Steve wakes up to sunlight on his face. These days, both of those things could go either way.
But today, the sleet and sludge has finally melted from the gutters and the air is only getting warmer if changing much yet at all, which means he survived another winter. He survived, and now he has to get up for work to survive some more.
He wakes Bucky up, too, just for some company. Sharp knees into his thighs as he rolls on top like a second blanket.
“Do you have to do that? What happened to shaking gently?” Bucky groans as he wakes, but he doesn’t shove Steve off of him.
He just turns onto his back so that Steve can settle properly, spindly arms locked straight either side of Bucky’s head.
Steve grins. “Where’s the fun in that?”
“You want fun? I can think of a real fun way to be woken up, if you’re taking suggestions,” Bucky says, warm morning breath right in Steve’s face.
Steve doesn’t even blink. “Be nice to me and maybe I will.”
Bucky cocks his head, levels Steve with an amused look. “When am I ever mean to you?”
Steve scrunches his face up extra hard while he thinks.
“Last week. You said I danced like I was trying to fight all the people ‘round me. Really hurt my feelings.”
“Steve, that wasn’t me. That was Angie who said that.”
“Yeah, but you laughed.”
Bucky laughs again now. Steve doesn’t have it in him to properly play mad.
“Goin’ anywhere?” He asks instead.
“’M workin’ today,” Bucky mumbles back through a yawn.
Steve sits up, knees either side of Bucky’s hips, sharp bones on sharp bones, and does the same. The one contagious thing he doesn’t mind always catching. “What time you start?”
“Late. Workin’ through tonight. Be back in the morning.”
“Why so late?”
“Picked up those dock shifts, remember? It's gonna be odd hours for a while.”
Bucky huffs. “I don’t get why I gotta jump through hoops to get some safe, boring temp job, and they’ll take me on the spot for something that actually takes skill.”
Steve shrugs, then runs his hands over Bucky’s arms and shoulders. “Your fault for looking all capable.”
“Guess so. S’just… not really how I expected it all to go, you know?”
Steve shrugs again. He doesn’t really know anything about how things are supposed to go.
“You wanna walk me to work?”
Bucky lights up. He says, “would I ever!” and Steve knows he genuinely means it.
Maria is stacking shelves, Steve sits behind the counter with a magazine he pinched from the rack by the door. It’s a slow day.
They’re mostly slow days, now. New York is in a Depression; the rest of the world too, maybe, but The Brooklyn Bugle tends to focus on itself. According to Mister Martinez, the bodega is doing fine, they have a dependable clientele: local immigrant families, return customers who keep their stocked up cash under their mattress and out of the hands of big investors.
One day, Maria will inherit the family fortune, so she doesn’t get paid. Steve already inherited his, no more than what he could get for his old tenement by the docks, so he does get paid. It’s barely enough for himself, let alone Bucky as well, but it’s better than he’d get anywhere else in the city.
The bell above the door dings and a man in a suit walks in. Steve pushes the magazine across the counter, out of view, and sits up straight.
Maria greets him in Spanish and, by now, Steve can pick up enough to know it’s just pleasantries. He has purple bags under his eyes and a briefcase too free-swinging to be holding much of anything. Steve rings him up for a loaf of bread and some plantanos for lunch, and then he leaves for the steps of city hall, where he’ll sit and wait until the working day ends.
Steve goes back to his magazine.
“There’s a grocer opening up soon next door. They came by last night to say hello,” Maria says from the other side of the store.
Steve doesn’t look up this time. He crosses a leg over his other knee. “Opening? How’d they manage that?”
“Guess they don’t know yet. They just got here, from Poland,” she says. “Isn’t that where Bucky’s from?”
“Nah. Further east.”
Maria hmms. “Mind if I crack the door? I’ve missed the warm air.”
“Sure.” Steve says. He’s missed it too.
Bucky is heading out when Steve makes it back, but the stone steps in front of their building are as far as he has managed to get. The sun is setting a bright orange, reflected in the windows above them, making his skin glow warm peach. Angie hands Bucky a beer and he cracks the cap off on the edge of the step.
Steve’s relieved he didn’t use his teeth this time.
“Steve! Beer?” Angie calls. She’s in slacks and a button up today; must have just gotten off work.
Steve puts the keys he’s been swinging around his finger in his front pocket and saunters over. “No, thanks. I’m okay,” he replies.
Bucky moves his legs apart so that Steve can sit on the step below him and lean against his chest. His coveralls are still smothered in mud and silt, but Steve sits anyway; his jacket has been through much worse. He rests a hand on Bucky’s knee and Bucky’s belt buckle digs into his backbone. He’s like a porch cat in the sun, about to fall asleep any second.
“You fellas should come ‘round this Friday, the girls and I will cook you dinner,” Angie says.
Bucky jostles Steve a little, moving so he won’t knock him on the back of the head as he takes a swig of beer.
Steve doesn’t open his eyes when he answers. “You don’t need to do that, Ang. We can take care of ourselves, it’s okay.”
She doesn’t reply right away, but Steve can feel the look she’s giving him; it changes the temperature of the air. When he doesn’t look back at her, he knows she gives the look to Bucky instead.
“What he means is,” Bucky says, a laugh in his voice. “We don’t want to put you out.”
“Sometimes I want to smack the both of you,” she says, like she means it. Bucky’s stomach moves against Steve’s back as they both laugh. “But I’m not your mother, so turn up, don’t, whatever. We’ll all still be cooking.”
Steve does look at her then. She’s reclined, more graceful than anyone sitting on a dirty stoop aught to be, watching everyone go by with a keen, hard eye. The sun sets her deep skin on fire. Bucky moves again to take another drink, but Steve pulls it out of his hand before he can, and finishes the last of it.
Bucky scoffs. “You’re ‘okay’, huh?”
“Yep,” Steve says. “What’s yours is mine, isn’t that how it goes?”
Bucky wraps his arms over Steve’s shoulders, clasps his hands around his chest. “Something like that,” he mumbles. Steve absorbs every word straight from Bucky’s chest to his own 'cause his ears won't do the job properly, weak heartbeat rattling along with Bucky’s, strong on his warped spine.
“You must have to be mighty smart to work in a place like this,” Bucky croons, fist under his chin, elbow on the counter, hip cocked.
The pharmacist blushes, no customers around to see it.
