No More Shame
Soundtrack: Small Red Boy – AJJ
“I think the Winter Soldier is going to our synagogue,” Billy said, apropos of absolutely nothing.
Teddy glanced up sharply from his comic book, where he sat on the floor beside Billy’s bed. “What? There’s no way. They said he’s totally gone,” he replied, made a firework motion with his hand and spread out his fingers. “Poof. Vanished.”
“Yeah, and we found him,” said Billy. “I saw the arm. And then he was like, watching us? I mean you and me, when you came to get me. I almost – I kinda thought maybe I should go over there, because it’s Bucky Barnes, but – I dunno. It seemed like he might run for it.”
Teddy closed the comic – an issue of Spider-Man from a few months ago; he was catching up to Billy in reading the series – and climbed onto Billy’s bed, crowded him in that way that Billy liked more than he cared to admit, pressed up against a wall of muscle and so incredibly safe. Teddy didn’t talk; he was smart that way. He let Billy smush his face into his chest, and finally, after a long stretch of silence, Billy said into Teddy’s shirt: “Okay, so like, I know this might sound like a hopeful gay fan-theory, but what if –”
“What if Bucky Barnes is gay?” Teddy finished.
“Well, yeah,” Billy said. “That. Am I projecting? I feel like I’m projecting.”
Teddy hummed. “I mean...Cap’s bi, so nothing is impossible?”
Steve Rogers came out in 2012, when, of all things, he was a guest on some tacky celebrity cooking show to drum up good press for the Avengers after the Battle of New York. Billy was watching, because he was a superhero trash panda and would consume just about anything at the promise of a Captain America appearance. He’d stuffed a handful of cheesy popcorn into his mouth mere instants before Steve freaking Rogers smiled at the camera and said, “I haven’t baked anything since about 1942, but I used to love it, so this could go both ways. Just like me.”
And cheesy popcorn, for the record? Not supposed to enter the trachea.
Captain America came out as bisexual on a cooking show. Making a dad joke. About being bisexual.
Billy was walking on air for months after that.
Take that, Kesler.
Captain America liked guys too.
(“I really thought everyone knew,” Cap said later, at an official press conference. “There are so many historians that wrote about it.”
“No one believes historians about LGBT history, Cap,” Iron Man had replied, glib as ever.
“Oh,” Cap said, thoughtful. “Maybe they should start.”)
But Bucky Barnes, too? Little Billy Kaplan fantasized about it. Historians wrote all about Bucky and the string of women he supposedly worked his way through – a true Lothario. But then there’d be the odd quote from one of the Howling Commandos: “Who, Barnes? Yeah, he went on dates, but he was a fucking gentleman. Never once laid a hand on a lady, that guy,” Dum-Dum Dugan was on record saying to a journalist in 1992.
Not that Billy memorized that, or anything.
And Billy would wonder, because Dum-Dum Dugan didn’t say Bucky Barnes hadn’t put his hands elsewhere. Stranger things had happened, right?
But he was projecting, he thought – Billy was a lonely kid, hyperfocused on the only Jewish Howling Commando, somebody like him. Somebody he hoped could, just maybe, be like him in more ways than one.
And now the Winter Soldier sat two rows behind Billy at shul and watched him kiss Teddy in the parking lot. Weird? Yeah, definitely. Super weird.
“I think Bucky Barnes is gay,” Billy concluded, half-beneath his boyfriend.
Teddy leaned down and drew Billy’s lips into a long, tempting kiss. He agreed, mildly, “That would be pretty awesome.”
“Or,” Tommy said, sweeping his energy drink toward Billy in a wild gesture, “he’s trying to kill you.”
“Why would Bucky Barnes want to kill me?” asked Billy. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
“He’s the Winter Soldier, dude,” Tommy answered. “He’s murdered, like, a kajillion people. Maybe you’re on his shit list, I dunno. You do anything to piss off some assassins lately?”
Billy frowned at the Xbox controller in his hands. “Probably?” he decided upon saying. “We kind of fight crime. That’s a thing we do. People want to kill us all the time.”
Tommy screwed up his face. “Point,” he conceded. “I don’t know. I don’t think so. That guy is super famous for being hella skanky.”
“He is not,” Billy protested. “He’s famous for fighting Nazis, for one. Two, he’s famous for taking women on dates. That’s not the same thing as sex! You should know that better than anyone, Sir Strikes-Out-A-Lot. Besides, if Bucky Barnes came out as gay, that would mean you might have to address your own latent bisexuality, Thomas – ow! Did you just pull my hair?”
