotunheim. Using a name like that is just his style of arrogance. He doesn’t think anyone is clever enough to figure it out.”
Bucky nodded, frowning in thought. “If he's here, he doesn't have the gem.”
Steve nodded slowly. Bucky was right. Loki was in the same situation they were. “Well now we know where he is. We just need to keep an eye on him.”
Bucky reached up to brush a strand of hair out of Steve’s face. “You know what we have to do, right?”
Steve glanced at the door and sighed. “I guess we could do worse.”
Bucky kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Don’t worry, you’re still my best girl.”
Steve sighed and turned to fix his hair. Butch and Conner were their way into the club. If they wanted to stay close to Loki, he was going to have to start flirting a bit. They headed back to the table. Steve smiled at Conner as he sat down.
“Everything ok?” Butch asked.
“Just fine!” Bucky chirped. “Stella had a problem with her hair.”
“Looks fine to me,” Conner said. He stood up and held out his hand. “Care to dance?”
“I don’t know how,” Steve replied. Bucky cleared his throat, glaring sharply at Steve. Gritting his teeth, Steve smiled and took Conner’s hand. “But maybe you can teach me”:”
“It’ll be my pleasure,” Conner said, leading him off to the floor.
Loki returned to his dressing room and sat down in front of the mirror. He closed his eyes for a moment and let the thrill of victory wash over him. The entire room and been utterly enthralled by his little act. He would have the gem in no time. Until then, he would enjoy basking in the admiration of these mortals. These men were so easily swayed, so convinced of their own superiority that they failed to realize when they were being manipulated. Loki laughed and looked in the mirror to touch up his rouge. Let them think he was their servant for now. The look of surprise in their eyes when they realized they had never been in control would make his victory all the more satisfying.
The door opened behind him and the boss entered. Loki kept his eyes on his reflection, pretending not to notice. He had discovered that these men found it enticing to be ignored briefly. They seemed to enjoy the thrill of the hunt.
The boss set a small box on the vanity and kissed Loki’s neck. “You were great tonight!”
Loki smiled coyly and opened the box. “It's gorgeous,” he cooed, trying to mask his disappointment. “But I should tell you I'm more partial to emeralds
The boss took his hand and kissed it. “My baby wants emeralds, my baby gets emeralds. I'll get you the biggest emerald in the city!”
“I'm sure you could,” Loki purred, tracing a finger along the boss’ jaw, “but I have something very specific in mind.”
“Whatever you want baby. Just keep knocking ‘em dead out there.”
Loki flashed him a coy smile and pulled his hair aside. “I might as well wear the ruby since you were so thoughtful. Would you put it on for me?”
He watched in the mirror as the boss fastened the gaudy bauble around his neck. He hadn't expected the man to get it right on the first try, but at least he knew his plan would work. Beside which, these sorts of trinkets were signs of wealth and power in this realm. Possessing something like this would at least let others know he was to be respected.
Loki touched his fingers to the gem and turned to the boss. “It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t really go with this dress.” He slipped his fingers under the strap and pushed it off his shoulder. “I guess one of them will have to go.”
He watched in amusement as the boss’ eyes lit up. Controlling these men was almost too easy.
Thanks for reading! I hope you're enjoying the story so far. Review and let me know what you think.
Chapter 6: Main Street
Bucky and Steve head to Brooklyn to search for the time gem.
Bucky awoke shivering. He felt around and realized that once again Steve had pulled all the covers over to his side of the bed. Bucky grabbed the edge and yanked at them, but Steve had a death grip on the blanket. He slugged Steve in the arm. Steve jerked awake, releasing the blanket long enough for Bucky to pull it away.
"Didn't your mom ever tell you not to hit a girl!" Steve grumbled, rubbing his arm.
"I don't think that matters when we're both girls," Bucky muttered. "You were hogging the blankets again!"
Steve yawned and rearranged the covers. He slid closer, hugging Bucky tightly. "Better?"
"Better," Bucky said, running his fingers through Steve's hair. "Since you're up, I had an idea about the gem."
"Can we talk about this in the morning?" Steve mumbled, laying his head on Bucky's shoulder.
"I was just thinking, what if the gem didn't move?"
Steve lifted his head sleepily. "What?"
"We have no idea where Loki ended up, but that warehouse was right on the East River. We ended up back in our old neighborhood and Loki wound up somewhere in Manhattan. What if we were all thrown away from the gem and it didn't move?"
Steve gave him a quick kiss. "Bucky you're a genius!"
"It's just a theory, but we can go out to Brooklyn tomorrow and check."
"At least it gives us somewhere to start."
"We'll find it," Bucky assured him, "even if we have to search every dumpster in New York."
Steve settled his head back on Bucky's shoulder. "I'm sorry if I ruined the evening."
Bucky laughed. "It wasn't that bad. I think Conner actually liked you."
"He was nice," Steve admitted. "And the club was fun, I just hate sitting there making small talk with a complete stranger."
"Well next time he won't be a stranger," Bucky said, stroking Steve's hair.
"And what did you think of Butch?" Steve asked hesitantly.
"If you're worried I'm going to leave you for him-"
"Of course not," Steve cut in. "But I'm worried about you. You still don't always remember who you are right away. If we have to be Daisy and Stella too long," he took a breath and squeezed Bucky's hand. "I can't shake this feeling that I might lose you again."
Bucky put an arm around Steve's shoulders. "This isn't Hydra, and all it took was one look at you to break through that. As long as I have you here to remind me who I am, I'll always come back."
"I love you," Steve whispered.
"I love you too," Bucky whispered back. He closed his eyes, listening to the rhythm of Steve's breath as he drifted back to sleep.
The next morning, Bucky and Steve took the train out to Brooklyn to look for the gem. Steve was confident he could find the location of their fight, but 90 years earlier, there was no telling what stood there. He just hope that no one had disturbed the gem. There were far worse things that could happen than them being stranded here if someone managed to used the gem.
They got off at the first stop and headed for the river. As they walked along, Steve noticed Bucky reach for where his knife was usually strapped to his thigh. The area didn't feel dangerous to him, but that instinct was hard to suppress. He wondered if it might be a good idea to find a way to carry some of their weapons. They could easily defend themselves unarmed, but it might help Bucky feel more like himself. The dresses were loose enough to easily conceal a small knife and he was certain that some of the undergarments available could be modified to carry a sheath.
He pushed the idea aside for later as they neared the street where they warehouse had been. Steve was relieved to find an empty lot filled with scrap metal. They walked through the lot, looking carefully for any sign of the gem.
"Over here!" Bucky called, running towards a clear patch in the lot. Steve looked at the ground. There were scorch marks that indicated a power discharge, but there was no sign of the stone.
"It's not here," Steve said.
"Well it was." Bucky crouched down to examine the scorch marks. "Do you think Loki has it?"
Steve shook his head. "He wouldn't be here if he did." He looked around for anything they might have missed. The gem had been here for a week. There was no telling what could have happened to it in that time.
"Come on, Edgar said it was down here!" a familiar voice called from the street.
"Bucky, wait up!" Young Steve panted.
Bucky grabbed Steve and ran behind an old bathtub as their younger selves entered the lot.
"Do you really think it's a metal man like Edgar said?" Young Steve asked.
"Of course not!" Young Bucky exclaimed. "Edgar's been reading too many dime novels. But whatever it is, it's gotta be worth some money."
The boys came into the clearing and looked at the scorch marks on the ground. Young Bucky scowled and started sifting through nearby piles of scrap. "It's gone!"
"Someone probably hawked it already," Young Steve panted.
Young Bucky hurled a twisted chuck of metal at an old stove. "What are we going to do now?"
"What was that?" said a voice from the street. "I thought this place was deserted."
Young Bucky grabbed young Steve and tried to drag him away but Steve stood his ground.
"Those are the same guys who threw us in a dumpster last week!"
"I know!" Young Bucky whispered. "Let's get out of here."
"I'm not afraid of those guys!" Young Steve announced. "We were here first!"
"Are you stupid or something?" Young Bucky asked incredulously.
Bucky chuckled softly. "You know I never got an answer to that question."
Steve cringed as he watched the scene play out the way he remembered. "I feel like you did."
Bucky winced as his younger self was knocked to the ground. Another punch knocked Steve's young counterpart down for the last time. The bullies left and Young Bucky sat up, rubbing his cheek.
"I'm serious, is there something wrong with you?" he asked. "I swear I've been beaten up more since I met you than I have my whole life! And it's barely been a week!"
Young Steve touched a hand to his bleeding lip. "You can't let guys like that scare you or they never stop."
"They weren't going to stop anyway." Young Bucky argued. He staggered to his feet and held out a hand to help his friend. "Come on. Let's just go."
"You remember this?" Steve asked as the boys ran off.
"Yeah. It's gotta be the gem, but why did we want it?" Bucky asked.
Steve shook his head. "I don't remember, but I was right, someone must have hawked it."
Bucky sighed. "So we have to search every pawnshop and jewelry store in Brooklyn?"
"Well it's a start," Steve said. "Let's look in the windows, maybe we'll get lucky."
"I guess there are worse ways to spend a Sunday," Bucky muttered, brushing dust off of his coat.
Steve glanced around quickly and gave Bucky a peck on the cheek. "I'll buy you a soda later."
Bucky smiled and followed him out of the lot. "I'm holding you to that."
Bucky and Steve strolled through the quiet streets. Bucky had no idea how they were going to find the gem now, but at least they knew it was here. They would just have to hope that it was in one of the pawnshops. Bucky stopped to peer into one of the windows.
"Hey, I think I see something!"
Steve looked in. "No, that's not it. Pretty similar though."
"We might have a hard time finding it with some of the jewelry in this era," Bucky observed.
They wandered farther in towards their old neighborhood. Bucky looked at the familiar buildings as they passed. It was strangely unsettling to be here. He knew every sound and scent of the city, but he didn't belong here. He almost felt like a ghost, trapped and unable to do anything except watch as his memories played out before him.
Steve put a hand on his arm. Lost in thought, Bucky gasped in surprise.
"Look over there," Steve said. He pointed to an open jewelry store across the street.
"I forgot about this place," Bucky said. "Mr. Nussbaum. Remember he was Jewish so he always closed the shop on Saturday and opened it on Sunday."
"Worth a look."
They crossed the street and went inside. Mr. Nussbaum was arguing with a woman. Bucky and Steve moved over to the side to look at the case while they waited.
"Can't you do any better?" the woman pleaded.
Mr. Nussbaum shook his head sadly. "I wish I could, Mrs Barnes."
Bucky snapped his up, looking carefully at the woman. It was his mother. He felt his breath catch. She looked so young, but there was a hint of desperation in her eyes that he had never seen before.
"This necklace was my Grandmother's," she pleaded.
Mr. Nussbaum sighed. "I'll add two dollars, but that is the best I can do, I'm sorry."
Bucky's mother took off her gloves and removed a ring from her finger. "What can you give me for this."
Bucky rushed over and put a hand on the pearls. "Sorry, I couldn't help overhearing. What's he offering?"
"$8," his mother answered, staring at him in surprise.
"Which is rather generous," Mr. Nussbaum said, looking pointedly at Bucky.
"I'll give you $20," Bucky offered.
His mother fainted. Bucky rushed forward and caught her, laying her gently on the floor.
"Mrs. Barnes!" Mr. Nussbaum cried rushing around the counter.
"Mo- Ma'am?" Bucky said, loosening her coat a bit to help her breathe. She opened her eyes and sat up. "Are you alright?"
"I'm so sorry," she said, holding a hand to her head. "I haven't been feeling well lately."
"I didn't mean to startle you," Bucky apologized. "But I really do like the necklace if you still want to sell it."
He helped her to her feet. "Well I don't really want to, but I can't turn that down!"
Mr. Nussbaum sighed and stood up. "Seems I've been out bid. If you'll excuse me, I need to see to my other customer."
Bucky and his mother moved off to a quiet corner of the store as Mr. Nussbaum went to help Steve. Bucky took the money out of his purse and handed it to her.
"Are you sure?" she asked, staring at the money.
"Yes," Bucky insisted. "If you're willing to sell your wedding ring, you must need the money pretty bad."
Bucky's mother opened the box and took one last look at the necklace. "I had hoped to give this to my daughter some day, but you can't eat pearls. Just please take good care of it."
Bucky took the box. "I will," he promised.
She smiled and left the store. Bucky watched her for a moment and then turned around to find Steve deep in conversation with Mr. Nussbaum.
"This piece is quite unique," Mr. Nussbaum said. "I've never seen a locket quite like it."
He took a large gold pendant out of the case and opened it up to reveal a glowing green stone inside. Bucky gasped but Steve just smile sweetly at Mr. Nussbaum.
"It's beautiful, but no one in this neighborhood is going to pay that."
