It was rare that Bucky went to these sorts of events just for the fun of it, mostly because political rallies weren’t usually that much fun. This one wasn’t much of an exception.
His neighbor was running for city council though, the one who dubbed him ‘such a nice young man’ and forced leftover casserole and cookies on him when he’d fixed her garbage disposal. She had no idea who he was, not really, and that was probably for the best. It made the fact that Bucky Barnes, who could punch through walls and take a hostile down from few thousand yards, couldn’t tell Mrs. Hudgins that he didn’t want to go to her fundraiser just a little less embarrassing.
There were a hundred things Bucky would rather have been doing on a Friday afternoon, but he’d shown up anyway and thanked his lucky stars that no one else had dressed up either. In his hoodie and jeans, Bucky fit right in — in the sense that a grumpy old tomcat might fit in a basket of excitable puppies.
Come in. Make an appearance. Leave. Bucky said it over and over again to himself like a mantra, a plan of attack. It was a plan Mrs. Hudgins thwarted without even trying. No sooner had he said hello, then she was pushing a paper plate laden with a large piece of cake into his hands. Bucky grinned at her and died a little on the inside. He was never getting out of here.
Bucky loved Mrs. Hudgins, he did, but he could only take her going on about the rundown gymnasium in the community center for so long before he had to escape. He pushed his mouth into the shape of words, something about needing some punch to go with the cake. Before she could reel him back in, he slipped into the sea of people, nearly all of whom were more enthusiastic about being here than him.
In all the bustle, the punch table was an unexpected sanctuary. With his back to the wall, no one could surprise him, and the cacophony of too many conversations dulled down to background noise while he shoveled cake into his mouth. That was the new plan. Eat his cake. Have some punch. Leave before Mrs. Hudgins roped him into another conversation. His plan didn’t have to be ruined because he was adaptable.
Plan B lasted for a minute and thirty-seven seconds. At a minute and thirty-eight seconds, someone else came and stood next to him. There were easily dozens of places Bucky would rather have been than at a political anything, and he forgot each and every one of them.
The man who’d approached the table was slight, from his bony shoulders that jutted slightly against his crisp cotton shirt to his slender waist. One would never have noticed just watching the way he carried himself, head high, back straight. His mouth pulled in a severe line preemptively challenging the world to start something. Bucky sort of wanted to start something.
While Bucky was mulling over the very small segment in his repertoire of opening lines that would be appropriate for a political rally, he was being beaten to the punch. The young man at the table opened his mouth, speaking like he was bracing himself for impact. “Do you need something?”
Oh. Oh god, he’d been staring. He was still staring, he realized, and scrambled to say something, anything to recover. “No. I just… Hi.”
Bucky wanted very much to melt into the floor. He expected the victim of his verbal flailing to laugh at him or leave, but much to his surprise, neither of those things happened. The young man’s expression did a strange sort of transition from surprise to suspicion to something that looked like it might have been understanding. It was soft around the edges and for the moment, he looked less severe. There was even a faint smile when he replied. “Hi. I’m Steve.”
“You come to these things often?” Bucky could have kicked himself the minute he got the words out. That was really the conversation starter he was going with? At this point, it had to be. He wasn’t always so awkward, but he was on quite a roll and every time he opened his mouth, it got worse.
By some miracle, Bucky’s current company either didn’t notice or didn’t care. “Of course! The only way you create lasting change is to get people into office who will fight for it. Maybe one vote doesn’t make a lot of difference, but inspiring more people to support the same candidate does.”
The first thing Bucky noticed about his new acquaintance was how emphatic Steve was. It was hard to pick out if this was a specific issue he felt very strongly about, or if Steve was the sort of person who felt very strongly about everything — he spoke like he was trying to persuade Bucky to save the world. The irony of that was something Bucky very resolutely didn’t mention.
He realized eventually that he’d been nodding along the entire time like he hadn’t just been silently complaining about being here since before he’d even shown up. It was a good argument, and an earnest one, but as far as he was concerned, this wasn’t exactly life-changing stuff. “You realize she’s running for city council, right?”