He was here again.
This time, when Billy saw the gleam of light reflecting off a metal hand, he chased it, leaving his parents far behind as they chatted with Rabbi Foster. They wouldn’t miss him – Mom could go for hours once they got talking.
But when Billy broke outside the synagogue, there was no sign of Bucky Barnes, or the Winter Soldier, or any wayward assassins at all.
“You can talk to me!” Billy called out.
The woman walking her dog across the street cast him a funny look.
Ha, oops. Billy waved. Maybe that made it worse.
Screw it. All in. “I’m very non-threatening!” he announced. “No threat at all! Pinkie promise!”
“You’re actually a high-level threat.”
From the tree Billy was sitting under, just outside his school, the Winter Soldier dropped into the grass. Homework went flying at his kick of surprise – and he called it back out of habit more than anything else, gathering his worksheets and pencil back into his lap with a twist of magic as he tried to process the fact that the entire, whole-ass Winter Soldier was two feet in front of him.
Bucky actual Barnes folded his arms across his chest, a scowl on his face. “William Kaplan. Wiccan. You can alter reality. That makes you a high-level threat.”
Bucky Barnes knew who Billy was. Like, for real, actually, knew who he was.
“James Buchanan Barnes. Winter Soldier. You definitely have the superserum, and also a badass metal arm. Super-duper sure that you are also a high-level threat. Now that we know each other, what is happening?”
“I’m not,” Bucky said, stilted.
“A high-level threat. Not to you.”
“Oh. Well. Thank you?” said Billy. “I’m not a high-level threat to you, either. You’re one of the good guys.”
Bucky caught his lower lip between his teeth. He responded, “You sound very sure of that.”
“’Cause I am,” shrugged Billy. “You’re one of the good guys. You always have been.”
“Not always,” murmured Bucky.
“Okay, maybe, like, technically, that’s true? But that wasn’t your fault, dude,” Billy told him...and smeared his hands over his face. “I can’t believe I just called the Winter Soldier dude,” he whined.
Something almost like a smile turned Bucky’s lips out of their frown. He studied Billy for a long moment, and Billy stared back, because what else was he supposed to do? Either this was a fantastic dream – from which he did not want to be woken – or his life had truly swerved into something magnificent. Teddy was never going to believe this.
“The blonde kid,” Bucky started, but then paused. He rolled his shoulders back and leveled his chin, then continued: “Theodore Altman. Hulkling. Also a high-level threat. He’s – who is he? To you?”
“...my boyfriend?” Billy ventured. Wasn’t that obvious?
“Boyfriend,” echoed Bucky.
“Yeah, boyfriend. Like we go on dates and kiss and stuff. That kind of boyfriend.”
“I know what ‘boyfriend’ means, kid,” Bucky said. He shuffled in place, so unlike the suave sepia-toned photographs of his past self, so unlike the rigid, militaristic lines of the Winter Soldier. A clicking noise buzzed in Billy’s ears – the arm. Bucky was clenching his fists.
“Um,” said Billy. “Are you okay?”
“I looked it up,” Bucky said. “On the internet. June 26, 2015. Fellas can marry fellas now. Dames can go with dames.”
“Yeah, that was pretty cool. There’s still a lot of work, though. Things are wa-aaay better than they used to be, don’t get me wrong, but it’s – not perfect. But then again, corporations pander to us for a whole month, so I guess they decided we’re worth more money than bigots, or whatever.”
“I am not going to bother pretending I understood that,” said Bucky.
“So, June is pride month, right? Gay pride. LGBTQIA pride. Queer pride. Whatever floats your boat. And pride used to be really dangerous. The first pride was a riot! We still get protesters and stuff at the parades but now everyone’s cool enough with us that they’re exploiting us for money, which is, uh, less cool? Jeez, I am not as good at explaining this as America. You’d probably like her, you know –”
“America Chavez,” Bucky said. “Also a high-level threat. There’s a gay pride parade?”
“At the end of the month,” Billy confirmed. “Which I might get to go to, maybe. If I make it through summer school. To make up for regular school. That I missed because I was being a Young Avenger. But hey, happy pride month!”
“Happy pride month,” parroted Bucky. “Kid? I’m gay.”
“Yeah, I know,” Billy said.
“Really? You are the first person I have said those words to, and all I get’s a ‘yeah, I know’?”
Billy spread out his hands in a what are you gonna do? motion.
