Aggh!! Bucky, no!
What? Why not? It's World Smile Day!
Bucky, that is the worst mask I've ever seen. You look like a serial killer.
Don't you mean, more like a serial killer?
Okay, Steve. I'll take it off if it bothers you so much.
Pshew! Wow, that was a terrible mask.
I didn't know it would hit you so hard.
Don't you remember how Hydra made you wear that awful respirator and goggles?
Yeah, sometimes I feel like I'm still wearing them.
Well, even when you feel like that, you are still my Bucky, and I want to see your beautiful face, not some fake-ass smile.
Come here, and let me kiss you.
Now that is a good reason to smile!
"Hey, Buck. What kind of mushroom do you think this is?"
"Um, I dunno, Steve, why?"
"I was thinking, you know, Alice in Wonderland.... Maybe just a nibble..."
"But we're supersoldiers! What could go wrong?"
"Steve! Now we're in some kind of mushroom kingdom!"
"Come on, Buck! You were just saying how you wanted to see alien landscapes."
"Steve, pal, this is getting to be a little overwhelming."
"It's so beautiful!"
"You are completely out of your head right now."
"Yes, I am!"
"Wow! Thank goodness we made it back to terra firma!"
"Bucky, you know what? It's just so good to be alive!"
"I can't even argue with that."
Illustration to "Just Another Steve" by exclamation, chapter 28.
Bucky was learning how to be happy. Putting sparkly tattoos on his face wasn't something Hydra would ever have let him do, and that was what made him most happy about it! Steve also deserved to be happy, if only he'd stop lying about what he wanted, to Bucky and to himself.
--An illustration to Exclamation's "Just Another Steve," chapter 27.
"It's just so beautiful and relaxing in the peach orchard, Buck," Steve said with a refreshing sigh.
"Remember when my Ma used to buy a crate of peaches and put up them up in jars?"
"I sure do. I remember at least one year, my birthday cake was peach upside down."
"I remember that too. Nothing as delicious as a perfect, ripe peach. Except maybe, a perfect ice cold plum."
"Or, a pluot."
"Yeah.... they sound weird, but taste amazing."
"The new-fangled modern food is not always bad," Steve said.
"Well, I'm still pretty happy about this basket of good, old-fashioned peaches."
"It's such a beautiful day, I just want to sit down right here and eat it."
"I'll peel it for you," Bucky said, pullling out a very reasonable swiss army knife.
"Thanks, Buck! I'll share my pocket handkerchief."
Steve pulled out his hanky, and Bucky peeled and sliced a perfectly ripe and juicy peach, and for that moment, they were in paradise.
Valkyrie dropped into a defensive stance. “Loki, behind me.”
“Hey, now, we’re all friends here,” Steve said.
“Friends don’t drop friends across space and time into transdimensional garbage piles.”
“That’s not necessarily what happened,” Strange began.
“Don’t worry, Val; my mana’s topped up since last time we met,” Loki purred.
“Brother, that doesn’t….” Thor began, only to get a sharp green elbow to the ribs.
Wanda was getting a little red mist around her eyes and hands; Vision was maybe glowing a bit in his new crystal.
“Dr. Strange! I heard a funny story about the Ear of Agamemnon,” Steve said loudly.
“Did you,” Strange murmured, unimpressed.
“I mean, I was hoping you would tell. A funny story,” Steve added.
“Like how both your names are Steven,” Bucky inserted. Clint chuckled once, then darted away, presumably to go find Nat.
“I once used the Eye to banish an existential threat to our very dimension,” Strange began.
“Wow! I want to know all about that,” Sharon broke in.
“Oh! Okay,” Strange said. Sharon topped up her champagne, and made sure Strange had something blue and fizzy, possibly garnished by something with an eldritch aura all its own.
“Awkward,” Bucky whispered.
“He’s a very important sorceror.”
“One with zero people skills,” Bucky said, “And I’m the Winter Soldier.”
“Bucky!” Steve admonished, stamping his foot.
“Stevie,” Bucky returned, smiling ever so slightly, just enough to derail Steve’s annoyance.
Steve and Bucky went up to the roof. The party was in full swing, and the crew of the Milano had arrived. The human one, Quill, was asking the House AI to play mostly 70s music, while he danced and single-handedly worked his way through several two-liter bottles of soda. The sisters, the blue one and the green one, were watching him dance but not taking part.
“Loki saved a lotta people,” Bucky said, “But he didn’t fix Quill’s timeline with Gamora.”
Steve smiled and leaned his shoulder against Bucky’s. “True love’s not a flash in the pan. They’ll work it out.”
“She thinks he’s annoying,” Bucky said under his breath.
“You thought I was annoying,” Steve said, batting his eyelashes at Bucky, which they had a rule was dirty pool.
