“He looks normal.” Steve narrows his eyebrows and squints through the one-way glass, pursing his lips as he thinks. “Not like the type they’d send to murder me.”
“He looks pissed.” Sam raises an eyebrow. “He looks like he’d murder anyone right now. What’d you say this guy’s name was again?”
“James Buchanan Barnes, goes by Bucky.” Natasha’s said the words so much within the last two hours that she briefly considers tattooing them onto her forehead. “He works here at SHIELD, clearance level three; a pencil-pusher. We didn’t have him pegged as a security issue until last night.”
“Oh, then yeah, definitely a planted assassin.” The folding chair squeaks across the floor as Sam throws himself onto it, rolling his eyes. “No real person goes by ‘Bucky.’ Not if they survive into adulthood.”
“I feel kinda bad, how he got dragged in like this.” Steve worries his bottom lip, leaning so close to the glass that his nose is touching it. “Y’know, I really don’t think this guy’s trying to kill me.”
“Of course you don’t, you wouldn’t recognize the threat of imminent death if it came barreling toward you with the exact size and shape of the Atlantic Ocean.”
“That was one time, so I really wish people would stop holding it over my head.” Steve replies evenly, but he angles his foot back sneakily and kicks at the leg of Sam’s chair. “Remind me what he’s in for again, Natasha?”
Natasha barely holds in a groan, instead tilting her head as far over the back of her chair as she can as she counts to ten slowly and calmly in her head, because she is the best goddamn spy in the world and she is not going to go complaining about her job to Captain America, even though as the best goddamn spy in the world she is being seriously underutilized here. “JARVIS?”
“Ever since the Chitauri attack, there has been an influx of activity on social media surrounding the Avengers and their whereabouts.” Jarvis’s voice comes on over the speakers, soothing and calmly emotionless. It lies in sharp contrast to the other side of the wall, where James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes is staring very hard at the one-way mirror like if he tries hard enough, he can melt through it right into their collective brains. “Sir asked me to set up an alert on your names, and Mr. Barnes posted on Twitter late last night with threatening language indicative of a potential assassination attempt on Captain America. Director Fury was alerted, and Mr. Barnes was apprehended when he came in for work this morning. He’s been here ever since.”
“Back in my day, the whole point of an assassination attempt was that you didn’t advertise it.” Natasha crosses her arms, because if she’s not even going to be interrogating the suspect (who, frankly, she has her doubts about) then she’s not entirely sure what she’s doing here. “All these new amateurs coming out of the woodwork are really cramping my style.”
“I mean, I’m not complaining, but it does seems like a weird choice.” Sam checks his watch before reaching out and nudging Steve in the elbow. “Hey, Cap, Coulson’s gonna be in any minute now. Why don’t you sit down? It’s not like ‘Bucky’ there is going anywhere or anything.”
“I know, I just...” Steve sighs, casting one last forlorn look towards where his would-be murderer looks ready to dig through the wall and strangle the first living thing that dares cross his path. Natasha feels a brief stir of sympathy. “I don’t like to think anyone would murder me, obviously, but he honestly doesn’t seem like it and we’ve been waiting here for hours. At this point, I feel like we should just let him go.”
Sam gives Natasha the look, the one that says ‘this bitch’, so Natasha sighs and crosses one leg over the other as she reluctantly sits forward. She’s just ready to pull out her stock speech about the evils of humanity and the blackness of people’s souls or whatever, complete with a healthy sprinkling of quotes from Hobbes and 'Leviathan', when the door on the other side of the wall clicks open and Phil Coulson decides to grace them with his presence. Finally. She sits back again, more than a little annoyed as she waits to see if whatever desk jockey kept her from catching lunch with Clint ends up being worth her time.
“James Buchanan Barnes.” He pulls out the chair on his side of the table and sits, looking remarkably calm considering he’s being flashed with what Natasha has to admit is a remarkably intimidating pair of murder eyes. Maybe he really is an assassin, after all. “Can I call you Bucky?”
