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And Noon Should Burn

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June 23, 1928- Five and a Quarter

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Rebecca is laughing so hard that her milk shoots out her nose.

“EEEW!” Alice squeals, scrunching up her face.

Bucky, who had been pulling faces and using funny voices to make her laugh, starts laughing as hard as she is. Stevie, who is over while his mother works, falls out of his chair he is laughing so hard.

Mama, who is cooking ciorbă de ciocănele and bread rolls for supper sighs. “Out!” She shoos, “Go out and play.”

“Yes Mama,” they all chorus. Even Stevie. Mama just sends him a look, and he ducks his head. But he doesn’t apologize.

Rebecca likes it when Stevie calls her Mama his Mama. She likes to pretend they are brother and sister for real in her head sometimes. That he lives with them always instead of only when his mother has work.

Tati is reading in the parlor, he laughs at them shaking his head. “Come here, puilor,” he calls in Romanian, “Tell your Tati goodbye before you leave.

They all call out “Da, Tati!” And pause to say goodbye to him. He kisses Rebecca and Alice on the cheek, and ruffles Bucky’s and Stevie’s hair.

Tati squints at Stevie, “Did I have another son when I was not paying attention?” He asks, pretending to be confused just like he always does with Stevie.

Draga mea,” he calls to Mama, “When did you give me another fine son?

Oh, he is to be ten soon!” Mama calls back from the kitchen. Rebecca can hear the smile in her voice.

Ten!” Tati shouts, acting surprised. “Practically a man,” he slaps his knee. “How did I forget?

Because you are old,” Mama snaps back playfully.

As they rush out of the tenement they are joyous and happy. They had had church all morning and the tempting sunlight had driven them all gaga, but now it is afternoon. They have had lunch and it is time to play. The sticky heat of summer presses on her skin as the sun burns down and Rebecca quickly yanks off her stockings and shoes. The boys do the same, but Alice is reluctant.

Rebecca tugs on her hand and makes the face Tati calls her ‘puppy-eyed beggar look’. It works, because Alice sighs and strips off her stockings and shoes too. Bucky gathers them up in his arms and runs them back to the tenement.

Rebecca spots the perfect puddle, left from yesterday’s rain. With an Indian war-cry she leaps into it. Water splashes up around her, splashing Stevie and Alice. She’s wet too, and smiles at their sputtering.

Bucky laughs at them as he comes back outside.

“Let’s play cowboys an’ Indians!” She shouts, thrilled with the idea. Just last week Bucky and Stevie had read them a book about cowboys and Indians. Bucky and Stevie are the best readers- they do voices like it's a radio play and everything!

Alice perks up, “I’ll be the beautiful Indian princess an’ I’m held captive by the savage tribe next door!”

Rebecca stamps her foot; she had wanted to be the Indian princess! “Not fair! It was my idea!” She yells, because she is outside and does not need to ‘be quiet and sit still like a good girl.’ Being outside is so much better than being inside.

Bucky intervenes, “Whoa now girls! How’s ‘bout you settle this like ladies.” Rebecca and Alice both glare at him, in complete agreement that he should keep his nose out of their fight. Bucky just sighs, “We’ll flip a coin. Heads Sweet Pea’s the princess, tails Peanut’s the princess.”

Rebecca eyes Alice, who’s eyeing her back.

“Fine,” she huffs.

“Fine,” Alice huffs.

Bucky sticks his hands in his pockets and makes a face, “Nothin’,” he says. “Stevie?”

Stevie frowns and shoves his hands into his pockets. He comes up with a penny, “Got one!”

“Great!” Bucky goes to grab the penny, but Stevie holds it behind him.

“Nuh-uh,” Stevie shakes his head, “My penny, my flip.”

Bucky scowls, “You’re such a punk.”

“Quit bein’ such a jerk,” Stevie snaps right back.

“Come on!” Rebecca stamps her foot, “I wanna play already.”

“Fine,” Bucky sighs.

“Sorry Peanut,” Stevie ruffles her hair.

Holding out the coin he flips it easily, catching it he squints down at it. “Heads. Sweet Pea, you’re the Indian princess.”

Rebecca huffs again, but fair’s fair. And Stevie doesn’t lie.

“Hey Stevie,” she looked up at him.

He smiled down at her, “Yeah Peanut?”

“Would ya be a cowboy? And I could be a, a cowgirl!” Rebecca hops a bit at her idea. “We’ll win for sure, ‘cause we’re the good guys.”

Stevie smiles, big and wide, his eyes bright with joy, “It’s a sure thing Peanut,” he winks. He looks over at where Bucky is talking to Alice. Bucky looks up and his and Stevie’s eyes meet. Both of them smile big at each other, the saps.

“Hey Buck!” Stevie calls.

“Yeah?” Bucky raises one eyebrow. Rebecca wishes she could do that, but it’s real hard. She’s been practicing lately, using her fingers to lift one eyebrow at a time.

“Just so’s ya know- it’s been decided you’re the evil Indian, and me an’ Peanut are the cowboys who’re gonna save the Princess from ya,” Stevie grins.

“Aw, Stevie!” Bucky whines. “I’m sure Peanut’d rather I’m the cowboy with her. Right Peanut?” He puts on a funny face, all big eyes.

Rebecca shakes her head, “Nope.”

Bucky goes to say something else to her but some other boys interrupt him

“Hey Barneses!” Angelo Medici shouts, “Ol’ man Schaefer cracked open a Johnny Pump three blocks over!”

They all exchange looks of delight, a fire hydrant! It’s the perfect day for it too- hot and sticky.

“Oh, let’s go Bucky!” Alice cries, “Can we go?”

Bucky grins, “We’re goin’, we’re goin’. Johnny Pump on a day like this is too swell to miss!”

“Yay!” Rebecca cheers, taking off down the street. “Race ya!”

“No fair!” Alice shouts taking off after her. Bucky and Stevie laugh and chase after them.

They never do get around to playing cowboys and Indians, but that’s just fine. They have a fire hydrant to play in instead. Later Bucky and Stevie pull a quick con on some lost tourists and get them a nickel to buy a soda with.

How could any day be better than one with fire hydrants and Coca-Cola?

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The Barnes Family- 1928

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

August 15, 1928- Five and a Half

Rebecca is hanging upside down off the edge of their bed when she hears a knock on the door. Flipping her legs over her head with a laugh she lands in a pile on the floor. Up on top of the bed Alice sighs and smooths her dress down. Alice is a big kid, seven and going into second grade already.

Alice says she’s too grown-up to hang upside down. Rebecca just says she is boring.

Bucky always laughs and plays with her and Stevie smiles, big and wide, no matter what game they’re playing. Mama just sighs and clicks her tongue, and tells her to stop her ‘antics.’

Rebecca always wants to know what ants have to do with anything. But no one ever tells her- they just laugh and ruffle her hair.

Tati calls Alice his “Little Lady” and he calls Rebecca his “Little Ragamuffin.” Bucky and Stevie call Alice their ‘Sweet Pea’ and they call her their ‘Peanut’.

As she runs to the door she hears Alice coming behind her, steps quiet. Rebecca stomps louder to make up for it. Bucky is in the parlor playing with Stevie, and they are already opening the door.

“Who is it?” Mama calls.

Rebecca stares. It is a policeman! She likes the policemen, even if Tati is always nervous around them. He says lots of them are dirty. But Rebecca’s looked real close and they’re all pretty clean, even behind their ears. Plus, Officer Roberts always gives her a piece of penny candy so they’re fine by her.

The policeman’s eyes are wide when he looks at them, and he swallows real loud. “Hello there kids, is your mother in?”

Bucky’s making a real strange face at the policeman, but he nods. Stevie takes her hand. Rebecca looks and sees that Alice is holding his other hand.

Mama,” Bucky calls in Romanian. “Mama, there’s a policeman at the door.

Mama comes out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron, “Can I help you Officer?” She steps in front of Bucky.

Rebecca is surprised that Mama didn’t invite him in for a cup of lemonade. Mama invites everyone in for lemonade, even smelly old Mrs. Finkelstein.

“This is the Barnes home?” The policeman asks nervously, doffing his cap.

Mama nods and her lips go thin. Rebecca knows this means she is worried. She looks like this whenever Stevie is sick, and stays with them because Aintín Sarah has to work. Mama is afraid Stevie will die of sickness like Rebecca’s older sister Martha did, before Rebecca was ever born.

“Please, come in,” Mama says. Bucky stands right behind Mama, watching the policeman with his eyes all squinty. Stevie pulls her and Alice back, further into the front room.

“You,” the policeman’s voice goes funny, sounding all squeaky. He clears his throat, “You’ll wanna sit down Mrs. Barnes.”

Mama does. Bucky sits next to her on the sofa. Stevie stays with Alice and her right where they are. The policeman comes into the room more.

“I’m very sorry to hafta tell you folks this, but Mr. George Barnes was struck by a car ‘round 8 o’clock this mornin’.” The policeman sounds very sad. “He didn’t make it.”

Mama lets out a loud sob and buries her head in her hands. She is shaking and shouting “Nu, nu, nu,” and Bucky wraps his arms around her. Bucky is crying too. And Alice is crying real loud and messy, her face in Stevie’s shoulder. Stevie wraps his arm around them, tears on his cheeks.

Rebecca doesn’t understand. Why is everyone so sad? What did the policeman mean?

The policeman looks at Bucky and kneels down. “You’re the man of the family now, son,” he says, all serious. “You an’ your brother,” he looked at Stevie. “You take good care of your mother and sisters.”

Bucky nods his head, all stiff, “Yes sir.”

Stevie nods and says, “Yes sir,” too.

“Good lads,” the policeman pats Bucky on the shoulder. He walks over to where Stevie, Alice and her are and ruffles Stevie’s hair. “I’ll, uh, I’ll take my leave. If you folks need anythin’ go ahead and come by the station.”

Mama is still crying, and Bucky is trying to calm her, so Stevie says, “We will. Have a nice day, sir.”

The policeman leaves. Rebecca still doesn’t understand.

“I don’t understand?” She is very confused. “Where didn’t Tati make it? Is he comin’ home late tonight?”

Mama cries even harder.

Chapter Text

March 6, 1930- Seven

It is a Thursday, and Rebecca should be in school. She’s not. Mama and Aintín Sarah have taken her and Bucky and Alice and Stevie to Manhattan. And now they are in Union Square with lots of other people to protest.

A protest, Aintín Sarah explained, is when lots of people get together to show the government that something isn’t right. Today they are protesting how Mama and Aintín Sarah don’t have jobs no more.

Aintín Sarah is not Rebecca’s real aunt. She and Mama are ‘Suffragette Sisters’. Mama said they met at a different protest when Bucky was just a baby, and Stevie was still inside Aintín Sarah. They was protesting so that girls could have the vote.

Aintín Sarah and Stevie live with them now. After Tati had died they had moved in with her and Bucky and Alice and Mama. Mama and Aintín Sarah share one room, and Alice and her and Bucky and Stevie have the other. Bucky and Stevie sleep in one bed, and Alice and her share the other. Except when Stevie is sick. Then Alice and her sleep with Mama and Aintín Sarah, and Bucky sleeps in the parlor and Stevie sleeps in their room.

After Tati died Mama went to work in a factory sewing buttons on men’s shirts. Aintín Sarah was a nurse, and Mama said that because of Aintín Sarah’s job they could stay in their tenement instead of moving somewhere smaller.

But then The Crash happened. And Mama lost her job at the factory. And Aintín Sarah was told the only job they could give her was in the leprosy ward. Aintín Sarah quit. “It was bad enough,” she had said, “to be in the TB ward. But leprosy is too dangerous to the children.”

So now Mama and Aintín Sarah don’t have jobs. They don’t have much food neither, they’ve eaten boiled cabbage or boiled greens morning and night for the last couple months. And sometimes, when they’re lucky, a slice of bread each. And sometimes, when they’re not lucky they don’t eat nothing. Rebecca’s dresses was getting small last fall, and Mama had been planning on giving her Alice’s after making Alice new ones. But then The Crash happened, and now Rebecca’s still wearing her old dress. Except, instead of it being tight all over it’s too short, above her knees now, and tight under her arms. But it’s loose around the waist.

All of their clothes are.

When they don’t think she can hear Mama and Aintín Sarah talk about having to leave the tenement if they don’t find work soon. Bucky says they might end up in a Hooverville, like the one in Red Hook. Stevie just squeezes his lips together real tight and says it won’t come to that. Alice just shakes her head and says that she likes living in their tenement, small as it is with all of them crammed in together. Rebecca hopes they don’t have to leave. She doesn’t think she’d like to live in a Hooverville.

And so they are protesting. Rebecca thinks she likes protesting, she gets to help hold a big sign that says, “We Demand Relief For The Unemployed!” All of the others help too, and they all sing the Internationale. Rebecca likes singing.

A man at the front shouts something, and everyone around Rebecca shouts “NO!” So she shouts it too.

“We’re marching,” Mama says. And they are. They start to march down Broadway towards City Hall. Rebecca is smiling and proud. Mama told her that she would make a difference for people by helping to march today. Alice, next to her is smiling and proud too. But Bucky and Stevie’s eyes are watching the policemen around them carefully. Rebecca isn’t sure why, policemen are supposed to protect people.

Suddenly, Rebecca hears a shout up ahead. Someone screams and a policeman rushes forward. Rebecca thinks he is going to help the screamer. But he doesn’t. Instead he swings his nightstick and the man in front of Mama falls down. Mama boxes the policeman upside the head and the policeman backhands her.

Stevie and Bucky jump on the policeman who hit Mama, and Aintín Sarah kicks him a few times. Aintín Sarah is shouting, “Jobs for everyone! Relief for the unemployed!” at him.

Suddenly everyone is shouting and screaming and policemen are hitting people. There are policemen on horses are circling into the crowd and kicking people, and another officer is pulling Bucky and Stevie off of the first one.

They’re hitting Bucky and Stevie, and Stevie is wheezing. Rebecca is angry, policemen are supposed to protect people! She sees red as a different policeman starts shaking Alice, who is crying. And then Mama and Aintín Sarah are pulling him off of her and first policeman is beating Bucky and Stevie while the second one holds them still.

Rebecca gives a war cry like an Indian and leaps on the back of the policeman beating Bucky and Stevie. “LEAVE MY BROTHERS ALONE!” She bellows, wrapping her arms around his neck and her legs around his back and squeezing as tight as she could.

He reaches over and throws her to the ground and Rebecca feels her wobbly tooth come out when he hits her. Mama jumps in front of him, and grabs her up before he can hit her again. Aintín Sarah has Alice. Bucky has Stevie by the collar and they are both bruised and bloody but free of the policeman.

“We need to leave,” Mama says urgently to Aintín Sarah. “The children,” she waves at them.

Aintín Sarah nods, “Of course, they’ll start with arrests soon.” She looks around. “I have a friend who lives off of Orchard Street, she’ll let us wash up there before we take the subway back.”

Mama and Aintín Sarah bustle them away from the fighting and screaming and police with nightsticks. People scream and run as police on horses start to charge through the crowds instead of just staying on the edges. Mama picks her up and Aintín Sarah grabs Stevie, who is still wheezing. Bucky grabs Alice’s hand and they all rush away from the protest as fast as they can.

Rebecca isn’t sure if she likes protests or not. She knows she doesn’t like policemen anymore though. They have slowed down and are walking now. Mama and Aintín Sarah put her and Stevie down. They lean in and talk softly to each other. Alice is holding Bucky’s right hand, her chin sticking out with pride. Rebecca grabs Stevie’s right hand and Bucky’s left hand and swings them back and forth a little.

Judging by the looks of fierce determination on Stevie’s and Bucky’s bruised faces, they liked the protest, Alice did too. Rebecca smiles at Stevie, and feels her lip split open.

As blood trickles down her chin, Stevie grins back. Looking at Bucky, he too smiles down at her.

“You did real good Peanut.” Stevie squeezes her hand. “Good show Sweet Pea,” he says to Alice.

“Peanut an’ Sweet Pea were the bee’s knees,” Bucky agrees.

Rebecca grins up at them, “You fellas were pretty swell yourself.”

“Ya really were,” Alice agrees. She pauses for a moment, “That was scary,” she says slowly, “But if it helps people, it’s worth it.”

Rebecca changes her mind as she nods in agreement. Protests are the cat’s meow.

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The Barnes-Rogers Clan

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

March 14, 1930- Seven

“Read it, Bucky!” Rebecca slaps lightly at his shoulder. They’re all sitting out on the stoop.

“Ninth planet discovered on edge of solar system,” Bucky’s voice barely contains his excitement, “First found in 84 years!”

“84 years!” Alice exclaimed, “Why, that’s older than Ol’ Man Shea!”

“That’s a real long time,” Rebecca agrees solemnly.

“An’ we’re alive ta see it!” Bucky grins, “A new planet!”

“What’s its name?” Stevie asks, squinting and leaning in real close to try and see around the paper.

Bucky huffs and furrows his brow the way Aintín Sarah does and reads some more of the article, “The achievement of the century, scientists say of the astronomers at the Lowell Observatory’s discovery of a heretofore unknown trans-Neptune celestial body. The first release of this news occurred at Harvard University on the 13th of March, to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Percival Lowell, an astronomer and the founder of the Lowell Observatory. Lowell himself, who had hypothesized the existence of a ninth planet, which he called planet X, since 1906 sadly passed of a stroke in 1916, 14 years before his hypothesis proved true.”

Rebecca frowns, feeling very confused. She’s going to ask what an observatory is and how someone can guess there’s a planet no one can see and why no one knew about it before if they know about it now and what exactly is a celestial body, but Alice talks first.

“Oh,” Alice says softly, “That’s so sad. Poor Mr. Lowell, dyin’ before he was proved right.”

Stevie pats her hand, “I’m sure he’s watchin’ from up in heaven and is real excited about it Sweet Pea.”

“I suppose,” Alice sighs.

“He shoulda waited ta die ‘til after it got found,” Rebecca states. He should have. It was silly of him to go dying before they found that planet. “What’s the planet’s name, Bucky?”

He frowns at her and exchanges a look with Stevie. Stevie just shrugs and sighs like Mama does, and Bucky scrunches his nose up at him. “Peanut,” Bucky says in the careful sort of voice that means he’s trying to act all grown up just because he’s thirteen now, “People don’t get ta choose when they die. That’s up ta God.”

“Well then God shouldn’t a killed Mr. Lowell before his planet got found,” Rebecca sticks out her chin.

Stevie gives her a look. It’s a really disappointed look, “You need to listen better in Church Rebecca. God doesn’t kill people. He just… He welcomes them when they get to heaven.”

She blinks, considering, “What if they don’t get to heaven? What if they go… you know.” She points down at the ground.

“He waves as their eternal souls float by,” Bucky demonstrates, giving a little wave with a grin and dropping his voice low like a man’s, “Bye-bye now, have fun, don’t get burned! Oh… wait. Ouch!”

Stevie has elbowed him in the gut. “Don’t blaspheme where our Ma’s can hear,” he hisses, “’Specially not in front a the girls ya, ya baloney.”

Bucky elbows him back, “Don’t call me a baloney ya gorm.”

Stevie punches Bucky right where his arm meets his chest. Bucky yowls as Stevie glares, “Don’t call me a gorm, ya goofus!”

Bucky tackles Stevie to the ground, “I ain’t a goofus, ya great baboon!”

Rebecca looks over at Alice as the boys roll across the ground scuffling. Alice shrugs back with a heavy sigh, “Boys.”

“Boys,” Rebecca agrees. She rolls her eyes like Aintín Sarah does when the boys try and convince her they got black eyes and split lips from falling down the stairs.

Alice crosses her ankles real lady-like and picks up the newspaper. She opens it up to the right page and then flaps it like Mama does when they can afford to buy the paper.

Rebecca puts her elbows on her knees and her chin on her hands and looks at Alice, “Well? What’d they name the planet? Do they know if there’re aliens on it?”

Alice hums and reads the article to herself, occasionally saying a sentence out loud. They’re both ignoring the boys’ fighting and shouting. “They ain’t named it yet,” Alice says disappointed.

Rebecca frowns and goes to ask how they’re gonna name it when Stevie coughs. Bucky stops the fight, looking at Stevie with worry. Stevie keeps coughing and trying to gasp in air between them.

“Alright pal, deep breaths,” Bucky says as he presses his hand to Stevie’s chest. “Sweet Pea, count ‘em.”

“Stevie,” Alice says nervously, “Breath in slow now. 1… 2… 3… And out slow. 1… 2… 3… In. 1… 2… 3…” She keeps counting and grabs one of Stevie’s hands away from the ground. He grips so tight her fingers turn white.

Bucky pulls his hand away and presses his ear to Stevie’s chest. “It’s just your lungs actin’ up Stevie. Your hearts behavin’ itself this time,” Bucky says after a minute as he pulls away with a wobbly smile. “We got any a your cigarettes upstairs?”

As soon as Bucky moves away Stevie leans forward. His legs are spread apart and he uses one hand to hold up his body as he wheezes. He shakes his head, “U-used…” he gasps, “las’… one.”

Rebecca puts her hand over her mouth, that’s not good. Stevie doesn’t like the cigarettes, they hurt his heart, but if his lungs get real bad a few puffs are enough to fix them most times. He’s got to be real careful though, his heart starts beating all funny because of the asthma cigarettes and Aintín Sarah said he weren’t allowed to use them without her there anymore.

Rebecca starts chewing on her hair. She always does when she’s nervous, even though Mama always scolds her for it. Inching forwards she grabs onto the back of Alice’s dress. Stevie sounds almost like he’s whistling as he breathes, just lower.

Bucky looks at her for a second before focusing back on Stevie. He’s rubbing his hand up and down on Stevie’s chest with one hand, and holding Stevie’s shoulder with the other, keeping him upright. “Okay Stevie,” Bucky says, “You got this. You’re doing great.”

Alice is still counting, “Out. 1… 2… 3… In. 1… 2… 3…”

“Rebecca, go get Mrs. Mulroney.” Bucky says. His forehead is shiny with sweat, and he leans forwards to listen to Stevie’s heart again. He lets out a sigh of relief, “Heart still sounds good, Stevie.” Sometimes Stevie’s heart beats funny with just the asthma attacking him.

Stevie nods feebly as Rebecca stands. His lips are pale, she sees, and then she runs down the street as fast as she can. Mrs. Mulroney is a nurse, just like Aintín Sarah. They work together sometimes, and sometimes they work different shifts. Today is Mrs. Mulroney’s day off.

Reaching the right intersection Rebecca runs across the street without looking. She hears a car skid to a stop behind her as the driver leans out the window to yell. She keeps running, crossing over trolley tracks and through busy streets. When she gets to Mrs. Mulroney’s building she yanks open the door and runs up the stairs. Mrs. Mulroney lives on the third floor. Reaching the door she pounds on it wildly.

“Mrs. Mulroney! Mrs. Mulroney!” She wails, half hysterical as she pants for air. “Mrs. Mulroney! Please!”

The door flies open. “Girl, what’s all that racket about?” Mr. Mulroney demands in an accent just like Aintín Sarah’s. He’s a big man who works nights guarding a fancy shop in the city and is in his pajamas.

“My brother!” Rebecca wails, finally breaking down in tears, “He can’t breathe! He’s got asthma, he needs a nurse, please!” She begs, “Please!”

“Dotty!” Mr. Mulroney yells, “It’s the littler Barnes girl. Her brother, he ain’t breathin’!” He grabs his coat and his wife’s and hands it to Mrs. Mulroney as she comes running out of the bedroom with her bag.

She grabs it and flings it over her housedress. She doesn’t even stop to put on real shoes, running out the door in her slippers. Rebecca follows right on her heels as Mr. Mulroney locks the door behind them.

Rebecca is sure they make a strange sight running down the street- Mrs. Mulroney in her housedress and slippers, Rebecca in her dress and torn stockings crying and yelling what happened at the same time, and Mr. Mulroney following them in pajamas and socks. She doesn’t care- as long as God don’t get a chance to say nothing to Stevie anytime soon.

By the time they get back to Rebecca’s building Stevie is wheezing so hard he’s shaking and his lips are turning a little blue. Alice is crying from fear as she counts. Bucky is rubbing a hand over Steve’s chest still and murmuring encouraging words.

“Pick him up Patrick, we’re going upstairs,” Mrs. Mulroney tells her husband who obeys immediately. He’s frowning in worry.

Bucky leaps upright and leads the way, shoving open the door to their tenement as they reach their floor.

“Girls, put a pot of water on to boil,” Mrs. Mulroney orders them, “The steam’ll help him breathe. If you have coffee or tea, fix a pot.” She pulls out a stethoscope to listen to Stevie’s heart and lungs as soon as Mr. Mulroney sets him down on the couch. “Patrick, run home and fetch your ephedrine. I heard some of the doctors talking about using it for patients who’re having problems breathing.”

“We-we don’t have any tea or c-coffee,” Alice stutters out. Mama had been complaining about it that morning.

Mr. Mulroney nods, “I’ll fetch us some coffee too, I could smell the Saperstein’s had a pot starting when we left, Chana’ll let me ‘ave some.” He has Bucky to take over holding Stevie upright as he leaves the room at a run.

Rebecca takes a second to be impressed- most men won’t listen to their wives like that. Always thinking they know best. She wants a husband like Mr. Mulroney.

Alice grabs Rebecca’s hands and drags her to the stove, ordering, “T-turn it on.” She’s still crying and Rebecca finds herself sniffling too. With shaking hands she switches the stove on as Alice hauls the pot out, yanks off the tabletop and turns on the water. The sink is too high for them to see how full the pot is.

The pipes creak and groan as the water starts coming, and Rebecca rubs at her face after the burners are on. “It’s lit Alice,” she says with a sniffle.

Alice gives a hiccup and nods. Both of them grasp the handles of the pot to lift it out of the tub and move it to the stove. They slop water on the floor as they carry it over. Now they wait.

“James, count slow for him like you had Alice doing,” Mrs. Mulroney instructs. Bucky’s face is a chalky white as he nods, beginning to count and rubbing one hand up and down Stevie’s spine in time with it. Mrs. Mulroney is listening to Stevie’s lungs with a stethoscope, and has one hand on his wrist to check his pulse, “You’re doing fine Steven, you just keep on breathing. Deep breaths, slow and easy lad.”

Alice swallows and moves over to the saltbox, scraping out a small bit to put into the pot. Rebecca watches her with wide eyes, “What’re you doin’?” she hisses. Salt’s real expensive and they don’t have much left, and they can’t afford anymore.

“W-water boils faster with, with salt in it,” Alice’s voice shakes, “Mama and Aintín Sarah will, they’ll un-understand.”

“Should…” Rebecca swallows hard, watching the pot, “Should we put in more? Will it boil faster with more?”

Alice shrugs helplessly, “I don’t know.” She sniffles hard, “I dunno.”

Rebecca juts her jaw out stubbornly and goes to the saltbox herself, scraping up as much as she can onto the spoon they keep in there. Alice clutches at her dresses hem, “Rebecca,” she whispers.

“It’s for Stevie,” Rebecca says fiercely back. She dumps the salt into the water.

Alice grabs her hand and twists them together and they both alternate between watching the pot and watching Stevie as he struggles to breathe. It is the most terrifying moment of Rebecca’s life, she thinks. She’s seen Stevie have little asthma attacks before, but nothing like this.

Not where he can’t sit up and his lips are blue and tears on his cheeks and Bucky has bitten his lip bloody to keep from crying.

And Mrs. Mulroney keeps whispering prayers under her breath as she listens to Stevie’s lungs. She’s reciting The Lord’s Prayer and Rebecca and Alice join in, their voices wobbling through their tears.

“Pater noster, qui es in caelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum.” They pray together.

Bucky is still counting, “In. 1… 2… 3… Out. 1… 2… 3…”

“Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.” Rebecca chokes on the last word. Her legs feel shaky and tears are streaming down her cheeks as she listens to Stevie’s choked gasps.

“…3… Out. 1… 2… 3… In. 1…”

The water starts to boil. Rebecca sobs with relief and reaches for the handle of the pot without thinking, desperate to get the steam to Stevie.

It doesn’t hurt the first few seconds, but then she screams.

Her hand clenches down instead of opening for half a second before she manages to rips it away. She clutches her hand to her chest, tears of pain mingling with ones of fear. Everyone’s staring at her, no longer praying, except for Stevie.

Bucky glances her over and starts counting again. Rebecca’s glad, Stevie’s more important. A burnt hand won’t kill her, but Stevie’s asthma might kill him.

She sucks in a deep breath, “It’s boiling.”

Mr. Mulroney bursts into the room, “I heard a scream!” he is red-faced and covered in sweat.

“Rebecca b-burned her hand on the pot,” Alice explains twisting her hem.

Mr. Mulroney slumps in relief, “Couldn’t wait for me, eh girl?” He hands the ephedrine, a spoon and a half-full coffee mug over to his wife as he speaks. “I was worried I wasn’t fast enough,” he murmurs. Rebecca doesn’t think he meant to say that that loud.

Mrs. Mulroney takes them, pours out a spoon full of ephedrine and says, “Hold his mouth open James. He needs to get this down.” As soon as Bucky complies, forcing Stevie’s mouth open, Mrs. Mulroney shoves the spoon in. “Shut his mouth!” She barks and then starts to massage Stevie’s throat to make him swallow.

Shoving the stethoscope into her ears again she presses it back to Stevie’s chest, listening intently. “I think it’s working,” she says after a minute, “Patrick, bring the pot over.”