“Yeah, but that was, you know, your brand.”
“Sh, you’ll hurt Peter’s ears, tryna keep up with the youngsters’ palaver.”
“Har,” Bucky said, and they grinned at each other. “Hey, there’s Rocket, on Groot’s head.”
“Already three sheets to the wind,” Steve said.
“The tree or the raccoon?” Bucky asked.
“Both of them. They must not be used to Earth alcohol.”
“Especially when Clint is pouring — take a gander at antenna girl’s gourd.”
“You didn’t buy those for the party?”
“Nope. Clint musta brought them.”
“I think the gray guy is having a fountain drink from somewhere.”
“I am enjoying this drink! It is very sweet and appears to be a stimulant! I’m sweating and my jaw is seizing up!”
“Drax, buddy, how many of those did you have?”
It was getting late and still no sign of Tony. The Wakandan delegation had arrived, and Bucky took over, getting drinks for the Princess, Okoye, Queen Consort Nakia, and T’Challa. Steve tagged along while Bucky led the Wakandans on the grand tour of the place.
“This is really nice,” Shuri said approvingly. Bucky beamed. He had packed the edges of the roof with tall potted plants and trellised vines, so that there was greenery all around.
“Thanks to your tech, our plants stay alive all year round,” Steve said.
“Yeah, and we can sit up here whenever we want, regardless of weather.”
“We are happy to share comforts with our friends,” T’Challa said.
Steve and Bucky were the only private owners of the advanced shield tech outside Wakanda’s embassies. The other countries of the world were not eager for their citizens to have such a strong defense against surveillance or incursion. Even Steve had to admit that the tech would be a threat if it fell into criminal control.
Just as the Wakandans began to relax, Tony, Bruce and Rhodey finally arrived.
“Hey, Wakandans!” Tony said loudly. “Everybody up here critiquing your proprietary shield tech? We’re about eight months from cracking it open.”
“Dream on, little man,” Shuri said with a laugh. Okoye stood up a little straighter beside the Princess.
Steve covered his face with his hand.
Bruce tried next. “I love your work with the heart-shaped herb. So much potential there.”
“Said the colonizer,” Shuri coughed behind her hand.
“Shuri, we are guests,” T’Challa said mildly.
“With diplomatic immunity,” Nakia said.
Steve had a sudden vision of his friends having a knock-down drag-out brawl on the roof of his building. He prayed that cooler heads would prevail.
With only a few pointed looks between T’Challa and his little sister, between Bruce, Tony, and Rhodey, between Shuri and Bucky, between Bucky and Steve, and then between Steve and Okoye, everybody took a deep breath and tried to relax again.
“This iced tea is marvellous,” T’Challa said. “Did it come from the kitchen of Sam Wilson?”
“Yes, it did,” Steve said with a smile. “As did the delicious collards, broccoli slaw, chicken wings and macaroni and cheese.”
“The new Captain is a master of the best American cuisine,” Nakia said with a solemn nod. “I’m going to go get a plate.”
“Perhaps bring enough for us all to share,” T’Challa suggested.
Steve knew Sam would explode with pride and joy at feeding up the Wakandan royals.
The party went on for hours. Everybody mingled and roamed about the building. Bucky caught Sharon testing the security measures between the ground floor offices and the living quarters, gave her a big thumbs up, and proceeded to demonstrate all the different failsafes. Everyone was sorry that Maria Hill and Nick Fury couldn’t make it to the party, but they were always out there, making sure the world was safe from conspiracies and threats, both earthly and extra-terrestrial.
“We should pose for a group photo!” Scott suggested.
“Why?” Drax wanted to know.
“So I can prove to my daughter I know all you guys,” Scott said.
“That is a very good reason!” Drax agreed.
Everyone posed on the roof, and the House AI took the picture and forwarded it to everyone.
“Aww, Danvers,” Clint moaned. “Your drink is blocking Lucky.”
“Witch girl, synthezoid — your drinks have sinister eyes,” Nebula warned.
“Hulk love Supergreen Smoothie!” Bruce yelled, relaxed enough to let the Hulk out for a little fun.
“It is surprisingly delightful,” Loki agreed.
“Great party, guys,” Sam told Steve and Bucky.
“Thanks, Sam, for everything,” Steve said.
“Thanks, man,” Bucky added.
Sam nodded, and Steve and Bucky toasted with their beers.
“Whoda thunk,” Steve said, looking around at the place where he and Bucky had lived together so many years ago, now filled to the brim with friends and laughter.
“Whoda thunk,” Bucky agreed, and they drank their mugs of watery Schaefer and smiled.
