The war was over, but when he got home, Bucky got a shock he wasn’t expecting. The shock came in the form of a dark headed little girl with his eyes and a full pout that reminded Bucky of a girl he’d once gone steady with. The shock was his mother’s disapproving frown and the news that the girl had skipped town. The shock was coming home to find himself a Pop already – on his own. The shock was the folks didn’t look down on him, nor his sister – he wasn’t sure if that was because of the medals pinned to his chest or the fact his Maw had a glare that could melt steel.
The shock was just how much he loved her.
“Paw,” Maggie said, her fat little hands grabbing onto his fingers as he tucked her into her little bed as gently as he could. “Paw, put it on!”
‘It’ was the wireless, the old one they’d thrown out of his office at the dock when it stopped working. Bucky had saved it from the trash and a few nights working by the old lamp that flickered on and off every few minutes, he had it working again. He put it in their shared bedroom because every little extra got given to his little girl. His army pension wasn’t good enough to keep her in the dresses he wanted, or to shower her with the toys he saw in the storefront windows – but he worked hard to make sure that she got the best he could manage.
‘It’ was the nightly broadcast of ‘Captain America – The All American Hero and His Howling Commandoes.’
‘It’ was a parody of war, where the bad guys were defeated every time with a well-placed sock to the jaw, where the girl was always saved and where no-one ended up with his best friends guts on their boots. His own Maw loved it, Becca loved it – and they’d passed their devotion to ‘Captain America’ to his daughter. He couldn’t complain much, they watched her through the day so he could work, even though his Maw was maybe getting on a bit and really should have had all her kids out of her feet by now.
“I dunno, Maggie.” He told her, a frown in place. “I heard from a little bird today that you wouldn’t eat your greens for your Grams.”
She was at the point where little birds were the messengers of everything daddies needed to know. Her shocked face almost made him grin wide, but he kept his frown in place. “I don’t know if little girls who don’t eat their veggies deserve to listen to Cap tonight. I mean – what would he say if he knew?”
As far as threats went, it was pretty mild, but Bucky had an ace up his sleeve with ‘Good Ol’ Cap’ because he’d been to war. Maggie knew he’d gone off to fight in the war – and she knew Captain America fought in the war. And that obviously meant that her daddy knew Captain America. It was a common story in kids of her age. A lot of little boys and girls thought their daddies had helped Cap sock Hitler in the jaw once or twice.
“I promise, I promise!” She begged, and he gave her a hard look before he nodded, and the wireless went on.
She was lulled to sleep by the time the last jingle played – her head probably full of the ‘glory of war’ that her daddy never once saw in his whole time overseas.
Bucky worked at the docks before the war, and it was the docks that took him back after. Because of his service though (and the weakness in his left arm) they’d stuck him in the office rather than back out hauling crates. He didn’t mind, it was cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and he was good at numbers. Good enough that by the time Maggie was five years old, he got himself a promotion to day manager. The extra dollars in his account made things better – his Maw was proud as a button too, because she always thought that her only son was made for better things than hauling crates around all day. Maggie thought he owned the company, and he couldn’t get her to think otherwise. He took her to work one day, mostly to show her off, and his boss (an elderly man with three grown-up grandkids of his own) adored her. Most folks who met her loved her – but old man Lewis took a special shine to her.
“Take this for the wee lass.” He’d say to Bucky some days. “T’was Margo’s when she was a tyke.”
Normally little toys or old clothes that his Maw would be able to take in and adjust to fit – a little old fashioned but well-made and good quality. Becca could sometimes be called on to help too, and she could make the frocks a little more modern looking with a few extra adjustments. Sometimes his Maw would bring her to the office if they were in the area, and Mr Lewis would coo and bounce her on his knee just like she was one of his own, and the guys on the docks would chuck her under the chin and tip their caps to his Maw as they left.
No wonder she thought she was the most precious thing in the world, spoilt as she was.