“I figured it out,” he said. “A while ago. Hey, you should go to the parade. Cap always goes. He gets his own float. Last year, Iron Man repainted the shield in the bi pride colors – oh, man, it was awesome.”
“Steve...goes to the pride parade?”
“Uhh,” Billy stalled, because had he just outed Steve Rogers to his best friend? “Yes? He’s – shit. Fuck. You can google it, um. In 2012, he – crap. I kinda feel like I should not be the one telling you all this? This very much seems like maybe Steve Rogers needs to be telling you he’s bisexual and not Billy Kaplan, and, aw, man.”
“Steve is bisexual,” stated Bucky. “Steve. My Steve. Steve Rogers.”
Bucky nodded, slow and considering. “Thank you, Billy. You’ve been very helpful,” and turned on his heel and walked away, toward the street.
“You’re welcome!” Billy called after him.
The security of Steve’s apartment building was laughably, infuriatingly inadequate. Bucky made it past the SHIELD agents pretending not to be SHIELD agents without a hitch and circumvented the high-tech elevator system by taking the stairs, around which there should have been cameras posted, but because Steven Grant Rogers had a death wish, had no cameras to speak of.
Steve wasn’t there when Bucky broke in – he was out on a mission. But, if Bucky’s bugs were to be believed, he was en route home.
Where he’d hung an enormous bisexual pride flag over an entire wall.
Damn it, Steve.
Their lives could have been so much easier if – well. If either of them had bothered talking to each other.
Bucky helped himself to a bowl of cereal and plopped into Steve’s armchair, shifting it to face the doorway. He was mid-bite when the doorknob rattled and the door swung open to reveal Steve, still in uniform and reeking of fire and blood. He dropped his shield the instant his gaze connected with Bucky’s, and his lips parted in surprise.
He was so beautiful.
“Are you eating my cereal?” Steve asked.
“Yeah,” Bucky answered, chewing. He swallowed, then waved his – Steve’s – spoon in the air. “Quick question: why do you have cereal with little Captain America shields in it, and when the fuck were you planning on telling me that you’re bisexual?”
“I like the marshmallows,” said Steve, petulantly. “When the fuck were you planning on telling me that you’re alive?”
“Don’t deflect, Rogers,” Bucky warned, stabbing the spoon in the air at Steve. “You knew I was alive. Meanwhile, I had no idea you were bisexual – I had to find out from an infant that calls himself Wiccan.”
“You met Billy?” Steve said. He closed the door behind him and sighed, threading a gloved hand through filthy blonde hair. “Look, it’s not like it was when we were kids. I was afraid to tell you back then. Didn’t want you to think any less of me ‘cause I liked fellas and dames just the same, you know? It’s better now. Not perfect, of course –”
“The kid already told me that part,” Bucky said, “Something something corporations something something exploitation. I’m sure you have a speech about it.”
“As a matter of fact –” Steve began.
“I’m gay,” Bucky interrupted.
Steve froze. His brow furrowed. “What?” he managed.
“I’m gay,” repeated Bucky. He pointedly ignored the elevated rate at which his idiot heart had begun to beat.
“You,” Steve said, “You hypocrite, I’m – I’m going to kill you.”
Bucky slid his empty cereal bowl onto Steve’s coffee table and unrolled to his full height. “Alternative suggestion, Rogers. Kiss me instead?”
By some miracle, his parents were letting him go to the parade.
By some miracle, they’d managed to scrap together their entire ragtag mess of a superhero team for the occasion.
By some miracle, Tommy emerged from the bathroom that morning with a new pin on his faux-leather, punk wannabe jacket – a pansexual pride pin. When Billy’s eyes fell on it, Tommy’s chin jutted out, daring Billy to say word one. The inevitable I told you so sat poised on the tip of Billy’s tongue, but instead, he swallowed it back and socked Tommy on the shoulder.
“You look good,” Billy said.
Tommy smirked, though there was something softer in the expression than usual. Not that either of them would ever, under any circumstances, address such a thing. He agreed, “Yeah, I know,” and pulled Billy into a headlock that Billy only cheated his way out of by opening a portal to the other side of the hallway.
Downstairs, Teddy waited for them in the living room, twin rainbow flags painted on either of his cheeks, and a smile that lit up his entire, ridiculous, handsome face. Billy swayed into him, cupping Teddy’s face with his palms.
“Hey, handsome,” Billy breathed.
“Hey, yourself,” Teddy greeted, and grabbed Billy by the rainbow flag he’d repurposed as a cape, yanking him into a kiss.
Billy melted into it, fell into Teddy as easily as he always did, opening his mouth to run his tongue along Teddy’s.
