Actions

Work Header

what is that song you sing for the dead

Work Text:

Bucky doesn't react when Steve comes in and shuts the door behind himself—or at least not visibly. Steve would bet dollars to donuts that Bucky's watching him from at least two reflective surfaces to make sure he hasn't been replaced by a life model decoy in the time it's taken him to jog to the bodega and back. There's a movie playing on the television that Steve doesn't recognize, which is true of just about every movie made between 1945 and 1979; he's passably familiar with a broad and eclectic range from the 80's and after, courtesy of Nat pushing a lot of what she claimed to be “classics” into his hands (and occasionally between the couch cushions). Whatever's playing now, Hasidic Jews comprise at least some of the plot, from what Steve can tell. For some reason Bucky has it playing on mute with, equally inexplicably, Mandarin subtitles.

“You want lunch now or later?” Steve asks. He rustles the bags illustratively as he toes off his shoes.

“I read you this story,” Bucky says, instead of answering. “Sholem Aleichem. Tevye and his daughters. Do you remember?”

Steve leans over the back of the sofa. “Sure. You kept making asides to Becca in Yiddish and refusing to let me in on the joke. Is the movie any good?”

Bucky grunts, which could mean anything from it's all right all the way up to I'm going to marry the director. After a moment he says, “Makin' me homesick. Not that—” Bucky flaps his hand at the television, where a bunch of black-hatted men are laughing silently together, their heads thrown back. Steve feels an odd pang. “We weren't none of us like that. Generally, is what I mean. It's stupid.”

“I felt homesick passing a Lebanese restaurant the other day,” Steve says. “It isn't always gonna be a one-to-one ratio.”

Bucky shakes his head but doesn't argue, so Steve goes to the kitchen and puts the groceries away, hesitating on the peaches: he kind of wants one now, maybe two. In the end he skins and chops up four of them, dumps half a container of Greek yogurt on top, and brings the bowl out to the sofa. Bucky gives him some eyebrow but otherwise refrains from commenting. It's inconvenient and messy and exactly what Steve needed on a dull winter afternoon, where the clouds are lurking steel-heavy and low and refusing to rain, and even the neighborhood kids clustered outside are dragging their feet like someone's holding a gun to their heads and making them play. The movie spools serenely on.

Steve just thumbing some misplaced yogurt into his mouth when the bowl is taken from his lap and replaced by Bucky's entire self. It's not as much of a flirtation as it seems; Bucky's deep in the process of reinventing sexuality from first principles, and the most obvious leads usually aren't. Steve puts his hands on Bucky's hips anyway, partially because he can, partially because Bucky's reflexes are still sometimes too quick for his brain, these days, and Steve likes making sure he's got a good grip on the steering wheel. It's saved him from a knee to the nuts on more than a few occasions.

“Hey there,” Steve says. “What can I do you for?”

“That joke stopped being funny in 1937,” Bucky grouses, but his face says otherwise. He sobers with worrisome speed. “You know I love you, right?”

“What'd you do?” Steve says warily.

“Nothing. I just wanted to say it.”

Steve presses his thumbs against the hard points of Bucky's hipbones, rubbing little circles there. “We never were the type that needed to.”

“I know,” Bucky says. “I know that, I do, I just—that was before there were times where we couldn't.”

Steve could say, I dunno, Buck, I remember a whole lot of times when I couldn't kiss you goodnight in front of your family, when I couldn't hold your hand walking down Main, when we had to be on separate bedrolls by morning or there'd be hell to pay—but he keeps his mouth shut. Bucky's wearing his chipped-teacup expression, which means he's not thinking about those times, the simpler days when they could've bent the rules until they creaked, as long as they'd been prepared to accept the consequences. He means the dead years. The ice years. The years in which they slept, and woke, and knew nothing, and were sent to kill so that stately men could build their better world on the ashes of the old one: those years. The years Bucky doesn't like to think about, and which Steve thinks about entirely too often.

