Chapter 1: no one gets it easy
no one gets it easy
If there’s one thing Bucky knows about DC, it’s that Sunday brunch will always, inevitably segue into a protest. It's a truth universally acknowledged. Like how White House staffers have the foulest mouths this side of the Rubicon. And how the Press Corps are always relegated the shittiest parking on Capitol Hill.
If they get parking at all.
Bucky watches the passing crowd while his eggs congeal into an inedible mess on his plate, more interested in the protest on the street than brunch.
“...and that's why my ex dubbed my dick the Washington Monument.”
“Wait, what?” Bucky says, turning to find Sam with his arms folded across his chest, unimpressed.
“Did you hear anything I've said, or are you too busy searching for witty one-liners?”
That… is eerily accurate. Sam was Bucky's counselor the first year, or two, or three after he got back stateside. They're good friends. Albeit ones that push each other's buttons. Sometimes he thinks Sam knows him too well. It comes with the job, he supposes.
A young woman in a beanie walks by, carrying a caricature of the president at his swearing-in. Skillfully drawn, with his infamously tiny eyes and white hair. Bucky is tempted to chase her down for a photo. Kids these days are incredibly attuned. A few of those signs could make good headers for stories. Just not the one he’s currently writing.
Bucky shakes his head, trying to get work off his mind for a little bit. It's the least of what Sam deserves.
Picking up his fork, he spears a chunk of turkey sausage. “Maybe the conversation is lacking.” Bucky pops the sausage in his mouth, chewing it pointedly.
Sam rolls his eyes. “I was telling you about this guy I met at the Mall.”
“I didn't know you started batting for the other team, Wilson.” Bucky grabs a shaker from the condiment tray, dumping a flurry of pepper over his cold eggs. He scoops up a forkful, takes a bite, and nope, that just made it worse.
Sam, if possible, rolls his eyes even harder. “Fucker. I wanted to introduce you. I swear, you'll get on like a house on fire. You're both assholes.”
Bucky sighs, pained. Abandoning the eggs, he sticks to the sausage. “I don't need you getting me dates. Nadia is bad enough all on her own.”
He forgets to mention that she harangued him into a blind date for the evening. He’s not excited for it, per se. Apprehensive would be a better word. He hasn’t been on a Nadia-sanctioned date since she set him up with a plastics lobbyist that was sleeping with a congressman's wife in the worst kept secret on Capitol Hill. Bucky already knew of the affair before the guy invited him for a threesome within five minutes of meeting him.
“She sounds like a smart woman.” Sam smirks. “Besides it's not a date, the guy is straighter than an arrow. You could say he's from another time.”
“Remind me never to let you two meet. She'll eat you alive. And we both know your gaydar is terrible, Wilson,” Bucky says, matter of fact. “He was probably repressed-flirting with you.”
“She's army, right?” Sam asks, casual. Too casual.
Bucky looks at Sam knowingly. “Retired, and she has no patience for bird boys like you.”
Sam grins his famous crooked grin that had Bucky swooning the first time they met. Until Sam opened his big therapist mouth, and all impure thoughts flew out the window. He helped get Bucky out of a dark place in his life, and he's grateful, but he'll only admit it on his deathbed.
“We'll see about that.”
The door to the restaurant opens, blowing in a brisk spring wind, chill for the season. A couple of college students come in, laughing, dragging along their protest signs. Bucky shivers in his leather jacket, wishing he wore something warmer than a thin turtleneck.
Still, Bucky must glance towards the marching crowd longingly, because Sam sighs, “Go, I won’t be offended. I’ve spent enough time dating staffers to know that feeling offence when duty calls is an exercise in futility.”
“Are you sure?” Bucky asks, already halfway turned in his seat.
Sam waves his hand at him in shooing gesture. “Go on, get.” He grabs an untouched hash brown off Bucky’s plate.
“I’ll see you Wednesday for the meeting.” Bucky fishes a few bills out of his wallet, enough to cover both his and Sam’s meals, dropping them on the table. Sam stares at them skeptically. “Recompense, for ditching you early.”
“You have to let me get it next time,” Sam says around a mouthful of hash brown.
“Sure, buddy,” Bucky says, zipping his jacket as high as it can go.
His car is parked on the curb. A Chrysler sedan from the eighties, it’s the very definition of all-American with a steel frame capable of surviving a head-on collision that would turn him into soup. He bought it off an older veteran whose daughter was kind enough to update his ride to one made this millennia. Bucky loves it, despite a paint job some unidentifiable shade between yellow, white, and brown, and red upholstery that's more pills than actual velvet. It's a million times more reliable than the veteran health care system, and has never once died on him. Best of all, with a spinner knob attached to the steering wheel, he doesn’t need to wear his arm to drive.
Bucky never uses the prosthetic given to him. It doesn’t even fit him anymore. He’s lost a lot of upper body strength since he lost his memory. The person he was before was all about lifting—surely a vanity thing. Bucky’s more interested in cardio. It’s easier to make a speedy getaway when he can dash off like a Loony Tunes roadrunner. It also doesn't hurt that his thighs are mighty fine.
He grabs a thick scarf out of his trunk, wrapping it around his neck, tucking a single glove into his back pocket beside his phone. Only then does he make sure his cloud sync is up and running. He won’t be the schmuck who loses a story because an SD card decides to crap out on him. Ronit is always careful, so he is too. He listens when she tells him to do something. Well, most of the time.
A quick browse through Facebook informs him that these people are protesting the president's choice for a permanent secretary of state; a seat that's long been filled by acting appointees. Colour him impressed. Oftentimes it's only issues like climate change, and women’s rights that get people mobilized.
Snapping a wide angle shot, he documents a street full of angry protesters.
Appointed politicians usually aren’t sexy enough to garner this sort of attention. Most Washingtonians are so sick of politics they can’t be bothered to decry a system over which they have no voting power. Still, Bucky’s seen the new secretary of state’s qualifications, and they’re lacking. Oily men—especially ones with rumoured ties to foreign hostile governments—don’t know jack shit about diplomacy. Nothing good, at least.
Bucky dictates his observations into his phone as he walks, noting the size of the crowd, the demographics, and anything that stands out to him. He’s fallen so deep into work mode, he nearly misses it. The thing he’s been searching for.
“Shit,” Bucky mutters, pushing past a group of college kids smelling strongly of weed.
An image of the secretary of defense from his state department days floats away as Bucky struggles to keep up. He’s at least twenty years younger in the photo, those infamous Atticus Finch glasses balanced on his nose, ready to decline the Nobel Peace Prize all over again. The words ‘What would He do?’ are plastered over his chest. Bucky manages to snap a picture before he loses it in the crowd.
After that, the dam breaks. Pierce’s face is everywhere; on t-shirts, buttons, and too many signs to count.
Average Washingtonians are sick of politicians, except for this one. Everyone loves Alexander Pierce. And it’s not a fickle love. It’s long and enduring, lasting more news cycles than anyone expected. Weeks ago Ronit said that if Pierce knew what was good for him, he’d resign his position as the longest serving secretary of defense since Robert McNamara, and announce his 2016 bid.
Now, it’s just a waiting game. A rich man can easily decline a Nobel Peace Prize when it’s nothing more than a status symbol attached to one million dollars. Especially when the act of doing so endears him to millions around the world. It’s much more difficult to throw away the presidency when it’s almost guaranteed. Time and time again Alexander Pierce has demonstrated his strong convictions. The best way he could implement those convictions is through the highest office in the country.
Besides, who the hell doesn’t want to be president?
Bucky follows the crowd to the steps of the state department. The Harry S. Truman Building looms impressive over an army of cops in riot gear. They stand stiffly at attention, not unexpected, considering it’s only been one year since the entire country imploded in a way it hasn’t since 1963.
Bucky makes note of the mood of the crowd, and the sweat beading on cops’ brows. Stuff like this shines through the maelstrom of crap that gets published every day. Readers love human stories. It's what gets the highest ratings in a city of stone-cold career bureaucrats.
The crowd swells, but the cops stand firm. People shout, jeer, and Bucky gets right into the mess of it, snapping photo after photo. He’s in the middle of taking a shot when someone bumps into him, forcing him to step back. He fumbles and drops his phone, wincing when it bounces off the pavement.
“Watch where you’re going!” He grouses, but the person just as quickly disappears into the swell.
He bends to grab his phone, only to find a manila folder lying at his feet. The person who bumped into him must have dropped it. He turns around to look for them, in vain. Curious, Bucky picks it up. There's a yellow sticky note affixed to the front.
Reading it, his eyes bulge out of their sockets.
“Motherfucker,” Bucky curses under his breath. Holding the folder tight to his chest, he fights his way out of the crowd. All thoughts of the protest, of his story due in a few short hours, disappear like smoke.
Deep Throat’s got nothing on me.
Bucky blasts the heater when he climbs into his car. The folder sits on his lap, innocuous. He could pick up a pack at Staples for a buck fifty without anyone blinking an eye. Bucky touches the sticky note. Deep Throat was the source that blew the Watergate scandal wide open. It's a hefty claim that whatever this is, it's bigger than Watergate.
He holds his frozen fingers to the blower, which has the added advantage of fogging his windows. When he can finally feel his digits again he decides he's been putting it off long enough.
Bucky opens the folder.
A satellite photo stares back at him. It wasn't lifted from Google; it's too high definition, and missing any identifying watermarks. This was taken by a government satellite, or maybe a drone. Bucky isn't an expert. He covers Washington politics; from the scandals to the bills. Up until a year ago he was a junior correspondent for the White House. Before that his expertise was a little more relevant, but he doesn’t remember that time in his life.
Turning the picture upside down doesn’t help. Hissing in frustration, he unwraps the scarf from around his neck with more force than is warranted, tossing it in the backseat. Chewing his bottom lip he flips over the picture, and double takes at the two sets of coordinates on the back.
Plugging the first into Maps does nothing, it’s only nine numbers long, and missing a comma. Maybe it was a mistake? The second drops a pin an hour’s drive outside of DC, into Virginia. It’s a water treatment facility. An odd place for one, that’s for sure. Sitting in the middle of a heavily wooded area, it’s miles away from any town or city, hell even a river.
Strange, but not enough to capture his attention. That is until he flips to the next satellite image.
“What the hell?” He murmurs under his breath.
Even he knows wastewater facilities don’t usually have army platoons rumbling through their gates.
He really, really didn’t want to visit the Air and Space Museum for their date, but Eleanor ‘my friends call me Ellie’ insisted, and Bucky is nothing if not a pushover, sorry, gentleman.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks,” Eleanor says excitedly, pulling him through the gate, tickets to the Captain America exhibit clenched in her fist. She doesn’t mean their date, Nadia only introduced them a few days ago.
Bucky smiles weakly. Nadia meets a plethora of people in her line of work. She teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu at a gym in Foggy Bottom frequented by White House staffers and socialites alike. A lot of them are single, and apparently he’s the only eligible bachelor she knows. She saved him from a terribly embarrassing death, so he figures he owes her a few awkward dates before he finally puts his foot down.
Eleanor is a colleague of Nadia’s, and a certified Krav Maga instructor. He never would have guessed that if Nadia hadn’t told him. Bubbly and charming, she has far too much energy for anyone who isn’t a toddler, not to mention an unfortunate fascination with all things Captain America, which means...
“Has anyone ever told you—”
“No,” Bucky says shortly, interrupting her. He regrets it instantly when her eyes go steely.
According to Nadia, Eleanor broke a guy’s nose for making a grab at her purse. Nadia holds her in high regard. He’s not looking forward to a chilly phone call at one in the morning, courtesy of Nadia’s clinical insomnia.
“Sorry,” he mumbles.
She rolls her eyes, then turns to the exhibit, putting her back to him.
It only goes downhill from there.
Bucky steers clear of anything Captain America, difficult, considering the entire exhibit is about him. Bucky's really avoiding the man at his shoulder. Wherever Captain America is, he's there's too.
Bucky hangs out near Jim Morita’s wall instead. Reading about Nisei bravery in the war, he buries his face in his scarf hoping no one else makes the same connection as Eleanor.
In the end, he doesn’t bother asking Eleanor for another date. Before they part ways on the steps of the museum, she kindly informs him that his scarf makes him look like a douche.
Washingtonians are nothing if not blunt.
Bucky grabs dinner at his favourite Salvadoran place a block from his apartment. Ever since the owner’s granddaughter started working the front of the house, the WiFi password has been posted by the register.
Bucky sits with a platter of steaming tamales, finalizing his piece on Alexander Pierce. He's enjoying his tamales when someone pulls out the chair opposite his. Looking into a familiar set of green eyes, platinum hair done up high and tight, Bucky can’t help the smile that slides over his face.
It seems she was in the middle of an insomnia inspired jog when she spotted Bucky through the window. Nadia’s chest is still heaving as she sits down.
"You following me, Miss Nadia Wood?"
To her credit, she doesn't deny it. She just grabs his fork, digging into his tamales.
"That bad, huh?" She asks conversationally, but Bucky isn’t fooled. She's never done anything in her life without purpose. In this case, her goal is to guilt him into admitting the date’s failure.
He looks over her pitch black joggers and sports bra, "You should wear something with reflective strips if you insist on jogging at night."
She smiles her famously eerie smile that reminds Bucky all too well of her past career choices. "I pity the man who hits me with his car."
Bucky rolls his eyes, rescuing his fork from her.
"You haven't answered my question."
"That was a question?"
"Okay, smartass. Is Ellie crying into a green goddess shake right now?"
Green goddess? Bucky mouths to himself. Then to Nadia he says, "She called me a douchebag, and I only kinda deserved it. If anyone should be crying it's me."
“Damn.” She shakes her head, apologetic. Or as apologetic as Nadia can manage. “I was hoping you’d get along. She has three little brothers.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Bucky grumbles. He knows exactly what she’s implying, he just wants her to say it so he can lord it over her the next time she needs a favour. Oh, you want me to look after your cat while you’re out of town, remember that time you implied I was a toddler? Damn it, he’d probably do it anyway. He adores Liho, even though she sheds all over his bed.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Jamie.”
Bucky huffs, folding his arm over his chest. He then promptly unfolds it, realizing it just proves Nadia’s point.
“She was busy ogling Captain America,” Bucky mutters, “And his famous sidekick.”
At least Nadia has the decency to wince. “She took you to the Smithsonian, huh?”
“Wherever Cap is, he’s there too. The less I have to look at the guy, the better for me. It’s like staring into a mirror.” Bucky shudders. “It’s creepy.”
