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A Single Brighter Light

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Bucky is bored.

He has no right to be bored, and he knows it. His parents certainly are not bored. Dad has barely been home since Tuesday before last; when he is, he's talking about "stocks" and "crashes" and "Winnie, please don't fret; dearest, you help me keep the books, you know that we're fine." Ma has been very busy the past few days, converting one of the guest rooms into a bedroom for the maid whose husband already lost the means to pay rent; cooking up a feast in the kitchen for the other maid to take back home with her; and canning whatever beans and corn she thinks they can spare. She's enlisted Rebecca in this endeavor, so whenever his little sister isn't at school, she's been busy with Ma either making food or making deliveries.

Truth be told Bucky would love to be helping out, too. Ma's had him in the kitchen with her since he was small; he baked his first cake when he was six, and on Sundays he makes lunch for the whole family by himself. But instead he's laid up on the couch in the first floor parlor, because he'd been dumb enough to wander into a crowd on the way home from school on Thursday, hoping to figure out a little more of what had his folks so on edge, and had come home bruised and limping for his stupidity. Crutches and a splint have been his constant companions ever since.

He's done the schoolwork that Rebecca brought home for him from his teacher. He's bored of reading, which is something he never thought he'd say about himself, but he's discovered that he only wants Jules and Verne when it's a free choice, and not something he's forced to do for lack of other options. He's bored of playing Solitaire, too, and even if he was talented at drawing, nothing is coming to mind when he stares at the sheaf of blank pages that had been left for him. There's been nothing but news reports and doomsday prophecies on the radio. He's too awake to nap, and too isolated to listen in on anyone's conversation.

For want of any other pastime he sings. Loudly. Not particularly well, either, apparently, because someone on the floor above him keeps stomping their foot, to shut him up. Because of that he almost misses the sound of someone knocking on the front door. It throws him, briefly, when he realizes what the noise is, but then he remembers that their bell is broken and, given the past few days, no one's gotten around to fixing it.

"I'm coming!" he yells, trying to sit up without jostling his "bad sprain, probably a strain on top of it" too badly, as whoever is at the door continues to knock. "Hold on!"

The knocking stops, and he hears "Okay!" from the other side of the door. He reaches for his crutches and gets them under his arms in record time, he's proud to tell himself. Limping to the door goes by pretty quickly too, because he only remembers that he's not supposed to answer the door by himself after he's already opened it.

No danger here, though. His caller is a kid smaller than Bucky, but probably around the same age going by the face. He's dirty blond, with blue eyes; his shirt is baggy, loose from a lack of suspenders; his pants look too small for him, and his shoes too big. Behind him, across the doorstep, lies the long handle to a red wagon that had been left on the front concrete lawn; the wagon itself is laden with bottles of different-colored liquids and rags in varying states of obvious use.

"Oh, hey."

They know each other, vaguely. Winifred Barnes, nee Buchanan, is still a proud Scotswoman for all the years she's spent in the States, and consequently First Presbyterian is a second home to the Barnes. Steve Rogers, on the other hand, is at church only rarely, never unaccompanied by his grandmother, and never accompanied by anyone else. That wouldn't be especially remarkable, if his grandmother weren't the only Indian that Bucky and probably everybody else there had ever seen in their lives. They look nothing like each other, too--where Steve is blond and pale, his grandmother is dark-haired and brown; where she is tall and imposing, he looks like a strong wind will pick him up and dump him in the Upper Bay one of these days--which makes them even more noticeable. Ma and Dad tried to approach them once, but they had barely gotten in a cursory greeting and introductions before the pair excused themselves. Steve had kept glancing back at them, Bucky remembers, like he expected to be followed.

"Oh. Hey," Steve parrots back at him, his face falling. "I didn't know this was your..." Steve trails off, and then straightens up; his expression changes to one of practiced professionalism. "Can I talk to your father?"

"Um. He's...he's out."

"Then can I talk to your mother?"

"She's out, too. But you can talk to me," he offers, when he sees a little shadow of disappointment cross over Steve's eyes. "Why'ya here?"

"I'm here to...to offer my services," Steve says, stepping to the side and glancing back at his wagon. "Rogers Custodial, established 1929. I'm offering a full cleaning for a three-story house for five dollars."

"We got maids," Bucky says, taken aback.

"Five dollars or best offer," Steve quickly amends.

"They're working today," Bucky says, swaying a bit on his crutches. "Can't ask 'em to leave, you know?" he says, with a weak laugh.

"When is their day off?"

"Um...Sunday."

Steve looks relieved. "Good. I can work any day except Saturday."

"No you can't, you got school," Bucky laughs; he stops when he sees Steve's face, and realizes that it's Wednesday today.

"Could you let your folks know I was here?" Steve asks. "I'll come back over on Sunday, after you get home from church."

"Uh...sure, I guess. I'll let 'em know."

Steve smiles. "Thanks. Um...it's James, right...?"

"You can call me Bucky." Rebecca had invented the nickname, wanting something to match "Becky", and despite its origins he likes it; it sounds a little more manly than "Jamie", but doesn't have the same you're in trouble, young man ring to it as his actual Christian name.

"Okay. Thanks, Bucky. I guess I'll see you Sunday."

"Um," Bucky says, loudly, when Steve turns away and it dawns on Bucky that he isn't wearing a coat. "Do you..." Steve turns back. "Do you wanna come inside for a bit?"

Steve shakes his head. "Can't."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. There are a couple houses on this block I didn't get to yet." Steve turns away again.

"You know now I think about it, I got work you can do," Bucky says, before he thinks about it at all.

Steve regards him with surprise and more than a little suspicion. "What kinda work?"

"Well I'm stuck here," Bucky says, indicating his crutches. "And everyone else is either gone or busy. You could...if you could stay for a couple hours until my folks get back, I'll pay you for your time. I got an allowance. Ten bucks a week."

Steve's jaw nearly drops onto the ground before he recovers. "Whadaya want me to do?"

"Just...stick around? I'm bored. I got some games I need another person to play with, and my sister's not home. And...and, y'know, if I get hungry you can run over to the kitchen to get a snack for me. Stuff like that. You'd be like...like my personal manservant or something, for the day."

Steve looks troubled.

"I'll still pay you the five bucks," Bucky says, with a cheeky grin. "Please, it's so boring being laid up."

Steve looks even more troubled; he glances at the other houses lining the street, and Bucky can tell he's calculating the likelihood that anyone else would take him up on his offer of janitorial services. A gust of wind blows by, coating Bucky's face with cold; he sees Steve shiver and, unconsciously, fold his arms across his chest.

"Goin' once, goin' twice..."

"Okay," Steve interrupts. "Five dollars, you promise?"

Bucky leans hard onto one crutch so he can offer a hand. "Cross my heart, hope to die."

"Okay." Steve shakes his hand, sealing the deal.

Bucky swings his crutches back, hopping backwards to let Steve in; Steve closes the door behind them. Bucky hobbles his way back to the couch as Steve wipes and stomps his feet on the doormat, and then follows him fully inside the room, glancing around like he can't figure out what to take in first.

"Couldja turn off the radio?" Bucky asks, and Steve hastens to do so. "Thanks, it was drivin' me nuts. Been listenin' to it all day; it's nothin' but people panicking about the crash."

"It's pretty bad," Steve says, a little strangled. "My mother was talkin' about it. She says a lot of people are gonna be losin' their jobs soon."

"Lotsa people already did," Bucky says, a little forlorn. "My dad says we're okay, so I'm not real worried about us, but I know some people who aren't doing so great already."

"You just gotta be careful with your money, that's all," Steve says, sounding wise and not quite confident. "We got some saved up, so we'll be fine as long as we all keep workin'."

"What's your dad do? He in the cleaning business, too?"

Steve falters; he stops looking at the room and instead looks down at the floor. "My dad died last year."

"Oh." Bucky grimaces. "I'm sorry." Come to think of it, Steve had shown up for a rash of Sundays, more in a row than he ever had, at one point last year. "I didn't know, I don't remember it gettin' announced at church..."

"It wasn't," Steve says, a little quickly. "He wasn't...he didn't go there."

Ah. That explains...not very much; in fact that leaves Bucky with more questions than answers, but Steve looks mighty uncomfortable, so a change of subject is in order. "Oh, okay. So your mom works?"

Steve nods. "She's a nurse. And my grandmother makes things and sells them. Bags and jewelry and things like that."

"Neat." Bucky smiles at Steve, who smiles back. "My dad runs a couple stores around the city. And we got land out west that we rent out."

"You rent it out fair, right?" Steve asks, his eyes suddenly narrow.

"'Course we do," Bucky says, a little defensively, but mostly matter-of-factly; he doesn't want Steve to get upset and go away. "And Ma used to be a cook, but then she married my dad." Steve nods. He doesn't look quite convinced by Bucky's nonchalance. "Hey, could you get me a glass of water if I tell you how to get to the kitchen?"

"That's what you're payin' me for, I guess."

"Go out this door and straight down the hall, make the second left; you'll walk right into it. Anyone asks, just say you're a friend who came to visit."

"Okay."

Steve trots back into the parlor much quicker than Bucky had planned on; he had grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and was preparing to doodle the next few minutes away when Steve comes back, clutching a glass.

"You draw?" Steve asks, setting the glass down on the table in front of the couch, looking at Bucky's hand.

"Not really. Do you?" Steve nods. "Whadaya draw?"

"Anything, really," Steve says, with a shrug, trying to remember his last few projects. "Trees. People. Animals."

"Can I see?" Bucky pushes the stack of paper towards Steve, and plants the pencil atop it like a cherry on a sundae. "I'll pay you extra if you draw something for me."

"O-...okay," Steve says, looking flustered. "Whadaya want me to draw?"

"Um. Whatever, I guess. Me?"

"I can do that, sure."

"Do I gotta pose?"

"It'd help."

"How do you want me?"

"It doesn't matter. Whatever you want."

Bucky thinks for a second, considering a position he'd be willing to hold for a long time, and then reaches for a book he had previously discarded and reclines on the couch. "This way I can read while you're drawing."

"Smart." Bucky can't tell if Steve is being sarcastic or not, but he makes a face at him just to be sure. Steve makes a face back.

Unlike fetching water, it takes Steve quite awhile to finish the sketch. Bucky glances up from War of the Worlds occasionally, to watch Steve glare down at the page, turn it this way and that; when he rubs at the lead with his fingertip he sticks his tongue out of his mouth, and he mutters "no, no" to himself and shakes his head every once in awhile. Bucky wants to talk, but he feels like Steve would be distracted by it, so he focuses on his book. It's a bit more interesting now that his day's monotony has been interrupted, and he finishes three chapters before Steve finally puts the pencil down.

"Lemme see it," Bucky says immediately, draping his book over the back of the couch, to keep his page, and sitting up.

"It's not very good," Steve says in a low voice, and Bucky has to reach over to take the paper for himself.

It actually is very good. It's not going up in the Met any time soon, but it looks more realistic than anything Bucky could ever come up with, with his features mostly in proportion, and some shading on his face that must be from the shadows cast by the front window. Steve even drew him mid-page flip, and Bucky is forever impressed and flabbergasted by the ability of artists to capture action on page.

"I like it! I really like it. You should do this instead of cleaning. If you set up in Coney Island you could make a killing." Steve mumbles something, and goes a little more pink when Bucky takes a few seconds to study the sketch again. "Maybe when my folks get back you can draw them. Becky'll want a drawing, too. She's my little sister."

"Maybe," Steve says bashfully, noncommittally. Bucky admires the sketch for a few seconds more, before he reaches up for his book and carefully sandwiches the drawing into the spine, to use as a bookmark. "Whadaya want me to do now?"

"Uh..." Bucky casts his mind about for something, and settles on reaching for another piece of paper and the pencil; he draws out a tic-tac-toe board, and places an O in the center square.

They play upwards of twenty games, each one ending in a tie; when Bucky can tell they're both growing bored of it, they switch to playing Hangman. His stomach rumbles about halfway through Steve trying to figure out the word MARTIAN, and after Steve loses that round Bucky sends him off to the kitchen again, this time returning with an armful of apples.

"Do you want one?" Bucky asks, when it seems like Steve is watching him eat.

"No thanks. They're yours."

"I don't mind."

"It's okay."

Bucky has an unsettled feeling about Steve's refusal, but he swallows it down along with the bite he just took. "Can you go up to my room? Take the stairs up to the third floor and go all the way down the hall. I got a couple games and puzzles and stuff we could do. Grab whatever; I don't care."

"Okay." Steve gets up.

"Oh yeah, my allowance is in my desk, in the top drawer; you should just get it now."

When Steve comes back down again this time it's with Elizabeth, the maid who isn't worried about losing her own apartment; she has Steve held by the ear, Bucky's money crumpled in her other fist. Impressively, Steve is still clutching whatever game he took out of Bucky's room.

"James, this person says you sent him upstairs."

"He did," Steve spits.

"I did!" Bucky wants to jump up, but can't, so he settles for sitting up as straight as he can. "That's Steve. He's my friend."

Bucky thinks Elizabeth is trying to frown, but it looks more like a glare, and a poisonous one at that. "You need better friends, then. This," she brandishes the ten-dollar bill, "was in his hand."

"That's okay, I sent him up to get it." Elizabeth raises her eyebrow, and Bucky has to come up with something quick; he gets the feeling that "I'm paying him to spend time with me" is something that she'll get weird about. "I was gonna show him a magic trick." He opens his hand for Elizabeth to put the money in; once he has it, he shows off a trick he learned from one of the boys at his school, a certain way of folding an upright bill that, after unfolding, reveals it to have been turned upside-down with no one noticing how.

"That's pretty neat, Buck," Steve says, to seal the deception; Elizabeth loosens her hold enough for him to slip out of it. "Can you teach me?"

"Yeah, sure!" Bucky moves over, to make room on the couch for Steve. Elizabeth gives them a once-over, her weird frown-glare never leaving her face, and backs out of the room, watching the two boys until she no longer physically could. "Okay, so, you fold it first like thi--"

"I am not a thief."

The low, almost trembling tone in Steve's voice brings Bucky up short. Steve's face is red, his hands closed into fists.

"Yeah, I know you're not," Bucky says slowly. It occurs to him that Elizabeth didn't apologize to Steve. "But I guess it did look suspicious, I mean, she doesn't know you..."

"Yes she does. She lives near me."

"...Oh. She does?"

Steve bobs his head harshly. "Her husband runs a store across from my building. We're not allowed in there."

"What? Why not?"

"They don't like us."

"How come? Because your grandma's...?" Ma had tut-tutted after that one time she tried to speak with the woman; "Everyone's so cold to her that she doesn't know what to do with warmth, poor dearie."

"Yeah, that's part of it," Steve says, as if tasting something bitter.

Bucky wants to press, to find out the rest of it, but more than that he wants Steve to stop looking so upset, so he snaps the bill between his fingers to get Steve's attention. "So like I was saying, you gotta fold it a certain way for it to work."

He walks Steve through the trick two times, before letting Steve try it for himself. Steve seems to brighten a little bit when he successfully pulls it off, and Bucky goes to work setting up the game Steve had chosen--Pegity, an oldie that Bucky hasn't played in a long time--while Steve tries the fold three more times, to make sure the first time wasn't a fluke.

They play two and a half rounds of Pegity--Bucky wins the first time, Steve the second, and they're in the middle of the third--when they hear a key turning the lock; Winifred ushers Rebecca into the house ahead of her, and audibly shivers when she shuts the door against the cold.

"We're home," she announces, and pauses when she sees her son with a companion.

"Hi Ma," Bucky says brightly. "This's Steve. From church, remember?"

Winifred blinks, less like she's trying to remember who Steve is, and more like she's trying to figure out why Steve is here. "Oh! Yes." Steve stands up as she goes to him and takes her hand when she offers it. "It's very nice seeing you again, Steve."

"Same to you, Mrs. Barnes."

"Is that your wagon out front?"

"Yes ma'am."

"What are you doing with all those cleaning supplies?"

"Oh, Steve has a cleaning business," Bucky says. "He's offerin' to clean the house for us on Sunday."

"I can do the whole place in one day for five dollars," Steve adds.

The smile on Winifred's face falters a little bit and she takes a second to figure out the best way to approach this. "I'll talk to Mr. Barnes about it when he comes home," is what she finally settles on.

"Pegity!" Rebecca suddenly crows, and makes a beeline for the coffee table. "Can I play with you?"

"Sure thing, Becks," Bucky says, and Rebecca settles herself on the floor, spreading her skirt out around her folded legs. "Hey, you wanna see what Steve drew for me?"

"Yeah!"

Bucky fetches the drawing from his book and balks; he makes it so he holds the paper gently on the sides, between his fingertips. "You gotta be real careful with it, Becky; I don't want it to wrinkle. You promise you're not gonna hurt it?" Rebecca nods eagerly. "Okay..."

Rebecca is as careful with it as an eight-year-old can be, and Winifred crouches down behind her daughter to get a good look at it, as well.

"This is very good, Steve," she says, glancing up at him. "You have a real gift."

"Thank you, ma'am." Steve is blushing again.

"I want one too!" Rebecca says, putting the drawing on the table with a little more recklessness than Bucky is comfortable with; he reaches over and takes it back quickly.

"Becky, no, Steve is visiting..."

"Oh no, he's here on business," Bucky says, drawing himself up like a grown-up. "I paid him for the drawing."

"You did?" Bucky nods, and an odd combination of emotions passes over Winifred's face. "Not that it isn't good enough to be paid for, of course," she assures Steve.

"Mommy can I have one?" Rebecca asks, bouncing up and down. "Can I ple~ase?"

"Well. If Steve doesn't mind..."

"I don't mind," Steve says.

"Yay!"

"Of course we'll pay you for it, dear," Winifred says.

"You're gonna have to pose, Becks," Bucky informs his sister.

"Why don't you just sit right where you are and play your game while Steve draws you," Winifred says, correctly surmising that Rebecca isn't old enough to hold a pose for very long. "If the artist agrees," she again addresses Steve.

"Yeah, she can stay there."

When George comes in about fifteen minutes later, Steve is so engrossed in his work that he doesn't notice, even with "Hi Daddy!" and "Hi Dad" and "Welcome home, sweetheart" floating through the air around him. George stoops to kiss Rebecca's cheek, leans over to ruffle Bucky's hair, and sends a confused glance to his wife over Steve's head; she beckons him to follow her out of the parlor, and Bucky can hear them whispering as they leave the room.

Rebecca runs to go show her parents the drawing once Steve is finished; this time Steve had drawn not only his designated sittee, but also Bucky again, and the table between them as well as the board game. It's a little messier than the one he did of Bucky alone, having more details to fudge, but both George and Winifred come back into the room all smiles and praise.

"It's really nothin' great," Steve mumbles, his whole face red.

"Don't you be saying things like that, young man," Winifred scolds gently, with a wag of her finger. "You have a talent, and talent is a gift from God. You oughtta take pride in what the Good Lord gave you; He could've given it to somebody else."

Steve doesn't know how to answer that, so he looks at the floor.

"Maybe one of these days we'll ask you to draw the whole family," George says, to lighten the atmosphere. "But right now I think it's about time for dinner." Rebecca is out the door making a beeline for the dining room before anyone can say anything further, and the remaining four share a laugh. "Steve, will you be staying to eat with us?"

"No thank you," Steve says, a little quickly, and stands up from the couch. "I oughtta be gettin' home if it's dinner time."

"Oh, where do you live? We can drop you off."

"Not too far. I can walk."

"Steve lives over by where Miss Elizabeth lives," Bucky tacks on.

Winifred looks alarmed. "Steve, did you walk here from there?" Steve shuffles under the question and doesn't answer. "Oh no, dearie, you're not walking all the way back there tonight. It's black as the Earl's waistcoat already, and you'll catch your death in this cold. We'll drive you."

"I really can walk," Steve mutters to the carpet. "Don't wanna make you miss dinner..."

"It'll keep," Winifred says kindly, but definitively. "You stay here and help Bucky clean up the parlor; Mr. Barnes and I'll pack up your wagon."

Steve bites his lip and obviously wants to protest, but knows he can't argue with a grown-up, so he turns to do as Winifred says while she and George get their coats. Bucky is quiet for a bit as he helps, until his parents have stepped out the door and closed it behind them.

"Thanks for keepin' me company."

"Thanks for makin' the offer," Steve mumbles back.

"Oh, here." Bucky slides the ten-dollar bill across the table towards Steve. "What I owe you."

"I don't have any change."

"It's okay, you can keep the whole thing."

"But you said five dollars."

"Five dollars for stayin' with me," Bucky says, taken aback by how insulted Steve sounds. "Two-fifty each for the drawings. Told you I'd pay you extra."

Steve doesn't say anything, but he does speed up, packing up the game and straightening out the stack of papers before Bucky has a chance to do anything. He takes the game back up to Bucky's room before he's asked, too.

"Even if Ma and Dad say they don't need you to clean on Sunday, you could still come over," Bucky says, when Steve is quiet after his return. "I'm gonna be laid up for another week."

"Okay," Steve says, voice low. "If I don't have any other takers."

The door creaks open, and Winifred sticks her head in. "Steve? You're all packed up. We're ready to go if you are."

"I'm ready," Steve says, not quite looking at her as he stands up.

"'Bye, Steve," Bucky says, a little hesitant when he lifts his hand to wave good-bye, and not sure why. "I'll see you Sunday. Maybe."

"'Bye, Bucky," Steve replies, giving his own stilted little wave in return. "See you Sunday. Maybe."

Chapter Text

Steve is not embarrassed.

The Barnes' home is a mansion, basically. Their parlor has emerald green wallpaper, with a carpet Steve could actually dig his toes into. That couch had probably never had to be reupholstered in its life. That coffee table was definitely bought new and not scavenged from off the sidewalk. The radio shone polished in the light from their window. Steve had thought, when he saw them in church, that just like Aksot they wore an actual Sunday best that Mrs. Barnes made them take off once they got home, to be carefully checked for rips and stains, mended if needed, brushed off, and put away. Then Bucky opened the door, and Steve realized that, no, that's just how they dressed.

"You can just drop me off here," Steve says, once they get to a corner he knows is only a few blocks away from his building.

"Oh no, don't worry about it," Mr. Barnes says, glancing at him in the rearview mirror. "We'll take you right to your front door."

He is not embarrassed, but Mameh will be.

It's easy to find parking for the Barnes; almost no one in this neighborhood drives. The people who get their hands on an automobile, whether through legal or illegal means, mostly use it to get out of here as fast as they can. What's not easy is deciding whether or not to bite his tongue when Mrs. Barnes asks her husband if she should stay in the car, or if he should, or if they should both walk Steve up the stairs to his front door.

"It's not really safe around here for ladies," Steve finally does say, because something happening to Mrs. Barnes would be worse than being...than Mameh being embarrassed.

Mr. Barnes actually turns in his seat to look at Steve for that one; Steve looks at his hands.

"Then how about this. I'll drive up to directly under your stairs, and Mrs. Barnes will take you up while I wait in the car."

Steve squirms in his seat. Mr. Barnes is tall, and broad, and his hands look strong, but his face looks kind, and his quietness is gentle, not intimidating. "Sometimes there're people...gangs..."

"Steve," Mr. Barnes says gently, "whoever is here, I'm sure they're not scarier than the Kaiser's men."

Steve looks up immediately, suddenly electrified. He wants to ask Where did you fight? How long were you there? What was it like? Did you know my dad? but Mr. Barnes turns around in his seat and pulls up slowly to the stairs Steve had pointed out as leading up to his apartment. He steps out of the car to help Steve take out the wagon and re-pack it with all those bottles and rags that had been carefully placed on the floor of the backseat. Steve picks it up, to carry it up the stairs, and nearly trips; Mr. Barnes steadies him with a hand on the wagon, and when Mrs. Barnes comes around he lets her take his place as Steve's support.

It's an agonizingly long walk up the stairs. He has to take the steps slowly, one elbow pressed up against the handrail as his arms tremble underneath the weight of the wagon and the unsteadiness of the bottles shaking. Mrs. Barnes doesn't seem to know what to do with her hands as she follows closely behind him; they flit from his shoulders to the sides of the wagon as they make their way up, and at one point they both land on his back, between his shoulder blades, when he miscalculates a step and nearly falls backwards.

He's starting to breathe a little hard by the time they finally make it to his landing, but he puts the wagon on the ground and drags it forward by the handle, and the sound of the wheels over concrete drowns out the slight wheezes.

"Which one is yours, dearie?"

"All the way at the end," Steve says, allowing himself to feel a little surge of pride in his dwelling for once. The corner apartment is the biggest in the building, with two actual bedrooms and a living room large enough for a small couch and a table. They had needed that much space for seven people, and they'd kept in it rather comfortably, at least financially, when Steve was a baby and all six adults were working.

Now there are only three people living there. It makes the apartment cleaner, at least, even if it feels more like a desolate landscape than just a lack of clutter. It makes the grocery bills smaller, too, but the rent seems to be higher, even though it hasn't actually been raised in awhile.

Mameh doesn't want to give it up, though.

"Oh, Steve," Mrs. Barnes says, when he's about a foot away from his door. "Here." She rustles through her purse, pulling out a long, fancy-looking wallet. Steve glances around to make sure no one is there to see her do that. "For those drawings you did."

"Bucky already paid me," Steve says, sotto voce, in case someone is around that he can't see.

"Then consider it an advance, for Sunday." Mrs. Barnes winks at him, and holds out a few dollar bills. "We're very much looking forward to seeing you."

Steve takes the bills, slower than he wants to (there still could be someone around, watching) and faster than he wants to, as well. "Thank you, ma'am."

"You're very welcome."

Steve shoves the money in his pocket, next to the ten-dollar bill Bucky gave him, and fishes for his key. It takes him awhile to get hold of it; the fabric of his pants is pressed tight against his leg ("At least that means you're growing," Mameh said, sounding mostly relieved). When he finally does, and puts it into the lock, he hears someone on the other side of the door putting their hand on the knob.

"Steve? Is that you?"

"It's me, Ma."

He unlocks the door and opens it at the same time Sarah pulls it open; he lets go before he can tumble over.

"Steven Grant Rogers, do you see those streetlights? Where are you supposed to be when those come on, hm? I have been on my feet all day; I want to come home to dinner and rest and see my family, and instead I walk in the door and your grandmother is worried sick; she expected you home hours ago; she's about ready to go to the police--" Sarah stops abruptly when she sees Winifred standing behind Steve, awkwardly clutching her purse. "Steven, who is this?"

"Oh, um, Winifred Barnes," Mrs. Barnes says, offering a hand. "Pleased to meet you."

Sarah puts her hands up, and then places them behind her back. "I'm sorry. I'm a nurse...I prefer to be safe."

"Quite all right, dearie, I understand," Winifred says, drawing her hand back to settle on top of her purse. "And I'm afraid it's my family's fault that Steve is late in getting home. My son, James, is laid up with a sprained ankle, and your son spent this afternoon with him. At some point, Steve drew a picture for James, and when my younger daughter saw it she wanted one of her own. Steve very graciously obliged her, and that's what kept him."

Sarah looks at Winifred, a little bewildered. "I'm...I'm sorry, Mrs. Barnes, how does my son know yours?"

"Oh, we see Steve with his grandmother at church sometimes."

"I...s-see," Sarah says, and looks down at Steve. She notices the wagon behind him, and the cleaning supplies inside it, and the fear-driven anger still on her face melts away, replaced with something like sadness. "Well. Thank you, for bringing him home safely. I'm very sorry you had to come all the way here from..."

"Carroll Gardens."

"Carroll Gardens! Steve, did you walk over there by yourself?"

"It was fine; I went during daylight," Steve says, sullenly.

"Steve..." She flounders, her mouth opening and closing, before she finally puts a hand on the doorframe, like she needs the support. "Get, get inside and wash up for dinner. I will take care of that," she says, when Steve turns and reaches for the contents of his wagon. "Just get inside. Go reassure your grandmother that you're still alive."

"Good night, Steve," Winifred says, as Steve ducks under his mother's arm and into the house.

"Good night, Mrs. Barnes," Steve replies, in a small voice.

Sarah pulls the door to behind Steve and sends a helpless glance at Winifred, who responds with a sympathetic one.

"I know how you feel, dearie," Winifred says. "My James wandered from the beaten path recently and got himself a sprained ankle for it."

"I don't know what I'm going to do with him."

"He doesn't mean to cause you distress, I'm sure. He's just young, is all."

"Don't I know it," Sarah says, with a sigh, and she scoots around Winifred to crouch by Steve's wagon. "I'm so sorry if he put you out in any way."

"Oh, not at all. James has been on bed rest for days; Steve's company was sure refreshing for him. And my Becky is very happy to have the drawing Steve did for her. Your son certainly has a gift with a pencil."

"He gets that from his father," Sarah says, tucking the bottles she figures Steve took from under the kitchen sink this morning, after she left for work but before her mother-in-law woke up, into her arm. "My husband was a fair hand at drawing, before he died."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that, that he's passed," Winifred says, stepping out of the way to let Sarah stand unhindered.

"Thank you." Sarah adjusts the bottles in her arms, for a better hold. "Steve's been...a little more impetuous, since it happened."

"I would think that understandable." Winifred says, watching Sarah. "Do you need a hand, dear?"

"No thank you," Sarah says, and Winifred isn't surprised. "Well, Mrs. Barnes, I don't want to keep you. I'm sure you've got dinner on the table."

"And two little ones that I'm sure are waiting so patientlike for us to get back," Winifred said with a chuckle. "Oh, before I go...Steve and James appear to have made some plans for Sunday. Should I expect Steve?"

A bottle nearly slips from Sarah's grasp; she grabs it before it can fall to the floor.

"What kind of pla--...did he ask you for work?"

Winifred feels a little flushed under the straightforwardness, but lying is not in her repertoire. "He did."

"You really don't have to take him up on that, Mrs. Barnes," Sarah says flatly.

"Well, I'd like to support a young man who wants to put in an honest day's work," Winifred says. "That sort of attitude needs to be encouraged in the youth, I feel. Besides, I think James needs the company." She steps in, dropping her voice conspiratorially. "James is fairly well-liked among the boys his age, if you'll pardon me bragging, but he doesn't have any really very good buddies. Steve is...well, Steve presents himself as a very well-bred young man. He's the sort I want my boy associating with."

Sarah can't help but blush proudly in the face of such unabashed praise for her son and her parenting. She appreciates, also, that the woman in front of her has obviously seen some of Steve's vulnerabilities, and in turn offered one of James' own; it certainly doesn't put them on an even keel, but it's nice to be approached as the kindred spirit of a fellow mother.

"I would like to see Steve make more friends, as well," she says.

"Maybe after church he can come straight home with us?" Winifred asks with a bright smile. "And we'll bring him back home at the end of the day. He'll have a nice visit with us."

Sarah notices Winifred's choice of words, and some of the weight lifts off her chest. "That sounds like a fine idea, Mrs. Barnes."

"Oh please, call me Winifred." Sarah makes an acknowledging noise and gesture. "So. Sunday it is?

"Sunday it is. Have a good night, Winifred."

"You as well, missus."

Sarah watches Winifred leave--she goes to the top of the stairs to make sure the woman gets all the way down to the car waiting for her unmolested--and then hurries back inside, leaving the wagon out in front of their door. No one has stolen it yet nor does she think anyone ever will.

Minnie has apparently scolded Steve in Sarah's absence, because he's staring down at the tabletop when she comes back in, looking genuinely contrite. Her mother-in-law sits next to him, her face stoically dignified, a far cry from the almost-terror that had been there when Sarah walked in from work to find the older lady alone.

"Steven, you absolutely know better than to go out without telling your grandmother where you're going."

"I was fine, Mameh."

"And if you'd had an asthma attack? All the way out in Carroll Gardens where no one knows you?"

"But I didn't have an asthma attack," Steve mutters under his breath.

"Young man, I have had a very long day."

Steve glares down at the table but falls quiet. Sarah goes to the sink and crouches down, putting the bottles back one by one, until she gets to the antiseptic she wants; with that she scours her hands of any germs that might have survived her previous hand-washing. Once she's finished she wipes her hands on her apron and goes to the stove, where Minnie had left a pot of soup simmering. It's mainly broth, with some vegetables and bits of chicken bubbling up to the surface.

"Did you eat?"

"I wasn't hungry," Steve says, involuntarily remembering the juicy crunch of apple between Bucky's teeth, and his stomach audibly growls.

"I think you've been ratted out, Steve," Minnie says, with a hint of a smile on her face.

Sarah ladles soups into three bowls; she takes the first to Steve, the second to Minnie, and the third for herself. Steve plays with his food, pushing the soup around with his spoon. He's searching for how much solid food there is in comparison to broth, and once he's hunted down every last piece--and it doesn't take him long to do so--he shoves his hand into his pocket and, after some digging, produces the money Bucky and Mrs. Barnes had given him.

"I made thirteen dollars today," he says, reaching across the table to show his mother.

"Thirteen--Steve!" Sarah takes the money from him, inspecting it for herself. "Did this all come from the Barnes?" Steve nods, and Sarah groans. "Oh my goodness...they must think..."

"What, that we're poor?" Minnie says. "That's not terribly hard to figure out, Sarah."

"Mother, please...Steve, we are not...we are not destitute. We are always going to have enough to live on. You don't have to...to put yourself to work like that. You should be concentrating on--did you skip school today?"

"Arnie told them I was sick," Steve admits.

Steve has approximately one steady friend--the rest come and go from Steve's life as is favorable to their social standing or physical well-being--and normally Sarah appreciates Arnie's loyalty, but now she's ready to march down to the Roths' apartment and spank him for his complicity. Steve misses enough school as it is when he is actually is sick.

"Steven, do not ever let me catch you purposely skipping again."

"I won't."

"Won't skip school, or won't let your mother catch you?" Minnie asks.

"I won't skip school," Steve mutters, mad that he hadn't been allowed to exploit that loophole.

"And I want you to return this to the Barnes," Sarah says, putting the money on the table and pushing it back towards Steve.

"Sarah..." Minnie starts.

"We do not accept charity. We have no need."

"It's not charity," Steve protests, his face going red again. "I worked for it."

"You do not work for the Barnes. You did a nice thing for your friends, that's all."

"But they're not my friends. I barely talked to them before today."

"Steven." Sarah points her spoon at him. "Not another word. Mother." She looks at Minnie, who is also gearing up to protest. "I would like us to eat dinner in peace, please."

Minnie frowns at her daughter-in-law, but acquiesces. Steve is shaking in his seat, bright red; Minnie puts a hand on his wrist, and says something to him in Oneida that Sarah doesn't catch. Sarah knows English and Yiddish and Hebrew, of course, and she remembers a little Gaelic even though she was young when she left Ireland, but Joseph hadn't taught her much Oneida. Minnie once confessed that she had pressed Joseph as a child not to speak it to anyone besides her side of the family, and he had never kicked the habit. He had used the language during the war out of necessity, as code, but told her that he hated doing it; that it was as if he had released a rare animal for anyone to capture and abuse.

Minnie has, in fact, urged her grandson to stay quiet, and to let her speak to Sarah herself. For that reason Steve stays quiet for the rest of dinner, and doesn't put up a fight when Sarah orders him straight to bed once he's finished.

The smaller of the two bedrooms is his, and it's nearly fully taken up by the mattress. His clothes are packed into a trunk at the foot of his bed, his personal effects tucked underneath. Near the door there is a mirror that Steve doggedly refuses to look into when he changes. Even with that refusal, though, it's getting harder to ignore what's happening to him, and what isn't happening to him.

"Sarah, don't make him return the money."

Steve pulls his head through the neck hole of his night shirt and keeps as still as possible.

"He skipped school to go to a strange neighborhood without telling either of us. I don't want to encourage that kind of behavior, Mother."

"I'm not disagreeing with you, Sarah, but it's not like he did it to...to be bad. He wanted to help out."

"He doesn't have to."

"Sarah..." Minnie trails off, quiet for a moment. "Regardless. He earned that money, he should be allowed to keep it."

"Did you see the woman who brought him home? She was wearing pearl earrings. Pearl! Real pearl! He didn't earn that money, Mother. That woman saw him, she saw a poor little boy from Red Hook, and she gave him that money because she felt bad for him."

"Sarah. A poor little boy from Red Hook is exactly what he is."

"My son is not a charity case."

"No. Your son, very smartly, went to where the money was, and came back with some of it. If that woman wants to look at it as charity, well, that's her prerogative. I myself call that business acumen."

"Mother--"

"Sarah, you want him to be self-sufficient, don't you?"

"Not at eleven years old!"

"I was alone looking after myself at eleven."

"Steve isn't alone. He has me. He has you."

"And one day he won't. Maybe ten years from now, maybe tomorrow, but one day he won't have have us. He'll only have the two dollars we managed to leave behind."

Sarah is silent, as she always is when she can't come up with a counter-argument but hasn't yet surrendered the fight. Steve's feet are aching from standing still so long, and he tiptoes over to the bed, wincing when the mattress creaks under his weight, hoping that neither woman hear it when he stretches out on his stomach, wrapping his arms around the all-but-flat pillow.

"This isn't what I want for him, Mother," Sarah finally says, a little brokenly. "I don't want him to think...to think that that's his life, serving his "betters"..."

"Darling, don't be dramatic. It's just a little business he put together all on his own, so he can put some money away. Maybe he'll use what he makes to send himself to one of those fancy art schools."

"Or maybe he'll be cleaning the Barnes' house for the rest of his life."

"Well, suppose he does. There're worse fates. We both know that, more than we'd like to." Sarah is quiet again, for a long moment; when Minnie speaks again she is gentle, but firm. "Sarah. You can't keep him from the world forever."

"Mother--"

"It's his life, darling. He's got a right to prepare for it as he sees fits. And the way things are looking now, the sooner he starts, the better."

Sarah is quiet again. Steve hears the clinking of dishes as the dinner table is cleared, and as they move further away from his bedroom door their voices muffle, and he can't make out what they're saying anymore.

He's happy with Aksot's appeal on his behalf. At least, he wants to be happy with it, but he feels strange in a way he can't place, like he's got a stomachache, even though he didn't eat nearly enough to make himself sick. He shifts, and then grimaces; he shoves his hands under his body, pushing his chest around, redistributing the fat that's started swelling there. If he presses it out just the right way, he can barely feel it when he lays like this.

He's still awake when Sarah cracks open the door, but he pretends to have been on the verge of sleep, squinting up at her as the light hits his face, and brushing a hand over his eyes.

"Aksot and I have been talking," Sarah says, standing at the foot of his bed; her voice is firm, but reluctant. "And we've decided that...you can keep the money that you earned today. And you can continue with your little business, too. But!" she says, when he starts. "You will not skip school for it, and you will not go out alone. Your grandmother will accompany you whenever you go out. And if either of you aren't feeling well, if her leg is acting up, or your asthma...that's it. You will stay home. No excuses. Is that clear?" Steve nods. "Good. Now put your head back down. You're still in trouble. And you should get some sleep, besides."

Steve eases his head back down onto the pillow, and Sarah flounders. She's washed her hands three times since she came home, but what with the panic over Steve's whereabouts, she hasn't had time to bathe or even change yet. If there's anything that came home with her, on her dress, or on her face...

"Good night, Steve," she says, backing away from his bed, to the doorway, praying that he understands.

"Good night, Mameh," he says, with a voice that sounds like he does.

Chapter Text

Because Bucky is young and otherwise healthy and strong, his recovery progresses quicker than predicted. By Friday the swelling has reduced considerably; by Saturday he can put a little weight on his bad foot. He goes to bed on Saturday night praying that he still has need of his crutches in the morning, and is relieved when he wakes to find that his walk, unassisted, still sports a rather pronounced limp. Ma and Dad are planning to tell Steve that they don't require his services, and if Bucky doesn't appear to still need help, Steve might decline to come back with them.

He's studied the pictures Steve drew religiously over the past few days, to the point where Rebecca has actually missed her sketch and gone through the house loudly demanding that it be returned to her. Art isn't really Bucky's interest; he likes a painting as much as the next guy, but its complement science is what generally gets his attention. Nevertheless, somehow the shading, the action Steve managed to capture, and the expressions of his own face rendered in lead, have him enthralled. He's looked at them enough that even the mistakes Steve made seem more like features than flaws.

"You know, if you want to take art lessons, I'm sure we could find you a tutor," Ma offers, when she catches him pouring over the sketches after lunch on Friday, when she comes to collect his plate and glass.

"Maybe," Bucky says absently, before an idea strikes him. "D'you think Steve would wanna teach me?"

"I don't know, sweetheart. Why don't you ask him on Sunday?"

That was Bucky's back-up plan, in case he could walk fine by Sunday morning. But, no, thankfully, he still has to be helped into the car by his father. His eagerness to get there aids the endeavor, also.

"Good to see you so excited for church," George teases him, once he's settled into the backseat, his crutches angled so as to not fall over onto Rebecca, or block George's view.

Bucky's excitement doesn't pass away, but a little cherry of guilt settles on top of it. Bucky likes church okay; he doesn't complain about it the way his classmates are wont to do when the subject comes up, and when the congregation is dismissed he does feel cheery for some inexplicable reason that has nothing to do with being freed from a boring obligation. But it's not important to him the way it is to his dad. Ma says Dad wasn't terribly pious when he was younger, but that changed when he came back from the war. "Church really became something he needed, I think," Winifred said once, when Bucky was curled up against her side on the couch, listening to this and that story about his parents' lives as the memories came to her. "There's things we have to talk about with the Lord before we can tell anyone else."

Steve's dad was probably in the war too, Bucky thinks, but he'd never once seen Mr. Rogers at First Presbyterian. Steve had said that his father had died only last year, but Steve's been coming to church off and on with his grandmother for years, so it's not a matter of missed opportunity. He's never seen Mrs. Rogers, either, for that matter. He'll have to ask Steve about it.

"I think James is just excited to be seeing a friend," Ma says, and Bucky gives her a horrified look for betraying him.

"Ah. Well, that's a good reason to be antsy too," Dad says good-naturedly, and pretty genuinely to Bucky's reckoning. Ma and Dad are constantly fretting at Bucky that he isn't social enough, but there's nothing he can really do about that. He makes friends all right, but for some reason he never seems to hold onto them; it's happened more than once that he'll be the center of a seemingly solid group of buddies in one grade, only for the whole pack to gravitate towards a new leader without him in the next grade. There are never any fights, nor any hard feelings, just him being unceremoniously cut adrift. Maybe having one single solitary friend will work out better for him.

He's jittery on the ride over, afraid that this will be one of the many times that Steve is not at church despite what his Ma said Mrs. Rogers promised, and his relief is almost palpable when they get inside and he spots Steve with his grandmother. They normally sit in one of the back rows, and since navigating the tightly-packed pews on crutches is difficult, the Barnes did so last week as well; Bucky makes sure that he leads his family to the same pew as the Rogers this time, and slides in first so he sits next to Steve, not thinking about the fact that getting out of the pew from this deep in will be something of a challenge.

Steve does not look as happy to see Bucky as Bucky is to see Steve.

Bucky's face falls when he sees Steve up close; Steve knows why, and he immediately feels bad about it. He tries to smile brightly at Bucky while Aksot exchanges pleasantries with Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, but it's cold out, and Mameh had been fussy this morning, which meant that she'd been snappish, and critical of the shirt he chose. "You look like a schlub, Steve! You look like I don't know how to dress you." He's been told as much at school, less eloquently by his peers, and more circuitously by his teacher, but he's stubborn. For one thing, most of his shirts belonged to his Dad; a few of the others were Zeydeh's, and at least one was Grandpa's. For another, anything tighter makes him feel completely exposed.

He should be proud of what he is, of everything that he is. He knows that. Mameh and Aksot tell him that all the time. But he isn't.

Bucky fidgets in his seat, unsure of how close he should sit to Steve, and Steve wills some of his tension to melt away. Bucky had taken an interest in his art that didn't include stealing and destroying it, Bucky had intervened with Elizabeth without telling her that Steve needed his money (and Steve did not want to imagine how Mameh would have reacted if she knew that Elizabeth had found out such a thing), and Bucky had looked happy to see Steve today. For that Steve manages a real smile for him, and is relieved to get one in return.

The music changes, indicating that the service is about to begin. Steve glances over the Order of Service in his hand, and feels comfortable enough with this week's convocation to stand up along with his grandmother and the Barnes, less Bucky.

"Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name," the minister proclaims loudly from the pulpit, once the organ ceases.

"Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all His benefits," the congregation responds.

"He forgives your iniquity, heals your diseases, redeems your life from the pit, and crowns you with steadfast love and mercy," the minister continues, after the last straggler has finished speaking. Steve likes this psalm; it gives him hope that something, someday, is going to fix what's wrong with him.

"Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, o my soul."