Steve examines the dear and beleaguered lines of Bucky's face and thinks: He looks tireder than I remember. Bucky was never a sound sleeper, even before the War, before—everything, but now Steve suspects he's getting by on less and less, and covering it up. Successfully, at that: it's not like anyone else is awake to catch him at it. Steve feels a sticky, amorphous wash of shame. It isn't his fault, but he wants to have noticed earlier. He wants to have done something to help before it could do harm.

“I love you too,” Steve says. “You know that, right?” Bucky jerks his chin. Steve slides his palms under Bucky's shirt, coming to rest against the soft curve of his sacrum. He spares a moment of gratitude for Erskine, and for warm hands; his used to be so cold that Bucky'd yelp no matter how much warning he had. “You wanna tell me what's going on in your head?”

Bucky curls over to thump his forehead against Steve's collarbone, but not quite fast enough. Steve catches the first split-second of Bucky's face crumpling as he folds.

“Ma's yahrzeit's tomorrow,” Bucky mumbles. “Hebrew reckoning. Eight fuckin' decades.”

“It's really early this year,” Steve says, through a throat that wants to close.

Steve misses Winnifred almost as much as he misses his own ma. Winnie and Sarah had been best friends, nearly sisters; he's long suspected that Winnie only lived a few years longer than Sarah out of sheer stubborn perversity, just long enough to make sure her children—in which count she included Steve—were all safe, loved, looked-after. She wasn't the sort of person who liked leaving unfinished business. Sarah neither, come to think of it, though she'd had less choice about it, when it was her turn to go.

They'd struck up an unlikely friendship on the boat, quiet Jew and wild Irish, two dark heads pressed together through the long nights, batting between them fantastic stories about what America might be like. Would they be able to find work? Would their families be able to find them? Would they one day fall in love? (George Barnes and Joseph Rogers, small-boned Welshmen, boyhood pals, two fair heads pressed together at City College: they were asking themselves those questions, too.) When Steve had been born at home four years later, Winnie'd been the one to coax him into the world, two years after Sarah had helped Winnie with Becca, and a year between them, Bucky.

In the end it'd been Bucky, not Steve, who broke into the closed ward to see Sarah off. Steve had been half-dead himself of pneumonia, his second bout that year, miserable with it at high summer; he'd been so furious at his body for betraying him now, at a time like this, when all he wanted to do was see his ma: to spend a few more minutes picking up all her words and her gestures and the shape of her face and hoarding them away for later, for a future that didn't have her in it. He couldn't imagine it, even then. In his childhood Ma had seemed endless, all-encompassing, like he'd never escape her grasp, and then when she was going he'd thought: no, wait, I wasn't done yet! Give her back! Bucky came to see Steve afterwards and said, It was peaceful, champ, don't worry—she wasn't alone, and at least that had been kind, had been something at all, in the midst of that baffling loss.

So in hindsight, it seemed only fair that Steve would be there when Winnie took her final bow. The tangle of their families. Hands held cross-ways through time. They were always seeing each other through life's doors.

George had been hacking his way towards the Amazon river with an anthropological expedition at the time; he'd been loathe to leave Winnie, but she'd told him she was fine, she'd be fine, he should go, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Bucky himself had been away at college without the possibility of leave, and Becca was chafing against being confined to bed in her third trimester. It was only luck that Steve had chosen to visit the Barnes home that day, and it'd taken less than an hour, all told, Winnie gasping smaller and smaller breaths with her hand growing whiter in his. Steve said the Shema six times over, haltingly at first, certain he was doing it wrong despite hearing Bucky's million-and-one repetitions, certain that this time was going to be the one she'd leave on. She'd tried to whisper something on the sixth, and Steve had almost stopped, thinking she was going to ask him to look after Bucky, maybe, or tell him what to name Becca's baby, but he'd cottoned on just in time and kept going: she was saying the Shema too. Trying. He likes to think she managed it, though to his ears it'd hardly been more than a sigh.

