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My Brother, The Hero

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Becca Barnes is eight years old, and her big brother can do no wrong.

Ruth, her eldest sister, has always been an extension of her mother, nagging her to do her chores and her homework; Sally, who is six years older than her, is a rival, someone to argue with. Bucky, on the other hand, has a soft spot for her,and indulges her.

He dresses like a movie star, and when he takes her out for a soda she feels like Greta Garbo. She tries to drink her soda mysteriously, with a raised eyebrow. For some reason this makes Bucky laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothin’.” He stifles a grin and tries to look serious. “You know Mom and Sally are going to the country?”

“I ain’t dumb and I was listening.”

“I was gonna offer- if you wanted to come live with me’n Steve.”

She had known that her mom was looking for somewhere for Becca to stay while she and Sally went to the country (Sally’s lungs were bad, and they were going to stay with some vague relative out where the air was clear - a vague relative that didn’t have space for Becca). But she had also overheard what her mom had said to Ruth about Bucky moving in with Steve - that Steve would always be sickly, would end up relying on Bucky, and what if Steve had TB like his mom?

“Shouldn’t Steve be going out to the country for his health too?”

Bucky huffs a disapproving sound. “Yeah, if he had any spare money, could take the time off, and he wasn’t the most stubborn guy in the world. So he ain’t. And he ain’t got TB either, before you say he’s infectious.”

“I could stay home.”

“When Dad spends three weeks at a time away? That ain’t happening.”

“I could go with him.”

“Pack you up with the rest of the stuff he sells and stick you in the back of the car? Nice try at avoiding going to school, Becca, but that ain’t gonna wash either. And you can’t go sleep under Ruth’s bed at the Nurses’ Home either. Or run away and join the Navy.”

She likes the idea of living with her brother and Steve. Steve may not be glamorous like her brother, but he’s in art school which automatically makes him more interesting than most adults she knows. He’s clever and kind and draws like she wishes she could.

Her mom is less enthusiastic about the idea when Bucky offers, and tries to find somewhere else for her to stay, but no one has the space. She reluctantly accepts, but doesn’t stop fussing right up to the point that she and Sally are about to leave.

“Just because you’re living with your brother, it doesn’t mean you can start being… un-ladylike.”

“Yes, Mom.” There’s still a splinter in the palm of her hand from climbing a tree that afternoon.

“We’re a Respectable family, Rebecca.” You could always hear the capital letter when her mom or dad said Respectable. It was important to be Respectable. “And it’s not quite right, you living with your brother and a man you’re not even related to. So you’re going to be extra good, young lady. You’re going to show everyone that. Church every Sunday, without fail-”

She makes a face, “Mom, Steve’s never gonna let me skip church.”

“It’s ‘going to’ not ‘gonna’. And you’re going to have a clean face, and clean hands, and clean socks every day-”

Bucky appears in the doorway of the kitchen, holding a pair of battered suitcases. “And I’ll make sure we walk her every day, and we’ll get flea powder from the veterinarian as well.”

“James Buchanan Barnes-” But her mom is suppressing a smile.

Sally has her arms folded, “This ain’t fair-”

“It isn’t fair,” corrects her mom.

“Yeah, it ain’t. I don’t wanna go-”

“You heard what the doctors said, Sally.” Her mom sighs. “A few months. Let your chest heal properly. I don’t much like the idea of the country either, but I want you to be well.”

Bucky smiles, “You write us and tell us anything you can’t get out there, and we’ll send it.”

Sally is still scowling, “If they even have mail in the country. Or anything else. No movie theaters either. Bet they’ve never even heard of Errol Flynn.”

Bucky cracks a wide grin and says, “Might have a hard time getting Mr Flynn in a package for you.”

Sally’s scowl softens only slightly. “But you’d try, yeah?”

“Maybe for your birthday. Gotta cost a lot to mail a guy that size.”

She hugs Sally tight before they leave. She’d like to have Sally out of her hair for a couple of weeks, but not months. Her mom hugs her so tight that it’s difficult to breathe.

When she arrives at Bucky and Steve’s apartment, she’s surprised to be shown to the second bedroom - she’d assumed she’d be sleeping on the couch cushions, like she always does at home when there are relatives who need the bed.

“Don’t Steve need someplace- ” she begins, but Bucky makes a dismissive gesture.

“He’s tiny and I’ve got a big bed.”

“Also not deaf!” Steve yells from the kitchen, and Bucky grins.

“Didn’t want to have to tiptoe around you if I had work early in the morning. And Steve snores so loud it don’t make a difference whether you’re in the same room or not.”

Still not deaf,” yells Steve.

“Yeah, but I might be if you start snoring in my ear tonight,” Bucky yells back.

“Jerk!”

“Asshole!” Bucky’s eyes widen and he looks at Becca. “Just ‘cause I use bad language, doesn’t mean you can, ok?”

She nods solemnly. “Sure thing, asshole.”

He cuffs her gently on the ear.

She likes their apartment. It’s Bohemian (a word she learned recently, and is currently applying to everything she likes). There are none of the knick-knacks and keepsakes that are on every surface at home; on the walls there are a few art prints, and postcards of paintings are everywhere. There’s a desk under the window where Steve draws and paints (and sometimes Bucky does too); the bookcase is filled half with heavy books about art and politics and history that she has no interest in reading, and half with pulp paperbacks that Bucky and Steve won’t let her read. Importantly, they have a radio, and listen to more interesting plays and better music than her mom and dad do (as well as all the baseball games they can’t get to, which Becca has less interest in).

The first night she tries to get away with staying up late.

“No. Bed.”

“Buuuuuuckyyyyyyyyy-”

“Mom has spies everywhere Becca. She thinks I’m letting you stay up late, or skip baths, or anything like that, and she’ll know. And if she thinks I’m not shaping up, she’ll send you to live with Great Aunt Velma.”

“There ain’t room at Aunt Velma’s.”

“Yeah, so you’ll end up sharing a bed with her.”

Becca’s stomach drops like a stone. “She wouldn’t.”

“She would.” Bucky nonchalantly looks at his fingernails, “Ain’t like it’s any skin off my nose, it means we get our spare room back-”

My room back,” says Steve.

“Uh, yeah, your room. So perhaps I should go send a telegram to Mom, tell her you’re impossible to manage, telegraph office’ll still be open-”

“No! I’ll go to bed. I’ll be good. Promise.”

She was as good as her word all the next day. Nearly. She did climb a tree in the park because Bobby O’Hare said that it was too tall for a girl to climb, and tore her dress hanging upside down from one of the upper branches making faces at Bobby.

“You didn’t trip,” says Bucky, “there’s bark in this.”

“He said girls couldn’t climb trees.”

“The amount of time you spend up trees he knew he was wrong already, whoever he was. I didn’t know better, I’d have thought we got you at the monkey house.”

“You don’t have to listen when people say there’s things you can’t do-” says Steve.

“Yeah, she does, she has to listen to us telling her what she can’t do,” says Bucky.

“I meant she doesn’t have to listen to people saying there’s things she’s incapable of doing.” He smiles at Becca. “Sure you can do almost anything if you put your mind to it.”

“Starting with mending that dress.” says Bucky.

She can tell Steve has been trying to be a Good Influence on her since she moved in (if Respectable has a capital letter, then Good Influence certainly does). He’s much more stiff and formal than he was before, though the mask cracks every time Bucky ribs him, which is about every half hour.

On Friday, after school, Bucky gives her money to go to the pictures. “And some for popcorn.”

She looks at the money in her hand. It’s far too much for a ticket and popcorn, but it’s exactly the right amount for a ticket for her and her best friend Lillian, whose family never have money to spare for cinema tickets.

Becca loves living with Bucky and Steve. They talk about art and politics and never exclude her from the conversation; her questions are welcomed, and when they don’t know the answers they either find out or encourage her to find out for herself. It’s very Bohemian. Whenever her dad is in town they go out for dinner at the diner as a treat, which she loves. She gets to go to the movies every Friday without fail, and is allowed to stay up late on Sundays to listen to The Shadow.

It’s The Shadow she’s thinking of when she happens to come across Steve about to be beaten up by a couple of toughs. Steve has his shoulders squared, but they’re twice the size he is.

The bigger one of the toughs says, “Ain’t any business of yours what we say to a girl-”

“Betcha he ain’t ever had his hands on a girl, squirt like him-”

“Girls have a right to walk down the street without being hassled,” says Steve.

The toughs take a step forward, and Becca knows they’re going to hit Steve, so she says, “Hey! Go pick on someone your own size!”

They turn round and smile unpleasantly. “Awwww, look, you got a little girl to rescue you. Girl, beat it.”

“No. You leave off him.”

“Oh yeah?”

She puts her hands on her hips and says one of The Shadow’s lines, “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay.”

The line does not have the desired effect. Instead of looking cowed or like they’re reconsidering their actions, they laugh at her.

“It’s an itty bitty Shadow. Now scram.”

“Go home, don’t get involved,” says Steve, stiffly.

She ignores Steve and stands her ground, and says, “You leave him alone.”

“Whatcha gonna do about it? You gonna take us on?” The tough swaggers towards her, and she wants to run, but she stands her ground, because Bucky would.

“Don’t touch her,” says Steve, and it’s the angriest that Becca’s ever heard him. He steps forward, but the smaller one of the toughs grabs him by the tie and holds him at arm’s length.

One tough grins at the other, and says, “Guess we get one each.”

“Oh yeah? You gonna feel like a real big guy when you’ve beaten up an eight year old girl? Betcha get your ass kicked whenever you try’n fight someone your own size. Gotta go find little girls to beat up.”

