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(Broken) Family of Choice

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The letter doesn’t come to him because, of course it fucking doesn’t. As far as the United States Government is concerned, Steven Grant Rogers is doesn’t have a family member left alive in this whole damn world. But it ain’t true, at least not quite yet.

He gets it almost as quickly just the same, ‘cause Becca must have come right over when it got to the Barnes house. Her face is still red and tracked from tears as she soundlessly holds out the official-looking envelope she’s clutching. Steve’s eyes compulsively flick from it to the unused bed in the far corner of the room because he doesn’t need to read the thing, he just fucking knows.

He does read it anyway. There isn’t much detail to it, but what does it matter about the details? “Missing and presumed dead,” it says. That’s all he gets of the man who was a brother to him in every possible way that mattered. Not even a single piece of James Buchanan Barnes is ever coming home. No dog tags, not a fucking shred of a token for his family to bury.

Tears have started to retrace the paths on Becca’s cheeks, and Steve can feel them prickling at the corner of his eyes as well. A man, especially one as small as Steve is, has to keep a stiff upper lip if he wants any kind of respect in this town, but there are exceptions. He thinks losing a brother is one of them.

Steve lets his arms fall to his sides, and the letter slips uselessly from his slack hand. Becca falls against his chest. They sob and sob and it feels like days.


 

It’s not days though, and Steve can’t lay down in his bed until time turns him to dust, for all that’s what he feels like doing. They splash cold water on their faces from the kitchen sink. People’s eyes follow them in the streets anyways, but no one asks what’s wrong. This kind of loss is getting all too damn familiar these days.

When they arrive at the door, Mr. Barnes is unmoving, shell-shocked in the hallway and Steve has a sudden fear that he won’t belong at the Barnes house with Bucky gone. The second Mrs. Barnes pushes past her husband and yanks Steve into a crushing hug, though he remembers he’s home. When they’ve recovered yet again, Mr. Barnes extends a hand and gives Steve a wet-eyed but firm hand shake and says, ‘Son, I’m glad you’re here.”

The family wanders into the living room, where Mrs. Barnes has clearly been going through anything of Bucky’s she could pull out the closet. His best friend, reduced to a couple of boxes of stuff.

Steve carefully takes a seat on the sofa and Becca collapses against him. Mrs. Barnes goes back to picking through the boxes. No one’s really looking at anything, but with the radio on quietly in the background, they’ve got an excuse not to make conversation.

Steve’s eyes catch on the picture of Bucky on the mantle. He’s in his dress uniform, smiling out from under his perpetually askew cap. He’d been so damn proud of that uniform and Steve had been jealous. Fucking jealous. He looks at the mess of his family around him and feels ashamed he ever wanted the country to go to war.