Nadia sighs, chin cradled in her hand, the very picture of an indulgent friend. “I can only imagine.”
Bucky snorts. “If you saw your doppelganger you’d corner them and demand to know who sent them.”
“He’s not a doppelganger if you’re related,” she points out, unfairly, in Bucky’s opinion.
Bucky rolls his eyes. “Whatever.”
“How is your sister?” Nadia asks, thankfully changing the subject.
“Oh you know, Debbie’s living the Indiana suburban dream. She sent me a picture of the mushrooms growing in her closet. Who knew you could do shit like that?”
“Mushrooms?” Nadia frowns.
“Organic shiitakes, on logs beside her shoes.”
Nadia blinks. “She’s growing them on purpose?”
“My sister.” Bucky shrugs, as if that’s explanation enough, and to some people who know Deborah Proctor—including Nadia—it is. “It's her new side hustle. She sells them at an organic farmers' market.”
“Huh,” Nadia says, like she doesn't know what else she can say. Pulling her phone out of her waistband, she checks the time. “I’d better get going.”
She looks Bucky right in the eye, and for some reason a lump catches in his throat. Her green eyes. There’s something familiar about them. Something from before. Which makes sense considering she was there. She got him out. It’s just… off, and he can’t put his finger on why. He never will. The doctors say the damage done to his brain is permanent.
“There’s a tournament in Texas this weekend. I’m going to be out of the city, completely incommunicado. Don’t bother texting, I won’t answer.”
Bucky swallows down whatever he’s feeling, and gives her a thumbs up, “I’ll be tied up in all this anyways. He gestures to his laptop. “Need me to look after Liho?”
Nadia shakes her head. “I’ve got that covered.” She climbs out of the chair. “Take care of yourself, Jamie.” She pats him on the shoulder as she walks past. The bell above the door dings, and she jogs off into the night.
Alexander Pierce: will he, or won’t he?
That is the question.
By James Proctor
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that Sec. Alexander Pierce (DOD) is the darling of DC. Pierce has become a force to be reckoned with: for peace. Since Pierce began the Winter Soldier investigation, his popularity has risen to an all time high. His statements are vague and few between, but so far, it’s a strategy that works in his favour.
Pierce was the only senior official of the federal government retained during the administration change. But that does not mean he is a Republican. In fact, no one knows with which party his loyalties lie. There was speculation that he would side with the Democrats when he introduced new climate initiatives within the DOD. Then opinions swung in the opposite direction when he expanded development of long range missiles, a move popular with Republicans. Still, he remains an Independent to this day, to the frustration of his most vocal supporters.
Historically, independent candidates are not elected to the presidency. George Washington is the exception, but political parties did not exist in America at that time. Political analysts point to Pierce’s unaffiliated state as proof that he will not run.
Republicans claim Pierce as their ideal candidate, and so do Democrats. On paper he is the bipartisan darling. He is universally loved, because he is not a politician. One cannot wonder if that will change if he finally picks a side.
Subscribe to the Washington Post to read more.
Chapter 2: secret compartments, secret departments
Chapter by ElisAttack
Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day, and Canadian Thanksgiving!
secret compartments, secret departments
The Washington Post newsroom never sleeps, and why should it? The world cannot pop an Ambien and take a well deserved rest, and neither can the journalists whose job it is to keep on top of current events. There’s always someone at their station typing up a storm, or chatting with correspondents overseas. During the day there’s talk around the proverbial water cooler, but the night lends a clandestine mood to the newsroom.
Bucky stretches his arm over his head until his back cracks, releasing most of the day’s tension. A few deadlines sit at the corner of his mind, but he’s the king of procrastination. They can be dealt with later. Of course there’s still the matter of Deeper Throat, as he’s wryly nicknamed his source. He hasn’t told anyone about them. He needs to be sure that the information is legitimate. Or, as legitimate as possible.
It’s nearing midnight, and all the nearby stations have emptied. He minimizes his work, logs into an encrypted cloud account, and opens a folder labeled surreptitiously with the date of the protest.
The high resolution scans don’t miraculously reveal anything different from the last million times he’s looked at them. Just a lot of military vehicles in places they have no business being. However, in the middle of them there is something he didn’t notice until after he scanned the analog images into pixels.
A black SUV. He’d recognise their species anywhere: jacked-up pleasure vehicles armed with an entire arsenal, used to ferry high ranking politicians around DC.
Hair rises on the back of his neck, followed by an itching feeling like he’s being watched. It isn’t the janitor across the room, nor is it his dead parents in their picture frame. He quickly switches screens. The document that pops up is a gossip piece he hasn’t gotten around to killing. Yet.
“You can't publish hearsay, babe,” a familiar voice says, and Bucky relaxes.
Ronit leans over his shoulder, reading off his monitor. “Not unless you want to be named in a libel suit.”
Ronit took him under her wing when he just started working for the Post; back when she still used her dead-name. She one-handedly carries the paper’s investigative traditions, breaking stories left and right. Yet she still finds the time to give Bucky pointers. She’s his mentor, and one of his best friends.
Bucky fondly rolls his eyes. Spinning around in his chair, he smiles at the tall woman in front of him. Ronit is probably the only person who could get away with wearing a studded leather jacket and gigantic rainbow earrings on the newsroom floor.
“Investigative journalism is not a courtroom,” Bucky points out. “We rely entirely on hearsay.”
Ronit taps a finger against her chin, her ruby engagement ring sparkling in the light. “Okay, let me amend that. You can’t publish hearsay from one source.”
Bucky quirks a brow.
Ronit grins, flicking his earlobe. “If someone tells you that Nancy Reagan organised biweekly dog fights on the White House lawn, you can’t release that without being sued for everything you’re worth. Now, if the former White House groundskeeper lets it slip after you get him drunk off his ass. And it was a well known fact that good ole Nancy adopted a flock of pitbulls which were never seen again, then, go nuts. It won’t hold up in court if the ASPCA wanted to run with it, but journalism is rarely as rigorous as legal proceedings. As the great director, Agnieszka Holland, said, ‘don't pretend that you know something you don't.’”
Bucky quirks a brow. “She said that?”
“You didn’t pull it off quotes dot com or something?” Bucky says.
She rolls her eyes. “Yeah, she said that, dickhead, in an interview with Women and Hollywood.”
Bucky wryly shakes his head. “Your mind, Ronnie, I’ll never understand.”
She taps the side of her head, earrings jingling. “It takes a similar kind.”
Bucky nods in agreement. “Speaking of, how’s Jamila?”
Ronit’s smile visibly dims. She tries to hide it, but Bucky knows her, and he knows when something is wrong. He also knows that Ronit will tell him when she needs to.
Ronit examines her black lacquered nails, trimmed to the quick. “She’s… well, you know how it is; midterm elections.”
Bucky has to agree. Midterms make mad men of the most rational.
Bucky drums his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the light to change. The intersection is empty save for the full moon shining on the slick blacktop. It rained a few hours ago, dropping the temperature. Bucky’s heater is cranked full to compensate.
The manila folder sits innocently on top of his laptop bag in the passenger’s seat, enticing in lieu of all the secrets it contains.
He knows nothing about Deeper Throat. They might have been following Bucky that day, waiting for the opportunity to drop the folder. Or they could have been at the protest, and chose him because he was the only reporter they recognised. He’s not the best choice for breaking a story like this. They should have given this to someone with a track record of juicy government scoops, like Ronit.
A sudden honk has him jumping to attention. He steps on the gas, but at the last moment takes a sharp left, tires screeching. Instead of the straight route home, he gets on the freeway out of DC.
“What am I doing?” Bucky mutters to himself. This is crazy. He has to get up early tomorrow, but he finds himself unable, or unwilling to change direction. The story is calling to him, and he isn’t foolish enough to ignore it.
By the time he's outside of DC, a creepy forest surrounds the car, made all the more creepier when he flicks on the radio, and John Fogerty starts singing about a bad moon rising. He doesn't turn it off, because while trouble is definitely on the way, he always thought that life deserves a soundtrack.
The facility looms, a hulking mess of concrete and metal as he drives closer. The surrounding fence stretches far into the woods. It’s pitch black without the city’s light pollution. In fact, the only light source other than the moon is the distant gleam of floodlights. It’s so quiet. Too quiet. This is a facility built to treat wastewater, he should be able to hear running water. Except there’s nothing.
Bucky turns off the staticky radio; the area too remote to pick up good reception. He checks his phone, and sure enough, no bars. Bucky chews his bottom lip.
He could turn back, that’s always an option. But he’s no coward. If his colleagues in literal warzones can risk their lives in the field, he can investigate a shady government facility. With that thought in mind, Bucky hides the satellite photos beneath the passenger’s seat, tucked inside a discrete rip in the fabric.
For luck, he flicks the pink fuzzy dice hanging from his rearview mirror, pulling out the 1965 silver dollar stashed in its hidden pocket. Nadia gave it to him, saying he needed it more than she did. He slips the dollar into his jeans with his keys.
Even with the full moon, he can barely see a few feet in front of him. The ground is dusty, and full of potholes. It hasn’t been repaired in a while, if ever. The chain-link fence looms tall, but it isn’t electrified, and the barbed wire at the top is easily avoidable. Despite his one arm, Bucky works out. He isn’t ripped in any sense of the word, but he isn’t a noodle either.
Using his arm for support, he climbs with his feet. It takes a while, and a few near misses, but stepping over the barbed wire is as easy as pie. Descending the other side is just a matter of sliding down the fence, and landing in another pothole. If there was an Olympic category for breaking and entering surely he’d win gold.
At first Bucky sticks close to the fence, taking pictures. Trucks are parked near the centre of the yard. They look suspiciously like the ones from the satellite images. Venturing closer, he hits the jackpot. At the end of the row of trucks, sits a black Cadillac. Unfortunately, there’s barely any light in the yard to read the licence plate.
A rustling sounds behind him. Before he can turn around, he’s struck across the back of his head, and everything goes dark.
Waking to a blazingly bright room, Bucky groans and closes his eyes again. His head throbs like a marching band parading across his skull. “Motherfucker,” Bucky mutters. Lifting a hand to rub his aching head is an exercise in futility. He can’t move it more than a few inches. His wrist is chained to a table.
“Captain Proctor,” a voice rumbles from only a few feet away. It’s gruff and to the point, like it’s been ground down by sandpaper and left to bake in the desert sun. It belongs to a man with a meticulous crew cut, bulging muscles hidden behind what Bucky can only describe as a mall cop uniform. A thick, ragged scar bisects his bottom lip, making him look like he’s snarling. He’s missing half his left eyebrow; shiny scar tissue creeping down his temple like a snake. ‘Security’ is printed above his shirt pocket in lieu of his actual name.
Scarface is obviously not a security guard.
Swallowing bile, because that's a military man if he ever did see one, Bucky echoes lines he has memorized by heart, “I'm retired from active service, I hold no duties.”
“Commissioned officers are subject to recall wherever the need is present.” Scarface’s lip twitches in a mockery of a smile. He shifts on his chair. “You’re a long way from home, Captain Proctor.”
Bucky shrugs, rolling his neck until it cracks. “I was taking a night drive through the countryside. I seem to have lost my way." He smiles his best politician's smile. “There’s no service out here.”
“You took a tumble off the fence while attempting to illegally access our facility. A man of your condition has no business climbing anything.” Scarface says snidely. Bucky presses his lips together in an unimpressed line. “One of our night guards found you.”
Bucky knows for a fact that’s not true. He may have been clubbed over the head, but his memory of said clubbing is fine, thank you very much. Just as well, he’s not going to argue. There would be no point. Scarface knows that he knows what really happened. If Bucky accuses him of assault, they could charge him with trespassing. Better if they all forget this happened and move on with their lives.
Except, it doesn’t explain what he’s still doing here, and why he’s chained to this table.
Then he notices his phone.
“Fuck my entire life,” Bucky hisses at the mangled remains of his crushed phone. It’s so destroyed he wouldn't be surprised if it was run over by a truck. He can’t even reach for it chained like this. No service, means no cloud sync, so there goes all the pictures he took. No doubt their reason for smashing it in the first place.
“You dropped it when you fell,” Scarface says with barely restrained glee.
“Right,” Bucky sits back in the chair as far as he can go, afraid that he might attempt to strangle Scarface if he got any closer. Rattling the chain, he asks, “Can I go?”
Scarface’s smile grows to take over his face. It’s something straight out of a horror movie. He opens his mouth, and unrecognizable words fall like bricks from his tongue. It's plain to see that he’s not proficient in whatever language he’s attempting, by the way he's butchering it like a stuck pig.
“Are you done?”
Scarface leans over the table, eyes narrowing, watching for some sort of reaction. When all Bucky does is lift his brows, wordlessly asking, 'well?' Scarface seems disappointed.
With a tap of a keycard the shackles fall off his wrist. He rubs his reddened skin on his thigh, then makes to grab his phone, but is stopped when Scarface snatches it up.
“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this.” He slips it into his shirt pocket.
Bucky swallows a particularly scathing retort, clenching his jaw. “Great.”
Scarface holds the door for him. With a hand pressed threateningly between his shoulders, he walks him into a pristine white corridor, which leads to a pristine white reception area devoid of people, then into a yard empty of trunks or Cadillacs. He loads Bucky into a cart, and drives him to the gate which he unlocks with another swipe of his card. Shutting it pointedly after Bucky, he sits in the cart, waiting.
Bucky doesn’t stick around for Scarface to change his mind. He digs his hand in his pocket, and fishes out his keys. Unfortunately, that’s all he finds. He sends a glare in Scarface’s direction. Bloody bastard filched his silver dollar.
As soon as he gets the car running, he takes off with one last poisonous look thrown over his shoulder.
A short fifteen minutes later, and he pulls into a gas station. Months ago Ronit's told him about a colleague who was detained while investigating a territory dispute at a pipeline terminal. The next time the guy took his car in for servicing, the mechanic found a bug superglued to the dashboard.
Parked in front of the vacuum station, Bucky pulls out all the floor mats. Once he’s finished vacuuming every inch of his car, he grabs the emergency flashlight from the trunk. Holding it between his teeth, he goes over the interior with a fine tooth comb. Unzipping the seat covers reveals nothing out of the ordinary. He gets on his knees, and reaches under the seat, collecting the folder from its hiding place. It doesn’t seem like it was discovered, everything is in the right place, sticky notes still firmly attached. He breathes a deep sigh of relief.
