At Sixes and Sevens

by Speranza

Author's Note: Welcome to your annual 4 Minute Window Thanksgiving story! If you're new to this series--do NOT start here! If you're not new, welcome back and buckle up for the Advent Calendar! Warning: holiday stuff is normally unbetaed - it is written and posted more or less on the day - but Alby and Monicawoe both took quick passes at this so big thanks to both of them! Also Alby - Alby made a - well, you'll see. :D Very happy Thanksgiving indeed!! (Alby says, and I agree: I don't know how Steve ever gets out of bed.)

Last but not least: there's some additional information in the notes below about the Advent calendar, which will have a bit of a participatory element if anyone wants to play. :D Scroll down to see!

The day before Thanksgiving, the first letter came.

Steve had been doing the bills upstairs, while Bucky, downstairs, straightened up the shop: that was their normal division of labor where the business was concerned. Steve was checking to make sure they were up to date with all their suppliers, that all their invoices had been properly recorded and their bills paid. Then he put together a deposit to take to the bank; they'd gotten a whole lot of money in, because they'd finished a bunch of jobs this month, most people didn't want the disruption of construction over the holidays. Steve carefully noted the amounts of the checks, then gathered them together and closed the roll-top desk. Business would slow down for a while, which was fine by him; he was looking forward to the holiday season himself.

He went to the landing and shouted down: "I'm switching off the coffee, you want a cup?"

"Yeah, please!" Bucky called back, and so Steve poured him a mug and brought it down.

Bucky'd put away all their tools and cleared the workbenches; now he was sweeping the workroom floor. "It looks great," Steve said, and meant it.

"Thanks." Bucky braced himself on the broom and reached for the coffee, then took a long swig and moaned happily. "How're you doing: you nearly done up there?"

"Yeah," Steve said. "I'm going to the bank. Just going to check the mail first." He was still waiting on a couple of checks, and there was always the chance of more bills.

"I'll go with you," Bucky said absently, surveying the shop and drinking his coffee. "I'm nearly done here, I think, and I could use the walk. You want to go walk in the park after?"

"Yeah, that'd be great," Steve said. "Let's bring the dogs," and then he went to the metal door on the side of the giant rolling garage door and pulled it open. Their mailbox was a large, locked box attached to the wall beside the door; Bucky would never allow the vulnerability of a mail slot. Steve pulled his keyring out of his pocket and found the tiny silver mail key. The box was almost crammed: they always got a number of technical catalogs and construction supply circulars along with their regular mail, but now the holiday junk was starting: catalogs advertising holiday specials, Black Friday, the best gifts, 50 percent off, blah blah. He found these depressing, unrelated to his idea of the holidays at all. With an effort, Steve worked the mail out of the box, then relocked it and brought everything inside to sort. He made quick piles on the counter by the phone: catalogs they wanted, junk mail that they didn't want, real mail—the Stevenson check, finally, and a bill for the insurance on the van—and then...the letter.

Steve held the envelope in his hand and stared at it, and then there was a bang and the barking of dogs—Bucky'd unbarred the back door—and for a minute things were crazy as the dogs skidded inside, barking and circling and brushing the back of his legs and sniffing everything before Bucky's loud, "Hey!" brought them to a sharp, attentive stop. God, how did Buck do that?

"Sit," Bucky told the dogs, and they both sat back immediately; meanwhile Bucky went to the wall and took the leads off the hook. "You about ready?" Bucky asked Steve.

"Arf," Steve replied, and Bucky smiled at him crookedly. "Yeah, right," Bucky said, bending to attach a leash to Gracie's collar, "like you're my dog," and it was then that, impulsively, Steve made the decision: folding the unopened letter and shoving it into his pocket before Bucky looked up again. He couldn't have explained why he did it, either, only that he somehow wasn't ready to think about the letter, and yet not ready to destroy it, either.

Bucky was leashing George now, and so Steve said, "Give me a sec, I just need to write this down," and then he went back upstairs to enter the Stevenson check into their ledger. By the time he got back downstairs, Bucky had a jacket and hat on, both leashes tight in his gloved hand. Bucky flashed a quick smile at him, but for some reason it stopped him, floored him. Bucky's smile had never been a thing he took for granted, even before...everything that had happened. He took his own coat off the hook and put it on, then waltzed almost carelessly into Bucky's arms and kissed him hard enough to rock him back on his heels. This wasn't something he took for granted either: the shape and feel of Bucky's mouth, getting to do this whenever they wanted.

