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A possibly unnecessary epilogue-ish bit for Preserved, which probably does need to be read first for context.


1100 words | PG-ish | Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes

The house is in Nissequogue, a too-big place at the end of a quiet lane alongside where the Nissequogue river runs into the Long Island Sound. It's solidly built (able to withstand gunfire, probably an explosion) and on a slight rise that the realtor praises for its unobstructed views of the river and the Sound and the woods, but Steve mostly registers as that all angles of approach are exposed and he can't be surprised.

Eventually, this might be a home. But right now, he still needs it to be a fortress. Peggy doesn't say a word when she finds the sighted rifle leaning next to the south-facing attic window.

Howard offers to send out a decorator to fill the place with furniture, but Steve declines. He doesn't know anything about how to furnish a house, let alone one as large as this one, and he has no idea what he wants to put into it, but he knows that he needs to do it himself. He needs this place to reflect his own choices, to be in its essence something he shaped and nothing that was assigned to him or given to him.

Agnes Phillips smiles when he tries to explain. "I know exactly what you mean," she tells him, which seems impossible because he wouldn't understand anything he's said, rambling about putting down roots and making things his, if he didn't already know. "I did my best with fourteen different Army-issued housing units. And then we came here."

Here is the ranch outside of Amarillo and he has no idea how much is Agnes and how much is four generations of Phillipses, but he supposes it doesn't matter. It's all Agnes's now and she has arranged it how she likes and it has never felt like anything other than someone's home, warm and welcoming. It had made him deeply uncomfortable at first, to invade such a place with his corruption and his filth, and it had taken him time to realize that he wasn't dirtying the place up with his blood-soaked hands. He knows better now, which is why he is seeking Agnes's counsel. Which turns out to be less about lists of what he'll need and more about what he wants to build out of the ashes of his life.

The actual lists of what he'll need come from Molly Barnes, who drives out one afternoon with Bucky to see the place. She goes room to room with a pencil and a pad as Bucky shows him how to strip the ugly wallpaper from the dining room. Bucky is desperately relieved that Steve is moving back to New York, even if it's to a remote corner of Suffolk County, although he does his best to hide it. They've exchanged letters since Steve re-established contact, awkward ones at first that finally gave way to truths they'd probably never have said face-to-face. Not hurtful things, just real things that seem like confessions now because they both paved the way to hell with the good intentions of protecting each other long before there was ever an American to forgive and forget. The young men they had both been before the war still linger in them both, even if Steve can't find that man in himself most times, but the men they are now and will become, changed by circumstance and science and pain, those men have stories and fears too hard to speak aloud. Bucky's life is in the sun with his family and his success, but the shadows that swallowed Steve touched him, too, and it makes Steve feel a little bit better to hope (to know) that they can help each other.

But here in the same room, the darkness that spills out in their letters doesn't exist and they are instead long-separated brothers still feeling carefully around the edges of a relationship that had once been as easy as breathing. It's not uncomfortable at all and Steve really wishes he could stop being surprised by that. He stayed away because he worried that he'd be dragged over the broken shards of his memories, but it's nothing like that at all. His past doesn't feel like a weapon in Bucky's hands.

They're still swabbing at the scored walls with soapy water when Molly returns to pluck the tape measure out of Bucky's toolbox and starts to pick up one of the short ladders they aren't using.

"What do you need that for?" Bucky asks a little sharply. "You--"

He stops talking when she cocks an eyebrow and Steve can read volumes into his frown. Steve hasn't spent much time with Bucky and Molly together, but Bucky's expressions haven't changed much over the years.

"I need to measure for curtains," Molly says as she tucks the tape measure into her apron pocket and takes the ladder and goes. Steve waits to hear the sound of the ladder being opened in the living room before he turns to Bucky.

"Please tell me I'm not already on the hook for another baptism present," he says with a put-upon sigh. Kathleen is fourteen months old; Molly had sent him photos of her birthday party. "You were never this good a Catholic as a kid."

Bucky glares, but he's smiling as he does it. "Rewards for being a good Catholic were a little different when we were kids," he replies, reaching down to get a rag out of the soapy bucket. "You can consider this your early warning that you're gonna stand godfather to this one."

Steve's own smile drops. "I can't."

Standing godfather to Baby Barnes the Fifth is more than he can even handle imagining, let alone doing. He would have to stand up before the extended Barnes family, almost his own once upon a time, and stand up before God and he's not sure which one scares him more. He can't defend himself to one, he can't protect the other, and he just... can't.

"Hey," Bucky says gently and Steve can only imagine what's on his own face that has Bucky looking so worried. "You got plenty of time to think about it. Molly's barely along, we're not even telling the folks for another few weeks."

Steve doesn't think an extra few months will make a difference, but he doesn't say anything, just nods. Maybe he'll tell Bucky in a letter why this would be too much too soon. Maybe that is on his face, too, because Bucky smiles and nods and bends down to get his own rag out of the bucket.

They scrape away the green wallpaper with the pink flowers in companionable silence.


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Domenika Marzione

August 2017


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