The Asset disassembled his sniper rifle, quickly repacking his bag and backing away from the bushes he'd been behind, melting into the crowd. His team met him at the train station but instead of getting on the train, they took him in a car to a private airport, where they boarded a jet to California. As always after a high level mission, he was brought directly to Under Secretary Pierce for a private meeting at his hotel in Anaheim.
“Mission failed. Target survived .” Pierce didn't need to ask, he'd already know if The Asset had been successful, it would be on the news. He would have wanted The Asset to say it out loud though. The Asset studied the floor in shame.
“Leave us alone, please.” The rest of the team filed out, to get sleep or food. And as soon as the others were gone, The Asset climbed into his Daddy's lap when Daddy crooked his finger. “I bet you're hungry too.”
“Please, eat, darling.” Daddy had a tray on the small breakfast table, with two hamburgers, two Cokes and two servings of fries, all from a bag with a big yellow star on the front. The Asset could not remember having ever had a French fry. He bit into it cautiously, it was hot, salty, and greasy, he had a few more until the heat and salt had him reaching for his cold drink. He never got hamburgers either, he didn't know if it was supposed to be good but he enjoyed it because Daddy had given it to him. He watched the fireworks going off above the Disneyland park, which Daddy had said they would visit if he completed the mission. He hadn't, but Daddy had been kind enough to feed him a treat anyway.
“Thank you, Daddy.”
“Now, go put on your pajamas and use the bathroom.”
“Daddy, which pajamas should I choose?” Daddy always gave him two pairs to pick from, had he forgotten? Daddy's eyes went cold for a second.
“Right. You like the dinosaur ones,” Daddy said. The Asset changed, took care of his business and returned, he didn't keep Daddy waiting unless it was to pretend he needed help changing. Sometimes Daddy liked that.
“I have a special surprise for you.” Daddy gave him a wrapped box, which The Asset struggled to open, he didn't want to rip Daddy's pretty wrapping paper, which had all penguins on it. But when The Asset got it open, his stomach sank in cold dread. Nestled in tissue paper, there was a brand new leather belt, with a Donald Duck belt buckle. The Asset knew it was not for wearing.
“Did you think,” Daddy said, “that you were getting anything less after failing me?” The Asset turned around obediently, got on his knees as he faced the back of the couch and as the pain hit, he stared out at the fireworks display going off over the park he would never get to see now.
“Wow,” Steve commented at the cavernous lobby of the Contemporary Resort hotel. And this was supposed to be the most aesthetically modest of the pricier resorts. He would never have guessed, based on the multiple restaurants and shops, the arcade, the massive convention center, the monorail which passed right through the hotel, or the futuristic lamps in the hallway leading to a restaurant called Wave. It was Las Vegas for children. Checking in was extra complicated, they had booked a room on a “club level”, which meant they had to wait for an employee (or as they preferred to be called, “cast members”) to escort them to the fourteenth floor and their special check in area. It had been difficult, coming up with a compromise between a down to earth Disney experience, and their personal security needs. Bucky smirked behind his palm as Steve slid his military I.D across the check- in desk to ensure that he got the military family discount.
“What?” Steve asked. Bucky hugged him from behind.
“You're such a guy from the Depression, even when you're trying to be spendthrifty. But thanks for springing for the car service.” The car and driver, for security reasons, would drop them off and pick them up as close to the gate as possible.
“I figured you wouldn't enjoy taking that train,” Steve said.
“I would've done it if you wanted to,” Bucky said.
“Yeah,” said Steve, “But you don't have to. I just...I wanna make this the best week ever.” If Bucky had to go through this second childhood, he deserved to be spoiled after all that pain and fear. Bucky might never be fully better, but he was healing slowly and Steve was growing into his role as Bucky's caregiver after many missteps.
By the time they reached their room, Bucky was visibly eager to switch down, snuggling closer to Steve and beginning to shift the pitch of his voice,higher with a slight lisp. The room was large, with two double beds and decorated in a brown and yellow color scheme, fun and cheerful for kids, but with just enough restraint to appeal to adults. The rest of their luggage had been delivered straight from the airport and was already waiting inside.
“Daddy, the pillows have Mickey on them,” Bucky pointed at a collection of round yellow pillows with Mickey Mouse embroidered on the front. The white bathrobes at the ends of both beds were also shaped into the famous mouse ear design. Bucky fished his bear out of his backpack and ran with him to the window, pressing the bear's snout up to the glass to show him the iconic view of Cinderella's castle across the impossibly blue water.