She really thinks he’s going to hit her now, but she might get away with this if she ducks and hits him really hard between the legs. That had worked on David Asimov, though she had been in detention for two weeks because of it. To give herself a little more room to maneuver she slowly walks backward until she’s on the sidewalk instead of in the alley itself. “Were the twelve year old girls too big for ya? Maybe I’m too big and you’re gonna go slap a baby in its carriage.”

The tough’s face is pink, “You little shit, I’m gonna put you in the hospital-”

“Hey! This guy says he’s gonna beat this little girl up!” Mrs Abramovic, pushing her baby carriage, sees them and yells that to the whole street. At least a dozen heads turn, and see the tough with his fist pulled back, facing Becca down. He looks around, suddenly his confidence gone.

His friend lets go of Steve, moves to pull his friend’s elbow. “Lil’ misunderstanding, we got places to be.” They walk off.

“Thank you, Mrs Abramovic.”

She sighs and says, “Do try and remember that you’re not the size of your brother, and you can’t win the fights he can.”

“Yes, Mrs Abramovic.” She’s not sure she can think of a fight her brother wouldn’t win.

She shakes her head and walks off. Steve walks out of the alley and says, “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“I won’t tell anyone you got saved by a girl-”

Steve shrugs, “I don’t care about that. I care that you could have gotten seriously hurt.”

“But I didn’t.”

“You got lucky, Becca. You can’t rely on being lucky.”

She expects Bucky to be impressed that she saved Steve, but he’s angry. “Two of them? What the hell were you thinking?”

“You would-”

“Sure I would, I’m eight inches taller than you and double your weight! Jesus, Becca, they could have really hurt you. They could have killed you.”

“Steve-”

“Yeah, he’s an idiot too, but he’s bigger than you. I don’t want either of you to get hurt, but if I gotta pick, I know he can take it.” He winces and glances over at Steve, “Sorry.”

“I don’t want her to get hurt either, Buck, don’t apologize. I told her to get out of there.”

“I ain’t gonna stand by and watch someone get beat up who don’t deserve it!”

“And you ain’t gonna be the one explaining to Mom how you got in the hospital!” He holds her by the arms, and says, “This ain’t the playground, there ain’t someone who’s gonna break up fights and give people detentions. There are guys just coming off months on a ship and all they want is to break someone’s face, and I don’t want it to be yours. They ain’t looking for a fight with a kid, so you don’t ask for one and you’ll be fine. But you give them an excuse and they might decide that they’ll hit you.” He tightens his grip on her arms and picks her up, holds her to his eye level. “Look at me. I can pick you up like this easy. Just think how bad someone my size could hurt you. You try and get free.” Her arms are pinned to her sides, and she tries to squirm and kick out at her brother. “See? Are you getting it now?”

She really can’t get free, and feels scared even though she trusts her brother. She nods, and he puts her down.

“You see him getting into trouble, or anyone getting into trouble, you go run and get help as fast as you can. You don’t have to let it happen, but you do not get involved.”



She writes long letters to Sally, because Sally is bored out of her mind in the country. According to her letters, conversation in the country is entirely about plants, animals and the weather; the nearest movie theater is over an hour away and ‘I think they built this house a week after the Pilgrims landed and nothing’s ever changed since’. Becca diligently collects every piece of gossip about any person Sally knows, since this seems to be what Sally enjoys most.

Becca and Lillian spend some days pretending to be hardboiled private detectives, following up leads on Sally’s friends for interesting information. Their detecting technique could use some work, though.

“Why are you two hiding behind our trash can?”

“We’re private detectives, Mr Berkowitz.”

“I see. And what are you detecting?”

“Can’t say, sir. Client confidentiality.”

“Very good. And how are your mother and sister?”

“Doing well, sir.”

“Good good. I’ll let you get back to detecting.”

It’s been three months since her mom and Sally left, and she hasn’t seen them once in that time. They’re not sure when they’re coming home. Becca wants them to come home, she misses her mom so much it hurts, but at the same time she likes living where she is, and knows that can’t continue with her mom home.

It’s Friday night, and she gets half way to the movie theater before remembering that she’d promised Lillian she’d bring along her Detectives Comics for her to borrow. She runs home, but slows down before she gets to the door; the agreement is that she doesn’t come home on a Friday before 8pm, and she suspects that Bucky has girls round, so she intends to sneak in, grab her comic and sneak out without being seen. She slips her key into the lock, and turns it very quietly. She can hear the radio on as she closes the door behind her, which is a pity as the comic is in the living room. She sneaks along the corridor to look into the living room, to see if there’s any chance of her getting it without being seen.

She looks through the gap between the door and the hinge, and what she sees brings her up short.

Bucky and Steve are on the couch, kissing. Not like the kisses she sometimes sees the Russian guys give each other on the cheek as they say hello, but really kissing. Like the couples in the back of the movie theater.

There’s no way she can get the comic off the coffee table without them seeing.

She sneaks out of the apartment, and runs all the way to the movie theater so she won’t be late.

Boys don’t kiss other boys.

Why don’t boys kiss other boys?

Is it something to do with having babies? But Mr and Mrs Martin kiss each other all the time and they never had any babies, even though they’ve been married for forty years.

As they take their seats Lillian says, “What’s wrong?”

“Boys marry girls, but boys don’t marry other boys.”

“Yeah…”

“Why?”

Lillian looks thoughtful for a long moment. “I’d rather marry you than marry a boy.”

“I’d marry you too.”

Lillian smiles. “Good.”

“So why can’t two boys kiss like those boys and girls are kissing?”

“If no one else is going to stop this sinful conversation, I will,” says a woman sitting two rows in front of them, who turns around to look at them sternly. “Two males do not kiss because they are committing the sin of sodomy, and are an abomination in the eyes of God.”

There is laughter from their left, and she looks over to see a group of young guys, “Lady, if you think kissing is sodomy, you oughta get out more,” says one of them.

“Ignore them,” says the woman.

“My grandpa kisses his friends on the cheeks when he meets them. That’s not a sin, is it?” says Lillian.

The woman flushes a little. “There are different kinds of kisses.”

The guys are still laughing, “If there’s tongue it’s sinful.”

“If it’s Maria-Louisa's tongue it’s extra sinful.”

“Don’t that depend where she’s putting her tongue?”

The woman has now blushed a deep scarlet, though Becca has no idea what the men are talking about. She is picturing a woman licking a man’s face in the same way that Lillian’s overly excitable dog licks her face when she comes home from school. She’s never seen anyone do that to someone else. Perhaps they only do it when children aren’t around.

Lillian can be very persistent. “What are the sinful sorts of kisses?”

“Kisses between a husband and wife are not sinful. Kisses between people who are not married that have… romantic intent are sinful.”

“Kid, don’t listen to her unless you want to be an old spinster whose only friend is her cat,” supplies one of the men.

Lillian plows forward with straightforward logic as she always does, “So if two men were married, then they could kiss each other romantically.”

At least half of the movie theater is now at least either snickering or openly laughing. Becca wishes she knew what was so funny.

“Marriage is between a man and a woman. It says so in the Bible.”

Now they were getting to it. Bible says don’t do it, you don’t do it. Boys don’t kiss because they can’t get married, and they’re not allowed to get married because the Bible says so.

So why was her brother kissing Steve? That was romantic kissing, she’s sure of it.

She doesn’t concentrate on the movie at all, just trying to solve that problem. After the movie, when they’re a couple of blocks from the theater, Lillian says, “You saw some boys kissing.”

Becca nods.

“Who?”

She pauses. She trusts Lillian more than anyone else in the world, but if her brother really is a terrible sinner she doesn’t want anyone to know about it. “Don’t want to say.”

“Do you think she’s right? That it’s sinful?”

Becca kicks at a can. “Feels like everything’s sinful.”

“There’s big sins and little ones. Kissing’s probably a little sin.”

“But your mom was real worried about your sister kissing boys-”

“‘Cause she thought she’d have a baby without being married, like Aunt Marjorie. Boys can’t have babies.”

So it was probably a little sin then. She wasn’t going to tell anyone, because it was obvious her brother didn’t want people knowing about it, but it didn’t really matter.

And maybe it had only been that one time. The next Friday she left the apartment as normal, waited a couple of minutes on the corner and snuck back. They were on the couch, kissing, same as the last week. Obviously a regular thing then.

Becca Barnes, Private Eye has scored her first major success. Not that anyone had actually asked her to investigate who her brother was kissing. But she knows something that most adults don’t and that has to count for something.

It’s more than six months before her mom and Sally finally come home. Sally does look better, less skinny, more color in her cheeks, and she thinks her mom looks more relaxed as well. All of that means she doesn’t mind the idea of going home.

Right up until the first Friday, when she asks to go to the movies with Sally and her mom refuses. She pouts and sulks, but her mom won’t budge, and she has to watch Sally skip out the door (and turn around and stick her tongue out triumphantly).

“Bucky gave me money to go to the pictures every Friday.”

Her mom raises an eyebrow. “Did he now? And what time did you have to be back for?”

“Not before eight.”

“Now why would that be, I wonder?”

Becca can feel herself blush, tries to stop it and fails. She mumbles, “Dunno.”

Her mom smiles, but Becca knows that smile. It’s the shark smile. The one that means Mom knows you’ve done something wrong, she’s just looking for the bit of proof she needs to go in for the kill. “Becca, does your brother have a girlfriend?”

“Nope.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s admirable that you’re looking out for your brother, but if he’s making time with a girl I’ll tan his hide-”

Getting a girl into trouble was very bad, because they were a Respectable family. Now she got why the shark smile had come out. “He ain’t, I know he ain’t!”

“Getting you out of the house every Friday, now come on Becca, he’s got a girl-”

“I swear, he ain’t got a girl.”