As they broke apart, Steve drew his hand up the front of Bucky's pants and smiled. Bucky's breath caught. "You know..." Bucky began.

"Bank closes at three," Steve reminded him.

Bucky grabbed him by the sides and dragged their bodies together; electricity tingled up Steve's spine. "Use the damn machine."

That was tempting, but: "The dogs, though."

Bucky let out a huffing breath. "Okay, fine," he said, and shoved Steve away. "Doesn't have to be a long walk, though."

"No," Steve agreed. "No. It sure doesn't."

Later, they were sprawled on the enormous plaid sofa and panting up at the ceiling—Steve had spent most of the last hour with his head in Bucky's lap—when their phones went off: first Bucky's, and then a second later, Steve's. They groaned aloud, not wanting to move and not entirely sure where their clothes were. Finally Steve lifted his head off Bucky's thighs and sat up. Bucky sighed and bent forward to get his phone out of the pocket of his shoved-down jeans. Steve's pants were still (mostly) on, but he was surprised when he put his hand into his pocket and found—not his phone—but the folded-up letter. He shoved it back in; wrong pocket.

Meanwhile, Bucky'd managed to grab his phone. "Not an emergency," he said, though Steve had already been pretty sure that it wasn't; they had a dedicated line for that. "But it's Stark, though," Bucky said, and Steve wasn't surprised by that either; Tony Stark had a particular way of demanding your attention.

"What does he want?" Steve asked, still searching for his own phone.

Bucky's eyebrows lifted as he said, "He wants us to come over tomorrow."

"We've got the parade tomorrow," Steve said immediately.

"After the parade," Bucky said.

"No," Steve said, and then a second later, feeling like he was being awful, "I mean, yes. Sure. I guess. Just—" He looked at Bucky, but Bucky didn't come to his rescue; Bucky was just lolling back against the plaid sofa with his pants open, waiting to hear whatever Steve was going to say. Except Steve had no idea what he wanted to say. "Are the others going?" he asked finally.

"I don't know," Bucky said. "Probably. I would guess."

"Well, what do you think?" Steve asked. "You think we should go?"

Bucky shrugged and said, "He came to our wedding," as if that were the beginning and the end of it—and Steve realized that, for Bucky, it was. God, even after everything that had happened to him, Bucky still managed to be straightforward and uncomplicated in his affections. Tony had come to their wedding, ergo he was family; QED. Christ, he loved Bucky so hard it hurt.

"Right," Steve said, relieved. "Of course, you're right. I'm an idiot," and then his phone went off again—but just his, this time. Bucky glanced down at the dark phone in his hand, then frowned over at Steve—Steve's screen was lit up. Steve looked down and read the message. "He must really want us to come," Steve said slowly; he now felt like an absolute jerk.

"You, you mean," Bucky said, with a small snort of laughter. "Ok, spill: what did he say?"

"He said, ‘Please,'" Steve replied in a hushed voice.

"Wow," Bucky breathed.

They were predicting the coldest Thanksgiving on record, or at least since 1886, but there was no way Steve was going to miss this year's parade, even if it was cold, even if there were winds, even if it was so windy that they couldn't launch the balloons, which was apparently a real threat. Bucky wasn't worried; he'd never felt the cold, even before he spent three quarters of his life in cryofreeze in goddamned Siberia. But Steve—new supersoldier metabolism not withstanding—had an ingrained fear of the cold, developed over years spent in apartments with bad heat, under-dressed and shivering, and only solidified by this own death in the ice.

So Thanksgiving morning, he dressed for the weather: longjohns, lined pants, jacket, gloves, and a colorful wool hat. Bucky added a scarf to his normal gear but made no further concessions to the weather beyond packing a large thermos of hot coffee. They took the train into the city and then hiked through the cold, clear fall air to their usual parade-viewing position: a giant boulder in Central Park. The sky was bright blue, though the trees were bare and bleak, stripped of any remaining leaves by a heavy early snowstorm.