Bucky could have sworn a cloud passed over the man’s face, his expression souring. “What? So, if she’s not running for president or senate or something, it’s not important? This is our community.”
“What? Oh, no that’s not what I was saying at all.” Bucky held his hands up in surrender until the sharpness of Steve’s gaze on him eased up a fraction. “I admire your enthusiasm.”
Steve’s mouth tilted downward in a suspicious frown, not so different from the look he’d given when Bucky first said hello. It passed eventually, receding into something more neutral. “What about you? Do you come to things like this much?”
There was no good answer. Bucky could lie, or hide behind all the times Avengers’ PR efforts necessitated him turning up at charity and political events, but before he even spoke, he had no doubt Steve would see right through him. He could tell the truth about how he’d ended up here, but Bucky suspected it would earn him a lecture about civic duty or something at best, and outright rejection at worst. Steeling himself, Bucky picked the lesser evil and opened his mouth to reply.
“Well, I —” was as far as he got before a deafening bang and a chorus of screams interrupted him. Instinctively, Bucky wrapped his arm around Steve’s narrow shoulders like a shield and pulled him out of sight. Gunfire, he registered even before he spotted the chipped plaster where a bullet had been fired into the ceiling at the other end of the event hall.
The crowd had parted revealing half a dozen masked men. There were a myriad of things he would have preferred over a campaign rally but this, oddly enough, wasn’t one of them. Not here, at any rate. He was confident that he could take all of them down, but Bucky was equally certain he couldn’t ensure everyone’s safety in the process. Instead of moving in the direction he was tempted to, he quietly pulled out his phone and texted Tony.
Waiting for backup had to mean not looking like he was waiting for backup, so Bucky pocketed his phone again before any of the gunmen could see. He put a great deal of effort into looking at least marginally like he was as nervous as a situation like this should have made a normal human being. On the bright side, he didn’t have to explain to Steve the real reason he was here.
Bucky spared a glance at Steve, who’d got all stiff and scowling as he peered around the tablecloth that was mostly hiding them. He looked an awful lot like a very small, very angry puppy. It was cute, if also rather alarming. Bucky could play along for however long it took Tony to bring the cavalry, but someone deciding they needed to be a hero would make it considerably more difficult. He was already cringing a little on the inside when Steve whispered to him, “We have to do something.”
“We are doing something.” Bucky wiggled his phone in Steve’s line of sight. “I called for help.”
“In the meantime, there are armed criminals waving their guns at a bunch of civilians,” Steve said the last word with a funny sort of emphasis like he didn’t count himself one of them, even though Bucky was confident that he was. It was a shame there wasn’t more time to be fascinated by him.
“So… what? You’re gonna glare at them until they stop?” Bucky asked. “You can’t just go marching out there or you’re gonna make things worse.”
“What makes you the expert?” For as quietly as Steve was talking, his tone was remarkably snarly. “You make a habit of getting into hostage situations?”
“Of course not, but —” Bucky stopped mid-sentence as he heard one of the gunmen’s footsteps across the tile, too close to where they were hiding. He’d nearly knocked the man’s feet out from under him before Bucky remembered he couldn’t do that. If he started fighting back, there would be no stopping. Waiting had been the right call when he first made it, and it was still the right call.
The fact that it was the right call didn’t make it any easier not to bristle when the masked gunman loomed overhead and reached out to yank at his shoulder. “Get up.”
“You’re not going to get away with this,” Steve hissed. It was as far as he got before Bucky clapped a hand over his mouth. The gesture shut him up for the moment, but he glowered over the edge of Bucky’s palm.
The tension between them when Bucky met Steve’s gaze was so thick he could practically reach out and touch it. Much to Bucky’s relief, when he pulled his hand back, Steve didn’t take it as an invitation to pick up where he’d left off. That was all the compromise Bucky was going to get, he realized. He stood, and Steve stood with him, glaring at him like this entire thing was his fault. The whole thing was so absurd, Bucky had to remind himself he was doing exactly the right thing under the circumstances.