“It’s a sin to lie-”

“I ain’t lying!”

Her mom grabs her by the ear, “Now you spill the truth to me Rebecca Barnes, or I’ll tan your hide as well-”

She screeches at the pain and babbles, “He ain’t makin’ time with no girl 'cause he’s makin’ time with Steve.”

Her mom lets go very suddenly. There is a long pause and her mom says carefully, “What did you see, Becca?”

She’s bewildered. Why does her mom want to know this? If Bucky’s not getting a girl into trouble everything should be ok, shouldn’t it? “I had to go back for something on a Friday. Saw ‘em kissing on the couch. They didn’t see me.”

There’s another long pause, and Becca doesn’t know what’s going on. Her mom reaches for her purse, and gives some money to Becca. “Go to the pictures. Run and catch up with your sister. If you see your father, tell him to hurry home. Do not tell anyone what you just told me. No one.”

“But-”

Go.”

She runs out of the house because she doesn’t know what else to do. She does catch up with her sister at the cinema.

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. I think Mom’s angry with Bucky about something.”

They watch the movie, though Becca’s mind is somewhere else, and walk home, Sally talking excitedly about how movies are even better if you haven’t seen any for months, Becca quiet.

When they get home, Mom, Dad and Bucky are sitting around the kitchen table, so serious that Becca thinks perhaps someone died. Her dad says quietly, “Now you girls just wait outside.”

They sit on the back step, ears pressed against the door. It’s obvious that there is an argument going on, but one where everyone is talking deliberately quietly, and they can’t make out a thing. Then there are steps towards the door, and they spring back and try to look innocent. Bucky opens the door and nearly runs down the steps and down the street, not looking at either of them.

Their dad calls them into the kitchen, and they sit at the table. “Girls. There’s been a… problem with money. Your brother- he’s- he’s taken some money from us. And he’s not going to apologize for it. So he’s- he’s not welcome in this house any more. You’re not to go to his apartment. You’re not to talk to him. Or- or to his friends. Do you understand?”

“But-”

“No buts, girls. This is how it is.” Their dad is soft spoken, with a clear sense of right and wrong, and everything about the way he’s talking shows he thinks Bucky has done something very, very wrong. “I’m sorry. It’s up to him now. As soon as he sees the error of his ways, he’s welcome back here.”

This isn’t about money. This is about kissing. It’s a big sin. She doesn’t know why, but she can tell that it’s such a big sin that it excuses the little sin of lying about it.

She feels terrible, and lies awake most of the night, thinking about what to do.

She goes to school as normal the next day, and as she’s walking home, Sally intercepts her and pulls her into a quiet alley. “We gotta talk.”

“What about?”

“Don’t play dumb. This ain’t about money. Bucky wouldn’t take money from Mom and Dad. He ain’t like that. They’re lying to cover up something else. And I saw how Mom looked at you. You know. What did he do? He in with the mob? He kill someone? You gotta tell me. He’s my brother too. I gotta know.”

She pulls Sally deeper into the alley, and looks around to make sure they’re not being listened in on. “I saw him kissing Steve.”

Sally pauses. “What sort of kissing?”

“Back seat of the movie theater kissing.”

Sally’s eyes widen. “Bucky’s a fairy?”

“What?”

“Oh, jeez, you’re so stupid. ‘Kay, you get married, it’s a guy and a girl? Some guys, they don’t wanna kiss the girls, they wanna kiss the guys. Fairies. And it’s illegal-”

“Really?”

“Idiot. You told Mom, didn’t you?”

“She was twisting my ear!”

There is a long pause. “Betcha this ain’t new, you know. Those two. Never quite right.”

Becca sticks her bottom lip out. “It can’t be wrong. They’re not wrong. Bucky’s the best brother you could have.”

“They’re gonna burn in Hell.”

It seems that a lot of people are due to burn in Hell, from what she learns in Sunday school. Half their block, at least, through being Jewish, or the wrong sort of Christian, or a hundred other things.

“So are the Berkowitzes, and Mom invites them for tea.”

“This ain’t like the Berkowitzes.”

“Why not?”

“You’re only eight, you don’t know nothing.”

“So tell me why it ain’t like the Berkowitzes.”

“You’re too dumb to understand.”

“You don’t know do you? You only say that when you don’t know.”

“Shut up.”

Becca folds her arms. “I don’t care who Bucky kisses, he’s still the best brother, and I don’t care what you think.”

“Well I don’t care what dumb ideas you got either.”

They walk the rest of the way home together. It’s still tense around the dinner table, conversation stilted. She’s glad when they’re done, the washing up finished, and she has an excuse to get away from the atmosphere in the house. She’s on her way to Lillian’s apartment when Sally intercepts her and pulls her in another direction.

“Where are we going?”

“Make like the Shadow, and keep a low profile. We’re going to Bucky’s.”

It’s exciting, sneaking through the back alleys, ducking behind trash cans whenever they think they might have heard someone. Eventually they make it up the stairs to Bucky and Steve’s place, and Sally knocks on the door hurriedly.

Steve opens the door, and looks surprised. “You’re not supposed-”

“So let us in before anyone sees.” Sally doesn’t wait for an answer, but pushes past Steve, and Becca follows her.

Bucky’s sitting on the couch, looking tired. He stands up as they come in, “Hey, you gotta go, if Mom and Dad find out-”

“They ain’t gonna find out,” says Sally. “So. Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“You’re a fairy.”

Bucky scrubs a hand through his hair and looks out of the window. “Guess so.”

Becca is chewing on her lip, because this whole horrible situation is all her fault, her fault for being too dumb to know a big sin from a little sin. “I’m sorry-” and suddenly she’s crying, big sobs that she can’t control.

She’s crying too hard to see Bucky come up next to her, but she feels him hug her, and sobs into his shirt. “Hey, what have you got to cry about?”

“‘S all my fault. I told Mom. I didn’t know this would happen. ‘M sorry, Bucky, really sorry-”

“Oh, it ain’t your fault, it ain’t, now c’mon, dry your eyes.”

She pulls the handkerchief out of her pocket and blows her nose loudly.

“Becca,” says Steve, quietly but firmly, “It’s not your fault. You can’t control how other people act.”

“But I got you into trouble.”

Bucky shrugs. “Shoulda stuck a chair under the door handle.”

“You’re still dumb as a rock, Bucky,” says Sally, “But you’re our dumb rock. Don’t matter what Mom or Dad says.”

“Yeah, well, don’t go getting into trouble on our account, ok? Please? It ain’t worth it.”

“It’s worth it if I can still come and listen to the baseball games,” says Sally. Baseball held no interest for Becca, but Sally followed it almost as avidly as Bucky and Steve did.

Bucky grinned. “Sure.”

“You should have a secret knock, like in the movies,” says Becca.

“Not if the point is that I need to be in the door as fast as possible,” says Sally. She pauses. “What about Ruth?”

Bucky grins. “Ruth got all the clever in this family. She knows.”

Sally cocks her head to one side to look at Bucky. “How’d you end up a fairy anyway?”

Bucky looks at Steve, who shrugs, and then shrugs himself. “Just the way it is.”

So.The Berkowitzes were Jewish, Bucky and Steve were fairies, and that was how the world was. Now why did everyone else have to go make such a big fuss about it?

---

Becca Barnes is ten years old and her new dress is itching her neck. She can’t scratch it. First, you don’t scratch at funerals, even if Sally wouldn’t have cared one bit if people were scratching at her funeral. Second, her mother is holding her right hand, and Ruth is holding her left, both holding so tightly that it’s almost painful. She’s trying stifle her tears because she doesn’t have a hand free to wipe her nose.

It doesn’t seem real. Even though she’s been in the house with Sally- Sally’s body- for the past couple of days, she can’t accept Sally’s really gone. She’s woken every morning, gone to the coffin and expected her sister to open her eyes, say it was all some dumb joke.

Her parents still weren’t talking to Bucky when Sally got sick, but he’d turned up on the doorstep and asked to see her, and her mom had let him in. Still hadn’t spoken to him, but had let him go and talk to Sally. He’d brought baseball magazines and baseball cards. Sally had been too weak to hold up the magazine, but she’d smiled as he talked about the games.

Becca had made sure the magazine and the cards were tucked into her coffin.

Bucky’s at the funeral, a couple of pews back. The neighborhood knows there’s a family rift, though not the real reason for it. She turns around to look for him; Steve’s at Bucky’s elbow, almost like he’s propping him up. Bucky stares straight ahead, not crying, eyes fixed on the coffin, like there’s nothing else in the room.

At the graveside the rest of the mourners drift away, until there’s just family left. Bucky’s keeping to the opposite side of the grave as them, as far away as he can be. Steve’s waiting under one of the trees a few rows of graves away.

No one says anything. There’s the soft sound of rain, and the quiet sound of tears. Becca’s been crying since she woke up this morning, and her tears are starting to dry up.

Her father walks around the grave, and extends his hand to Bucky. Bucky shakes it.

There’s a long moment, then her father pulls Bucky into a hug, and both of them dissolve into sobs.

She’s never seen either her father or Bucky cry before. She thinks if either of them let go the other will fall over. It takes a while for them to step back from each other. They don’t say anything, but shake hands again, and leave separately.

The house is quiet, and things… things carry on. She feels like there should be something dramatic, some great sign that her sister is gone and nothing’s ever going to be right again, but things just stay the same. Her mom and Ruth look more tired, her dad looks older, and the house is quieter without Sally, but otherwise life snaps back to how it was. Ruth goes back to nursing school, her dad goes back on the road, she goes to school.

Four days after the funeral, it’s Sunday, and she starts to lay the table for dinner, just two places for her and her mom.