The organ starts up again, and everyone scrambles to open the hymnals to the correct page. Steve skims this selection, and finds it non-specific enough to let him stay on his feet and sing along. Same with the Lord's Prayer and even the catechism that follows, though he pretends to lose his breath when the rest say "preserve and increase Your church". He does find and squeeze Aksot's hand at that point, though. Any group worthy of her loyalty has a right to exist.

The next hymn is not one Steve feels entirely comfortable with; he sits down, and immediately second-guesses his decision. He doesn't know if Elizabeth said anything to the Barnes, or if they've heard and believed any of the rumors at First Presbyterian itself. He's used to sitting alone with Aksot, who of course thinks nothing of his sporadic participation with the service; no one else sits close enough to them to really notice whether or not he's singing along or reciting a certain prayer.

Bucky looks up from where his nose has been buried in the hymnal, and Steve is ready to say that he has a right to sing or not sing as he pleases when Bucky whispers "I don't know this one."

This throws Steve for a second, and Bucky continues. "I can't read music; I'm completely lost."

"...That's okay, you can just listen," Steve says, echoing what his grandmother told him the first time he became truly aware of the difference between Friday nights and Sunday mornings.

Bucky spends the next few bars valiantly trying to follow along before he gives up; he straightens and gives Steve a sheepish grin. It surprises Steve that Bucky doesn't know how to read music; on his way up to Bucky's bedroom he had seen a room with a piano in it, and had assumed that Bucky played. It seemed like the sort of competent-rich-kid thing Bucky ought to be able to do.

"D'you know how to read music?" Bucky asks him under his breath.

"Yeah. A little." Bobeh knew how; she'd been an excellent pianist back in Lithuania, or so Zeydeh had bragged. She had stopped playing when someone destroyed her piano, which was also part of what had prompted their move to Ireland. They had never owned a piano again, but the people she housekept for had and they had let her use it; she had only just begun to teach Steve before she died.

"Teach me? I'll pay you."

"Boys," Minnie says, before Steve can answer, and they duck their heads compliantly.

The rest of the congregation sits as the hymn ends. The minister prays over them, and then leads them in song once again; Steve sings half of it before devolving into humming the tune. To not draw attention to himself he pulls out the hassock and kneels along with everyone else when confession comes around; he listens and mouths some of the words. The next song is definitely not one he feels comfortable with, so he sits tight next to Bucky, who does actually know this one and focuses on singing along. If he notices Steve's silence, he doesn't give any indication.

"Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?" the minister queries, prompting the congregation to stand. "You do not retain Your anger forever, because You delight in steadfast love. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea."

"Thanks be to God," the church responds.

"The peace of the Lord always be with you."

"And also with you."

"Let us share with each other a sign of peace."

Low murmurs of "peace be with you" fills up the sanctuary as pewmates turned to each other to offer handshakes. Steve starts to let his attention drift, until he feels something tap his upper arm, and turns his head to see Bucky offering his hand. Behind him Mr. and Mrs. Barnes and Rebecca are watching, waiting to do likewise.

For the second time today Steve is briefly thrown. Usually no one sits close enough to him and his grandmother to shake hands with them, and most of the time even the minister himself doesn't come all the way back to greet them. He shoves his hands into Bucky's once his reality overtakes his instinct, "peace be with you" coming out in clumsy whispers; once he reaches over to shake hands with Bucky's parents and sister he's a little more graceful but feels oddly tremulous inside. Aksot of course accepts the gesture much more adroitly, though when he glances up to watch her, the look on her face is strange.

Rebecca, seated next to her brother, has decided that Steve is her new friend as much as he is Bucky's. She's the last to shake Steve's hand, and she doesn't release it when she sits down, so that her hand and Steve's are connected atop Bucky's lap. Mrs. Barnes shakes her and hisses her name, but Rebecca is stubborn and grips harder; Steve doesn't want to upset her by pulling away himself, and sends a helpless glance to Bucky. Bucky gives him a semi-apologetic look, and then a bit of a shit-eating one, and settles both his hands on top of Rebecca and Steve's linked ones.

The proximity and distraction stops Steve from digging into the pocket pressed up next to Bucky, where he's put two of the dollars that Mrs. Barnes gave him on Wednesday, determining this morning that he would pay the offering for Aksot. The plate passes from Aksot's hands directly into Mrs. Barnes's above his head; Steve almost starts after it, but Bucky and Rebecca both squeeze the hand they're holding, and Steve resolves, with a tightly-drawn mouth, that he'll either do it next time, or just outright give his grandmother the money when he gets home.

The offering thus collected, the minister launches into the scripture reading. Matthew 6:19-25 is either an exceedingly timely message or a supernatural potshot at the faithful, and the minister doesn't seem all that confident in encouraging his flock to concentrate on storing their treasures in heaven instead of, say, under their mattresses. He regains his certainty when the acolytes bring forth the bread and wine, and he directs the congregants to stand (Rebecca, and Bucky, are reluctantly obliged to release Steve).

"The Lord be with you."

"And also with you."

"Life up your hearts."

"We lift them up unto the Lord."

"Let us give thanks to the Lord our God."

"It is right to give Him thanks and praise."

"Let us proclaim the mystery of faith."

Steve goes quiet again as the rest chant "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again"; he bristles a bit when the minister announces "Christ, our Passover, has been sacrificed for us." Bucky doesn't notice that, but he does notice when the usher beckons for their pew to rise and process to the altar, and Steve remains behind with him despite having no ankle injury to keep him grounded.

"Ain't you goin' up?"

"You're paying me to hang out with you, ain't'cha?" Steve tosses back airily.

Bucky thinks that he isn't paying Steve for his company right now, but instead says, "You don't gotta skip Communion for me."

"It's okay," Steve says, unsure as to whether or not he wants Bucky to inquire further.

Bucky wants to, but is unsure if he should. He waits long enough for the return of their families to decide for him, and adds this to the list of questions he's resolved to ask Steve once they're in a good place for him to do so. The minister directs the congregation to their feet, and Bucky tries to watch Steve's face this time.

"May your love abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve of what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of the Lord."

"Thanks be to God; amen."

The organ starts up again, and the people shift in their seats, gathering coats and handbags. Bucky plants the feet of his crutches on the floor, and hoists himself onto his good foot; Steve reaches out to grab his arm when the crutches can't get a secure hold on the cobblestone flooring and Bucky nearly sits, hard, on the lip of the seat at what would have been a painful angle.

He's unprepared for Bucky to grab onto his wrist, and arrange their arms so Steve's is underneath, supporting, Bucky's. Bucky seems a little thrown by his own initiative, but when Steve doesn't pull away he doesn't let go, and inches them sideways out of the narrow space between the seat of his pew and the back of the one in front of it until they make it to the aisle and Bucky can reorient himself properly.

The crush of people from the other aisles, for the most part, respectfully slows when they see a card-carrying member struggling with crutches. The ones who don't stop push past Minnie and Steve on Bucky's right, rather than the Barnes on his left; one of them shoves past so carelessly that Minnie's problem leg, weakened after so many episodes of pain, gives out momentarily, knocking her into Steve, and Steve into Bucky, and Bucky onto the floor.

The acoustics of the church are excellent, and Bucky's yelp of pain as his ankle twists anew reverberates around the sanctuary. Movement in the church stills as Bucky bites his lower lip to stifle any more noise, Winifred kneels to try to talk her son through the searing pain in his foot, and Steve begins stuttering an apology to Bucky before turning to look at his grandmother, who's begun leaning heavily against the pew, her jaw clenched. The man who had catalyzed the incident had turned at the noise, and came back hastily when he saw Bucky on the floor, kneeling to face Bucky and Winifred.

"I am so sorry, young man," he say, surveying Bucky with a distressed expression, before looking to his mother. "Ma'am, I apologize, I am so sorry for hurting your son."

Winifred turns murderous mama bear eyes on the man and doesn't respond as she takes Bucky's arm; it's Bucky who grinds out "Apology accepted" as he sits up and tries to pull himself up with the aid of his crutch and his mother. The man, for his part, steadies the crutch with one hand, and offers his other hand to assist Bucky.

"Are you all right, son?" the man asks, once Bucky is standing.

"Well it hurt," Bucky says in a clipped voice, looking a little whey-faced. "But it's uh...it's going away again now."

"Just got jostled, you think?" George asks, coming to stand behind Bucky and put his hand on his son's shoulder. "No new injury?"

"I don't think so," Bucky says, not sounding quite confident.

"Well, if there is a new injury," the man says, digging into his pants pocket for his wallet. "Here, take my card. Just let me know, I'll cover it."

"Thank you, sir," George says heavily, taking the proffered business card.

"Again, so sorry," the man said, taking the time to offer a weak, conciliatory smile, before turning away again.

Steve opens his mouth, but it's Bucky who says "Ain't you gonna apologize to them too?"

The man, halfway to the family he left waiting for him at the doors to the sanctuary, turns around slowly. "Beggin' your pardon, son?"

"Mrs. Rogers is the one you bumped into," Bucky elaborates, looking at Minnie, who is still bracing herself against the pew. "And you pushed her into Steve when you did."

"I..." the man glances at Minnie, and then at Steve, his mouth slightly agape; he huffs a sigh, his face settling into an annoyed glare. "They're not hurt."

"She has arthritis in that knee," Steve spits, his eyes narrowed. "So yes, you did hurt her."

"I'm fine, Steve," Minnie says reassuringly, standing up straight, with a slight wince.

"He should still apologize to you, Aksot!" Steve says loudly, looking at her but talking to the church at large.

"What all is the problem here?" The crowd, thinned by people who cut through the pews to the side aisles rather than watch the small drama playing out in front of them, but still notable in number, parts as much as it can as the minister marches up from the altar.

"It's nothing, Reverend," the man calls over the heads of the Barnes and Rogers. "Just a bit of a...misunderstanding."

"He plowed into Mrs. Rogers and won't apologize to her," Bucky clarifies; the minister looks at the man, who chafes a bit under the pressure of the gaze and the expectation of Christian charity.

"Mrs. Rogers," he says, like he has a toothache, "I apologize for bumping into you."

"I accept your apology," Minnie says, with genuine pain in her knee coloring her tone.

"I hope that settles it between you?" the minister asks; the man nods curtly, and Aksot hums an affirmative. "Very good. Have a pleasant day, sir." The man bobs his head, sends a thoroughly annoyed glance at the Rogers and Barnes, and turns away. "Mrs. Rogers, if I may detain you and your grandson for a moment?"

Minnie looks between Steve and the Barnes, who have closed rank around Bucky to allow for foot traffic, befuddled expressions on all their faces.

"We have plans with Steve today," George says, and the minister raises his eyebrows ever so slightly.

"It will only take a few moments. Mightn't you get settled in your car in the meantime?"

George looks at Minnie, who inhales, and then raises her hands helplessly. "All right," George says, turning back to the minister. "Only a few minutes?"

"Exactly," the minister says with a smile, before turning a more severe expression to Minnie. "Mrs. Rogers, if you and Steven would follow me to my office."

"Can't you stay here?" Winifred pipes up. "The woman has arthritis in her knee. It's got to be painful for her to walk."

"Ah...I would think we should have privacy for this talk."

"Here," Bucky says, leaning heavily on one of his crutches to hold the other one out to Minnie.

"Oh no, dear, you need that," Minnie says, her otherwise stricken face softening a bit to smile at him.

"No, please, take it," George says, stepping around and forward, ahead of his son. "I'll carry him to the car."

"I couldn't possibl--" the pain in her knee flares, red and hot, and it's all she can do to keep from crumpling. "...you're sure?"

George crouches, allowing Bucky to lean forward and wrap his arms around his father's neck, and reaches back to arrange Bucky so that, when he stands, Bucky can wrap his legs around his father's waist, pulled flush against his back. "Quite sure," he says, with a smile.

"I...don't quite know what to say; thank you, I suppose, is all I can..."

"All that's necessary, if it's that at all," Winifred says, her smile genuine for Minnie, and forced for the situation, the aim of which she is beginning to suss out. "Well. Sooner we head to the car, the sooner you can finish your little...discussion. Becky." Rebecca has been quiet this whole time; indeed, she has a remarkable-for-her-age knack for understanding when she should be quiet. "Would you like a ride, too?"

Rebecca perks up--at eight years old she's grown too big for her parents to pick up with any regularity, especially considering her mother is only around five feet tall--and clambers onto Winifred's back when prompted to do so. Winifred grunts good-naturedly to tease Rebecca about how heavy she's getting as she steadies herself under the added weight.

"We're just in front of the church doors, when you come out," George informs Minnie, adjusting Bucky so he sits more comfortably. "See you in a few."

"We'll be right out afterward," Minne says, tucking Bucky's crutch under her arm as a makeshift cane--hers had broken just recently, and they hadn't gotten to replacing it yet. Steve shifts closer to her, taking her other arm as additional support.

"See you in a bit, Steve," Bucky says, trying to sound as airy as possible.

"Yeah...see you in a bit, Buck," Steve says back, resisting the urge to chew on his lip under the scowl the minister is barely concealing.

He doesn't think to thank Bucky until the Barnes have already reached the sanctuary doors.

Chapter Text

"Please, have a seat."

The trek to the minister's office had been hell on Minnie's knee and not much pleasanter for Steve's shoulder, as heavily that she had needed to lean on him. Steve doesn't bother hiding his glare as he pulls the chair in front of the minister's desk out, to make it easier for his grandmother to sit, and moves to stand behind her once she's settled.

"Mrs. Rogers...Steven." The minister--Paul--flicks his gaze between both of their faces. "First, I want to say I understand that what happened a few minutes ago was upsetting. But perhaps shouting in the sanctuary that you are owed an apology was not the appropriate way to respond...?"

"He wasn't going to apologize on his own," Steve says, like a cat hissing.

"Be that as it may," Paul continues, firmer. "It wasn't the best move to make a scene."

"He didn't even think he'd done anything wrong," Steve mutters.

"Steve." Minnie reaches up to squeeze his hand warningly before the minister can reprimand him. "Not that I think Steve is wrong to be upset, mind," she continues, looking at Paul.

"Of course. And please don't think that I don't sympathize." To his credit, he does sound genuine. "I simply...don't think it's in your best interests, for you two in particular I mean, to...make waves, shall we say."

"And why would that be, for us two in particular?" Minnie asks in a small, pointed voice.

Paul twiddles his thumbs, pulls his chair closer to the desk, and hunches forward, leaning on his elbows. Minnie takes a bit of perverse pleasure in watching the man squirm; she can tell that Steve is still too angry to do the same.

"Mrs. Rogers...Minnie...I know you've been a member here for years. Since before I was even the minister."

"Since 1883," Minnie specifies. "When I came here." She looks him directly in the eye, seeing the screw she has in him, wanting to twist it further. "I was very young and scared back then. I had no one. No family, no home. And this place became a home for me. I met and married my husband in this church. I brought my son here for years."

The screw well and truly twisted, Paul continues, his face an odd shade of pink. "You remember what our congregation was like back then, don't you? It was very...very accepting, at the time. But in the past few years...ever since Bill passed away, I'd say, the...the culture has changed. A lot of the old guard has passed. And the new guard is not quite as...tolerant."

"I've certainly noticed a difference," Minnie says, light as a feather, heavy as a brick.

"Now, you know that I cannot and will not bar the door to any person who comes here in good faith. Not you, and not even you, Steven." He glances up at Steve, peering at him over the tops of his glasses; Steve opens his mouth to retort, and Paul continues before he can. "But, unfortunately, I can't control the thoughts and actions of the rest of the congregation. And there are...some...who have expressed the desire that..."

"We not come here anymore," Minnie fills in flatly.

Paul has the decency to look embarrassed. "Yes."

"But that's not fair!" Steve finally bursts out; Minnie can feel his hand trembling under hers as he grips her shoulder. "Aksot's been coming here forever, since before any of them. She's got more a right to be here than anyone!"

"All Christians have equal right to be here," Paul says, a little too pointedly. "And I do not want your grandmother to feel any undue hostility, which is why I'm advising you that outbursts like today shouldn't happen again."

"Have there been threats?" Minnie asks tightly.

"No. Nothing so explicit," Paul admits. "But, if I may be candid, I feel like that's where we're headed. Especially if, Steven, you are going to persist in..." he pauses, searching his vocabulary for diplomacy, "in your refusal to become an actual member of this church."

Steve goes rigid, and Minnie rises to her feet; her arthritic knee trembles but she stands tall despite it, Bucky's crutch propping her up. "With all due respect, Reverend, if Steven ever decides to be baptized, it will be of his own free will, and not because he was coerced into it by threats against his or my safety."

"It is not my intention to coerce anyone into anything," Paul says, standing as well. "Nor to threaten you. I merely thought it my...duty, as the leader of this congregation, to advise you of the reality of the situation. You know that both your presences here are...highly unorthodox. I don't think it should surprise you that people are...uncomfortable."

"We are already quite aware of the fact that people are uncomfortable with us," Minnie says stonily. "But, since my grandson and I will never be anything less than exactly what we are, I don't know what, precisely, you expect us to do about that."

Paul is stunned into silence, allowing for Minnie to bob her head politely.

"Now if you'll excuse us, Reverend, we should really be on our way."

Steve hurries over to get the door for her as she strides out of the room with as much elegance as her pain and the crutch will afford her. He makes sure to send the proudest, most defiant glare he can muster at the minister before he lets the door slam shut behind him.

"Thank you, Steve," Minnie says, once Steve goes to her side and takes her arm; the adrenaline is draining away, and she feels her hands beginning to shake. "And thank you for letting me do the talking, for the most part," she adds with a wry smile.

"They shouldn't treat you like this, Aksot," Steve grumbles.

"No, they shouldn't. Or you, either." Her hand leaves his shoulder, to pat his head. "I think now's as good a time as any for you to stop coming with me altogether, darling. I think you've made your choice, in any case."

Steve shakes his head vigorously. "Not leavin' you."

"Mmm." Her thumb strokes over the top of his head, mussing a few strands of his hair. "Maybe it's time for me to stop coming, too."

"Aksot, no." Steve stops short, and she along with him. "This's your church."

"Not anymore, obviously. It hasn't been since your grandfather died, really. Darling, don't look at me like that." She rests her free hand on Steve's face, cupping his pinked cheek. "We really should be saving ourselves the train fare, in any case. And this knee," she reached down to tap her leg, "has been wanting me to stay home for awhile now anyway."

Steve lets both his hands fall to his sides; they ball into fists as he stares at the floor. Minnie passes a hand through his hair and then under his chin, to lift his face up.

"This isn't the first time I've moved on, darling."

"But you shouldn't have to," Steve shoots back through a painfully knotted throat, and very nearly stomps his foot.

"You are so like your mother," Minnie sighs, more affectionate than frustrated, and she smiles down at him. "I'll think about it some more, okay? I won't make any decision right now. Will that do? Does that appease your Highness?"

Steve feels a tug at the corner of his mouth, and he ducks his head before she makes him laugh. "I suppose I can allow it."

Minnie swats the side of his head, gently, and then scritches the spot she hit with her nails. "Come on. Your friend is waiting for us."

"He's not my friend, Aksot; he's my client."

"And that somehow precludes him from being your friend?" Minnie tosses back lightly. "I don't know how many clients, as a rule, lend their crutches out to their contractor's family members like that." She demonstrates by taking a step forward with the aid of said crutch.

"He's...the Barnes are...they're just good people, is all."

"Don't you want to be friends with good people?" Steve shrugs, and something about the way his face is angled away from her tips her off. "You know I met your grandfather when he bought something from me, right?"

"I'm not gonna marry Bucky, Aksot."

"Steve." He looks up at her, his face set in stubbornness, and oh, he is so like his mother. "When people want to be nice to you? Let them. As you may have noticed," she glances, and gestures, about the building, "they're something of a rare breed."

Steve looks away from her again, his jaw flexing a bit, as if he's chewing on her words. Unbidden, the suspicions she's harbored about him for awhile now bubble up from her gut to her vocal folds, and she's speaking before she thinks better of it.

"It's just as easy to love a rich man as a poor one, you know."

"Aksot," Steve whines, and she can tell that he's answering her perceived playfulness with his own, genuine, now. She smiles down at him, bidding her instincts to sink back down before she can't stop herself from pressing, and taps the floor with the foot of the crutch and starts to hobble forward, so his attention is redirected to assisting her.

As promised, the Barnes are waiting in front of the church doors, their car turned off. George and Winifred are waiting on the sidewalk near the passenger door; Bucky peers out the window, and breaks out into a smile when he sees the Rogers, though it's tempered by the worried curiosity over what exactly transpired between them and the minister that's left a residual flush of anger on Steve's face.

"Everything all right?" George asks, going forward to offer his own assistance with the steps leading down to the sidewalk.

"Ah...well," Minnie says, taking the first step one foot at a time. "I've had better days. Pleasanter conversations."

"Anything we can do to help, dearie?" Winifred asks, peering up at them with worried eyes.

Minnie pauses, weighing how much she wants to take her own advice against how much she wants Steve to not get worked up again. "I'm not sure," she finally sighs. "But thank you, Mrs. Barnes. Mr. Barnes," she adds, as he helps her down the second step.

"Please. It's "George" and "Winifred"," George says, as they clear the third and final step onto the sidewalk.

"Mm, then I suppose "Minnie" is acceptable, as well."

"How is your knee, dearie?" Winifred asks, glancing down at Minnie's leg.

"Better. I can make it to the train all right on my own, I think." She hands Bucky's crutch to George, lightly putting weight on her bum knee to test her hypothesis. "So you can take Steve back to your house."

"Would you like us to drop you off at home first? I'll put Becky on my lap, to make room in the car. Or," Winifred interrupts before Minnie can say anything, "if you would like to come back to the house with us, that'd be nice too, wouldn't it? You and Steve."

Steve looks up at his grandmother, to see if she's as flabbergasted as he is. She is.

"Unless you and...and the younger Mrs. Rogers have plans," Winifred offers, when neither Minnie nor Steve put words together to form a response.

"Sarah?" Minnie manages to say. "Oh, Sarah is working today. I...oh, no, I was planning on doing some work today at home, as well."

"Oh, I see. Well, we could still drop you off at home, if you'd rather that than take the train. It wouldn't put us out, really; don't worry about that."

"You're too kind," Minnie says, both out of politeness and genuine surprise.

"No, we're exactly the right amount," Winifred says, with a cheeky grin.

The first noise that comes out of Minnie's mouth is something like a gasp. The second, after she closes her mouth and opens it again, is "If you're sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all," Winifred says. "Well, let me get Becky out of the backseat."

It's an easy task; Rebecca is excited that the events of the day have led to her getting all this special attention. Once she's out of the car and safely herded around to the other side, Steve takes her place in the middle of the backseat, and Minnie slides in after him with George's assistance. Bucky's crutch is passed over all of their laps, and after some finagling fails to get it to stand up comfortably, there it remains.

"Um," Steve says, once the doors are all shut and George has started up the car. "Bucky?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks. For calling after that guy. You didn't have to."

Bucky shrugs, feeling a little warmth on the back of his neck despite the dismissive gesture. "No problem. It was pretty crummy of him to try to walk off like that without saying sorry."

"I mean, he was nice to you 'n' all," Steve continues, lower.

"Don't need people like that bein' nice to me," Bucky says firmly. "Especially people who I think actually did cause me a new injury and then just...gave us their card..."

"James," George scolds, though with amusement, from the driver's seat.

"What?" Bucky says, craning his neck so his father can see him in the rearview mirror, giving as doe-eyed and innocent a look as possible.

"When people do bad things to us, we don't take revenge through dishonest means. We do as the Lord did and confront them about it directly."

Minnie starts to laugh.

"George," Winifred says, scandalized.

"Jesus does spend an awful lot of time yelling at people," Bucky muses.

"James!" Winifred yelps.

"What? It's true! It's in the Bible."

"George, turn around, we're going back. Clearly both of you need more church than you got today."

"I got plenty church!" Bucky protests; from the corner of his eye he sees Steve struggling to hold back a laugh; clearly Steve wants to stay mad about something, but it's gratifying to see that he can break that resolve at least a little bit.

"And besides, Minnie has work to do today," George says. "So we can't go back, in any case."

"What is it you do, dearie?" Winifred asks, turning. "Before we stray any further into blasphemous territory."

Minnie digs into the pocket of her dress, pulling out the small changepurse from which she had drawn the offering for today, and leans forward to place it in Winifred's hand. "I make things like this."

Winifred holds the bag up for the car to see. It's small, about the size of her hand; the fabric is a pale yellow, embroidered with glass beads; on the pouch is a black sun, its rays fanning out into multicolored beams; on the flap is a white bird, wreathed with yellow flowers; and the entirety of the purse is bordered by green beads, strings of which hang in loops from along the bottom.

"Pretty!" Rebecca coos for all of them, snatching the changepurse from her mother's hand for closer inspection.

"Why thank you, young lady," Minnie says, with a pleased smile. "Though I can't take credit for all of it. Steve's the one who drew the design."

"Did he now?" Winifred asks, turning to look at Steve; he shifts in his seat to the affirmative; Rebecca sits high in her mother's lap and reaches over her head, to hand the purse back to Bucky for a closer look. "Further evidence of your exceptional talent, young man." Steve mumbles a thank you. "Bucky's eyes've been glued to those drawings you did on Wednesday, you know. I think you might be inspiring someone to pick up a pencil himself."

Steve turns his head to look at Bucky, a little wide-eyed at the news. Bucky, who has been admiring the bag, unconsciously begins worrying one of the looser beads, spinning it around its string with his thumb.

"So if you ever feel up for a teaching gig..."

Steve's lips silently stutter for a moment before he says "Don't think I'm that good yet, ma'am."

"Well, they say the best way to learn is to teach, so." She winks at him. "Think about it."

"How long've you been makin' stuff like this, Mrs. Rogers?" Bucky asks, to get the conversation far away from him.

"Since I was younger than Miss Rebecca right here," Minnie says, adjusting to let herself slip the bag back into her pocket. "My mother taught me; her mother taught her...it goes back a long time. Centuries."

"Since we were using animal bones and rocks instead of beads," Steve adds helpfully, proudly, and Minnie beams, more inwardly than outwardly, to hear him so casually claim the tradition, the people, as his own.

"Never used bones, myself," she says, and the intrigued look on Bucky's face goes mildly disappointed. "I was lucky they didn't cut off my hands at Carlisle for doing this much."

"Carlisle?" George queries.

Minnie's mouth hangs open for a moment. It had been a long time since she was guarded about her childhood--anyone she regularly speaks with is already fully aware of where she went to school and what had been done to her there--and she had said the name without thinking of it. "Carlisle Indian School," she elaborates, after a second. 

"I'm not familiar," Winifred says, her Scottish accent rearing its head; while it's mostly faded out under the influence of her neighbors, it still shows up in full force whenever America presents something newfangled to her.

"Count yourself blessed," Minnie says, like she can still taste the lye soap shoved unceremoniously in her mouth on more than one occasion.

The Barnes don't, unsure as to why they should, but they go respectfully, uncomfortably quiet. Bucky turns the changepurse over in his hands and then reaches over Steve to hand it back to Minnie. "Steve told me the other day that you make jewelry, too."

"Jewelry, yes. And belts, and decorations, things like that."

"You can sew beads onto clothes and shoes, too," Steve says. "I have this pair of moccasins that Aksot made for me; the whole top of 'em is covered in beads."

"What're those?" Bucky asks.

"What?"

"Moccasins. What're those?"

"Oh, um. Sh-shoes, basically. But softer. They're made of buckskin." Steve hesitates for a second, and glances at Aksot from the corner of his eye. There's allowing a friendship, and then there's handing something precious over to a stranger; he doesn't know, hasn't had much opportunity to find out, where the line is. Minnie can read his thoughts, and gives him a one-sided, but encouraging, smile; he thinks that as long as he keeps their language guarded, at least, it'll be okay. "I'll show you 'em, if you want."

"Sure, I wanna see 'em," Bucky says, with a bright smile that makes Steve feel a little more secure in his decision.

"Me too!" Rebecca pipes up.

"I must confess my curiosity, as well," George says.

"Okay. I'll show you, before we go back to your house."

"Ah, about that, Steve," George says, glancing at him through the rearview mirror. "The house is perfectly clean, but. Mrs. Barnes and I were thinking that we'd take some time to ourselves today, so instead, would you be opposed to helping Bucky keep an eye on his sister? It's a bit hard for him to run around after her at the moment."

He would be. Steve has no experience in baby-sitting; Arnie is the youngest of his family, and Steve's own chance to be an older sibling had been snatched away from him six years ago. But it's either agree, or lose out on another few dollars, so he says, "That's okay. I can do that."

"Very good. A~nd, it would appear we're in your neighborhood. Would you or your grandmother mind pointing me in the right direction? Since we're coming a different way from before..."

"You'll want to go another three blocks and then turn right," Minnie says, and the rest of the car goes quiet as she directs George. Steve feels a bit better about the Barnes being here now that it's daylight and people are out and about, so he doesn't suggest that she hold it when George parks the car--this time around the corner from the building, as someone else in his building must be entertaining visitors and a car is parked near the bottom of the stairs--and Rebecca states that she has to use the bathroom.

"We have a toilet in our apartment," Minnie says--one reason why the rent is so high, and a reason the Rogers do not want to leave this place regardless--and it's decided that Winifred and Steve will escort Rebecca and Minnie upstairs, while George and Bucky wait with the car.

"Actually could I step out, too?" Bucky asks, once his father makes that suggestion. "Wanna get some air." George and Winifred consider the fact that Bucky has been essentially housebound for the past week and a half while Bucky considers the fact that maybe Steve will come back down with these moccasin things alone and Bucky will get to see them first. "I'll just wait by the bottom of the stairs; I won't try to go up."

"I suppose it's all right," George agrees, and Bucky scoots across the backseat to the door adjacent to the sidewalk. Steve is already on the sidewalk, and he holds Bucky's crutches steady so Bucky can hop one-footed out of the car; he sticks by Bucky's side, a few feet behind Minnie, Winifred, and Rebecca, until they get to the foot of the stairs.

"Just yell up to us or your dad if someone comes around to bother you, okay?" Steve says, once Bucky is sitting pressed against the banister on the third step. "I'm gonna come right back down anyway, so you should probably be fine..."

"Sure thing."

Steve is a little reluctant to leave Bucky alone, and it shows when he hesitates to move; finally he jogs up the stairs at the fastest pace he knows he can take without causing problems. Bucky watches him go up as far as he can, and then drops his head to take in his surroundings. The noise of the freighters is much louder here than it is at home, just as the smell of the bay is stronger. It's a sunny day, which gilds but doesn't quite hide how grimy and washed-out the neighborhood looks; a few people pass, and he's suddenly acutely aware of how nice his clothes are in comparison even to people who are dressed better than Steve. He draws his good leg closer to his body, and then pushes himself up a few steps, hoping to make himself less noticeable.

Steve, true to his word, comes back down the stairs within a few minutes. He's briefly surprised to see that Bucky has moved, but surmises the reason why, and sits down next to him without comment upon it.

"Um...so. This is them." He unfurls his arms, at this point pressed close to his chest; laying across his hands are a pair of tan slipper-like shoes, the upper parts covered in white beads, except for where eagle-like bird is rendered in blue and red on either shoe.

"Whoa." Bucky takes one of them to inspect more thoroughly. "These're nifty."

"Thanks," Steve beams.

"D'you design these too?"

Steve shakes his head. "Aksot made these by herself. She got in touch with one of her old friends up north. On the reservation," he elaborates, when Bucky gives him a querying look. "They sent her the materials and she, um, she did them up, for my birthday."

"Oh, when's your birthday?"

"July 4th."

Bucky laughs. "I guess that's why the red, white, and blue?"

Steve flushes a bit, but laughs as well. "Yeah, pretty much."

"And the eagle, too?"

"That's actually because..." Steve balks. He had just set the boundary at language.

"Hm?"

"Um," Steve says, while trying to decide if "never mind" would be a better response than any lie he could come up with.

"Hey Morty. Whatcha doin' there? Whatcha got?"

Bucky blinks, and in the moment his eyelids meet Steve snatches the moccasin out of his hand and stands up, both shoes clutched protectively to his chest. When Bucky reorients himself he sees a boy--older and bigger than Steve, maybe a little bigger than Bucky himself--approaching the staircase with the practiced swagger of a professional bully. Taking Steve's cue he draws his crutches, propped against the stairs below his feet, up into his arms.

"None of your business," Steve says coolly.

"Aw c'mon Morty, don't be like that," the boy says, leaning heavily against the brick wall of the building; Steve takes a hasty, clumsy step up and backwards as the boy lunges forward, trying to knock the moccasins out of Steve's hands. Bucky jerks out of the way, turning himself so he faces inwards. "What? You'll play show-and-tell with Gimpy over here, but not me?" The kid plants his hand on Bucky's head, hard, pushing his head down; Bucky ducks out from under the hand and swats it away with a low growl.

"Leave him out of this." Steve takes another step back, and another and another; he throws a quick glance at Bucky, who catches it and realizes that Steve is leading the boy away from him; telling Bucky with his eyes to try to get away once the kid is good and distracted.

"Leave him out of this," the boy parrots back in a high-pitched, nasally voice, but he takes the bait and goes forward a few steps, passing Bucky. "How come? Gimpy can't take a joke either? Hm? Can't take a couple guys foolin' around? He a defective little bitch just like you?"

"Your problem's with me," Steve tries to growl as he takes another step back; from the corner of his eye he sees Bucky watching them intently, moving one of his crutches into a better hold. Good, he understood what Steve was trying to do. "Leave him alone; I mean it."

"You mean it? You really mean it, Morty? Well I mean this."

At this angle the boy is eye-level with Steve's knees, and he lurches forward, swiping his arm out and catching Steve around the calves, knocking him off-balance and onto the steps. Steve's cry of pain is short but sharp, and immediately followed by a metallic, ringing THWACK and then another yelp as the boy crumples, his hands sandwiching themselves against the back of his knees, where Bucky had hit him with the length of one of his crutches.

"Don't touch him!" Bucky snarls through gritted teeth, raising his crutch high in the air and bringing it back down, this time against the boy's lower back. It's not as powerful a blow, and the kid's recovered enough to lash out, grabbing the crutch and shoving it forward; the foot of the crutch goes off course before it can spear him, but the momentum allows the boy to lunge towards Bucky.

Steve sees it in just enough time to swing his leg out, stomping the boy's arm into the concrete step with his heel before he can reach Bucky. He lifts his foot immediately and kicks, catching the boy in the shoulder; the kid trips, skidding down two steps but managing to land on his feet. Steve barely has time to see the bloody murder in the boy's eyes before he reaches up, grabs Steve's foot, and yanks, pulling Steve down the stairs, his back bouncing hard against the edge of the steps.

"James?" Winifred voice, concerned and ready to be angry, drops down loudly from a few flights up. "What's going on down there?"

The boy leaps to his feet, glancing back and forth between Steve and Bucky; Bucky is distracted by his mother's voice, and the boy uses that opening to yank Bucky's crutch out of his hand. He swings at Bucky's head, who just narrowly manages to duck; if the boy notices that he missed Bucky, he nevertheless raises the crutch high in the air and brings the top of it down, hard, against Steve's chest.

"Hey!" Bucky yells, as the boy drops the crutch and goes hurrying down the rest of the stairs before disappearing into the street. "Come back here! Hey!"

"James Buchanan Barnes, what on earth--"

A harsh gasp, a struggle for breath, cuts Winifred off. Steve is lying stock-still on the stairs, trying not to panic. The first fall had sent a shock of pain running up his spine; it had been compounded by each smack of the stairs against his back, and the final blow to the chest had sealed it. His heart is pounding about as fast as his airway is failing.

"Steve?" Winifred nearly squeaks, when she sees Steve's back arch off the stairs as he tries to force air into his body. "Steve?! Oh my God...Minnie!" She runs up the stairs a few steps and leans over the banister, trying to catch a glimpse of the woman, as Bucky dumbly, unblinkingly, watches Steve writhe on the steps. "Minnie!"

"What? What is it?" Minnie calls back down; her face and Rebecca's appears over the banister on their own landing.

"It's Steve! It's Steve; he can't breathe!"

"Oh my God." Minnie turns, too quickly, her foot too planted; the lessening pain in her knee resurfaces with a vengeance, and she crumples, shoving a hand in her mouth to suppress a cry. She reaches out as soon she recovers her bearings, grabbing Rebecca's arm; the girl starts, but to her credit doesn't try to tear away. "Rebecca, next to the kitchen sink there is a box; it says Grimault's on it. Okay? And there's a box of matches next to it. I need you to get both of those and take them down to Steve. He needs them; they're gonna help him breathe again, all right? Can you do that for me?" Rebecca's face is pink, and her eyes are starting to glitter wetly, but she nods bravely. "Good girl. Good girl, now hurry; go!"

Rebecca shoves the apartment door open and runs to the kitchen sink; the boxes are where Minnie said they were, and she grabs them. Minnie is just getting back to her feet when Rebecca blows past her, her feet stomping as she runs down the stairs.

Winifred is crouched between Bucky and Steve, struggling to hold Steve sitting upright even as Bucky struggles to see what's happening, when Rebecca shoves the boxes in her direction and says, "Mrs. Rogers says to give them these!" It takes Winifred a second to put together that these are asthmatic cigarettes, but once she does she flips open the box of Grimault's and pulls one out; Steve sees it from the corner of his eye and reaches for it, freeing Winifred's hands to take the box of matches and light one up.

"There we go, Steve," Winifred says, her previous panic receding now that she has an actual task; Steve is holding the cigarette with trembling lips and fingers, and she holds the lit match to the tip of it. Steve's whole upper body seems to collapse in on itself as he inhales; Winifred's hand jerks back at the sight of it, and the match goes out as she drops it against the stairs.

Steve's mouth opens, and the breath he takes is rough and short and uneven but thank God, it's a breath.

Steve shoves the cigarette back in his mouth and sucks in another dose of belladonna and cannabis; Winifred puts a hand between his shoulder blades, and another on his stomach, just below his ribs, trying to hold him up, hold him steady as he gulps down the medicine over and over again, his breaths in between come out increasingly pitiful even as they gain strength. She hears "Steve?" come from Bucky's mouth, soft and tremulous enough to be a whimper; she turns her head just long enough to shush him, kind but adamant, before turning back to her charge.

Steve's breathing is ragged but steady by the time Minnie is finally able to limp down the stairs. She and Winifred shuffle around each other to exchange places without jostling Steve too much; once Minnie is seated Winifred stands up and steps back, exhaling most of the fear that had taken hold of her. She crouches to gather up Steve's moccasins, dropped in the struggle, and then moves so she sits close to her children. Rebecca is crying, and Bucky looks like he would like to be as well; she puts her arm around their shoulders, and drops her face comfortingly into the crook of Rebecca's neck.

"O-na ye'ohe ohsatulye," Minnie whisper-hums in Steve's ear as she props him up; vaguely she thinks that she shouldn't, that she should stick with English in front of the Barnes, but his whole body is shaking under her hands as hot tears, frightened and angry, slip down his face of their own volition, and the thought passes before she can dwell on it. "You're okay now. That's it. That's right, Dehowyadilou. Just breathe. O-na ye'ohe ohsatulye."

"Winnie?" Winifred looks up at the sound of her name from her husband's mouth. George stands on the sidewalk, his face bewildered; the purr of the engine and the sun warming the inside of the car through the windshield had lulled him into a doze, and when he jolted awake to see that several minutes had passed, it had concerned him that no one had come to fetch him. "What...happened here?"

"We were sittin' here mindin' our own beeswax and some jerk came up and picked a fight with Steve," Bucky reports through a knotted throat and a clenched jaw; his legs are drawn up to his body, his chin resting heavily on his knees. "He knocked Steve over, dragged him down the stairs. 'n' hit 'im in the chest with one of my crutches." He pushes the offending crutch away from him, as if he could avenge Steve by doing so.

Minnie ducks her head down and mutters something the Barnes don't understand, but the viciousness of her tone brings them up short regardless. "Steve has asthma," Minnie says when she looks up, the anger of her previous words showing in her eyes. "The drop and then the hit must have knocked the wind out of him, literally."

"Dear Lord..."

"I brought him his medicine, Daddy," Rebecca says, like she's looking not for praise so much as reassurance that her actions had been enough to fix Steve.

"Yes, and thank you for doing that, Miss Rebecca," Minnie says, the anger in her eyes softening as she turns her head to look at the girl, who's wiping tears and snot from her face with the back of her hand. "I don't know what we'd've done without you."

"You really saved the day there, Becks," Bucky says, managing a half-smile for his sister.

"Thanks Becky," Steve rasps; Rebecca's, and Bucky's, faces light up to see him talking.

"Someone is definitely getting ice cream later tonight," George says to his daughter, whose eyes go wide with excitement, before turning his attention back to Minnie. "Should we take him upstairs? Go inside?"

"That'd probably be best," Minnie says, and glances at Steve. "Can you walk?"

Steve doesn't answer, knowing that it'll wind him to talk; he presses his hand against the wall instead, and uses it to drag himself unsteadily to his feet. Minnie tries to rise alongside him, and drops when her knee unceremoniously gives out on her.

"I'm fine!" she barks, staying Steve with a raised hand; she attempts to stand again, and ends up half-hunched over, both legs trembling under the effort.

"Oh, dearie, let us help you." Winifred stands, tucking Steve's shoes under her arms. "You're in no fit state to walk up alone, either of you."

"Steve first," Minnie says, sinking back down. "Take him up as slow as you can." She looks at Winifred, and then George. "If both of you could go; support him on both sides..."

"Of course, dearie. We'll come back down for you and James." Steve looks like he wants to object, but hasn't the strength or steadiness to do so, because he keeps quiet when George picks his way past the people still sitting, and shuffles into position on Steve's other side. Rebecca pops up once the path is clear, fearing that maybe Steve will need another cigarette on the way up and she should be there to provide them; she gathers the boxes and follows her parents and Steve up the stairs, disappearing with them when the stairs change direction at the next landing.

"'m' real sorry, Mrs. Rogers."

Minnie, who had rested her head against the wall, looks up when Bucky's mumble reaches her ears and burrows its way into her comprehension. "Hm? What for?"

Bucky fidgets, stretching out his legs, pushing one of his crutches even further away with his uninjured foot. "Couldn't help Steve too much with that guy," he elaborates, looking down.

"Did you try to help Steve?" Bucky nods miserably, not catching the slightly incredulous note in her voice. "That's more than most people would have done. And I know that from experience; I'm not exaggerating for your benefit." Bucky shifts like he doesn't believe her. "Did you get some licks in?"

"I hit 'im in the back of the knees." He leans forward to gather up his crutch, and demonstrates against the air.

"Good, I'm glad to hear it." Bucky can't help but smile a little, if only in relief that she apparently isn't going to scold him for fighting. "That was a mean swing. You play baseball?" Bucky nods. "Maybe when the weather gets nicer you can take Steve to go play. He can't run too much at once, obviously, but he's a good batter. He's surprisingly strong, considering."

"Yeah, sure. Sounds good." He hates to keep talking, now that Minnie is resting her head against the wall again, her eyes lightly shut and her hand massaging her knee, but curiosity wins over, and he wants to ask before he forgets. "Um. Mrs. Rogers?" She hums to let him know she heard him. "What's a "Morty"?"

"I'm sorry?" Minnie's eyes blink open.

"That guy. He kept callin' Steve "Morty". Is that, that Steve's real first name or...?"

"No. God, no." Minnie shuts her eyes again, considering the myriad ways she could approach this. She's not sure how much gossip at church Bucky would be privy to; the Barnes seems like the sort to eschew participation in that sort of thing, or to ignore whatever they hear, so they might not actually know, or believe, what's causing half of her and Steve's problems as First Presbyterian. She pauses, debating if she should explain or wave it off; but between Wednesday and today Bucky's already proven himself on a few fronts, and she might as well give him the chance to do it once more. Better to know sooner rather than later if this is where Bucky draws the line. "Are you at all familiar with the phrase Morta Cristo? That's where they're getting it from."

"Um." Bucky wracks his brain and comes up empty. "Not...really...is it Latin?" It sounds like it could be; his teacher has already started the class in on learning that language so they'll have a headstart once they hit high school, but Bucky doesn't think he's ever heard the words used together before.

"Close; it's Italian. It is a very not-nice way to refer to Jews."

"But Steve's not--"

"Yes, he is," Minnie says, preferring not to let Bucky flounder. "His mother is, and his father, my son, became so when they married. When Steve was born, we--both sides of the family--decided that we'd raise him in both traditions, and he would choose which one he wanted to follow when he got older. Though he's seemed to like the other one better since he was small." She wrinkles her nose, forcing away the little bit of sadness that came with that feeling of rejection. "He comes to church with me sometimes to keep me company, but most Sundays he's actually at Hebrew School."

