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no widows tonight

Chapter Text

 

The Barnes family moved into the neighborhood late in the autumn of 1936. They took the Creets’ old home, the nice two story with the big bay window and the unreliable boiler. On their right were the Steffs and on their left were the O’Briens. The Barneses were not Irish, but Mr. Barnes was Romani, who were disliked almost as much as the Irish and, as such, granted them the right of honorary Irish blood. At any rate, the younger Barnes boy, Steven, looked Irish enough in the right light compared to his older brother, James, and younger sister, Rebecca, so it was assumed that Mrs. Barnes had some Irish in her somewhere and that was good enough.

 

The Barnes family were also to be pitied. Again, because of the younger boy. Poor Steven Rogers nee Barnes, you see, was a widow. Poor Steven had the misfortune to have presented an Omega early in life, left sickly for it, and after his one good break in life, marrying Mrs. Rogers, suffered the worst thing a newlybonded Omega could. His Alpha died in a tragic accident, leaving him alone and pregnant nonetheless. It had been simple for Steven’s parents to take him back into their household, seeing as he was without a support network for his unborn child, but the family had relocated to Chicago following Mr. Barnes, senior, being transferred within his job at the bank. Just as well, New York probably contained too much memory for poor Steven, and everyone knows that grieving can make a pregnancy take an ill turn.

 

So, the Barneses were adopted quickly into the neighborhood. Mr. Barnes, as said, worked at the bank, while Mrs. Barnes took up a post at the local school and young James Barnes, only a year older than his poor brother, started work at Paddy’s garage. That boy could do things with an engine that even Patrick O’Daniels thought was grand. Young Rebecca stayed at home to attend to her widowed brother early in his pregnancy, but unfortunately was forced to take work as a clerk at her father’s bank early in 1937. The papers swore that the Depression was ending, but more families than the Barneses found that every member of the household had to pick up work where they could to keep the lights on.

 

Poor Steven did not suffer employment, but that was perfectly understandable. It was a miracle he never lost the baby, having suffered his bondmate so soon in their marriage, but his family was very supportive and the neighbors never let a harsh word reach his ears. Steven gave birth in the late spring of 1937 to a healthy boy and named him James, after George Barnes’s father he said, and Joseph, after his Alpha’s father. To distinguish between the baby and the uncle, James encouraged folks to call him Bucky, for his middle name, and the baby was dubbed Jamie.

 

Now, Jamie was the sweetest child you ever had the good fortune to lay eyes on. He had his mother’s eyes and presumably his Alpha mother’s hair, as it was a deep brown, or perhaps that was a trait passed down from Steven’s parents. Even as a newborn, Jamie had a cleft to his chin and light freckles scattering his nose, again leading neighbors cooing over him to assume that Mrs. Barnes had some Irish in her somewhere. Little Jamie grew quickly, learning to walk and talk and run around and cause mischief, and it was often a chore to ever be cross with him. Bucky Barnes particularly doted on him, claiming that it was his God-given right as an uncle to spoil the child. Steven always shook his head and rolled his eyes, but never put a stop to Bucky’s doting.

 

All in all, the Barnes’s neighbors were very fond of them. The neighborhood boys were all enamored with Steven’s fair hair and skin despite his gender and always took care to defend his honor whenever some snot-nosed rat dared suggest that Steven never had an Alpha at all and wee Jamie was the product of whoring. The mothers and sisters were always happy to lend a hand in Jamie’s upbringing, happy to hold a baby that wasn’t theirs for once and happier to give him back when his diaper needed changing. Why, even Bucky Barnes cemented a firm root in the neighborhood working for Patrick O’Daniels. The Barnes’ were, in short, welcomed with open arms.

 

Now, this was true even if gossiping lips questioned why it was Steven’s older brother that stayed and cared for him when it was that time of the year rather than their mother. Those gossiping lips were always promptly reminded that as a schoolteacher, Mrs. Barnes was not able to take as much time off and Steven’s yearly weaknesses were always much longer than Rebecca’s. On the other hand, Bucky as a mechanic was able to step out on short notice for a week at a time with little effort. The Barneses were good, upstanding folk and poor Steven, the unlucky widow, was to be treated with Christian kindness in particular. It was none of their business what had happened to Steven’s Alpha and it was plain by the weak scent of a bond on the boy that he had had one at one point. If Steven’s older brother seemed over-eager to jump to his defense, then it was surely due to the pain he’d had to see his brother endure after his bondmate died (or left, because even if they liked them, the neighbors weren’t too sure that Steven’s Alpha really was dead, given how the scent of a bond never really seemed to fade).

 

Poor Steven was a moral young Omega, the Barneses attended Mass every Sunday without fail, and it was no business of anyone’s why Bucky Barnes was so downright protective of his little brother.

 

*

 

In the silence of the night, even in their urban area, that one rusty bedspring creaked. Bucky had a hand clamped over Steve’s mouth, keeping him quiet, and the other holding his weight up on the mattress.

 

“C’mon, sugar,” he panted quietly in Steve’s ear. “You gonna show me how much you love me a’top a’ya? You gonna show me how much you love my cock, babydoll? C’mon, show me, Stevie.”

 

Under his hand, Steve whimpered and his nails, having already drawn red lines all over Bucky’s back, dug into his shoulder blades.

 

“C’mon,” Bucky dared him, “you can do it, c’mon, doll, you can come for me, can’t’cha? Come on, sweetheart, show me how much you love my cock pounding into ya, sugar, beatin’ your pretty ass black ‘n’ blue, come, baby, come an’ I’ll fill ya up, c’mon.”

 

Steve shut his eyes as they rolled back and he bit into Bucky’s palm as he thrashed under him and finally came. Bucky dropped his head into Steve’s neck and fit his teeth to the old mark on his neck, then his knot popped and he spilled into the condom.

 

Slowly, Bucky slowed his movements. He pulled his hand off of Steve’s mouth and kissed him instead. Steve kissed back lazily, like he always did after an orgasm, and Bucky dropped his head into his neck one more time to scent-mark him.

 

Steve vaguely pushed at his shoulder. Bucky gathered him up in his arms and flipped them over, putting Steve on his chest so his legs could hang over the side of his hips and Bucky’s knot wouldn’t pull at him painfully. Bucky continued to lick and nuzzle at his neck and Steve let out a soft, satisfied sigh.

 

“Told ya it was worth twenty minutes,” Bucky purred.

 

“Mmm,” Steve answered.

 

“My Omega,” Bucky continued to purr, nosing at his jaw. Steve lifted his head, despite the effort it took, so Bucky could scent him under his chin and kiss along his jawline. “So pretty when you come undone.”

 

“Better not be tryna start nothin’ else,” Steve mumbled.

 

“‘M just sweet-talkin’ ya, dollface, can’t a fella wan’ta sweet-talk his Omega?”

 

“Maybe,” Steve said, then yawned and let his head drop to rest in the crook of Bucky’s neck. He nudged his nose along the tendons of his neck, then yawned again and squirmed a little to get more comfortable. He laughed when Bucky hissed and intentionally did it again.

 

“I thought you weren’t tryna go again,” Bucky accused.

 

“Me, never,” Steve murmured happily. “Some mate you make.”

 

Bucky huffed, offended, and ran his wrists over Steve’s spine. “Good enough for you, it seemed.”

 

“I have low standards,” Steve said sleepily.

 

Bucky smiled despite that and kissed at Steve’s hair. He swept his wrists over Steve’s bare back again, loving the feel of his flushed skin under his hands and touching him. The nights were a haven for them, the only time they really had all to themselves where Bucky would be free to give into his deeper urges and rub his scent into Steve’s skin as much as he could. Nobody ever noticed the traces on Steve in the mornings because no one ever really took the time to notice, but they’d notice if Bucky tried scenting him during the day. Somebody’d see, and gossip always traveled fast. They had a fragile cover as it was and Bucky never wanted to risk what he had.

 

Steve was rapidly falling asleep, his warm weight a welcome blanket, and Bucky was happy to just let him fall asleep like this. Later, once his knot had deflated, he’d work off the condom and throw it out, then clean up Steve’s come and slick, but for now, he basked in the scent of his sated, happy Omega.

 

A hand knocked at the door at the same time as a little voice called out: “Mama?”

 

“Shit,” Steve hissed, sitting up so rapidly it gave Bucky a start. “Just a second, Jamie!”

 

Bucky looked at the door, then down, then at Steve, and Steve winced apologetically. Bucky grabbed the headboard to brace himself.

 

Steve lifted off of Bucky’s still-full knot, biting his lip to keep in a hiss of pain. Bucky ground his teeth and felt his head spin from the sensation of it, and Steve swung off the bed, stumbling as he limped to grab his nightshirt off the floor. Bucky sat up and started working off the condom, despite the difficulty of his swollen knot, tied it off and threw it away before grabbing an old shirt and wiping his torso and groin clean. He threw the shirt to Steve, who cleaned himself up before tugging on shorts. Bucky grabbed boxers and an undershirt, throwing them on, then fell back into the bed he’d vacated and curled up to whimper silently for a second while his knot throbbed.

 

Steve cast him a sorry look. Bucky simply waved a hand. Steve unlatched the door and opened it, kneeling down. Light spilled into the room and Bucky saw their son’s shadow.

 

“What’s the matter, Jamie?” Steve asked, not a trace of discomfort from having to disconnect while Bucky’s knot was still swollen in his voice. Practice made it easier.

 

Bucky heard Jamie sniff. He sat up despite the pain, wanting to get up and comfort his son.

 

“Had a bad dream,” Jamie said in a quiet voice.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, baby,” Steve cooed. “Do you wanna come sleep in Mama’s bed?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Jamie said.

 

“C’mere,” Steve said, and then he was scooping Jamie up into his arms and standing up. Jamie caught Bucky’s gaze and Bucky gave him a soft smile. Steve made his way back to the bed, having called it only his when really there was only one bed in Bucky and Steve’s bedroom, and tucked Jamie in next to Bucky.

 

“Hey, there, champ,” Bucky said, putting a hand on his tiny shoulder. “You had a bad dream?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Jamie mumbled, “there was a big lizard and it tried to eat me!”

 

“Oh, that’s awful, kiddo,” Bucky said as Steve got into the bed on Jamie’s other side. “I promise there’s no big lizards in here, though.”

 

“I know, Unca Bucky,” Jamie mumbled. Bucky gave him a smile even as he felt the same old pang as Jamie referred to him as his uncle and not his father. “‘S why I came ‘n ‘ere.”

 

“That’s right,” Steve said, dropping a kiss onto Jamie’s forehead. “‘Cause you know Mama and Uncle Bucky would always protect you.”

 

“Yeah,” Jamie agreed, smiling then.

 

“I don’t like lizards, either,” Bucky told Jamie, pulling him into his side and stretching out his arm to hold Steve at the same time. “I like dogs better.”

 

“I like dogs,” Jamie said.

 

“D'ya know, when I was your age, my Pop-Pop had this fat old bulldog?”

 

“No!” Jamie gasped, obviously sensing a story.

 

Bucky propped himself up on his elbow to look down at Jamie while Steve wrapped his arms around their son’s middle and hugged him from behind. “My Pop-Pop had this big, fat old dog, and we all called her Fatsy ‘cause she moved so slow.”

 

“And ‘cause she’d eat everything,” Steve added, nuzzling Jamie’s hair lightly. Bucky wished he had the excuse to scent-mark his son. Uncles didn’t really do that, though.

 

“I think her real name was Pansy,” Bucky kept going anyway, “but only Pop-Pop called her that. One time, he paid me a dime to keep an eye on her one Saturday while he went to see a game with his buddies.”

 

“Didn’t pay me a dime, even though I was there,” Steve threw in.

 

“That’s ‘cause you spent the whole time reading,” Bucky accused. Really, it had been because Bucky’s grandfather didn’t see the point of giving his grandson’s best friend a dime as well. It had been a family thing, watching Fatsy.

 

“To Fatsy!” Steve insisted, though.

 

Jamie giggled. Bucky, grinning, looked back down at his son.

 

“Well, anyway, Pop-Pop gave me a dime to look after her for the afternoon. I thought piece a’cake, she’s a fat old dog, what can she do?

 

Steve snorted. Bucky cast him a high and mighty look.

 

“What happened?” Jamie asked.

 

“Well, I took her outside to do her business,” Bucky said, “and – I swear it was your mama’s fault –”

 

“It was not!” Steve protested.

 

“You threw your book at me!” Bucky argued.

 

“Well, you deserved it,” Steve said simply. Bucky snorted and smiled.

 

“I kinda did,” he agreed. “Anyway, I took my eye off a’her for a second – just a second! – and when I looked back, she’d gotten out from under the fence.”

 

“No!” Jamie gasped again.

 

“She did!” Bucky confirmed. “Fat ol’ broad just squirmed her way under a loose board and took off down the street! Now, your mama was too busy laughin’ at me to help out –”

 

“Mama!” Jamie said reprovingly. Bucky appreciated the defense.

 

Steve laughed. “Hey, I didn’t get paid the dime to watch her and it was his fault she got out.”

 

“So I had to chase her down all by myself,” Bucky said. “And do you know what happened?”

 

“What?” Jamie asked, completely enthralled.

 

Bucky lunged and started tickling his stomach. Jamie shrieked and kicked his feet and fists, but Bucky worked his way around that. “Fatsy ran one whole block and then gave up! Flopped onto the curb and just went to sleep!”

 

“Unca!” Jamie cried.

 

“And then!” Bucky stopped tickling him, holding onto his heaving stomach to lean down to whisper the rest of the story. “She wouldn’t even get up to walk home! I had to carry her, and that dog was heavy, I’ll tell you.”

 

“Pop-Pop should’a exorcised her!” Jamie said.

 

“You mean exercised,” Steve corrected gently.

 

“Pop-Pop was too old to exercise her,” Bucky said. “And she was too old and fat to care, anyway. Like your mama.”

 

“Bucky!” Steve gasped, then shoved at his shoulder. Bucky dropped to the bed, laughing, and Jamie climbed on top of his stomach to laugh, too. “You take that back,” Steve threatened.

 

“Yeah!” Jamie insisted. “Mama’s not fat!”

 

“He is old, though,” Bucky teased, grinning at Steve. Steve knew he didn’t mean it.

 

Steve leveled a warning finger at him, eyebrows raised. He mouthed I’ll cut your dick off and Bucky swallowed even though he knew Steve liked his dick too much to actually contemplate cutting it off. His knot chose that moment to throb again, reminding him that it was a terrible idea to pull out before it had gone down.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bucky said, without a trace of the pain in his voice – again, practice –, reaching out to placate his Omega. “You’re not fat or old, Stevie.”

 

“You’re right, I’m not,” Steve said primly, laying down again. “C’mere, Jamie.”

 

Jamie clambered off of Bucky’s stomach, which was a good thing despite the fact that Bucky missed his weight because the kid was dangerously close to sensitive parts of his anatomy, and into Steve’s open arms. Jamie settled down, rubbing his cheek against Steve’s nightshirt, and Bucky shifted closer to push an arm under Steve’s neck so he could frame Jamie from the back.

 

“Did you say your prayers before you went to sleep?” Steve asked their son.

 

Jamie looked up guiltily. Steve gave him a stern look.

 

“Maybe that’s why you had a bad dream,” Steve said. “Uncle Bucky and I haven’t said our prayers yet, either, though, so you can say them with us.”

 

“Okay,” Jamie mumbled reluctantly. Bucky felt for the kid; he and Steve hadn’t been about to say their prayers before Jamie came in.

 

Jamie squirmed onto his back and folded his little hands together, closing his eyes. Bucky reached over and took Steve’s hand instead of folding his.

 

“Now I lay me down to sleep,” Steve and Jamie said together, Bucky joining in belatedly. “I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways. Father, unto thee I pray, thou hast guarded me all day, safe I am while in thy sight, safely let me sleep tonight. Bless my friends, the whole world bless, help me to learn helpfulness. Keep me every in thy sight, so to all I say goodnight. Amen.”

 

Jamie wriggled to hug Steve around the neck. “Goodnight, Mama,” he said, then twisted and hugged Bucky. “Goodnight, Unca Bucky.”

 

Bucky let his hand rest on his son’s back and kissed the top of his head, then Jamie twisted back around to curl into Steve.

 

“Love you, kiddo,” Bucky murmured.

 

“I love you, too, Jamie,” Steve said.

 

Jamie mumbled something that sounded like I love you and Bucky let himself brush a hand over his hair and down his arm. A brush of his wrist would do little to scent-mark his son, but it made him feel better. Jamie would pick up more of his scent just by sleeping in his bed than anything Bucky could subtly do.

 

Steve, his arms around Jamie, shifted to lie closer to Bucky. Bucky let his hand rest on Steve’s hip and lay his head on the pillow, eyes open and watching his Omega and his son.

 

Steve looked back at him and smiled sadly. “Goodnight, Buck,” he whispered. He mouthed I love you and Bucky offered him a smile.

 

“Night, Stevie,” he whispered back, mouthing love you, too. Steve pressed a hand to his lips, then reached over and touched it to Bucky’s cheek. Bucky leaned into his hand for a second, then kissed his palm before Steve could pull it away.

 

Even as Steve shut his eyes and let his face rest in Jamie’s unkempt curls, Bucky sighed and settled down to sleep slightly separate from his family. Jamie was only three years old. He was too young to understand that Bucky wasn’t really his uncle but pretended to be so nobody tried to separate him and Steve.

 

It was the solution that Bucky’s parents had come up with when he and Steve went to them with the confession that Steve was pregnant. They’d always told them to be more careful, Bucky’s mother particularly worried of what would happen if anyone found out. But after Steve’s mother had died, Steve had had his heat right after and he was too emotional to agree to using a condom. Bucky, lost in his rut and Steve’s heat-scent, hadn’t considered the consequences. He’d only known that his Steve was crying and thought Bucky didn’t really want him and the only way to fix it was to throw the rubber away.

 

So they’d left New York. Steve wore his mother’s wedding ring on a chain around his neck and claimed it had been given to him by the fictitious Alpha woman that had impregnated him. The story was they’d bonded and never had time to legally marry before she died, but their neighbors in New York knew there had never been an Alpha woman. Bucky’s father had family in Chicago and favors at the bank that he called in and they upped and left. In Chicago, Steve left any paperwork asking for his Alpha’s contact information blank, and Jamie’s birth certificate listed the Alpha parent as unknown, making him a legal bastard. On the outside, people believed that Steve was Bucky’s brother, and on the inside, even Jamie didn’t know any better.

 

Not that Bucky would change anything. He loved Jamie, heart and soul, even if it hurt that he had to love him as an uncle. He got to have Steve, after dark when no one was paying attention, but he’d known that would be their reality when he’d first told Steve he loved him. He missed New York sometimes, but Chicago wasn’t so bad and the Dodgers played the Cubs often enough that he got to see his home team play more than just on the radio. It was lucky that Steve’s frail health left their bond physically weak so no one realized that it wasn’t some unknown female Alpha dead and buried in New York that had begotten Jamie, but Bucky, living and breathing and male. It would be all too easy to ruin their cover, but at the same time, it was believable. Nobody would assume that they had any reason to lie. He and Steve had the kind of fondness for each other you’d expect from brothers, anyway, not so much bondmates. It wasn’t hard to pass Steve off as another Barnes child when he and Rebecca shared freckles and both Bucky and Steve had bright blue eyes.

 

It was more than Bucky ever thought he’d have. And it hurt to step back and play the role of doting uncle, and it hurt when snide remarks slipped his way claiming Steve had never been bonded to begin with, and it hurt when Bucky had to watch the young Alpha girl up the street shyly try flirting with Steve, but it didn’t hurt nearly as much as when he thought he’d never be able to have anything with Steve at all.

 

*

 

Steve had been waiting for Bucky to get the letter ever since the draft had been announced. Then Pearl Harbor happened and Steve started dreading it. He knew Bucky would be picked. Bucky was a young, strong, and most importantly an unmated Alpha. Or his records said he was unmated. The same records that said he was Steve’s brother. Bucky’s name would be one of the first to come up, and Steve wasn’t wrong.

 

Steve had taken Jamie to the park, since it was a warm day and spring hadn’t yet brought its onslaught of pollen to mess up his breathing. He’d come back to help prepare supper and heard upset voices.

 

“ – it is your honor to serve your country, James!”

 

“It’s my honor to get thrown into service without any say on my part!”

 

“You knew when you registered that –”

 

“I registered because I didn’t have any choice, Pa! The draft didn’t give any of us any choice! Not because I wanted to go to war!”

 

“Jamie,” Steve said, kneeling down to look his son in the eye, “why don’t you run upstairs and play in your room until it’s time for supper?”

 

“Why’s Pop-Pop yelling?” Jamie mumbled.

 

“He’s just talking really loudly, baby,” Steve lied. “There’s nothing wrong. Go upstairs.”

 

Jamie looked like he didn’t believe him, but Steve was very good at lying. Eventually, Jamie nodded and threw his arms around Steve’s neck for a fast hug before making a run for the stairs. Steve stood up slowly, took in a deep breath, and walked into the kitchen.

 

Bucky and George stopped yelling the second Steve walked in. Winifred sat at the kitchen table, cutting up vegetables, and Rebecca sat at the other end, staring into the pile of potato peelings with tears on her face.

 

Bucky strode around the table and pulled Steve into a hug. Steve dug his fingers into the back of Bucky’s shirt, then gingerly pulled back.

 

“You got drafted,” he guessed.

 

Bucky just nodded, looking like he was about to start crying, too.

 

“It’s an honor,” George insisted stubbornly.

 

“Would you have thought it was an honor if you had to leave Ma behind to do it?” Bucky snapped, turning around.

 

George swelled. “That’s not–”

 

“It is,” Bucky said firmly. “But you didn’t have to leave Ma behind or – or –”

 

Steve put a hand on his shoulder and Bucky twisted his head away, reaching up to sweep a hand over Steve’s cheek. Scent-marking him, leaving the traces of his panic on Steve’s skin.

 

Steve didn’t say anything, because he knew there was nothing he could say. He put his forehead on Bucky’s shoulder and hugged him again.

 

“It’s not like you can do anything about it,” Winifred sighed then. “You can’t desert, James.”

 

“I know,” Bucky muttered.

 

“The war’s not going to last that long, anyway,” George said. He sounded gentler now. “It’ll probably be over by the time you get out of basic.”

 

Bucky put a hand on the back of Steve’s head and held him there, his posture stooping to cover Steve’s frame.

 

“Germany can’t fight against the Allies for much longer,” George declared. “I’m sure the war’ll be over by Thanksgiving!”

 

“But I’ll still have to go,” Bucky said quietly.

 

Steve saw George deflate out of the corner of his eye. “Yes,” George said. “You still have to go.”

 

Steve wasn’t going to cry. The last time he’d cried in front of anybody that wasn’t Bucky or his ma was when he gave birth to Jamie, and the time before that had been when he was four and he’d broken his arm. He hadn’t even cried at his ma’s funeral and he wasn’t going to cry now.

 

Not right that minute. That night, after everybody had gone to bed, he would for sure.

 

“It’ll be okay,” Steve said. His voice was muffled by Bucky’s overalls. He hadn’t changed since coming home from work. He’d come home early, too. “We’ll be okay.”

 

Bucky hugged him tighter. Steve knew the reassurance didn’t help his Alpha any. He pulled back again, looking up so his voice wasn’t muffled and he could look Bucky in the eye.

 

“When do you go to basic?”

 

“Next week,” Bucky said in a sorry tone. “Bus comes on Friday.”

 

Steve gave a nod. “So – So we’ll do all the things you’ll miss while you’re gone before then.”

 

Jamie’s birthday was the following Saturday. They could celebrate it early.

 

Bucky gave a small nod, reaching up and brushing at his bangs. “I wish I didn’t have to go.”

 

“Me neither,” Steve said. “But your pa’s right. It’s an honor to serve your country, Buck. We’ll be fine back home.”

 

Bucky gave a short, cold laugh. “Why’d I know you’d take Pa’s side?” he muttered and knocked their foreheads together.

 

“Because you know it’s the right thing to do,” Steve told him. “As awful as it is.”

 

Bucky drew in a sharp breath. He nodded once. Steve touched a hand to his cheek, then his wrist, and Bucky caught his hand to press it against his cheek.

 

“We’ll be here when you get back,” Steve said, refusing to believe that the when should really have been an if. And though he didn’t say it, George and Winifred and Rebecca and most importantly Bucky knew he meant him and Jamie. They wouldn’t be going anywhere without their Alpha. “So you’d better win the war fast, Barnes.”

 

“I could do it faster if you came along,” Bucky said in a slow breath, only half meaning it.

 

“I could win the war of getting Jamie to take a bath faster if you came along, too,” Steve answered, “but that ain’t never got you off your ass to help.”

 

“That’s a low blow,” Bucky accused, a weak smile forming.

 

“Good,” Steve said, then faked a punch to his gut; Bucky didn’t even flinch. “You’re too tall for me to do anything but.”

 

Bucky laughed and pulled him back in. Steve allowed himself to cling to him for a moment, only a moment. His family was watching, after all. He stepped back fully after that one moment and Bucky’s hand trailed along his arm as he did, and Steve gave him the weak smile back.

 

“So, Jamie’s birthday?” Winifred said.

 

“This Saturday?” Steve suggested.

 

“I think we can make it happen,” Winifred confirmed. “Do you think you could get started on the roux, Steve? And, Rebecca, those potatoes won’t peel themselves.”

 

“That’s our cue to scram,” George said to Bucky with a heavy sigh. “Where’s the little snapper, Steve?”

 

“Up in his room,” Steve said, already moving to follow Winifred’s directions. “Probably tracking dirt everywhere, sorry Ma.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Winifred answered. “I seem to remember you and James getting your little snotty hands on everything.”

 

“Hey, he was the one who never learned to quit picking his nose,” Steve defended himself.

 

“That’s a low blow!” Bucky insisted, staying in the kitchen even as George slipped out.

 

“What’d I say about your tallness?” Steve said, looking over his shoulder. “It ain’t fair and you know it.”

 

Bucky held out a finger, then huffed and dropped to his knees. Steve took one look at him, shuffling across the floor to get to him, and burst out laughing. Rebecca did, too, and Winifred cracked a smile as Bucky came around the table and hugged Steve around the middle.

 

“There,” he said. “Now you don’t have to aim so low.”

 

“Boys,” Winifred chuckled. “Usually the other way around, isn’t it?”

 

Steve went red as Bucky spluttered: “Ma!” and Rebecca cackled. Winifred, apparently pleased, grinned as she continued to chop up vegetables.

 

There was a distant shout of “MAMA!” and the sound of a four-year-old running down the stairs, chased by presumably his grandfather. Steve shook his head as he measured out butter and flour into a pot and Jamie came barreling into the kitchen, ducking behind Rebecca, and colliding with Steve’s hip.

