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in the before (three snapshots before the War)

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1.

They always pool what resources they have. Bucky gets really damn stubborn about it.

Rent is the first thing that gets counted out from any money they manage to make, counted into the vase that lives on Steve's tiny battered dresser. It lives there because Steve's the only one with hands small enough to get it back out again. The vase is heavy and pewter, too, which makes it impossible to break accidentally and damn hard to move without making a racket. It's also ugly, tarnished and dented from where Bucky and Steve used to use it as a prop for play when they were kids (when it did duty as the Holy Grail, a mortar, pirate treasure, and a dozen other things), so it's not like it's something anyone would actually want.

It's not completely theft-proof, but it helps, and it makes it so nobody can claim they went in there by accident or just happened to knock it over, and nobody can sneak it, and anyone staying with them - in case this month they had to let someone in to make rent - can't look bewildered and innocent about it.

And if it's in there and Steve's the only one who can reach in and get it out, it's hard to get tempted. Because otherwise it might be way too easy to think "it's first week of the month, we can make it up between now and then" and . . . not. And the landlord's an asshole.

Food money goes into the tin in the drawer in Bucky's room and comes out of it just as fast, seems like. And money for everything else rarely has a chance to get home. And if it does, it's only in pockets, on a payday. And only long enough to stuff what belongs to tin and vase into the tin and vase. Then it follows whoever got it right back out the door. And somehow the tin still manages to seem empty half the time, and a bigger part of whatever's coming in has to go into the vase, and it's hard to remember exactly where the money went.

Life's always been like that.

By the end of the month Bucky's apologizing any time he so much as bought a drink, and Steve's apologizing for art supplies and aspirin, and half the time apologies turn into fights. And Marnie and Ted in the front-facing place across the hall say Steve and Bucky are the only people in the world who, when they fight about money, are each fighting for a bigger part of the guilt and blame.

And also (for the love of God), cut it out, it wakes the baby. Or (Marnie sometimes threatens) they'll find the baby dumped in their bedroom to cry for a bit. On months that go okay, the threat works, and the most that happens is some sotto voce arguing; on lean months, they wake their neighbour's baby up again. In the end, both kinds of months, they manage.

 

2.

Among the things Bucky does not know how to do, probably on account of not having done them all that much, is: be sick quietly. If you didn't know better, you'd think he was dying and dying by violently choking to death. He's actually just throwing up everything he ate in the last day, including an overly-optimistic attempt at breakfast, and he'll be fine in a few hours. But you'd never know it form the noise.

Steve waits until after the loud hacking and coughing and noise has died away before he fishes the cloth out of the bowl of water, wrings it out and tosses it to Bucky and then wanders over to hand him a cup of water. Bucky completely fails to catch the cloth, but reaches over and picks it up from the floor, and then leans back against the wall to take the glass of water Steve hands him.

"You know," Steve says mildly, "someday you're gonna remember not to try and drink any Murphy under the table. Even the girls." He pauses and adds, "With any luck."

"Fuck," Bucky says, wiping his mouth and pushing the bucket away. "She's barely taller than you, where the Hell is she putting it?" The question's plaintive, enough so for it to be funny and Steve grins. Bucky shoots him a sour look. "And stop laughing at my misery."

"Nope," Steve says, blithely, still grinning. "I told you to stop. I know how much you can drink without paying for it, and you know that, and you did it anyway. That means I get to laugh all I want."

"I'll kick the bucket over at you," Bucky threatens, scowling.

"Yeah, sure," Steve retorts, "then you can clean it up." He considers tossing over the aspirin, but figures the likelihood of Bucky being able to catch it is low, and hands the bottle over instead. "Take a couple instead, you stubborn idiot."

"I hate you sometimes," Bucky mutters sourly. He fumbles with the bottle but eventually manages to toss back two of the pills and take another mouthful of water. On the basis that he doesn't get to all that often, Steve reaches over and messes Bucky's hair up.

Well. Messes it up more, it's already pretty well a mess.

Bucky tries to jerk his head away and hits it on the wall, hard enough to make Steve actually wince, because he hadn't actually meant to do that. It also makes him frown. " . . . are you even hung-over yet?" Steve asks, eyeing Bucky thoughtfully, "or are you just still drunk?"

"Fuck, Steve, I don't know," Bucky says, which means still drunk, despite several hours asleep and snoring. "But if I'm still drunk Anne Murphy should be dead, is all I'm saying. Dead and fucking, I dunno, pickled."