Mr. Nussbaum scoffed. "Your friend here just paid $20 for an old string of pearls."
"Those pearls were worth $20 and you know it." Bucky argued hotly. Steve put a hand on his shoulder.
"Look, maybe we can work something out. I don't have the money right now, but I'm very interested in that necklace. Could you set it aside for me."
Mr. Nussbaum frowned and put the gem away. "Come back when you have the money. Unless there's anything else I can interest you in, I bid you good day ladies."
Steve gave him a tight smile and turned to leave the store. They walked down the street in silence.
"I'm sorry," Bucky said. "If I hadn't-"
Steve stopped and took Bucky's hand. "I would have done the same thing. And he wasn't going to come down on the price enough no matter what." He ran a hand over the jewelry box. "Can I see it?"
Bucky handed him the box. Steve opened it and looked at the string of pearls. "It's beautiful."
"She used to wear it to church every Sunday," Bucky remembered. "Then it just suddenly disappeared. I always wondered what happened to it."
Steve closed the box and handed it back to him."Well it's back in the family now. Why do you think she sold it?"
"I don't remember," Bucky said. "I just remember her and Dad arguing a lot when they thought we were asleep. I don't know what happened."
Steve looked at him sadly. "Whatever it was, it's in the past. One necklace isn't going to hurt, but we can't make a habit of this. Remember why we're here."
Bucky nodded. "The gem."
Steve took his hand as they headed back toward the subway. "We need to get it soon. We might need to get creative."
Bucky raised an eyebrow. "You mean steal it?"
"Let's at least try to get the money before we resort to that," Steve begged. "At that price it's not going anywhere fast."
"Unless Loki's sugar daddy finds it first," Bucky warned.
Steve sighed. "Give me one week to come up with something. Then we'll try it your way."
"Alright," Bucky agreed. "We won't be able to get back out here for a week anyway."
Steve squeezed his hand. "Now I believe I promised you a soda."
Bucky took one last look around the neighborhood as they headed toward the subway. Brooklyn belonged to the past. It was time for the ghost to move on.
"Sounds great. Let's head back to Manhattan."
Steve sat at the vanity brushing his hair. Bucky was already in bed reading. He set the brush down and looked at the jewelry box, then at Bucky. His own childhood was nothing he cared to relive, but it was different for Bucky. Steve had never really felt a sense of purpose until joining the army, but Bucky had always talked about what they would do after the war. Steve had willingly sacrificed his life, but Bucky's had been ripped away from him. He had never had the chance to live the life he wanted. Now Steve worried that the temptation to relive the happier times was stronger than Bucky's sense of duty.
Steve had been racking his brain to remember anything he could about the first few weeks of their friendship. This was the second time now that they had run into themselves and Steve had a feeling it wouldn't be the last. He had tried to remember anything that might be connected to the gem, but nothing came to mind. Every time they encountered something from their past, the memory seemed clear as a bell, but Steve had to wonder if it had really happened that way. Their mere presence here might already be disrupting the past. The longer it took them to recover the gem, the more distorted the past could become. They needed to get the time gem and fix this before they did too much damage.
He finished with his hair and crawled into bed beside Bucky. Bucky set his book down and turned off the light. He put an arm around Steve's shoulder and pulled him close.
"I love you Bucky," Steve whispered.
Bucky kissed him on the cheek. "I love you too. Good night."
Chapter 7: Wanderder of the Wasteland
Loki goes shopping
Loki lay in bed playing with his latest bauble as the boss got dressed. He put on his jacket and took some money out of his wallet.
“I’ll see you tonight doll,” he said, pressing the money into Loki’s hand. “Go buy yourself a new dress. I need you looking top notch.”
He smiled as the boss left and waited for a moment before he ripped off the jewel, hurling it at the dressing table. A month had passed since his arrival in this era and he was still no closer to his goal. He had half a dozen tacky ornaments, but these idiots had thus far failed to find the gem. Scowling, he threw on his satin dressing gown and stormed into the kitchen to make coffee.
He put coffee pot on the stove and cut a few slices of bread. He spread butter and jam on them and sat down to wait for the coffee. He had been shocked to discover what passed for luxury in this realm. His benefactor was a man of wealth and influence, yet this tiny dwelling was considered luxurious for someone of his station. The size of his chambers was adequate, but having to cook and clean for himself had been a shock. He did have to admit though that some of the food here was rather good. Thor had talked endlessly about coffee after his time in Midgard and Loki had found it to be one of the more appealing beverages available.
The coffee finished brewing and Loki poured a cup, adding milk and sugar. He sipped it and counted the money the boss had left. It was enough for a fine gown. Except for a few items which had been gifted to him, most of his clothes had been mere illusions, but if he was to be stuck in this realm it would be easier to wear real fabric and conserve his energy.
One of the girls at the club had given him the name of a dress shop that many of them frequented. He had yet to seek it out, but if the other performers patronized the establishment, it likely had the sort of garments he needed. It would be wise to seek out a dress that would complement one of those tacky jewels the boss had given him. A show of appreciation would encourage his continued generosity. His plan was working, he just had to bide his time and stay in the boss’ good graces.
Loki entered the shop. There were several women in the store and three women attending them. Loki looked at the racks of dresses. He had yet to go shopping for clothing and he wasn't entirely certain what to do. Beings in this realm did not respond well to demands. He had discovered that there was usually some etiquette for most situations that would yield better results than attempting to order people around. He walked around the store for a minute, observing the interaction between the other patrons and the three attendants. One of them, the older one, seemed to be in charge. The young blonde was busy running back and forth to fetch boxes of shoes while the brunette put several dresses back on the rack. The brunette finished her task and took a moment to smooth her dress before turning to Loki. She faltered for just a moment at the sight of him but recovered quickly.
“I’m so sorry for the wait. What can I help you with?”
“I need a gown for tonight,” Loki told her, gracefully ignoring her hesitation.
“Did you have anything in mind?”
Loki looked around the shop. This style of fashion was still strange to him. He would have to rely on this girl’s knowledge of her wares. “Not really, I’d like to find something to go with a necklace I own, but for now, I was hoping you could recommend something.”
The girl smiled and started looking through the racks. “If you bring in the necklace, we can make something custom to go with it.”
Loki nodded. “I will keep that in mind.” Assuming he could beg the money from his patron, that would be the most fitting choice.
The girl held out a lavish red and gold gown with intricate bead work. “I think this will be very flattering on you and it looks to be about your size, so it might not even need altering.”
Loki ran a hand over the dress, admiring the sleek fabric. “It’s lovely.”
“If you’ll come this way, you can try it on back here.”
Loki looked at the girl as she led him back to the changing room. There was something about her that seemed familiar. She seemed nervous for some reason, though he could only guess why. Perhaps she was somehow aware of his relationship with the boss. If his underlings made a habit of shooting people and throwing their bodies in the river, it was understandable that this girl would be nervous in Loki’s presence.
He took the dress and stepped behind a curtain. Slipping off his clothes, he pulled the red gown over his head. It was heavy, but the fabric was smooth against his skin. He stepped out to look in the mirror.
“Very chic!” the girl exclaimed.
Loki strutted back and forth in front of the mirror turning quickly on his heel. The skirt flared a bit, but the weight of it kept it from coming up too high. It fit well in the top, flattering the curve of his chest.
The girl examined the dress carefully. “I don’t think we need to fit it anywhere. Would you like to try anything else?”
“I think this will do,” he said, turning to look at the back of the dress in the mirror. He twirled around one more time and headed back to change. The girl took the dress from him and led him back out.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she asked. “Perhaps a headpiece to match?”
“No, just the dress,” Loki said, looking around the shop. “But I may come back for something more.”
“Mrs. O’Sullivan will be glad to hear it,” the girl told him. She rung up the purchase and carefully packed up the dress. “Thank you. We look forward to seeing you again.”
Loki nodded and took the package. A young man with red hair entered as he turned to leave the shop. He held the door and tipped his hat as Loki walked out. He headed back to his apartment to hang up the dress and take a nap. Between singing at the club and trying to please the boss, he had barely slept in the last few weeks. Whatever he was expected to attend tonight, he would need his strength.
“Butch!” Bucky exclaimed, his heart still racing from his encounter with Loki. “What are you doing here.”
Butch leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “Just running an errand.”
“In a dress shop?” Bucky asked.
Before Butch could reply, Mrs. O’Sullivan came out of the back. “There you are, I was beginning to think you’d gotten lost. Daisy, Stella, straighten up the front display. It’s been a madhouse in here.”
Mrs. O’Sullivan and Butch disappeared into the back. Bucky headed up to see to the display, but Steve lingered by the curtain. Bucky took his arm and dragged him away.
“What are you doing?” he whispered.
“Trying to figure out what your boyfriend is doing here,” Steve replied quietly.
“Ignore that!” Bucky snapped. “I just sold Loki a dress!”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “Did he recognize you?”
Bucky shook his head. “I don’t think so, but this is a huge city. What are the odds he’d walk into the same dress shop we work at?”
Steve glanced at the curtain. “Actually I think they’re pretty good. I’ve been saying for weeks that there’s something going on here. It’s time we found out what.”
“You also told me that we should try not to interfere in the past,” Bucky reminded him.
“This is different,” Steve insisted. “Loki wasn’t here by accident and we need to know what the connection is!”
Bucky sighed. “Fine, but we need to fix this display before Mrs. O’Sullivan gets back.”
Steve nodded and started working on the shoe racks. A few minutes later, Butch returned and came over to Bucky.
“Hey Doll! Are we still on for tonight?”
“Sure, but you never told me what we’re doing,” Bucky reminded him.
“Don’t worry about it, just look pretty.” Butch tapped Bucky on the nose with the tip of his finger. “I told Mrs. O’Sullivan to let you pick something out.”
Bucky kissed him on the cheek. “Thank you!”
“Stella, Conner sends his regrets.”
“Tell him not to worry about it,” Steve said, bending over to collect a stray shoe. “I have a book that hasn’t been touched in a week.”
“What book?” Butch asked. “I’ll make Conner read it so you have something to talk about.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Not everyone has to fill the silence with idle chatter.”
Butch laughed and looked back at Bucky. “What are we going to do with those two?”
“Leave them home and enjoy our evening, which is...”
“A surprise, doll face,” Butch finished. “Now pick out a dress and I’ll see you tonight.”
Bucky blew him a kiss as he headed out the door. Steve watched him carefully as he left.
“I’ll bet you anything Loki’s going to be at whatever this is,” Steve said, putting the top back on a shoebox. “Along with half our clientele.”
Bucky started to argue, but he had a feeling Steve was right. “Can you just promise me you won’t do anything stupid while I’m out tonight.”
Steve mulled over that for a moment. “Define stupid.”
Bucky sighed and went to fix the glove display. “Don’t get us fired.”
“I promise I’ll try!” Steve said as he carried the shoes to the back.
Chapter 8: The Midnight Folk
While Bucky and Butch head out for the night. Steve investigates his suspicions.
Steve pinned a few hairs flat beside Bucky's headband and fastened his mother's pearls around his neck. "I'm not sure these really match."
"Well I don't have a lot of other jewelry," Bucky said, running a finger along the pearls.
"Mrs. O'Sullivan would have let you borrow something," Steve pointed out.
"I didn't want to be accused of stealing it after she evicts us tomorrow." Bucky said pointedly. "Do you want to tell me what you're planning?"
Steve chuckled and kissed him on the cheek. "Better if you don't know."
Bucky eyed him suspiciously. "The last time you said that, I ended up hiding from the Germans in a hay loft for two days."
"It'll be fine," Steve assured him, squeezing his shoulder gently. "Just enjoy your night."
Bucky sighed and dabbed on a bit of perfume. "Does it strike you as odd that Conner isn't going?"
Steve shrugged. "I don't mind."
"I know you don't mind," Bucky said, pulling a silver glove over his left hand. "I'm just saying it's strange. In a month we've never been out with them separately."
"Ok, it's a little odd," Steve conceded, "but I want to see what Mrs. O'Sullivan is up to, so let's just be glad it worked out."
"Just be careful," Bucky pleaded one last time.
He kissed Steve and put on his lipstick. There was a knock at the door. Steve helped Bucky with his coat and settled back to read a book as Bucky headed out for the night. Whatever they were involved in, he was going to get to the bottom of it.
Loki sat in front of the vanity fixing his makeup. He picked up the emerald necklace from where he had thrown it earlier. It was actually quite stunning, but it didn't match the dress. He took out the ruby that he had been given and slipped it over his head. It was atrocious but it complemented the dress better. He smoothed down a few hairs and headed down. The boss was waiting for him in front of a shiny black car.
"Gorgeous!" he said, opening the door of the car for Loki. Loki took his hand, carefully climbing into the seat. These garments were awkward to maneuver in and it wouldn't do to rip his dress before the evening began. The boss got in the other side and the driver sped off through the streets.