Mr. Mulroney immediately leaps up to grab a pair of rags that Mama and Aintin Sarah keep by the stove. Rebecca feels foolish for forgetting them as she watches Mr. Mulroney move the pot to sit right in front of Stevie.

Bucky leans him over the pot, rubbing his back, “Breathe in deep Stevie,” Bucky says the words like he’s praying, “Breathe, Stevie, breathe.”

Stevie is shaking less. Rebecca goes to grab Alice’s hand. Alice moves her hand out of the way and grabs Rebecca’s wrist. She flips her hand over and her eye’s go wide, “Rebecca!”

Rebecca stares. There’s a red stripe across her palm, and her skin looks like it’s bubbling. She whimpers, it hurts a lot.

Mr. Mulroney walks up to them and spots her hand, “Oh you burnt yourself good young one, didn’t you?” He clucks his tongue. “Come on now, I may not know what t’ do about asthma but I can fix up a burn.”

He leads her over to the tub. The top is still on the ground where Alice had left it. Mr. Mulroney leans it gently up against the wall and then turns the water on. “This’ll hurt,” he warns her, “But the cold’ll do it good.”

Rebecca nods and sticks her hand under the water, whimpering in pain. Mr. Mulroney looks to Alice, “You folks got any whiskey in the house?”

Alice shakes her head, “No sir, it’s illegal.”

Mr. Mulroney gives her a look, “Aye, but that didn’t stop your brothers from buying a bottle off of ol’ Mr. Halmi last week. Keepin’ your sister’s hand clean means she won’t lose it. If there’s any whiskey, I’ll have it now.”

Alice flushes, and goes into their room. Rebecca’s eyes go wide as she pulls out a bottle of moonshine from her dollhouse. She glances over at Bucky but he’s not paying any attention. Stevie’s breathing easier though, his lips aren’t blue, and Rebecca wants to cry from relief and pain both.

“Alice,” Rebecca hisses out when her sister gets back to her side.

Alice looks to the ground, tearing up again, “They gave me three cents ta hide it in our stuff,” she defends, “I was savin’ up so we could get some of the real nice paper dolls.”

Mr. Mulroney unscrews the lid to the alcohol and takes a swig, “Lord Almighty!” He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, “That’s strong stuff.” He looks at her, “This’ll hurt bad. Grab the tub and squeeze it tight.”

Rebecca nods, grabbing onto the tub and looking at Stevie instead of her hand. He’s breathing better, still coughing and wheezing but not anywhere near like before. He’s got some color back in his cheeks, and he’s not crying as he leans back into Bucky’s chest.

The moonshine hits her hand and she lets out a shout. She closes her eyes and whimpers and prays it’ll end soon. Only a few tears drip down her cheeks. It ends quick, but not as quick as she’d hoped, with Mr. Mulroney telling her, “You’re a brave one aren’t you girlie?” He ruffles her hair, “Let me fetch some bandages.” He goes to his wife’s bag.

Rebecca’s eyes go back to her brothers. Bucky’s got his head tucked into Stevie’s shoulder and his arms around his waist as his shoulders hitch up and down. She can’t see his face but she knows he’s crying.

She also knows that Stevie’s gonna be okay. Bucky only cries after all the bad stuff is over, when he don’t need to be brave no more. Stevie pats his leg where he can reach, and gasps out, “I’m… I’m fine B… Buck.”

“You will be,” Mrs. Mulroney agrees and then gives him a stern look, “If you stop talking and remain on bedrest for the next several days.” Steve slumps further into Bucky’s arms, he hates bedrest. “You will also have a cup of coffee or tea every few hours, and breathe in steam to keep your lungs nice and open. I’ll be letting your mother know, and I’ll leave a bag of coffee with you in exchange for that moonshine you shouldn’t be having anyways.”

Bucky looks up, “Yes ma’am, that s-sounds fine. I’ll make sure he listens.” Everyone ignores how red his eyes are, Bucky’s too old to be crying like that but since he just almost watched his brother die no one’s saying nothing. Alice and her had cried the whole time through, practically, anyways.

Mrs. Mulroney eyes him for a moment as Mr. Mulroney lifted a bandage from his wife’s bag and returned to wrap it around her hand. “Leave the bandage on for the day,” he says, “Take it off to air it at night, and make sure you scrub it with lye soap and dry it before you put it back on tomorrow.” Rebecca nods. “If you get any dirt in it, come back to ours and we’ll wash it out with the rotgut. Otherwise just make sure you don’t pick and poke at it none.”

Rebecca nods her understanding, she doesn’t want to touch it anyways, her skin looks like the bubbles in a boiling pot.

“I’ll make sure she takes care of it,” Alice says calmly. Her stuttering is gone now that the danger has passed and her nerves have had a chance to settle.

Mrs. Mulroney clucks her tongue, “You make sure your breaths are nice and deep,” she scolds Stevie, “You start breathing too quick and you’ll stop coughing again. I can’t give you any more of the ephedrine.”

Stevie nods, coughing breathlessly, before he calms down again, “Yes ma’am.”

She eyes him twice as hard as she had Bucky before clucking her tongue, “Your brother has free reign to tie you to the bed if that’s what it takes.” Both boys flush a deep beetroot red. Alice and Rebecca giggle at their horrified faces.

Bucky recovers himself first, as usual, “Well ma’am, I will if I have to.” He has a distinct gleam of mischief in his eye as he turns to Stevie who looks properly mortified at the suggestion.

Mr. Mulroney snorts, “Dotty, don’t be givin’ them no ideas. You know boys their age and the mischief they get up to! You’ll be the one fixin’ their rope burns from some cockamamie idea they had, mark my words.” He leans down and picks Stevie up gentle and easy. “Come on lad, to bed with you. You’re right tired out.”

Stevie doesn’t bother to argue. That more than anything tells her how tired he really is. She follows behind Alice, who is behind Mrs. Mulroney, who is behind Bucky, who is gripping the hem of Stevie’s pants leg as Mr. Mulroney carries him into their room.

She watches him look around, obviously trying to spot which bed is the boys’. It’s pretty easy- Alice and hers bed has a stack of paper dolls on the trunk at its foot and Alice’s special dollhouse and her special Flossie Flirt doll. Seeing her doll Rebecca really wants to go hug her tight.

The boys have Tinker Toys on their trunk, shaped like a plane, and there are stacks of scraps of paper that Bucky and Stevie have drawn on or are going to draw on. They’re both real good drawers. The floor on the far side of the bed has five cast iron cars with paint chipping off that are Bucky’s and there’s Stevie’s bag of glass marbles and a pair of dice and a set of knucklebones that was his Da’s before he died in the Great War.

“My, don’t you all have a lot of toys,” Mr. Mulroney smiles at them as his wife tucks Stevie in tight to bed.

Rebecca beams at him and grabs her doll off of the bed, “This is Flossie,” she announces, “Lookit, her eyes move and blink and wink just like a real baby!”

Mr. Mulroney slaps his knee, “Isn’t that something!” He looks at Alice, “And what toy do you have Alice?” Alice smiles shyly and points at her dollhouse. “Why is that a real Sears-Roebuck dollhouse?”

Alice nods her head, “Yes sir,” she says proudly, “It was my Christmas and birthday gift three years ago.”

Mrs. Mulroney looks over after fussing Stevie into bed. Bucky is sitting beside Stevie, two fingers on his wrist like Aintín Sarah and Mrs. Mulroney was doing earlier. “It’s beautiful Alice.” She tells her with a soft smile. She looks prettier when she doesn’t worry. “And did you make your paper dolls?”

“Bucky and Stevie make ‘em!” Rebecca tells her. “See.” She holds up a girl made out of butcher’s paper scraps, and the newspaper dress over top, “Isn’t she beautiful?”

“She certainly is!” Mr. Mulroney ruffles her hair.

Alice hesitantly picks up their special paper dolls, “Some of ‘em are from a book too,” she offers. “But Bucky and Stevie’s are better.”

Mr. and Mrs. Mulroney both smile at her. “They are excellent artists aren’t they?” Mrs. Mulroney says.

“Stevie wants to be an artist when he grows up, ain’t that right Stevie?” Bucky says from where he’s sitting on the boy’s trunk.

“Stevie?” Bucky looks over his shoulder, “Oh.”

Stevie’s asleep.

“The attack tuckered him out,” Mrs. Mulroney says softly, “Why don’t you all take your fine toys and maybe some paper and pencils to draw on out into the kitchen? Patrick will set the table back to rights for you to use.”

Mr. Mulroney nods and goes to do that. Rebecca can hear the scrape of the wood board as he slides it on top of the tub.

“I’ll stay here,” Bucky tells Mrs. Mulroney earnestly, “Keep an eye on Stevie.” He stands up from his spot on the trunk only to settle by Stevie on the bed, gently smoothing his hair like he prefers it and fluffing their ratty pillow.

Mrs. Mulroney watches him for a long moment, “I was planning to stay, lad, make sure he doesn’t start coughing again.” Bucky fidgets.

“Why don’t you go take care of your sisters? They’ve had a fright,” Mrs. Mulroney says, “I’ll stay here with Steven until your mothers get home.” It’s not a suggestion.

Bucky remains where he is for a second longer before standing, “Yes ma’am.” He looks down at Stevie before looking at her and Alice, “How about I draw you girls some new paper dolls? You can tell me exactly what sorts of dresses they should wear.”

Rebecca looks at Stevie for a long moment too. He’s pasty-faced and his breathing is still rough, but he’s alive. He’s alive and he’s staying that way if she has anything to say about it.

Bucky grabs her hand lightly, “Come on Peanut, let’s let him sleep.” Alice is waiting by the door, a stack of paper and pencils in her hands.

Rebecca blinks furiously, pushing back the burn of tears. She doesn’t know why she’s about to cry again. “I’m gonna fix asthma when I get big,” she declares.

Bucky kisses her forehead and leads her out of the room, shooting a last glance at Stevie. “From your lips to God’s ears,” Bucky murmurs. “You’re smart enough to do it Peanut.”

She squeezes his hand tight and lets him chivvy her into her chair at the table. “Can you make a boy doll for me Bucky?” She asks softly, “In a proper suit? I want to have a wedding.”

“Sure Peanut,” he smiles at her, pencil already on the paper, “What about you Sweet Pea?”

“An alien,” Alice says quietly after a moment, “Like on the new planet maybe?”

Bucky grins, “Sure thing. What do you think- four arms or six?”

“Four!” Rebecca says excitedly, forgetting about the boy doll.

“Six,” Alice argues back, jutting out her chin stubbornly.

“How about you each draw what you think they’d look like?” Bucky suggests. “We can have Stevie vote which one he likes more.”

Alice and Rebecca nod, selecting their own pieces of paper to draw on and going to gather their own pens. They draw in silence mostly, only whispering occasionally. Their ears are entirely focused on the harsh breathing in their bedroom, because every rough in and out means that Stevie’s still breathing.

Chapter Text

February 12, 1931- Almost Eight

Rebecca is slumped, kicking her legs back and forth in her chair. Next to her Mama is so worried that she doesn’t even tell her to stop. Bucky is on her other side, holding her hand too tight and staring at the table.

It hurts, but Rebecca won’t tell him to stop. Maybe if it doesn’t stop hurting this won’t be real.

But Alice is sick. And Stevie is sick. Aintín Sarah is a nurse, and has been caring for them, but Rebecca can tell she is very worried. They don’t have enough money for medicine, and Alice had gotten a very bad fever last night. Aintín Sarah had put her in the tub with all of the ice in the icebox for a long while. It was supposed to help.

Bucky is blaming himself, she can tell. He and Stevie had managed to save a whole dollar from their jobs as shoe shiners after helping their mamas pay the rent and get good food. They had treated her and Alice to a picture show and a soda last week. They’d gone to see Charlie Chaplin’s new picture, City Lights. It had been wonderful. Alice had laughed so loud, and been so excited when the blind girl could see again. It had snowed on their walk home, glistening white and beautiful.

Now Alice is sick. And Stevie is sick. Sick with pneumonia. Lying in bed, coughing and hacking. One of them is getting quieter and quieter.

Rebecca prays with all her might it means someone is getting better. That for her birthday tomorrow God will make her sister and her brother (because Stevie is her brother just as much as Bucky is) get better.

One of them stops coughing.

Aintín Sarah is crying when she comes out of the sick room. Mama stands up and stares at her. Rebecca stares at her too. Bucky is still staring at the table.

“I’m sorry,” Aintín Sarah shudders, “I’m so sorry Winifred, she’s gone.”

Mama collapses into her chair. Unlike when the policeman came and told them about Tati, Mama is not sobbing and shouting. She is just staring straight ahead. She moans, “Alice,” once. And then nothing else.

“Wh-what about Stevie,” Bucky is shaking so hard that Rebecca can feel the table rattle.

“He’s,” Aintín Sarah rubs her hands over her face. “I don’t think he’s going to make it,” she is crying.

Bucky slams his fist on the table before letting go of her hand and burying his face in his arms. He is crying, but does not want them to see. Boys aren’t supposed to cry.

Rebecca sucks in a deep breath of air, and lets out a ragged sob. She curls into a little ball on her chair, her arms wrapped around her legs and her head on her knees.

Her big sister is gone. Dead. She’ll never play dolls with Alice again. Or have a tea party with her. Alice will never sneak her an extra piece of bread when her stomach growls again. Or whisper secrets after bedtime together. She’ll never get to help Rebecca with her multiplication tables, like she promised. She promised. Alice never breaks a promise. But she’s dead now.

Rebecca doesn’t have a sister anymore.

The clock chimes. It is midnight. Rebecca is eight years old and does not have a sister anymore.

Chapter Text

July 7, 1934- Eleven

Rebecca lays back on the blanket staring up at the sky. The noon sun beats down heavy and hot and she can feel her cheeks begin to redden already.

Beside her Bucky and Stevie are bickering about some silly boy thing. The Dodgers game, she thinks. She smiles as she listens to their voices wash over her.

Today the whole family- her and Bucky and Mama and Aintín Sarah and Stevie- were supposed to have a picnic after church for Stevie’s sixteenth birthday. A few days late but still close enough.

But Mama isn’t feeling well, she has a headache and decided to lie down after church; she often gets headaches now. Mama says it was from stitching hems all day in the factory, and having to squint so much at her work in the dim light. She’s always laying down now when she’s not at work or church. Aintín Sarah has been called on duty today, apparently there were eight new cases of tuberculosis last night and the hospital has called all nurses in the ward in, fearful of an epidemic. Aintín Sarah even missed church this morning.

So it’s just her and Bucky and Stevie the birthday boy picnicking in the park. Rebecca glances over at Stevie who is pale as paper. She’s just happy he’s made it to his birthday. A month ago he’d been so sick with pneumonia Aintín Sarah had had Father Daugherty over to give Stevie the Extreme Unction.

It wasn’t even the first time Stevie had been given the Extreme Unction. It was the third. Rebecca barely remembers the first time, she’d only been three; Stevie had been eight and had rheumatic fever. The second time had been three years ago when he and Alice had both been so sick. Mama had had Bucky fetch the Father then for both of them. Only Alice had needed him in the end.

Rebecca feels the familiar hollow ache in her chest when she thinks about Alice. Rolling over on her stomach she takes deep breaths and watches a ladybug climb up a weed. Stevie and Bucky are bickering in the background still.

Suddenly they pause, “Hey, an airship!” Bucky exclaims.

Bucky loves airships. Any sort of machine or gadget really, but especially airships. He used to talk about being an airship pilot, but he’d stopped after Alice died. Nowadays he says he’s happy working at the E.W. Bliss Company after school working the line to build stamping machines, and wants to work designing newer, better machines after he graduates. Stevie wants to be an artist.

Mama and Aintín Sarah are so proud of the boys for going to high school. They’re the only two boys in the whole tenement who are. Mama says they’ll be able to get better jobs with a high school education, and Aintín Sarah says that no one can ever take your education away. When Bucky graduates next year he’ll be the first person in the family to get a diploma ever. Rebecca is going to go to high school too, and she’ll graduate. She’s going to do something amazing, she just knows it. She’s going to cure asthma and pneumonia. So no one ever has to worry about breathing bad and no one loses their sister either.

Flipping back over onto her back Rebecca smiles up at the sky, the airship is beautiful. Long and fat and graceful, sailing through the air. Stevie flops down on his back at a bit of an angle next to her on one side, and Bucky lays down with his head above theirs, and his feet going opposite.

Silently they watch in awe as the airship sails overhead. She grabs Stevie’s hand, and reaches a hand over her head. Without really looking Bucky grabs her hand back. She looks and sees that Stevie’s and Bucky’s hands are lying next to each other on the grass above their heads too.

She wonders what they look like from so high up in the airship. Perhaps they look like a star of children, heads together and feet away from each other; or maybe it is so far up that they look like dots. Or even one big dot all melted together.

Rebecca likes that idea. Her and Bucky and Stevie, all together. So close no one can tell them apart. Maybe one day they’ll get to ride in an airship, all three of them together, staring down at the world below.

Wouldn’t that be swell?

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Airship View

 

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

June 29, 1935- Twelve

Rebecca flaps a hand lazily at her face, trying to stir up a breeze. Beside her Mary Taylor, Anne Kaminski, Teresa Medici, and Sadie Katz look as hot as she feels. All five of them are lazing around the ball park, watching the boys’ pick-up game. Teresa has a crush on Tommy De Luca, so they’re stuck here watching the game even though Rebecca can think of a billion things that would be more interesting than watching a bunch of chumps play baseball (badly).

“Lord, I’m hot,” Sadie complains.

“Ugh,” Anne grunts in agreement. “Why’re we out here again?”

“’Cause Teresa’s in lo-ove with Tommy,” Mary flops onto her back. “Ugh, I’m so hot I’m meltin’.”

“I am not!” Teresa squealed, she bats Mary on the arm, “You take that back.”

“Nope, not takin’ it back,” Mary denies with a grin.

“Teresa and Tommy sittin’ in a tree,” Rebecca and Anne sing together. They share a grin.

“Stop it!” Teresa shrieks.

Mary and Sadie join in on the next line, “K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”

“No!”

“First comes love!”

“I’m serious, stop!”

“Then comes marriage!”

“Shush!”

“Then comes baby in the baby carriage!” Two boys sing the last line along with them. Rebecca looks up to see her brothers.

Teresa lets out a low moan and buries her head in her arms, “Somebody kill me.”

“It’s hotter than Satan’s armpit out here,” Bucky says as he flops down in the grass next to them. Stevie settles cross legged on the ground beside him, together as usual.

Anne and Mary titter at them. Teresa giggles into her arms. Sadie ignores them with long practice. As Rebecca’s closest girlfriend, she’s more used to her brothers’ antics then the other girls.

Rebecca rolls her eyes, “What’re you bozos up to now?”

“What, we can’t treat our sister an’ her friends to an ice cream now?” Stevie sounds scandalized. “Buck, do ya hear that?”

Bucky grins, “I do indeed, I guess we’ll hafta take this here dollar,” he waves one through the air, “and use it elsewhere. Say, Steve?”

“Yeah, Buck?”

“Think maybe we can call on some of the girls from school; see if they’d wanna go with us? I think Rebecca here’s ashamed of her big brothers,” Bucky clucks his tongue like an old lady and shakes his head.

Stevie nods solemnly, a frown on his face, although his eyes shine suspiciously, “She does indeed seem right ashamed, Buck.”

Rebecca huffs, “Oh stop it!” When they both grin at her big and wide, she huffs again, “You’re a real pair of jerks.”

Bucky winks at them, “You love us anyway.” All the girls titter this time, even Sadie.

Rebecca crosses her arms raising one eyebrow, “What was that you was sayin’ about ice cream?”

“Were sayin’,” Stevie corrects. He can be a real stickler for talking proper sometimes, says it gets you further in life, he gets it from Aintín Sarah.

“Were sayin’ about ice cream?” She repeats dutifully, she knows he won’t let up until she does.

“Managed to get some extra dough today,” Bucky says. He flicks his eyes over to Stevie and back. “We’ll treat you girls to a cone each, yeah? Special treat for my best girl and her friends,” he winks at them again.

Rebecca sighs and rolls her eyes again, Stevie’s been drawing eight-pagers to sell lately, although she ain’t supposed to know about that- but she’d caught the boys talking about whether to have his next one be about Jean Harlow or Greta Garbo. It’s kind of disgusting, but money is money.

Rebecca grins at him, “Thanks for the treat fellas!”

“Come on,” Bucky stands, “Let’s go ladies.” He pulls Stevie to his feet first, and Stevie scowls at him, elbowing him in the side.

“Sorry ‘bout this goof, girls,” Stevie pulls Mary up, as Bucky gives Teresa a hand.

Soon enough they’re all standing and Bucky leads the way to the local soda fountain, all of them talking and joking. As they stride into the soda fountain they’re all so happy they don’t notice at first.

They don’t notice as the whole place slowly goes nearly silent, as if there was a wave of silence crashing over the store.

One of the soda jerks is glaring at them, and the other is staring. Most of the other customers are looking at them the same way. Rebecca furrows her brow, confused.

“We don’t serve niggers,” the glaring soda jerk spits out. Rebecca sees Mary flinch and look at the ground.

She’d forgotten. Forgotten that other people care about the color of your skin, or the place you went to pray, or what country your parents came from.

“Apologize,” Stevie says, real quiet, but easily heard in the silence of the shop. He puts a hand on Mary’s shoulder, “That’s no way ta speak to a lady.”

The soda jerk spits on the floor, “That ain’t a lady, that’s an animal. I don’t apologize to no animals.”

“Leave Mary alone!” Rebecca demands.

“Shut your mouth, girl and get back where you belong,” the soda jerk glares at her. Rebecca gapes at him open mouthed.

“I said, apologize,” Stevie sounds angry now.

“No, n-no it’s, uh, all right S-Steve!” Mary stutters, “I, I can w-wait outside.” Her eyes dart nervously at the staring people. Rebecca feels her own anger mounting at her friends’ fear.

“No, Mary, we’ll all be leavin’ and takin’ our money elsewhere soon as this jackass apologizes to you,” there are mild gasps at Bucky’s crude language. “There ain’t no cause to ever say anything like that to a young lady.”

“I ain’t apologizing to some fuckin’ cotton-pickin’ nigger,” the soda jerk snarls. The crowd is shocked and appalled at the soda jerks cursing.

“Al!” The other soda jerk is scandalized, and his eyes dart to the customers who are now staring at them.

“Pal, you’re gonna apologize, or I’m gonna make ya,” Stevie glares. Rebecca kind of wants to laugh- Stevie’s only a few inches taller than her and only a bit heavier. Anne actually is taller than him.

“An’ I’ll be helping him,” Bucky backs Stevie up. At least that’s a bit of a threat, Bucky’s a pretty big man, and he’s well known for handling himself in a fight. Won the local boxing club’s championship the last two years, even.

The soda jerk continues to glare, but a man stands up in the back of the store, “I suggest you apologize for your language, pal. These boys are right; there ain’t no call to speak to a dame like that, no matter her color. I ain’t agreein’ with negroes and whites eatin’ together, but there ain’t no signs here. And it’s obvious she’s just a girl, prolly just forgot she was in a white neighborhood.”

Several other men are nodding there agreement, but the soda jerk juts his chin out, stubborn, “No,” he slaps a hand on the counter, “I ain’t apologizin’ just cause some fool nigger and the kikes, dagos an’ micks with her can’t remember that respectable shops don’t serve trash.” Mary flinches against Stevie’s back, where she’s hiding.

Before Rebecca even realizes what she’s doing, she’s taken four steps forward. Her hand is curled in a fist and she punches the soda jerk right in the nose. Hard. There’s a crunching sound, and the jerk shouts as his nose starts to bleed.

“Don’t you ever call my friends names again!” She shouts, ignoring the pain in her hand.

The soda jerk reaches out and backhands her, hard. Rebecca’s ears ring, and she feels her lip split from the force.

Bucky pulls her back, and a number of the patrons are rumbling angrily now. Rebecca recognizes the Abbatinozzi brothers as the four of them stand up, and Liam O’Reilly and his cousin Seamus. Even little Jerry Abrams is glaring at the soda jerk.

“You forgot ‘gypsies’ while you was insultin’ us,” Bucky says evenly, but Rebecca can see the anger in his eyes. Sure enough he reaches over and grabs the soda jerk by his tie and drags him forward hard.

The soda jerk’s face slams against the counter, and he shouts as his broken nose bangs against the hard surface. Bucky pulls the man’s tie tight, and he starts gasping like Stevie climbing stairs.

“I’m going to only say this once, pal, so you better listen,” Bucky smiles at the soda jerk, smiles sharp like a knife’s blade. “You’re gonna apologize to these here young ladies,” Bucky jerks the tie and the soda jerk makes a choking sound, “An’ then I’m gonna leave you to those nice fellas there. Understand?”

The soda jerk doesn’t move, and Bucky yanks the tie again. Hard. “I said, understand?”

The soda jerk nods weakly, face red. “Good,” Bucky releases him. After a couple of seconds while the jerk gasps and pants Bucky arches an eyebrow, “I’m waiting.”

“Sorry,” the soda jerk mutters angrily. Bucky furrows his brows angrily and reaches a hand toward the soda jerk again. “I, I mean I’m sorry for my, uh, my crude language ‘round such… nice young ladies.” He chokes out the last words with a look of disgust.

Bucky narrows his eyes, “Alright, I think that’s the best we’re gonna get, ladies and gent.”

He wraps one arm around Becca’s shoulders, and tugs Sadie under the other. Stevie has offered his elbow to Mary, who is still cringing a bit but her chin is high; and Teresa and Anne share his other elbow, bumping into each other a bit. Slow, dignified they all walk out of the soda fountain.

When they’re a block away from the soda fountain Bucky lets out a whoop, and picks her up to spin her around. “That punch, Peanut! He never saw it comin’!”

He proceeds to twirl Sadie, Anne, Mary and Teresa in turn. He even picks up a protesting Stevie and spins him about.

Rebecca notices Mary looks like she’s near tears. “Mary?” She asks, “What’s wrong?”

“I… you…” She trails off, “My sister, Helen, she says I shouldn’t be friends with you all. That someday you’ll act like every other white folks out there, an’ start seein’ my skin instead of me.”

“Mary,” Anne says plaintively. They’ve been best friends since Anne’s family immigrated from Poland and moved in next door to Mary’s.

Mary shakes her head, “I always told her she was wrong. That you was different.” She takes Anne’s hand and reaches for Rebecca’s. Rebecca grips her hand happily. “Now,” Mary finishes softly, “Now I know I was right.”

Rebecca doesn’t hesitate to leap on Mary and hug her. She sees Anne do the same opposite her, and a few seconds later Sadie and Teresa are hugging them too. She feels a hand rest on each shoulder, and she doesn’t have to look to know its Bucky and Stevie.

Eventually the girls break apart, but Rebecca interlaces one arm with Mary’s and the other with Stevie’s. Stevie has Bucky on his other side. And after Mary it’s Anne, Sadie and Teresa, all in a row. Heads high, standing tall Rebecca starts to walk down the street her friends and family arm in arm. Ready to take on all comers.

“There’s a soda fountain for colored folks a few blocks away,” Bucky comments idly as they walk.

“What do ya think Mary? Can ya get us in?” Stevie smiles devilishly at her.

Mary grins bright and stands tall, “Sure thing. Anything for my friends.”

Rebecca grins wildly, and skips a bit. Soon the others are all skipping too, and they laugh and trip over their feet down the sidewalk while the hot afternoon sun burns into their skin. Rebecca smiles, because she’s lucky. She has great friends and the best big brothers in the world. Not to mention, she’s about to have ice cream. Nothing beats ice cream on a hot summer day.

Except, maybe, fire hydrants. She wonders if she can convince Bucky and Stevie to bust a Johnny Pump open for them later. She grins even wider- because she knows she can.

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Your Real Friends

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

November 8, 1936- Thirteen

Rebecca is staring at the ground. She has a reason. Underneath the ground she is staring at is Aintín Sarah.

She is alone, standing there. Stevie- who is now Steve, because Stevie is ‘too childish’- has run off. Bucky has chased after him.

Mama is in bed. Mama is almost always in bed now. Aintín Sarah says. Said. Aintín Sarah said she was heartsick after losing Alice. And a year or so ago Mama just lay down and never got back up.

Rebecca wants to scream at her that she is still here. That Bucky is still here. That even Stevie is still here. That they still love her.

Rebecca tells Mama that she loves her every day, hoping it will make her less heartsick. Sometimes Mama says she loves Rebecca too. Sometimes Mama just pats her cheek. Most of the time she just stares at the wall.

It isn’t fair.

And now that Aintín Sarah is gone, who will take care of her? Rebecca feels ashamed, because she knows it is a selfish thought.

But she cannot help but think it. Last week she had started bleeding. Into her unmentionables. She had thought she was dying.

She had thought- ‘What will happen to Bucky and Stevie? Aintín Sarah is sick. Mama is wasting away. And now I am bleeding out. Who will take care of those silly boys if we all die?’

She had gone crying to her best friend Sadie Katz. Sadie had looked at her oddly before taking her home to her mother over lunch. Mrs. Katz had been the one to explain to her what was happening was called ‘menstruation’ and that it was normal.

Rebecca has decided it is a very strange world when bleeding into your unmentionables once a month is normal. Also, sanitary pads and belts are the most awful and uncomfortable things ever invented.