“Look, Bucky Bear! Look!”
“That's where Cinderella lives,” Steve said. He began unpacking his and Bucky's suitcases, plugging in their computers and chargers. “And where they do the nighttime fireworks show.”
“They left shampoo bottles and soap for Bucky Bear,” Bucky exclaimed from the bathroom (he could move fast when he wanted to). “The bottles are just his size.”
“That was real nice of them,” Steve said. “But don't really wash him, okay? It's just for pretend.”
Bucky sat on the edge of the bed, bouncing himself on the mattress. Steve really hoped he didn't forget he wasn't physically five and start jumping on the bed, he had no desire to pay for a broken Disney World hotel bed. He would, he'd do anything for Bucky but it wasn't high on his list of hoped for outcomes, he was paying for this trip out of pocket.
“Can we go to Disney World now? I'm not tired, I slept on the plane.”
“I know you did, we had to leave so early. But first we have to put these on,” Steve said. He helped Bucky fasten on the bright green Magic Band bracelet next to Bucky's tracking bracelet. “These are our tickets, and how we pay for stuff. And they unlock our room if you lose your key. Tip your face up.” He smeared a generous amount of sunscreen on Bucky's nose (while Bucky giggled and tried to wrinkle it) and forehead and the pale exposed skin above his shirt collar, then rubbed sunscreen on himself. “Now we're ready to go. Oh, pal, we gotta tie that shoe.”
They left the hotel in knee length shorts, t shirts (long sleeved for Bucky), and sneakers, with Bucky carrying his Captain America shield shaped backpack in which he stored his bear. On the ride to the Magic Kingdom, Steve showed Bucky the itinerary, reading from the various tourist guides in a low voice. Today and tomorrow would be Magic Kingdom focused, with Hollywood Studios on the the third day, Animal Kingdom on the fourth and Epcot last.
“I thought you might like to get a picture with Mickey Mouse,” Steve suggested as they strolled the wide, avenue of Main Street, USA, quickly pulling Bucky to the side as a colorful parade of dancing costumed characters passed. Main Street, USA was supposed to resemble a perfect American small town, the kind of place that was about to start dying out by the time Disney opened his first theme park. The kind of place people wanted Steve to act like he came from, although he'd never spent more time in one of those towns than the time it took to sell war bonds from a stage. The décor and architecture were patterned after the ornate, curlicued, Late Victorian “gingerbread” style and painted in pastel colors.
“Mickey is really here?” Bucky asked, allowing Steve to lead him by the hand to the Town Square Theater, where the Mouse was waiting. “It's not just for the commercials?”
The Town Square Theater was designed inside to look like an upscale Victorian theater, the line snaked through the yellow and white striped wallpapered hall. The line wasn't as long as he'd feared, it was still pretty early in the day, but it was still enough of a hot, crowded wait to cause Bucky to begin to fret again. Steve rubbed his back discreetly and made soothing noises. As they entered a room mocked up to look like the backstage area of a magic show, the Mickey and Minnie actors were dancing together. Minnie wore her customary red dress with white polka dots, while Mickey wore a top hat and tuxedo. Bucky shyly accepted a hug from both Mickey and Minnie, then eagerly pulled Steve in for a second photo.
Of course the attraction exited into a gift shop, but Steve managed to get Bucky out of there without buying anything. It was almost time for the first surprise of the trip.
“We're going to Cinderella's Castle!” Bucky, who was rubbernecking at everything, finally noticed that he was being steered toward the huge, French style castle which sat in the very center of the park, the castle they'd seen from their hotel, the one that they were already familiar with as the Disney logo.
“Yup. We're actually eating breakfast there.”
“Daddy, you're so nice to me!” Bucky slipped his hand into Steve's hand automatically when they started to cross the street.
“You deserve it, Buck.”
As they entered, they were ushered right into a side room to meet Cinderella,because they had paid for something called a Fastpass. Steve was torn on the issue, on the one hand, was it really fair that people with deeper pockets got to buy their way out of waiting on line? On the other hand, he hadn't come to the Magic Kingdom to wait on hot, sweaty lines all day with an anxious five year old. Steve had been worried about Bucky's interaction with the costumed characters, but it all went as smoothly as their interaction with Mickey had gone. Although he was prepared to slip the handler a note explaining Bucky's “special condition”, these were professionals and Bucky wasn't their first experience with such an issue. Cinderella was kind, friendly and gracious, especially for nine o'clock in the morning at a theme park in August. A photographer snapped a souvenir picture of them, explaining that it was included in the price of the meal.