He knew, of course, that no father stayed the most important man in the world to his little girl, but he certainly wasn’t expecting it to happen on her very first day of school. Her uniform might have been passed down from Mr Lewis’ granddaughter, and re-sewn painstakingly by his Maw and sister, but she was still the neatest little girl in her class – with her hair carefully curled the night before in rags, and tied up with a ribbon of Becca’s as a special treat (and dire warnings not to lose it). He got special permission to take off time to see her to the gate on her first day, and when he got to work a little misty eyed old Mr Lewis had a few stories of his own kids to share. He was a big guy – with an expensive watch and an expansive stomach and he never talked down or treated Bucky like he wasn’t worth his time, even though Mr Lewis was as rich as anyone he knew.
“Oh, I remember Jonathans first day of classes.” He said with a wet sniff. ‘Young Jon’ had been killed in the war. So had ‘Our Keith’ and ‘Wee David’. Mrs and Mrs Lewis didn’t have a single male relation that made it home, and sometimes when he looked at Bucky, he was sure the old man resented that he’d come back and not his own blood. “He wailed like he lost a leg, clinging to Bets skirts.”
“She just walked right in.” Bucky admitted. “She didn’t even look back. She wore that little pinafore you gave, she looked as smart as a button, my Maw was in love with it, Sir.”
Mr Lewis waved off his thanks, rubbed his eyes with his meaty fists, and left for the day without another word, leaving Bucky to bemoan his daughters lack of consideration that he’d been near tears and he’d not even gotten so much as a backward glance.
But the worst was to come.
When he got back from work, Maggie was bouncing around like she had itching powder in her drawers, and she had thin little booklet on the kitchen table open.
“She’s been like this since she got back from school.” His Maw said, kissing him on the cheek and pulling on her jacket. He noticed that is was a little faded – he made a mental note to put some money aside and get her a new one before the cold weather really kicked in – maybe from one of the new stores that were popping up all over. “I’ve got her to eat everything on her plate and she’ll never sleep tonight if you don’t warm some milk and settle her soon.”
“Thanks maw,” He said, kissing her back and helping her button up. She lived only a block away in the apartment she’d bought with his Paw. Becca and her fella rented a room for pittance, and a young dame stayed in his old room for a couple of dollars a month. “I dunno what I’d do without you.”
He hardly got the door shut when Maggie was calling him over. Their apartment was only made up of two rooms, the bedroom, with her little bed and his larger one, and a kitchenette with a table, a couch pushed up against the wall. It wasn’t much, but he was saving every brown cent, and he had plans. If the next couple of years went well, he could buy a little place with a garden in a nicer part of town. Till then though, he was making do and mending and keeping Maggie as happy as he could.
“What’s got into you tonight, jitter bug?” He asked, turning to see her squirming some more – whatever it was, she was fit to burst over it.
“Captain America is my teacher!” She half shrieked, and Bucky couldn’t stop her in time – Mr Kelmer who lived next door was already hammering on the wall.
“Maggie!” He hissed, “What did I tell ya about hollering?”
“Sorry.” She whispered, looking about as contrite as any 5 year old could. “But Captain America is my teacher!”
“Really?” He asked, trying to stop his gut reaction to holler even louder at his neighbour because damnit, you try keeping a 5 year old quiet in the middle of the damn day. “Good ol’ Cap?”
“No one believes me!” She whispered, “But I know it’s him, even if he’s small.”
“Small?” Bucky repeated, unable to resist picking her up to give her a big bear hug. He had to jiggle her a little cause of the weak state of his left arm, but holding her close was worth the twinge of pain. He missed her every day he was at work, it didn’t even make sense how much he loved her. “Cap’s a big fella, Maggie, bigger than even me.”
“No one is as big as you but Mr Lewis, and he’s got a fat belly like this.” She said, puffing out her cheeks.
“You don’t make fun of Mr Lewis!” Bucky admonished, “He likes you a lot and he’s nice to you.” He kept his face stern, but inside he was cracking up – she was right, after all, and her face was surprisingly like the old man.
“But Cap!” She hissed. “I know it’s him. I bet the Nazi’s shrinked him in a naf-ar-ious plan.”
Nefarious was a new word. She liked it, and used it a lot. Peas were currently nefarious, and so were baths. “So he gotta be hidden at school cause no one looks there.” She paused. “His name is Mr Rogers and he’s just as big as a girl but he’s got a serious face and blue eyes and yella hair.”