It should have been her Mama telling her those things. Or even Aintín Sarah. But Aintín Sarah had been in bed in the same tuberculosis sanatorium she had worked in. And Mama was heartsick in bed at home.

Rebecca cried when they got the news about Aintín Sarah. But it was not unexpected. Aintín Sarah had been sick for three months. And she is so tired of crying for dead people. She cannot cry now, she feels like she is all out of tears.

She feels a hand on her shoulder. She looks over at Bucky, whose eyes are red. His other arm is wrapped around Stevie, holding him to his chest.

Rebecca leans into her brother’s solid chest too. He wraps his arm around her just like he has Stevie.

Stevie sniffles. Rebecca isn’t sure if it’s his asthma or his allergies or his mother. She reaches her hand in front of Bucky to grab Stevie’s hand.

They stand there like that until the sun goes down.

Chapter Text

February 13, 1937- Fourteen

Rebecca smiles ruefully as she rushes up the stairs of their building. To celebrate her birthday, Bucky has saved up enough for her to go with Sadie to the pictures and to get an ice cream or a malt to share at the soda fountain. They are going to go see The Good Earth, Paul Muni is quite handsome, and Sadie has a bit of a crush on him.

And it has been one of Mama’s good days. She made them all breakfast- mămăliga with sour cream and cheese. She even decided to try looking for work this afternoon. Rebecca hopes this means she’s getting better, but she isn’t counting on it. Mama’s done this before for a few days, and then she’s back in bed. Rebecca’s just pleased Mama is having a good day for her birthday.

But she is so tired of having to lie to people. She knows if anyone found out how bad Mama really is, how hard it is to make rent and have enough for food they’d want to take her away to the orphan home. She thinks of how many times Bucky and Stevie skipped meals to make sure she has enough to eat, and knows that she’ll never be able to repay them. She remembers how hard it was last month when Stevie got sick and she’d been skipping meals alongside Bucky to save up enough for his medicine.

She thinks of their jokes about the family car, and that their ‘folks’ want to give them rides places, and sighs. "Keep your chin up, and find a laugh wherever ye can," Aintín Sarah had always said, Irish accent rolling across the words. They try to honor that every day.

With this in mind she shoves her gloomy thoughts to the back of her mind and continues up the stairs to their tenement, she doesn’t want to be late to the picture.

Her brothers are amazing, saving up hard earned money just to treat her and a friend to a picture show. They’re so good to her and she can’t imagine life without them. Not only had Bucky given her money for a show and an ice cream, but Stevie had given her a necklace.

Of course she was halfway to the pictures when she realized she’s forgotten to grab her new necklace to show Sadie. Stevie had surprised her and given her Aintín Sarah’s real gold locket. Rebecca has always thought it is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen. She used to stare at it in awe whenever Aintín Sarah had worn it.

Inside there is a picture of her whole family from when she is little, even Aintín Sarah and Stevie, at a picnic. Stevie had removed the picture of his father and put in a picture of the four of them- her and Alice and Bucky and Stevie- at Coney Island the summer before Alice died. Rebecca had tried to give it back, saying it was too much and he should save it for his wife or daughter someday, but Stevie had refused. Said he was giving it to his little sister instead.

Rebecca had cried in thanks and hadn’t stopped hugging him.

As she opens the door to the tenement she freezes. Bucky is necking on the couch. But the part that makes her eyes go wide is that Bucky is necking with Stevie. Bucky pulls back, cupping Stevie’s cheek and there is something in his eyes, something in Stevie’s eyes. Bucky leans in to kiss Stevie again.

She must of made some noise, because the boys stop. They look at her, and Rebecca feels something break inside ‘cause her brothers are looking at her like they’re afraid of her.

Bucky and Stevie, who ain’t afraid of no one and nothing. Stevie, who dives into fights to protect people, even though he’s not that big and Bucky who has never been afraid, not even when Tati or Alice or Aintín Sarah died.

Bucky stands up, half in front of Stevie as though to protect him. Protect him from her. “Rebecca,” his voice is hoarse and Rebecca doesn’t know if it’s from kissing or fear. “Peanut,” he begs, “We can…"

She doesn’t let him finish, she can’t be here right now. She turns and flees the tenement. Bucky shouts her name behind her, but Rebecca pays him no heed. She rushes out of their building, fleeing down the streets without any attention to where she is going.

She hears someone shout at her as tires squeal, but she doesn’t stop. She runs and runs and runs. She runs until she gets to the ballpark where she collapses, crying under a barren tree.

She’s trying to keep the screams in her head from getting out of her mouth. She curls up into a little ball and cries. She wants to deny it, to deny everything.

Bucky and Stevie aren’t fairies. They aren’t faggots. They can’t be faggots. They’re good boys, they go to church every Sunday. They aren’t fairies.

They aren’t! They aren’t! They aren’t! She wants to scream it loud so everyone can hear.

That thought sobers her. What if everyone did hear? Bucky and Stevie could get arrested. They’d be beaten or killed even. She’s heard of pansies taken by the police ending up in the asylums where they’d be electrocuted.

She shrinks in on herself, covering her mouth with her hand, how could her brothers choose to be queer knowing that? She’d heard about the electrocuting from them. How could they do this knowing it was wrong? Hadn’t they heard Father Lombardi at church? Men liking men is a mortal sin. Why would they choose this?

Her tears dry up as she thinks, although her body is still wracked by gasping shudders. Why would anyone choose that? She wonders, pushing and pulling at that thought for a while.

She’s seen plenty of fairies and pansies before, their neighborhood is full of them, and there were even more when she was younger. Queens in dresses and heels, boys by the Navy Yard offering favors to other men. Swishy hands and voices like girls.

She’s heard about Sands Street and the St. George Hotel and even the automats and bathhouses in whispers at school, of men bedding other men. She’s seen the police raids on the pansy clubs and drag balls where they parade the fairies in their dresses up and down the street for people to spit at and kick and beat on. The police are always raiding the pansy clubs, and picking up the boys by the Navy Yard.

It’s wrong, everyone says. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Why would anyone choose that?

That is not her brothers. Sure Stevie is small, only a few inches taller than her, but that’s because he’s been sick so often. And, alright, Bucky could be a bit of a dandy, always fussing about looking his best, but he ain’t no queen.

And they both go with girls; they take girls out dancing most weekends. Bucky’s known all around the Waterfront as a real charmer even if there haven’t been many girls who appreciate how amazing Stevie is yet. They can’t be queer if they go with girls.

Rebecca sighs and rubs her eyes; none of this makes any sense! She feels like crying again. Fairies are men who wear dresses and act like ladies and swish around trying to find men on street corners. That’s not her brothers.

So then why were they kissing like queers? It isn’t the first time neither. She’s seen first kisses, and she’s seen people that are going steady kiss, and she’s seen husbands and wives kiss.

Bucky and Stevie kiss like husbands and wives kiss. The thought hits her like a fastball to the gut. That look in their eyes is how Mama and Tati used to look at each other. How Aintín Sarah looked when she talked about Stevie’s dad. How Mrs. Katz looks at Mr. Katz.

That look is love. How can love be wrong?

Even The Bible said love isn’t wrong. Corinthians says “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” And in Peter is her favorite verse, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Maybe… maybe that means that two men being in love with each other is alright? And being a, a boy prostitute was wrong? Only men that go looking for sex at places like bathhouses is wrong?

She frowns, mulling it over. Why are boys who sold themselves wrong? The girls she sees selling themselves she feels bad for. That could be her, if she didn’t have Bucky and Stevie. Especially now with Mama in bed all the time. Girls who get themselves into trouble, the ones who used to come to Aintín Sarah with a few dollars and a lot of desperation. She pities those girls. Most of them thought their fella loved them complete and forever.

And then they ended up in trouble and they were in love with a boy who didn’t love them back. Rebecca thinks that might be the worst that could happen to a girl- getting in trouble like that before she got married. She isn’t too sure on the hows of how they got into that trouble, but she knows no boy is doing more than getting a kiss from her until she’s married him.

Two boys can’t get into trouble like that though. So maybe two pansies in love is better than a girl in trouble like that. Leastways there was no baby to be worrying about. And she doesn’t really see a difference between boys in dresses giving favors on the street or dancing on a stage and girls in dresses giving favors on the street or dancing on a stage. Both need money.

Lots of people need money these days. Lots of people are doing desperate stuff for money. Last year even, when Aintín Sarah was in the hospital and Mama got sick too much and lost her job, Bucky lost his job too ‘cause the clock factory closed down. Stevie had tried to work extra hours for the WPA to make ends meet, but they wouldn’t give him any. One job for five people hadn’t been enough.

Bucky and Stevie had started to grift tourists and rich folks (again, she suspects, for they were far too good at it to just be startin’ out), running schemes and tricks on ‘em. They’d drawn eight-pagers to sell under the table. They’d run some errands and watched some corners for the mob. They’d even picked pockets and stole from different grocers when money was real tight. Anything to make enough for rent and food. Rebecca had overheard them planning a con one night, and forced them to allow her to help.

The cons had worked even better with three people, especially since Rebecca was small for her age. Last fall, she could have passed for a ten or eleven year old. She looks down at her chest. Still could if she wraps herself some. She’s had a bit of a growth spurt but not much of one. Stevie, too, could pass for younger than he is. Bucky’s able to pull off sixteen or seventeen if he shaved real careful. Rich tourists fell hook, line and sinker for ‘the poor, orphaned kids’ with big blue eyes and charming smiles.

Rebecca isn’t ashamed, and she knows the boys aren’t either. Times like these you do what you got to do keep your family fed.

Rebecca sighs and stands up. She’s been sitting in one place too long in the cold and she’s shivering. She needs to move, to get her blood moving before she gets too cold and gets sick. She’s just lucky there’s no snow on the ground today and that it isn’t too cold out.

She walks around, calmer now, thinking clearer. ‘Why is being a queer wrong? Why would someone choose to be a queer?’

The two questions chase each other through her head like a stray mutt after an alley cat. She wanders aimlessly, not really paying attention to where she’s going. She feels safe in the streets of her home, even if most people consider it a rough part of town, she’s walked these streets for as long as her memory stretches and past that.

She lets her feet carry her where they may. Content to simply walk as her thoughts echo.

Why is being a queer wrong? Rebecca thinks perhaps this question is more easily answered. It is wrong because people say it is wrong.

But hadn’t Aintín Sarah once said, “If everyone says something is true, does that make it so?” Rebecca hadn’t understood then, but she does now. Just because people say queers are wrong, don’t make it true. There are no facts saying that, just people’s thinking. And thinking can get all twisted up.

The second question she is concerned with though, that one is really puzzling. Why would anyone choose to be a queer? She supposes the fairies could just want to wear dresses. Dresses are comfortable. And there are some awfully pretty dresses the rich ladies wear. Rebecca wonders about wearing pants, too. She’s seen some ladies in Manhattan wear them, she’s not sure she’d be that brave, but she thinks maybe she’d like to try a pair on just to see.

But wearing pants or dresses is different than kissing. Rebecca’s kissed a boy. Once. This last Christmas she’d gone to Teresa’s for a party and Robert O’Connell kissed her under the mistletoe. It had made her feel warm inside, happy. She’s even had a dream or two where she’s kissing a boy. Just the thought makes her blush.

Rebecca considers kissing a girl, maybe Sadie or Mary or Anne or Teresa. She wrinkles her nose a bit, she doesn’t think she’d like it too much. It wouldn’t be gross, she thinks, just blah. There’s none of that warm, happy feeling she gets when she thinks about that kiss with Robert or the way the sun hits Walter Reilly’s hair in math class or how Tony Bagnoli smiles or how Abraham Zimmerman looks when he’s running track. Kissing a girl, she thinks, would be a lot like kissing her mother or Aintín Sarah. Affection, but no chance of love.

“Dirty faggot whore!” She hears a voice shout. Rebecca’s head flies up, terrified that someone’s found out about Bucky and Stevie.

They haven’t. It’s a group of men, not much older than her brothers, beating on a fairy in a dress. She recognizes the fairy, seen him walking around before.

Rebecca wants to run over and pull them off of him. He ain’t hurting no one by wearing ladies’ clothes! She knows she can’t though. Even Stevie won’t mess with a gang that big, and she’s only one girl.

It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.

She hides behind the corner of a nearby building. Leaning against the wall, Rebecca wants to cover her ears to keep the gang’s nasty words and the fairy’s screams out. She doesn’t though, although she isn’t sure why.

Finally, after what feels like forever the men stop beating on the fairy. They laugh as they swagger away, bragging about teaching him a lesson. Rebecca peeks out from around the wall to see the fairy still lying in the filthy street. He groans and starts to get up, stumbling.

She hesitates briefly, looking up and down the street, but no one else is nearby. Certainly no one she recognizes. She hurries to the fairy, feeling skittish. His face is a mess of bruises and ruined make-up. His left arm circles his ribs like Stevie’s does when he’s wheezing hard from his asthma.

Rebecca reaches out to grab a shoulder to help him stand. The fairy recoils, staring up at her in fear.

Rebecca flinches when the fairy says in a harsh voice, “Come ta get in a kick a your own, little girl?”

“N-no,” Rebecca stutters, “I, it’s just. You, uh, look like you could, could use a hand up.”

He stares at her, eyes calculating, but eventually softens. He lifts one hand up, and Rebecca grabs it and helps him to stand. He’s limping hard when he moves to go sit on a nearby stoop, so Rebecca tries and pull one of his arms over her shoulder. It doesn’t work too well since he’s taller even than Bucky.

He gives a breathless laugh and lets her help him to the stoop. Rebecca sits down next to him, elbows on her knees and chin in her hands. She glances at him from the corner of her eye.

She’s still wondering how she should say what she wants to say. It’s twisting up in her head and making knots in her stomach.

The fairy looks over at her, “Not that I’m not grateful for the hand up, doll, but why?”

Rebecca huffs, “Beause it ain’t right. Just ‘cause you’re a fairy ain’t a reason to beat you. Besides,” she says pointedly, “I think you’re real brave to be wearing a dress. Especially knowin’ all the bad stuff that happens to fairies in dresses. I wouldn’t be that brave.”

The fairy throws his head back and laughs, then groans and clutches his ribs a bit, and then laughs some more. “Outta the mouths of babes,” he rubs at his running cake mascara.

She huffs again. “I don’t see what’s so funny. It’s true. You’re very brave for wearin’ a dress, even if it is a very nice one. I don’t think I’d be brave enough to wear trousers out an’ about, even if there are some ladies in Manhattan that do."

The fairy chuckles wheezily, and Rebecca wonders if he has asthma like Stevie. “You wonder about wearin’ pants often doll?” He arches a thin eyebrow.

“No,” she admits, “Not really. Thought a bit about it of course, how much easier some things must be in pants. Also, not havin’ to worry about the grates blowin’ up air, that’d be swell. Some of the boys in my class stand around those all the time, real keen for a glimpse of a girl’s unmentionables.”

The fairy grins, “There are some things easier ta do in trousers than a skirt, but I like the way skirts… swish,” he smirks and Rebecca grins back, getting the joke.

“Skirts are nice an’ swishy,” Rebecca agrees with a small grin. They are silent for a moment, and she scuffs a toe against the stoop.

“What’s bothering you, doll?” The fairy asks gently, pulling out a pack of Luckies. He holds out the pack, “Want one?”

She shakes her head, “No thanks, my brother’s got asthma an’ cigarettes make him cough real bad so I don’t smoke.” Bucky did sometimes, she knew, down with the others at the Jay Street Terminal or when he and the fellas went to the bar. Rebecca honestly thought they were nasty; she’d had one of Teresa’s once and coughed as bad as Stevie did during an attack.

“He try those asthma cigarettes? I gotta a pal that swears by ‘em.”

“Yeah, sometimes when it’s real bad but too many and they bother his heart, see, it’s pretty weak.” Rebecca sighs.

“Sorry to hear that doll,” the fairy taps away some ash, “Still haven’t answered my question though. What’s bothering ya so much you’re talkin’ to some random queer about it instead of that brother of yours?”

Rebecca scuffs her toes again, “I, uh, I…” Her words stumble to a halt and she breathes out, frustrated and unsure of what to say. She clenches one hand in to fist, nervous.

The fairy says, “Ah.” He takes her hand gently, and she stares at his hand. Big and manly with hair on the knuckles like Bucky’s. And his nails all done up in a fancy moon manicure with a bright red polish, like the sort her and Sadie had once snuck from Mrs. Katz.

“Ah, poor little bunny,” he murmurs and rubs his thumb over her knuckles, “It’ll be alright."

She feels a tear trek down her cheek, and rubs at it. “Why’d you choose to be a queer?” She blurts out, and then burns red, “Sorry, sorry that was rude.”

The fairy smiles softly and shakes his head, “Its fine…” He pauses, “What’s your name little bunny?”

“Rebecca,” she says softly.

“Hmm,” the fairy hums, “Call me Jill.”

Rebecca sniffles, “Okay.”

“It’s not a choice, Rebecca. Least it weren’t for me.” Jill tells her quietly, “Long as I can remember I knew I was different, but I didn’t know how ‘til I was oh, probably thirteen or fourteen. That’s when I started ta figure it out.”

Rebecca takes a shuddering breath, “Fourteen?”

“Um-hum,” Jill nods, “That’s when I started realizin’ I wasn’t noticing the dames, didn’t care whether or not their skirts would blow up at the grates. Was more interested in the fellas, in seein’ if they’d take off their shirts in the summer. I didn’t choose it, Rebecca-bunny, it chose me.”

Rebecca is silent for a moment. “You didn’t choose it,” she repeats softly in wonder. She doesn’t know why the thought hadn’t occurred to her earlier.

“No dear,” Jill says gently, “None of us choose to be queers, no one I’ve talked ta at least. We just… are. My friend Betty thinks we’re this way ‘cause God made us this way. Say’s we ain’t wrong, just… special. God won’t hate us for being who he made us ta be, see? I choose to wear dresses, because I like the way they make me feel, but I didn’t choose to be a queer.”

“I,” her eyes fill with tears and she throws herself on Jill, hugging him… her and crying into her shoulder.

Jill grunts in surprise, before letting out a choked laugh, “Oh, poor little bunny,” Jill hugs her back, “It’ll be alright, you’ll see.” He… she pulls her onto her lap and rocks her a bit, “It’ll all be alright.”

Rebecca cries on Jill’s shoulder for a bit, overwhelmed with relief at the sense Jill has made of her tumbling thoughts. Bucky and Stevie haven’t chosen to be queers, they just are that way; same as she isn’t queer. It isn’t wrong either, just because people say it’s wrong, doesn’t mean it’s true. God wouldn’t have made people queers if they weren’t supposed to be that way.

Eventually her tears taper off and she pulls away from Jill’s shoulder. “Thank you,” she murmurs, voice raw, as she wipes away at her messy tears. Jill offers her a handkerchief.

“It’s just fine, little bunny,” Jill smiles, “It’s just fine.” They sit in a content silence for a minute.

“Rebecca!” She hears a shout at the end of the street, “Oh thank God!”

She looks up to see Stevie start to run towards her. She stands up, and sees Jill stand up awkwardly behind her, looking ready to defend her.

“Stevie!” Rebecca shouts back, waving, but Stevie keeps running. “Stop runnin’ before you kill yourself you dip,” she mutters. She knows better than to run out to meet him or tell him to walk, it only gets his ruff up if you try and keep him from doing something everyone else does.

Jill snorts, “He’s just a scrawny little thing, ain’t he.”

Rebecca nods, “He’s the bravest guy in the world though, with a heart twice the size of his body.”

Jill squints a bit as Steve gets nearer, “Oh! That Steve!” she mutters quietly.

Stevie is, predictably, wheezing hard when he gets to them. He eyes Jill, but Rebecca knows he won’t say nothing bad to her new friend.

“Peanut,” Stevie breathes out in between wheezes, “You scared us. Are you… are you alright?”

There is so much worry and guilt loaded into those few, gasped, words.

“I’m sorry I ran away Stevie,” Rebecca scuffs her toes, “I just, I needed time to think on things. It felt as if everything I knew had been turned topsy-turvy.”

“I’m sorry,” Stevie has a hangdog expression, “I’m…” He makes an aborted move to hug her, but stops himself.

“I, I can move out,” he looks at the floor.

“No!” Rebecca shouts, “No!” She flings herself at him, and he grabs her reflexively. She wraps her arms around his skinny body, Stevie’s arms slowly came up to wrap around her. Cautiously and carefully.

“You’re my brother,” she mumbles into his bony shoulder. “I love you, I love you no matter what. ‘Til the end of the line,” she repeats the phrase she hears Bucky and Stevie say to each other sometimes.

“’Til the end of the line,” Stevie squeezes her back. “You really…?”

“Peanut! Stevie!” It’s Bucky, running full speed down the street. He spares a brief glance at Jill, and does a quick double take before ignoring her. “Oh thank God you’re alright,” he nearly crashes into them and immediately wraps Rebecca and Stevie both in his arms.

“Buck!” Stevie complains.

Rebecca just laughs wetly, and Bucky pulls back from her, eyeing her warily. “Peanut. Rebecca…” He’s at a loss for words. Rebecca feels tears well up again, Bucky is never at a loss for words. Mrs. Taylor calls him ‘that smooth talking brother of yours’ even.

“I don’t care,” Rebecca pulls back to look him in the eye. “I don’t care,” she looks at Stevie. “I don’t care what other people say, it ain’t wrong. There’s nothin’ wrong with you. You’re my big brothers an’ I love you. That’s all that matters.”

“You’re amazin’, Peanut,” Stave says, voice tight, hugging her close, “Simply amazin’."

“I…” Bucky just stares at her, eyes filled with joy. He gives her a small, soft smile and picks her up and twirls her. Around and around until she’s dizzy. She’s laughing and he’s laughing and Stevie’s laughing. And everything will be alright.

The things she knows about her brothers might have changed. Certainly she’s learned something new. Something big. But her feelings about them haven’t changed. They are the best big brothers a girl could dream of. She loves them more than anyone could possibly imagine. They are with her, and she is with them- no matter what.

“I’m all verklempt,” Jill sniffles dramatically, and Rebecca laughs even harder.

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Jill

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

September 16, 1937- Fourteen

Rebecca checks her hair in the small mirror on the wall. It needs to look perfect. Sadie told her that Teresa had said that Anne had heard that Paulie Carmichael wants to go steady with her. With one last pat every hair is in place.

She tries not to look at the empty space where Alice’s prized dollhouse once was- they’d had to pawn it after Aintín Sarah had died to pay the rent one month. Rebecca knows Alice wouldn’t have minded, but it had felt like they were sellin’ off the last piece of her sister.

She slips out of her room and towards the kitchen, a glance into the parlor shows the boys have cleaned up their bed properly this morning. Ever since Bucky and Stevie have moved out of the bedroom, they leave the parlor a mess half of the time. In the kitchen she smiles, the boys left her some oatmeal in the oven before they left for work- Bucky at the Jay Street Connecting Railroad and Stevie at the produce market.

They have had some extra money lately. Rebecca isn’t sure how since Bucky hasn’t been taking shifts hauling crates on the docks at night and Stevie doesn’t have any work from the WPA right now, but from the way they hadn’t met her eyes when she asked she figures they’re either grifting tourists or Stevie’s drawing eight-pagers again. So there are fresh cranberries in the oatmeal, Rebecca hums in pleasure.

As she eats she considers what they have left in the cupboard and icebox for her to make for supper. Some chicken from last night, maybe? With potatoes and the carrots Stevie had brought home from the produce market. Finishing her last bite of oatmeal she looks in the pantry.

Plenty of potatoes and a bit of honey, and tucked in the corner she spies some rice. The icebox confirms they still have a half a chicken and the carrots. She smiles. She’ll re-heat the chicken, use a bit of salt and pepper and paprika on it to hide the dryness. Boil the carrots and potatoes, of course. And she can make rice pudding for dessert.

The boys have been working so hard to make things good here, since Aintín Sarah died. They deserve a bit of a treat. Happy with her plans for supper, Rebecca goes to kiss Mama goodbye and tell her she loves her.

She almost doesn’t want too. Mama hasn’t said anything back in four months. But she is a good daughter (and Stevie will give her the ‘I’m disappointed in you’ look if she doesn’t), so she does.

Mama is staring at the ceiling. Nothing new. But when Rebecca leans in to kiss her cheek it is stiff and cold.

Rebecca jerks back. Her eyes are wide and her heart is racing. She reaches out a shaking hand and presses it to her mother’s chest.

There isn’t a heartbeat.

Rebecca sits down hard on the floor. She stays there for a long moment, one hand over her mouth. Staring at Mama. At Mama’s body. She tries to feel sad, to feel hurt. But the Mama Rebecca knew had died with Alice. All that had been left had been a shell of the vibrant woman she’d once been. A shell they had to take care of for nearly two years. All Rebecca feels is numbness.

Maybe Mama is at peace again, up in Heaven with Martha and Tati and Alice and Aintín Sarah.

Standing up she grabs her schoolbooks. Then she puts them down. She needs to tell Bucky that they’re… they’re orphans now. Just like Stevie.

She is in a daze as she walks toward the docks. It’s not a long walk, but not a short one. And as she walks the pain of losing her mother hits her. Tears run down her cheeks, and her nose gets all clogged up.

Some guy shouts something crude behind her. And some others whistle. Rebecca shudders and walks faster.

By the time she gets to the docks she knows she’s a mess. She’s heaving great gasping sobs and someone old enough to be her grandfather stops her. Grabbing her by the arm, he tugs her away from one of the rail cars moving goods from the ships to a warehouse. Rebecca hadn’t even noticed it.

“This is no place for a little girl. What is wrong, bambina?” His voice is rough and his accent is thick.

“Mama,” she chokes out through her tears. Her throat feels thick and swollen. “I need… I need my brother. My brother, please.”

“Hush, bambina. Who is your brother?”

“B-Bucky Barnes,” she shivers, “He’s a bookkeeper and clerk for the JSCR.”

The old man frowns. “Sit, sit,” He waves at some crates. “I will get your brother.”

Rebecca isn’t sure how long she sits, crying, there before she hears footsteps coming towards her rapidly. She stands up as Bucky rounds the corner to where she is at a run.

“Rebecca!” He shouts alarmed. When he gets to her he starts grabs her right hand and cups her left cheek. “Rebecca, what’s wrong? Why ain’t you at school? What’re you doing here? Where’s your shoes?”

She glances down at his last question. She starts in surprise; she hadn’t realized she’d walked here in her stockings. Looking up at him, Rebecca crumbles.

“Mama,” she wails, “Mama’s dead Bucky!”

“Aw, Christ,” Bucky swears and closes his eyes briefly. He picks her up and pulls her onto his lap as he sits on the crates she had been sitting on. She sobs pitifully on his shoulder and he rocks her back and forth like she’s four instead of fourteen. He has his head buried in her hair.

She feels him startle above her but doesn’t look up. “Take the bambina home, Barnes. Take three days for your Mama, I make sure your job will still be here. My prayers are with you.”

“Thanks Mr. Tintore,” Bucky says relieved. “I really appreciate this.”

“Of course, now shoo.”

Bucky lifts her up in his arms, strong from years of boxing and getting into brawls. She struggles to get down as he keeps walking but Bucky just says, “Not while you’re just in stockings Peanut.”

Rebecca sniffles and wraps her arms around his neck; Bucky hasn’t called her Peanut since she’d asked him to stop just after her birthday. She’d thought that now that she was nearly a grown woman it was too childish to let her brothers call her Peanut. But hearing it now- it made things seem just a smidge better.

He carries her the whole way home and Rebecca keeps her head pressed against his chest. He never says a word about her tears soaking his shirt. All he does is shush her and say nonsense things to calm her.

They’re just outside their apartment building when she hears their neighbor Meir Silverstein call out, “Bucky! Is that little Rebecca? What’s wrong?”

“Meir!” Bucky greets, “Could you do me a favor? Could you run and get Steve from the produce market? My Ma…” He pauses, “Rebecca found Mama d-dead this mornin’.”

“Aw, geez Buck. I’m sorry ta hear that. Sure I’ll go grab Steve for ya.” Meir says. “She gonna be alright?”

“Yeah,” Bucky says, “She’ll be fine. Just a shock, ya know? Thanks for getting Steve.”

“Sure, sure,” Meir agrees and Rebecca can hear his footsteps take off at a run.

Bucky carries her up the stairs and puts her in her bed. He pulls off her stockings and untucks her blouse like she’s still a baby. She doesn’t push his hands away like she normally would.

Bucky pulls the covers over her and kisses her forehead. “Aw, Peanut. I’m sorry you were the one to… to find Mama. You get some rest, it’ll be alright. I’ll take care of you.”

Rebecca sniffles, “Love you Bucky.”

“I love you more Peanut.”

Chapter Text

July 4, 1939- Sixteen

It’s Stevie’s twenty-first birthday, and to celebrate Bucky has scrimped and saved to get them all tickets to the special Yankees’ Independence Day doubleheader against the Senators. Even though they much prefer (practically worship, in the boys case) the Dodgers, the Yankees aren’t too bad. At least they're from New York, unlike the Senators.

Rebecca smiles as the boys bicker back and forth, she knows one of the real reasons the boys wanted to come to this game (besides the fact that it’s on Stevie’s birthday) is that today is Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day. All of them like Gehrig- he’s not just a swell ball-player, but the stand-up sort of fella kids can look up to. Bucky and Stevie certainly had. Back in ’27, when the Yankees had won the World Series, Gehrig and the other players had forever cemented both boys’ fondness for Murderers’ Row, even if they weren’t too fond of the Yankees as a team in general.