"Where are we going?" Loki asked.
"A few business associates of mine are having a little soiree," he said, straightening his bowtie. "Just sit there and look pretty."
"Are you sure I can't do more?" Loki asked, reaching over to adjust the tie.
The boss gripped Loki's arm tightly. "You got a nice set of pipes on you but I don't want to hear them tonight. You remember your place or the next man you sweet talk will be Saint Peter."
Loki clenched his teeth, fighting the urge to kill the man. He didn't know who Saint Peter was, but it had the tone of a threat. He smiled demurely. "Of course."
"You're a smart cookie, but this is a delicate situation." The boss put his arm around Loki's shoulders. "There are just some things dames shouldn't stick their noses in."
Loki sat back and watched the lights of the city pass by. It was galling to have to put up with such condescending treatment, but until he found the gem he would have to be patient. As soon as it was in his hands he would rip this man's insolent tongue out through his nose.
The car pulled up to a lavish hotel. The boss got out and came around to open Loki's door. He took the boss' arm as they walked through the lobby. A doorman nodded to the boss as they approached and opened the door to let them into a richly appointed ballroom. A band was playing on the stage as well dressed men and women milled about. Loki couldn't help but smile. All of these people thought they were important, yet their fates were already written. A century from now, most of them would have faded into obscurity, their insignificant lives forgotten. He would let them revel in their delusion that anything they did here mattered. The most important thing was to keep his patron happy until the gem was back in his possession.
"Councilman Fitzgerald," the boss greeted an older man.
The Councilman nodded his head politely but coldly. "Mr. Mulligan."
"May I introduce my companion, Lola Jotun. One of the best singers in the city."
The Commissioner took Loki's hand and kissed it. "I don't know what a lovely girl like you is doing with him, but he's lucky to have you."
Loki just smiled. The boss patted his hand and stepped away.
"I need to talk to the Councilman for a minute, doll. Go find the table and I'll meet you there."
"I'll be waiting," Loki purred as he left to look for their seats. As he made his way through the room, a dark haired man came up to him.
"Don't tell me you're here all alone."
"No, I'm with Desmond Mulligan." Loki told him.
The man scoffed. "A dame like you could do better than that sorry son of a bitch."
Loki laughed quietly. "He'll do for now, Mr.?"
"Vito Moretti," the man said, holding out his hand. Loki gripped it lightly.
"If you ever want to trade up, give me a call." Moretti handed her a card. Loki slipped it into his handbag as Moretti walked away. He had heard the name before and he knew that Moretti was a member of a rival faction. Socializing with him openly would cause trouble, but if Mulligan didn't come through, perhaps Moretti would be more useful.
He headed over to their table. They were the first ones there, but Mulligan's underlings whould be arriving soon. He walked around to look at the names, smiling as he recognizing a few as the boyfriends of other club performers. Satisfied, he sat down to wait. A few minutes later the boss returned and handed him a drink.
"Hope you weren't too bored."
Loki sipped the drink, surreptitiously eyeing Moretti. "Not at all."
Bucky tried not to gape as Butch let him into the hotel. "I should have borrowed a necklace from Mrs. O'Sullivan," he muttered, staring at the crystal chandelier in the Lobby.
"You look beautiful," Butch whispered. He handed an invitation to the doorman. "Butch Daly and Miss Daisy Buchanan."
The doorman looked them up and down with a scrutinizing gaze and checked the list. "Ah yes. Here you are." He opened the door with a slight bow. "Enjoy your evening Mr. Daly."
Bucky leaned in to whisper, "how did you score an invitation to something like this?"
"It's work related," Butch said evasively.
"So why isn't Conner here?" Bucky pressed.
"Hey, there's our table," Butch said, pointing across the room. "Why don't you have a seat and I'll get us some drinks."
Butch hurried off to the bar as Bucky went over and sat down. He fixed his skirt and looked around at the others seated at the table. His heart froze. Across the table, was Loki. He sat beside an older man in an expensive suit. Butch returned with the drinks and took out his hip flask to spike them before handing one to Bucky.
"Daly!" the older man barked. "Where the hell are your manners? This young lady's been sitting here without an introduction!" He turned to the others. "Kids these days! They're smart, but you really gotta keep them in line."
"Sorry sir," Butch apologized. "This is my girl, Daisy Buchanan. Daisy, this is my boss, Mr. Mulligan."
"Your girl?" One of the other women exclaimed. "Well good on you, sweetie!" she said, raising her glass to Daisy. "For a while there we thought we had a confirmed bachelor on our hands with this one."
She reached over to stroke a finger down Butch's cheek. He tensed up but endured it politely. She winked at him and reached over to offer her hand to Bucky. "Siobhan Murphy."
"Your name ain't Murphy!" her companion growled.
"Would be if you'd make an honest woman of me," she said.
"Pace her, would you?" Mr. Mulligan said sharply. "This party just started."
Loki leaned forward to look carefully at Bucky. "Have we met before?"
"I think you came into the dress shop this morning," Bucky said quickly.
"Oh that's right!" Another woman said. "You're one of Mrs. O's girls."
"I should have known," Mr. Mulligan said. "Colleen always had an eye for beauty."
"Daisy here has quite an eye as well," Loki said. "She picked out this dress for me."
Mr. Mulligan nodded approvingly. "Nice work. Tell Colleen I'll be sending her back."
"Thank you," Bucky said, sipping his drink.
Mr. Mulligan looked over at one of the other tables. "Ladies, if I could borrow your escorts for a while."
Butch stood up and kissed Bucky on the cheek. "I won't be too long. Try not to let them get to you."
Butch and the other men headed off leaving their dates at the table alone. Bucky sipped his drink.
"So you're one of Mrs. O's?" Siobhan asked.
"Yes, I started working for her about a month ago along with my friend Stella."
"Well, looks like you won't be there for long if you hooked Butch." Another woman said. "All the girls have been chasing him for years. We were starting to wonder about him."
"Well it's a little early to say I've hooked him, but he is very nice." Bucky sipped his drink, mulling over her words for a moment. "I'm sorry, what do you mean, one of Mrs. O's?"
The other ladies laughed.
Loki opened a fan with a sharp flick of his wrist. "Now you've done it."
A stunning redhead in a bright blue dress leaned over and took his hand. "Most of us worked for her. She tries to set the boys in the family up with women of a certain caliber."
"Family?" Bucky asked, fearing he already knew the answer.
"Careful Edna," Loki chided. "We don't want to scare her off, and I certainly don't want her quitting. I still need a gown to match that emerald necklace Desmond gave me."
Edna smiled deferentially. "Ignore me dear, a bit too much to drink."
Bucky lifted his glass, sloshing a little over the side. "Oh gosh!" he exclaimed, feigning panic. "I had better go wash this off!"
"No dear, use soda water!" Edna said quickly. "And don't rub, just dab!"
Bucky nodded his thanks and ran to the bar to get a glass of soda water and a napkin before heading off to the powder room. He dabbed at the stain even though it hardly showed.
He felt like a fool for not seeing it sooner, but whatever these men were doing, Mrs. O'Sullivan was involved and so were Butch and Conner. He set the cloth aside and sat down in front of the mirror. The most likely conclusion was that they were bootleggers. He didn't have anything against that exactly, but the sort of activities that tended to go with it worried him. Butch didn't seem like a murderer, not that Bucky was in a position to judge him for it if he were. Still, it wasn't the sort of world he wanted to get pulled into. He drank the rest of the seltzer and headed back out, hoping Butch hadn't returned yet.
Steve waited until late in the evening to be sure he wouldn't be seen. He put on his cargo pants, cinching the belt tightly to ensure that they would stay up and slipped on his t-shirt. He laced up his most sensible pair of shoes and crept downstairs. He quickly picked the lock of the door and slipped inside, pulling the door behind him. Turning on his flashlight, he made his way to the back room.
The safe was built into the back wall. Steve had seen Mrs. O'Sullivan open it several times. She either trusted them or didn't think they were quick enough to catch on, because she had never bothered to hide the dial when she opened it. Steve quickly cycled through the combination and the safe sprang open. He took a moment to memorize the location of the items so that he could put them back in the proper place when he was finished. There were several stacks of hundred dollar bills, a few folders, a stack of large envelopes and a leather bound ledger. Steve took out the folder first and leafed through the papers. There were several bills of lading listing various shipments of fabric. He read through them, but none of it seemed out of place. He replaced the folder and took out the ledger. It was written in some sort of code, but he recognized several of the shipments. There were numbers on each line that he couldn't identify, but they seemed to line up to various names. He read back through them. A few of them looked familiar, but the connection eluded him.
He took the folder back out and laid it on the work table, he opened the ledger beside it and took the top bill of lading. Looking through the ledger, he found the name of the ship and the container number listed. He looked more closely. The bill of lading listed a quantity of silk being shipped from France, but the ledger had two numbers, neither of which matched.
Steve grabbed a sheet of paper and a pencil and made some notes. He picked up the second bill of lading. He was on to something. Whatever Mrs. O'Sullivan was doing, the answer was in these papers, he just had to look.
Butch was still gone when Bucky returned to the table. The women had settled into a conversation of the latest gossip and barely noticed his presence. He sat quietly, watching Loki as they chatted. The man he was with seemed to be the leader, and the other women deferred to him, albeit grudgingly. He was powerful enough to command respect, but not untouchable. He spoke several times about gifts that Mulligan had given him, mostly emeralds. Bucky realized that Loki was using this man to look for the time gem. So far they had been unable to come up with the money to buy if from Mr. Nussbaum, but if Loki was searching for it, they were out of time. They would have to retrieve it tomorrow, by any means necessary.
Butch and the other men returned a while later, smelling like cigar smoke and whiskey. Butch sat down and handed Bucky a fresh drink. "You girls get along alright without us?"
"Just fine," Bucky said. "But I'd like to dance if you're done with your other commitments."
Butch stood up and led Bucky to the floor. "Why do I get the feeling I'm in trouble."
Bucky took his position for the dance. "You told me you work in imports. That's not true, is it?"
"Sure it is!" Butch insisted. "I import silk and wool and maple syrup and all sorts of other things."
Bucky scowled. "I'm sure you do, but how much silk is actually in the crate?"
Butch shrugged. "What's the harm if we hide a few bottles of booze in with it?"
"You're a mobster," Bucky whispered as Butch led him through the turn.
"Ok, yes, I am," Butch admitted. "I was going to tell you, but I was afraid you'd leave and I was having a good time."
Bucky didn't respond. He had no idea what to say. Steve had been right all along.
"I wasn't trying to hurt you," Butch continued. "I'm no button man if that's what you're thinking. I just handle the paperwork, forge documents, bribe cops, but the rest of it's all above board. If it weren't illegal it would almost be respectable."
Bucky looked at him. "I don't agree with prohibition, but people tend to get hurt in your line of work."
"It won't be you," Butch promised.
Bucky leaned his head on Butch's shoulder. He had learned to trust his instincts, and whatever Butch did for a living, Bucky's gut said that he was a good man. "Stella isn't going to like this."
Butch kissed the top of his head. "Well I'm not dancing with Stella."
Steve finished with the ledger and folders and placed them carefully back in the safe. He had managed to find a trail of shipments containing illicit cargo going back months. He stared at his notes for a moment wondering what this meant for them. In any other era he would have turned this over to the police, but after all his lectures to Bucky about not interfering, he knew that wasn't an option. His other instinct was to distance themselves from things, but that didn't seem like a wise course of action either. They had a comfortable life and trying to reestablish themselves elsewhere would just take time away from their real purpose.
He sighed. Bucky had been right. They should have just left well enough alone. He looked in the safe to see what else he could find. If he had come this far, he might as well know everything he could. He removed one of the envelopes and started to open it as he heard a pistol cocking behind him.
Chapter 9: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
Steve faces a dangerous situation.
Steve looked in the safe to see what else he could find. He removed one of the envelopes and started to open it as he heard a pistol cocking behind him.
Steve froze. He knew the voice. "Conner?"
"Stella!" he squeaked. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing."
"Give me that envelope," Conner demanded in a shaky voice.
Steve turned around slowly and handed him the envelope. "You lied to me." Steve said. He was surprised to find that he was hurt by it.
Conner opened the envelope and took out several photographs. "Son of a bitch!" He screamed, throwing them on the floor. He pointed the gun at Steve. "Where are they?"
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Steve protested. "I don't think we're after the same thing here."
"Get against that wall," Conner ordered.
Steve backed up against the wall, keeping his hands in view. He could have taken Conner down easily, but it would be better to talk his way out of this. Conner clearly didn't want to kill him, so as long as he didn't do anything stupid, there was a good chance he could diffuse the situation without having to explain why he was capable of throwing a full grown man across the room.