“As you can probably tell, seeing as I’m sitting in a sub-basement interrogation room instead of my regular morning meeting, you can do whatever the hell you damn well please.” Clearly, the man’s been preparing this speech for the last thirty minutes minimum, because he says the words with such palpable vitriol that Coulson leans back in his chair and blinks with what Natasha recognizes is mild admiration. “What you’re gonna wanna do, however, is tell me what the fuck I’m here for in the next ten seconds before I decide to file a workplace harassment lawsuit that makes our national debt look like the GDP of fucking Tuvalu.”
Steve blinks. “What?”
“Country with the world’s smallest GDP.” Natasha can feel her lips twitch as she keeps her eyes on Coulson, whose back has straightened almost imperceptibly. “He really shouldn’t be throwing out international statistics like that if he doesn’t want us to think he’s an assassin, though. Coulson’s looking more invested already.”
“And how, exactly, do you know what that is?”
“I’m sorry, are you literally fucking me right now?” Bucky’s eyes widen in shock as he stares at Coulson before he very deliberately and purposefully rolls them so far back in his head you can only see the whites. It’s all very horror movie à la 'The Ring'. Props where they’re due, the man emotes well. “You’re gonna bust my ass because I watched Jeopardy last night? I’ve been working for you for five fucking years, is there even a reason why I’m here or did you just decide that torturing me with extreme amounts of paperwork about your truly fucking mental amount of property damage wasn’t enough?”
“Well,” says Sam, “at least that explains why he might wanna kill you.”
To his credit, Coulson doesn’t look like he’s about to burst into laughter, although all things considered Natasha may only be finding the whole thing amusing because her interrogatees tend to beg for death or pledge allegiance to fascist terror groups before they start cracking jokes or heaping on the sarcasm. Oh, she’s starting to like this Bucky guy, unfortunate nickname aside. Coulson, on the other hand, looks less endeared, instead opting to cross his arms with an unimpressed frown.
“Are you truly telling me that you can’t think of anything you’ve done within the previous twenty-four hours to warrant your detainment?” Coulson narrows his eyebrows. “Think carefully, son. I’m giving you one more warning here.”
“Gee, Daddy, is it really you? I’ve only seen you in pictures. Why’d you abandon us?” Sam snorts at the sudden falsetto that grates over the speakers as Bucky clasps both hands and flutters his eyelashes at Coulson; even Steve turns away to shield his face with his hand, shoulders shaking in muffled laughter. “I ain’t your son, Pops, but if you really must know about me and my sad little life, I’ll tell you.” He holds out his hand and begins ticking off points on his fingers. “At lunch yesterday—I’m assuming it’s lunchtime now, from the fact that I’m fucking starving, which means you’re paying me for working through my break, by the way—I walked down to the cafeteria and bought myself a stupidly overpriced piece of cardboard masquerading as pizza.”
“He’s not wrong,” Natasha murmurs to herself.
“Then I came back here, to this very building, and spent another four hours doing my fucking job, which I do very well when I’m not being locked in a fucking cement closet for hours at a time. I’m pretty sure this violates union rules on humane work conditions, by the way, which is another thing to add to the list of fucking human rights violations right now, so if you’d kindly reconsider letting me the fuck out?”
Coulson raises an eyebrow.
“Didn’t think so.” Bucky rolls his eyes, bending down a third finger so far back they can all hear the knuckle crack across the intercom. “Then I clocked out and took the subway back to my apartment, where I sat next to a bunch of other office workers who didn’t get thrown into containment cells by their employers, walked down to the Chipotle two blocks over and bought myself a Barbacoa bowl, because last I checked we live in a free country, and ate it while re-watching the finale of ‘Parks and Recreation’ on my ex-boyfriend’s Netflix account, because I do whatever the fuck I want.” Bucky slams his now-open hand down on the table with enough force to get both Sam and Steve to jump in place, although both Natasha on this side of the glass and Coulson on the other remain entirely still. “So if you really wanna get me for something, I guess you could get me for pirating a TV show in the comfort of my own home, although if we’re doing it that way I saw Marlene in the cubicle across from me watching softcore porn on the office internet at four in the afternoon, so maybe tell her to wait two damn hours to go back to her boyfriend before you forget that this building isn’t communist Russia.” Bucky smiles, half-crazed, as he exhales so hard Natasha can practically see the steam from his nostrils fogging up the window. “So can I go now, or are you gonna be an asshole about it?”