"We'd've heard," Steve replies. "Seriously, Buck, they're Murphys. Nobody can out-drink them, and besides, even if you had, she's barely taller than me, so nobody'd be impressed anyway, so what's the point? Next time," he says, poking the side of Bucky's head with his index finger and getting gracelessly batted at, "quit when you can't remember the verses for 'Minstrel Boy' anymore."

Bucky mutters something Steve can't catch but is probably just outright obscene, and Steve adds, virtuously, "And drink your water, it's good for you."

Bucky glares at him and then makes a noise like mnnnf and lets himself sort of slump over to the right to lie on the floor, covering his eyes with one arm like he's rejecting the world. Steve looks at him for a minute and then gets up, grabs a blanket off his bed and drapes it over Bucky - head included - before he picks up the bucket and sticks it outside the door to deal with later.

When he closes the door he adds, "You better not fall asleep there, because you'll just get mad at me if I try to haul you into bed."

This time Bucky's response is definitely obscene.

 

3.

Clearly at least half the reason the doctor can't get any tail on his own is he's terrible in bed, but it's the boring kind of terrible and the man is also vaguely terrified of him, so there's that. And he's got a good reputation as far as the actual damn medicine goes, and that's what matters.

From the stool by the door, Bucky watches the doctor examine Steve, making the faces every doctor ever's made doing it. At least he doesn't waste anyone's time or patience marvelling that Steve's still alive, or belabouring the obvious - that this fever's a bad one, that Steve's not really up to fighting a normal one with much assurance of recovery because of everything else wrong, all of that - to cover up his own impotence.

Instead, he listens to Steve's lungs, takes his temperature, looks down his throat, pinches his fingers and frowns. In the end, he tells Bucky that the air in the room needs to be humidified and that Bucky should use either lukewarm water or wet cloths all over to try to bring the fever down, with particular attention to behind the knees, the sides of the neck, under the arms and the inside of the thighs, because that's where the big veins run close to the skin and get rid of heat.

He gives Bucky bottles of some kind of expectorant, aspirin, morphine, and tells him to feed Steve broth, not water, because Steve's busy sweating all the salt out of his body and if that gets too far, it'll kill him by itself. Tells him to only use the expectorant after Steve wakes up and seems to have his senses, to try and get the crud out of his lungs, but use the morphine while he's asleep to keep the coughing down and let him breathe.

He leaves Bucky the number for the telephone at his house, and which nurses to talk to day or night if things get bad enough to take Steve to the hospital.

Then he leaves.

Steve doesn't wake up once, which Bucky's fine with, because it makes it that much less likely he'll have to come up with a lie about how he got the doctor here in the first place. The truth would choke Steve for years - shouldn't, but would. He's like that.

Broth at least is pretty easy: Marnie's been stopping by and fretting and asking what she can do and at least now Bucky can tell her. He'll have to figure out a way to get steam in the room without fucking burning down the building, and he's not sure how to do that. He's got Steve sitting up against the pillows like always when he's sick, because he breathes better that way.

He's not actually sure what the hospital would do, what they can do, but he'll take Steve if he has to, and hopefully the doctor won't feel the need to find out just how much Bucky does not care about ruining what's left of his own life if it keeps the man from pulling any bullshit.

Steve's mom's in the ground, his parents are in the ground, and he gives a flying rat's ass what the rest of his family thinks if they ever find out - and he's not about to tell them.

And Bucky's tired and he's probably hungry, and he knows he won't sleep if he tries and he doesn't really want to eat. Steve gets sick all the time, gets really sick at least once a year, but not like this. He doesn't know what this is: the doctor gave it a name, some kind of something-fever, but it doesn't mean anything to Bucky. Just that it's not flu, or pneumonia, or anything he recognizes.

Bucky remembers how the last time Steve was this sick, his mom, Sarah, sat beside the bed all night and rocked and prayed under her breath with her rosary in her hand.

Remembers that when she was dying Steve sat still, silent, with it in his.

Bucky doesn't pray. He hasn't decided if praying is pleading with a fucking bully or the empty air, if it's just God doesn't fucking care or if he gets off on hearing the begging, but either way it's not worth the effort. And even if it is, there's people who'll pray for Steve God's a lot more likely to listen to than Bucky.

He gets up to soak another sheet, to try and bring the fever down.