“Well, I just have to remember the names of them all, really. I’m not the one who gives them out,” she says.
Steve slips in behind her, while she has her eyes locked in Bucky’s. He knows the box off by heart, even if he can’t pronounce the name printed on the front; bottom shelf, on the right, easy grab. Four, for good measure. The other one’s a little harder, near the middle, only just in his reach.
But they aren’t leaving here without that one, too. Steve isn’t paying attention to their conversation, but he knows Bucky can only hold her for a short time without having to promise something longer. He grabs five boxes, on his tip toes and fingers outstretched a far as they will go. He hears Bucky cover up a snort with a cough and high tails it out of there.
“Just this, love?” tThe pharmacist smiles, blood red fingernails tapping on the brown glass of a cough syrup bottle, the same sort that Steve’s ma used to get for him. Free, at the clinic, so long as no one saw.
And hasn’t he just kept tradition alive.
Bucky pats the pockets of his jacket, then the ones on his slacks. “Yes just that- Oh, hold on. Darn, I must have left my wallet in my work jacket. I’m always doing that, so forgetful,” he says, smacking a palm on his forehead.
Steve has to look away so he doesn’t crack. Bucky really should have gone to school for theatre.
She waves a hand. “That’s okay, we all get like that sometimes.”
“Guess this means I’ll have to come back another time.”
Her bright white teeth flash like pearls against her matching red lipstick. “I’m looking forward to it.”
He winks, then says, “me too.”
He pushes through the door and Steve ducks out behind him, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. There are two boxes stuffed in each front pocket, one in each inside one, and the rest in both hands, tucked inside the jacket by his ribs like he has a stomach ache. Not suspicious for a pharmacy.
As soon as they make it out, Bucky is tugging Steve through the crowd of people on the sidewalk and into a dank alleyway, out of sight.
“How many?” He asks, eyes wide and chest heaving. Steve can feel the adrenaline coming off him in waves.
“Four for us, five for them,” Steve says, his own heart picking up in pace.
“That’s… you’re amazing… you’re so…” Bucky gasps out. He tugs Steve into a rough hug, the closest thing to a kiss they can get.
Steve uses it as a chance to put the boxes he’s still holding in Bucky’s jacket pockets. He claps Bucky on the back once, twice, and then they move apart, the both of them grinning from ear to ear.
Steve feels bad just sticking it in, but that’s how it has to go. Bucky is pale and shaking slightly, looking away towards the wall and holding his leg still in both hands.
“Relax, it’ll hurt if you don’t,” Steve tells him.
“You relax,” Bucky grumbles back.
Steve is relaxed, even though he only sort of knows what he’s doing, but isn’t that how it has always been? They are their own lab rats, throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks.
He accidentally moves his hand near Bucky’s thigh and it makes his breath hitch suddenly in anticipation. It’s kind of funny.
But Steve doesn’t play it out any longer than he has to. He’s 22 now, and they’ve been at this on and off for years, so he knows what’s involved.
Six months ago, Steve’s ma was the one doing it for the both of them. They’re making do.
They don’t have enough money or foresight for bandages, so they just let it bleed after, the tiniest amount of red trailing a slow path through Bucky’s hairs. Steve does his in no time, swapping Bucky for his spot atop the kitchen counter, while he takes a lap of the room to avoid looking.
“Fuckin’ incredible,” Bucky says, after Steve’s all done and tidied up. “Absolutely fuckin’ ace.”
Growing up, Steve’s ma made sure to teach him the importance of never showing up to a dinner party empty handed. Even when they had nothing to give, she’d send him to Bucky’s with leftovers. They never really ate all that much between the two of them, anyway.
Angie’s dinner parties are a world away from turning up to the Barnes residence in a pretty dress on a Friday afternoon for shabbat dinner, but Steve has never forgotten his manners.
The girls are on the living room floor under a cloud of smoke so thick it makes Steve’s eyes water. Angie hugs them at the door and shoos them in, hands the both of them a wad of fabric and a needle and thread. Steve gives his to Bucky; his eyesight is too shit for sewing, especially in the dim apartment light.
Instead he watches Bucky, the way he saunters through the smoke and settles down with them, all lithe and graceful like he’s walking through the dancehall, right up to the prettiest dame in the place to ask for a dance.
“Hey baby, how you been?” Lulu says, kisses Bucky on both cheeks all European like, once he takes the spot next to her.
“Swell,” he grins back. He holds up the wad of fabric Angie gave him, putting Steve’s and the needles and thread by his side. “What am I meant to be sewing here?”
Jacob leans over and gestures to it with a cigarette between his fingers. “It’s a skirt, for the show. Already hemmed it, just put the raw edges together, soft side out.”
Bucky nods and lays the big square out on his lap, folded once on itself, soft side in. He knows how it all works, better than Steve ever did.
“You still doing the shows?” Bucky asks.
“I am. Lulu quit ‘cause it was too much work. Which you would know, if you came by some time,” Jacob replies, eyebrows up in his hairline.
“I know, I know. But you know how it is now. When I’m not working, I’m sleeping, and when I’m not sleeping, well...”
Steve laughs along with the rest of them, because it’s pretty much true, and it’s nice to be able to admit it. He watches the way Bucky’s lip stays curled at the corner, long after everyone else has looked away. It’s just for himself, that smirk. And Steve, even though he doesn’t know it. They both share the same collection of memories; two halves of the same life.
He walks over to Angie in the kitchen, well-worn apron wrapped around her house dress.
Angela, only one letter off Angel, and Steve think that's pretty fitting.
“Need any help?” He asks. She looks up from the oven window and smiles.
“No, it’s almost done. You can get the plates out, though.”
He doesn’t have to ask where they are, he knows this apartment off by heart. It’s no bigger than his and Bucky’s, only one floor up, too, accessible from the fire escape, when the need arises. But it’s certainly in better shape. Angie only has one mouth to feed, a steady 9-5 job at a barbershop, the good sense to keep the cobwebs and mould from haunting all the corners. Steve can hardly afford to pay for rent, let alone a duster.
They take the plates like waiters to the rest of them, two at a time until there are four steaming serves of casserole laid out on the hardwood floor and Jacob is saying, “spill any sauce on my shit and I’m gonna flip my wig.”
Steve goes back for the last one while Angie settles in. Bucky catches his eye over the countertop and grins like a kid on Christmas. They do have gifts yet to open, Steve supposes. He takes the last plate out, pile of cutlery in his other hand, boxes of E in both jacket pockets.