“We’ll need a third place.”

“Dad’s not coming home-”

“Not for him.”

She sets the place, wondering with a sick feeling in her stomach if her mom is setting a place for Sally. But she can’t bring herself to form the words, to ask.

It’s a huge relief when there’s a knock on the door. There is someone, a real live someone, coming for dinner. She’s about to go and answer it, but her mom walks past her and opens the door herself.

Bucky’s standing on the doorstep, looking uncertain. Her mom hugs him, and he hugs her back, and he’s invited into the house like he’s never been away. The three of them eat together, talk about work and school and pretend they’re not avoiding talking about Sally. Bucky helps with the washing up, and kisses Mom on the cheek before he leaves.

No one says anything to her, but Bucky is welcome at home again.

It should make her feel a little better, but it just makes her angry. Adults are idiots. Nothing’s changed, Bucky’s still living with Steve, they’re still the same around each other; Sally being dead hasn’t changed that at all. It makes her angry that there was more than a year when she could only see her brother if she sneaked around, when she had to pretend that she wasn’t seeing him. If it was all ok, or at least all being ignored now that Sally was dead, why couldn’t it have been like that before?

She vows that she will never be like that when she’s an adult.

---

Becca Barnes is twelve years old and a local celebrity. Her big brother is on all the newsreels, in the papers, even in comics. It took a while to get used to the idea that Captain America was Steve, though it must have been even more of a surprise for Bucky. The first letter he wrote to her after he was rescued is long and disjointed, with far more taken out by the censor than in any of his other letters. There’s nothing in there that could incriminate him, but it does circle back to Steve every fourth sentence; he kept writing that it really was Steve who was Captain America, like Bucky was writing it again and again to convince himself it was true. Apparently his first letter to Ruth was even worse, pages and pages of a stream of consciousness, though she won’t show it to Becca.

She struts, enjoys the way that people who didn’t give her a second glance before now look at her with respect. Her big brother is Captain America’s right-hand man. Her big brother has a Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a Croix de Guerre (she enjoys saying that last one). She can name every single engagement he’s been in that the papers have written about (obviously Bucky can’t tell her anything more, because enemy spies could be anywhere). Of course, the papers don’t always outright mention Bucky, but she knows from his letters that where Steve goes he goes.

She vaguely wonders if things have changed between Bucky and Steve. It’s not the sort of thing Bucky can include in his letters, but she thinks there are enough hints to say that it’s still the same. And it’s certainly not the sort of thing that would ever make it into the news; if people knew Captain America was a queer, that might be a national scandal. It’s a big sin, and now it’s a big secret; but the only people who know are family, they’re not going to let anyone else know.

The newsreels are twice a week, and each of the movie companies has a different reel, but Lillian’s big sister works at one of the theaters and tells her which newsreels her brother is in. She always goes with her mom when Bucky’s on the big screen; her dad very rarely joins them.

Her dad devours all the news stories about her brother from the papers, but he doesn’t like watching the newsreels. “Awful strange, seeing our boy up there in black and white.”

“Makes him look like a movie star. Like he’s the star of his own war movie,” says Becca.

Her dad shakes his head. “It’s nothing like the movies. It’s…” She watches him, waiting. She knows he was in the last war, but he’s never, ever talked about it. She asked, once or twice, when she was younger and only got evasive answers. He swallows. “It’s different. Nothing you could capture on camera.”

She wants to know more, but her dad changes the subject.

Ruth had joined the Army Nurse Corps at almost exactly the same time that Bucky had joined the Army, had been sent out to the Far East, and now, for the first time in two years, was home on leave. When they hear that Bucky’s onscreen in another newsreel, she joins Becca and her mom at the cinema.

They’re coming out of the cinema, and Becca is talking a mile a minute about her brother, about what he’s done, when her sister pulls her aside. “Just- just cool it, ok?”

“What? Why?”

“You don’t- heck, I’m as proud of Bucky as you are, but there’s people whose brothers aren’t coming home. They don’t need to hear you broadcasting to the whole city about Bucky.”

It brings her up short. She hadn’t even thought about people overhearing her. “Sorry.”

“But I bet you get more of them home than would otherwise make it, Ruthie.” Her mom is nearly as proud of Ruth as she is of Bucky.

“We fix them up swell, Mom.”

Later that evening, Becca finds Ruth sitting smoking on the back steps. She beckons Becca to come and sit with her, and quietly says, “I don’t want Mom to hear, but even the ones that don’t die...half of those boys we’re not fixing. We can’t put an arm or a leg back on. And even the ones that’ll heal…” She stares straight ahead. “They scream in the night. Screams like you’ve never heard. And the things they say.” She taps her forehead. “They’re still there. In their heads.” She looks at Becca. “Big strong guys, guys with medals, guys like Bucky. Scared out of their minds because they’re still in a battle in their heads.”

There’s a long silence. “You think Bucky’s gonna come home like that.”

Ruth shrugs. “I don’t know. But I know that he isn’t gonna be the guy you’ve seen on the newsreels.” She takes a drag on her cigarette. “Have you read his letters to Mom and Dad?”

Becca nods.

“Making it sound like a nice little camping trip across Europe. Lies to make them feel better. The letters to us are lies too, Becca. Maybe he complains more to us, but it’s still lies.” She stubs out her cigarette, and hugs her knees to her chest. “He’d never want us to know the truth. I’ve met guys who’ve been part of commando operations… Becca, there’s so much death. He’ll- he’ll be up to his elbows in blood and pain and…”

Ruth can’t finish the sentence, just looks at her feet. Becca hugs her.

Ruth says, “You know, I kinda hate Steve.”

“Why?” Becca can’t imagine hating Steve.

“'Cause one of the officers told me that soldiers who’ve been POWs and been injured can apply to have a job back home. Bucky never did. He went right back out there, following Steve damn Rogers like he always does. If Steve hadn’t been there-” She huffs a mirthless laugh. “If Steve hadn’t been there he’d already be dead.”

There’s another long silence, then Ruth says. “I shouldn't be laying all this on you. You’re only a kid. Should let you think that your brother’s having the time of his life like some movie star.”

Becca shakes her head vehemently. “I hate it when people lie to me.”

“Everyone’s lying to us, Becca.”

They sit in silence for a while, before Becca says, “You could apply for a post in New York.”

“What?”

“You said that Bucky could have come home. You could come home too.”

“I- no way. I gotta be out there, on the front line where I’m needed… that was deliberate, wasn’t it? You making the point that me and Bucky are just as big as idiots as each other.”

Becca grins. “You can’t blame Steve for you being stupid as well.”

“Give me time. I can try.” She smiles at Becca. “You know, there was a time when I was pretty sure I could have beat Steve in a fight. Guess I should have taken the opportunity when it was there.”

“There’s still only one of him. We work together, we can take him down.”

Ruth laughs, and Becca realizes it’s the first time she’s heard her really laugh since she came home.

---

Becca Barnes has just turned fourteen, and the latest letter from her brother is in the inside pocket of her jacket. It arrived in the mail this morning, but she wants to save it so she can read it without being rushed. Her first class is math, and she considers sneaking it out of her pocket and reading it during the lesson, but that risks it being confiscated. She daydreams instead, her brother’s descriptions of Paris and London serving as the beginning of an imagined trip around Europe as soon as the war is over.

Partway through the class the door bursts open, and Lillian’s older sister runs in, out of breath, clutching a newspaper, heading straight for Becca. The teacher starts to object, but she ignores him, drops the newspaper on the desk in front of her. The headline is stark, “Captain America Missing”, but Lillian’s sister is pointing to another part of the article.

It takes her a second to focus, to read the words-

-the engagement in which Sergeant James Barnes lost his life-

“He can’t be dead. They got it wrong.”

“I checked all the papers, Becca. They all say the same thing. It was two days ago. Something up in the mountains.” She bites her lip. “I couldn’t think of you finding out in the street.”

Her brother’s invincible. Her brother’s going to come home in his uniform with all his medals and she’s going to walk down the street with him and feel like Greta Garbo.

Her brother’s been dead for two days.

The next thought hits her like a punch. “Mom. I gotta find Mom.” She’s up and running before she knows what she’s doing, dimly aware of Lillian and her sister running with her. Her dad’s home, thank God thank God we don’t have to try and find him, but Ruth’s away with the Army, probably on a transport ship in the middle of the ocean right now.

She’s never run so fast in all her life, and almost knocks the door off its hinges as she gets home. Her mom looks up from her sewing, and before she even has a chance to draw breath, says, “He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Becca’s run so fast that she doesn’t have any breath left to say anything, just hands over the newspaper. Lillian and her sister arrive at that point.

Her dad gets up and sits next to her mom, and they both read the paper, Becca pointing out the part about Bucky. There’s an eerie calm, as if it was news they were all expecting.

Her mom looks up, and before she can say anything, Lillian’s sister says, “I checked all the other papers, Mrs Barnes. It’s not just this one. I- I- can go get the others if you want.”

Her mom says, voice completely flat, “Please, dear. My purse is on the hall table.”

Lillian and her sister go out.

Becca doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do. Any other time there’s been a death, there have been things to do, things to organize.

She sits next to her mom and holds her hand.

Her mom says, so quietly it is almost a whisper, “I knew. I knew he wasn’t coming home. That’s why I needed to see him in the newsreels. Everyone has their time to die, and his was in that Nazi camp. Steve just bought him a little extra time, that’s all.”

Normally when her mom says something superstitious, her dad gently contradicts her, but now he just nods.

The other papers all say roughly the same thing; one says “missing in action”, which gives her a burst of hope in her chest. But the next one has details about what happened, an explosion, a fall into a deep, rock-filled ravine behind enemy lines… her brother is dead.