 

“Unca Bucky, why’re you on the floor?” Jamie asked, confused.

 

Bucky hastily stood up. “No reason, champ. Now, why are you running in the kitchen?”

 

Steve cast a stern look over his shoulder, but he thoroughly trusted Bucky to deal with their rambunctious child.

 

“‘Cause Pop-Pop was chasing me!” Jamie defended.

 

“You know you’re not allowed to run in here,” Bucky scolded. “Now, what do you say?”

 

“Sorry, Unca Bucky,” Jamie muttered, sounding like he didn’t mean it. Steve, since Jamie couldn’t see, rolled his eyes.

 

“Rah!” George abruptly yelled, re-entering the kitchen.

 

Jamie shrieked and scrambled to climb up Bucky to safety. Bucky laughed and scooped him up, then darted around the other end of the table and sprinted from the kitchen.

 

“Oof,” George sighed, turning around slowly. “I’m gonna getcha, little snapper!” he yelled then and resumed chasing Jamie.

 

“Boys,” Winifred said simply.

 

“I don’t know if I’m included in that but I’m still a little insulted,” Steve said.

 

“You’re half included,” Rebecca said primly.

 

“No, Steve is exempt on account of giving birth,” Winifred declared. “So I amend my statement to children, and therefore exclude Steve but include you, Rebecca.”

 

Rebecca spluttered. Steve cackled instead and shook his head as he started the roux.

 

But after supper. After they’d put Jamie to bed and retreated to their bedroom and after Bucky had sweetly made love to him, Steve trembled and cried and Bucky’s shoulders shook even as he tried to comfort him.

 

“You’d better come back,” Steve choked out between sobs. “You’d better come back!”

 

“I’ll come back,” Bucky promised. “I’d never leave you, Stevie, I’ll come back.”

 

*

 

It was hard, having to act like everything was fine and know that in just a few days, he’d be leaving. Bucky joked around with the other guys at the garage about it, saying he was looking forward to seeing the world. He laughed when they encouraged him to chase as many French girls as he could and suppressed the utter nausea that thought caused. He smiled with his family and tried to be strong for Steve, but it was hard.

 

Telling Jamie was the hardest.

 

They celebrated his fifth birthday a week early. Bucky lifted Jamie onto his shoulders and ran around the park with him, being chased by half of Jamie’s friends from Sunday school. He stood behind Jamie off to the left when he blew out the candles on his cake, but Steve was the one that got to hold him for it. Bucky felt awful about it, but sometimes – only sometimes, and only ever for a second – he got jealous that Steve got to be Jamie’s parent and he didn’t.

 

But after Mass the next day, the family sat down for dinner and they had to tell Jamie.

 

“Do you remember what happened to Pearl Harbor, Jamie?” Steve started. Bucky was grateful, he wouldn’t have been able to bring it up.

 

“The Japs bombed it,” Jamie said.

 

“And we had to enter the war ‘cause of that,” Steve said. “Do you remember that?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Jamie said, then frowned. “Mrs. Allison said her son had to join the Army. She told us to tell our families to pray for him.”

 

Bucky reached under the table and took Steve’s hand, squeezing it.

 

“Well, a whole bunch of guys are joining the Army,” Steve said. “Uncle – Uncle –”

 

Steve’s voice started to falter. Bucky cleared his throat.

 

“I joined the Army,” he said, because he knew Steve couldn’t.

 

Jamie put down his fork. “Why?”

 

“Because it was the right thing to do,” Bucky told him.

 

Steve squeezed his hand.

 

“Does that mean you have to go away?” Jamie asked quietly.

 

“Only for a little while, champ,” Bucky said quickly. “I gotta go train, but I’ll be back in three months.”

 

Jamie’s eyes got big and his chin started to wobble. Bucky reached over and put a hand on his back, shaking his shoulder gently.

 

“Three months isn’t that long,” Bucky told him. “You’ll start kindergarten soon and then you won’t even remember I’m gone.”

 

Bucky tried not to let his voice crack. God, he was gonna miss his kid starting school.

 

“But I don’ wan’ you to go!” Jamie cried.

 

Bucky let out a breath and Jamie scrambled out of his chair to run for him. Bucky lifted him up into his lap and hugged him, rubbing his back while Jamie cried. Steve reached over and brushed at his hair. Bucky’s parents and his sister were quiet.

 

“I’ll be back before you know it,” Bucky promised, leaving out that after basic, he’d only have a few weeks before he’d get his orders and ship out. There was no way they wouldn’t deploy him.

 

“B–but you’ll miss Mama’s birthday!” Jamie sobbed.

 

“I know, kiddo,” Bucky said. His voice cracked for that. “But I’ll write you letters, every week!”

 

“I don’ wan’ letters, I wan’ you t’stay!”

 

“I gotta go, Jamie,” Bucky sighed, then lifted Jamie off his neck and brushed away his tears. “I’m sorry, but I gotta.”

 

“‘S not fair!” Jamie shouted.

 

“I know,” Bucky said. “I wish I could stay, too.”

 

“I know you’ll miss him,” Steve spoke up, “but it really won’t be that long before he’s back. Three months is only twelve weeks, sweetheart.”

 

Jamie glanced between Steve and Bucky, then surged forward and hugged him tightly around the neck again. Bucky held a hand in his hair and felt a tear leak from his eye.

 

“Promise you’ll come back?” Jamie mumbled.

 

“I promise, champ,” Bucky swore. “I’ll always come back.”

 

Jamie pulled back. Steve stood up from the table and lifted him from Bucky’s lap, tucking him against his body, and left the kitchen without a word. Bucky sat there, staring at his plate for a minute, then got up and followed them. Who were they kidding, after all? Bucky’s parents weren’t the ones they were trying to fool with the brothers act.

 

He found Steve and Jamie up in their room. Bucky lay down on the bed and motioned for them to join him, and Jamie snuggled up to his side instead of Steve’s for once. Steve was crying too, by then. Bucky pulled Jamie onto his chest so he could hold Steve, too, and he was crying. They were all crying.

 

Jamie wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that Jamie thought Bucky was his uncle and it wasn’t fair that Bucky had to put unmated on his papers and it wasn’t fair that he wouldn’t be able to say goodbye to Steve at the station. The whole war, the whole world wasn’t fair.

 

Bucky held his Omega and his son and they all cried. It wasn’t fair.

 

Friday morning came too soon. Bucky said his goodbyes at home, where he’d be able to kiss Steve and scent-mark him for the last time in private, and then walked to the bus station by himself. There were already a group of guys standing around, duffle bags like his in hand.

 

“Hey, new kid,” a fellow greeted him. “Welcome to the club.”

 

Bucky flashed a tight smile and dropped his duffle into the pile. “You drafted or enlisted?”

 

“Enlisted,” the fella said, puffing up his chest. “My name’s Timothy Dugan, by the way.”

 

“James Barnes,” Bucky said, sticking out his hand.

 

Dugan shook his hand firmly. “What about you? Drafted or enlisted?”

 

“Drafted,” Bucky admitted with a shrug. “Got the letter before I had time to report for duty myself.”

 

“Eh, same difference,” Dugan said, slinging an arm around his shoulders. “Where you from? You don’t sound like Chicago.”

 

“Brooklyn,” Bucky said. “Relocated a couple of years ago.”

 

“Yeah?” Dugan said, flashing a grin. “You likin’ the best city on the planet?”

 

“If you mean New York,” Bucky said, grinning back.

 

Dugan touched a hand to his chest. “Ouch, pal,” he said. “That hurt.”

 

“Hey,” Bucky said with a shrug, “I’ll always be a bastard outta Brooklyn.”

 

“Unca Bucky!”

 

Bucky whipped around and caught sight of Jamie running around the corner. “Kid!” he yelled, taking off to shorten the gap and dropping to his knees to grab Jamie by the arms. “What are you doing, where’s your mama?”

 

“You can’t go!” Jamie wailed. “You can’t!”

 

“Jamie,” Bucky sighed, then Steve came around the corner.

 

Bucky stood up, still holding onto Jamie’s arm. Steve, wheezing, slowed to a walk and Bucky dragged Jamie to him instead of making him walk the distance.

 

“Thanks,” Steve gasped, snatching Jamie from him and clutching him against his stomach. “I’m sorry –”

 

“Don’t apologize, Stevie,” Bucky cut him off. He stood stiffly, wanting to reach out and touch and knowing he couldn’t. “I – I can’t walk you back.”

 

Steve shook his head. “Pa’s coming,” he said, then dropped to his knees and shook Jamie. “What were you thinking?” he demanded, sounding like he’d caught his breath already. “You can’t just run off like that!”

 

“But Unca Bucky can’t go!” Jamie wailed again.

 

“But he’s got to,” Steve snapped. Jamie sucked in a breath, his lip trembling, and Steve lost some of the air from his shoulders. “Aw, baby,” he sighed, and pulled Jamie into a hug.

 

Bucky, wishing he could do all of the things he knew he couldn’t, knelt down next to them and put a hand on Jamie’s back.

 

“Nobody likes this, kiddo,” Bucky said. “I’m sorry, but this is just how it is.”

 

“It’s not fair!” Jamie hissed.

 

“I know,” Steve murmured. “I know, baby.”

 

Bucky gripped Jamie’s shoulder and bit his tongue. Jamie pulled away from Steve and threw his arms around Bucky, who caught him and held on tightly.

 

“You gotta go home,” Bucky told him. “And you gotta listen to your mama when he tells you not to run off, okay?”

 

Jamie nodded sharply. Bucky’s shirt was wet from his tears.

 

“You gotta take care a’him, too,” Bucky went on. “You gotta be the man of the house now I’m gone. Other than Pop-Pop, a’course.”

 

Jamie nodded again. Bucky pushed him back and held onto him.

 

“You gotta promise me you’ll take care of your mama,” Bucky said firmly. “Just like I promised to come home, okay?”

 

“I promise, Unca Bucky,” Jamie mumbled.

 

Bucky gave him a smile even though it hurt and let go, standing up. Steve reached for their son and Jamie clung to his legs, sniffing still. Bucky’s father came around the corner, huffing visibly, and he clapped a hand on Steve’s shoulder. Bucky was struck by a sudden gratitude when he realized that while his scent would fade from Steve and Jamie, his father would make sure it was obvious there was an Alpha in their household to protect them.

 

“You guys okay?” his father asked.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky said. “We got an agreement, man-to-man, Jamie and me.”

 

Jamie nodded solemnly. Bucky looked up at Steve and bit his lip. Steve just nodded. He knew.

 

“Hey, Barnes, the bus is here!”

 

Bucky took a step back. “I’ll see you guys soon,” he said, because that hurt less than goodbye. “Take care of yourselves.”

 

His eyes were on Steve, and Steve knew. Steve had always known. Bucky turned his back and jogged back to the bus stop, scooping up his bag and falling in line.

 

“Your brother’s an Omega?” Dugan asked as they fell onto a bench.

 

“Yeah,” Bucky said, lying easily. “Poor kid. His wife’s dead, car accident right after they got married.”

 

“Poor kid,” Dugan agreed.

 

Bucky looked out of the window. He hated, even in lying, giving Steve’s love to some unknown Alpha woman dead and buried in New York when he was right there, living and breathing. He watched his father and Steve walking with Jamie between them back toward their neighborhood as the bus’s brakes hissed and it started to move.

 

“Your nephew’s sweet, though,” Dugan said next to him. “My girl – She always tells me she wants one like that.”

 

“Best nephew a fella could have,” Bucky muttered, hoping he didn’t sound bitter about it.

 

Jamie was the best son a fella could ever have, but it wasn’t like he could admit that.

 

*

 

May finished and June passed by in a flash. Before any of them knew it, it was July, and Winifred was talking about what they were going to do about Steve’s birthday.

 

“I figured we could invite a few folks over from church,” she said. “Have some of the other mothers come by and bring their little ones for Jamie to play with. I think I can rustle up a lovely chocolate cake, what do you think?”

 

“I don’t know,” Steve said. “I don’t really wanna celebrate this year.”

 

Winifred took one look at him and said: “That’s perfectly fine, dear.” And the conversation ended there.

 

She still made the cake. Steve let Jamie blow out the candles, most of them anyway, but no one was invited over and Steve kept to himself at church and in the neighborhood so nobody really had a chance to wish him a happy birthday. George and Winifred gave him a little sketchbook and some pencils, Rebecca embroidered a handkerchief with his initials. With his supposed maiden name, not Rogers, and Steve was grateful for that. Letters were slow in coming and Steve had sent Bucky the last letter near the end of June, so he didn’t expect to get anything from Bucky in time for his birthday.

 

Normally, the neighborhood held a picnic every Independence Day and the last few years, Steve had been spared a few minutes of the spotlight so the gathered families could sing happy birthday. The Barnes’ didn’t go that year, but there wasn’t much of a picnic to begin with. Too many of the boys in their neighborhood had been drafted, and too many of the mothers were mourning their sons in advance.

 

But there were still fireworks. Their bed was pushed up under the window in their bedroom, and Steve opened it up to watch the fireworks over the city center after supper.

 

Like most nights, Jamie knocked on his door before long.

 

Steve got up and opened the door for him, and Jamie hugged his knees without a word. Steve took him by the hand and lead him over to the bed, then lifted him up onto it and pulled him into his lap to keep watching the fireworks.

 

“Why are you sad, Mama?” Jamie asked then.

 

Steve leaned his cheek against Jamie’s head. “Why would you say I’m sad, baby?”

 

“You didn’t eat any cake,” Jamie answered. Steve smiled faintly and Jamie looked up at him. “Are you sad?”

 

Steve gave a nod. “Yeah, honey, I’m sad. But I’ll be okay, don’t you worry none about me.”

 

“Why?” Jamie asked.

 

Steve looked out the window, at the fireworks. “Well, I’m just missing somebody.”

 

He missed Bucky. But a brother didn’t have any right to miss Bucky so wholly as Steve did, a brother didn’t have any right to feel the distance like a wound as Steve did, a brother didn’t have any right to lament the loss of the body lying next to him every night like Steve did. He missed Bucky, but he couldn’t even tell Bucky’s son how much he missed him.

 

“Who?” Jamie kept on asking.

 

“Your Alpha father,” Steve said quietly. “My mate.”

 

For as far as Jamie knew, his Alpha father was a woman dead and buried in New York. It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t the truth, either.

 

“Like how I miss Unca Bucky?” Jamie said then.

 

Steve propped his chin on top of Jamie’s head and willed away the tears that stung at his eyes. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “Just like you miss Uncle Bucky.”

 

Jamie twisted around in his arms and hugged him. Steve held onto him tightly and when Jamie fell asleep, he didn’t have the heart to put him back in his room across the hall the way he ought to. He really should have stopped letting Jamie sleep in his bed a long time ago, but lately, it had been hard for Steve to fall asleep in his and Bucky’s bed without Bucky there, and Jamie smelled enough like his father that it was a small comfort. So Steve let him stay. The other mothers at church and in the neighborhood swore that if you let a boy crawl into bed with you too long, they’d end up a sissy or worse, an Omega. Steve never bothered to listen to them.

 

*

 

Bucky sat slumped on his bunk, a cigarette dangling from his loose lips, using the light of its end to read his letters while his bunkmates passed around a bottle of whiskey and told tall tales. Curfew had been a few hours ago, but the lights wouldn’t shut out until midnight so the men took up the time between ten and twelve to unwind and socialize.

 

The bottle came his way and Bucky passed it on, not caring about it.

 

“C’mon, Barnes, live a little for once!” Hodge yelled across the bunk.

 

“Fuck off for once!” Bucky answered without a beat. There was laughter and Dum Dum – Tim Dugan, who had earned the nickname after he’d dared climb the mess hall to retrieve a baseball – punched him in the arm behind him. Bucky rolled with the punch and kept reading.

 

“What’chu even got there?” Hodge demanded, his voice getting closer. Bucky calmly shifted a page and kept reading. “Letter from your girl?”

 

“Hate to disappoint, but it’s from my ma,” Bucky said. “Kid brother’s got the flu again.”

 

Bucky had a master’s poker face, because he’d said that without a trace of worry, and Bucky was half out of his mind with panic reading his ma’s letter describing Steve’s illness.

 

“Innit that the kid brother who’s an Omega?” Hodge asked, audibly sneering. “The one with a kid of his own?”

 

“Yep,” Bucky said, reaching up to take a drag off his cigarette. He uncrossed his knee and blew smoke into Hodge’s face. “You got a problem with that?”

 

Hodge choked and staggered away. Smith laughed at him and he kicked him to get him to shut up.

 

“I don’t give no shits about girl-boys,” Hodge snapped. “Keep your news to yourself, Barnes.”

 

Bucky worked his jaw side to side and plucked the cigarette from his lips. He shook ash onto the floor, then put it back into his mouth and took another drag to avoid jumping up and straight decking Hodge in the face. What wouldn’t he give to teach that no-good piece of shit a lesson or two about girl-boys. What wouldn’t he give to let Steve teach Hodge a lesson or two. Steve had a meaner undercut than Bucky’d ever seen in three years of boxing and nobody could beat how he used his sharp elbows like bats.

 

“Gimme the bottle, Frank!”

 

“You’ve had twice your share already, it’s my turn!”

 

“Hey, hey, Pete, lemme bum a cig off of ya, why don’tcha?”

 

“How’s your brother?” Dum Dum asked quietly.

 

Bucky finished the page and flipped it. “Pulled through,” he said shortly. “Miracle Jamie didn’t get it.”

 

“That’s good,” Dum Dum said. There was a beat of silence. “Sorry about Hodge.”

 

Bucky flicked his gaze up and back down as Hodge did a crude dance, laughing about some girl he’d defiled in a bar once. “Piece a’shit,” Bucky said simply. “Ain’t worth the effort.”

 

“Good mentality,” Dum Dum agreed. “Must be hard, though. You gotta hear shit like that all the time. You don’t really notice it until you know one yourself, y’know?”

 

Bucky sucked on his cigarette, it was nearing the filter. “You know one, then?” he said.

 

“My girl’s cousin,” Dum Dum said. “Poor thing’s frail as can be. Your kid brother’s the same?”

 

“Yep,” Bucky answered. “Got Last Rites six times.”

 

“No shit?” Dum Dum muttered. “Miracle he made it this far.”

 

Bucky gave a slow nod. And he remembered every time Steve had received Last Rites like it was yesterday, from when he was seven and fell to scarlet fever, to the last time, when he’d been weak from giving birth.

 

He folded up his mother’s letter, then took the cigarette from his lips and carefully pinched the end to put it out. He tucked it behind his ear to finish later. The place reeked of smoke at that point, anyway. Bucky picked up the third letter from his packet, the one he’d saved for last, and unwrapped the string keeping it shut.

 

Unfolding it, a loose sheet of paper fell from the packet. Bucky picked it up and unfolded it, then drew in a sharp gasp. Dum Dum leaned over the gaps between their bunks and let out a low whistle.

 

“That your nephew?” Dum Dum asked. “Damn, who drew that?”

 

“Stevie,” Bucky whispered, his fingers reaching up – trembling – to touch the pencil drawing of his son. “Stevie drew it.”

 

It was just Jamie’s face, grinning and his cheeks rosy even in graphite. Bucky had sent Steve charcoals for his birthday, but maybe Steve hadn’t gotten them yet or he didn’t want to send a charcoal drawing in the mail, because he’d done this portrait in just graphite. It was Jamie, his grin wide enough to show that he was missing one of his front teeth, and in flipping it, Bucky saw a slightly rougher sketch of Steve’s palm with the tooth lying there.

 

“That’s like a picture, that is,” Dum Dum declared. “You keep a’hold a’that, don’t let it go to no harm.”

 

“No,” Bucky murmured, turning it back over to look at Jamie’s eyes narrowed in his huge smile. “Wouldn’t wanna mess it up.”

 

Bucky leaned over the side of his bunk and went rifling for his Bible. His ma had sent him with one, though like half the other guys in his bunk, he never read it. But a man took good care of his Bible and a fella knew not to mess with another guy’s Bible lest God smite them or some shit. He dug it out from his footlocker, then let it fall open and stuck Jamie’s picture somewhere in the middle of the Psalms.

 

“Good plan,” Dum Dum remarked. “Man, your brother’s got talent. He ought’a draw for comics, what’s’it, that Captain America fella that’s runnin’ round these days?”

 

“That fella ain’t real,” Bucky said simply. “And screw Captain America – I want Stevie to keep drawing Jamie.”

 

“Maybe you could get him to draw that girl you’re always thinkin’ about,” Dum Dum cracked, hitting his shoulder.

 

“I never said I had a girl,” Bucky grumbled. He didn’t.

 

“Don’t need to,” Dum Dum answered. “Ain’t but one thing got a man lookin’ into space like you do.”

 

Bucky shrugged. He picked up Steve’s letter and started reading.

 

July 12 th

 

Dear Bucky,

Ma and Pa gave me a sketchbook and some good pencils for my birthday, so I figured I ought to put them to some good use. Jamie lost his first tooth this morning, as you should see from the picture I’m putting in. He was really proud of himself, it had been loose for a few days but he came up to me during breakfast and it had just come out on his apple. Better than wiggling it with your tongue so your brother can laugh at you, huh?

Jamie wanted me to send you the tooth, but I told him that we had to hold onto it because the Army wouldn’t let you keep it. Ma gave me a little jar to put it in, and I know I said I didn’t see the point of holding onto a kid’s baby teeth, but I kind of like it. At any rate, you’ll get to see it when you come back. I don’t think his adult tooth will have grown in by the time you get out of basic, so you’ll get to see him without a tooth! He’s whistling non-stop it’s cute but it’s annoying.

Jamie misses you a lot. He’s adopted a stray cat and named it after you. I’d say it was funny, but it’s actually really sweet to see him giving the table scraps to this scrawny little thing and calling it “unca.”

Miss you, too. Hope you can stay for a while before you’re shipped out in the fall.

 

Steve

 

Bucky let his finger rest over the break between the main body of his letter and his signature and felt the grooves of letters written but erased. Bucky was watched too much to he pull that trick, but Steve had pressed I love you into the paper and erased the graphite so the censors wouldn’t catch it. For a long time, Bucky just sat there, his finger resting over where the grooves of I love you were, staring sightlessly at the paper.

 

The paper was ripped from his hands.

 

“Hey!” Bucky snarled, jumping up as Hodge danced away from him. “Give that back, you son of a –”

 

“Now, now, don’t go dragging my poor ol’ dam into this,” Hodge said. “What’chu got here, Barnes?”

 

“Give it back,” Bucky demanded.

 

Hodge shook out the letter. “Dear Bucky!” he started. “What a kid’s name, Barnes. Dear Bucky! Ma and Pa gave me a sketchbook and some pencils for my birthday – Who’s this from, your sister?”

 

“Give it back,” Bucky said firmly.

 

Hodge faltered. Chatter slowly died down in the bunkhouse.

 

Hodge’s arm stuck out, then he yanked it back and pressed the letter against his chest like some dramatic dame. Bucky glared at him.

 

“Give it back,” Bucky repeated in a sharper growl. Commanding. He wasn’t fucking around.

 

“Holy shit,” somebody whispered behind him. Hodge was wide-eyed and startled to be faced with an Alpha tone turned on him, so Bucky took advantage of his surprise to snatch the letter back from him and stalk back to his bunk.

 

“You fucker, you can’t use an Alpha tone on another Alpha!” Hodge snarled.

 

“Guess I just did,” Bucky snapped back. “Keep your sticky fingers out of my stuff.”

 

Bucky shook out his mate’s letter and laid it with his ma’s and his sister’s, then folded them and tucked them in the pages of his Bible with the drawing of Jamie and his missing tooth. He put the Bible in his footlocker, then dropped the cigarette he’d not finished onto its surface and shoved it under his bed. Then, he turned on his side and faced away from the room, glaring at the wall.

 

The other men started talking again eventually. Bucky firmly ignored them.

 

Dum Dum poked him. Bucky tried not to feel like an angry bear and ignored him.

 

“What the fuck was that, Barnes?” Dum Dum hissed.

 

“Sick of him playin’ games,” Bucky grumbled.

 

“So you use an Alpha voice on him!” Dum Dum whispered. “Over a letter from your brother!”

 

Bucky punched his pillow and said nothing. Not like he could defend himself saying he didn’t want Hodge to notice the grooves of the words I love you or read between the lines and ask why Bucky’s kid brother was so concerned about him getting to see his nephew’s baby tooth or that he just didn’t want Hodge’s filthy hands all over his mate’s letter. Bucky missed Steve fiercely and knew just why Steve wanted him to stay during the early fall. Bucky was praying for it, too, since he heard it usually took a month or so for your orders to come through once you finished basic.

 

Steve’s heat usually hit around the end of August or beginning of September. Bucky didn’t want to leave him to suffer through it alone so soon.

 

“You’re a bastard, alright, Barnes,” Dum Dum muttered. “Fuckin’ beast.”

 

Bucky said not a word. Wasn’t unheard of for an Alpha to get territorial over their Omega’s mere things. Not like he could say that.

 

*

 

“James Joseph Rogers, you get back here!” Steve shouted.

 

“I gotta get the kitty!” Jamie threw over his shoulder.

 

“Jamie, you get back here or I swear to God and all the saints, I’ll beat a stripe off your hide and you’ll be feeling it for weeks!” Steve yelled. “Get back here right now!”

 

Jamie ducked under a pair of men carrying a pile of wood and Steve felt his heart skip a beat; he lost sight of him.

 

“James!” Steve screamed, running flat out now. The men with the wood paused and Steve just ran under them, too, running after his son. “James, I’m not kidding!”

 

“Mama!”

 

Steve took off down the alley, his tie flying over his shoulder and nearly losing his hat in his haste. He spotted Jamie’s unruly curls near a postal van, then a group passed in front of him and he lost sight of him.

 

“Jamie!” Steve screamed again.

 

“Hey!”

 

Steve whipped around, spotting a tall woman holding Jamie by the elbow. Steve gasped and ran to grab his son, nearly yanking him from her grip and flattening him against his chest, falling to his knees. He was getting his best plain skirt dirty but at the moment he didn’t care.

 

“You scared me half to death!” Steve panted. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

 

“‘M sorry, Mama,” Jamie mumbled.

 

Steve grabbed Jamie’s hair, then checked his arms, his legs, looking for injuries. When he saw none, he gripped his cheeks and planted a firm kiss on his forehead, then drew back and leveled a finger between his eyes.

 

“You are grounded,” he hissed. “You’ve lost all your toys for a week!”

 

“But Mama!” Jamie gasped.

 

“No buts!” Steve said firmly.

 

“Your mama’s got a point, little one,” the woman who had found him said.