Bucky bobs his head once, slowly. Aside from surprise he can't quite figure out how she expects him, how he's supposed, to feel about the revelation. When he was nine he asked an older cousin what the difference between Jews and Christians was, and he'd known enough to know that his cousin was wrong when she said "I think Jews don't believe in God or something like that", but that's about where his actual education on the subject stops; everything else he knows comprises of a few vocabulary words and a vague understanding that most of the people he knows, child and grown-up alike, don't have a high opinion of them.

"You need better friends, then."

"I take it this bothers you?" Minnie says coolly; she's watched Bucky's face go from blank, to confused, to suddenly wide-eyed in the space of several seconds.

"What? No!" Bucky shakes his head vehemently. "I was just...I was just thinkin'. About. About. Steve was at my house on Wednesday."

"Mmm. Steve told me what happened with your maid." Steve didn't tell his mother; he feels like he can't and shouldn't tell her about things like this, but Minnie is far enough away from it that, in this regard at least, she can take on his wounds without reopening her own.

"She called him a thief."

"That's a common enough accusation."

"But...but how come?"

To that all Minnie can do is close her eyes and shake her head. Bucky chews on his lower lip. Terror that Steve was going to die right in front of him had pushed his fury at the stupid kid coming in and ruining their day to the background of his mind, but the shaky reassurance of Steve's recovery brought it bubbling back to the surface, dragging his confusion over Elizabeth's behavior along with it, turning it into a weird sort of nausea.

"Minnie?" George and Winifred are back, making their way down from the first floor landing. "Steve's settled," George continues. "Should we call a doctor?"

"No, not at this point. Not unless he doesn't get better in the next few hours or so." They have about eight dollars left from Sarah's last job, and she doesn't want to spend half of that on a doctor telling her what she already knows about what's wrong with Steve and how to take care of him.

"How about his mother?"

"Same." Winifred looks a little shocked that Sarah would be left out of the loop. "If we call Sarah, she'll want to come home. Unless it's something I can't take care of myself, we ought to let her concentrate on her patient." We need the money goes unspoken, but is heard nonetheless.

"All right," Winifred agrees, reluctantly. "Well, let's get you upstairs, dearie. I'll help you walk, if George'll take James."

George gives a small mock salute and turns, kneeling by his son to figure out the best way to carry him. Negotiating a piggyback hold is too difficult on the stairs, so once Winifred and Minnie are safely out of the way George simply scoops Bucky up bridal-style.

"You've had an exciting day," George says dryly, jostling Bucky a bit to get him into a comfortable position; Bucky snorts. "You aren't hurt, are you? I know we're all focused on your friend..."

"I'm okay."

Bucky's voice is low, and George glances down to check his expression; it's pinched, and his color is climbing. "Then why the face?"

"I'm mad."

There's a niggling feeing in the back of Bucky's mind that he shouldn't be so upset. He and Steve barely know each other; have only spoken on three occasions. But for all that, Steve had tried to protect him from a guy who clearly had no qualms with bashing in skulls or ribs; something Bucky was pretty sure none his classmates had ever done, would ever do, for him. Steve goes to church with his grandmother even though he doesn't like it; Steve gets up in arms about whether strangers' rent rates are fair; Steve is a good person and how dare Elizabeth or that creep or anybody suggest otherwise.

"When my ankle's better I'm gonna find that guy and I'm gonna kick his ass."

He half expects his dad to scold him for his language. Instead George's lips spread out into a wry smile, and he bears Bucky up the stairs into the Rogers' apartment, a few feet behind Minnie and Winifred, in silence.

Chapter Text

Steve knows that what he should hate most about having asthma is the attack itself, the feeling of his entire chest bunching up like a wet rag being rung out, the world-ripped-away feeling of suddenly choking on nothing. Barring that, what he should hate most about having asthma should be the four dollars wasted on every box of Grimault's.

But what he actually hates most is the crying. The asthma is congenital, and the money is Mameh's, but he should be able to stop his own stupid tears from his own stupid eyes by his own stupid self. But they run regardless of his feelings or his efforts to stop them, and even those among his peers that are terrified by the attacks do not extend their sympathy to the immediate aftermath. Even Arnie makes fun of him for it sometimes.

So when Mr. and Mrs. Barnes leave the apartment to fetch Aksot and Bucky, and Rebecca turns to him, he expects more of the same from her. He is not prepared to see obvious tear tracks on her cheeks, and a fresh stream spill over when he shudders and has to catch his breath before he loses it again.

"Hey," he manages to say; his throat and chest still feel a little raw for speaking. "Never see...never seen an asthma attack before?" he tries to ask jovially, wiping at his face.

Rebecca shakes her head. Daddy has "episodes", as Mommy calls them, sometimes, but when that happens he breathes too heavy and too fast, and the only medication he needs for those are Mommy talking calmly to him and a glass of "medicinal", which Rebecca and Bucky are not even allowed to touch, let alone rush to him. Worldlessly she goes forward to the sofa where the Barnes deposited Steve, holding out the boxes of cigarettes and matches.

"I's'okay," Steve says, holding up his hands. "Think I'm all right, now." He holds in a cough to prove it, to himself as much as her.

She brings the boxes close to her, and then puts them down on the floor in front of Steve, just in case. "'S'a'lil scary," she mumbles, for justification.

Steve feels the corner of his mouth twitch. Rebecca is his height, a few inches shorter than Bucky--she's tall for her age, just as Steve is short for his--but she's more willowy than solid, and she has big, dark blue eyes and long brown hair pulled back into two neat braids tied at the ends with white ribbon, and it all makes her look much smaller now. "I guess it is a little scary," he concedes. "You were really brave, though. For a first-timer, 'specially."

She turns a smile up at him, small and bashful but pleased. He returns it, and she takes it as an invitation to climb up on the sofa next to him. She has to shift a little, to move off a broken spring that digs into her bottom.

"Do they happen a lot?"

Steve shrugs. "I guess. Prob'ly more than they happen to you."

She giggles. "That's 'cause I don't get them at all."

"What? Not at all?" He feigns shock, his eyes going wide.

"No," Rebecca laughs; she can tell he's playing with her, and as the baby of the family she's well-used to these types of conversational games.

"Not even a little bit?"

"Not even a little bit," she states definitively.

"Wow. What's that like?"

She shrugs, but she's smiling at him like a puppy figuring out that their owner has a treat for them. "I guess it's nice."

"I'll bet it is," Steve says, trying to not sound as bitter as he feels. He takes a chance with flopping back onto the armrest; it irritates the raw feeling in his chest, but doesn't trigger a coughing fit, at least. "So what do you do if you don't get asthma attacks?"

"Um...well." She considers, pleased to be asked about herself and a little flustered to be put on the spot at the same time. "I go to school."

"Uh-huh, me too."

"And I. Um. I play with Bucky."

He isn't at that stage, yet. "Okay, go on. What--" he stops to cough, and blinks away the stinging wetness brought to his eyes thereby. "What else?" he asks, before she can get too worried.

"Um...and...and. And Mommy is teaching me how to sew."

"What, really?" She nods. "No fooling?" She nods harder. "I sew too."

"Boys don't sew." It's an inquiry as much as it is a statement.

"Yes they do," Steve counters, ignoring the little twist in his gut. "My dad knew how to sew."

"How come?" she challenges.

"Well you see," he says, puffing up a bit, enjoying the chance to impart wisdom, and to a willing audience; a rare occurrence. "Sometimes when men go to war, their clothes get ripped. And there ain't no women around to fix 'em up, so the men have to sew their clothes themselves."

"Oh." She processes the new information, expanding her worldview by that much. "My daddy went to war. Do you think he knows how to sew?"

"Probably." The thought of someone with George's stature pinching a tiny needle between his fingers is an amusing one.

"How come you sew? You've never been to war." She pauses, checking her sense of math and history to make sure her assumption is correct.

"Well my mother's busy a lot," Steve says. "And..." He doesn't quite know how to explain how holding a needle takes him back to the too little time he got to spend with his father in the last two years of his life, when the man wasn't drunk, or in agony, or both; how the pair of them sat on what had been Joseph and Sarah's bed, mending an old garment that had gotten ripped in a fight or during a fall or just from overuse, stories and songs from the war traveling from Joseph's mouth into Steve's memory. So instead he finishes up with, "...and Aksot's usually busy too, so when my clothes need fixin' I do it myself."

She nods, and then puts on a sly smile. "So when you get married, are you gonna do all the sewing?"

Steve snorts, gently. "Maybe. I don't think I'm ever gonna get married, though."

Rebecca's face goes crestfallen. "Why not?"

"Well." I might not live long enough seems a little heavy for her. "There aren't any girls who like me."

"That's not true!" Rebecca yelps, scandalized by his false assumption as much as his self-deprecation. "I like you. You could marry me and then both of us could do the sewing."

Steve bites back a smile so that she doesn't think he's condescending to her. "Thanks, Becky. Maybe in ten years we'll do just that."

The door creaks open, and the pair look up to see Minnie limping into the apartment with Winifred's assistance. George towers behind them, Bucky in his arms.

"You stay where you are, Steve," Minnie says, when she sees her grandson start; he sinks back down against the cushions while Minnie trips into a chair. Rebecca, under no such order, helpfully slides off the couch and pads out of the way so her father can set Bucky down in the spot she just vacated. Like his sister he has to shift into a comfortable position; Steve catches a glimpse at Bucky's face as he settles, and his stomach flips a bit to see the obvious fury painted onto Bucky's features.

George disappears out the door again, to fetch Bucky's crutches left neglected on the stairs, and Winifred sighs loudly when the door clicks shut behind him. "Well. It's been quite a day. It isn't even noon yet, is it?"

"I'm real sorry about this, Mrs. Barnes," Steve says, hazarding another glace at Bucky, who--his stomach twists again to see--looks even more angry to hear him speak. "You too, Buck," he continues, his soft palate suddenly a little dry. "You shouldn't'a gotten dragged into this..."

"Heavens, what are you apologizing for, Steve?" Winifred asks, as she pulls off her gloves. "Unless you picked that fight...?"

"No," Steve confirms, a little more eagerly than even he anticipates. "I didn't...I don't pick fights," he ends up muttering, a little defensively. He's been accused of such, even with both eyes blackened, blood trickling from his nose and mouth and forehead, lips wrapped around Grimault after Grimault while his teacher or a shopkeeper or someone's parent screams at Mameh. But he never trades the first insult. He rarely even throws the first punch. And when he does it's not like that punch even lands, more often than not.

"Good. You shouldn't; it isn't becoming for a young gentleman." Winifred lays her gloves on the table in front of Minnie; the two women share a glance that is almost amused.

"We don't start fights, but we can finish them," Bucky mutters darkly, and Steve turns his head to stare at him. For the first time it flits across his mind that it's not him that Bucky is angry with.

"Only when we have to, James," Winifred warns, as the door creaks open and George comes back inside; she's not about to be hypocritically disapproving of her husband's participation in the Great War, nor blanketly condone any violent tendencies in her son.

George glances around, taking in the cramped conditions, and sets Bucky's crutches against the wall, out of the way of, he hopes, everything. Steve winces internally as he follows George's gaze around the apartment, remembering how the Barnes' kitchen was large and well-stocked and definitely did not have a bathtub pushed up against the wall, sandwiched between the front door and the icebox. He's so absorbed in the comparison that he almost misses Winifred asking, "Steve, did you know that boy who attacked you?"

"Oh, um...yeah. That was Angelo Mazza. I know him from school."

"Do you know where he lives?"

"Two buildings down, apartment 3B." He points in that general direction.

Winifred turns to Minnie. "When do you expect Sarah to be home? Because when she returns I would dearly like us to go over there together and let Mrs. Mazza know what her son got up to today."

"We don't really know when Sarah will be home, actually," Minnie says. "It could be in an hour, it could be tomorrow. It depends on how quickly her patient gets well enough to no longer need her."

"Oh. I see."

"Sarah has spoken to the woman quite a few times herself, now, actually," Minnie continues, with a wry smile. "It doesn't seem to have done much good. I mean, if you want to go down there yourself, by all means, please do. You might have better luck."

"If that's the case, I would especially like Sarah to accompany us, if possible," Winifred says, not missing Minnie's tone and the message it conveyed. "It's more important for this Angelo hellion to lay off her son than mine. I mean, I'm upset that James was involved today, of course, but if Steve is the one being drawn into all these fights..."

"That wasn't a fight, Mom," Bucky pipes up. "Angelo came out of nowhere and attacked us. All me'n'Steve did was defend ourselves."

"It's all right, James; you're not in trouble," George reassures, and Bucky relapses into sullen silence; it's not his own reputation that's concerning him. From the corner of his eye he sees what looks like gratitude on Steve's face, and it alleviates his dark mood by a hair.

"Daddy, I'm hungry," Rebecca says, when nobody speaks for a handful of seconds. Normally she's not hungry for lunch until about two hours after church, but the excitement of the day has set her internal clock forward an hour or so.

Steve and Minnie look at the icebox, and then each other, at the same time; Steve's hands twist around the hem of his shirt. The only things in the icebox are a few bottles of insulin and the lump of beef liver they're milking for the last bit of extract before they have to buy another one. "I'm afraid we can't offer you anything," Minnie says, with as much dignity as an admission like that can afford her. "My plan today was to do some sewing and then go down to the deli to get dinner; do some actual grocery shopping when Sarah gets home..." hopefully with enough cash to warrant it.

"Oh, dearie, no, you can't go out with that knee," Winifred says, her still angry eyes softening with concern.

"That thought did occur to me, yes," Minnie says dryly. Despite everything George stifles a laugh, and Winifred shoots him a glare, though it isn't as annoyed as it could be.

"I could go get it," Steve says, inching forward on the sofa.

"Didn't I tell you to stay where you are?" Minnie asks, her tone light and incontestable; Steve wilts underneath it, and scoots back against the cushions.

"Well, we can go get lunch for all of us," Winifred cuts in. "George and I can, I mean."

"You don't have to do that," Minnie says, even as she suspects her play at politeness is about to be shot down.

"Oh, it's no problem," George says. "We're waiting to see if Sarah comes home early enough to go talk to the Mazzas, right? Are we, Minnie? We're not invading your home, are we?"

"I don't mind the company if Steve doesn't," Minnie says, and glances at her grandson; Steve shakes his head, shelving the disappointment in himself that he wouldn't be earning any money today.

"Then this is a good enough way to fill up the time. Where's this deli, Minnie? Is it far?"

"Not terribly. Are you familiar with the area?" Winifred and George both indicate to the contrary. "Steve, where's your sketchbook? I'll write up the directions."

"It's, um...it's under the couch," Steve admits. Mameh yelling at him this morning had been cut off by a call from the agency requesting her services, and after Mameh had closed the door, leaving We're not done talking about this, Steve! behind her, he had taken it out and let himself waste a whole page on angry scribbles until Aksot told him it was time to leave, whereupon he petulantly shoved it under the sofa instead of putting it away properly.

"I got it!" Rebecca offers before Steve can move, getting down on her hands and knees and reaching under the couch. Bucky forays from his bad mood far enough to reach down and slap her bottom while it's sticking up in the air in front of him; she squeals indignantly and pops upright, Steve's sketchbook and pencil clutched to her chest. "Buckyyyyyyyy!"

"James, don't torture your sister, please," George says, willing his mouth to not spread into a smile.

Rebecca gives Bucky a smug, retaliatory slap to the knee. He reciprocates with a light shove to her head. She jumps to her feet, knowing that this dance leads to a wrestling match, forgetting completely about Bucky's busted ankle. Steve doesn't forget it, though, and he lurches forward, cutting Rebecca off before she can lunge onto her brother.

"Here, lemme have that, Becks," he says, holding his hands out for the sketchbook. "I'll write down the directions, Aksot," he tosses over to his grandmother. "It's for Wirth's, right?"

"That was my plan." Manners advise her to ask whether the Barnes would prefer something else; sense tells her that Steve's diet is too restrictive for that. "Um. When you get there," she catches Winifred and George's attention, "tell them the Rogers sent you. They know us; they know our order."

"All right. And, uh...I guess we'll just figure out what to get for ourselves and the kids once we get there," George says. "Should we drive? Walk?"

"Drive," Steve says before Minnie can, penning the directions on the back of the page he had scribbled on this morning; the incident on the stairs had robbed him of the little sense of security the daylight had afforded him. George makes an acknowledging noise, and Steve rips the page out of his book and holds it out for George to take. "Oh, here." Steve lifts up on one side, shoves his hand into his pocket, and produces the money he is now quite glad he didn't get to offer to the church. "For me and Aksot."

"Keep it," George says, waving a hand. "Consider it part of your fee for, ah...entertaining Rebecca while we're out." He plants a hand on his daughter's head, which she ducks out from under immediately, her own hands going to her crown to make sure George didn't loosen her braids. "All right, well. We'll be back..." he glances at the directions, trying to ascertain how long it will take to get there, order, obtain food, and return. "...soon," he settles on.

"James, Rebecca, I want you two to be good, all right?" Winifred says, pulling her gloves back on as she and George move to meet at the door. "Listen to Mrs. Rogers like you'd listen to me or your father. I don't wanna come back and hear that you didn't behave for her, is that clear?"

"Yes, Mom," Bucky and Rebecca chorus, almost in harmony, as George opens the door.

The stern expression melts off her face now that her warning has been heeded. "All right, you two. We'll be back. Have fun! Be good!"

"We will!" Rebecca promises, as her parents step out the door and close it behind them.

"Well, before you have any fun," Minnie says, "would you be good and go lock that door? And then if you could nip into my room and get my sewing basket, I'd sure appreciate it."

Rebecca jogs off to do as bade, and Bucky settles further back into the couch, shooting at glance at Steve. Steve had shuffled a bit to pocket the money, and he's shifting back into a comfortable position, pressed into the corner of the armrest; it looks a bit stiff to Bucky.

"You sure you're okay, Steve?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah." Steve rolls his shoulders back and tries to hide his wince; his sternum still aches from where Angelo had slammed Bucky's crutch onto it. "Aksot is just making me stay on the couch because she worries too much," he says, a little loudly; she raises her eyebrows at him but otherwise pretends to not have heard, instead directing Rebecca into the bedroom she shares with Sarah, with a description of her sewing basket.

"Well. I'm stuck here too, so. 'Least we won't be lonely?" Bucky offers a consoling grin.

Steve shrugs, but to the affirmative; he closes his sketchbook, and then flips the pages quickly for want of something to do with his hands. Bucky tries to catch a glimpse of whatever Steve's drawn as the pages fly by; Steve notices, and feels a bit self-consciously pleased when he slows the movement down long enough to give Bucky a better view.

"Can I see?" Bucky asks, tangentially aware that Steve wants him to ask.

Steve immediately regrets not thinking hard enough about what he wished for before he got it, but he's never backed down from a challenge, even a non-explicit one. "Sure."

He passes the sketchbook to Bucky like a new mother passing an infant to a child relative; Bucky picks up on his reticence and proceeds to handle the pages with the clumsy delicacy of a youth to whom something precious has been handed. The book is old; Steve dates his drawings, and his first sketch was done in 1923. Steve uses both sides of the page, as well, and most of them are bisected by a thick line across the middle, so the page can play host to two smaller scenes, and it's a pleasantly jarring experience to see the leap in quality on the same sheaf of paper when several months have passed between works. Most of the drawings, especially the earlier ones, are studies of inanimate objects or nondescript quasi-stick figure people and animals; Steve tells Bucky "You can skip those" and, when Bucky doesn't respond fast enough, skips them for him. As Steve ages, though, the drawings become more detailed, incorporating actual settings and defining features.

"This one's pretty good," Bucky says, pointing to an impressive-for-his-age drawing of a woman at a piano from three years ago. "I like this one."

"What do you like about it?" Steve asks immediately, his eagerness peeking through though he's trying to play it cool.

"Um." Art criticism is not something Bucky's been trained in, and he scours his brain for something meaningful to say. "Well, it's better'n' anything I could do, for sure. I mean, it looks like a real piano. And the um...I like the way you drew the light reflecting off the side of it." He circles his finger over the spot in question. "That looks really...like it's real. Like there's a...light source somewhere. Who's she supposed to be?" He taps the woman sitting at the instrument, recalling his father's advice that it's better to keep quiet and be thought a fool, than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

"That's my mother's mother," Steve says, a little disappointed that Bucky terminated his critique; he hasn't heard anyone outside of library books use the phrase "light source" before. "She's how I know how to read music. The people she worked for had a piano and...I mean, she was a housekeeper, but if the people she worked for had a fancy get-together or something she'd play the piano for it. And when she would practice for whatever it was, she'd always "have to be watching me" at the same time, so. That's how I learned."

"Slick," Bucky says approvingly, and Steve bobs his head with a precocious little smile, thankful that the lady of that particular house was a soft touch, and the man generally oblivious to the goings-on of his household. "So is it just that you read music, or can you actually play?"

"I can play a little. I mean I didn't get a ton of time to practice. It's not like with drawing; I can just grab a piece of paper and draw wherever I want, but I can't...magic up a piano."

"Well you could use ours, if you wanted to," Bucky says automatically. "We don't really use it except for Chris--holidays." Briefly he wonders what Steve's feelings about Christmas are, and decides inquiring would be too long and awkward a conversation right now, especially if Rebecca started asking questions too. "Oh, and Becks uses it, but only when her voice teacher's over. So you could use it whenever else."

Steve isn't sure how to respond to that. Heat is crawling up into his face; it's a similar feeling to falling ill, but not entirely the same. When Steve is sick he doesn't suddenly realize that a part of him likes the rush of warmth.

"You sure?" he finally stammers.

"Yeah. I'm pretty sure Mom'n'Dad won't mind. Prob'ly be happy to see someone else playing it."

Steve stutters a few syllables for two seconds before he finally manages to say "Okay. Maybe I will, sometime. Thanks, Buck."

"No problem," Bucky says; it comes out a little too high-pitched, and he winces internally. He makes up for it with a smile--he's not sure why he's hoping it looks casual--and turns back to the sketchbook, flipping a few pages until he finds a picture striking enough to reorient his focus.

It comes in the form of rather accurate rendering of Minnie standing at the kitchen counter, going at something in a mortar with a pestle. The drawing is accompanied by script, written with the English alphabet but definitely not consisting of English words.

"What's this about?" Bucky asks, pressing his finger against the page.

"Um..." Steve says slowly, tilting the book back towards him to get a better look. "Oh. That's from Thanksgiving two years ago. Aksot's making cornbread."

"Excuse me, just cornbread?" Minnie asks without looking up; Rebecca has successfully fetched the sewing basket and Minnie has since been rewarding her with a tour of the beads that her friend from the reservation had sent her over the course of their last few correspondences, though one ear has been on the boys' conversation since it began.

"Sorry. Aksot's making the best cornbread in the entire world."

"Thank you, that's much better," Minnie says, with a prim nod; Rebecca giggles beside her.

"It really is the best," Steve confirms for Bucky, both fond and matter-of-fact.

"I wanna try it," Rebecca says, looking up at Minnie with her best puppy eyes.

"I make it every Thanksgiving," Minnie reassures her. "So I'll make sure to save a piece for you this year. Same for you, Bucky," she tosses over to him. "So long as Steve can restrain himself from eating the entire loaf like he did last year."

"I did not eat the entire loaf!" Steve squawks indignantly.

"Yes, you did. I watched you do it."

"Well if you watched me do it and didn't yell at me then it must not have been a bad thing for me to do."

"Steve's got a point," Bucky interjects casually, raising his hand while his nose is still buried in the book.

"See? Bucky agrees with me; it can't be that bad."

Minnie rolls her eyes. "Oh no, my grandson loved my cornbread so much he ate all of it. When will the Lord deliver me from my trials and suffering."

Bucky titters quietly next to Steve, flips the page, and blinks. This is the fifth time he's seen the same motif; he skims through a few more pages, and finds it a sixth. "Hey, Steve?"

"Yeah?" Steve looks at him from where he's been distracted by Rebecca holding certain beads up to light, watching them glint into different shades.

"Who're these people?" he asks, pointing at the people in question. "There's about a million pictures of them..."

Of the few pages that haven't been divided up into sections, six of them are devoted to sketches of a mother and father with a daughter; the first one--the first page of the entire book, in fact--has the three rendered as slightly-better-detailed-than-usual stick figures, while the latest, done earlier this year, shows the maturation of Steve's skill, as well as that of the little girl, who has aged from an infant to a young child with each picture.

"Oh, um, that's not really...those aren't actual portraits or anything," Steve says, a little clumsily. "It's more about the...the idea of them."

"Is it a check-your-progress kinda thing? Seeing how much you've improved every year?" Each drawing is dated for February of a successive year.

Steve gives a noncommittal shrug and makes an equally noncommittal noise. Bucky notes that Steve didn't exactly answer him, but elects to move on. He flips to a page that is divided up by several lines both horizontal and vertical; he brings it closer to his face to get a better sense of what's happening in the panels, and his face lights up when he sees a familiar name in a speech bubble.

"You read Buck Rogers too?"

"Yeah!" Steve says, enthusiastic not just for the change of subject, but for what the subject changed to. "Since it started."

"Me too! Did you see yesterday's strip?"

Steve shakes his head. "I haven't gotten to read the last few yet." With rent due in two days, newspapers are currently outside the budget, and the nearby stands don't like him hanging around to read them.

"We collect 'em, me and Becks; we cut 'em out of the newspaper and glue 'em into a scrapbook. So if you ever need to catch up, we're your people."

"That's a great idea," Steve says, a little jealous of their unrestrained access to bound paper. He's diligently rationed his sketchbook since he was five years old, and had been dreading the day he'd have to ask for a new one; as frivolous as it makes him feel he's already set aside some of the money from Wednesday for this purpose.

"Thanks," Bucky says, repressing the desire to preen. "Did you ever read the original story? Not the comic strip, the actual story, in the magazine." Steve shakes his head, and the look Bucky gives him is scandalized. "Okay, the next time you come to my house I am making you read it. And the sequel too. They're amazing. You have to read 'em."

"Oh, well, twist my arm, why dontcha."

Bucky reaches over to grab Steve's wrist; it startles Steve instinctively, and he pulls his arm free with a much stronger jerk than he wants. He inhales wrong as he does so, as well, and starts coughing, but he gets it under control almost immediately, and tries to smile away the worried look on Bucky's face once he does.

"I was drawing," he continues in a slightly strained voice, reaching over to return Bucky's focus to the sketchbook, "what I thought Buck would be doing before the series started. Y'know, when he was in the war."

"Like a prequel?"

"Yeah. Since they don't really go into it in the actual comic." Bucky looks closer; the drawings are tiny, to use up the most space on the page, but after focusing a bit he can make out that Buck Rogers is engaged in an aerial battle with several German fighter pilots. "My dad told me about a battle like this," Steve elaborates. "He wasn't in it; he was army, not air force, but he saw the fight from where they were camped."

"My dad was army, too," Bucky says, still perusing the page; he's read what little there is of the text and has gone back to get a better sense of the pictures.

"Oh, yeah, speaking of. Does your dad know how to sew?"

The strangeness of the question bids Bucky to look up. "Um...yeah?" One Sunday Bucky had fallen down the stairs, coming out unscathed except for a large rip in his pants; Winifred had been out and of course the maids were off, so it was George who sent Bucky to go change while he stitched what was thankfully just a tear at the seam.

"Told ya, Becks!" Steve calls over to the table, where Minnie has settled into sewing in earnest and Rebecca has been occupying herself with stringing beads through a thread. She looks up at him, a bit befuddled. "About your dad." It takes her a moment to work out what Steve is referring to, but once she does her eyes and mouth open into "oh"s, and she nods eagerly, like she's happy to have learned something today.

"Becks, Steve drew some comics about Buck Rogers, you wanna come see?" Bucky holds up the sketchbook as further enticement.

"Sure!" She tries to to set her makeshift necklace on the table carefully, so it won't fall apart once she gets up (it does anyway; Minnie slaps her hand over the loose end to keep the beads from spilling out all over the floor), and trots over to the couch, squishing in on the other side of Bucky and putting her hands on the sketchbook to angle it towards her. Bucky tightens his own grip on it, reluctant to surrender it fully to her.

"See, Steve's drawing a prequel, 'cause the comics don't really go into what Buck was doing when he was in the war," Bucky explains, and Steve feels a pleasant warmth crawling up the back of his neck to have someone who had paid enough attention to be able to paraphrase him.

Rebecca nods, and studies the page for a good thirty seconds, before looking up at Steve with almost accusatory eyes. "Where's Wilma Deering?"

"Buck doesn't meet Wilma until he goes to the future," Bucky says, before Steve has to defend himself. "This takes place before the story even starts, dummy."

"Don't call me a dummy!"

"Don't act like one, then."

"Children, I believe your mother told you to behave?" Minnie calls lightly from the table.

"Yeah, Bucky, behave," Steve adds, grinning cheekily; Bucky sticks his tongue out at Steve.

"There needs to be a girl, Steve," Rebecca says urgently. "So we can do it for the Radio Extravaganza."

"The what?" Steve blinks.

Rebecca opens her mouth to reply, looks at Bucky, and lightly punches him in the arm. "You have to do it with me."

Bucky rolls his eyes and heaves a sigh with equal amounts of exaggeration, but he does as told, his embarrassed fondness in harmony with her unabashed zeal as he chants in time with her.

"Becky and Bucky's Radio Extravaganza!"

"We do this "radio show" when Mom and Dad have guests over sometimes," Bucky explains, internally cringing at the flabbergasted look Steve is giving them. "It's basically us hiding behind the radio in the parlor and...doing...radio things. It was Becky's idea," he assures Steve quickly, deliberately not mentioning that he was the one who came up with the name. There's a part of him that thinks doing things like the Radio Extravaganza with Rebecca is one of the reasons he never hangs onto any of his friends from year to year, and though his sister's esteem is more important than a peer's could ever be, the thought of Steve looking at him with disdain is giving him a knot in his stomach. "She thought it up forever ago, and...I dunno, the grown-ups think it's cute, so we keep doing it. We write up skits and fake news reports, and Becky sings, and...I know, it sounds stupid."

"No, it actually sounds like fun," Steve says; it's quiet, but it's definitely not sarcastic, and the invisible death grip on Bucky's intestines eases up.

"We could do your story the next time Mommy and Daddy have people over," Rebecca says; Bucky's grasp has loosened on the sketchbook, and she's able to take it fully into hand and hold it up. "But there has to be a girl so I can be in it," she continues, tucking the book under her chin.

"Becky refuses to do boy parts," Bucky explains.

"Because I'm not a boy!"

"It's okay Becky," Steve says, his smile placating on the outside, and unbearably wry within. "I wouldn't wanna do the girl parts, neither."

"See?" Rebecca flings at her brother, who throws up his hands faux-defensively. "So we need to put a girl in your story, Steve."

"Um, it's Steve's story, Becks," Bucky says. "He can put whatever he wants in it. And he didn't even say we could use it yet."

"It's okay, I don't min--" Steve starts.

"So you have to ask nicely," Bucky continues, pointedly, and Steve takes the hint and shuts up. "Please, Steve, can we use your story? And would you be so kind as to put a girl in it? Pretty please?"

Rebecca makes a face at her brother, but her visage is earnest when she looks at Steve. "Can we use your story, Steve? And can we put a girl in it? Please?"

"Well..." Steve pretends to consider for a few seconds, sharing a knowing look with Bucky, who tries not to laugh. "Okay. You can use it." Rebecca squeals and hugs his sketchbook to her chest, and as much as the two boys want to laugh at her it's genuinely endearing to see her so thrilled. "I mean, there's not really a story to it right now..."

"We'll use it as a jumping-off point," Bucky says. "We got Buck Rogers fighting the Germans, that's our premise. What's our setting, Becks?"

"Our setting is," Rebecca says slowly, casting her mind about for something interesting as she hands the sketchbook back to Steve. "Is, um...Asgard!" Her class has just gotten to Asgard in their geography textbook. "Is that okay?" she asks Steve, now very mindful that she needs his permission to adjust the story.

"Yeah, we can do that!" Steve says immediately. "My dad fought in Asgard for a bit. He even saw the royal family once."

"Wow, really?" Bucky asks.

"Yeah! My dad's unit, he was in the 107th, they won this really important battle and no one thought they were gonna pull it off, so when they did the king and queen threw a feast for them." ("Third best thing that happened to me durin' the war," Joseph described it; the second best being the signing of the armistice that bought the whole nightmare to an end, and the first being Sarah's letter that Steve had been born, early and sickly and not what any of them had expected or knew how to deal with, but "alive, Joseph. He's alive and I couldn't possibly ask HaShem for anything more than to keep him that way.")

"That's awesome," Bucky says, and Steve shuffles happily under the praise. "Okay, so we're setting our story in Asgard."

"Ooh! Ooh!" Rebecca raises and flaps her hand. "And I can be the princess of Asgard. That's the girl part."

"Asgard doesn't have a princess; they just have two princes," Steve says. The 107th had been feted at the palace in Valhalla after their unexpected victory, and the heirs to the throne had been allowed to attend; the elder Prince Thor, barely knee high to King Odin, had been enthralled by the sight of the soldiers, while the younger Prince Loki was still a babe in Queen Freya's arms and thus utterly unmoved by the proceedings.

"It's pretend, Steve," Rebecca says with emphatic exasperation; Minnie snorts a loud laugh from the table.

"Gawd, Steve, don't you know anything?" Bucky mock-chastises; Steve takes a leaf from Bucky's book and sticks his tongue out at him.

"Okay, so," Rebecca says, re-focusing the conversation. "I'll be Princess--"

"You can't be Princess Rebecca," Bucky interrupts.

"I wasn't gonna--"

"Or Becky." Bucky is gratified to see Steve smirking from the corner of his eye. "Be more creative."

"How about Wynnogene?" Minnie suggests; there's a small part of her vanity that's pleased with the idea of a princess, even a pretend one, bearing her birth name, and she figures anyone who actually sees this little production probably won't know enough about Asgardian or Oneida etymology to tell that the name would be out of place. She catches Steve giving her a surprised look, and shrugs.

"Wynnogene," Rebecca repeats, liking the roll of the name on her tongue. "Okay. I'll be Princess Wynnogene."

"Excellent. Come here, princess; I've got a crown for you."

Minnie holds up the thread-and-bead project Rebecca had been working on; she's cut the string from her spool, and tied the two ends together. Rebecca runs over to her, and is proud of how she holds herself perfectly still as Minnie arranges it so it sits neatly on her head.

"Thank you, Mrs. Rogers."

"You're welcome, darling," Minnie says fondly, tapping the tip of Rebecca's nose with her finger. "It's nice to have a little girl to do this with," she continues, sotto voce, in case Rebecca thinks she's putting Minnie out.

She's not as quiet as she thinks she's being, and when Bucky glances at Steve he sees that Steve's face makes him look like his chest hurts.

"Steve?" He bats at Steve's arm with the back of his hand. "You okay?" He sees the box of Grimault's on the floor and bends over to get it; it's just out of reach, his fingers are able to swipe the surface but unable to get a good hold. "You need one of these?" he asks, regardless.

"What?" Steve looks at Bucky, and then where he's reaching, and forces his tone to sound like Bucky's being ridiculous. "Nah, I'm okay. Just, I just faded out for a second."

Bucky's bullshit detectors are inherited from his mother and are finely-honed, but he got his tendency for polite deferral from his father and it is equally strong an instinct. Rebecca comes back to them, making his decision whether or not to press for him, fussing carefully with her new "crown".

"Okay, so, Buck Rogers is fighting the Germans in Asgard," Steve says, before Rebecca can notice anything wrong with him. "How does he meet Princess Wynnogene?"

"Um, um, okay, so, maybe while he's fighting the Germans, he gets shot," Rebecca says, before Bucky can offer his thoughts.

"Him personally or his plane?" Steve asks.

"His plane, because he crash lands."

"And his plane blows up," Bucky suggests.

"He gets out okay!" Rebecca says, in case either boy thinks they're going to kill off their main character at the beginning of the story. "But he has to go into hiding because the Germans are looking for him, right? And, and...he hides behind a waterfall, and Princess Wynnogene is there, because..."

"Because she's hiding some equipment for the soldiers, that they need because the Germans are getting the upper hand," Steve offers; he's seeing the scene in his head, envisioning it as a drawing.

"It can be the Tesseract," Bucky suggests; his and Rebecca's literary repertoire includes mythology as well as science fiction, and Steve knows about Asgardian legends from his father's stories so he has no need to inquire either. "She's gonna give the soldiers the Tesseract on the sly, because the king thinks it's too dangerous for them to use and won't give it to them himself."

"Wait, wait," Steve says, patting the cushions around him for his pencil, which has gone missing since he wrote down the direction to Wirth's. "Lemme write this down..."

Princess Wynnogene and Buck Rogers are setting up an ambush for the Kaiser by the time there's a knock at the door, and Rebecca goes running to let her parents back into the house. A general chorus of welcome follows George and Winifred into the house, and Rebecca makes herself wait for the bags of food to be placed on the table before her news finally bursts out of her.

"Look what Mrs. Rogers made for me!" She pulls the "crown" off her head; a few of the beads get caught in her hair and she has to pry it free to show it off properly.

"Oh, how lovely!" Winifred says; holding it up to the light to admire it, and then putting it back atop Rebecca's head with aplomb. "I crown thee Bonnie Princess Becky."

"Princess Wynnogene, Mommy."

"Oh! My mistake, pardon me."

"How much is it for such a "circlet", Minnie?" George asks under his breath.

"One dollar," she answers softly.

George bobs his head, using Winifred and Rebecca unpacking the bags as a distraction for him digging into his coat pocket for his change from the deli and handing the bill to Minnie, who slips it into her sewing basket equally surreptitiously.

"I hope you found something for yourselves to eat?" Minnie says, as the food is set out before her and she moves her things out of the way.

"Oh of course," Winifred says, squinting at the handwriting on a container. "That's the chopped liver for Steve...I used to get food from these places all the time, when I was fresh off the boat," she continues, her accent creeping into her voice again as she beings divvying up each person's meal into small piles. "Of course I'd've been doing my own cooking at home, but I'd spend my whole day on my feet cookin' for this one's massive family," she sends a glance at her husband, who makes a semi-apologetic gesture at her, "so I'd be a cadger's curse, I'd be so tired by the time I got home. Rebecca, I want you and your brother to try this, I think you'll like it; Minnie, where do you keep your plates?" Minnie directs her to the appropriate cabinet, and she goes to it. "Frankly, I owe my continued life and health to these places. Particularly for Sundays; it was hard to find any place else that was open."

"First time Winnie and I stepped out on our own, she took me to a deli for lunch," George offers, his eyes glinting with the memory.

"I'd forgotten about that," Winifred laughs as she comes back to the table. "Seems we got our time to ourselves today, after all, didn't we?" George considers the most appropriate way to show his affection in someone else's home, and settles on drawing Winifred to him and pressing a kiss to the side of her head, against her brown curls. She blushes brightly as she returns to unpacking and divvying up the food. "Is it all right if the kids eat on the sofa, Minnie?"

"Of course, so long as they're careful." The Rogers-Milavetzes had once had a large kitchen table, hand-built by Bill and Eliezer, to accommodate the whole family. The day they sold it and used part of the proceeds to buy a smaller model, a better fit for only three people, had been an awful day for everyone involved, and Steve had refused to eat anywhere but the couch for almost a week before Sarah finally put her foot down.

"All right." Winifred picks up some of the wrapped sandwiches and hands them to Rebecca with the admonishment "You have to be very careful, Rebecca, okay? I'm going to be very upset with you if you spill," and then follows her towards the sofa with some of the other containers. There's a small hubbub as the boys thank them for the food and help them re-figure out who is supposed to have what; Winifred runs back to get more plates and utensils once her mind is free enough to do so, and then goes back to the table to set up for the adults once the children are settled. George and Minnie have already done most of the work for her, and she only has to fold up the bags and packaging and move them out of the way to feel like she's sitting down to a respectable table.

"Thank you for going and getting the food," Minnie says, as Winifred settles into her chair.

"Oh, it wasn't anything; it was fun, actually," George says. "Thank you for keeping James and Rebecca occupied while we were out."

"Don't thank me; Steve's been doing most of the work."

"I hope they haven't been bothering him...?" Winifred asks pointedly.

"Oh, not at all," Minnie says, surveying the three children with a small, pleased smile; Steve is offering a bite of his chopped liver to Bucky, who looks apprehensive about trying it. "He's breathing fine now. I knew a doctor wasn't necessary. In fact, I think your two children are helping him to recover better than a doctor could." Bucky has sampled the chopped liver and is comically gagging on it; Steve is urging him to take a bite of hardboiled egg to wash the meat down with a look on his face that is both slightly concerned and deeply amused. "I don't think I've seen him enjoying himself like this since...well, it's been a while."

"Really?" Winifred says, more disheartened than disbelieving.

"He's always been more of a little man than a little boy," Minnie confirms, with a sad laugh.

"Then it's especially good to see him so animated," George says. "After the morning you both have had."

Minnie ducks her head. "I think his has been worse than mine, but thank you for thinking of me."

"Speaking of, Minnie." Winifred lays her right hand atop her left on the table. "If we may ask, what did the minister say to you this morning? I know, I know, it really isn't any of our business," she tacks on quickly when Minnie shifts in her seat. "But. We. Well. We were speaking about this in the car, George and I, and we don't like how...how he behaved toward you, in the sanctuary. It wasn't right. It certainly wasn't very Christian. And you and Steve both came out so upset; if Steve were a cat I'd've expected him to claw off the next available face." Minnie has to laugh at the imagery; Winifred offers a weak smile. "So we were thinking that...well, if there's anything we could do to help..."

"I...I very much appreciate your offer," Minnie says. As if sensing the conversation, her arthritic knee twinges; for the past few years it's maintained a low, usually ignorable level of pain, but she has a feeling that after today she's going to have to adjust to a whole new type of omnipresent ache. "You have been...you are both very kind."

"Thank you," George says quietly, while Winifred flushes.

"The minister..." Minnie's hands fold together atop the table, behind her food, but George and Winifred can both tell that her thumbs are worrying against each other. "He didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. Nor, I suspect, that you don't already know." She draws in a breath; straightens her spine. These people raised Bucky, and she doesn't think that apple has fallen particularly far from its tree. "I'm an Indian. Steve is Jewish. This makes people uncomfortable."

It doesn't escape her attention that the children have gone quiet; with only a few feet of distance between the couch and the table, even a whispered conversation--which this is not--is ripe for eavesdropping. Rebecca and Steve's gazes are steadily focused on the grown-ups; Bucky's is fixed on Steve.

"Well, that...that first part is obvious to anyone with eyes," George tries to say lightly. "As for Steve, well...we'd heard things along those lines, Winifred and I; don't know if the kids heard anything about it, but we reckoned that, true or no...no point in making a fuss, right? Of course we thought it a bit odd that he was coming to church, if it was true, but...there wasn't any harm being done, so we didn't think there should be a problem."

"Well I'm glad you thought so," Minnie says stiffly, a little breathily; her hands go from her table to her lap as they tighten their hold around each other. "But unfortunately to many people Steve and I are a problem. Enough that we..." She remembers her first minister offering her a cot in an unused office until he found her a boarding house in need of a hired girl; she remembers Bill stuttering out Hi, I'm lookin' for somethin' for my ma's birthday while he stared directly into her face instead of at her handiwork, and then years later being equally awestruck and tongue-tied trying to say This ring I give thee in token and pledge of our constant faith and abiding love; she wonders if the congregation had really changed so much in the past forty-two years, or if she'd only ever had those two men to thank for giving her a home. "Enough that we are not welcome at that church anymore."

"The minister said that to you?" George asks, after a second of stunned quiet.

"In so many words," Minnie says, regaining control of her faculties enough to sound more bitter and less on the verge of tears.

"He said he doesn't think we're gonna be safe there for much longer," Steve spits out, the shaking anger resurfacing as he remembers the meeting earlier today and no longer has a reason to keep his own counsel over it. "That people aren't making threats yet, but they're gonna."

"Are you serious?" Winifred asks; Steve nods tightly. "That is outrageous." Winifred's hand smacks the table, making her children wince and nearly propelling her to her feet. "How dare he. How dare anybody--" Her hand flails as she searches for articulation. "Incredible. Absolutely unbelievable."

"What are you going to do?" George asks, calmly, ever the pragmatist. "Are you two planning to...stop going?"

"Is Steve not gonna come with us to church anymore?" Rebecca asks in a small voice.

"Becks, hush," Bucky mumbles, despite feeling at least as crushed by the prospect as she sounds.

"It depends on what my grandmother wants, Becks," Steve says loudly, pointedly. "If she's gonna keep going to church, then I am too."