The actual dining room was on the second floor. Bucky's eyes were round like saucers looking around at the big, curved leaded glass windows and old fashioned lanterns hanging from the pillars throughout the Castle dining room. There were familiar faces already seated at the table the waitress showed them to, Natasha, Clint and Tony sat on one side, with plates of breakfast food in front of them.
“TASHA!” Bucky ran to their friends and hugged all of them. “Daddy, you didn't say they were coming too!”
“Then it wouldn't be a surprise,” Steve said, smiling and waving at the group. Keeping the surprise a surprise had not been easy, considering the amount of studying and planning a trip to Disney World for the first time required. He'd spent time on Disney fan forums and actually ordered a video on the ins and outs of the park.
“Now that you're here we can go on SPLASH MOUNTAIN AND GO TO THE PARK WHERE IT'S LIKE YOU GOT SHRUNK AND-”
“Bucky, it's time to settle down,” Steve said gently, ruffling his hair. But he liked seeing Bucky express joy without fear or shyness, he so often tried to make himself invisible instead, Pierce had wanted a shy little boy who didn't volunteer opinions. “It's indoor voice time.” The waitress brought over two new menus, Steve passed one to Bucky, having forgotten to check if it was a menu Bucky could read in little mode.
“I'll read it for you,” Tasha offered. She had agreed to be seven for the majority of the trip,it was a lot less fun to be five in Disney World without your friends.“I mean, I'll help you read it. See, you can have a quiche, that's a pie made out of cheese and eggs. Or you can have Caramel Apple Stuffed French Toast - which is a decadent french toast stuffed with sweet cream cheese, baked with caramel apples, and drizzled with a Calvados Caramel Sauce. That sounds good, I bet you'd like that.”
“Okay,” Bucky said.
“Are you sure, Buck?” Steve asked. Bucky didn't tend to stand up for himself with Tasha. “Did you know that Calvados is made out of alcohol? It might interact with your medications.”
“It all burns off when it cooks,” Tasha explained with a roll of her eyes. “Otherwise they wouldn't even let us order it.”
“I wanna try it, Daddy,” Bucky insisted. The waitress returned almost as soon as they agreed to order. Steve ordered the steak and eggs. The waitress turned to Bucky with a flirty smile.
“And what about you, My Lord?”
“Apple stuffed toast,” Bucky whispered, blushing red and ducking his head. “And um amilkplease.”
“Without the Calvados sauce,” Steve added.
“You guys are still welcome to come stay in my beach villa,” Tony said when the waitress and been, and gone, and been back with the food. “It's kinda big for just two people.”
“I want me and Bucky to have a normal experience,” Steve said. “Sort of normal, anyway. I guess that would have been a better idea, since I didn't intend to spend much time in the hotel. But maybe we can stay on for a few days after, to decompress.”
“I've stayed in lots of fancy hotels. Did you ever stay in a fancy hotel before, Bucky?” Tasha asked. Bucky blanched.
“Um, yeah,” he whispered. He glanced anxiously at Steve. “My old D- when we went to California. Maybe some other times.”
The awkward moment was interrupted by the arrival of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother and her noisy floor show. The waitstaff gave out plastic wands and little plastic swords to the guests, Bucky and Tasha started giggling and putting silly spells on each other.
“Pep and I got reservations for the Spirit of Aloha tomorrow night,” Tony said. “You gotta at least come to that.”
“Well, I was hoping to buy a Dole Whip later,” Steve said. “Everyone raves about them and I heard they're hard to find in the park outside the Polynesian resort?” They didn't get to finish the conversation, because Steve had to help Bucky with an overturned water glass.
“Bucky, please be careful at the table,” Steve scolded gently. Not gently enough, Bucky looked at floor, devastated.
After breakfast, they took in some of the calmer rides and shows in order to let the food settle. The first ride in Fantasyland, which was supposed to be a beloved classic created by Disney himself, did not go well. The boat ride traveled along an indoor, man made river, filled with eerie greenish lighting, which passed beneath displays of ethnically diverse animatronic children in a collection of folk costumes, who sang an overly cheerful song about togetherness and cooperation as they engaged in scenes from their cultures.
