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our great potential strength

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Bucky's with Steve when he hears about Pearl Harbor, so he doesn't have to seek him out to share the news like he does for most everything else. Instead, he heads home. Not to the place he shares with Steve - home home, where his parents and his kid brothers and sister are.

It's quiet when he gets there, brimming with anger and outrage and just the littlest bit of excitement. How long has Steve been shouting that they need to do something, that the Nazis have to be stopped, how long has he been nodding along and encouraging that kinda talk? If they aren't at war with Japan by tomorrow, and her allies by next week, Bucky will eat his tie.

It's while he's thinking these kinds of thoughts that he opens the door, calls out that he's here, and wanders through the apartment looking for people. It's Sunday, so everyone should be home, but he can't hear a thing.

He finds his family in the kitchen: Ma wrapped around Becky and the twins, Pop standing by the window, a hand still on the radio. They start when he walks in, watch him warily, and he doesn't know why at first.

"You heard?" he asks, and Pop nods.

"Think the whole city has heard," he says, gesturing outside. It's as quiet there as in here, Bucky realizes. Everybody's numb with shock. There'll be noise later, shouting, demands that America get hers back from Japan, but for now there's... nothing. Pop coughs. "What're you gonna do, Bucky?"

Bucky frowns. "What'm I," he starts to ask, but is interrupted by an awful sound. A cry of pain wrenched from the bottom of someone's heart.

Ma shoves a hand over her mouth, but it can't hold back what she's already sobbed. Bucky stares at her, sees now the heartbreak in her eyes, and realizes what she must be thinking of - her father, her two brothers, who all went off to fight in the World War and never came back.

His eagerness to go fight feels like the worst kind of betrayal, suddenly.

"Oh, Ma," he says, and bends down to wrap her up in a hug. His brothers squirm at being crushed ever closer to her chest, but Becky's old enough to understand, and she gets an arm around him too. "No, no, would I do that to you?"

"They're going to need good, strong men out there," Ma says, tears in her voice.

"There's plenty of good, strong men out there," Bucky says. "Only two of them in here." The older twin squirms, elbowing Bucky below the ribs, and he chokes out a laugh. "Sorry, only four of them in here."

"James..." Uh oh. Ma only uses his real name when she's seriously mad - or worried.

"Somebody else can go fight," he says firmly. "It ain't gonna be me."

He makes that promise to her again and again, even though his name's been on a list at a draft board since last October. Steve looks betrayed when Bucky tells him he isn't enlisting, but when he gets his first 4F he seems almost relieved. That he won't be alone in Brooklyn while Bucky's off fighting? That Bucky doesn't have a 1A for him to be compared against? Bucky isn't sure why, but he'll take anything over that look that says Steve expected more of him, better of him.

Things stay about the same for a little over a year.

Bucky's number comes up in February '43. Really, he thinks, half bitterly and half gratefully, it's amazing it didn't come up earlier. Ma cries when he brings them the news and doesn't seem to stop tearing up for the next month, but at least it's him and not Pop. Him and not Steve, who sees the draft order and tries to enlist again, illegally; thank God it's another 4F.

All of them, Ma and Pop and Becky and the twins and Steve, see him off to Basic. Ma's got tears in her eyes, and Pop gives a crooked salute in lieu of a handshake. Steve, an uncomfortable jealousy to him, tries to shake his hand, but Bucky refuses to leave without hugs from him and each of his siblings. And then he's gone for three months.

Basic is almost... fun. Taking orders isn't too bad, he already knows how to fight barehanded thanks to Steve never knowing how to back down from a fight, and guns fit in his hands like they were made to be there. The training exercises are brutal, but after someone takes notice of Bucky's accuracy with a rifle he's put into a different program, which is no less intense but requires slightly less running, and slightly more hiding and waiting. Some of the others say it's boring, but Bucky loves it. He's good at it - great at it - and he starts to think that he might stay in the Army after they finish giving Hitler the ol' one-two. There's bound to be someone else to fight, and he wouldn't mind being the one to do it.

He returns to Brooklyn in full uniform, tie perfectly knotted, hat at a slightly non-regulation angle, and greets his parents as Sergeant James Barnes. Ma cries again, this time because he looks so much like his uncles when he wears the uniform. Bucky takes it as a compliment, since according to photos the Buchanan boys were a pair of good-looking men, and tries not to think about why he never got to meet them. The twins are wide-eyed and impressed by him, and Steve's expression when Bucky comes home isn't so different.

"Wow, Bucky," he breathes, looking Bucky up and down. "You look..."

"Like a soldier?"

"Good," Steve finishes. "Real good." He smiles, and it almost hides the burst of envy that appeared in his eyes at the word 'soldier'. "Bet the dames'll be lining up 'round the block to go out with you now."

Bucky smirks. "Like they weren't already?" Steve laughs, and Bucky counts it as a win. "And anyway," he says, slinging an arm over Steve's shoulder, "more girls for me just means there'll be more girls for you to comfort when I'm off taking down Hitler. Win-win."

"Gee, thanks Buck," Steve says dryly, and if Bucky laughs a little too hard, if he looks away so he won't see the hurt on Steve's face. If he does that, so what? He's going off to war, and he's good at fighting so he'll be fine, and his tired old Pop and little sickly Steve won't have to fight, and they'll all be fine in the end.

Everything's going to be fine.