Steve and Bucky for the five things
Five Things That the Smithsonian Exhibit Did Not Say
I. Steve almost dies in the winter of 1929. He’s 11 years old, with bones too light for birds, all sharp angles and not enough meat in between. A flu catches him in early December and his body is too weak, his stomach echoing hollow like a drum as the Depression comes into its stride.
Doctors come. Doctors leave. They all tell Mrs. Rogers to make arrangements. They all say Steve will be gone by Christmas and, that if he sees New Years, it will be a miracle.
Bucky doesn’t know about miracles, but he does know Steve can’t die—not ever, a world without Steve would not make any sense at all—and the next day he stands before Mrs. Rogers, a bottle of medicine in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other. He brings food ever day for a week, to make Steve strong, to make him healthy, and he waves away Sarah Rogers’ questions with all the charm his own mama says is going to get him in trouble one day.
On Christmas day, Steve is sitting up in bed. There is life in his blue eyes again and color to the hollows of his cheeks. On New Year’s Eve, Steve and Bucky watch the fireworks from the bedroom window, and Steve only coughs twice.
Bucky counts that as a miracle.
(Three days later, the grocer finally catches him in the act. In the alley, he backhands Bucky across the face so hard a tooth goes skittering across the cobblestones. His two sons—both older and bigger, muscles corded and compact along their frames—break every bone in Bucky’s left hand.
Bucky never tells Steve the truth of what happened. He also never regains feeling in his pinkie again.
He thinks it’s a small price to pay.)
II. Steve is 14 the first time Bucky saves enough money to take them to Coney Island. It’s the middle of a sweltering summer, the sun blazing and the air stagnant. Before they’ve even made it on a ride, Bucky buys two ice creams, the white swirls already beginning to melt as Steve wraps his hand around the cone. Their fingers are sticky with sugar for the rest of the day, but the heat is a little more bearable and Steve a little more pliable. Bucky doesn’t have to charm or cajole—wide blue eyes and pleading smiles—for long before Steve agrees to ride the Cyclone.
Whenever Steve retells the story, it’s always about the world spinning, the ground tilting, and vomit ending up on Bucky’s shoes. Steve’s tone is always three parts exasperated annoyance and one part self deprecating amusement, but it’s a fun story to tell.
The part that Steve always leaves out of the story is this: that same night, Bucky coaxed Steve on one last ride. Much the same thing happened. There was the world spinning, the ground tilting, and Steve’s stomach somersaulting frantically.
Steve always wishes he could blame the ride, but the Ferris Wheel was steady beneath him as the sun set over Coney Island, glinting orange off the ocean in the distance, gleaming gold in Bucky’s smiling eyes, glistening a deep bronze along the line of Bucky’s arm, curled around the thin span of Steve’s shoulders.
When Bucky grinned at him, happy like Steve hadn’t seen since they were little kids, Steve felt his stomach fall out from under him, his heart stutter in his chest, and his palms break out in a cold sweat.
There were only two thoughts in his head:
Oh no. Oh God, please. No.
Those thoughts never went away, but some stories aren’t meant to be told.
III. When they are both 16, Bucky dates a string of girls with blonde hair and blue eyes, petite, delicate things with soft mouths and soft skin.
He thinks he’s being obvious, but Steve never says a word.
Steve kisses his first girl—Becca, a girl from his art class—when he is 18 years old. He cradles her jaw, his nails still black with dirt from his mother’s grave, and presses his mouth shakily to hers.
Becca is brunette and tall, with blue eyes and full lips. For a moment, Steve lets himself believe
he she loves him.
It doesn’t work, but then again it never does.
IV. News of Pearl Harbor reaches Bucky on the docks. He retches into the ocean, bile and terror dribbling over his lips, and he already knows what awaits him at home.
So…he goes out and gets so drunk he can’t see straight, stumbling home with the road undulating beneath him, like the earth is coming apart at at seams, like the world is ending. Bucky sure feels like it is, because when he falls into his apartment, Steve is sitting at their rickety kitchen table, the line of his clenched jaw cut from marble, the fire in his eyes made up of every star burning out in the night sky as the city echoed with radio waves and calling paper boys, all the world singing of war.
“I’m going to enlist,” Steve says because of course he is; Steven Grant Rogers—the little punk who picked alley fights with fellas twice his size, who stood tall despite the crook his spine, the hitch in his lungs, the blood in his teeth—could do nothing else, and Bucky knew it.
“They won’t take you,” Bucky replies and he refuses to feel guilty about the relief he feels at this one truth.
Steve pushes to his feet with a glare, and Bucky might be drunk but he feels the exact moment the world changes.
(They do see.
Bucky, of course, is right. They don’t take Steve.
But every time Steve comes home with a 4F clenched between bloodied knuckles, Bucky drowns a little bit more in the disappointment filling up Steve’s ice blue eyes.
In the end, Bucky could only take so much.
He becomes Sergeant James Barnes and curses himself as pathetic when the pride in Steve’s eyes actually makes him forget he’s throwing away his life.)
V. The night before Bucky gets his orders—the night before the World Expo and Erskine and the endbeginning of their lives—Steve wakes up from a nap with tears rolling down his cheeks.
He had dreamed that Bucky had died, somewhere far away, surrounded by ice and snow and blood. Steve knows that it was a dream, but his chest feels so damn heavy, ribs cracking beneath the pressure of his hammering, breaking, hummingbird heart. He can’t stop crying for the life of him, and that’s how Bucky comes home and finds him: red eyed and shaking, sick with the knowledge, the inexplicable truth, that somehow, in someway, he is going to lose Bucky.
Steve kisses with the desperation of a man dying, clawing at Bucky, nails still black with the charcoal he had spent all day using, sketching Bucky from memory over and over again—eyes and hands, mouth and the line of his shoulders, holding up Steve’s whole world. There had been a feeling roiling in his gut every time he had shaded the curl of Bucky’s smile that he now recognizes as some bastard son of urgency, anticipation, and loss.
Bucky is shocked and stunned and tries to quell Steve’s grasping hands, his gasping mouth, but the smaller man just begs, “Please, Bucky, please,” and Bucky is lost. He’s only human, and he’s loved Steve for as long as he could remember, and the world is ending, crumbling along the fault lines, pulling them into a war destined to destroy all things.
Weak and hollow and deciding it doesn’t matter anymore, Bucky kisses back and falls into bed like he had fallen in love: recklessly, blindly, and without hesitation. Steve ends up hitting his head against the wall, but won’t let Bucky stop, pulling him down by the nape of the neck chanting, “Come on, come on, come on.”
(It’s not until Steve’s fast asleep and Bucky can think again that he realizes Steve’s slurs were not lustful urges but, instead, ardent pleas.
“Come home, come home, come home.”
Bucky is not surprised when they hand him his orders the next morning.)