After, the doctor had said, confused: but there was nothing wrong with her lungs. Steve doesn't think that matters, really, when you love somebody like Winnie loved Sarah. You'll share everything, if you can—even a death. God knows Steve can't blame her. Crashing the plane had been the next best thing to falling.

“What do you wanna do?” Steve asks now.

Bucky shrugs. “Get a yizkor candle. Fast, I guess.”

“I know what she'd want us to do,” Steve says, which hauls something out of Bucky that's almost a laugh.

“Get cheesecake,” they say together. Shavuot had been Winnie's favorite holiday by far, an excuse to travel to Manhattan and eat her weight in crumb-crust. Not that the rest of the family ever complained. Nor Sarah and Steve, who'd often tag along. Steve used to love watching people take one look at his mother's uncontrollable black hair and mistake her for one of the Tribe. Honorary, Winnie would say: B'nei Noach—a real mentsh. The staff would laugh and drop their surly tourist act and come out from behind the counter, matchmaking Sarah with a different man every year, once she'd left off mourning in '26. The young waiters would flirt outrageously with her and she'd let them; it was all in good fun. Steve discovered a lot of things about himself, one May in particular, watching the folds of their white aprons, their slim hips tilted against lacquered tables.

“So let's,” Steve says. “Carnegie, Lindy's—they're still there. Let's hit all her favorites. She wouldn't want you to fast, Buck, c'mon.”

Bucky leans back just far enough to reveal a halfhearted glower. “I feel like I should be arguing with you about tradition, here.”

“I don't remember your ma ever meeting a tradition she didn't find a loophole for,” Steve points out. “You remember the time the butcher ran out of lamb and she used a paschal yam instead? Or the time the mikveh sprung a leak and she went down to the Coney Island beach at midnight with Becca holding up a sheet?”

“Or the year the Polonskys' dog ate the etrog and Ma tricked Rabbi Harvey with a really lumpy lemon,” Bucky says grudgingly. “Okay, hotshot, you made your case. She was a troublemaker and she would've loved it if I spent her yahrzeit, I dunno, pushing pigeons into Bailey Fountain. Happy?”

“She would've been real proud of you,” Steve says. This sort of thing isn't normally them either, but trying something new is on the table and there's a canyon they're talking around, and Steve's never been one to shy away from diving into abysses headfirst.

Bucky doesn't quite get as far as wincing, but the chipped-teacup look returns. “You think?”

“Of this, if nothing else,” Steve says, flicking the ends of Bucky's hair. “She cried the first time she cut it. Remember Becca telling us? Hell, she said my ma cried. If they'd had their way you woulda been braiding it around your head by the time you turned sixteen.”

“It'll be there soon enough,” Bucky says, with forced lightness that doesn't stick. “Stevie, sweetheart—my hands hurt more people than I know how to count. How d'you think she'd've felt about her baby boy doing things as awful as all that?”

“Same way she always felt,” Steve says. “That there wasn't a thing on Earth that prayer and pastry couldn't make right, and anything else was God's business.”

Bucky sighs, less like he's acceding the point and more like he knows Steve's endurance for winning arguments is an undying thing—but the corner of his mouth is twitching up, and the fragility around his eyes has softened. Steve assesses the situation tactically, then wraps Bucky up in the biggest bear hug he can manage. Just as Bucky's sighing out long and satisfied on his shoulder, Steve twists and tips them both lengthwise on the sofa to see if he can produce a change in the weather. It works even better than he expected: Bucky cackles and grabs him back, whooping like they're on a roller coaster. Despite his best efforts, Steve takes a knee to a delicate area anyway. It's worth it.

“Weirdo,” Bucky says affectionately.

Steve reaches for the half-decimated bowl of peaches on the coffee table and holds it up above both their heads, like he's Lady Liberty on her nap break.

“To our mothers,” Steve says. “The best mams anybody ever had. May they be getting after God about His dirty shoes. And if they couldn't make it to heaven, then at least they died in Brooklyn.”

“Baruch Hashem,” Bucky says. “Now—weren't you saying something about cheesecake?”