"Makes it better, in a way," Bucky said, and gestured toward Central Park West; he was practically unrecognizable between his sunglasses and his hat. "Less foliage blocking the view."

Steve peered through his glasses and nodded. The view really was particularly good this year; he could see the whole street, all the bands, the baton twirlers, everything. There were a bunch of new balloons—a blue-haired warrior? A snowman/ astronaut?—as well as the oddities that had become their favorites: dinosaur, red dog, Pikachu. ("God bless you," they intoned, ritually.)

Natasha arrived, and nimbly hauled herself up onto the boulder. "Did I miss it?"

"Not yet," Bucky told her, and then he looked past her and said, "How're you doin', Barton," and yeah, there he was: Clint Barton, clambering up after her wearing a bemused expression.

"I brought a date," Natasha said, unreadably.

Clint, on the other hand, seemed a little embarrassed. "Hope you don't mind me barging in."

"No, no," Steve said. "Here, have some coffee," Steve said, and poured some for Clint, though Clint nearly dropped the cup when he and Bucky burst out yelling near-simultaneously, cheering and cat-calling Spongebob Squarepants, now clearly visible through the trees.

"You relic of modern misery!" Bucky shouted at him. "You goddamned yellow abomination!" and Steve was laughing so hard he had an actual stitch in his side. Clint was confused and smiling and looking from one to the other of them. "I don't get it," he said.

"Exactly!" Steve shouted. "That's exactly the—"

"Hey, shh, I think I hear Tony," Natasha said, so they shut up and listened, and yeah, yes, they could hear the first low twangs of Black Sabbath, long before the first bits of red and gold were visible up the street.

Clint leaned into Bucky's headspace and muttered: "You guys going to Stark Tower after this?"

"Yeah," Bucky replied.

Clint looked like he wanted to say something else, and then he did: "Natasha brought her Widow Bites, two Glocks, and a Makarov over to my house," he said in a low voice.

"Must be love," Bucky replied, and then, more seriously, seeing Barton's face: "Yeah, it's a big deal, Barton. It also might be the only signal she gives you. Natasha lives where those weapons are," and Steve thought he might have said more, except the Iron Man theme was now blaringly loud. Tony's red and gold balloon was bobbing down the street, enormous and surrounded with gyrating showgirls, as the man himself had sometimes been. That also meant that next up was...

Steve got abruptly to his feet. "I'll be right back," he told the others, "I want to get closer," and then he was leaping down from the rock and crunching along the icy grass toward the long stone wall that separated the park from the street. The park sloped down, so that the wall began to loom larger the closer he got to it. But there was a steep little rise covered with scrub and bushes, so Steve scrambled up it. Even at the top of the brambly hill, the wall was high enough that normal people couldn't get over it, but Steve gave a nonchalant little hop and managed to dig his fingers into a crevice and haul himself up without making too much of a spectacle of himself. Now Steve was directly overlooking the parade.

Tony's showgirls were dancing away downtown, high stepping in their red and gold skirts. Directly in front of him was a troupe of baton-twirlers in flesh colored tights, circling and throwing their batons high in the air. Behind them was a band—the Captain America All-Star Band, which had been put together for the sole purpose of accompanying the Captain America balloon, back when it had been commissioned. The Captain America All-Star Band featured high school players from all fifty states—and they were terrific, marching proudly in their red, white, and blue uniforms. They were playing The Star Spangled Man With A Plan, and Steve's memory helplessly supplied the words: Who will campaign door-to-door for America? Carry the flag shore to shore for America? But then—

He'd expected a float; he didn't know why he'd expected a float—no, yes he did. The Iron Man balloon floated over a Stark Industries float, and Natasha had once joked that Tony Stark was never going to waste three hours smiling and waving on a slow ride downtown. But Sam Wilson had exactly that kind of heart, Steve thought. And so when he'd heard Sam was going to be in the parade, he'd assumed...well, he'd just pictured Sam riding a float, smiling and waving at all the kids and their families.

