Bucky kills Zola on Tuesday, stops at the grocery store around the block from his apartment, feeds a stray cat, and spends the next few hours lying fully clothed in his bathtub, nursing a bottle of the nicest whiskey he can afford.
It’s a typical Tuesday night, and this is how he celebrates killing the man that had been responsible for torturing him so many years ago.
Mazal tov, he toasts to himself, as he tips the bottle and chugs loud enough that he can hear his throat work.
Killing Zola hadn’t brought his arm back, nor could it erase the horrors he’d experienced during his capture or even ease his nightmares, but god, it felt good to shoot that man in the head.
Plus, someone else had hired Zola’s disposal and had done all the tedious work of finding him for Bucky. Getting paid to exact the pleasure of his revenge seriously improved Bucky’s opinion on the hitman business.
Though, honestly, he’s pretty shit at it.
Bucky didn’t even take Peggy’s money.
With his limbs loose and heavy, the tension that had felt coiled beneath his skin for what felt like decades unravelled as he tips his head back, he closes his eyes and lets his vision swim.
Through the shower wall he shares with his neighbour, Bucky listens to how the ancient pipes creak as he fiddles with the facet before exhaling a wet sigh of relief in the growing steam.
Bucky is similarly relieved, and only has a moment to remember that his new neighbour probably has no idea how thin the wall is between them.
According to the old man in 2A, Bucky’s neighbour, Tony, is some rich man’s son – young, disinherited, but a genius, leaving behind years of neglectful parenting to live life on his own terms.
(Gentlemanly demeanour aside, Edwin Jarvis is probably the biggest gossip in the boroughs.)
With his upbringing in mind, Tony probably has no idea that Bucky can hear him singing – and after Bucky toasts to him too – to new beginnings – he resolves not to rain on Tony’s parade.
Besides, he’s got a nice voice, Bucky thinks absently, closing his eyes and letting the chorus of Someone like you roll over him in Tony’s baritone.
Bucky forgets entirely about his resolution to keep mum about the thin walls when literally the next time they happen to be in their respective bathrooms simultaneously, he starts singing along to Tony’s charmingly obnoxious rendition to All Star.
It’s not Bucky’s fault.
The song is a fucking anthem.
Nonetheless, the singing abruptly stops, and only the sound of their individual showers fill their individual bathrooms until Tony picks up once more, a little quieter, “Hey now, you’re an all-star…”
To which Bucky cautiously adjourns with, “Get your game on, go play...”
By the time they’re at their second pass on the song, it’s a competition of who can yell it the loudest, and they’re abruptly interrupted when someone from the floor above them starts stomping their feet and demanding they shut up.
Stupidly, Bucky finds himself grinning at the tiled wall they share, and then Tony is sniffing a watery echo, “People just can’t appreciate good music.”
“You’ve got that right,” Bucky declares.
“How do you feel about Queen?”
“Depends,” he says, tone thoughtful, “do you know all the words to Bohemian Rhapsody?”
From the other side of the wall, Tony scoffs. “What am I, a heathen?”
Bucky smirks. “Same time tomorrow?”
It becomes something they do whenever their schedules coincide – between Bucky’s hits and…whatever it is Tony does.
Bucky’s resolute in not asking what lest Tony volley the question back, and Bucky doesn’t think he’ll approve of Bucky’s day job – such as it is.
In any case, Bucky pieces what he can about his neighbour well enough from their shared showers:
Remarks about Tony’s difficult relationship with his father (“He runs a company, a big one. I found out some stuff about one of his colleagues. Dear old dad didn’t listen to me though. Sent me packing. Figured I’d show him, in more ways than one, how wrong he is. It’s a work in progress.”); Bucky’s military service (“I hated it, but I didn’t have many options which only meant that when I came back I had even fewer.”); Tony’s attempt at a new life (“It’s going great,” he brightly informs, and Bucky can practically see his eyebrows wiggle, “I’ve got myself someone willing to do duets with me.”) and Bucky’s (“I get my pick of targets so I can’t complain now.”)
They even talk about their various other neighbours (“Phil Coulson lives above us,” Bucky tells him one day after getting interrupted in their masterclass performance of A Whole New World, to which Tony responds with, “We should put a fish head in his vents.”) and making sure the other is still alive (“When do you even sleep, darlin’?” Bucky asks once and if it weren’t for the wall between them, Bucky has no doubt that Tony would be looking at him blankly).
And Bucky thinks, despite everything, that they’re friends, the open secret they keep over their respective jobs withstanding.
It gets to the point where Bucky can crawl into the tub after a shitty day, start humming, and have Tony serenade him through the night.
Bucky isn’t as good a singer, but Tony seems perfectly happy hearing the Romanian lullabies Bucky favours in his solos.
Suffice to say, sharing vague work complaints seems like a natural progression.