“Hey,” he says, sits down cross-legged next to Bucky. “We got you something.”
“’Got’ is a strong word. We acquired something,” Bucky adds.
“And it’s not even my birthday,” Lulu squeals. She’s Bucky’s age, a year older than Steve, but she’s so full of life it makes him feel ancient.
Steve hands them over quickly, then goes back to his dinner like it’s no big deal. Two for Lulu, three for Angie, for dinner. Lulu squeals again and kisses the box, then crawls over to Bucky and kisses him, blush pink lipstick smudged on his cheek. She’s always had a thing for Bucky; Steve doesn’t blame her, though she’s barking up the wrong team, or whatever. “I’m nearly out, how did you know?!”
“Intuition. Sixth sense, you know,” Bucky says, and she kisses him again, square jaw pinched in her long fingers. Jacob snatches a box from her lap to read the back, and she drops Bucky like a kid would a ragdoll to grab for it back.
It’s not the first time they’ve gotten it for either of them, but they don’t like to make promises of more, just in case. Angie just smiles softly and tucks them in her dress pocket, then pats Steve on the cheek. He gets it. He does.
There wasn’t enough forks in the cutlery drawer for all of them, so Steve and Bucky eat their dinner with a spoon. It all tastes exactly the same, either way.
Later, when they are both at the sink doing the washing up, Angie corners them with one hip on the counter. Bucky stops splashing Steve with the dirty water and Steve quits smacking him with the dishrag long enough for her to lean in and say, “I’m guessing you didn’t hear the good news.”
“You’re expecting? Mazel tov!”
“I know you know I had my tubes tied years ago, James.” She pauses for a few moments, like she’s collecting herself. Steve knows she just likes the drama of it. “There’s this doc, over in Manhattan, get you anything you need.”
A plate slips out of Bucky’s soapy hand and clangs to the bottom of the sink. “How’d you find that out?”
“You know nothing stays a secret around here, certainly not from me.”
“Sure, but everything starts somewhere. Who figured him out in the first place?”
“I think he has a man. Or a woman. Someone he wants kept silent. God bless them, whoever they are. Most people would ask for money, not force him to help out their friends.”
Bucky whistles. “Really?”
“All conjecture, of course. But why else would he do it? Out of the goodness of his heart? Please! No one helps us if they have the choice.”
Steve tosses the dishrag over one shoulder and crosses his arms with a sigh. “Some people might. I would, you know, if the tables were turned.”
She pats his cheek again, like she loves to do. “I know you would, Steve. But the world isn’t filled with men like you!”
And then she’s gone, back into the room with all the smoke. Steve has been trying to breathe it all in; docs say it helps.
“Good news for me, I got my hands full already,” Bucky chuckles. Steve catches his eye, and it makes him realise he’s been pulling a face. “No.”
“What? Come on-“
“No, Steve. No. We don’t have money for the fare across the bridge, let alone whatever this schmuck is gonna charge.”
Steve picks the argument he can win. “I’ve never paid the train fair in my life and I don’t intend to start now.”
“Good luck finding someone else to help you over the turnstiles and stand lookout, ‘cause I’m not going with.”
“Buck, come on,” Steve repeats. “This is a good thing!”
“We already got a good thing. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.”
“Y’know, most people have a smoke after sex.”
Bucky had a nap after, so Steve doesn’t really think he can talk. But he does anyway, and his voice pulls Steve out from his focus, which pisses him off regardless of how deep and sexy it sounds.
He doesn’t reply. Bucky tries again.
“Quit sitting all hunched over like that.”
This time, Steve’s obstinacy is quicker than his resolve. “I’m not.”
“You are. I can see your back hurting tomorrow from here. You need a proper desk.”
“Well, I can’t get a proper desk.”
“Go draw in the kitchen, then.”
A patronising smile pulls itself across Steve’s face. “But you’re here, Buck. How’m I gonna draw you from all the way in there, huh?” He says slowly, like Bucky’s a complete idiot.
Bucky rolls his eyes. “I’ll come with. Geez.”
Steve doesn’t budge, just keeps scratching away at the Bucky on the page. The real Bucky pushes him in the side with his foot so rough he nearly draws a line through his sketch, then makes the mistake of leaving it to rest on top of Steve’s thigh.
Steve drops his pencil, pinches the long hairs on Bucky’s ankle between his fingers and yanks hard.
Bucky curls his leg back on reflex, up as close to his chest as he can bend it. It’s messed up his pose, so Steve doesn’t pick up his pencil again. Bucky just takes it as an opening. He stretches his foot back out and uses his pointed big toe to flip the sketchbook cover over so it shuts on Steve’s hand.
“Come on, I’m hungry. ‘Nd you gotta lemme get up and stretch.”
Steve thinks that maybe that’s what love is; doing something for someone else, but blaming it on yourself so they don’t mind so much. Maybe that’s just what Bucky’s love is. Maybe his love is pretending he doesn’t know what Bucky’s really doing, and helping the both of them in the process.
He gets up with his book and pencil and doesn’t even wait for Bucky to follow. Just goes and sits on the wooden stool tucked into the kitchen bench, naked as the day he came kicking and screaming into the world.
Bucky tumbles after him a minute later, like he’d gotten so caught up in watching Steve leave that he’d forgotten his own body moved as well. Steve knows it’s happened to him enough times, so he doesn’t mention it.
Lulu drops by the bodega. Steve thinks she’s got a problem with boredom; there’s not much else for her to do in Brooklyn. But it keeps him company, so he doesn’t try and persuade her to do anything more useful with her time.
“I saw him,” she says, perched up on the other side of the counter, kicking her long legs back and forth while she watches Maria refill the ice in the icebox. “In Manhattan.”
“How was it?”
“He was nice. Cost me an arm and a leg, but. I had to use all the money I saved from working at Tony’s. Remember when I used to do the drag shows?”
Steve mhms. “Why’d you quit again?”
“Too much stress; I’m not made for nightlife. The attention was nice, though.” She tosses her big hair off one slender shoulder. “Besides, they took too much of a cut for it to be worth it.”
“Who has Tony’s now?"
“The Italians. Come on, it’s called Tony’s, Steve.”
“You’re right, my bad,” Steve laughs. “So what’d he say?”