It’s just like it was with Sally. Everything has collapsed, and the world should stop turning, but it doesn’t. She’s back at school the next day, trying to ignore that every conversation is about the search for Captain America, to ignore the curious stares that follow her around the building.

It takes a few days for the official letter to come. It’s neatly typed, and says Bucky is missing in action. Under the typed portion of the letter there is a note in Steve’s neat handwriting:

Bucky was the best man I’ve ever known. He loved all of you, and had all of you in his thoughts and prayers every day. But you must know that already. You should know that if there was any way, any way at all I could have switched places with him, any way at all I could have saved him, I would have done it.

There are a couple of splotches on the text, and Becca is suddenly angry, that the letter telling her that her brother is gone could have been allowed to get dirty. But she realizes that the envelope is clean, pristine.

They’re teardrops. Steve had been crying as he wrote the note.

It’s that that lets her cry. Which makes her realize that it’s all real. That missing in action doesn’t mean he might be found. Steve saw what happened, Steve was there, and those are Steve’s tears. Her big brother is never coming home.

Bucky’s letter is on the nightstand, still unopened.

She knows there aren’t any more coming. If she opens it, then that’s it. Nothing more from her brother.

It takes a few more days for the telegram to come from her sister, letting them know that she had arrived safe in Europe, and had been told the news about Bucky.

She considers opening the letter then, because all the family knows now, which is an ending of a sort, but she can’t do it. Instead she puts the letter into a drawer.

Her mother is distant, vague, like she was after Sally died but much worse. It’s like she has… drifted. Being here is too painful, so she’s not quite here anymore. She goes through the motions of the day, and food is prepared and clothes are cleaned, but she’s not really there. The only moment that she seems truly present is when she moves Bucky’s picture (so smart in his Army uniform) from the mantle to the shelf covered in black velvet where the picture of Sally already sits. Her mom makes the two pictures matching little black velvet surrounds as well. But then she’s away again, eyes not quite truly seeing. Her father looks old and slumped in on himself, but at least he looks more alive than her mom.



It’s months later, and the war is over. The search for Captain America has been given up. Ruth is still in Europe, and her letters talk about smashed cities and people determined to rebuild. There is a knock on the door, and Becca goes to answer it.

Her jaw drops, because she knows the five men standing there; men she’s seen so often on the newsreels, up there in black and white with her brother and Steve.

DumDum (should she call him Dugan? He was DumDum in all of her brother’s letters) opens his mouth and then shuts it again. “I- He said you looked like him, but I guess I didn’t reckon on how much.”

She finds her voice and says, “You’d better come in.”

She leads them into the living room, and says, “Mom, Dad, it’s… friends of Bucky’s.”

Her mom’s face loses its vagueness, and she looks utterly stricken. Her dad says, “Why don’t you go and make these gentlemen some coffee, Becca.”

She does, getting out the best china to do so. The five men look so odd in their living room, some in uniform and some in civvies.

Once she’s set the coffee on the table, DumDum clears his throat and says, “We reckoned we owed it to the Sergeant to come in person. He- I know Cap promised to look out for all of you if anything happened to Bucky, but- he’s not around to make good on that. So we will.” He gets an unsealed envelope out of his pocket, puts it on the table. “This here is how to find each of us. You need anything, anything, and we’ll do it for you.”

“There are some personal effects as well,” says Monty. He’s been sitting with a box on his lap, which he pushes forwards. Becca takes it from him, sits on the floor between her mom and dad, and opens it.

There isn’t much in it. Medals, bright and neat in their boxes. Bundles of letters, she recognises her own handwriting on the topmost one. There are two knives with swastikas on them, each a different design, and three with the octopus badge of Hydra.

“We checked everywhere to make sure that there wasn’t any letter he’d written in case he died.” Gabe swallowed. “I think he thought it was bad luck to write one.”

At the bottom of the box are two small sketchbooks, which she pulls out.

“Those are Cap’s,” says Jim. “But- we thought you might want them.”

She opens the first one, and flicks through it. It’s a visual journal, with notes in tiny writing next to the pictures. Her brother is in almost all the pictures that have people in them. There are a few of him on his own as well. She stops on a page which has him leaning on a bar, grinning widely, relaxed, looking happy, and that’s what breaks her.

She doesn’t cry loudly, but the tears flow down her cheeks. She shouldn’t cry in front of strangers, but she can’t help it.

He’s never coming home.

The five guys sitting in their living room, they’re here, they’re fine, they’re not even wounded, why couldn’t it have been one of them, not her brother? Hasn’t their family gone through enough?

She wants to scream. She wants to punch them. She wants them to leave, now, not be there and alive and looking concerned and awkward, breathing and living when her brother is dead.

They don’t stay long. They offer their condolences, assure them again that if there’s anything they can do… and finally they’re gone.

Once they’re gone, Becca runs out of the house and keeps running. She feels like she’s filled with an angry energy, an itch under her skin that makes her want to hit someone, and running is the only way she can deal with it. She runs and runs, ignoring the strange looks from people she passes. By the time she gets to the park she’s run some of the energy off. On impulse she starts to climb one of the biggest trees, even though she hasn’t climbed a tree in years.

She sits high in the branches, and cries until there’s nothing left to cry.

Chapter Text

Becca Barnes is eighty, though doing very well with it, thank you very much. She can get to the stores and back without using a cane, and has no intention of moving out of her second-story walk-up any time soon. She loves living in the city, loves being at the heart of things, even if she has maybe slowed down a little. Just a little. She’s still sharp as well; she’s better at using the internet than her children are, much to the amusement of the grandchildren (there’s a first great-grandchild on the way as well, which she’s looking forward to more than anything). It’s been ten years since she changed her name back to her maiden name; she’s been married twice, but she’s going to die with the name she was born with.

When she sees on the news that there’s an alien invasion happening over Manhattan, she gets out her ex-husband’s old service revolver and loads it up. After the children and grandchildren have all checked in, and are in safe places, she watches the TV footage, checks Twitter and the internet news with the loaded gun next to her. She’s the angriest she’s been in years; how dare some aliens invade her city? How dare they hurt innocent people who were just going about their day?

She hasn’t even hit anyone since she was in high school, but if an alien shows its face anywhere near her apartment, she is going to make it regret ever being born. Or hatched. Or however new aliens come into being.

Things stay contained in Manhattan though. There’s a man dressed as Captain America who seems to be giving orders, and she wonders who decided to revive that old idea.

Then it seems the crisis is over; the hole in the sky closes, the aliens drop. The news stops talking about ‘invasion’ and starts talking about ‘rescue’, with hundreds of people trapped under collapsed buildings. She does the only thing that she can think of that she can usefully do, which is to dig out the letter from her doctor saying that she’s in good health and can donate blood, and get out to the donor center. As she’s packing a bag with snacks and bottles of water, in case she passes people who need them, she sees footage from a news crew in the middle of the city. Captain America is helping pull people out of a building, except now his cowl is off. He looks up as he helps a woman up.

It’s Steve Rogers.

It can’t be anyone else. It may have been nearly seventy years since she saw him in the flesh, and she’s never met him in the flesh this size, but she knows that face. Not just what he looks like, but his expressions, the way his face moves.

A dead man is helping with the rescue operations.

She hits record so she can come back and think more about it later, and goes out to donate blood. Whether or not it is Steve, it doesn’t change what she should be doing now.

She’s one of the first to donate blood, and there’s a long line when she comes out. She gives her drinks and snacks to the people at the back of the line and heads home.

There’s more news footage of Steve - and she’s sure it’s Steve, even though there are some doubts being voiced. There are also increasing numbers of tweets aimed at her. She doesn’t play up whose sister she is, though she doesn’t hide it. She’s a minor Twitter celebrity after Buzzfeed named “Bucky Barnes’ little sister” as one of the “21 Funniest Old People Tweeting Today” (being on the same list as Bette Midler made her day). Polite messages about her brother have always gotten polite responses in the past; she lets the rude ones wash over her. There were plenty of people ready to talk shit about him when he was alive, so it doesn’t surprise her that there are people willing to do it when he’s long dead.

It’s no time for humor now, so she just tweets, “Yes, that did look a lot like Steve Rogers to me, but he should be 70 years older than that. Waiting on official word.”

It takes forty-eight hours for there to be official confirmation. In that time she refuses numerous requests for comments from news agencies; it seems that she’s virtually the only person left alive who both knew Steve and is in enough possession of her faculties to give an interview. That leaves her both a little proud and a little guilty.

The children and grandchildren tell her that if Captain America visits, she should get an autograph for them. It’s beyond strange to her that they only know little Stevie Rogers as great big Captain America; to her they’re two different people. She’s never met Captain America.

A couple of days after that he gives a press conference. He is controlled, bland, uncontroversial in his answers; in short, an act, and not a very good one at that.

She wonders if she should get in touch with him; but she hasn’t spoken to him since she was twelve, does he even want to talk to a woman who now, for all intents and purposes is old enough to be his grandmother?

It’s a week later when there’s an unexpected knock on her door, and she’s preparing herself to give a polite brush-off to either reporters or Jehovah's Witnesses when she opens it.

It’s Steve. Twice as large as life, looking slightly uncomfortable. “Becca…?”

She stares at him for a moment, then yells “Steve!” and gives in to childish impulse and hugs him, hard. Steve gives a startled laugh and hugs her back.

“Come in, sit down, oh, you’re still an idiot, if I’d known you were coming I would have baked, now remind me which cake was your favorite-”

“I came to say hi, not to be fed-”

“Oh, like there’s a difference. Coffee at least?”

“Since I don’t think I’m going to get away with refusing everything, yes.”

“I have juice in the fridge, and cocoa-”

Steve smiles, “Coffee will be just fine.”