Bucky was eating his usual breakfast up on the roof, behind the Wakandan screen. The high tech camouflage field was set on light deflection and maximum permeability, so a light breeze was drifting through, carrying up with it the noises of Montague Street, buses, trucks, cars, bicycles, the occasional snatches of conversation. Anyone looking would see a normal Brooklyn rooftop, shimmering a little from the heat. But really, it was the top level of Bucky and Steve’s building, where they had installed the palatial bath, guest cabana, and of course, the rooftop garden.
Bucky liked to start every day on the roof. Since the year he’d spent in Wakanda, living in the “hut” and taking care of goats, he liked to eat outside where he could feel the air.
Steve sat down beside him, carrying his giant mug of coffee and Super-size bowl of granola.
They chewed together in silence, taking in the sounds of pigeons and planes overhead.
“I want to have a big party,” Steve said. “I want to invite everyone.”
“Everyone?” Bucky said. Their building was on a residential street in Brooklyn Heights. A full Assemble might draw some attention.
“We can stage the party in groups. Invite folks that might get along. Yeah?”
Steve was the tactician, and Bucky was the Sergeant. He began thinking about how it could work. “Yeah, could work.”
“Okay, how about next Friday?”It was a Tuesday, so that gave them a week and a half.
“Maybe three weeks out? Not everyone has a calendar clear as ours.”
Bucky and Steve had retired, especially since Steve passed the Shield on to Sam.
“OK, barring international incident…” Steve said, knowing full well how such incidents tended to crop up.
“I’ll send out the evite,” Bucky said. He liked to send invitations through multiple channels. He’d also send written invitations by mail, on the thick creamy paper, embossed with their names, that he’d dreamed about when he was just a kid, crammed into a single room with Steve back when their building was still a tenement.
In the coming weeks, Steve sourced the snacks and drinks. One thing about Avengers, they knew how to put away food. Steve made lists and Bucky helped him find the stuff.
Bucky was working with Maria Hill, Steven Strange’s friend Wong, and Princess Shuri, to make sure they covered all the bases.
The early crowd would arrive at six, eat a light supper together, and help Steve and Bucky set up.
Sam of course showed up at 4:30, parking illegally on the street with his car loaded full of food and drink.
“Sam, this is amazing! But you shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble!”
“Hey, nobody parties like a Wilson. Besides, I hear the Wakandans are coming? We’ve got to show them a good time.”
He had brought three huge trays of collard greens; the smell alone made Bucky drool. Four dozen half-smokes to grill on the roof. Two trays of Nashville fried chicken wings with bite-sized biscuits and three types of jelly, blackberry, strawberry rhubarb, and jalapeno. Plus, the famous Wilson family macaroni and cheese, broccoli slaw, and sweet iced tea.
“You were hoping to feed everyone on carrot and celery sticks and pizza, right?”
“Mmmm,” Steve tried to deny, but his Depression era instincts were hard to override.
“I ordered three trays of cold cuts, and crackers?” Bucky said.
“Good effort, man,” Sam said, whacking Bucky on the arm in a manly fashion.
Bucky nodded, and the super soldiers unloaded Sam’s car so he go could find a legal spot — even though he had an Avengers tag, he didn’t like to take advantage.
A little before six Carol and Sharon showed up. They were going to help Bucky put out some decorations, lights mostly, and set up all the folding chairs from the storage behind the cabana.
Steve liked colorful tablecloths, so, they pulled everything out of the linen closet and threw bright textiles here and there. The plants around the place looked festive with ribbons tied around their pots, and fairy lights twining through their branches.
They arranged the bar table and the food table. The pizzas were set to arrive at 8, so they munched on carrots while they worked. (“Hummus! Tzatziki! Babaganoush!” Steve enumerated, pointing at his crudités and dips.)
“How are Maria and Monica?” Sharon asked Carol.
“They’re good,” Carol said. “It’s hard spending so much time off planet, but now, I think we’re finally at a point where humans can travel.”
“It seems like space folks are not that different from humans?” Sharon asked.
“True,” Carol said. “Different colors, different appendages, no one really cares in space.”
Bucky caught Steve’s eye, but Steve looked away. Bucky really wanted to go into space, but Steve was dragging his feet. Another few years, he’d wear him down. They had time.
The pizzas arrived and Bucky and Steve knew Clint and Natasha would follow soon, so they urged Sharon and Carol to open the enormous bottle of something like Champagne that Thor had given them.
“I’ll stick to iced tea,” Sam said. “This many Avengers, someone needs to keep a level head.”
“One beer used to throw Steve off his game,” Bucky laughed.
“Those were the days,” Steve smiled. They all toasted.
Steve and Bucky allowed themselves one slice of pizza each as soon as it arrived. They each could eat two whole pizzas without even trying, but they needed to think of their guests, so they comforted themselves by savoring an initial slice. Steve chose super supreme, and Bucky chose ham and pineapple. Sam chose mushroom, goatcheese and hazel nut. Sharon chose pepperoni and mushroom, and Carol chose jerk chicken with sliced fresh tomato.