The gunman herded them back towards the crowd far more roughly than necessary, shoving with a gloved hand and shouting over the frightened crowd. Bucky fantasized about taking his gun and beaning him over the head with it so this whole charade would be over with, but he didn’t act on the impulse. Subtly as he could, Bucky put himself between Steve and the masked man, taking the brunt of the man’s abuse. He could keep Steve safe that way, at least from this. Besides, with the guy busy shoving him back towards the rest of their hostages, he didn’t notice the faint vibration of Bucky’s phone in his pocket. With any luck, that meant help was on the way.
It was the absolute worst attempt at taking hostages Bucky had ever seen, clearly not the work of professionals. They rejoined the crowd, and Bucky came to the conclusion that the one who’d retrieved him from behind the punch table was the only one with any idea what they were doing. He was also possibly the only one with a real weapon.
They were turned over to another of the gunmen, though ‘turned over’ was probably too orderly a term for it. The guy was currently trying to herd the partygoers into the event hall’s kitchen, and the ski mask over his head did nothing to hide that was shaking in his boots. The thick fabric only barely muffled the tremble of his voice, and Bucky was ninety… maybe eighty-five percent sure that was an airsoft gun in the guy’s hand. Honestly, Bucky might have felt sorry for him if the whole thing wasn’t so obnoxious.
The cavalry was coming, not that these shmucks really merited the full complement of the Avengers. Their idiocy was dangerous though, and while Bucky knew he could easily mow them down, he didn’t know if he could do it without anyone getting hurt. It was safer for everyone if he played along like just another civilian, so he did. Mostly.
There was no semblance of order to the way they were ushered into the kitchen, far away from the windows of the venue. It was one of those decisions that probably seemed smart on paper, if you weren’t accounting for all the variables, like complete idiots running a mission, or a superhero among the supposed hostages. They probably assumed they were going to be dealing with the police, and Bucky kept his mouth shut, allowing them to keep thinking that.
Bucky very resolutely did not laugh when they demanded everyone give up their phones on some kind of honor system. Lucky for them, people were too scared to do anything but comply. Lucky for him, they didn’t expect him to have two, so when he handed over one, they didn’t bother to check for another. Glad for the piece of Stark tech that concealed the appearance of his metal arm, he let them zip tie his wrists together in front of him, even pulling his expression into a wince like they’d hurt him. Bucky went where they shoved him and managed not to roll his eyes at the ineptitude. He even let himself be pushed to sit on the floor with the butt of what was definitely an airsoft rifle against his shoulder.
Steve was wedged between Bucky and someone else, his small stature almost letting him get lost in the huddle of frightened hostages. Whatever fear Steve might have been feeling was masked behind an angry scowl, and Bucky had no doubts that if someone let him, he’d probably launch himself at one of their captors just out of spite.
“Unbelievable,” Steve muttered, pulling ineffectively at the zip tie tightened around his wrists.
Despite their circumstances, Bucky smiled, wide and toothy. “Tell me about it. I just came for the cake.”
Steve’s mouth was pulling down in an unimpressed frown. Bucky had only meant to cheer Steve up, or maybe distract him a little. Making Steve mad at him wasn’t how he’d meant to do it.
“Do you take anything seriously? People are in danger here. Us included, if you hadn’t noticed,” Steve demanded in what Bucky was pretty sure was the grumpiest whisper he’d ever heard.
“From these guys? They’re not professionals,” Bucky got out before his head quite caught up with his mouth. Before he could backtrack, he noticed Steve staring even more suspiciously at him.
“What would you know about professionals?” Steve asked, the words drawn out like he thought he’d caught Bucky at something. He had, sort of, but probably not the something Steve thought.
“You don’t get through sniper training without at least knowing what a real gun looks like,” Bucky replied vaguely. It was the truth, technically speaking. “That guy at the door? That’s an airsoft rifle.”
Bucky was incredibly clever when it came to fighting tactics and anticipating the enemy. He was coming to find there was a substantial gap in that prowess, however, when it came to stubborn civilians. Bucky was pretty sure the only reason Steve’s arms weren’t crossed was because of the zip tie around his wrists. “If it’s an airsoft rifle, why are we sitting here?”