Coulson clears his throat as he taps his finger idly against the metal table. “If you’re quite done...”
“So you’re gonna be an asshole about it!”
“I love this guy.” Sam chortles into a styrofoam cup of office coffee. “I’d like him more if he weren’t trying to kill you, Cap, but I love this guy. He’s the best assassin I’ve ever met.”
Natasha would be more offended if she weren’t starting to think the same thing. Even Steve’s smiling out the window, hands resting comfortably on the buckle of his belt.
“I like him too,” he decides, shaking his head to himself. “Still don’t think he’s trying to kill me, for the record, but I like him. He doesn’t take anybody’s shit.”
“Language,” Natasha mutters under her breath, but she leans forward and watches the situation with renewed interest, eyes now on Steve. The Captain’s body language has shifted since Bucky and Coulson started talking; he’s turned almost entirely towards the man seething in the hot seat, face openly impressed and amused, hanging on to every vicious word. Huh. Interesting.
“If you’re gonna say ‘Mr. Barnes’ anyway, what was even the point of asking to call me Bucky?”
It’s a classic way to gauge the other person and can usually soften the interrogator to the suspect, although Natasha’s beginning to suspect that Coulson could let this guy go right now, no questions asked, and he’d still end up handing in his two weeks notice with ‘fuck your mother’ written in the address line for his severance check. “Mr. Barnes, do you recall using Twitter last night at around 11:53 PM?”
“For the love of Christ.” Bucky throws himself back in his chair, running a hand exasperatedly over his face. “If this is because I sent that tweet about Tony Stark and where he should shove his repulsors in the next redesign, I just finished sorting that shit with the company that owns the exploded building and our budget isn’t, like, unlimited—”
“That was him?” Steve looks mildly impressed. “I think I might’ve retweeted that. On my incognito account, obviously.” He smiles fondly to himself. “Wouldn’t want Tony repainting my shield to look like a breast or something.”
“You have an incognito twitter account?” Sam looks vaguely surprised, as people are wont to do when they hear about Steve and his admittedly spotty but nevertheless developing grasp on modern technology.
“I’ll text you the handle after this thing’s over,” Natasha says, not taking her eyes off Steve.
“No, this isn’t about Iron Man.” Coulson’s eyes flick briefly over the the one-way mirror, just long enough for Natasha to catch a glimpse of the way the corners of his mouth are drawn tight to hold in laughter. She grins back and nods, even though she knows he can’t see her; they’ll be talking about this one when it’s over, she can tell. Clint’s gonna be sad he missed it. “You’re on the right track, though. Listen, I’m giving you a final chance to come clean and explain yourself. Clearly, you weren’t going for subtlety anyway.” The agent visibly collects himself and lets his voice take a turn for the menacing, leaning closer across the table. Bucky doesn’t even blink, leaning forward himself until their foreheads are touching. It’s the stupidest staredown Natasha’s ever seen. She couldn’t be happier. “Were you really planning on acting on your threat, or was this just your way of catching our organization’s attention?”
“Yeah, you totally got me, I just really wanted some quality time with the secret prison cells you have in an unmarked floor of your office building.”
“So that the people you work for could get a better handle on our security?”
“Oh my God, sarcasm is dead.” Bucky presses his forehead harder against Coulson’s with an exaggerated groan until he lists sideways and slides right off, his head hitting the desk hard. Steve makes a pained noise and an aborted motion, but Bucky just rubs his face against the metal with a muffled whine. “Listen. I didn’t make a threat. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He turns his head to the one-way window, making entreating eye contact with an area about four feet to the left of Steve’s head. “Whatever the fuck is going on, I either didn’t do it or didn’t mean it.” He tilts his head upward toward Coulson. “You’ve given me a ‘final chance’ to come clean, like, twice now. I’ve said everything I’m going to say. So can I go already, or are you gonna literally execute me for literally nothing?”