"You have somewhere else you can be on Sunday mornings, Steve," Minnie says. "And I would much rather you be there than exposing yourself to any sort of nastiness at the church."

"I don't have to be there, Aksot; I can study on my own. I don't want you to, to have to go alone--"

"Steve." Minnie's hands press to her temples; she knows it's a manipulative move, and a particularly unkind one at that, but it forces him to pipe down. "Please."

"Your grandmother wouldn't be alone, regardless, Steve," George says after a beat, when Steve is still rigid and pink-faced and near to vibrating out of his skin. "If you wanted, Minnie," he addresses her, "if you aren't planning to stop attending altogether, that is, you are, of course, welcome to sit with our family. It might...defuse the situation, for people to see you with us."

"And if it doesn't," Bucky says suddenly, "then we can find somewhere else to go to church."

The room goes quiet for a moment as all eyes turn to him, the owner of each pair shocked at his suggestion for their own reason, and he forces himself not to wilt.

""We"?" Minnie finally asks, blinking.

"Y-yeah," Bucky says, cursing himself for stuttering. "We. All of us."

"You'd do that?" This time it's Steve who asks the question, and his voice is so small and stunned that it hurts Bucky to hear it; Steve looks at him, and his expression is even worse.

"You don't, you don't stay in places where they treat people bad," Bucky says, holding Steve's gaze for as long as he can before his self-consciousness forces him to look down. "You don't..." he searches his vocabulary for a smart-sounding word, "support people who do things like that."

"As he says," Winifred says a little stiffly, half her heart fearing to abandon the place she had wanted so badly to be her link to home, the other half swelling with immeasurable pride in her firstborn. "Honestly, the way these people have behaved towards you in the past has been disgraceful, but this? This is unacceptable."

"Let's not rush into anything, Win," George counsels; he knows his wife's heart well, and certainly enough to know when it's divided. "I'm assuming they'll want to discuss this with Sarah before they make a decision," he adds, looking at Minnie. "Isn't that right?"

"I...well, yes, I'll have to talk to Sarah first," Minnie stammers, blinking a few times in quick succession. "But...what you're offering, you and your son; I...I don't know what to say. Thank-...thank you, I..." She suddenly feels a little light-headed, and plants her elbow on the table and her forehead in her hand. Steve starts; she sees him from the corner of her eye and quickly waves him down. "I'm fine, Steve, I'm fine. I'm just..."

"Minnie?" George asks. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She takes her hand away from her head, giving him the please-don't-worry smile that Steve learned from her. "It's been a stressful day. I'm just starting to feel it, is all."

"Oh, well. Then let's table this conversation for now, shall we? We have a perfectly good lunch getting cold." He gestures to the food in front of him.

"I think that's a good idea," Minnie says, sending a glance at Steve at once begging and ordering him to not push either issue. Steve glares at her, but obeys, stabbing his food with his fork to signify both his capitulation and his displeasure thereof.

All conversation was apparently tabled, as the group falls quiet, and the next few minutes pass in heavy silence broken only by the sounds of chewing and utensils clinking against dishes. Steve especially seems weighed down by it, his lips drawn tightly together when his mouth is closed, his breathing audible through his nose. After a panicked few seconds where he thinks Steve might be having another attack, Bucky withstands the noise and the expression for as long as he can, before he has to reach over and poke Steve in the arm.

Steve's head snaps up just as Bucky yanks his hand away; he frowns, and then returns to glaring down at his food. Bucky waits two seconds and then pokes him again, garnering a similar reaction, except he doesn't look back down again this time. Bucky meets Steve's hard gaze with an innocent one, and doesn't break eye contact as he reaches over with his good foot to poke Steve's leg with the toe of his shoe.

"What are you doing?" Steve mutters.

"What? I ain't doin' nothin'. I don't know what you're talking about. Becks, am I doing anything?"

"No," Rebecca confirms, trying to not giggle, and failing; she noticed his shenanigans, and despite so much grownup-talk swimming about her head she's entertained by them. "Bucky's minding his own business, Steve."

"See." Bucky presses his pointer finger into Steve's knee. "I'm not," arm, just below the elbow, "doing anything;" shoulder, "you're," cheek, "imagining things."

Steve ducks a thwap to the head and uses his leverage to stab his own finger into Bucky's leg. Bucky retaliates by grabbing a small clump of Steve's hair and giving it a yank, mindful not to pull too hard or hold too tight. Consequently Steve pushes his hand off easily, and uses the opening to grab and squeeze Bucky's side, below his rib cage.

"Boys, stop it," Winifred says, as Bucky twists his torso out of Steve's hold. "Boys, you're going to spill," she continues, when Bucky grabs Steve's ear and pulls on it.

Her reminder of food gives Steve an idea. His lunch, while jostled, is all still on his plate; he picks up the fork he had dropped onto the armrest, spears a piece of liver, and shoves it in Bucky's direction. Bucky bounces on the cushion hard enough to move him away from Steve by about a quarter of an inch, hunches his shoulders defensively, pulls the most ridiculous face he can muster, and hisses like a cat confronted with a dog.

Steve laughs.

Well, it's actually more of a snort that gets a little extra noise because Steve's lips happen to be parted when he does it, but Bucky allows himself be pleased with the result of his gambit, anyway.

Steve's face is playfully smug as he brandishes the fork at Bucky. He knows what Bucky is doing, and wants to be miffed even more than he already is that Bucky's antics are working, but somehow he can't bring himself to be, especially when Bucky hisses at him again. He jabs the fork at Bucky one last time before shoving the piece of liver in his mouth, and when he looks up at Bucky through his lashes his eyes are a mix of I'm still mad and Thanks for everything.

Bucky throws his arm around Steve so quickly that he barely has time to jerk back, and for the first second of contact he has to order himself not to struggle. Bucky jostles him a little, and it feels very different than what he expects; Bucky is holding onto his shoulder instead of clutching at his throat; Bucky's free hand is messing with his hair instead of clawing at his face. It's about as vicious as a kitten batting a string, and equally graceless and playful.

Sarah opens the door to the apartment to find Steve trying to squirm his way out of Bucky's hold, and the only thing stopping her from marching up to them and ripping Bucky's arm out of his socket is the realization that even though Steve's eyes look conflicted, he's smiling, genuinely smiling, and she hasn't seen him do that in a very long time.

Chapter Text

"Sarah?"

Sarah is snapped out of her thoughts by the sound of her mother-in-law saying her name; her mind reorients itself, and she lets her hand slide down the door frame from where it had been pressed against the mezuzah. "H-hi."

"You're back early," Minnie continues, sitting up straight in lieu of standing in greeting.

"Oh, it was..." She's mindful of the strangers, especially the children, now listening to her. "They didn't need me anymore."

Minnie bobs her head once, slowly, and then glances at the people sitting with her at the table. "Um. You remember Winifred, from the other day."

"I do indeed," Sarah says, offering a welcoming if strained smile. "I assume everyone I haven't met yet belongs to you, Winifred?"

"Right you are, missus," Winifred says, and gestures to each member of her family in turn. "My husband, George; ("How are you", "Well, thank you") my youngest, Rebecca; ("Hi!", "Hello, dear") and your son's new best friend, apparently, James."

"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Rogers." Bucky's loosened his hold on Steve's neck enough for Steve to duck out of it and offer a cautious "Hi, Mameh."

"Hello, boys." Sarah's hand twitches, swaying the large bag at her side. "Ah...forgive me if I'm misremembering, but. Steve was supposed to be visiting you at your house today, wasn't he?"

The way the whole room shifts uncomfortably fires an alarm bell in her head. A quick sweep by expert eyes picks up the box of Grimault's on the floor in front of Steve, even with it partially hidden by Rebecca's body.

"Steve? Did you have an asthma attack?"

"Sarah, why don't you go put your bag down and wash up; we'll tell you what happened once you're settled," Minnie says quickly. "Steve's fine, darling," she continues, when Sarah doesn't move. "He's been recovering on the couch for the past hour or so. These two," she gestures to Bucky and Rebecca, "have been keeping him entertained."

"I'm okay, Mameh, honest," Steve says, shrinking a bit as he watches all the pink vanish from Sarah's cheeks and reappear around her eyes.

"We've been planning a radio show," Rebecca offers helpfully.

The voice of a child not her own seems to shake Sarah from her paralysis; she catches her breath and shifts on her feet. "Oh, I...all right. Just...excuse me for a moment, please." A murmur of permission goes up from the group as she strides ahead towards the bedroom she shares with Minnie, pointedly keeping her eyes forward. Bucky taps Steve's shoulder, and raises his eyebrows once he has Steve's attention; Steve gestures to the effect that he's not sure what's distracting her.

Inside her bedroom Sarah has to take another few seconds to gather herself before she can peel off her work dress and hose and lay them in the metal tub she keeps specifically to wash such outfits. She paws through her trunk of civilian dresses, searching for something that will make her look at least dignified next to Winifred, and feels rather in control of her nerves by the time she pulls it on over her head. She's calmed enough to pull on fresh hose without ripping it, at least.

She's just as single-minded but now all-business when she comes back out of her room and makes for the kitchen sink, where she finds the correct antiseptic and scours her hands with it. The group is respectfully, uncomfortably silent as she does so; George rises to his feet to offer his chair once she's wiped her hands dry and approaches the table.

Her knees are shaking a little again as she accepts his offer.

"What happened?"

Minnie slides a side dish of pickles to her with a very weak smile; Sarah fidgets with the container but doesn't touch the actual food. "Well. To start from the beginning, we had a spot of trouble at the church this morning that led to my knee getting hurt, the details of which I will tell you about later," she adds, when Sarah starts. "In any case, the Barnes very graciously offered me a ride home before they took Steve back to their house. After that...Steve will probably be able to tell you what happened better than I could."

Bucky glances at Steve, who is drawn into a tight ball, and answers for him. "Steve was showin' me something. We were sitting on the stairs, 'cause it was gonna be too hard for me to make it all the way up," he points to his crutches by the front door. "So we were just sittin' and talkin' and then alla'sudden this kid comes up and starts messin' with Steve."

"What kid?" Sarah asks sharply.

"Angelo Mazza," Steve mumbles, and Sarah gives a small, tight, aggravated groan.

"Steve got up and started walkin' up the stairs, t'get him away from me," Bucky continues. "But this Angelo guy knocked Steve over so he fell. That's when I hit him with one of my crutches. Back'a the knees." He demonstrates again, his time with just his hands. "I hit him again, on the back, but he grabbed my crutch and triedta run me through with it. Steve kicked him, and then Angelo grabbed his foot and dragged him down the stairs a couple steps."

Sarah inhales sharply, a ragged, breathy noise; Bucky winces at the sound of it.

"Then Mom started callin' down to us," he gestures with his chin to Winifred, "so Angelo grabbed one of my crutches and tried to clock me with it. He missed," he says, for the benefit of his own parents; Winifred looks alarmed, "but he hit Steve in the chest before he ran away. And that's, um, what started it. The asthma attack."

Sarah's eyes are lightly shut, her fingers pressing hard against her mouth as she tries to not fly into wrathful pieces in front of the Barnes.

"Becky got my cigarettes to me immediately," Steve says, words coming out in a rush. "And Mrs. Barnes helped me, too. So it didn't last long, the attack didn't. And Aksot's made me stay on the couch since. So I'm all right now."

Sarah takes her hands away from her face for a second, before bringing them back, to cover her eyes. "He could've really hurt you, Steve."

"But he didn't, Mameh," Steve says, and any defiance in him is audibly tempered by the urgent need to reassure. "I'm okay."

"You could have died," she says, instead of breathing; one hand smacks the table with a sound that makes the rest of the room wince.

"I'm okay," Steve says again, but his gaze has drifted down to the floor, like he can't bring himself to try to comfort her, even with the truth.

Winifred looks at Sarah's hand on the table, her knuckles turning white from the pressure, and gently settles her own on top of it. "I was thinking," she says, once Sarah looks at her hand, and then her face, "that we three," she gestures to themselves and George, "should go down to that boy's apartment and talk to his parents. Minnie led me to understand that you haven't had much luck with that in the past, but maybe us three together could accomplish something."

Sarah slides her hand out from under Winifred's, and places it with its partner in her lap. "Thank you, Winifred, but this is between that family and mine. You don't need to involve yourselves."

"Well, we're already involved, actually," George cuts in. "Since James was part of this...altercation."

"I see," Sarah says, after a beat.

"If James ever visits here in the future we'd like to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again."

"If James ever..." The thought that she'd ever see any of the Barnes again at all after this, let alone in the apartment, hasn't occurred to her. "Of course," she says quickly, recovering. "That, that's perfectly understandable."

"We were waiting to see if you came home early enough for us to head over together," George continues. "We weren't counting on it being so soon, but, if you're ready..."

"Absolutely," Sarah says, beginning to rise. "I would love to give those people a piece of my mind."

"Sarah, I think you should eat first," Minnie says, leaning forward across the table to grab Sarah by the wrist, the corner of her lips turned down. "You look dead on your feet."

"Oh no, Mother, I'm fine," Sarah says, slightly twisting her wrist out of Minnie's grasp.

Minnie catches her again smoothly before Sarah can pull away fully. "Humor me, darling. I don't like your color right now."

In the second it takes for Sarah to come up with a response Steve mutters "Really, Aksot? You don't like her color?"

All four adults turn their heads to look at Steve. His mouth is pressed together in a strange line, like he's physically holding the bitterness of the humor back, letting only a soured sweetness out.

"That's racist."

Bucky chokes on his sandwich.

"You," Minnie says, pointing at Steve, her expression twisting into one that matches his, "you hush your mouth." Steve mimes locking his lips together; Bucky elbows him in the arm, whether to chide or congratulate him on his chutzpah, neither of them quite know. "Sarah, I do think you should eat first," Minnie continues. "It will let the Barnes finish eating, also."

"I wouldn't mind finishing first," Winifred offers helpfully, if it'll sway Sarah's decision.

It does; Sarah lets herself sink back into her seat. Minnie pushes the half of the sandwich she hasn't eaten across the table, and Sarah dutifully picks it up. She doesn't feel much like eating, but her mother-in-law is right; she saw how pale she looked in the mirror on the way out of her patient's home, and the weakness in her legs isn't entirely due to the news of Steve being assaulted.

"So did you manage to get any sewing done, Minnie?" George asks, trying not to sway too obviously on his feet.

"A bit," Minnie says, glancing up at George while keeping Sarah in the corner of her eye; Sarah gives her mother-in-law her best I'm not a child look. "I do have a good bit of stock already, and there's plenty of time for me to make more."

"Oh? You...have a deadline?"

"Well, around Thanksgiving is the perfect time to sell novelties. People are thinking of Christmas presents."

"Ah, that makes sense," George says, bobbing his head. "Where is it that you sell, Minnie?"

"On Thanksgiving? Or in general?"

"Ah...both, why not."

"Well in general, I'll set up outside the Met and stay there until someone complains." Sarah starts at Minnie's bluntness, but Minnie continues. "Then I'll go over to the Museum of Natural History, and stay until...well, someone complains."

"Complains?" George asks; Minnie raises her eyebrows meaningfully at him. "Ah. I see."

"I've lucked out. Sarah knows the officer on patrol near the Met on the days I go."

"I used to live in Manhattan," Sarah interjects in a mumble. "Before I married Steve's father. Lower East Side. We were neighbors, the officer and I."

"And the one at the Museum of Natural History is like Steve. One-quarter red." George and Winifred--and Sarah--aren't sure whether it would be decent to look embarrassed by such frank talk of racial make-up; the confusion flusters them enough by itself. "So they won't stop me from selling altogether. They'll just hustle me along when asked."

George nods slowly. "And...what about...Thanksgiving?"

"I've sold at the parade for the past few years."

"We go to the parade, too," Rebecca offers, excited to discover another point of connection between the Barnes and the Rogers. The three children have been nursing their lunches and listening to the adults talk; in such a small space all of them know to defer conversation rights to grownups. "But we didn't see you there," she continues, looking a bit troubled by the realization.

"When we're there we gotta keep movin', Becks," Steve says. "Lotta people to sell to. And a lotta cops to avoid."

"Steve," Sarah warns.

"Well. Perhaps we'll manage to see you there this year?" Winifred offers, with a strained brightness.

"I'll look forward to it," Minnie says, with just absurd enough an expression that she makes the woman laugh. "I did promise the kids a Thanksgiving treat, anyway."

"You should come over for Thanksgiving dinner after the parade," Rebecca says, with certitude.

"Rebecca, I'm sure the Rogers already have plans," George chides.

"Not really," Steve says before his mother or grandmother can speak. "I mean, we have dinner, but no one's comin' over or anything."

"Then you guys could come to our house," Bucky says, before even Rebecca has the chance to.

"Ehm," Sarah says, putting her sandwich back onto her plate. "We'd have to see. There's no guarantee I won't be working that day, in any case. Nurse's hours...they're rather unpredictable," she says, looking at Winifred. "Of course, that's if there's an actual invitation. I'm sure you have plans?"

"We may or may not be hosting a thus far indeterminate number of family," George says, a little delicately. From the corner of his eye Steve sees a sour look cross Bucky's face; Sarah is seeing an identical one on Winifred's. "But, you are welcome, in any case. There's always plenty of food and space. You wouldn't be putting us out, even if the whole Barnes clan did show."

"Which won't happen," Winifred says, her voice somewhere between an amused lilt and a growl.

"Well," Sarah says, a little uncertainly; this is first time she's seen anything but carefully crafted congeniality coming from Winifred. "Thank you for the offer; it's very generous. As I said, we'll, we'll have to see."

That sounds dangerously close to "no" to Steve's ears, and he's imagining how he could finagle leaving the parade with the Barnes, or somehow getting at least Bucky and Rebecca back to the apartment, when Sarah stands up.

"I think I'm about ready to head over, if that's all right with you."

"I'm ready if you are," Winifred says, smoothing out her skirt as she stands.

"Are you sure you ate enough, Sarah?" Minnie asks, glancing at Sarah's plate; she's dutifully finished the sandwich over the course of the conversation, but it wasn't much to begin with. Sarah nods; Minnie frowns, but doesn't verbally object.

"If you don't mind watching the kids again, Minnie, we'd appreciate it," George says, moving to take the women's chairs out of their way.

"Shouldn't me and Bucky be going with you?" Steve says, a little testily.

"We're the ones who got attacked," Bucky chimes in.

"You really want to chance these people seeing your father carrying you up their stairs, James?" Winifred asks, quirking an eyebrow.

"Steve, you are going to stay right where you are until I am sure that you're completely recovered," Sarah says flatly, as she power-walks across the room to her bedroom, where she left her key to the apartment.

Bucky's resolve, already not that strong, falters and falls away. Steve's allows itself to be caged for the sake of not upsetting Mameh further in front of company.

"Hopefully they're even home," Winifred says, drawing her coat into her arms from the back of her chair.

"She--the mother, at least--probably is," Sarah calls from within her bedroom. "She doesn't work, and obviously they're not still at church..." she continues, appearing in her doorway.

"Don't you want a coat, missus?" Winifred asks.

"Not cold enough for that yet," Sarah replies automatically as she crosses the living room to the front door. Bucky recalls that Steve had been coatless when he showed up at the door the other day (today he is clothed in a shirt thick and loose enough to make a coat both redundant and cumbersome), and he wonders if Steve even owns one. He can tell his parents are wondering the same, about Sarah; Winifred's eyebrows are up in her hairline as she shares a glance with her husband.

"Well. Hopefully this won't take long," George says, pushing the ladies' chairs back in against the table and trailing after Sarah; Winifred follows. "Same thing goes, kids; be good, listen to Mrs. Rogers. That Mrs. Rogers. Grandma Rogers. Ak-Aksot." He glances at Minnie; she nods her approval of his pronunciation.

"We get it, Dad," Bucky says, good-humoredly.

"Steve, I mean it, you stay right where you are," Sarah says as she pulls the door open. "You hear?"

"I hear," Steve mutters to the floor.

"Oh, you three," Winifred says to the children, as Sarah and George disappear out the door ahead of her. "When you're done with lunch, look in the bag; we got you a treat. Finish your lunch first!" she repeats for emphasis, seeing Rebecca visibly perk up at the mention of a treat, before she closes the door after her.

"You think I can get up to use the bathroom, or do I have to pee on the couch?" Steve asks, a few seconds after they hear the lock turn.

"Steve," Minnie warns, though it's tempered by sympathy, and Steve slides off the couch to pad over to the toilet. "I hope you two realize you're befriending the personification of sarcasm," she addresses Bucky and Rebecca, once he's disappeared behind the door.

"She means that Steve's a brat," Bucky translates for his sister; Rebecca's vocabulary is large but not quite that robust just yet.

"I am not!" Steve yells through the door.

"It's okay, Steve; we like you just the way you are!" Bucky calls back.

"I'm holding you to that," Minnie says, too softly to be light-hearted, when Steve doesn't respond for himself. Bucky glances at Minnie, who returns his gaze unflinchingly, and suddenly he wants to take the statement back, so he can return it in all solemnity instead of flippancy this time.

He's rescued from squirming underneath her stare by a knock on the front door.

"...That...can't be them; they have the key," Minnie says, finally looking away from Bucky, to assess the door. She lifts herself up from her seat, ascertaining if she could walk to the door; she quickly concludes that she probably doesn't want to. "Who is it?" she calls, instead.

"It's Arnie; I'm dropping off Steve's stuff!" is the response.

"Oh, yes...Becky, you can open the door, if you please." Rebecca gets to her feet and jogs over to the front door as Minnie turns her head back towards the door of the water closet. "Steve, Arnie's here!"

"Okay, I'll be right out!" Steve calls back as Rebecca unlocks the door and pulls it open, revealing a boy the same age as Bucky and Steve, carrying an armful of papers clutched to his chest.

"Arnie, these are Rebecca and James Barnes," Minnie says, before the two have a chance to fumble their way through introductions. "They're Steve's friends. And this is Arnie Roth. Also Steve's friend."

"Oh, yeah, Steve told me about you guys," Arnie says, stepping into the apartment while Rebecca closes the door behind him. "Good to meet ya."

"How are ya," Bucky offers automatically, flicking his gaze up and down Arnie's body. Aksot seems to trust him, but meeting strangers hasn't exactly worked out for him today. His suspicion allows him to only briefly wonder what exactly Steve told this guy about them.

"Hey Arnie." Steve has returned, weaving his way around the table to go to the kitchen sink.

"Hey," Arnie replies, and Rebecca backs away to give the two boys the chance to see each other unobstructed. "Thought you weren't gonna be around today."

"Change of plans," Steve says, turning on the water and sticking his hands underneath, before grabbing the sliver of soap that rests by the faucet.

"What happened?"

"Long story." Steve turns off the faucet, and shakes his hands dry. "Long, crummy story."

"Oh. Well, you shoulda come with me today, instead," Arnie chides teasingly, as Steve approaches. "You didn't miss much," he continues, setting the papers in Steve's waiting hands. "Teacher had a sore throat so we just did some written translating. You're gonna wanna bring it in to show 'em next week, is all."

"Okay." Steve turns slightly, indicating that he's returning to the couch and inviting Rebecca and Arnie to accompany him. "Thanks for bringing it over."

"No problem."

"What's all this?" Bucky asks, leaning over to catch a better glimpse of the papers in Steve's hands once Steve has climbed back onto the sofa; Rebecca comes around Steve's side of the couch to lean over the armrest and look for herself.

"Bucky, remember how I told you Steve is normally at Hebrew school on Sundays?" Minnie says from the table, after a few seconds of watching Steve try to puzzle out where exactly he should start his explanation. "That's some of his classwork."

"Y'know how the RC's do their church stuff in Latin?" Steve says, when he glances at Rebecca and sees that she's about to inquire further. "Well we do ours in our own language, too, mostly. So we're--me 'n' Arnie," he gestures with his chin to Arnie, who's come closer to the couch but hangs back a little, away from the Barnes, "and a bunch of other kids are learnin' it. And other stuff, too, but..."

He trails off as Bucky's fingers touch and then pull one of the papers closer to him, at a better angle for viewing, and Steve finds himself holding his breath. His drawings aren't the only pieces of paper that have been ripped out of his hands, and while he knows Bucky isn't going to tear the page up, that's not the only way for someone to cast judgment.

He almost misses Bucky asking, "Jeez, Steve, how many languages do you know? Three?"

"...Um..." he says, when his brain catches up with his ears, and then counts with his fingers as he mentally ticks them off. "Six."

"Um, away ye go, you dirty liar."

"I am not!" Steve says defensively, although he laughs through it.

"No, you are, and I'm gonna prove it," Bucky presses, grinning. "All right, you know English. You know this." He holds up the paper. "Heb-Hebrew. And you know what Aksot speaks. That's only three. What else are you saying you speak?"

"Well, there's...I speak Yiddish," Steve offers up hesitantly.

Bucky rolls his eyes, and Steve instantly, instinctively bristles. "You're making that up; that's not a real language."

"Just 'cause you don't know it doesn't mean it's not a real language," Steve shoots back, both exactly as, and a little more snappish than, he means to be.

Rebecca blinks up at Steve and Bucky from where she's been perusing another one of Steve's papers. She knows her brother well enough to see that he's wilted a little; enough to know that the sullenness of his mumbled "Sorry" hides acute embarrassment; enough to know that she should intervene.

"What else d'you speak, Steve?"

"Um." She surmises that Steve might be a little embarrassed as well. "I'm-I'm not...I mean I can't really speak it enough to have a conversation or anything, but I know some Gaelic and Italian."

"Can't not pick up some Italian when you live around here," Arnie offers; he's come a little closer to the couch, settling on the floor. "Mainly a lot of cursing."

"Where'd you get the Gaelic from?" Bucky's finally recovered his dignity enough to ask, though just barely.

"My mother was born in Ireland," Steve explains. "She came over with her folks when she was ten."

"Ours was born in Scotland!" Rebecca reports brightly.

"She taught us some Gaelic too," Bucky says. "I don't think it's the same as the Irish, though," he qualifies, partially to prove he's not completely uninformed.

"Probably not," Steve says, willing himself to chuckle through his words; this seems to do the trick, as Bucky smiles at him.

"Speaking of mothers," Arnie says, feeling a little left out. "Passed yours on the way here," he informs Steve. "And I guess yours too," he directs at Bucky and Rebecca. "They looked mad."

"They are."

"Where were they headed?"

"Angelo picked a fight with me and Bucky earlier. Gave me an asthma attack." Arnie winces and groans sympathetically. "So they're goin' to talk to his parents."

"Fat lotta good that'll do," Arnie says, and Steve snorts in agreement.

"You don't know my mom," Bucky says, purposely good-humored but a little too quickly to be breezy; his eyes narrow just slightly. Arnie probably already thinks of him as an idiot; he doesn't need Arnie to think that Winifred is incompetent, too.

"She's really scary when she's angry," Rebecca confirms, more genuinely eager.

"When she sucks in that bottom lip..." Bucky demonstrates, and compounds it with a similar curl of his fingers; Rebecca makes an affirming noise. "You better run."

"She what happened to your foot?" Arnie asks, gesturing to the injury; Bucky's had it carefully propped up on the floor by his heel for most of the time he's been confined to the couch.

Bucky shakes his head, trying not to get mad at the insinuation that his mother is anything less than a saint. "I got crowded off a curb 'bout a week and a half ago. Landed wrong."

"And some jerk knocked Aksot into me and me into him at church earlier, so if it looks extra banged up, that's why," Steve tacks on.

"Sheesh, that church has it out for you, Steve," Arnie says, eyebrows raised. "Just sayin', you should probably stop going."

"Yeah. I'm...I mean, we don't know for sure yet, but there's a pretty good chance that I'm not gonna go back there again after today, ever," Steve says, a little reluctantly; the crestfallen looks have returned to Rebecca and Bucky's faces, and he folds his arm across his chest to guard himself from them.

"Finally," Arnie says, heaving a dramatic sigh of relief, and Bucky wishes the kid were close enough that he could kick him with his good foot. "What did it?"

Steve shrugs with one shoulder. "They just...most of them just don't really like us or care about us, so."

"Well 'course they don't, Steve; you're not..." Arnie bounces his gaze between Bucky, Rebecca, and Minnie; not so surreptitiously that Steve or anybody misses him doing it. "You're not..." he gestures helplessly, but nonetheless determinedly, "one of them."

"Are you three finished eating?" Minnie asks suddenly, loudly, setting her project in her lap. "I'm sure you want that treat that was promised to you."

Their lunches are indeed mostly gone, and there's a flurry of strainedly silent activity as Bucky, Rebecca, and Steve scrape the crumbs onto one plate, and stack it on top of the other two. Rebecca tasks herself with carrying the dirty dishes over to the sink--"Just leave them there, darling; we'll get to them later," Minnie assures--and then trots over to the table, where Minnie has gone rummaging through the brown bag the rest of their food had come in.

"Oh my goodness, these are as big as your face," Minnie observes, as she pulls out three black-and-white cookies and holds them up next to Rebecca's head for comparison. "I hope you can finish this," she continues, setting the cookies down in Rebecca's hands.

"Do you want some?" Rebecca asks immediately.

"No, no, you guys enjoy." Minnie waves her off back to the couch; she scampers away, handing a cookie each to Steve and Bucky before resettling on the floor with her own.

"Wow, who's your darb, Steve?" Arnie asks, when Steve breaks off a piece of his own and holds it up, offering it to Arnie. Bucky almost answers, but thinks better of it just in time.

"I'm watching Becky today," Steve says, with a dignity that is just a little too practiced. "Mr. and Mrs. Barnes just paid me in lunch steada cash."

"Wow. Getting paid to hang out with our rich friends. We should all be so lucky."

"Dry up." Steve pops the broken-off piece into his mouth; Arnie sticks his tongue out at Steve, and Bucky feels his lips pulling into a tight little smile. "I am still gonna go out and do housecleaning. Mameh's just makin' me do it when Aksot's knee ain't botherin' her, is all."

Minnie shifts in her seat but wisely does not comment.

"If you're still lookin' to work in Carroll Gardens, I can help," Bucky says, puffing up a bit. "We know a lot of the people in our neighborhood. I can ask around, see who'd wanna take you on. So you don't have to waste your time wandering around before you find somebody. 'Fact," he says in a rush, as the idea occurs to him, "if Aksot's not up to it ever, I could go out with you."

"Wow, Buck, you...you don't have to do that," Steve says; if he seems a little bashful, only Minnie takes conscious note of it.

"Nah, it's no big deal," Bucky says, shrugging with deliberate nonchalance.

"That's a very thoughtful offer, Bucky," Minnie says. "We'll have to see if Steve's mother is all right with that. And if your parents are all right with it, as well."

"They probably will be. They're always on my case to get out of the house more, anyway."

"Mommy says Bucky's a hermit," Rebecca reports with a giggle, a little garbled due to the cookie in her mouth but no less intelligible. Bucky reaches around the back of Steve to give her head a thump, and she squeals and ducks out of the way, leaving him squished between Steve and the cushions. The impulse strikes Steve to lean back, pinning Bucky where he is, and he follows through; he leans harder when Bucky flails, laughing along with Arnie and Rebecca until he hears a muffled "Ow, ow, ow, Steve, my ankle" and then immediately sits straight up. A quick glance down as Bucky rights himself tells him that the position had forced Bucky's foot into an angle that didn't agree with his injury.

"Sorry, Buck."

"Punk," Bucky grumbles at him, punching his arm.

"Jerk," Steve flings back, rubbing the spot Bucky punched. "I said sorry."

"Doesn't mean you're not a punk still." Bucky raises his chin, sticking his nose as high in the air as he can, and folds his arms with aplomb; he glances down at Steve, hoping eye contact will make it clear he's forgiven the offense. "I take my offer back. You can wander around Carroll Gardens like a moron all by yourself. See if I care."

"Fine," Steve says, adopting Bucky's stance, although he has to look up. "I don't need you, anyway. I can get by on my own just fine."

"All right, I'm gonna get outta here before you two start necking," Arnie says, pushing himself up so he's crouching on his feet.

"Oh, dry up," Bucky says, dropping the pose; Steve does as well, and reaches out a foot to shove at Arnie with it. Arnie pushes him away, and then stands up.

"I actually should probably head home for real. Gonna hear it if I'm not there to help with laundry."

"Okay." Steve settles back into the armrest. "See you tomorrow?"

"Yeah, see ya tomorrow. Don't work too hard, okay?" Arnie winks, to which Steve breaks off another piece of cookie and pitches it at him; Arnie catches it and then shoves it in his mouth with a shit-eating grin. "Good seeing you again, Mrs. Rogers." She responds in kind, if a bit quietly. "Nice meetin' ya," he says in Bucky and Rebecca's direction as he backs towards the door.

"Nice meeting you!" Rebecca returns brightly, at the same time "Bye" comes out of Bucky's mouth in a clip. Arnie waves himself out of the apartment, and after the door shuts behind him Rebecca pops up from the floor to lock it.

"I really am sorry, Buck," Steve mutters, once he figures she's out of earshot.

"I'm really not mad," Bucky replies in the same tone. "Today just ain't my ankle's day, I guess." He takes a bite of his cookie, to punctuate his nonchalance.

Rebecca pads back over to them, mumbling something unintelligible with a full mouth. Bucky puffs up his ceeks around his own mouthful and imitates her; she swallows and then smacks his knee. "We should keep working on our story," she says once her mouth is clear, plopping down onto the floor and gathering up Steve's sketchbook into her arms. "I wanna do it up big for Thanksgiving."

Bucky takes his time chewing and swallowing before he finally says, "You know probably no one's coming, Becks."

"Well if they do."

"All right," Bucky lilts, don't get your hopes up dripping from his tone. "How big you plannin' to make this thing? You know there's only two of us."

"We can ask Daddy to be the narrator. And if Steve comes--"

"Oh no," Steve says, waving his hands and shaking his head emphatically. "No no no. I'll help you write it but I am not performing it."

"Why not?"

"Because! I don't wanna get up in fronta strangers and..." Steve splutters a bit before finding words again. "What if you forget what you're supposedta say? What do you do?"

"Oh, I see." Rebecca regards him with eyes that are trying to be wise beyond her age. "Steve, you have stage fright."

"No," Steve whines at her, though he can follow it up with no contrasting evidence.

"It's okay," she says, patting his knee. "Everyone is afraid of something. I'm afraid of dinosaurs. And Bucky's afraid of heights."

"I am not afraid of heights!" Bucky yelps, in the way of one who has had to contest a statement more than once.

"Go stand outside by the railing and prove it."

"Yeah, I'm really gonna hobble out there on crutches and stand in the cold just to prove you wrong." Rebecca crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow; Bucky reaches out to give her a shove.

"Children, please be nice to each other," Minnie admonishes. "I am afraid of how your mother will react if they come back to find you misbehaving."

That is a fear shared by all three children, so Bucky and Rebecca shrink back from each other. Bucky uses the time it takes to finish eating to get over Rebecca throwing him under the bus, and once he's swallowed the last bit he reaches out for the sketchbook. "Here. I'll do the writing this time; give Steve a break."

The ambush goes off almost without a hitch, except that the Kaiser survives and swears vengeance against Buck Rogers and Princess Wynnogene personally. Bucky suggests that the Germans have been designing an army of robots, a unit of which the Kaiser decides to send after them. They're busy figuring out how the heroes are going to mount a counter-offensive--Steve is in the middle of proposing they stage a flood--when the lock turns, and Sarah, George, and Winifred shuffle back into the apartment.

A quick glance reveals that Winifred's fabled bottom lip is sucked in between her teeth.

"Hi," Minnie tries cautiously; there's a general, clipped chorus responding in kind. "How, how did it go?"

"Well, as always, Lorenzo and Viola Mazza are absolute delights," Sarah says through a clenched jaw.

"Parts of our conversation with them do not...bear repeating," George says, seemingly still in a mild daze.

"You shouldn't have a problem them anymore, though," Winifred says, her tone artificially bright, a stony smile plastered onto her face. "And if you do, let us know immediately."

"Why...?" Minnie ventures slowly.

"Oh, because I told them that if any of their children harrass any of ours," she gestures with a sharply pointed finger to herself, her husband, and Sarah, "ever again, I will go to the police."

The bag Minnie had been working on drops into her lap. All three children's jaws fall open.

"These people. These people," Winifred continues, shaking her head vehemently. "Poor Sarah," she gestures widely to the woman, "poor Sarah, she keeps trying to explain to them that their little hellspawn could have killed somebody today, and they just kept refusing to...not even to acknowledge it, they acknowledged it plenty, they just wouldn't care. So. I had to invoke a higher power, as it were."

Minnie looks at Sarah, her mouth agape; Sarah's expression is indecipherable.

"So do let me know if they don't heed that warning. I believe in follow-through."

"Winifred..." Minnie says, haltingly. "Not that...we don't appreciate you saying that of course, but..."

"But the cops probably won't care either," Steve says a little quietly, slightly afraid to provoke the woman further, but compelled to speak truth anyway.

"They will care," Winifred snaps, her face flushing dark pink. "It is their obligation to care. And if they don't we will make them--"

"Win."

George places his hand on her shoulder and she falls abruptly quiet, her breathing suddenly heavy; he tugs her toward his side as he steps closer to her, as if anticipating the need to hold her up.

Steve's peripheral vision picks up Bucky shifting, pressing back into the couch cushions, making himself small.

"In any case," George continues, addressing the room, "hopefully just the threat will be enough to hold Angelo off for the future."

"From your lips to God's ears," Sarah mutters, hollow and automatic and bitter; she shifts on her feet, glancing at her son, her mother-in-law, and finally her visitors, before heaving something like a sigh. "I'm...I'm sorry, I don't want to be rude, but..."

"It's time we made ourselves scarce," George finishes for her; to her relief, he sounds genuinely understanding, and maybe a bit relieved himself, if the grip he still has on Winifred's shoulder is any indication. "No worries. You and, ah, the other Mrs. Rogers probably have a lot to talk about. And as much as I'm sure these three have been enjoying themselves," he gestures to the sofa, "I'll hazard a guess that Steve probably should be resting."

"He definitely should," Sarah confirms with a nod. "Thank you. For your...for your help, today."

"Glad to do it, dearie," Winifred finally speaks again, lifting her chin. "I don't much care for bullies."

Despite everything, Sarah has to quirk a half-smile at her. "I don't like them all that much, either."

"All right, kiddos," George addresses his children. "Time to pack it in."

Rebecca's instinct to whine in protest has been dampened by the tone of the conversation, so she restrains herself to a pout as she picks herself up off the floor. The sound of paper ripping catches her attention, and she turns her head to see Steve holding the sheet on which they had been writing their storyboard out to her, having taken his sketchbook back from Bucky.

"Here, you can keep this."

"You don't wanna keep working on it with us?"

"Didn't say that," he placates. "I just don't know when I'm gonna see you again, so I don't wanna keep it from you."

"Can we do it next Sunday? Even if you're not comin' to church with us, we could do it after."

"Could actually come back to our house this time," Bucky says, with a bit of a sardonic laugh. "My ankle should be better by then, too. Knock on wood." He raps his knuckles against the top of Steve's head, who swats his hand away good-naturedly. "Dad? Can we do next Sunday?"

"If the Missuses Rogers are all right with that," George says, glancing at Sarah and Minnie.

"Oh..." Sarah casts her mind about for any possible conflict, and comes up with none. "Sunday, Sunday afternoon should be fine. As long as nothing..."

"Oh, actually, let me leave our phone number with you. This way you can call us if something comes up, with church or Steve or...anything."

"I got it," Steve says, choosing a page in his sketchbook with drawings he's not particularly attached to, and writing down the Barnes' number as George rattles off the digits. Afterwards he writes their own number in the upper right corner of the page, and tears it out; this he hands to Bucky instead of Rebecca. Bucky tucks the strip of paper into his pocket, and doesn't know why he feels almost pleasantly self-conscious about it.

"Coats on, kids," Winifred says, and Rebecca goes to the table, where her coat had ended up slung over a chair, while Bucky takes his off his armrest. She slips hers on first, as she crosses back to the couch, and once she's securely enrobed she leans up and over to matter-of-factly wrap her arms around Steve for a good-bye hug.

His brain short-circuits for a second, the surprise of getting one matched by a spike of fear that she might be able to feel something underneath his shirt. She doesn't say anything, or have an expression that speaks for her, when she pulls away and goes back towards the table, to hug Minnie, but he doesn't have a second to relax before Bucky replaces her.

This time the surprise and anxiety is matched by the quiet observation that it's a surprisingly gentle embrace (he thinks, correctly, that Bucky doesn't want to squeeze his chest too tightly; for which he is grateful for more than one reason), that Bucky holds it longer than he needs to, and that Bucky lets him go quicker than a small part of him would have liked.

George coming by the couch is what cued Bucky to let go of Steve, and once he does he reaches up to facilitate being picked up. Winifred has drifted over to the door, and Rebecca has joined her now that she's finished with Minnie.

"All right, so we'll look forward to your call," Winifred says, turning the doorknob. "Any time in the evening is fine."

"Duly noted," Minnie says; her smile is strained, but a little less than it might be, in the aftermath of Rebecca's hug. "Be safe getting home. You know the way?"

"I think so. And if we get lost...oh well. It'll be an adventure." She pushes open the door, stepping outside. "Feel better, Steve."

"Feel better, Steve," Rebecca echoes decorously, raising her hand to wave as she follows her mother outside.

"I will," Steve says, waving back; Sarah murmurs a courteous good-bye under him as she goes to the door, with the intention of shutting it behind the Barnes.

"Steve, I'll see you Sunday, maybe," Bucky calls out, as George steps; quirking his lips at the memory of their parting on Wednesday.

"Yeah, see you Sunday, maybe," Steve replies, matching the expression.

He holds it until Sarah closes the door behind the Barnes, and he watches the door for a good handful of seconds thereafter, until he hears a car starting up on the street below, and whatever good feeling he had been allowed today drives away with the Barnes' car.

Chapter Text

Minnie listens for the sound of the Barnes leaving as well, and once the noise of their car fades she asks, "Sarah? Are you all right?"

Sarah shifts on her feet, inhaling deeply as though the extra air in her body will keep her steady. "Well. I've had better days, not going to lie."

"I mean..." Minnie flicked her gaze up and down Sarah's body. "Well, first things first. Do you need to eat something?"

The extra air leaves her as she heaves a deep sigh, pushing her hair out of her face with one hand. "Probably."

"Sit, sit." Minnie pats the table, and Sarah shuffles over to it, sliding gracelessly into a chair. "Eat those." She points to the unopened container of pickles. "And..." She reaches for the brown bag, producing another plastic container. "I saved the soup for you, too."

"Thank you, Mother," Sarah says, offering a wry smile; her arms fold over each other on the table top, and she hunches low over them. "Let's...save that for dinner, all right? We'll have that and...I guess I'll cook up the liver, too, use up the last of it before we go food shopping tomorrow. How much do we have left now?"

"Eight dollars. Well, nine, now, actually. That string of beads on Rebecca's head was my doing."

Sarah frowns. "How do we still have...?"

"They paid."

Sarah's head drops for a moment into her arms, and she fortifies herself with another deep breath. "You know," she says, once she looks up, "I'm starting to feel like the Barnes are under the impression that I can't take care of my own family."

"I'm under the impression that you're being prickly. How much did you bring home, Mrs. Breadwinner?" Minnie asks, before Sarah can argue.

Sarah grimaces pre-emptively, preparing Minnie for her answer, and herself for Minnie's reaction. "Seventy-five cents."

"Sarah, you were there for at least three and a half hours."

"It's not like these people are swimming in cash, Mother," Sarah says defensively, her half-heartedness only just barely noticeable. "They also gave me two cans of beans, so that's two less things we have to buy. And..." she glances over at the couch, where Steve is nursing the last few bites of his cookie and staring absently at the floor, half-listening to their conversation, "they actually gave me a dollar twenty-five. I spent fifty cents on something. For Steve."

"What?" Steve blinks up at the mention of his name.

"I got you something; I picked it up on the way home," Sarah says, turning in her seat and standing up, heading towards the couch.

"I'll pay you ba--"

"Hush." And Steve does, as Sarah sits down where Bucky had been not ten minutes ago.

"What did you get?" Minnie asks.

"It's a..." Sarah thinks that maybe he would prefer her to be discreet. "It's a surprise."

"A surprise?" Minnie and Steve say at the same time.

"Did I not just say...?" She manages a smile as her son and mother-in-law chuckle uncomfortably. "Yes, a surprise. I want you to see it on your own first, to make sure it's a good fit for you, before we tell Aksot about it. Is that all right, Mother?" Minnie nods slowly, still not sure what exactly Sarah has brought home, but surmising what it might be related to; Steve guesses as well, and the need to know now withers away inside of him. "All right, good. Now. Steve." Sarah turns back to her son. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," Steve says, trying to sound more reassuring than exasperated, especially now that Mameh seems to be perking up. "It really didn't last very long, honest."

