Judith Feldsher had survived the Holocaust, undergrad and graduate school at Berkeley, Ronald Reagan, and two husbands.
So Bucky knew that if anyone had license to make those around her suffer in the most passive-aggressively loving way possible, it was his Bubbe.
Just because Winnifred, her only daughter, had married a goy didn’t mean that Judith wasn’t going to make sure her grandchildren weren’t raised properly. It actually seemed to give her incentive, if the stories Bucky had been told were any indication. Made it into a competition with George Barnes’ own parents - proud Irish Catholics from Brooklyn whose ancestors had immigrated in 1858 and therefore cursed every generation of Barnes’ to saddle a male child with James Buchanan Barnes as a name. That Bucky had embraced the gay legacy of that president instead of the racist one was considered to be a triumph by Judith and something not spoken about by the Barneses.
So, in true Judith style, she made sure that Bucky, Rachel and, now, Rebecca had a bar mitzvah and bat mitzvahs guaranteed to outshine anything the Barneses would put together for any kind of coming of age celebration.
Bucky’s had been… relatively simple, all things considered. After all, he’d been thirteen and hadn’t yet realized that his disinterest in girls and his intense interest in daydreaming about Heath Ledger were related. It wasn’t until he was fifteen, visiting the Barnes’ clan in Indiana and was caught making out with the neighbors’ eldest son that he came out to his family and was summarily disowned by the extended Barnes family. After that, of course, Judith took on spoiling Bucky and introducing him to her friend’s grandsons like a personal vendetta.
So, after what felt like a lifetime of stumbling his way through a reading of the Torah, Bucky, his family, neighbors and fifty friends from school spent Saturday afternoon eating pizza and not dancing to mid 2000s pop music while the adults snickered at them and sat around the galaxy astronaut-themed decor.
Rachel, ten years younger than Bucky - he’d been the mistake, not his much younger sisters - had had a mermaid-themed bat mitzvah that included water tanks and people dressed up as mermaids. Which, Bucky was pretty certain, even though he’d stopped counting, something like her entire middle school came to party with.
She was only sixteen now, but still, enough time had passed that just the mention of being serenaded by Ariel made her whole face flush. It was a weapon Bucky used too often to be considered a good big brother.
But Becca, the baby, half Bucky’s age and Judith’s youngest grandchild, had requested a theme that made it abundantly clear to Bucky, at least, that he wasn’t the only queer Barnes.
Judith rented the outdoor pavilion at Rainbow Gardens and had it decorated with hay bales and horses - actual horses - a few wild west-looking facades and hired caterers to dress as cowboys.
Bucky was really looking forward to the ammunition he would have after the event - Becca with braids and a cowboy hat, her and all of her friends sitting on hay bales and eating from tin plates - Judith didn’t do anything by halves - was going to be absolute gold.
It being spring in Las Vegas, it was hot enough already that Judith stayed under one of the many awnings, a row of silent fans giving off just enough of a breeze to make tendrils of her silver hair dance around her face.
Bucky joined her an hour or so into the party - he’d been dragged out to dance several times already, by Rachel and Becca and Becca’s best friend’s older brother.
After kissing her on both cheeks, he sat down and smiled at her.
“Cowboys?” he asked.
Judith smiled at him.
“It’s what she wanted. I love to give my darlings what they want.”
They both looked over to where George Barnes sat alone - he and Winnifred had divorced five years ago but were on almost amicable terms if you ignored their bi-monthly fights over the phone, which no one did.
“It wouldn’t have anything to do with what Dad thinks or Granddad or-”
Judith made a clucking noise and tilted her chin up.
“As if I could care what they think.”
Bucky rolled his eyes. He’d always thought that he had been one of the main strains on his parents’ marriage - first, being an unplanned child, then by more or less stumbling out of the closet and then deciding to go into nursing instead of one of the three careers George had wanted for his son - business, finance or politics. That Judith had taken on an almost militant role in spoiling Bucky, Rachel and Becca over the last decade wasn’t lost on Bucky.
“Sheifale, you look tired,” she said to him.
“Just finished up four shifts at the hospital,” he admitted. Her eyes narrowed. “It’s fine, Bubbe. Someone was sick, and I switched up shifts to make it work. I’ve got the next two days off. I’m fine, I promise.”
Judith arched an eyebrow at him but didn’t press. Yet.
“You didn’t bring a date,” she said, switching tactics.
“I’m not dating anyone right now,” Bucky pointed out.