"If you shoot me, you'll never get all that back in the right place," he warned.
"Oh yeah?" Conner muttered, searching through another envelope.
"Yeah," Steve said. "I haven't fixed it yet and I'm the only one who knows what it looked like. Mrs. O'Sullivan is a stickler for organization. If you don't put it back exactly, she'll know someone broke in."
"How were you planning to lock the door behind you?" Conner asked.
"There's a spare key by the register. I can slip it back monday before she notices."
Conner scowled and kept searching.
"Conner, I can forgive a lot, but I really don't like being lied to. So why don't you tell me what you're looking for so we can find it and get out of here."
"And what were you doing here?" Conner demanded.
"Insatiable curiosity," Steve sighed. "Hiding alcohol in fabric shipments, that's clever."
"Yeah, and if you don't want to wind up in the East River, I'd keep that to yourself." Conner warned, tossing aside another envelope.
"I planned to."
"Fuck! It's not here!" Conner screamed, slamming his hand into the wall beside the safe. He turned around and sank down to the floor with his back against the wall. Steve sprang forward and grabbed the gun out of his hand.
"Do you even know how to use-"
"Yes I do," Steve cut him off. "And I'm a little upset with you right now, so don't try me. What are you looking for?"
"That bitch is blackmailing me, ok?" Conner snapped. "I need to destroy the evidence before she shows it to anyone."
Steve lowered the gun. "You could have just said." He reached out to help Conner up.
"Well was a little startled. I didn't expect to find anyone here."
"What does she have on you?" Steve asked again. Conner crossed his arms defiantly. Steve leaned nonchalantly against the table. "You already lied to me about your day job, I'd start talking if you want my help putting all this back."
Conner heaved a resigned sigh. "What do you say we fix this and go upstairs. I need a stiff drink."
Butch and Bucky walked down the street to Bucky's apartment.
"You're quiet." Butch said.
Bucky reached up to play with his necklace. "I'm sorry. It's just a lot to take in," Bucky said as they walked down the street toward Bucky's apartment.
"I know, but most of the girls' Mrs. O'Sullivan sets me up with are gold diggers. It was nice to be with someone who just thought I was normal."
Bucky smiled sympathetically. That was something he could understand. There was something liberating about being here where no one knew anything about him. "The last few weeks have been fun."
They came to the steps and Butch paused at the bottom. "Am I going to see you again?"
Bucky thought for a moment. "Do you want to come up for a drink."
"That's probably a good idea."
Butch followed him upstairs. Bucky opened the door to find Steve and Conner sitting at the table with a bottle of whiskey. They were staring at each other in silence, locked in a battle of wills.
"Conner," Butch said, surprised. "How was your night?"
"Total bust," Conner said, throwing back a shot.
"You're just in time," Steve told them, not taking his eyes off Conner. "He was about to tell me why he broke into the shop."
Conner looked at Butch. "I haven't said a word."
"It's ok." Butch patted his shoulder and pulled out a chair. "If they know we work for Mulligan, they might as well know why." He sat down at the table and took a glass from Bucky. He downed it quickly and poured another. Bucky poured one for himself and sat down as Butch began.
"Growing up, my family lived in the apartment beside Mrs. O'Sullivan. She was Mulligan's girl back then and my mom always told us to stay away from her. Wish I'd listened." He took another sip.
"My father was violent and I wish he were a drunk, at least then he'd have an excuse, but any time my mother did the slightest things to upset him, he'd beat her half to death. One night, Butch and I had been out running around the neighborhood. I come home and she's lying on the floor, her eyes glazed over in a pool of her own blood. He was just standing there screaming at her like she brought it on herself. I don't think he even realized he'd killed her. He came after us. Conner held him back while I ran to the kitchen and got a knife." Butch laughed humorlessly, a tear slipping down his cheek. "I don't remember how many times I stabbed him, but it was enough."
He took another sip of whiskey. "We ran next door to Mrs. O'Sullivan's. She was in bed with Mulligan. They helped us get rid of the body. Then I told the cops that my father had killed my mother and run off. Wasn't his first run in with the law so they didn't question it."
Bucky looked at Steve. His glared had softened. "So that's why you work for Mulligan," he said quietly.
Butch nodded. "I kind of owed him. I was 12 and I had nobody. He gave me a job, made sure I was looked after. Then I got older and I wanted out, but that'll never happen unless we get those photos."
The room was silent for a moment. Conner finished his glass and leaned back in his chair. "So what do we do now?"
Bucky stood up and started clearing the table. "I think we all need to go to sleep."
Butch nodded and finished his drink. He clapped Conner on the shoulder to signal that it was time to leave and headed for the door. Conner turned back and looked hopefully at Steve.
"There's an art exhibit opening at this gallery Wednesday," he said. "We'll come by to get you at six?"
"We'll think about it." Steve promised.
They left, leaving Steve and Bucky alone. Steve locked the door while Bucky went to get changed.
"So what exactly happened?" Bucky asked.
Steve came in to change into his night gown. "Mrs. O'Sullivan's shop is a front. They're using fabric shipments to smuggle alcohol from foreign countries. I found the evidence in the safe. Conner skipped whatever you were at tonight to break into the safe and get those pictures, but they weren't there." Steve paused for a moment before admitting, "he surprised me."
"You mean he got the drop on you," Bucky chuckled.
Steve huffed and picked up Bucky's dress from the floor.
Bucky grinned, taking off his earrings. "Well, I figured out the smuggling part about five minutes into the party, but we have a bigger problem. Loki is sleeping with Desmond Mulligan. He's using Mulligan to search for the gem.
"Well that's going to complicate things," Steve muttered.
We have to get it tomorrow," Bucky insisted.
"We're still short about $10," Steve reminded him.
"Then we'll have to think of something, but we can't wait any longer," Bucky insisted.
Steve unfastened the necklace and hugged Bucky from behind. "Did you at least have fun?"
"In between learning I'm a mob wife and trying to spy on a Norse god?" Bucky smiled. "Yes, I had fun."
Steve kissed him on the cheek and started brushing out his hair. "So we're keeping them?"
Bucky laughed. "You make them sound like stray cats!"
Steve shrugged. "They sort of are."
"I want to make them sweat for a few days, but yes, we're keeping them." Bucky slipped on his night gown and crawled into bed. "It's not like we've been completely honest with them either."
Steve got in beside him and turned off the light. "The difference is that they'd never believe us."
Loki lounged on the bed wearing only his ruby necklace. He sipped his champagne as Mulligan undressed.
"Did your business ventures go well?" he asked.
"Beautifully," Mulligan said, slipping off his jacket. "In two months time, I'll control half the clubs in New York."
Loki smiled at the insignificance of such an accomplishment. Even so, he raised his glass to his benefactor's success. After all, the more powerful Mulligan was, the wider his reach and the sooner gem would be found.
Still, his thoughts wandered to the card in his handbag. Mulligan might control half of the city, but someone had to control the other half. Loki knew the value of patience, but results were more important than loyalty.
He took Mulligan's glass and set it aside. "What do you say we celebrate properly?"
Bucky and Steve hurried along the streets of Brooklyn toward Mr. Nussbaum's store. Steve had been reluctant to steal the gem, but now he was worried that they might have waited too long. If Loki was closing in, they had to move quickly.
They entered the store and looked in the case where the gem was kept. Steve gasped and grabbed Bucky's arm. "It's gone!"
"Ah, yes," Mr. Nussbaum said apologetically. "You just missed it."
"Who bought it?" Bucky demanded.
"Two little boys," Mr. Nussbaum told them. "They just left. If you hurry, you might be able to catch them."
Steve grabbed Bucky and ran down the street. They hadn't run into any children on their way here, so whoever bought the gem must have gone the other way. They ran through the streets looking for anyone who might fit the description.
"I have a good idea who it might be!" Bucky said dryly as they ran.
"Don't beat yourself up over it," Steve joked.
"This isn't funny!" he snapped. "If we'd stolen it a week ago like I told you to this never would have happened!"
They rounded the corner and saw two familiar boys walking down the street.
"Hey you!" Steve cried. "Give us that necklace!"
Young Bucky and Young Steve turned and looked at them in terror before breaking into a run.
"Are you crazy!" Bucky cried as they pursued. "You're going to give yourself an asthma attack!"
After a block, young Steve started to drop back. He handed something to young Bucky and turned to them, panting for breath. He grabbed Steve's leg as they passed, tripping him.
"It's ours!" he yelled, holding on to Steve's leg for dear life.
"Don't let him get away!" Steve called to Bucky. He bent down to pry his younger self off of his leg. "Listen kid, you don't know what that thing is!"
Young Steve dug his fingernails into Steve's hand. "We bought it fair and square!"
Steve set his younger self aside and ran after Bucky. "Sorry! I promise you'll understand one day!"
Bucky chased himself down the street. Usually he would have caught up a block ago, but he hadn't expected to run and he still wasn't quite use to heels. Young Bucky ran down an to a doorway where two men were waiting. Bucky stopped in his tracks, gaping as he looked at the men.
"Daisy," he said, bewildered. "Funny story." He turned and handed some money to young Bucky. "Good work kid. Now get lost."
Steve came running up as Young Bucky left the alley. "What's going on?"
Bucky shook his head.
"After last night we wanted to make it up to you girls," Butch said,
Bucky looked back toward the street where his younger self had disappeared. "Why didn't you just go in the shop yourselves?"
"Eh, we had a slight disagreement with that guy a while back and we were worried he'd jack up the price on us," Conner said, handing Steve the necklace.
A look of relief washed over Steve's face. "Thank you."
Conner winked. "Doesn't really seem like your style, but I guess we all have to have a few secrets."
"It's more of a sentimental thing," Steve replied.
"Well, I guess we'll see you Wednesday for the art show then," Butch said hopefully.
Bucky couldn't help but smile. "What should we wear?"
Butch grinned as they walked off. "That little black number you had on last night'll be swell."
"What about me?" Steve asked.
"Tell Mrs. O'Sullivan to send me the bill!" Conner called back.
They waited for Butch and Conner to leave before examining the gem. The casing was very distinctive, but they had been unable to hold it long enough to confirm that it was the real thing. Bucky opened it and felt the knot in his stomach loosen as a brilliant green light shone from inside.
"Now we just have to figure out how to use it." Steve said.
Bucky closed it up and slipped it around his neck. "I think that can wait until Thursday."
Chapter 10: The Great Impersonation
Steve is starting to worry about Bucky's mental state. Meanwhile, Loki buys a dress.
Bucky tasted blood as he pricked his tongue on a pin. Mrs. O’Sullivan had warned him not to hold them in his mouth, but with only one good hand he had trouble getting a grip on them. He finished his work and smoothed out the fabric. “How does that look Miss Jotun?”
Loki ran his hands down the green velvet with a thin smile. “I think Desmond will love it.”
Bucky stood up and helped Loki out of the dress, careful not to stick him with a pin, no matter how tempting it was. He draped it on the hanger, careful not to dislodge any pins. “We should have this for you in a few days.”
“Wonderful,” Loki purred, putting his day dress back on. “I should be able to wear it this weekend. Is Mr. Daly bringing you to the club Saturday.”
“He usually does,” Bucky answered cheerfully.
Loki smiled and picked up his hand bag. “You know where to send the bill,” he said as he headed for the door.
Mrs. O’Sullivan bristled as he left. “Desmond’s taste in women has really gone downhill lately.” She forced a smile and started dusting the spotless counter. “I’m just glad I got Butch and Conner settled with you two girls. Although they are taking their time making things official.”
Steve paled a bit but Bucky just laughed.
“It’s only been two months,” he reminded her.
“You can’t put these things off too long!” she cautioned. “Men are so easily led astray. You want to be sure to hook them before their eyes start to wander.”
“In that case we really should go get ready for dinner,” Bucky said, sticking the rest of the pins back in the pincushion.
Mrs. O’Sullivan looked at her watch. “Oh dear, you’re right! Look at the time! Off with you now, I’ll close up.”
Bucky and Steve grabbed their coats and hurried up to their apartment to change.
“Maybe we should marry them,” Bucky joked, hanging up his dress.
“Once we figure out how to use the gem, we’re out of here,” Steve insisted. “I’m not going to put him through that.”
Bucky sat down to fix his hair. “Aww, Steve. Are you actually starting to care for him?”
Steve grunted as he looked through his clothes to find something to wear. “Not like that, but he’s a decent man and I don’t want to hurt him any more than I have to.”
“Well they don’t strike me as the type to move quickly,” Bucky said. “We should just enjoy ourselves.”
In the mirror, Bucky caught a glimpse of Steve smiling at him. “You’re right. I guess it’s not all bad.” He held out two dresses. “The yellow or the blue?”