“Oh, he said he had to put me in the files as a woman – which I was perfectly fine with - so that it looks like I just got problems making the stuff myself. Which I s’pose I do. But he did all these tests, too, to make sure what I’d already been taking was working, you know? It was all fine, I was honestly kinda surprised, but it’s good to know I can take care of myself.”
“What kind of tests?”
“Blood stuff, with a needle. I don’t know how you two do it, I nearly passed out. He normally works for ladies with problems in the bedroom, I think. Something-ologist, started with an e, big word.”
“Yeah, that. How’d you know that?”
Steve shrugs, says, “my ma was a nurse,” like that has anything to do with it.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” Lulu says. “Must have been helpful.”
“Yeah. Never really needed to step foot in a hospital. Had all I needed right at home.”
The sound of the ice box door sealing shut echoes through the store and soon Maria appears from behind an aisle. She leans on her elbows across from Steve, brown shoulder pressed against the pale fabric of Lulu’s dress. “What’s this? You sick again, Steve?”
“Nah,” he says, then forces a cough for good measure. “I’m perfectly healthy.”
Lulu smiles, then nudges Maria. “Saludable solo porque no lo he golpeado por ser tan estúpido.”
Maria laughs in a way that sounds more like a sigh, and decides her time is better spent outside greeting passers-by. She has a fold out chair and a stand of fresh fruit set up at all times. If he didn’t work there, Steve would be the one nicking it all.
“Worth it?” Steve asks, once she’s gone.
“Not sure. I got a prescription, but now I got no money to fill it with.”
Every candle they own is lit and dotted about the apartment when Bucky finally gets home from work. The city lights do a good enough job in the closet sized living room, so they are mostly doled out in the bedroom and kitchen, illuminating Steve where he waits almost entirely undressed.
“Are you being romantic or did we miss rent again?” Bucky says, and strips out of his coveralls, dumps them on the floor by the door.
“Blackout. Been like this for 20 minutes, according to my watch.”
He’s not wearing his watch, having taken it off with the rest of his digs. Bucky looks to Steve’s bare wrist and then to his face, a nice big smile ready and waiting.
“Shit,” Bucky says, then trips on the edge of the rug. “Fuckin’ hell! This how you always see the world?”
Steve walks over and holds out his hand for guidance. Bucky takes it even though Steve is sure he’s learnt his lesson and doesn’t plan on tripping again. Then Steve says, “my world is colorless, not dark. I’m not a bat.”
“Yeah, you’re closer to a dog” Bucky grins, then pauses. “Wouldn’t a bat be able to see in the dark?”
“No, they’re blind.”
“Then how do they fly?”
Steve doesn’t have the answer so he drops Bucky’s hand in protest. The feeling of loss is more like punishing himself, but he’s too stubborn to ask for it back.
Bucky nods to the big silver pot simmering on the stovetop. “What’cha cookin’?”
The flame that licks across the bottom is like one big candle. Steve has been watching it boil even though he knows he’s not supposed to.
“Is that really what we’re down to? Hot water for dinner?”
“Gonna do some washing.”
Bucky’s mouth makes a little o but no sound comes out. Then, “clothes or skin?”
“Both. You want in?”
He sniffs an armpit casually. “Yeah, think I need it.”
Carrying the pot from the stove to the bathtub is a whole palaver; they have to use slacks they can’t afford to dirty in the place of oven mitts, and then only realise once they’ve gotten the bathroom door open that it’s pitch black inside.
They set the pot on the floor like a doorstop, bending with both knees.
“Grab all the candles?” Steve suggests.
Bucky nods. “Good plan.”
They collect them all up, walking slowly to keep them lit. At one point, Bucky starts mumbling Jack Be Nimble, stuck in a loop because there’s only one verse, and Steve just lets him do it. It’s rare that a song only ever remains stuck in one of their heads.
Soon, the apartment is dark again, and the bathroom looks like a cave, their silhouettes blown up and distorted on the ceiling and all four walls, creeping around like shadow puppets. Steve remembers something about a cave and light from school, but not the parts that matter.
Bucky would know. He knows everything. Maybe he should ask him about it.
They dump the boiling water in the tub then fill it the rest of the way up with cold water from the tap. Bucky climbs in first, even though Steve has done most of the work.
In the candle light Steve can see the way the dirt and grime of the docks floats off of Bucky immediately, slowly tinging the water a darker and darker brown. “Do your hair first,” he says, because there won’t be enough room for him to go under once Steve climbs in, too.
Bucky lathers it with handfuls of the soap bar that has melted onto the rim, then submerges himself entirely, eyes clamped shut and cheeks puffed out like they’re jumping off the pier. Crouched on the floor, one arm hooked over the side and lazily swirling the water around, Steve smiles.
Bucky misses it, being under water and all, but that’s okay. It still happened even if no one else was around to witness it.
“Could you imagine having to do everything like this?”
They’re leant on opposite sides, knees alternated in the middle. The water is still hot, but no longer boiling. They’ll have to get out soon or it will be too cold to do anything useful to the clothes.
“By candlelight,” Bucky says.
Steve groans melodramatically. “That would be so much work.”
He shouldn’t joke, because it would. It could. But what else can he do?
After a long moment, Bucky breaks the silence. His voice goes gravelly when he tries to keep it just above a whisper.
“Another Hoover City popped up, by the Navy yard. They don’t even have candles.”
"I thought they were on the way out," Steve says. Then, in an attempt to make him smile, he nudges Bucky with a knee, and says, “should we go down and give them all of ours?”
It sort of works.
“We could,” he adds, but there’s no real conviction behind it.
“And then we’d be sitting in the dark.”
“Yeah, we would.”
Steve leans past him to scoop up some soap, then lathers himself up head-to-toe.
The lights come back on while they’re both bent over the tub, scrubbing Bucky’s coveralls against a wash board in the murky water. By then, they’re so accustomed to the orange glow of the candles that the yellow light bulbs feel too harsh, so Bucky gets up and switches them all off again.
Funny what a person can get used to.
“What if it’s a trap?”
It comes out muffled where Bucky’s mouth is tucked into his arm, spread out on their mattress, front down.
Steve sits up further so he stops slouching. He puts his hand in Bucky’s hair and starts slowly scratching his scalp with his bitten-down nails.
“What if it isn’t?”
