The day Steve met Bucky was the day he nearly lost his lunch money for the week. He was only six years old, but he knew the importance of money for his family. It’d always been Steve and Ma and Steve, Steve and Ma, and together they preserved every penny they could.
Steve had always been a sickly child, and today he was feeling particularly nauseated; he knew that eating lunch today would only make him feel worse, so he saved his lunch money to give to Ma when he got home. She always loved it when she had a little extra money. But as he left school, pocketing a tin can he found in the road, he was immediately ambushed by a couple of eight-year-olds from school. These children were especially brutal to Steve in school: Robbie, Paul, and Warren. As he was smart, tiny, and sickly, he was an easy target. Warren, their ringleader, stepped up to Steve with a fierce glower. “Hey, Stevie,” he said. Steve hated when people called him that. “You weren’t at lunch today.”
Steve glared right back. His ma had taught him never to back down from anyone, not even Warren, although he was twice his height and weight. “That’s none of your business,” he snapped. He tried to go around the boys, but they only swerved in his path.
“So you’ve still got it, then?” Robbie added. “The money?”
Steve didn’t lie, for his mom taught him to be honest; he didn’t see any reason for it. “Yes,” he replied, “but it’s mine.”
Warren and the others snickered. “Not anymore, Stevie!” They were surrounding him now; instead of backing up, Steve held his book-bag in front of himself like a shield, bracing his feet against the concrete. “Hand it over,” said Warren in a threatening tone.
“Or we’ll beat you up!” Paul chimed in. He was the smallest of the three, but he was by far the meanest. “Give us the money, you baby!”
Robbie lunged at Steve, cackling when he jerked backwards in response in anticipation of a blow. “What are you gonna do, cough on us?” Robbie lunged again, but this time he grabbed at Steve’s bag, thinking the money was inside. Steve was physically weak, but his will was strong, so he pulled back as hard as he could, stomping on Robbie’s foot as the other boy grabbed Steve’s shoulders.
Robbie howled in pain, and then Warren’s fist met Steve’s face.
Steve fought back as hard as he could, but still, before he knew it, he was on the ground, the money he cherished so much well-protected inside of his shoe. “Where’s the money?” Warren snapped, as Robbie landed another kick to his side.
“Hey!” A shout interrupted the boys, and Steve lifted his head to see a boy with messy brown hair and startling blue eyes coming towards them. “Get away from him!”
“Make me—” Warren began, before he was rewarded with a punch to his nose. “Ow!”
Steve realized his rescuer was a boy named Jack or James or something like that, another kid in their class who was probably the tallest he knew. Steve lived in the same tenement as him, so he knew his face well, just not his name.
The rest of the boys scattered, frightened of another hard hit from the dark-haired boy. “You okay?” he asked Steve, extending a hand to help him up.
Steve accepted the hand, getting back to his feet and brushing himself off. At least the money was still safe, but he knew Ma wouldn’t be happy he got beaten up again. “Yeah, I’m good,” he assured him. “Thanks for helping me.”
The other boy shrugged. “It wasn’t a fair fight.”
They walked back to the tenement together, where they arrived at their respective doors. “My name’s Bucky, by the way,” stated the other boy, sticking his hand out. “Bucky Barnes.”
Steve, confused, said, “I thought your name was James.”
The boy shrugged, as he often did. “James Buchanan Barnes. But my friends call me Bucky.”
Steve felt warmed by the fact this ‘Bucky’ had referred to him as his friend. “Nice to meet you! I’m Steve Rogers.”
Bucky grinned at him. “I know. You live at the end of the hall, right?”
It was only now that Steve realized Bucky had been his neighbor since Steve moved to this tenement a few months prior. “Yeah,” he replied. “That’s me.”
“Well,” said Bucky (what a strange name, honestly), “it’s nice to meet you, too.”