He follows her into the kitchen, and she puts the kettle on. “Now, for Steve Rogers I’d use the first mug I came to, but for Captain America I need to find the good china.”

“Mug. Please.”

She finds cookies as well, and they go back to the living room.

“It’s good to see you.” And it is. She remembers the resentment she felt, when the troops started coming home, the little flare of hatred at every uniform she saw on the street, every guy who had come home safe when her brother hadn’t. But none of that is there now. She’s just genuinely happy that Steve is alive.

“Good to see you too.”

There’s little bit of blandness, a little bit of… distance. Like her mom. She takes his hand. “From your perspective, how long has it been, since…?” She nods to the shelf to the left of the TV, where there sit portraits of Mom, Dad, Sally, Ruth and Bucky (the living relatives are on the right side of the TV).

“Three weeks.” It’s so quiet she barely hears it.

It’s a jolt to her that so little time has passed for him. She squeezes his hand. “After three weeks, I still hadn’t opened his last letter to me. I couldn’t. Because there were no more coming. If I opened it, I ended it. It took me a year to open that letter, Steve.”

That’s all it takes. Permission to still be grieving. He folds in on himself, quietly, big shoulders heaving with silenced sobs. She puts an arm around him, and wishes for a moment he was back to the size she remembers, because she can’t give a reassuring hug to a man this big.

She doesn’t offer any soothing words, because there are none, just lets him cry. Eventually he shudders in a breath, and says, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to come and cry on your couch.”

“I’d much rather you were crying on my couch than standing up on TV and pretending everything’s just dandy.”

He smiles weakly at her. “Thank you.”

She wishes she’d been paying better attention when Ruth had talked about Combat Stress, and the ways that soldiers grieve differently. She’ll have to look it up when Steve’s gone.

Becca wants to talk, to tell Steve just about everything that’s happened, but she has a strong feeling that people have been talking at him a lot, and not doing much listening. She needs to listen. She has grandchildren she can talk at, but Steve probably doesn’t have anyone who’ll listen. So she stays quiet.

Steve seems to be choosing his words carefully when he says, “You never told anyone. About… Bucky and me.”

“By the time that all that was being made legal, you and Bucky had been poster boys for every campaign going. Things I thought he’d have approved of, and things I thought he would have hated. So I thought I didn’t have the right to… use him.” She pauses. “I’m not sure that was the right thing to do. I’ve watched some of those ‘It Gets Better’ videos and they’re so lovely, I wondered if maybe I should stand up and say something for those kids.” She pats his hand. “But that’s not my choice now. Whatever you decide, I- there’s not a right answer for what you should do, Steve.”

Steve rests his head in his hands briefly, then looks up, out of the window. “If I... come out,” he says the words like he’s testing them, “then people will want me to talk about Bucky. I- I’m not ready for that.”

She grins at him. “That’s probably for the best. Let America get over the shock of you being alive before you go and shock the nation even more. Though there are a couple of academics who would punch the air because their pet theory has been vindicated. I wouldn’t read too much into that though. I’m sure they just strike out randomly and assume they’ve got to be right some of the time.”

He smiles, and she realizes that she’s babbling again, so she stops talking. He seems to relax a little more, though she can see his gaze keeps going back to Bucky’s photo.

Then he says, “Are those- Ruth made Colonel?

Becca beams. “I hoped you’d notice. Colonel Ruth Barnes, Army Nurse Corps, the only woman awarded the Medal of Honor in the twentieth century.” She nudges Steve in the ribs. “I just wish she was around to get a salute off you, Captain.”

Steve grins, “Oh, she would deserve that salute. She was always better officer material than I was. How did she get the Medal?”

“Vietnam.”

Steve pauses. “The Vietnam war was mainly in the 1960s, so she would have been-”

“Forty-nine, yes. She was overseeing the reorganization of field hospitals because the fighting was so fast-moving. Went out to a forward hospital, and suddenly it was being overrun. She refused to take a seat in a helicopter out of there that could be used by a younger man, said she was still a damn nurse, rolled her sleeves up, crawled out to the foxholes, patched up the guys as they were firing. Rode out in the last helicopter out of there, on the end of one of the skids, holding on with one arm, holding two unconscious guys by the belts onto the skid with the other, under enemy fire.”

Becca normally adds what she considers to be the punchline to the story, that two days later, when the dust had settled, just about everyone who had been on that helicopter and was still able to walk, had come to find Ruth, apologized profusely, said that if they’d known whose sister she was, they’d have made sure she was on the inside of the helicopter. Ruth had said, “I was exactly where I needed to be, because I was the last person in the world who would have dropped those boys.”

Steve doesn’t need to hear that.

He also doesn’t need to hear that Ruth was always a little doubtful and a little irritated about the medal; not that she objected to medals, but because she thought she’d only got the highest honor because of whose sister she was. That was certainly how it was framed; not that Lt Colonel Ruth Barnes had saved lives and pulled a bunch of kids out of a shitty situation, but that Bucky Barnes’ little sister was showing the troops how it was done. Some reflected glory at a bad time in the war.

Becca, on the other hand, thinks it was a Medal hard-won and fully deserved, whoever Ruth was related to.

“You must be proud of her.”

“I’m proud of all of my family. Proud of you as well, you know. You were always almost family. I thought of putting your picture up there with Bucky’s, but I thought people might think I was showboating.”

“Which is why I’m surprised it’s not already there.”

She cuffs Steve across the shoulder, and he smiles.

They’re quiet again for a while. Then Steve nods to the photos on the right side of the TV. “I- I promised Bucky that if anything ever happened to him, I’d look after you. I- I guess I’m a little late.”

“The Commandos. They came, all of them, to our little house. Sat in our living room, and told us that. And said that if you promised it, they’d make good on it.” Steve has closed his eyes, and she realizes he’s crying gently again. She puts a hand on his shoulder. “Ruth and me, we never needed any looking after. But if we had, they’d have done it, I know they would have, in a heartbeat. For you, and for Bucky.”

She lets him cry again, and wonders how long he’s been holding the tears in for.

Once his breathing has evened off again she says, “I’m afraid I have to apologize to you, Steve. The things you gave us for safekeeping - well, the everyday things, like the clothes, we gave to the church to give to people who needed them; and most of the things like your sketchbooks we ended up giving to museums. I’ve only got one sketchbook of yours, and one of Bucky’s. You- you can have them if you want them.”

“I- I don’t know.”

Of course, there are the five Nazi and Hydra daggers as well. She still has them; she doesn’t want to get rid of them, unsavory as they are. They’re a reminder that her brother was never the saint that the media sometimes paint him to be; she knows from Ruth that souvenirs like that were only normally taken from the bodies of men that soldiers had killed, usually at close range. She momentarily considers telling Steve about them, but decides against it. He would know better than anybody the things they did in the name of liberty; he doesn’t need the reminder.

“Well, you don’t need to decide now. My door’s always open to you. And if you remind me which cake was your favorite and give me a little warning...”

Steve smiles, “Mystery Cake.”

“With the tomato soup? I haven’t made that in years! Right, Steve Rogers, when are you free later this week, because I need to bake some Mystery Cake for an appreciative stomach.”

“Do I get a say in this?”

She sniffs. “No.”

He shakes his head, “You haven’t changed a bit.”

They both know that’s a lie, but it’s a nice lie. And Steve’s hurting, so raw that she can almost feel it herself, but he will get better. It’ll take a while, but he will. He’s tough and adaptable, and he’ll fit right in with this new century with just a little time.

---

Becca Barnes is 83, and watching the news on TV. It’s confused for a while; Steve has turned terrorist, no, a government agency has turned terrorist, no a government agency has been infiltrated by terrorists, a helicarrier is down, three helicarriers are down, there’s no news of Captain America, Captain America was on one of the helicarriers, confirmed that Captain America is missing-

She turns off the news after that, and goes for a walk. Steve has survived an air crash before, but she can’t stand the waiting. She wants to know, one way or the other, and doesn’t much care for other people’s speculations. She’ll give it an hour or two, let people get some actual facts.

While she’s walking her grandson texts to see if she’s ok, and adds, “What would you have done if Cap was a terrorist?”

She texts back. “I’m fine, and what a silly question. I’d be storming the Capitol with an assault rifle, of course.”

That gets a text back, “Nan! The government reads all your texts!”

She smiles and texts, “That’s why I’m not telling you the real plan.”

It’s a few hours before she finds out that Steve is alive, though seriously injured. She doesn’t doubt that he’ll pull through. She wants to go to DC, visit him in the hospital, but the city’s in chaos, and she doesn’t want to get in the way of any rescue efforts.

She turns the news off again after that; it’s still full of confusion, and she’ll catch up again when the dust has had a little time to settle.

Some time later her phone rings, and as she’s picking it up, her cell phone rings as well. It’s her daughter, sounding breathless, “Mom, are you online? Have you seen?”

“Seen what?”

“Uncle Bucky. They’re saying he’s alive.”

“There’s always going to be another whack job-”

“No, Mom, this is for real. It’s in the files SHIELD dropped on the internet. There’s so much information it’s hard to get a good handle, and my computer keeps crashing, but I think it’s real.”

Her other children and grandchildren all ring in the next few minutes to tell her the same thing.

She goes back online. The amount of SHIELD (and Hydra) data that has been leaked is immense; people are talking about it taking years just to read all of it. All they have about her brother so far is a brief report, at the top of the pile because it was made yesterday, that “The Asset” may have been regaining his memories of being James Buchanan Barnes. And that The Asset had not succeeded in killing Captain Rogers.

She feels sick.