"You're fine everywhere? Turn around," she says, before he can answer. "Turn your back to me."

He does so dutifully, pulling down on the front of his shirt, to cover his chest, as she pulls up the back of it. He hears her suck in something of a hiss between her teeth as she presses her fingers lightly to a few spots on his back; the dully uncomfortable feeling produced under her touch makes him squirm ever so lightly. Those are going to be nasty bruises tomorrow, if they aren't already.

"Did you hit your head on the stairs?" Sarah continues with forced evenness, letting his shirt go and parting his hair to check for injury.

"I don't...think so? I didn't black out or nothin'." He remembers slamming against the steps and then being dragged down them with perfect, almost screaming, clarity.

"Does it hurt when I do this?" She applies the gentlest of pressure to his head, just in case it does.

"No."

"Mmm..." Sarah gives the back of Steve's skull a few more inspecting sweeps of her fingers--no bloodstains, no scratches, no bruises--before the nurse in her is satisfied with the assessment, even if the mother still isn't. "He's been acting normal?" she directs at Minnie.

"Completely fine. Chipper as a sandpiper, in fact."

That's not entirely normal, but Sarah is nonetheless glad to hear it. "Yeah?" She pulls her hands fully away, giving Steve permission to put himself back to rights; once he's facing her again she offers a weak smile. "You somehow managed to have a good time today?"

Steve ducks in on himself a little, self-conscious of a sudden, and nods quickly. "We, um...Bucky and Becky do a pretend radio show. We started writing a uh, a skit for it. About Buck Rogers when he was in the war. Becky wants to do it for their guests on Thanksgiving."

"That so?" Sarah says in a tone that is difficult to parse, even to herself; her hands fold on her lap as she frowns inquisitively at him. "You really like those two, Steve? They've been good with you?"

Steve hesitates, sensing the question is loaded, and nods again, a little slower.

"They're quite taken with Steve, from what I've seen," Minnie supplies, stopping herself before she adds especially the boy; she doesn't think Sarah has picked up on certain things about her son and now is not the time to risk any consequences of such a comment. "Now would you please come over here and eat something? Steve didn't pass out, but you might."

"You worry too much," Sarah grumbles, but as if pulled by strings she rises from the couch and drifts back to the table.

"So I've been told," Minnie mutters, practically staring Sarah down until she slips into her chair.

"I would like to be told what happened at the church this morning."

"And you will be, after you eat."

Sarah makes a face at her mother-in-law, but nonetheless obediently pries open the lid to the container. She gets up for a moment, to grab a fork, but sits back down quickly before Minnie can harrumph at her some more. Minnie picks up her sewing again, to show that she's in no rush for Sarah to finish, and the two women fall into a silence that's companionable despite being slightly coerced.

Steve stretches, and immediately regrets it; now that he's coming down from the high of having company and has been made fully aware of the contusions on his back, he's sore and knows that he'll only become more so as the day wears on. With more care than he usually takes with himself--both mother and grandmother are here to fuss at him if they deem him to be too reckless--he shifts into lying down, buries his toes between the middle and third cushions to protect them from the chill of the waning day, and props the work that Arnie brought him on his knees, using his sketchbook as a flat surface.

Zeydeh had once assured him that everyone had trouble with Hebrew, and that Steve was actually doing very well, but that feels especially untrue at the moment, now that he gave Bucky the impression that he "knows" the language. Had they been watching, Sarah and Minnie would have seen Steve cringe at the memory. It's a bit of a comfort to think that Bucky doesn't know Hebrew from a hole in the ground and most assuredly never will, so if Bucky ever demands proof of Steve's mastery he could just make something up and escape the encounter with his dignity.

The thought of continuing to be so disingenuous with Bucky doesn't sit well with him. He twists a bit, searching out his ever-errant pencil; once in hand, he covers a yawn, and sets the point to paper, blinking away the sudden blurriness covering his eyes.

waw, two dots up-and-down underneath, "but"; res plus i, "ri-"; bet, qop, and then he'...oh, okay, "Rebecca." Steve allowed himself a brief flight of fancy in which the Barnes were still here and he got to show them that Becky's namesake was part of his classwork. aleph plus o, he' plus e, bet plus e, taw..."'oheveth"...um...love...something...aleph plus o, het, dash, yod plus a, that thing, qop plus o, bet. 'Oh-Ya'k... "but Rebecca loved Jacob." Okay, one down. About a million, Steve covers another yawn before letting his hand drop to his side, million to go...

"But Rebecca loved Jacob." "Of course she did; he stayed at home with her," Mameh had joked once while looking at Steve pointedly, not long after the first time he had dared to stay outside after the streetlights came on. Jacob was the mama's boy, the quiet one who hung around the tents instead of going out hunting like his brother. He managed to be the important one anyway. Steve gleans a certain amount of comfort from that.

"You asleep, Steve?" Sarah calls softly, glancing up from her lunch to see Steve lying still, his eyes lightly shut.

He isn't, not yet, but he can't work up the energy to answer, and he's got a week to finish these translations, so he decides that, for all intents and purposes, he is.

"He's out," he hears Minnie confirm dryly, once he doesn't move. "Not that I blame him."

"How bad was it, Mother?" Sarah asks, a little tentatively.

Minnie hums in her throat, considering. "He's had worse. He's telling the truth, it didn't last terribly long." Sarah makes a grateful noise. "It scared the hell out of the Barnes, mainly."

Sarah gives an almost-snort. "Yeah, they...the mother, at least, Winifred, she's a bit...high-strung."

"I did get a sense of that, yes," Minnie says, with a half-smile that seems a bit fond. "What led up to the threat to call the police?"

Sarah throws up her hands and looks away, shaking her head. Minnie, and Steve, wait as she tries to gather her thoughts into something coherent.

"First, they wouldn't answer the door," Sarah finally says, her gaze still focused on the middle distance as she dredges up the memory. "I swear we stood out there knocking for ten, fifteen minutes before they opened up, and as soon as they did they shut the door again. Just slammed it right in my face."

"I'm surprised you didn't kick the door in," Minnie says, forcing her tone to be mild.

"Oh, I was sorely tempted, believe me. So then another five or ten minutes pass before we get them to open the door again." Their plan to slam the door shut again had been sabotaged by George grabbing and yanking it so it swung out the whole way, and then holding it against the wall with a very heavy hand. "And then, it was just...well, first they kept denying that it was Angelo who started it. Apparently my four-foot-nothin' fifty-five-pound asthmatic child goes around picking fights for laughs."

Steve is wide awake now, and willing himself to not move even as his insides clam up.

"So that went back and forth for heaven knows how long until I can finally say that it doesn't matter, because Angelo knows Steve is asthmatic and he still--" The words catch in her throat, and she has to push her face into her hands to support herself, "still dragged him down the stairs and hit him in the chest, purposely, and then took off. He almost murdered my son, and he--and they--"

"Didn't care," Minnie fills in quietly.

"More than that."

"More?"

"If there's one less of you, so much the better," Viola had spat at her, like a snake spitting venom; Sarah doesn't repeat it, but her long spell of quiet, and the way her shoulders tense up so they almost touch her ears, tells Minnie enough. She inhales, sitting back in her seat, and stares at a spot on the floor.

"What happened at church?" Sarah finally asks into the table, her voice low.

"We got plowed over, basically," Minnie reports evenly. "Someone was in a bit of a hurry, apparently, and knocked me into Steve, and Steve into Bucky."

"I take it Bucky was the only one to receive an apology."

"Yes, but Steve and I were the only ones to be warned that worse may be coming, so."

Sarah's hands come away from her face. "I...I'm sorry, what?"

"After the incident, the minister took us--Steve and I--to his office. We were informed there that people have been complaining."

"About what? You two sitting in the back minding your own business?"

"Exactly that, actually. It's apparently very distracting, the fact that we exist. Threatening, too."

Sarah's eyes blink wide open. "Oh, no..."

"No one's done anything yet, unless knocking us over this morning was intentional," Minnie assures. "And there really isn't any telling if anything will happen, until it does."

"Until it does." Sarah's breath comes out in three sharp huffs; she deflates backwards, against her chair, and crosses her arms. "It will."

Minnie bites her lower lip, and only just barely manages to nod. Steve catches his tongue between his teeth and digs his fingernails into the cushion; a weakness in the fabric gives out under the pressure and he has to stop himself from jerking his hand away from the hole he's created and giving himself away.

"What are you going to do?" Sarah asks briskly, after a long minute.

"Well, I would assume you want Steve to stop attending altogether." Sarah snorts. "As for me...well, I'm old."

"Mother."

"I'm joking," Minnie says, waving a hand dismissively, in a way that doesn't seem entirely credible. "Though...well, I'd like to be buried next to my husband; if I leave, is that going to cause a problem?"

"I don't think so," Sarah says, trying to recall the arrangement her in-laws had made with Green-Wood and if there were any stipulations that would cause concern. "I mean, you and Father already paid for the plot, right? We would just have to find someone else to...to conduct the service, I suppose."

"Hm." Minnie rocks her upper body a bit in lieu of nodding, her gaze focused somewhere far away.

"You know," Sarah lilts, willing her tone and expression to lighten, "I can think of someone who could do it, if you'd just consider...following your son's example?"

Minnie lets herself laugh, and then shakes her head, a small smile on her lips. "I couldn't possibly. Who would be your Shabbos goy then?"

"Oh, we'd survive," Sarah tosses back lightly, almost playfully. "We've done it for thousands of years."

"What, you're saying you don't need me?" Minnie presses her hand to her heart for effect. "I'm insulted, Sarah."

Sarah rolls her eyes, but manages an actual smile. "Come on, Mother. Is the prospect so unappealing?"

Minnie shakes her head. "It's not that, darling."

"What is it then?"

Minnie's smile is wry and wide, accentuating the wrinkles on her face, making her look much older than fifty-seven. "I've already ruined one house of worship for Steve. It would be cruel of me to do it twice."

It takes Steve every last bit of restraint left in his body to not tear open the couch cushion he's already punctured.

"It worked out for Joey because he looked more like his father than he did me," Minnie says steadily, through the breath-stealing ache of referring to her son in the past tense, as Sarah struggles to put her thoughts into something resembling coherence. "And as for Steve...well, no one knows unless they're told. Or if they see us together."

"But...but they do know." Joseph had asked her, in the beginning, to please not say anything, that he was already tripping his way into this new community too clumsily and he was afraid that saying something would make it that much harder. Maybe one day, after they fully accepted him...but then there had been the war, and his BCD, and Sarah had tried to deflect any talk of her family as Joseph disappeared from public life. But Steve would not be silenced, by himself or anyone else; not for long. And in any case, the Roths were many things, but circumspect was not one of them.

"Oh? And how has that worked out for him?"

"It's been fine, as far as I..." There had been nothing major, nothing that would convince Sarah that she and Steve were unsafe or even on the whole disliked, just a handful of times she thought she heard someone mutter Indianer in hushed conversation before they noticed her trying to eavesdrop; Esther Roth once saying "Oh my, Steve can be so...wild sometimes, can't he?" when he tore off down the hallway after Arnie (right before the sudden exertion triggered an athsma attack); that time Daniel Hochberg called Steve a squaw and Steve busted his lip for it.

"I think it's probably for the best if I don't try to insert myself any further into that part of his life," Minnie says firmly, after watching the memories flit in silence across Sarah's face. "I'll be fine, Sarah. I've got a Bible and nearly sixty years of church behind me; I'm sure I can manage my own spiritual welfare." She manages to smile.

"So...so are you not going to find a new church for yourself?"

"I can't imagine I'm going to find a place that's any more friendly," Minnie says dryly.

"I just...I hate to think of you getting chased out and not having somewhere else to go...."

"Well, believe me, I'm not exactly thrilled with this turn of events either. But, I ran from an institution that hated my kind once, and I can do it again. Well, figuratively, of course. I don't think I can actually run anywhere anymore." She pats her leg as lightly as she can, but ends up wincing nevertheless. "I got a bit banged up this morning."

"Oh my goodness. Do you need your aspirin?" Sarah asks, starting to rise to her feet.

"No no no," Minnie lies, waving her hand as if to shoo away Sarah's concern. "Don't fret about me, Sarah," she continues, when her daughter-in-law frowns at her. "I'll be fine."

Sarah's frown deepens at the faraway look on Minnie's face, but the expression is so pained that she elects not to interrogate it. Instead she casts her gaze and mind about for something to do, something to put some structure back into the day. "All right, then. Um...I suppose you...apparently you want to let the Barnes know that you're not going back to that church?"

"Yes, but I'll wait," Minnie says, deflating into the back of her chair. "Let them settle in back at home. Steve will probably want to talk to his friends for a little bit, too, so. Later. After he wakes up."

"And...why is it they need to know what you're planning, exactly?" Sarah asks, quirking her head.

"Oh, they...they offered to escort me and Steve to church, if we decided to keep going. If it made us feel safer." Minnie watches the look of curiosity turn into something more flabbergasted. "You don't appreciate that offer?"

"I don't know what to make of that offer," Sarah says, sitting back down, hard. "Just...what are they playing at? Coming with me to the Mazzas I can understand; their son was attacked too, but everything else...I mean, I realize they think we're pathetic, but this is going a little overboard, don't you think?"

"I don't think they think we're pathetic, Sarah," Minnie says carefully, as Sarah's words sink like a stone in Steve's gut.

Sarah's snort is immediate and derisive. "They hand my son, what was it, thirteen dollars? Fifteen percent of what I make in a month, give or take? And they don't think we're pathetic?"

"Do you think that family you undercharged today is pathetic?" Minnie returns evenly.

What little color there is in Sarah's face drains away, but she sets her mouth in a frown and her eyes in a glare. "That is not the same."

"You yourself said they're not swimming in cash, so how is it not the same?"

"Because it isn't!"

Minnie mouth, opened to argue further, falters when she sees that Sarah's lower lip has begun trembling, and she relaxes her voice into something gentler, her gaze into something softer. "What happened?"

"Forget it." Sarah attemptes to wave her hand dismissively; it comes out as a graceless flapping. "Never mind."

"Sarah," Minnie says, with just enough compassion and command to call up the child inside her daughter-in-law. "Was it..." she grimaces, "was it a loss today?"

Sarah's chest hurts, and her throat knots, so it takes her a long, painful minute to answer. "It was a baby; a little baby girl, two months." She swallows, hard; it makes it no easier for her to speak. "Polio."

Minnie draws in a breath that straightens her back even as Sarah slumps in her chair; neither of them notice Steve turn over onto his side, facing away from the table. "Oh, Sarah...oh darling, I'm so sorry. How awful. God, no wonder you looked so..." Her face crumples, the corners of her eyes turning down. "Oh my God, and you went from that to Steve..."

"I'm fine." Sarah jerks upright, her pallid face now ruddy. "It's not the first baby I've lost, obviously. It was theirs, though." She looks away, supporting her chin in her hand; her index finger finds its way in between her teeth.

"Sarah--"

"She'd been in the hospital," Sarah interrupts, her eyes unnaturally bright. "But they couldn't afford to keep her there any longer. She wasn't getting better, anyway. So they bring her home. They're hoping maybe a nurse can keep her going for a bit longer. Maybe a nurse can at least keep her comfortable." She isn't crying, but she swipes a hand over her face regardless. "I'm not sure I even managed to do that. She was...it was so sudden. I was just holding her and she was...and then she just...she just shut down."

"Sarah." Minnie's hand slides across the table, nudging at her daughter-in-law's fingers. Hysterics are not something Sarah slips into often, but Minnie knows the signs, and there's still time to coax her back towards rationality.

"So no I did not ask them for full price, Mother," Sarah says, like she's pushing a wall. "I got more than what I earned as it was. I did nothing for them."

"Sarah, you did everything you--Sarah." Minnie jostles her hand, to make her stop shaking her head. "Look at me. Look at me, Sarah," and she's gotten to her in time, because Sarah sluggishly, reluctantly, does. "You are an excellent nurse," Minnie says firmly, forcing Sarah to meet her gaze, her grip on Sarah's hand tightening to the point of painful for both of them. "And you did everything you possibly could. For this child today, and. And for Ellie, too. You know that. Okay? I want you to nod your head. I want you to show me that you know that."

A beat passes, then another, and Sarah's head gives the tiniest of nods. Minnie manages a weak smile, and loosens her hold, before squeezing Sarah's trembling fingers under her own.

"I'm sorry," Sarah breathes, after a second, when the here and now has fully come back to her; she blinks for the first time in several seconds. On the couch Steve wills his fingers, white and almost numb, to uncurl from around the edge of a cushion. "I...I'm sorry."

"It's all right, darling. It's..." Minnie almost chuckles to hear Winifred coming out of her mouth. "It's been quite a day. For all of us."

"You know if you want to take the Barnes up on their offer, you should," Sarah mumbles thickly, in a rush. "Don't let me...I just..." She presses her forehead against her hand, forcing her yes wide open to clear out the wet pain gathered therein. "Don't let me sway you."

"I'm not. I'm really not, darling. I'll call them later, tell them the offer is greatly appreciated, but...it's time for me to move on."

Sarah nods, and swallows, hard, again; this time it helps a bit. "You know," she says, once her throat is cleared enough, "I'm...I'm really surprised that you and Steve seem to have...fallen in so quickly with them. With the Barnes." She's unsure whether to be amused or apprehensive, and it shows in her voice. "It's not really like either of you to...get close like this, so easily."

"Hmm..." Minnie sits back in her chair, wondering what she can rightly say by way of explanation, since Bucky looks at Steve the same way Joey looked at you is out of the question. "Well...they've gone out of their way to be kind to us. That's a bit of an unusual situation, unfortunately. So if our reaction to them is a bit unusual too...well, I suppose it makes sense."

"And...you really trust them, Mother? Truly? I'm not...making a mistake, letting Steve...?"

"I don't think so." Minnie gives Sarah the same smile she wore when she assured four-year-old Steve that there was no monster under the bed, and even if there was, they would protect him from it.

Sarah pushes her hair back, staring into twenty-five years ago, and lets out a heavy stream of doubtful air. "I know this isn't Ireland, that's why I haven't stopped Steve from seeing them, but..."

"You know they offered to stop going to church as well, if we did?"

Sarah's hand falls away from her head. "They what?"

"The son, Bucky, he just came out and said it; that they couldn't support a place that treated people bad. And Winifred agreed with him."

"You think they would?"

"I think they might, actually, yes."

Sarah stares at her mother-in-law for a moment, and then shakes her head, the devil she knows ready to pounce on the angel she doesn't. "Who...who even are these people?"

"Well, like attracts like, I suppose."

Sarah cocks her head at Minnie, her brow furroughing. "How do you mean?"

Minnie tilts her head towards the couch. "Steve would pick up people who are just like him. People with good hearts." She leans her head back, thinking of Winifred and Bucky's confident assertions that there would be no family showing up for Thanksgiving, and Rebecca's half-hearted counter-argument. "People who are just as lonely as he is."

Sarah looks ther owlishly, then at Steve, and finally on the container of vinegary water left on the table. The taste of the pickles lingers like a strange sweet perfume.

"I really hope you're right."

"I really hope so, too."

*

"James?"

They've been home for about an hour or so now, and Bucky has again been situated on the couch in the parlor. Ostensibly he's been reading The Master Mind of Mars, but he's flipped the page exactly twice since he opened the book, and he's looked at the same paragraph at least three times and still has no idea what happened in it when Winifred sticks her head in the door.

"Yeah, Mom?" He blinks up at her, re-establishing himself in the present.

"I brought you some water." Her hand enters the room while most of the rest of her remains partially in the hallway. "I know you didn't ask for it, I just thought you'd like some."

"Oh. Oh, okay, thanks." The book slides off Bucky's lap to the floor as he sits up and Winifred comes fully into the room. He reaches for the glass as she approaches, and scoots over further so she can sit next to him once he has it.

She watches him obligingly take a sip, and passes her hand through his hair once he swallows. "How're you feeling, dearie?"

"Huh? Oh, I'm, I'm all right. Why?"

"Oh, no reason, just...you were quiet on the way home. Looked a bit peely-wally. I wanted to make sure nothin' was bothering you. You did have a wee bit of a rough day, after all," she says, like carefully opening a door.

"Wasn't that bad." He shuts it.

"Well, maybe in comparison to Steve," Winifred allows. "Still though. You got kicked around a bit, too." Bucky shrugs a bit too dismissively--more a squirm than anything--and takes a rather long gulp. "You know I'm real proud of you, James."

A splash of water spills out of his mouth as he tries to inquire why before actually swallowing his mouthful. "Makes you say that?" he finally mumbles, red-faced, once he does, setting the glass down on the floor and wiping his chin as he straightens up.

"Well I'm always proud of you," she says with a grin, a little uncertain for all her eager sincerity. "But especially today. How you stood up for Steve and Mrs. Rogers at church, and then when that boy went after Steve."

"Well I like Steve and Mrs. Rogers," Bucky says by way of explanation, ducking his head a bit.

"I think you'd've done it no matter what," Winifred says, and Bucky's face heats up as he tries to think of every instance in his life where her high estimation of him would be proven wrong. He's not as discreet as he thinks he is, and Winifred tosses her arm about his shoulders and presses a graceless smooch against the side of his head, hoping to jostle him off that train of thought.

"Mom," Bucky whines at her, a token of his age, but he doesn't try to extricate himself from her. If his silence on the way home had worried her, hers had done doubly so for him. George and Winifred holding hands was not a rare sight by any stretch of the imagination, but the death grip George had maintained, and the heavy stillness of both their hands resting on Winifred's leg, had been disconcerting for the two children in the backseat to observe. If she's feeling better now, he doesn't want to undermine that.

She ruffles his hair with her free hand to quiet him, smiling as he squirms under it. "I was very blessed to get the children God gave me. I don't want you to forget that, y'hear?"

He nods, because it's what she wants; she accepts it, because it's what he wants.

"Because I could've gotten a little demon like that Mazza child," she continues, providing an acceptable target for Bucky's ire; she's a bit relieved to see his face twist in utter contempt for the kid. "Or you could've gotten a mother like his." Her own eyes narrow at the memory of the woman's hateful and hated little face, tomato-red as she told Sarah in so many words that the world would be better off with Steve dead. "Letting her kids run around hurting people for the fun of it. What a disgrace."

"Some people don't know how to behave," Bucky mimics what he suspects is coming next, smiling cheekily up at her.

"Well at least I know you're listening when I talk," she teases, tugging on his ear; he squirms his way free without giving up his grin. "What's the world full of?"

The answer is assholes but he knows better than to say it aloud in front of her; instead he nods again, firmly this time, and makes a knowing noise.

"So we've got to be mindful. And do something about it while we have the chance." One of her hands seeks out one of his and hangs onto it, her fingers pressing into the crevices between his major knuckles. "It's a real...it's a real awful thing, to feel like no one's lookin' out for you," she says, dredging up Steve's assertion of the police's potential apathy in both her and Bucky's memory. "I've tried so hard to make sure you and your sister never feel that helpless," she continues, quietly, trying and failing to maintain a tone of objective detachment.

Bucky makes a noise at her, reassurance and sympathy wrapped up in something like a whimper. She feels his fingers shifting uncomfortably under the pressure of her grip, and forces herself to ease up; after a second she lets go of his hand and instead puts both her arms around him and holds him close to her, mindful not to twist him too much and upset his ankle.

"So you will tell me if someone causes you or your sister or Steve any grief, you understand?" she says, her voice firm even as it threatens to shake.

Bucky hums mmhmm back at her automatically, unable to say "Yes" when he only fully intends to follow orders when it's on Steve and Becky's behalf.

"Because what's the point," she continues, pianissimo, "what's the point of havin' all this power now if I can't...?"

Bucky doesn't answer; doesn't threaten the fragile truce negotiating what they know about each other. Instead he lets her hang onto him in silence, pretending this is just a moment of relief that he made it out of the day's events relatively unscathed, until she works up the strength to squeeze him tightly for a moment, and then release him as she stands up.

"I'll let you get back to your book now, dearie. Just wanted to check on you."

"Okay." Bucky does his best to smile genuinely at her. "Thanks for the water."

"You're welcome, dearie. I'll come get you when dinner's ready."

"What're we having?" It's a feeble play at normality, but it works; Winifred taps her chin, looking thoughtful.

"Mmm...I don't know, actually. Why don't I go see what we have..."

She's almost in the hallway when he calls out "I love you, Mom" after her, suddenly, hurriedly, like an apology.

She balks in the doorway and, after a moment, looks back, her smile soft and painful over her shoulder.

"I love you too, James," she says, like a promise.

*

"Steve? Steve, it's time to get up."

"Nnn..." Steve's eyes flutter open, abruptly taking him from deep unconsciousness to awareness that pretending to be napping had given way to actually doing so at some point; his peripheral vision picks up Sarah crouching next to him. "What-what time is it?"

"About six. Dinner's about ready."

"Didja take your insulin?"

"Yes, Tateh," Sarah says with a roll of her eyes, as if she had never skipped a dosage to make supplies last before.

Steve smiles approvingly, then covers a yawn and stretches; he winces when his bruises makes their displeasure with his decision known, but sits up quickly in spite of the aches peppering his back, and glances around the room to distract him. Laundry is hanging up from the thin ropes that criss-cross their ceiling, and it takes him a moment of looking through them to notice his grandmother's absence. "Where's Aksot?"

"She took a cue from you; went to lie down." She had nearly tumbled to the floor in the attempt, and it had taken Sarah close to ten minutes to assist her mother-in-law safely to their bedroom. "She's going to eat dinner in our room tonight, so it'll be just you and me out here."

"Okay," Steve says, surmising the reason why and looking glumly down because of it; he sees that his papers have been gathered up and stacked neatly, if haphazardly, on the floor to Sarah's left, and he swings his legs over the side of the couch. "I'll start settin' the table--"

"Actually, Steve, I..." Sarah puts a hand on his arm, staying him; he notices Sarah's bag sitting on the floor, on the other side from his papers. "Before you do that, do you want to see what I brought home for you?"

"Oh, um." He blinks, and then smiles. "Sure."

"Okay." Steve shifts into a more comfortable sitting position as she moves to sit next to him; once she does she unzips the bag, and carefully extricates a messily-folded lump of white cloth and strings.

"What is it?" Steve asks, blinking.

"Well..." Sarah sets her bag on the floor and the cloth on her lap, covering it with her hands. "Well. I know that, when I left this morning, I was a bit...upset. With you." Steve looks down and pulls at his shirt in lieu of directly responding. "And I...I really shouldn't have been."

That makes Steve look up.

"I don't like seeing you dressed like no one cares about you," Sarah rushes to defend herself. "Like...like you don't know how to present yourself. But." She shifts on her hips, squeezing the cloth with her hands. "I wasn't thinking about...I ought to know by now how much...how important it is to you, that you be...seen a certain way."

"It's okay, Mameh," Steve says quietly, guilt that he had added to the emotional gamut she had been put through today welling up inside him.

"No, it's...it's really not." She looks so determined to be in the wrong that he doesn't have the heart to try to convince her otherwise. "So...on my way home, there was a...I passed a clothing store, and I thought, well, maybe...So I went in, and--now I didn't say this was for you, I let them think it was for me..." Her face is starting to burn at the thought of discussing this topic with her eleven-year-old son. "The young ladies, the...the flapper girls, they wear these to...get a certain look for their..."

One of her hands comes up, to wave in front of her chest, and Steve's face, a bit bewildered up until now, begins burning, too.

"It's probably a little too big, but I can pin it for now, and...well hopefully you won't grow into it, but if you do...well, I thought it'd help." Steve nods in stilted little jerks of his head, gratitude battling mortification for dominance of his expression. "If you...if you want to go to your room to put it on, I'll help you with the--I never wore something like this myself, I think your Bobeh would've killed me if I brought one of these home--but I know...you're supposed to tighten it on the sides with the strings...here." She shoves the undergarment into Steve's hands. "Go put it on; I'll come in and help you tighten it, after."

Steve clutches the lacer to his chest, slides off the couch, and pads into his room, all wordlessly. The mirror stands like a bully chanting your mother gave you a bra as he pulls his shirt off and then inspects the new garment, trying to figure out where it wants his head and arms to go in relation to it. It takes him a couple tries before he gets it, and despite the mirror's taunting he inspects himself in it. The lacer is white and plain and shapeless, and Steve is trying to convince himself that he can reasonably think of it as an undershirt that got cut in half widthwise when Sarah lightly knocks on the door and slips inside his room.

"How is it?" Steve nods ambivalently. "Here, lift your arms up..." He does as directed, letting Sarah tangle her fingers in the strings on the side and pull them. Steve watches as the cloth stretches across his chest, flattening what he's tried for months to determine whether it was that bad or not, and despite himself he feels a smile tug at the corner of his lips.

"The shoulder straps are a little loose..." Sarah mutters, after she tightens them as much as she deems reasonable. "I'll pin those. Why don't you put a shirt on, see how it looks."

Steve turns to his trunk of clothes quicker than either of them thought he would, pawing through it for the most tight-fitting piece he owns. There's one at the bottom of the pile that he got new when he turned ten, worn only a few times before he panicked over how he looked in it, and he drags it out, pulls it on over his head, and turns back to the mirror.

"You like it?" Sarah asks softly, after a moment. "You're happy?"

Steve nods, mutely, surprised that he heard her for all he's transfixed with the flat-chested image staring back at him.

"Good. Good, I'm glad." Sarah slips her fingers in through the neckhole of the shirt, smoothing out the straps of the lacer so they don't show through. "Now I don't want you to wear this too tight, okay? I'm going to take it away if it starts giving you asthma attacks."

"I won't," Steve says quickly, suddenly terrified of the idea of Mameh confiscating this. "I promise I won't."

"I'm holding you to that," she says, but her sternness is mitigated by the light she sees in his eyes, shining even in his reflection. "I want this to be a good thing for you."

"It is," Steve says, a little breathlessly. He crosses his arms, and then hugs them tight to his chest; it's not as flat a plane as he dreams of, but it's leagues better than it was even just a few minutes ago. "Thank you, Mameh."

"You're welcome, Steve." Her fingers twitch at her side, and then reach out, to brush across the top of his head. "And maybe now we can get you some clothes that fit?"

That's a pipe dream even with this new development, but for the moment Steve is too elated to think about it, and he nods just to please her.

"Good. Good." She curls her fingers, lightly scratching the back of his head like she would the underside of a cat's chin. "Well. Come on, you'll have plenty of time to stare in the mirror later. I'll finish setting the table if you bring some food in to Aksot, all right? Go show her how you look. She wants to talk to you, anyway."

"Okay." Steve almost dashes out of the room, forcing himself to go just slow enough that his mother won't yell at him. Sarah has chopped up the liver in the icebox and thrown it, along with one of the cans of beans, in the chicken noodle soup Minnie saved, increasing the volume to feed three people with a flavor-weakening amount of water. There's a bowl of it, accompanied by a spoon, on the kitchen table; Steve takes it and hurries back across the living room as carefully as he can, somehow managing to only spill a tiny amount over his fingers by the time he hipchecks Sarah and Minnie's door open.

Minnie is sitting up against the corner the bed she shares with Sarah is pressed up against, dozing, her leg resting at an odd angle that must be comfortable for her nonetheless; she blinks fully awake when she hears the door creak, and smiles at the sight of Steve.

"Room service," Steve announces, letting the door drift closed as he comes into the room.

"Oh my, I'm being spoiled today," Minnie says, shifting carefully so she can reach over to take the bowl; she takes the time to look Steve over. "You look....different." She squints her eyes, pretending that Sarah hadn't ended up telling her what she'd gotten for Steve; she sees it the moment Steve decides to play along. "Are you sure you're my grandson?" Steve nods, self-consciousness battling giddiness on his face. "I need more convincing. Come up here." Steve clambers up on the bed, obeying her beckoning to sit next to her and let her drape her arm around his shoulders, and laughs when she presses her nose against the top of his head. "Well, you smell like him and you sound like him, so I guess you're him, even if you look different."

"How do I look?" Steve hesitates, English suddenly awkward and heavy on his tongue. "W-...Waktsina to-lu ka?"

Minnie feels a sudden heavy joy in her chest; it warms after she nods and Steve's face lights up. "Satsina to-lu. D'you eat yet?"

Steve shakes his head. "Mameh said you wanted to talk to me."

"Aye." She takes her arm away from him, using her now free hand to sir her soup with her spoon. "Were you fake sleeping earlier?" The deer-in-headlights look that greets her answers for him. "Well then you already know that I am...not going to go back to church. Don't give me that face." Steve makes no effort to obey. "You know, Steve, grandmothers grow up, and you have to start letting them make their own decisions..."

"It's not fair," Steve growls.

"I know it's not," she says, brushing an errant strand of hair out of Steve's eyes; her hand lingers by his face, focusing her attention on the dirty blond tresses inherited from ancestors on every side but hers. "I'm sorry, Steve."

"What for?"

"For putting you through all this." The blanket is bunched up around her, and she nests the bowl securely in its folds between her leg and the wall. "It was selfish of me, especially since you had something else you actually wanted to be doing."

"You know, I don't like it that much," Steve mumbles thickly.

Minnie huffs an appreciative little laugh and musses his hair, but winds up cupping the side of his face, meeting his gaze, and obliterating any levity she might have given them. "It's okay, Steve. It's okay if you don't want it. I just wanted you to be able to have it."

Steve knows the story; knows how Aksot was raised to be in the pews every Sunday, even--especially--if they were going to dance and burn tobacco when they returned home; knows how smug Aksot felt even as a young orphan, when they herded her into the chapel at Carlisle "to pray the red out of me" but only made her remember her home and family more, made her cling to their memory harder.

"This what they do," Minnie says, her voice down to an almost-whisper. "They take from us until everything is gone. And they've taken so much already." Her hand on his face twitches, thumb running over his cheek. "I'm worried," she says, her words a wet rush of air, "that there won't be anything left for you."

"I ain't gonna let that happen," Steve says suddenly, vehemently, his hand coming up to take hers. "Aksot, we don't have to give up and run away; we can still--"

"No," Minnie says, shaking her head. "You have enough on your plate, good and bad. And I," she points to her leg, "physically cannot do it."

"But--"

"Steve, we lost this battle." Steve moves to respond, and she moves her hand so her fingers rest over his mouth; his eyes are full of fire and water, and she tries to force her own lips to stretch into a smile that'll encourage both of them. "But w-...we are still here. We..." She swallows the lump in her throat, letting it disseminate through her body and strengthen her nerves. "We haven't lost the war, not yet."

"We're not gonna. Aksot I promise; I'm, I'm not gonna..." He wracks his vocabulary for the right words, the right thing to say. "Onuhote'a-ka ni'i. No one's gonna take that from me, ever, no matter what."

"Sklhalatstuhni ka?" Minnie asks softly.

"Kulhalatstuhni."

She hugs him, and he's so tense with conviction that it's like hugging a pillar, so she hangs onto him until he finally crumbles under the weight of the day and hugs her in return, his thin, short arms struggling for a good hold in their awkward positioning. She lets him go after the third time he tries and fails to maintain the embrace, guiding him into sitting upright so she can hold and look into his face, finding herself in his pale features as she isn't often able to.

"Satsina ti-yo, Dehowyadilou."

"Is that a good thing?" Sarah's voice drifts in from the doorway, and they look to see her standing, two bowls tucked in her arms against her stomach just above her hips.

"It is. He is." Minnie takes her hands away from Steve's face, letting them both relax into more natural stances as she assesses Sarah. "Are we to eat in here, darling?"

"Well, it looks like we might as well, at this point," Sarah says, going forward; Minnie and Steve reach to take the bowls so Sarah can situate herself on the bed without spilling. "Are you...squared away?" she asks, once she's taken her dinner back.

Minnie glances at Steve, who bites the inside of his lower lip and nods.

"All right. So we'll eat, then we'll call...your friends, let them know," Steve notices a weird note of determination in his mother's voice. "That's fine? You're all right with that?"

"We will be," Minnie finally says, when Steve doesn't answer. "We'll survive."

Sarah gives a proud, sardonic roll of her eyes. "Well, that is what we all do best."

Minnie lifts her bowl and clinks it against Sarah's. Steve follows suit first with his mother, who presses back now that the initial surprise is gone, and then his grandmother.

Steve's eyes start to droop before he finishes dinner. Sarah takes his bowl from him, and he drifts awake in the middle of the night on his side, sandwiched tightly between his mother and grandmother to make all three of them fit on the mattress. It crosses his mind that he missed the call to the Barnes, and probably because of that when he dreams about wandering the halls of their shul, the stained glass windows inexplicably replaced by views of what he recognizes from Minnie's descriptions as the reservation upstate, Bucky is trailing along behind him.

Chapter Text

Reverend Paul McLeod,

For the past several years, we have been happy to be called members of the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn. We thought this building to be a true house of God, its congregation to be a fine examplar of the Body of Christ, and we trusted it, and you, with the religious instruction of our two children.

As of the time of writing this letter, however, we are no longer comfortable considering First Presbyterian to be our spiritual home.

Though we have known of them for a while now, we have only recently become better acquainted with Mrs. Minnie Rogers, who has been a devoted member of this church for over forty-five years, and her grandson Steve, who accompanies her to Sunday services on occassion. The Rogers are a truly fine pair of people--gracious, hardworking, brave, selfless--which is why we were especially aggrieved and outraged to learn of the problems facing them from within the church. We have been informed that choice members of this congregation have taken exception to the Rogers' heritage as Oneida Indians, as well as Steve's attendance at a Jewish house of worship, and have taken it upon themselves to petition for the Rogers to be barred from First Presbyterian, under the veiled threat of violence if they do not comply.

That anyone can be so mean-spirited towards other human beings is reprehensible, and ought to be unthinkable to enlightened people in this day and age, especially to self-proclaimed Christians who have been expressly commanded to love their neighbors. Additionally, we were shocked to learn that upon recieving such cruel petitions, instead of repudiating them, you admonished the Rogers for standing up for themselves and advised them to, in so many words, "keep their heads down" to avoid further conflict. This is, frankly, an inexcusable misuse of your authority. Our Lord routinely stood up on behalf of vulnerable people, and as a leader in His church you ought to have defended this family against those that would do them physical and spiritual harm.

Mrs. Rogers and Steve have made the painful decision to not return to First Presbyterian on this or any other Sunday for the sake of their own safety, and in solidarity with them our family has also elected to terminate our membership with this church. The disregard you and others have shown for the rights and dignity of other people is not a lesson we want to pass on to our own son and daughter, nor is it an environment we are comfortable moving about in ourselves.

It is a grave disappointment that things have come to this, but we are resolute. We hope and pray that attitudes change for the better at First Presbyterian, and that this disgraceful behavior ceases before another poor soul is chased out of an institution that is supposed to be safe for, and welcoming to, all God's children.

Sincerely,
Winifred Barnes
George Barnes

PS You told us that God said to be nice to people, so you should be nice to people and not be a hippocrit. -Rebecca Pearl Barnes, Age 8

PPS What Becky said. -James B. Barnes

*

Dear Sarah,

My darling niece, I have such news for you! I have been blessed to become a grandfather to twins! Magda delivered a little boy and a little girl just over a month ago. Their names have been announced as Nessa and Tzvi, though we are calling the little girl Wanda, for Magda's mother, and the little boy Pietro, which apparently comes from a novel Magda likes. Mother and babies are all healthy and safe. The twins are as plump as they should be, and their hair is coming in quite dark. I wish we could send a picture, except our camera seems to have been stolen, and we haven't the money to get a new one, or pay a photographer.

Anya is very upset that she is no longer the only child. You should the pout on her face when she stomps around the house! But she is normally such a sweet child that we have hope that she'll come around soon. As for the babies themselves, Pietro is full of mischief, crying all hours of the day and night. Wanda is of a more even temper, but when she is hungry or tired or cold, she will certainly let you know. Your Aunt Edita is spending more time with them than at home these days, helping Magda care for the children. Ruta has also been spending her days helping them out. One can only hope that now that she is auntie to three children, she will finally start to hunger for her own...

We are all very relieved to hear that Steve has recovered from his bout with scarlet fever. We did say a mi sheberach for him, like we promised, and we are very gratified to see that it seems to have helped! Please tell him that we have put up his drawing of your mother in our kitchen; it looks so much like her that if you were to look from the corner of your eye, you would swear it was a photograph. You ought to send him over for a visit; he'll draw a "photo" of the babies for you!

Sadly, I am going to have to cut this letter short, because I am heading into town and want to get there before the sun sets. Suffice to say, all other news has been overshadowed by the birth of the twins! Next time I will tell you more of what has been going on with us. All of us send our love and hope to hear back from you soon.

Your uncle,
Yakov

*

George -

Do you want me to try to convince Mother to join you for Thanksgiving this year?

- Charles

*

James B. Barnes
Mr. Cleary
November 25th, 1929

What I Am Thankful For This Year

Thanksgiving is upon us once again and because of that we have been assigned to write about something that we are thankful for. We wrote a composition on the same topic last year as well and I am thankful for many of the same things. However, this year I have something new to be thankful for and I am going to write about that first. I am thankful to have a new friend. His name is Steve, and he lives in Red Hook. We first met at the church we used to go to, but we really started being friends because he walked over to my neighborhood to find a job when I was stuck at home with my sprained ankle, and he stayed the day with me. You let a kid from Red Hook in the house? Very daring! Steve is a good friend to have because he likes to help and stick up for people. For example, last Sunday Steve and I came back to my house for lunch (we clean people's houses on Sundays) I'm surprised your parents allow you to do that. My sister Becky was trying to play hopscotch, and some kid from the high school "a high schooler" kept messing up her chalk lines on the sidewalk, so Steve told him to stop. He didn't, and when he went to do it again, Steve pushed him away (my dad came out then and the guy ran away so there wasn't a fight). Good! That was not the smartest thing to do! Becky was still upset, so me and Steve "Steve and I" spent almost the whole lunch break playing hopscotch with her to cheer her up. I don't know any other boys my age who will even let Becky talk to them, so I am thankful that Steve likes her too. Steve sounds like quite the character...

Speaking of Becky, just like I wrote last year I am thankful for my family. I know that because I'm a boy I'm supposed to think my little sister is annoying, but I don't. We actually share a lot of the same interests. She likes the same comics I do, so we always have something to talk about, and she likes baseball too, so I always have someone to play with. "someone with whom I can play" I'm also really thankful for my ma and dad. Use "mother and father" for a formal essay! They are good parents and role models because they are always kind to everybody, even to people who are not kind to them back. My ma "mother" takes Becky and me out on Saturdays to destribute "distribute" food to the poor, and doing that also makes me thankful that I have food and a house, because I've seen a lot of people who don't have anything to eat or a place to live.

In conclusion I have a lot to be thankful for this year, and I hope I will still have all these things next year.

Interesting read. Please watch your grammar and spelling in the future. I would also advise you to choose your friends wisely. B-

*

Steven Rogers
Mr. Notariano
November 25th, 1929

What I Am Thankful For This Year

My family has a specific Thanksgiving tradition that we've done every year since I was born. Before we start dinner, my mother, grandmother, and I all give thanks that our people haven't been killed off yet. That is neither funny nor astute, and I am tired of hearing about this from you! Then my grandmother and I give thanks to don't you mean "for"? everything in nature: the earth, water, grass, trees, fish, animals, birds, insects, the moon, the sun, and the stars. We also give thanks to "for"? useful plants like strawberries, tobacco, corn, beans, and squash, Why these in particular? They seem a bit random... and also to "for"! medicine. After that, we give thanks to the Thunderers (good spirits that protect people from evil spirits) Interesting. Do all Indians believe in these sorts of fairytales?, the Four Beings (messengers and helpers to the Creator), and the prophets. Finally, we give thanks directly to the Creator Himself, and then my mother will recite Psalm 118, which is about thanking the Creator for His help and mercy.

Afterwards, each of us will say what we are thankful for indev individually. This year we probably won't do that, because we are going to spend Thanksgiving away from home, but if we were, I would first say that I am thankful to my mother and grandmother. My mother is a nurse and works long hours, and my grandmother keeps the house together while she's away. They both work very hard and I want to help them out, so that leads me to the next thing I am thankful for: I have a job. Ha! For the past two Sundays, I have been cleaning houses in Carroll Gardens. I have a friend named Bucky Barnes who lives there, and he goes around with me and introduces me to his neighbors so they know I'm honest. This is not a fiction-writing assignment... He'll help me with some of the work, too, if I need it. So I should and will also say then that I am thankful for Bucky, and for his family too, because his parents just did something very kind for my grandmother that they didn't have to. If you won't provide details I'm going to have to assume this is a complete fabrication. The Barnes are actually the ones with whom we are going to be spending Thanksgiving, so I will have to remember to thank them for hosting us!