“Yellow. We’re just going to the movies.” He turned back to his hair while Steve changed. “Are you going to wear the necklace?”
“I don’t really feel safe taking it out of the apartment.” Steve said, slipping on the yellow dress.
Bucky pushed a pin into his hair and went to choose a dress. “I know, but Conner keeps asking about it. I think he’d really like to see you wear it.”
“What if I lose it?”
Bucky kissed him on the cheek. “We’re just going to the movies. I think it’s safer with us. What if someone breaks in?”
Steve laughed. “Bucky, we live above a dress shop run by the former girlfriend of a mob boss. Who in their right mind would break in here?”
“Besides you and the mobster you’re dating?” Bucky asked. “How about the boss’ current girl? If Loki figures out we have-”
“Fine!” Steve sighed. He sighed and took the time gem out of the box in the back of the wardrobe. He slipped it on and went to fix his hair.
Bucky turned back to the wardrobe. He understood Steve’s hesitation about the gem, but while they were stuck here, they needed to keep Butch and Conner interested. It was good that they were moving slow, but that also worried him a bit. Butch hadn’t even kissed him and Conner’s attraction to Steve seemed more platonic than anything. If things didn’t work out, Mrs. O’Sullivan would set them up with someone else and Bucky was certain they couldn’t do better. He felt bad for leading them on, but as Steve kept reminding him, there was a bigger picture. For the moment things were peaceful and he intended to enjoy it.
“That was hilarious!” Butch said as they left the theater.
Bucky giggled. “I always enjoy Buster Keaton! Thank you for taking us.”
“You got it, doll,” Butch said, throwing his arm around Bucky’s shoulder. “I love a good comedy.”
“Eh, I prefer the talkies.” Conner said.
“Me too,” Steve chimed in. “I think you get a lot more when you can hear what they’re saying.” He didn’t mind silent films, but he remembered being awed when they started adding sound.
“Come on!” Butch argued. “Buster Keaton can make you laugh for an hour without saying a word. That’s talent.”
Conner shrugged. “It was funny, but I just like it better when I don’t have to read.”
Butch scoffed. “You have so many books you can barely walk through your apartment!”
“Yeah, but the words don’t vanish while I’m still trying to read them.” Conner grumbled.
“Well I like the silent ones,” Bucky said. “They always have great music.”
Butch grinned. “Glad you like music. We’re going to the club Saturday.”
“I’ll try not to step on your feet this time,” Conner said, smiling awkwardly at Steve.
“I thought I was stepping on your feet,” Steve joked.
Conner laughed. “Maybe we should just go shoe shopping instead.”
They hurried through the chilly streets back to the apartment. Butch gave Bucky a quick kiss on the lips. Conner seemed a little stunned by that and looked at Steve uncertainly. Steve gave him a kiss on the cheek to break the awkward stalemate.
“So we’ll see you Saturday,” he said.
Steve nodded. “Sounds great.” He took Bucky’s hand and pulled him away up the stairs.
“Well that was new,” he said, locking the door.
“We’ve been seeing them for almost two months,” Bucky reminded him, hanging up his coat and hat. “I was starting to worry actually.”
Bucky headed to the dressing table, but Steve stood by the door for a moment. He looked at the necklace. He wondered if Mrs. O’Sullivan had been encouraging Butch and Conner to move things alone.
“Do you think they’re going to propose?”
Bucky shrugged. “In two months that’s the first time he’s kissed me. I think we’re a little ways out from that.”
Steve nodded. Bucky was right. Maybe he was overthinking this. He put the necklace back in the box and took off his dress. He put on his nightgown and went to get a glass of milk.
“Hey Bucky,” he called. Bucky didn’t answer. “Bucky?” Again there was no reply. Steve frowned. “Daisy.”
Bucky lifted his head. “Sorry, what?”
“I was going to have a glass of milk before bed,” he said quickly. “Do you want one.”
“Sure.” Bucky turned back to his hair.
Steve felt a knot in the pit of his stomach, as he poured the milk. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened, even before coming here, but it always reminded him of the fight on the bridge. He sipped his milk and took a deep breath. It had been a long day and having to maintain their cover took a lot of focus. It was probably just a slip.
He took Bucky his milk and bent down to kiss him on the cheek. Bucky caught his arm and pulled him into a deep, affectionate kiss. It lasted a minute before he stood up to change.
“I think I’ve earned a little more than Conner has,” he teased.
“Of course.” Steve gave him a quick kiss. “I love you Bucky.”
“I love you too Steve.”
Steve finished his milk and climbed into bed. Bucky finished and turned out the light, climbing in beside him. Steve lay his head on Bucky’s chest. Everything was fine, it was just a slip.
The morning sun gleamed through the cracks in the curtains, shining in Steve’s eyes. He yawned and reached over, but Bucky was gone. He opened his eyes and saw Bucky sitting at the vanity looking at his reflection in the mirror. He ran a hand over his slender cheeks and down his delicate jawline, studying the unfamiliar lines of his face.
Steve lay still, watching Bucky for a moment. He had tried to be strong, but Steve could see this was taking a toll on him. It had been a long road to help him rebuild some sense of his identity after his escape. When they had first been reunited, he had spent hours studying every line and scar that he had gained during his captivity. The last few months he seemed to have finally come to accept what he was seeing, but now he really was looking at a complete stranger. If he had to be Daisy too long, Steve worried that he might start to lose himself again.
Bucky turned, looking at him with a hint of confusion. After a moment he seemed to remember where he was. “Did I wake you?”
“No,” Steve said gently. “But it’s early. Come back to bed.”
Bucky took one last look in the mirror and climbed back under the covers.
“Are you ok?” Steve asked, wrapping his arms around Bucky.
“Last night, you were trying to get my attention.” Bucky’s fist clenched around Steve’s nightgown. “I forgot my name.”
Steve kissed Bucky on the forehead. “What’s in a name?” he quoted. “That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet.”
Bucky nestled his head against Steve’s shoulder. “It’s not just the name.” he confessed. “I feel like I’m starting to forget what I look like. I’m starting to forget who I am.”
“Bucky,” Steve kissed him again. “It doesn’t matter what you look like, or what you call yourself. You’re mine.”
“You’re different too,” Bucky said quietly. “You feel different, you even smell different.”
“You said the same thing after the serum,” Steve reminded him gently, smoothing his hair. “I’ve changed, but I’m still me, Buck. I still love you.”
Bucky didn’t reply, but Steve could feel him relax. He kissed Bucky again.
“You know, since we’re up, we could go out for pancakes,” Steve suggested.
Bucky grinned and jumped out of bed to get dressed. Steve stretched and went to wash his face. At least some things never changed.
Loki entered the shop to pick up his dress. Mrs. O’Sullivan had offered to have it delivered, but he wanted to be certain it fit properly before taking it. The brown haired shop girl, Daisy, he remembered, greeted him and went to find the dress. She came back a moment later and led Loki back to the changing room. Loki put on the dress and came out to look in the mirror.
“How is it?” she asked.
“Perfect,” Loki assured her, smoothing down the velvet.
“Wonderful. I’ll wrap it up for you then.”
Loki removed the dress and handed it back to her. Her sleeve caught on the hanger and slipped down below her glove. It was only a second, but that was enough for Loki to catch a glimpse of the metal plating. He quickly schooled his face to stillness and carefully studied Daisy’s face while she went about her work. He had been a fool to ignore his instincts. He had been so concerned with retrieving the gem that he had neglected to search for Captain America. He looked carefully at the blonde woman as Daisy wrapped up the dress. If she was the Winter Soldier, it stood to reason that the other girl was Captain America.
“Thank you, Miss Jotun,” Daisy said, handing him the package. “Please let us know if you need anything else.”
Loki nodded and took the dress. “I’m sure I’ll be back.”
He left the shop and headed back to his apartment. They had been here right under his nose the entire time. His first thought was to eliminate them, but he dismissed the idea as too rash. If they knew about him, there was a reason they hadn’t done anything. They had gone to great lengths to establish their cover as he had and if he confronted them, it would only force them to act. No, the best thing to do was carry on as though nothing had changed.
A thought occurred to him as he walked down the street. If they were here, no doubt they were also searching for the gem. Mulligan had thus far failed to produce it, and if these two were searching for it, it might be best to leave them be. It was unlikely they knew how to use it and it would be a simple matter to retrieve it if they found it first.
He adjusted his grip on the package and continued on his way. Things were coming together slowly, but a good plan could not be rushed. His moment would come, and he would be ready.
Chapter 11: Women in Love
Loki's relationship with Mulligan comes to a turning point while Bucky and Steve think about their future.
Slight warning for a brief scene involving domestic violence.
Ch 11 Women in Love
Steve finished wrapping the dress and handed it to Loki. “Thank you again, Miss Jotun.”
Loki flashed him an enigmatic smile that made Steve shudder. “Thank you, Stella. I'll be back for the headpiece tomorrow.”
“I'll finish the beading this afternoon,” Steve promised, straining to keep his smile from slipping.
Loki took the package and left. Steve glared at his back and went to straighten up.
“If I didn't need this job I'd rip out a few seams so it falls apart in the middle of the club.” He muttered to Bucky.
“At least she doesn't throw her dress on the floor and ask me to pick it up like that one broad,” Bucky replied.
“Or that one who tries on all the hats and then doesn’t buy them because she hates the colors,” Steve added.
Bucky laughed and began fixing the shoe display. Steve headed to the back to finish the headpiece. In their spare time, he and Bucky had taken to making dresses for themselves to practice, and he had become quite proficient with a needle. Their lives had been relatively quiet and there had been very little to do except come to work and go out with Butch and Conner. There was something relaxing about just being able to go about their daily routine, but Steve was getting a bit restless. He hadn’t expected to find the gem so easily, but now that they had, he was eager to get home. Bucky on the other hand seemed to be content with their situation. Steve was glad to see that he was adjusting, but it also worried him. What would Bucky do when the time came to leave?
He finished the beading and set the headpiece carefully in a box. He cleaned up the worktable and went out front to find Bucky waiting for him. They said goodbye to Mrs. O’Sullivan and walked to the diner for dinner. Taking a seat in their usual booth, they ordered the special. Wednesdays was always meatloaf. The waitress brought their drinks and they sat back to wait for the food.
“Are you ok?” Steve asked Bucky.
“I’m great!” Bucky replied.
“That’s what has me worried.” Steve took Bucky’s hand. “I know I said we might have to stay here, but I was just preparing you for the worst. I’m starting to get the feeling though that you wouldn’t mind staying.”
Bucky shrugged. “Would it be so bad?
“We don’t belong here. We have a life that we have to get back to.”
“Why? Bucky asked. “What’s so great about it.”
“Not much sometimes,” Steve admitted. “But it’s the best we got.”
“Doesn’t have to be,” Bucky mumbled.
Bucky looked at him, gripping his hand firmly. “You told me once that if I asked we could just run away, somewhere no one would ever find us. Forget everything and just live our lives in peace. Maybe we don’t belong here, but we don’t really belong there either. Why not stay?”
“Because you know what’s coming.” Steve rubbed his thumb over the back of Bucky’s hand. “Can you really just settle down with Butch and ignore everything. Are you really telling me that you’d be able to live through the Cold War and not try to stop all the things they made you do?”
“I could try,” Bucky whispered, tears glistening in his eyes.
“I can’t,” Steve told him. “If we’re still here in 1945, I’m going to that mountain and pulling you out of there. If I get the chance to stop what they did to you, I will.”
“If you do that, I’ll never see you again,” Bucky said quietly.
“So you see my point,” Steve said gently, squeezing Bucky’s hand.
Bucky nodded. “There’s no harm in enjoying it while we can though, right?”
Steve shook his head. He took his hand away as the waitress arrived with their dinner. He turned his attention to his meatloaf. It could still be months or years before they figured out how to used the gem. Until then, he would just try to enjoy seeing Bucky happy.
Loki sat on Mulligan’s desk, sipping a glass of champagne while Mulligan discussed the latest silk shipments with Flynn and Daly. Loki studied them carefully while Mulligan droned on about damaged cargo. From the gossip in the powder room, most of the girls had been chasing those two for years. They were handsome enough, but he couldn’t understand the appeal. They were both reasonably intelligent, but they were too meek to rise above their current station. Those two were destined to remain subservient to one master or another.
“Alright, you go tell those Chinese bastards that if I see another broken bottle, I’ll have their heads.”
“Why don’t you just ask them to pack fewer bottles so they won’t break?” Loki suggested. “You can’t sell the bottles or the silk if they don’t make the trip.”
Mulligan tightened his fist. For a moment Daly looked as though he might agree, but Flynn put a hand on his arm to silence him.
“Whatever you say boss.” Flynn said quickly, dragging Daly out of the room.