“Because that hole in the ceiling out there wasn’t done by an airsoft pellet. At least one of them has a gun. A real gun.” Bucky heaved a sigh, pretty sure if he gave a more thorough answer, Steve was just going to ask more questions. “Besides, help is on the way.”
“Yeah, you said that earlier, but— ” Steve stopped. Through the walls, they could hear the faint wail of sirens. It wasn’t the help Bucky was talking about, but Steve didn’t need to know that.
Bucky waited. The sirens grew louder until Bucky could hear them just outside the venue. There was shouting on the other side of the swinging doors, and the rapid thumping of someone running, but Bucky couldn’t piece together enough of what was going on out there to be useful.
It was taking too long, and Bucky began to wonder whether Tony had gotten his message after all. The vibration he’d felt in his pocket before could technically have been any number of alerts. Sitting the way he was, he couldn’t exactly dig into his pocket with his bound hands to check.
The minutes stretched out uncomfortably after that. Bucky couldn’t hear whatever conversation was going on between the cops and the criminals, but nothing about their tone sounded like progress. When the gunman guarding them left to join the rest of the team, Bucky stared after him, wondering if it was a thoughtless mistake or some misguided strategy. That was the worst thing about being kidnapped by morons. Bucky couldn’t be sure of anything.
Either way, he didn’t imagine he had long, and if his team wasn’t coming, Bucky had every intention of getting the civilians out before he took matters into his own hands. Luckily, most of them were too busy being scared to pay much attention to him… well, except for the one.
In one smooth motion, Bucky got his feet under himself and stood up. He’d barely got his balance before Steve was whispering urgently at his back, “What are you doing?”
“Got tired of sitting,” Bucky replied briskly. He was careful not to turn around, hoping Steve wouldn’t catch the way he winced at the sheer inadequacy of his response. Bucky hoped it would be enough, because telling Steve the truth was completely out of the question. Better to let the guy think he was an irresponsible asshole than risk Steve’s stubborn desire to help making this situation worse.
He could practically hear Steve gearing up for a follow-up question, and stepped away before it could take the shape of actual words. Once out of sight, he finagled the phone from his pocket, swallowing the relieved sigh that bubbled up at Tony’s name on the screen. Help was on the way, which meant he needed a plan for when they got there.
It only took him a second to spot the kitchen’s emergency exit, but the success was short-lived. The bar would set off an alarm, ruining any chance of getting people out unnoticed. Without the tools on hand to disable the alarm, he was going to have to time it perfectly and wait until the gunmen were too distracted dealing with the Avengers to do anything about the fact that their leverage was getting away. It wasn’t the prettiest, most heroic looking of plans, but it would get the job done.
“I thought we were waiting for help.” Under other circumstances, Bucky would have loved talking to Steve, even if the guy was clearly totally unimpressed with Bucky; maybe because of that. Whatever Bucky’s personal feelings on the matter, these were not other circumstances, and Steve was still talking. “If you open that door, you’re going to get everyone caught.”
Bucky smiled ever so slightly before he turned around to see where Steve had wobbled to his feet and was tugging at his bound wrists. It was a good catch, even if it meant Steve thought he was as dumb as their captors.The prudent thing to do would have been to just follow up with a sheepish smile and come back to sit down, but while Bucky could stand Steve thinking he was irresponsible and cowardly for a little while, he drew the line at Steve thinking he was an idiot. “I wasn’t going to open the door.”
“What are you doing, then?” Steve asked, because of course he did, leaving Bucky scrambling for an answer.
There were only a few things someone could be doing hovering over by the emergency exit. Bucky looked for something else, anything, that might be a plausible answer, but the only other thing in arm’s reach was the walk-in refrigerator. So much for not letting Steve think he was an idiot. Giving up what dignity he had, Bucky embraced it. “...Eating?”
The zip tie was probably the only thing that kept Steve’s palm off his face. Of course, that meant there was nothing to hide the look on his face, hovering somewhere between sour and appalled. “We’re being held hostage and you’re raiding the kitchen? I thought for a second you were doing something useful.”