“Daddy, I don't like the puppets,” Bucky whimpered.
“Oh, honey, no one does,” an old lady sitting across from them laughed. Bucky just covered his eyes, and tried to cover his ears at the same time. He looked so upset Steve placed his own hands over Bucky's ears. Unfortunately, that meant he couldn't cover his own ears. The song burrowed its way into his brain and refused to leave. And the ride just kept going on and on through a dark maze of artificially lit little bobble head people. By the time it finished, he had forgotten that there was a world beyond the ride, a world of laughter and a world of fun where that song wasn't playing and he wasn't on a boat. He was relieved to get away from it as they backtracked slightly and began to explore Liberty Square, the first of two sections of the park dedicated to American history. Bucky grew gradually less clingy as he seemed to realize there were no more puppets and creepy songs.
They paused outside the Liberty Tree Tavern to look at the actual Liberty Tree, the largest tree in the park, with thirteen lanterns representing the thirteen original colonies. It was supposed to be based on Disney's 1950s film adaptation of Johnny Tremain, and was a reference to the real Liberty Tree which the colonial rebels calling themselves The Sons of Liberty had used as a rallying point.
“I actually read it when it was published, Johnny and his friend Rab remind me a lot of us when we were growing up,” Steve said. “When I put the book down, I really understood what it felt like to passionately want to protect my country, I felt like the author got me.”
“Take my picture with the Libiberty Tree,” Bucky said. He wrapped both his arms around it as far as they would reach.
“The what?” Tony asked.
“The L- the Lib-” Bucky blushed.
“I'm just yanking your chain, kiddo. Say cheese!”
The Hall of Presidents was pretty much what it said on the box, a show featuring a brief film narrated by Morgan Freeman and speeches by an animatronic version of every US president. Clint dozed off, Natasha spent the show snorting under her breath. At least the seats were comfortable and the theater was air conditioned. Steve was sure he was the only one in the group who was actually interested in learning about the presidents, especially the eleven Commanders in Chief he'd missed. He was excited to listen to Kennedy, the first Irish Catholic president, born the same year as himself, sickly but scrappy as a child, who had served as an officer in the Navy and fought in the Pacific Theater during the war. He'd been looking forward to talking about it with Bucky, but Bucky shifted uncomfortably, more anxious than interested.
“You enjoy that, tiger?” Tony asked Bucky. “Not into the content myself but those robotics still kick ass. I bet I could combine figures like that with my AI program and Disney could have walk and talk presidents roaming the park. Adaptable and self updating-”
“Yeah, and then they'd run amok and we'd have to fight off replicas of the Founding Fathers,” Clint said. “Your track record's not good in this area and no one wants to have to punch a robot in a wheelchair or shoot JFK again.”
“Bucky Bear didn't like it and he wants to go to the Haunted Mansion already,” Bucky mumbled in a rush. “He's mad and he wants to go now.”
“You need to be patient,” Steve said. What was getting into Bucky? Was it just a child's short attention span, did he need a bathroom, was he hungry?
“I want to go NOW!” Bucky whined. He stomped away, leaving the grownups staring at each other. Bucky's super soldier hearing caught their conversation.
“Does he know where he's going?” Tony asked finally.
“Well, when he's like this you know he can't read well,”Steve said, “But the Haunted Mansion is right over there and he's seen pictures. He's wearing his bracelet. But I should go after -”
Bucky walked quickly away from the others until he could no longer see or hear them. He was shaking all over, after sitting in that room listening to people talk about shaping the century and seeing that puppet of one of his old targets. He had yelled at everyone like a bad boy, that was only going to make it worse when they found him. What if Daddy got embarrassed about him being such a baby in public and punished him even more for being tired and grouchy when Daddy had spent so much money to bring him on vacation? Just because he had never really punished Bucky before, it didn't mean he would never. About twenty minutes later, when he began to worry that he should go back, Tasha flopped next to him on the bench by the Riverboat Launch. She twirled a parasol with her name printed on it that she must have bought on the walk over.
“Whatcha doin' ?”