“Not quite yet, Mr. Bar—”
“FOR FUCK’S SAKE!” Bucky shoots into action, standing upright and slamming his hands on the table so suddenly that Natasha’s hand actually goes to her gun before she realizes he hasn’t launched some sort of attack. “I don’t know what the fuck I did, and I’m not gonna know what I did no matter how much longer you keep me here! Can’t you just put me out of my misery and do something already?!” He slams his hand down one more time, the smack of metal on skin resounding across the room. “Will you at least tell me what the fuck you’re accusing me of?!”
“That’s it, I’m going in there.” Steve snaps into action equally suddenly, to the point that Natasha wouldn’t have time to slide between him and the interrogation room door if she weren’t already on alert; Sam sighs and stands reluctantly when Natasha shoots him her own ‘this bitch’ look. “He’s obviously not guilty, we have to stop this—”
“—just let Coulson work, man.” Sam puts a hand on his shoulder and steers him back over to his place by the window, ignoring his protests before he drops back into his seat. “If it’s actually nothing, he’ll figure it out and make it up to this guy.”
Coulson watches the entire outburst with a sigh before shifting and crossing his arms and closing his eyes briefly. When he speaks again, his voice is harsh and impersonal. “At 11:53 PM last night, you made a threat against one of the Avengers on your public Twitter account with the handle ‘buck_me_barnes’—”
“What the actual fuck!” Bucky actually throws his hands in the air before turning away from Coulson, like the back wall will have a better time understanding him than the human being across from him. “What the fuck makes you think I’d do something stupid like that, I may be a mess but I’m not suicidal— ”
Coulson just raises his voice to speak over him, which makes both Steve and Sam wince. “—proclaiming your intent to murder Steve Rogers, also known as Captain America. Your tweet was caught by our internet filters and we were alerted immediately. Do you deny it?”
“Yeah, I fucking deny it, because I didn’t fucking do it!” Bucky slams his hands on the table again and then immediately regrets it, if the way his expression seizes up in pain is any indication. Steve looks like he might bolt back any second, so Natasha drums her fingers animatedly on her knee until Sam looks over and jerks her head at the door. The two nod simultaneously and subtly reposition themselves so they’re closer to Steve, just in case they need to drag a real-life super-soldier back before he tries to release the man who might be trying to assassinate him or something. Sometimes Natasha looks at her life and hates what it’s become. “You’d better take another look at whatever the fuck you’re talking about, because someone here should be getting fucking fired for this bullshit and here’s a hint, it ain’t fucking me—”
“So you’re telling me the handle we read aloud wasn’t yours?”
“That’s my fucking handle, sure, but I haven’t fucking threatened anyone!” Bucky screams, conveniently forgetting that he just threatened the entirety of SHIELD with a lawsuit not five minutes ago. “And before you feed me any bullshit, I checked my phone this morning and everything was just how I’d left it last night, so unless you can time travel and hacked my phone in the fucking past, which by the way is really overkill if you wanted to off me because I’m a fucking office worker—”
“And you’re denying you tweeted anything of the kind?”
“Other than suggesting Stark put a repulsor where his penis should be in Mark 51? Denied, motherfucker!” Bucky slams a hand on the table for emphasis, which makes all three of the Avengers in the hidden room burst into simultaneous giggles. “What the fuck does this alleged tweet say, anyway? I’d like to fucking know!”
“I haven’t had the time to read it personally, but our web filters analyzed the language and determined it to be of a threatening nature.” Coulson turns to the ceiling. “JARVIS, if you could please read the tweet aloud?”
“Certainly, sir. ‘11:53 PM, buck_me_barnes.’” The robotic tone is so incongruous with the ridiculous twitter handle (and, indeed, with the entire ridiculous situation) that Natasha nearly loses it. Sam and Steve, who are not bound by professionalism and reputation, laugh to their heart’s content. Those bastards. She’d hate them if she didn’t love them. “104 likes, 52 retweets. ‘I want to suffocate Steve Rogers with my thighs.’”
Sam and Steve both freeze mid-laugh. Natasha slowly and carefully lifts her wrist, pushes a button on her bracelet, and starts recording the proceedings.
To his credit, James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes doesn’t look ashamed, or sheepish, or even surprised. If anything, he just looks angrier, eyes widening so comically that they nearly fall out of his skull as he slams his hands on the table again and breathes out an incredulous half-laugh. “THAT’S WHAT THIS IS ABOUT?!”