Bucky turns his face all the way into the pillow. Within a few minutes, he’s full-blow snoring.
Between dinner and all the talking, that skirt only ever ended up with one side sewn. So Bucky says he’s going to go to Jacob’s apartment while Steve’s at work to make it up to him.
James and Jacob, Jacob and James. Steve says it like a mantra in his head all day because he likes the way it sounds, and it’s not like he has anything better to do.
It was nearly Jacob and Jakob, but now James keeps Yaakov just for himself.
When he gets home after Steve, he’s drunk, but in a way that’s normal. A way that comes from sharing a bottle of wine with your friend while you sew together some drag. The first thing he does is dump all of the material he’s returned with on the broken couch; about as much weight it can take at this point. The second thing he does is kiss Steve so hard it makes him lightheaded.
Steve can’t see the skirt in the pile, but there’s some button up shirts and some slacks. One winter coat. Jacob’s old digs that he doesn’t need any more and has decided that the two of them do.
He’s right, but Steve doesn’t have to be happy about it.
When he has old shoes to spare, Steve has to shove balls of newspaper in the toes so they don’t fall off. It makes him feel like a clown, or like he’s trying on his da’s clothes, playing at being grown up.
The clothes stay in their pile because Bucky doesn’t seem to want to let Steve go to rifle through them. He has his big arms wrapped tight around the top of Steve’s, his wet lips suckered to the side of his face. Gently pushing Steve round and round the room, teetering back and forth like he’s trying not to step on his toes.
“Quit it,” Steve says into Bucky’s shoulder.
“Why?” Bucky says into Steve’s temple.
“You’re so annoying.”
“You don’t wanna dance with me?”
“This ain’t dancing, pal. This is just… moving.”
Bucky doesn’t argue the point, just lifts Steve’s chin so they’re looking eye-to-eye.
He grins. “I love you, baby.”
Bucky looks as sweet as Steve’s ever seen him. His soft cheeks flushed red and his lips wet and shining.
Steve smiles back. “You’re always sayin’ that.”
“Yeah, and then you say it back.”
Steve presses his lips together as tight as he can.
“Hey! Say it back.” Bucky cries. The hand under Steve’s chin grabs his jaw, and Bucky tries his best to get it moving. “Say it. I love you, Buck. I. Love. You.”
Steve’s head flops up and down but his lips stay shut, so Bucky puts his thumb over Steve’s lower lip and makes him talk like that.
“I,” he moves his lip. “Love,” again. “You,” again.
Steve laughs so hard and so sudden that he sprays Bucky in a layer of spit. Bucky just beams, even though Steve’s laughing too hard now to actually say it.
And then he starts coughing. And then he starts wheezing. And then Bucky has to pull him to the couch and drunkenly rub at his back until it mostly goes away. He doesn’t say it now, either, because his throat won’t let him get it out, though it feels more important to say now than ever.
He figures Bucky’s gotta know it by now anyway; he’s a smart guy. If he doesn’t, well, then there really is no hope for him at all.
When Becca comes to the apartment, she uses the fire escape. Something to do with the view, even though the air that high is mostly smoke. All she ever sees from her cracked tenement window is water. It’s all Bucky ever used to see, too.
“Mame keeps asking about you,” she tells her brother.
“Hope you ain’t telling her shit,” Bucky says, to be contrary. Then, “what does she ask?”
“If you and Stevie are still living together.”
He throws his hands up. “Great. ‘Cause that’s the most pressin’ issue.”
“Buck,” Steve says.
“Yeah, Buck,” Becca repeats.
Bucky pushes off of where he’s leaning on the stove next to Steve and starts to pace the small kitchen. Becca kicks her leg out at him from where she’s sitting and only just misses.
James and Rebecca, Becca and Bucky. That sounds even better.
“You should come visit her some time. She gets lonely.”
“Does she know you’re here?”
“Where are you supposed to be?”
She sighs. “Picking up more salt. We ran out. We’re making cholent from all the left over stuff we got lying around.”
Steve’s stomach grumbles. “There’s a new Polish grocer opened down the block, they’ll have whatever you need. It’s on your way home.”
Becca smiles and hops off the counter. She must take it as her cue to leave. Steve didn’t mean for it to be, but he also doesn’t want to dissuade her from using the interpersonal skills that have evidently skipped Bucky, so he doesn’t correct himself. “Thanks, Stevie.”
“Don’t call him that,” Bucky bites back immediately.
She’s barely 17 but she’s almost Bucky’s height. Steve really got the shit genes there, he thinks, then feels bad for speaking ungratefully of the dead. When Becca puts her hands on her hips and gets in Bucky’s face she looks so much like their mother Steve nearly laughs. He knows Bucky can see it too.
“What? Why not?”
Steve looks to Bucky with raised eyebrows like he’s waiting for the answer as well. Bucky huffs so hard his curly fringe flies up off his forehead for a second.
“Just, don’t,” he finishes lamely. “Do you need me to walk you there? It’s late.”
Becca says, “it’s not that late,” by which she means, no thank you.
Bucky says, “go straight home after,” by which he means, stay safe.
Sometimes, Steve feels like one of those British decoders he reads about in the paper. These messages seem just as important.
After his next shift, Steve goes into the grocer to see if he was right about the salt, but everything is either in Polish or Hebrew so he never really finds out. The old woman behind the counter looks so thrilled to have someone in her store that it makes his skin itch. He leaves without buying anything and the guilt eats at him for the rest of the week.
“-which means the people at the bottom only see what’s on the wall.”
“So, they see the fire and think it’s the sun?”
“No, they can’t see the fire, they just see the shadows from the fire. They don’t even know the sun exists.”
“Then what’s the point of the fire, why not just make shadows from the sun?”
“Because then they’d be seeing the sun, and it wouldn’t be so different when they get dragged out in the open.”
“But you said they don’t see where the light is coming from, they just see the shadows.”
“Yeah, but they still see the light, and the light from the fire is a different light than from the sun. The light is still part of the thing that shines it.”
“But the sun is fire.”
“Well, he didn’t know that! And that’s not the point. It’s not the sun that’s the important part, it’s just the fact that it’s bigger and different and they’ve never seen it before.”
“Why are they in the cave in the first place, though?”
“You’re such a little punk! Come ‘ere!”
Lulu drops by the bodega again. This time, she brings Bucky. Drags him in by his fingertips twisted up with her own.