D

See me after class. When I ask for a nonfiction essay, I want you to provide a nonfiction essay!

*

Principal Capitano,

Since my calls do not appear to have been forwarded to you, I am making a formal written request to have my son, Steven Rogers, removed from Mr. Notariano's class. This man has frequently made inappropriate and derogatory comments towards my child both verbally and in writing, examples of which we have retained, and it is quite obvious that he is attempting to fail my child because of his own prejudice, not for the supposed "poor quality" of my son's work.

I would be happy to set up a meeting with you to discuss transferring my son into a different classroom. I have left my phone number with your secretary multiple times, so I feel no need to leave it here. Please be advised that I will be making an appearance at the school before the first week of December is over, whether I have an appointment with you or not, to settle this affair.

With all due respect,
Sarah Rogers

*

Charles -

Thank you, but I don't want you to "convince" Mother of anything. She has had several years to come to terms with my decision and hasn't, so I doubt you could persuade her in any case. If she doesn't genuinely want to spend the holiday with my family, then it would be best if she spent it with John's.

- George

Chapter Text

Bucky waits a little bit before knocking on the door, because he can hear Steve and Aksot singing inside the apartment and he wants to hear what they're saying.

Unfortunately he can only make out the word "Kanuhstahale" before Rebecca knocks for him. Bucky doesn't think she notices the glare he sends her, but he keeps sending it until he hears the locks on the Rogers' door turning.

It takes Sarah a moment to process four voices chorusing "Happy Thanksgiving!" at her the moment she opens the front door, but her bearings come back to her quickly and she offers them "And to you too" along with a gracious smile as she pulls the door open wider.

"Happy Thanksgiving," Minnie says from the table, as the Barnes crowd into the apartment; Steve echoes her in a quieter tone from the seat next to her. Bucky notes, unhappily, that Steve looks as glum as he had the first and last time they went to church together. The past two Sunday afternoons had seen a more upbeat Steve who was eager to trade news, stories, and ideas for the Radio Extravaganza as they power-walked the streets of Carroll Gardens (a steady client was yet to be found, but they had scraped together a few dollars doing odd jobs around the homes of several of Bucky's neighbors). Bucky has grown accustomed to Steve's smile, and there is something uniquely distressing about its absence.

So he bounds forward, coming up close beside Steve, and demands "Whatcha doin'?" in the brightest tone he can muster.

"We are making that cornbread I promised you and your sister a try of," Minnie answers for Steve, the half-second after Steve doesn't answer right away. Arranged before her and her grandson are two large bowls of dried-out corn kernals, one whole and one ground, in the middle of the table, while two sets of mortars and pestles sit directly in front of them. "See? I already cooked the corn and dried it out, so Steve and I are grinding it to make the flour now."

"Can I help?" Bucky asks immediately.

Steve glances up from where he's been working at the handful of corn he threw into his mortar a few minutes before the Barnes knocked, and immediately feels bad for being so standoffish when he sees Bucky's eager face. Mameh has been on the warpath since he came home on Monday afternoon with his derogated essay; Steve had been almost proud of clearly annoying Mr. Notariano with his unapologetic flaunting of the Rogers' traditions, but seeing her so upset had inverted that into shame that he had dared expose them to ridicule.

But this is Bucky, who had responded to Steve explaining why he turned down the offer of a bite of Bucky's ham sandwich by saying he wouldn't eat it in front of Steve at all if it bothered him; who had asked if Steve was interested in any other sports besides baseball and listened sympathetically as Steve explained how lacrosse belonged to Aksot's people first.

So he says "Sure" and, when Bucky looks at him, offers him a smile that lights up both their faces.

"Me too, me too!" Rebecca chimes in, dashing over to Minnie's side.

"Steve, you should go get your coat on," Minnie says, as Steve puts his pestle down; the weather had finally turned cold enough for even Steve himself to concede that he could no longer go without it. "And here, Princess, it's all yours." She pushes her implements over so they're closer to Rebecca; Bucky pulls the other set closer to him as Steve slides off his chair. "Let me have a break."

"Do your hands bother you too, dearie?" Steve hears Winifred ask as he pads toward his room.

"Some days," Minnie answers, stretching her fingers; today is threatening to be one of those "some days" and she shouldn't push it. "It's still the knee that's the worst of it. I can stand on it for a decent amount of time, but walking too long...not so much."

"So you will be staying here while we're at the parade," George guessed.

"Unfortunately, yes," Minnie says with a sad nod. "But you'll have Steve and Sarah for company."

"Oh, Sarah, you're joining us for the parade?" Winifred asks.

"Yes, I let my boss at the agency know that I wouldn't be available at all today," Sarah says, still a little annoyed at herself for letting her family convince her to take the day off, considering that rent is due on Monday and she'll only have Sunday and a handful of hours before and after Shabbos to bring any money in. "I, um, I won't be much company though, I'm afraid. I'll be trying to sell some of Mother's pieces while we're there." Minnie had finally persuaded her with the argument that if Sarah were to take over hawking some of her mother-in-law's wares, Steve would be able to actually enjoy the parade for once.

"Ah, well that's all right," Winifred says. "Will you be at dinner, Minnie?"

"If I can get down the stairs."

"I can probably help you with that," George deadpans, flexing his arms like a wrestler showing off his muscles.

"Look at this big strong man I married," Winifred coos in her best Helen Kane voice, fanning herself with her hand.

Steve comes back to the table to the sound of soft laughter, yanking his arm through the twisted sleeve of his coat. It's gone from slightly too big to slightly too small over the past three years, but at a casual glance it appears to fit just fine, and all the patchwork is on the inside, so it doesn't even look like it's in bad shape.

"You don't mind that we're bringing our own dinner, right?" Sarah asks, to make sure.

"Oh of course not," Winifred says. "Less cooking I had to do." Even before they had confirmed that the Rogers would be joining them for Thanksgiving, Bucky had tried to explain Steve's diet to the best of his memory ("He says no pork or shellfish, and you can't mix meat with milk or cheese or anything like that, but you can mix milk with fish. I think. I'm not sure. I'll ask him again. Oh, and he can't have a lot of salt, but that's not a Jewish thing, that's just him..."), so Winifred had been prepared, if still slightly bewildred, when Sarah had called to accept their invitation with some stipulations.

"Who else is gonna be at dinner?" Steve asks, buttoning his coat; he hasn't seen Elizabeth since the first time he showed up at the Barnes' home, and he'd like to keep it that way.

"Well, we gave the staff the day off, except for Alice," Winifred says, to Steve's relief; Alice is the other maid, the one who's staying with the Barnes while her husband finds another job, and she's been pleasant with him on the three occasions he's seen her. "So just friends and family. You, us, and...Mr. Barnes' brother Charles and his family said they would join us. So you'll get to meet some of James and Becky's cousins," she finishes, with affected cheeriness.

"Steve, am I doin' this right?" Bucky asks suddenly, and Steve comes up beside him to watch for a few seconds.

"Yeah, you're doing pretty okay, just...here." Steve slots himself next to Bucky, careful not to press against him at the wrong angle (the lacer has made him happier but not less self-conscious), and reaches to cover the back of Bucky's hand with the palm of his own. "You just wanna press down harder and turn your wrist a little more," he says, adding his own strength to Bucky's movement to demonstrate. "You'll get it done quicker that way."

Bucky does as directed and looks to Steve for approval, who gives it in the form of a smile and a quick nod. From the corner of his eye he sees his grandmother giving him an odd look that makes him think he should let go of Bucky, but he falters when he actually tries to do so, and winds up pressed shoulder-to-shoulder with him instead.

"Well, let me get myself together," Sarah says, distracting both members of her family as she heads for her bedroom. "Steve, do you have your cigarettes with you?"

"In my coat pocket," Steve calls back. He'd had them in his pants pocket the last time too, on the stairs, but the attack had escalated so quickly that Minnie had correctly surmised that he couldn't think to get to them himself.

"I'm putting some in my bag, too," Sarah says, emerging from her bedroom doing just that.

"Should I hang onto some too?" Winifred asks, taking her purse off her shoulder and offering it up. "Just to be safe."

"Oh, that's a good idea, thank you," Sarah says; the two women meet each other in the middle of the room and Sarah hands over three sticks that Winifred places carefully inside of her purse. Sarah tries not to compare their bags but ends up comforting herself with the idea that hers is bigger, even though it's for a completely separate purpose and obviously much older, as well.

"That coat looks familiar," George says, now that he can get a word in past his wife.

Sarah looks down at the army green she's pulled on and recalls that Steve told her that George had served. "Oh, this's my...it was my husband's." She pauses, remembering how she had cried to see the jacket practically sliding off his gaunt, bony frame as he stood in the doorway on his first day furloughed. "He brought it home with him on leave and it didn't fit him anymore. So he got issued new ones, and he left this one with me." She hadn't worn it in the years between the end of the war and his death, but neither of them had had the heart to throw it away, not least of all because Steve had been conceived while she was wearing it.

George nods, and she suspects he has some understanding of how she feels even without the full context. "I'm not sure where my old uniforms have gone off to," he says, folding his arms and frowning.

"I think they're still at your mother's home," Winifred says, a little brusquely, and turns from Sarah to the table. "We best be headed out now, I think. James, Rebecca," she turns to face her children, "pack it up."

Bucky dutifully slides off his chair; Rebecca helpfully hands her pestle back to Minnie before she does the same. Steve runs around the table so his grandmother can hug him before following his friends to the door, where Sarah, George, and Winifred congregate a second later.

"We should be back in a few hours, Mother," Sarah calls back to Minnie. "Are you sure you'll be--"

"Yes. Go enjoy the parade."

Sarah puts her hands and eyebrows up. "All right then. See you soon."

"See you soon, darling," Minnie says, with impish sweetness.

"'Bye Aksot!" Steve calls, prompting the rest of the group to make their goodbyes as they shut the door behind them.

"Your mother-in-law slays me," Winifred says, once they're safely out of earshot. "She's too much."

"She's a corker, that's for sure," Sarah mutters. "Steve, don't go too far ahead!"

They make it down the stairs to the tune of Rebecca telling Steve, loud enough for everyone to hear, of the new combination she had learned on Tuesday night dance class. Steve, for his part, catches the please humor her look that Bucky sends him; he attempts to send a I don't mind, really look in return, but isn't sure what expression he had managed to pull off by the time Rebecca tugs on his sleeve and promises him that he will get to see it at dinner tonight.

"After the Radio Extravaganza," Rebecca finishes, as she follows Winifred around to the front passenger seat.

Steve's blood goes a little cold at the thought of performing tonight, hidden behind a giant radio or not, but he squeaks out an "Mmhmm" and holds the car door open for his mother. Sarah raises her eyebrows at him as she ducks into the car and then slides across the seat to get to the far window; Steve had spent the past two Sunday dinners talking animatedly about the stories he and Bucky had been coming up with, but rather doggedly avoiding the topic of actually performing them. Steve avoids her gaze as he climbs in next (Bucky doesn't notice it as he hops in last and pulls the door shut) and Sarah decides to steer the topic away.

"So, George," she says, grateful that her hosts are smart about getting in the car and settling. "You have a brother."

"I do," George confirms, tapping the starter on the floor to turn on the engine. "I have two, in fact. And two sisters." George glances over his shoulder as he guides the car out onto the road. "John and Ida are older than me, and then Charles and Ruth came after."

"Oh, my," Sarah says, with a weak smile. Her parents had wished for such a small tribe unto themselves, but the Milavetz line seemed doomed to have only one surviving child per generation. "Are they married? Children?"

"Uncle John is married to Aunt Ethel," Bucky interjects, speaking like a student reciting all the presidents in order of inauguration for a grade. "They have my cousins Harold, Doris, Louise, and Jack. Aunt Ida is married to Uncle Henry; they have Evelyn, Rose, Mary, Arthur, and Catherine. Uncle Charles is married to Aunt Lillian and they have Raymond, Martha, and Gerald. And Aunt Ruth is married to Uncle Walter and they have Kenneth and Barbara."

Steve stares at Bucky for a moment, and then begins clapping slowly. He notes that Bucky doesn't preen for the applause, however facetious it is.

"That's quite impressive," Sarah says, and Bucky shrugs. "Do they all live far from here?" she inquires politely of George.

"Ah...no, no," George says, turning left. "They're all...quite close, actually." He glances back at his children. "Kids, who all goes to your school with you? I know Harold and Evelyn are in eighth grade, and Rose is in seventh..."

"Mary and Raymond are in sixth with me," Bucky says.

"Martha and Jack are in third grade with me," Rebecca says helpfully from Winifred's lap. "We're in the same class."

"Yeah. So that puts Louise and Arthur in fourth, and Doris in fifth."

"And Catherine and Kenneth are in first grade. So everyone but Barbara and Gerald are in school with us," Rebecca rounds off.

"So...you must see them pretty regularly," is all Sarah can think to say.

"Sometimes Martha lets me sit with her and her friends at lunch," Rebecca says, honestly, though she suspects that "sometimes" implies a greater number of instances to Sarah than is factual.

Bucky shrugs, pressing his shoulder up against his window. "Raymond's not in my class. Mary either."

Sarah blinks at the noncommittal response from someone who has his family tree memorized, and glances at Steve, who gives her a wide-eyed I don't know from nothing expression back. He's spent probably close to thirty hours cumulatively with Bucky, and this is the first he's heard of the Barnes' extended family. "I see," she finally says, and clears her throat. "And ah...what about you, Winifred? Do you have siblings?"

"Three younger sisters," Winifred responds. "Elen and Luned the twins, and then Mabyn the baby."

"Oh, what pretty names."

"Good Welsh names," Winifred says, with a wry but proud smile that Sarah hears rather than sees. "My father's mother was Welsh," she tacks on by way of explanation. "Ran off with a handsome Scottish rogue back to his hometown, so I was told."

"Are they nearby? Your sisters?"

Winifred pauses, and shakes her head. "They've all...they've gone to their eternal reward, I'm afraid."

Sarah's hand flies to her mouth. "Oh, no...I'm so sorry, Winifred. I didn't mean to..."

"It's all right, dearie," Winifred says, hugging Rebecca tighter to her. "It's been several years now, since they passed." How did they die? goes unspoken, but Winifred answers anyway. "The war took Elen and Luned. They were nurses, in Serbia." Sarah winces. Several of her colleagues had gone abroad in service of the war effort and never came back; Joseph had written her at least three letters begging her to stay at home. "And Mabyn...well, she was a sickly sort." Sarah shifts in her seat so that she presses a little closer against Steve. "I'd hoped to get her to come over after Elen and Luned passed, but she didn't make it long without them."

The subtext makes Sarah tilt her head. "They were all in...?"

"Scotland, aye. I were the only one to come over on the boat, after our folks passed."

"That was very brave of you," Sarah says, remembering the opaque depth of the ocean, the violent pitch of the boat during storms, and the overwhelming crush of bodies shuffling their way through Ellis Island station.

"Well, we hadn't much choice," Winifred says, with a strange laugh. "There wasn't enough money to get us all over and I couldn't rightly raise them all myself besides. So I left them with family friends and struck out on my own."

"How old were you at the time?"

"Ah...twelve."

"Twelve?" Sarah repeats, feeling every maternal bone in her body ache in protest.

"I know, James'll be twelve in March, and I wouldn't let him walk to your place by himself, let alone cross the ocean." Winifred squeezes her daughter to her; Mabyn had been Rebecca's age, and the twins just younger than Bucky, when she split them between two neighboring families and hugged them goodbye for the last time. "But it was necessary. There wasn't any work on the island but fishing or herding, and there was no one hiring a lassie for either of those. I remember thinking, well, America is a big country, and they kicked the English out long ago. I'll have a much better chance there." She smiles to hear Sarah titter knowingly. "You've problems with the English yourself?"

"I'm of Ireland," Sarah says, faintly calling up the accent she had suppressed long ago. As a child she had stressed the Irish sound in her voice, over the Yiddish her parents had handed down to her. She had abruptly stopped doing that during the Boycott, and then both lilts were eventually wiped out under the influence of the new country. "We left when I was ten, but. Some things stay with you."

George shrinks somewhat comically in his seat, and Winifred bursts out laughing. "Oh, stop it," she says, lightly smacking his arm with the back of her hand. "Your father's people left England two hundred years ago. You don't count. I wouldn't've married you if I thought you did."

"Bullet dodged," George says gamely, directing the car onto the Brooklyn Bridge.

Beside him Steve feels Bucky tense and pull away from the door, looking away from the window. Last Sunday he and Bucky had been tasked by a neighbor to dust her ceilings, necessitating the use of a ladder, and though Bucky resolutely climbed up to finish the job when the dust made Steve start wheezing, Steve noticed how queasy he had looked the entire time he was up there.

"Do you guys know the one about the fisherman who was saved by porpoises?" Steve asks.

"Steve, no, not this one, please," Sarah groans, casting her eyes heavenward.

"I can't say as we have," Winifred says, ignoring Sarah's protestation.

"All right, so, there's a fishing boat at sea off the coast of California, right?" Steve continues, speaking to the car in general but looking directly at Bucky, so he has his friend's attention. "It's a nice day, they're catching a good haul. But then all of a sudden, the sky goes dark. It starts raining heavily, and the waves go nuts, tossing and turning the fishing boat like its nothing. And then suddenly, CRACK! The boat splits in half, and the entire crew falls into the water, including our fisherman, but he manages to grab onto a piece of wood and stays afloat while everyone else drowns. The last thing he sees before he passes out are a couple blurry streaks of silver heading towards him."

Rebecca cranes her neck over the side of the front passenger seat. Sarah is rubbing her temples. Bucky's attention is still on him.

"When he wakes up, he's deep in a cave. He looks around, but doesn't see any other sign of life. He looks to the water, and then suddenly, he sees the same silver streak coming at him. He braces himself for it to be a shark, but lo and behold, what pops out of the water? The head of a porpoise, carrying a fish in his mouth!"

"What's a porpoise?" Rebecca asks.

"It's like a dolphin; now don't interrupt, rude," Bucky says in one breath. Rebecca sticks her tongue out at him.

"The porpoise throws the fish onto the cave floor and says "Good morning! This is for your breakfast"," Steve continues. "The man is, of course, astonished, so he starts asking questions. "Who are you? Where is this? Why am I here?" The porpoise replies, "I am one of a race of porpoises that never die. This is the cave where we live. We rescued you when your boat sank and brought you here to recover, and we'll bring you back to shore when you're ready"." And that's exactly what he and the other porpoises did."

They're a little over halfway across the bridge now and traffic has slowed, so Steve presses onward. "It takes about a month for the man to recover his strength fully and build a small boat out of driftwood the porpoises bring him. As he's getting ready to leave, he says to the porpoises, "I know I can never repay you for saving my life, but is there something that I can do for you to express my gratitude?" The porpoises say no, but he insists, and eventually they say to him "You know, years ago, there used to be a flock of mynah birds who lived in this cave with us. We were great friends with the mynah birds, and we would have the most interesting conversations. But a while ago this cave was flooded during high tide, and the mynah birds all drowned or flew away, and the ones who left never came back. If you could somehow bring us some mynah birds so we could have company again, we would be so grateful." And the man tells them "I swear on my life, I will find some mynah birds and bring them back here for you"."

The car has inched forward while Steve has been talking. Bucky's face has gone from curious to quizzical. "So the porpoises guide the man back to the shore, and he sets about trying to find some mynah birds to bring back to his friends. He goes to a pet shop near his home, but they say they have no mynah birds. He goes to another store, and again, no mynah birds. He tries upwards of a hundred stores, and not one of them has any mynah birds. But the last store he goes to tells him that while there are no mynah birds at the shop, there is a flock in Yellowstone Park if he's willing to catch them himself. So, the man buys a large net and sets out for Yellowstone, determined to fulfill his promise. He gets there, and just like the shop worker said, there's a huge flock of mynah birds all hunting worms on the ground. So he throws his net, catching the whole flock at once, packs them up into his car, and prepares to leave."

"How much longer does this joke go on for?" George murmurs; Rebecca, still enraptured, swats at him. They've reached the three-quarter mark.

"S-so, so, just as he's about to leave the park, there's a rustling in the bushes, and out jumps a lion!" Steve continues. "And the man asks him, "Who are you?" And the lion replies, "I'm a state representative and I'm here to tell you that you are not allowed to take those mynah birds. They are protected by an international treaty and must not be disturbed." The man replies, "Well I'm real sorry; I don't want to cause any problems, but I promised my friends on my life that I would bring them these mynah birds." The lion replies, "Be that as it may, I cannot allow you to take them." The man says "Well, that's too bad, because I made a promise, and I never ever break a promise." And the lion says, "I'm sorry sir, but I will not move from this spot." So the man gets in his car, and runs over the lion."

Rebecca gasps; Bucky's eyebrows shoot up into his hairline. They're just about ready to get off the bridge. "The man drives as fast as he can out of the park, but another park visitor saw him hit the lion and called the cops, so it's not long until he gets caught. They take him to court, and do you know what he was charged with?"

"What?" Bucky asks.

Steve's lips spread into a wide, shit-eating grin. "Transporting mynahs over state lions for immortal porpoises."

Bucky stares at Steve for a full five seconds, during which the adults in the car groan loudly, and then he reaches over and thumps Steve on the back of the head.

"I don't get it," Rebecca says.

"Don't worry about it, Becks," Bucky says. "It wasn't a good joke." Steve sticks his tongue out at Bucky and settles back into his seat with a self-satisfied smile. They've cleared the bridge, and the nauseous look never once found its way to Bucky's face.

"Where did you learn that one, Steve?" Winifred asks.

"My grandpa."

"My father-in-law thought he was funny," Sarah mutters with begrudging affection. Bill had died barely a year after Ellie, fighting to keep the family smiling even as he wasted away, and the fact that Steve had held the joke in his memory for five years released something sad and proud inside of her.

"All father-in-laws do, I think," Winifred says, with her own fond smile.

"Steve, do you know how to play A My Name Is?" Rebecca asks, now that her mind has turned to car entertainment. Steve shakes his head. "It goes like this." She arranges herself more comfortably on her mother's lap, and then starts clapping her hands in a slow, steady rhythm. "A my name is Annie and my husband's name is Albert and we live in Alabama and we sell...apples. Bucky's turn!"

"B my name is Billy and my wife's name is Betty and we live in the Bronx and we sell bicycles," Bucky offers, in time with her clapping. He always has B, so he has three versions ready.

"Now it's your turn, Steve!"

"Um." Steve blinks, racking his brain. "C my name is...Carl and my wife's...name is...is Cecelia, and we live in California and we sell cats," he finishes in a rush, cringing at himself for not coming up with something better, and for going off-beat.

"You do it too, Mrs. Rogers!" Rebecca says, twisting in her seat to look at Sarah.

"Oh! Um..." Sarah flushes a little at being put on the spot. "D my name is...Dinah, and my husband's name is David, and we live in...um...Dublin, and we sell...dogs, I suppose."

"E my name is Emma and my husband's name is Edmund and we live in Edinburgh and we sell eggs," Winifred provides smoothly, having had time and presence of mind to prepare.

"F my name is Frank and my wife's name is Frances and we live in Frankfurt and we sell...frankfurters," George says, decidedly pleased with his own wordplay.

"And now it's my turn again," Rebecca informs Steve and Sarah. "G my name is Gloria..."

They make it all the way to X, where George gets stuck on a girl's name ("We have this problem every time," Bucky mutters; Steve snorts) and then excuses himself from the game altogether. "We're getting close; I have to concentrate on finding a good place to park."

Rebecca pouts for a second, but bounces back almost immediately. "I'm thinking of an animal."

"Is it bigger than a car?" Bucky asks.

"Yes." Rebecca looks expectantly at Steve, who looks helplessly at Bucky.

"We're trying to figure out what animal she's thinking of," Bucky explains. "We take turns asking yes-or-no questions."

"Okay," Steve says, a little dubiously. "Um...is it...does it live in America?"

"Um..." Rebecca scrunches up her face, thinking. "It can."

Rebecca turns out to be thinking of a giraffe ("It can live in America, at a zoo."). Steve is actually the one who figures it out, which means he gets to think of an animal next. Bucky surmises that he's thinking of an eagle, and then changes the game by announcing that he's thinking of a mineral.

"It was a sapphire," Bucky says, when George finds a parking spot only a few questions into his turn, and Rebecca and Steve are nowhere close to figuring out the answer. "Easiest way to figure out a mineral is to ask about what color it is," he whispers to Steve, before opening the car door and sliding out.

There's a good bit of walking to be done before they get to the parade route, which keeps the group in companionable quiet for awhile as they wind their way through the streets of Harlem, Rebecca between her brother and Steve holding both of their hands, the adults trailing behind them in a loose horizontal line. Steve breaks the silence once he figures out where exactly they are by way of a familiar landmark.

"Mameh, look, it's the Buffalo Nickel," he says, pointing.

"Not familiar," George says, on behalf of his family.

"Do you know Leah Ashkenazy?" Steve asks, twisting his head to look back. "The actress? She was in that movie about Harry Houdini. Uh...Break Those Chains, that's what it was called." The Barnes make noises to the negative. "Oh, well, her dad is Baron Ashkenazy--"

"Oh, I recall that name from somewhere," George says.

"He's a director," Steve informs him excitedly, and George remembers seeing the distinctive name in the credits of a movie he saw once. "And a producer. And he and his wife own all the Buffalo Nickel Picture Houses in the country."

"I'll take Steve here sometimes," Sarah says. "For his birthday or...you know, just some special occasion."

"Why here in particular?" Winifred asks.

Sarah bobs her head from side to side. "There're a couple reasons."

"It's got integrated seating," Bucky announces now that he's close enough to read a placard above the door proclaiming WHITES & COLOREDS WELCOME.

"They fixed the sign," Steve observes.

"I take it that's one of the reasons," George offers, glancing at Sarah.

Sarah nods, folding her arms, and decides that telling the story won't hurt. "When I was carrying Steve, this theatre was releasing a weekly serial. It was called, um, Our Children, if I recall correctly. The main characters were a little Jewish girl, a white boy, and a colored boy. And it was just about their, you know, their adventures as children. I'd never seen anything like it. I remember coming over here to watch it every Sunday when I wasn't working, and I remember thinking that...that that was the America I wanted my child to grow up in." She makes a little scoffing noise, her crossed arms tightening against her chest. "That hasn't exactly panned out in real life, of course, but..."

"We ought to bring Rebecca and James around here sometime," George says, as conversationally as he can.

"Sounds like a plan," Winifred agrees jovially, with a bob of her head. The corner of Sarah's mouth quirks, and Winifred flashes her a grin.

More and more people are filling the streets as they approach the parade route, pushing the group into a cluster, and after a handful of steps that force their arms to smack against each other Winifred finally links hers with Sarah's. Sarah just stops herself from jerking away instinctively, and then reminds herself that she's not currently covered in germs and that it's perfectly natural for women who like each other to walk like this. She reaches out with her other hand, to take hold of Steve's shoulder and keep the line of kids from getting separated from the adults. He looks back at her, and sees her linked with Winifred; she sees his eyes turn surprised, and then happy.

Apparently her son thinks she's as much in need of friends as she thinks he is.

They manage to hold onto each other until they come to the street they want. The kids are good at navigating the mess of bodies until they come to the edge of the sidewalk ("Careful, don't break your ankle again, Buck." "It was a sprain, get it right."), and George is set broad enough that he can gently elbow his way through the crowd to his daughter, whom he picks up and places safely on his shoulders. That leaves Sarah and Winifred hanging back, Sarah slightly more so than Winifred, glancing at each other.

"I'll, uh, I'll find a convenient spot and set up, I suppose," Sarah says, indicating her bag.

"Oh here, I'll come with."

"Oh no, you don't have to--"

"I insist. George can look after the kids by himself. Just let me..." Winifred finagles her way next to her husband, digs through her purse, and hands the asthma cigarettes to him; he carefully pockets them as she explains her plans and makes her way back to Sarah. "Truth be told the parade is more their thing than mine," she admits in a lowered voice. "So I really don't mind helping you."

"Oh, well...all right then," Sarah concedes, letting herself feel a little grateful for the company. Minnie possesses an enviable ability to schmooze people when they are fascinated rather than repulsed by her, and Steve, much to his chagrin, is adorable to people who think he's younger than he is, which works in his favor when bringing in lady customers (it had gotten him and Chaya out of trouble whenever she had snuck him into her employer's house for music lessons). Sarah meanwhile is awkward, and knows that she's awkward; a gregarious partner like Winifred might increase her chances of actually making a sale.

Steve cranes his neck to watch his and Bucky's mothers find their way to a corner with a wide berth between the street and the building safely, and then turns his attention to Bucky when he tugs on his sleeve.

"You gonna wanna hunt down one of the balloons after the parade is over?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?" Steve tosses back.

"You two are absolutely not traipsing all over the city to find a balloon," George says from above them.

"But if we bring it back they'll give us fifty dollars," Bucky says, tilting his head back to look up at his father.

If I bring it back that means we're safe until February, Steve thinks. Even if me and Bucky split it even, that's December rent right there...

"I could give you fifty dollars," George interrupts his thoughts. "I'm not going to, but I could."

Except he is, Steve realizes; Bucky just has to wait five weeks for it. Not even five weeks, because Steve gives him a cut of the money they get from the people whose houses they clean; they split it 70/30 since Bucky is the one convincing his neighbors to let Steve in the door and tackling projects that would trigger Steve's asthma, like the dusty ceiling that made him nauseous.

He glances at Bucky, who's sticking a petulant but utterly unserious tongue out at his father. George takes the opportunity to flick Bucky's nose in response; Bucky covers his nose, muffling his accusations of George breaking it, and Steve bites his lower lip, willing the pit in his stomach to stop growing. He likes Bucky, and he's not going to let envy or a notion like he's gonna get sick of having a Poor Friend soon enough ruin that.

Though maybe he'll go try to find a balloon later, on his own, in any case. If he can get away from Mameh.

"I wish they still had the actual animals in the parade," is what he ends up saying instead of anything that's on his mind; it's sincere, at least, because there hadn't been a reward offered for returning any escaped loans from the Central Park Zoo.

"Yeah, I miss the lions," Bucky says, evidently finished with wheedling his father. "But I read that the animals didn't really like it, though. They would get agitated and stuff 'cause of getting hauled around, 'stead of the crowds coming to them. So I guess it's good that they don't do that anymore."

Steve recalls the stray dog that Bucky had ended up giving the rest of that ham sandwich to, and figures that of course Bucky would know and remember and care about something like that.

He really does like Bucky. He likes Bucky a lot.

"Daddy?" Rebecca pipes up.

"Yes, Princess?" George glances up, catching a glimpse of her from the tops of his eyes.

"Can we get a snack?"

"Uh...you know what, sure." George sticks his hand in and rummages through his pocket, but instead of the money Steve expects, he produces a key, which he hands down to Bucky. "I'll hold our place if you run up to the store and get something for us to munch on. You know how to get there from here?" Bucky shakes his head. "All right, go up two blocks, turn left, and go down another block. You won't be able to miss it; it literally has our name on it."

"Okay." Bucky tugs on Steve's sleeve again. "Come on. I'll show you one of our stores."

The din of the crowd and the effort to weave in and out of clusters of people keeps the boys pretty quiet as they follow George's direction, until Bucky stops in front of a storefront that does indeed have BARNES MARKET emblazoned across the awning, spreads his arms and hands wide, and says "Tada!"

Steve makes a suitably impressed noise.

"This is the newest one," Bucky says, as he sticks the key in the lock and works it open. "I mean, they're all older than me, but this is the baby out of the stores."

"How many do you run?" Steve asks, peering inside the front windows.

"Three." Bucky pulls the door open, allowing Steve to go in first. "Two in Brooklyn and then this one. There are actually more Barnes Markets, but my uncles own those. Here, over this way."

"How'd you guys get all these stores?" Steve asks, glancing around even as he follows Bucky. At the end of one aisle he sees a stand completely dedicated to apples and squash; most of the stock is sold, but a few stragglers remain.

"You know how I told you we had land out west?" Steve mmhmms in response. "Well the Barnes've had that land since 1822 or something like that, but we've never lived on it; we've always rented it out. And then all that rent money got put into the stores."

"Takes money to make money."

"Yeah," Bucky says, unsure of what to make of the tone of Steve's comment. "S-so when my grandfather died, the stores and the land got split up between my dad and his brothers. Here, can you have this?"

Bucky throws an orange package at Steve, who catches it and holds it up to the natural light in order to read the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup emblazoned across it.

"Yeah, these are fine."

"Here, take one for Becks, too." Steve catches the next package thrown to him. "One for me..." He trails down the aisle, scanning the shelves. "Dad likes Mike&Ike's...Butterfinger for Ma..." Bucky glances back at Steve. "What's your mom gonna want?"

Steve tries to recall his mother ever eating candy and can't picture it. "Probably one of them apples."

"Okay. And how about Aksot? We should bring something back for her."

"Do you have Oreos? My grandpa used to get those for her." Bill's frequent sneaking home of a cookie or two for Minnie had been an open secret when Steve was small. It had sparked a bit of an arms race between Bill, Eliezer, and Joseph when he was well enough, as to who could most thriftily spoil their wife.

"Do we have Oreos," Bucky scoffs, backing up to the row of glass canisters holding loose sweets. "I'll bag up three for her. You go get that apple for your mom."

"Yes sir," Steve tosses at him; they take the time to make faces at each other, and then Steve turns around and heads for the produce stand.

He's busy inspecting a few pieces, looking for the largest one with the least amount of bruises, when he hears a strange, gruff, loud voice say "What's going on here, kid?" He freezes up before he figures out that the voice is too far away to be speaking to him, and his stomach clenches when he realizes whoever it is must be talking to Bucky.

"Nothing, Officer," he hears Bucky respond, as he, as calmly as he can, walks down the aisle to where Bucky is standing, debating whether making his presence known would help or hurt. "My name is James Buchanan Barnes. This is my dad's store. We're here to watch the parade and my dad sent us, me and my friend, to get some snacks."

That decides that. Steve sticks his head out into the center aisle, offering a "Hi" in the most amiable, nonthreatening voice he has. In addition to the police officer is an elderly woman with a steel blue gaze that could cut glass, and a man who could be a dead ringer for George Barnes had he been lankier and had more gray in his hair.

"Can either of you corroborate that?" the officer asks, turning to his companions.

"Well, he's no grandson of mine," the woman sniffs, and Steve thinks he can see Bucky turn to stone right in front of him.

"Mother," the man beside her chides, though not, both boys note, entirely unsympathetically. "I'm sorry, Officer. We didn't get a good look at them. This is, in fact, my brother's stepson."

"Like I said, George Barnes is my dad," Bucky says immediately, like pushing a boulder; Steve watches his friend's face and almost winces at the way the muscles in Bucky's jaw involuntarily work. He's learning a lot about the Barnes today, it seems.

"Sorry, James," the man says, in a tone that Steve can't decipher exactly. "We were across the street headed to the parade when we saw someone open the door. We didn't see that it was you and your uh," he gestures to Steve, "your friend."

"Just because George took him in doesn't mean he gave permission for these two to be in here today," the elder Mrs. Barnes hisses, and how a man like George Barnes came out of a woman like her, Steve can't fathom.

"You can ask Dad if you want," Bucky spits back at her. "I'll take you to him myself."

"Well, in the interest of thoroughness," the officer says, sounding more dutybound and somewhat intrigued by the small drama playing out before him than genuinely suspicious of Steve and Bucky anymore. "Lead the way."

"I'll go tell Ethel what's going on," George's brother--It's John who's married to Ethel Steve recalls--says, turning aside.

The officer holds his hands out for Steve and Bucky's haul, which they dutifully hand over, and then follows them out the door, Bucky's not-grandmother and uncle trailing after them. Bucky makes a great show of locking up, staring his father's mother down the whole while, before turning and marching down the street in the direction they came from. Steve sticks close to his side, stopping him from crossing an intersection where they should be turning, occasionally glancing back to return the poisonous glare the elder Mrs. Barnes is giving the back of Bucky's head.

George is beginning to wonder what's taking the boys so long when he hears an unfamiliar voice say "George Barnes?" from behind him.

"Yes?" he responds, turning around.

"Are these yours?" the officer asks, nodding down at Bucky and Steve.

George blinks as Rebecca goes wide-eyed at the sight of the boys accompanied by an officer of the law. "Yes, yes they are. That's my son and his friend. Is, is there a problem?"

"Your...mother?" The officer steps aside, revealing Mrs. Barnes behind him, and Rebecca visibly shrinks away from her.

"Yes, this is my son, George Barnes," she confirms, with less disdain than her denial of Bucky, but still some obviously present.

"She saw the two of them go into your store," the officer continues, as George reaches up to take Rebecca off his shoulders; she slips partially behind her father once she's safely on the ground. "Were they allowed to...?"

"Oh. Oh, yes. Sorry. I'm sorry, you two," he addressed Bucky and Steve, before glancing back up at the officer. "I didn't think about what that would look like. But yes, I gave them the key and sent them over to get something for us to munch on. They had my full permission to take whatever they wanted."

"George?" Winifred, Sarah beside her, is at George's elbow, having glanced over to see George and the officer talking. "Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine, dearest," George says, seeking out her hand and squeezing it as Winifred sees his mother and, much like Rebecca, shrinks back from her. "I sent the boys up to get snacks for us. My..." He gestures to his mother. "She saw them and mistook them for thieves."

Sarah takes a deep breath in through her nose and bites down on the inside of her lower lip.

"All right, well, now that that's all cleared up..." The officer hands down the food in his arms to Bucky and Steve, and then glances up again. "Sorry about the misunderstanding, folks. Enjoy the parade, now. Happy Thanksgiving."

They echo "Happy Thanksgiving" back in various shades of grim politeness. The officer tips his hat and turns, acknowledging John Barnes and his family as they approach and then brushing past them.

For a long, tense moment the group regard each other in silence, those who manage to make eye contact exchanging awkward glances or glares, those who don't looking down at the sidewalk or away at the nearby buildings. Steve is the one to eventually break the spell, holding out the apple to Sarah and saying "I got this for you, Mameh." Bucky follows suit, distributing the rest of the goods with Steve in such a way that they end up aligning themselves next to their mothers when they're done. The movement stirs something in Winifred; she blinks several times, and then touches Sarah's arm.

"I'm sorry, how rude of me. I'm just...taken by surprise, we weren't expecting to see..." She clears her throat. "Sarah, Steve, this is my...this is George's mother, Virginia." The woman doesn't seem to acknowledge that she's been introduced even as Sarah nods at her. "And these are...well, we told you about them in the car; this is George's oldest brother John, his wife Ethel, and their children. Harold, Doris, Louise, Jack," she gestures to each in turn, who offer blandly decorous greetings in return. "Everyone, this is Sarah and Steve Rogers." Her hand moves from Sarah's arm to her back, like she needs the support. "Our. Our friends."

"Nice to meet you," Sarah says.

"I like your jewelry," Louise offers carefully, diplomatically, pointing to the row of necklaces Sarah has strung over her arm.

"Oh, thank you," Sarah says, her eyes softening. "My mother-in-law made these. She asked me to try to sell some for her while we were here." She raises her arm to better show the necklaces off. "Would you like to see?"

The group slightly rearranges itself as Louise drifts forward, followed by Doris and Ethel. In the shuffle George thinks he hears his mother mutter something about selling on street corners, but before he can confront her she asks, in a loud voice, "And where did you pick these characters up?"

"Red Hook," Steve snaps at her before George can answer. "We're from Red Hook."

"Red Hook?" Virginia glances at her daughter-in-law, who has very purposely turned and bent her head to help Sarah interact with Edith and the girls. "Isn't that where you used to live, Winifred?"

"No, I never did," Winifred answers flatly, without looking up. "This one's nice, isn't it? I could see you wearing it, Louise."

"No? Not Red Hook?"

"Winifred lived in Gowanus, Mother," George cuts in, a warning tone seeping into his voice. "You remember."

"Oh I'm sure I don't, George," Virginia says, his warning obviously heard and disregarded. "Because I could have sworn Miss Buchanan was from Red Hook." She glances back at Winifred, raising her voice so she talks over Ethel politely inquiring about the price range. "You're sure you were never a Hooker, Winifred?"

"Mother," George hisses, as Winifred straightens up slowly and Bucky's blood turns to ice.

"No, Virginia," Winifred says quietly, steadily, like she's putting all the effort in her body to keeping her voice and body from shaking and so can't get any louder. "I was never a Hooker."

Virginia's mouth tilts up at the corners in vicious little points. "Why'd you take the money, then?"

Steve sees a blur of movement from the corner of his eye, and then hears an undignified squawk, and suddenly Virginia is half on the ground against John, Bucky towering over her, his face tomato red and his eyes glittering with the same kind of hatred Steve remembers him wearing for Angelo, though much, much greater in intensity.

"You don't talk to her like that, you nasty old bitch!" Bucky screams at her, and even the strangers close to them go quiet.

"James!" Winifred gasps, more shocked than scolding.

"James, come here," George says, his voice strict but not precisely angry. "James, now," he says, grabbing Bucky's shoulder and yanking him back when he isn't obeyed.

"Well, look at that," Virginia flings at George as John helps her to her feet, somehow more triumphant than upset at having been knocked over. "I told you, didn't I? I told you what kind of kid you'd get from a whore, and it looks like I was right."

George's response is cut off when Bucky lurches forward; George manages to catch him by the arm before he can do worse than merely shove the old woman into her eldest son.

"We're leaving," Ethel says hurriedly, her face pink. "Girls, now. Girls." Both Doris and Louise are holding necklaces that had caught their eyes; Ethel shoves the bill she had been holding into Sarah's hand and grabs both her daughters by the shoulders. "Here. Keep the change. John?" She turns around, sending a helpless glance to her husband as she drags Doris and Louise towards him. "John, let's go."

"Yes, yes, let's..." John is holding onto Virginia's arms, his sons on either side staring at Bucky with mixed rage for attacking their grandmother and amazement at his nerve for having done so. "Mother, come on, let's...let's not stay here. George, I'm--" George has very deliberately turned around, to attend to his wife; Winifred's face is blanched, her hands shaking. "Everyone. Come on. We're leaving."

Someone, helpfully, mercifully, steps into the space between John's family and George's, cutting off anything Virginia was about to say. Two other people follow him, forcing the elder Barnes family back, into the crowd. Bucky wrenches his arm out of George's grasp the moment his grip loosens slightly and begins shoving his way through the mass of bodies.

"James you come back here right now; James, don't--" But Bucky is heading in the opposite direction of Virginia and John's family, away from the parade route, and Steve takes off after him, barely hearing Sarah calling out for him to come back.

Luckily, Bucky isn't exactly running, so he doesn't have time to lose the trail before he catches up. Bucky is stopped in the middle of the sidewalk only about two blocks away from where they were, shoulders hunched, his hands shoved deep, hard, into his pockets. Steve hesitates, then reaches out to put his hand on Bucky's arm; Bucky tenses and then shrugs him off, though not unkindly, so Steve only moves his hand away and takes a half-step back.

"Wish you still had your crutches," he says, after a second.

"How come?" Bucky croaks, his voice wet.

"You coulda smacked her in the face with 'em." Bucky has to laugh, though it comes out as a bark, and Steve takes that as encouragement. "Bam, right in the kisser."

"Yeah, that woulda been the berries."

"We coulda taken turns; you had two of them." Steve pauses, considering. "Maybe that's too mean."

"No, she'd deserve it," Bucky mumbles, as he wipes at his face with his arm. "Old hag."

Steve looks up and back at the sound of footfall and their names being called; he takes Bucky's arm again, but this time is shaken off by Winifred turning Bucky around to face her, and is pulled back by Sarah. He vaguely pays enough attention to his mother to know she's scolding him for running off, but all he's really focused on is Bucky shaking his head and saying "I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry. She can't say stuff like that to you, Ma. She--"

"James. James, hush." Winifred has her son's face in her hands, looking numb and shocked and frightened all at once. "It's okay. We're not...we are not angry with you. We don't want you to do that again, ever, but you are not in trouble. Okay?" She barely waits for Bucky to nod before she pulls him into a tight hug, one hand buried in his hair, the other wrapped around his back. "It's all right. I'm all right. I promise, I'm fine."

"Do you two want to go home?" George asks quietly; Rebecca's hand is clasped in his, and he squeezes it to warn her against protesting.

"We're their ride," Bucky says, his voice muffled, flapping his hand in Sarah and Steve's direction.

"I don't mind taking you guys home and then coming back for them," George continues, glancing at Sarah for her approval of that course of action.