“Yellow.” He corrected.
Dutifully she parroted back. “Yella.”
“You’re here early this morning, son.” Mr Lewis said, rolling into the office earlier than Bucky had ever seen himself. He had a thick wad of papers in his meaty hands and already a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead.
“I thought I’d come in early seen as I was late yesterday with Maggie’s first day.” He admitted. Mr Lewis had been incredibly kind to him in the years he’d been working at the docks, and he didn’t want to take advantage of that. He knew that a lot of guys who came back certainly didn’t have it as sweet as he did, and working a few extra hours certainly wasn’t a hardship after the days, weeks and months he’d spent trudging through the muddy fields of god-knows-where.
“You’re a good lad.” Mr Lewis said, using his silk handkerchief to blot the sweat on his forehead. “I’ve got something I want you to talk a look at, if you’ve got the time. There’ll be an extra dollar in your pay for it.” He said, like that sweetened the deal. It did, but Bucky would have done it regardless, and he said as much. “No, no, you’ve got your lass to think about, buy her a wee treat with it, if you like.” He smiled indulgently. “Oh, that reminds me, the Mrs wants to meet her, she’s a scooner for little girls. You bring her over to the house tonight, we’ll see if we can’t get her a treat!”
Bucky was nervous. Maggie had picked up on his jitters and had been on her very best behaviour. He had one really good suit, the one he wore to funerals, and he’d put on a tie that belonged to his Paw back when they lived in Iowa and had a little extra money. It wasn’t silk but it was nice, and Maggie had on her best dress too – it had belonged to Mr Lewis granddaughter, but Becca had taken off some of the ruffles and added a little flounce and he was sure they wouldn’t notice that it was second hand. They took the bus half way, and hired a cab for the rest (Maggie had never been in a cab, she thought it was a treat and a half) and when they arrived at Mr Lewis big house, his hands were shaking.
“Maggie, you know to be nice to Mr Lewis, don’tcha? And be polite to Mrs Lewis, and eat all your peas, and please be good?”
Her face fell at the mention of peas, but she nodded, eyes taking in the sheer size of the Lewis home. Knowing the way his daughter head worked meant that he had a good idea that she now thought old fat Mr Lewis who slipped her treats when she visited was probably a king or something, he felt confident that she’d act like a little lady and not a hellion that she could be sometimes.
Mr Lewis got the door when Bucky rapped the knocker, and Bucky wasn’t sure why but he kind of expected a butler or something – but Mr Lewis was all smiles. “Oh, look at this little angel come to my house to see us!” He said, ignoring Bucky and holding out his hand to Maggie. She blushed and let the back of her hand be kissed before they were swept up into the foyer, where a butler took their coats. So he’d been right about the butler, at least.
Inside the house was just as grand as the outside, and the butler had done a more effective job of keeping Maggie in line than he could ever hope – her eyes were like dinner plates.
Mrs Lewis was an older woman with pristine white hair and about half the size of her round husband, and if Mr Lewis was fond of Maggie, Mrs Lewis was mad on her. The instant Maggie blushed and mumbled her way through the politest greeting he’d ever heard pass her lips, she was swept up into a motherly embrace.
“Our Margo moved to LA.” Mr Lewis told him, in a stage whisper. “Took off with her fella, the Mrs’ been missin’ her something bad. You’re a good lad to bring to tyke.”
Through dinner Bucky learned two things. The first was that Maggie was born to make small talk and be highly entertaining at dinner. She had both Mr and Mrs Lewis wrapped around her little fingers, smiled and giggled and was more adorable than he could ever have imagined and the second was that Mr and Mrs Lewis had a son who ran off with another fella.
The more he drank, the more Mr Lewis talked. “Oh, our Kevin ran off with a fella. An actor lad.” He said, after talking a while about ‘poor Jon’ who hadn’t come back from the war. “He was always his momma’s favourite, and he ran off with an actor.”
“I never heard that.” Bucky admitted. He was pretty sure no one should have heard that. He was pretty sure that running off with a fella would be the kind of thing Mr Lewis shouldn’t be telling folks.