Now Gehrig is sick and retiring, and Rebecca isn’t sure whether or not to be sad or proud. Sad, because baseball is losing one of the greats, or proud, because Gehrig is going out on his own terms with his head held high and fierce to the end.

Everyone’s talking about the man today, and Stevie in particular has a gleam in his eye. Bucky’s eyeing him and Rebecca just hopes they don’t pull some fool stunt. They listen to the moving speeches from various dignitaries and ballplayers. The Mayor even speaks. Rebecca is near tears when Joe McCarthy gets up and speaks, McCarthy himself is in tears. Everyone knows McCarthy treats Gehrig like a son. His teammates hand Gehrig a trophy, and Gehrig holds it for a moment before putting it down slow.

Gehrig steps up to the microphone and everyone falls silent as he begins to speak, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“When you look around, wouldn't you consider it a privilege to associate yourself with such fine looking men as are standing in uniform in this ballpark today? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift- that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies- that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter- that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so that you can have an education and build your body- it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed- that's the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you.”

Rebecca leaps to her feet applauding wildly, on either side of her Bucky and Stevie do the same. She is crying, and glancing over at the boys she sees both of their cheeks are suspiciously wet. Gehrig looks shaken as he steps back, pulling out a handkerchief. Babe Ruth came over to hug him (which is a bit of a surprise considering the two men really don’t like each other) and the band struck up and started playing “I Love You Truly”.

“We love you, Lou!” People shout, and soon a chant starts up.

“We love you, Lou!”

“We love you, Lou!”

“We love you, Lou!”

Rebecca shouts it with everyone else, swept away in the heat of the moment. She feels a hand reach out to grab hers, and she looks over at Stevie. Stevie glances back and squeezes her hand for a moment. Rebecca smiles at him, and Stevie smiles back, big and wide.

“We love you, Lou!”

“We love you, Lou!”

Rebecca grabs onto Bucky’s hands and prays. Because this last winter, when Stevie had gotten sick again, the doctor had said if he made it past twenty-five it would be an act of God. That it’s a miracle he’s still alive as it is. That Stevie won’t live to see thirty.

Stevie’s been given a bad break. She just hopes he keeps on fighting, like he always has, because he has an awful lot to live for too.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Family

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

March 8, 1940- Seventeen

Rebecca laughs joyously as she is twirled across the dance hall. She’s on a date with Joe Proctor, a boy a year above her in school. He’s handsome and kind and they agree on a lot of things. Not to mention he’s a real swell dancer.

Bucky is twirling a dame of his own across the room, while Stevie is speaking quietly in a corner with another girl. She knows both girls- Ethel Pasternak and Maureen Connelly- are together, and often go out with Bucky and Stevie so both couples can keep up appearances. Bucky and Stevie sometimes bring her out with them to the pansy clubs and once, even, to a drag ball. It’s much the same as the dance hall they’re in now, except Rebecca doesn’t have to worry about a fella getting too forward when she agrees to a spin around the dance floor, although she has to watch out for some of the girls.

As she dances with Joe, she notices him taking in the watchful eyes of both her brothers nervously. Stevie’s fairly well known as a good boy with a bit of a mouth, even if it normally ends up with him sporting bruises because half the time he ends up looking for fights and the other half they find him. But Bucky’s known as the one who finishes the fights Stevie starts by mouthing off at guys twice his size. Lots of folks think him a bit of a troublemaker for it even though Stevie’s always the one that starts it.

“Ignore ‘em,” she tells Joe over the music.

“How?” he asks, genuinely concerned, “I can feel their eyes burnin’ into me every step I take.”

She laughs again, “They won’t actually do nothin’! They’re just being a pair of, of over-protective chumps.”

“Are ya sure?” Joe glances over his shoulder at Stevie and swallows hard.

Rebecca feels fondness flow through her at the sight. Joe’s the only boy she’s stepped out with that seems to consider Stevie even the slightest of threats, and Joe looks genuinely afraid of him.

Still, she wouldn’t be doing her duty as a Barnes if she didn’t mess with his head a little.

“Maybe,” she says, tilting her head like she’s thinking hard about it, “There was that one time with Arnie Roth…”

Joe swallows hard and she hides a grin, Arnie was as queer as they came and she’d run into him at one of the pansy clubs a few times. They’d gotten to be fairly friendly about it, even though he’d played football and she tended to keep away from that sort of boy.

Course, playin’ football in Brooklyn didn’t count for much when you got caught with another boy up in Harlem. He’d been beat good, but had been lucky to be far enough away from home that no one caught wind of why he’d been beaten. Bucky had found him and brought him back to their place to patch up. It had been Rebecca’s idea to put around that it had been because he’d been a bit too forward with her, and her brothers had taken offense to it- even though the boys were all friends, really, and had been for years.

They dance another song, and then her current favorite, “In the Mood,” came on.

“Mind if I cut in?” A familiar voice says right behind Joe.

Joe jumps about a foot, spinning to stare in fear at Bucky. Rebecca can tell Bucky is amused by the twinkle in his eyes. A quick glance over shows Stevie laughing at the scene with Ethel and Maureen.

“Of- of course, sir!” Joe stutters.

Bucky blinks, and Rebecca claps a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing at Joe calling Bucky, ‘sir’.

“Right then,” Bucky steps around Joe and grabs her hand. “May I have this dance, milady?” He arches a brow.

She grins at his fake British accent, he sounds just like Claude Rains. “You may, good sir,” she says with a British accent of her own. Bucky grins, bright and happy, and sweeps her around the dance floor like the belle of the ball.

Joe might be a swell dancer. But no one can dance like Bucky. Another glance at Stevie shows he’s appreciating Bucky’s fine dancing too.

Chapter Text

December 7, 1941- Eighteen

Rebecca is home, preparing Sunday dinner, humming along to the wireless, when the radio bulletin interrupts Great Plays. The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbor.

Rebecca reels at the news. She feels like the floor has fallen out from beneath her. Her mind spins off in a million directions. Everyone knows about the war in Europe and the Pacific, but the United States has no part in that!

Rebecca drops the carrot she is peeling as her hand flies up to cover her mouth. The broadcast goes back on, speculating about what President Roosevelt’s reaction will be, how long it will be before they declare war, whether or not they’ll only declare war on Japan or if it’ll be on Germany and Italy too.

Rebecca feels as if she’s almost in a daze. Her country, her home has just been attacked. What if instead of bombing Hawaii they’d bombed New York? What if they go to war? Will they draft almost all the boys into it like they’d done for the Great War?

Will Bucky be drafted? Will Stevie?

Will she end up in this new war? She’s studying to be a nurse, and the military always needs nurses in a war. She doesn’t want to go to war, she doesn’t want her brothers to either.

Rebecca’s thoughts, and the broadcast, are interrupted when the front door flies open and Bucky and Stevie came crashing in. She must have been standing there longer than she’d thought.

“Did you hear…” She begins, but trails off at the look in their eyes. They know.

“Yeah,” Bucky’s voice is rough, “Yeah we heard.”

“Rushed all the way back from class,” Stevie nods, breathing hard.

The boys are taking an art class at the ASL in Manhattan once a week; they’re working on a comic strip of their own they want to publish, but the newspapers say it isn’t ‘polished’ enough. So on their day off they go and take a class. The rest of their extra money goes to Rebecca’s schooling.

They’d moved out of the old tenement after Mama had died to a smaller one, only two rooms. One bedroom and the parlor/kitchen. Much smaller, but much cheaper. It made things far easier on them all- the boys pay stretched further, they ate better, Stevie’s medicine was easier to buy, and she was able to get a new dress or two now and then, all on top of going to school to become a nurse. A real nurse with a degree and everything.

But that was before they were bombed. Who knows what will happen now.

They sit together in silence for a while, listening to the wireless. Stevie has that look in his eye that always spells some sort of trouble. Rebecca feels that sinking feeling in her stomach.

The next day they go off to school (Rebecca), the produce market (Stevie) and the JSCR (Bucky). She makes sure to go home for lunch, even though she normally eats with Marie at school. Bucky and Stevie are already home when she walks in. They have cooked up the stale bread from three days ago and some peas Stevie got from the market because they were going bad.

She sits down to eat and they all listen intently to the wireless, the President is supposed to be speaking shortly in congress.

“Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…”

Rebecca sits on the edge of her seat and listens intently as President Roosevelt speaks. Her heart is in her throat as he and Congress declare war against Japan. It is not that she thinks they shouldn’t declare war. It is that both of her brothers and her sweetheart are all the right age to be sent off to this war to fight and, maybe, die in.

Stevie’s chin comes up, “I’m gonna enlist.” He says all determination and certainty, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Rebecca feels her stomach drop from under her and fear sweeps across her entire body. Bucky jerks in his seat and stares at Stevie, who stares back, having a conversation without words.

“We’ll need to train first,” Bucky says softly. “I’ll talk to Goldie, over at the gym on Jay Street.” Rebecca gives him a sharp look because he ain’t saying something.

“We?” Stevie asks hopefully, either not noticing or ignoring that Bucky’s keeping quiet about something.

Bucky looks at her, brows furrowed, and shakes his head ever so slightly at her questioning look. Stevie looks over too. Rebecca sticks her chin out, all bravado, “It is the right thing to do. You better come back home. I don’t know what… You’ve gotta promise you’ll come back home. That I won’t lose you too.”

Stevie grins, relieved at her approval, “I promise Peanut. You won’t lose us. We’ll watch out for each other over there.”

Bucky takes her hand, and stares deep into her eyes, “No matter what, I swear to you Peanut, I will come home. I’ll do anything in my power if it means I get to come back home to you here in Brooklyn.”

Rebecca takes a shuddering breath, “Good, I…” She grabs them both up in a tight hug. They hug her just as tightly back.

She knows though, that those just might be the first promises to her that her brothers will ever break.

Chapter Text

December 23, 1941- Eighteen

Rebecca hums to herself as she walks down the street to the butchers. Christmas is in two days and her school had let them out early so they could prepare for the holiday. Rebecca knows she needs to buy their Christmas dinner today because if she waits until tomorrow the prices will go up at least a penny.

She glances at the hams wistfully but they’re just too expensive for her budget even if they have been saving up spare change for Christmas dinner since June. Inspecting the prices for meats she holds in a wince, 33¢ per pound for roasting chickens was outrageous. The war was driving the prices sky high.

After long consideration Rebecca finally decides to splurge a bit and get them a nice chuck roast. Since it isn’t a traditional Christmas food it’s only 27¢ today. She’ll just skip the squash she was going to buy.

After collecting her meat from the butcher Rebecca swings by the produce market to remind Stevie to bring home potatoes, carrots and peas. Once that task is complete Rebecca heads home to study for her exam next week.

Entering their apartment Rebecca puts the steaks into the icebox with a frown. They need more ice, but a glance at their cash jar shows they don’t have enough money for it after Bucky paid for the boys’ membership at Goldie’s, not if they want gas for heat this winter. Since they don’t have enough money for ice either the boys will pick up more hours- leading to Bucky working himself to exhaustion, Stevie working himself sick, or both- or they’ll start doing illegal things again to make ends meet. Neither of which bode well for their future.

Well, not if the war doesn’t claim them first. And Rebecca tries not to be bitter, she tries, but she can’t help but wonder sometimes if the governments in Europe, in America, and all across the world didn’t just wait until a new generation had grown tall enough to fight the same damned war for them. The same war that had already stolen Stevie’s father.

She prays every night, begs, that this war doesn’t take her brothers. Rebecca has never known God to be kind. But He has never truly been cruel either.

A knock at the door startles Rebecca from her maudlin thoughts. Standing up she smooths out her skirt automatically while running her eyes across the room. Everything is neat and tidy, Bucky and Steve had made up their bed in the parlor this morning and there is nothing suspicious lying about.

She opens the door with a smile that becomes strained at the sight of the woman standing there. “Mrs. Tanner,” Rebecca says, “what can I do for you?”

Mrs. Edward Tanner is the nosiest busy-body Rebecca has ever met. And is ridiculously proud of her marriage- like Mr. Tanner is a fine, wealthy catch instead of a lout who works at the Eskimo Pie factory. She is so proud, in fact, that Rebecca doesn’t even know her Christian name, since Mrs. Tanner always introduces herself as, “Mrs. Edward Tanner.”

The Tanner’s live two floors below them, and despite the fact that Mrs. Tanner is the same age as Stevie she and her husband already have the three most annoying and disrespectful brats Rebecca has had the displeasure to meet. And her belly is swollen with a fourth child. She brags constantly about her oldest winning the Better Baby contest held by the Methodists. Rebecca thinks the judges were drunk when they were walking by.

“I know you’re probably busy preparing for a nice Christmas with your brother and that other boy,” Mrs. Tanner says scathingly, before clearing her throat and continuing, “Rebecca dear, so when Mr. Howe stopped by with the post I offered to bring yours up.”

That’s the real reason Rebecca can’t stand Mrs. Edward Tanner, not because she’s a horrid mother or that she sticks her nose where it doesn’t belong, but because she disapproves of Stevie. She’s a eugenicist who thinks Stevie is unfit. That he should be sterilized to prevent him passing on his infirmities and his inferiority.

Rebecca thinks if anyone in the building ought to be sterilized it’s Mrs. Tanner and her baby factory of a belly.

She holds out two envelopes, a postcard and a pamphlet to Rebecca who grits her teeth into a smile. “Thank you, Mrs. Tanner,” Rebecca says stiffly and shuts the door in her face.

Rebecca looks at the pamphlet on top of the mail “Selective Sterilization: Protect the Children of Tomorrow!” and with a disgusted snort tosses it into the oven to burn before sitting down at the kitchen table. Flipping the postcard over she smiles, it’s from Stevie’s grade school pen pal from Tennessee, Bill. They’ve stayed in touch all these years, and Rebecca knows Stevie won’t mind if she looks at Bill’s postcard. He’d been drafted last year and is apparently in Florida at the moment. Rebecca admires the pretty beach in the picture; it looks real swanky, not like Coney Island at all.

The first letter is from her school, her tuition for her classes next semester has been paid in full. She sighs in relief, Bucky had sworn up and down and on a stack of Bibles that he’d taken her tuition to her nursing college last week. And it wasn’t that she didn’t think he had. But until the letter came telling her she could keep going to school she was on tenterhooks praying that she’d get to go back, that someone at the school wasn’t skimming money off the students.

Setting that letter aside Rebecca freezes. Her eyes go wide and her hands start to shake. It’s a long envelope addressed to Mr. James B. Barnes, and the return address is stamped from the Selective Service board.

Bucky’s been called up.

Rebecca sits there for hours, staring at that damning white envelope. She doesn’t cry, she can’t bring herself to, because to cry about Bucky being drafted means that she thinks he won’t come home.

Bucky will come home. He’d promised. (‘Just like Alice promised to help you learn multiplication,’ the back of Rebecca’s mind whispers.)

Rebecca has lost track of time so badly that when she hears the key in the lock she startles like a sewer rat in the light. “Hey, Peanut,” Bucky calls as he saunters in hanging his coat and hat on the stand. “What’s for supper?” He’s home early tonight since he’s picking up an extra shift tomorrow evening.

Rebecca looks up at him. “Bucky,” her voice is steady but her hand shakes as she holds up his draft notice, “you got your Greetings.”

Bucky’s face drains of color as he stares at the letter in her hand. Slowly he reaches out to take it from her. Once the letter is in his hand he sits down heavily on one of the kitchen chairs.

“Fuck,” he whispers. “Fuck!” he shouts it the second time. “God fuckin’ damn it!” His draft notice is in his right hand and his left hand grabs hard on his hair. “God damn it all,” he says as he leans his forehead onto the table.

They sit in silence for a long moment. Finally Bucky sighs and rips open the letter, eyes running over the page. “Greeting,” he reads aloud after a moment, “Having submitted yourself to a local board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining your availability for training and service in the land or naval forces of the United States, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for training and service therein.”

“Bucky,” Rebecca says softly, reaching out her hand and laying it on top of his.

“Which of our neighbors do you think ‘selected’ me?” he asks bitterly,.“Ol’ man Tomblin? Or Mrs. Bell? Or maybe it was the Tanners. I bet it was the Tanners.”

“Bucky,” Rebecca repeats, “when do you have to report?”

Bucky sighs. “I had a plan you know,” he tells her, not answering her question. “You know Steve- he was all gung-ho to enlist- but me an’ you Peanut. Well, we both know they won’t take him. Not with his lungs an’ heart, no matter how good or dedicated a soldier he’d be.” His Brooklyn accent is as thick as his voice, showing her how upset he is.

Rebecca nods and Bucky sighs and slumps in his chair. “I had this plan, see. Me an’ Stevie we’d practice for signin’ up, yeah? At Goldie’s like we been. Only I’d keep puttin’ it off. Sayin’ things such as ‘no, Steve, I think we oughta try an’ climb ropes first’ or ‘Stevie, I feel I’m in real need of, of learnin’ to start a fire. We’re city boys an’ we don’t wanna be the only fellas in the platoon what can’t start a fire!’” He rubs the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Except we weren’t ever gonna be ‘ready’ to enlist. I figured on putting it off until either the war ended- an’ God may it end quick- or I got drafted.”

Bucky laughs, bitter and cynical. “That plan lasted, now didn’t it?”

“Bucky,” Rebecca pleads, “do you, do you gotta go in tomorrow? Or on Christmas? Please say you’ll be here for Christmas.”

“I’ll be here for Christmas,” Bucky tells her. “I don’t gotta report ‘til the 27th and then it’s three weeks at home to set my affairs and such in order before I report to the actual Reception Center.”

“You might be rejected,” Rebecca says, trying not to sound too hopeful.

Bucky gives her a look that makes her feel like a child again. “We both know that ain’t happenin’, not unless I claim ta be a conscientious objector or somethin’ an’... well...”

Rebecca looks down at her hands. Conscientious objectors went to jail, and if people find out you are related to one you don’t get work, your neighbors don’t talk to you, the stores charge you more. Even if he did the alternative service the government is offering those objecting because of religion, people would wonder why a strong, healthy man like Bucky wasn’t serving overseas.

“What about the Medical Corps?” she asks desperately. That's one of the other alternatives the government was offering instead of jail this time.

Bucky shakes his head. “I didn’t think ta say something when I was fillin’ out my draft card. It’s too late ta say now, Peanut. If anyone on the board knows me it’ll be denied right away. An’ last I heard they have Aintín Sarah’s friend from the ward, Mrs. Mulroney, helpin’ with the medical checks at the nearest induction site. She’s patched me an’ Stevie up from too many fights ta even spare a thought to the idea I’m a pacifist.”

Rebecca sighs. “Yeah.” She taps her fingers on the table. “Stevie’s gonna go crazy when he hears. He’ll wanna go with you and enlist at the same time, more of a chance of you bein’ in the same unit.”

“He ain’t gonna get in,” Bucky repeats his earlier statement, “not as sickly as he is.” He sighs. “An’ I’ll never tell him this, an’ you better never tell him I said this,” he points at her warningly, “but I’m glad he won’t. For the first damn time in my life I’m glad Steve’s sickly ‘cause it means he won’t have ta go fight an’ maybe die. Thank God they don’t let girls serve, ‘cause I know you, Peanut, you’d be first in line right next to Steve.”

Rebecca doesn’t know what to say. She can’t deny what he’s said, can’t agree either. So she looks down at her hands and doesn’t say anything.

“Peanut,” Bucky takes a deep breath, “I ain’t gonna tell Stevie I was drafted.”

Rebecca’s head shoots up. “What?”

“He’ll go nuts,” Bucky shakes his head. “If he thinks I enlisted, well that’s my choice ain’t it? Ta go overseas? If I enlist he’ll try an’ enlist the one time, get turned down, yeah? Wash his hands of it, find work to help the war effort somewhere else. But if I’m drafted he’ll lose his marbles, run around like a chicken with his head cut off, doin’ all sorts of stupid things. I’ll pretend I went an’ enlisted before my shift tomorrow instead.”

“I don’t understand,” Rebecca says uncomprehendingly. “Buck, that don’t make any sense.”

But Bucky doesn’t answer, too busy muttering to himself. Planning ways to keep her and Stevie safe from what Rebecca can hear. ‘Safe from what?’ She wants to ask. The war has already found them. It’s taking Bucky. It’ll likely take Stevie if it goes on long enough that they’ll take any man, even one that’s less than healthy. She heard two of her teachers talking about speeding up their courses, graduating them faster- two years instead of three. She expects they’ll all be encouraged to join the Army or Navy Nurse Corps.

Rebecca already knows she’ll join up. She just won’t tell Bucky that. Not right now.

“Bucky,” Rebecca says after letting him mutter to himself for a minute, watching him twist his draft notice through his hands until its nearly crumpled. She figures he deserves a minute to panic about going to war. About leaving them. Bucky’s always prided himself on taking care of her and Stevie (although Stevie would deny it) so it must be tearing him up something awful to be made to walk away from them without being able to make sure they’ll be alright.

When he looks up from where his eyes have been fixed on the floor she can tell he’s trying not to cry. Rebecca feels her own lower lip wobble in response. “Bucky it don’t matter whether you’re drafted or not. Stevie and I both are gonna go a little nutty without you here." She holds up a hand to stop him talking when he opens his mouth to protest. “But if you don’t want to tell Stevie you’ve been drafted, I won’t.”

“You were drafted?” Stevie asks quietly from the doorway. Rebecca and Bucky both immediately look over to the doorway. She hadn’t heard the door open, so it must have been unlocked. Bucky had greased the hinges just last month.

“Yeah,” Bucky breathes out, eyes wide as he watches Stevie pull off his coat and hat.

Stevie sits down at the remaining chair at their wobbly kitchen table. “An’ ya weren’t gonna tell me? What’d ya think I wouldn’t notice you was missin’?” Stevie’s angry. He only really speaks in their childhood accent when he’s really emotional (or really relaxed).

“No,” Bucky protests, standing up. “No! I wasn’t gonna just disappear!”

“Then what, huh?” Stevie demands. “Were ya gonna stab yourself in the foot like Bill O’Toole ta get rejected?”

“No, God, no!” Bucky chokes out.

“Were ya gonna lie an’ say you was a Quaker or a Mennonite? Try an’ claim you’re an objector?” Steve is furious and breathing hard. “Gonna tell ‘em you’re a fairy? Get a blue ticket out before ya ever got in?”

Bucky’s angry too, he shouts, “Will you shut up!” He is breathing as if he just ran across the Manhattan Bridge. “Shut. Up. Steve. Just… stop for one second? Please,” he begs, collapsing like a puppet with its strings cut, falling into his chair like his legs can no longer hold him up.

“Yeah, alright,” Stevie deflates, he looks away, breath still rattling in his chest but no longer shouting.

“Wasn’t gonna lie or try an’ get outta it,” Bucky says quietly, all the anger gone out of him. “Just. Was gonna tell you I’d enlisted instead.”

Steve stares at him like he’s crazy. “What difference does that make? You’re still goin’ off ta fight either way.” Rebecca doesn’t disagree.

“Woulda been my choice though,” Buck says despondently, “’stead a Uncle Sam’s.”

“Yeah, well,” Stevie sits down too. “When do ya hafta report?”

“The 27th, at 8.”

Stevie nods slowly. “I’ll go to the recruitment center tomorrow. That way we head to the induction center on the 27th together.” Bucky starts to protest and Stevie shoots him a look. “Stop it, if you’re shippin’ out, I’m comin’ with ya. We watch each other’s backs Buck, always have, always will.”

Bucky nods reluctantly. “’Til the end of the line.” He reaches out his hand for Steve who grabs it readily.

Steve nods sharply even as they cling to each other. “’Til the end of the line.” He looks over at Rebecca and reaches out a hand. “All three of us.”

Rebecca swallows hard because she knows that those words mean the ‘I love you forever’s’ the boys can’t say to each other. Every time they include her in that too she always gets choked up.

“’Til the end of the line,” she confirms, grabbing Stevie and Bucky’s hands both. They sit in silence together for a long minute, just clinging to each other.

Finally Rebecca takes a deep breath. “Just don’t forget,” she whispers, “don’t forget you promised to come home.”

Stevie squeezes her hand tight. Bucky lifts her hand to his lips, kissing the back of it. “I could never forget that, Peanut,” he says trying to smile.

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'Til the End of the Line

 

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

June 8, 1943- Twenty

Rebecca stares at her reflection in wonder. She barely recognizes herself. The door opens behind her, but she doesn’t turn to look.

The person behind her inhales deeply, “You’re beautiful Peanut.” Bucky is all choked up, “I can’t believe my baby sister’s gettin’ married today.”

“Neither can I,” she says softly. She turns around to look at him, and for all of Bucky’s obvious happiness his eyes are also filled with shadows.

She’s chosen to have the wedding now for three reasons. One, she’s finally finished nursing school and has officially enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps- she is due to ship out for training in four days. Two, Joe’s draft number has come up; he’s just finished training and is due to ship out for the Pacific Theater in a week. Three, Bucky is home on leave.

Bucky has been in North Africa for what felt like forever, and only after the defeat of the Germans and Italians at Kasserine has he gotten a break. Most of the units in the area will be sent directly to the Italian invasion now that the Axis Powers have surrendered all of North Africa, Bucky’s included.

Bucky, meanwhile, has had a rare chance to come home and get more training after getting injured. He’d been in a too shallow slit trench when a Panzer had managed to roll over top of it. He says he’s lucky the Panzer hadn’t turned, otherwise he’d have been crushed like some other fellas he knew, instead his back just got all torn to pieces. He’d been in the hospital in Morocco for a while, but they’d patched him up good. He had scars on his back from where his skin broke, but it hadn’t hurt his spine- the pit had been just deep enough- and he hadn’t caught some sort of infection.

Bucky tells them that after he’d healed up they sent him home to train up some new recruits to be regular Army G.I.s, and to learn advanced marksmanship, (to be a sniper, they don’t say) both safer and more dangerous at the same time, because he was such an ace shot. Rebecca figures they want him for something else, something special too, something Bucky can’t talk about. Else they wouldn’t have brought him back from the frontlines, especially not so quickly. She knows not to ask though- loose lips sink ships.

And Bucky got a promotion because of his commendation for valor and his Purple Heart. He’s a Sergeant now. Rebecca knows he’s proud of it, even if he jokes that all Sergeants are twerps. By this time next week he’ll be shipping back out to who knows where.

She holds her arms open and Bucky swiftly steps forward, hugging her tight. Stevie opens the door at that moment and smiles softly at them. Rebecca holds up one arm to make room for him.

“Can’t believe it,” Bucky says again.

“Our little Peanut, a blushin’ bride,” Stevie comments softly.

She smiles at them, watery, “Do you think… Is this…” She huffs at her inability to form a full sentence.

Hush,” Stevie says in Romanian, “That’s just fear talking. You and Joe are made for each other; anyone with eyes can see that.

Rebecca’s eyes fill with tears. They rarely speak in Romanian anymore, not since Mama passed. But on special occasions they will, just like on some special occasions they’ll speak the handful of Irish words Aintín Sarah had taught them. But the familiar language in her ears fills her with a courage English could not.

Mama, Tati and Alice… Aintín Sarah and even Martha are beaming down in joy right now,” Bucky says in Romanian too. “You are the most beautiful bride to ever be and I could not be happier than I am right in this moment.

Me either,” Stevie agrees. “My baby sister- getting married! I can’t believe how fast time’s gone by.

Rebecca huffs a laugh and scrubs at her tears, “Look what you silly boys did! You made me cry on my wedding day.

Sorry,” they both answer at once.

There’s a knock on the door, and Joe’s mother sticks her head in. She looks between her in her dress and Stevie in his suit and Bucky in his dress uniform in confusion before shaking her head, “Rebecca, darling, the wedding is ready to start. Father Daugherty says ten minutes.”

Rebecca nods in agreement. Rebecca has asked that Father Daugherty preside over her wedding, even though he is essentially retired. She’s asked him for two reasons- first, he’d been the priest that had given her first communion, and had been the priest to give Alice her Extreme Unction; second, he has never once said a word against queers. Father Lombardi, the younger of the two priests at their parish rails against queers regularly. Father Daugherty never has.

Stevie and Bucky help her to fix herself up, and put on the last finishing touches to her ensemble. Finally they stand back, and both kiss her on a cheek- Bucky on the right and Stevie on the left. Rebecca is smiling so hard her cheeks might burst.

“You ready to be the most beautiful bride Brooklyn’s ever seen?” Bucky asks archly.

“With the two most handsome brothers on my arms,” She confirms.

Stevie smiles soft and proud, and holds out one elbow for her. Bucky does the same on the other side. Together they pull her veil over her face. Then they walk her slowly out of her dressing room to the back of the church. Sadie is there, beaming at her in happiness, her best friend and maid of honor.

Her ring bearer and flower girl, Maureen’s younger brother and Teresa’s sister, grin at her. Sadie takes up a bouquet as the wedding march begins to play, and slowly the procession begins. First Ronald and then Luisa walk sedately down the aisle, to where Joe is standing in his Army uniform with his cousin beside him.

Sadie goes next, looking regal and beautiful and just a bit defiant. Rebecca had had to fight with the clergy to get them to allow her to have a Jewish girl as her maid of honor. Same with letting Mary attend; Father Lombardi had pitched a fit at having a Baptist Negro in the church. She knows Jill is here too, decked out in her finest dress, much to
Father Lombardi’s mortification. He’d gone on a twenty minute rant about sinners and her associations with ‘such low-class and sinful individuals’.