While he’s still down there, Bucky takes a peek under the chassis, cheek kissing the blacktop.
Something shiny catches his attention. It looks new and out of place on the oil stained metal. Bucky snaps it off. Holding it up to the light reveals a mass of electronics enclosed in a metal box. A shiver crawls like ants down his spine. He’s sorely tempted to throw it on the ground and stomp on it. He doesn’t know if it’s a listening device, or GPS tracking, or both. And he has no intention of finding out.
A pickup truck with DC plates idles a few spots down from him. The owner is too busy on his phone to bother looking in the mirror as Bucky tosses the device in the back. It clicks, adhering soundly to the metal.
He finds no other devices in his car. Hopefully that means there aren’t any more to be found.
Bucky returns everything to sorts, climbing into the driver's seat. Grabbing his spinner knob, he merges onto the road, watching in his wing mirror as the pickup turns in the opposite direction.
good morning, terrors
There’s a boy crying behind an unbreakable steel door.
Laying his hand on the smooth metal, he can sense the boy's fear and an aching sadness. He looks down and sees a handle, but when he attempts to take hold of it, his hand can’t seem to wrap around its shape.
His eyes water, and a chill burns the tips of his fingers, forcing him a step back. The cold slowly recedes.
There’s a boy crying behind an unbreakable steel door, and he has no idea how to make him stop.
It only takes one Incident to ruin a good morning. An Incident can be classified as something small, yet catastrophic. It can turn a beautiful, sunny day with clear skies and warm weather on its head.
Bucky is unlucky enough to experience three such Incidents in the span of thirty minutes. It’s enough to ruin his entire week.
First, he wakes up half an hour later than usual, missing his morning run. A routine that for five years has kept him sane. He wouldn’t have woken up at all if his neighbour, Norlando, wasn’t blasting Missy Elliot so loud their shared wall vibrates.
Secondly, his coffee maker decides that today, of all days, the hard water buildup in its reservoir is objectionable at best, dangerous at worst, and starts smoking like a landlord with a moped and a side business rewrapping used cigarettes.
Thirdly, Bucky is supposed to call his sister every week, but without a phone, he has no way of doing that. He doesn’t even have a landline, because who does? Bucky can only imagine the kind of conclusions Debbie has reached. He’ll be lucky if the police don’t show up on his doorstep. The first and last time he got blackout drunk and missed a scheduled call, he woke up at five in the morning to someone banging on his door. Debbie thought he’d died, and called Ronit in a panic. And of course, Ronit freaked because Debbie has no chill whatsoever.
Bucky needs a new phone as soon as possible. Preferably one the government knows nothing about. And isn't that great? He wouldn't be in this situation in the first place if he wasn't so stupid. He was cocky, is what he was. He was cocky, and he was impatient. And it’s gonna come back to bite him in the ass.
Bucky groans, next time he gets a gut feeling, he's making a pros and cons list before acting on it, which just goes to show how inexperienced he really is. He’s never telling Ronit. She’ll never let him live it down.
His quest for a new phone takes him to Norlando Jones’ stoop. Norlando is in his early twenties, and has a side business that rakes in enough dough to afford him a classic Mustang. Yet he still lives with his ma, taking care of her.
Bucky’s other neighbour, Jacob, is a nurse who works the weirdest hours, probably in a ward dealing with lots of bodily fluids. He’s forever heading to the laundry room with a basket of scrubs. When he’s not washing his scrubs, he’s quiet as a mouse.
Bucky hammers on Norlando’s door, it's the only way anyone could hear him over the music. A few earth-quaking knocks later, and it opens under his fist. Norlando leans against the frame, shirtless, but in smiley emoji boxers, his usual waves protected with a silky durag.
“Neighbour Buck, what up?” He twirls a granny smith apple in his hand, biting into it with relish. A warm, toasty smell wafts from inside, tempting, but Bucky isn’t here to beg for coffee. He has something else in mind.
“How’s business?” Bucky asks, subtlety not lost on him.
Norlando points a pinky in between his eyes. “I read your piece on Initiative 71.”
“That right?” Bucky says carefully.
Initiative 71 is a voter-approved ballot expected to pass in November. It will effectively legalize the use of recreational marijuana in DC. The problem, as Bucky laid out in his article, is that selling weed is still illegal. And it’s expected to stay that way. Something that Norlando is well aware of, considering he is an entrepreneur with a degree in botany from Georgetown, and has the ability to breed the kind of weed that would make a red-eyed stoner wax poetic.
Legal to possess, but illegal to sell. It’s a conundrum of the biggest proportion, and a perfect example of what happens when the wishes of the people don't meet up with the interests of those governing them.
Norlando shrugs. “No one ever said the government was smart people.”
Bucky chuckles. “I’ll raise my cup to that.”
Norlando lets out a mighty guffaw, but his mouth twists with bitterness. “And the prisons will stay full another day.” He shakes his head. “What brings you to my door, neighbour Buck?”
Bucky chews on his cheek. He wouldn’t say he’s friends with Norlando. They’re two people with an understanding. Bucky doesn’t publish anything with Norlando’s identity in it, and Norlando feeds him juicy scoops. The favour he’s about to ask goes well beyond anything he’s requested before, but it’s within Norlando’s capacity to provide.
“I need a phone.”
Norlando bobs his head. “Ah, but you don’t need any old phone. You need an untraceable phone.” He quirks a brow, as if adding an ‘amiright?’ to the end.
Bucky isn’t about to tell Norlando that he illegally entered a government facility and had his phone confiscated by what was probably an army officer in disguise as a security guard. That would get the door slammed in his face.
“I got you,” Norlando says, an intimidating gleam in his eye. “We’re friends, right?”
Bucky lets out a nervous kind of laughter that could only be described as the braying of a hyena.
He leaves Norlando’s stoop two hundred bucks short, a pink bedazzled phone in his pocket, and with the niggling feeling that he just sold his soul to the devil.
“No, I don’t know the going price of organic lobster mushrooms, but I’m damn sure it will make me lose my shit, so please don’t tell me,” Bucky grumbles into his new phone.
The nice thing about the multitude of gems stuck to the case is that he can hold it between his shoulder and ear without danger of it slipping. Necessary, because he has a piping hot maple pecan latte with extra whipped cream in hand, and he has no intention of putting it down.
“Hold the door!”
Bucky sticks out his leg, and the door bounces off his foot. He was supposed to meet Sam for lunch, but after last night and the icky feelings that come along with that particular dream, he figured he might as well join group today.
“No, I’m in the elevator, that’s why the line isn’t clear. No, I’m okay, it’s just a tiny box. No, I don’t have a problem with tiny boxes. Yes, I’ll call you later. Good luck selling your mushrooms. No, I’m not being a smartass. Debbie, Debbie, I really have to go—” Bucky sighs when the call drops. “Typical,” he mutters to himself. He’s stuck with his phone pressed against his face until he finds somewhere to reluctantly put his coffee.
“Sir, do you need some help?” Bucky turns his entire body towards the elevator's other occupants. There's an old veteran with a cane, and several medals pinned to his chest. But he wasn’t the one who spoke. Standing beside him is Captain America himself. It’s a startling enough discovery that Bucky’s mouth drops open. The good captain is in a similar predicament because he looks at Bucky like he’s seen a ghost.
The old man takes pity on the both of them, and snatches Bucky’s drink from his hand, holding it shakily. The whipped cream tower wobbles precariously between those gnarled fingers.
Bucky returns his phone to his pocket. “Thanks,” he says.
Captain America clears his throat, and Bucky studiously avoids his gaze. What are the chances of running into this guy in the slowest elevator in the country? There’s only one VA in the city, but he had the audacity to go ahead and pick Bucky’s. Why couldn’t he have just stayed in New York with tin can man, and the redhead whose face is always pixelated in news reports?
“Bucky?” Captain America asks, voice cracking on the last syllable of his name. Bucky stares at the cracked tile beneath his feet, wishing the ground would open up and swallow him whole.
“What the hell is a Bucky?” The old man looks between the both of them, confused. The elevator finally opens to reveal Sam in all his tall, magnificent glory. Bucky releases the breath he didn’t realize he was holding, wishing Sam would sweep him into his arms, and rescue him from this… this war hero.
“Sergeant Thornton," Sam starts, "Your daughter said you were coming. It’s so nice to see you again.” Sergeant Thornton returns the latte to Bucky, none too gently, then marches out of the elevator. As much as an elderly fellow with a cane can march. Sam—the traitor—follows, leaving Bucky behind like the terrible friend he is. He has the nerve to give him a thumbs up over his shoulder.
Bucky feels Captain America’s stare digging into his shoulder. Whirling around, the tower of whipped cream spills over his hand. He barely has a second to mourn before he’s hissing. “God, what?”
Captain America blinks. “You look exactly like—”
“James Barnes?” Bucky says through clenched teeth, squeezing the cup hard enough that burning coffee floods over the rim. “Motherfucker,” he growls, hurling the cup into a nearby bin. It hits the rim, and a few drops land on the ugly carpet. And now Bucky feels like a total shithead.
“Are you okay—”
Bucky cuts Captain America off, cradling his hand to his chest. “He was my great-uncle, okay? Rebecca Barnes was my grandmother.”
“Oh,” Captain America says, face horribly blank. “Okay.” Bucky can’t figure out what he’s thinking, and it’s pissing him off even more. If Nadia saw him right now, she’d call him a wet cat. “Do you need to run your hand under—”
“Of course I do!” He growls, only to clam up pretty quickly when someone in group circle turns around and shushes him with discrimination.
Captain America takes him by the elbow, leading him over to the kitchenette by the windows. Like Bucky doesn’t know where it is. Like he didn’t spend the first few years of his new life crying out his heart and soul onto that goddamn ugly ass carpet.
Captain America turns on the sink, and Bucky shoves his hand under the freezing stream, flexing his fingers as his skin tightens from the burn.
“This is a nice place,” Captain America says, making small talk. He leans against the laminate counter, crossing and uncrossing his arms, making an already awkward situation more awkward. “The decor is different than what I’m used to, and not a good different. This carpet—”
“That’s what I said!” Bucky exclaims, only to be shushed by the entire group.
“Have you seen The Truman Show?” Bucky asks, sipping from his new cup of coffee. It’s not as delicious as the maple pecan latte, but it’s free caffeine entering his dead tired system, and that’s what really matters in the grand scheme of things.
Steve shakes his head, but he grins, wide and toothy. “Is it like The Daily Show?”
As it turns out, Steve Rogers is a perfect example of the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ According to the history books, Steve is a boring piece of American propaganda, but the man himself is something else. He’s got enough sauce to fill a gravy boat, and is salty enough to raise blood pressure tenfold. Bucky likes him. He likes him a lot.
“Nah, it’s a movie.” Bucky blinks. “You watch The Daily Show?” He shouldn't be surprised. From what he knows about Steve, it makes sense that he would enjoy comedic political commentary. The guy has a brain, and is a walking talking piece of historical propaganda; a dangerous combination. It stands to reason that he likes to do his research.
Steve’s brow furrows. “Then why did you say it was a show?”
Bucky waves his hand. “It’s just a name. See, there’s this guy living a boring life in a boring little town. Except he keeps noticing weird things happening around him.”
“Typical of small towns, I hear,” Steve says slyly, and Bucky knocks their shoulders together. City boys, the both of them.
“He eventually figures out his life is scripted television,” Bucky explains, “Everything is fake." Steve eyebrows lift all the way up to his hairline. "Eventually he decides to leave the town behind, despite the uncertainty of the world beyond.”
Steve blinks, then a slow smile slides over his face. “You do realize you spoiled it, right?”
Bucky claps a hand over his mouth. “Oops,” he says, voice muffled. Oh geez. Steve’s eyes crinkle when he laughs. That’s so goddamn adorable, Bucky might just die.
“I see you’re getting along,” Sam says, approaching with a sunny smile on his stupid gap-toothed face. Behind him, the group has dispersed. The spry are helping to stack the chairs. A few others grab coffee from the ancient urn. He didn’t even notice the meeting was over. Which means they've been sitting on this window ledge, swept of dead flies and dust, discussing their weirdly similar shared life experience for more than an hour.
Bucky has never admitted that he’s an amnesiac to someone a scant five minutes after meeting them. But Steve’s lived three years in a world that is so different from everything he’s known. Bucky's had five years to get used to a life he doesn't remember. It stands to reason that he could help out. Get Steve settled in his skin.
“James introduced me to the wonders of Beyoncé," Steve says, gesturing to Bucky's earphones lying on the ledge, "My life will never be the same.”
Steve decision to call him James was one he made all on his own. Bucky’s grateful, though it's a shitty reminder that he looks identical to Steve's dead best friend. He's left to wonder if Steve’s smiles and soft touches have something to do with his great-uncle, or if that's all for him.
Sam grins. “Now why didn’t I think of that?”
Steve winks at Sam, “I still love Marvin Gaye.”
Bucky chuckles. He was right, Sam's gaydar is terrible. Steve gives off vibes. Vibes, like he's here, he's queer, and he's ready to mingle. Sam must have blinkers a mile wide for queer guys who are into him. When they met, Steve was probably flirting with him.
"Did Captain Proctor tell you what he does for a living?" Sam asks with a devious grin.
Steve glances at Bucky out of the corner of his eye. "He did not. Please don't tell me he's a paparazzo."
"Journalist," Bucky says sheepishly. "I write for the Washington Post."
"Huh," Steve says, and his gaze darts away. It ends up stuck in one of the swirls on the hideous carpet; a thousand mile spiral. "Guess that runs in the family."
The President wants America to know he was willingly photographed with a lesbian.
That is, The Rt. Hon. Pamela Hawley MP, British Secretary of State for Defence, and World Security Council member.
By James Proctor
During a short visit to the UK, the president, and Pamela Hawley met to discuss oversight and the World Security Council. The meeting, while crucial to the continued safety of the planet, was framed by Logan Scott, a White House spokesperson, as evidence that the president is not antagonistic towards LGBT+ people.
New Caller [11:14 PM]
Hey, this is Steve. Sam gave me your number, I hope that's alright?
Steve R. [11:15 PM]
I watched the Truman show.
Me [11:16 PM]
Steve R. [11:19 PM]
You forgot to mention that it’s so ducking sad.
Me [11:21 PM]
That’s life, Steve, old sport, it’s sad.
Me [11:22 PM]
And there aren’t nearly enough ducks
Chapter 4: how I learned to stop worrying and love the drone
how I learned to stop worrying and love the drone
Me [10:19 PM]
What do televangelists and fuzzy handcuff enthusiasts have in common?