But that wasn't what Sam had chosen to do at all, and Steve had to blink away tears. Sam had chosen to march, and he wasn't marching alone, either. Sam was marching downtown shoulder to shoulder with veterans representing all the armed forces, including a couple that Steve recognized from the VA: Mickey Webb, who'd lost a leg in Afghanistan, and Carly Adams, still coping after surviving an IED. All the soldiers had the familiar, wary look of combat veterans, and some of them had visible injuries to prove it; Mickey had a high-end prosthetic leg, but the Marine three from the end was in a wheelchair.

But Steve had been right, in a way; Sam and the other soldiers smiled and waved at the cheering crowd, and occasionally Sam broke away from the line to stop and take pictures with kids, often tugging one or two of the other soldiers along with him. Steve had to quickly raise his collar and duck his head when Sam abruptly stopped to take a picture with two little boys and their veteran mother, though Sam pulled Carly and a white-haired Navy officer into the picture with them. "Real heroes," Steve heard Sam tell the little boys. "These are real heroes, just like your momma," and then he was rejoining the march.

They moved off, and the Captain America balloon bobbed above and behind them, all hot air.

"That's pretty great," Bucky said, but Steve didn't startle; he was used to Bucky materializing like that.

"Yeah, it is," Steve said. "It is. I think Sam's the real thing, Buck: a star-spangled man with a plan."

"Unlike you," Bucky agreed.

"Unlike me," Steve said. "I was planless," and then, because this was as good a time as any: "Look, I want to show you something, but you have to promise that you won't overreact and make us move to Chicago."

"I promise no such thing," Bucky said, and then, before Steve could protest, "I promise no such fucking thing, Steve! Now give!" and so Steve pulled out the unopened letter and handed it over to him.

It had been clumsily addressed in red crayon. The handwriting was childish. Bucky stared down at it.



"Well?" Steve prodded, after a moment. "What do you think it means?"

Bucky raised his eyebrows. "This came to the garage?" he asked, and Steve nodded.

"Well," Bucky said finally. "I guess it means that you can't fool the guys down at the U.S. Post Office," and then Bucky laughed and said, "Hell, I know you can't." He gestured with both hands at Santa's sleigh, now making its way down the street. "Those guys got Santa's number, why the hell shouldn't they get yours? So go on," he said, and elbowed Steve in the ribs. "Go ahead and open it. Kid might have a burning question for you," but Steve just shook his head and put the letter away again; it was something for later. Right now they had to find Natasha and Clint and make their way to Stark Tower.

They walked east out of the park and hailed a cab on 5th. When they got to Grand Central, Natasha directed them down five flights to Tony's private garage, which Steve had never seen before but which Bucky, somehow, seemed to know all about. "Sublevel E," Bucky told the cabbie, and the elevator at Sublevel E was waiting for them, or rather JARVIS was, though Steve was the only one who made small talk. They went up ninety floors, and then the elevator slowed and stopped. The doors opened.

"Oh," Steve said.

The End

Author's End Notes: If you liked this story, please consider reblogging on Tumblr.

Also: Yes, yes, I know; I left on a cliffhanger and also Steve hasn't read his letter yet. Perceptive readers will also have noted that this was the first letter - Cap is going to be getting a number of strange letters at his Brooklyn address during the Advent Calendar, aided and abetted by a prankish Post Office. And he will answer many of them. For Tis The Season. And also he's Steve and just too damn polite.

So here's the thing: if you - yes, you! - would like to write a letter to Captain America as he exists and is known in the 4 minute window universe, please do and if I can work it in, I totally will and will credit you. You can write the letter in any persona you want, but I say straight up that I can make no guarantees re: inclusion: I have to serve the story arc first. But I think it would be fun to have a lot of different writers and voices doing those letters like we did with the Yelp page, and also, you guys will likely have questions - or your fictional characters/avatars will - that I wouldn't ever think to ask. So if you want to play, please play!

You can write your letters in the comments here, which would make a crazy fun collective of Steve Rogers' mailbag including the letters I don't/can't use, or you can paste them into the comments of the Advent Calendar once it starts (it will be a rolling challenge, since its rollingly written story) OR you can email them to me privately if you're shy at cesperanza at gmail. It's always a terrifying seat of my pants experience, lol, but I hope you come along. :D