Coulson, for his part, stares up at Bucky with such a betrayed look of frozen horror that Natasha actually goes the extra step and presses another button, capturing the moment and airdropping the photograph to her phone for posterity. When he speaks, his voice comes out as a hoarse whisper. “Why…?” He swallows and starts again, trying for some semblance of normality. “...Why would you tweet something like that?!”
“If you must know, sir,” and somehow he manages to make ‘sir’ come out with the same inflection most people reserve for ‘motherfucking son of a bitch’, “it’s because I have a difficult time doing my job when my job involves monitoring the man with the best fucking ass in the United States of America.” He slowly lowers himself back into his seat until he’s at eye level, making extreme eye contact with Coulson until Coulson turns away to make mortified eye contact in Natasha’s general direction through the one-way glass. Natasha would take another picture, if she weren’t too busy catching Steve’s red-faced sputtering. “Sometimes, I vent to my twitter followers. Sometimes, it’s about hot men with washboard abs. Can I go now, or do you need a graphic description of how I pleasure myself at night?”
Sam drops his coffee cup. Natasha has to bite her tongue to stop herself from howling.
And the thing is that Bucky’s already established he has no sense of shame or self, and he looks about ready to really start digging into that topic as he inhales in preparation for a long-winded explanation, which is probably more than anything else what makes Coulson slap the cell phone they confiscated from him onto the interrogation table with a panicked look and gesture toward the door to the room with the hidden Avengers. “Y...you’re free to go, Mr. Barnes.” He swallows self-consciously and fiddles with his elbow, clearly subdued, and tacks on an afterthought. “I’m genuinely sorry for the trouble. We’ll update the filter to...er, recognize that sort of language in the future.”
“Fucking right you will.” Bucky sweeps his phone off the table with a grand gesture and storms violently toward the exit, muttering darkly to himself the entire time as he yanks the door open and propels himself into the room before any of the three have the time to collect themselves or pretend they weren’t there the entire time. Sam cringes and twiddles his thumbs, to be sure, but Natasha doesn’t even bother looking away and Steve stiffens up immediately, a high flush rising to his cheeks as he turns to watch Bucky storm across the room. The man doesn’t even seem to notice them as he stalks across the floor in three rough strides, shoving Sam’s chair out of the way as he makes a beeline to the door.
“Bucky, was it?”
Time stands still. Bucky turns from where his hand is on the doorknob, ready to leave the interrogation room, to properly face Steve. Coulson actually walks over to see what the matter is.
“Uh. You.” Steve coughs, looking a little cowed by the fact that Bucky does not look any less homicidal, even for the man he was apparently thirst subtweeting at midnight on a Wednesday. “I just wanted to let you know that I would, uh.” He clears his throat, blinking slowly before rocking back on his feet. “I would let you suffocate me with your thighs any day.”
It is by sheer virtue of her ability to withstand extreme, inhumane physical torture that Natasha stops herself from losing it.
Bucky himself stares at Steve a moment longer, face entirely impassive. His gaze slides over to Sam, who is doubled over on his chair shaking with quiet whimpers, to Natasha, who meets his gaze with an evenly raised eyebrow and a deferential nod, to Coulson, who looks very much like his childhood is burning to fucking ashes before his very eyes. He holds Coulson’s gaze as he slowly and deliberately raises his phone, types something out, and lowers it without fucking blinking or looking away.
There’s a split second of silence.
And then JARVIS crackles on over the intercom, bland and expressionless and clear as the fucking day is long. “Sir, we’ve received another threat regarding Captain Ro—”
“Read it.” The calm in her voice surprises herself.
“12:42 PM, buck_me_barnes. 0 likes, 0 retweets. ‘Nobody better need the Avengers for the next twenty-four hours, ‘cause I’m about to choke Captain America with my dick.’”
Sam tilts right off his chair onto the ground in fetal position. Steve murmurs something that sounds suspiciously like ‘is that a threat or a promise?’ Bucky, that ice-cold motherfucker, holds Coulson’s gaze even as a wicked smile spreads over his face, staring him right in the horrified eyes as he opens his mouth.
“And I mean every word of it.”