She’d ended up threatening to have Sadie’s rabbi perform the marriage instead. Rabbi Leibowitz had happily agreed to perform the marriage if the Church wouldn’t. Apparently he’d met Father Lombardi before, and they did not get along.

As soon as Sadie is far enough down the aisle, Rebecca takes a deep breath and walks forward slowly, marching in time with the beat. Her eyes are glued to the handsome figure Joe cuts in his uniform, up in the front of the church.

He stares right back at her, and Rebecca’s entire world narrows down to Joe’s eyes, and Stevie’s and Bucky’s hands on her arm. She reaches the front of the church and feels like she’s floating away when Stevie and Bucky let go of her arms. She barely hears the priest begin, “Dearly beloved…” and it seems like both ages and no time whatsoever when he asks them for their vows.

She’s fairly certain the only reason she remembers her words is that she has practiced with Stevie every day for the last month.

Then Joe is kissing her and everyone is cheering, and Rebecca can’t stop smiling. Stevie and Bucky sweep her into an enormous hug, and she can tell they’re both near tears. They troop to the dance hall Joe’s parents have rented for them and the band begins to play Irving Berlin’s How Deep Is The Ocean and she dances with Joe in their first dance as husband and wife.

The night flies by as she dances with Joe (and Bucky and Stevie, when Joe needed a rest). And soon they are on their way back to Joe’s place for their first night as husband and wife, and she is careful to ensure that she does not become pregnant. She’s due to ship out to her own training in two days, she can’t afford to have a baby now.

But maybe… maybe after the war, Rebecca thinks as she lays awake and staring at the ceiling. She would have a baby, and Joe- he’ll be a wonderful father, and Bucky and Stevie would come over for dinner at least once a week. She tucks her head into Joe’s shoulder, and maybe, someday, maybe she’ll get to see Bucky and Stevie’s wedding.

She smiles bitterly. She doubts she’ll ever get to see their wedding day, that queers will ever be allowed to marry. Right now she’s just grateful they’re both here to see her wedding.

 

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Rebecca's Wedding

 

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

January 11, 1945- Twenty-One

Rebecca rubs the back of her hand across her forehead, smearing blood on top of the grime that feels permanently caked onto her skin. With a sigh she leans back as the boy (he can’t be more than eighteen) in front of her is wheeled off to the recovery tent. Soon as he’s well enough he’ll be sent back home, missing a leg but alive. Better than lots who pass through these tents- his mama won’t be hanging up a gold star in the window.

Being a member of the Army Nurse Corps in the Mediterranean Theater isn’t all it was cracked up to be. Or perhaps it is all just cracked.

She’s got a letter waiting for her in her tent from Bucky and Stevie. It’s at least a month old, she knows, but it’s still the latest news she has from them and she can’t wait to read it. With a small smile she imagines what they’ve written- questions about her weight, and about her work, short and amusing anecdotes about what one of their teammates got up to, stories about some fool thing the other one did- both of them trying to make her laugh. Sometimes they write separate letters, but far less frequently than they used to.

Before, when Steve first reached Bucky in Europe and saved him, Bucky’s letters were full of mad ramblings about Stevie’s utter stupidity in taking that serum. He wrote numerous incoherent rants about how much he hated the ‘Captain America’ persona Stevie had to put on, because their Stevie was already good enough. He agonized over how the woman SSR agent, Carter, kept eyeing his Stevie (and he still frets about it to Rebecca occasionally). The first handful of letters she got from him usually contained at least three disjointed paragraphs about Stevie’s body being so strange. Bucky had told her far more than he’d likely intended, and far more than she’d ever wanted to know, about Stevie’s body.

Stevie’s letters back then, on the other hand, were full of worry for Bucky, so thick she could feel it radiating off the page. Occasionally, his own insecurity about his new shape slipped in, but mostly he wrote about his concerns about Bucky after he’d rescued him. How he was quieter, more closed off, had nightmares near every night. Rebecca advised him as best she could not being there herself, but she didn’t know the details of the rescue mission or what had happened to Bucky. The enemies’ ear was always near after all, and who knew what could happen if some Jerry or Wop got their hands on a letter with information about their troops? Besides, she didn’t need to know all the details of their missions as long as they came home safe - they could help Bucky heal after the War ends and they all got home again

She still can’t quite wrap her head around the fact that that ‘Captain America’ fella is her brother Stevie. Last time Rebecca saw him was the day she left to train with her unit in the Army Nurse Corps- and he was the same height as her and five pounds lighter. His spine was nearly as knobby as his knees; his smile had taken up his whole face, whereas his scowl took over his whole body. He’d walked big, like some bruiser, even if Bucky could span his waist with his hands. Stevie would always be her big brother, even if he wasn’t really bigger than her... But now, thanks to some cockamamie experiment, he is.

According to Bucky, Stevie’s a good inch taller than him, now! Bucky isn’t a small man either- he’s got their father’s height and their mother’s father’s solid build. She’s seen the film reels of Captain America they show in camp, some good ol’ fashioned canned morale with Mickey Mouse Movies instead of newsreels before the picture. She can’t picture her Stevie as any kind of big, strong, Clark Gable handsome sort of a man. She just can’t. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to believe it until she sees it with her own eyes, no matter what photographs they’ve sent her or what she sees in the newsreels and pictures.

With a groan she stretches, sighing a bit in pleasure as her spine cracks loudly. Her shift is over, barring an emergency, and all she wants to do is read her letter and sleep for a week. She covers a yawn with one hand as she heads to the entrance of the medical tent. Just a week? No, better make that sleep for a month. She pauses a moment to prepare herself to face the bitter cold outside, Italy ain't as glamorous as she'd thought it would be when she was a girl. As she walks out of the tent, Gladys rushes towards her.

“Rebecca!” She calls, her face despairing, “Rebecca, they’re saying you’ve got a telegram.”

Rebecca feels the world fall out from under her. There’s only one reason anyone gets a telegram these days.

Because someone died.

Gladys grabs onto her and holds her steady. “Your husband’s in the Pacific, right? I haven’t heard of anything happening there recently.” Gladys is a switchboard operator with the Women’s Army Corps, and too much of an ear-beater for Rebecca to truly call her a friend, but she’s always been kind.

“Yeah,” Rebecca whispers as she damns Stevie in her mind for signing up for that crazy experiment and making her fear for both her brothers’ lives instead of just the one. “But my brothers are on the Western Front.”

Gladys just grips her hand tightly. Everyone’s heard of how bad the fighting is on the Western Front right now. In the last ten days, there have been eight telegrams.

Rebecca’s makes nine.

As she walks to the command tent, she holds her head high. She’s not a little girl anymore. She has dealt with the deaths of loved ones too many times before to fall apart like some of the women (and men) have.

“Lieutenant Proctor?” One of the men in the command tent asks.

“Yes,” Rebecca’s voice is even.

“I’m very sorry, ma’am,” he hands over the telegram.

Rebecca nods, turns, and leaves the tent. Her face might be calm, but her mind is screaming in terror. She’d already nearly lost Bucky once, and it’s only because Stevie agreed to be some kind of lab rat that she hasn’t already gotten a telegram. And she’s sure that both of them, and those loonies following them across Europe that the press calls ‘The Howling Commandos’, are up to their necks in all sorts of trouble. Looking briefly down at the telegram again she knows that trouble has finally caught up to them and feels her throat tighten painfully.

Rebecca enters her billet, the one she shares with three other women, Gladys trailing behind her, watching worriedly as she sits down on the bed. She can’t look at her pillow, knowing the letter is laying below it. Gladys hesitates before sitting next to her.

Rebecca takes a deep breath and carefully smooths the telegram out. Taking in another deep breath, she begins to read.

Below the Western Union header and the usual routing information is the message she has been dreading for more than three years.

 

2ND LT REBECCA P. B. PROCTOR,
C/O ARMY NURSES CORPS, ITALY

 

REGRET TO INFORM YOU YOUR BROTHER SERGEANT JAMES B BARNES IS MISSING IN ACTION PRESUMED DEAD SINCE EIGHT JANUARY IF FURTHER DETAILS OR OTHER INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL BE PROMPTLY NOTIFIED BARNES SERVED HIS COUNTRY WELL ALL WILL MISS HIM.

COL C PHILLIPS

 

Putting the telegram down on her lap, Rebecca doesn’t let her tears fall, but one hand involuntarily rises to her mouth as if to smother the sobs she wants to let out. Silently, she mourns her big brother. They’ll never have a fantastic reunion when the War ends, all of them safe and sound. He’ll never take her dancing again. She’ll never hear him call her ‘Peanut’ once more. She is the last of the Barnes family.

Gladys wraps her arm around her shoulders and gently asks, “Who…?”

“My eldest brother, Bucky. He’s missing, presumed dead.” Rebecca wipes at her blood and mud stained face, fiercely trying to clear the filth away. Her heart sinks, “Stevie must be torn up somethin’ awful, they’re in the same unit together.” She’s certain Stevie’s crazy with grief and blaming himself. His tendency to take all the world’s troubles on seemed to have gotten bigger along with his body, according to Bucky’s letters.

His letters. She’d just gotten one this morning.

“I’m so sorry Rebecca. Your parents?”

Rebecca shakes her head, “They’re dead- lost my father when I was five and Mama when I was fourteen. Bucky and Stevie finished raisin’ me. It’s just us three.”

Her voice breaks as she corrects herself.

“Just us two.”

Gladys hugs her, and Rebecca’s grateful to have a friendly face there. “You want to tell me a little about him?” Gladys asks.

“I…” Rebecca hesitates. She doesn’t talk about herself here, not really. She’ll mention Joe every now and again, and how she misses him. She’ll say a word here and there about Bucky and Stevie. But the world already shares so much of them with her- all of that ‘Captain America and his best pal Sergeant Bucky Barnes’ nonsense.

The world don’t know nothing about the real Stevie and Bucky. She doesn’t want to share the bits of them they’ve given to her over the years. Not even now when Bucky is gone and Stevie is probably falling without a parachute without him.

She’s saved from answering by shouting outside the tent, “Wounded incoming! All medical personnel to the med tents! Wounded incoming!”

“Duty calls, Gladys.” Rebecca says with a bitter smile. “Gotta try an’ keep some girl somewhere else from receiving a telegram ‘bout her brother.”

Chapter Text

March 4, 1945- Twenty-Two

It’s almost midnight when Rebecca finally gets a chance to leave the medical tent for the first time in days. They’ve had men coming in from Gothic Line for the last week- the last casualties of Operation Encore and the bitter cold- and they’ve been triaging them here as best they can. She’s only slept a handful of hours, on the ground by the supplies, in the last few days.

It’s been a rough winter, and it’s getting rougher now that the fighting’s starting back up again with spring coming. Rebecca had been out there for the last weeks of Monte Castello in February, evacuating wounded from the field. It isn’t the first time she’s done it, and probably won’t be the last. Sometimes she wonders if this War will ever end. It sure doesn’t feel like it most days.

Walking out of the tent she shivers in the frigid air. Looking up, she watches the stars, a brief moment of beauty amidst the surrounding hell. The sky stretches out like a painting, all dark background and swirling stars catching her eyes. It’s dark here- the only light in the camp or for miles around them that she can make out is a single, distant speck of light from a tent that isn’t sealed properly. Whoever messed that up is going to hear about it in the morning, she’s certain.

She feels a sense of peace in the night; for all that it is far from still. The wind howls through the mountains, the tents flap, and the ropes creak as they strain against it. Occasionally there is a thump as snow falls off of the scattered trees; men’s quiet murmurs can sporadically be heard above the wind. The stars twinkle above her, distant and watching, like the old pagan gods she’s seen occasionally as statues in the ancient Roman buildings in the cities. Idly, she considers the constellations, named for the gods themselves, and the tales behind them.

Footsteps crunch though the snow nearby. “Lieutenant Proctor.” A man’s soft voice and syrup thick Southern accent returns her eyes to the ground. “Telegram for you, ma’am. From the Western Front.”

He looks at her with pity. It feels like everyone knows she lost one of her brothers less than two months ago. Gladys has loose lips. Rebecca is glad she didn’t tell the other woman anything about who her brothers are.

Were.

Rebecca takes the paper with a shaking hand. “Thank you, Corporal.”

She retreats to the medical tent. Her own billet will be dark, her bunk mates asleep or on duty. Besides, it would be a waste of oil to read it there. Ethel is sitting at the one desk, filling out paperwork.

Ethel, who she has known for years now. The same Ethel she had danced with in pansy clubs when Maureen didn’t want to, who had been a cover for Stevie as her best girl had been for Bucky. Who had been at her wedding and is now in her unit, who is a little bit of home in a far-away land.

Ethel looks up as she re-enters, and catches sight of the telegram in her hand before she can ask why Rebecca isn’t in her bunk. With a grim look on her face Ethel waves a hand over at the supplies, “It’s not much, but ya can get a bit of privacy over there.”

“Thanks,” Rebecca says automatically, as if she wasn’t already aware of that.

“Will… Will ya tell me…” Ethel trails off, biting her lip. Papers scrunch in her right hand as she flexes it nervously.

Rebecca nods. Stevie and Bucky, Ethel and Maureen are all… were all good friends. Ethel and Maureen are her good friends too. Heck, the two of them, and Jill, had been the ones to show her how to put on make-up, pluck her brows, and dress properly as an adult. Of course she’ll tell Ethel.

Rebecca ends up sitting on the floor, back resting against a crate of supplies. Looking down at the telegram in dread, she unfolds and refolds it before taking a deep breath. Forcing herself to open the telegram, she reads.

 

1ST LT REBECCA P. B. PROCTOR,
C/O ARMY NURSES CORPS, ITALY

 

DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU YOUR BROTHER CAPTAIN STEVEN G ROGERS IS MISSING IN ACTION SINCE MORNING OF FOUR MARCH IF FURTHER DETAILS OR OTHER INFORMATION ARE RECEIVED YOU WILL BE PROMPTLY NOTIFIED NO NEW INFORMATION ON YOUR BROTHER SGT J B BARNES IS AVAILABLE AT THIS TIME ROGERS WAS A GREAT MAN AND SACRIFICED HIMSELF TO SAVE MANY LIVES NEWS WILL BREAK TOMORROW WANTED YOU TO KNOW PERSONALLY FIRST.

COL C PHILLIPS

 

Rebecca puts her head on her knees and takes in a deep breath. She can’t say she’s surprised. Picturing Stevie without Bucky is impossible. They are… were practically one person, it feels like. Not so much Bucky and Stevie but BuckyandStevie. She’s been expecting this telegram. She’s even been expecting the part where Stevie sacrifices himself.

But damn if it still doesn’t hurt.

She aches inside knowing it is just her now. She also bubbles with resentment.

‘Why?’ She wants to scream. To shout into the wind, railing at God and the universe itself. To cry out, ‘Why couldn’t you take someone else’s brothers? Why couldn’t Stevie try to hold on for me? Why did my whole family have to go? Why me?’

Rebecca lets out a sigh, wondering why she is still holding out hope. The papers had reported how Bucky had fallen, ‘given his all for his beloved country’, as one paper had put it. Tomorrow they’ll tell of Stevie’s ‘noble sacrifice’. She’d felt it in her bones when Mama, and Aintín Sarah, and Alice, and even Tati had died.

But she still clings to those three little words of hope offered for her brothers. Missing in Action. She wonders if they aren’t the worst words possible for someone to hear about a soldier. Stringing them along.

Rebecca wraps her arms around her legs, and rests her head on top of her knees, curling up into a little ball. She should stop hoping. Colonel Phillips obviously thinks her brothers are dead. Agent Carter had written her after Bucky’s fall, writing of how good a man he was. How much he’d talked about her, his ‘Brave Little Peanut’. She hadn’t thought Bucky was alive either.

But nothing Rebecca’s done has doused that little flicker of hope still cradled deep in her chest that her brothers will come back. As she lets a single tear fall, she wonders how long it will take for that hope to die.

Chapter Text

May 8, 1945- Twenty-Two

Rebecca should be filled with joy. The radio just announced the unconditional surrender of Germany. The War is over here in Europe. With all of their attentions now focused on Japan it’ll only be a matter of time before the Allies win the whole War.

Instead she rages. She is furious, absolutely furious. They were all so close to escaping this hell, all three of them together. They’d have lived long and happy lives- her and Bucky and Stevie.

Instead it’s just her.

She curses the day Bucky was drafted, and the old men in Washington who sent young men off to war. She curses the day Stevie decided to enlist and the doctor who saw him, the sick cripple with the heart of gold, and decided to experiment on him. She curses the Nazi’s who started this mess and the Japanese who involved America. She wants to sock Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito in the face like Stevie did in his USO shows.

She punches the wall of the Red Cross depot in Rome she’s sitting behind. And then punches it again. And again. And again. She punches until her knuckles are bloody and tears are pouring down her cheeks.

Slowly, the rage burns itself out, and she collapses to the ground. Finally, after months of keeping it all bottled up, she sobs. She sobs so hard her whole body shakes with it.

Ethel comes out of the building for a smoke and finds her sobbing on the ground in a filthy alleyway. She tuts, “Aw, Rebecca.”

Ethel helps to maneuver her over to the back stoop, and lets Rebecca curl up on her shoulder, even though Rebecca’s a good five inches taller than Ethel. She runs a hand through her hair like Rebecca’s her little sister, shushing her and humming a lullaby.

Rebecca’s last thought before she cries herself to sleep is if only.

If only Bucky had lived four more months. If only Stevie had lived two more months.

If only.

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Victory

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

October 18, 1946- Twenty-Three

Rebecca is sitting in what would have been her daughter’s nursery. They would have named her Winifred Sarah. Perhaps she’d have had Rebecca’s dark hair and Joe’s green eyes. Or maybe Joe’s golden-red hair and her own blue eyes.

Pushing the rocking chair she clutches the stuffed bear she’d bought the day she’d found out for certain she was pregnant. But she isn’t pregnant anymore.

“Sweetheart,” Joe says softly from the doorway.

Rebecca looks up with red-rimmed eyes.

“It’s after midnight, doll. Come to bed,” Joe coaxes her.

“How can I sleep Joe? Knowin’ I failed Winnie, the one person I was supposed to protect most? I survived the War, saved countless boys on the front, but couldn’t save my own daughter.” Rebecca looks out the window to the street lamp below their building.

“It ain’t your fault, Rebecca.” Joe says firmly. “There’s nothin’ you could’ve done to save Winnie. Sometimes babies just don’t make it into this world to be born, that’s not on you. God just realized he needed her soul for something other than being our daughter.”

Rebecca gives him a wet smile, “Maybe. But I’d rather we’d gotten her.”

“Me too,” Joe leans down and hugs her tight, pulling her up against his chest. After a minute he says, “Come to bed sweetheart, everything’ll look brighter in the morning.”

How did she get so lucky as to land a catch like Joe? Rebecca wonders as she smiles softly, “Yeah Joe,” she agrees, “Sunlight does tend to brighten up the day.”

“See,” he points out, leading her to bed, “I’m right. I’m always right.”

She laughs loud and long, like she hasn’t in a week. “You keep right on believin’ that darling.”

Rebecca straightens her spine. She’ll carry on, just as she always has.

Chapter Text

September 1, 1953- Thirty

“I’m scawed Mama,” Jamie whispers.

“There’s nothing to be scared of puiule, you’re going to have so much fun in kindergarten!” Rebecca squeezes his little hand tight as they walk to his new school. Alice skips along on her other side in her Alice in Wonderland costume (the girl insists on wearing it everywhere) her left hand in Rebecca’s, as her right clutches her Alice in Wonderland doll.

“But…” he trails off, peering up at her with big green eyes and a trembling lower lip.

“But what?” Rebecca prods gently. Jamie has the habit of clamming up whenever he’s upset.

Jamie sniffles, “What if it’s not fun? What if the teachuh’s mean? What if the othuh kids don’ like me?”

Rebecca’s heart aches at his worries, “Oh darling,” she scoops him up into a hug. Alice latches onto her leg tightly. “You have nothing to worry about,” she assures him. “Your teacher, Miss Anderson, is very nice! Don’t you remember what Bobby said? She was his very favorite teacher- and he’s in third grade! He’s had lots of teachers,” she exaggerates. “And Jamie, the other children will adore you- you’re smart and fun and you come up with great games for everyone to play!”

“Like monther lake!” Alice shouts suddenly, wanting to contribute. Jamie ducks his head, pleased at this sister’s ringing endorsement.

“Like monster lake,” Rebecca confirms, although she has no idea what Alice is speaking of.

“That was weally fun,” Jamie concedes.

Rebecca smiles and smooths back his copper-blonde hair, “You see? You’ll do great.”

He bites his lip but nods and straightens up, “If I do weal good can we have ice cweam?”

“Ooh,” Alice coos, eyes big and pleading. She accidentally smacks her Alice-doll into Rebecca’s face in her excitement

Rebecca laughs, moving Alice’s hand, “We’ll see.” She takes both of their hands again and leads them down the street. The local school is only a ten minute walk from their brownstone, and they’re less than two blocks from the entrance.

By the time they arrive at the doors Jamie’s brief burst of confidence has faded again.

“Mama I don’ wanna go,” he whines, digging in his heels.

She smiles sadly, “You’ve gotta go to school puiule.” He’s so big, off to school for the first time. It seems like just yesterday she’d held him for the first time.

“Please Mama!” he begs, tearing up, “Please don’ make me go!”

Rebecca just scoops him up and carries him in, despite her breaking heart. Alice keeps a tight hold on her skirt, looking about with wide eyes. Jamie starts to cry, begging her to go home. Rebecca feels like crying herself, grabbing her children, turning tail, and fleeing out the door. Surely five is too young for school.

As they enter an older women looks over at them and clucks her tongue. “Ah, poor little thing,” she coos. “First day of school?”

Rebecca nods, feeling her resolve start to crumble, “Yes, where… where’s Miss Anderson’s classroom?”

Alice, seeing her brother still crying, and her mother stressed and worried, begins to wail. Rebecca resists both the urge to simultaneously cry with her, because her baby boy is in kindergarten, and to pull out her hair, because she has two crying kids to deal with.

“Hush Alice,” Rebecca mops her tears with a corner of her skirt. “Jamie will go to school,” Jamie lets out a howl, but Rebecca pushes through, “and we’ll go home and bake cookies for him to have as a special snack when he gets home. Won’t that be fun!”

The older woman grimaces sympathetically, “I’ll just show you the way dear.” She leads Rebecca down the hall. Luckily, the promise of cookies has silenced Alice, even if Jamie is still sobbing.

As they reach the end of the corridor, and boy is Rebecca relieved that she doesn’t have to carry him up the stairs, the older woman opens a door on the right. “Here we are- Miss Anderson’s classroom.”

“Thank you,” Rebecca smiles at her.

The older woman pats her shoulder, “I’ve been there with four of my own dear, first one’s the hardest.”

Rebecca nods and says, “Thank you,” again, before entering the classroom. It’s cheerier than she remembers her own classrooms being- a brightly colored alphabet above the boards, home-made posters with pictures of various things, and patterned yellow curtains hanging above a series of filled planters on the sill. She’s also happy to note that she isn’t the only mother dealing with a crying little one. Indeed, one poor mother has her crying kindergartener and her three younger siblings (all sobbing) to deal with.

“And who is this?” A cheery voice calls out and Rebecca looks up to see a petite blonde woman approach them.

“This is Jamie Proctor,” Rebecca bounces him lightly, rubbing his back. “And his little sister Alice, she’ll be in kindergarten next year.”

Alice thrusts her Alice-doll forward to be introduces as well, “Little Alice too!” she demands.

“And Alice’s doll, who is also an Alice,” Rebecca sighs. Normally she’d scold, but she doesn’t want to deal with another crying fit today.

“It’s nice to meet you Jamie,” Miss Anderson smiles widely, “And you as well of course Alice, and Little Alice. I’m Miss Anderson, I’ll be Jamie’s teacher this year.”

“Hello,” Alice mumbles into Rebecca’s skirt, suddenly shy. Her Alice-doll waves for her.

“Say ‘hello’ to Miss Anderson, Jamie,” Rebecca instructs.

Jamie sniffles, but says through his tears, “Hello Miss Anduhson.”

“Oh he’s adorable!” Miss Anderson coos, “We’re going to get along fabulously, I can already tell.”

Rebecca smiles politely and sets Jamie down now that they’re in the classroom. He isn’t the sort of boy to try and run away- one too many stories of his Uncle Stevie, perhaps. Joe always says that if the kids end up neck deep in trouble trying to save the world he’s going to blame her and her crazy brothers- even if they died in the War- because it certainly doesn’t come from his side of the family.

“Where will he be sitting, Miss Anderson?” Rebecca asks, looking around at the neat lines of desks.

“Right over here, Mrs. Proctor,” Miss Anderson points them over to a desk on the far right of the classroom. “I sort all of the children by last name for the first few weeks,” she explains, “until I know who shouldn’t be seated by whom, and who needs to be up front by me.”

“That sounds swell,” Rebecca nods agreeably, she’d had many teachers do the same. “Let’s go meet who you’ll be sitting by, Jamie, maybe you can make a new friend before the bell even rings!”

Jamie gives a jerky little sob, but grabs onto her hand and follows along easily enough. Alice has taken off- she found a toy bin that Rebecca assumes is for play time and is currently ‘zooming’ an airplane about. She’s occupied for the moment, so Rebecca leaves her be and focuses on settling Jamie in.

“Hi!” a perky little girl’s voice cries as they reach the desk, “I’m Linda!” she’s seated in front of Jamie. An older girl is beside her, looking exasperated.

“Hi Linda,” Rebecca greets after a significant pause in which Jamie remains silent, “I’m Mrs. Proctor, and this is Jamie. He’ll be in your class with you.”

“Hi Jamie!” Linda grins, revealing a missing bottom tooth, “Look, I lost my first tooth last night!” Her sister, or at least Rebecca presumes it’s her sister due to their identical curly red hair and freckles, rolls her eyes.

Jamie leans forwards in interest- he hasn’t lost a tooth yet, but he’s fascinated by the concept. Their neighbor’s son, Bobby, has proudly shown off every gap in his mouth to her children.

“I’m Donna,” the older girl says after Jamie and Linda begin to talk about what losing teeth feels like. She shoves her bright red hair behind her ears only for it to escape again in seconds. “Linda,” she says, getting her sister’s attention, “I have to go to school now myself. I’m in junior high school,” she tells Rebecca in a proud aside. Rebecca smiles indulgently. “You’ll be alright, and if you need someone Betsy’s upstairs and Gary and Ken are down the hall.”

“Okay!” Linda chirps, hugging her sister. She seems to be the perpetually cheerful sort of girl. “Bye Donna!”

Alice wanders back over and leans against Rebecca’s leg. Her dark brown hair is coming out of its ribbon, and Rebecca lacks any sort of surprise at that. She’s not sure why she bothers, Alice’s hair is a bird’s nest by lunch no matter what she tries.

“Hi!” Linda says perkily. Rebecca looks over at her before directing her attention to where a young Hispanic-looking woman is leading a sullen little boy to the desk beside Jamie’s. Rebecca smiles, she’s glad that there will be another boy near Jamie’s desk, because a little girl with pale blonde hair is already seated behind him and turned to talk to the little girl behind her.

“Hello,” she greets the young woman. “I’m Rebecca Proctor and this is my son Jamie,” she rests a hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “This is my Alice,” Alice, through her Alice-doll, waves, “and that’s Linda, she seems to be the classroom’s official greeter.”

“Hello,” the woman says quietly, she has a thick accent. “I am Guadalupe Morales, this is José-Ramόn.” She nudges the boy’s shoulder.

“Hello,” he mutters.

Rebecca shoots Jamie a look. “Hello José-Ramόn,” Jamie says obediently.

“Hi José-Ramόn!” Linda chirrups.

The bell rings before either mother can facilitate more interaction between the children. Rebecca feels tears prick the corners of her eyes as her little boy officially becomes a kindergartener. “You’ll do great, puiule,” she kisses his cheek and whispers encouragements to him in Romanian as she hugs him.

“Welcome to kindergarten!” Miss Anderson calls from the front, “I know it’s hard but I’m going to have to ask all of the mothers to leave now. We’ve got a big day ahead of us, with all your big boys and girls!”

Jamie whimpers and a tear rolls down his cheek. Rebecca leans down to kiss his cheek once more, “I’ll be waiting at the school gates to get you. I love you.”

“Mama,” he calls as she retreats, one of several voices. Rebecca turns and waves, clutching Alice to her like a lifeline. She hears him call for her again as she leaves the room, and has to lean against the wall in the hallway for support.

She’s not the only mother to do so. She stays there quietly for several long minutes until Alice begins to squirm. Straightening up she smiles shakily at her daughter, “Well then, I guess it’s just us girls for a while, yeah? What do you say we play with your dolls for a bit before we bake cookies?”

Alice’s squeal of delight echoes down the hall along with her footsteps as she leaves her boy to his first day of school.

 

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The Proctor Family

 

By: Sarah, www.fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

July 19, 1957– Thirty-Four

The sea air blows Rebecca’s hair out of its up-do and she lets out a frustrated huff, reaching up to tuck it back in for the fifth time in a row. Beside her Joe chuckles.

“Oh hush,” Rebecca complains.

“I didn’t say nothin’,” Joe smirks.

Rebecca rolls her eyes, “You was thinkin’ it though. Jamie! Alice! Time for lunch!”