“How is Steven?” she asked, tone a little chilly.
That Steve Rogers wasn’t Jewish was only one of many, many strikes against Bucky’s college boyfriend in Judith’s book. She wasn’t bothered by his politics - apparently, she too had dated a militant socialist in college - but she didn’t care for his art, Who does realism in paintings anymore? - and she seemed to take it as a personal affront that Steve was allergic to cats, therefore allergic to her cats, and the four times Bucky had taken Steve to visit her they had had to cut their time short so Steve didn’t need to stick himself with an EPI pen. Steve going to Georgetown for law school had been the biggest strike, of course, despite the fact that he and Bucky had somehow muddled through two years of long distance. But when Steve stayed in DC after, took a staff position with a New York congressman, Judith had made it clear that she anticipated he would break Bucky’s heart any day.
“He’s good. He and Peggy are engaged. He proposed last month.” Bucky almost kept his voice even.
Judith reached out and took his hand, gave it a tight squeeze.
“And Samuel? Are you sure you don’t want me to-”
“Bubbe, please, please don’t try to set me up on a date with your best friend’s grandson. Again. I promise I can get my own dates.”
“But he’s a former Air Force captain, Jamie. And his therapy practice is-”
“-is with veterans, and he volunteers at the community center,” Bucky finished for her. This was not the first time he had heard the laundry list of Sam Wilson’s desirable traits.
“And he’s Jewish,” Judith added.
It had been… slightly horrifying, agreeing to Judith setting him up with Sam six months ago for a simple coffee date. Horrifying, because only three weeks before that, Bucky had hooked up with Sam after a night out clubbing and snuck out of the other man’s apartment the next day before he woke up without leaving his number or saying goodbye. The sex had been great - actually, pretty damn amazing - and what little drunken conversation they had had, Bucky had enjoyed.
But Sam had been a cuddler, had been the kind of guy who fell asleep with an arm over Bucky and a whispered promise to make him breakfast in the morning and a kiss to the back of his neck. Which. All good. All fine. All… nice. Really, really nice.
Too nice for Bucky. Too fine. Too good. Too much.
It had been too much seven months ago, and it was still too much now.
Sam Wilson was a guy who had his shit together, who had only been out clubbing that night because a buddy was having his bachelor party and who was a functioning, successful adult.
Not like Bucky, who went from one hookup to the next like it was his part-time job because sex was great but relationships were soul-crushing and his work schedule didn’t really allow for them anyway, and besides all that, it wasn’t like anyone could or would ever compare to Steve and-
And it wasn’t fair, was what it came down to. Not fair to a guy like Sam Wilson.
“He’s a great guy,” Bucky assured Judith. “Just… not… We didn’t really click, is all.”
They had, though. If clicked meant that they went back to Sam’s place and fucked again after their date - second date?. Sam had tried to stop him from leaving after, had gone so far as to smirk and threaten to call Bucky’s grandmother if he left without giving Sam his number this time. Bucky had convinced him that sex was great, totally on the table, but a relationship was not.
So, for three months, Sam was the guy Bucky texted when he had enough hours off in a row that he could shower, fuck, shower again and sleep long enough to be functional before his next hospital shift. Bucky didn’t stay for breakfast, had only twice let Sam give him a cup of coffee. And it had worked, more or less.
Until Sam met Natasha and-
And really, it was enough to make Bucky wonder if he had some kind of ability to turn perfectly functioning gay men straight.
Which wasn’t fair, of course. Steve had been bi - pan, he insisted, and meant it, because Steve thought gender was all social construct bullshit anyway and something everyone got to build for themselves, and Steve liked people and he liked sex with people, and that was all the detail he needed. Sam, too, had been bi - had, actually, had an ex-wife, which, as far as Bucky had been able to tell from Judith’s lengthy testimonials, was the only strike against her favorite future dream grandson-in-law.
Still. It was a pattern that Bucky didn’t care for.
Bucky was saved from further introspection and given a temporary reprieve from Judith’s grandmotherly interrogation duty by the arrival of one of the cowboy cater-waiters.
He was tall and had a rangy build, wore cowboy boots, hat, vest, jeans and flannel shirt like the rest of the staff. But his jeans were tight, molded to his long legs and firm thighs in a way that was really damn distracting. His shirt sleeves were rolled up past his tanned forearms, and the top few buttons of the shirt were undone to show off a purple bandana tied around his neck and more tanned skin.
“Howdy,” he greeted Judith and Bucky with a smirk and a twinkle of blue eyes under the brim of his cowboy hat.
