Bucky had just about blown his top when he found the feather in the mailbox.
"I don't believe it," he yelled. "What the hell?"
"It's not for you," Steve had told him. "You know that."
"For Christ's sake, what the hell are they tryin' to imply? That you're sick on purpose or somethin'?"
"The army wouldn't take me, Buck. Not like the person sendin' those out knows why. Prob'ly some enlistment campaign or other."
Bucky slanted a glance over at his best friend. There was a touch more stoicism and hidden bitterness in Steve's voice than normal, and Buck hadn't been around for the last few months while he'd been in Basic.
"So, how many of these so far?" Bucky asked, gambling on a venture. Steve didn't reply, but the flinch before he reached over and snatched the feather out of Bucky's hand spoke volumes.
"I'm savin' up for a pillow," Steve said wryly.
Elsie Mendelbaum down at the deli has a smile for Steve when he shows up to buy the few groceries he can afford on the salary he's getting from the WPA. She's one of the few who does, these days. She's had a smile for him ever since he stepped up and distracted those Jew-baiters one night when she was going home. If it wasn't for the fact her parents wouldn't have a bar of him, he'd offer to take her out to the USO dance hall. But Mr and Mrs Mendelbaum have their eyes on a nice Jewish boy for their Elsie, and even though they like Steve and say he's a nice boy, he's not the right faith, and really, an artist who's barely scraping by on government grants can't really aspire to getting married.
It's a pity. Elsie's really nice. Dark hair, dark eyes, nice smile, and she's a good listener. Plus she likes art, which is always a good thing.
But Mr Mendelbaum is right. He can't afford a girl.
He may as well wait for the right partner - someone who sees him instead of his illnesses, someone he can talk to. Someone who'd be happy to dance with him.
That's what he tells himself, anyway. He's being sensible about it. Really.
It sort of helps, when the latest double-date Bucky's fixed him up with looks at him like she's been gypped.
After Project Rebirth, the women look at him differently. They're smiling, they're flirting, they're trying to catch his attention. But all he can remember is the way they used to look at him before - the way they still look at Mike, who he pretends to punch twice a day, and the way they look at the guys in the chorus line. The look that says "why would we want you?" The flirtatious looks leave him cold, because he knows they're only interested in Captain America. None of them gives a damn about Steve Rogers.
The white feathers have tailed off, though. The only time he sees one is in Milwaukee, when a frosty dame comes up to him after the show, glares him up and down, and then shoves it at him as though she hopes the quill could pierce him to the heart.
"You should be over there," she hisses. "Big man like you. You should be over there, not hiding away here!" Her voice starts to shake on the last few words. "Why aren't you doing something useful for your country? Coward! Coward!" she yells, sobbing, before she's dragged away by Senator Brandt's people.
Steve just stands there, holding the feather. Somewhere in the distance, he can hear the sound of one of Brandt's aides saying "okay, show's over, time for you folks to go home" to the crowd of eager admirers. He wishes he could find the woman who handed him the feather, find her and agree with her. He should be over there. He should be doing more than this, more than just standing up on a stage, exhorting people to buy bonds.
Brandt's off-sider comes up to him, and tries to take the feather from him. "She lost her husband," the man says, reaching for the feather in Steve's hand. Steve pulls it away.
"I'm savin' up for a pillow," he says, absently. "And she was right. I should be over there."