 

Steve stood up, holding firmly to Jamie’s shoulders. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “I don’t know what I would’ve done if – If you hadn’t caught him –”

 

“I understand,” the woman said, smiling. She took a step closer, a light frown creasing her brow. “Where’s your Alpha, dear?”

 

Steve bit his lip. “Um. Dead.”

 

“Oh,” the woman sighed. She reached out and touched his shoulder. “I’m so sorry, dear.”

 

Steve swallowed and tried not to recoil. The woman was an Alpha. She smiled with her teeth, her eyes occasionally leaving his to drop low. Steve tucked Jamie closer to him.

 

“It was a long time ago,” he said. He wished he could hide behind Bucky, because Bucky had been meant to join them for this trip, just to keep them safe. They were there for Jamie’s yearly visit with the pediatrician and Bucky ought to have been there even with an excuse. Bucky would have been able to tell this woman to back off even if he was playing the older brother card. But Bucky wasn’t there and Steve was afraid of drawing too much attention.

 

“Still, that must have been awful,” the woman sighed. “I lost my dear Edward some years ago, he passed in childbirth.”

 

Steve held tighter to Jamie, sympathetic. “Did your child –”

 

The woman shook her head, smiling sadly. Steve clutched a little tighter to Jamie; he’d nearly lost him during the pregnancy, it had been a miracle he hadn’t.

 

“My name’s Evelyn,” the woman said, sticking out her hand again. “Evelyn Tiller.”

 

Steve took her hand reluctantly. “Steven Rogers,” he said. He glanced down to Jamie, fluffing at his hair. “This is James, if that wasn’t obvious.”

 

“Yes, hello, James,” Evelyn said, smiling down at Jamie. Jamie hugged Steve around the middle and shrank against him, hiding his face in the folds of Steve’s blouse.

 

“He’s shy,” Steve sighed. Not shy enough to go running off in the middle of Chicago, apparently.

 

“I understand,” Evelyn said. She hadn’t let go of Steve’s hand. “Say, you don’t happen to be busy right now? I’d like to see you get over your worry of this one running off.”

 

“We were heading home,” Steve confessed. Evelyn turned his palm over in hers and covered it with her other hand, still smiling. “We were about to get on a bus back to the Southside when he ran off after a cat.”

 

“Oh, there won’t be another bus for an hour!” Evelyn exclaimed. “My office isn’t far from here, if you’d like to step in there to wait?”

 

Steve bit his lip. He hadn’t thought far enough as to what he’d do after he’d caught Jamie, but they had missed the bus for sure.

 

“You wouldn’t want to be waiting around town by yourself,” Evelyn told him with another smile.

 

Steve hated it, but she had a point. It was plain enough that he was an Omega, with his skirt suit and sweet scent, but with a five-year-old in hand? It was getting late, too.

 

“If you had a phone,” Steve said. “I’d like to call my father and ask him to come pick us up.”

 

“Do you live far?” Evelyn asked, transferring her hand to his elbow and gently turning him around. Jamie stumbled over his feet and Steve snatched his hand instead of holding onto his shoulders, holding him firmly against his side this time so he couldn’t slip off. “I have a few things to finish up at work but then I’m going home. Did you say the Southside? What part?”

 

“Uh, in Harvey,” Steve answered, glancing down the street towards where he knew there was a library. The woman didn’t look or smell like a threat, but he was still loaded with adrenaline from Jamie running off and anybody could set him off then.

 

“I could give you a ride, if you’d like,” Evelyn offered. “I don’t live very far from you, it seems.”

 

“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Steve insisted, “it’s enough that you’re letting us use your phone –”

 

“Oh, it wouldn’t be any trouble,” Evelyn told him. “Certainly not for such a lovely Omega as you.”

 

She flashed him a smile. Steve swallowed. He wished he had Bucky with him.

 

“I don’t know,” Steve said, trying to smile and not look as nervous as he was.

 

“Oh, nonsense,” Evelyn declared. “It would be absolutely criminal of me to leave you and your son stranded here when I’m going your way anyway. What part of town are you in?”

 

“I can just ask my father to fetch us, it’s no trouble,” Steve said. “Really, I wouldn’t want you to go out of your way.”

 

“It wouldn’t be out of my way,” Evelyn said, “I live on Madison, near the park. Unless you’re clear across the other side of Harvey, it wouldn’t be more than a minute or two.”

 

Steve swallowed, reluctant. “We live past the Yards, on Marshfield.”

 

“Five minutes!” Evelyn laughed. “It really would be no trouble, Steven.”

 

Steve didn’t want to say yes, but he didn’t want to say no. He needed her phone and she had helped him catch Jamie.

 

“Alright,” he said finally. “If you’re sure –”

 

“Positive,” Evelyn told him, flashing another smile. She had teeth that were too white. And if she lived nearer to Madison, then she was certainly better off than Steve and his family. She had rich blood and that automatically put Steve on his guard.

 

He held very tightly to Jamie’s hand. He’d call George and ask him to come to pick them up and tell Evelyn that his father had insisted on picking them up himself. She couldn’t protest that. George’s bank wasn’t far from here, anyway. If he needed to, he’d take Jamie down to the library and ask them to let them stay late until his father came to get them. Not that he suspected Evelyn of anything worse than being a flirt, just, it was good to stay cautious.

 

“Here we are,” Evelyn said, pointing to a slim townhouse that had clearly been renovated into a lawyer’s office, Eisenmen and Eisenmen. “The office is closed just now, but you can wait until I’ve packed up my bag and we can go.”

 

“I’d still like to use your phone,” Steve said. “Just to let my father know that our plans changed.”

 

“Oh, of course,” Evelyn said, unlocking the door. She swung it open and looked back at them with a smile, clearly waiting. “Please, come inside.”

 

Steve put Jamie in front of him and led him in. Evelyn shut the door behind them, rather close to Steve, and they shuffled down a narrow hallway into what looked like a waiting room.

 

Evelyn moved behind a receptionist’s desk and sat down at a ledger. “The phone’s right here, dear,” she said to Steve, lifting it onto the counter for him. Steve approached it, then transferred Jamie’s hand into his other palm and picked up the receiver. He dialed George’s bank and waited.

 

“First National Bank, how may I help you?”

 

“Can you direct me to George Barnes’ office?” Steve asked. “It’s his son.”

 

“Steven?”

 

“Yes,” Steve said.

 

“One moment, please.”

 

Steve tapped a nail against the surface of the desk as the phone rang yet again.

 

“You’re George Barnes’ boy, then?” Evelyn spoke up.

 

Steve glanced at her. “Um, yes.”

 

“I’ve met your father,” Evelyn told him, a smile forming on her lips again. “He’s spoken with my employers on numerous occasions.”

 

Steve didn’t feel much better for knowing that. He just wanted to take his son home with someone that wasn’t a stranger. He just wanted Bucky.

 

“George Barnes speaking.”

 

Steve straightened.

 

“Hey, Pa?”

 

“Hi, Steve? Where are you?”

 

“I’m using the phone at a lawyer’s office,” Steve said, turning away from Evelyn. “We missed our bus and the receptionist here was kind enough to let us step in. She said she doesn’t live far from us and has offered us a ride.”

 

“What’s the office?”

 

“Eisenman and Eisenmen,” Steve said, checking the plaque on the wall behind them.

 

“I know them, good people. The receptionist is an Alpha woman, isn’t she?”

 

“Yes,” Steve said, glancing at Jamie, then reaching up and smoothing a hand over his hair before drawing him closer again.

 

“Well, you should be fine,” George said. Steve’s gut clenched unnecessarily. He’d wanted George to offer to come to get them. “I’ll be stuck working late tonight, would you let your mother know?”

 

“Sure,” Steve answered. “Thanks, Pa.”

 

“You’ll be fine, Steve.”

 

Steve glanced down again. “Yes, of course. Thank you.”

 

“I’ll see you at home. Say hi to the little snapper for me.”

 

Steve broke a smile and nodded even though he was on the phone. “Of course. Bye.”

 

“Bye now.”

 

Steve hung up the receiver gently. “Thank you,” he said to Evelyn.

 

“No problem,” Evelyn said. “Are you ready?”

 

Steve nodded. He looked down at Jamie and picked up his hand, squeezing it. “Pop-Pop says hi,” he said.

 

“Hi, Pop-Pop!” Jamie said happily, despite the fact that Steve had hung up already. “Mama, I’m hungry.”

 

“We’ll be home soon,” Steve promised him.

 

Evelyn rose from her chair and lifted a purse. “Well, let’s be on the road.”

 

Steve squeezed Jamie’s hand again, his heart pounding in his chest, and followed Evelyn out of the office. He hated this. If Bucky were here, they would have just hailed a taxi and gone home that way. This Alpha would never have been brave enough to smile at them and call him dear if Bucky were there to glare her down. He should have just asked George to come to get them.

 

He wasn’t blind, it was obvious that Evelyn wasn’t doing them this favor purely out of Christian kindness. He was a male Omega and she was a female Alpha. Her Omega was dead, and he’d told her his Alpha was passed, too. She clearly saw an opportunity and Steve just wished he didn’t have to deal with single Alpha women assuming he was unhappy because he didn’t have a wife.

 

Evelyn’s car was parked across the street. Steve held Jamie in his lap and the car smelled strongly of Evelyn, of natural Alpha scent and a subtle cologne. Evelyn started her car and pulled into traffic, driving smoothly at the very least.

 

“How long have you lived in Chicago?” Evelyn asked.

 

“Six years, give or take,” Steve answered.

 

“Let me guess,” Evelyn offered, her smile dancing, “you’re from New York?”

 

Steve smiled nervously. “Brooklyn, yeah.”

 

“What had you move?” Evelyn asked.

 

Steve gave a shrug, reaching up and combing through Jamie’s hair for a second. “After my Alpha died, I didn’t have much elsewhere to go. My parents were moving out here, so I joined them.”

 

“Did your Alpha die while you were – In the family way?” Evelyn asked, casting a glance toward Jamie. “He doesn’t look more than six.”

 

“He’s five,” Steve said. “And yes, she died not long after we bonded.”

 

Evelyn let out an empathetic sigh. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “That must have been truly awful.”

 

Steve nodded. At least he could easily project how unwilling to discuss this he was, given that any good Omega would still be grieving even after all this time and Steve didn’t like talking about a woman that never existed.

 

“Do you have siblings?” Evelyn asked. “An older brother, perhaps?”

 

Steve started. “Um –”

 

“It’s just, I can smell another Alpha on you,” Evelyn offered. “Faint, but it’s there.”

 

Had she picked up his scent? Steve resisted the urge to shudder. He didn’t like the idea of another Alpha sniffing him out.

 

“I have an older brother, yes,” Steve answered, though. He didn’t need to be rude, even if he was uncomfortable.

 

“Unca Bucky!” Jamie spoke up abruptly. “He’s in the Army.”

 

“Oh,” Evelyn said. Again, empathetic. “Yes, the war. It hardly seems real, does it?”

 

Steve simply shook his head. “He was drafted in May. He’ll be back from basic in a few weeks.”

 

“But then he’ll ship out soon after, won’t he?” Evelyn said, glancing over at him. Steve nodded again.

 

Jamie looked up at him with big eyes. “Unca Bucky’s gonna go away again?”

 

Steve let out a breath and bent to nuzzle into his hair. “Yes,” he said sorrowly. “I’m afraid so, baby.”

 

Jamie looked down again, then sniffed hard. Steve hugged him tightly and kissed the top of his head.

 

“I’m sorry,” Evelyn said. “Your brother and you are close?”

 

Steve nodded. “He’s only a year older than me,” he said and left it there.

 

“Unca Bucky’s my favorite person,” Jamie said. “Other than Mama.”

 

Steve blinked rapidly. Bucky deserved to be his son’s favorite person. He deserved to know it, too. Steve would have to mention this the next time he wrote Bucky.

 

Steve would have to mention this whole incident. He was feeling guilty already, like he was stepping out on his bond and all he’d done was accept a ride home from an Alpha. Hell, Bucky could probably feel how shitty Steve was feeling just then and would be out of his mind with worry, unable to know what was the cause. Steve lifted a hand to pet Jamie’s hair and wondered how he’d phrase this so it sounded like he was just passing his brother a story rather than reporting his guilt to his Alpha for letting another Alpha pick up his scent.

 

And, God, Steve was starting to feel the anxious nibble of nesting in the back of his mind. He didn’t even bother putting Jamie to bed in his own room anymore, wanting to keep his baby close where he could keep him safe, keep him in his Alpha’s room where the fading traces of his scent could mark them and protect them from a distance. This incident with the cat hadn’t helped him one bit.

 

Getting back to Harvey from downtown would have taken about an hour by bus, plus the distance they’d have to walk. Steve guessed it would take about twenty minutes in Evelyn’s car, but that just left him with twenty minutes soaking up another Alpha’s scent. God, Bucky could probably tell he was wringing his guts in guilt.

 

“Are you alright, dear?” Evelyn asked.

 

Steve jerked his head up. Shit, she could smell his anxiety.

 

“It’s just – Still a little in shock,” he claimed. “Jamie’s never run off like that before. And – I don’t really know you all that well, do I? I hope you understand.”

 

“Oh, of course,” Evelyn said, shooting him a smile. “Though, I must admit I’d like for you to get to know me a little better.”

 

Steve swallowed. Bucky could feel his guilt. Bucky would be able to tell. Bucky would be out of his mind by now.

 

“Maybe,” Steve mumbled, since six years was an acceptable amount of time to grieve and it wasn’t like he could claim he didn’t need an Alpha. He did. It was an unfortunate truth, but Steve was a single parent without a job who lived with his own parents. A wife would do him good, if he hadn’t had Bucky.

 

Jamie didn’t like this woman, either. Or maybe he was just responding to Steve’s distress. Or he was upset about learning that Bucky would be leaving again after coming home from training. Jamie twisted in Steve’s lap and hugged him tightly, sniffing audibly. Steve swept a hand over his back, letting his wrist mark his clothes.

 

“Poor dear’s tired, isn’t he?” Evelyn said, smiling at him. “I bet you are, as well. Is your family home?”

 

Steve nodded. “My mother and my younger sister.”

 

“That’s good,” Evelyn answered. “I’d like to pop in and see you safely inside, just to let your mother know who gave you the ride home.”

 

Steve nodded, knowing that she was doing it to insert herself into Steve’s family and earn a place as a suitor more easily. Winifred wouldn’t let that happen, though. He was dreadfully grateful to George and Winifred for everything that they’d done for him and Bucky; they’d supported them through everything, made sure they were safe and sheltered. They’d taken him in as a son even though they didn’t have to. Steve would never be able to repay them for all they’d done for him since his mother’s death.

 

“Your brother’s the mechanic, right?” Evelyn asked. “At Paddy’s?”

 

“Yes,” Steve said, happy to be talking about something other than himself. “Yes, Bucky.”

 

“He’s fixed my car, once or twice,” Evelyn said with a laugh. “It seems we’ve just been destined to meet, Steven.”

 

Steve forced a smile. “Yeah, I guess.”

 

“Here we are,” Evelyn commented. “Marshfield.”

 

Steve sat up straighter as Evelyn turned onto their street. Jamie twisted around again to look out the window and Steve leaned forward, peering, to see if Winifred or Rebecca were on the porch waiting for him. George might have called the house to let them know an Alpha was dropping Steve and Jamie off. Though, he had said for Steve to tell them that he’d be late, so maybe he didn’t.

 

“That’s our house,” Steve pointed out. “That one with the Ford pickup.”

 

The truck was Bucky’s, a wreck he’d been trying to fix up since Jamie was a baby. It wasn’t quite shiny new yet and Bucky had left it in a bit of disarray under the carport when he left for basic training.

 

“There,” Evelyn said, pulling into the driveway. “Home sweet home.”

 

Steve opened his door and let Jamie climb out, then caught his hand before he could run for the house and got out behind him, shutting the door. Evelyn got out on the other side and straightened her blazer, then offered him a smile and her elbow. Steve, swallowing yet more guilt, took it.

 

Evelyn walked them onto the porch. Steve dug around in the pocket of his skirt for his key, then unlocked the door and ushered Jamie in.

 

“Run upstairs and wash up for supper,” he said. “Don’t forget you’re still in trouble for running off earlier.”

 

“Yes, ma,” Jamie sighed, then took the stairs at a thomping slow pace as he morosely swung his arms like a beaten chimpanzee. Steve pursed his lips and shook his head.

 

“Ma?” he yelled, dropping his keys into a dish by the front door. He glanced back at Evelyn. “You can come in,” he said, forcing another smile.

 

Evelyn smiled and stepped inside, her hands folded in front of her. Steve took off his hat and hung it up, then made his way to the kitchen.

 

“Hello, Steve,” Winifred greeted him, stirring a pan on the stove. “How was Jamie’s appointment?”

 

“Fine,” Steve said. “Pa didn’t call?”

 

Winifred turned. “No?”

 

She noticed Evelyn. Her eyebrows shot up. Rebecca, seated at the kitchen table with a heavy book before her, let her mouth fall open.

 

“You must be Steven’s mother,” Evelyn said, following Steve into the kitchen. “Steven and his son missed the bus this afternoon and ran into me – I’ve worked with Mr. Barnes on occasion, so I offered them a ride home.”

 

“That was very kind of you,” Winifred said evenly.

 

“I just wanted to step in and introduce myself,” Evelyn went on, stepping forward and holding out her hand. “My name’s Evelyn Tiller.”

 

“Well, thank you, Miss Tiller,” Winifred said, taking her hand and shaking it. “We appreciate it very much. Steve’s older brother would have taken them, but he –”

 

“He’s at basic training, Steven told me,” Evelyn said with another toothy smile. Steve hung awkwardly by the door, wishing she’d just leave already. “Lovely gesture, though, escorting his little brother places.”

 

“Yes,” Winifred agreed.

 

Evelyn smiled, stepping back. Steve cleared his throat.

 

“Thanks again for giving my son and me a ride,” he said. “I can show you out.”

 

“Of course,” Evelyn said. She waved to Winifred and Rebecca. “It was lovely meeting you two.”

 

“You, too, Miss Tiller,” Winifred said.

 

Steve let Evelyn exit the kitchen first. He shoved his hands in his pockets, wishing for slacks instead of the traditional skirt, and guided Evelyn back to the front door. There, she paused and turned back.

 

“Despite the worry our meeting caused, I’m glad to have met you,” Evelyn told him with a gentle smile. “I hope it wouldn’t be too presumptuous of me to ask if I could see you again?”

 

There it was. Steve had been expecting that since she first smiled at him. Steve looked down at the toe of his old penny loafers under his skirt’s hem and gave a shrug.

 

“Jamie’s a little too young for me to really consider trying to get back out there,” he said, the excuse he used every time. “He needs all of my attention now.”

 

“Oh, of course,” Evelyn said, nodding. Her smile was fading. “Well… I live at the apartments on Madison, number 3C. If you ever change your mind.”

 

She shrugged. “I’ll be there,” she said. Steve nodded, looking at his shoes. Evelyn let out a breath, then nodded again and stepped out the front door. Steve took it in hand and watched her retreat to her car, then shut it and locked it.

 

Steve let out all the breath from his lungs. He reached up and rubbed at his eyes, then took off his jacket to hang it up, toed off his shoes and loosened his thin tie. He walked back into the kitchen and dropped into a chair at the table.

 

“What the hell was that?” Rebecca demanded.

 

Steve was one wrong move away from crying. He took a deep breath, then looked around to see if there were any onions that needed cutting that he could blame. None. Winifred was making goulash. Lovely.

 

“What happened?” Winifred asked him, gentler.

 

Her hand came to rest on his shoulder, right where Evelyn had touched him earlier and Steve sucked in a sharp breath. Winifred bent over his shoulders and hugged him, rubbing her fingers into his arms and shushing him gently.

 

“It’s alright,” she murmured. “You didn’t do anything wrong, sweetheart. It’s not your fault she was interested in you, Bucky would understand.”

 

Steve covered his face with his hands and tried to stabilize his breathing. He choked on a sob and sucked in another breath, then swiped angrily at the tears under his lashes.

 

“It’s alright, darling,” Winifred said, hugging him. “You didn’t do anything wrong. What happened, love?”

 

“Jamie –” Steve started, then stopped to swallow and clear his throat. “We were at the bus stop and Jamie saw a cat. He decided to run after it and I lost sight of him. Evelyn caught him and I – I found him with her, she was just looking for me, I guess. She insisted we wait in her office for George to come get us, then when she learned we lived nearby, she insisted on giving us a ride.”

 

“That’s harmless, darling,” Winifred promised him. “Bucky wouldn’t be mad, he’d be relieved you were with someone safe.”

 

Steve covered his eyes with the heels of his palms. “I called George anyway, I thought he’d insist on coming to get us instead –”

 

“I’ll tell him to do that if something like this ever happens again,” Winifred told him. “Don’t worry about this, sweetheart, it’s nothing to worry about.”

 

Steve sniffed hard. “He’ll be able to tell,” he mumbled. “He’ll be able to feel that I feel guilty and he won’t know why!”

 

“It’s alright, we’ll write him,” Winifred said. “And he’ll be home in four weeks time, we can explain it fully then. I’ll tell you what, we’ll all mention something about this so he gets all the details and you don’t have to worry about how to phrase it.”

 

“He wouldn’t be able to tell,” Rebecca piped up. She was at the stove, now, stirring the stew for Winifred. “He’s too far away for that, Steve.”

 

“Yes, he would,” Steve said morosely. “He’s always known when I’m in trouble.”

 

“He won’t be mad at you, darling,” Winifred promised him again. “He’ll understand that you didn’t do anything. It’s not your fault another Alpha took interest in you – It’s not even the first time, dear. He won’t be mad.”

 

“Mama?”

 

Steve jerked up, spotting Jamie standing in the doorway.

 

“Mama, why are you crying?” Jamie asked.

 

“C’mere,” Steve said, holding out an arm.

 

Jamie walked over and crawled into Steve’s lap. Steve held him and rocked him for a second, Winifred still standing at his shoulder.

 

“Why are you crying?” Jamie asked again.

 

Steve pulled him back and held him there. “You really scared me today,” he said. That was certainly part of it, those thirty terrible seconds when he’d lost sight of Jamie in the middle of crowded Chicago – “You promised you’d stop running off like that, don’t you remember?”

 

Jamie hung his head guiltily. Bucky had made him promise the day he left for basic that he wouldn’t run off from Steve.

 

“Do you understand why it scared me?” Steve asked. “You could’ve gotten hurt, sweetheart. I could’ve lost you.”

 

“‘M sorry, Mama,” Jamie promised. “I didn’t mean to scare you!”

 

“I know you didn’t,” Steve said. “But you’ve got to listen to me, Jamie! When I tell you to do something, you’ve got to do it right away!”

 

“I’m sorry,” Jamie mumbled. He sounded like he meant it.

 

Steve sighed and hugged him again. “I’m just so glad that lady caught you,” he sighed. Awful as he felt that she’d immediately picked up his scent, he was glad Evelyn had caught him and held him in place where Steve could find him. “I don’t know what I’d’ve done if I lost you, Jamie.”

 

“I d–don’t wanna be lost, Mama,” Jamie stuttered.

 

“I know,” Steve said. “I know you didn’t mean it, it was an accident.”

 

“Your mama’s not mad at you,” Winifred said, reaching over to ruffle his hair. “It was only an accident.”

 

She raised her eyebrows at Steve. Steve looked away and kissed Jamie’s hair.

 

“Did you wash your hands?” he asked.

 

Jamie nodded minutely. Steve let him cling to him for a minute longer, still filled with anxiety and wanting Bucky’s comforting hands to settle at his neck and soothe him. Winifred stood just behind him, combing through his hair with her fingers, and that plus Jamie clinging to him was helping. They’d have to write Bucky soon so he didn’t assume the worst and think that something had gone wrong at Jamie’s doctor’s appointment. He’d started losing his breath after running and they were all so worried that he’d have Steve’s asthma or his heart defect, something. Jamie’s legs were already in danger of bowing and he was struggling with reading when most boys his age were able to forge ahead.

 

As far as the doctor saw, Jamie didn’t have asthma or a heart defect. He probably had a pollen allergy and that was all that caused him to sniffle. Steve was just glad he was safe.

 

Winifred stayed with him, petting his hair, until Steve was calm enough to let his arms around Jamie relax and even until Jamie felt fine enough to climb off his lap. She bent and kissed his hair, then ruffled and swiped her wrist over his hair as she did. Steve felt grateful, happy to have his Alpha’s mother’s scent over the strange Alpha woman’s.

 

“George said he’d be working late,” Steve said as Jamie wandered around to pull on Rebecca’s skirt.

 

“We’ll have an Omega’s night,” Winifred said. “I got some peaches at the market this afternoon, I can fry those up and candy some pecans. What do you say?”

 

Steve gave a weary smile and nodded. Winifred bent and kissed his hair again, then wandered over to the stove and picked Jamie up to let him look into the pot.

 

Steve got up from the table and slipped out. He made his way upstairs and into his and Bucky’s room. He dug out a shirt that Bucky had worn to bed every night since he got his draft letter and nobody had washed, then curled up on the bed with it and cried for a bit longer.

 

The urge to nest was still in the back of his mind; Steve needed to fetch Jamie and curl up around him, but it wasn’t nearly time for bed yet and Jamie would start squirming if Steve tried to cuddle him in the middle of the day like this. Steve needed Bucky to nose at his neck and blanket his back with his body, but he didn’t have Bucky. He’d have his heat in a few weeks, and he’d just have to pray that it didn’t hit before Bucky got home.

 

*

 

“How long do you reckon it’ll take to get our orders?” Dum Dum asked.

 

“I don’t know,” Bucky sighed, fiddling with the insignia on his sleeve. Sergeant. He didn’t even think you could get there that quick in basic, but he’d had a natural talent for a sniper rifle and that had warranted special training. Dum Dum was a Corporal, whereas most of them left as Private First Class or Specialist. Bucky hoped it’d take at least a month to get their orders, and it was nearing the middle of August.

 

Bucky couldn’t imagine which would be worse, getting his orders in the middle of Steve’s heat, or right before it.

 

“Honest, I hope we get shipped out soon,” Dum Dum said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m looking to kick some German ass!”

 

Bucky gave a non-committal grunt. This was why the Army didn’t like taking mated young Alphas. Mixed loyalties. He didn’t have two shits to rub together to make a stink about the Germans.

 

Dum Dum kept talking and Bucky aimed his gaze out of the window. He just wanted to get home.

 

He’d gotten a bunch of weird letters from his family the week before, dated earlier in August and around the time Bucky felt Steve freaking out through their bond. Their drill sergeant had screamed in his face when Bucky stopped in the middle of an obstacle course, overrun by his mate’s anxiety, and that probably hadn’t helped Steve any. The letters said something about Jamie getting lost in downtown Chicago after his doctor’s appointment and a woman giving Steve a ride home since they missed the bus, but they weren’t real clear. Jamie getting lost was obviously what had caused Steve’s anxiety, especially since he was always on edge the weeks leading up to his heat, but his ma kept mentioning the woman, Evelyn or something, and Bucky wasn’t sure why.