“Oh, it was a big thing.” He said, waving his hand around. “Running off in the middle of the night, a long letter to his Momma about how he couldn’t hide no more… he was in love… you know. Normal silly stuff.” A pause. “I had an uncle too – like that. Nice as get out to everyone he met. I never did understand why our Kevin ran off. They coulda stayed here.”
“Maybe he thought it was for the best.” Bucky said, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He was pretty sure that he’d never been caught before the war – and he’d never had the opportunity to go out to those bars since he’d gotten home. There was no way that Mr Lewis (or anyone) could know about the comfort he found in the war with men like him. He had a daughter, for crying out loud! No one knew!
Mr Lewis just shook his head. “Nearly killed his Momma, running off like that. I’m a modern man.” He said, puffing up his chest. “I aint no old fashioned coot like some folks. You gotta move with the times.” He shot Bucky a hard glare. “You’re a modern man, aint you, Barnes?”
“I am, sir.” He said, quick as he could. “Gotta be, raisin’ a girl on my own. Modern as they get.”
“I like that about you, Barnes.” Mr Lewis said, lifting his glass to his lips again. “I like that.”
“My teacher is Captain America.” Maggie was telling Mrs Lewis, who was smiling just as indulgently as any Maw at his daughter. “He’s got shrunk by Nazi’s.”
“Oh!” Mrs Lewis replied, clutching her hand to her pearls. “I do love the Captain. Does your daddy let you listen to the wireless?”
“Yes Ma’am.” Maggie said. Ma’am, like she was talking to the queen. “But only if I behave and I’m tucked up in bed, because Good Ol’ Cap doesn’t want little girls falling asleep in class.”
Mrs Lewis smiled and agreed. “Oh, no. That’s not very American, is it, to fall asleep in class?”
Mr Lewis had sent them home in his car. He had a driver. He’d almost knocked Bucky on his ass mid-way through the after dinner drinks. Mrs Lewis had taken Maggie up to Margo’s old playroom, promising treats and toys – and Mr Lewis had leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. “Ah, James.” He said, patting his stomach. “I didn’t just ask you here to shoot the breeze, you know, I’ll admit.” He smiled. “I’m a working man, in my bones, like you.”
Mr Lewis was nothing like Bucky, but he kept his mouth shut because there was a lot worse he could be compared to.
“You know, I’m an old man now, all my boys off and not coming back…” His eyes got a little distant. “And you’ve been a good lad in the office, always on time, never sick. I notice these things. I see things.” He tapped the side of his nose. “Gotta start thinking about my dotage.”
“Still a ways away.” Bucky managed, which got him a wave of one expansive hand.
“You’ve a good head for numbers, and the boys in the yard like you well enough – knowing you were lugging those crates once too – you started at the bottom. Gives them hope they can rise up too. Good for moral.”
Bucky nodded. It was true, the boys in the yard remembered him when he was snot nosed and hauling crap twice his size. His medals got him some respect too, now he wasn’t able to lug around those crates. “Thank you sir,” He said. “It’s nice to hear that.”
“Yes, yes.” Mr Lewis waved him off. “But I’m an old man. I’m past my prime. Need some young blood to take the reins.”
They got a car home. They had to – Maggie had a whole trunk full of clothes and toys taken from Margo’s playroom, and Bucky didn’t trust his legs at all.
He heard more and more stories about Captain America, although Maggie had to stop calling him that in class now (she told him forlornly) in case Nazi’s heard, so now she called him Mr Rogers. Bucky was working all the hours god sent him, because Mr Lewis was retiring and thought Bucky was the best man for the job – that Bucky could fill his shoes, that Bucky was able to run Lewis shipping. He’d had meetings with the board, who seemed to like him well enough, but he wasn’t sure if that was because of the medals pinned to his front or the good things Mr Lewis said about him. He’d still not told his Maw or sister, because he was pretty sure it was all some kind of weird dream and he’d hate for them to get their hopes up for nothing.
Captain America though, was a constant source of conversation for Maggie. She told him every night about how she got told secrets about the Cap, and Bucky smiled indulgently until she started being right.