Nothing had changed. Steve thinking Bucky was completely useless was still better than the alternative, but it stung anyway. This wasn’t his strategy of choice pretty much ever, but luck wasn’t on his side and he was short on options. In for a penny, in for a pound he supposed, so Bucky went with it and hoped maybe Steve would forgive him his dishonesty later. “I mean, they didn’t say the fridge was off limits…”
“Good grief,” Steve muttered, sinking back down behind the counter. At that point, Bucky guessed the fact that the cops were outside was the only thing keeping Steve from taking matters into his own hands.
Keeping up the charade, Bucky pulled open the fridge. There wasn’t as much to choose from when it came down to it. The bowl of fruit salad was too ridiculous, even if he could have managed to get his hands around it. The only other option was a very large tray of sandwiches probably meant to be backup for the ones laid out on the table in the event hall. It wasn’t much of an improvement, but Bucky flexed his wrists enough to get his hand around the edge and hoped for the best.
He managed to cart the sandwich tray back to where he’d been sitting, though it wobbled dangerously in his bound hands. Bucky didn’t really expect anything other than the exasperated look Steve directed his way when he draped the oversized tray over both their laps. “Want one?”
“No, I don’t want one. We’re being held hostage. Why would I want a sandwich?” Steve tipped his head back, his skull thumping against the metal cabinet with a hollow sound. Steve’s mouth opened on what was probably a complaint, but Bucky’s phone buzzed again.
Bucky tried to cover it up with conversation, not that he expected it to work. “Suit yourself. I just figured if we’re stuck in here, there’s no point in being hungry on top of everything else…”
“Wait a minute… They took your phone,” Steve commented, eyes narrowing suspiciously. Bucky found he was running into the same problem he’d had before with the zip ties, and the sandwich tray just made it worse. Hoping he wasn’t blowing his cover too soon, he snapped the binding with a nearly effortless pull of his flesh and carefully disguised metal wrists. Steve gaped, but even breathless and surprised, he still managed to sound accusatory. “You could have done that this whole time?”
“They took one of them.” Bucky shot back, balancing the tray in one hand while he grabbed his phone with the other. It was another message from Tony. Two more minutes. He just had to deal with this silliness for two more minutes. Of course, that also meant he only had two minutes to get Steve’s buy-in on his plan.
It was the longest two minutes of his life. Before he got the chance to say anything further, their babysitter returned. In either a singular moment of intelligence or just one of dumb luck, he immediately spotted the phone Bucky was trying to pocket once more. “What do you think you’re doing? Where did you get that?”
He leveled his gun at Bucky, and even if the damned thing wasn’t real, it still promised to sting. Worse, there was no telling how his aim was, and Bucky wasn’t about to let someone else pay for his bad timing. He held up his hands in surrender and clumsily shuffled to his feet, letting the tray clatter to the floor in a mess of lettuce and condiments. Bucky’s jaw quivered fretfully as he stared down the gunman. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just wanted to call home.”
It was hard to tell under the ski mask if their captor had bought it. The guy didn’t lower the gun, but his body language shifted, relaxing ever so slightly. Slightly was all the wiggle room Bucky needed. He edged closer with shaky steps, every inch of him suggesting surrender. All the while, he was counting down the seconds in his head.
“Give me your phone,” the man demanded, waving the barrel of his gun at Bucky. Jesus. He didn’t seem to know the very first thing about safe handling of firearms… or else he didn’t care. They were equally plausible possibilities. Bucky masked his hesitation behind terror, until the gunman impatiently closed the distance between them, leaving him out of view of the doors. By Bucky’s estimation, Tony would be crashing the party any second now.
“Yeah, that’s… not gonna happen.” Bucky moved like lightning, the heel of his metal hand circling around to smack against the gunman’s temple. Even through the fabric of his mask, the connection was audible, and Bucky hissed sympathetically through his teeth as the guy crumpled to the floor.
Bucky hadn’t thought it was possible to shout and whisper at the same time, but Steve made a remarkable effort. “What the hell? I thought we were waiting for the cops to sort this out.”