“Having Calm Down Time,” Bucky admitted. He wished he had remembered to pack one of the sensory bottles he and Bruce made together, which were full of sparkle stars floating in purple water like the night sky. He could shake the bottle and watch the stars fall, it helped him relax. The Calm Down steps his doctor taught him were not working at all, the anger and fear just kept building.
“Why're you angry?” Tasha asked.
“Bucky Bear was bad and and now he won't confess what he did but I know because- because -Daddy made me watch that show about what Bucky Bear did wrong to the presidents!” he got up and started walking quickly toward the restrooms. Tasha skipped after him, following him into the men's room.
“You can't be in here, you can't watch!” Bucky turned on the faucet at the sink. He pulled Bucky Bear from his bag, gripping him by the neck.
“What are you doing? Bucky Bear can't get wet,” Tasha gasped.
“He was bad and he has to learn,” Bucky said. “If Bucky Bear admits what he did and learns, then I won't get in trouble too.” He held Bucky Bear's head under the faucet, imagining that the bear began to struggle when he couldn't breathe or see anymore. Tasha was yelling at him to stop it, stop it! And pulling on his arm. Bucky's vision went red as he wrapped his metal hand tightly around the bear's throat. Tasha shoved at him and shoved at him until they were back outside. She grabbed Bucky Bear from him, hugging and petting the bear, whispering soothing things. Somehow, Tasha hugging Bucky Bear soothed Bucky himself.
“Bucky! There you are,” Daddy exclaimed. He ran up and started trying to hug Bucky, who was a good boy and didn't pull away even though he only wanted Tasha to hug him.“Why are you crying? Why is Bucky Bear wet?”
“Bucky dropped him in the river,” Tasha said quickly. Bucky was grateful for the quick save, it would be so rude to talk about knowing Daddy was going to punish him, when all their friends just wanted to go on the haunted house ride and have fun.
“Just hold him under the automatic hand dryers,” Tony said. “Before he mildews.”
“You guys go on ahead,” Daddy said. “I'll dry the bear.” Daddy was sending him away because he didn't want to see him right now.
The Haunted Mansion was funny, with all the silly poems on the fake gravestones. Clint and Tony read them out loud in different voices while they waited on the long line. Bucky just wasn't in the mood anymore. Nothing felt good now, when he was angry and ashamed, but he couldn't ruin everyone's fun, he wasn't a selfish boy. Next came Splash Mountain, the ride with all the pirates, and the show at the Enchanted Tiki Room. The Tiki Room show was fun, except for the scary thunder parts, but even those weren't so bad. Thunder was less scary now that he knew Thor. After that, they met Daddy, and Pepper too, back on Main Street, by a big restaurant called The Crystal Palace,
Daddy handed him Bucky Bear, all dry and wearing a pair of swimming trunks, dark sunglasses and a Disney logo t shirt.
“His coat is in my pocket.I didn't think he should get wet again on Splash Mountain,” Daddy explained. “He could get sick if we have to keep drying him out. One time, when we were- one time when I was ten, I fell in a river and I was in bed for two days.”
“Thank you, Daddy,” Bucky whispered, clutching Bucky Bear to his chest. Bucky Bear said he found the shorts and t shirt acceptable for blending in with the crowd in an undercover mission as Ordinary American Tourist Bear. He had done missions like that before in Berlin.
“People don't get sick from being cold,” Tasha said. “They get sick from germs.”
“Well, there's a lot of germs at Disney too, I'm basically showering in Purell tonight,” Tony joked.
Crystal Palace was designed to look like a fancy garden, with green lawns, and a pretty white bridge. The roof soared up into a glass dome and there were trees inside, the tables and chairs looked like metal patio furniture. The effect was of an old fashioned greenhouse, like the place in the backyard of his old Daddy's vacation home.
“I think it's supposed to be inspired by a building Queen Victoria had designed in honor of a big event,” Daddy said. “This is a buffet lunch, it means we go up to the food instead of having it brought to us and pick out what we want from a bunch of different dishes. Do you want me to pick for you, or do you want to do it yourself?”
“You pick,” Bucky said. He had to behave, to make up for being loud and bad. But- then he saw the characters- all his favorites from the Hundred Acre Wood! Winnie the Pooh, and Tigger, and Piglet and Eeyore. Bucky wanted to ask if he could get a hug from them but he was scared. He just kept stealing glances at them while he walked through the buffet with Daddy, getting help choosing macaroni and cheese and a soda. Daddy added a pile of peas and carrots to his plate.