“He’s going to save Betty tonight by punching a hole in the wall of the Nazi base!” She whispered, tucked up into bed. And that’s exactly what happened.
“He’s going to wrestle a goon and save young timmy from the Nazi warehouse.”
And that’s exactly what happened.
“Mr Rogers told me.” She said, when Bucky asked how she knew what was going to happen. “I told you, he’s Captain America!”
It went on like that for a while, until Bucky was called in for Maggies mid-year assessment. He’d had to work through his lunch hour, and Mr Lewis had been more than happy for him to go. “Just bring back her grading card so I can see!” He said, as Bucky hurried out.
The school had gotten smaller since he was last going through the corridor, but he wasn’t sure if that was because it always seemed so big when he was a lad. Maggie was sitting outside her class, kicking her heels against the bottom of the bench. He was the last parent to show up, and he felt a kick of shame that she’d had to wait so long for him to arrive.
“Sorry Jitterbug.” He said, kissing the top of her head. “You been waiting long?”
“Nope.” She smiled, holding up a little booklet. “Mr Rogers gave me a book to read like one of the big kids.”
“I’ll let you get back to it then,” He smiled, kissing the top of her head. “And after, if Mr Rogers thinks you’ve been a smart cookie, I’ll take you for a milkshake.”
He’d heard a lot about the famous Mr Rogers. He was ‘as small as a girl’ and had a ‘serious face’ and ‘a nice smile like the sunshine’ and that his daughter thought he was Captain America.
But actually seeing the man was… well, it was a bit of an eye opener. Big as a girl, she’d told him, but only if the girl wasn’t wearing heels – the man who stood up when he walked in wouldn’t top 5’3 if he stood on his toes. He was wearing a neatly fitted suit and his shoes were shiny, with a pair of wire-rimmed glasses on the end of his nose, which he pulled off quickly when Bucky walked through the door. Buckys heart jumped like he’d gotten a jolt right through him. Mr Rogers was probably the prettiest men he’d ever seen – and Bucky was reminded of those smaller men in forgotten bars all over Europe, not quite hidden well enough – easy to find if you knew what to look for. Those men who smelt like sweat and desire. Bucky liked dames and their curves – Maggies missing momma had been a looker – but his true weakness was a small set man with sharp edges.
“Mr Barnes?” He asked, and…
He sounded just like Captain America.
Maggies review was all good – it seemed like Mr Rogers thought she was a dream to teach, smart and quiet and the perfect little miss in class. Her reading was good, and her numbers were her strongest suit (like her Daddy, he noticed proudly) but her handwriting needed some improvement.
“All in all, I’m very happy with Maggie’s work, and I think that should she keep on this track she may need to skip a year later on. She’s by far the smartest one in class.” He smiled. He had a nice smile – a smile Bucky shouldn’t be noticing at all, not here, not now – but he did. He noticed the way Mr Rogers licked his bottom lip when he paused to look down at his notes. He noticed the way Mr Rogers fingers were long and thin and a little calloused. He noticed that those eyes were like the damn summer sky, so blue and deep and warm. These were things he really shouldn’t be noticing. “Any questions?”
“You’re not actually Captain America, are you?” Bucky said, before his brain could catch up with his mouth. The little guy had a voice that seemed to come from his boots, it was deep and strong and really didn’t fit with his tiny body. “Maggie’s convinced…”
His laugh though, was something that made the skin on Bucky’s arms stand up – his laugh was warm and open and really damn nice. Which Bucky didn’t want to notice.
“I am actually.” He said, which confused Bucky for an instant before the teacher shrugged. “Maggie is the only student who noticed, but I’m the voice of Cap for the show.” A pause. “I started when the war kicked off – they wouldn’t let me join up. Bad heart.” He admitted. “Uh, and eyes, and lungs. Bad in general. But I got offered a job at the radio and suddenly I’m Captain America.” He laughed again, and Bucky found himself grinning. “I’ve been telling Maggie that it’s not real, of course, I think she thought at first that the show was some kind of documentary, but she understands now that it’s like a nice story in a book.”