 

“What are you gonna do?” Dum Dum asked.

 

Bucky turned away from the window. “What?”

 

“When we get back,” Dum Dum asked. “What’re you gonna do first?”

 

Bucky gave a shrug and looked back out of the window. “Sleep for a week,” he said vaguely.

 

“Ha,” Dum Dum laughed. “I’m gonna see my girl. Take her out on one last night on the town, y’know?”

 

“Sounds like a plan,” Bucky muttered.

 

“What’s eatin’ you?”

 

Bucky looked back again. “What?”

 

“You’re out of it,” Dum Dum said. “Never seen you so distracted.”

 

Bucky shrugged, looking out of the window. “Maybe I’m just tired, Dum Dum. Thought about that?”

 

“Sure,” Dum Dum said skeptically. “And that’s why you’re snapping at flies.”

 

Bucky scowled. “Shuddup,” he growled.

 

“I’m just saying!” Dum Dum said, elbowing him. Bucky gritted his teeth and kept from retaliating. “Something’s on your mind.”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky snapped, “home.”

 

Dum Dum stopped pressing. Bucky drew in a breath, then shook his head.

 

“Sorry,” he said. “I don’t – I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”

 

“Fine, pal,” Dum Dum muttered. “Ain’t a problem.”

 

Bucky shook his head again and turned his head back out of the window. He was eager to get home. They were almost there.

 

“Harvey, Chicago!” the bus driver shouted. “Get off or don’t!”

 

Dum Dum got up and pushed his way into the aisle. Bucky caught his duffle when Dum Dum tossed it at him, then shuffled into the aisle behind him and made his way off the bus. He squinted against the sunlight and raised a hand to shield his eyes, when:

 

“Unca Bucky, Unca Bucky!”

 

Bucky broke into a grin and waved to Rebecca and Jamie, jumping up and down, at the other end of the bus stop. He pushed his way through the people gathered to greet their boys and dropped his duffle bag in time to catch Jamie, who’d launched himself at him.

 

“Hey, there, champ!” Bucky laughed, swinging him into the air. “Didja miss me at all?”

 

“Only every day!” Jamie cried, then hugged him tightly around the neck. “Mama missed you, too. He’s sad, but he won’t say why.”

 

Bucky hugged Jamie tighter. “Well, that ain’t no good,” he said instead of revealing he knew exactly why Steve was sad. “Why don’t we go cheer him up?”

 

He looked at Rebecca. “Where is he?”

 

“At home,” she said easily, then flicked her eyebrows up and down. “He wasn’t feeling up to leaving the house.”

 

Bucky understood immediately. He mouthed shit and lowered Jamie to the ground. “That’s fine,” he said, despite his heart running a marathon in his chest; Steve was in heat, Steve was in heat already and no wonder he’d been biting everyone’s heads off! “Ma and Pa busy, too?” he asked, acting totally normal.

 

“Same old, same old,” Rebecca said, reaching for Jamie. “Come on, you know the rules.”

 

Jamie visibly deflated and reluctantly took Rebecca’s hand. “‘M not gonna go nowhere,” he grumbled as Bucky swung his duffle bag onto his shoulder.

 

Bucky remembered the letters. “Hey, what’s this I hear about you runnin’ off on your mama in the city, kiddo?”

 

Jamie winced and looked at him with guilt written all over his face. “I just wanted to see the kitty,” he whined.

 

Bucky looked at him sternly. “What’d you tell me you wouldn’t do before I left, Jamie?”

 

Jamie looked at the ground, scuffing his shoes as they walked. “Run off on Mama,” he mumbled.

 

“And what did you go and do?” Bucky asked.

 

“Run off on Mama,” Jamie repeated reluctantly.

 

“You see where I’m disappointed?” Bucky said.

 

“I didn’t mean to scare ‘im!” Jamie insisted, looking up. “Honest! I thought he was right behind me!”

 

“It was lucky that Alpha found you,” Rebecca remarked.

 

Bucky went stiff. “What?”

 

Rebecca looked up at him, frowning. “Evelyn. The Alpha lady that found them and gave them a ride home that night. I wrote you about it.”

 

“Nobody said that lady was an Alpha,” Bucky said quickly.

 

Rebecca paled. “Oh,” she said slowly. “Uh. Sorry?”

 

Bucky resettled his bag on his shoulder and jerked his gaze ahead. It was just a couple of blocks to their house, but Bucky was ready to scoop Jamie up in his other arm and make a break for it. His Omega was in heat and alone and Bucky hadn’t been there when some new Alpha butted in on what was his –

 

“Anyway, Bucky, you gotta clean up that truck before you leave again,” Rebecca interrupted his thoughts. Bucky bit his tongue so he didn’t growl at her, since he didn’t give two shits about his truck just then. “It ruins Ma’s good yard.”

 

“It’s a perfectly good piece of machinery,” Bucky grumbled under his breath. “This lady, she gave them a ride home?”

 

“Yeah, you read the letters,” Rebecca said, shooting him a fast but warning glance. “She caught Jamie when he ran off, Steve found them, Evelyn let him borrow her phone to call Pa and then drove them home. Came in to introduce herself to Ma so we’d know who’d been driving Steve.”

 

Bucky did growl, but cut it off. Fucking Evelyn went in to try and worm her way into Steve’s affections was what she did. And caught his son? Caught? Bucky was fit to murder the woman for laying a hand on what was his –

 

“Did I tell you that I might be going to college?” Rebecca said loudly. “Pa says I can do math like nobody’s business –”

 

“Yes, you told me,” Bucky snapped. “Can we get a move on?”

 

“Calm down,” Rebecca replied sharply.

 

“Unca, what’s the matter?” Jamie asked, picking up his hand.

 

Bucky relaxed a little, then swung his arm around Jamie’s shoulders and pulled him against his side. Rebecca let go of Jamie’s hand to let Bucky pull his son in and he was grateful. “Nothing, kid. Absolutely nothin’. You lookin’ forward to starting school soon?”

 

“I guess,” Jamie said, sounding like the opposite.

 

“What, you don’t wanna go?” Bucky asked, looking down at him. “Why not?”

 

Jamie scuffed his feet and hopped over a crack in the sidewalk, shrugging. “Just don’t wanna,” he said.

 

“C’mon, you can tell me, kiddo,” Bucky said. “What’s wrong with school?”

 

Jamie hesitated. “Just… There gonna be a lotta reading.

 

“Yeah, that sounds like school,” Bucky said. He leaned down a little. “You not likin’ reading?”

 

Jamie shrugged. Bucky glanced at Rebecca.

 

Hard, she mouthed. Bucky sighed and looked back at Jamie. “You’ll get there,” he promised.

 

“You’re gonna grow up and go to college like me, Jamie,” Rebecca promised, reaching over and tapping his arm, but she didn’t try to take Jamie from him. Bucky wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep himself from growling at her if she tried to pull his son from him. “Become some hotshot engineer, better than your –”

 

She broke off. Bucky glanced up and saw her swallowing. “Your uncle,” Rebecca said eventually. Bucky looked away.

 

Than your pa, he guessed was what she’d been about to say. Bucky gritted his teeth and reminded himself that it was fine, this was more than he’d ever thought he’d get to have and it was fine.

 

“What’s an engineer?” Jamie asked.

 

“They do math, too,” Rebecca said. “Only dumb practical stuff.”

 

Jamie looked up at Bucky, who shrugged. He’d failed algebra about three times before he dropped out. He knew how to do arithmetic and that sufficed it for him.

 

“They build stuff,” Rebecca added. “Like bridges.”

 

“Oh,” Jamie said. “I like building stuff with my blocks!”

 

“See!” Rebecca said. “And being an engineer would only need a little bit of reading, not like history or English or nothing.”

 

“I’m gonna be an engineer!” Jamie cried, grabbing Bucky’s hand and tugging on it before trying to dart away.

 

Bucky grabbed him by the back of his shirt and yanked him back. Mostly out of instinct. To cover it, he said: “What’d we just say about running off, Jamie?”

 

“To not do it,” Jamie sighed.

 

“So don’t do it,” Bucky advised. Jamie pouted.

 

They turned a corner and Bucky spotted their house. Without meaning to, he sniffed to try and catch the scent of an Omega in heat on the air, but even with the wind on his face, he didn’t catch anything. Which was good. Nobody could smell his Omega to try to butt in.

 

“Race you to the house,” Bucky said.

 

“You’re on!” Jamie cried and took off. Bucky let him, running just on his heels and close enough to grab him if he had to. Jamie leapt onto the front porch and started jumping up and down, his little fists in the air and a wide grin on his face. “I win!” he yelled. “I win, Unca Bucky!”

 

“Yeah, you got me beat there, champ,” Bucky said ruffling his hair as he mounted the porch. He glanced over his shoulder then, reluctant to leave his kid sister outside where nobody was watching her. “C’mon, Becca, you can do it!”

 

“It’s twenty feet!” Rebecca answered, turning onto the driveway. “You couldn’t deal with an extra ten seconds?”

 

Bucky shrugged. He was rutting, he didn’t know what Jamie’s excuse was.

 

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. Like we don’t know you’re not gonna take off for Steve the second we get inside,” she said, unlocking the front door.

 

“Eh,” Bucky said, then scooped Jamie up around the middle despite his shrieking protests. “Maybe.”

 

Rebecca cast him a look that said she didn’t believe a word he said and stepped inside. Bucky crowded in after her, then tossed down his duffle bag and turned back to lock the door. The handle, the deadbolt, and the chain. He’d need to check the windows and doors around the house before he did anything, if he was honest.

 

“Put me down!” Jamie squealed. “I wanna go get Mama!”

 

“Oh, no you won’t,” Bucky laughed. It was faint, shut up on the first floor, but he could smell heat-scent and knew Steve did not want to be pounced on by an overactive five-year-old. “Your mama ain’t feelin’ well, remember? We don’t want you gettin’ sick, too.”

 

Jamie squirmed in his grip. Bucky adjusted it, then tossed Jamie over his shoulder and headed for the living room to check the windows. “Mama was fine this morning!” Jamie claimed. “Lemme go!”

 

“Lemme just hold onto ya for a minute,” Bucky said, flipping the latch on the bay window and checking the far one. “Then you can go play, okay?”

 

Jamie stopped struggling. Bucky might have slipped a bit of an Alpha tone into his voice, but Jamie was five, he didn’t know the difference. Rebecca caught his eye when he turned around and raised her eyebrows. She knew.

 

Bucky just shrugged. He was rutting, he had the right to cajole his son into giving up.

 

“Hey, Ma, Pa!” Bucky called, entering the kitchen. “I heard Steve ain’t doin’ so hot.”

 

“He’s doing very hot,” his mother said calmly, standing at the stove; he smelled pot roast, which was what she always made when Steve or Rebecca hit a heat. The stringy meat was easy to feed to a distracted Omega by hand and the lumps of potato would pack in with the protein the meat provided. “He’s been running a fever since early this morning.”

 

Bucky gave a nod – she meant that Steve had started pre-heat during the night, probably hit the full heat only a few hours ago and Bucky wasn’t too late –, then leaned past her and shut the window over the stove, locking it. His mother sighed but didn’t protest. His dad, sitting at the kitchen table with the morning paper, waved.

 

“Do you know when you’re getting your orders?” he asked.

 

Bucky shook his head, checking the back door. Locked, and no windows in the pantry. “It’ll take a couple of weeks,” he said. Long enough that Steve would be in the clear by the time they came, thank god. “How’ve you guys been?”

 

“Fine,” his father said.

 

Bucky adjusted Jamie on his shoulder and looked at his mother. “You didn’t say that lady was an Alpha, Ma.”

 

His mother turned around, raising her eyebrows. “I thought it best left out,” she said slowly.

 

Bucky glared at her. “You did?” he said quietly. “Well. I would’ve liked to have known.”

 

“And what good would that have done?” his mother snapped.

 

Bucky straightened his shoulders and his pa turned a page in the paper, completely calm. Rebecca edged towards their father. Bucky let some of the fight leave his spine.

 

“I would’ve known,” he said anyway.

 

“Steve was practically in hysterics when it happened,” Bucky’s mother said stiffly. “He was terrified what you would think. I left it out because you’d only get upset and he’d know and that would make his condition worse.”

 

Bucky let the rest of the fight go out of his spine. He needed to get to his Omega. “Sorry,” he said gruffly. He lowered Jamie from his shoulder, who blinked, having fallen asleep, and ruffled his hair – dropping his scent on his son – before pushing the kid towards his grandmother. “You keep an eye on him?”

 

“Of course,” Bucky’s father answered. “You go on.”

 

Bucky turned and headed out of the kitchen. He checked the landing window, but it was locked, and he took the stairs two at a time to get the rest of the way up. He was shaking, the smell of heat stronger on the second level, but he checked the rest of the windows on that floor before heading for the far bedroom.

 

He knocked, but went straight in. Bucky took a deep, clearing breath, and shut the door behind him, locking it.

 

Steve lay on their bed, shivering, the blankets kicked off the mattress. He was wearing one of Bucky’s shirts, though it was twisted around his legs and stained at the back hem by slick. His eyes were shut, his flushed lips parted as he breathed, and Bucky was so damn in love with him.

 

Bucky headed for the bed and swung a leg over Steve’s body, then leaned on his elbows and tucked his head into Steve’s neck. He licked at his scent gland, drawing out the heat-scent. Steve shuddered and inhaled sharply, then stirred and blinked open his eyes.

 

“Hey, sugar,” Bucky purred, licking his scent gland again. “You missed me, huh?”

 

Steve surged up and attacked him in a kiss. Bucky flipped them over so Steve was on his chest and buried his hands in Steve’s hair, then let go with one to grab his ass. Steve moaned into his mouth and ground their hips together. Bucky growled in answer and Steve went limp on top of him.

 

“You got awful timing,” Steve mumbled. “Should’a been here a coupl’a hours ago when I was all ready to go.”

 

Bucky let out a low chuckle and slipped a finger past Steve’s asscheek; his Omega gasped sharply and squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his forehead into Bucky’s shirt.

 

“I think I can get you hot ‘n’ bothered again, doll,” Bucky said.

 

“Take y’r clothes off first, at least,” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky flipped them over again, then nosed at Steve’s neck and bit lightly just under his jaw. Steve relaxed fully under him, his head falling back to bare his neck, and Bucky scent-marked his way down the column of Steve’s throat to his clavicle.

 

“This the shirt I left you, babydoll?” Bucky asked, picking at it. “You been sleepin’ with it every night?”

 

Steve nodded once. “Smells like you,” he said faintly.

 

Bucky rucked it up and used his wrists to mark Steve’s ribs. “Now you smell like me,” he said, kissing Steve’s shoulder. “Plus, I smell like me. So, can I take this off?”

 

“Uh-huh,” Steve said. “Please.”

 

Bucky sat up, braced on his knees either side of Steve’s hips, and hastened to get his shirt unbuttoned while Steve blinked up at him blearily. Bucky tossed his hat and shirt across the room, then yanked his belt from the loops of his trousers and leaned back to get his boots off. Steve reached out and pressed a palm to his chest over his undershirt and Bucky leaned back in to kiss him sharply before ripping his undershirt off.

 

“Mmm,” Steve said as Bucky started kissing down his neck again. “Y’should go to the Army more of’en, Buck.”

 

Bucky glanced down his chest, then sat up and flexed for his Omega. “Ya like this, doll?” he asked, grinning.

 

“Mhmm,” Steve answered, a smile curling his lip. “Look like a dirty magazine.”

 

Bucky grinned again and bent to kiss him. “Nah,” he said, their lips barely touching. “You, in my bed with your slick stainin’ my clothes? That look like a dirty magazine.”

 

Steve lifted his knees on either side of Bucky’s hips and tipped his head back happily. Bucky kissed and marked his neck, then lifted onto one hand to work his pants off. He ended up sitting up again to get them off his hips, then kicked them and his boxers off onto the floor. Steve lifted his knees again, putting his heels flat on the bed, and looked out from under his lashes at Bucky with a smile curling his lip.

 

“Y’just gonna stand around ‘n’ stare?” Steve asked sarcastically, tipping one leg to the side and letting the other fall off the edge of the bed. “Or are ya gonna do somethin’ with all that drool?”

 

Bucky growled and grabbed the backs of Steve’s thighs. Steve grinned and let his eyes shut, his head falling back again. Bucky bent over and nuzzled along the inside of Steve’s thighs, feeling the soft downy hair lining his legs on his smooth-shaven cheek. When he got to his goal, he had something to do with all that drool.

 

Steve hooked a leg behind Bucky’s head and arched his hips up into his mouth. Bucky swallowed slick, sweet and addictive, and licked up more, his fingers digging into Steve’s thighs as he held him spread open.

 

“That’s the spirit, Barnes,” Steve slurred. “God, I missed your tongue.”

 

Bucky pulled back and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “I missed your ass, doll,” he promised, then kissed a trail up Steve’s body and pushed up the shirt he was wearing. “I missed your skin,” he went on, purring low in the back of his throat and Steve shivered and let his legs fall open because of it. “I missed your smartass mouth, too.”

 

“You missed my smartass skills with my mouth,” Steve mumbled.

 

Bucky kissed him, licking into his mouth like he’d been doing seconds ago with his ass. “I missed you,” he insisted, catching Steve’s hands and pinning them above his head. “Now, why don’t we go an’ make a baby, sugar?”

 

Steve shivered and pressed his thighs against Bucky’s hips. “God, please,” he sighed. “Please, Alpha, I’ve needed you so much –”

 

“I’m right here, Omega,” Bucky promised, marking his neck. “My Omega, my pretty Omega, mine and mine alone.”

 

“Yes,” Steve answered, “yes, Buck, all yours.”

 

“All mine,” Bucky purred. With his head tucked into Steve's neck to distract him, he reached over to the bedside drawer and went digging around for a condom. He hadn’t been serious about making a baby; it just made Steve feel better once he was in heat to think that Bucky meant it. They couldn’t risk another kid. “You touch yourself at all while I was gone, baby?”

 

Steve shivered and nodded. Bucky grinned.

 

“What’chu do?” Bucky purred, nuzzling his neck. “What’chu think ‘bout, doll?”

 

“You,” Steve answered immediately.

 

“You did?” Bucky asked, like he was shocked. “What’d you think ‘bout me doin’?”

 

Steve lifted his hips up into Bucky’s and pressed the back of his head into the mattress. “What you ought’a be doin’ already. Fuckin’ me.”

 

“Is that so?” Bucky asked, bringing his lips right to Steve’s ear to whisper to him. “Did you think about my hands on your hips, doll?”

 

Bucky grabbed Steve’s hips and pulled at him. Steve nodded quickly.

 

“Didja think about my lips at your neck?” Bucky asked, getting close enough that his lips touched Steve’s ear as he murmured. “Didja think about my fingers? Openin’ you up nice an’ slow?”

 

Steve nodded again. “God, just fuck me already. ‘M open, fingered myself earlier, just fuck me.”

 

“Couldn’t even wait for your Alpha to get home,” Bucky murmured. “God, what a sight. Lookit’chu, all flushed and pink in the face – pink in the dick, baby. This thing’s so pretty I ought’a put a bow on it.”

 

“You put a bow on me I’ll punch your teeth in,” Steve panted. “C’mon, get in me already.”

 

“We got all the time in the world,” Bucky said in his ear. That was a lie. But it didn’t matter. They had a few weeks and that was enough time. “Maybe I wanna reacquaint myself with every inch a’ya, doll.”

 

“Start with your dick in my ass,” Steve begged. “C’mon, please, Alpha –”

 

“All you gotta do is ask nicely,” Bucky purred in his ear, but he was already letting go of Steve’s hip to get the condom on; one-handed. Practice made perfect, after all. “You know all you gotta do is ask, baby.”

 

“Please,” Steve asked. “Please, Bucky.”

 

Bucky grabbed his hips again. “You gonna cry, baby?”

 

Steve shook his head. Bucky kissed his throat and lifted one hand from Steve’s hip to cover his mouth. “You gonna moan?”

 

Steve nodded, biting into his palm. Bucky let him, looking down to aim –

 

Steve bit down hard as a muffled moan escaped Bucky’s hand; Bucky dropped his forehead onto the mattress by Steve’s neck, panting, then turned and started licking his scent gland again, drawing out the sweet taste of his heat. He meant to start off slow, he did, but it wasn’t long before Bucky was fucking into him without mercy and Steve was whimpering with every thrust, making Bucky glad he remembered to cover his Omega’s mouth. He lost track of time, registering the shadows lengthening in the room only, as he kept going until Steve couldn’t come any more. Only then did he give into his own orgasm that had been ready since really the second Bucky pushed in and his knot popped.

 

The condom squelched as Bucky shifted Steve onto his chest. Steve was fast asleep, snoring quietly. Bucky grabbed the wrapper from the floor, then groaned as he saw it was a regular one and not a rut condom.

 

Bucky reached over the edge of the bed and grabbed the first fabric thing he found. He carefully cleaned up where he was connected to Steve, cleaning up what was leaking from around the condom, then dropped it back onto the floor, feeling exhausted.

 

Belatedly, Bucky realized it was his shirt. The one Steve had been wearing. Which was kind of gross, but Steve already got slick on it. Bucky looked at it for a while, wondering how gross it would be not to wash it, because it would smell for months. It wasn’t like Bucky could send his used shirts back in the mail for Steve to keep once he got shipped overseas.

 

Bucky considered it. He’d have to think about it when he didn’t have rut-brain.

 

He let his hands rest on Steve’s back, then squirmed to reach for the sheet when he felt Steve shivering, and put his hands back when they were satisfactorily covered. He started lazily marking Steve with his wrists, covering every inch of Steve’s skin that he could reach.

 

Bucky dozed for a while, while Steve was pretty much unconscious. When his knot came down enough that he could pull out, Bucky laid Steve on the bed and got up. Dealing with the condom was gross, but Bucky cleaned up with the same shirt – It was already covered in fluids, why get something else dirty? – and scrounged up some clothing. He made sure Steve was covered by the blankets and the dirty shirt was put somewhere far across the room, then unlocked the bedroom door and slipped out.

 

Bucky made his way downstairs in search of food and his kid. Ever since Steve had Jamie, Bucky’s ruts had left him protective of anything that smelled like him. Especially if they were smaller. Jamie was tiny, and Bucky felt like a bad parent if he didn’t check on him often enough.

 

The rest of his family was in the living room, his mother and his sister both sewing while his father read a book to Jamie. Bucky made his way in and his father looked up.

 

Bucky and his father exchanged brief nods. They’d learned a long time ago that Bucky’s protective instincts did not extend to fully grown Alphas that smelled like him and it was best if Bucky and his father kept their interactions to a minimum.

 

But his father knew what he wanted right away and set Jamie off of his lap. “Go bother your uncle,” he said, setting aside the book he’d been reading to Jamie in favor of the newspaper. Jamie rubbed his eyes, then looked around and held up his hands to Bucky. Bucky lifted him off the ground and tucked him against his neck, then went into the kitchen to get food. There were leftovers on the kitchen table, a portion of meat laid out on a wooden cutting board for the juices to drain off so it wouldn’t make a mess. Bucky grabbed that, dropping it into a bowl of potatoes that had been strained of liquid earlier. There was a water canteen on the counter, already filled, so Bucky grabbed it and balanced it with the bowl to take upstairs.

 

Jamie partially stirred on his shoulder. Bucky quickly kissed his hair and his son settled.

 

Bucky pushed open the door to his and Steve’s bedroom with his foot, then shut it the same way and walked over to the nightstand. He put down the water canteen and the bowl, then walked back and put the latch on the door. Bucky crossed to the bed again, then settled next to Steve over the blankets and pulled his Omega into his side. Steve was still fast asleep. Jamie yawned, then burrowed into Bucky’s chest. Bucky shut his eyes to nap until Steve woke up.

 

“Unca,” Jamie mumbled. Bucky opened his eyes. “Is Mama okay?”

 

“Yeah,” Bucky said. “He just missed you.”

 

Jamie blinked then shrugged and lay back down on Bucky’s chest. “Okay,” he said softly. Bucky let a hand drift over his shoulder, gently scent marking him, then settled back with his arm around Steve.

 

Bucky didn’t normally bring Jamie in with them while Steve was in heat. Sure, Steve’s heats had dropped in intensity over the years, leaving him no longer so desperate for a knot he refused to eat or drink, but they didn’t want to have to give Jamie the talk about the birds and the bees until absolutely necessary.

 

Bucky wasn’t exactly normal at that time. He hadn’t seen his son or his Omega for over three months and to his rut-brain, that was major badness and had to be fixed. Ergo, bringing Jamie to cuddle with them while Steve slept off the effort of twenty or so orgasms.

 

Steve woke up soon, though, his movements rousing Bucky from the light sleep he’d fallen into. He kissed Bucky’s shoulder, then reached over and ruffled Jamie’s hair.

 

“Good nap?” Steve mumbled to Jamie.

 

Jamie sat up on Bucky’s stomach and yawned, stretching his mouth open wide like a cat. “Uh-huh,” he said.

 

“Alright,” Steve said, “why don’t you go to your room and play, then?”

 

“Okay,” Jamie said, slipping off of Bucky’s stomach. Bucky got up to let him out, then cast a glance at Steve and walked their kid to his bedroom. Bucky knew it was irrational, but he needed to make sure he knew where Jamie was at all times. Matter of fact, he ought’a check on Rebecca soon. Make sure she hadn’t left the house. The world was a nasty place, full of no-good Alphas who wouldn’t give a damn about who they got their filthy hands on. Bucky should check on Rebecca.

 

He crossed back to the bedroom and stuck his head in. “I’ll be right back,” he said. Steve nodded, lying down again, and Bucky withdrew, shutting the door. He ducked his head into Becca’s room, but she wasn’t there. Jamie was still in his room, so Bucky made note of that and went downstairs. His father was in his lazy chair, snoring with his mouth hanging open, but his mother and sister had vacated the living room.

 

He found them in the kitchen, cleaning up from dinner.

 

“Hey,” his mother called, turning around to face him. “Something wrong?”

 

Bucky shook his head. “Needed to know where Becca was,” he said.

 

Rebecca turned around, her eyebrows raised. “Should I be worried?” she asked slowly.

 

“Nah,” Bucky said, ducking around and swinging an arm around her shoulders for a quick hug, dropping his scent on her in the process, which would ward off any Alpha who went near her for the next day or so. “Just needed to make sure you were fine.”

 

“Thanks?” Rebecca said.

 

Bucky passed her, kissed his mother, and grabbed a chunk of bread before leaving the kitchen. He heard Becca hiss: “What was that?” as he left and his mother say: “He hasn’t seen you in months, he’s just worried for you. He’s a father, they do that.”