From everything about the identical awful hours they seem to work to the ungrateful customers they deal with (“I could just kill that fucker,” Tony snarls once to which Bucky, using a sharpened blade to shave, thoughtfully asks around the foam coating his chin, “What’s his name?”), verbally guiding each other through medical issues (“Use the alcohol to sterilize,” after which Tony cursed him for ten straight minutes) to talking each other down one panic attack after another (apparently Tony had been kidnapped before; Bucky’s still working on getting that name).
Sometimes it’s nothing more than keeping each other company while the other, usually Tony, sings, something he’s been doing more often as a result of some vague hand-wavy work-related stress (“It involves my dad, so, you know. It’s a lot of pressure.”).
On one such Saturday night, Bucky is sitting in the tub, cradling his head with one arm propped up on the lip of it, nursing a glass of whiskey like he’s got a problem.
Which he doesn’t, to be clear.
He’s got ninety-nine problems and about all of them has to do with the Stane job, Hank Pym and Howard Stark yelling from separate monitors just outside his door, making up at least half of them, while the other half is made up of the fact that neither of them ordered the Stane hit in the first place.
Not that it matters to Bucky anyway, even if they don’t pay him.
He doesn’t want their money for this anyway.
He takes a sip of his whiskey.
Relishes the burn, and sets his glass aside a moment later, tilts his head back and closes his eyes, letting the sound of the water from Tony’s shower wash over him.
It’s too early in the morning to be evening, but too late in the day to count as morning; it’s an awkward hour which seems to fit the awkward position he finds himself curling into while in the tub – almost getting shanked can do that to a guy.
Still, having to get his stitches done in the bathroom to avoid getting blood on the floor had given Bucky the opening he needed to avoid the showdown in the combined living room-dining room of his apartment. Not that he can ignore the arguments over how this could’ve been done another way and our company’s reputation! when Stane had been exposed selling SHIELD Tech under the table to terrorists.
Still, Bucky’s glad he doesn’t have to sit through it especially since Hope had shooed him out of his own living room slash dining room so she could handle it.
He doesn’t think she wants either men to know that she’d been responsible for the hit – she had to be, given that she’d been the one to gather all the information on Stane’s illegal dealings and his role in the slaughter of millions of innocents, all while arranging it to be played out in the court of public opinion like a witch on trial.
It had the international community practically cheering for Bucky to pull the trigger.
That Stane happened to be the one that ordered Bucky fitted with the experimental prosthetic during Hydra’s capture because apparently Stane was such a shitty person that he was linked with Hydra, only made Bucky all the more willing.
Which brings Bucky to this – the aftermath – he supposes he could continue being a hitman; he’s built up quite the reputation, but now that he knows everyone responsible for what happened to him is gone – what now?
He’s tempted to reach for the glass again, drain it and toss it aside just to hear it shatter, when Tony starts singing.
It’s not in English this time, it isn’t always.
Bucky’s been treated to everything from The Smiths to Britney Spears to the entirety of the Mulan soundtrack to some choice selections from Les Misérables.
This time it’s something in Italian.
An opera? A sonata? God, Bucky doesn’t know.
But Tony has a voice like whiskey and it soothes Bucky just like it too.
He closes his eyes against the age-old rage, and by the time his neighbour’s shower is done, the knob squeaking as he switches the water off, Bucky forgets his drink entirely, his newly stitched side barely pinging a response more than a belated wince as he rouses enough to shift.
“Hey,” Tony prods from across the wall, “rough day?”
“A day,” he admits.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“Not really,” Bucky says, staring up at the ceiling. It doesn’t matter who hired him. It doesn’t matter that Bucky’s managed to get revenge on almost everyone for what happened to him. It doesn’t matter.
(Except it does.)
“Just…you know. Feel like my life’s mission has been fulfilled.”
“Vaguely,” he says with a smirk. “Anyway, how was your day?”
Tony hums. “Good, good. Went great.”
“How about that thing with your dad?” Bucky asks, turning his head to speak to the wall.
On the other side of it, Tony huffs, though it sounds like a laugh. “He didn’t appreciate it, but Howard’s never been a fan of being wrong – and he was so incredibly wrong about Obie.”
Bucky nods along, pauses, and then Tony’s words trickle in, “What?”
“Don’t worry about Hank and Howard,” Tony says over Bucky’s confusion, “Hope’ll take care of it. As for your life’s mission – I have a proposal for you.”
“Don’t you think we should meet face to face first before agreeing to that kind of commitment?”
Tony snorts, and from outside Bucky’s bathroom door, Hope sighs loudly before shouting, “You two are perfect for one another.” Before tacking on to yell a little louder, “And are you seriously giving him the pitch in the bathroom, really?”
Ignoring her, Tony says anyway, “James Barnes, my name is Tony Stark. How would you like to join the Avengers Initiative?”