Bucky thought about the way she’d stopped asking Bucky if he knew Cap, started saying that her teacher was Captain America without that starry eyed voice, and nodded.
“Uh, she thought I met him in the war.”
“Lots of children think their fathers know Captain America.” Mr Rogers smiled. “But, uh, no, just Steve Rogers, sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about,” Bucky said, his mouth moving before his brain kicked in again. “Nothing wrong with Steve Rogers at all.”
After that though, Bucky saw Mr Rogers everywhere. Shopping with his Maw to get her a new winter coat from the nice new store that opened on 5th? He saw Mr Rogers looking at ties, which resulted in Maggie dragging them both over to talk to her teacher and Bucky trying hard not to stare. He noticed Mr Rogers noticing him staring and tried to stop, he really did – but the blush visible just under his collar had Bucky thinking...
Taking Maggie out for milkshakes after she’d been particularly nice to Mrs Lewis by drawing her a nice picture in class – he bumped into Steve Rogers. He ended up buying the man a shake too – and found that they had a lot in common other than Maggie, who looked thrilled that her teacher and her Daddy were talking. He liked how Steve ran his long, thin fingers through his blond hair and couldn’t stop thinking about what they would feel like tugging on his own short hair. Noticed how Steve would let his eyes run over his body when he thought Bucky wasn’t paying attention...
Taking Maggie to a ball game to try to get her interested in the sport? Yup, he ran into Steve at the concession stand, buying buttery popcorn and looking a little embarrassed to be alone. Which meant Bucky had to ask him to join them up in the nosebleeds. Liked how Steve hollered and waved just as loud as anyone, how he took each point personally, how he didn’t mind Maggies millions of questions. How he smelt like sweat and summer and how his leg would bump into Bucky’s when he leapt out of his seat to yell some more...
But it wasn’t until he was having dinner with Mrs and Mrs Lewis at a nice restaurant (In his best suit) that he had to admit that things might just not be as one sided as he’d convinced himself they were.
“Oh,” Mrs Lewis said, looking over at a table somewhere behind Bucky. “Isn’t that Steven?”
“Steven was one of Kevin’s friends.” Mr Lewis said, looking sad around the eyes. “When they were lads.”
“Such a nice boy.” Mrs Lewis said, waving a delicate hand.
“Mrs Lewis,” A very familiar voice said, and Bucky twisted in his chair to find himself face to face with…
“Oh, you know Steven?” Mr Lewis said, and Bucky felt a sudden drop in the pit of his stomach. Mr Lewis wanted him to take over Lewis Shipping, and he really couldn’t do that if his boss knew he was queer.
“I’m Maggies teacher.” Steve said, smiling.
“Oh!” Mrs Lewis said, and that was that, Steve was sitting with them for the rest of the night.
“Kevin left.” Mr Lewis was saying, as Steve blushed redder than a beat. “But you were both young lads back then, weren’t you?”
“It was a long time ago.” Steve was saying, looking nowhere near Bucky. “Um.”
“Oh, James here is a modern man,” Mr Lewis said, waving a hand over Bucky and Mrs Lewis like he was a grand lord. “Aren’t you, son?”
“Uh, yes.” Bucky agreed. “Very.”
“And you’re Maggies teacher?” Mrs Lewis cut in. “Oh, isn’t she just precious? James does such a good job with her. He said you think her letters could improve?”
Everything was moving along without Bucky needing to make much input into the conversation – he’d thought for a long time that Mrs Lewis had blurred the lines between Maggie and her own long grown grandchildren, but the way she spoke about his daughter confirmed it. It was harmless, and (rather selfishly) he knew that their fondness for Maggie actively increased his standing with them.
“Uh, yes.” Steve said, eyes sliding over to Bucky for approval. “She’s very clever though. Top of the class.”
“Of course she is.” Mr Lewis beamed. “Top of her class.”
“We’re having a dinner party on Saturday, Steven, you should come.” Mrs Lewis said, all smiles. “Bring your young man, if you like.”
Steve was the colour of a tomato, and he stammered through a reply that highlighted two facts. Firstly, Steve didn’t have a young man (or any man). Secondly this fact made Bucky inordinately happy.