They probably walked down the street like that, hand in hand. Like two regular sweethearts making a show of going steady. Bucky probably had his arm over her shoulders, probably opened doors for her and pulled the jacket off his own back so she didn’t have to walk through puddles.
He hopes Bucky is enjoying getting to do it. By the flush high on his cheeks and the way he hasn’t let their hands go, it looks like he is.
Steve doesn’t say hi, not because he doesn’t want to, but because it’s funny to act professional in front of his friends. Bucky doesn’t say hi either, because he likes it when Steve acts professional, and he also likes to see how much he can get away with.
Lulu does say hi, but it’s only with a wave of her free hand, and then she’s tucking the two of them into the far isle where the all the sweets are. Steve sits behind the counter with his magazine and his fist under his chin and thinks about Bucky putting his hands on the same places Steve put his not hours before, as he stocked and straightened those same shelves.
“Bucky! Lulu! Nice of you to stop in. How’s your day?”
Maria is using the voice she uses to greet kids who come in thinking that no one’s seen them, and they might just duck out without paying. One glance at Steve and they know he won’t be chasing them down over it.
They shuffle back out from the aisle, Lulu under one arm now, and Bucky scoops Maria under the other one, even though they are all the same height. “How could my day be anything other than swell, now that I’ve got a pretty dame in each arm?”
He says it to Maria, but they’re all tucked in a row and facing the same way so it comes out pointed at Steve. The way Bucky’s holding the two of them doesn’t let them look anywhere else. Steve stares back, unwilling to be intimidated by these conjoined fates, and its only when Maria clears her throat that Steve realises staring back meant staring right at Bucky.
She’s older than all of them. She knows more about the world, and she’s too smart not to be able to see what’s right in front of her face. “Come on Lu, why don’t we go entice some customers,” she says, and they duck out from under Bucky’s arms in a rush of fabric and curly hair.
The bell above the door rings on behind them long after they’ve gone. Ding ding ding, round one.
Bucky saunters up to the counter, close to Steve as he’s allowed to get.
“How you doin’ Stevie?” He says, and ruins it all.
Steve frowns. “Why you gotta ask me that, Buck? I’m fine."
“Just askin’! Can’t I come see how my best guy is doing?”
Steve keeps frowning.
Bucky sighs. “Seriously, Steve. I’m not your ma, and I’m certainly not your home nurse. When I come see you it’s ‘cause I wanna see you, not ‘cause I think you’ll collapse in a heap without me around. That’s not my job. My job is to,” he stops, looks around, takes a breath, all on instinct. Then he leans closer, pats his hand on Steve’s once quickly, murmurs: “my job is to love you. And right now, my job is also to sling crates of dead fish before the market opens. The apartment’s gonna reek for a while, just a heads up.”
“Bucky,” Steve says, but it lacks the usual bite.
Bucky grins. “Yeah?”
“You drive me nuts.”
“Yeah. You too, pal.”
“You plannin’ on ever giving Angie these back?”
“Not unless she comes a-knockin',” Bucky says, and swings the scissors around and around his finger. Then he blows on the tips and tucks them in by his belt like he’s just won the shootout.
Steve watches with raised eyebrows. “I’m surprised she hasn’t.”
“Well, she may or may not know I still have them.”
Steve’s eyebrows flatten. “Buck!”
“You can’t just take them, she’ll need them,” Steve says, but he’s starting to laugh a little.
“We need them.” Bucky threads his fingers through the long hairs at the back of Steve’s neck and tugs lightly. “You certainly need them.”
“Okay, jerk, that’s why we’re here. Get on with it so you can get on with returning them.”
The edge of the bathtub digs into the bones of his butt, but Steve sticks it out because it’s easier to clean up afterwards when all the hair is caught in one place. He can’t see what’s happening sitting below the mirror, but that’s okay, he trusts Bucky by now not to mess it up too bad.
He’s got a steady hand, and he treats every task like it’s the most important job in the world. Perfect precision, perfect aim. His hearts always in it.
Steve’s real deep in love, and the snip snip snip around his ear lets him know that Bucky is too.
Steve brushes his fringe across and out of his eyes. It doesn’t tuck behind his ear anymore. “Your turn?”
Bucky preens. “No way. It’d be a crime to get rid of these curls. Ladies pay top dollar at the salon for what I got given, Baruch Hashem.”
Steve snorts. “That why you smother ‘em down in Brylcreem every morning?”
Instead of taking it as the offense intended, Bucky just preens harder, like he’s pleased Steve noticed. “That’s called passing, Steve. If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em.”
“I’ll beat you.”
Bucky grins. “’D’like to see you try!”
July 4th is twice as hot as it was the year before, so they sit out all night on the fire escape in their singlets and boxers, limbs sticky with sweat. Bucky keeps kissing him on the cheek or the forehead every few minutes despite how uncomfortable it is to touch. 23 years later and it still feels like all the fireworks are just for him.
Bucky tells him so, again and again and again. They’re celebrating; New York City is alive like this tonight because so are you.
“Hey. It’s me. Sorry I haven't been by in a while.”
The whole way over, Steve’d rehearsed a speech in his head, but, now, it just seems stupid to talk to thin air. It’s not like they can hear him. It’s not like that would make it any better.
So he just sits, putting off the inevitable for as long as he can, just brushing their names over and over like it was his hand that engraved them, until he knows the strokes and curves so well that it now might be able to.
He tells them what he has to do and imagines them saying they don’t mind. He tells them he loves them and that he misses them. He almost says, don’t tell Bucky, but he catches the words before they come out.
The guy at the pawn shop gives him a look like he gets it, even though Steve hasn’t told him anything to get.
“You’re not the first, kid. Not even the first today.”
Depression’s hit hard it seems. Steve would rather starve then spend the money he’s about to get on food, but he doesn’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t feel the same.
The man gets out a magnifying glass, and Steve half expects it to be turned on him. “Nice rings, shame you can’t wear ‘em someday. How old, d’you know?”
Steve shakes his head. He has no idea.
“Ah well. Lemme see what I can do ya for.”
It ends with a fight, but it’s not like Steve expected anything else. They scream and yell at each other for hours without really saying much until Steve cracks first and bursts into tears from the guilt of just trying to do something right.
Just trying to pay him back.