Even with what looked like an almost healed bruise around his eye, the guy was stunningly handsome. All clean, sharp lines, tanned skin and those pale blue eyes and… and freckles. Across his nose and cheeks and, when Bucky looked, even on his forearms and hands.
Because Becca wasn’t the only one with a thing for cowboys.
And cowboys combined with freckles?
Judith gave the man a once-over that had him blushing and Bucky feeling… a whole new kind of awkward, because he and his grandmother were checking out the same guy and that was just… not okay. At all.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” the man asked, smirk firmly in place, either oblivious to the attention or, more likely, used to it.
“Two Tom Collins,” Bucky said, very familiar with Judith’s drink preferences.
The man’s smirk ticked up a bit as he focused his attention on Bucky.
“Coming right up, partner,” he said and winked before turning and walking off.
That Bucky and Judith both watched him - and seriously, those jeans were way too tight; they were practically painted onto the man’s tight little ass - was something Bucky decided not to think about, ever.
“Is your mother dating yet?” Judith asked, in what Bucky could only assume was a new angle to attack Bucky’s own dating life.
“Um… I think…” Bucky wracked his brain, trying to remember if his mother had said that discussion of her not-dating/definitely-more-than-casual relationship with her yoga instructor was off-limits. “You’d have to ask her?” he finished lamely and offered a shrug.
Judith’s eyes narrowed.
“I haven’t lived at home in five years, Bubbe,” he pointed out, “and it’s rough getting Friday nights off every week to-”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Still, her lips narrowed. He wasn’t sure if it was over the lack of information on her daughter’s love life or Bucky’s inability to consistently spend the Sabbath with his mother. At best, he managed to squeeze in one meal of Shabbat, but most Fridays and Saturdays found him in his scrubs, mainlining coffee at the hospital.
“She’s happy, though,” he added, hoping to divert her from either possible source of irritation.
Judith’s eyes roamed over the crowd and narrowed in on Winnifred, chatting with a group of other parents. Judith’s tense mouth eased somewhat. Winnifred really was happy, these days, and it was obvious in her face and body language.
“Good,” Judith concluded.
Before she could twist the conversation back to Bucky - he just knew she had a plan to do it - the cowboy cater-waiter came back with their drinks.
He deposited a tall glasses in front of each of them, grinning down at Bucky and even winking at him when Bucky looked up and thanked him.
He turned to go, but Judith stopped him with a lifted finger.
“You aren’t Jewish, are you?” she asked him.
Both Bucky and the waiter stared at her.
“I, uh… is it… a problem? If I’m not?” The guy’s eyebrows drew together in concern. “I mean, I know it’s a- I’m an atheist? Is that- I don’t have any, uh, issues with religion? With any of them? I mean, I-”
“Not Jewish,” Judith concluded with a terse nod. “Single?”
The man’s eyebrows lifted, disappearing into the shadow under the brim of his hat. He flicked a glance in Bucky’s direction, and the what the fuck? was so evident in his eyes he might as well have spoken it.
“Yes?” The man definitely sounded unsure as he answered.
“And this job… this catering work,” she waved a hand, “is that your intended career?”
The man shifted on his feet, adjusted his hat on his head, bit his lower lip - essentially, he looked as if he wanted to be anywhere but here, under interrogation from Judith. He also looked like he knew walking away might affect his income and was therefore determined to suffer through this.
“Bubbe,” Bucky hissed at his grandmother, but she just laid one fragile, firm hand on his arm.
“Dear?” she addressed the man.
“Well, it’s not my goal ,” he said, actually damn near drawled, which… “But between this and my job bartending at Charlie’s, I’m making enough to work my way through school.”
“Charlie’s? Jamie, is that the gay country bar you went to for your twenty-first birthday? Where that very muscular man tried to convince you to run away with him and leave Steven?”
There was no, absolutely no way Judith would know about just how Bucky spent his twenty-first birthday unless Rachel or Becca had told her.
The cowboy waiter’s eyes widened and then narrowed as he shifted his focus from Judith to Bucky. His lips even twitched into a brief almost-smile.
Bucky sighed, tried to convince his face not to blush - failed - and then nodded.
“Yes, Bubbe, that’s where I went.” He made a mental note to corner his sisters at the soonest opportunity and figure out which one had betrayed him.
“And what are you going to school for?” Judith asked the man.
Slowly, eyes less anxious and way more amused, the man looked away from Bucky and back to Judith.
“Social work,” he said.