“I said we were waiting for help,” Bucky clarified. That was right about the time something crashed through the window in the other room. A flash of red and gold swept past the little plexiglass windows set in the doors. “That’d be the help.”
“Is that Iron Man? Did you call him? Who are you that you can just… call Iron Man?” Steve was on his feet, volleying questions at Bucky, and hardly seeming to remember the predicament they were in anymore. Unfortunately, it was getting the attention of the other hostages, and while Bucky could deal with one person throwing a wrench in his plans, he couldn’t deal with a whole room of people.
“Look, Steve. You can have answers right now, or you can help get people out, but you can’t do both.” Bucky waved at the emergency exit and gave Steve a pointed look. There’d been no time to actually try and get Steve to listen, but he took a leap of faith, hooking a finger in zip tie binding Steve’s hands and pulled it free. “What’s it going to be?”
For just a second, Steve stayed put, watching Bucky like he was the enemy. Then, all at once, he turned away and called out to the frightened hostages, urging them towards the door. It was pretty impressive, the way he drew the crowd in despite his small stature. He made himself someone they’d follow out the door, and it didn’t even seem like he was trying.
It was over in minutes once the hostages were clear of the place building. A half dozen inept gunmen were no match for the full force of the Avengers. Twenty minutes later there were three news stations interviewing Mrs. Hudgins, the hostages were free, and Bucky still had no idea what any of that had been about in the first place.
“I counted four Avengers out here,” Steve said somewhere just behind Bucky. “There’s no hostage situation anymore, so who are you?”
“There were five Avengers.” Bucky grinned as he turned around and stuck out his hand. “I’m Bucky?”
“Barnes? The Winter Soldier?” Steve’s head cocked to the side, and he gave Bucky an appraising look. “He’s got a metal arm.”
It was a good catch, though not an unsurprising one. With his face hidden behind a mask, people tended to pick out the few characteristics that were uniquely his. Reluctantly, Bucky fiddled with a button inside his wrist and the camouflage melted away, revealing shiny metal slats. “Stark tech is pretty impressive, right?”
Steve looked from Bucky’s face to the arm and back to his face. The only sound he made was a quiet, considering hum. Bucky couldn’t tell exactly what it meant.
“Look, you can ask any of them if you don’t believe me,” Bucky offered, immediately regretting it. “Wait. Don’t ask Sam. He’ll tell you he doesn’t know me just out of spite.”
“I’ve never seen that guy in my life,” Sam teased as he walked by, his arm around the shoulder of one of the hostages. If Bucky’s attempts hadn’t convinced Steve, that seemed to. Bucky watched Steve’s shoulders sag incrementally, his lips pursed in thought.
“You could have told me,” Steve insisted, forcing Bucky to swallow a laugh as he pictured exactly how that would have gone.
He bit the inside of his cheek until the urge passed. “Telling you wouldn’t have made it any safer to take those guys on with a room full of hostages.”
“You let them hold you hostage,” Steve murmured, brows furrowed at Bucky like he was trying to puzzle something out. Much to Bucky’s delight, some of his prickliness had receded.
“Better they think everyone was helpless than risking someone getting hurt while I was playing hero,” Bucky replied, his shoulders rising and falling in a casual sort of shrug. There’d never been any real danger, not to him, but this meant everyone else got out safe too.
“That’s a fair point. Kind of clever, actually,” Steve conceded. He crossed his arms, but his expression remained calm, almost warm.
Bucky did laugh then, a soft, surprised huff. “You say that like it’s a surprise.”
“Well, yeah. You let me think you were an idiot.” Against all reason, the corner of Steve’s mouth quirked up at that. Steve shook his head, but the smile stayed put.
It was an expression Bucky couldn’t help but mirror. “Yeah. How’s that for doing my civic duty?”
“If you’re trying to convince me that being a superhero absolves you of political responsibility, that’s not a debate you’re going to win.” Steve’s voice was flat, and completely at odds with the challenge in his expression.
“Oh, I don’t know. I could try…” Bucky hesitated, but for once today, the thing that came out was exactly what he’d intended. “Maybe over coffee?”