“You can sit by me.” Bucky heard himself say, “If you’re worried about not knowing anyone.”
Mr Lewis smile was wide enough to split his head – Bucky wondered if Maggie was playing the role of the long gone grandchildren, and he was playing the part of the long gone Kevin in the minds of his employer and his wife. He wondered if he was a bad person for letting it happen. There were worse things to be cast as.
Saturday night arrived, and Bucky had a new suit, and had been making small talk with the aging members of the board for too long when Steve arrived. Almost immediately, he was tugged aside.
“The Lewis’ think you’re queer.” Steve said, low and urgent. “You have to tell them you’re not or they’ll try to push me on you all night.”
“I am though.” Bucky said, and it wasn’t half as hard to say as he’d expected. The look he got from Steve wasn’t too shabby either.
“I am. I mean, I’ve not… since the army… but… you know. I like a fella as much as I like a dame.” He shrugged. It seemed a surreal conversation to be having at a dinner party, standing by a potted palm.
“I… oh.” Steve said, looking confused. “But that doesn’t mean that you’d want to be pushed on me.” He said, looking conflicted. “I mean, they’re pretty set on the idea, but I’m not… I’m obviously not your type.”
He wasn’t right, of course. In his mind maybe Bucky had only been with guys at the docks – guys like him who were looking for something quick and easy – or in the army, where they needed comfort and some form of humanity. But he was wrong – Bucky hadn’t been able to get the tiny man out of his damn mind since the days they’d met.
“If that’s your way of letting me down easy, then you might as well just come out and say it.” Bucky said, with a grin he didn’t feel on his lips. “But you don’t know what my type is at all.”
The meal wasn’t as awkward as Bucky had expected, especially since he’d walked away from Steve and hadn’t talked to him until they were seated together at the large table Bucky now knew was only used for formal events. He’d brought Maggie to enough ‘family dinners’ to know that the normal table had been taken out to make room for the extra guests, and that normally Mr Lewis just kept the wine bottle on the table. Not tonight though.
“Of course, tonight we’re here to celebrate James,” He was saying, face red and happy. Mr Lewis liked to be the centre of attention and he was enjoying being at the head of the table. “James, as you all know, will be taking over as CEO when I retire at the end of the year.” A lot of head nodding and lifting of glasses in Buckys direction. “A young lad at the helm should take us into a new era, a family man with a long history with the company – welcome to the family, James.” He said, holding up his glass. “To James Barnes, and the future!”
“James Barnes.” The rest of the table said, and Bucky tried to look like he wasn’t completely overwhelmed.
“To James.” Steve said, under his breath, and a skinny knee knocked against his under the table.
He told him Maw a month before Mr Lewis retired that he was getting promoted. She knew something was up, with all the extra time he’d been spending at the docks, but he could tell she wasn’t expecting that. She cried, and Maggie thought she was upset and didn’t understand why until his Maw told her they were happy tears.
His Maw also spent the day with Steve, although Bucky hadn’t known about that until later that day when Maggie told him that they’d met him at the park. “Steve bought me an ice-cream.” Maggie beamed, “And he walked Grams around on his arm like a real gentleman.”
“I hear you’re making time with my Maw.” Bucky pointed out later, when Maggie was asleep and Steve was sitting a little too close to Bucky on the old couch to be quite so proper. Steve came over once Maggie was asleep, because there was no chance of getting her down of Steve showed up before bedtime. It also meant that Bucky could press closer without worrying about his little girl seeing (and saying) something that would get them into trouble.
“Hmm?” Steve said, pressing a little closer. “She’s nicer than you.” He smirked, which Bucky responded with an elbow to the ribs and a quick kiss that rapidly dissolved into something far too heated with his little girl sleeping in the next room.
“It’s a bit bigger than I was expecting.” His Maw was saying, standing in the foyer of the house. The bank had been more than happy to help finance Bucky a new place – and his new salary was more than enough for a home to rival the Lewis’ house – which was only a few doors down. “Um, quite a bit bigger.” She said, and looked like she was gonna start weeping again.