Steve R. [10:21 PM]
Is this a hypothetical?
Me [10:22 PM]
Steve R. [10:25 PM]
They both buy stuff on HSN?
Me [10:26 PM]
You know what HSN is?
Me [10:27 PM]
No. But good try
Steve R. [10:30 PM]
They gave me basic cable before they gave me the internet.
Me [10:31 PM]
Me [10:31 PM]
So they gave you the radio before the wheel and axle?
Steve R. [10:32 PM]
We had radio in the 40s. How old do you think I am?
Me [10:33 PM]
Stop deflecting, captain my captain, answer the question
Steve R. [10:34 PM]
I give up, what do they have in common?
Me [10:35 PM]
Everything. Cuz they’re the same person 😉
Steve R. [10:41 PM]
You can’t see me, but I'd like you to know that I'm groaning into my pillow.
Me [10:42 PM]
Me [10:43 PM]
All you need now is a pair of fuzzy handcuffs and a headset microphone
Me [10:44 PM]
Get preaching 👉👌
Steve R. [10:45 PM]
The Rayburn House Office Building is where two very different kinds of people keep offices.
The first entered public service out of a desire to do good. To help brace a country with crippling back problems so it can finally stand up straight. They turned their blood, sweat, and tears into a message. On average only thirty percent of voters show up for midterms. But their message speaks to a majority. They are sworn in, and suddenly find themselves trapped within a system they are unable to change, all because of the other kind of people.
Now, these guys. They are the ivy graduates, the Columbia lions of the world. They have big-bellied daddies in business, but foster no interest in the lifestyle. They want recognition. They want fame. They want to be a household name. Some dream of a grand burial in a library with their name pasted over the front.
They claim to have left business behind, but it is an obsessive mistress that will follow them to the grave. It will suck them dry, then it will suck their constituents dry. Bills will be written, and placed in their hands. Their only job will be to defend special interests. They will be walking, talking mouthpieces.
That is how they will be remembered.
Both these people are representatives of the United States of America. God-fucking-bless.
Little is it known, but most house congressional hearings are not held in the Capitol. Instead the Rayburn plays host. In Washington, shitting where one eats is the name of the game.
Bucky arrives three hours early for the hearing, but still ends up near the end of the line. At five thirty in the morning the sun hasn’t even risen. Bucky huddles on the marble steps in his warmest wool overcoat; snagged from Goodwill for two bucks. He dare not wear a parka to the year’s most anticipated political event. This hearing will be the most action the Rayburn has seen in a decade.
Front and centre: sixteen congresspeople, both Republicans and Democrats, versus Secretary Pierce and his secret solution for world peace. For months Pierce has worked tirelessly investigating the incident that brought America to its knees a short year past. Now, he’s presenting his findings to the world.
If Bucky could just get a damn seat.
Bucky watches the professional line sitters with their folding chairs, and power banks, wondering if James Proctor chose the wrong career path. Line sitters make a reasonable rate of thirty five an hour, and are always in demand. Reasonable for those who can afford it; namely DC big shots, and their army of assistants too high and mighty to stand in line with a bunch of tired pol-sci majors, and awkwardly dressed journalists.
When he pulls a packed breakfast from his bag, a few envious looks are thrown in his direction. Bucky learned his lesson a long time ago. He always brings food to hearings, and makes sure to piss before leaving the apartment.
Munching on his sandwich, he finishes it just in time to go through security. They’re shuffled one by one through metal detectors—a process that never fails to eat up an annoying amount of time—then into the hearing room. Lucky he arrived when he did, because the doors close right after him. Everyone else will be funneled into overflow rooms equipped with TVs.
Photographers, carrying lenses worth more than what he makes in a month, stand around looking bored. Staffers chat with each other, while not looking up from their phones. Two portraits of past lawmakers stare down from within their frames, as if casting judgement on the masses.
Bucky’s so busy making a beeline for a seat that isn’t reserved—spotting one at the far end of the row—he doesn’t notice someone in his path until he walks into them.
“Hey! Cow eyes, watch where you’re going.” Looking up from his phone, the staffer narrows in on Bucky like a bird does its prey. The lanyard around his neck has a big, fat W on it, and Bucky isn’t surprised. He seems like the kind of guy who would wear his White House credentials everywhere he goes. He probably shows it to the barista when he orders coffee.
Evidently, Mr. White House reaches his own conclusions about Bucky because he looks him up and down, and a sneer spreads across his face.
“What do you think this is, All the President’s Men?”
Bucky looks down at his chinos, his white shirt and tie, and is only slightly offended by that.
“Dress for the job you want,” Bucky replies, not sure why he isn’t mowing down Mr. White House. Except… it’s too late, the seat’s taken. Bucky sighs.
“Dustin Hoffman?” The man sneers.
Bucky shrugs, scratching his chin, wondering what he’s supposed to do now. Standing will be murder on his back.
"What then?" Mr. White House asks, still bothering Bucky like he doesn’t have anything better to do.
"A Pulitzer prize winner," he says, bleeding sarcasm.
“James?” A familiar voice calls, and Bucky looks over Mr. White House's shoulder.
“Jamila,” Bucky grins as Ronit’s fiancé saunters up to him.
A staffer for Senator Stern, Jamila is probably the best dressed woman on Capitol Hill, not to mention the smartest. Her lipstick perfectly matches the colour of her hijab, and she could convince the grand wizard of the KKK to take a swan dive off a tall cliff if she worked moderately hard at it.
Mr. White House sneers. “If it isn't one half of DC's own two state solution.”
Ronit and Jamila are well known in their respective fields. Ronit is an influential political journalist, and Jamila is a highly sought after staffer. Their individual religions have nothing to do with what makes them good people, and even less with the burning tensions in the Middle East. Racism is one heck of a drug.
“Wow,” Bucky says, lost for words. Thankfully Jamila doesn’t suffer the same affliction.
“Take a nap, you sentient ballsack, what are you even?” She reads off his lanyard. “A liaison? Well fuck me sideways. You're irrelevant, dipshit.” She whirls around and walks off, leaving Mr. White House gaping like she slapped him across the face. Bucky trails after her, impressed.
“Is this why Ronit swears like a pirate? You’re a bad influence.”
Jamila grins, “Shut up, Proctor. You know this place as well as I do.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Bucky waves his hand, dismissive. “If you don't have a mouth like a sewer, you don't have a mouth at all.”
She throws her head back in laughter. “C’mon, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
She pulls him through the crowd into the reserved seating area, up to a man who looks like he would need sunscreen on a cloudy day. He is paler than plaster, and skinnier than a flagpole.
“This is my co-worker, Rick. He’s our media guy. Rick, this is—”
Rick stands up, and holds out his hand. “James Proctor. I follow your work.” What Rick loses in looks, he makes up tenfold in confidence. His handshake is firm, and the eye contact he makes with Bucky is nothing short of unnerving.
“I sure hope so. I write about your boss, afterall. Speaking of...” He turns back to Jamila. “...if you’re here, does that mean the Senator is attending?”
She wags a finger. “Nuh uh. No business talk. I saved you a seat so you could focus on Secretary Pierce, not my boss.”
“Bribery, that’s cold,” Bucky remarks.
She shrugs. “All’s fair.”
Bucky is a hundred percent sure that Senator Stern will attend to support Pierce. Stern has been in office for nigh on twenty years because he acts like a moderate during midterms. Pennsylvania, Stern’s home state, is almost evenly split between Republican and Democratic voters. It’s in his interest to appear politically centrist, even when his actions say otherwise.
Midterms, and the rising cost of milk in the midst of the Vietnam War were how—in the wake of JFK's assassination, and Lyndon Johnson's seventy percent approval rating—the Republican party went from dead and rotting to ploughing the House with a steamroller. They gained forty-seven seats in one fell swoop. Midterms have much more power than most people think.
“Jam,” Rick says, looking up from his phone. His eyes dart to the door, then back to them.
“Oh, right,” Jamila says, just as Bucky mouths ‘Jam?’ She rolls her eyes. “We’ll catch up later, James. You’re still good for the rehearsal dinner?”
Bucky nods. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Make sure you bring a plus one. I know Ronit says Nadia doesn’t count, but I’d rather you brought her than someone you picked up in a bar.”
Even if Bucky had that sort of game, which he doesn’t, he was going to ask Nadia anyway. When she gets home, that is. When Nadia says she’s going incommunicado, she means it. If he accidentally chopped off his big toe and called her for help, she wouldn’t pick up. Her phone’s likely sitting at the bottom of her suitcase.
Bucky grabs the seat Jamila offered, next to a guy with sweat stains under his arms. Bucky double-takes at the poorly tattooed Tweety Bird on his pallor neck. He looks like he’s suffering from a terrible case of indigestion.
Jamila sits at the end of the row behind Secretary Pierce. Rick whispers in her ear, much closer than is necessary for privacy. A niggling feeling in his gut has him wondering if this is why Ronit was acting weird.
When Pierce enters the room, nearly everyone stands for his walk to the table, Bucky included. Pierce commands respect because he is seen as an incorruptible bipartisan figure. He is considered by some to be the only government official that works for the people—not interest groups.
Once the cameras stop flashing, and everyone settles, Bucky pulls his trusty notebook from his bag, fastening it to a non-slip clipboard. The moment his pen touches the paper, Tweety Bird abruptly jumps to his feet.
“Alexander Pierce plans to use the Lemurian Star to launch missiles targeting Russia!” He screams at the top of his lungs. He’s quickly grabbed by a Capitol police officer, and yanked out of the room, but not before yelling the same thing a few more times, “Alexander Pierce plans to use the Lemurian Star to launch missiles targeting Russia!”
Bucky stares after him in surprise. The entire incident flying by in the blink of an eye.
Tweety Bird is probably a crazy conspiracy theorist. DC is full of them, but Bucky scribbles his words down anyway. Looking up from his notebook he finds Pierce turned in his seat. For one second Bucky thinks he’s staring right at him, but he blinks, and Pierce turns around again.
The chairman of the committee clears his throat. “Welcome, everyone, to today’s National Security Oversight hearing, reviewing the DOD Winter Soldier investigation. I will now recognize myself for a brief opening statement...”
Watching paint dry might be easier than this torture. Bucky’s eyes are already closing. Droning on, the chairman lists point for point Secretary Pierce’s entire resume; fawning over his impeccable character.
A glance at the broadcast screen shows Bucky’s sitting at the edge of the frame while a stoic Pierce watches the chairman speak. He wonders if Steve’s home watching him on C-SPAN. He likes being politically active, but does that extend to congressional hearings? This early in the morning, he's probably curled up in bed with a steaming coffee, bare to the waist, smiling at the TV...
...and that’s a dangerous thought, he’s gotta steer clear of those while he’s working.
Secretary Pierce is sworn in, and his testimony begins in full.
“Good morning, chairman, and members of the committee.” Pierce speaks clearly, radiating calm.
His suit is impeccably pressed, his hair combed so not a strand sits out of style, and he holds himself steady like a man his age should not be able to.
“As this room is aware, in February of 2013, the President, and eight secret servicemen were assassinated by a foreign operative on American soil. This operative—the Winter Soldier—is an enhanced individual created by our enemies. Since that terrible day, my staff and I have worked thoroughly, quietly, and with integrity to restore the public’s faith in their government.”
That day in February, Bucky was in a meeting with Ronit when their editor ran in and switched the screen to CNN. The aerial view was terrible; black SUVs gutted, burns on the blacktop, and dead bodies scattered over the highway like roadkill. Pierce forgot to mention the twenty-four civilians killed during the attack.
Ronit’s jaw had fallen open, eyes wide with shock. He’ll remember what she said next until he’s old and grey.
“That sonofabitch didn’t deserve to die like JFK.”
Because yeah, the former president sucked hemorrhoidic ass. He didn’t deserve the honors posthumously bestowed on him. He was a dick. A total, complete, and utter dick. And now his Vice President—chosen to appease the religious right, who knew the bastard had not one scrap of godliness in him—is President. And he’s doing everything in his power to send queer kids off to conversion camps, and to stick his unwanted nose in womens’ rights.
Bucky lips twist in a sneer.
“In order to ensure that such acts of terrorism never again occur, we must have peace. We will decrease the level of human involvement in armed conflicts.” Whispers sound throughout the room, but Pierce waits for quiet before continuing. “Now, this does not mean we remove ourselves as peacekeepers. Instead, we propose the deployment of artificial intelligence systems to facilitate the critical roles we play...”
Bucky listens to Pierce talk, and with each word that falls from his mouth, his heart sinks deeper and deeper into his stomach.
What… complete and utter bullshit.
The United States has a long and gory history of sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. When the CIA got involved in Chile during the Cold War, they deposed a democratically elected president. Then they backed the decades long dictatorship of a man who committed countless human rights violations, all because politicians were terrified of a little socialism. America has made terrible mistakes in its past. But the point of the game is to learn from those mistakes. Not make them again.
Pierce’s words get nods and approving looks across the committee, and Bucky sits there, dumbfounded. Does no one understand what he is saying? He is publicly advocating mass surveillance. That’s the only reason the DOD would need an AI of the magnitude he’s prescribing. He wants to replace people with machines in some of the most sensitive conflicts around the world. Coming from a former State Department man, it’s fucking bonkers.
Each of the committee members speak their piece, commending Pierce on his efforts, asking questions that don’t matter. None question what a terrible idea it is to spy on allies and enemies alike. Bucky must be mired in bizarro world, because this is fucking insane.
A glance towards Jamila finds her whispering with Rick. Is no one but him hearing this?
“Mr. Pierce, is it true you believe Russian interference led to the assassination of the President?”
Bucky’s breath catches in his throat. A greying, African-American congressman speaks into the mic, concern writ large across his face. The plaque in front of him reads Mr. Sawyer. He’s the representative for Illinois's second congressional district, and he looks about as worried as Bucky feels.
“My beliefs are irrelevant, the facts speak for themselves,” Pierce says, staring down Sawyer with those unwavering eyes. “A Russian operative assassinated the President. He wore the Soviet red star on his chest, and he used Soviet-made weapons. These are all well documented facts.”
Sawyer frowns. He picks up Pierce’s report, tapping the cover. “That you are advocating for the deployment of AI controlled drones is—”
Pierce folds his hands on the table like he’s ordering breakfast and not leading the world into an Orwellian dystopia.
“The drones may be AI controlled, but they carry no offensive systems. Their purpose is to observe, and to document.”