 

Bucky went back up the stairs, bread in hand, and checked that Jamie was still in his room. Jamie didn’t notice him, but Bucky was fine with that as long as he knew where his son was. He made his way back into his room, shutting the door and putting the latch back on before dropping onto the bed and picking up the bowl of meat and potatoes.

 

“Hey,” Bucky said, leaning down and kissing Steve’s cheek. “You need food.”

 

Steve waved a dismissive hand in his direction. “Sleep,” he said.

 

“Food,” Bucky rumbled, using a bit of his Alpha tone to get his mate to listen to him and kissing his shoulder to placate him at the same time. “C’mon, eat somethin’ and then you can go back to sleep.”

 

“Fucking Alphas,” Steve sighed, but sat up and leaned on Bucky. Bucky situated himself better on the bed to wrap an arm around Steve’s waist and hold the bowl in his lap. He picked up a bit of potato and held it up to Steve’s lips.

 

Steve opened his mouth automatically and Bucky put the lump of potato on his tongue and reached for more.

 

Steve had an awful appetite. He was as thin as a twig, even after he had Jamie, and didn’t feel it when he got hungry until it was bad enough to make him dizzy or nauseous. Bucky made sure to give him slightly more than half the portion of meat and potato, then make him drink water and eat the bread in stages. Steve was falling asleep again but Bucky kept him up by gentle coaxing with his Alpha voice, leaving Steve pliant and submissive in his hands.

 

Bucky just made him eat and drink plenty of water. When he figured Steve had had enough, he kissed his cheek and told him he could go back to sleep. Steve rubbed his cheek over Bucky’s shoulder, then slipped down the bed and curled up around a pillow, falling asleep again in seconds. Bucky bent to kiss his cheek again, then ate and drank himself before shucking his clothes, putting on a rutting condom rather than a regular one, and slipped under the blankets with Steve.

 

The condom was because Bucky expected Steve to wake up horny and not bother to wake Bucky up before getting on his dick. That had happened once or twice early in their relationship and Steve hated it when Bucky had to pull out in the middle of sex in order to put on a condom. Steve usually didn’t notice it if it was already there or if he didn’t see Bucky put it on, but he got upset sometimes if he did notice it. Heat made Omegas crave breeding, not just sex. Bucky knew they couldn’t risk another kid, no matter how much Steve wanted one in the middle of heat.

 

As long as Steve never saw him actually putting it on, it would be fine. Steve was usually very observant, but heat left him a little one-track minded. Didn’t hurt that rut condoms were flesh colored.

 

Bucky curled around Steve, turning him into the little spoon, and settled his nose in the nape of Steve’s neck. Breathing in his heat-scent. Steve’s scent, particularly in heat, always made Bucky think of the first time Steve went into heat. They’d been alone at Steve’s house, trusted with making gingerbread cookies for a church function. Steve had been way too young for it, but being a stubborn bastard he pulled through. It was what left both Bucky’s parents and Steve’s ma convinced that the only thing to do with him and Steve was to give them condoms and cover for them. Bucky had been there, had made sure no one could touch Steve, even tried to stand off to Steve’s own mother. They’d been kids, but Bucky’s heart knew what was his long before his head. Steve had always been his.

 

*

 

The letter had arrived not even two weeks after Bucky got home. The first week, Steve had spent in bed alternating between cuddling Bucky and demanding to be fucked, but the second, after his heat had passed and he’d slept it off, they’d tried to do things together, like a family. He, Bucky, and Rebecca took Jamie to the park, to the history museum downtown – Steve had been a little bit afraid of running into Evelyn, but Bucky simply swept his wrist over the back of Steve’s neck and told him to stop worrying so much – even to see the Cubs playing against the St. Louis’ Cardinals, and Bucky hated the Cardinals with a passion.

 

“Worse than the Yankee’s,” Bucky grumbled, but went because he got to put Jamie on his shoulders and he loved doing that.

 

But the letter was waiting for them when they got back from the game. Steve knew what it was when Bucky’s face fell and he asked Rebecca to take Jamie upstairs so it was just him and Bucky in the kitchen.

 

“When?” Steve asked.

 

Bucky worked his jaw. “Next Wednesday.”

 

Steve nodded. It was Tuesday.

 

“I take a train to New York,” Bucky said, then let out his breath. “Then a boat to England. I’ve got a team who report to me. Jesus, they’re already considering making me a staff sergeant.”

 

Steve hugged himself while Bucky read his orders. He bit his lip, hard.

 

“My company will be heading to Italy,” Bucky added. “We’ll be meeting up with the 107th infantry.”

 

“Italy’s not bad,” Steve mumbled. “Just… Mussolini…”

 

Bucky, still looking at his letter, reached out. Steve slipped under his arm and hugged him around the waist.

 

“Jesus Christ,” Bucky whispered. Steve crossed himself and hid his face in Bucky’s shirt.

 

He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t going to cry.

 

Bucky crumpled the letter and wrapped both arms around him tightly while Steve started to shake. He’d just come off the rush of hormones that was heat, he’d gotten his Alpha back for a brief second and now he was losing him again. To Italy. Fucking Italy didn’t need Bucky, Steve did. Jamie did. Italy didn’t need Bucky at all.

 

“Promise you’ll come home,” Steve whispered. “Promise you won’t make me a widow for real.”

 

Bucky hugged him tighter. “Swear on my life, Stevie. I’m with you ‘til the end of the line, remember?”

 

Steve was scared. He was downright terrified. The war was getting bloodier by the day and despite what George had said when Bucky was drafted, it wasn’t going to be over any time soon. Steve didn’t know when it would end, and he didn’t know that the end of the war wouldn’t see some letter of condolence coming addressed to Bucky’s parents instead of him because Bucky’s records said he was unmated. Some letter just like the one in Bucky’s hand saying We regret to inform you and not mentioning that it was the United Fucking States’ own fault that they were informing them of Bucky’s death or worse. The only thing Steve could say for sure was that if Bucky came back – only a fucking if – he’d be different. George had shellshock. Steve knew that. There was no way Bucky would come back the same fella Steve had gotten himself bonded to and pregnant by six years ago, the same man Steve had grown up with and fallen in love with. War changed you. That was the only thing Steve knew for sure.

 

“I’ll come home,” Bucky whispered, a promise with no guarantee whatsoever. “I’ll always come home to you.”

 

*

 

Bucky went to the train station alone. He’d said his goodbyes in private, hugged his ma and his sister, shook hands with his father, ruffled his son’s hair and smiled as Jamie said: “Goodbye, Unca Bucky!” He hugged Steve, swept his wrist over Steve’s shoulders, and left them.

 

Bucky never washed that nasty shirt he’d used to clean up during Steve’s heat when he got back from basic. Steve never mentioned it, Bucky never mentioned it, and the shirt sat, gross but smelling strongly of him, under the bed in a pillowcase. Eventually, Steve would have to wash the shirt but by then the pillowcase would have picked up the scent. That shirt and that pillowcase should last Steve at least through his next heat in the spring.

 

The first one Bucky wouldn’t be there for. The first one at all that Bucky wouldn’t be there for, Bucky had been at Steve’s side or fucking hanging out of his window for every one of his heats since he’d presented. He couldn’t help but feel like he was abandoning his mate.

 

Suffice it to say, Bucky was a morose man when he arrived at the train station. He recognized the men he went to basic with and forced a smile as he boarded the train and found the seat assigned to him.

 

Bucky didn’t know who drew up the seating charts, but he and Dum Dum Dugan sure had some luck.

 

“Barnes, how ya been, pal?” Dum Dum asked, clapping him on the shoulder as he sat down.

 

“Better than that caterpillar on your face,” Bucky said, pointing to the mustache growing over Dum Dum’s upper lip. “How come you ain’t shaved that off already?”

 

“I’m tryna get it to look dignified before we get to England,” Dum Dum said with glee. “Didja hear? We got a night in New York to ourselves before we report to the boat.”

 

Dum Dum elbowed him, waggling his eyebrows.

 

“Ain’t you got a girl?” Bucky asked, judging him a bit. A lot.

 

“Yeah, but what she don’t know won’t hurt her,” Dum Dum said. Bucky shook his head. “What, you a goin’ steady man? You keep on sayin’ you don’t have a girl, anyway!”

 

“I don’t,” Bucky said, which was the truth, Steve would twist his nuts off if Bucky ever tried implying that he was his girl for all Bucky’s calling him ma. “Don’t mean I don’t know how to treat one.”

 

“Alright, alright,” Dum Dum agreed. “You got a fair point.”

 

Dum Dum glanced around, then leaned in. “I just don’t wanna stick out, y’know?”

 

Bucky gave a shrug. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, pal.”

 

Bucky didn’t give a shit if he’d ever stick out. He’d rather look like a priest or a mama’s boy than step out on Steve.

 

“So, where you headed?” Dum Dum asked.

 

Bucky pulled his orders from a pocket in his jacket. “107th, Sergeant Barnes, reporting for duty. I got a fuckin’ team to lead, Dum Dum, five whole poor souls gotta report to me. Then apparently, I’m in line to bump up a rank and lead a squad already.”

 

“What team?” Dum Dum asked.

 

Bucky looked at Dum Dum out of the corner of his eye. “You already know I’m your sergeant,” he said dryly.

 

Dum Dum grinned. “Yeah, I do, but I wanna know if you got a nickname for us yet, Sarge.”

 

Bucky scoffed. “Great. Sarge, am I now? What happens when I get promoted?”

 

“You stay Sarge until it becomes way too confusing,” Dum Dum answered. “Easy. So, what’s our name?”

 

“Barnes’s fools,” Bucky said, looking back at his paper. “And since I’m in charge, no one can complain.”

 

“Dammit,” Dum Dum hissed. “I was hoping for somethin’ neat.”

 

“Bunch’a fools,” Bucky mumbled, “that’s what these kids’ll turn out to be. We got Private Gabriel Jones – I don’t know him, private first class out’a Georgia – Private First Class James Mortia – great, another James –, Specialist Samuel Sawyer – fucking hell, say that five times fast –, and Private Second Class Jonathon Juniper!”

 

Bucky hadn’t actually read the names of the men reporting to him yet. “Second Class!” he mumbled. “What the hell happened to him that he came outta basic Private Second Class?”

 

“No clue, Sarge,” Dum Dum said with a shrug. “But we’ll whip him into shape soon enough, won’t we?”

 

Bucky mumbled curses under his breath as he shuffled papers. “Barnes’s children, this team should be called.”

 

“I resent that!” Dum Dum said. “I am a bonafide Corporal!”

 

“And you have a stupid mustache, so shut up,” Bucky said.

 

“Well, you can’t order me to shave until we get to England,” Dum Dum said happily. The train lurched, they were moving. “By then, it will be glorious.”

 

Bucky sighed. Some team leader he was gonna be.

 

Though, as they went on, Bucky did consider that he had experience wrangling a five-year-old. And the child up to that age. Two-year-olds, in particular, were awful, Jamie had never listened and stuck his hands in everything. Literally, he stuck his hand in Bucky’s pa’s mouth one time. Lucky thing Bucky’s pa never closed his mouth while sleeping a day in his life or Jamie might’ve lost a finger.

 

“How do think we’ll fare?” Dum Dum asked. “Be honest, now.”

 

Bucky thought about it. “Nothing is worse than a two-year-old that doesn’t want to take a bath,” he said eventually.

 

Dum Dum laughed. Bucky was completely serious, even though it was a little funny. Nothing could be harder to work out than making a two-year-old take a bath.

 

Bucky spent his night in New York sleeping. His men, he presumed anyway, were out on the town. Everybody was. Bucky wasn’t interested and just went to bed. It was awful, because he’d quickly gotten used to Steve wrapping around him in his sleep like an octopus in the past three weeks he’d spent at home. Not even Brooklyn could entice Bucky out when he just wanted to curl up into a ball and miss his Omega, and Bucky was loyal to two things above Brooklyn only. (Steve and Jamie, obviously.)

 

Bucky met his team on the boat. They had a cabin assigned to them, and the Lieutenant in charge of their platoon told them to keep it Christian but build up a camaraderie.

 

Bucky didn’t properly meet his team until he got into the cabin, when it was nearly midnight, and by then he was tired. He’d been stuck in briefings all day, wearing a stuffy uniform in New York August heat and they were on the docks so it was humid to top it off. He was hot and wanted to change. Dum Dum had engaged the other four men on their team in conversation already, but Bucky wanted to get out of his stuffy class A uniform before they noticed he was their sergeant.

 

“Whoo, Barnes, nice stripes!” Dum Dum cackled when Bucky tugged off his shirt. “Thought you didn’t have a girl!”

 

“Never said I didn’t know how to treat an Omega,” Bucky said calmly, pulling on a fresh shirt and hiding Steve’s two-day-old nail marks on his back. “Alright, you lot, listen up.”

 

Bucky tossed his uniform into his duffle and dropped onto his bunk. “Two rules,” he said. “One, everyone including Dum Dum is shaving in the morning.”

 

Dum Dum let out an affronted noise.

 

“Two,” Bucky went on, “don’t ever bullshit me, I have a five-year-old and I have zero patience for adults acting like that.”

 

“You have a five-year-old?” one of his men questioned, frowning.

 

“I have a five-year-old nephew,” Bucky sighed. “Who lives with my folks and me since his ma’s a widow, the point is I’ve dealt with an actual five-year-old and I expect better from you fellas.”

 

“Sir, yes, sir,” said the youngest kid.

 

“I don’t know your names,” Bucky said. “I mean, I know them, but I don’t know which of you is which.”

 

“Quick, you are all different people!” Dum Dum said.

 

“Rule three,” Bucky tacked on, “never listen to Dum Dum.”

 

“Sounds like it would be in the name,” remarked the Asian kid. “I’m Jim Morita, by the way.”

 

“I’m Jonathon,” the young kid said. Bucky gave a nod, understanding why Juniper was only a Private Second Class, he looked barely 18.

 

“I’m Gabe,” said the slightly smaller of the two black men. “Gabe Jones.”

 

“Sam,” the second black man added.

 

“You all just wasted an excellent opportunity,” Dum Dum sighed.

 

“As you can tell, I’m Sergeant James Barnes,” Bucky said, ignoring Dum Dum. “He’s Corporal Dugan, but we call him Dum Dum because he is one.”

 

Dum Dum saluted. Bucky shook his head. “You don’t salute enlisted men,” he said to the kids. And they were all kids in his eyes, kids he had to take care of and be responsible for. He went from having one five-year-old to four (and a half if he counted Dum Dum) privates who all looked barely out of high school. Sure, he was probably only a little older than or the same age as these kids, but the five-year-old changed things.

 

“I was drafted,” Sam said.

 

“So was I,” Bucky answered, “but technically we’re all enlisted men, and you don’t salute enlisted men. Only officers.”

 

“I knew that,” Juniper piped up.

 

“We gotta come up with a team name,” Dum Dum said. Bucky sighed, then dropped his duffle bag onto the floor and swung his legs up onto the bunk, lying back and draping an arm over his face. “I was thinkin’ sommat like the Roaring Commandos!”

 

Bucky settled back and started to fall asleep. He honestly didn’t care what his men named their team or not. He was already ready for the war to be over so he could go home. He missed his Omega and his son.

 

*

 

“How was school?” Steve asked Jamie as he trudged out of the building.

 

“Awful,” Jamie said, kicking pebbles with his boots. “Can we go home?”

 

“Yeah, of course,” Steve said, taking Jamie’s hand. “What made it awful?”

 

Jamie shrugged. “My teacher wanted us to draw our families, so I drew everybody, but she said I just had to draw my parents.”

 

Steve’s shoulders dropped. “Oh,” he said.

 

“So I said I only had my ma,” Jamie went on, “but I had my auntie and my uncle and Nana and Pop-Pop, and the other kids started laughing at me ‘cause I don’t have a pa.”

 

Steve squeezed Jamie’s hand. “You’ve got an Alpha father, baby,” he said. “She’s just in Heaven.”

 

He hated lying to Jamie.

 

“I know,” Jamie mumbled. “But I still don’t have a pa.”

 

Steve frowned, then looked down at his son. “What do you mean?”

 

Jamie sighed heavily, too heavily for a five-year-old. “You’re my ma,” he said. “And then, I’ve got another ma in Heaven. I don’t have a pa.”

 

Steve looked down and Jamie kicked more rocks.

 

“Would you rather call me pa?” Steve asked. He’d never made Jamie call him mama, it had just happened that way. Steve would have rather been dad, but mama stuck.

 

Jamie shook his head. Steve wished he could tell Jamie that he did have a pa, but… Five. Jamie was still too young to understand that Bucky had to be his uncle in public.

 

“It’ll be okay,” Steve said instead of apologizing. It wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t Jamie’s. “Those kids are just mean.”

 

“I wished I could’a just drawn Unca Bucky,” Jamie mumbled. “He’s like my pa.”

 

Steve’s heart hurt and he let go of Jamie’s hand to wrap an arm around his shoulders and squeeze. “Yeah,” Steve said quietly. “I wish you could’ve drawn him, too.”

 

“I miss him,” Jamie said, even quieter. “When’s he coming home?”

 

“Soon,” Steve said. He said that every time. It was November. “Soon, I promise.”

 

Jamie had stopped asking how soon was soon. He only sighed too heavily for a five-year-old and leaned into Steve. Steve leaned over him and hugged him as they walked. He wished Jamie could’ve drawn his pa, too.

 

*

 

“Did you get the promotion?” Dum Dum asked as Bucky dropped into a chair.

 

“Yep,” Bucky said, pulling out a cigarette. He wasn’t proud of it. He hadn’t earned it, the spot was empty because his predecessor was dead. “Who’s got matches?”

 

Junior, Juniper really, passed him a matchbook. Bucky struck it and lit up, then shook out the match and passed it back. “Master Sergeant Barnes,” he said coldly, “reporting for duty.”

 

“When they gonna assign you a squad?” Junior asked. Bucky shrugged. He hoped they didn’t.

 

“Alright,” Gabe announced, “I need more than booze. Who’s gonna admit they know where a rent girl is?”

 

Bucky sucked on his cigarette and waved for the whiskey to be passed his way. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “I’m celibate, remember?”

 

Morita, already drunk, started laughing quietly. Bucky poured himself two more than healthy servings of the whiskey, then put the bottle down and raised his glass.

 

“To Mussolini,” he said, then downed it and slammed the glass down.

 

“May he fuckin’ die already,” Happy Sam echoed, so called because he was a total pessimist, and drained his own glass.

 

“Rent girl’s in the corner,” Dum Dum said to Gabe.

 

Gabe got up. “Anybody wanna see if she’s got a friend?”

 

Bucky simply shook his head, but they’d stopped trying to get him to find an Italian girl months ago. Junior stared into his glass for a long time, then got up, too.

 

“I don’t wanna die a virgin,” he said.

 

“Atta boy,” Gabe answered, slapping him on the back.

 

Bucky watched them go, then dropped his gaze and drew a long drag off his cigarette. Rations put Lucky Strikes in every soldier’s mess, and they reminded Bucky of back when Steve would smoke with him, when Lucky Strikes were the cheapest smokes they could get. Last time Steve smoked was maybe… Seven years ago? Bucky wasn’t really sure of the date anymore. He knew it was January and 1943 had heralded a new year of war. Last time Steve had a cigarette was a long ass time before his ma died, and by the time he was pregnant, cigarette smoke made him hurl in two seconds flat. Bucky had actually quit smoking because of that. Look at him now. He chain-smoked with the best of ‘em. Took hardly a few months in the Alps to get back in the habit.

 

Lucky him, rising in the ranks had its benefits. Bucky had two packs of Lucky Strikes in his rations. Lucky fuckin’ him.

 

Gabe came thumping back to the table, Junior right behind him.

 

“What happened to the rent girl?” Dum Dum asked.

 

“Don’t serve my kind,” Gabe snapped, dropping into his chair again.

 

“So I don’t serve her kind,” Junior declared.

 

“Gimme the fuckin’ bottle, Barnes,” Gabe demanded.

 

Bucky filled his glass pretty much to the top before handing it over. He sipped at it, cigarette hanging between his fingers, enjoying the burn of the whiskey that was pretty much all he felt other than the damn tiredness and how much he fucking missed Steve and Jamie. He fucking missed his fucking sister, his ma, his pa. He missed his fucking truck that he’d been trying to fix up for five years and he missed Paddy’s garage and the guys who still sneered a little when they talked about Omega boys despite having sworn to love Steve after all this time. It was bullshit that he even missed those crooks. Utter bullshit.

 

“Does anybody know the date?” Bucky asked.

 

Sam shrugged. “Nope.”

 

“I think it’s February,” Dum Dum said.

 

“Thought it was January,” Bucky muttered.

 

Dum Dum squinted. Bucky had quit making him shave around the same time they quit making him look for a girl to keep company. “Maybe it is,” he mused. “Maybe it’s almost February.”

 

“It’s my ma’s birthday,” Junior muttered. “January 29th.”

 

“January 29th,” Bucky mumbled. He raised his glass. “Cheers to it being almost February.”

 

They all raised their glasses.

 

“Cheers to February,” Dum Dum echoed. “Well said, Sarge.”

 

Morita slumped over the table and started snoring. He dropped his glass and it tipped over, but Morita had been drinking air long before Bucky even got there, so it didn’t matter.

 

“What do you miss?” Junior asked abruptly.

 

“Hot dogs,” Dum Dum said immediately.

 

“Mama’s collard greens,” Sam mumbled into his glass.

 

“My bed,” Gabe said.

 

Bucky drank his whiskey with more bitterness burning in his soul than in the booze.

 

“What about you, Sarge?” Junior asked.

 

“You first,” Bucky rasped.

 

“My dog,” Junior said, looking down sadly.

 

Bucky gave a small nod. “Good thing to miss, kid.”

 

“And what do you miss, Sarge?” Dum Dum asked.

 

Bucky swirled his glass, tipped his head and drained it. “My nephew,” he said at last, because that was the closest thing to the truth.

 

He missed home. His son, his mate. He missed what was his.

 

*

 

“Is there a letter from Uncle Bucky?” Jamie jumped and down at Steve’s elbow. “Lemme see, lemme see, lemme see!”

 

“I gotta see it first, baby!” Steve laughed, ruffling his hair and sorting through the mail. Bill for George, bill for George, bill for George. Letter for Rebecca –

 

“Uncle Bucky!” Jamie cried as Steve held up the letter, posted from Italy. “Uncle Bucky, Uncle Bucky! Is he coming home?”

 

“I gotta open it, Jamie,” Steve reminded him. “You wanna go get Auntie?”

 

“Auntie!” Jamie yelled, running for the stairs. Steve took a deep breath and made his way to the sofa to sit down before he opened the letter. His hands were shaking. “Auntie!” he heard Jamie’s distant voice. “There’s a letter from Unca Bucky!”

 

“Don’t open it without me!” Rebecca called back. Steve was already opening it. Rebecca and Jamie came running down the stairs, Rebecca holding onto the hem of her dress and Jamie jumping the last couple of steps. “Steve!”

 

“Well, come on,” Steve said, waving them over and feeling rather like he had two children rather than one.

 

Jamie skidded to a stop in front of Steve. Rebecca dropped onto the couch ungracefully next to him.

 

“Read it!” Rebecca encouraged.

 

Steve took a deep breath and unfolded the letter.

 

“Hi all,” he started. “Somebody tell Pa not to touch my truck.”

 

Rebecca laughed. Jamie bounced back and forth between his two feet.

 

“Weather here is awful,” Steve continued to read. “It’s been raining and snowing non-stop since February. We’re finally being moved out of this postal town to join the main regiment, and I gotta admit, I’m glad we get to go. My team’s probably bought all the –”

 

Steve skipped that bit. “All the fun,” he read instead of rent girls, “in town. Half of them won’t serve Gabe or Sam, so Dum Dum and Junior avoid them on principle. Morita don’t do that. You know me.”

 

Steve bit his lip, but kept going. (He hoped Buck didn’t. He hoped. )

 

“I got promoted again,” he read. “Master Sergeant. Next up is First Sergeant. By the time the war’s over, I’ll be a general.”

 

Bucky elaborated with some colorful French, but Jamie was listening.

 

“There’s not a lot to do here, we’ve spent most of our time laying around.”

 

The next bit was scratched out. Steve bit his lip. He saw a few words that looked recognizable, and given how the paper smelled faintly of smoke even from across the world, he figured it was something about how Bucky had picked up the habit again. Maybe an apology. Steve didn’t give a damn if he had or hadn’t.

 

“We’re going to see more of the Italian countryside,” Steve continued. “We’re packing up in the morning, so I don’t have a lot of time to write. Main points: Pa, don’t touch my truck. Becca, keep your nose in those books. Ma, send me more socks. Jamie, listen to your ma. Stevie –”

 

Steve broke off, needing to swallow the lump in his throat.

 

“Send me more drawings, would you?” he finished reading. “Love, Bucky.”

 

Rebecca put an arm around his shoulder and squeezed. Steve rubbed at his nose, then folded the letter and motioned for Jamie to climb onto the couch with them. Jamie crawled into his lap and settled his head on Steve’s collarbone.

 

“I miss him,” Jamie said simply.

 

“We miss him, too,” Rebecca said.

 

“He’ll be home soon,” Steve whispered. It was March, nearly April. He was due for a heat, and already he was dreading how much it would hurt without Bucky.

 

“Soon,” Rebecca promised.

 

Steve looked down at the letter. Bucky hadn’t written individual letters since Thanksgiving.

 

(He hoped. God, he hoped Bucky never bought the rent girls.)

 

*

 

Bucky was ready to take somebody’s head off. He’d snapped at a private that morning, been sharp with their lieutenant, snarled at the captain.

 

“Sarge, you gotta cool off!” Dum Dum hissed.

 

“Fuck off,” Bucky growled. He couldn’t fucking cool off. Fucking – He’d known it’d be bad but – He was in Italy, for chrissakes.

 

“Barnes, take the rest of the day off,” Captain Daniels told him. “Get out of my face before I bring you up for insubordination.”

 

Bucky nearly bared his teeth, but stalked out of the tent and made his way over to where his team's tents' were pitched in a storm. Guys made a path for him as he walked. Bucky was glad he didn’t have to trip over any of these fools. Dum Dum followed him, always fucking following him always two fucking steps behind didn’t the man have any sense of personal space, all the way into their shared tent where Bucky slashed the flaps aside and dropped onto his cot with violence in mind if nobody fucking left him alone.

 

“Barnes, what the shit is wrong with you?” Dum Dum snapped.

 

“Nothing,” Bucky growled.

 

“Bullshit!” Dum Dum retorted.