Suddenly they noticed that of the people standing around enjoying pizza, two of them were Clint and Natasha, and under the table was Clint’s dog Lucky, giving them one intense puppy dog eye.
Steve leaned in and got a hug from Natasha. She was already drinking a very tall White Russian, so she must have found the drinks table. Clint had mixed his drink in some enormous gourd and topped it off with a pink umbrella. Steve could smell rum and pineapple and didn’t know what else. Bucky had been in charge of stocking supplies for the drinks table, and he had added a lot of strange ingredients Steve had never heard of.
Not long afterward, the Ant guy showed up with his girlfriend, the one with the wings.
Sharon greeted them with enthusiasm. “Hey, Hope! Hey, Scott! Glad you guys could make it!! Do you know Clint and Natasha?”
“We’ve trained with Natasha a bit, but not so much with Clint,” Scott said.
“No shop talk!” Clint and Natasha and Bucky and Steve all said in unison.
Sharon laughed and shook her head. “I’m terrible, I know. If it’s not shop talk I revert to cover stories.”
“Sometimes cover stories are fine,” Natasha said, and Clint bumped her with his shoulder.
“Cover stories are great,” Scott gushed. “Some of my greatest moments have been cover stories.”
“That’s true,” Hope said, “but it’s better than it sounds.”
“Oh!” Scott said, and his face fell, then brightened, then fell again, and finally settled on hopeful.
The doorbell rang, and it was Peter.
“Hey, guys!” Peter said. Everyone knew Peter; they kept tabs on him because he was so young, and because Tony went to pieces whenever he got hurt.
Sharon handed Peter a rootbeer float.
“I’ve never had one of these before,” he said, immediately getting ice cream all over his upper lip.
“If you don’t like it, we’ll get you something else,” Steve said. “Whatever you like, as long
as it’s non-alcoholic.”
“I save New York two or three times a year, and I still can’t get a beer,” mumbled Peter.
“Not yet,” Bucky said, making eye fingers at Peter.
“Is Mr. Stark here yet?” Peter asked.
“No, there was a thing at Morgan’s school,” Steve said. “He’ll be here later though.”
Peter smiled. “Mr. Stark spends almost as much time at that school as Morgan does.”
Steve shook his head. “Tony’s dad was always preoccupied with work, so Tony doesn’t want to be like that with his own kid.”
Bucky hung his head, breathing carefully. He was always struck with guilt whenever Howard and Maria were mentioned, even though rationally he knew their deaths weren’t on his conscience.
“Morgan’s a lucky kid,” Peter said.
It was true; Tony had, eventually, turned out pretty well.
Around 9 pm, the second wave of guests turned up. In his head, Steve thought of them as the magicians: Steven Strange, who after all was called the Sorcerer Supreme; Wanda and Vision, Thor and Loki, and their friend the Valkyrie. Loki and Valkyrie were quarreling again but Steve hoped it wasn’t anything serious.
“Hail, Friend Steven! We have brought you more liquor! It will be a principal export of New Asgard, isn’t that right, Valkyrie?”
Valkyrie reluctantly lowered her sword as Loki smirked at her from around his drink. “Yes. We get rare ingredients from all nine realms — so now we’re starting to make Asgardian liquor again.”
“Working with Jane and Eric has been lovely. The Bifrost has reached 86% stability,” Loki murmured.
“My brother is too modest. He’s been leading the team of scientists who are working to rebuild the channels for traveling between worlds.”
“Loki is brilliant,” Vision chimed in. “The crystal he synthesized to mimic the Mind Stone is nothing short of a miracle.”
“Thank you, Loki,” Steve said. “We owe you so much.”
Loki smiled, showing too many teeth. “My pleasure,” he said.
Steve got the strong impression Loki was holding himself back from saying something cutting. Then Wanda earnestly spoke up.
“You saved my brother, and Vision, as well as the Captain, from divergent points on the timeline — we owe you a debt we can never repay.”
“I love having debts owed to me,” Loki said breezily.
“And, you helped us save Tony and get Nat back,” Steve said.
“How could I possibly have done all that?” Loki said, rolling his eyes.
Steve counted on his fingers silently, all the infinity stones Loki had touched, or that had touched him, and the ways the prince of mischief had finessed the timelines when no one else could.
“Thank you,” Steve said again. “We’re glad you are here with us tonight.”
“I’m glad, too,” Loki said, and Thor drank deeply in agreement. The two brothers were carrying very large beakers; Steve had a suspicion Thor just filled them with tap water, leaving Loki to transform them into delicious Asgardian spirits.
“Thor, Loki,” Stephen Strange said from the door to the kitchen.