He isn’t asking permission, Bucky realizes. He’s telling. No offensive abilities? That’s a load of bullshit. Pierce could duct tape a machine gun to a drone and call it a day. It’s like he wants to start a second Cold War. But that’s insane. Isn’t it?
Bucky thinks about Tweety Bird, and what he shouted at the start of the hearing. He looks down at his notes.
Alexander Pierce plans to use the Lemurian Star (wtf is that???) to launch missiles targeting Russia.
Shit, Bucky closes his eyes, rubbing at the headache brewing in his temple. This whole situation is going to give him an ulcer.
“Secretary Pierce, a word!”
“Secretary, are you close to apprehending the Winter Soldier!”
Bucky stands with at least a dozen reporters, flanking the halls of the Rayburn as Capitol Police escort Pierce, his aides, and an army of lawyers to their getaway cars. The hearing is over, but it’s unlikely that Pierce will talk to the press. He’s not one for the limelight. Pierce is seventy-seven years old, but he runs from scrutiny like a man decades younger.
Bucky’s eyes track him as he marches past.
Suddenly, he grinds to a halt, and an aide nearly walks into his back. The shouts for his attention get louder, but he ignores them. Surprising everyone—most of all Bucky—he turns around and stops in front of him.
“Captain Proctor,” he says. Pierce offers his hand to shake. Bucky doesn’t know what else to do, so he takes it. Cameras flash, and he blinks stars out of his vision. “Thank you for your service to our country.”
Bucky doesn’t wear his uniform or medals in public, not even to VA meetings. They’re part of a past that doesn’t belong to him. He feels disjointed from his seven years of service, because he does not remember them, even while the scars remain on his body.
Bucky realizes he’s been shaking Pierce’s hand for far too long, but when he tries to pull away, he can’t. Pierce has a strong grip for someone whose fingers are gnarled with arthritis.
“Are you enjoying the benefits of your service?” Pierce asks with a tilt of his head and a condescending smile. “Tell me, what school did you attend?”
“Purdue,” Bucky mutters.
“Ah, communications, was it?”
Bucky once more attempts to extract his hand, but Pierce tightens his grip until his bones creak. Bucky’s eyes narrow, and he decides to try a different strategy. The one James Proctor was trained for, and the one he’s spent five years figuring his way around.
“What do your plans mean for the future of this country?” Bucky asks.
Pierce smiles like an adult would at a child who just discovered how to tie his own shoelaces. “On the record: a safer world.”
“And off the record?” Bucky asks, knowing exactly how this game is played.
“Off the record: you look so much like your great-uncle, it’s incredible,” he says, blue eyes clear as day. “Not many know this, but if it wasn’t for the Howling Commandos, I would not be the person I am today. They saved my father from a prison camp. I grew up knowing their names—knowing my father—because of them.”
So that’s why he’s speaking to Bucky. It’s obvious he did his research, how else could he have known so much about him?
Bucky clears his throat. "When you were chosen to lead the DOD, many wondered why a State Department man was appointed to a position usually filled by military men.”
“Because the president who appointed me believed that defense should be negotiation, it should not be blunt force.”
Bucky reads in between the jagged lines. “But that’s not what you believe?”
Pierce finally drops Bucky’s hand, patting him on the shoulder, “One day you'll understand.” He walks away like he didn’t stop in the first place, disappearing into the parking garage with his retinue.
Bucky doesn’t chase after him like all the other reporters. He stays behind, knowing there’s nothing else he could possibly wheedle from Pierce.
His phone vibrates with a message. Steve's sent him a screenshot of the hearing. Pierce is speaking into the mic while Bucky glares daggers into his back. The best thing about it is that Steve's drawn pointy horns and a forked tail on Pierce.
He snorts, and saves the picture. At least Steve knows the difference between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Leaning against the white-washed cinder blocks, Bucky scrubs a hand over his tired face. Shouldering his bag, he finds the exit.
There’s a boy crying behind an unbreakable steel door.
It looms, imposing and tall. He cannot look away from it. The steel is weighty, like it could sink into the earth if it wasn’t held on welded hinges. Rivets mar the surface, like goose bumps. He trails a finger over one such rivet; the metal freezing beneath his finger.
His breath comes out in vapour as the temperature drops. The cold slips in, and the crying crescendos into a terrible whimper.
There’s a boy trapped behind an unbreakable steel door, and he’s slowly freezing to death.
He hammers on the metal, desperate, but ice creeps from the edges. A lancing pain spears through him like the serrated edge of a knife. Jerking back, he clutches his hand to his chest. Shaking at what he might find, he pulls back to assess the damage.
His fingers are crooked, black and dead. Numb to feeling. Impossible to unfurl.
Slowly, one by one, they fall.
Bucky wakes with a start, sweat drenching his body, sheets soaked through like his bed took a dip in the ocean. He checks his fingers, letting out a sigh of relief when he finds them pink as ever.
Wanting to be as far as possible from his bed, he pushes his blankets off with disgust. Bundling them with his sheets, he tosses them in the hamper, then checks the time on his phone.
In the bathroom, he stoppers the tub, filling it with water as hot as he can get it. Bucky upends half a bottle of pink watermelon bubble bath under the tap, then sinks into the water with a relieved sigh. Lifting a leg, he scrutinizes his hairy toes. No frostbite or peeling skin in sight.
Knees bent, he sinks under, wetting his hair. Bubbles float from his mouth, exploding on the surface. He opens his eyes and sees nothing but a flat expanse of ice crystals on steel.
Bucky emerges with a sputtered gasp, coughing to clear the water from his windpipe.
Shivering despite the steam filling the bathroom, he squeezes his eyes shut, hoping to banish all traces of ice and cold. He opens them again, and sees nothing but green tiles, and his pale, knobbly knees. The dream has never been like that before. It’s always been a metal door, yes, but never one so defined. And the boy’s crying, it’s never been so vivid, so ear-piercingly loud.
Unnerved to the point of distress, Bucky snatches his phone from the tile. Thumbing open the screen, his finger hovers over Sam's picture. He hesitates.
Does he really need to bother Sam this early in the morning?
Jaw clenched, Bucky exits out of his contact list, opening Twitter instead. Surfing through his feed is not so much therapy as distraction; at least compared to talking to a good friend and trained counselor. But Twitter never sleeps, and Sam does. Bucky’s long past the days of leaving panicked voicemails in the middle of the night.
Bucky scrolls and scrolls. Past articles published by colleagues. Past not-so-newsworthy midnight tweets by politicians that will disappear come morning—as much as anything can disappear off the internet. He’s searching for something, anything to distract him.
“Twitter don’t fail me now,” he mutters. He’s hoping for a juicy scandal, a quick piece he could type up and send to his editor. What he finds is so much more.
NBCWashington ✓ @nbcwashington • 1h
The body of 37-year-old Leonard McGowan was found in Meridian Hill Park. Police are urging those with information to come forward. nbc4dc.com/mY4G0L
Bucky’s well aware that when the police ask the public for help, it means they're grasping at straws. He’s seen far too many cold cases disappear into the archives from lack of leads. It’s tragic, but there’s nothing he can do about it. No one wants to read a sad story with no new developments.
What really gets Bucky’s attention is the familiar face in the picture attached to the Tweet. It’s a smiling Leonard McGowan playing a table-top game, taken from his Facebook by the looks of it.
There's a Tweety Bird tattoo on his neck.
Bucky does not believe in coincidences, in his experience there's no such thing. What he does know is that politicians will do anything, literally anything, to keep themselves out of jail.
If McGowan was killed for what he said, someone with a stake in the matter believes it is true, which means that—holy shit—Alexander Pierce wants to start a war with Russia?
Chapter 5: how many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Chapter by ElisAttack
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
how many politicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Three disturbing questions raised by the Pierce hearing
Sec. Pierce’s report hides more than it tells, but his testimony is a different beast altogether.
By James Proctor
Yesterday, Alexander Pierce testified before Congress about his investigation into the assassination of the President, the elusive Winter Soldier, and the DOD’s next steps.
Pierce appeared before the National Security Oversight Committee, and only a few hours later, the DOD dropped a heavily redacted version of the 513-page report. The report left many wanting in all it didn’t say, and Pierce’s testimony raised more questions than were answered.
1. The Winter Soldier is a Russian agent?
If Congressmen Sawyer of Illinois did not bring up Pierce’s largely unsubstantiated theory, one has to wonder if he would have volunteered the information at all. In the report, the Winter Soldier’s identity is outlined in in over twenty pages of redacted information.
At the hearing, Pierce claimed the Winter Soldier’s use of Soviet-made weapons were proof of his affiliation with Russia. As critics have shown, it is possible to purchase such weapons at gun shows on American soil.
2. Artificial Intelligence as the future of defense?
Unsurprisingly, the report redacts specifics of the DOD’s AI program. Pierce’s phrasing, however, implies that the program has been written, but by whom? Who won the contract? Google denies involvement, and many tech giants soon followed, releasing statements from Silicon Valley.
Someone had to do it. AI systems are not born from nothing, and as Tony Stark Tweeted, “the military doesn’t have brains for it, that’s why those h--- tried to steal my s----.”
3. Drones as weapons of mass peacekeeping?
Peace has long been Pierce’s cornerstone. It is what he built a career upon. Has he finally completed a full circle, by making war out of peace? He claims his drone program will forge “a safer world,” leaving Americans asking: at what cost?
Subscribe to the Washington Post to read more.
As it turns out, Leonard McGowan was diagnosed with schizophrenia. At least according to the about page on his personal blog, which also states that he recently started taking medication, and never skipped a dose. People lie on the internet, and Bucky hopes McGowan is lying about his meds because if he wasn’t, that means he was murdered for knowing something no one else should know. And he’s taken that secret to the grave.
Bucky hunches over his desktop at the Washington Post; bought and paid for by a holdings company run by a cheapskate billionaire who wanted to dip his toes into the publishing world. It doesn’t hurt that their editors gently, slash aggressively, steer them from writing anything negative about Amazon. But he digresses.
Bucky combs through the blog, looking for metaphorical lice. Most of his writings are the delusions of a man suffering from a degenerative brain disease. Nonsense, really. The further back Bucky scrolls, the more the blog descends into straight up conspiracy theories. Psychotronic mind control, the faked moon landing, and fluoride in the water turning people into mindless rats, to mention a few.
It’s only within the last few years—after he started taking his meds—that he seemed to focus on one thing with needle-like precision.
It starts—as many things do—with JFK’s assassination. McGowan claimed to have photographic evidence of a shooter leaving the scene, a shooter who was not Lee Harvey Oswald. He believed that JFK’s assassination was ordered by a secret branch of the government working to destroy itself from the inside out.
Bucky emerges from the rabbit hole with a headache, and a strong craving for sugar. Leonard McGowan’s chemtrails crazy blog is officially a dead end. There’s no mention of the Lemurian Star, and no leads he can go off on, just a big, stinking pile of nothing.
His phone chooses that moment to chime.
Queen Bitch [10:13 AM]
Back in town. Coffee at the Dunkin’s on K Street. 😄
Coming from Nadia, that’s not a request so much as an order.
Bucky sighs. After such a taxing session, he could use a mouthful of something not legally allowed to be called whipped cream.
A few weeks ago in group, an Iraq war veteran by the name of Macy Grey—not that Macy Gray—grumbled quite righteously about this particular Dunkin' Donuts. There's a wheelchair accessible sign in the window, yet one needs to walk down a flight of stairs to get to the counter. Real classy, capitalism.
Nadia waits at the table closest to the window. She likes to keep on top of things, and what better way to know the world than to spend an hour people watching.
Bucky slides into the seat opposite, hands wrapped around his steaming hot drink.
“Either that man has a parasitic twin, or he has a duck hidden under his shirt,” Nadia says, pointing out the window.
Bucky looks at the man in question. He’s sitting on a bench eating a shawarma wrap, wearing a Supreme shirt, and Supreme sweats, with a bottle of what can only be whiskey concealed in a Supreme liquor bag at his feet.
“Duck, definitely a duck.”
She looks at him, and her smile turns sly as a fox. “You’re a pair of wayfarers away from a Cockney accent.”
Well aware that he looks like a knockoff Beatle, Bucky tugs at the collar of his turtleneck sweater, and smooths down the lines of his tweed jacket. “My neck gets cold.”
She slowly lifts a brow. “It’s seventy degrees with the humidity in this swamp town.”
“Not in here with the AC,” Bucky says, swirling his finger, imitating the air flow through the vents.
“Whatever you say, Michael Caine.” She slurps up her drink; some icy cappuccino thing. Her eyes narrow, and her lip twitches, the only sign that brain freeze just hit with the force of a sledgehammer.
"How was your trip?" He asks, licking whipped topping off the mountain piled on his cup.
Bucky rolls his eyes. "Such a gossip you are." The sarcasm sheds off of him in waves.
"You want gossip?" She quirks a perfectly plucked brow. "Last night I choked a man out with my thighs, then I didn’t call him back."
Bucky toasts her with his drink. "Now there's the Nadia I know and love."
She flips her hair over her shoulder. “Like I’ve always said, keep them wanting more. Then when they think they've got it, ghost them, and never look back.”
Bucky laughs. “One, you are clearly dead on the inside, you crazy bitch. Two, I've missed you.”
Nadia smiles. “I've missed you too.”
G Garbo @GeetaGarbo • 9 Apr
Shoshanna R. @shoshannabanana • 9 Apr
Trish Walker ✓ @TrishTalk • 9 Apr
sketchy boi @rubadubatub • 9 Apr
June Thornehill @junethornehill • 9 Apr
Howlin’ for U @capmybutt • 9 Apr
“You’re a meme, man,” Nadia states, on her third god-knows-what iced coffee in a cup. She’s bubblier—godforbid she catch him thinking that—but her fingers drum on the table. Bucky was planned on heading back to the office, but a wired Nadia is too funny to miss.
“I’m a meme man?” Bucky asks, with the horrible feeling that he has a clear film of something coating the inside of his mouth.
“No, you’re a meme. Man.” That second-long pause sets Nadia off into a storm of giggles. She pulls her phone from whatever pocket dimension is sewn into her skintight yoga pants.
Bucky crosses his arm over his chest. “Are you trying to be funny, because you’re not.” He tries to appear stern, but fails when he can’t help his grin.
“Woow.” Nadia’s lips form comically around the o, giving the word two more syllables than it needs. “And here I was going to show you this.” She lays her phone on the table. On the screen loops a gif of Bucky making a series of incredulous expressions while Pierce yammers into the microphone.