“God, you guys suck,” Tommy complained. “I’ll meet you there, assholes.” He opened the front door, then, and took off without another word.
Billy broke the kiss and laughed into Teddy’s shoulder. “Guess we should get going, huh?” He pecked another kiss to Teddy’s lips for the road, then opened a portal to the parade – right to Kate and America.
“After you,” Billy said, and followed his boyfriend through to the other side.
Kate and America stood with their hands in each other’s back pockets, but let go to greet Billy and Teddy with a round of happy exclamations. David, who’d been hovering at the edge of the din, offered them a crooked smile and a wave. Unlike America, who was also wearing a rainbow cape, (“You stole my look, fucker,” she grinned, and Billy grinned back.), and Kate, who’d taken the theme to heart and decked herself from head-to-toe in a bisexual color scheme, David’s show of pride was more understated. Like Tommy, he wore a pin – the bisexual flag, an innocuous rectangle on his hoodie.
When Tommy careened into them, Billy crowed, “Ha! Beat you.”
“Only because you can track people,” Tommy shot back. “Not because you’re faster. Hey, David.”
“Hey, Tommy,” David said back.
“...Awkward,” Kate whispered in Billy’s ear.
“Shh,” Billy said, and elbowed her in the side. “They’ll figure it out.”
“They can hear you,” said David, one brow cocked.
They managed, eventually, to collect all their friends among the crowd – Cassie, Eli, Noh-Varr, Jonas, Nate, even Loki – and camped out along the street as the parade began.
Billy gave into the joy. Sure, they were surrounded by companies’ logos done up in rainbows for the occasion, and somewhere around here was probably some jackass with an angry sign, but this was a still a giant party, just for them. Here, they could be their truest selves, in pins and flags and glitter or nothing at all. Teddy's body shook against Billy's back as he let out a delighted belly-laugh at America, who’d swung Kate down into a showy kiss, one that began with a surprised ‘oof,’ but ended with catcalling and America’s middle finger.
Inspired, perhaps, by the show of affection, Billy rotated to face Teddy. He nosed along the side of his neck, biting down a helpless smile, and pushed kisses in a line over Teddy’s jaw. A pleased rumble escaped Teddy a beat before he pulled Billy into him, into another perfect kiss.
Tommy smacked Billy’s shoulder.
“Hey, idiots,” he said, “You’re gonna miss Captain America’s float. Whoa. Wait. Billy!”
Billy broke the kiss to glare at his brother. “What?”
“The Winter Solider is on the Cap float,” Tommy said, jabbing his finger out at the street. “And he’s wearing a fucking rainbow flag! Oh, man, I hate when you’re right about stuff. You’re always so smug.”
Billy shoved his way past a handful of other parade-goers, right to the front. There, at the head of the Captain America float (in the shape of the shield, this year, and done up in rainbow) stood both Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes in their superhero regalia.
Tommy whistled. “You ever wonder why HYDRA dressed that guy in bondage gear?”
“Absolutely, one hundred percent yes,” Teddy replied. “It literally keeps me up at night. Are they trying to make him hotter, or…?”
Bucky Barnes glanced down, then. He lowered his hand out of a wave as his gaze connected with Billy’s, and a smile pulled at one side of his mouth.
“Oh my God,” Teddy managed, “Bucky Barnes is totally looking at you.”
“Did he just wink at you?” Kate asked.
And then, Bucky turned to Steve. He rested his metal hand on the back of Steve’s shoulder, and wrapped the other around the shield harness. Bucky actual Barnes hauled Steve actual Rogers into a kiss right there, right then, in front of thousands, dipping him down low. Steve leaned up into it, threading fingers in Bucky's long hair, and kissed back, hard, uninhibited. They could be that, here.
The crowd broke into an uproarious cheer.
A funny, light sensation expanded in Billy’s ribcage. His face hurt from smiling so hard, his ears hurt from all the noise, and his heart ached at the excitement of it all.
A strong hand wrapped around his wrist and tugged.
“You’re floating,” Teddy remarked, pulling until Billy’s beaten sneakers touched down on the sidewalk. “Dork.”
“You love me,” Billy accused.
“You love me,” Teddy crowed back.
Billy let his head fall onto Teddy’s shoulder as the Cap float meandered past, Bucky actual Barnes and Steve actual Rogers and all. Teddy looped his arm around Billy’s waist and reeled him in so that they stood pressed side to side. All around them, their friends laughed and shoved at each other.
It was a happy pride.