“So, how bad was Small World?” Clint asked back at the table.
“I wished I could still get drunk,” Daddy said. “I wished I was drunk, actually. That song is like some sort of-of mind numbing torture. And being indoors-that just gives it a whole other level of surreality. All the rest of the stuff we did was great though.”
“Did you like the rides you went on today?” Pepper asked Bucky. She always remembered to include him, because he was too shy to speak up himself sometimes.
“Uh huh,” Bucky said. “They take pictures of you on Splash Mountain when you go down the big drop. The pirates were awesome too.” He pulled the photo from his backpack, passing it around the table. He looked really funny with his face wide eyed and slack jawed in surprise as the roller coaster plunged downward and the water splashed up.
“I didn't get it,” Tasha said loudly. “What movie were the bear and the rabbit from?”
Tony and Pepper and Clint gave each other weird looks, with a brief flurry of hands signing back and forth.
“They're from this movie called Song of the South,” Tony said finally. “It was made in 1946, so you three wouldn't know about it. Disney's really embarrassed by it, which is why it's been, essentially, banned for decades. It was pulled from Disney home video in the US. That ride is practically the only acknowledgment of the movie you'll get except for that f-flipping Zip-a-Dee Doo Daa song.”
“God, how bad is it?” Daddy asked.
“People think it's totally racist,” Clint said.
“Although ironically, the second ever Oscar awarded to an African American actor was for Song of the South,” Tony added.
“Yeah, but that's true for Gone with the Wind too,” Pepper said. “Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for playing a Mammy in a move about how the mean Yankees ruined the beautiful slave trading culture of the South.”
“You can't have a movie showing slaves being all happy being slaves,” Clint said. Bucky had thoughts about this, going through bad times didn't mean you felt bad all the time, it was just your life, but he didn't want to get in the middle of the grownup argument.
“Hattie McDaniel was laughing all the way to the bank. Uncle Remus wasn't even a slave, the movie takes place during Reconstruction,” Tony argued. “What does that say, that people saw a black guy in a movie taking place before 1900 and assumed he must be a slave? Walt Disney actually went out of his way to hire someone to write it who he knew had progressive views on race, because he was afraid the original writer had too much of a white Southern bias. Like, the original review that said it was about slaves was published by a guy who hadn't even seen it himself.”
“Why are you suddenly so eager to defend this movie?” Pepper asked.
“I'm just saying that-”
“Now, I did see Gone with the Wind,” Daddy said. “Me and Bucky went. I understand that the writers struggled with how to portray the story's obvious Confederate bias.”
“There's a hilarious play about the Gone With the Wind writers, it's called Moonlight and Magnolias, maybe it's on video,” Pepper replied.
“Do you wanna try my spoon bread?” Tasha whispered. Bucky let her feed it to him right from a spoon. It was good, like the cornbread Sam had made that time, only spicy. The characters kept walking by, but Bucky was afraid to talk to them, and the grownups were too busy arguing about the movie, so he was afraid to ask one of them for help. Tasha was brave, she waved at Winnie the Pooh and...he came over!
“Hi!” Tasha said. “Can you hug my friend?” Pooh Bear was big, and so soft, he gave really good hugs, like a fuzzy blanket. Bucky held up Bucky Bear.
“He's a big fan,” Bucky explained timidly. “Can you sign his shirt? To Bucky Bear from Winnie the Pooh?” Pooh nodded, because the animal characters weren't allowed to talk, and he signed Bucky Bear's shirt and gave Bucky Bear his own good, cuddly hug while Bucky carefully took a picture on his cellphone, biting his lip in concentration. “Daddy, look!” Bucky said when Pooh moved on. He tried to show Daddy the picture, but someone dropped a tray, and a baby started screaming.
“What?” Daddy sounded irritated. His face was all flushed.
“It's-just, Bucky Bear got to meet Winnie the Pooh.” Daddy was mad. Because he knew what Bucky Bear had Done. Why was he dragging it out? His old Daddy had done that and Bucky didn't know which way was up, nice things, punishment, nice things, punishment, so he never knew what to expect.
“That's great,” Daddy said. “That's, that's nice, Buck. Hey, you want some cotton candy from that little circus we saw?”