"I would really rather not let Virginia ruin our plans," Winifred says, flat and vehement all at once; she hasn't abandoned her hold on Bucky. "I no longer work for her. She can't dictate my day anymore."

George nods and then glances back at Sarah, considering that not only are they the Rogers' ride home, they're also their holiday plans. "All right, then. We'll stay. We obviously lost our spot," he says, forcing a laugh, "but we can go back, find a new one. That sound all right to everyone?"

"That's...perfectly okay with me," Sarah says. "I do have more to try to sell," she continues, raising her presentation arm, the five dollars Ethel had paid for the chance to escape hidden crumpled in her hand.

"I'll help you again," Winifred says, still not relinquishing her son, but loosening her grasp on him. "If you want me to."

"Why wouldn't I want you to?"

Winifred's lips press into a thin, rueful, grateful smile. "That's sweet of you to say, missus."

"It's an honest question." It doesn't garner an answer, though Sarah doesn't need one. "Well. We'd...we'd better get back before we miss it. It doesn't last very long, if I recall correctly."

"Yeah, it's only actually two blocks long or something," Bucky says, finally extricating himself from his mother now that the clawing need to get back to normality has taken hold. "It just goes on for forever."

"Well then let's go. No time to waste."

Steve takes two big, almost-skipping steps to get back to Bucky's side, arriving before Sarah can yell at him for running off. George transfers Rebecca's hand to Winifred when she turns, slipping behind them and the boys to fall in step next to Sarah. Steve hears him murmur "Thank you for not asking questions" to Sarah, and suspects that Bucky did as well, but Bucky makes no indication thereof, and Steve decides George's statement applies to him as well.

Bucky doesn't smile once during the parade; Steve knows because he spends it watching Bucky. He does manage to get an amused snort out of Bucky on the ride back, when they're about to get onto the bridge and Steve leans over and stage whispers "immortal porpoises" in his ear; Bucky gives him a shove to the head, to which Steve gives him a yank on the ear and the news that "If you make a wish and hold your breath the whole way across a bridge, it'll come true". It doesn't quite work as well as the mynah bird story, but Bucky does spend at least slightly more energy on holding his breath than actively fearing the drop between the bridge and the river, at least as far as Steve can tell.

Bucky doesn't smile until they're back at the apartment, when Sarah hands Minnie the small bag of cookies she had stashed in her purse after Steve handed them to her, and Steve informs his grandmother that Bucky had thought of her. Bucky happens to be next to her when they do, close enough for her to put her arm around him, squeeze him to her side, and tell him "I'm glad you're Steve's friend" just loud enough for Steve to also hear.

"Yeah, me too," Steve says, with a nonchalance that abandons him completely when he sees Bucky's face, not light up, but finally at least brighten.

He really does like Bucky. He likes Bucky a lot.

Chapter Text

"What's the matter, Princess?"

Rebecca glances up between her eyelashes at Minnie and then back down again. She and Minnie had been left in the parlor to entertain themselves; Bucky and Steve have disappeared upstairs, and the other adults are in the kitchen helping Alice with last-minute preparations for dinner before the rest of their guests arrive. It could have been an interesting car ride—Steve, as the smallest after Rebecca, relegated begrudgingly to Sarah's lap; the car filled up with the smell of food none of the Barnes have ever seen before—but no one had been really up to talking besides Minnie, and without someone to engage with she had been forced to stay quiet.

"Come on," Minnie wheedles, nudging at Rebecca's arm with a loose fist; Rebecca shifts and goes back to pretending to read a book Bucky left in the parlor from his sprained ankle days. "I've never known you to be so quiet, Princess. Normally you can fit a whole day's conversation in ten minutes." Which she has a few times in the past two weeks, when the Barnes pick Steve up and later drop him off.

"I can be quiet," Rebecca says, a little sullenly.

"Well, I suppose you're allowed to be," Minnie concedes. "But out of the three of you, Steve is the sulky one, right?" Rebecca quirks a little smile that she quickly tries to hide. "So it's making me a little nervous to see such a puss on your face, Princess." She takes Rebecca's chin and squeezes it, earning herself a genuine laugh. "Princess Puss. Is that you?"

"No~" Rebecca frees herself, batting Minnie's hand away; she looks up at the older lady with a bright smile and brighter eyes.

"Now that's a strange look you're giving me."

"I wish you were my grandmother," Rebecca blurts out, and Minnie has to take a second to recover. It's not quite how it should be—Rebecca is older than Ellie would have been, and Bucky younger than Matthew—but she had gotten an image of them as such the day they took over her couch to dream up stories with Steve, and it comes back to her now like a slap in the face.

"What's...what's wrong with your own?" she asks, blinking a few times in rapid succession, forcing a cheeky smile on her face.

"She's mean."

Concern quickly replaces grief. "All the time?"

"Not to me all the time," Rebecca admits. Virginia's idea of her granddaughter seems to be that George's blood justifies her existence, but Winifred's still sullies it; on the rare occasions they see each other, Virginia elects to ignore her, for the most part. "But she's mean to Mommy. And my brother."

"How so?" Minnie asks, a frown forming on her lips and brow.

Rebecca shifts uncomfortably. She suddenly feels in over her head. "She'll. She calls them names."

"What kind of names?" Rebecca shakes her head, the stricken look on her face informing Minnie that whatever words this woman uses, Rebecca is not allowed to repeat them. Minnie squeezes her hand to excuse her from answering. "Why does she do that? Do you know?"

Rebecca hesitates. She's not supposed to know, or at least not supposed to believe. She was told long ago that Grandmother Barnes is a bit touched in the head, and not everything she says should be taken seriously. But she's overheard her aunts and uncles talking about it when they don't know that she's just outside the door, and one time Arthur and Jack tracked her down at the end of a school day, while she waited outside for Bucky to get done talking with his teacher, to demand if it was true. Bucky showed up not long after she burst into tears, when her request to be left alone was ignored for the third time, and chased their cousins away; he told her not to tell anyone what happened, which she promised, and to forget about it herself, which was of course impossible.

"Can you..." She balks again, using every ounce of her limited street smarts to size up Minnie's worth as a confidante. "Can you keep a secret?"

Minnie pauses, considering the best way to respond to that. "I can," she finally says, opting for minimal and ambiguous, hoping Rebecca isn't yet so astute to notice when a statement isn't precisely a promise.

She isn't. A dam breaks, and as the words come flooding out the pressure born of keeping mum for months lifts off of Rebecca's chest. "My daddy isn't Bucky's daddy."

Minnie blinks, slowly this time, as she reaches for the most obvious explanation. "Your mother was married to someone else before?" There's three years between Bucky and Rebecca, which is technically enough time for Winifred to be widowed, or divorced, and then remarry.

Rebecca's lips pinch into an anxious frown, and she shakes her head again.

Minnie's brain short-circuits for a half-second, before her sense of logic begins fighting with the information presented to it. It's hard to fake the relationship that George and Winifred have; Minnie had watched her parents-in-law attempt it before they finally gave up and turned to openly despising each other. She doesn't think a marriage like the Barnes' could exist if the wife had cheated on her husband, especially if a child came of it. Then again, guilt can look a lot like affection, and George seems like the forgiving type...if he even knows; George and Bucky have the same coloration, and Bucky could have gotten his thinner build from his mother...

"Does...does your father know? About Bucky?"

Rebecca nods.

It's possible that they weren't married yet, another part of Minnie's mind reminds her. Winifred wouldn't be the first woman who'd been taken in by promises and then abandoned; the boarding house Minnie's first pastor had sent her to live and work in existed specifically for women in those circumstances. She'd be the only woman Minnie knew of who found a husband despite her illegitimate child, but there again, George seems like the type.

"Well," she says, when she realizes that she's been quiet for almost too long, "whatever happened back then, so long as your family is happy now, that's what matters, isn't it?"

Rebecca squirms in the way of one whose personal convictions compel her to agree, but whose environment is well on its way to convincing her that she's wrong. Minnie opens her mouth, to try to reassure the girl further, but she's interrupted by the sound of the bell ringing.

"Sounds like company," Minnie says instead. There's rapid footfall from the hallway, and then Alice appears in the parlor, straightening and brushing off her dress as she goes for the door.

"Hello sir, ma'am...young sirs, young lady," she adds jovially, to the children trailing in after their parents. "Happy Thanksgiving."

There are cursory polite replies. The corner of Minnie's mouth twitches as she watches the unthinking way the family shrugs off their coats and piles them into Alice's arms. Sarah had nearly jumped out of her skin when Alice had moved to assist her in the same fashion; Steve had pulled off his own coat and snuck past Alice to hang it up himself (there are some things that his small stature is good for). Minnie, for her part, had managed to let Alice do her job with minimal awkwardness, but she still wondered what it felt like to be actually accustomed to having a maid's services.

"Charles! Hello. Happy Thanksgiving." George, flanked by Winifred and Sarah, enter the parlor; Sarah hangs back as both sets of Barnes family greet each other. There's definitely more camaraderie between George and Charles than George and John, though there's still a stiltedness between Winifred and her in-laws that only so much practice at good hostessing can cover up.

More footfall heralds the arrival of Steve and Bucky from upstairs, and after Bucky makes his hellos from a bit of a distance, George gets his brother's family's attention and makes a sweeping gesture to the Rogers, who have all huddled together on or near the couch.

"Everyone, this is my younger brother Charles," a shorter version of John, "his wife Lillian," a long, thin woman with fashionably short hair, "and Raymond," an impish-looking boy about the same age and height as Bucky, "Martha," a dirty-blonde rendition of Rebecca, "and Gerald;" a wide-eyed boy about the age of four or five, "Charles, everybody, these are our friends, the Rogers. Minnie, Sarah, and Steve."

The requisite pleasantries are exchanged, hesitantly, and then there's a silence that goes a beat too long as the Charles Barneses stare at Minnie. Minnie, for her part, reaches back to pull her braided hair—grown long again in the year or so since Joseph died, and still thick and jet black despite her age—over her shoulder with practiced nonchalance, and smiles back at them. After another beat of quiet she can practically feel Steve starting to seethe next to her, so she says "George, is everything ready for dinner?"

"Ah, yes, everything is good to go," George says, stumbling a bit over his words. "If you're ready to eat, we're ready to host," he addresses his brother.

"Lead the way, George," Charles says.

"Steve, help me, please?" Minnie says, setting her hand on his arm. She has a cane, which she sets on the floor and uses to get herself to her feet along with Steve's offered hand; the rest of the group hangs back to let her go ahead of them. As she hobbles through the doorway she hears Gerald ask, too young to know how loud he's being, "Is that a negro?"

Minnie squeezes Steve's hand, hard, to keep him from responding; Steve absolutely would confront a kindergartner on her behalf and as much as she would almost like to see it, she supposes that her hosts would appreciate it if he didn't. Instead she glances over her shoulder, to where the boy is standing between his parents, and says "No, young man. This is an Indian."

Charles and Lillian have the decency to look a little embarrassed, if not over their son's words themselves, then at least for the reaction they garnered. Minnie contemplates rubbing it in deeper—Of course it's entirely possible that I might be...oh, what do you people call it..."maroon"? We never returned your runaways, after all—but she thinks that she's made her point.

Luckily it's not a long walk to the dining room, so the awkward silence doesn't keep as people direct themselves and others into seats. Alice bustles into the kitchen proper and comes back with a pitcher in the shape and color of a gourd.

"Giggle juice?" Charles asks hopefully, as Alice goes to the head of the table first.

"We are law-abiding citizens in this household, Charles," George admonishes good-humoredly; from the corner of his eye he sees an uncomfortable shift in all three of the Rogers's stances. "Wine is for medicine and religion," he continues, as if to reassure them although he continues to face his brother. "We will be imbibing apple cider this Thanksgiving dinner."

As if to demonstrate, Alice pours a distinctly orange-brown liquid into George's glass.

"It seems we should have brought our own," Lillian says under her breath, sounding half-joking, half-grumbling.

Alice goes around the table, and when she circles back to the head Winifred reaches over Rebecca to tap Bucky's hand.

"Why don't you say grace, James?" she asks, as if they hadn't planned for him to do so ever since they knew for sure that family was coming over.

"James is going to do it?" Charles asks, with the slightest hint of incredulity.

"Why wouldn't he?" Winifred tosses back, her polite hostess smile frozen onto her face. "James, if you please."

"Okay," Bucky says, standing up too quickly to not be a little clumsy. "Um." He'd practiced upstairs in the library, while Steve sat at the piano plunking out the notes to Jingle Bells, refamiliarizing himself with an instrument he hadn't touched in three years and letting Bucky work through an otherwise uncharacteristic attack of nerves. "I...okay."

He gestures for the table to hold each other's hands and bow their heads, which they duly do, and then takes a deep breath, willing himself to slip into the same flow as when he and Rebecca are script-free for the Radio Extravaganza.

"O Thou in Whom we live and move, Who made the sea and shore; Thy goodness constantly we prove, and grateful would adore. And if it please Thee, Power Above, still grant us, with such store, the friend we trust; the fair we love, and we desire no more. Amen," he almost forgets to tack on; he sits down, hard, as the rest of the table says "Amen" as well.

"That's...an interesting grace, James," Charles says, in an equally interesting tone of voice.

"It's Scottish," Bucky says, more bluntly than he means to.

"The great Robert Burns wrote it," Winifred elaborates, national pride seeping into her tone.

"Oh," Lillian says, like she's trying to bring the conversation to an abrupt halt.

"I...I thought it was lovely, James," Sarah unexpectedly finds herself saying, refusing to allow Lillian to have her way. "It was a very appropriate choice. Thank you."

Bucky had picked it specifically because of its ability to be read as non-denominational, and he beams at Sarah's notice of that fact. "No problem, Mrs. Rogers."

Alice, who had gone back into the kitchen after saying "Amen", comes back out with a tray featuring the cornbread, now neatly sliced, and sets it in an empty spot on the table.

"Are those beans in that bread?" Martha pipes up, as Alice takes out a pair of tongs from her apron and begins distributing the slices.

"Indeed they are. Beans are good for your blood pressure," Minnie says blithely. "Thank you, Alice. Save a piece for yourself?"

"She can have mine," Raymond says, grimacing at the piece of bread on his plate and picking it up with his fingers.

"Raymond, don't you dare put that back after you've touched it," Charles says in one breath, to his credit, and Raymond's hand wilts. Gerald, about to emulate his brother, also puts his slice back down on his plate. "I take it you made this, Mrs...Mrs Rogers, was it?"

"Right on both counts," Minnie says, as Alice hustles back into the kitchen. "It's a tradition. I make it every year."

"Oh, I didn't know you people celebrated Thanksgiving," Lillian chimes in.

"You could say I got roped into it, when I was younger," Minnie says, a little flatly; she hadn't celebrated the holiday until she was taken to Carlisle. "My husband loved Thanksgiving, too," she adds, a little brighter.

"The same man who told the porpoise story, right?" George asks.

"One and only."

"It's really good, Aksot," Bucky says, after swallowing a bite of his bread.

"I like it too, Aksot," Rebecca pipes up. Martha eyes her from across the table, and then dares to nibble on her slice. She seems to like it as well, in spite of herself.

""Ak-...Aksot?" Lillian asks, raising an eyebrow.

"Gesundheit," Raymond says, and his father snorts a little laugh.

"It means "Grandmother"," Minnie says, as Steve glares at Charles and Raymond. "Good way to distinguish between two Mrs Rogerses," she continues, noting how Charles had glanced at George at the word "grandmother".

Alice hipchecks the door between the kitchen and the dining room open, her hands full with a tray carrying three bowls of the soup that the Rogers had very carefully transported from their apartment to the Barnes' home.

"Liver soup," she announces. "For Steve and both Missuses Rogers, right?"

"None for me, actually, thanks," Minnie says. "Sorry, darling," she addresses both Sarah and Steve. "I need a break from liver."

"You need a break from it," Steve says, equal parts grumbling and resignedly good-natured.

"Is it also good for blood pressure?" Raymond asks, bordering on snotty.

"It's good for your iron count," Steve throws at him, his eyes narrowing.

Raymond shrugs. "I'm just saying, it sounds gross."

"Would anyone else like the third bowl?" Alice cuts in diplomatically, before anyone can say anything. "Your other option for soup is petite marmite."

"I'll have it, Miss Alice, thanks," Bucky says, loudly, and Steve shoots him a surprised, grateful look. Bucky made his distaste for liver quite plain three Sundays ago.

"Petite marmite for everyone else?" A general noise of consent goes up from around the table. "All right. Just one moment..." Alice serves the three bowls—Bucky looks mildly regretful for a split second, then neutral with a side order of resolute—and disappears back into the kitchen.

"That...seems interesting," Charles says, glancing over the table to the nearest bowl of soup. "What, uh...what all's in it?"

"Beef liver, ginger, and soy sauce," Sarah lists off.

"Ginger and soy sauce?" Lillian says, frowning. "That sounds rather...Oriental."

"It's good," Bucky says, after sipping some broth off his spoon.

"One of my patients gave me the recipe," Sarah says.

"Oh, you're a nurse?" Lillian asks. "In Chinatown?"

"Well, we live in Red Hook. But I'll accept any call from anywhere in the Five Burroughs. Including," she lifts her soup-laden spoon, "Chinatown."

"Oh, my. So you've seen...some rather rough areas, haven't you?"

Sarah bobs and weaves her head noncommittally. She gets the feeling like she's being tested. "I wouldn't send Steve out there alone, but if you go out in daylight and keep your wits about you, it's not so bad."

"Have you ever smoked opium?" Martha pipes up, wide-eyed.

"Martha Jean," Lillian says, but the scolding sounds rather perfunctory to Sarah. "What a question."

"No, I never have," Sarah says, trying to sound the right mix of flabbergasted and insulted. "It's really not as prevalent in Chinatown as you think, actually."

Alice comes in again, with a larger tray bearing more bowls of clearly heartier soup. In the middle of the tray is a plate of oysters on the shell, and Minnie's face lights up at the sight of them.

"Excited?" George asks, grateful for the opportunity to change the subject.

"I haven't had oysters at dinner in...God, it must be thirteen, fourteen years or so now."

"That sounds about right," Sarah says. "Joseph and I would have been married fourteen years this past July."

"You're divorced?" Lillian asks, the disapproving look back.

"Widowed," Sarah returns, the question, and answer, to why Lillian would assume that hanging in the back of her mind. "Joseph...my husband...he picked up a lung ailment while he was in the service. He couldn't shake it. He passed last year."

"How come you can't eat oysters?" Raymond demands over Lillian and Charles' murmured condolences.

"Jewish people don't eat shellfish," Sarah says matter-of-factly, just stopping herself from staring the kid down.

Whatever expression she manages to give, it doesn't deter him from making his own face. "Why?"

"Because God told us not to," Steve interjects, just shy of snappish.

"...There are probably many reasons," Sarah says, seeing the array of befuddled looks now aimed at her and her son. "But, uh...that's what it boils down to, pretty much."

"Yeah, Evelyn was wrong," Bucky pipes up. "She told me that Jews don't believe in God," he explains. "That's not true."

"Thank, thank you for...clearing that up, James," Charles says, after a moment of awkward silence.

"Deviled eggs, anyone?" Alice announces; once again she has made it in and out of the kitchen unnoticed, this time with a large serving tray.

"Steve, you can have these," Winifred says. "Your mother checked them over when we were in the kitchen and said they were fine."

"Thank you, Mrs. Barnes," Steve says, the usual bashfulness at having been thought about creeping up into his voice and face.

"Thank your friend here," Winifred says, gesturing to Bucky. "He's the one who actually made them."

Steve misses Raymond snickering about James the housewife, too distracted by the strange flush that rises on Bucky's face when Steve thanks him.

"Your mother said you can have the sweet potatoes and the stuffing too, when they come out," Winifred says. She wants to tell Steve how Bucky had fussed, double-checking everything that went into the recipe against a list he had entitled Steve's Food Rules, but her nephew's reaction has already spoiled whatever fun she would have gotten out of teasing Bucky.

"If you want the cranberry jelly that's okay for you too," Bucky mumbles.

"So...I'm sorry, I'm confused," Charles says, at Minnie, who is cracking open an oyster shell on her plate. "You're having shellfish because...?"

"Because I didn't marry Sarah; my son did."

"Oh, so...I see. He was a convert." He says the word like it's food, about which he'd say the taste itself isn't so bad but the texture ruins it for me. "So, ah...how did..." He turns his head to address Sarah. "How did you two even meet, you and your husband?"

"This one," Sarah says, pointing at Minnie.

"Joey and his father were fixing a cabinet and it fell off the wall," Minnie says, rolling her eyes. "Split Joey's forehead right open. And this was 1912, I think; we didn't have a phone back then. So I had to send my husband out to the store to call for a nurse to sew him up."

"I was...I was eighteen, so I was just a student at the time," Sarah says. "But I still think it was one of the biggest cuts I've ever seen. It was a miracle he wasn't concussed."

"And he fought me on getting a nurse! He's dripping blood all over my kitchen floor, and the genius wants to just wrap it up and go about his day like a cabinet didn't just fall on his face." Minnie shakes her head, slightly oblivious to the mildly uncomfortable looks on Charles and Lillian's faces at the mention of blood. "You see where Steve gets it from," she informs Winifred and George.

"Hey!" Steve tries to protest, through a mouthful of deviled egg. He almost loses a morsel in doing so and slaps his hand over his mouth; Bucky and Rebecca snicker at him.

"But yes, I was apprenticing under the nurse who sutured his forehead," Sarah says. "I didn't do much; I was mainly there to keep him distracted while she did it."

"Mmhmm, but it worked a bit too well, because after Sarah left, Joey turns to me, looking all ridiculous with this line of stitches running down his forehead, looks me dead in the face and says, "Ney, I'm gonna marry that woman, just you wait"." Minnie laughs. "And sure enough, three years later..."

"I'm sorry, "Ney"?" Lillian cuts in. "What does that mean?"

"It's what a horse says," Raymond interjects, making his brother and sister laugh.

"It means "Mother"," Minnie says, sending a quick glare at the children.

Raymond mutters something that sounds like horse language.

"And how did you all find each other, speaking of first meetings?" Charles asks, gesturing to his brother's family and the Rogers, before anyone can respond to his son. "You're not...George, you're not over in Red Hook that much, I don't think...?"

"We, we...we knew Minnie from our old church," Winifred says, correctly surmising that Sarah would rather not have Steve's business venture mentioned.

"Old church?"

"Well we no longer attend services there," George cuts in. "We ah...we were dissatisfied with the environment. We're currently searching for a new congregation."

"Oh." Charles' gaze flicks over to the Rogers, taking in the stoic look on Minnie's face and the silently fuming one on Steve's, and draws his own, not inaccurate conclusion. "Well. You could always come back to St. Paul's...?"

"I doubt that would prove to be a better environment," George says, flatly, and Charles gives a fair enough shrug.

Quiet settles over the dining room, the sound of chewing, swallowing, and silverware clinking against plates replacing conversation, until Alice mercifully bustles back into the room with the announcement that the main course is ready to be served, and carrying the first two plates of it.

She puts the first of the two in front of Sarah, and the second in front of Steve, and for the first time in his life he understands the adage about one's eyes being bigger than one's stomach. His plate is heaped high, tzimmes and stuffing and sweet potatoes draped with pineapple arranged in neat little sections cordoned off by lines of celery stalks and cauliflower florets, a sliver of cranberry jelly nudging its way out from underneath the stuffing. The taste of Bucky's deviled eggs lingers in his mouth. Had they stayed at home, he'd have had just bread and soup; Mameh had only sprung for the ingredients for tzimmes when she realized how pitiful their contribution to dinner was and needed anything that would make her feel marginally less pathetic.

"You okay, Steve?"

He blinks at the sound of Bucky's voice and looks up with a weak smile. "Yeah, just...admirin' the food," he directs at Winifred. "It looks delicious, Mrs. Barnes."

"Listen to this one," Winifred says to the table, her smile an odd combination of forced and genuine. "James chooses his friends well, doesn't he?"

Raymond mutters something that sounds suspiciously like "Yeah, when he can get 'em."

Alice returns, serving George and Winifred first, and then bustles back and forth with the rest of the dinner plates. They're not much different than the ones given to Steve and Sarah, except that the portions are a bit smaller to make room for slices of turkey, and they're met less with jealousy and more with confusion.

"What's this?" Martha asks, pointing down at her plate.

"Oh, that's called tzimmes," Sarah says, once she sees what's giving Martha pause. "It's got squash and carrots and apples...it's good, it's...it's like a sweet stew."

"Why not just call it a sweet stew then," Raymond mutters.

"Because it's called tzimmes," Steve and Bucky snap at the same time, with identical glares.

"All right, calm down." Raymond rolls his eyes. "Sorry I don't speak horse."

"Shut up!" Bucky barks, making the silverware rattle when he slams his hand on the table, as Steve jerks to the edge of his seat, ready to stand.

"James," George warns.

"What?" Bucky rounds on his father, face dark pink.

"Let me handle it, please."

"But—"

"James, let me handle it," George says pointedly, raising his eyebrows; Bucky slumps petulantly in his seat, and George turns his face to his brother. "Charles, if you would..."

"Raymond," Charles prompts, though the hard look on his face is fixed on Bucky.

"Sorry," Raymond mumbles, refraining from rolling his eyes again but only just barely.

"He's at that age," Lillian says to Sarah. "Rebellious. Pushing boundaries." She gestures with her chin at her sister-in-law. "Winifred knows how it is."

"I don't think she does, actually," Sarah says quietly, stiffly, and as Steve slinks back in his chair he sees a grateful look on Winifred's face from the corner of his eye.

Lillian inclines her head, obviously wanting to retort but unwilling to see an argument through to its end, and the dining room plunges into painful silence again. Alice, who had been assured beforehand that she was welcome to bring a plate to the table once everyone was served, decides to remain in the kitchen to eat and then call her sister-in-law's house, where she sent her son to live the same day she convinced her husband that the Barnes wanted a live-in maid now, and wouldn't it be better if they weren't there to distract him while he looks for work?

Bruce is happy to hear from her; much happier in general now that he's safely tucked away in Manhattanville with his Aunt Susan instead of trying and failing to keep the peace at his natal Gowanus apartment. He tells her all about the science test he aced effortlessly yesterday, and politely asks after Bucky and Rebecca, whose ages he sits in between and whom he's met on a few occasions. Alice wishes that he could live closer--Bruce is as much a bookworm in need of friends as Bucky is, Rebecca can draw anyone into her sunny little world of make-believe, and while Alice doesn't know Steve that well, Winifred thinks highly of him, and that's a trustworthy endorsement--but the further away he stays from Brian, the better.

"...comin' to see me?"

"What was that, baby?" Alice asks, having faded out for a moment.

"Are you coming to see me later?" Bruce elaborates.

"Sure thing, baby," she says. "Just as soon as the guests leave." George had told her that he didn't expect his brother's family to stay long, and he would gladly drop her off in Harlem where she would join Susan's family for a late dinner and then spend the rest of the long weekend. The complete lack of noise filtering into the kitchen from the dining room tells her that she'll probably be there even earlier than previously estimated. "They're finishing up dinner now, it sounds like, so it's just dessert and dishes and then I'll be over to you."

"Okay," Bruce says amiably, trying to keep the whine in his voice to a minimum.

"In fact, let me go see if I can start clearing off the dinner table. Sooner I do that, sooner I can head over, okay?"

"Okay," Bruce says again, a little brighter. "Love you, Ma."

"I love you too, baby. See you soon." She's reticent to hang up, but finally does after a second's hesitation, and looks to the door with a sigh. She doesn't exactly begrudge George's valiant attempts to have his cake and eat it too when it comes to his birth and married families--Lord knows she's been clinging to the hope that one of these days her husband is going to actually love their son for longer than anyone who would deem reasonable--but she wishes it was far less awkward to wait upon than it is.

She's right, at least; the lack of conversation has made everyone finish dinner quickly. She grafts a pleasant look onto her face as she hustles around the table picking up plates, mentally dividing up the leftovers between what she's going to take with her to Susan's and what she's going to pack up for the Rogers. Winifred had made sure that the fridge was already stuffed full before they bought the food for tonight's dinner, so it wouldn't technically be a lie when they told Sarah that they didn't have room to store the leftovers and really she'd be doing them a favor if she took food home with her.

Personally Alice figures Sarah is smart enough to see through that, but she also knows that all three of them are intimately familiar with the fear of a son going hungry, so she can't see Sarah ultimately refusing.

"Will anyone be having dessert?" Alice asks, balancing a stake of plates on her forearm. "We have marshmallow pumpkin pie." Rebecca, Martha, and Gerald immediately respond to the affirmative; their excitement makes her giggle. "Anyone else?"

"I'll take you up on some pie," Minnie says.

"All right. And for our specialty eaters..." She rounds on Sarah and Steve. "Or for anyone who wants it," she amends, seeing Raymond gearing up to cause trouble. "We have a fruit salad. Apples, oranges, raisins, cranberries, and walnuts," she ticks off on her fingers. "I hope that's all fine for you?"

"That sounds lovely, Alice," Sarah says. "Steve and I will have some."

Alice keeps a knowing look to herself. "Why not adjourn to the parlor for now? I'll bring out dessert for everyone."

No one objects to the idea, and as they rise to their feet conversation does start again, but it's a stilted, awkward thing that comes out of their mouths, and Alice is glad to be away from it when she's left alone. It's not just for herself that she hurries through setting the dishes near the sink, cutting up the pie, and spooning out the fruit salad.

She opts to bring everything out at once, on the largest tray they have, so as to get back to the kitchen and begin cleaning up as soon as possible. Winifred, clutching her still half-full glass of cider, looks like she desperately wants to go back to the kitchen with her; Alice sends her a sympathetic grimace as she escapes from the parlor.

"The pie is very good, Winifred," Minnie says, after a long beat of silence.

"Oh, it's so easy to make," Winifred says, grateful for the chance to launch into the time-filler she had rehearsed earlier.

Despite the claim to ease, she's arranged her shpiel so it uses far more words than necessary, and she's only about two-thirds of the way through it when she hears Rebecca snap "Stop it!"

Martha and Gerald had arranged themselves by the long side of the coffee table, and Rebecca perpendicular to them, while Steve and Bucky took the couch. Raymond had kept himself removed from the rest of the younger crowd; the adults had presumed him wanting to distinguish himself from the other children, but apparently his plan was actually to plant himself behind and slightly to the side of Rebecca, where he could reach over and drag her plate across the table away from her.

"Raymond," Charles warns.

Rebecca picks up her plate protectively. Raymond adapts his plan of action by grabbing her wrist and forcing it up, so her plate comes dangerously close to smashing her in the face.

"Raymond!" Rebecca yelps, jerking her head away. "Stop it!"

"Raymond, come on, stop torturing your cousin," Lillian chides mildly; he rolls his eyes and stands up, swaggering away while his younger brother snickers.

"Becks, here, sit with me and Steve," Bucky says; he hadn't been paying attention and feels a little guilty over it. Rebecca huffs and stands up, almost-stomping her way to the couch, where Steve and Bucky move over so she can squish in between her brother and one of the armrests. Steve picks at his fruit salad for a few seconds, before he gets a brilliant idea.

"Hey, Becks." She looks up from where she's sulking into her pie to see him holding a walnut between his thumb and forefinger. He opens his mouth, to demonstrate for her, and once she imitates him he moves to throw an underhanded pitch over Bucky's head. "Catch."

She does, and giggles through chewing it. Steve grins broadly at her and fishes through his bowl with his fork until he finds another walnut and throws it to her again. This one bounces off her cheek, and both she and Bucky go to catch it before it disappears into the couch cushions.

"Steve," Sarah says from across the room, where she and the other adults are congregated around a chair that George had, naturally, offered to Minnie.

"What? I don't like walnuts," Steve replies, brandishing his newest find before tossing it up in the air. Bucky catches it in his hand, then tosses it directly into Rebecca's mouth.

"Eat your food, don't play with it, please," Sarah says, like she can feel Charles and Lillian's disapproving looks boring holes into her.

"It's all right, Sarah," Winifred says, and Sarah gets the distinct feeling that she's making a sacrifice play. "It's not like it's going to stain the couch or anything."

Vindicated, Steve finds three more walnuts. The first he again tosses to Rebecca; the second he throws to Martha and Gerald, who have been watching the game with intrigued expressions. They both miss, and go scrambling for it; Steve laughs, and because of it almost misses Raymond's hand diving into his bowl, grabbing the third while managing to rub his palm over the rest of the fruit; the next thing Steve registers is Rebecca giving a startled little squawk when she's pelted in the face with the last walnut.

Steve brings his hand down before he even thinks about it, pinning Raymond's wrist to the armrest, and suddenly Bucky is thrown over his lap, audibly slapping his cousin's face as Rebecca whimpers, the heel of her palm pressed against her left eye.

"Rebecca!" George and Winifred push their drinks into Sarah and Minnie's hands as they hurry forward; Charles and Lillian follow, going to their own child and pulling him away from the couch. "Let me see it, sweetheart," Winifred continues, pulling Rebecca's hand gently away from her face; her eye is pink and watery from taking a direct hit to the globe, but otherwise uninjured. "Aw, it's okay, dearie. Nothing's bleeding, nothing's stuck. You're fine."

"Hurts," Rebecca sniffles.

"We'll go get you a cold wet rag," Winifred says, straightening up and pulling Rebecca to her feet at the same time. "All right? That'll make it feel better." Rebecca nods miserably, and Winifred looks at her husband. "George..."

"I'll take care of it." Winifred presses her lips into a thin frown but chooses to focus on her daughter, leading her out of the parlor and back towards the kitchen. George waits until they're out the door before crossing his arms and measuring his voice. "Rebecca would appreciate an apology when she comes back."

"And she'll get one," Lillian says, in an odd tone; her hand on Raymond's shoulder is a vice grip. "Raymond would appreciate one as well."

"What for?" Steve says at the same time as Bucky.

"You hit my son, that's what for," Lillian snaps, pointing at Bucky.

"Well if he didn't wanna get hit maybe he shouldn't have thrown something at my sister's face," Bucky retorts.

"I don't care what he did. What you did was just as unacceptable."

"Are you kidding?" Steve demands, feeling his blood start to heat up his face.

"Steve, don't," Sarah hisses from across the room.

"You, young man, have to learn that you can't react to every little slight with violence," Lilian plows ahead, ignoring them in favor of a laser focus on Bucky.

"He deserved it," Bucky nigh unto growls at her. "I'm not going to apologize."

"Of course you aren't," Lillian sneers. "Why would we expect basic decency out of you?"

"Enough!" George bellows; there's a tinny ringing sound following his voice as it bounces off the walls, and that in conjunction with his position as the eldest male in the house silences any argument. "James, go to your room. Cool your head."

Bucky slides off the couch with a huff but without a protest, the poisonous look on his face fixed on his aunt and uncle as he backs out of the room. Steve watches him go helplessly until he's out of sight, then takes over glaring at Charles and Lillian on his behalf.

"Lillian," George continues quietly, darkly. "I would appreciate it if you kept comments like that to yourself."

"George," Charles says, before his wife can respond. "We need to—"

"George?" Winifred is in the doorway, Rebecca by her side, clutching a damp rag to her eye. "What's wrong with James? We passed him in the hallway..."

"I sent him to his room to calm down," George says, speaking volumes for all his terseness.

"Can I go to my room, too?" Rebecca asks.

"You can do whatever you want, Princess," George mumbles, and Rebecca disappears back into the hallway without further ado.

"Lillian," Charles says, turning to his wife. "Why don't...why don't you take the kids up to the library, until the boys cool off? Hm?" His hand is on her shoulder, but his gaze is on his brother. "I think that would be a good idea."

"Fine," Lillian says, her voice as chilly as the nip in the outside November air. "Martha, Gerald, come on. We're going upstairs. Now, please."

Gerald makes a few whining noises over having to get up; Martha shushes him in a play at being grown-up. The four of them skirt around the Rogers and Winifred on their way out of the room, as if they were snakes waiting to strike, and George waits until he can no longer hear their footsteps in the hallway to say, "Win, Alice is going to want to leave soon."

"...Right," Winifred says, her eyes worried. "I'll...I think I'll go help her finish cleaning up, then."

"Why don't I help you," Sarah says more than asks.

"Steve, if you could help me up, we'll keep them company," Minnie says. Steve turns to face her, reads her eyes, and then slips off the couch with a nod. "You two go on ahead," Minnie says to Sarah and Winifred, scooting up in her seat. "Old bones, you know. We'll be right there."

Sarah feels sufficiently awkward enough to not put up even a token fuss. Winifred seems torn between being thankful for the chance to escape her in-laws and wanting to stay with her husband, but the force of Sarah's offer compels her out of the parlor despite the worried look she gives George the entire way out the door.

Minnie doesn't make a great effort to stand up until she sees Sarah and Winifred nearing the door to the kitchen. She and Steve are halfway down the hall themselves when she squeezes his shoulder and whispers "I'll tell them you went to the bathroom."

She lets him go, striding forward with as much grace as a cane will afford her, and Steve presses up against the wall and inches as close to the entrance of the parlor as he dares.

"—best time for this?" George is saying, when Steve finally stops.

"If I called you later you'd find a way to avoid talking about it," Charles says, with some form of mirth present in his voice. "Look, I know you don't want to hear this—"

"You're right. I don't. Because it's nonsense."

"George, John called me before we left. He told me what happened at the parade. Now before you say anything, I know. Mother...Mother should not have done what she did."

"Shouldn't have insulted my wife in front of our friends, who, by the way, did not need to have it put in their heads that..." There a second or two where George struggles for words. "It was not Mother's business to tell them about all this."

"I know. I don't disagree. Just...you know how she is, George. You shouldn't have..."

"Shouldn't have what? Acknowledged her presence? Married Winifred in the first place?"

"Shouldn't, shouldn't have engaged with her."

"She approached us. She brought a police officer to us."

"Because she thought he was--"

"Oh, no. No, Charles. Don't you dare try to tell me that she actually thought James was stealing from me. That's bullshit and you know it."

That brings Steve up short. For all Joseph had said that all soldiers swore, Steve hadn't really thought George the type to be capable of it.

"I don't agree with that. You're still her son, George. She does still care about you. And I think she was genuinely looking out for you."

"She was looking to humiliate James."

"George, come on. You can't..." Charles drops his voice into something a little more ingratiating. "You can't blame her for not...for not trusting him all that much."

"And why is that?" George's voice is stony, venomous; Steve prides himself on not being afraid of anything but you couldn't pay him enough to trade places with Charles right now. Charles obviously doesn't want to be in his own shoes either, because it takes him a few seconds of searching for words before he speaks again.

"Look. What you did for them, taking them in like that—"

"I didn't marry Winifred out of a sense of charity."

"No, no, I know, I understand that. But...look, a lot of people in your position wouldn't have done it. It was noble. Very noble. And it says a lot about you, about what kind of person you are. You're a good man, and a good father. But James is still...I mean, look what happened today. James physically assaulted two people."

"Your son threw a walnut at my daughter's eye. Our mother all but called my wife a slut in front of every Tom, Dick, and Harry in Harlem. What would you have had James do? If someone went after Martha or Lillian like that--"

"I understand, all right? I get why he did it. But at dinner, he was behaving...the way he acts and speaks, it's strange, okay? Like he's putting on an act to fool people. And the way he snapped at you..."

"He was upset, that's all," George says, with forced evenness. "James is very protective. And Raymond was being incredibly rude."

"Okay, yes, he was, and we're not sure what's gotten into him, but we're talking about one dinner versus James' entire life. The kids are telling me about how he is at school. Not just Raymond, all of them. And they all say that he's too quiet. He doesn't act like a normal kid. He's never had a steady group of friends; he spends all his free time hiding out in the stairwell for Heaven's sake, doing Lord knows what. And he does get into a lot of fights, more than any of his cousins."

"You're describing me as a kid, Charles."

"All right, but we knew you as a kid. We knew where you came from. What kind of people brought you into the world."

"Oh my God, Charles."

"George, the apple does not fall far from the tree. You know this. Everyone knows this. They're proving it more and more every day."

Steve feels the air move around him and then a chill run up his spine. He's almost too stiff to turn his head and see Winifred standing behind him, a refilled glass of cider, presumably intended for George, in her hand.

"So, what, are you saying that Winifred—"

"I'm talking about his father," Charles says quickly, like he doesn't want to admit the truth. "His real...his biological father is a problem."

"We don't know who his biological father is."

"And that's part of the point. We know what kind of man he was. And it's his blood running through James's veins. Not yours. Not...not quality."

"All right. I've heard enough."

"George, I'm not trying to insult you. Hand to God, I'm really not. I know you're doing the best you can with him; God knows he's better adjusted than he should be because of you, but the fact remains that James doesn't come from good stock. And there's only so much you can do to make up for that, George. We're talking about his nature. You can't change it. And eventually...eventually, bad blood will out."

Winifred ghosts past Steve with the calm of a hurricane's eye. Charles doesn't notice her until George does, and when he turns around he doesn't see her for the cider that she unceremoniously tosses in his face.

"How dare you," she says, trembling and quiet but with none of the fear she had shown before Virginia, even as Charles startles at her, wiping furiously at his face.

"Winifred—"

"How dare you?!" suddenly explodes out of a her mouth, like a land mine going off, and Charles stumbles back as her glass shatters at his feet. "How dare you stand there and try to tell George who his son really is? How dare you people spend years calling my child a bastard and treating him like dirt and then have the audacity to get angry when he finally pushes back? You have no idea what James is like, how, how kind and loyal and selfless he is; he has the biggest heart I've ever seen out of anyone in the whole world, and you, you have no right to talk about his blood like it means anything when it's because of your family that James was even born!"

"No," Charles snaps. "No, Winifred. You can't pin that on us. It was your decision—"

"My sister was dying!" It's nearly a shriek, and Steve thinks that if the people in the kitchen and maybe even upstairs haven't heard anything yet, they're probably hearing it now. "My baby sister was dying, and all I asked for, I worked for your family for years, I should have been able to ask you for help, and you wouldn't—"

She can't finish her sentence; it chokes off with a high noise between a cry and a whimper. She sways on her feet, and George goes to her, pulling her away from Charles, who has the decency or at least the discomfort to look away as George tries to calm her. She tries to talk, but the knot in her throat hurts too badly for her to do more than noise at him as he cups and then wipes her face, before pulling it so it rests on her shoulder.

"I'm going to ask you to leave now, Charles," George says quietly.

"George—"

"Get your family, and get out of my home, before I decide that you're trespassing."

Steve waits a second, and then hears the floorboard creak. The possibility of being discovered by either Charles or Sarah enters his mind, and he backs away, slowly and quietly at first, and then quicker and with a quick prayer that his noise will be unnoticed or at least ignored when he sees the shadow of Charles move in the parlor. The stairs are carpeted, which thankfully does at least muffle his footsteps as he rushes up to the third floor.

Bucky's door is shut but not locked. The creaking sound of Steve pushing it open makes Bucky startle upright from where he's lying on the floor in one of the corners of the room. Steve glances down at the floor to see that there's a square cut out of the carpet near where Bucky's head was, replaced with a grid intended to promote air flow, and from the look on Bucky's face Steve figures there must be another such grid on the second floor directly underneath it, allowing sound from the parlor all the way up to the third floor.

"Guess you heard why I'm not close with them," Bucky says after Steve can't think of anything to say, with a forced laugh in his voice that reminds Steve of his grandfather dying.

Someone's going to come get him soon. After a scene like that, Mameh's gonna come find him as soon as she can and take him home and make him leave Bucky looking and sounding like that before he figures out how to fix it, and he won't see Bucky for at least another three days, if he'll even want to see Steve, if Mameh will think it's worth him being drawn into the Barnes' problems, if Winifred will let them see each other ever again after she caught Steve eavesdropping—

He feels it beginning to form in his chest, what isn't quite asthma but still makes breathing and thinking impossible, and before it can take him over he turns on his heel and slams Bucky's door shut against it.

"You're gonna have to go soon," Bucky mumbles, his mattress creaking as he sits on it.

Steve pinches the small tab on the doorknob between his thumb and forefinger and turns it. The click of the lock is the most comforting sound he's ever heard.

"I ain't going nowhere."

Chapter Text

"No change?"

Sarah heaves a long sigh, rolling her eyes heavenward. Minnie gives her a sympathetic glance from the dining room table, where she's been entertaining herself playing Solitaire with a pack of cards George had unearthed.

"Any luck finding the key?" Sarah asks.

"None whatsoever." Minnie shakes her head.

"Wonderful. So unless we wanna break down the door..." Sarah sits next to her mother-in-law, putting her forehead in her hand. "He's gonna get a whupping once we get home, I'll tell you that. Deal me in?"

Minnie slides her hand across the table, gathering up her cards, and sets about reshuffling the deck. "What all exactly happened at the parade earlier?"