“Already?” Joe looks at her startled before glancing at his watch, “Huh. Guess it is 11:30 already.”

“Mama we were still playin’!” Jamie whines as he flops his sand coated little body down on the blanket beside her. He’s growing though, and at nine she knows he’s due to shoot up over the next few years as he grows into a man.

“I love Miami!” Alice declares, dropping down beside him, “Can we stay forever?”

“No silly,” Joe taps Alice’s nose, “We’ve got ta go home sometime.”

“Aww,” both children moan.

Rebecca smiles and ruffles their salty, sandy hair. Alice blinks up at her with Joe’s big green eyes in her face, while Jamie is Joe all over except for his smile. “How about Wolfie’s and we can swim in the pool ‘til supper?” She asks.

“Not the Boulevard Cafeteria over on Biscayne?” Joe arches a brow. They’d eaten there two days before.

“Nah, I’m missin’ good deli food,” Rebecca shakes her head.

Joe stands and stretches before reaching down a hand to pull her to her feet. He pulls too hard though and she ends up crashing into his chest, although by the grin on his face he did it on purpose. Still smiling Joe begins to hum and spin her about in a quick two-step as the kids laugh and clap.

Rebecca can’t help but laugh herself, delightfully happy on their first vacation. Humming a bit of a counter-tune she kicks up her feet and lets Joe swing her about. Much to her amusement Jamie and Alice jump to their feet and try to copy their motions, although it’s more of an uncoordinated bopping about as they step on one another and trip over their own feet.

She’s still laughing as they finally turn to head towards the hotel, Joe’s arm around her waist and Jamie’s hand in hers while Alice holds Joe’s. They stop by the pool to rinse the sand and salt off the kids before going to the room and throwing some clothes on over their bathing suits. Rebecca peeks in the mirror to check her make-up, the hot Florida sun made her sweat more than she would back home, but luckily only her lipstick needs a touch up.

Joe wraps his arm around her waist again and they hold the children’s hands as they walk to Wolfie’s. The atmosphere reminds her of Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side: a lot of old Jews and tourists. For some reason Anne always insists they eat there when she goes to visit her in the city. Like there ain’t any delis in Brooklyn anymore or something.

As they enter the restaurant Rebecca lets out a little sigh of relief- air conditioning. It’s a Godsend here in Miami. They decide to sit at the soda counter, the kids love it because they can watch the soda jerks make the fancy malts and milkshakes.

A pretty, young waitress with a local accent drops off the menus with a smile, “Back in a moment to get your orders folks.”

“What do ya think you’ll have kids?” Joe asks.

“I’ll have the- the Reuben,” Alice declares with all the solemnity an eight year old can muster. “Can we have milkshakes Mama?”

“Sure can,” Rebecca smiles, “I’m going to get a malt an’ some matzo ball soup myself.”

“I don’t wanna milkshake, I want an egg cream,” Jamie says, “An’ a knish. An’ soup.” At nine his eyes are always bigger than his stomach.

“That’s a lot of food Jamie,” Joe comments as he closes, “How’s about you get a knish an’ I’ll get blintzes an’ we’ll split the soup?”

“Sounds good Dad,” Jamie grins.

As soon as they fold their menus the waitress, pops back around to take their orders. Jamie begs to be allowed to order for them and Joe indulges him with a grin, gently prompting him when he stumbles.

“Good job little man,” the waitress smiles, “You’ll be taking over for your Pops any day.”

Jamie puffs his chest out and Alice rolls her eyes with a big sigh. Rebecca hides her grin behind her hand when the waitress ruffles Jamie’s hair and he turns bright red. Joe doesn’t bother, giving Jamie a wink.

Jamie’s cheeks look like they’re on fire.

“What’re our plans after lunch?” Alice asks.

“Well, we can either head back ta the beach or go ta the pool,” Joe stretches his arm over the back of her chair, “We only got two more days here an’ then we’re drivin’ back ta New York, so figure out which you prefer.”

“The pool,” Alice says.

“The beach,” Jamie argues.

They both turn to glare at each other.

“Patty and Billy are gonna be at the pool,” Alice points out, naming two children they’ve been playing with for the last few days, “They always go ta the pool in the afternoon.”

“But Tommy and Barbara go ta the beach this afternoon,” Jamie counters, “And they have that nifty bucket ta build sand castles with.”

Rebecca exchanges a weary look with Joe. They’ll have to step in and make the decision themselves shortly, or the kids will end up screaming at each other before Alice starts to cry and Jamie tries to pretend he isn’t. And then they’ll have to punish them for causing a scene in public.

“Patty plays mermaid games an’ you said Billy’s great at playin’ Marco Polo.” Alice crosses her arms over her chest.

“Tommy has a new flying disc an’ you said Barbara is real good at huntin’ sharks teeth,” Jamie juts his jaw out stubbornly.

“Joe dear, weren’t you talkin’ about a Funland Park the other day?” Rebecca interrupts as Alice opens her mouth to argue back again.

Both children gasp, but before Joe can answer the waitress is bringing out their meals.

“Thank you Miss,” Rebecca prompts.

Alice and Jamie echo her in unison, “Thank you Miss.”

“You’re very welcome, you enjoy your meal now,” she gives the kids a wink and Jamie turns red again.

“Funland Park sounds good,” Joe agrees.

“What is there to do there?” Alice wonders.

“It’s got rides and an arcade,” Rebecca smiles, “Like Coney Island, I expect.”

Alice and Jamie exchange a glance of their own. “Oh please can we go?” Jamie asks.

“Please!” Alice pleads.

“Of course we can,” Joe smiles at them, “Just gotta eat lunch first.”

Jamie shoves half of his knish into his mouth at once.

 

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Jamie and Alice at the Beach

 

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

August 28, 1963- Forty

Rebecca is smiling as she pulls up to where the March is due to begin. Beside her Josephine fiddles with the radio, and in the back seat the children argue more seriously over the music, steadily growing louder.

“James Steven, Alice Martha,” she trails off threateningly.

Josephine turns around and scowls at her own daughter, “Brenda Mary, I know I didn’t raise you to behave like this. You apologize right now.”

“Sorry Mama,” Jamie and Alice chorus.

“Sorry Mrs. Proctor,” Brenda slumps, a strand of hair slipping out of the band she has holding it back.

“It’s fine kids, just stop the bickering. We’re goin’ to a march for peace, for goodness sake, we don’t need you all arguing,” she spins in her seat and raises a brow. All three of the young teenagers nod solemnly.

Josephine grins at her, teeth shining white against her rich, golden-brown skin. Rebecca gives her friend a wink.

As they get out of the car they join the milling crowd gathered there for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Rebecca keeps an eye on the kids, and smiles at everyone who turns to look at her.

Most smile back, but a few simply turn away without a word. One man goes so far as to glare at her. She waves back at him with a broad grin. Beside her Josephine lets out an inelegant snort, a sharp contrast to her immaculate dress and hair.

“You’re going to get yourself in trouble for that smart mouth of yours one of these days,” she shakes her head.

Rebecca grins, “Wouldn’t be the first time,” she admits. “Did I ever tell you about my tenth birthday?”

“Your Mama tanned your hide for mouthing off to one of your friend’s mother, right?”

“Yeah, she called my friend Sadie… well somethin’ not fit to be repeated.” Rebecca grins, “Bucky and Stevie congratulated me later, said the woman was being a snooty racist witch, and took me for a soda. G-d, they’d love to be here to see this today. Alice, too.”

Josephine gives her arm a squeeze, knowing how much Rebecca misses her brothers and sister. Rebecca thanks G-d for the day Josephine Andrews moved into the brownstone next door to them three years ago. She’d been feeling lonely since Ethel and Maureen had moved to Boston, all of her other girlfriends had long since scattered across the country, and telephone calls and letters just weren’t the same. Josephine has been a G-dsend; she’s a fantastic woman and a fellow nurse. Rebecca couldn’t ask for a better neighbor and friend.

“You said the other day you’d been to other marches and protests?” Josephine changes the topic. Rebecca glances over at the kids and smiles to see them talking with some other teenagers.

“I was seven the first time,” Rebecca reminisces, “My mother and Aintín Sarah were a pair of wild ones when they was young- suffragists both. Also communists an’ unionists.” She smiles, “Been at plenty more since- mostly for the unions an’ such when I was young, but these days I go to all the Civil Rights events in New York I can make it to. Figured the kids are finally old enough for one, and this one should be fairly safe.”

Josephine looks at the ground for a moment, “You think this one’ll get violent?”

Rebecca glances around, “Probably not,” she says at length. “Only if the police get a bee in their bonnet.”

Josephine nods, “Almost feels more like a party than a protest march.”

Rebecca bites the inside of her lip, because she remembers other protests she’s seen start out light-hearted descend into violence. This one may feel more like a party- with all the performers Rebecca almost feels like it’s a USO show- but there was no guarantee fighting wouldn’t break out.

“It’ll be fine, Josephine,” she forces a smile.

They are interrupted by the call to begin marching. Waving the children over they all link arms. Along with everyone else they march from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. Rebecca keeps an eye on the police nearby, ready to hustle the kids and Josephine away if necessary.

Everything remains peaceful though. They arrive at the Lincoln Memorial peacefully, and settle in a fairly good spot with a view of the podium. Camilla Williams sings the National Anthem, and Archbishop O’Boyle gives the Invocation. A. Phillip Randolph reads the opening remarks and is followed by Eugene Blake, and Bayard Rustin’s tribute to “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom” is particularly moving.

Rebecca claps heartily for Daisy Bates’ speech, short as it is, and thinks she did well for being called to speak at the last moment. She frowns, wishing more women had a chance to speak. She is furious when the event marshal removes the microphone from Gloria Richardson’s hands before she gets to say more than, “Hello.” Judging by the rumbling around her she’s not the only one angry.

The day passes quickly, never a dull moment between the rousing speeches, the prayers and the songs. The children are particularly excited for Peter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez and Bob Dylan; Rebecca and Josephine are eager to hear Odetta, Marian Anderson, and Mahalia Jackson.

Rebecca pauses during Rabbi Prinz’s speech to look around. Her heart stutters in her chest for a moment, because she could swear. Swear on her mother’s grave that she is looking at her brother. At Bucky.

She stares, and the man must sense her eyes because he looks over. His expression is blank for half a second, before twisting in agony. She starts to move toward him, desperate, thinking of nothing but reaching her brother, but Jamie calls out, “Mom!” and she glances away for half a second instinctively.

When she looks back for Bucky he is gone. She searches the faces around her frantically, but can’t find him.

She’s near tears from frustration when Alice tugs on her hand. “Mama, Dr. King’s ‘bout to speak- I know you wanted to hear him.”

Rebecca’s heart breaks a little when it suddenly strikes her that the man she’d seen could not be Bucky, miraculously returned. He’d been years too young. Exactly as she’d last seen him, in 1943. The only difference had been his too long hair. Sorrow surges through her entire being, and she closes her eyes and takes deep breaths.

Nearly twenty years later and it sometimes still feels as if she got those telegrams yesterday. She’s never been able to completely quash that flicker of hope, just to ignore it.

She forces herself to ignore it, to ignore the man, now. She is here to have a happy, and meaningful, day with her children and her friend.

As Rebecca listens to Dr. King’s speech, she flashes back to her own childhood- of being insulted for having Romanian immigrant parents, of being called names for being Catholic, of listening to people jeer at Stevie for being Irish, at Sadie and Anne for being Jewish, at Teresa for being Italian, and at Mary for being black. She remembers the names people called queers, the insults, the beatings; Jill with black eyes and split lips, Arnie in tears from shame, Stevie and Bucky and Ethel and Maureen using each other to hide. She remembers the protests and the rallies and the riots for jobs. She remembers the marches and the strikes for the unions at the docks and factories where she’d march with her brothers after school.

And she smiles, just a bit, when Dr. King speaks of his dream. Because, despite the hatred surrounding her as she grew up her brothers never, ever let it take root in her. She held hands and played in the streets with Mary, whose dark skin was opposite her own paleness. She sang songs in Yiddish with Sadie and Anne, and learned to make Spaghetti Bolognese the proper way from Teresa’s mother. She’d danced in pansy clubs with other girls, and learned to put on make-up from drag queens. Aintín Sarah, even, had married a Protestant, although she’d raised Stevie Catholic like her.

She’s already lived Dr. King’s dream. She’s here so her children and, someday, her grandchildren don’t have to listen to the slurs and swears she and her friends had gotten for being born. For being who they were. For daring to spit in the face of convention and becoming friends.

“And when this happens,” Dr. King speaks, “when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of G-d's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! thank G-d Almighty, we are free at last!"

“Thank G-d indeed,” Rebecca says quietly, because for all that she’s had a hard life she has never lived a life filled with hate.

And that, she thinks, is a freedom all its own.

Chapter Text

April 29, 1965- Forty-Two

“Mom!” Alice shouts, “Mama!” She runs into the kitchen, sliding across the tile in her stockings, “Help!”

Rebecca looks up from the chicken a la king she’s making for supper, “Alice, what on Earth are you in a tizzy over now?”

“My dress!” Alice wails, “It’s ruined! The concert is in two days and my new dress is ruined!”

Rebecca sighs, why must teenagers be melodramatic? “Let me see,” she gestures Alice to lay the dress on the table while she washes off her hands.

Alice wrings her hands and sniffles as she waits, “I don’t know what I’ll do if my dress is still no good by the concert Mama, what would I wear?”

Rebecca sighs again, she worries she’s spoiled her kids rotten sometimes. All the little nothings they worry over. When she was Alice’s age she’d been worried over whether she and Bucky and Stevie would have enough to eat, and whether they could afford Stevie’s medicine, and the War beginning to boil in Europe.

And here Alice is worried about a dress, and concerts; while Jamie, at seventeen, only worries over sports and finding a girl to take dancing. Joe always says they’ve worked as hard as they have so that their kids don’t have to worry about food, and medicine, and whether they’ll make that month’s rent.

She would never wish her own childhood on her children, but it still worries Rebecca how frivolous they both are sometimes.

“It’s a small rip,” Rebecca sighs as she looks at the dress. It’s right along one of the pleats, too. If it had been her dress as a girl she’d already have sewn it up.

“It’s enormous!” Alice cries despairingly.

Jamie sticks his head around the corner, “What’s she yellin’ about now Mama?”

“My dress is ruined,” Alice moans, slumping into a seat at the table. “How will I ever go to the Rolling Stones concert?”

Jamie blinks before saying slyly, “Well if you really don’t wanna go anymore I can just ask Bill or Robert to go instead of you.”

“James Steven,” Rebecca says in a tone that brooks no argument. She does not want to deal with her sixteen-year-old daughter’s hysterics because her son was goading her.

“Da Mama,” James mutters. Rebecca shakes her head, the way the boy acts you would never believe he’ll be eighteen this year.

“Alice,” Rebecca says firmly, choosing to ignore the smug look her daughter is sending her son, “You dress is perfectly mendable. It doesn’t even need darnin’, it’s just a simple tear and easily stitched up.” Rebecca paused, “Go get a needle and thread to match. You’ll be doing the mendin’- I’ll supervise.”

Alice opens her mouth to argue, but at Rebecca’s sharp look she wilts. Standing with her shoulders slumped Alice mopes away from the table. Rebecca holds in a sigh as she ignores the smug look her son is now sending her daughter.

G-d help her.

Alice mopes her way back into the room with a needle and two spools of pink thread. Rebecca watches carefully as she sets one aside and pulls the dress into her lap. Rebecca shakes her head as her daughter takes nearly two minutes to thread the needle- mostly because she’s too busy pouting to actually pay attention to what the thread is doing.

As Alice finally begins to stitch the rip closed (and it really is a tiny thing- despite Alice’s caterwauling- barely three inches) Rebecca keeps an eye on her. The child is nowhere near as familiar with a needle and thread as Rebecca had been at her age- when Jamie and Alice outgrow their clothes new ones are bought instead of letting down the hem, when clothing is torn it’s replaced instead of darned- and Rebecca hides a frown at her daughter’s uneven, if small, stitches.

It’s her own fault for not making her girl practice more, but can Rebecca help it that she’s proud to be able to afford new clothing for her children when theirs are getting ratty? It was a luxury she’d never thought to dream of as a girl, and one she’s pleased her children sometimes take for granted.

It’s hard though, at moments like this, when Rebecca can feel the years between her and her children yawn wide and their lives don’t seem as if they fit together. Too many years and too many differences between her youth and her children’s youth. She wonders sometimes, especially now that her children are getting older, how far away her grandchildren will feel?

Sometimes, in the silent moments late at night, she wonders if her own mother felt this way? If Aintín Sarah felt this way?

Rebecca smiles at Alice when she looks up for approval, “Buna treaba, my love. Go try it on, make sure that your stitches don’t show too much.”

Alice beams, “Thanks Mama.” She clutches the dress to her chest and runs off to her bedroom.

Rebecca looks over at Jamie and sighs, “Supper is in an hour, puiule, why are you eating a sandwich?”

Jamie looks up from where he is eating over the counter, “I’m hungry Mom, I’m a growing boy.”

Rebecca swats at him, “I’ll give you a growing boy!” She teases, grabbing the towel off the counter and playfully snapping it at him.

Jamie laughs, “Mo-om!”

The phone rings just as Alice comes back in to model her dress and Rebecca stiffles yet another sigh, at this rate supper will never be ready. “You look beautiful Alice.” Rebecca smiles and answers the phone, “You’ve reached the Proctor residence, how can I help you today?”

“This is the Montgomery County Sherriff’s Office, in Alabama, is this Mrs. Rebecca Proctor?” The man speaking has a thick southern accent, making some of the words nearly indecipherable.

Rebecca frowns in confusion, “Yes, this is she.” She hasn’t been in Alabama since March, when she and Josephine went down to meet Mary, Anne, and Sadie to participate in the Selma to Montgomery Marches.

“This is Officer Clayton Marshall, Mrs. Proctor,” Rebecca frowns harder at the officer’s flat, indifferent tone. “You’re listed as one of Mary Taylor’s emergency contacts in her handbag.”

It isn’t a question, but Rebecca answers anyways, “Yes, officer, we’ve been the best of friends since we was girls. Is something the matter? Did Mary get arrested? I can wire her some bail money.”

“No ma’am, that won’t be necessary,” the officer sounds a bit pleased now, if still absolutely uncaring, “I’m sorry to tell you that Ms.,” his sneer is audible, “Taylor passed this mornin’. She’d been arrested for, uh, indecency yesterday. When officers… came to release her this mornin’ they found her dead in her cell. Coroner says it was ‘natural causes’. We suspect the, uh, fright of her arrest gave her a heart attack.” There is a note of malevolent glee in the man’s voice as he tells her these lies.

Rebecca can feel anger flooding through her entire body. She is shaking from fury, unable to process her grief. She bites out, “Officer, you’re tellin’ me my perfectly healthy friend, who ain’t even forty-five, died a ‘natural causes’- while in police custody, I might add- after bein’ arrested.”

She hears the officer open his mouth to spill out more lies, and cuts him off before he can begin, “Furthermore, you’re tellin’ me you all arrested my friend for ‘indecency’ an’ I can tell you right now, Officer,” she puts the same sneer into his title that he’d put into Mary’s name, “Ya no-good, racist, son-of-a-bitch; that my friend Mary has never, not one day in her life, been anythin’ close to indecent.”

“Ma’am,” the officer tries to interrupt, but Rebecca barrels over him. A glance at the table shows Alice crying into Jamie’s shoulder and while he has one hand rubbing her back and tucking her against his chest, the other hand is trying to wipe away the tears he’s holding back.

“Silence ya bigoted bastard. You southern fuckers,” the children gasp, “killed my best friend, and now you’re tryin’ a hide it. You think just ‘cause I live in New York I don’t know what’s happenin’ in the south? I was in Alabama a month ago marchin’, same as Mary was. I know what’s happenin’ an’ I know what you done.”

“Ma’am,” the officer is angry now. Good. “Your friend is dead. Get ‘cherself together, you fuckin’ nigger, and have someone come get her damn body ‘fore we bury it in two days.”

“Fuck you,” Rebecca hisses, “Fuck you, you Klan piece of scum; you will not touch a hair on Mary’s head. I’ll be comin’ down tomorrow to get her and if I find you’ve done anythin’ disrespectin’ her you’ll regret it.” Rebecca slams down the phone so hard she hears the casing crack.

Her children are staring at her, wide-eyed and crying, as Rebecca breathes hard. She is sure her face is flushed with anger and she must look a sight. She closes her eyes and breathes deep. In. And out. In. And out.

“I need to call your father,” she says eventually. “Tell him that, that your Aunt Mary’s passed.” Her voice cracks on the last word. Alice begins bawling and Rebecca is fighting tears of her own. She takes in a few more calming breaths and grits out, “I need to call your Aunts- of all the times for your Tante Anne to decide to travel to Israel, Jesus. And, and,” Rebecca sucks in a shuddering gasp of air.

She grinds the palms of her hands into her eyes, trying to hold onto the anger in order to keep the overwhelming sadness away, “Fuck,” she swears again, softer, more controlled.

“Alice go change out of your nice dress. Jamie, will you call your father for me? I need to get my suitcase and pack for a few days.” Rebecca nods her thanks as Jamie picks up the telephone and puts his finger into the rotary dial as her Alice scampers off to follow her instructions. Rebecca takes a deep breath and listens as Jamie dials the phone.

Number, spin, release. Click.

Number, spin, release. Click.

Number, spin, release. Click.

Rebecca lets out a huff of air and heads up to her room. Quickly packing a bag of clothing and toiletries Rebecca shuts her bedroom door. The anger and adrenaline leave her in a rush and the next thing Rebecca knows is she’s sobbing into her pillow.

She doesn’t realize how long she’s cried until Joe opens the door and sighs, “Oh Rebecca.”

“J-J-Joe,” she shudders with the force of her sobs, “Ma-ry, they kill-ed Mary!”

Joe wraps her in his arms and draws her into his chest. He rocks her, humming under his breath. For once Rebecca doesn’t care about getting grease stains on the furniture or her dress.

Joe doesn’t say anything. What is there to say?

Mary was killed by racist, corrupt police officers. Murdered in cold blood. And no one, besides them, would care. Blacks arrested for protesting are constantly being beaten by cops in prison. Many of them die, and the world looks the other way.

Joe kisses the top of her head after a long while, when her sobbing has finally ended and all that’s left are the shuddering after shakes, “You get yourself fixed up, doll, I’ll go take care of the kids. Jamie says you’re going down ta Alabama ta… get Mary?” Joe asks delicately.

Rebecca nods into his chest, “Yes.” She rubs at her eyes and her hands come away smudged with black from her mascara and eyeliner. She wipes her hands on her grease stained dress and reaches out to cup Joe’s cheeks, “Mulțumesc. Multumesc, dragul meu.”

Joe kisses her forehead, “How many times do I gotta tell ya, my love? You’re my wife, there ain’t no need for thankin’ me.” He doesn’t know much Romanian- his family was English before they’d immigrated to America- but he knew simple phrases after more than twenty years of marriage, “Not now, an’ not ever- I vowed before G-d an’ your brothers an’ the whole of the congregation ta be there for ya. Ya don’t need ta thank me for keepin’ my vow. Pretty sure if I didn’t those brothers a yours would convince all the angels in heaven ta rain down all that fire and brimstone ol’ Father Lombardi used ta threaten onto me.”

Rebecca laughs wetly, “They’d sure try.”

Joe kisses her forehead again, “Some days, ya know I have doubts ‘bout G-d an’ the Church,” he says softly. Rebecca nods, he’d come home from the War but he’d left his faith behind. Some days she feels the same.

“Ya know I have doubts,” he repeats, “about G-d. But Rebecca? If there’s one thing in this messed up world I don’t doubt it’s that those brothers a yours are keepin’ a mighty close eye on us an’ they’re makin’ sure you’re taken care of.”

Rebecca bites her lip to hide her grin. Even with them both twenty years gone there is genuine fear in Joe’s voice. She often wonders just what Stevie and Bucky had threatened him with to make him so afraid, but is never quite sure she wants to know.

“Alice too,” she adds softly.

“Her most of all,” Joe nods rapidly, “I’ve raised a little girl a my own now, those are the most terrifyin’ of all the beasts in all a creation.”

“Hey!” a small voice protests outside the door.

Rebecca rolls her eyes as a second, deeper voice hisses, “Shut it!”

Joe grins, “They get it from your side of the family.” The children continue to hiss accusations at each other.

Rebecca gives him a look and he raises his arms in surrender. “James Steven! Alice Martha!” She snaps in faux-anger.

Silence descends outside the door. A very guilty silence. Rebecca shakes her head and rolls her eyes at Joe again. Sometimes her children act like they’re six and seven instead of sixteen and seventeen.

Two chagrinned teenagers slide into the room, staring at the floor. Rebecca exchanges a look with Joe- Jamie’s eyes are red and his cheeks splotchy, a sure sign he’s been crying and trying to hide it, and Alice still has tears on her cheeks and her shoulders are hitching in shuddering gasps. Rebecca feels an echoing hitch in her own shoulders- Alice cries the same way she does.

“Come here,” Rebecca spreads her arms wide, and Alice immediately moves into her arms, fresh tears already falling. Jamie comes to her slower, his manly pride warring with his desire for comfort- Rebecca can read it in his face.

Joe pats the bed and Jamie sits down beside him. “’S all right to cry ‘round family, son,” Joe tells Jamie softly, “’S what we’re here for.”

Rebecca smiles softly at Joe. His father had been one of those men who thought emotions were for women, that men shouldn’t show anything. Joe works hard to make sure their children don’t learn the same lessons.

They sit there in silence- the four of them- for a long while. Rebecca knows she needs to finish packing and head out soon if she wants to make it to Montgomery tomorrow, but first she needs to make sure her children know that everything will be alright, even if it won’t ever be the same.

They’ve never lost anyone, not really. Rebecca’s family was gone by the time they were born, and until now their ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ on her side had either passed before they were born or are still alive. Joe’s family, most of them are still alive. His father had died in 1950, but the kids had been babies and don’t remember their grandfather at all.

Rebecca sighs, hugging Alice to her tightly. Joe wraps one arm around Jamie and the other around her. Eventually, Rebecca finds the words she’s been trying to figure out how to say.

“Did I ever tell you all ‘bout the time Mary, Anne, and I snuck away on the El to go up to Harlem an’ see Duke Ellington?” Rebecca begins, “No? Well, it was 1937 an’…”

 

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Proctors

 

By: Sarah, fearlessonmybreath.deviantart.com

Chapter Text

February 18, 1968- Forty-Five

Rebecca smiles as she hums along with the radio while preparing supper. It’s just her and Joe at home these days. Both of their kids have flown the nest. James is proudly serving over in Vietnam, already a Sergeant in the Army. Alice is away at college, studying art. She’s an active member of the SNCC and NAACP. Rebecca is so proud of her.

She knows Joe worries about her, but Rebecca admires how outspoken Alice is in her beliefs that everyone be equal. (They both worry constantly for Jamie.) If only there had been something like this when she was young! She still goes to all the rallies and protests she can. Currently people are out there fighting for the rights of blacks. Who knows who’s next? Maybe women, or Asians, or Hispanics, or even homosexuals. She just hopes she’s alive to see the day when everyone is seen as equal.

The sound of a knock on the door startles her out of her thoughts. Rebecca smoothes out her skirt as she goes to answer the door. Fear wells up in her instinctively as it did all those years ago during the War every time there was a telegram. ‘What if?’ circles through her mind, terror clutches her heart that it’s about Jamie. She pushes it down violently, Jamie is fine.

Jamie is fine.

Taking a deep breath she wonders who it could be. They’re not expecting anyone. Joe’s got a bunch of cars in the shop, so he’s been busy at work. Perhaps it’s a package? Alice did say she was going to mail her one of her college’s pennants and a sweater.

Opening the door, she freezes. There are two men in Army uniforms on her stoop looking grim. Her heart catches in her throat. Her worst nightmare come true.

Jamie is not fine.

“Ma’am,” one greets her solemnly. “I’m Staff Sergeant Paul Andrews from Fort Hamilton. This is Chaplain Daniel Hayes.”

She looks at them sadly. She’s well aware of what this visit means.

“Are you Mrs. Rebecca Proctor, mother of Sergeant James Proctor?” he asks.

She closes her eyes briefly; opening them she says, “You might as well come in gentlemen. This ain’t a conversation I want to have at the door.”

She can guess they’re exchanging glances with each other behind her as she leads them inside. Once they’re in the living room, she waves towards the armchairs. “Sit down, please.”

She remains standing and her voice is tight as she says, “I’m gonna go call my husband. He’s at work, but he can be home in ten minutes. Would you like any refreshments?”

The two men exchange glances. “Water would be fine Mrs. Proctor,” the sergeant says gently.

She snorts and shakes her head. She retreats to the kitchen to get the telephone, calling Joe’s desk at the shop. She knows part of the reason she’s avoiding them is because she’s avoiding the reason that they’re here. If they don’t say it, it isn’t real. The other part of it is that she really does want Joe there with her for this.

“Joe’s Auto Works, Joe speakin’,” he answers.

“Joe, it’s Rebecca,” she says, staring at the wallpaper.

“Rebecca? What’s wrong?” Joe worries.

“There’re two men from the Army here. It’s about Jamie.”

“No,” he sounds shattered. She can hear him take a deep breath. “I’ll be home in ten minutes.”