They ate pink and blue cotton candy while walking to the Little Mermaid “Under the Sea” ride. Bucky had never had cotton candy before, it tasted good, but Daddy kept looking at him to see what his reaction would be, Bucky started to feel nervous about eating in front of people. He didn't know how to like the cotton candy the way Daddy wanted him to, now there was even less of a chance Daddy wouldn't punish him. Daddy didn't like the Little Mermaid ride either, he acted madder and madder, which made it hard for Bucky to relax watching his favorite story.
“You know what, Steve? Why don't you and Tony go get out of the sun while Clint and I take the kids on a couple more rides and we'll meet you back at your hotel at 8 for dinner,” Pepper said when they got off the ride. Pepper liked to shop, and Tasha wanted to buy princess stuff, so that's where they went next, the princess stuff store. Bucky rested his bear on a shelf in order to look at a special Snow White book, which had 3D pop up illustrations on every page. Bucky wanted to buy it for Daddy but it was very expensive. He turned around to ask Pepper to help him add up the price, and found himself face to face with a man in a Goofy hat that went all the way down to his nose. He was holding Bucky Bear, the bear was wearing a headband with two antennas, each with a gold star on top.
“Bucky Bear hates deely boppers!” He snatched his bear away from Goofy, clutching Bucky Bear to his chest defensively.
“It's just Clint!” Tasha said. “Bucky, it's just Clint.”
“I don't want them please!” He shoved the deely boppers at Clint. “Not ever!”
Pepper was always nice to him, to help him get calm, she found candy bars shaped like Mickey Mouse and a gentle ride, a carousel with hand painted scenes of Cinderella's story. Bucky learned that the carousel was the oldest ride in Disney World, it had been built in 1917 and used to live in an amusement park in New Jersey. The ride was the same age as Daddy! While they were walking back down Main Street after seeing Mickey's Philharmagic, a funny music show(which Bucky thought was nice but not very exciting), they ran into a huge crowd watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs dancing in the street, Clint said that it was the fantasy character parade. With Clint's help, he held up his phone to record it. It was amazing and brilliantly colorful, with almost all his favorite characters on their own special floats, accompanied by dancers in theme costumes. Bucky clapped and cheered when Prince Phillip fought the “thorn bushes” in an elaborate dance that featured performers on stilts, and he gasped out loud when the huge metal dragon appeared and spit fire from its mouth.
At 8 pm, Pepper took Bucky and Tasha back to the Contemporary hotel and up in the elevator to a modern light wood and chrome restaurant called California Grill at the top of the hotel. It was dark outside by then, the whole Magic Kingdom below them was lit up like the tiny lights on a Christmas tree. They had reservations for six people, near the long wall of big windows. The lamps had been dimmed, and each table in the airy restaurant had a glass jar with a lit candle.
Daddy ordered a sampler plate of different types of sushi to share. They actually got to watch the chef make it in front of everyone. It was so cool seeing her hands move blindingly fast. Daddy asked for something called a Cucumber Fizz, and asked the waiter to bring one for Bucky too but to make the second one “virgin”. It was cucumber flavored soda, Bucky hadn't expected to like it but it was cool and refreshing after a hot day.
“Well, it's not the only virgin at this table, Steve, ” Tony snorted. He had already “had a few” according to Pepper.
“What does that mean?” Bucky asked. He chewed the sushi slowly, trying to decide if he liked the texture. He'd avoided that puddle of green sauce after testing a drop on his tongue. It was not guacamole.
“It means he hasn't had a date in a very long time,” Clint said.
“It's not because he's busy taking care of you,” Pepper assured Bucky. That meant exactly that, Bucky was keeping Daddy lonely.
“Your Daddy's just not good at getting people to go out with him,” Tony said. “Or asking them for grownup sleep overs and special hugs.”
Bucky wondered if the reason Daddy had not known how to do the things Daddies did for their little boys was because he had never had any special hugs. Bucky was glad Daddy didn't make him play the scary games but he must be lonely without a special grownup friend. And it didn't make him feel good in his stomach to know that he had done those things and maybe Daddy hadn't. It made him feel used and dirty. Of course Daddy was mad at him today, he'd remembered Bucky was a- a- Bucky heard the sound of breaking glass in his head again.
“Ooh,” Clint said after the sky had completely darkened. “Dessert and fireworks!” Besides the chocolate cake and the ice cream for the others, the waiter brought over a strawberry shortcake for Daddy and Bucky to share.
A woman with a deep, soothing voice began to speak over a public address system.