"Ahh..." Sarah casts her mind back, filling in the blanks of what she wasn't part of. "George sent the boys to get us snacks from one of the stores he runs. Apparently his mother, George's mother, was there and saw the boys go in, and she went to tell a policeman that they were robbing the place."

"Did she know that it was her grandson going in?"

"Well, based on how they behaved around each other when I saw them together, I'd say yes."

"Rebecca mentioned to me that the grandmother...does not have nice things to say about Bucky. Or Winifred."

"No, she did not. It was...I can't imagine you speaking to me the way this woman did to Winifred, ever. Even if you didn't like me. Or Mameh speaking like that to Joseph. Especially not in front of other people."

"Why, what all did she say?"

"It wasn't much," Sarah admits. "But she was...she was trying to bait Winifred. Like how..." she scoffs, "like how kids do with Steve, to rile him up. Except it was Bucky that she managed to rile up."

"How so? Did she also get a slap?"

Sarah shakes her head. "He screamed at her. Cussed at her, actually. And then he shoved her over. Just...bam," she smacks a loose fist into an open palm, "plowed right into her. She would've been on the ground if she hadn't landed on someone else."

"Oh, my," Minnie says, raising her eyebrows. "What did she say that pushed him over the edge?"

"She..." Sarah makes a reluctant face and drops her voice. "She implied that Winifred was, was a...a koorvah," is what she finally decides is safe enough to say aloud. Minnie's eyebrows shoot up further into her hairline. "More than implied. She said it. She asked her...her exact words, uh, her exact words were "Why'd you take the money?"."

"Well." Minnie's hands had stilled, and now they return to shuffling her deck. "I'd've shoved her over, too, if I were Bucky. I might've done worse."

"No, I don't really blame him," Sarah says, with a weak laugh.

They're quiet as Minnie deals the cards, splitting the entire deck between them; War is their default game when no one has asked for something else. They make soft noises of triumph and despair through the first few battles, filling the silence until Minnie speaks again.

"Rebecca mentioned to me...Rebecca told me that...apparently George is not Bucky's father."

"She did?" Sarah's face knits into a frown. "How would she know something like that?"

"She's tiny like Steve. She's probably sneaky like Steve." Sarah snorts. "And obviously the extended family has no problem talking about it. She's probably overheard a lot."

Sarah sits back in her chair. "And Winifred wasn't...?"

"She was not married to someone else before, no."

"Oh." Sarah pauses mid-flip, and then sets her card down after a second. She wins. "Was she seeing George at the time?"

"I don't know. But I wouldn't think so. They wouldn't be so affectionate with each other if Bucky came of an affair, I don't think."

"Well they did know each other, at least, we know that. Winifred did apparently work for his family."

"Oh, he was probably pining for her, I don't doubt that." She wins the battle, and swoops her newly won cards up in hand. "But I don't think they were properly together."

"So you think that she..."

"I was assuming she had a gentleman caller who wasn't much of a gentleman," Minnie says, laying down a card. "But a comment like what the grandmother said...they don't seem like a generous bunch, George's family. If Winifred needed money quickly for whatever reason, then..."

Sarah wins, and she drags her cards across the table towards herself. "Then?"

"Well. There are worse things a person could do for money."

She's won, and she settles her hand on the cards to draw them towards her. Sarah watches her mother-in-law's hand not move for several seconds, before she, falteringly, sets her own hand atop it.

"...Sorry, darling." Minnie blinks a few times, rapidly. "Just...excuse me a moment? I need to use the ladies' room..."

"Of course," Sarah says, drawing her hand away. "Do you need help getting there?" she asks, seeing Minnie flounder a bit as she tries to regain her balance once she rises from her chair.

"No no, I'm fine by myself, darling," Minnie says, waving her hand. "Be right back."

Sarah watches her worriedly as she limps stiffly towards the door with the assistance of her cane, so as she goes she tries to counteract it with a reassuring smile that she's sure turned out grim. She hates using the thing; as a hand-me-down first from her husband and then her son, it's a tangible reminder of the worst pain of her life. But it's either that or take two steps and end up crumpled on the floor, so she sets her jaw once it's out of Sarah's sight, and pushes it hard into the carpet.

She spends a moment longer in the bathroom than she needs; looking at herself in the mirror. She's still somewhat preoccupied with her image as she steps out of the room and collides, thankfully not too forcefully, with Winifred.

Sarah hears the commotion and immediately goes to the door, arriving just in time for the two other women to straighten themselves out while still noising remorsefully at each other. It's a humorous sight, apologies and pardons tripping clumsily over each other, and she can't help but snort a little laugh. She catches their attention, and after a beat, Winifred allows herself her own awkward little chuckle.

"I...I came down to see how things were," Winifred says. "And to...well, apologize. For being...being quite the terrible hostess."

"Well, certain people were quite the terrible guests," Minnie offers mildly, and Winifred flushes. "Would you like to join us?" She points into the parlor with her cane before she has to use it to balance herself again. "We're playing cards. War, to be precise."

"Sounds fun," Winifred says, with a weak smile. "Um...I'll get us something to drink."

She essentially flutters her way into the kitchen proper, giving Minnie chance enough to stagger her way back to the table by the time she arrives at the door, clutching two glasses of cider and one of water against her stomach. She sets them on the coffee table, the water going to the empty spot that she now takes, while Sarah redistributes the cards to accommodate three people.

"Did you happen to check if the boys have unlocked Bucky's door yet?" Sarah asks, after they've played a few hands.

"I...didn't check," Winifred says, with an apologetic grimace. George had kept her informed of the situation as he ducked in and out of their bedroom in between cajoling the boys and searching for the long-lost key to Bucky's door, until he finally came to inform her that he really had to take Alice to her sister-in-law's before she missed out on dinner with her son.

"That's all right. I doubt they unlocked the door in the past ten minutes," Minnie says, gathering up her winnings. "Steve's a tad stubborn, you may have noticed." Sarah snorts loudly; Winifred wheezes a little laugh. "I'm sure Bucky is as well."

"I wouldn't...well, I won't say that he's not stubborn," Winifred says, laying down a card. "Laddie can keep at a task like nobody's business, even if he oughtta give it up. But it's more like...he's not...I suppose willful is the right word. Yes. He's not very willful. Not at all."

"I'm afraid our Steve is going to be a bad influence in that respect," Minnie says, glancing up at the ceiling.

Winifred raises a hand to scratch at her hairline, and then makes an odd expression as she runs her fingers through her hair, pushing it away from her face. "Is it bad that I want him to be?"

"...Well, it's certainly a novelty," Sarah says, drumming her fingers on the rim of her cup.

"It's just that--" She makes another face, a bit of a grimace. "He does this...James has a bit of a habit where...well, it's every mother's dream to have a child who does what he's told, isn't it?"

"It's certainly mine," Sarah says flatly.

"Joey wasn't so bad growing up, but I could've stood for a little more obedience from him," Minnie offers helpfully.

"See, I can't even say that," Winifred says. "James is...he's so good. Always was, ever since he was a wee babby. And wasn't it a gift from the Good Lord, getting such an easy child, but....well, the whole world isn't his ma, you know? I just know he's going to fall in with someone who doesn't...doesn't have his best interests at heart, sooner or later. And when that day comes I'd like him to..." She makes a pushing motion with her hands, ignorant of the fact that she's showing her hand. "To be able to...stand up for himself."

"I didn't think--" Sarah starts; she bites back her words, but both Winifred and Minnie look at her expectantly, and she quickly modifies what she was about to say into something tactful. "Well. I just...he was...quite forceful, today. When he needed to be."

"For me," Winifred corrects, quietly. "For your family. For his sister. Not himself. Hardly ever for himself, it seems like. It's as if he thinks..." The game has stopped without them noticing it, even though Winifred stares at her cards as they remain clutched in her hand, pressed down on the table. "I worry, sometimes. That he doesn't think well enough of himself." She glances up at the two other women. "D'you ever worry about that? With Steve?"

Sarah opens her mouth, and then pauses, considering. "Well...well I do always worry that he doesn't consider his safety enough. He is the one who trekked all the way over here with a little red wagon by himself." She smiles wryly at the memory; Winifred matches it. "But...well, I've...I've tried to raise Steve to take pride in himself. And I think it stuck, for the most part."

"I've tried to do the same with James," Winifred says, not so much defensive as despairing as she stares down at the tabletop. "I suppose I didn't do as well as I wanted." She folds her cards up into one small deck and raps them against the table, to align them perfectly; the noise they make is sharp and loud.

"I don't think his relatives helped any," Minnie says dryly.

"Oh damn them," Winifred spits, her face instantly reddening. "I'm so sorry you had to put up with them. I didn't expect them to be that rude to you."

"We've dealt with worse," Sarah reassures.

"Regardless. We would have had a much pleasanter time of it if it had been just us."

"Did they...invite themselves?" Minnie asks.

"No," Winifred sighs. "No, George invited them."

"Ah. Forgive my bluntness but...why?"

"Because he's a good man and he's entirely too forgiving," Winifred rattles off in one breath, before her coolly angry expression melts under the warmth of affection for her husband. "It's hard for him, this...this situation, with his family. Especially when it comes to Charles. They were close growing up, like how James and Becky are."

"You were there to see it?" Minnie asks, trying to keep her tone conversational.

Winifred nods. "I uh...I started working for my in-laws fairly soon after I stepped off the boat. Not an easy household to work in, you may have guessed." Minnie and Sarah give twin comprehending laughs, and Winifred offers a mirthless smile. "Henry--George's father--he liked me. Not--" she suddenly looks stricken, "not in any...untoward way." Minnie and Sarah nod their belief, and the idea that George could be raising his own half-brother is shelved. "But he was a good man. He treated me well. I worked for room and board 'til I was twenty-one, and then after that he managed to pay me enough to rent a decent apartment, despite his wife's protests. George is a lot like him."

"I imagine working for your own future husband made it a tad more bearable," Minnie says.

"Well I didn't know that about him then," Winifred says with a laugh. "But he was a draw, I'll say that," she adds, with a sly smile. "I always liked him. I...I admired him, mostly. Still do, despite it all, how he tries with them. You know he...George...he saw a lot, in the war. A lot of very dear friends died on him." Sarah makes an empathetic noise, and they share a grimace common to wives who've nursed their husbands through nightmare after flashback after drinking binge. "And, and Henry died, too. Right after George shipped out." She lets her companions noise their condolences before continuing. "I think he just...doesn't want to lose anyone else. I know he doesn't. So he tries with them. And I let him. They're his family, how can I not? They just...they can't be gracious."

"There's only so much trying you can do with people like that," Minnie says, modulating her voice into something gentle.

"I think tonight was probably the last straw." Winifred cringes and give a short, humorless laugh. "And even if George was willing to try again, I would have to put my foot down."

"Understandable," Sarah says.

"You shouldn't have to put up with that sort of disrespect towards you in your own home," Minnie adds.

"I don't care about me," Winifred says, her chin tucked low against her chest. "They can say whatever they want about me. But I can't let them go after my child. None of this is his fault. He didn't do anything wrong."

All three go quiet, agreements stuck in Minnie and Sarah's throats by the implicit judgment they'd be passing on Winifred if they were verbalized. Winifred runs a hand over her face and then picks her cards up from the table; the other two women follow suite, and the game begins again.

After a few minutes, Sarah sees Minnie frown from the corner of her eye. It deepens over the next few rounds, during which Sarah plucks up the nerve to look where Minnie is frowning at. In her attempt to not make eye contact with Winifred she had doggedly neglected to notice that the woman's hands had begun to shake, and her eyes to water. Minnie bites down on her lower lip, and then glances worriedly at Sarah, her request plain as day in her eyes. Sarah's heart gives a little lurch and she gives a beseeching look back; Minnie nods.

"I'm...excuse me, please," Winifred says abruptly, standing up clumsily; the table rattles as her thigh smacks against it in her haste. "If you don't mind holding the game for me? I'm...I want to go check on the boys. See if they've come to their senses."

"They won't come down until they know they can see each other again after today," Minnie says matter-of-factly.

"I'm...I'm sorry?" Winifred asks, her eyes still glittering dangerously.

Minnie glances up at the ceiling. "I'm fairly sure that's at least part of the reason why Steve locked them in there. He's afraid that you two, you and Sarah both, won't let them see each other anymore."

"Oh dear God," Winifred moans, covering her face with her hands; she whispers something in her mother tongue that Minnie and Sarah don't know but understand well enough nevertheless.

"Well I...I don't particularly care for the thought of there being more bullies in Steve's life," Sarah says. "But if Steve never has a reason to see Bucky's cousins, then there shouldn't be a problem."

"You're not--" Winifred starts, before cutting herself off.

"Not what?" Sarah prompts.

Winifred hesitates, drifting down back to the floor before speaking. "You don't want them to...not see each other again?"

"Why would I want that?" Sarah asks, trying to sound more confident than she is. "I told you when we first met that I want Steve to make more friends." Her lips twist into a sort of wry smile and she glances down somewhat abashedly. "You know I do realize that, that I'm...skittish, around people. I just...I don't mean to be off-putting; I just want...I know what it's like to have friends turn on you and I don't want that for my son," she says in a rush. "But James..." her fingers twist around themselves in her lap, "he seems to really care about Steve. And Steve is happier having him around; I haven't seen him smile or talk so much since his father died. Of course I want them to stay friends." Winifred makes a noise, a little too high-pitched to escape curiosity, and turns her face away when Sarah's gaze probes too deeply. "Unless...unless you don't want them to see each other anymore?"

"Dear God, no, of course I do," Winifred says. "James is...he needs friends. How could I punish him for..."

"Winifred?" Minnie says, after a moment of quiet; the woman doesn't respond, though her lips tremble. "Darling..." Winifred's head drops, her chin nearly puncturing a hole in her collarbone, and a familiar ache rises up from Minnie's chest into her throat.

"Thank you," Winifred says stiffly, weakly. "You're...you both are...you're very gracious."

"How do you mean?" Minnie asks delicately.

"To overlook...everything. Everything you've heard today. I'm...I'm very grateful for that."

"I don't think we're gracious so much as we're not hypocrites."

Winifred jerks her head up, her face visibly stricken. Minnie shifts; she picks her glass up quickly, and takes a sip slowly. When she sets the glass down, there's an odd sarcastic sheen in her eyes.

"You don't make it all the way from Pennsylvania to Brooklyn without...experiencing the world, a bit."

Both of Winifred's hands clasp over her mouth.

"I don't like discussing it," Minnie says, a little quickly. "But you're..." she draws in a breath. "You're not the only one here who's taken the money."

"But you were...you were a child back then, weren't you?" Winifred asks, shock translating into confusion as she tries to remember stories about Steve's family that Bucky has told her.

"Yes, she was," Sarah says, her voice thick and hushed and hopelessly enraged. "She was Steve's age."

"Woman enough, to some," Minnie adds briskly.

"Oh my God," Winifred chokes out, her face beginning to redden.

"Darling, please don't be upset," Minnie says, moving her hand to take and squeeze Winifred's. "It was so many years ago now," she continues, voice steady and straightforward as it needs to be but with an almost pleading edge to it. "I've...I've made my peace with it."

"Why are you telling me this?" Winifred barely manages to ask.

"Because I did what I had to when no one would help me, and I'm not ashamed of it," Minnie says, voice strong and shoulders squared as though forty-six years later she still needs to convince herself. "And you shouldn't be, either."

"I--It's, it's not the same," Winifred chokes out. "You were...dear God, you were a little girl, Minnie..."

"I was," Minnie says, and her strength almost fails her. "But it doesn't matter. There'll always be some bastard who sees you're in need and takes advantage of you. Doesn't matter how old you are."

"It's not the same," Winifred insists, her eyes squeezed shut, her whole face crumpling as she shakes her head.

"How is it not?" Minnie presses, though gently.

"Because you didn't...he, he came to you, didn't he? You didn't go looking for..."

"I knew women who went looking," Minnie says flatly. "One of them put me up for a few nights right before I crossed over into New York." She puts her chin in her hand, not breaking eye contact with Winifred. "She was a nice lady. I think she...I think she actually enjoyed that line of work."

"I've had patients who were..." Sarah starts.

"I didn't enjoy it," Winifred says, her eyes and voice urgent, and Sarah cuts herself off. "I didn't want--I had to. Mabyn..."

"Your sister," Sarah says, for Minnie's benefit. "You said she was sickly," she adds.

"She was consumptive," Winifred says, almost whimpers. "Elen and Luned were already gone. She wrote to me..." It's suddenly hard to breathe, and she gulps down air like a drowning person who momentarily breaks through to the surface. "Mabyn...they put her in a sanatorium, but she couldn't pay for it. No one else was looking after her, she needed..."

"She needed money."

It still hurts, years later; a weight on Winifred's chest, crushing her. "I went, I went to...Henry had just died, but I went to Virginia and I begged her, I didn't even ask for a loan, I just needed an advance, and she..."

Winifred's breath catches. Sarah is beginning to think nasty old bitch was too mild an insult.

"She docked my pay," Winifred says, suddenly calm as the eye of a storm, almost laughing at her own naïveté. "How dare I come to her in her grief with my forgeries."

"Sounds like Bucky was right to push her over," Minnie says dryly.

"Oh, God." Winifred shoves a hand through her hair, pulling it back from her flushed face. "I thought he might...he never let anything on to me. I figured his cousins might have said something to him at some point, but I thought he'd, that he wouldn't believe it. But apparently he knows the whole story." The reasonable explanation, that he must have overheard her and George speaking about it, twists her intestines into several knots.

"Did George know what was happening?" Sarah asks.

Winifred shakes her head miserably. "George was gone by then. He left with Pershing that May; this was almost mid-June. And I couldn't...well you've met his brothers, Sarah. Do you think I could've asked them for help? Or his sisters?"

Sarah shakes her head, again for Minnie's benefit.

"So I didn't even bother." If she had, she doesn't think she could've let George try to stay in his siblings' lives. "And I didn't know anybody with money to spare. I would've written George. He would have...we weren't anything really back then, but he would've helped me. And I would've found a different job, I just didn't...I didn't know how much time I had. Mabyn's letter was already over a month old. I needed..."

"You needed the money right then and there," Minnie supplies when Winifred trails off; she's watching Winifred with a look of nausea at where her story is headed mixed with pride that she's defending herself, even if it's only against her own judgement. "Mmhmm. I remember."

"But I didn't want..."

"I know. I didn't want, either."

"I didn't want," Winifred says, almost as unable to continue as she is to stop; her face is flushed dark pink with twelve years' worth of collected humiliation. "I...I panicked. I changed my mind. I told him to stop, and he said..."

Too late for that goes unspoken, but it rings loudly enough in her head that she's sure that Minnie and Sarah hear it, going by the sickened looks on their faces.

"He left the money, at least," Winifred says, limp. The world's gone a bit blank; Winifred is looking at her companions but not seeing them, precisely; not seeing anything, really.

"Where does your husband keep it?"

"I'm sorry?" Winifred blinks, and the world shifts back into focus.

"Mr. Wine-is-for-medicine," Minnie elaborates. "Where does he keep the giggle juice?"

There's an ornate freestanding cabinet that Winifred dazedly points to. Minnie glances at Sarah, who immediately stands up.

"I'm sure he won't mind if you have some?" Minnie says more than asks.

"He...no, he probably won't," Winifred stammers, as Sarah opens the cabinet. The bottle is easily within reach, and Sarah sets it down on the table only a few seconds after retrieving it.

"This," Minnie says, picking up the bottle as Sarah searches out a wine glass, "has done more damage to my people than probably even smallpox." Both her mother and her son had fallen prey to it, and she resists the urge to smash the bottle on the floor even having been the one to call for it. "I have never touched the stuff outside of communion, and I never will." She sets it on the table and pushes it towards Winifred as Sarah places the cup in front of Winifred. "White folk seem to do better with it, though."

Winifred barks out a laugh; her hands are trembling as she grabs the bottle by the neck and begins to uncork it. "No one ever accused a Scot of not being able to hold their liquor, no."

She manages to avoid spilling the wine as she pours it, and she holds her glass with both hands as she takes an inelegant gulp. She glances at Sarah, the offer plain in her eyes; Sarah holds up a hand to defer it. She still serves Manischewitz for Shabbos and holidays, but it manages to defy all logic and flow bitter over her tongue.

"What happened after that?" Minnie asks, after Winifred has taken another, longer sip and a painful swallow.

Winifred sets the glass down on the table, both her hands still wrapped around it, and gives a defeated little shrug of her shoulders. "I went back to my apartment. I went to work the next day. What else could I do? Go to the police? I took the money."

"Oh, darling..." Minnie says, voice dripping with empathy.

"I wanted...I wanted to go to a shelter, when I found out that I was...but they...they put you to work in those places, but the money isn't yours, it's theirs." Minnie nods; she remembers. "And I needed to work, to support Mabyn. So I kept at it. I found a new job, you remember how all the women were working during the war, but...no one was very keen to have a pregnant lady in the factories. I didn't get much by way of the good-paying work. And then when James was born I couldn't always get someone to watch him, not for free anyway, and when the men started coming back and going to work..."

How she'd supported herself and her family at that point doesn't need to be said aloud.

"Mabyn passed a little before James was born," Winifred says limply. "So at least I didn't have to make as much..."

"When did George...?" Sarah asks.

"He came back with Pershing, same as he'd left." Winifred tilts her head back, searching her memory. "That was...September of '19, I think. He didn't find me right away, though, not 'til James was almost two." She laughs suddenly, a little vindictive. "He's smart as a whip, that man. Makes sure the stores his father left him were all in his name only, before he brings me back home and presents me as Mrs. George Barnes." She smiles, equal parts sardonic and genuine. "That was a good day. Me in a new dress with a ring on my finger and a baby on my hip. If Virginia'd had a soul it would've left her body."

"I think it did," Sarah says, attempting mirth. "It's just her corpse shuffling around being miserable at people nowadays."

That makes Winifred laugh again, and wipe at her eyes before she picks up her drink again. "I don't know how he came out of her."

Sarah waits until Winifred swallows to speak. "I've never...I've never...had to do that, what you and, you and Mother had to. But I've had patients who did, I've met so many women who...and I...I have had men..." her hands twist themselves into her skirt, "...put their hands on me. In, ah...in an ungentlemanly fashion."

"Oh, Sarah..."

"And it's not as though," Sarah continues briskly, "as though I could've walked out, either. They were patients. Paying clients. So I know, a little bit, how..." She blinks a few times, in rapid succession. "How you feel."

"You never told us about that," Minnie says quietly.

"Because I knew Joseph and Tateh and Father would've gone out and murdered those men," Sarah almost laughs. "And oh Lord, Steve. Steve would get himself killed avenging my honor."

"He'll get himself killed avenging someone's honor someday; might as well be yours," Minnie jokes weakly; Sarah snorts, and lets Minnie place an arm around her shoulders.

"Steve's a good egg," Winifred offers sincerely, and then she huffs a little laugh. "Two peas in a pod, he and James." She takes another sip of wine, and stares down into her reflection once she sets her glass back down. "You know I've never once regretted him. Not ever. He's..." Her lips are trembling, and she presses the heel of her palm against them. "He's my little boy, you know? And it, it kills me, that anyone could think less of him because of..."

"Well, we don't," Sarah says, in her most matter-of-fact voice. "Like Mother said. We're not. We're not hypocrites. And he's...you all have been nothing but good to my family. And frankly that's...that's something of a rare occurrence for us. I'm not especially looking to lose that."

Winifred breathes deeply, shakily. "Same." She presses the heel of her palm against her right cheek, dragging it up to wipe away tears, and then does the same to her left, sniffling. "Well. Should we...go up? Tell them the good news? Get them out of the room?"

"Finish your drink first," Minnie says, nodding at the glass.

Winifred laughs, and raises her glass, tipping it at her companions. Minnie picks up her glass as well, and clinks it against Winifred's. They hold them pressed together long enough for Sarah's to join them, and the three glasses remain united for a long moment afterwards.

*

"I like this," Steve says, holding up the copy of Armageddon 2419 AD that he'd pulled off Bucky's shelf not long after the last time Mameh had tried getting him to open the door.

Bucky makes a sort of disbelieving noise. "How much'a that you got read already?"

"Um...I'm on page thirty-five."

"You read fast."

"Got practice; I read a lot," Steve offers by way of explanation.

"Me too." Bucky shifts, letting himself look impish. "Fastest in my class."

Steve tries to keep his sense of relief invisible, tucked away in his abdomen. Bucky's been listless ever since Steve locked the door, giving grunts and one-word answers to Steve's queries, not leaving the bed but instead pushing himself into the corner where his pillow meets the wall. Steve's taken over the spot Bucky had vacated in doing so, after he spent an awkward amount of time perusing Bucky's bookshelves. They're predictably full of science fiction, with some fantasy thrown in, but encyclopedias and other massive tomes of nonfiction have a sizeable presence.

"Same," he offers, like a challenge; he closes his hand in the book to mark his page, and scoots back and over, closer to Bucky, who uncurls his legs from against his chest and inches towards Steve. They settle slightly off-center, next to each other, and Steve opens the book again. The competition starts in earnest at first. Then, as either boy flips the page he just completed reading a few seconds before his partner has, it slowly escalates into them roughly slamming handfuls of pages onto each other's fingers amidst snorts and giggles.

The game abruptly ends when Steve jerks his hand back with a small, unbidden yelp, as a papercut scratches across the back of his pointer, middle, and ring fingers. He hisses through his teeth, grimacing at the thin red lines that are already starting to leak blood. The bed dips and creaks; he looks up to see that Bucky has hopped off the mattress and made for his desk; he pulls open a drawer and produces a familiar tin of J&J Band-Aids, a tiny pair of sewing scissors pressed against the lid of the tin with his thumb.

"Gimme," Bucky says, after he sets the scissors on the bed and pries the lid off the tin; Steve obediently holds his hand out, and watches as Bucky eyeballs the needed length of bandage for each wound, cuts three of them, and wraps them around Steve's fingers.

"Sorry for hurting you," Bucky mumbles, when he's done, his head still ducked over Steve's hand.

Steve doesn't know what to do, so he curls his fingers into a fist, pulls it out from under Bucky's face, and uses it to muss Bucky's hair. "I get hurt all'a time," he says nonchalantly, after Bucky pushes his hand away and straightens up. "Ain't a big deal." He makes a point to wave the back of his hand in front of Bucky's face. "Thanks."

Bucky shrugs and gathers up the supplies to deliver them safely back into his desk drawer. Steve takes the opportunity to pick up the discarded book and flop onto his stomach across Bucky's bed, so Bucky finds himself thoroughly ejected by the time he turns around. Bucky stares at him for a moment, so Steve side-eyes him, and then sticks out his tongue.

Bucky seems to be wising up to what Steve is trying to do, but feels bound to play along with it, because he climbs into bed, making sure to lightly knee and elbow Steve as he does so, and wedges himself between Steve and the wall, also lying on his stomach. Steve pushes the book over so the spine lines up with where their shoulders meet, and Bucky flips the pages, like a normal person this time, when Steve makes a noise to indicate that he's done reading what's in front of him.

They're pretty far into the book when Bucky asks, "So how long you gonna stay?"

"Not gonna leave," Steve says glibly.

"Y'know they're gonna get the door open sometime." Steve reaches over and flips the page himself. "If you come out by yourself before then, your ma might not be as mad as you."

Steve shrugs. "She can't whup me too hard 'cause I'd have an asthma attack if she did. I'll be okay." Bucky doesn't need to know that upsetting Mameh is high on the list of things Steve hates, right after bullies and crying in front of other people.

Bucky seems to know regardless. "Don't want you to be in trouble. I mean, more trouble than you already are."

"I's'okay." Steve flips another page despite not having read the one he was on.

There's a good solid handful of seconds before Bucky mutters, "You don't gotta pity me, you know."

"Okay moneybags, I won't pity you," Steve says, with a profound roll of his eyes.

"I mean it, Steve. You don't gotta stick around just 'cause I ain't got no other friends."

"I'm not," Steve says vehemently, his face starting to redden. "I don't want anyone to pity me so I don't pity anyone else, ever. And I don't stay friends with people I don't actually like. I already got enough junk stuff, I don't need junk friends, too."

"Thanks," Bucky mumbles, sarcasm perfunctory.

"It's stupid, anyway," Steve presses, incensed. "I mean, who even cares who your dad is? You're just as much your ma's son as you are that man's."

"I don't wanna be his son at all!" explodes out of Bucky, hoarse and wet and hurting, as he jerks himself upright. "I don't want anything to do with him! He hurt her! He made me hurt her! And I'm gonna do it my whole life 'cause..."

It's too hard, too much for him to say; he collapses back into himself, his eyes shining dangerously, and watches as Steve rolls over, sits up, and tries to recover his bearings from the outburst. He squeezes his eyes shut, preparing for an explanation to be demanded of him and deciding whether to try to tell Steve the truth or to mind his own business, weighing the risks of both.

"Okay," Steve finally says, a little quietly, and Bucky squints his eyes open. "So you're not."

"What do you mean?"

Steve shrugs his shoulders high up, close to his ears. "I mean you're not whoever's son. Not if you don't wanna be. You ain't even met the guy, right?" Bucky gives a small shake of his head. "So why's he get to be your dad?"

He pretends not to notice the look Bucky gives him, despite inwardly congratulating himself for pulling off his plan to sneak in a covert compliment.

"And I mean, your aunt and uncle and grandma are seriously the rudest people I've ever met." Which isn't remotely true, and he knows Bucky is aware of that, but for the moment it's okay to pretend that it is. "So it doesn't even matter what they say about you."

"Not how it works," Bucky says, his hands fiddling almost compulsively with the sheets.

"How's it work?" Steve challenges.

"It's about...how you're born," Bucky mumbles, his head tucked in enough for his chin to bore a hole in his collar.

"Horsefeathers," Steve says, like a proclamation. He almost bungles it by hesitating, but he catches himself and forges ahead. "People always say stuff like "oh, you're this", or, or "your family is this, so you're gonna turn out stupid or bad" or something, and it's not true. They just make it up 'cause they wanna think they're better than you, but they're not."

Bucky continues fussing with his bedsheets, and carefully avoids looking Steve in the eye. "I know I'm not stupid," he mumbles, almost reluctantly. "Or...feeble-minded, or whatever."

"Yeah, and you're not a delinquent, either," Steve pushes, undaunted. "You're basically the nicest person I've ever met. So'f anyone ever tells you you're a, a bad person or a stupid person or something like that, you tell 'em to..." Joseph liked to yell this; Steve always hated hearing it but right now he's grateful to have it in his arsenal, "you tell 'em to go piss up a rope."

The profanity shocks Bucky into looking up, and into breaking his stupor a little bit.

"Or I'll do it for you, if you can't," Steve continues, over the soft laugh-like noises coming from Bucky's mouth. His instinct is to bristle, but he's observed enough people to know when someone is laughing at him, and Bucky definitely isn't.

"Thanks," Bucky says, a low-pitched clipped whisper of a word; he's back to not looking at Steve, but he seems at least marginally comforted, and Steve relaxes his stance a little bit.

There's a knock on the door, seizing both of their attentions; they're silent, and after a pause the person knocks again, clumsily enough to reveal that they're not a grown-up.

"Becks?" Bucky calls.

"Can I come in?" is the tiny reply.

The boys share a look, and then Bucky slides off the bed and goes to the door, unlocking it quietly and easing it open. Rebecca files into the room, and Bucky glances at Steve for permission to only pull the door to, rather than shut and lock it again. A bit of Steve's combativeness has drained out of him, so he grants it.

"How's your eye?" Bucky asks immediately.

"It's okay." Rebecca pads over and climbs into Bucky's bed next to Steve, and very purposely rests her head on his shoulder.

"What's the matter, Becks?" Steve asks.

She shrugs, high and tight. "Just sad. I wanted to have fun today."

"Aw, I know. I'm sorry, Becks." Bucky hustles over to the bed and hops up on it, putting his arm around his sister once he's settled. He tries to tickle her side to distract her; she only squirms once and then pushes his hand away. A sure tell if there ever was one. "Somethin' else bugging you?"

Rebecca shifts on her hips, weighing whether honesty or pride is more important to her. "Little scared," she finally admits.

"Why'ya scared?" Bucky puts his hands on her shoulders and arranges her so they face each other. "You think Martha and them are gonna be mean to you at school on Monday?" he guesses, when Rebecca seems embarrassed to talk; she gives a small nod. "Okay, if them or anyone bothers you, then you come tell me, okay? I'll make 'em leave you alone. I'll punch 'em all in the mouth if I have to."

"You'll get in trouble with the teachers," Rebecca protests.

"I don't care. They can..." He glances at Steve as he leans in to whisper in his sister's ear, and Steve's suspicions are confirmed when Rebecca gasps, her eyes going wide.

"Bucky!" she squeals, her shock translating into giggles. "You can't say that! You'll get in more trouble!"

"Still don't care," Bucky says, sculpting a cheeky grin onto his face. "No one's ever gonna hurt you and get away with it. Either'a you," he adds, looking at Steve. "Got it?"

Rebecca nods, almost solemnly; Steve does too, his face warm and dangerously close to pink.

"You either," Steve murmurs; if Bucky hears him the only indication is how stiff his shoulders suddenly go.

All three children nearly jump out of their skins when the door creaks open slowly, and they huddle instinctively together. Unexpectedly, it's George, returned from his trip to Manhattanville, who stands in the doorway, somehow looming despite the somewhat drawn look still on his face.

"Your mothers and grandmother request the pleasure of your company," he announces dryly, surveying the trio. "I would advise against defying them further."

Steve's stomach flips. Now would be a good time for an ulcer, but as he slides off the bed his gut betrays him, in the opposite direction than it usually does. He trudges towards the door, reassuring himself that he knows the way to Bucky's house and Aksot would probably look the other way if he were to sneak over while Mameh was out on a job; he only just notices Mr. Barnes set his hand atop Bucky's head, giving it a light squeeze and a soft jostle. Rebecca takes Bucky's hand when they get to the stairs, and by the time they make it down to the first floor Steve kinda wants to take his other one.

Sarah, Minnie, and Winifred don't look like the firing squad their kids are somewhat expecting, which they take as a good sign. Winifred's face is a bit flushed, and Minnie's a little pale, which is concerning to Steve, but Sarah interrupts his observances before he can think too far into it.

"You've kept us waiting," she says; she can see Steve trying to work out if he's actually sorry about that enough to apologize--it won't happen if it's not sincere--and she decides to not let him agonize over it. "I believe we were promised a performance, and we're not going home until we get one."

Rebecca lights up with a delighted gasp as Bucky and Steve gape at her; she shifts on her feet, showing off her crossed arms, and raises her eyebrows at Steve meaningfully. Knowing what she does now, actually making him go through with the radio show is enough punishment, and it's good practice besides; left to his own devices Steve can talk the wings off a bird, but when it comes to reciting or reading aloud someone else's words, he clams up, and that's going to be a problem when he turns thirteen.

"I'll go get the script!" Rebecca yelps, hightailing it out the parlor door; Bucky watches her go before looking at his own mother. Her expression is softer than Sarah's, with just enough obligatory displeasure to make him watch his behavior more closely for the next few days.

"You might want to take your places," George says, with a hint of a smile; the boys look at each other, and then drift off towards the radio slowly, just in case this is some kind of trick. When Rebecca comes running back into the room and they haven't been called back to face their real discipline, they start trusting that this is indeed happening (maybe their folks are waiting until the Rogers leaves?), and by the time the adults take their seats around the parlor--George in the chair, Sarah, Minnie, and Winifred on the couch--Steve's nerves are completely due to stage fright.

"Okay, so," Rebecca says, squishing Steve in between herself and Bucky; she covers her mouth with her hands and makes her best impression of a herald trumpet. "Welcome to~"

"Becky and Bucky's Radio Extravaganza!" Bucky chimes in, holding back an incredulous laugh that they're really doing this.

"With special guest Steve Rogers!" Rebecca continues, without missing a beat. Steve does, though, because she has to elbow him.

"Hi," drops out of Steve's mouth, and Minnie swallows her laughter.

"Tonight we will be performing a, um, a play entitled Buck Rogers and Princess Wynnogene. Buck Rogers will be played by Bucky Barnes, Princess Wynnogene will be played by Becky Barnes, and, um...everything else will be played by Steve Rogers."

"Oh boy, I can't wait to hear this!" George says loudly, as Steve blanches.

Rebecca shoves the script into Steve's hands and he almost drops it. Bucky presses in closer, resting his chin on Steve's shoulder so he can follow along on the page easier, and he nearly drops it again.

"...um...um...when, when we last left our hero, Buck Rogers was, um, Buck Rogers was high over Asgardian airsp-airspace, shooting down enemy planes with the great-greatest of ease."

There's a pause. Rebecca looks at Steve expectantly. After another beat, Bucky takes it upon himself to make an approximation of the noises one might expect from an aerial firefight.

"Oh," Steve says, not as quietly as he thinks; in the audience Sarah covers her mouth and shares a look with her mother-in-law. "Um." He's lost his place. "Uh...oh." He finds it. "But suddenly, out of nowhere, his plane was hit by a German missile, and he was knocked out of the s-s-sky."

"Nyeeeeeeeerm...boom!" Bucky supplies.

"His plane's, his plane...oh, but before his plane could hit the ground--"

"Be louder, Steve!" Rebecca stage-whispers to him.

"But before his plane could hit the ground," Steve obeys, flushing, "he jumped from it and floated to the ground with the aid of his tru-...trusty parachute." Bucky cups his hands around his mouth and imitates the wind blowing. When he feels he's carried it on a bit too long he nudges Steve to continue. "The wind carried him very far off course, right into the middle of German terr- Asgardian territory. Thinking quickly, he think, he decided to hide behind a, a nearby waterfall." It's Bucky's line next, but he doesn't know how to imitate water, so he ends up muttering "um...drip, drip, drip, drip..."

"I need to find out where I am," Bucky says, to Steve's ears projecting like a professional. "Maybe I can find a kind Asgardian to help me. I sure hope they speak English here..."

Rebecca has been waiting eagerly for her cue, so her line bursts out of her very loud and cheerily. "Halt! Who goes there!"

"I am Buck Rogers of the United States of America. Who goes there?"

"Oh! Thank goodness! I am Princess Wynnogene of Asgard, and I was worried that you were a soldier of the Kaiser!"

"A princess?"

Steve has gotten caught up in the dialogue and almost misses his cue. "Oh, um, Buck Rogers bowed before her."

"What are you doing inside the waterfall, your Highness?" Bucky asks.

"I am hiding the Tesserect, for the Germans wanna steal it!"

"Hide it? Can't you use it as a weapon?"

"My father the king will not allow it! He says it is too dangerous."

"Boo..." Steve improvises, feeling bold; his co-stars give him confused but ultimately approving looks.

"All due respect to his Majesty," Bucky continues, "but the Kaiser is evil and we have to stop him no matter what the cost."

"I agree!" Rebecca exclaims. "But how can we do it? We are only two people."

"I know! We will lure the Kaiser himself here, and attack him with the Tessarect."

"What a great idea! I will write a note telling him where the Tessarect is. We can send it to him with my pet deer, um..." They had neglected to name the pet deer, but now it feels wrong to leave him unidentified. "Thomas! He is the fastest creature on earth and he can find anyone just by knowing their name."

"That sounds useful," Winifred whispers to Sarah.

"And so Prin-Princess Wynnogene did just that," Steve says.

"Thomas!" Rebecca calls.

Steve does not know what sound to make. "Um...deer noise?"

Bucky bursts out laughing; he shoves his fist into his mouth to stifle it, but it's sufficiently covered by their audience's own laughter.

"Take this note to the Kaiser!" Rebecca says, making sure to sound thoroughly affronted that the performance has been so rudely interrupted.

"...Deer noise!"

Rebecca shoves him, nearly making him, and Bucky next to him, lose their balance. They regain their footing, Steve elbowing Rebecca in retaliation before he frantically searches for the place he's once again lost. "And so Thomas the deer ran like the wind to the Kaiser and delivered the letter. Um..." He tries to lower his voice now that he's playing a new character. "The Tessarect! I have waited ages to find it, and now someone is giving it to me! With this I will conquer the war and...conquer the war and...win. the. war. and conquer the whole world!" he finally untangles his tongue enough to say. "And so the Kaiser set off with his best soldiers to the cave in Asgard where Buck and the princess waited."

"Okay your Highness," Bucky says. "I've put wires between the Tessarect and both of my guns. You take one of them, and when you see a German soldier, you shoot him."

"This is very exciting!" Rebecca says. "I can't wait!"

"Should we find that concerning?" George directs at his wife.

"It was after nightfall when they saw the first enemy soldier," Steve informs the audience, Rebecca provides the atmospheric "Hoot hoot! Hoot hoot!" of imaginary owls. "They were very imp-impatient, but they waited until they saw the whole unit approaching. And once they saw the whites of the enemies' eyes, they opened fire."

This time both Bucky and Rebecca provide the gun noises, "Bang! Bang!" mixed in with futuristic "Pew-pew!" and a few whistles that heralded the "Boom!" from bombs appearing inexplicably from the ether.

"The Tessarect made all, made all, the Tesseract made the all soldiers disappear into thin air!" Steve reads off his page once he decides the sound effects have gone on long enough; Bucky and Rebecca don't get the memo, though, and he has to talk over them. "You guys, shush!" he hisses at them, after they still don't pipe down, and Sarah fakes a coughing fit to hide her wheezing laugh. "But the Kaiser had been watching from behind his troops," Steve continues, once they finally quiet, "and he escaped before Buck and the princess can get him. Swearing, swearing revenge, the Kaiser plotted to relea--"

He's suddenly cut off by the loud clanging of the parlor's grandfather clock, and decides to bow to this competitor rather than fight it.

"Oh my, I didn't realize it was getting this late," Winifred says, frowning at the clock. "We should be putting Rebecca to bed soon..."

"No, Mommy!" Rebecca yelps, going up on her tiptoes to stick her crestfallen face over the top of the radio.

"Sorry, princess," George says. "It's been an...eventful day. We're all tired, and I still have to take the Rogers back home."

"But we're not finished," Rebecca pouts.

"You can show us the rest of it on another day," Winifred promises.

"How about Sunday?" Minnie asks, in that voice that Steve knows is pointed, and he can feel Bucky tense up against him.

"I think that sounds lovely," Sarah says, and both boys cautiously start to deflate.

"So do I," Winifred says, and the relief flooding through Steve and Bucky's systems is evident on their faces as they grin at each other. Their mothers are not the deceptive sort. Not only are they going to be allowed to keep seeing each other, they can't even be in that much trouble, if their families are making plans for three days from now. "I'm very much looking forward to it," Winifred continues, for her own sake as much as her son's, looking at her friends; Minnie reaches over to squeeze her hand, and Sarah works up a smile that manages to be beautiful despite its wryness.

"So let's wrap this up, Becks," George says, seeing that the scowl hasn't left his daughter's face. "You can do the finale, and then it's time to get ready for good night."

Rebecca brightens marginally, and drops back down behind the radio. Steve looks first at her, and then questioningly at Bucky. He hadn't been told about a finale; the Barnes had the script last. Bucky holds out his hand for the papers, which Steve gives him gladly.

"And so, um..." Bucky says loudly, flipping through the pages to refresh his memory, "Buck Rogers and Princess Wynnogene had...many adventures together in Asgard and became very good friends. When the war was finally over, Buck Rogers went to the princess and said..." He changes his tone back to that of his character's. "Well, your Highness, I will miss you very much and I will never forget you."

"What do you mean, you will miss me?" Rebecca says imperially.

"Well I have to go home, Princess."

There's a beat in which Rebecca clears her throats loudly and Bucky explains "Becky always ends with a song she throws a fit if she doesn't" in a whispered rush. Steve looks momentarily stricken at the thought of having to sing, but when Bucky slides his legs out from under him so that he actually sits rather than crouches, leans against the wall, and gestures for Steve to do likewise, he relaxes.

"You say you're going away / You think that I'll be lonely," Rebecca sings, as Steve settles himself in next to Bucky, squished together hip to hip to keep up their invisibility behind the radio. "Just as sad and blue as I can be / Well I say / If you're gone away / I've one idea only..." Becky has a nice timbre and a good sense of rhythm, enough for Bucky to sway in tiny movements to the beat, and almost immediately Steve is doing the same, moving his arm so it's half-linked with Bucky's, to give them space to be comfortable beside each other. "Don't think you'll ever get rid of me..."

Wherever you go, whatever you do
I want you to know I'm following you
Whatever you climb, or tumble into
Why, all of the time I'm following you
The battle won't be half so hard
If you've someone to share it
I'll gladly carry half the load
And what more, grin and bear it
You're part of my heart
You know that it's true
Whenever you start
I'm following, following you