But she’s not going to be served by inaction, and she’s not one to begrudge asking for help. She has over 80,000 followers on Twitter, and aside from linking to her favorite charities and encouraging them to donate blood and bone marrow, she’s never asked anything from them. Now she’s asking.

She tweets, “It seems my brother didn’t die in 1945. I need your help searching the SHIELD data. No speculation, just links to facts please. #FindBucky”

She closes her browser after posting that tweet, which leaves the desktop background staring back at her. It’s a photo taken a few months ago when she’d agreed to go around the Captain America exhibit with the family. She’d never felt so strange in a museum before; there are only a smattering of things from before the war, but that’s her life up there in glass cases. The photo is of her great-grandaughter, Alice, in her granddaughter-in-law’s arms, one pudgy hand reaching out to point at the big display picture of Bucky. On its own it seems meaningful, but Becca remembers Alice toddling around the rest of the museum pointing enthusiastically at everything and everyone.

She stands and looks out of the window. If it’s true- and it must be true, it’s too strange to lie about- her brother has been alive all this time. Alive when they buried Mom, and then Dad. Alive when she’d held her newborn son in her arms and decided not to name him James because it felt ill-omened. Alive when Ruth was hanging on to that helicopter in Vietnam. Alive when she’d held Ruth in her hospital bed, and they’d talked about the family name dying with her.

After thinking for a while, she goes and makes up the guest room. Yes, it’s stupid. What little there is suggests that her brother has no idea who he is. It’s not like he’s going to turn up at her door, all cocky smiles like it’s 1945 and he demobilized and came home with the rest of them.

But she wants him to. She wants him to come home with all her heart. Not that this has ever been home for him; it’s blocks from where they grew up, and their little house was demolished to make way for a bigger block decades ago. But perhaps deep down, she believes in sympathetic magic; if she makes things ready for him to come home, he will.

She spends a few hours cleaning the whole apartment too, sorting everything out. Only then does she go back online.

Her followers have not disappointed. #FindBucky is trending, and is being picked up by mainstream news channels as well. That makes sense; today has been frightening, confusing, the world turning on its head; she’s given people a simple story to latch on to.

Unfortunately, because it’s trending, it’s difficult to pick out the useful things from the chatter. Age, however, has its privileges, and she messages all her grandchildren to tell them that it’s their family duty to sort through the responses to her Twitter for solid information.

Lady Baltimore Cake was Bucky’s favorite. Richer, sweeter, more expensive than Mystery Cake. She gets her purse and goes to the store for the ingredients.

When she come back she feels extremely foolish. Like she had been thinking she could entice him back like a stray cat. So she puts the ingredients away, doesn’t bake the cake.

Late in the evening, she gets a call from Steve, and doesn’t try and hide her relief that he’s alive.

“Becca- I- Bucky-”

“Is alive and doesn’t know who he is. I do check the internet, Steve.”

She hears his relieved sigh. He’d probably been trying to work out the best way of telling her that.

“You might be in danger- Becca, he- he- saved me. But he did try and kill me first-” She hears in the background another man saying “Multiple times, Steve.” Steve continues, “I- they’re keeping me in the hospital. I’ve some good friends looking after me, people I can trust. The sort of people who know what makes a mystery.”

There’s meaning in that last phrase; she guesses that he thinks the line is bugged, so she doesn’t ask for clarification, just carries on with the conversation. “You look after yourself, Stevie. You never were very good at that.”

“Sam’s making me take it easy. Uh, Sam’s a friend.”

“Can I talk to him?”

“Sure.” She hears the conversation between them and the phone being handed over.

“Sam Wilson, pleased to be introduced.”

“Becca Barnes, and Steve is a very good judge of character, so if you’re a friend of his you’re welcome in my house any time, Sam.”

He laughs, “Are you going to feed me too?”

“Of course! That’s what young people are there for, dear. To be alternately fed and disapproved of. Now, if you’re Steve’s friend, you’ll know that he is a complete idiot.”

“I was getting that, yeah.”

“And has the instinct for self-preservation of a lemming.”

Definitely got that.”

“Along with a terrible habit of neglecting his own health if he thinks there are more important things going on.”

“You know, I think the exhibit in the Smithsonian would have been better if you had written it. But yeah, I got it. All of that. He is not, absolutely not leaving this hospital bed until he is ok’ed by the doctors. However much he whines-” She hears in the background, “I do not whine!”

She laughs, “I think he’s in good hands. Call me any time, Sam. Tell Steve the same.”

Nothing much more has emerged about her brother, despite the internet’s best efforts; aside from that single mention of his name, it’s clear that he was usually just referred to as “The Asset.” That makes text searching nearly impossible, as numerous other things were referred to the same way over the years, and it’s only by reading the context that you can work out which ‘Asset’ is being discussed. But people are plowing through the documents - not just people looking for Bucky, but people looking for information about Hydra, about SHIELD, about UFOs, about a hundred thousand other things.

She doesn’t doubt that all the information about her brother will come out eventually, but it’s going to take a while.

It’s the early hours of the morning when there’s a knock on the door. She gets up, deliberately crushing the foolish spark of hope that says it might be Bucky. It’s woman she recognizes, Natasha Romanov, an Avenger, who says, “Steve says the code word is tomato soup.”

Of course. What makes a Mystery Cake a mystery is the tomato soup. She smiles and lets her in. Becca initially thinks Natasha looks untouched by the battle; but when she looks closer, she realizes that this is an act, an artful disguise, movements careful because of injuries.

Natasha cuts straight to the chase, “Your brother is a wanted man. And you set half the internet looking for him. You’re making it easier for him to be arrested.”

“Aren’t you a wanted man too, dear? And you managed to get here safe and sound.”

“There might be people coming here. People who think he might come to you.”

“I’ll deal with that as it comes.”

“You’re very calm.”

“At my age, my friends are all starting to die off. I hope to have a good few years yet, but if I have to go now, going out in a firefight with Hydra is at least more interesting than a heart attack.”

Natasha quirks a smile. “How’s your shooting?”

“Never fired a gun in my life, though the last ex-husband left his revolver behind. I’ll just have to hope to be overrun by enough Hydra that there are so many of them that I’ll definitely kill one.”

She offers Natasha the spare room, but Natasha asks to sleep on the couch, because it gives a better coverage of the apartment.

She wakes up early the next morning, like she always does. Natasha looks like she was only dozing on the couch when Becca comes through.

Becca makes coffee for both of them, then says, “I’ve been thinking. You shouldn’t be here. If he does come here to kill me, you’re not going to be able to stop him, are you?” She nods to Natasha’s shoulder. “Especially not injured. It would just end up with both of us dead.”

“I’m here because Steve asked me to be.”

Becca looks at her for a moment. “Because you’re sure that he won’t come here. If you thought he might, you’d have argued with Steve.”

“Sharp.”

“Well, you’re welcome to stay, but I’ll tell Steve I threw you out if you have other places to be.”

“There are- things I could be looking in to.”

She doesn’t actually have a method of contacting Steve at the moment; his cell is dead, and she doesn’t think that calling the hospital is likely to get her put through to him. She’ll explain when she sees him.

The Feds turn up later that morning. She’s politely obstructive to their questions, doesn’t even let them through the door, though she suspects that if they were Hydra they might be doing more than asking nicely. They leave after telling her to get in touch if her brother turns up.

She has absolutely no intention of telling anyone in authority if she sees her brother.

After that, nothing happens for three days. She reads some of the SHIELD documents herself, picked randomly. They’re expense accounts. Apparently an Agent Geoff Phillips really, really likes eating at Nandos. She can’t work out if Agent Phillips is Hydra or not. And there are reams and reams of more like this, the SHIELD intertwined with the Hydra; she’s been a legal secretary and knows just how much paperwork a bureaucracy can create. Any of it could be useful - if this Agent Phillips does turn out to be an important Hydra agent, his expense account is a track of his movements. It could be something as mundane as that which shows something important.

She’s realizing that working out what happened to her brother might not be the work of months but the work of years. It doesn’t make her any less determined to find out.

She tweets to this effect, and encourages her followers to share anything else of import that they might find while looking.

Steve and Sam turn up on the third day.

“Can we go for a walk? Kinda been cooped up in a hospital bed,” Steve gives a pointed look at Sam, “for at least a day longer than I needed to be.”

Sam folds his arms and raises an eyebrow. Becca does the same.

“It’s been thirty seconds and already I’m not sure I should have introduced you to each other.”

They walk. Becca wrangles herself into a position where she can take both Steve and Sam’s arm, because it’s not every day you get to walk down the street with two men this handsome, especially at her age.

“This isn’t for your health, is it? Walls have ears, yes?”

“Exactly.”

“Well, we’re going to have to find somewhere to sit if we’re going to talk. It might make it easier for people to listen in, but you two are far too tall to have a conversation with standing up.”

They end up seated on a park bench, the two of them still either side of her. It probably looks slightly ridiculous, like she’s some kind of eccentric elderly millionairess with a taste for handsome bodyguards.

“How are you doing?” she asks.

“I heal fast-”

“Don’t play dumb, Steve.”

Steve looks at his hands, then out across the park. “I don’t even know. Angry. Betrayed. Relieved.” He looks at her. “How about you?”

“I- It took you turning up at my door to really convince myself you were real, Steve. So unless Bucky comes knocking, you can assume I’m still in denial.” She pauses. “You are sure, aren’t you? It couldn’t be, I don’t know, clones or robots or something like that?”

“He was- he remembered me. It’s him, Becca. Not a copy.”

“So what now?”

“Find him. Help him. Take down every last sonofabitch who had anything to do with this.”

She turns to Sam. “And what about you?”

“I’m following him. I don’t know anything about your brother, but what they did to him… And Steve needs someone to watch his back.”