He drops his head to the table, groaning.
Nadia pats the back of his hand. “There, there, it’s not all bad. You never know, this could get you invited on CNN.”
Bucky groans even louder. The only thing worse than going on CNN is getting shot in the foot. Actually, he’d take a bullet to the foot any day over cable news. Bunch of grandstanders, the whole lot of them.
Nadia scrolls to the next image, but instead of Bucky, it’s a picture of Congressman Sawyer with his lips pursed, worry making him look ten years older. Bucky grabs Nadia’s hand before she can change the image.
“Jamie?” She asks, but Bucky’s too busy reading what's printed over the meme to bother with a reply. He was so distracted by McGowan he forgot about Sawyer. He completely forgot.
That awkward moment when you accuse a patriot of starting WW3.
"Oh," Nadia says, "I think you need to call your congressman."
As it turns out, Sawyer is a busy, busy man. He is also not Bucky's congressman, but Nadia likes to think she's funny, so...
Nadia watches him through the window as he attempts to convince Sawyer’s personal secretary to pencil him in. Nadia’s laughing at him, he knows she is.
“Like I said, Mr. Proctor, you can mail in an appointment request, but faxing it will get you a faster response.”
The Post has a fax machine, considering it’s the only reasonable way to send in a FOIA request to the CIA. The spy monkeys like to make it difficult for reporters; the dickheads.
A journalist’s best friend is the Freedom of Information Act. With FOIA he can request almost anything, from almost any agency, pay the requisite fees, and either it will be mailed to him with a pretty bow on top, or he’ll get a polite glomar denial. All, ‘we can neither confirm nor deny blah blah blah.’ In its own way, that tells a different, but just as intriguing story.
But this is not FOIA. This is booking an appointment for a dentist who’s always on vacation; it's frustrating, time-consuming, and somehow at the end of it he gets a root canal.
He could fax in a request for an audience to Sawyer’s office, but that's all it is, a request. It's no guarantee that he'll get an appointment in a reasonable time frame.
"How about walk-ins?" Bucky suggests.
"The Congressman's schedule is packed tight..."
"And I'm sure that's a credit to the efficacy of your work." A little flattery never hurt anyone.
"If you're willing to wait for a last minute cancellation, or a gap in his schedule—"
"Yes!" Bucky exclaims, first pumping mentally.
"Alright..." He says, obviously taken aback by Bucky's enthusiasm. "Thank you for your call, Mr. Proctor."
Bucky hangs up, and actually fist pumps this time, startling Supreme duck man, who's still nibbling on the same shawarma wrap for some inexplicable reason.
“Got your appointment?” Nadia asks, pushing open the door.
His phone rings, and Bucky doesn’t bother checking the number, he assumes it’s the secretary calling back to say he magically found some room in the congressman’s schedule.
That’s not the secretary.
Pulling his phone away from his face to check the caller ID, he finds that yes, that is indeed Steve Rogers’ sheepish smile, his ears red. Steve should be used to having his picture taken, considering his face is goddamn everywhere, but he still flushed like an ingénue at her societal debut.
“Why are you calling?” He immediately winces at how awful that sounds. “I mean, we usually text. Unless it is an emergency, and in that case you might want to hang up and call 911. Although, you are Captain America, so you can probably handle an emergency yourself. Unless it’s a kitchen fire, and in that case don’t throw flour on it, and you would be calling 911, not me, I realize that now. Uh, what’s up?”
Nadia gives him the kind of side eye that makes him want to crawl into the sewers and switch his career to that of a mole person. He turns his back on her so she cannot further witness his shame.
To Steve’s credit, he doesn’t mention Bucky’s nonsense, he just asks, “I was wondering if you were free tonight?”
Bucky is definitely not free. He was going to stay late at the office, but dammit he can make himself free for Steve.
“Yup,” he quips.
“The Freer Gallery is hosting a museum night, and I got two tickets, I asked Sam, but he…” Steve clears his throat. “Actually, no excuses, I bought them with you in mind. Interested?”
Bucky could swoon. He usually has no patience for pretentious art nights. Those first few months in a New York hospital, Bucky stalked his pre-amnesiac self religiously. He read James Proctor’s good articles, as well as the cringe-worthy stuff he wrote as an intern for the Times. There were many glowing art night reviews in his portfolio, and they are all filed under flowery garbage.
Bucky firmly believes that galleries are meant to be enjoyed during daylight hours. But for Steve, he could weather the bougie.
"I'll be there with bells on," he says enthusiastically.
“Not actual bells, I hope. We have to be quiet in a gallery.”
Bucky’s too enamoured to inform Steve that gallery nights usually have a DJ and a dancefloor. Instead, he laughs so loud Supreme duck man drops his shawarma, giving the pigeon—not the duck—hidden under his shirt, the opportunity to make its escape. It flies towards the sun, like Icarus himself, and Nadia stands by his side witnessing its ascent.
“Who knew you had game,” she says after some time, as they watch pigeon man chasing after his pet, or possibly his dinner.
“I don’t have game,” Bucky says, thinking about Steve’s sad eyes. “I think he’s just lonely.”
After some time, Nadia says, “Does this mean I don’t have to set you up anymore?”
“Fuck you,” Bucky says over his shoulder, stalking off towards Farragut West station.
“Why don’t you ask Steve if he’ll fuck you!” She calls when he’s already halfway down the street. He gets a few curious looks thrown his way for that.
Blushing like a bride on her wedding day, he flips her the bird, and nearly walks into traffic for his trouble.
When Congressman Sawyer was elected in the eighties, he won the lottery of lotteries. And Bucky's not talking about the election itself. Sawyer got first pick of prime office space, and so chose the top floor office on the northwest corner of the Rayburn. He’s never been defeated in an election, and has held the space for nearly thirty years. It affords a perfect view of the Ulysses S. Grant memorial; dedicated to a president who helped bring about the end of slavery in America.
Bucky’s not admiring the view. Not anymore. He grew tired of Ulysses and his horse around five hours ago. He wonders if Sawyer knows of his upcoming plans with Steve because he seems determined to wait him out. If Bucky wants to make their maybe date showered and in fresh clothes, he can only wait around for an hour more.
The secretary clacks away at his computer, studiously ignoring a fidgety Bucky sitting in a squashy armchair. Bucky’s been avoiding the Keurig machine, promising hot chocolate and lattes galore. He figures the moment he gets up to use the bathroom, the congressman is going to come running in and out like a steam engine with a purpose.
Instead, Bucky plugs his phone into an available socket, and streams Parks and Recreation using the surprisingly speedy government WiFi. He wishes that all politicians could be like Leslie Knope. From what he knows about Sawyer, he’s damn close.
He has pictures of his daughter posted all over the office in gilded frames. From her first day of montessori school, to her graduating Dartmouth in full wizard regalia. Sawyer is in every photo; so much love and pride in his eyes, Bucky finds it hard to look at them.
He wonders if the pictures make everyone feel as voyeuristic as him, or if it’s because he doesn’t remember his own parents. They died in a car accident years ago when he was in Iraq. Bucky wishes he felt something when he looks at photographs of them. Anything other than the empty space where they should be.
The door to the office bursts open. Sawyer rushes in, his chief of staff hot on his heels. Both of them look terrible. Dark rings sit under their eyes, and Sawyer’s cheeks are sunken in, his attention a million miles away.
Bucky jumps to his feet. “Congressman!” He calls. “Please, a moment of your time?”
“Joseph,” Sawyer addresses his secretary wearily, “I told you to cancel all my appointments.”
“He’s not an appointment,” Joseph says with wide eyes, clearly not used to his boss’ level of distress, “He’s a walk-in.”
“Congressman, I’m James Proctor with the Wa—”
“I have no time for this,” Sawyer mutters under his breath. He turns to Bucky. “I’m sorry you came all this way, but I’m not taking appointments for the foreseeable future.” He probably thinks Bucky’s one of his constituents from Illinois, and Bucky’s not about to correct him.
“Are you feeling alright, congressman?” Bucky asks.
“Nothing is wrong, everything is fine,” he states, not at all convincingly. Sweat beads on his wrinkled forehead. “Please leave.”
“I just have a few questions about the Alexander Pierce hearing.”
“Get out,” Sawyer says so quietly, Bucky thinks he mishears the vitriol in his voice.
Bucky blinks. “Sorry?”
“I said get the fuck out of my office,” Sawyer spits, barely holding himself back from lunging at Bucky. He turns to his chief of staff. “Nasrin, I want him out of my fucking sight.”
“What—” Bucky says, utterly confused.
“You’d better leave.” With wide eyes, Nasrin grabs him by the elbow, steering him towards the exit.
“Wait, what’s happening?” Bucky asks, glancing over his shoulder, only to find Sawyer ignoring him completely. He’s too busy staring at a picture of his daughter with nothing short of desperation.
Nasrin yanks him along, nearly pulling his arm out of its socket. She deposits him in the hallway, then prods him in the shoulder, emphasizing, “The congressman supports Alexander Pierce in everything he does, and that’s on the record.”
“Vote for us during midterms!” She says, then promptly slams the door in his face.
Since this is a fic about politics, I think it makes sense to put this here: if you're Canadian, and you're legally allowed to, remember to vote in our federal election tomorrow, Oct 21!
Also I made a playlist for this fic here, if you're interested!
do as I do, not as I say
Bucky stares at his reflection in the rearview mirror, and for the hundredth time tonight tells himself that he’s a handsome man with a good heart and he deserves love.
A few weeks ago, he couldn’t look at Captain America’s face without wanting to hurl. Now—one meeting, and countless texts later—he wants desperately for this night out with Steve to be a date. He supposes that’s the effect Steve has on a lot of people.
He’s worn his nicest outfit; a light blue jacket, and a black turtleneck tucked into checked chinos. When he begrudgingly called Sam for fashion advice a few hours before, he suggested a vee neck to Bucky’s distress. Sam doesn’t know that his scars stretch beyond his collarbone, because he’s never seen them. Bucky gets enough attention from his empty left sleeve, he doesn’t need people staring at his neck.
Unlike most amputees who lose their arms, Bucky underwent a shoulder disarticulation. The doctors removed his humerus, but they didn’t touch his funny bone. The prosthesis given to him resolves aesthetic issues, rather than practical. Besides, anything better is far out of his reach. With his numb nerve endings, and the impossible price tag, a myoelectric arm is but a pipe dream.
Someone knocks on his window. Bucky expects a cop questioning the legality of his spinner knob, but it’s Steve. He looks good, despite the baseball cap on his head, and the pair of glasses balanced on his nose.
“Hey.” Steve’s voice is muffled through the glass. “Have you seen a six foot tall guy with brown hair around these parts?”
Climbing out of his car, he’s immediately pulled into a back-slapping hug. Bucky’s stiff at first, but then he relaxes into the embrace. Steve pulls back first, and Bucky barely stops himself from clinging to him like a monkey.
“James, how have you been?” Steve asks, clasping him on the shoulder, looking into his eyes with an earnest smile.
“Oh, you know,” he says, because he can’t exactly say, ‘fearful for the democracy you helped triumph over fascism, since it looks like you didn’t do a good enough job if a man like Pierce can do what he wants without checks and balances.’
Steve must read something on Bucky’s face, because his smile becomes serious. “If something’s bothering you…”
Bucky shakes off his worry. “It’s work, nothing important.”
“Still, if you don’t want to talk to me, at least talk to Sam. I know you guys are good friends.”
Bucky takes a hold of Steve’s forearm, squeezing it in thanks. “C’mon, where’s this party I’ve heard so much about?” Bucky asks, the dull thrum of a baseline echoing from the nearby gallery, facade illuminated with purple lights.
Steve’s expression turns stricken as he stares at the gallery. “I honestly didn’t think it would be a party…” Steve frowns deeply at the gallery, like he could change the program by being disappointed in it.
“I don’t have a problem with loud noises, or parties.” Bucky pauses. “Unless you do, and in that case we could find a chill bar?”
Steve’s forehead smooths out. “I’m good with loud music.” He touches his glasses. “I hope you’re okay with this, I don’t want us to be swarmed the moment we go inside.”
“I can’t begrudge you a disguise, Steve.”
Steve grins, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Shall we, Captain Proctor?”
Bucky makes a show of bowing dramatically. “After you, Captain Rogers.”
They find a quiet spot away from all the music, in a pavilion connected to the gallery’s gardens. Turquoise pillows surround a small pool, over which hangs a piece of art: twenty-one black wood pieces, each representing the word ‘monkey’ in a dozen languages. It stretches from the skylight, all the way down to a few inches above the pool.
Bucky reads the blurb while Steve gets them drinks. It’s based on a Chinese folktale of monkeys who attempt to catch the moon. The monkeys link arms and tails, forming a chain down from a tree to the moon, only to discover an illusion. All along the moon was just a shimmering reflection in the pool beneath them.
It reminds him of the job he lives day in and day out. He’s forever chasing leads that come to naught, which makes it all the more rewarding when he cracks a story wide open.
“Here you go,” Steve slides into the spot Bucky saved. His glasses slide down his nose, but he pushes them up with a knuckle. Bucky doesn’t get how he’s fooling anyone. The glasses are cheap garbage. They don’t even have lenses.
“Mmm, thanks,” Bucky says, sipping the ice-free strawberry daiquiri Steve handed to him. It’ll take more than one to get him well and truly sloshed. Maybe closer to ten.
Speaking of tolerance, he eyes the beer in Steve’s hand. Steve notices him looking and tilts it towards him. “Want a sip?”
Bucky can’t tell if he’s joking. He shakes his head. “Just wondering if that does anything for you.”
Steve shrugs. Leaning on the edge of the pool, their shoulders brush. “Not much. I like the taste. Reminds me of the stuff… uh, my friend’s ma used to brew.”
Bucky looks away. He has a feeling the wound that is James Barnes is still sore for Steve. From his perspective, it’s only been a few years since he went into the ice.
Steve clears his throat, taking a long swing of beer. “How about your friends, do they lead interesting lives like yours?”
Bucky wishes he could say his life isn’t that interesting, but that would be a lie. Sometimes it’s boring, but sometimes a nice congressman pulls a one-eighty personality-wise, and he gets to figure out why.
“Nadia teaches Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She’s former army too.” Bucky twirls the straw in his daiquiri. “Actually, I think the two of you would get on like a house on fire.”
“We should meet, then,” Steve says like he means it. “Anyone else, or do you only know fellow veterans?”