It had more than enough rooms, a home office, a nursery for Maggie as well as a bedroom – a dining room and a family room, and a formal parlour too. His savings had been dumped into the deposit, and the bank manager was a friend of Mr Lewis, which meant that Bucky was now on first name terms with him too.
It was like he was living in a dream. One that had him shaking hands and smoking cigars and feeling like a complete interloper.
“Steven is helping Maggie with extra classes?” Mr Lewis said, as they had the first ‘family dinner’ in Bucky’s new home. It had taken him a few months to get the house in order, ordering furniture and drapes and carpeting. His Maw had all the help she needed and more from Mrs Lewis, whom had simply supplied all of their unused items into Bucky’s home. This included every item that had once belonged to their own children, resulting in Maggie having three separate rocking horses in different colours, at least two of every toy (old but well looked after) and a literal army of bears and baby dolls to play with.
“Yes.” Bucky said, smiling. “He comes over to help her after school.” He added. “You know I’m going to move her to the school here, after the holidays. I want her to skip a class now, when she’s young, rather than later.”
“Margo had a tutor.” Mrs Lewis said, smiling at Maggie, who was preening under the attention. “Helped her get into Vassar.”
“Here’s hoping.” Bucky smiled.
Steve, who was probably still recording his ‘Captain America’ shtick, wouldn’t show up till later, under the guise of teaching Maggie her letters while Bucky worked in his home office. Bucky had a strong leaning that his neighbours didn’t buy it a bit, but apparently having money meant that you were less likely to have the police raid your home, less likely to have your kneecaps broken, and much less likely for anyone to say a damn thing about it.
Money, it seemed, kept your business, your business.
A few years later, Lewis Shipping stuck a deal with Stark Industries and became the biggest shipping line on the east coast. There was a nice picture that his Maw framed of him shaking hands with Howard Stark on the cover of the Times, Mr Lewis standing proudly in the background holding Maggie’s (Margaret, Daddy, please) hand and Steve standing off to one side.
10 years later, the upward tick in employment and a boom in consumer demand, Lewis Shipping became the name for those who required an expedited chain of supply, with ports opening up all along the coast of America. It was the same year that Mr Lewis very quietly left them in the middle of the night, complications with his heart taking a good man too soon for Bucky’s liking.
His funeral was a massive affair, and Maggie stood by Mrs Lewis and they held each other and wept while Bucky and Steve helped lower the black and silver coffin into the muddy ground.
It was common knowledge that James Barnes had a live in partner. At 65 years old, they were both old enough and (in Bucky’s case at least) rich enough, not to give two craps about what anyone thought of either of them. If anyone thought to say something, they said it far away and in hushed tones. They had to; Margaret Barnes was a powerhouse of a woman, for all her blushes and smiles – one of the first female CEO’s of a fortune 500, taking over Lewis Shipping the previous year when Bucky stepped down due to his health. They had long hosted lavish meals and parties together, standing at the door shaking hands and welcoming guests. People who saw them together used words like ‘companionship’ and ‘long standing affair’ and knew that Margaret Barnes referred to them both as her ‘parents’.
When James Buchanan Barnes was 87 years old, he marched himself (and his partner of 59 years) right up to the city hall and applied for a marriage licence. Steve was half blind and mostly deaf, and Bucky had two new hips and a set of dentures that he hadn’t quite mastered eating with yet, but damn them both if they didn’t still look at one another like they hung the moon.
“So, Cap,” Bucky said, grinning – his too white teeth bright in the sunlight. “You feel any different being a married man?”
“I been with you 60 years, you jerk,” Steve shot back. “A ring on my finger don’t change squat.”
“That’s a terrible thing to say to a newlywed.” Bucky smirked. “You’re lucky I love ya.”
“Hmm.” Steve grumbled, leaning on his cane. “You know, being married gotta have some perks.” He said after a pause. “This mean I get ta beg a headache when you start actin’ like some young lothario?”
Bucky just laughed.
“Damnit.” Steve said, but there was a grin playing on his lips and Bucky Barnes couldn't give a damn about the people milling around when he kissed the man he'd loved for so long.