 

Then he sighed and went back out of the tent. Bucky curled up on himself and dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. Fuck, he could feel it like a gnawing ache, deep in his gut, he needed –

 

“Alright, Sarge,” Dum Dum stalked back into the tent. Bucky sat up, snarling, and Dum Dum just dropped onto his cot with Gabe at his side. “Spill your guts. What the fuck’s wrong?”

 

“Nothing is wrong,” Bucky hissed.

 

“You’re acting like a kid Alpha about to rut,” Gabe answered sharply. “Something’s wrong.”

 

Bucky dropped back onto his cot and covered his eyes with his hands. “Is it that obvious?” he muttered.

 

“What?” Dum Dum said.

 

“I’m this close to rutting,” Bucky said, holding up a finger and a thumb. “That’s what’s wrong.”

 

Dum Dum and Gabe were quiet. Bucky was a fucking moron. He was gonna get himself shot and then Steve would be a widow for real –

 

“How the fuck are you almost rutting?” Gabe demanded. “There ain’t an Omega for miles –”

 

“I know!” Bucky snapped. He sat up, started pacing. “Believe me, I know. It’s impossible but – And it’s happening!”

 

“What the fuck!” Dum Dum asked.

 

“You can’t tell a soul,” Bucky said, whipping around. “You can’t tell anybody, you’ll get me in front of a firing squad and – and –”

 

“Whoa,” Gabe said, standing up and holding out his hands. Bucky, on the edge of rut, perceived his Beta scent as less of a threat. “Start at the beginning. What happened to you?”

 

Bucky dropped back onto his cot and rubbed his eyes. “Nothing happened to me,” he said. “It’s my mate.”

 

After a second passed, Dum Dum said: “Uh.”

 

Bucky let out his breath.

 

“Sarge, you don’t have a mate,” Dum Dum told him.

 

Bucky shook his head.

 

“You’ve got a mate!” Dum Dum hissed.

 

“Keep your voice down!” Bucky snapped, looking around, paranoid. He reached over his cot, dug out his Bible, and rifled through its pages. Song of Solomon, there. He pulled out a drawing Steve had done of the three of them, that day at Wrigley Field before Bucky got his orders. Jamie’s sitting on his shoulders and Steve’s leaning into him, even though he hadn’t been doing that in actuality. Bucky just held it for a second, then sighed.

 

“My mate’s in heat,” he said. “And I’m not there. That’s what’s wrong.”

 

“How do you know?” Gabe demanded. “You’re – This has got to be some girl back in the States –”

 

Bucky thrust the picture at them. “I don’t have a girl,” he snapped. “That’s why you can’t tell a soul.”

 

Dum Dum took the picture, then looked up, his face twisted. “Your kid brother?” he spat out.

 

“What? No!” Bucky jumped up again, pacing. “He was never my brother, that’s just what we told people so they wouldn’t suspect!”

 

“Your brother’s really your mate?” Gabe asked, sounding skeptical. “So, your nephew’s really your…”

 

Bucky dropped onto his cot again. He itched to move, to do something, to take off running back to Chicago but he’d made Jamie promise not to run off on the people who needed him and Bucky had to admit his men needed him here, too. “My kid, yeah.”

 

Dum Dum looked back at the picture, then up again. “You’ve got a mate,” he said. Bucky nodded. “And a son. And you’ve been passing your mate off as your brother for – What, how long?”

 

“Since we moved to Chicago,” Bucky said, wiping his face with his hands. He hadn’t shaved in days. Nobody had. It was too cold. “Where he is now. Where I’m not.”

 

“How can you know he’s in heat from half a world away?” Gabe asked. “That doesn’t seem possible!”

 

“It is,” Bucky said. “I just know. I’ve always known. Fuck, this is the first time he’s had to go it alone, ‘cause of this fucking war, I’m not there to take care of him!”

 

Bucky jumped up and kicked at his cot frame. His toe now hurt.

 

“How long have you been together?” Dum Dum asked.

 

“Since we were kids,” Bucky said, not looking at them. “Since before either of us even presented. I was there when he had his first heat and I’ve been there, somehow, for every one of his heats since but I’m not there now!

 

“Damn,” Gabe muttered.

 

“Yeah,” Dum Dum agreed.

 

Bucky kicked at his duffle bag. He needed to do something. He had all this excess energy that his body was making, thinking he was about to start caring for an Omega in heat, but his Omega was across the planet in Chicago and he was stuck there, in the asscrack of Italy, not with Steve!

 

“What’re you gonna do?” Dum Dum asked.

 

“I don’t know!” Bucky snapped. “I can’t – I can’t sit still. I gotta – Something –”

 

“We could find somebody,” Gabe suggested. “Y’know, for you to –”

 

“Hell no!” Bucky snarled, jerking around and ready to wring Gabe’s neck just for thinking that! “I ain’t doin’ that to Steve, hell no!”

 

“Okay, it was just a suggestion!” Gabe said quickly.

 

“Let’s go shoot things,” Dum Dum said.

 

Bucky gave him a look. “You do not want me around guns right now.”

 

“Fair point,” Dum Dum muttered. “Find an Axis soldier to beat up?”

 

Bucky’s hands twitched. “That might work,” he muttered, “only we don’t have any Axis soldiers on hand, do we?”

 

“No,” Dum Dum said. “We could find Corporal Hodge and you could beat him up?”

 

“Who?” Gabe asked.

 

“Guy we went to basic with,” Dum Dum told him.

 

Bucky shook his head, dropping onto his cot again and hanging his head in his hands.

 

The tent flap opened. Bucky jerked his head up with another snarl, finding Sam, Junior, and Morita just outside.

 

“Uh, we heard Sarge nearly chewed out Captain Daniels,” Morita said. “Are we starting a mutiny?”

 

“No,” Bucky growled, dropping his head again. It was just his kids, no threat from them. Bucky tried not to think of his men like wards but sometimes, especially now, it was hard to forget how much younger they all were compared to him. The war grew them up, but they were still kids, kids he was responsible for. Dammit, the rut ready to start had him itching to treat his men like Jamie.

 

“Do we tell them?” Dum Dum asked.

 

“Tell us what?” Junior asked.

 

Bucky let out a slow growl. Attention snapped to him and Bucky reached forward to snatch Steve’s picture out of Dum Dum’s hand.

 

“Hey, is this why you used an Alpha tone on Hodge when he stole your brother’s letter back in basic?” Dum Dum asked. “I mean – Well – You know who I mean.”

 

Bucky nodded, then shook his head. “No, this wasn’t happening then, I just didn’t want him touching it.”

 

“Yikes,” Gabe muttered. “Uh, so, do we share?”

 

Bucky looked up, then sighed and waved the rest of his team in. “Story time, kids,” he said. “Gather round and hear the tale of you’ll get your sarge put before a firing squad if you can’t keep your mouths shut.”

 

“What’s going on?” Junior asked, sitting down next to Gabe.

 

“They wouldn’t execute you,” Gabe said.

 

“They’d lock me up somewhere,” Bucky muttered, then smoothed out the picture to look at his son’s face. “And they’d take Jamie away.”

 

“Oh,” Gabe said.

 

They would. Bucky, they’d just lock him up and leave him to rot, but the state would put Steve in an asylum and claim Jamie as a ward of the state. It was bad enough his son was legally a bastard.

 

“Your nephew?” Sam asked.

 

“I don’t get it,” Morita piped up.

 

Bucky let out his breath. “Not my nephew,” he said. “My son.”

 

“His brother’s not really his brother,” Dum Dum added. “He’s really his mate. And he’s back home in Chicago in heat and Barnes apparently is a good enough Alpha that he knows and he’s ready to rut.”

 

Bucky’s gaze slipped to Steve’s face. Immortalized in graphite, smiling for all to see. That day, no, just that moment, might have been the happiest day of his life. Jamie on his shoulders, cheering on his home team, Steve at his side and smelling sweet and happy like nobody’s business. Bucky couldn’t imagine a better memory to immortalize.

 

“If you tell anybody,” Bucky said slowly, “you’ll rip my family apart. It’s as good as a death sentence.”

 

“Wow,” Morita said quietly.

 

Bucky nodded. “Steve gets ‘em twice a year,” he started to talk. “Early spring, middle of autumn. Sometimes if it’s earlier in the spring, he’ll get one in the summer and in the winter the next year. We all know this war isn’t ending anytime soon. I’m gonna need help to not go insane every time it happens.”

 

“Haven’t you spent one apart before?” Sam asked.

 

Bucky shook his head.

 

“Wow,” Morita repeated.

 

“That’s intense,” Junior said.

 

“It’s never been this bad,” Bucky sighed. He swept a hand over his face, looking back at Steve’s picture. “I guess ‘cause I’ve always been there. And now I’m not.”

 

“There’s the times before you were together,” Sam suggested. Bucky shook his head. “Or – Or not. Wait, how long were you together?”

 

Are, ” Bucky snarled. “ Are together, no were!

 

“Are,” Sam corrected hastily. “How long?”

 

Bucky let out his breath. “Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s just – Hard. I was there when he presented, I took care of him every time since. We grew up as close as brothers, anyway.”

 

“There’s talk of legalizing it,” Junior said. “Same-sex Alphas and Omegas.”

 

Bucky looked up. “Where?”

 

Junior shrugged. “California.”

 

Bucky shook his head. “Well, we live in Chicago, and I don’t think I’d be able to afford California.”

 

“Fresno’s good,” Morita spoke up. “Lots of Armenian kids, so lots of kids.”

 

Bucky shook his head. “Couldn’t afford the move, Jim. Or a house out there.”

 

“California’s just the first!” Junior said. “It might happen in Illinois soon enough.”

 

Bucky laid Steve’s picture back in the Song of Solomon, over the passages speaking of the bride searching the city for her groom. Bucky had read the Bible more in Italy than he’d ever done in the US. He’d be able to quote it if he ever got home.

 

If.

 

“What can we do to help?” Sam asked.

 

Bucky gave a shrug. “Help me keep my temper in check. I’m not really rutting, and even if I was, it’d just leave me paranoid as hell since Steve’s not around. I – I don’t know where he is, where Jamie is, that’s what’s the worst of it.”

 

“So, no difference?” Dum Dum joked. Bucky showed him his middle finger.

 

“I can keep a clear head,” Bucky said. “I just –”

 

He sighed and covered his face with his hands. “I miss them,” he said quietly. “My son, my Omega. I miss them so much.”

 

“I know the feeling,” Dum Dum said soberly.

 

Bucky shook his head. “You don’t. No offense, but none of you have a kid. None of you have been mated. You can’t know how much I miss my family.”

 

“You’re right,” Gabe said. “But we can be your family in the meantime.”

 

“Junior’s close enough to a five-year-old,” Sam joked.

 

“Hey!” Junior protested.

 

Bucky smiled sadly. “Jamie’s almost six,” he said. “Three weeks away.”

 

“We’ll find him the best birthday present!” Dum Dum insisted. “You can count on us, Sarge!”

 

Bucky shrugged. Wasn’t like they were anyplace to do that anymore. They were out in the middle of nowhere now. Camped out in some gulley called the Azzano.

 

“I trust you guys,” he sighed. “Don’t stab me in the back, please.”

 

“Hey, never,” Gabe said. “You really can count on us, Sarge.”

 

“We’ll keep your secret,” Morita vowed.

 

“Besides, what other sergeant would let me keep this caterpillar?” Dum Dum said, gesturing to his mustache.

 

Bucky tried for a smile and it felt false. Really, all he could do for Steve was to try to maintain calm. His baby was probably out of his mind by now. It really had to be bad if Bucky felt the clenching pain in his own gut halfway across the world.

 

*

 

Steve was trembling under his blankets. His fever was dangerously high, but he felt freezing. Rebecca was sitting on the edge of the bed, sponging his forehead with a wet cloth and holding his hand. Steve hurt everywhere. He was crying openly, his tears hot on his clammy cheeks.

 

“You’re alright,” Rebecca was murmuring gently. “This will pass, Steve. It’s going to be alright.”

 

“N–no it’s not!” Steve stammered. His teeth were chattering. “B–Bucky, I n–need Bucky!”

 

“He can’t come, Steve,” Rebecca reminded him. She’d told him that already, how many times had she told him that? “But he’ll be home soon and he’ll take care of you then.”

 

“I n–need him n–now!”

 

“He can’t come right now, Steve,” Rebecca told him. “I’m sorry, Steve.”

 

“Why isn’t he coming?” Steve sobbed, flipping over to bury his face in the shirt Bucky had left for him months ago. Its scent was almost completely gone. “Wh–why doesn’t he want me? He doesn’t luh–love me!”

 

“Bucky loves you very much,” Rebecca said, she’d said that before and Steve didn’t know how many times she’d said it, either. “He’s out there fighting because he loves you. Bucky’s fighting the war for you, Steve.”

 

“I do–don’t wan’ ‘im fighting for me,” Steve spat out. “I want him here! I need him!”

 

“I know,” Rebecca murmured. “He’ll be coming home soon, Steve. The war’s going to end soon.”

 

“No, it’s not,” Steve sobbed. Rebecca sighed and sponged the back of his neck. “Bucky’s never coming home, he’s gonna die over there and leave me alone the rest of my life!”

 

“Bucky’s not going to die,” Rebecca said. “He promised to come home, remember? When hasn’t he kept his word, Steve?”

 

Steve shook his head. Bucky always came through on his promises but Steve knew, he knew, his mate wasn’t going to come out of the war.

 

“This is going to pass,” Rebecca told him. “You’ll feel better in a few days.”

 

“Where’s Jamie?” Steve mumbled. “Where’s my baby?”

 

“He’s asleep, Steve,” Rebecca said. And that was right, it was the middle of the night and Rebecca was here, awake and sponging the sweat off his brow. “I can go get him if you want me to wake him up.”

 

Steve tried to sit up and Rebecca held him down gently. “I’ll go get him,” she said. “Lie here and be still. Bucky will be home soon.”

 

Steve curled up on his side, around the old shirt that smelled faint even now. Bucky would be home soon. Bucky would make it better.

 

Rebecca left the room and Steve tried to clear his head. He hurt everywhere and it was hard to think when his Alpha wasn’t there, grounding him. He’d stopped producing slick yesterday – had it been yesterday? – and the aching arousal had been replaced with just an ache, because his Alpha wasn’t there. All he had to soothe him were Rebecca and Winifred’s hands and the old shirt, which was stiff and dried long ago. Steve slept with it under his pillow now, using the pillowcase it had been kept in to cover his pillow. He needed Bucky. Bucky wasn’t there. Where was he? Why wasn’t he coming?

 

“Mama?”

 

Steve opened his eyes, then reached out. Jamie climbed onto the bed with him and Steve wrapped his arms around his baby, squeezing him tightly to his chest. He started crying again, sobbing, and Jamie clung to him.

 

“Mama, what’s wrong?”

 

Steve couldn’t answer him. He choked on a sob and tried to steady his breathing.

 

“Mama’s sick, sweetie,” Rebecca answered Jamie’s question. “But he’ll get better soon if you stay with him. You’re gonna stay home from school tomorrow, okay?”

 

“Am I gonna get sick, too?” Jamie asked. “Unca Bucky always said I couldn’t come in when Mama’s sick!”

 

“No, you won’t get sick,” Rebecca said as Steve squeezed his son and started crying harder, quieter. “Mama’s already on the mend, he’s just sad right now.”

 

“Why’re you sad, Mama?” Jamie asked. “Mama, I’ll fix it! I can fix it!”

 

“Stay here,” Steve rasped. “Just stay with me, baby, don’t go anywhere.”

 

“I’ll stay, Mama,” Jamie promised. He kissed Steve’s forehead, his lips warm against Steve’s cold skin. “I’ll make you better.”

 

Steve lifted a shaking hand and combed it through Jamie’s hair, then let it fall limply to the bed over Jamie’s body. Rebecca perched herself on the edge of the bed next to them and started dabbing at his forehead again and Steve’s breathing eased up some. Jamie smelled like his pa. Bucky was coming home soon, he’d take care of them. Bucky would always take care of them.

 

“He’ll be home soon,” Rebecca murmured to him.

 

Steve’s lips were moving, maybe he was mumbling. Jamie smelled scared, Steve couldn’t let him be scared. So he hugged him tighter and kissed his hair, then shut his eyes and tried to breathe.

 

“It’ll be alright,” Steve mumbled to Jamie. “Bucky’ll be home soon. He’ll take care of us, baby.”

 

*

 

There was blood dripping into his eye. Bucky jerked as a shell beyond his foxhole blew, dust and shrapnel flew over their heads. Junior lay at his feet, reeking of terror and his own blood, while Sam held pressure to the wound on his stomach and Gabe unscrewed the cap of his whiskey flask. Bucky and Dum Dum had given up theirs already, Sam’s was empty from letting Junior drink it. Morita didn’t have his, having lost it somewhere across the trenched field. Junior hadn’t had one to begin with, it had been a joke, Bucky had said he was too young to carry a hipflask and wouldn’t let him have one. They were low on whiskey now.

 

“When you’ve bandaged him, we gotta get moving,” Bucky said. Another shell blew and the ground shook with the power of it. Junior screamed into the cloth stuffed in his mouth, but Sam let go of his wound so Gabe could pour the whiskey on it. “I’ll cover you, you guys gotta get farther away from the line.”

 

“Who’s gonna cover your ass?” Dum Dum demanded.

 

“The Lord,” Bucky retorted sharply. “It ain’t a discussion, Dugan, it’s an order.”

 

“Well, forgive me, Master Sergeant Barnes,” Dum Dum said coldly, “but I don’t take kindly to the thought of leaving a man behind!”

 

“You’ll do as you’re ordered!” Bucky answered in kind.

 

“You’ve got to get home, Barnes!” Dum Dum yelled. Junior screamed again while Gabe pulled the bullet out. “You got a kid waitin’ on you, I don’t!”

 

“This is not a discussion!” Bucky yelled back.

 

“I ain’t discussin’ nothin’!” Dum Dum answered.

 

“We’ve got to get him to a medic,” Gabe said, cutting them both off. “This is deep, he might have internal bleeding.”

 

“Patch him up,” Bucky snapped. “Sam, you’ll have to carry him.”

 

Sam gave a nod. Bucky turned to Morita.

 

“Four point formation,” he said, “Sam with Junior in the back, you, Gabe, and Dugan form a ring. The Germans dropped some shields, use them to cover yourselves.”

 

“We ain’t leaving you, Sarge,” Dum Dum cut in.

 

“You’re leaving me,” Bucky insisted.

 

“I ain’t making your boy a widow!” Dum Dum snarled.

 

“You ain’t making him one!” Bucky answered, just as sharp. “I’ll cover you and make my way back when I can –”

 

“Sarge, we can’t leave you,” Morita broke in.

 

Bucky drew in a harsh breath. “Corporal,” he said, looking Morita in the eye. “This is what I’m ordering you to do.”

 

“Yeah, well, we never got that mutiny,” Sam snapped. “We ain’t leaving you.”

 

“I will draw all of you up for insubordination!” Bucky threatened.

 

“You gotta be alive to do that,” Dum Dum dared him.

 

“Nobody’s making anybody a widow tonight,” Gabe declared. “We can use the shields to cover Sam and Junior, me and Jim can draw their fire –”

 

“Zig zag,” Morita said firmly. “We can do it.”

 

“They’re gonna reload in four minutes,” Dum Dum said. “That’ll give us time to put some distance between us.”

 

Bucky ducked as another shell blasted. Gabe unscrewed Dum Dum’s flask and dumped it over Junior’s wound, who was whimpering into the rag clamped between his teeth, then grabbed gauze and tape and started to cover it up.

 

“You’re all reckless fools,” Bucky rasped.

 

“No man gets left behind, Sarge,” Dum Dum insisted.

 

“Alright,” Bucky said. “Four minutes. Morita, find those shields.”

 

Morita gave a nod then started walking bent-double down the trench. Bucky shifted onto a knee and gripped his rifle, looking to Junior.

 

“You’re gonna be in a helluva lot of pain,” Bucky told him. “Keep that rag between your teeth.”

 

Junior nodded firmly, then saluted sharply. Bucky shook his head and turned away.

 

“Dum Dum,” he said, “I’m writing you up when we get out of here.”

 

“I’ll take it,” Dum Dum said in a hard but determined tone. “I preferred Corporal to Sergeant anyway.”

 

The ground shook as a shell detonated and Bucky crossed himself. He reached for his pistol, flipped it, and kissed Steve’s drawing of Wrigley Field wedged under the clear grip of his gun. He righted it in his hand an switched off the safety, then settled back on his knee to look out for Morita. No widows tonight, he muttered under his breath, his heart pounding. No widows tonight.

 

Blue light flashed over the field, filling their trench. Bucky shielded his eyes, then heard screams from the German lines. He shifted onto both knees, then turned around and yanked a mirror from his pocket. He angled it to see out of the trench and saw a tank advancing on the German lines.

 

It wasn’t an Allied tank, Bucky knew that for sure. Then it fired again and Bucky nearly dropped the mirror; it didn’t fire shells. It fired light.

 

Bucky scrambled up the bank to peer over the edge of the trench, despite Dum Dum’s fingers grabbing his coat to yank him back. The German lines were gone. The tank was turning.

 

“Morita!” Bucky yelled. “Back here!”

 

Morita came back around, dumping heavy metal shields. “I saw,” he said.

 

Bucky cocked his gun and gritted his teeth. “It was a pleasure serving with you boys,” he said.

 

“We ain’t dead yet,” Dum Dum said.

 

“To the Allied Soldiers!” a voice projected across the field. “Surrender now and your lives will be spared!”

 

His men looked to him. Bucky didn’t know what to do.

 

“Do not comply and you will be killed!”

 

That blue light had wiped out the German forces in seconds. Bucky didn’t know who this new enemy was, but they weren’t on either side.

 

“We surrender,” Bucky said to his men. “And keep your eyes peeled.”

 

“Sarge?” Sam questioned.

 

“Surrender,” Bucky insisted. “We don’t know what that was, but they’re not Allied or Axis. We’ll keep an eye open for escape but –”

 

“We live to fight another day,” Gabe interrupted. “Surrender.”

 

Bucky nodded, looking around. “They should – They should respect the Geneva Convention. We’ll be prisoners of war.”

 

“Should,” Dum Dum muttered darkly.

 

“We keep our eyes peeled,” Bucky insisted.

 

“Surrender now!” the projected voice screeched.

 

“Keep our heads down,” Gabe said. “Pick our battles.”

 

Bucky nodded. “I’ll get you home,” he promised.

 

Dum Dum clapped him on the shoulder. “We’ll all get ourselves home. No widows tonight.”

 

“No widows tonight,” Bucky echoed. No widows tonight. No widows tonight. No widows…

 

*

 

It was nearly Christmas. Everyone was out, Jamie and Winifred at school, Rebecca and George at the bank. Steve was the only one home.

 

The mail had come. There had been a letter. Steve was curled up on the floor in front of the couch, a hand pressed over his mouth and tears stinging his eyes.

 

Dear Mr. and Mrs. George Barnes, we regret to inform you your son Master Sergeant James Barnes…

 

Steve hadn’t even finished it. He was stuck on we regret to inform you like it hadn’t been the United fucking States’ fault Bucky was out there to begin with. Italy had never needed Bucky, Jamie had needed him, Steve had needed him.

 

Bucky broke the most important promise he’d ever made to Steve. The only promise he’d ever broken as well. He was a widow for real, now.

 

*

 

Bucky hissed as a whip hit his back and bent to shovel coal into the furnace. He swore he’d cracked a tooth with how much he ground his teeth. The whip hit again and Bucky nearly buckled, straightening with some shred of strength he’d managed to cling to and kept on shoveling.

 

They’d been there for months. Bucky knew by then that the enemy who had captured him and half of the 107th didn’t respect the Geneva Convention.

 

“Put your backs into it!” a Hydra soldier shouted, cracking the bullwhip he carried. “Have I got a bunch of girl-boys from the United States Army or are you men? Put your wretched backs into it!”

 

“I’ll put my back into your teeth,” Dum Dum hissed next to Bucky.

 

“Keep going,” Bucky said tiredly.

 

Dum Dum threw a load of coal into the furnace and turned back to him with a glare. The soldier overseeing them had passed, his back to them, and Bucky continued shoveling.

 

“Have you given up?” Dum Dum demanded. “What about Steve? What about your kid?”

 

Bucky grabbed the front of his shirt and shook him. “I haven’t given up!” he snarled. “Don’t you drag my family into this place, Dugan!”

 

“You haven’t lifted your eyes since they ripped up that drawing,” Dum Dum accused. “Where’s the plan, Sarge? Junior ain’t gonna last much longer in here, you know that!”

 

“I know!” Bucky snapped, then shoved him away and turned to scoop coal. “There’s nothing we can do if they drag us off to the back rooms.”

 

Dum Dum swallowed, looking back, above the factory to where the Hydra soldiers drug men who raised their voices. Those men never came back from there. All the rest of them heard were their screams.

 

“None of us are gonna make in here much longer,” Dugan said.

 

“I know,” Bucky answered.

 

“My girl’s gonna move on,” Dugan added. His voice cracked. “She thinks I’m dead, I know it. She’ll move on.”

 

Bucky threw coal into the furnace. “I know, Dum Dum,” he said, gentler.

 

“Steve thinks you’re dead, too,” Dum Dum said.

 

“He knows I’m coming home,” Bucky answered. “I promised.”

 

“Every fella here promised!” Dum Dum hissed. “Every man who swore an oath to the U.S. of A promised to come home!”

 

Bucky stabbed his shovel into the pile of coal. “I have a plan,” he admitted.

 

“Let’s hear it,” Dum Dum sighed.

 

Bucky turned to him. “You won’t like it,” he added.

 

“You’re gonna get yourself taken back,” Dum Dum accused.

 

Bucky spread his arms. “Ain’t nothin’ I can do shoveling coal.”

 

“Let me do it,” Dum Dum said, straightening.

 

“No,” Bucky said, turning away. “I’m your NCO, it’s my job to get you boys home safe.”

 

“My girl’s moved on already, your kid’s still there!”

 

“And I’m gonna see him again,” Bucky vowed. “You’re gonna see your girl, we’re all gonna get to go home.”

 

“And if you don’t make it?” Dum Dum asked.

 

Bucky picked up his shovel. “You tell my Omega and my son I’m sorry. And I loved them.”

 

Dum Dum gave him a solemn nod. “You have my word, Sarge.” Dum Dum reached over then and grasped his shoulder, shaking it. “No widows tonight,” he said.

 

“No widows tonight,” Bucky answered.

 

Bucky cast a glance to the soldier walking back their way. He scooped up a pile of coal, waiting. When the soldier neared, Bucky threw the coal and slammed the flat of his shovel into the soldier’s face.

 

He didn’t even have time to attempt to run for it. He felt a baton slam into him and then shock course through his body. He convulsed and fell to the ground, his vision fading.