Loki sipped his champagne. Underlings and cowards. He really couldn’t see the appeal. Without warning, Mulligan struck him in the face. Caught off guard, Loki toppled off the desk, his shoulder slamming into the floor. The glass flew across the room and shattered against the wall. Mulligan grabbed his arm, almost yanking it out of the socket.
“Don’t you ever talk back to me again, you mouthy quiff!”
Loki glared at him but Mulligan struck him across the face. He tasted blood and felt something warm trickle down his chin. Mulligan kicked him hard in the ribs and threw him down on the floor. Loki lay still, clutching his side as he gasped for breath. Mulligan tossed a handkerchief down in front of him.
“Clean yourself up, and don’t get any blood on that dress. It was expensive.” He paused at the door. “And learn your place or you’ll need to start wearing red!” He slammed the door, leaving Loki alone.
Staggering to his feet, Loki leaned against the desk, pressing the cloth to his bleeding lip. He should have been more careful. Mulligan had shown a tendency toward violence before, but sometimes Loki found him so insufferable. It was clear that he had strong armed his way to the top. He had enough business sense to succeed, but he was a tyrant, ruling through fear and force. He was strong, but his pride would be his undoing.
Loki reached in his handbag and took out his compact to examine the damage. His lip was bleeding and an angry red welt was forming under his eye. He closed the mirror and pressed the cloth back to his lip. Mulligan’s pride would indeed be his undoing, perhaps sooner than he knew.
Butch led Bucky through the club to their usual table. He pulled out the chair for Bucky and sat down beside him. Conner did the same for Steve. Bucky listened to the music while he and Steve waited for Conner and Butch to finish their discussion.
“I’m just saying she had a point,” Butch argued.
“She did,” Conner agreed, “but I happen to enjoy breathing. Maybe in a few weeks, we can bring it up and make him think it was his idea.”
“If you boys are done, I need a glass of whiskey.” Steve chimed in.
“Coming right up!” Conner signaled to the waiter, trying to hide a grin. “I don’t know where you put it all.”
Butch laughed. “I still can’t believe Murphy’s girl tried to go shot for shot with her. He said she was laid up for a week!”
Bucky caught a satisfied smirk on Steve’s face. Butch and Conner ordered the drinks as the next singer came out. Bucky watched her closely. She was good, but it was obvious that this wasn’t her usual number.
“Doesn’t Lola usually do the piano solo?” Steve asked.
Butch looked at the stage grimmly. “I think she’s gonna be laid up for a few days too.”
Bucky looked at him questioningly. Butch kissed his hand. “Nothing for you to worry about doll.”
Bucky decided not to press him and sat back to listen to the music. The waiter returned with a bottle of whiskey for Conner and Steve and a bottle of champagne for Bucky and Butch. Butch poured a glass for each of them. He drank his quickly and refilled it. He seemed nervous about something. When the band returned, he downed his glass and offered his hand to Bucky.
“Care to dance?”
Bucky took his hand and followed him to the floor. Bucky tried to follow the steps but Butch kept stepping on his feet.
“Is everything alright? I don’t know what you two were arguing about, but if you're in some kind of trouble-"
“It's nothing like that!” Butch readjusted his grip on Bucky’s waist. His palms were sweating. “Daisy. There's something I want to ask you but I don't want you to answer yet.”
“Butch, whatever it is, just tell me,” Bucky urged him.
“I mean it,” he said firmly. “Whatever the answer is, I really want you to think about it. Ok? Whatever you say I'll accept it but I want you to be sure.”
“Ok,” Bucky agreed.
“Daisy Buchanan. I want to marry you.”
Bucky stopped, staring at Butch in surprise. He had expected this might happen, but not this soon.
“Don’t answer yet,” Butch said before he could speak. “I'll pick you up next Saturday and we’ll go out. Tell me then, but just promise me you'll really think about it.”
“I will.” Bucky stepped in and leaned his head on Butch’s shoulder, trying to hold on to the beautiful illusion he had been living. He closed his eyes and listened to the music, as Butch held him.
Loki chipped off another piece of ice and wrapped it in a cloth. He pressed it to his swollen cheek and poured a glass of wine.
Three months now he had been here, looking for the gem to no avail. He had been optimistic that Mulligan might produce it with enough time, but he seemed to be souring on their romance. Lately the gifts had dwindled and if Loki failed to show extreme gratitude for even the most insignificant gesture, Mulligan grew angry. He had enjoyed his position, but it might be time to consider other options.
He opened the top drawer of his vanity and took out the card that Moretti had given him. He hadn’t spoken to Moretti since they met at the party, but he had kept the card just in case. Perhaps it was time for a change.
When Butch and Bucky returned to the table, Steve and Conner were gone. The waiter handed Butch a note and poured them each another glass of champagne. Butch sipped his and read the note.
“It says they left to go somewhere quiet and he’ll get her home safe.”
Bucky just nodded. His head was too full to think about that right now.
“I kind of ruined the night, didn’t I?” Butch said with a hangdog look on his face.
“It was just unexpected, that’s all,” Bucky told him. “I do like you, but it’s only been a few months.”
They fell into an awkward silence as they watched the other couples on the dance floor. Most nights they would have been out there until the club shut down, but right now Bucky just wanted to go home and talk to Steve. He had expected to have more time before this came up, and no matter what he said, he needed to know that he had Steve’s support. Bucky finished his glass and turned to Butch.
“Could you take me home? I’m feeling a bit tired all of a sudden.”
Butch polished off his glass and laid a large bill on the table. “Yeah, me too.”
They left the club and headed down the street, talking about frivolous things as they walked. Neither of them wanted to discuss what was really on their mind but they were both eager to avoid the silence. The walk seemed farther than usual, but they finally arrived back at Bucky’s apartment.
“So I’ll see you next Saturday?” Butch asked hopefully.
Bucky nodded. “Pick me up at 8.”
“Dress nice,” Butch told him. “No matter what.”
Bucky smiled at him and headed up the stairs. He found Steve at the table, wrapped in his bathrobe with a mug of cocoa.
“You’re home early,” he noted, hanging up his coat.
Steve took a sip and set the mug down. “Conner broke up with me.”
Chapter 12: A Good Woman
Bucky considers Butch's proposal
Bucky just stared as Steve got up to pour him a cup of cocoa. “What do you mean he broke up with you?”
Steve shrugged and handed him the cup. “I thought he was about to propose.”
Bucky sat down. “What happened?”
Steve sipped his cocoa and thought back on the night.
Steve laid his hand affectionately on Conner’s arm as they watched Butch and Bucky dance. After several failed attempts, they had both agreed that they were safer at the table with their whiskey. Seeing Bucky enjoy himself was more fun that having his toes crushed. Conner finished his glass and looked at his watch.
“You want to get out of here?” he asked suddenly.
“You don’t like the band tonight?”
“I just had kind of a long day and I thought we could go somewhere quiet and talk. I know a few places.”
Steve smiled. “Sure. Just let me powder my nose.”
He slipped off to the powder room while Conner paid the tab. He smoothed his hair and fixed his lipstick before returning to the table. They left the club and walked to a hotel a few blocks away. Conner whispered a few words to the doorman who led them through the lobby into a service hall. They followed him through the drab corridor and through the staff entrance of a quiet ballroom.
“What is this place?” Steve asked.
“Just another place we sell to,” he said. “It’s run by some stuffy old guy who’s got a bit of a weakness for the sauce. Makes a pretty penny off it too. They have a dance hall one floor up. Everyone comes here to get sauced first, but it’s usually pretty quiet.”
“Clever,” Steve said. Butch led him to a table and called the waiter over.
“Hot Toddy and whatever the lady would like.”
“I’ll have the same,” Steve told him. The waiter left and he turned to Conner. “Are you feeling alright?”
“Nothing serious,” he said, wiping his brow. He was flushed but he seemed more nervous than ill.
“My mother had a great recipe for chicken soup,” Steve remembered. “She claimed it would cure anything. I should make it for you.”
Conner laughed humorously. “You would do that for me, wouldn’t you.”
“It's just chicken soup.” He paused for a moment before adding, “And I do care about you.”
The waiter came back with their drinks before Conner could respond. Steve sipped his drink, surprised to realize that that was true. It was far from love, but Conner was much kinder and more intelligent than he had first thought. Under that gruff, sullen demeanor was a good man.
Conner sipped his drink and leaned back in the chair. “So how are things at the shop?”
Steve set his drink gingerly on the table. “They’re going well. Mrs. O’Sullivan is letting me help with the trim and alterations now. She says I should be ready to start making dresses on my own in a few months. I’ve been practicing on my own clothes and she says my work is coming along nicely.”
Conner eyed the dress Steve was wearing. “Did you make that?”
“Mostly,” Steve said proudly. “Daisy helped me with the hem and some of the buttons.”
Conner nodded approvingly. “You got talent.”
Steve blushed. “Thank you.”
They drank in comfortable silence, enjoying the quiet ambiance of the lounge. The hum of conversation filled the room, muffled by the thick drapes and plush seats. Steve found it comforting. There was something intimate about being able to share space without having to fill the silence. It was something he had only found with a few close friends over the years. He had been hesitant about this at first but he was glad he had met Conner.
Conner set his drink aside and took Steve’s hand. “Stella, you’re a great girl and I’ve had a lot of fun lately.”
Steve felt his breath catch. He knew what this sounded like. He sat still, waiting for Conner to continue. His hands were trembling and he was sweating. Suddenly he let go and turned away.
“I’m sorry, I can’t do this.”
Steve gaped at him. “What?”
“You really are a good woman, but this isn’t fair to you.” He reached in his pocket and took out a five dollar bill. “Have a drink and take a cab home. I gotta get out of here.”
Without another word, Conner left, leaving Steve alone in the lounge.
Bucky sipped his cocoa as Steve finished recounting his evening. “I’m sorry.”
“I can’t understand what he meant,” Steve muttered. He seemed more intrigued that upset.
“Well you were going to turn him down anyway,” Bucky pointed out.
Steve tapped his fingers on the table. “I don’t know what I was going to say. There’s a lot to think about.”
“Butch proposed,” Bucky blurted out. “He asked me to wait a week before I answered.”
Steve finished his cocoa and put the cup in the sink. “Let’s go to bed. I think I just need some sleep.”
Bucky’s mind was racing as Steve helped him undress. Why did all of this have to happen so fast. He didn’t want to hurt Butch, but he worried that it was unavoidable.
“What if I say yes?” he asked.
Steve kissed his shoulder and started brushing his hair. “Even if you do, it’s not like you’re going to run down to the courthouse Monday. Mrs. O’Sullivan is going to insist on helping you plan a big wedding. I'm sure you can drag out the engagement for a year.”
“What if we leave before then?” Bucky asked.”
“What if we don’t?” Steve set the brush down and sat down on the bed. “You have a week, let’s just forget about it for now and try to get some sleep.”
Bucky nodded. It had been a long day and a good night’s rest would help clear his head. He turned out the light and settled in beside Steve.
Loki sat in the leather chair in Moretti’s office. Moretti handed him a glass of wine, examining him carefully. Loki had left a faint bruise on his cheek, just enough to make his story convincing. Moretti might have overreacted to the full extent of his injuries and Loki needed him under control for now.
“Thank you for seeing me, Mr. Moretti.”
“Vito, please.” Moretti sat on the edge of his desk, smiling at Loki. “I gotta say I was surprised to hear from you.”
“Why is that?” Loki asked, taking a dainty sip from the glass.
“Never had a woman take a month to call me. Thought I was losing my touch.”
Loki flashed a coy smile. “Trust me, Vito, I’m worth the wait. And I have more to offer you than just my charming company.”
Vito leaned forward to place a hand on Loki’s knee. “What would that be?”
“Information.” Loki traced a red lacquered fingernail down the back of Vito’s hand. “Mulligan always thought of me as just a desk ornament, but I listened. I know how he operates. I know where his shipments come in and I know how you can hurt him.”
Vito leaned back, studying Loki carefully. “What’s in it for you?”
Loki turned his head so the bruise was visible. “Aside from getting to see Mulligan squirm?”
“Besides that. I’ve met plenty of dames who would cross the street to spit on a guy, but you don’t seem like the type.”
“There’s something I need your help finding,” Loki admitted. “A necklace. Mulligan couldn’t find it, but I’m sure you could.” He leaned in. “I’m about to hand you an empire. All I’m asking is a small trinket.”
Vito sipped his wine as he considered the offer. “You know, an empire ain’t much fun without an Empress.”
Loki leaned back, crossing his legs and throwing an arm over the back of the chair. “Honey, with what I’m offering, you can have a hareem.”
Vito smiled. “Well, how can I turn that down?”