He hangs up the phone. Rebecca busies herself arranging a plate of cookies. And then decides to make a plate of finger sandwiches. Pouring both men a glass of cola, she bustles in and out of the kitchen. Setting food and drinks on the coffee table for the soldiers to nosh on.

She frowns and considers making up a fruit and cheese platter. Do they have enough fruit and cheese to make a platter? Perhaps crackers and a dip instead.

The front door opens before she can use up all of the food in the kitchen in her worry.

“Joe,” she greets relieved.

“Rebecca,” he takes off his coat and wraps her in a hug. “I’m sure he’s fine. It’s just a misunderstandin’. Jamie’s alright.”

Rebecca nods into his chest, but she knows he’s wrong.

They settle down in the living room, waiting. After a moment Staff Sergeant Andrews says, “Sir, ma’am. The Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deep regret that your son, Sergeant James Proctor, was killed in action near Huế, Vietnam on the fifteenth of February.”

Rebecca buries her head in her hands, sobs racking her body. She feels Joe collapse beside her. Rebecca grabs his hand and squeezes it briefly.

Slowly, she brings herself back under control, wiping her cheeks. One of them needs to be strong. She wants to look at these men who are here to tell her that her baby boy is dead, to make them look at her.

The soldiers remain seated. “The Secretary wishes to express his deepest sympathy to you and to your family in this tragic loss. The Casualty Assistance Command will contact you within twenty-four hours.”

Rebecca stands, and the two soldiers stand too. “Please,” she says, “leave.”

She walks to the front door and opens it. Mr. Crawley next door is shoveling snow.

They pause at the entry way and the Staff Sergeant says, “Mrs. Proctor, once again, on behalf of the Secretary please accept the United States’ Army’s deepest condolences.”

Rebecca’s laugh is bitter, “I lost both my brothers in the World War Two, and lost what little innocence I still had myself as a nurse overseas. Now I’ve lost my son to this war. I’ve had plenty of condolences from the Army. I don’t need any more condolences, I need my son back.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs. Proctor.” The chaplain speaks for the first time.

“Leave.” Rebecca opens the door a little wider.

As they exit, she frowns, “And soldiers.” They turn to look at her. “It’s First Lieutenant Proctor. Not ‘misses’.”

She shuts the door in their faces.

Chapter Text

March 8, 1970- Forty-Seven

“Rebecca my love!” Joe sing-songs from the living room.

Rebecca pokes her head out of the kitchen. “Yes, Joe? What- oh my! Don’t you look dashing!”

“Only the best for my best girl,” Joe tugs on the lapels of his suit jacket, spinning around to show off.

“Well your best girl will likely be very impressed,” Rebecca says with a grin, dusting her hands off on her apron.

“Think she’ll wanna go dancin’ with me? Found a place that plays real music instead of that rock an’ roll shit all the kids listen ta. We can trip the light fantastic like its 1940 again,” Joe says.

Rebecca gasps softly. “I’d love too!” She arches an eyebrow, wondering. “Any particular reason why?”

“Did you think I didn’t remember?” Joe asks softly, walking over and taking her hand. “We went on our first date, 30 years ago today. I was dizzy over you before we ever spoke, but after that night… Well, I knew ya was the girl for me. You was it, an’ I was gonna marry you someday. Even if your brothers scared the dickens outta me.”

“Oh Joe,” Rebecca says, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. She’s heard it all before, of course. But it doesn’t matter how many times she’d heard it, it still makes her smile and want to cry all at once.

Joe kisses the back of her hand. “You go get all gussied up, I’ve got us reservations at 6:30, and then we’ll go cut a rug.”

“You got it,” Rebecca says, squeezing Joe’s hand before heading up the stairs.

“Oh! I almost forgot- there’s a surprise on the bed for ya.”

Rebecca pauses halfway up the stairs. “Joe,” she starts.

He holds up a hand to stop her from speaking. “Don’t you be ‘Joe’-ing me! We can afford it just fine. You know the shop’s doin’ well, an’ with you thinkin’ a workin’ again we’ll be flush soon enough. Not ta mention we ain’t payin’ for Alice’s college no more, not now that she’s gotten married and has a kid on the way. Our retirement savings are all good too.”

Rebecca offers an apologetic smile. “Old habits.”

“Go and change,” Joe tells her. He waves a hand at her. “Go on.”

Rebecca smiles at him again before continuing up the stairs. She pauses in the doorway to their room. On the bed is a long, narrow jewelry box. Behind her Joe starts up the stairs.

Sitting she reaches out to pick it up, raising her head as Joe leans in the doorway. “Open it sweetheart,” Joe says.

Rebecca does. Inside the box is a diamond necklace.

She gasps loudly. “Oh!”

“Do you like it?” Joe asks after a minute or so, fidgeting with his cuff links. She’s been staring at it in rapture, too awed to speak.

“It’s so beautiful I’m practically afraid to touch it. Put it on me,” she says, “please.”

Joe beams. “Only the best for my best girl,” he says, slipping the necklace out of the box. “Turn around.”

She does. “I don’t know how to thank you for this, love.” She leans her head forwards as Joe fastens the necklace closed. “It’s perfect.”

“I knew you’d love it as soon as I saw it.” He smiles softly at her as she turns back around, cupping her cheek in one of his hands. He’s got a working man’s hands, rough with calluses and grease under his nails.

“You were right,” Rebecca says.

She leans in to kiss him softly. He smiles into the kiss, stoking his hand lightly over her cheek. His arm goes around her back to tug her closer. They stand there for awhile, neither pushing anything further, simply enjoying each other.

Eventually Rebecca pulls back, pressing a final kiss to Joe’s lips. “Shoo,” she says, “I need to get myself ready for dinner and dancin’.”

Joe smiles, “I can’t wait to see my girl all dolled up. We’re gonna have an ace time tonight.”

“Yeah,” Rebecca says, “we sure are.”

Chapter Text

April 30, 1970- Forty Seven

Rebecca feels as if her life is just starting to come back together after she lost her little boy. She’s begun to work as a nurse at a local pediatrician’s office; it’s certainly a change from the broken, burnt, and bullet-filled boys she’d last nursed.

Alice had gotten married just under a year ago and is now almost eight months pregnant. Rebecca isn’t thrilled that Alice dropped out of school to marry a man ten years her senior. Especially since she’d met him only six months before they wed. But Alice is an adult. And Patrick seems to be a good man, if a bit of a starched-shirt. But something just doesn’t feel right, and Rebecca’s keeping her eye on him.

Despite her worries over Patrick, Rebecca is looking forwards to having a baby around again. She’s excited to be a grandmother, to have someone to spoil rotten. And then hand back to their mother. She’s already got dozens of baby toys in the house for when the babe’s old enough to enjoy them. And a stack of diapers to give Alice – you can never have too many of those.

Still, life moves on, as it always has. Jamie’s loss pains her near constantly, but she knows someday that sharp pain will dull a bit. It will always be there of course, that she knows from experience, but the continuous heartache fade. There may still be days she wishes she could turn and share something with her son, just as there are days she wishes she were able to share things with her brothers, with her sister, with her mother and Aintín Sarah, with Teresa and Mary, and everyone else she’s known who has died.

Shaking her head she pulls herself out of her morose thoughts. She gets in these moods sometimes, where her thoughts just turn sad. Joe always says that she’s had a hard life, filled with sadness, and that he’d be surprised if her thoughts didn’t turn sad more often. But Rebecca insists on pushing through. She makes sure to focus on happy things as much as possible, so that the sad doesn’t consume her like it had her mother.

It’s her day off and she’s just fixed herself a glass of lemonade, considering what to make for lunch, when the phone rings. With a sigh she sets down her cold glass and answers the phone.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Proctor? It’s Mike Flynn, down at the garage.” A man says, and Rebecca pictures Mike in her mind. A young man, and a veteran, returned from Vietnam due to limited mobility after a minefield blew apart half of his unit and covered him in burns.

“Mike,” she greets with a grin, “How are you? Is Joe caught up in some engine and skippin’ lunch again?”

“I’m fine ma’am, but Joe…” Rebecca’s heart sinks, “Joe collapsed ‘bout ten minutes ago. I called an ambulance, he’s at Brooklyn Hospital.”

“I…” she takes a deep breath as the mission mode she learned in the War takes over. “Thank you Mike, please close down the shop. You can have the rest of the day off; I’ll phone you with any news about Joe.”

“Yes ma’am,” Mike replies, and she hangs up the phone.

She is in mission mode, tense and almost expecting to be shelled by the Germans, the whole way to the hospital. The taxi feels too slow, even though it is faster than it should be because the cab driver heard her urgency. Joe’s papers are clutched in one hand, and she can feel the jolts of terror race down her spine. Her other hand is wrapped around the necklace Joe gave her not even two months before.

“He’s fine,” Rebecca whispers to herself as she walks into the hospital. “He’s just fine. Probably just dehydrated.”

At reception the nurse directs her to the ER.

At the ER they direct her to the Cardiology Ward.

At the Cardiology Ward they direct her to Surgery.

At Surgery they direct her to the Morgue.

They stare at Rebecca with pity as she walks the long hall to collect her husband’s clothing and the few items he had on him (wallet, photo wallet, wedding ring, screw driver). They say in gentle, soothing voices that he had a heart attack. That it was too fast, too big for them to save him.

That they’re sorry for her loss.

She glares at the man who dares to suggest grief counseling because “losing a loved one is a tragic and difficult thing to handle” like he has any fucking idea of what her life has been like.

She slugs the man who suggests she find a new husband to take care of her with a leer.

She calls Alice and tries to gently break the news when she gets home. And she flies down to Virginia when Alice goes into labor too early from the stress. Luckily her doctors stop it, and the baby is alright.

Rebecca is furious that when she calls Patrick about Joe and Alice he makes some weak excuse about a business deal in California. Instead, she holds her daughter’s hand in the hospital where she lays on bed rest while she should be arranging her husband’s funeral. Not that she would begrudge Alice anything. She soothes her daughter that everything will be alright, that Patrick had an emergency and will be there as soon as he can.

The lies leave a bitter taste in her mouth.

 

 

At Joe’s funeral Rebecca can’t bring herself to look at the graves nearby. She cannot look at the tombstones over her daughter’s and son’s and father’s and mother’s and aunt’s and sisters’ and brothers’ graves. She cannot bear to look at her entire family reduced to words carved into stone, except her precious little girl at her side.

Chapter Text

June 14, 1970- Forty-Seven

 

Rebecca smiles down at the little boy in her arms. Her first grandchild, John Buchanan Sheppard. Her Little Bucky, truly a G-dsend.

Alice smiles tiredly from her bed, sweat plastering her hair to her forehead. “I almost named him James or Steven, but it seemed like bad luck. And it’s, it’s still so soon after Daddy that I couldn’t, Joseph didn’t feel right. But John feels right- honoring Jamie and Dad and Uncle Bucky. I like Buchanan though. Strong, dignified, and a family name. My next son’s middle name’ll be Grant.”

Rebecca smiles back at her, her precious little girl now a mother, and looks at the red-faced little boy in her arms. “He looks like a Barnes,” she murmurs.

And he does, it’s not just wishful thinking from a woman who has lost almost all of her family. The child’s skin will be pale, once the redness fades, and his hair is dark. It sticks up in all directions, just like Bucky’s had before he started to put pomade in it. His face is thin for a baby, but she can see the shape of the man he’ll be in the roundness of his cheeks.

She wonders if he’ll have his mother’s green eyes, or his father’s brown. Perhaps they’ll remain blue-grey, like her own. He has the Barnes mouth, certainly, and his jaw line is all his mothers, which came from her. Rebecca had inherited her father’s more angular jaw line. Alice and Bucky their mother’s.

“Hello my Little Bucky,” she coos, looking into his eyes. They seem to stare right through her. “I’m your Nana, and I’ll always be here for you. I love you.” She picks up a tiny hand and brings it to her mouth to kiss.

The baby yawns and snuggles into her bosom, eyes falling shut. Rebecca smiles and rocks him, singing ‘Un elefant se legăna’. The lullaby her mother once sang to her, and she had sung to her children, to her new grandson.

Her Little Bucky, her little G-dsend.

Chapter Text

November 22, 1973- Fifty

“Nana! Nana! Nana!” Little Bucky barrels in shrieking, pure delight shining on his face. “Come see!”

“Come see what dear?” she asks as he grabs her hand to try and tug her from the kitchen into the living room.

“Mickey Mouse!” He squeals, pointing at the float on the television screen.

“Oh would you look at that?” Rebecca grins. “It is Mickey!”

“Mickey! Mickey! Mickey!” Bucky chants and claps.

Alice walks over and leans against the doorway with an indulgent smile. “We oughta take him to the parade next year, if he’s this excited over watchin’ it on television.”

Rebecca laughs. “Maybe we’ll go to Disney Land in a few years, once he’s old enough to remember it.”

“I love Mickey Mouse,” Bucky declares.

Alice rolls her eyes fondly. “I’m aware,” she says wryly, “since he sleeps with a Mickey stuffed animal, and has Mickey decorations all over his room, and wants to wear his old, worn, ratty Mickey shirt every day.”

Rebecca doesn’t bother to hide her grin behind a hand. “You did the same thing with your Alice in Wonderland costume and watch.”

Alice flaps a hand at her. “We had the same name!”

“And dress, and hair-do, and tea parties every day,” Rebecca teases.

Alice covers her face and shakes her head with a low moan. “Mama!”

“It’s my duty, as your mother, to tease,” Rebecca replies with a wink.

Alice laughs a bit, looking over at Little Bucky, who is clapping at the Kermit float now being shown on the television. “I do look forward to that part,” she says softly.

Rebecca puts a hand on her shoulder and squeezes a bit, before letting it rest there for a moment. “Bein’ able to mock your grown children for the ridiculous and inane things they did as small children is a wonderful thing,” she promises solemnly.

“Mama!” Alice complains with a smile. “Come on, let’s go finish preparing the turkey for dinner.”

“You start on that, I’ll start peelin’ potatoes,” Rebecca smiles at Alice’s grateful look – Alice despises peeling potatoes.

The two of them go into the kitchen and get to work preparing that night’s Thanksgiving Feast. It’s the smallest one Rebecca’s prepared in years. Last year she hadn’t bothered, Alice and Little Bucky had gone with Patrick to some vacation retreat in Mexico, and most of her girlfriends had been out of town – it had just been her and Jill, and they’d ended up completely soused and reminiscing about the old days. The two years before that she’d cooked for Alice and Little Bucky, of course, but Patrick had attended as well, and Jill, Maureen, and Ethel had joined them too. Before that Joe had still been alive and Alice frequently brought home her girlfriends from school.

But this year Patrick had declined to attend, citing a call with some folks in France that couldn’t be rescheduled, and Maureen and Ethel were in Milwaukee for Ethel’s niece’s wedding the following week. Jill has decided to go to her friend Jerry- his husband, Osgood, had passed the month before. Josephine, Tom, Brenda, and the entire extended Andrews family are all next door of course, and Rebecca and Alice will pop over later with Bucky to say hello, and Sadie’s already called to complain about her daughter-in-law’s lack of ability in the kitchen – twice. So it is just Rebecca, Alice, and Little Bucky for Thanksgiving this year.

“How’s the turkey lookin’, Alice?”

“It’s all done, Mama, I’m working on the stuffing now,” Alice replies. “How’re the potatoes?”

Rebecca rolls her eyes. “Peeled, half of them at least.” She really is rather fast at it due to years of experience.

“Mama! Nana! Mama! LOOK! Look Mama!” Bucky bellows excitedly. Both women look over immediately. Bucky is hanging upside down from the couch. “Mama! Nana! Upsidown Mickey! Upsidown Donald!”

Rebecca and Alice exchange a look of fond amusement.

“Wow!” Alice exclaims, “So they are!”

“How are they upside down, I wonder?” Rebecca ponders.

“Me!” Bucky shouts, “I’m upsidown!”

Chapter Text

May 23, 1977 - Fifty-Four

Rebecca is holding tightly onto Little Bucky’s hand. She can feel him shake as he leans into her. She’s sure he can feel her shaking, too. As the coffin is lowered into the ground (and Rebecca could kill Patrick happily for having a graveside service and then spending the entire thing glad-handing his guests and soaking up their sympathy while ignoring his son) Bucky starts to cry.

She picks him up instantly, cradling him to her despite how big he’s gotten. Letting her tears fall into his hair. It’s just them now. She and her darling grandbaby are all that is left of the once large Barnes family.

Rebecca sighs into his dark hair. Someone, likely the nanny, had attempted to slick it down, not that it had worked. She glares over at Patrick, who is talking up Howard Stark as if they’re at a country club instead of a graveyard. She can only hope it is to arrange another play date with Howard’s son, Tony, and not a business deal made at his wife’s graveside.

Bucky sniffles and she rubs his back, humming ‘Un elefant se legăna.’ She remembers losing her father when she’d been only a bit younger than he is – but it had been sudden, a shock. Alice has… had been ill for over year and a half.

Cancer. Leukemia, specifically. Alice had fought, hard as anyone could possibly fight, but the cancer had overwhelmed her in the end – spreading into her liver and kidneys.

Poor Bucky has had to watch as his mother faded in front of him. Rebecca doubts he’ll have any real memories of her healthy and hale; he was simply too young when she’d gotten sick.

Over the years Rebecca has liked Patrick Sheppard less and less. He seemed to view Alice as a trophy and his son as some sort of extension of himself. He yells at Bucky whenever he acts like the child he is, and only praises the boy when he pays attention to Patrick’s business and business acquaintances.

Because not quite seven-year-olds are so very interested in utilities and schmoozing.

Rebecca has offered, repeatedly, to have Bucky come stay with her or to come and stay at their place to give Patrick a break from an energetic, grieving six-year-old. Patrick has refused, insisting the nanny would “deal with the boy.”

Deal with him, as if he were an imposition instead of the wonderful, bright little boy he is.

She’d slap Patrick silly if she didn’t think he’d keep her away from her Little Bucky. Rebecca wouldn’t be able to handle that, and Patrick is just that much of a jerk.

She still can’t believe that her free-spirited Alice had married someone like Patrick Sheppard, who practically had ‘bigot’ as his middle name. Rebecca had only learned that this last year after he had called Alice’s doctors incompetent because one was Jewish and the other Hispanic; and he’d insulted homosexuals repeatedly after Allen Spear had ‘come out’ as it’s referred to now.

Alice had told her, shortly before she’d passed, that Patrick had lied to her prior to their marriage about his views. That he had wanted to marry a ‘forward-thinking woman’ to get good press for his rapidly growing business. She had begged Rebecca to make sure her baby boy, darling Little Bucky, did not turn out like his father.

Rebecca had sworn to her daughter that she would make sure Little Bucky grew up free of hatred and bigotry. But as she hears Patrick laughing and contemplating moving to Texas over his wife’s open grave, all while glaring at Jill and Josephine both, she wonders how. Her grandson is the only thing she has left, and her jerk of a son-in-law is trying to rip him away from her before Alice is even buried.

She clings to Little Bucky even tighter, tears running down her cheeks. “I love you, my Little Bucky, always and forever.”

Bucky sniffles into her shoulder. “Love you more, Nana.”

Rebecca feels her heart break a little, because that is exactly what his mother used to say when she was a little girl.

Chapter Text

August 4, 1979 – Fifty-Six

 

“’Scuse me, comin’ through!”

Rebecca dodges out of the way of two energetic nine-year-olds with a laugh. She shakes her head as Tony Stark (Toto as Bucky calls him) rushes by, mouth going a mile a minute. Bucky follows him, as usual. Every time she sees the pair she’s reminded of another pair of little boys she once knew, one dark-haired and one light haired. Although, unlike Stevie, she suspects that Tony’s already darkening locks will end up brown in the coming years.

She distantly hears something about ‘nuclear rocket-ships’ and immediately shouts, “Absolutely not!”

“Aww!” Two little voices echo back.

“What about atomic helicopters?” Bucky asks her with a sly grin.

“No,” she laughs, “and you boys know it! Lunch in 30 minutes, so make sure you’re washed up.”

“Yes, Nana!” Bucky says, and she hears the smile in his voice.

“Sure thing, Nana Rebecca!” Tony attempts to sound nonchalant, but she can hear the anxiety in his voice, expecting a scolding for calling her Nana (despite her repeated insistence that he do so).

Rebecca sighs and wishes she could bean both of their fathers over the head. She swears the only time those boys get to be boys is here in her Brooklyn brownstone. And the only reason either of them are here is because, number one, Alice stipulated in her will that Bucky was to spend all of his summers with her; and two, that Howard felt guilty enough about never finding Bucky (the elder) and, more likely, Stevie that he grudgingly allowed Tony to come to visit. Not that Tony knew that. Or anyone else – Rebecca had made it clear she didn’t want to be bothered by people asking about her brothers.

Settling into the kitchen to fix tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, she keeps one ear on the boys and allows herself to drift in memories for a bit.

She’d been furious when Patrick had remarried less than six months after Alice’s death, only to have a second son ten months later. But she was grateful, in a way, for his new wife, Linda, and the baby David. It had seemed, at first, as if Linda was trying to oust Bucky from her life – it had been her suggestion to send the then seven-year-old to boarding school shortly after she’d gotten pregnant.

But the boarding school she had suggested had been here, in New York. When Linda had met her gaze, Rebecca had seen that she'd been seeking approval not attempting to rid herself of another woman’s child. It was then that Rebecca had realized that Linda had seen the way Patrick treated Bucky and not approved. That she had realized it was better for the boy to grow up near her and away from his father’s controlling, manipulative, prejudiced hands.

A good part of the other woman’s motivation, most certainly, was to send Bucky off so that David would be the only child under his father’s auspices. And thus more likely to inherit the company, the properties, and to hold his father’s attention. But Rebecca is glad for that.

Patrick has Bucky’s future planned to the nth degree. She would not be surprised to find the man has already hand-selected Bucky’s ‘future wife’. She knows Patrick is growing more frustrated by the day by Bucky’s noncompliance with his plans.

Bucky wants to be an astronaut or an inventor, not to run the family business. As he’d informed two senators, and Patrick’s main competitor, at a formal dinner last year.

Bucky is not simply ‘bright’. He's a genius, already heading into eighth grade along with his best friend Tony (who, through sheer dogged persistence – and whining, lots of whining – had convinced Bucky not to downplay his intelligence as he’d been attempting to do in order to lessen his father’s watchful eye on him by appearing average. And really, didn’t it say everything that a seven-year-old had come up with and carried out that plan until his best friend convinced him otherwise?) Luckily the boys’ school catered to gifted children and they were allowed to move at their own pace academically.

Bucky does not like socializing. In fact, he hates it. He refuses to leave his chosen corner at any event he attends, back to the wall and eyes on the exits. He always flees the instant he can.

Bucky has decided that all of the children of his father’s associates are “useless lumps on a log without a brain between them.” The fact that he’d informed his father of this, loudly, in the middle of a gala had infuriated Patrick enough that he hadn’t bothered to attempt to bring Bucky to an event since. (Rebecca is pretty darned sure this was Bucky’s intention, judging by the smirk he’s worn every time Patrick’s has had an event since, and Bucky’s been allowed to stay with her or hide in his room.)

In fact, Rebecca is fairly certain the only thing Bucky’s done that his father has approved of is befriending Tony Stark.

Of course, he might be regretting that now since the boys had ended up in police custody last Fourth of July for ‘accidently’ blowing up a condemned building in Manhattan. Apparently, they’d managed to create a new form of explosive.

She’s fairly certain that’s the only time Howard’s actually been amused by and attentive to his own son, insisting on patenting and selling the boys’ invention. Most of the time, Tony is largely belittled or ignored by his father for Howard’s search for ‘Captain America’, his inventions and his scotch. And he’s often overlooked by his mother in favor of charity balls and wine.

Rebecca insists that Tony come to visit every family weekend from school, along with Bucky, and that he comes over at least once per week in the summer while Bucky lives with her. She thinks, perhaps, she is the only stable, positive figure in young Tony’s life besides his butler, Jarvis. Perhaps in Bucky’s life too, other than her girlfriends, she considers sadly.

“Lunch!” she calls out to the boys, pulling herself from her thoughts. The boys clatter and clang down the hall, making a racket as only little boys can.

She smiles indulgently at them as they both grin up at her, missing a few teeth, and thank her in unison. Rebecca ruffles their hair before sitting down with her own bowl of soup, grilled cheese and glass of milk.

The boys chatter excitedly (or rather Tony chatters, and Bucky nods and agrees and occasionally makes a sly comment) about their plans to build a ‘high-powered turbojet propulsion system’.

Or, as Bucky informs her with a straight face, “A jetpack that’ll probably kill him.”

Rebecca laughs and allows their innocent bickering to wash over her, serene in the presence of her grandson and adopted grandson. Sometimes, she thinks as the boys crack up hysterically over some silly comment Tony made, a child’s laugh is the best balm for a broken heart.

Hers has a few cracks in it, to be sure, but with every smile and laugh from the two little boys in front of her, those cracks are patched. Never quite as sturdy or strong as before the cracks were made, but certainly strong enough to keep her going for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

May 17, 1984 - Sixty-One

Rebecca takes in a shuddering breath and stares at the ceiling. It is five months today. Five months since her darling grandson went missing.

She will never forget coming home from a trip to the Catskills with Jill to find Those Messages on her answering machine. Her entire world came crashing down with three short messages.

 

Beep.

Saturday, December 17 th , 2:43 PM

“N-Nana… it’s, it’s me Bucky. Muffled sob . Dad… Patrick he, uh, he says… says I’m not his s-son anymore. Gasping. He, he says he don’t… don’t want a, a f-fag for a son. Heavy breathing. Doesn’t want me c-corrupting Davey. He k-kicked me out. Muffled sob. I, uh, L-Linda gave me fif-fifteen bucks an’ a coat. I-I’m… Can I st-stay with you? P-Please? Gasping . S-sorry for cryin’… I… Dad, uh, Patrick b-beat me pretty b-bad. Muffled sob . I, just… I’m gonna h-hop a bus soon. Heavy breathing . Not sure how… I don’t th-think fifteen b-bucks is gonna get me far, Nana. I… see you. Whispered . I, I hope you st-still love me.”

 

Beep.

Saturday, December 17 th , 3:35 PM

“Mrs. Proctor… Rebecca, it’s Linda. John’s step-mother. Patrick came home early today and… and found John kissing another young man on the sofa. He… Patrick became very angry. He’s… he’s disowned John, kicked him out of the house. I, I don’t agree that we should let homosexuals display their… unnaturalness in front of children or marry or any of that nonsense. But, John. He’s just a boy. It’s probably just… some sort of phase or experiment or some such. I told Patrick as much, but he wouldn’t listen. I gave John what money I had on me, and the first coat I could grab and told him to go to yours. Hopefully, he’ll be alright until he gets there… I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”

 

Beep.

Monday, December 18 th , 10:28 AM

“Nana Rebecca? It’s me, Tony. I… yesterday morning I kissed Bucky. His… Mr. Sheppard walked in. I, it wasn’t nothin’ serious Nana Rebecca! I just… Indistinct muttering. I thought, maybe, I might like boys. But, but I like girls too! It’s just… I told Bucky. And, and you can’t be mad Nana! You can’t! Long pause. Bucky said he thought that maybe he, uh, didn’t like girls. At all. Deep breathing. Please don’t be mad. Pause. I, uh, I kissed Bucky… I wanted to see how… what it felt like to kiss a boy. But Mr. Sheppard, he walked in right then.

“I… he was so mad , Nana Rebecca. Pause. He grabbed me. By the back of the neck like, like a dog! He tossed me out of the house. He said f-fags weren’t welcome in his home. It… I landed funny on my wrist so I, I didn’t get up right away. He didn’t… the door didn’t shut properly. Sniffling. I could hear him yellin’ at Bucky. He said Bucky wasn’t his son anymore. That he was… He called Bucky really bad names, and said a, a lot of really nasty stuff… He said, he said that he would, he would teach him what happens to… to fairies. Nana, he was hitting Bucky.

“I… Long Pause. Sniffling. I ran away. Mr. Sheppard saw the door was open. Crying. And I could hear Bucky cryin’, and Mr. Sheppard was comin’ to the door and I… I ran away. I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Sobbing.

Long Pause. I called, I called Bucky’s house this morning. Mrs. Sheppard, she, uh, she says Bucky… Mr. Sheppard threw him out. Nana Rebecca, what are we gonna do? Where is he? Is he going to your house? Can… I’m gonna come over, soon as I’m back in New York. We’ve gotta find him.”

 

Beep.

End Messages.

 

Rebecca had stood, frozen in horror, at the messages. Her thirteen-year-old grandson had been kicked out of his home by his bigoted, piece-of-fucking-scum father for being gay. Her G-dsend, her Little Bucky was all alone out there, trying to make his way from Los Angeles to New York on fifteen dollars. She’d picked up the phone and called the police. Filled out all of the reports. Spoken with the FBI.

She rocked Tony to sleep while he blamed himself for everything and repeatedly told him it wasn’t his fault, that she still loved him. (It wasn’t and she does.) The poor dear’s father had sent him back to boarding school less than two weeks after his best friend went missing, the headmaster had ended up calling her desperately when Tony had woken the dormitory screaming for the fifth night in a row. The entire school had mobilized to try and find Bucky after Rebecca had haltingly explained he’d gone missing and Tony had been the last to see him and blamed himself.

And nothing.