It’s not like when he was younger, and he’d get so frustrated and angry and they’d just come pouring out. It’s more like at his ma’s funeral, when he’d bottled it up for weeks and suddenly the levee had broken.
From one side of the apartment, he yells: “I’m trying to fuckin’ help you! Why won’t you let me help you!?”
From the other side, Bucky yells back: “Because! ‘Cause it’s not… you’re not... I’m supposed to be the one that helps you! You’re sick and I keep you alive and that’s how it goes!”
“Bucky, that’s…” Steve starts, but he doesn’t know how to finish it in a way that will make Bucky understand what he means. Not when he’s got his hands clenched by his sides and he’s about two seconds from storming out the door and spending the night at Jacob’s, anyway.
So, he says the only thing that he knows will stick.
“Please, Buck. Please. They’re not gonna take me, we both know it. You’re a part of me. You’re my other half. That’s the closest thing I’ll ever get. Please.”
He watches Bucky fold, how he slumps like all the fight has been sucked right out of him. He rushes forward and scoops Steve up in his arms, like it was killing him that whole time to be apart.
Bucky won’t do it for his own health, but he sure as hell will do it for Steve’s. He can tell Bucky afterwards that it was never about himself, that Bucky was his first thought from the start. He won’t listen any better then, but it won’t matter because it will all already be over.
It’ll all be over. Steve hugs him tighter. He just wants it to all be over.
Steve calls himself an artist but the truth is he hasn’t done much more than sketch since he graduated. He still calls himself an artist because you can have one without the other. There’s only ever been art, therefore he is, or something like that.
But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s got no spare time and no one’s looking to pay. These are the two things his life has come down to, and he doesn’t know exactly when that happened, or how to go about fixing it. It seems that, besides a great deal of personal satisfaction, all his degree has gotten him is a lifetime ticket into the back of studio classes.
And people think Bucky’s the charmer. Steve had all his instructors wrapped around his talented little finger.
Every other month, they sit in front of sturdy, paint splattered easels for as long as it takes Bucky to get too restless to stay. He tries, Steve can tell he really does, but all of his still lives keep coming out like cubist nightmares. Steve tells him that if he uses more than one colour for each fruit his bananas would probably stop looking like yellow triangles, but you can only lead a horse to water.
He keeps going, though, every time Steve does, like he’s scared he’s going to lose him to the beat poets and their budding Communism. Crowds of them walk between the classrooms in perfectly pressed slacks and crisp white button ups, stacks of books tied with leather straps and slung over their shoulders like they’re just part of the look.
Steve wonders where they all were while he was enrolled.
Once, one of them handed Bucky a flier for a poetry reading night at a local bar. His nails still had grease under them when he’d taken it and scrunched it up, soon as the guy turned his back.
The instructor leaves the radio on the music station while they work. It’s nice, because they don’t have one at home, but Bucky won’t stop saying “I love this song” every time a new one comes on, just to rile Steve up.
“You can’t love them all,” he tells him.
“Who says? I just have so much love to give,” Bucky replies, then gets right up close to Steve’s good ear like he’s admiring Steve’s artwork - he decided to use pencil today, less mess – and starts singing along. “Love for sale. Who will buy? Who would like to sample my supply?”
Bucky doesn’t sing along to the next one. In fact, the whole city stops singing.
“…Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…”
“…I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire…”
Back home, in the dark, Steve makes two lists in his head. He waits until Bucky is all the way asleep, huffing deep, even breaths across the hills and valleys of Steve’s bare collarbones. Just in case. Just in case he can read minds.
Of course, Bucky can always read Steve’s mind. But then, he seems to wear it on his face. Or so Bucky likes to tell him.
They go like this:
The pros of enlisting in the United States Army –
- Men everywhere are laying down their lives, what right does he have to do any different?
- Nazis are evil, and they need to be stopped
- His father fought and died in the Great War, it would be a way of honouring him, forgiving him for his absence by understanding his obligations
- He’ll get to see the world outside their world
- The army pays a salary, they will be able to afford to live
The cons of enlisting in the United States Army –
- The army won’t want to take him
- He’ll probably be arrested
He falls asleep before deciding which one is the more compelling argument, but that wasn’t really the point. He just wanted to be sure of what he was risking by trying.
“Thought you weren’t gonna help me over the turnstile.”
“A-course you fuckin’ remembered that,” Bucky mumbles. “You know, sometimes it’s okay to let things go.”
“You want me to come in with you?”
“I don’t need hand holdin’.”
“Maybe I do, did’ya think of that?”
Bucky stares at Steve like he can’t quite believe he finally admitted it. Bucky deserves it right now; a little bit of vulnerability in return.
Bucky still says no. Steve sits out in the waiting room and stares at his feet the whole time.
He won’t look at Steve when he gets out of the office. Not in a bad way, but in the way that Steve can’t look any of the women sitting with him. It’s not the seeing that hurts, it’s the other’s gaze staring back. And it would be nice to pretend, for a little while longer, that there isn’t anyone there looking at all.
They wait until they are both locked back in the apartment to speak, and Steve tells himself it’s because it’s dangerous to spread their news around town.
It seems the time in his own head does Bucky some good, because he gives it away before he even opens his mouth. A smile cracks across his lips and he curses at himself for not being able to draw it out a few moments longer.
Steve yelps and launches himself up into Bucky’s arms, legs wrapped around his waist in mid-air. He breathes out raggedly into Bucky’s neck as Bucky laughs.
He’s okay. Everything’s gonna be okay. It's all over.
“Well,” Steve says, pushes himself off the wall where he’s been waiting. He’s still in a good mood. “You’re late.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry,” Maria replies. It’s barely audible through the metal shutter front clanging against itself as she winds it up from the inside.
“No, it’s fine. I just mean, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you open up late before. Ever.”
Maria smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Yeah.”
Steve holds up what’s left of his cigarette, says, “doesn’t matter, good timing,” drops the butt on the ground and steps on it. He’ll get it later when he has to sweep the stoop.
It takes all of five minutes for Maria to break something, then two seconds for Steve to rush over and pull her into his arms as she cries violently on his shoulder. She has to hunch down to be able to turn her face into his collar.
“What? What is it? What happened?” He presses, holding her so tight he can barely breathe. “What happened?”
She can’t answer around her tears. He shakes her a little in his arms. He has to know. He can’t fix it if he doesn’t know. He can’t make it right.