Bucky finished hemming the dress he was working on and clipped the stray threads. It was comforting to be able to lose himself in his work. Butch’s proposal had given him enough to think about, but Steve’s admission that he might not have rejected Conner put Bucky in an awkward position. If they left tomorrow, Butch would be alone and broken hearted, but if they never found their way home, he might be missing out on the best man he was going to find here. Mrs. O’Sullivan would never let them remain unmarried and the next man she found was likely to be much less understanding.
He hung the dress on the rack and went to help Steve straighten up the front of the store. He started dusting the shelves as the door opened. He froze as Butch walked in.
Butch smiled at him disarmingly. “Don't worry doll, I'm just here for the usual delivery.”
Bucky exhaled and went over to give him a small peck on the cheek. “Mrs. O’Sullivan stepped out for a minute but she should be right back.”
“Well, I’ll just look around then.” Butch went over to one of the racks and flipped through it. He pulled out a lilac dress with gold trim and mid length sleeves. “What do you think of this one?”
“Not really your color,” Bucky teased him.
Butch held it up and looked in the mirror. “You’re right. Might work on you though.”
Bucky looked at the dress apprehensively. It was beautiful, but he didn’t want to give Butch a false sense of hope when he still didn’t know his answer.
“Try it on,” Butch said, holding the dress out to him.
Bucky gently pushed it away. “I have work to do.”
“You're supposed to be helping your customers,” Butch reminded him sweetly. “Now I'm gonna buy this dress for my girl no matter what, but I'd really like to know if it fits first.”
“I just think it’ll look nice Saturday, that’s all.” He looked at Bucky with pleading eyes. “Just try it on.”
Bucky hid a smile and took the dress back to the fitting room. He undressed and slipped it over his head. It fit for the most part but the hips were a bit tight. He looked at it in the mirror. Butch had been right, the color suited him. He took it off and went back out to the floor.
“I don't get to see it?” Butch pouted.
Bucky hid a smile as he hung the dress up behind the register. “It needs some minor alterations. I'll have them done by Saturday.”
Before Butch could respond, Mrs O'Sullivan returned. Butch grinned and went to see to his business. “You know where to send the bill!”
Bucky filled out the sale order and returned to help Steve fix the front display. He was going to need Steve’s help to get that dress ready.
“Hold still,” Steve grumbled as he marked the dress.
“Hurry up,” Bucky grunted.
“Not exactly how I wanted to spend my Wednesday night either.” Steve muttered. “Ok, you can take it off.”
He unbuttoned it and helped Bucky wriggle out of it. Bucky took off his brasier and slipped on his nightgown. He rubbed his chest. “How many years before these things come back into style?”
“Two or three I think,” Steve said. “You paid more attention to girls than I did.”
Bucky laughed. “In two years I was still worried about baseball and boxing.”
“Well the next time Butch wants to shower you with gifts that I have to adjust, tell him to give me more than two days.”
“At least he chose one with sleeves,” Bucky said opening the dresser. “Which gloves should I wear?”
“That lilac pair would look nice, or the cream ones.”
Bucky took them out and held them up to the dress. “Cream.”
“How are you going to explain the arm?” Steve asked snipping the threads of the seam.
Bucky looked at him. “What?”
“You do know the ring goes on your left hand?” Steve teased.
Bucky slumped down on the bed. “I still don’t know what I’m going to say.”
Steve sighed. “Well, we have no idea how to use that gem. I don’t see us getting out of here any time soon.”
Bucky watched Steve as he worked on the dress. It was odd to think about marrying someone when the love of his life was sitting across the room, but nothing about their relationship had ever been normal. He had faced a similar decision a few times when they were younger, but it had been easier for him to stay unmarried when he was a man. As a woman his options in life were much more limited. As Steve had pointed out, they might not have a choice.
“I won’t leave you behind if I say yes,” Bucky promised. “You can move in with us.”
Steve laughed. “I’ll be fine. I think I have a bright career as a fashion designer.”
Bucky chuckled. “Do you need help with that?”
“I’m fine. I need the practice if I have to make your wedding dress.”
“Don’t forget your bridesmaid dress!” Bucky scoffed.
Steve grinned. “I was thinking red, white and blue.”
“Well I still have to explain why I have a mechanical arm.”
Steve shrugged. “Maybe he won’t even notice.”
Saturday evening, Steve was helping Mrs. O’Sullivan close up the shop. Bucky had left to get ready for his date with Butch. They had tried to keep the proposal quiet from Mrs. O’Sullivan, but she seemed to suspect something was amiss. There was a part of Steve that was hoping Bucky would accept and save them from having to explain things.
Mrs. O’Sullivan came out of the back with a small parcel.
“Stella, I need to make a delivery, but I’ll be back in an hour. Would you mind staying for a bit and finishing the beading on Mrs. O’Henry’s dress?”
“Yes ma’am,” Steve replied.
He returned to his work as she left. A few minutes later Butch knocked on the door. Steve set the broom aside and opened it. “Daisy’s upstairs getting ready.”
“I know,” he said, edging his way into the store. “I wanted to talk to you real quick.”
“I don’t know what she’s going to say.”
Butch shook his head. “Not that. Did you tell Mrs. O about you and Conner?”
“No,” Steve told him. “If I do, she’ll just set me up with someone else. I didn’t even want to go out with Conner at first, so if she thinks we’re still together, that suits me.”
Butch sighed. “Don’t give up on him just yet. I’m trying to talk him around, but he tends to overthink things.” He handed Steve a piece of paper. “If you want to talk some sense into him, he’ll be here tonight. It’s a club we supply out in Brooklyn.”
Steve pocketed the paper and picked up the broom. “I need to get back to work.”
“Yeah, I gotta be going anyway. Think about what I said.”
Steve locked the door behind him and went to work on the dress. If he didn’t get that beading done, he wouldn’t be going anywhere, let alone Brooklyn.
Bucky was just putting on his gloves when Butch knocked on the door. He took one last look in the mirror and went to answer it. Butch stood there, grinning.
Bucky took his hand. “Before we go-”
Butch held up his finger. “I don’t want you to answer me until the end of the night. If this is our last date, I just want to remember your beautiful face.” He stepped in for a kiss. “And maybe sneak one more of those.”
Bucky felt himself blush. “Just let me get my purse.”
He followed Butch down the stairs and into a waiting cab. Butch was right, if this was their last night, they should enjoy it.
Steve finish the beading on the neckline and tied off the thread. He stood back to examine the dress, wondering if he had missed his calling as a dressmaker. If they never made it home, perhaps he could move to Paris and give Coco Chanel a run for her money. He snipped a few stray threads and went to get a box for the dress.
He pulled one off of the shelf but it caught on the one beside it, bringing down a stack of them on his head. As he stepped back to avoid them, his foot knocked into the baseboard. He fixed the boxes and noticed that the baseboard had come loose. He bent to replace it, but noticed a box in the wall behind it. He glanced around. Mrs. O’Sullivan was still out. He pulled the box out and eased it open. Inside were several large envelopes. One inside was labeled Daly/Flynn.
Steve opened the envelope and slipped the photos out. He clasped a hand to his mouth to stifle a surprised gasp, but he heard the door open before he could look further. Quickly, he shoved the photos down the front of his dress.
“How is it coming, dear?” Mrs. O’Sullivan called.
“Just about done!” Steve called, quietly replacing the baseboard. He got a box and packaged up the dress. He took it out front.
“Just needs to be delivered.”
“Stella you are a gift from God. What would I do without you?”
Steve just smiled, praying that the photos weren’t ruining the lines of his dress. “Is there anything else?”
“No, off with you. Enjoy your night.”
Steve grabbed his coat and handbag and headed out the door. As he turned the corner, he broke into a run, sprinting up the stairs. He set the photos on the table and reached in his pocket for the address Butch had given him. He knew the street and if he hurried, he could catch the next train. He wrapped the photos in a scarf and went to change for the evening.
Chapter 13: The Perennial Bachelor
Steve goes to confront Butch.
Clutching his coat tightly, Steve hurried through the cold streets to the speakeasy. He read over the note again to be sure he had the right place, then slipped down the alley. He knocked on the door three times, paused, and then knocked twice more. After a moment, the plate slid open.
“Password,” a gruff voice demanded.
“I left my coat here last night.”
The plate closed and the door creaked open. The doorman gave Steve a curious look. Steve guessed that the man had probably dealt with his share of irate molls looking for a cheating boyfriend, but after a moment he nodded and let Steve through. He went to the bar and smiled sweetly at the bartender.
“I’m looking for Conner Flynn.”
The bartender eyed Steve with the same careful look the bouncer had given him. “Who’s asking?”
“He ain’t here.”
Steve planted his hands on the bar and looked squarely at the man. “I know he’s here. Butch Daly sent me.” The man opened his mouth to argue but Steve cut him off. “It’s important. I’m not leaving until I speak with him.
The bartender nodded and went to find Conner. He returned a moment later. “He’s busy, but he said to tell you to wait here and get you whatever you want.”
Steve settled into one of the chairs. “Whiskey neat.”
The bartender winked at Steve. “Woman after my own heart.”
He poured the glass and left to see to the other patrons. Steve took a sip and looked around the place. It was similar to the club in Manhattan, but one seemed to draw more of a working class crowd. Steve almost felt a little overdressed. There were a few women in nicer clothes, but like him, they appeared to be dating someone important. As he watched the crowd, a man in a well worn suit sidled up to him.
“What’s a girl like you doing here alone?”
“Waiting for my boyfriend,” Steve said sharply.
The man put an arm around Steve’s waist. “What kind of man leaves a pretty girl like you alone at the bar?”
Steve glared at him icily. “The kind who knows no one would be foolish enough to bother her.”
“Well I’ve always been a bit of a fool,” the man replied.
Steve looked around for Conner, but he was deep in conversation with someone on the other side of the room. He could have easily dealt with the man himself, but he didn’t want to cause a scene. He had come here to talk to Conner and if he got thrown out, he might miss his chance. Maybe he could charm his way out of this. He turned to the man, but his breath caught in his throat when he realized who it was. It was Bucky’s father. He quickly reminded himself that Mr. Barnes had no idea who he was. In his mind, Steve was an 11 year old boy who sometimes hung around with his son. He put on a smile and sipped his drink.
“What brings you here?”
“Drinking my troubles away,” Mr. Barnes answered.
Steve made a show of glancing down at his hand. “I’m surprised your wife let you out of the house.”
“Old nag doesn’t tell me what to do!” He took a long swig of his drink. “Had to get away from her and the damn kids.”
“How many do you have?” Steve asked lightly.
“About to be five,” Mr. Barnes said bitterly. He finished his drink and called for another. “She told me tonight there’s another one on the way. I thought we were done with all that. We just got the last one out of diapers and now we have to do it all over!”
Steve’s hand clenched around his glass. He sipped his whiskey and set his glass down on the counter as Mr. Barnes continued.
“Didn’t know what I was getting myself into.” He took a long sip of his drink. “There was a war on so I joined up. Met this girl right before I left for training and when I got home, I found out she was pregnant. I did the right thing and married her before I shipped out. I came back, got a job, settled down. Never even gave it a second thought. Hell, we were so busy with everything, I never had a chance to get to know the woman I married. With the kids getting older, I was starting to think we were done, that maybe someday we could actually have some fun again, or at least get some damn sleep. Now we’re back to square one.” He drained the rest of his glass. “I wish I were 18 again so I could do it all over.”
“There’s a lot of guys that didn’t come back,” Steve said coldly, trying to stay calm. Mr. Barnes had never been the friendliest man but Bucky had always idolized him and he was the closest thing Steve had had to a father. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing right now.
“I don’t see much difference,” Mr. Barnes grumbled. “Never get a minute to myself anymore. All I do is go to work, come home and read the paper and give my wife my money to spend. Once in a while I get to give her a tumble, but you see where that got us. Then I get up and do it all over again.” He stared at his whiskey. “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I just didn’t go home.”
Steve couldn’t take it anymore. He grabbed Mr. Barnes’ drink, tossing it in his face. Mr. Barnes gaped at him.
“You crazy broad!”
Steve grabbed Mr. Barnes’ tie and leaned in close until their faces were almost touching. “Listen to me you heel,” he seethed. “I see men like you come through here all the time, whining about shit like this and I’ve had it. You have a good woman at home who’s busting her hump to raise your kids, cook your meals, and keep your shirts clean, and she deserves better than a limp noodle like you!”
“Listen here you-”
Steve slapped Mr. Barnes sharply. “Man up, you coward! You have a good family, but they won’t be around forever. So you are going to go home, kiss your wife, go to work, and raise your son to be a better man than you!”
The bouncer came over. “Is there a problem here?”
“This crazy bitch hit me!”
The bouncer looked at him and then at Steve. “You Flynn’s girl?”
“That’s right,” Steve confirmed.
The bouncer grabbed Mr. Barnes by the arm. “You’re out of here pal.”