She’s spent the last five months calling the FBI every day. She’s spent the last five months praying morning, noon, and night. She’s been to three different states to look at four different bodies of little boys far too young to die, only to leave sobbing in relief that they aren’t her little boy. She’s lain awake at night, desperately hoping that there would be a knock on the door, a phone call, anything.

She’s contacted all of the groups and agencies to find Bucky, even that new National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. His picture has been shown all over the country on the news, they’ve even put him on milk cartons. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children had even had her make a television appeal for the safe return of her grandson. If there’s no new information in a week they’ll have another, and Rebecca is willing to exploit her brothers’ names (although she has hidden all relation to them in the past – the last thing she wants is to be hounded by the news) if it means her Little Bucky came home safe. She knows they wouldn’t mind if it’s for family.

She had thought she knew a parent’s worst nightmare – the death of their children. But somehow, like with her brothers, it is the not knowing that is the worst.

She’s finally been granted full custody of Bucky by Patrick. He had agreed after she’d strong-armed him into it, threatening to reveal he had beaten and discarded his thirteen-year-old son on national TV. The thought of the scandal it would cause had had the man signing away all of his rights to Bucky.

All of this circles through Rebecca’s mind as she stares at the ceiling of her bedroom. It is seven o’clock in the morning and she has not slept at all. She tries to find the motivation to get out of bed, but knowing she will just be facing another day without her Little Bucky…

She finally (almost) understands her mother.

(She will never understand how her mother gave up with two children and Stevie still alive.)

 

Rebecca isn’t even certain she hears it at first. It sounds as if someone is knocking lightly on the door. She turns over on to her side, certain it’s just wishful thinking.

Tap. Tap. Ta-Tap. Tap.

She sits up. She knows she heard the knock that time, ‘shave and a haircut’ just as she’d taught Bucky years and years ago. He always knocks that way and her heart lurches in her chest.

If it’s some door to door salesman she’ll… well, it won’t be pretty.

Slowly, so very slowly she rises from the bed and wraps a robe around herself. Her head spins because she hasn’t been eating enough. Josephine has been coming over every day to make her eat something, but other than that she spends most of her days searching for Bucky.

Tap. Tap. Ta-Tap. Tap.

The knocking comes again. She exits her room and heads for the door. Desperately trying not to get her hopes up (or her fears) she opens the door bracing herself to see some hapless Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon missionary.

Instead, there is a small, hunched-over figure on her stoop. Rebecca can’t see for certain if it’s a boy or a girl. She can see the top of the small figure’s head – it’s hair is a filthy, unkempt mess. Its clothes are stained with dirt and filth, and something that looks suspiciously like blood is smeared across the front of the jean jacket it has on.

Her heart is in her throat as she whispers fervently, desperately, “Bucky?”

The figure looks up. “Nana?” He whispers back, voice cracking halfway through the word.

It’s her Little Bucky.

Rebecca can see it, through the grime and the black eye near swollen shut. His pupils are blown wide, and his hands are twitching like Bucky’s used to when he used bennies to pull extra shifts at the docks hauling crates at night after working in the office for the JSCR all day. He stares up at her with a desperate sort of fear.

She stumbles forward and grabs him to her chest. He fights at first, struggling to get away. After a moment he grabs her back without much strength, hugging her as tightly as his arms could.

“Nana,” he began to sob, clutching at her robe, face buried in her right shoulder.

She cries into his filthy hair, arms wrapped tight around him. “Bucky, my Little Bucky. You’re home, you’re safe. You’ve come home.”

Rebecca pulls herself together after several minutes of clinging to Bucky and crying into his hair. He is still sobbing into her shoulder (the same shoulder he has always rested on, even as an infant) and she braces herself to pick him up. He’s really too big for it, and she’s too old, but she can’t resist the urge to cradle him in her arms.

Scooping him into her arms she is shocked at how light he is, at least 20 or 30 lbs. less than he should be. She shushes him when he struggles a bit and sings ‘Un elefant se legăna’ softly.

His breath hitches and he buries himself into her arms even more. She struggles to maneuver him inside, even as light as he is. His sobs turn into hitching gasps as she walks through the living room to his bedroom.

Laying him on the bed she curls up beside him, unable to tear her tear-filled eyes away. Singing softly and running her hand over his matted hair, she watches as his body seems to slump, and he sobs himself to sleep.

Five months.

Five months of fear and worry and hope and horror. All of it over at the sight of her darling Little Bucky.

Now came the difficult part – Bucky’s recovery from the harsh world he’d been thrust in, the things he’d seen, things he’d done to survive. She knew, without asking, that he’d had to do things no child should even imagine. It was the nature of the streets, and she’d heard too many of Jill’s stories of her early days on the streets and of her friends to be that naïve.

Kissing his forehead she swears to herself she’ll be there with him every step of the way.

“I love you, my Little Bucky,” she whispers to the greatest gift she’s ever had, the one sleeping right next to her. “Always and forever,” she vows.

Chapter Text

August 5, 1984 – Sixty-One

 

Rebecca pauses outside of Bucky’s bedroom before entering, even though the door is cracked and Tony is over. He’s been a bit odd about privacy lately. She isn’t sure if it’s the typical teenage thing or something to do with his days on the streets.

At first, all she can hear is the radio with that popular song about doves crying. But after a moment she can hear Tony say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say, Bucky, and I’ve heard you say a lot of dumb things.”

“No it ain’t,” Bucky says. “I just want to be called a different name.”

“Why?” Tony asks, obviously confused. “And don’t give me that ‘I don’t know’ bullshit again.”

Rebecca has to strain to hear Bucky as he mumbles, “I just… I don’t feel worthy of being called Bucky anymore.”

Tony is silent for a moment, and Rebecca completely understands. Her mouth is hanging slightly open. Now that, right there, is some prime teenage overdramatic bullshit. She rolls her eyes, remembering her Jamie whining about ‘living up to this name’ she’d given him when he was only a bit older than Bucky.

“I was wrong,” Tony finally says. “ That was the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say. Also, stop being a fucking primadonna drama queen. That's my role in this friendship and I won't have you stealing it from me!”

Rebecca knows she'll never be able to explain the sheer relief she feels at hearing her Little Bucky's snort of laughter at Tony's overdramatic proclamation.

 

Chapter Text

January 3, 1986 – Sixty-Two

Rebecca sighs as she walks to the door with her Bucky - or Elbie as Tony now calls him. He’s called him that ever since Bucky got back and admitted to Tony that he didn’t feel he deserved to be called Bucky anymore, but didn’t want to tell Rebecca. He still hasn’t said anything to her, so she still calls him her Little Bucky because he’ll always be her Little Bucky. She’s spent the last two years trying to show him just that. 

They enter the brownstone and as she watches, unsurprised if dismayed, he runs to his room after his weekly appointment with the child psychologist she’d found. Every week after he comes home he runs to his room and locks himself in, often for hours. Sometimes he is silent like in those long months he refused to talk when he first came home, sometimes he blasts music so loud it rattles the house, sometimes she hears him sobbing into his pillow.

Every week she waits with bated breath to see what sort of week it will be. She wishes Bucky would let her come into the appointments with him, but he’d practically begged her to let him do it on his own after the first month or so. 

She fusses in the kitchen for a bit, starting to prepare supper; perhaps a nice steak tonight? After checking the freezer she scowls, the only meat in the freezer is a chicken and a package of mutton. She doesn’t even know why she has mutton – she hasn’t been able to stomach it since the War. Every time she tried to eat it, she ended up choking on it as the stench of blood and mud, ash and gunpowder, and burnt and rotting bodies clogged her nose and mouth.

Needless to say, mutton isn’t served in her home.

Rebecca scowls at the mutton – what is she going to do with that ? She can't just throw it away, it would be such a waste, but there is no way she'll be cooking or eating it, either. A knock on the front door draws her attention away from the freezer and she absently pulls out the chicken to defrost.

Pulling open the door she grins brightly, “Jill!”

“Rebecca-bunny!” Jill swoops down and plants a kiss on both her cheeks. Rebecca laughs, knowing that Jill has left red lipstick stains, just as she always does. Sure enough Jill tuts and pulls out a handkerchief to scrub at her cheeks like she’s still fourteen and a mess of a girl. Rebecca laughs and swats at her; because this is something they've been doing for nearly fifty years and there's no reason to change traditions now.

“I wasn’t expectin’ you,” Rebecca says. Her thoughts turn to Bucky, locked up in his room and her smile turns brittle.

“Ya know me, dear, no one can ever expect my sheer magnificence,” Jill winks, her lids done in that ugly blue shadow and thick eyeliner all the women wear now. “Now where is my darlin’ nephew?” 

Rebecca’s smile fades. “He’s in his room, we just got back from one of his sessions and he doesn’t do too well after them normally.” Her normally subdued Brooklyn accent always thickens when she’s around Jill.

Jill eyes her critically. “Let’s sit down, Rebecca-bunny, an’ ya can tell me how you’re doin’.”

She slumps a bit and nods, letting Jill wrap a sisterly arm around her shoulders. Rebecca leans her head on Jill’s arm, she can’t imagine life without the closest thing she has to a big sister still in it. Jill’s been her rock through everything that her Little Bucky’s been going through.

Sitting down on the couch Rebecca slumps forward into Jill’s arms, burying her face in her shoulder like she had done so many years ago as a little girl. G-d how she wishes she could go back sometimes, to those early days. It’s not that they were easier – just simpler in that she wasn’t the one responsible for others.

“Ah, poor little bunny,” Jill breathes out, echoing her own younger self. Rebecca’s laugh catches in her throat, “I’ve got ya, kid, it'll be alright."

Her laugh turns into a sob, and for the first time in a long time, she lets herself cry. Jill coos at her as she strokes a hand up and down Rebecca’s back, murmuring nonsense words and hushing her like she was still a girl.

“I’ve got ya, Rebecca-bunny, I’ve got ya,” Jill murmurs into her hair.

Rebecca sobs for a while, but eventually pulls herself together rubbing at her cheeks to brush away the tear-tracks. “Thank you,” she whispers.

Jill just tucks her hair back behind her ears. “Ready ta talk now?”

“Yeah,” Rebecca sighs. “It’s just…”

“Little Bucky,” Jill says quietly.

“Yeah,” Rebecca’s words stick in her throat. “He was… he was supposed to be safe . A little boy who didn’t have to grow up too soon, not like us. He had plenty of food, a nice house, a good school, and a family that loves him. And unlike my kids there ain’t a cultural revolution happenin’ now, and there ain’t a war that’s been goin’ on more than half his life with a draft loomin’ behind every teenage boy’s shoulders.”

“Except."

“Except for that man who dares to call himself a father,” she spits out, wishing she could spit in Patrick Sheppard’s face instead. “How could he? How could he do that ta his son? Disown him? Kick him out? Let him… let him live on the streets like…like-” she can’t bring herself to finish.

Jill smiles sadly. “I’ve been askin’ myself the same damn thing ‘bout my own father for more’n fifty years, Rebecca-bunny. I figure I ain’t never gonna understand how some people can hate so much.”

“I’m…” Rebecca stumbles over her words, forgetting in her grief for her grandson that her friend knew - she knew -  with the sort of intimacy that only comes from experience, what Bucky was going through.

“Hush,” Jill cuts her off before she can begin to apologize for her thoughtlessness. “Hush now, Rebecca-bunny.”

Rebecca falls silent but casts her eyes to the side, and allows one last tear to slide down her cheek as she recalls first meeting Jill nearly fifty years before. She hadn’t known at the time that the woman she helped to stand up after a gang of men had beat her – simply for being born a man that should have been born a woman, and being brave enough to be who she was supposed to be – would become one of her closest friends, the closest thing she had to a big sister.

Jill sighs. “Ya never did say what all, well, what happened to him?"

“I don’t know all of it,” she whispers around the lump in her throat, “and he won’t say. He wouldn’t talk at all for months when he first came home, you remember? I know he was homeless, livin’ on the streets. He didn’t have no money, Jill, so… so…”

Jill closes her eyes, a pained look flashing across her face. “So he made money the only way a thirteen-year-old kid on the streets can, by sellin’ the only thing he’s got.”

“Yeah. He worked odd jobs too, but a lot of times he ended up…”

Jill sucks in a deep breath. “An’ the drugs?”

Rebecca doesn’t ask how Jill knew Bucky had been using drugs and tries not to sob as she says, “He said it was only sometimes, to forget. To forget what he was havin’ ta do ta stay alive.”

“An’ now?”

“He’s clean,” she says. “Been clean since I got him back. I’m watchin’ close. I really think he was tellin’ the truth about only usin’ them sometimes.”

Jill sighs and runs a hand through her hair. “Where’s he now?”

“In his room.” Rebecca hesitates. “His doctor really upset him today. I, I don’t know what the doctor said but Bucky was shoutin’ about him not knowin’ what it’s like to not have options. ‘To be stuck choosin’ between dignity and death’.”

“Even angry as can be the kid’s as smooth a talker as his uncle.”

Rebecca ignores her. “The doc, he said somethin’ an’ Bucky-” she covers her mouth and takes a deep breath. “He slammed open the door to the office an’ told the doc-”

She stutters for a moment, but can’t bring herself to repeat what her little Bucky had said. The words are seared into her mind, but she can’t say them aloud. Can’t hear them again, not even from her own mouth. 

Bucky had screamed it. He'd been so angry, lashing out at the doctor. His words echoed around her head, his voice screaming, ‘When you have had to suck off some fat-ass, disgusting pedophile in order to get enough fuckin’ cash to buy a G-d damned b-burger from McDonald’s so you don’t fuckin’ starve to death you can judge me- and after that fat fuck cums on your face and calls you a pretty little boy we’ll talk about your self-esteem, you fucker.’ 

“I can’t,” she shakes her head and feels tears in her eyes as she looks at Jill. She whispers eventually, inadequately, “It was awful, what he went through.”

Jill takes in a ragged breath with clenched fists and Rebecca tracks the tears that have slipped from her eyes and run down her cheeks, darting in and out of wrinkles. It strikes Rebecca suddenly how old they are now – she is nearly sixty-three, Jill is almost seventy. And her fifteen-year-old grandson, older now than she'd been when she first met Jill, has had every drop of innocence and childhood he had left destroyed by his own father. 

And she doesn’t know how to fix it. She doesn’t know if she can.

“Well,” Jill says at length. Suddenly her face lights up and she leaps off of the couch to grab her bag. “I have an idea!”

Rebecca blinks, before smothering a sigh, the last time Jill had had an ‘idea’ it had ended up with Bucky and Tony in a competitive swing dancing competition. And Bucky had ended up wearing a dress and kitten heels. At least her grandson had been a good sport about it, unlike most ten-year-old boys would have been. 

“We’ll give him a makeover!” Jill cries, hefting her bag into the air like a grand prize.

Rebecca doesn’t bother smothering the sigh this time and rolls her eyes. “Jill-” 

“No, no, no Rebecca-bunny this is perfect!” Jill interrupts, “It’ll be like Grease , where Sandy gets a new ‘do an’ some cute pants an’ she gets all confident an’ Danny falls at her feet! Or that movie that came out last year with that cute little red-head – Molly somethin’ or other. And somethin’ about Breakfast, yeah? The weird girl puts on pink an’ a hair ribbon!”

“It’s The Breakfast Club ,” Rebecca puts in, because Bucky and Tony have watched it about fifty times, “and the girl – Allison – does not get more confident, she’s still an odd little duck.”

Jill isn’t listening and insists, “It’ll be perfect! Like Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

“Jill, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

Jill pauses and puts a hand on her shoulder, and quietly says, “He needs ta get outta his head, Rebecca. Take a moment ta be a kid, play a game, ta have fun . He needs ta not be himself  if only for an hour, ‘cause right now I don’t think he likes himself very much.”

Rebecca swallows the lump in her throat because she hears both the experience and the truth in those soft words. “No,” she murmurs, “no he really doesn’t.”

Jill smiles sadly at her and heads for the stairs. “Bucky!” she calls, “My Little Bucky! Auntie Jill is here, have no fear!”

Rebecca is surprised to hear Bucky’s bedroom door open, “Auntie Jill?” His voice breaks and Rebecca can’t tell if it’s because he was crying or if it’s the normal teenage boy sort of voice breaking. She’s just glad he’s speaking today as that's never a guarantee anymore.

When she sees his face she knows it wasn’t the normal sort of voice break.

Jill doesn’t say a word about his puffy red eyes or the tears still obvious on his cheeks or the runny nose. She just sweeps Bucky into a bone-crushing hug. “Oh, my darlin’ nephew, how I missed ya!”

Bucky stiffens for a moment before burying his head into her shoulder. He pulls back to sneeze into his sleeve. “Ugh, Auntie Jill, you know I’m allergic to that perfume!”

“But it’s Chanel!” Jill exclaims as if that were an answer.

Bucky rolls his eyes with a small smile. “I didn’t know you were comin’ Auntie Jill.”

Jill winks with a wicked grin. “Neither did your grandmother.”

Bucky grins back, full of mischief and Rebecca presses one hand over her mouth because she can count the number of times she’s seen that smile in the past year-and-a-half on both hands with fingers left over.

“So, my darlin’ nephew,” Jill tucks Bucky under one arm. “I have had an idea.”

Bucky blinks. “Okay?”

“Yes,” Jill nods. “Ya see, your Nana tells me that quack doctor she’s takin’ ya to ain’t treatin’ you right.”

Bucky looks down at the floor and scuffs his toes on the wood. “He’s alright, he just,” he takes a deep breath, “he don’t know what it’s like. Out there.” He waves a hand in a gesture Rebecca knows he picked up from Tony.

Jill reaches out a hand and pulls his chin up so he’s looking in her eyes. “Bucky,” she says seriously, “your doc may not know what it’s really like, that’s true, but ya know he’s there ta help, yeah?”

“Yeah, I know,” Bucky rubs the back of his neck.

Jill nods. “An’ ya know if he ever, an’ I mean ever , says anythin’ that makes ya feel bad about who ya are or the good man you’re growin’ into, or the things ya had ta do ta stay alive-” 

Bucky looks away and Rebecca can practically feel the shame radiating off of him, and she can feel her heartbreak.

Jill tilts his head back towards her again. “If he ever does that, Bucky, I need ya ta tell me. Ya don’t have ta tell your Nana, I know you wanna protect her and keep her away from that part of your life. But I need ya ta tell me, my darlin’ Little Bucky, because if he ever makes ya feel bad about who ya are or for doin’ what ya had ta do ta come home ta us, I’ll kill him.”

Bucky looks at her wide-eyed at the vehemence in her voice, and even Rebecca is surprised. “But," he sounds utterly bewildered, "but I’m just-”

Jill brings him in for another tight hug before pushing him back enough to grab both his shoulders and look in his eyes. “Ya listen ta me, John Buchanan Sheppard, you ain’t ever just anythin’. You’re the smartest boy I’ve ever met, and even with the hell ya went through ya managed ta graduate high school at fourteen. Now you’re in college an’ makin’ straight A’s. Dean’s list, yeah? Your Nana called braggin’ about that. Ya speak more languages than most folks ever hear, and that’s a G-d given gift, that is.

“You’re brave, an’ strong, an’ smart. An’ more’n anythin’, Bucky, you’re a survivor. That right there will get ya further in life than anythin’ else, cause it means ya don’t give up. No matter how tough the goin’ is." Bucky is staring at her like she's an angel speaking the gospel. Rebecca feels like, for just a moment, Jill truly is an angel sent by G-d to tell Bucky just these words, the ones he seems to need to hear so desperately.

“If ya can’t talk ta your doc about what it was like bein’ out there, livin’ on the streets. Well, I ain’t gonna say ya don’t need ta, or ya don’t gotta, ‘cause ya do. Ya need ta talk about it, it ain’t good ta let these things fester. Trust me on that.” She takes a deep breath.

“But Bucky, if it’s too hard, at first, for ya ta tell the doc, ya can tell me. I’ve been there,” Jill stares into Bucky’s eyes, which are shining with unshed tears. “I been the son whose father didn’t want him, I been the one people kick once you’re already down, I been the one sleepin’ in a filthy alleyway an’ prayin’ someone bigger an’ meaner don’t come ta take it away from me. I been the one standin’ on a corner desperately hopin’ that no one comes by while also desperately hopin’ they do - because as much as I didn’t want ta fuck some jerk for money I wanted food more. I have been there, my Bucky, I been there.

“And, Bucky, ya listen ta me good now- there’s no shame in staying alive .” 

At those words, Bucky breaks down sobbing into her arms and Jill wraps him up tightly. Rebecca is nearly crying too and doesn’t hesitate to step forward and wrap her arms around her trembling grandson and one of her best friends. She feels Bucky stiffen for a moment before relaxing and she fails not to cry into his hair.

It takes them a bit but they all calm down, and Jill straightens herself out, “Well,” she says smoothing her skirt, “I was gonna say, ‘fore I got distracted, that I had an idea I think you’ll like, my darlin’ Bucky.”

Bucky wipes his nose with the back of his hand and looks at Jill suspiciously. “I don’t want to wear a dress.” Rebecca snorts, he knows Jill well. Jill opens her mouth to say something, but Bucky interrupts, “Or a skirt.”

Jill pouts but rallies and holds up her bag. “Well, fine then, but how ‘bout a makeover?”

“A makeover,” he says flatly, looking skeptical.

“Exactly,” Jill enthuses, “what better way ta build confidence in yourself than to doll yourself up?”

Bucky’s mouth moves up and down and he looks rather like a fish. Rebecca has to cover her mouth to hold in her laughter.

“Auntie Jill, this ain’t a John Hughes movie!” Bucky protests.

Jill snaps her fingers. “It should be! Rebecca-bunny go fetch us a camera!”

Rebecca lets out her laugh at the look on Bucky’s face. He complains, in a typical teenage whine, "Nana."

She shakes her head and reaches out to ruffle his hair, smiling even broader when he doesn’t flinch. “Oh Bucky, just go with it, it’ll make your Aunt Jill happy,” she pulls him in for a hug, “and you never know, maybe your Aunt has the right idea!”

Bucky sighs and rolls his eyes, sounding so perfectly fifteen that Rebecca can’t help but laugh again. “Alright,” he sounds subdued but Rebecca can see the barest spark of mischief and hope in his eyes.

Rebecca smiles at him and put her hands on his shoulders to turn him around. “Well then, go let your Aunt give you a makeover.”

Bucky gives her a small smile back and lets Jill draw him over to his desk. “Ya sit yourself right here, Bucky, let your Auntie get a good look at ya.” Jill switches on his desk lamp and clears off his stack of textbooks to put down her bag. With one hand she tips his head back and forth and the other flips open her bag.

Bucky is looking at her indulgently, but with that wary caution that’s always present these days. He keeps one eye on her free hand as if to make sure it doesn’t come back to hit him. Seeing that breaks Rebecca’s heart as she watches from the bed because she knows he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

“Well, my darlin’, you’re lucky that strong eyebrows are in right now, back when I was your age we’d a been pluckin’ them down ta nothin',” Jill tells him. 

Bucky slaps both his hands over his eyebrows. “Nuh-uh, no way, Auntie Jill. You ain’t touchin’ my eyebrows.”

Rebecca covers a smile at Bucky’s horrified face and his own thickening Brooklyn accent as he protests. He's at that age where anyone laughing at him is a huge offense and the last thing she wants is to bring down the mood when it's all going so well, for once.

Jill sighs. “Fine, fine,” she winks at Rebecca when Bucky lets out a sigh of relief, “Well at least ya don’t really need to shave yet so I don’t hafta worry about that; so first things first: eyes!”

Rebecca spends the next hour smiling as Jill glams Bucky up – full eye makeup in a lovely green, with glitter, to bring out his green eyes and thick, dark eyeliner, false eyelashes, and black mascara. His cheekbones are artfully highlighted with an accompanying lecture on emphasizing bone structure, and the barest beginnings of the sharp jawline he’s starting to get are softened with care. Jill paints his lips a bright cherry red to finish it off but doesn’t let Bucky go look in the mirror.

“Hold on a mo’, my darlin’,” Jill tells the curious Bucky as she digs through her bag. “We have to complete the look!”

When Bucky gives Jill the same dubious look his namesake used to give Stevie, Rebecca falls over laughing. Of all the things he could have inherited from her brother that was the perfect one. Bucky looks over at her in confusion for a moment before giving her a small, but fond, smile and turning back to Jill. “The look?”

Jill spins around holding out a pink sweater with a bold purple pattern and matching leggings. “The look.”

Bucky blinks at the outfit a few times before he starts laughing, too. “Why the hell not?” he says with good humor, as he grabs the clothes and heads to the bathroom.

“Language,” Rebecca calls after him. She can’t see his face but knows he’s rolling his eyes.

Jill turns to her once the bathroom door swings shut. “How long’s it been?”

Rebecca frowns. “How long’s what been?”

Jill looks at the bathroom door for a moment before meeting her eyes and saying softly, sadly, “Since he laughed.”

Rebecca sucks in a breath, tears pricking the corners of her eyes, her joy fading almost as quickly as it came. She had been trying not to think about that. “I can’t even remember. I can’t even remember the last time my little boy laughed, Jill, it’s been that long.”

“Christ,” Jill whispers, “just… Christ.”

“I’ll never be able to thank you enough Jill. Not for makin’ that little boy smile again, I never will.”

Jill shakes her head. “He’s mine too, Rebecca-bunny, an’ he always will be.”

“Yeah,” Rebecca agrees, “he’s yours too.”

“I hate seein’ him so…” Jill trails off.

Rebecca doesn’t say anything. What else is there to say?

“I’m gonna fetch the camera,” she decides. She wants to remember today – the sheer silliness of it pasted over the aching need to put her grandson back together.

Bucky opens the bathroom door just as she’s about to go back in his room to wait for him. She takes one look at him and bursts out laughing, mood bright again as she sees that he’s taken the time to tease out his hair so that it looks (almost) like a girl’s hairdo. His eyes go wide at the sight of her and he ducks his head defensively.

Rebecca knows if she says the wrong thing right now this could all end horribly, and that’s the last thing she ever wants. She swallows back her first three comments, and eventually settles on holding up the camera to say, “Gimme a model’s walk, my Little Bucky, show off all that work your Auntie Jill did on your makeover.”

He peers at her warily through his bangs for a long moment, eyes guarded and shadowed. Eventually, he seems to reach a decision, tips his chin up with bravado and tries to strut.

It’s awkward as can be, all gangly teen still growing into his limbs, and the boy has no hips or butt to speak of, but he tries G-d bless him. Even though he looks more like he’s stalking prey than strutting a runway once he settles into a rhythm. 

Jill leans out the door behind her and lets out a loud wolf-whistle. “That’s my darlin’ nephew right there! Both the handsomest fella an’ prettiest girl you’ll ever see!”

Rebecca starts snapping pictures and Bucky gives her a grin and flips his hair. Rebecca grins back as he gets more confident and tries to pull off a model’s catwalk turn and almost trips over his feet. He pauses halfway through, the only reason he doesn't fall, and takes the moment to blow a kiss over his shoulder. Rebecca makes sure to snap a photo.

Jill pretends to grab his kiss and swoon like a girl suffering from Beatlemania.

Bucky’s smile is wide as he makes his way back into his room. With a grin, he goes to his boombox and puts in a cassette. Rebecca claps her hands as a familiar song comes on, and Jill shouts, “Yes!”

Bucky is as smooth a dancer as his Great-Uncle was and as the song plays he dances around the room, shaking his hips and doing little spins. Rebecca manages to snap a photo of him spinning like a ballerina, hands over his head and another with his chest thrust out, head back and arms spread like he’s receiving the rapture.

As the lyrics start they all sing along:

“I come home in the morning light,
My mother says when you gonna live your life right
Oh mother dear we’re not the fortunate ones
And girls they want to have fu-un
Oh, girls just want to have fun!”

Rebecca sings and laughs and savors the moment. She snaps picture after picture of Bucky and Jill doing a modified two-step to the song, swinging each other around the room and laughing. When the song ends Bucky hurries over to the boombox to rewind the cassette and play it again. He insists on taking photos of Rebecca and Jill dancing and goofing around the room. Halfway through the song, Jill plucks the camera out of his hands and sends Bucky over to dance with her and takes pictures of the two of them dancing.

The third time they play the song no one takes photos, too busy playing around and dancing about the room striking ridiculous poses. At the end of the song, Jill falls backward onto Bucky’s bed, laughing and gasping for air as Kenny Loggins starts to sing. Buck throws himself onto the bed next to her, the tops of their heads just barely touching. Rebecca laughs and grabs the camera again, snapping a photo of the two of them lying there. 

Bucky, to Rebecca’s surprise, presses a kiss to Jill’s cheek. “Thanks, Auntie Jill,” he whispers, “this was a really good idea.”

“You’re welcome, my darlin’,” Jill smiles over at him. “You let me know anytime you need some cheerin’ up – we’ll figure somethin’ out.”

“Give us a smile,” Rebecca says as the two of them sit up.

“Put it on a timer, Nana,” Bucky tells her patting the bed next to him. Rebecca grins and sets the camera on the desk, making sure it has the picture in frame before setting the timer on.

Jill throws an arm around Bucky’s shoulder, tucking him in close. And Rebecca hurries over to the bed, throwing her arm around Bucky’s waist. Bucky presses his cheek to Rebecca’s, and Jill leans in to do the same on his other side, all three of them smiling widely. 

As the camera snaps the picture and Joan Jett is singing about Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rebecca smiles wider as in that moment she comes to truly know, deep in her heart, that maybe it’ll take a while but Bucky will be just fine.