“How do you two know each other?”

Sam grins. “He tried to pick me up on the National Mall.”

“I did not! Can’t I have a friendly conversation-”

“Flirting. I have never been flirted with harder. I assume it’s a super-soldier thing, stronger, faster, flirtier-”

“I. Was not. Flirting.”

Becca gives Sam an appraising up and down look. “I can’t say I blame you. If I was thirty years younger, well, I’d still be in my fifties, but I’d have a go all the same.”

Sam beams, “Nice to be appreciated. And don’t worry, he’s not cheating on your brother. I’m the other end of the Kinsey scale, which means his gaydar didn’t get the supersoldier upgrade-”

“Which part of ‘I wasn’t trying to pick you up I was just being friendly’ are you not hearing?”

“The part which isn’t a lie? And also, he’s still deep in the closet, I’m just a damn good guesser. But he won’t stay in the closet if he goes cruising at national monuments at rush hour.”

Becca grins. “Where else is Captain America supposed to pick men up?”

“I’m regretting ever talking to you. Either of you.”

She can see Sam is good for Steve, gets him out of his head.

They don’t know how deep Hydra’s tentacles went, or, beyond a couple of people, who they can trust. Anyone could be an enemy, and almost anything can be tracked. Because of whose sister she is, Becca’s apartment could well be bugged; her internet and telephone certainly are being monitored now, even if they weren’t before.

“I shouldn’t have asked people to look for him-”

“No, it’s better to have things out in the open,” says Steve. “People will be looking for him anyway. This way, everyone knows the same things. There’s been too much hiding already.”

Steve and Sam leave her with a plan of ways they can check in with each other without giving too much away. Becca goes home, and things… things go back to normal. There’s no contact from her brother, no pre-arranged message from Steve that he’s found him.

She moves Bucky’s photo from the left side of the TV to the right.

She tries to be philosophical about Bucky not contacting her. So much has happened to him, seeing his little sister old might be too much for him; he might never come to her. She’ll just have to hope that he’s building a good life for himself.

Three months pass. A little more comes out of the leaked documents; most attention at the moment is focused on whether her brother had killed Howard and Maria Stark - the documents are filled with allusions instead of anything concrete, and it’s nearly impossible to work out exactly what happened. She supposes that this is the point; enough information for the people in the know, but vague enough to be impenetrable to outsiders.

It’s early evening, and she walks into the kitchen to make herself a mug of cocoa.

She startles. Her brother is standing by the fridge, almost unnaturally still.

“Keep doing what you were doing. You’re being watched.” His voice is slightly rough, as if he hasn’t been talking much.

She walks to the counter, doesn’t turn to look at him. “I was making some cocoa. Do you want some?”

He doesn’t answer.

“I could make you coffee, and there’s juice in the fridge, or even just a glass of water if you want.”

“Cocoa.”

She makes the cocoa. “Do you want to come through to the living room?”

“You go first. Turn the kitchen light off. I’ll follow.”

She carries the two mugs through, sets them on the coffee table. Bucky comes into the room, his path odd until she realizes he’s avoiding casting a silhouette that can be seen from outside. He sits on the floor by the couch, and takes the cocoa.

He curls around the mug as if he’s cold, and she’s able to get a good look at him for the first time. Hair short, not like the long hair Steve had described; shaven, nondescript clothes, the only oddity being the gloves. Dressed to be invisible in a crowd.

“You’re my sister.” It’s almost an accusation.

“Yes.”

“You sent people looking for me.”

“Not directly. I asked people to keep an eye out for you. I missed you.”

“Why?”

“You’re my big brother. The only one I have. You’re family.” She waves at the photos either side of the TV. “I love you, like I love all of them, and I wouldn’t give up on any of them, so I’m certainly not giving up on you.”

“He was- he- he- he’s not me.”

“I know a lot’s happened since we last met, Bucky. But you’re still my brother.”

“You don’t know what I’ve done.”

“I know a little. And- I have your daggers under my bed. The Nazi ones and the Hydra ones you collected during the war. I’ve always known you killed people.”

There’s a dawning light of recognition. “Why would you keep those?”

“To remind me. So I didn’t forget what Ruth told me about what commando units did. So I’d never start believing the lies about you being a living saint. Because my brother deserved being remembered for being a real person, with all his flaws.”

He hunches deeper around his mug. “You deserved a better brother.”

“No I didn’t. I got the best brother. All I wanted was that he’d come home.” She’s feels almost unnaturally calm; this is a negotiation, and she has to keep her cool.

“He died.”

“If he died, no one would have pulled Steve out of the Potomac.”

There’s a long silence before Bucky says, “I can’t be who you want me to be.”

Becca smiles sadly, “You can’t, because you can’t go back to 1945 and unbreak a fourteen year old girl’s heart. So you damn well be what you want to be. But whatever that is, you’ll be my brother, and I’ll love you, and you’ll always be welcome here. Always.”

Bucky’s brow furrows, like he’s working things out. He drinks his cocoa slowly.

Becca waits for a while before saying, “Have you spoken to Steve?”

“No.”

“He loves you too.”

“I tried to kill him. I nearly-” His voice cracks, “I nearly killed him.”

“You remember him, though.”

Bucky nods.

“So you should remember enough to know that he doesn’t give a damn about that. He’s not out there thinking about the fact that you tried to kill him; he’s out there thinking about the fact that people hurt you. That you’re hurting.”

“He doesn’t need me.”

“Have you talked to him? Even watched him? He needs you, Bucky. And if you don’t want to go to him because you just don’t want to, then that’s your choice. But if you’re staying away because you think he deserves better, or you think you’re too dangerous, well that’s just bullshit. He wants you back, and he doesn’t give a damn about anything you’ve done.”

There’s silence which seems to stretch for hours, but it’s probably barely a minute.

Becca says, “You’re always welcome here, Bucky. But - why did you come?”

He stares into his now-empty mug. “I don’t know.” He pauses. “I should go.”

“My grandson left some of his clothes in the spare room if you want them. There’s food in the fridge and money in my purse if you need it.”

Bucky looks at her strangely. “You’d help me?”

“You’re family.”

He looks at his mug, and back at her. He stares for a long time, and she feels uncomfortably like a deer in a hunter’s sights before he says, “I… shouldn’t take anything from you.” He puts the mug back on the table, and starts to make his circuitous way back to the kitchen. Just at the kitchen door, he pauses, brow furrowed, and says, “Thank you.”

“Bye-” But he’s out of the window so fast he probably doesn’t hear her.

---

Becca Barnes is 85, and maybe she is slowing down a little. Or perhaps there are just too many people at this family gathering.

She’s still not sure it’s a good idea, but her children and grandchildren kept on asking her, and Bucky had quietly said that he did want to meet them, so here they are. Steve is there, of course, as is Sam, who is now most definitely also honorary family. There is a system of code-words and signals between the four of them, if Bucky needs a timeout, or any of the rest of them think he needs a timeout.

So Bucky is seated in the middle of her couch, Becca on one side and Steve on the other. Children, grandchildren, various hangers-on and one great-grandchild mill about the place.

Now her granddaughter-in-law, Janice, is in front of them, and in one movement she puts her son, the three week old James Buchanan Barnes Kazinsky (a truly ridiculous name for a child, and one which Becca had tried to dissuade them from) into Bucky’s arms, saying, “Just a quick picture of James with his namesake!”

Bucky has frozen, staring at the baby, who is snoring peacefully. Janice takes her picture, and Becca is about to say something to defuse the situation, when Steve smoothly takes the baby from Bucky’s arms, saying, “He’s a lot more tolerant than the original.”

Bucky relaxes again, and after a moment leans over to rest his chin on Steve’s shoulder, looking down at the baby. Becca would love a picture of that, the two of them looking relaxed, content, domestic. Not like soldiers.

“You’re holding him wrong.” Alice, four years old and full of belief in her own righteousness, has come over to stand in front of the couch, hands on hips. “His neck doesn’t work yet. You have to hold him right because his neck doesn’t work.”

Steve shifts the baby slightly. “Better?”

Alice comes closer and peers at the baby. She had been wary of Bucky and Steve up until now, as strangers to her, but this is apparently forgotten in the face of possible insult to her brother. She scrutinizes the baby and Steve’s arm like a mechanic looking at a broken engine, eventually nodding.

Steve smiles, looking genuinely amused. “You’re Alice, aren’t you?”

She nods. “Mommy says you’re Captain America.”

“Sometimes.”

“You can’t be Captain America sometimes.”

“Can’t I?”

“No.”

“Well. Seems I’m not Captain America then.”

“I told her, but she said you were.”

Bucky smiles and says, “Ain’t you the spitting image of your grandma?”

Alice looks confused, which makes Bucky take his arm from around Steve, and lean forward to talk to her. “When she was your age, Becca- your grandma-” Bucky inclines his head to Becca, “was just like you. She’d stand up on the step of our house, hands on her hips, just like that, and say, ‘James Buchanan Barnes, you been drinking and I’m gonna tell.’”

Becca has to excuse herself. She makes it to her bedroom before she breaks down in tears, almost collapsing to sit on the bed.

There’s a knock on the door. She takes a breath and says, “Just a minute!”

The door opens anyway, and she’s about to give whichever child or grandchild it is a stern lecture about privacy, but it’s Bucky.

He shuts the door behind him and says, “What did I do?”

She pats the bed next to her, and says, “You came home.”

He sits, and says, “What?”

“You really came home. My big brother. You’re really here, you’re really him, you came home.”

She dissolves into tears again, but this time there’s a strong arm around her shoulders, pulling her in until she’s crying into Bucky’s t-shirt.

He whispers, “Just sorry I kept my little sister waiting.”