“Throw her out!” Mr. Barnes protested.
“That’s my boss’ girl. If she clocked you, I have to believe she had a reason. Let’s go!”
“Lousy moll!” Mr. Barnes yelled as the bouncer dragged him toward the door.
Steve finished off his glass and called for another, but Conner stepped up beside him before it arrived. “I was a little worried, but I see you can handle yourself.”
“Sort of have to now,” Steve said coolly.
Conner ran a hand through his hair. “Look, the other night-”
“Is there somewhere private we can talk,” Steve cut in quickly.
“Yeah this way.” Conner led Steve to the back to a richly appointed office. “This belongs to the boss, but he ain’t here.”
“Did you get my message?” Steve asked.
“I was in the middle of something, I just heard you were here. Butch tell you where to find me?”
“Yes, but that’s not why I’m here. If you don’t want to be with me, I’ll respect that, but I feel like there’s something you’re not telling me.”
Conner took a bottle from the book case and poured two glasses of whiskey. “It’s complicated.”
“Is there someone else?” Steve asked, hoping Conner might confide in him willingly.
“You could say that,” Conner muttered into his glass. “It’s not going to work out, but it wouldn’t be fair to marry you if my heart’s not in it.”
“What if I told you I didn’t mind,”
Conner seemed to consider that for a moment, but shook his head. “You deserve better. Stella, I-”
“I found the photos.” Steve interrupted.
Conner’s face perked up. “You did? Where are they!”
“I have them.” Steve took out the photos and unwrapped them. On top was a photo of Conner in bed with Butch, naked and locked in a passionate embrace.
Conner stared at the photos, the blood draining from his face as he realized what Steve was trying to tell him. He leaned forward with his head in his hands. “Stella, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m not upset.” Steve put a hand on his arm. “I understand why you didn’t tell me, but if you had, I think we could have all saved ourselves a lot of trouble.”
“There’s something wrong with me Stella!” Conner wailed as he sank down into the chair. He was shaking. “God we were so stupid. The room she rents was empty and Butch copied the key. Thought we’d found a safe little love nest. Managed to get away with it for a few months, but the old bag caught on. She just sat there outside the window and photographed the whole damn thing.” He wiped the tears from his eyes and took a long sip of his drink. “She threatened to tell Mulligan. She made us both go to confession and told us that if we didn’t stop we’d go to hell.”
Steve sat down beside him. “There’s nothing wrong with you Conner, You’re a good man, one of the best I’ve ever met.” He took Conner’s hand. “We have more in common than you think.”
Conner looked at him. “What do you mean?”
“I’m in love with Daisy,” Steve told him.
Conner sat back in the chair, stunned. “And you just let her go off with Butch tonight? You know he’s going to proposed to her!”
“It’s complicated,” Steve said with an impish grin.
“Mrs O’ said if Butch and I got married, she’d give those back and that’d be the end of it.”
Steve sipped his drink. “So I guess you’re free now.”
Conner stared pensively at his whiskey. “Did you get the film?”
Steve shook his head. “I think it was in there, but Mrs. O’Sullivan came back and I didn’t have time.”
Conner threw back his drink and grabbed his coat. “We gotta go get that. But first we need to stop Butch and Daisy from making a huge mistake.”
Steve followed Conner out of the club. “Would it be a mistake?” he asked. “It would keep Mrs. O’Sullivan off our backs.”
Conner stopped. “You serious?”
Steve shrugged. “Seems like we’re all in the same boat. We could help each other out.”
Conner considered the idea for a moment before sinking down to a knee.Steve caught his arm.
“Ok, woah, I wasn’t quite ready for that!” He pulled Conner back to his feet.
“Sorry,” Conner said sheepishly. “I thought that’s what you were,” he trailed off.
“Let’s discuss it later,” Steve suggested. “We need to go find Butch and Daisy.”
“You got it dollface,” Conner said, sticking up his hand to hail a cab. He opened the door for Steve and got in the other side. Steve watched as the buildings sped by, hoping they weren’t too late.
Chapter 14: Peace Negotiations
The conclusion of the proposal arc
Bucky set down his fork, carefully letting out a quiet burp as the last bite settled. “Excuse me.”
Butch just smiled. Bucky felt his stomach churn in a way that had nothing to do with the heavy sauce on his chicken. Dinner was coming to an end and Butch would be expecting an answer. Bucky had changed his mind five times already that night and he still had no idea what he would say when the moment came. After Steve, Butch was one of the finest men Bucky had ever known. He didn’t want to break his heart, but he didn’t want to lie to him either. No matter what, he would end up doing one of those, but which one would be better.
He took a sip of his water as Butch finished his steak. He set down his fork and looked at Bucky. Bucky clenched his hand around his napkin.
“Coffee?” Butch asked.
Bucky tried to hide his relief. “Yes, that sounds great.”
Butch signaled to a passing waiter. “We’ll have two cups of coffee.”
“Very good, sir,” he nodded and continued on his way.
“And afterwards, I know a little place down the street where we can get some pie.”
“That sounds delicious,” Bucky said.
They lapsed into silence. Bucky desperately tried to think of something to say before Butch could bring up the proposal, but his mind was a blank. The waiter returned with their coffee. Bucky poured in some cream and sipped it slowly. Butch stirred in a bit of sugar and tapped his fingers on the table.
“Daisy,” he began.
Suddenly a hand grabbed one of the empty chairs. “Are we too late?” Conner asked.
“Too late for what?” Butch asked sharply.
Steve came up beside him and took Bucky’s arm. “Come on Daisy, I need to go powder my nose.”
Bucky stumbled a bit as Steve dragged him off to the powder room. Pushing Bucky inside, Steve locked the door behind them. “Butch is gay,” he said without preamble.
Stunned, Bucky sank slowly into the chair by the vanity. He had no reason to doubt Steve, but he had never suspected anything.
“I know,” Steve said softly. “I didn’t get that feeling either, but I found the pictures that they were looking for. Mrs. O’Sullivan was blackmailing them into dating us.”
Bucky just nodded. Suddenly it all made sense. Their relationship had been a ruse, but Butch had been using him too.
Steve kissed him. “You’re not disappointed are you?”
“I don’t know.” Bucky took his hand. “What should I do?”
Steve stroked his cheek. “You should remember that I love you, and I’ll be here with you no matter what. Remember that we need to get home, and staying close to Loki is the best way to do that. And remember that we might be stuck here for a while.” He kissed Bucky again. “And remember that none of that matters and I just want you to be happy.”
Bucky kissed his hand. “That doesn’t help, but thank you.”
Steve smiled and fixed a few stray strands of hair. “You should get back out there.”
Bucky fixed his lipstick and followed Steve back to the table. Butch and Conner sat in silence, but Bucky could tell they’d been having more or less the same conversation. Conner stood and pulled out the chair for Bucky.
“We’ll leave you two love birds to it then.” He offered his arm to Steve. Steve squeezed Bucky’s shoulder quickly and let Conner escort him out of the restaurant.
Butch and Bucky finished their coffee in silence and left, heading down the street toward the cafe Butch had mentioned. For several blocks, neither of them spoke. Bucky didn’t know what to say. His own thoughts were swirling around chaotically. Had anything between them been real? He had done the same thing when he was younger, using unsuspecting girls to keep anyone from guessing where his real interests lay. It was just a cruel reality of the times they lived in. Still, he had thought there was something between them.
“So you and Stella?” Butch asked.
The question caught Bucky off guard. He stumbled a bit but regained his balance. “It’s a little more complicated than that, but yes,” he said finally.
Butch frowned. “Complicated how?”
Bucky looked up at the stars, trying to think of how to explain their relationship. It had been confusing for them when they were younger and if they hadn’t been catapulted 70 years into the future, they might never have figured it out. Butch was in the same position, trying to sort through feelings he had been taught were wrong with no one to guide him. He wouldn’t understand many of the terms that Bucky had learned to describe his feelings for Steve, but he would have to explain it as best he could.
“Stella is the love of my life and she always will be, but the idea that I’m limited to loving just one person doesn’t seem right to me. She isn’t the only one I’ve fallen for. She understands and if I meet someone I’m free to pursue them.”
Butch stopped dead in his tracks, staring at Bucky with a confused look. “She’s ok with that?”
“Stella’s situation is a little different too,” Bucky continued. “She’s not interested in sex, with anyone. Not even me. She loves me, she just shows it in other ways, but she doesn’t expect me to abstain. It’s unconventional but it works for us.”
Butch leaned against a mail box and took a long drink from his flask. “She really lets you run around on her like that?”
“It took us some time to get to that point,” Bucky explained. “We were separated for a while. After that, we decided that being together was more important than how we were together.”
Butch took a long sip from his flask and handed it to Bucky. “So where does that leave us?”
“That’s up to you,” Bucky told him, taking a quick swig.
“I really do like you Daisy. If Conner wasn’t in the picture, I think I really could have fallen for you.”
“You still can,” Bucky said.
Butch scoffed. “I don’t think Conner will be as understanding as Stella.”
“I don’t want to steal you away, just borrow you from time to time.”
Butch raised an eyebrow. “You’d still marry me?”
“If you’ll have me,” Bucky replied.
Butch took the flask back and took another swig. “I need to talk to Conner before I decide anything. He wasn’t exactly crazy about this whole arrangement.”
“Of course,” Bucky agreed.
Butch grinned and reached in his pocket. He took out a small box and handed it to Bucky. “Why don’t you hang on to this for me. Make sure it fits.”
Bucky kissed him. “Now I believe you mentioned something about pie?”
Loki watched the bubbles in the glass as Moretti poured the champagne.
“Your information was dead on. Fifty cases of French Champagne. Cheers.”
Loki clinked his glass against Moretti’s and took a sip. “Exquisite”
“So what’s the next move?”
“I have a lead on a few more shipments, but after that you need to attack the clubs. Cut off his base of operations. He can always get more booze, but it’s useless if he doesn’t have a place to sell it.”
“He’s not going to take that lying down.” Moretti warned. “Things could get ugly real quick.”
Loki drew a gloved finger along Moretti’s jaw. “Then you’d better be quicker.”
Steve sat at the kitchen table sipping cocoa while he waited for Bucky. His mind was racing. So much had happened in just a few hours. Conner had been surprisingly open minded when he explained his relationship with Bucky. After talking they had come to the conclusion that getting married made sense for all of them. He still hoped that they might find a way home soon, but until then, marrying Conner was the best option.
He poured another cup as Bucky came in.
“That was one hell of a night.” Bucky said.
“I’ll say,” Steve agreed, getting another cup out of the cabinet and pouring some cocoa for Bucky. “So what did you tell him.”
Bucky took the ring out and set it on the table. “He’s talking it over with Conner, but I think it’s going to work out.
Steve handed Bucky the cup of cocoa and opened the box to look at the ring. It was a modest sized stone, but the band had a beautiful art deco design. “I guess we need to start looking at wedding dresses then.”
“So what exactly happened to you tonight?” Bucky asked. “When I left you were working late and then you show up at the restaurant with Conner.”
Steve hesitated. With everything that had happened, he had almost forgotten about his run in with Bucky’s father. “It’s a long story. I’d rather not get into it right before bed.”
“You’re right,” Bucky agreed. “I’m going to have trouble getting to sleep as it is. We can talk about it tomorrow over breakfast.”
He finished his cocoa and went to change. Steve washed the mugs and went to help him. He picked up the brush to brush Bucky’s hair.
“You like him, don’t you?” he asked.
“I do,” Bucky said. “I explained things to him.”
Steve laughed and set down the brush. “I bet that was a shocker.” He kissed Bucky on the cheek and got into bed.
“He took it pretty well.” Bucky slipped under the covers beside Steve. “You’re still the love of my life.”
“I know,” Steve told him. He leaned into kiss Bucky. “I like Butch. He’s a good man.”
“The second best I’ve ever met,” Bucky said, draping an arm around Steve’s waist
Steve lay his head on Bucky’s shoulder, nestling his chin in the crook of Bucky’s neck. Their lives never stayed peaceful for long. He had learned to enjoy the quiet moments when they were there. Laying here in Bucky’s arms was a quiet as it got. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of Bucky’s perfume.
A/N: I wanted to make this just a bit clearer than I was able to in the chapter. I’ve been intentionally vague about Bucky and Steve’s orientations, partly because sex isn’t a main focus of this, and partly because I didn’t go into this with a plan and they’ve evolved with the story. I’m writing Steve as falling on the Asexual spectrum and Bucky being more pansexual. Butch is bi and Conner is gay. With Bucky and Butch’s relationship, I’m writing the two of them as polyamorous. I feel like Steve and Bucky wouldn’t really try to put a label on things. They’re in love, they’re together, but since Steve has little to no interest in sex, Bucky is free to seek that out elsewhere.