Steve grins. “I’m not ragging you, we tend to stick together.”
“Like gum to the sole of a shoe.” Bucky shakes his head. “There’s Ronit. She’s fun to drink with, but never see a movie with her.”
Amused, Steve asks, “Why?”
Bucky rolls his eyes. “She’s obsessed with Polish cult cinema. I’ve seen more weird Polish films—don’t get me wrong, they are films—than Hollywood movies, because of her.”
“Is she Polish?”
Bucky nods. “She’s Polish-American.”
“Then maybe that’s her way of staying in touch with her culture?”
Bucky pushes Steve’s shoulder. “Stop being so reasonable.”
Steve chuckles. “You should have seen some of the underground stuff the French were making during occupation. Fuck the nazis.”
“Yeah, fuck nazis,” Bucky agrees.
Steve grins like the sun. “What does she do?”
“She’s the best investigative journalist in all of DC,” Bucky says proudly. “She’s finally getting married to the girl she’s been dating since college.” Bucky keeps an eye out for any signs of discomfort in Steve’s expression. Not because Bucky cares if two women getting married makes him uncomfortable, but because he needs to know now that before he gets any more invested in whatever this is.
Steve lifts his beer in a toast, saying, “Good for her.” Surprising him in a way that isn’t actually surprising.
“She’s trans,” Bucky adds, testing the waters even further.
Steve turns to him with a frown. “Should you be telling me this?”
Relief makes him smile. Either someone’s been teaching Steve some updated twenty-first century tolerance, or he’s always been this liberal. Bucky hopes it’s the latter. “She’s out and proud, though her career suffered for it.” He rubs away a spot of condensation on his glass. “Honestly, she’s one of the bravest people I know.”
“Huh,” Steve says, looking off into the distance as if lost in thought. “It amazes me that people feel safe enough to be open like that.”
“It isn’t the same everywhere.”
Steve’s eyes return to him. “I know that nowadays people feel strongly against lobbying, but I read that in the nineties it was because of lobbying that protections were passed in the first place.”
“That was after the murders of those two kids, yeah?” Bucky asks, impressed with Steve’s awareness of queer history.
“Their deaths were publicized in the papers.”
“So all the credit is owed to your profession?” Steve asks, but Bucky can tell by the smile at the corner of his mouth that he’s teasing.
“That’s not what I’m saying at all. It was a combination of everything; an active press, a furious community, devastated parents, and interests groups. They put pressure on politicians to get off their asses and finally grant basic human rights to people who’ve long been deprived of them. No one ever said lobbying was inherently bad. It’s just that more often than not the people who can afford lobbyists are those with their hands buried wrist deep in dirty shit.”
Steve lets out a startled chuckle, like he’s stuck halfway between chastising him for his language, and agreeing with him.
Bucky shrugs. “I’m not going to sugar coat it,” he says seriously, and Steve throws his head back in laughter.
Bucky wakes in the morning with the biggest smile on his face. He immediately rolls over in bed, and buries his face in his pillow, squealing like a highschooler with a crush.
Once Bucky was a hundred percent certain he was okay to drive, Steve had walked him to his car. He stood by the curb as Bucky drove away, like the romantic interest in a fucking rom-com. Bucky was sad to see the night end, but it helped that when he got home he immediately pulled one off, thinking of something ridiculously sappy. Like Steve braiding his hair, or making him hot chocolate in bed.
Bucky has it bad, with a capital B.
It only gets worse when he checks his phone and finds a string of texts from Steve.
Steve R. [6:01 AM]
I had fun last night
Steve R. [6:05 AM]
You wanna do this again?
Steve R. [6:31 AM]
Just to clarify, not the gallery night bit. The being friends in person bit.
Steve R. [6:36 AM]
Not that the gallery wasn’t nice.
Steve R. [6:37 AM]
I’d love to see a gallery during the day with you. Or maybe the Newseum? That might be more up your aisle?
Me [7:03 AM]
I’ve never actually been
Steve R. [7:04 AM]
Steve R. [7:04 AM]
You call yourself a reporter, but you’ve never been to the NEWSeum?
Me [7:06 AM]
I guess you’ll have to rectify that
His mood sours when he remembers that McGowan’s blog is a dead end, just like his unsolved murder. Bucky needs to move on.
Today he plans on dropping into the tax assessor's office in Virginia, where the water treatment facility is located. All for the thrilling job of looking at tax maps.
The idea sprung to mind yesterday when he was driving home. If someone is doing shady shit at the facility, it stands to reason they’d want to keep out nosy neighbours. Since it would look like a cover-up if a bunch of deeds were purchased by the government for no explicable reason, the properties surrounding the facility will be in private hands, or that of a shell corporation.
When journalists look for corruption, they always start by following the money. After all, there is no corruption without money.
Bucky leaves the tax assessor's with a list of property numbers jotted in his notebook. He’ll have to look them up at the county clerk’s, before submitting a FOIA request to an Office of Tax and Revenue. Yes, he said an . There’s no national database. Each state has their own office.
All that work just to figure out if a shell corporation owns any other properties.
No one said bureaucracy was a streamlined process.
The weather is getting warmer, so he ditches his scarf in the backseat of his car. He’s in the legislative centre of the county, which also happens to serve as their historic downtown. It’s one street through the middle of town, surrounded on either side by quaint two story businesses. American flags, displayed in the front of every store, wave in the breeze as Bucky walks past. Every town in America has a street frozen in time, exactly like this one. There’s a Wal-Mart down the block, but here, things have barely changed from the ‘good ole days.’
A couple take pictures on the steps of the county clerk’s, a marriage licence held between them. Bucky sneaks on past, through the front doors, hoping he doesn’t ruin any of their pictures.
Deep in the basement, Bucky approaches the matronly woman manning the property records desk. The floor is covered in a ghastly mauve carpet. What is it with government buildings and ugly carpets?
“Hey,” he says.
She looks up from behind glasses thick enough to magnify her eyes twice over. They dart to his left shoulder, and a wrinkle creases her brow.
“Thank you for your service,” she says, lips twisted in pity.
“Yeah.” Bucky scratches his chin, awkward. He could have lost his arm in a freak skiing accident for all she knows. “I’d like access to these records, please.” He grabs a lavender sticky note from her desk, and copies what she’ll need.
Her eyebrows raise when she sees he’s written the property numbers, their corresponding deed books, as well as the page numbers.
“You’ve done this before.” She holds the note up to her eyes.
“Once or twice,” Bucky says, already pulling his wallet from his back pocket. “What’s the fee?”
A few hours later, Bucky leaves the county clerk’s with a name: Thule Industries.
Now, he needs to find people connected to Thule Industries—the shell corporation that owns the properties around the water treatment facility. Or better yet, find other properties under their control. With that thought in mind, he rounds the corner to his car, and immediately drops his keys in shock.
“Fuck me with a one inch cock,” Bucky hisses. Snatching up his keys, he jogs over to his car. Circling around, he fists a hand in his hair.
It’s broad daylight on the main street of a relatively populous town. How the fuck could all four tires on his car be slashed to ribbons?
So much for sleepy American towns.
Bucky’s just finished emailing off FOIA requests to the Maryland, Virginia, and DC Offices of Tax and Revenue when Sam walks into the cafe, pulling his sunglasses off.
The cafe is a block away from the scene of the crime, and Bucky’s spent the last few hours holed up inside with the shitty WiFi, trying to get as much work done as possible while he waits.
Bucky pushes aside the army of coffee cups on the table, making room. Sam drops into the chair opposite. He looks good, considering Bucky called at the end of his workday. Then again, Sam always looks good.
“The tow is here,” Sam says, “They’re just waiting on the incident report.”
“Filed with the cops already.”
Bucky didn’t even have to call them. He was in the middle of snapping pictures of the damage when a cop strolled up, and asked if he slashed the tires himself. Like he’s stupid enough to stick around and take photos if he did. It was probably some angsty, rebellious kid.
“Good.” Sam throws a thumb over his shoulder. “Your ride awaits.”
“Thanks for picking me up,” Bucky says, counting out enough bills to cover the tab, plus tip.
Sam grins deviously. “It’s the least I could do, saucy pants. I’ve seen the gifs, if you’re wondering. You thought you could keep them from me? You’re a bonafide meme.”
Bucky groans in actual agony. First Nadia, now Sam. Everyone’s acting like he spent the entire hearing glaring a hole through Alexander Pierce’s head. “I wasn’t that saucy.”
“You were so saucy you’re practically Ragu.”
“Y’know what, Wilson,” Bucky grumbles, stacking the cups to make the waitress’ life easier. “If you were there you would have glared ten times harder.”
Sam considers that, then dips his head in agreement. “But I’m a regular guy. You’re a reporter, you’re supposed to be impartial.”
“Bitch please, that’s a lie we tell you plebes. There’s no impartiality in this business, we’re all furthering the interests of the guy that writes our cheques. Just look at the right-wing circle jerk that’s Fox News.”
Sam winces, “Fair point.”
Bucky rolls his eyes, and returns his laptop to his bag. He slings it over his shoulder, then pauses for a moment. Fiddling with the strap, he opens his mouth, then shuts it.
Sam must tire of this because he groans. “Ask me already.”
"Have you heard of Thule Industries?" He asks with some apprehension.
Sam frowns. "It sounds familiar…" He snaps his fingers. "They manufacture parts for SHIELD."
"Parts for what?"
"Aircraft carriers, I think. Couple years ago it leaked that they had money tied up in resource extraction in Eritrea. Big humans rights violations abound. I’m talking slave labor and conscription into the national service. They lost most of their government contracts then."
"But not SHIELD," Bucky says.
Sam’s lips thin. "No, not SHIELD."
“Soo,” Sam says halfway through their drive back to DC, trees whipping past the car. “You and Steve, huh?”
Bucky does not like the sly suggestion in his tone. He does not like it one bit. Still, the fact that Sam is using that tone means that Steve told him something. Bucky wants nothing more than to jump out of this moving vehicle to get out of the conversation, but he’ll have to suck it up if he wants to pry Sam for more information.
“What did he say about me?” Bucky asks, blunt as a tin spoon. He may be good at his job, but when it comes to his own personal life, he’s hopeless.
“That isn’t gonna work on me,” Sam grins like a mischievous fox. Bucky wants to rip his stupid goatee off his stupid face.
“C’mon,” Bucky whines. “Tell me.”
“A friend does not give away another friend’s secrets,” Sam says, glancing at Bucky out of the corner of his eye, before his attention returns to the road. “That goes for you too. You can tell me anything, and I’ll take it with me to the grave. You know you can confide in me, right?”
“Yeah,” Bucky sighs, folding his arm over his chest. “I figured that out while you were my therapist.”
“Anything, man,” Sam says, serious.
Bucky chews his inner cheek. “Anything?”
“Cross my heart. I won’t tell a soul.”
The road is craggy and full of potholes. After a particularly bumpy stretch, Bucky says, “Sometimes I think I wouldn't be so queer if my dick was smaller.”
Sam's nose wrinkles like he ate something sour. “I was asking for that.”
“Also, I like Steve,” Bucky adds quietly, staring into the forest so intently he wouldn’t be surprised if it spontaneously combusts. He’s hoping Sam’s so distracted by his other comment he doesn’t pick up on this one.
Sam cracks a wide smile. “There we go. That wasn’t so hard.”
Bucky clears the lump in his throat. “Any advice to spare for little ole me?”
“Don’t wait for him to make the first move,” Sam says immediately. “Emotionally, Steve’s like a golden retriever; all heart. But when it comes to himself, and what he wants, he’s stubborn as a goat.”
Bucky laughs. "You said you wouldn't betray our secrets."
Sam rolls his eyes. "That isn't a secret, that's obvious as hell. Go get him, tiger."
Bucky pushes away Sam's attempt to pat him on the cheek. "Yeah, yeah."
If there's one thing Bucky knows about himself, it's that he's a big coward when it comes to people he actually likes. Sam has way too much faith in him.
Bucky’s trawling through Reddit at the office, looking for anything on Thule Industries. Most people don’t know what they do. Sam mentioned aircraft carrier parts, but as for specifics, there’s nada, zilch, zip. They don't even have a Twitter. What kind of corporation doesn't have a Twitter?
Bucky drops his forehead to his keyboard, it's frustrating enough to make him scream.
“You look like you’re begging for the sweet release of death.”
Bucky turns his head and is served a perfect view of Ronit sitting smugly on the edge of his desk, one leg folded over the other.
“Am I that obvious?” He asks, minimizing the webpage, giving her his full attention… hiding his shame.
“The only way you could be more obvious is if you climbed on the roof with a metal rod, and begged Zeus to strike you down.”
“God, that’s so dark, Ronnie.” Bucky rubs his eyes, wondering if he has dark circles under them.
She shrugs. “Whatever has you bothered, I’m about to make it ten times worse.” She slides a memo across the desk.
Bucky takes it, reads it, sets it down, and then seriously considers the pros and cons of quitting his job and moving in with his mushroom farming sister.
“I’d rather Zeus struck me down.” He looks to the ceiling with hope in his eyes, but nothing happens. No lightning bolts, no nothing.
“Now who’s the dark one.” Ronit snatches a pen from his mug and throws it at him. It bounces off his nose. “Cheer up. Jamila’s leaving for Pennsylvania with the campaign, and I’m bored. Come over this evening, I’ll pick up a lasagna from Costco.”
“A big one?” Bucky asks, interest piqued.
“The biggest. With loads of cheese and sauce.”
Bucky wipes away a spot of imaginary drool from his chin. He frowns. “I can’t believe you think you can bribe me.”
Ronit shrugs. “Worth a try.”
He whines, crumpling, then smoothing out the offer to appear on CNN, as if that could erase all the words on it. But nope, it’s still there. “Why can’t you do it?”
She grins. “You’re the one trending on Twitter, not me.”
Bucky sighs, hanging his head. “So people keep telling me.”
“Do I have a yes for lasagna?”
“Fuck you and your lasagna.” Bucky points a finger at her. “I’m taking home the leftovers.”
Ronit shakes him on it.
Bucky hates cable news with the burning passion of a hundred million suns. It's cheaper to have five people on a panel yelling at each other in the studio than to send a crew into the field to do actual journalism. Not to mention they steal from print. Anderson Cooper’s face may be a gift to humanity, but that doesn’t mean Bucky appreciates that his show steals a lot from him.