“I see.” Judith’s gaze sharpened, and Bucky wasn’t even aware that was possible. She was already giving the guy her most piercing stare.
“Is that…?” The guy hooked a thumb over his shoulder, indicating the rest of the party. “Do you need anything else, or…?”
“Oh, yes. Of course, I’m keeping you from your duties.”
The man relaxed, took a step to turn, but then Judith smiled.
The man’s shoulders slumped, and Bucky felt for him, felt so much for him.
“Before you leave, however, I must ask, would you like to take my grandson on a date?”
She moved her hand from Bucky’s arm to his shoulder, squeezed and then patted it, proud.
“He’s in excellent health, an ER nurse, and-”
“Bubbe, you can’t just- I don’t need you to… to pimp me out to people,” Bucky hissed, knowing his cheeks were on fire and wondering what in the fuck he had done to deserve this.
Instead of running away, or running away screaming, the man was standing his ground and actually grinning. Wide and bright and way too good-looking.
“Well,” there was that drawl again, and Bucky didn’t know if it had to do with the costume or the man himself - and he frankly didn’t care - “I don’t usually go through grandparents to set up dates, but in this case, I can’t say the answer is no.”
It took Bucky nearly a solid minute to realize that the man was saying yes.
He looked up at him, blinked in shock and at the brightness of both the sun and his smile.
The man shrugged.
“Why not? This isn’t the worst proposition I’ve ever had, and you’re pretty cute. And in excellent health. And an ER nurse.”
Bucky was caught between wanting to sink under the table and wanting to drag the guy somewhere private and see if he could kiss that smirk off his face.
“Excellent,” Judith concluded. “Why don’t you two exchange phone numbers. What is your name, dear?”
“Oh, uh, Clint. Clint Barton. Ma’am.”
Clint pulled his phone out of his front jeans pocket, which drew Bucky’s attention down to his trim waist and narrow hips and well-muscled thighs and-
“Mind texting yourself from my phone?” Clint asked, phone held out to Bucky.
He belatedly jerked his gaze up, met Clint’s smirk with an apologetic smile of his own, and took the proffered phone.
This is Bucky. I’m so sorry my grandmother made you ask me on a date. Please feel free to ignore this.
He sent the text, thumbed away from the message screen, and handed the phone back to Clint.
Clint smiled at him, made sure his fingers brushed over Bucky’s, and took it back.
Bucky’s phone chimed with the anticipated text, and Clint nodded as though satisfied.
And then he tipped his hat at the two of them.
“Well, I need to get back to work, but I’ll swing back around to check in on you two in a bit. And I’ll text you later about our date,” he added with a smile - not a grin, not a smirk - just for Bucky.
It made his cheeks heat up in an all new way.
Clint finally successfully turned and walked away, and Bucky debated downing his drink in one gulp or just getting up and leaving.
“There,” Judith said after taking a sip of her own drink. “That wasn’t so difficult, was it?”
He turned to look at her.
“Bubbe, I don’t have any trouble getting dates on my own.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re handsome and clever and kind. But it never hurts to have help. Besides. I have a good feeling about this one.”
Bucky lifted both eyebrows and stared at her.
The last - and to Bucky’s knowledge, only - time Judith had said she had a good feeling about someone, it had been in 2008 when she voted for Barack Obama. Which… fair enough. Bucky liked those odds.
He started to say something, but suddenly, Clint was back at their table.
His face was red, and he was a little out of breath, as if he had sprinted over.
“Sorry, I just, uh- I just realized, with the whole Jewish thing… Uh, is it… I’m not circumsized,” he said.
Judith and Bucky both looked up at him with almost identical wide-eyed expressions.
“I mean, it’s not going to be a…. Something against kosher, or something? Because of… you know?”
Bucky buried his face in his hands.
This was seriously happening?
He chanced a glance through his fingers, saw that Clint’s face was still red but that his expression was earnest.
What the fuck?
Judith pasted a smile on her face, but her eyes were still shocked.
“I’m sure we can work around that, dear,” she said.
Bucky couldn’t help the strangled sound that escaped him at that.
But Clint just nodded, chanced a look at Bucky, and then set off again.
It took several long, deep breaths before Bucky could lift his face from his hands and look at his grandmother again.
“Well,” Judith sighed, “perhaps I spoke too soon.”
“No, no, no,” Bucky shook his head. “You said you had a good feeling about him. And you know what? So do I.”
He lifted his glass, toasted her with it, and took a long, refreshing sip.