 

*

 

“Mama,” Jamie called, jumping onto the couch next to him, “can we go to the park today?”

 

“Not today, baby,” Steve answered faintly.

 

“Could we go visit Mrs. Allison?” Jamie asked. “She’s been real sad ever since they said her son wasn’t coming home.”

 

“Not today, Jamie,” Steve murmured.

 

Jamie crawled up to him and perched on his knees by Steve’s leg, holding onto his arm. Steve lifted an arm and wrapped it around his shoulders, pulling him into his side.

 

“Mama?” Jamie said quietly. “Uncle Bucky’s not coming home.”

 

Steve nodded. He knew, he didn’t need to be reminded.

 

“He’d want you to be happy,” Jamie said. “He’d want you to take me to the park.”

 

“Not today,” Steve whispered.

 

Jamie hugged him, looking up at him with the large, round eyes of a sorry six-year-old. Nearly seven.

 

“Nana says you should go outside,” Jamie said. “You haven’t been outside in a long time, Mama.”

 

“I know,” Steve told him. He pulled Jamie into his lap – it was difficult, Jamie was getting bigger, but Steve was just getting weaker – and let his cheek rest on Jamie’s hair. He smelled like his pa. “Maybe tomorrow.”

 

“That’s what you said yesterday,” Jamie said very quietly.

 

Steve blinked slowly. He’d run out of tears to shed. He’d lost a lot of weight. He’d missed his last two heats, but not for any good reason. The doctor said he was depressed and recommended a tonic that Steve wasn't taking. George told him he should get a hobby. Winifred said he ought to spend more time playing with Jamie. Steve didn’t want to do anything.

 

“Maybe tomorrow,” he said again softly.

 

*

 

Bucky had a very, very thin piece of metal hidden in his trousers. It was tough, jagged and sharp. His wrists were emaciated enough that they slipped through the restraints. When the fat scientist who ran the factory neared him with a syringe, Bucky surged and stabbed it into the man’s neck.

 

There was blood everywhere. Bucky had thrown up once, too. The syringe had shattered and the liquid inside was now hissing and eating away at the concrete floor. Bucky was fucking elated that shit hadn’t gone into him. But he had gotten off the gurney and had snuck out of the lab. It wasn’t long before he knocked out a soldier, took his rifle and gear, and got into a control room. There were a handful of soldiers there, just guarding it Bucky guessed, but they were caught by surprise when Bucky opened fire and didn’t have time to react.

 

There had been a lot of switches. Bucky spent a few precious seconds staring around in lost awe, then found the camera systems and started making guesses about what German labels were translated into English.

 

He found the prison controls. The men were kept in cages, like animals, cages that didn’t have physical keys. The factory controls were under the cameras. There was a main power switch, with some gibberish in German that looked like a warning not to flip it.

 

Bucky flipped it. Everything went dark, then red lights switched on and bathed the control room in an eerie glow. He heard distant yelling, then grabbed the guns off the guys he’d killed, strapped them on, and made a break for it.

 

He ran into the other soldiers that didn’t stop to think that one of the prisoners had taken one of their uniforms. Bucky looted every damn one of them, taking guns, the electric batons, grenades, knives. He ran out of space to carry all the shit, so he was forced to leave some behind. When he got back to the factory, there were men brawling everywhere. Bucky jumped a railing, shot a guard under the chin, and searched around desperately for his men.

 

Panicked, Bucky yelled the only thing he knew for sure they’d respond to.

 

“NO WIDOWS TONIGHT!”

 

*

 

“STEVE! Wake up, come down here!”

 

Steve jolted upright, blinking in confusion. He looked around, realized Jamie wasn’t lying next to him and scrambled out of bed to find him. He ran downstairs in his nightshirt and socks, staggering into the foyer and slipping into the kitchen, to find Winifred and Rebecca hugging each other and jumping up and down as they cheered. Jamie was standing on the table and George was waving a newspaper.

 

“Look!” George yelled.

 

“Jamie, get down!” Steve snapped, grabbing his son under the arms and lifting him off the table. “What are you doing?”

 

“Mama, Uncle Bucky’s not dead!” Jamie cried.

 

Steve straightened slowly. George shoved the newspaper in his face and Steve fumbled to right it.

 

107th INFANTRY MARCH OUT OF GERMAN TERRITORY, LEAD BY HERO SOLDIER JAMES BARNES

 

Steve covered his mouth with a hand. Jamie grabbed his arm and swung on it, yelling: “Unca Bucky’s coming home!”

 

“He’s alive, Steve!” Rebecca cheered, running around to hug him tightly. “He’s alive!”

 

Steve scrambled to read the article, not believing it, muttering the words under his breath:

 

“ … the 107th, through a miracle, returned to their base camp in Italy with Master Sergeant James Barnes at the lead. The men were chanting NO WIDOWS TONIGHT! as they returned to friendly arms…”

 

“Bucky’s alive!” Rebecca screamed.

 

“He’s alive,” Steve whispered.

 

“Unca Bucky’s coming home!” Jamie yelled.

 

“He’s alive!” Steve yelled, then whooped and snatched Jamie by the arms to hug him. “He’s coming home!”

 

*

 

“I hear they’re making you a Lieutenant,” Dum Dum said as Bucky dropped into a chair. “First or Second?”

 

“Neither,” Bucky answered, pulling out a cigarette. “Who’s got a light?”

 

Junior passed him a matchbook. Bucky struck one and puffed for a second, shook it out and tossed it onto the table. He took a drag from it, exhaled and sighed.

 

“They’re making me a Captain,” he said then.

 

The table burst into uproar. Bucky grinned to himself and shook his head as Dum Dum yelled and Morita jumped up to cheer.

 

Junior leapt to his feet, too, and snapped off a sharp salute. “That means you’re an officer, now!” he cried.

 

“Yeah, and youse better salute!” Bucky answered. Dum Dum grabbed his shoulder and shook it.

 

“To Captain Barnes!” Gabe called, raising his mug of beer.

 

“Hear, hear!” Sam and Morita answered, banging their mugs together and sloshing beer all over the table.

 

“Didja get that leave?” Dum Dum asked excitedly, grinning still.

 

Bucky lowered his gaze, then shook his head. Junior and Morita sat down slowly and Gabe put down his mug.

 

“Not really sporting to send a newly commissioned officer home to check up on his siblings,” Bucky said. “They’re sending me into Paris instead.”

 

“Paris?” Sam spluttered.

 

“But it’s occupied,” Junior said.

 

Bucky gave a nod. “You organize one prison break, then blow up a splinter cell of Nazis and suddenly everybody thinks you’re a master spy.”

 

“Who’s your team?” Dum Dum asked.

 

Bucky drew on his cigarette. “If you wanna sign up,” he answered, “you guys.”

 

“The Howling Commandos are still in business!” Junior yelled.

 

“I’ve always wanted to see Paris,” Morita remarked.

 

A barmaid dropped a mug of beer onto their table in front of Bucky. He glanced up and she gave him a wink.

 

“For the new Captain America,” she said, “on the house.”

 

His men sniggered. Bucky took the drink and tipped it at her, then took a long gulp. The barmaid gave him a grin, then bent and planted a loud, smacking kiss on his cheek. Bucky started, but she walked off without another word. Bucky glanced over his shoulder, then snatched a napkin from the table and scrubbed at his cheek. His men were all out laughing then.

 

“Shuddup,” Bucky called. “Or I’ll write you up for insubordination!”

 

“The hell you will!” Gabe cheered from the other end of the table. “To the new Captain America!”

 

“Disrespect of a superior officer!” Bucky threatened as Dum Dum yelled: “Hear, hear!”

 

Junior saluted sloppily and took a long drag of his beer. Bucky shook his head, then scrubbed the girl’s lipstick off some more and grabbed his own beer.

 

“Insubordination,” Bucky grumbled, throwing the lipstick covered napkin onto the table with a huff. “Not like I didn’t lead an army chantin’ we wouldn’t be leavin’ no widows…”

 

“The only report you’ll be giving is to the missus,” Dum Dum said in a conspiratorial tone. Sam and Gabe burst into renewed laughter while Morita thumped his beer mug and Junior slapped Dum Dum’s shoulder across the table. Bucky scowled.

 

“You fellas ought’a be a’feared of the missus,” Bucky threatened. “Stevie’d put the fear of God into you right quick.”

 

“No doubt,” Morita answered.

 

“He’d put the fear of God int’a you first,” Junior snarked. Gabe collapsed onto the table, shaking with laughter. Bucky glowered, unhappy with the fact that Junior was right. God, he missed Steve.

 

*

 

“Mama, is there a letter from Uncle Bucky?” Jamie yelled as Steve sorted through the mail; he was still wearing his rain boots and his coat, they’d just gotten home from school. “Is there a letter? I wanna see!”

 

“Let me look!” Steve scolded him. Then gave his shoulder a light push; “Get inside before you catch a cold, Jamie.”

 

Jamie ran inside and struggled with his boots. Steve followed him in, shutting the door, then sighed while he watched Jamie work to get his boots off by himself.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want help?” Steve asked.

 

“I can do it!” Jamie insisted. He got one off and hobbled around for a second, falling onto his rump to get the other off. Steve laughed and shook his head, thinking he ought to draw this for Bucky, and turned his attention back to the mail. Letter for Winifred, bill for George, another bill for George, a letter for Rebecca from her college, and –

 

“Letter from your uncle,” Steve announced.

 

Jamie fell over, then scrambled to get to his feet, still wearing one boot. Steve laughed and dropped the mail onto a table to take his son’s hand and guide him onto the shoe bench.

 

“Sit down,” he said, “let me get your boot.”

 

Jamie pouted. “I could do it,” he said.

 

“I know you can, baby,” Steve told him with a smile. “But let me help you, okay?”

 

Jamie squirmed and stuck his foot out. Steve took the boot and gave a tug, pulling it off successfully and taking its mate in hand before standing up to put them away. He took off his own rain boots, stood them up between Jamie’s and Bucky’s, then helped Jamie take off his coat and hung it up.

 

“Let’s go read the letter with Auntie,” Steve said, taking his hand and the letter. He grabbed Rebecca’s letter, as well.

 

“Auntie!” Jamie yelled. “Auntie, there’s a letter from Uncle Bucky!”

 

“Up here!” Rebecca answered.

 

Steve let Jamie pull ahead of him and run for the stairs. He took them slower, his knees aching from the wet weather. His back was hurting as well, Jamie was getting heavier and Steve was missing the days when he was small enough for Steve to lift and cradle in his arms. His hormones were out of whack, too, on account of the heat he missed in the spring while he’d thought Bucky was dead.

 

Steve found Jamie climbing onto Rebecca’s bed and Rebecca sitting at her desk before a heavy maths book.

 

“Letter for you, as well,” Steve said, handing it to her and sitting down next to Jamie. Rebecca glanced at it and set it aside.

 

“Let’s see how he’s doing!” she encouraged.

 

Steve opened the letter and unfolded it.

 

“Can I read it?” Jamie asked.

 

“Uh,” Steve said, casting a glance at it. “Well, Uncle Bucky’s handwriting is really awful –”

 

“Yeah, we don’t want you to have to struggle through that,” Rebecca threw in. “Why don’t we let your mama read it?”

 

“Okay,” Jamie said, happily shifting onto his knees to lean on Steve’s shoulder. “Read it!”

 

“Right,” Steve said, clearing his throat. “Dear Ma, Pa, Steve, Becca, and Jamie.”

 

Jamie started bouncing up and down on the mattress and Steve put a hand on his knee to settle him. Ma and Pa were squeezed in between his name and dear, like Bucky had just written out Dear Steve but gone back and changed his mind.

 

“Weather’s awful,” he read.

 

“Of course he starts with complaining about the weather,” Rebecca sighed.

 

Steve smiled a little. “Weather’s awful. It never stops raining anywhere in Europe apparently. Me and my men got moved to London so the stiff-upper-lips could debrief me. According to them, the base we were held at was the last camp of this Nazi-traitor group called Hydra. Hitler wiped most of them out already, but me and the 107th took care of the last few guys when we broke free. My superiors say that it deserves recognition. They gave me a promotion and a bunch of fancy medals then told me they wanted me to run special ops in Paris.”

 

Steve faltered. Paris, occupied by the Nazis. Hadn’t Bucky done enough?

 

“Wasn’t much else I could do but accept,” Steve read on. “I’m a Captain now, skipped about ten ranks to get there. A bunch of my men got promotions, too, Dum Dum’s a Sergeant Major and even Junior’s gotten to Corporal. Guess that makes Dum Dum my sergeant rather than the other way around now. The boys are calling me Cap instead of Sarge, and I gotta admit, I liked Sarge better.”

 

“And he’ll complain about his promotions,” Rebecca laughed. “Bucky Barnes, everyone.”

 

Steve cracked a smile, shaking his head. He cleared his throat again, then Jamie tugged on his arm.

 

“Keep reading!” he encouraged.

 

“Alright, alright,” Steve said. “You remember that wacko comic book the war bonds circuit made up? Captain America? Folks are calling me the new one. I ain’t sure I like it or not. I just wanna have a drink in peace, you know. Last night a girl brought me a drink on the house and –”

 

Steve broke off. Jamie tugged on his arm again.

 

“And what?” Jamie asked.

 

“– and planted one on my cheek,” Steve read. Rebecca straightened. “She got lipstick all over me and my men laughed at me. I wasn’t asking for attention, y’know, I just wanted to enjoy my team’s company and have a smoke and a drink, but this broad came right up to me. Never asked for that to happen, swear to God. You guys believe me, right?”

 

“Damn fool,” Rebecca said quietly.

 

Steve swallowed.

 

“I believe him,” Jamie piped up. “Why’d you stop, Mama?”

 

“Nothing,” Steve said quickly. He'd have to believe Bucky, he knew that if something really happened, Bucky wouldn't write home about it. That wasn't a line of thinking Steve really wanted to get into.

 

“Uh – I threatened to write up the guys for insubordination, joking you know, disrespect of a superior officer and Dum Dum said the only report I’d ever write up was to my –”

 

Steve broke off again, frowning. “To my missus,” he read slowly.

 

Rebecca got up from her chair. “Let me see.”

 

Steve handed her the letter. She read over it, then reached over and touched Jamie’s shoulder.

 

“Go to your room for a minute, Jamie,” she said. “Your mama and I gotta talk about something.”

 

“But I wanna hear the rest of Uncle Bucky’s letter!” Jamie insisted.

 

“Go,” Steve said, touching his back. “Just a minute, honey.”

 

Jamie slipped off the bed and trudged out, kicking one of Rebecca’s shoes on the way. Steve hardly noticed.

 

Rebecca dropped down onto the bed next to him. “It says his missus,” she said.

 

Steve took it back. “But why would Bucky write that? Why would his team know that?”

 

“Maybe…” Rebecca said slowly. “Maybe he told them? Here, look! My team’s like my family. Back when we first got out there, I had a rough patch, right around the spring, I told them that I missed you guys, especially Jamie.”

 

“Why would he tell them that!” Steve gasped. “He told them –! He could have gotten kicked out! Worse!”

 

“It was in the spring,” Rebecca said quickly, pointing. “ Rough patch,  that’s what he says when anybody asks why they didn’t see him at all while you’re recovering from heat, Steve. He must have…”

 

“He couldn’t have rutted all the way across the world,” Steve muttered. “I didn’t even know he was alive when he went missing, he couldn’t have known.”

 

“Yes, but your heats are very regular,” Rebecca reminded him. “Maybe he didn’t know for sure, but his body, it remembered that it was that time of the year?”

 

“That’s impossible,” Steve insisted.

 

“And it was really bad at first,” Rebecca said. “He knew when you had that fright with Jamie downtown, maybe he could tell.”

 

“But why would he have told them!” Steve hissed. He pressed a fist to his mouth, then snatched the letter from her. “That was so stupid of him!”

 

“Well, if he knew you were in heat, I expect it was because he started rutting,” Rebecca pointed out.

 

Steve bit his lip.

 

“And if he told them that first heat he was gone,” Rebecca added, “they haven’t kicked him out since. He’s a fucking Captain by now. He must trust his team.”

 

Steve stared blankly at the letter. Rebecca touched his shoulder, then took the letter from him.

 

“Dum Dum said the only report I’d ever write up was to my missus,” Rebecca re-read, her voice gentle. “I told them that if I did, they’d be in trouble, because my missus would put the fear of God into them. Junior promptly told me that my missus would put the fear of God into me first, and that shut me right up.”

 

Steve let out a soft laugh but didn't smile. “Damn right I would,” he murmured.

 

“At any rate, I skulked off and asked the Lord and all the Saints to let me get some peace and quiet,” Rebecca kept reading. “I love my team and all, my team’s like my family. (Back when we first got out there, I had a rough patch, right around the spring, I told them that I missed you guys, especially Jamie.) But sometimes you really just want the company of one person, you know?”

 

Steve leaned into Rebecca’s shoulder, covering his mouth with a hand.

 

“I miss all of you guys,” Rebecca went on, a touch to her voice like she was fighting the urge to cry. “Give Jamie my love. Steve, the Hydra soldiers took all my pictures when they captured me. I had that drawing you did of us at Wrigley Field in the grip of my gun. They ripped it up. Could you send me more?”

 

Steve stood up right away. “They ripped it up!”

 

Rebecca nodded. Steve stuffed his fist in his mouth, then turned and kicked her desk chair. Rebecca jumped and Steve balled up his fists in his hair, breathing hard.

 

“It’s not fair,” he hissed.

 

Rebecca stood up and put a hand on his shoulder. “It never is,” she said.

 

A creak behind them caught his attention; Steve jerked around and spotted Jamie just outside the door. He let out a little yelp and ran away as soon as he was caught. Steve let out a heavy sigh and drew a hand over his face, then started after him.

 

“Did you want to finish the letter?” Rebecca asked.

 

Steve paused. Rebecca held it up, then handed it to him. Steve rubbed at his nose, then dropped a hand to his hip and dropped his gaze to the paper.

 

I had that drawing you did of us at Wrigley Field in my jacket. They ripped it up. Could you send me more? It was my favorite you ever sent me. It’s what I think about first when I want to remember home. You all know I love you guys. I can’t wait until I get to see you again.

 

Steve swallowed a lump in his throat.

 

“Do you mind if I keep this one?” he asked Rebecca. She shook her head. Steve folded it up and stuck it in the pocket of his slacks, then left the bedroom.

 

He found Jamie sitting on the floor of his bedroom, an old Raggedy Ann doll in his lap. It had been Rebecca’s, a long time ago.

 

Steve sat down next to Jamie and prodded his foot. “Bucky sends his love,” he said.

 

Jamie nodded.

 

“What’s wrong?” Steve asked.

 

Jamie shrugged, frowning heavily. “What’s a heat?” he asked.

 

Steve felt his heart skip a beat. “Why do you ask?”

 

“I heard you and Auntie talking,” Jamie said. “And I heard Tommy Finch talking about it at school.”

 

Steve let out a heavy sigh. “You know when I get sick?” he prompted. “Not like I’ve got a cold or the flu.”

 

“When you stay in bed all day for a week?” Jamie asked, looking at his toes. “I don’t like it when you do that, it’s scary.”

 

“Well, that’s heat,” Steve said, reaching up and brushing at his hair. “It happens to all Omegas, it happens to Auntie, too, but hers aren’t as bad as mine.”

 

“What’s rutting then?” Jamie asked, looking up.

 

Steve bit his lip. Jamie was nearly eight. Too young to fully understand.

 

“It’s when Alphas take care of their Omegas during heat,” Steve said.

 

Jamie looked down. “Tommy Finch said some mean things about Brady Green’s sister and heat,” he said. “Would I got in trouble if I told you what he said?”

 

“Well, do you agree?” Steve asked.

 

“I don’t know what it means,” Jamie said. He looked up. “It’s one of those words Uncle Bucky uses that you don’t want me to say.”

 

Steve nodded slowly. “I see.”

 

“Why’d Auntie say Uncle Bucky was rutting because of you?” Jamie asked.

 

Steve bit his lip. He put an arm around Jamie’s little body and pulled him into a hug, tucking his chin over his head. “That’s not what she said,” he lied.

 

“It is,” Jamie muttered. “And you said you were Uncle Bucky’s missus. I don’t get it, Mama.”

 

Steve squeezed his eyes shut, then sighed and kissed Jamie’s hair. “It’s really complicated, baby.”

 

“I’m not a baby,” Jamie complained quietly.

 

Steve kissed him again. “But you’re my baby,” he said. “And you’ll always be my baby.”

 

“I don’t get it, Mama,” Jamie said again. “Is – Is Uncle Bucky really my uncle?”

 

Steve, his heart pounding, pressed his face into Jamie’s hair. “No,” he said very quietly.

 

“Why not?” Jamie asked, starting to cry. “I love Uncle Bucky!”

 

“You can still love him,” Steve said quickly.

 

“Is Nana really my Nana?” Jamie asked. “Is Auntie my aunt? Is Pop-Pop –”

 

“They are!” Steve said quickly. “They are, I promise!”

 

“Who’s Uncle Bucky, then?” Jamie started crying. “If he’s not my uncle –”

 

“He’s your father,” Steve said. Jamie stopped crying, sucking in a breath that made his lower lip tremble. “He’s your pa, sweetheart.”

 

“B–but,” Jamie mumbled. “Why’s he been my uncle if he’s really my pa?”

 

“We were afraid people wouldn’t let him take care of me and you,” Steve told him, choking up. “It’s – It’s not the way things are done, Jamie –”

 

“Why?” Jamie demanded.

 

Steve pulled Jamie closer again. “People don’t like Omega boys to go with Alpha boys,” Steve said quietly. “It’s not legal.”

 

Jamie sniffed hard. “Legal?”

 

“It’s not allowed,” Steve said, looking down. “It’s against the rules.”

 

“Then why’s he my pa?” Jamie asked.

 

“Because we love each other,” Steve told him. “Like how Nana and Pop-Pop love each other.”

 

The floors creaked and Steve looked over his shoulder. Rebecca stepped inside, then crouched down next to them.

 

“Bucky’s my brother,” she said. “Your mama’s parents died when he was younger. My parents took him in so he and Bucky could have you.”

 

Jamie sniffed hard, clinging to Steve’s neck.

 

“You can’t tell anyone,” Steve said to him gently. “They’ll take Bucky away from us.”

 

“I don’t wan’ anybody to take Unc–” Jamie broke off. “Pa. I don’t want anybody to take my pa away.”

 

Steve hugged him tightly. “I don’t want anyone to take him away, either.”

 

Rebecca looked at him and raised her eyebrows. Steve knew she wanted to say that maybe things could change, that California had made it legal, so had Oregon and Maine. Indiana and Illinois were talking about it, Maryland was putting it to a vote next week, both Florida and Wyoming had already rejected it twice. Steve shook his head. If it changed, they’d tell Jamie then. Until then, there was no point in getting his hopes up.

 

*

 

“Don’t suppose we got any letters?” Dum Dum asked as Agent Carter as she entered the battered bar where the Resistance members that no longer had much of anything to resist were holed up in.

 

Agent Carter dropped a packet onto their table. “Something for Captain Barnes,” she said. “Don’t know if it’s letters, though.”

 

Bucky reached across the table and pulled the envelope across. He ripped it open, then shook out several sheaths of thick, stock paper.

 

“Not letters,” Bucky said quietly. He leaned forward and elbowed Dum Dum. “Stevie sent me drawings. It’s just drawings.”

 

Dum Dum picked up a sketch of Jamie lying on his back with one rainboot in the air and the other lying next to him, then another of three pairs of rainboots in three different sizes. Bucky held a portrait of his family. His whole family, his parents, his sister, his Omega and his son. He looked at all of them, at the backs of them, but there was no writing. Just drawings.

 

“Your brother’s talented,” Agent Carter remarked.

 

“I asked him to send me drawings since Hydra ripped up the ones I had,” Bucky muttered. “There’s no letter.”

 

“Maybe they were mailed separately,” Dum Dum suggested.

 

Bucky gave a vague grunt. Sure, Steve could have sent his letter separately. That was better than thinking Steve was giving him the cold shoulder because some dame had given him a kiss on the cheek. Steve couldn’t hold that against him. Bucky had gone out with a handful of girls over the years, keeping up appearances, and Steve never held that against him.

 

But then again, he’d always gone home to Steve after. Bucky wasn’t home to give Steve physical evidence that nothing had happened.

 

“This is cute,” Gabe mentioned, pushing one drawing over. Just Steve and Jamie, the two of them curled up in bed; Steve was tickling Jamie, who was laughing. It was his and Steve’s bed. Bucky took the drawing, then his attention caught on what would have been a meaningless detail in the background for anyone else. A rumpled shirt, lying on the floor on Steve’s side of the bed.

 

That nasty shirt Bucky had stuffed in a pillowcase to leave his scent behind for longer than he normally could. Steve wanted to let him know he still had it.

 

“Yeah,” he agreed, looking sadly at the drawing. “It is.”

 

“Cheer up, Barnes,” Agent Carter said, straightening her jacket. “In fact, I’ve got good news.”

 

“You’ve got American cigarettes?” Morita asked, puffing on a French one.

 

“No,” Agent Carter said. “The war’s going to be over soon.”

 

“They’ve been saying that for the past five years,” Dum Dum said.

 

“Well, it’s serious this time,” Agent Carter said. “Hitler’s dead.”

 

Bucky looked up sharply. “You’re kidding.”

 

“I am not,” Agent Carter said. “Hitler’s dead and Italy’s talking about surrender.”

 

Bucky glanced around. “So – So we could be going home soon?”

 

“I imagine so,” Agent Carter remarked. “France is liberated, Hitler’s dead, Mussolini’s running scared. Only the Japanese are still fighting and I hear your country’s planning to take them out.”

 

“How soon?” Bucky asked, gripping Steve’s drawing.

 

“I dunno,” Agent Carter sighed. “A few months?”

 

Bucky let out a shout and jumped to his feet. Dum Dum whooped and cheered. Bucky grabbed Junior by the arm and yanked him up, then spun him around and grabbed Morita instead. Junior cheered and looped his arm through Bucky’s; they did a dance and Gabe came to meet Bucky when Junior let go.

 

“What’s all this noise for?” Agent Carter laughed.

 

Bucky swung his way over to her while Gabe pulled Agent Dernier into a lindy hop and Samuel started doing the Charleston with Morita and Junior. Bucky grabbed her cheeks and planted a kiss on her forehead. 

 

“A few months!” he said with glee. “I could be back in time for my nephew’s ninth birthday!”

 

*

 

Steve made his way into the kitchen, rubbing at his eyes, and Jamie hung on his arm, whining about having to go to school.

 

“It’s warm out, Mama!” he protested. “I wanna go play!”

 

“You can play after school,” Steve told him. “Ma, is there coffee?”