“When stars are born, they possess a gift or two.
One of those is, they have the power to make a wish come true.”
A song about wishes, sung by a little girl, began to play. White lights appeared in the dark sky above the castle, and seemed to rain down like flower petals. They were joined by other different colored lights, exploding at different paces. Everyone clapped and cheered as Tinkerbell flew past in the sky. The music was an instrumental medley of famous Disney songs and narration, which featured all the classic characters reciting quotes about making wishes. It was piped in from outside, so the cracks and bangs of the fireworks were muted, like listening to them with cotton balls in your ears. It was beautiful when you didn't have to hear the loud noises too. Bucky Bear hated the sound of explosions. But all Bucky could hear was the shattering glass when Pinocchio wished to be a Real Boy and Peter Pan wished to never grow up.
“Getting tired, buddy?” Clint asked. Bucky nodded. Children were not supposed to stay up this late at night. But it was important to make Daddy happy by watching the fireworks and they were so pretty from far away.
“Yeah, we're gonna head back down to the room,” Daddy said.
Oh no oh no. If only he could have delayed another hour. But he had no choice. He followed Daddy back, and obeyed Daddy's instruction to put on his pjs and a pullup and brush his teeth. After he was done, he sat dumbly on the bed, his stomach hurting, trying not to throw up, waiting for Daddy to just get it over with.
“I got something for Bucky Bear,” Daddy said. “They have this bear character, he comes with a bunch of different outfits and I thought Bucky Bear would like some things of his own.”
Daddy had laid out a pair of tiny bear pajamas for Bucky Bear. Bucky dutifully dressed his bear with shaking hands. Bucky Bear told him that the pajamas were comfy, but that he didn't like that they said “Duffy” all over them, he thought they'd gotten his name wrong. Bucky put the matching blue fuzzy slippers on Bucky Bear's feet, and nervously made the bear's legs wiggle back and forth like he was testing the fit. Bucky couldn't put off meeting with his punishment any more.
“I got you another present,” Daddy said. He gave Bucky a pretty blue and silver wrapped box. Bucky trembled badly as he lifted the lid...and saw nothing but a pair of Mickey Mouse ears with his name embroidered on the front and a matching bear sized set. He burst into tears of relief, .
“Oh, lamb, what's wrong? Don't you like them?”
“I thought they would be -I thought-*hic* it was my punishment.”
He got pulled into Daddy's big, warm arms and rocked gently.
“I don't understand, Bucky.”
“You asked Tony where you could buy a whip!” Bucky sobbed.
“Oh. Oh my god.” Daddy sounded embarrassed. “No, honey, we were talking about food. A Dole Whip is a type of ice cream that comes from Hawaii. It's made out of bananas and pineapples. Why would you- Bucky- why would you think I was angry with you?”
“I don't know, I-I- I didn't get to choose before?”
“You mean,” Daddy asked, “you'd get punished when you hadn't done anything wrong?”
“Well...no, but he would wait sometimes, and not tell me I was bad and make me figure it out and he'd even be nice sometimes first. It was such a good day, it had to end bad. Bucky Bear said you knew about the president and that's why you showed me the Hall of Presidents so I'd know I was gonna get beat.”
“That was wrong, Bucky,” Daddy said.
“No, I mean,” Daddy said, “Daddies should never trick their little boys into being bad so they can punish them. You weren't being bad if he lied to you about the rules. I would never do that to you, I promise. I pinkie swear it.” He held out his pinkie finger, looping it around the little finger of Bucky's right hand. “I picked the Hall of Presidents because I didn't want you to throw up on any of the rides if your breakfast hadn't settled. I'm never, ever, ever, going to hit you, okay? Not for any reason.”
“But why were you in a bad mood?” Bucky asked quietly. He rubbed his flesh arm with his metal fingers, scratching his skin to make it hurt- without saying anything, Daddy held his hand to make him stop.
“I didn't expect the park to be so crowded and noisy, and hot, or for the lines to get on the rides to be so long,” Daddy said. “Daddies get overwhelmed too. Tomorrow will be better.”
“Tomorrowland will be better,” Bucky said. “We're going to the future!”
“You bet, pal,” Daddy said. Bucky knew he wasn't imagining it, Daddy's eyes were all wet. He gave Daddy a big hug, curling up in his lap to look out the window at the fireworks exploding across the water.