“Maria! Maria! What happened?!”
“Andre, it’s Andre. He’s-“ She cuts herself off with a ragged sob.
Steve’s blood runs cold. He’s never seen her like this. He didn’t even know it was possible. Fuck.
He lets her go for as long as it takes to flip the sign back to closed. Then he guides her until they’re both sat on the floor, backs against the icebox, the cold seeping through their clothes and burning the skin beneath.
“Your brother? What about him? You gotta tell me, Maria. It’s okay. You just gotta tell me, I’m real worried here.”
“Sorry, sorry,” she gasps.
“S’okay, alright? Just, is he okay?”
“Last night, he told us over dinner, he… he just, got orders. He just,” she sniffles, then whispers, like the words themselves might bring about bad luck, “signed up.”
Steve breathes out so that he doesn’t make any other sort of noise. “S’that why you were late?”
“Yeah. My ma was so upset, still. I had to get her out of bed.”
Steve gets it. Fuck does he get it. It always catches up to you, once you’ve taken care of everyone else.
She sobs once more into his cotton shoulder. “It’s not, Steve. Everyone was crying. He told us at dinner and we couldn’t even finish the meal. He doesn’t come home much anymore so we cooked a whole table full and no one could eat it. I’m only here ‘cause of you,” she says, then winces. “Sorry, not like that, I just didn’t want you to come all the way here and get shut out in the heat.”
It’s not much cooler inside, but Steve doesn’t mention it.
“I would have understood. You should go back upstairs, now that I know where you are.”
“Is Mister Martinez upstairs?”
“No, he took Andre out somewhere. Think he’s- he’s saying. You know.”
Goodbye. Or, good luck.
Something ugly twists itself around Steve’s innards. He doesn’t even want to name it. Just pushes it right back down.
“That’s no good Maria, just downright no good. I’m so sorry.”
She leans away from him, now, and wipes at her face until it’s dry. “I don’t want him to go. I know you’re not supposed to say that, but I don’t.”
Steve doesn’t have anything to say to that.
“Why does he even want to go? I don’t get it. Why does he want to leave us here alone?”
Steve does have something to say to that. He keeps it to himself.
It’s only a month after that, that Steve realises why Bucky didn’t come whooping and hollering out of that office. Why it took him the walk home to work up the nerve to tell Steve the truth.
Turns out, when the US government decides to use medical records to determine who is and isn’t eligible to fight for their country, being prescribed extra testosterone makes you a prime candidate for the draft.
Forgery can only go so far before it starts to look fake. What’s left of Steve’s own medical records get him 4F immediately, even though he’s completely flat when he sits with his shirt off in the waiting area.
“It’s gotta be short, Steve. Like, real short.”
Steve picks through Bucky’s curls like he’s arranging flowers. They are all too nice to prune.
“Well, I don’t wanna do it short.”
“Not up to you, is it?”
“Why not just get Ang? She’ll do it as short as you want.” Steve says loud, then mumbles, “her scissors anyway.”
“When have I ever asked Ang?” Bucky snaps. “You’re the only one I trust. You’ve always done it an’ I’m not changing that now.”
He sounds properly worked up, twisting and turning to look Steve right in the face. Steve wants to punch himself for being so stupid.
“Okay, honey, okay. I’ll do it short, just, quit moving.”
Bucky hands him the scissors, quickly, but Steve still sees the way his hand shakes. It makes his eyes well a little but he keeps his mouth shut. This isn’t his choice to make.
It feels like the hardest thing he’s ever done. Bucky doesn’t even check himself in the mirror. Just shakes off the towel and his shoulders and goes straight to the bedroom, while Steve scrapes the tub with bitten-down nails, gathering bundles of damp hair that stick to his skin and won’t let go.
This time, it’s Bucky who turns up out of the blue, and Becca who opens the door. She doesn’t look happy like when she comes ‘round theirs.
“What are you doing here?”
Bucky doesn’t even pause for a breath. This is what he was made for, and this is his little sister who was made to endure it all.
“What, I can’t come home for Shabbos dinner?”
She just leans on the frame and frowns at them harder. “You haven’t before.”
“Well, I’m turning over a new leaf. You gonna let us in or what?”
Another woman’s distant voice cuts her off. “Rebecca! Who is it?”
It puts a frantic edge in Bucky’s own voice, as he lowers it to harshly ask again: “Would you just let us in?”
Bucky tries to push past, but Becca just plants her feet. Steve admires her tenacity. He hopes she got it from him and Bucky. It’d be a nice thing to pass on.
She turns her head to yell down the hall. It makes Steve wince, even with his bad ears. “It’s Bucky and Steve, Ma! Should I let them in?”
A determined stomping begins in the belly of the tenement. Steve grabs a hold of Bucky’s shirt in reflex, more to make sure he stays put than anything else, before remembering that it probably won’t help their case.
Her face pops up over Becca’s shoulder, drawn tighter than the last time Steve saw it. He doesn’t know how long it’s been, but he’d be able to work it out, if he tried to think back to the last time Bucky didn’t smell like their apartment, and smelled only like himself.
Becca has the good grace to not look smug. Maybe she isn’t. Maybe she knows what this all means.
Bucky doesn’t have it in him to stand there and tremble. He’s not the type. “Hey, ma,” he says, blown right past sheepish and straight into ashamed.
“A word of warning would have been nice. I’ve only set two places. Did you just think you could turn up and slip right in?”
“We didn’t... I mean… listen, ma, I have to tell you—“
But then she’s pushing Becca out of the way and pulling Bucky into her chest so hard and fast he nearly trips into her. Suave, poised Bucky stumbles over his own feet and into the arms of his ma and Steve feels like crying.
“You’re so big.”
“Ikh vais, ma.”
“I miss you.”
“Ikh vais, ma.”
Steve catches Becca’s eye over the two of them. She gives him a look like she knew this would happen the whole time, and she’s pissed that no one listened.
But how are they supposed to know? People are unpredictable. And sometimes, it’s easier to do something first, then ask for forgiveness later.
Only, they don't need forgiveness. In fact, Steve thinks it’s high time the world started asking them for their forgiveness.
He isn’t sure yet whether or not he would give it, but it would still be nice to be asked, all the same.
'Cause when love is gone, there's always justice
And when justice is gone, there's always force
And when force is gone, there's always Mom
- Laurie Anderson, O Superman