 

He didn’t get an answer. Steve frowned, then wandered to the end of the table where Winifred was leaning over George’s shoulder to look at the morning paper.

 

“What’s so interesting?” Steve asked, dropping his head onto Winifred’s shoulder. His eyes found the headline and his hands flew to his mouth in a gasp.

 

“And on the radio, they’re saying the war’s almost over!” George spoke up. “This! This is a miracle!”

 

“What is it?” Jamie asked, coming closer.

 

Steve grabbed him by the shoulders and hugged him, at a complete loss for words. Jamie peered up to read the paper, squinting, and Rebecca wandered in then.

 

“Guess what?” Winifred squealed, running to hug her daughter.

 

“What?” Rebecca asked.

 

*

 

Bucky, leaning on the edge of a cargo ship repurposed for passengers, gave one last salute to London.

 

“Hey, Cap,” Dum Dum called, his hand landing on his shoulder. “The boys and I were betting which you’d do first, hop a train to Chicago or buy yourself some Lucky Strikes.”

 

“Hop a train to Chicago,” Bucky snorted. “You kiddin’? Stevie can’t stand cigarettes since he had Jamie.”

 

“Hey, lookit that!” Gabe laughed. “The old man finally quits!”

 

“I quit once before I can do it again,” Bucky said calmly.

 

“‘Cause Stevie couldn’t stand ‘em?” Dum Dum teased.

 

“You know it,” Bucky said with a firm nod and a grin. He turned back and shoved his hands into his pockets, inhaling the salt sea air. “Home stretch,” he said. “Free at last.”

 

“What if the suits ask you to hang around and debrief?” Gabe prompted.

 

“They debriefed me for three weeks once already,” Bucky said calmly. “They wanna talk to me, they can come and find me.”

 

Dum Dum punched him in the shoulder. “That’s the spirit!”

 

Junior and Morita wandered over (Samuel was somewhere puking, Bucky guessed). “Hey, Cap?” Morita called. “Y’know, I’ve never been to Chicago.”

 

“You don’t say?” Dum Dum said seriously. “Why, then you’ll just have to stop through on your way back to Fresno!”

 

Bucky narrowed his eyes at Dum Dum. “What are you doing?”

 

“Come to think of it, I’ve always wanted to see Wrigley Field,” Gabe mused. “Sam told me the same, y’know.”

 

“I went once as a kid,” Junior said, “but I don’t remember it real good. Say, you think you could show us around, Cap?”

 

“Youse are playin’ some kinda game on me,” Bucky accused.

 

“Alright, the jig is up!” Dum Dum claimed. “We was told to report to your commanding officer.”

 

“What?” Bucky said, thoroughly confused. “What commanding officer?”

 

“I have a very important mission,” Dum Dum said. “One that requires all of my brothers in arms!”

 

“What the hell?” Bucky laughed then, throwing an arm around Dum Dum’s shoulders and shaking him. “You finally lost that last marble, Dugan? What’re you goin’ on about?”

 

Dum Dum swung his arm around Bucky’s shoulders in retaliation. “I gotta report to your commanding officer,” he said with a grin. “Y’know,” he added in a conspiratorial whisper, “the missus.”

 

Bucky let out a laugh and let go of Dum Dum to grab the railing and clutch his stomach. Dum Dum grabbed his shoulder and shook him, laughing like a maniac, while the rest of his boys looked on, all proud of themselves.

 

“I gotta tell ‘im and your kiddo you love ‘em!” Dum Dum said happily, too quiet to carry. “You made me swear!”

 

“If I died, ” Bucky wheezed out. He wondered if this was what Stevie felt like after an asthma attack.

 

“Details, schmetails!” Dum Dum said. “We’re goin’ with you to Chicago to meet your mate and your boy.”

 

“Yeah, we wanna meet ‘em after all we heard about ‘em,” Gabe added.

 

“All we heard after three years,” Morita griped. “Jamie this, and Stevie that. We gotta tell them how annoying you were.”

 

“Steve’d appreciate it,” Bucky said, shaking his head. He stood up, his grin faltered, he laughed one last time and he shook his head. “But Jamie doesn’t know.”

 

“What?” Gabe said.

 

Bucky shook his head. “Far as Jamie knows, I’m his uncle,” he said quietly. The smile was still on his lips, though it was small and weak. “He’s too little to understand.”

 

“Innit he almost nine?” Morita asked.

 

Bucky nodded, then swept a hand over his face. “God, my kid’s almost nine. He was five last time I turned around.”

 

“You missed the booger obsession stage,” Junior said seriously.

 

Bucky shrugged, trying to make the smile grow. “You guys are great,” he said, throwing an arm around Dum Dum and Gabe. “Y’know, when I first saw that I was gonna have to be responsible for a bunch of kids, I thought I was doomed.”

 

“We ain’t kids!” Morita protested.

 

“You were!” Bucky insisted. “And as your superior, you can’t argue with me!”

 

“Now that ain’t playin’ fair,” Dum Dum said.

 

“Quiet, I’m still in charge of youse,” Bucky told him. “Now, as I was sayin’, I thought having to keep a bunch'a kids safe in a warzone was gonna be the death of me. But comin’ out the other side, I’d never change a thing.”

 

“Maybe Hydra,” Gabe said.

 

“Okay, one thing,” Bucky agreed. “But you guys were the best team I could’a hoped for. More than I could’a hoped for. And I’m glad we went through this together.”

 

Morita wiped a false tear from his eye. “We love you, too, Cap.”

 

“Now, I didn’t say that,” Bucky answered defensively and Dum Dum guffawed.

 

“I’m just lookin’ forward to when you get to give this speech again when Sam ain’t puking his guts up,” Gabe said with a grin.

 

“I ain’t repeating that!” Bucky insisted. “And if you ever tell a soul, I’ll deny it to my dying breath!”

 

Dum Dum caught him in a headlock and rubbed his knuckles into Bucky’s skull; Bucky twisted his way out of it and gave him a shove to the side.

 

“Chimpanzees, all of ya!” Bucky declared.

 

“We love you, too, Cap!” Junior cried.

 

“Eh, fuck youse,” Bucky said, and headed for the lower decks. “Somebody go rescue Happy Sam!”

 

“Aye, aye, Cap!” Junior and Dum Dum called at the same time. Bucky made his way below decks, to the cabin he and his team shared, and dropped onto his bunk. He dug out his Bible from his duffle bag, opened it up to the Song of Solomon, and pulled out Steve’s drawing of him and Jamie in his and Bucky’s bed. He leaned back and let a finger run over Steve’s face.

 

Some odd grooves caught his attention. They were raised, like somebody had written hard on the back of it, but when Bucky flipped it over, there was nothing there.

 

For a second, he stared at it, confused. Then his heart skipped a beat and he sat up, a finger tracing cautiously over where Steve’s face was, looking for letters.

 

I love you.

 

*

 

Steve spooned carrots onto Jamie’s plate, despite his son protesting.

 

“I don’t like carrots, Ma!” he whined. “They’re nasty!”

 

“You only gotta eat ten,” Steve said firmly, putting the bowl down.

 

“But they’re nasty!”

 

“Jamie,” George called from the head of the table, “do what your mother tells you.”

 

Jamie pouted. “Yes, sir,” he said, stabbing one with a fork. Steve gave Jamie a stern look. “Yes, ma,” Jamie added, waving the carrot with his fork.

 

“Don’t play with your food,” Steve added, then leaned over and kissed his forehead. Jamie squirmed and waved him off, but Steve smiled and drew back, feeling satisfied.

 

“How was class today, Rebecca?” George asked.

 

“Good,” Rebecca answered, “we got into –”

 

The bell rang. Winifred and George exchanged glances, then George put down his napkin and headed for the door. Steve listened, but could hardly hear with the front door on his left. George came back a second later, waving a telegram.

 

“Who’s sending you a telegram at home?” Winifred asked curiously.

 

“It’s not for me, dear,” George said, stopping by Steve’s shoulder. Steve’s heart skipped a beat.

 

George bent, and handed the telegram to Jamie. Steve deflated, then filled with confusion. Who was sending his son a telegram?

 

“Would you like to read it to us, little snapper?” George asked gently.

 

Jamie, his eyes wide, took the telegram and looked it over. George helped him open it, then Jamie unfolded it and squinted at it.

 

“In New York,” he read aloud slowly. “Taking train home. Arrive 10AM. Love Uncle Bucky.”

 

“What?” Winifred gasped.

 

“Love Uncle Bucky!” Jamie repeated in a shout.

 

Steve leaned over Jamie’s shoulder and hugged him, laughing in joy. George scooped them both up in a hug and Rebecca whooped.

 

“Pa’s coming home!” Jamie yelled. “Mama, Pa’s coming home!”

 

“He is!” Steve cried. “He’ll be here tomorrow; oh, my God!”

 

“Wait!” Rebecca called. George lowered Steve and Jamie. “Why’d he end it uncle?

 

Steve looked back at the telegram. “Oh,” he said. “He must not have gotten our letters.”

 

“You mean he doesn’t know?” Jamie said, looking up, his eyes going big like they always did when he was worried.

 

“He must not,” Steve answered, taking the telegram from Jamie and reading it again.

 

“But –” Winifred spluttered, “the plans –”

 

“We’ll tell him at the station,” Steve said, then hugged Jamie and looked down at him. “You wanna surprise Papa, baby?”

 

“Yeah!” Jamie answered excitedly.

 

“Here’s what we do,” Steve said, folding the telegram carefully. His heart was going a million miles an hour in his chest. Bucky was coming home!

 

*

 

Bucky felt the urge to press his nose to the glass like a kid as the train approached the station. He felt like vibrating out of his skin with excitement and anticipation.

 

“Hey, stop shakin’ the cabin,” Dum Dum complained, hitting his shaking knee with the back of his hand.

 

“I can’t help it,” Bucky said, then grabbed Dum Dum’s arm. “What if Jamie doesn’t recognize me?”

 

“Pal,” Dum Dum sighed, “he’s the one that grew up since you left, not you. You don’t look no different!”

 

“But he was five!” Bucky insisted. “What if he doesn’t remember me?”

 

“He’ll remember you!” Dum Dum promised.

 

Bucky let go of him and looked back out of the window. His leg started trembling again. Dum Dum sighed and patted him on the arm.

 

“You’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s gonna go great, Cap.”

 

Bucky was about ready to start biting his nails. The train started slowing, but there was a huge crowd on the platform and Bucky couldn’t see if his family were out there. They had to have gotten his telegram, he made sure they’d get it in time.

 

“What if Steve hates me?” Bucky said.

 

Dum Dum picked up Bucky’s hand, then slapped him with it. Bucky recoiled and jerked his hand away before punching him in the arm. “What the hell was that for!”

 

“Your mate doesn’t hate you!” Dum Dum hissed. “Stop panicking!”

 

“But –”

 

Dum Dum grabbed him by the ears. “Don’t make me shake you,” he warned.

 

Bucky waved him off. “Disrespecting a superior officer,” he returned.

 

“Empty threats,” Dum Dum answered.

 

The train stopped. Bucky jolted upright in his seat, then sat back and cracked his knuckles. He’d faced trench warfare, he could greet his mate and his son for the first time in three and a half years.

 

Dum Dum got to his feet and pulled their duffles from the rack above their heads. He threw Bucky’s at him, then shuffled into the aisle between Gabe and Junior. Bucky swung his duffle onto his shoulder and stepped into the aisle, his heart threatening to beat out of his chest.

 

Bucky squinted at the sunlight on the platform. He shuffled out of the way of a group of women making their way past, then his men gathered around him and looked at him expectantly.

 

Bucky gave them a shrug. “What are you looking at me for?”

 

“We’re greeting your family,” Gabe pointed out.

 

“Hey, I’m greetin’ my girl,” Dum Dum said, elbowing Bucky. “I’ll be back, Cap!”

 

“Thanks!” Bucky called after him, but he didn’t begrudge him any. Dum Dum got to greet his Omega like she was really his Omega in public, Bucky wouldn’t take that away from him.

 

“Uncle Bucky!”

 

Bucky whipped around. He dropped his bag and his jaw as a tall, scrawny kid came barrelling in his direction yelling: “Uncle Bucky!”

 

Bucky caught his son as he flew to hug him and fell to his knees. His fingers, shaking, dug into Jamie’s back. Jamie squeezed him around the neck, then pulled back to grin at him. Bucky’s heart skipped another beat; he had a gap between his two front teeth, freckles covering his face, his hair was darker than Bucky remembered it and his ears stuck out.

 

“Look at you!” Bucky whispered as he touched Jamie’s face, then laughed and grabbed his shoulder. “You grew up so much!”

 

“I know,” Jamie said, still grinning.

 

Bucky tugged him back in. “I missed you so much, champ,” he said.

 

“I missed you, too, Pa,” Jamie answered.

 

Bucky’s heart stopped altogether. He pulled back from Jamie, his mouth hanging open, and Jamie just grinned at him. Bucky looked over his son's shoulder and his heart restarted jerkily. At a loss for words, Bucky looked at Jamie, to his parents and sister waiting not too far away, then at Steve who was walking up to him.

 

“Guess what?” Steve said quietly. Bucky stood up, gripping Jamie’s shoulder. He felt like he couldn’t breathe; Steve was so much more beautiful in person than in graphite and Bucky had missed him so much.

 

But – Jamie knew?

 

Then Steve reached for him, his hands going to Bucky’s face, and he pulled Bucky down into a firm kiss.

 

Bucky, when he remembered what to do with his hands, wrapped his arms around Steve’s waist and lifted him, kissing him with all the intensity of how much he’d missed him the past three and a half years. Steve’s fingers dug into his scalp and Bucky wasn’t sure but it felt like Steve had gained weight since he’d left (and did that make his stomach swoop, knowing his Omega had been taking care of himself in Bucky’s absence) and they were on a  public train station kissing in front of everybody!

 

Bucky broke the kiss, gasping, vaguely aware of the wolf whistles behind him. Steve was still grinning at him.

 

“We’re getting married,” he said.

 

“Wh–what?” Bucky replied.

 

“It’s legal now,” Steve told him. “We’re getting married, in August.”

 

Bucky searched his eyes. Then he whooped and spun Steve around, kissed him again, then dropped to his knees to lift his son off the ground and swing him into the air.

 

“Hi, Pa!” Jamie cheered.

 

“Hi, kiddo!” Bucky answered, tears of joy stinging his eyes. He stuck Jamie on his hip, then grabbed Steve by the waist and kissed him again, pulling back to rest their foreheads together. “Hi, baby,” he said thickly.

 

“Hi, Buck,” Steve murmured, blinking away tears.

 

“Go Cap!” Bucky heard behind him, then more whistles. “Whoo!”

 

Bucky turned around, still holding his eight-year-old son, and grinned at his team. “I’m gettin’ married!” he yelled. “In August!”

 

Bucky abruptly remembered Steve got his heat in the fall and he whipped around to look at his Omega. “In August?”

 

Steve nodded, the grin still splitting his cheeks. “Yep,” he said, pushing an arm around Bucky’s waist. “Jamie wants a little brother, by the way.”

 

Bucky swallowed hard. Steve lifted onto his toes and kissed his dumbstruck cheek, smirking.

 

“Hey, Cap, what’s all this yelling for?” Dum Dum shouted.

 

Bucky regained control of his tongue. “I’m getting married!” Bucky yelled, then grabbed Steve by the waist and yanked him in, pressing their foreheads together. “We’re getting married?”

 

“We’re getting married,” Steve repeated happily.

 

“Well, seein’ as that’s the case,” Dum Dum said. Bucky looked up and Dum Dum strode up to him and Steve, then snapped a smart salute. Aiming at Steve. “I was ordered to report to Captain Barnes’s commanding officer, sir!”

 

“Oh, my God,” Bucky mumbled, then quickly hid his red face in Steve’s hair. He inhaled deeply, breathing in his mate’s sweet, gingerbread scent. God, he’d missed his Omega.

 

“Um,” Steve started laughing. “Am I his commanding officer now?”

 

“Sir, yes, sir!” Dum Dum replied. “I have a mission to fulfill, sir!”

 

“Buck,” Steve laughed, leaning on him now, “what’s going on?”

 

“I was ordered to bring back intel!” Dum Dum said smartly.

 

“Very important intel,” Gabe threw in.

 

“Groundbreaking,” Morita added.

 

“Earth-shattering!” Junior chimed in with a grand gesture.

 

Happy Sam made an OK sign with his fingers and nodded slowly.

 

“Okay?” Steve laughed. “What is it?”

 

“Captain Barnes loves you and the little man, sir!” Dum Dum reported.

 

“It’s true,” Bucky rumbled. Steve laughed again and hugged him tightly.

 

“I love you, too, Pa,” Jamie said. “Why does that man have a rat on his face?”

 

Bucky threw his head back and laughed, then kissed Jamie’s cheek as Dum Dum squawked.

 

“It’s a magnificent mustache!” he protested.

 

“It’s a rat,” said the woman at his side. “You’re shaving pronto, buddy.”

 

Dum Dum squawked again. Junior leaned on Sam as he was laughing too hard to stand upright and Morita and Gabe were both clutching their stomachs. Steve reached up and tweaked Jamie’s ear.

 

“What have we said about thinking before you speak?” he asked.

 

“To do it,” Jamie mumbled.

 

“To be fair,” Bucky said, looking at his mate, “it does look like a rat. Dum Dum’s own Omega agrees!”

 

Steve mouthed Dum Dum. Bucky took the opportunity to kiss him and startle him. Bucky, grinning put down Jamie and waved to his parents and his sister, who were still hanging back.

 

“What are you doing?” he called. “Come on, give me a hug!”

 

Rebecca shrugged and ran forward. Bucky caught her, squeezing her as hard as he could.

 

“Missed you, Bugsy,” she said.

 

“I only missed you a little,” Bucky said, pulling back. Rebecca hit him hard on the shoulder. “Okay, a lot!”

 

His mother waved Rebecca out of the way and hugged him, not as tightly. “I’m so happy you’re home safe,” she said quietly in his ear, then pulled back and cupped his face. “And that you and Steve can be together at last.”

 

“Yeah, when did this happen?” Bucky asked, turning around and grabbing Steve by the wrist to pull him closer. “I had no clue!”

 

“They legalized it a few months ago,” Steve told him, his hands resting on Bucky’s chest. “We sent you letters, but you must not’ve got ‘em.”

 

He was standing on his toes, too, so Bucky took that as an incentive to kiss him. Steve smiled against his lips, then shoved him off. “Kiss-up,” he accused.

 

“Gladly,” Bucky said, then hugged him tightly, just because he could.

 

“Hey, Cap, you gonna introduce us or not?” Gabe yelled.

 

“Oh, yeah!” Bucky said, then grabbed Steve’s hand again and reached out to take his son by the shoulder. “These fools are my team, the Howling Commandos.”

 

“Fools?” Morita scoffed. “I assure you, we only count as one collective fool.”

 

“Named Dum Dum,” Gabe said, pointing to the man in question.

 

Dum Dum sighed heavily. “I regret my nickname,” he said.

 

“Wondered when you’d do that,” Sam remarked.

 

“So, that’s Dum Dum,” Bucky said with glee. “Or Tim Dugan, but Dum Dum’s better. That’s Happy Sam Sawyer, Jim Morita, Junior Juniper, and Gabe Jones.”

 

Morita waved at them “We saved his a–” Gabe elbowed him. “– butt!” Morita said, looking guilty. “On more than one occasion.”

 

“And it’s a damn shame,” Rebecca sighed. “I was hoping to get his nasty scent out of the carpet at last.”

 

“You can do that after they move out,” their mother assured her.

 

“We’re moving out?” Bucky spluttered.

 

“Oh, yeah!” Steve said, looking back at him. “We gotta move out after we get married.”

 

Bucky opened his mouth, shut it, then caught his father’s eye, who raised his eyebrows pointedly. Bucky shrugged. “Okay?” he said. “I won’t complain.”

 

“No, you won’t,” Steve said smugly, then winked. Bucky felt his face go red all the way to his roots. Rebecca laughed at him, but so did his men.

 

“I can still report you for disrespect of a superior officer!” Bucky threatened his team.

 

“That threat got old over a year ago,” Morita said with a wave of his hand.

 

“But hey, you can let the missus put the fear a’God into us!” Gabe said with a grin and finger guns.

 

Steve started laughing and leaned on Jamie’s shoulder to hold himself up. Jamie was almost as tall as him already. Bucky looked at them, then hugged them both from the back and lifted both of them off their feet.

 

“Pa!” Jamie protested, squirming to be let down. Steve just kept laughing.

 

“Okay, the public displays of affection are already annoying,” Rebecca said. “Can you not?”

 

Bucky made a face at her. “I’m getting married, Becky, shut up!”

 

“And how mature of you,” his mother remarked.

 

“And you called us kids,” Junior said, looking and sounding offended.

 

“You can’t include me in kids, ” Bucky insisted, pointing a finger. “I’m a parent.

 

“I think that’s correct?” his father said, tapping his chin.

 

“You can be included in Alphas, though,” his mother said with a sage nod.

 

Rebecca pointed. “Ha,” she said.

 

Steve put an arm around Bucky’s waist and leaned into him, then purred: “Stupid Alpha.”

 

Bucky dropped his head to touch his forehead to Steve’s hair, breathing hard all of a sudden.

 

“Ha,” Steve laughed softly.

 

“You tricked me,” Bucky accused.

 

“Yep,” Steve answered, nuzzling lightly at his chest.

 

“Get a room!” Rebecca hissed in his direction.

 

“Pa, what’s Mama doing?” Jamie asked.

 

Bucky, still a bit unused to his son actually calling him pa, jolted. Steve leaned back, his eyes wide, then cleared his throat but didn’t move away. Bucky turned red again and said: “Uh.”

 

Rebecca snorted.

 

“Mama just missed me,” Bucky told Jamie. “It’s a thing mamas do when they’ve missed their, uh, Alphas.”

 

Jamie looked skeptical. “This is a thing I’ll understand when I’m older, isn’t it?” he said.

 

“Yep,” Bucky told him, reaching over and shaking his shoulder.

 

“Come on,” his mother said then, taking his shoulder and squeezing it. “You’re lucky I made enough food to feed an army, since you didn’t mention your team!”

 

“I only had so much money for the telegram!” Bucky reminded her. “They’re expensive!”

 

“Thanks for sending it to me, Pa,” Jamie piped up.

 

Bucky grinned and pulled him into a side hug. “Of course, champ!” he said, squeezing him.

 

“It was really sweet,” Steve said, squeezing the arm around Bucky’s waist.

 

“Well, come on!” Bucky’s mother called to his men. “You’re invited to dinner!”

 

“I ain’t turning down free food,” Gabe declared, then shouldered his duffle bag again. “Y’all’d be morons if you did.”

 

“Why not,” Dum Dum’s Omega said.

 

“I’m starving,” Junior admitted.

 

Bucky picked up his duffle bag and swung it over his shoulder, then threw an arm around Steve’s shoulders and drew him in, grinning at him. Steve looked back up at him, the exact same grin on his lips. Bucky, loving the fact that he could now, kissed his cheek and Steve giggled.

 

“Pa, you’re gross,” Jamie said, catching Steve’s hand.

 

“I love your ma,” Bucky said, puffing up his chest a little. “I ain’t ashamed to admit it.”

 

Jamie wrinkled his nose.

 

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Bucky asked then.

 

“I got the day off ‘cause you’re here now!” Jamie said, jumping as he walked.

 

“A lot of his classmates didn’t go in today to greet the boys coming home,” Steve said, bumping shoulders with Bucky. “By the time I called, they had simply closed the school for the day.”

 

“Ain’t that something?” Bucky said. “We never got to skip school like this as kids!”

 

“Wasn’t ever a mass coming home like this,” Steve laughed. Bucky squeezed his hand and Steve shot him a grin.

 

“I didn’t think you two could become this disgustingly affectionate so rapidly,” Rebecca said, falling into step beside him.

 

“Hey, how’s college?” Bucky asked her, completely ignoring her comment.

 

“Calculus,” Rebecca said with a gleam in her eye.

 

“I don’t even know what that is,” Bucky said proudly.

 

“And I met a guy,” Rebecca said.

 

Bucky jerked his gaze over to her and narrowed his eyes. “Oh yeah? I’m gonna have to meet him.”

 

“Oh, no you don’t!” Rebecca insisted, giving him a light shove that didn’t even put him off his step. “No scary big brother routine from you, I saw enough of it when you were faking with Steve!”

 

“That was half possessive Alpha-ness,” Bucky defended himself. “You ain’t seen scary big brother yet, little miss!”

 

“Steve!” Rebecca whined.

 

“I am maintaining neutrality,” Steve said calmly.

 

Rebecca spluttered and Bucky grinned, because neutrality was practically a vote on his behalf.

 

“Like Switzerland!” Jamie said. “We learned that in school!”

 

“Yes, like Switzerland,” Steve told their son.

 

“Or Sweden,” Bucky added.

 

“Or Sweden,” Steve agreed. Bucky bumped their shoulders together and Steve cast him a smile.

 

Bucky’s mother really had made enough food to feed an army. Bucky, though, was focused on the fact that he got to have his family now. He kept a hand on Jamie pretty much the whole day and his arm around Steve just as long. Dum Dum and his girl left first, but the rest of his team hung around to visit with Bucky and his family the rest of the day. Only when it started getting dark did they leave, saying they were going to find a hotel. (Gabe gave Bucky a huge wink on his way out, so Bucky figured they’d be finding a bar first.)

 

Bucky got to tuck his son in for the night. Jamie hugged him around the neck and said: “Goodnight, Pa, love you,” in a sleepy tone and Bucky was just filled with how much he loved his kid.

 

“Goodnight, champ,” Bucky said, kissing Jamie’s forehead. “I love you.”

 

Steve hung in the doorway, dressed for bed, but Bucky found himself just sitting at his son’s bedside, watching him fall asleep. There were tears on his face when Steve moved to him and hugged him from the back, leaning on him.

 

“I’m so glad you’re home,” Steve whispered.

 

Bucky reached up and took his hand. “Me, too.”

 

*

January 10th, 1946

 

107th “NO WIDOWS” INFANTRY RETURNS HOME

 

“The USS Gregory dropped anchor in New York City’s harbor this morning, bringing home the men of the 107th Infantry. The 107th was reported in May of 1943 to have been cut in half by the Battle of the Azzano, with estimates of over 400 soldiers dead or missing, only to miraculously reappear a year later lead by then Mst. Sergeant James Barnes. Later promoted to Captain, Barnes single-handedly arranged the escape of all 400 captured men and the destruction of the last Nazi splinter-cell known as Hydra. Captain Barnes lead his men out of German territory as they chanted NO WIDOWS TONIGHT and today, Captain Barnes lead his men home…

“(Captain Barnes was not able to be reached for comment.)”