His car is still in the shop, and he doesn’t have time to waste waiting for the bus, so with dread in his heart, he hoofs it the fifteen blocks to CNN’s Washington office.
A producer wearing a headset waits for him in the lobby. The first thing she tells him is that he’s late. Bucky’s pretty sure he isn’t late, considering it’s three o’clock, and he’s a guest on The Situation Room , which airs at five.
She grabs him by the arm, practically carrying him to the elevators, yammering technical gibberish into her headset. He catches the word ‘makeup.’ Thank god. Hopefully whatever sunscreen cum concealer they slather on his skin will stop him from turning into a boiled lobster under the studio lights.
He's being led down a hallway like a dog on a leash when the sight of a familiar figure stops him in his tracks.
"Jamila?" Bucky says, half in disbelief, half in utter relief. He could hug her, if that was a thing they did. "What are you doing here?"
She turns around, and a bright smile appears on her face. "Same thing as you, except I’m here on behalf of Mr. Stern."
“Ronit said you’re supposed to be in Pennsylvania?”
“My flight is in a few hours.” She grins. “You know how it is with campaign staff, most of the time we’re running around like headless chickens.”
The producer clears her throat, tapping her foot impatiently.
His heart sinks when he realizes they’ll be arguing on opposite sides. Stern supports Pierce’s drone program. Even if Jamila doesn’t personally agree with him, she is a good staffer, and will fight for his point of view to the death. Bucky has a tough job ahead of him.
“Captain Proctor, we must go,” the producer says through clenched teeth, checking her wrist watch.
“No hard feelings?” Jamila says, offering her hand for Bucky to shake.
Bucky takes it. “Yeah, just don’t call me a dick on live TV, and we’re cool.”
“There will be no foul language,” the producer growls, steering him away. Her fingers dig into his arm. “Seriously, no swearing.”
He quickly loses sight of Jamila in the hustle and bustle.
She takes him to a private room, slaps him in a chair, then has a makeup artist come in to contour his face until he looks like knockoff David Gandy. They even make him take off the floral tie Debbie bought him, replacing it with one coloured a confusing shade between pink and green. He ends up looking like the douchebag who’s always late for board meetings because he’s too busy doing coke in the bathroom. His cheekbones could cut someone’s fingers off, and not in a good way.
He’d like to reiterate that cable news is the actual worst.
They debrief him on the schedule, introduce him to Wolf Blitzer, who compliments his tie, then fit him with a microphone. One other guest will be in studio. That guest happens to be the senior advisor to the president.
This is going to be a shit show.
Before he goes on air, he sends a quick text to Steve. He doesn’t know why he tells him to tune in, probably because he’s a masochist. Bucky hopes he doesn’t make a fool of himself on live television. This is the most nerve wracking thing he’s ever done.
The instant the cameras start rolling, he’s pretty sure he dissociates because he’s staring right at the camera, and can vaguely sense one of the producers tearing her hair out. Bucky only comes to when the advisor—a man whose solution to male pattern baldness is fuzzy hair paint—says something so incredibly stupid Bucky’s soul leaves his body.
“Everything is so partisan now. Secretary Pierce is looking for democratic and republican unity, we must be able to look past the bickering, to the issue that really matters: American sponsored peace. That is what the president strives for—”
Bucky lets out a quiet chuckle. It’s just a little noise in the grand scheme of life, the universe, and everything, but it stops the advisor in his tracks. He looks at Bucky like he’s a piece of gum on the bottom of his shoe.
“Captain Proctor, do you have something you would like to add?” Wolf Blitzer says.
Bucky taps a finger on the glass table. His silenced phone lights up with a text—probably Steve—but he ignores it for now.
“I find it deplorable that this administration views the fight for basic human rights as bickering . Every single person in this country knows that the president would jump at the opportunity to stick LGBT+ people in jail.”
“That is not the topic at hand,” the advisor huffs, “The problem with you liberals is that you’re always pushing your leftist agenda when we are in the middle of a serious discussion about national security.”
“Oh,” Bucky says, mock surprised, “You want to talk about national security? Okay, let’s jump into that, shall we?
Jamila hides a small smile as she looks down at her phone, her way of wordlessly taking a step back as Bucky tears this guy a new asshole.
“You claim drone warfare will bring about peace? You’re just replacing human soldiers with machines that calculate variables, that kill based on numbers. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about Pierce’s AI technology. Human decision making? Morality? It goes out the window. You keep saying the program is rooted in peace, but America will continue doing what we’ve done before; interfering and killing. Except now we have no motivation to stop. We will inflict casualties on the world, but we won’t suffer them. And I understand why that is popular. We won’t lose any more children or spouses to war. But frankly, I don’t trust this government to know when enough is enough.”
The advisor scoffs. “You talk about morality, but the other side has no morals whatsoever. These are trying times. Terrorists assassinated our president. They are are killing us—”
“They’re killing their own people more than they are Americans,” Bucky points out.
“—and you expect us to lie down, and let them?” The advisor continues like he didn’t hear Bucky speak. “As the strongest country on the planet, it is our job to be peacekeepers.”
Bucky’s brows fly to his hairline. “Even if that means holding a gun to everyone else?”
The advisor knocks his fist on the table in emphasis. “There is no peace without control.”
Bucky jaw drops. “So maybe you don’t care about the rest of the world. You’re selfish, what now? What makes you think this technology won’t be turned on you? What stops a drone from showing up at your front door and eliminating you without a trial?”
“Didn’t you read the secretary’s report? The drones do not carry offensive weapons.”
Bucky laughs. “You must be a fool if you think it will stay that way.”
The advisor opens his mouth, but he’s interrupted by Jamila.
“I’m sorry, but Captain Proctor has no idea what he’s talking about,” Jamila says, looking right through him, and wow, he thought he was prepared for how shitty that would feel, but nope, it’s still a kick in the balls. “This is why we have checks and balances. We have three branches of government in place to stop the others from misbehaving. Senator Stern’s number one job is to protect his constituents. And if that means he must protect them from the executive branch, he will.”
Bucky dashes a metaphorical tear of betrayal from the corner of his eye. “Historically, Mr. Stern has never wavered in his support of Mr. Pierce. Excuse me if I don’t believe that will change.”
“We live in a democracy that defends the rights of all its citizens,” the advisor huffs, anger making him sweat, in turn melting his spray-on hair.
Bucky chuckles, shaking his head. “Why the fuck should I trust this administration when they've already demonstrated a willingness to strip rights from citizens based on sexuality alone?”
Someone on the floor gasps at his f-bomb, and a producer makes a cutting gesture across his throat.
“Okay.” Wolf Blitzer claps his hands, “That’s all the time we have today. Thanks for tuning in.”
Steve R. [5:18 PM]
The studio lights agree with you.
Steve R. [5:31 PM]
Damn! He’s quaking in his boots!
Steve R. [6:01 PM]
Do you want to meet up after, drinks are on me?
Me [6:15 PM]
Ronit bribed me with a big tub of lasagna tonight. Maybe next time?
Steve R. [6:16 PM]
You like lasagna, huh? That’s good to know.
Steve R. [6:17 PM]
Guess I’ll have to buy an apron.
Me [6:19 PM]
The Situation Room ✓ @CNNSitRoom • 14 Apr
“We will inflict casualties on the world, but we won’t suffer them,” says @washingtonpost reporter @James_Proctor about DOD Sec. Pierce’s drone program.
The Hill ✓ @thehill • 14 Apr
Fox News ✓ FoxNews • 14 Apr
Ronit Nowak ✓ @RonitNowak • 14 Apr
While he was still recovering in a hospital in New York, the Times informed him in the nicest way possible that they were letting him go. After all, what use is a reporter who doesn’t remember how to report?
Five years ago, Bucky had no sense of self. He was a living, breathing organism. He could speak English, could remember equilateral triangles, but he was not a person, not really. He was the shell that remained when a person was removed. Nadia jokingly said he was an adult baby; new to the world, and everything in it, but still able to curse like a proper New Yorker.
When she pulled him from that sticky situation in Odessa, Nadia was shot in the gut. ‘Bye, bye bikinis,’ she said the first time she showed him the stitches. He pointed out his arm, and said if it was a competition he would win.
Bucky didn’t lose his arm in Odessa. It was a casualty of the Iraq War, and the reason for the medals and ribbons pinned to his uniform. All he lost in Odessa were a couple brain cells to hypoxia.
Nadia spent a lot of time with him back then. She was recovering in the same room. The knight and her prince growing closer by the day; the makings of a rom-com. A betting pool went around, but a relationship never materialized. They disappointed a few nurses, but Bucky’s never seen Nadia like that. She was his saviour, and then she was his best friend.
Nadia was there when the Times fired him. She was there when he, having none of that bullshit, decided to prove them wrong. Memory does not a good journalist make. And he intended to prove just that by finishing the story he was investigating before his unfortunate near-death experience.
Using the laptop that belonged to James Proctor, he sorted through his notes, and found the contact information of his sources in Ukraine. A few emails and phone calls sent their way, and Bucky was on his way to completing the story. Finally, for the pièce de résistance he interviewed Nadia, and pried her for juicy details about their ordeal. It was a military operation, and technically classified, but Nadia had already retired, accepting a job teaching at a gym in Foggy Bottom. So he figured, why not?
He assigned them pseudonyms, typed up the story, then sent it off to the Washington Post’s managing editor, along with his resume, and some samples of James Proctor’s work. He was hired on the spot. In those first few months, he never told anyone at the Post about his amnesia. Even now, only Ronit knows.
For years Bucky did his job, and when he got home he read about politics, and journalism, and how to exist in a life that was not his own. Eventually he got so good at his job he was promoted to junior White House correspondent, and the rest, they say, is history.
Bucky doesn’t like beer. In his opinion it tastes like piss diluted with tonic water that’s been sitting on a shelf since the British occupied India.
Weirdly enough James Proctor was all for the stuff. According to the family album, the moment the fourth of July rolled around, he'd have a beer in hand, underage or not. His parents were apparently super chill about it.
Perhaps it was the weight of toxic masculinity holding him back, but now he has no shame in ordering a piña colada, no ice, please. Even if the bartender does give him a funny look, dropping a neon pink straw in the drink as if asking what Bucky’s gonna do ‘bout it. Whatever, he doesn’t give a damn. Life’s too short, there’s no point in being a poser, or torturing himself with carbonated piss water.
The group of beer-crazy guys at the other end of the bar are indulging enough for all of DC. Jean jackets, and Nationals hats abound, one of them spills beer down the front of his shirt and doesn’t seem to notice. Bucky feels bad for the poor soul who has to clean that up.
He settles in to watch the baseball game on the TV above the bar. The Nationals are losing catastrophically, but what else is new?
He’s early, so he calms his nerves by ordering another warm piña colada, and then one after that, and then maybe a few more after that. Maybe he overdoes it a bit... The bartender looks like he’s ready to cut him off. Any other guy would be lying on the ground moaning in agony.
Someone slides into the seat beside him, and Bucky smiles into his drink.
“Sorry I’m late.” Bucky looks up into a set of blue eyes, and devastating cheekbones.
“You’re not late, you’re disgustingly on time.” Bucky points to the TV. It’s seven, on the dot.
“It’s polite to arrive at least ten minutes early,” Steve says, signalling the bartender. “I’ll have what he’s having.” The bartender turns around, annoyance on his face that melts into an awkward combination of awe, and embarrassment.
Bucky’s guessing When Harry Met Sally is not on Steve’s list. Unless it is, and in that case, hat’s off to the captain.
“You don’t have to,” Bucky says clutching his piña colada, wondering if its intense fruitiness would burn off Steve’s Depression era taste buds.
Steve shrugs, kicking the stool with his heel. His muscles flex, and Bucky doesn’t know why he even bothers with a shirt if he’s just going to treat it like that . “I want to try new things.”
“That’s usually reserved for skydiving, not piña coladas.”
“I’ve been skydiving. Well, I’ve dived from the sky, it’s not that great. The landing’s pretty rough.”
“I bet you didn’t wear a parachute,” Bucky jokes, but Steve looks away, scratching the back of his head. Bucky’s eyes bug out of his skull. “Steve, look at me. Please tell me you wore a parachute, because now I’m picturing a you shaped blob on the blacktop, and I do not like.” Bucky’s a short ten seconds away from yelling about muscled idiots who enjoy tempting fate.
“You bounce,” Bucky says in disbelief. He takes a long, gratuitous swing straight from his piña colada, foregoing the straw altogether. “Fuck my ass, you bounce. Did the super serum replace all your muscles with silly putty?”
Twin blotches of colour sit high on Steve’s cheeks. He stammers, “I, um, uh…”
Thankfully, the bartender chooses that moment to place Steve’s piña colada in front of him. It’s both bigger than Bucky’s, and was obviously made with top shelf rum.
“On the house,” the bartender says.
Steve smiles. Reaching into his back pocket, he summons his wallet from a third dimension. Has Bucky mentioned how tight his pants are? He takes a twenty out, and drops it in the tip jar. The bartender looks from the jar, to Steve, to the drink, then back to the jar before frowning so deeply he introduces new creases to his forehead.
“Thanks,” Steve says happily, sipping from the straw. “It’s really good.” The bartender stares some more at the tip jar, eye twitching, before he abruptly turns on his heel. He marches away to serve another customer, muttering under his breath about irritatingly courteous national icons.
The small but devious smile at the corner of Steve’s mouth gives everything away. Who knew Steve Rogers dabbled in the time honoured tradition of fucking with people?
Bucky leans back, pleasantly surprised. “Anyone ever tell you that you’re an asshole?”
Steve lifts his brow, pointing a finger to his chest as if asking, ‘who, me?’
Bucky wags a finger, heading down the highway towards tipsy town. How often do patrons fall off these stools? They don’t seem very study. “You aren’t fooling me, mister.” A eyedrop commercial plays on the TV, the gentle sound of a waterfall echoing in his head. Bucky sets down his empty glass, realizing that he’s been neglecting something very important. “I’ll be right back,” he declares, slipping off his stool in the least graceful manner possible.
Steve looks at him with concern. “I’ll order you some water.” He lifts a finger to the bartender. Bucky reaches into his back pocket, intending to pay, but Steve wraps a hand around his bicep, stopping him. Bucky can feel the heat of him through his leather jacket, and it sends sparks down to his tippy toes. “I asked you out tonight, I’ll pay. That’s what people do, isn’t it?”
Later, when Bucky’s staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, washing up with soap that smells like flowers and sunshine, he realizes what Steve said. A blotchy blush spreads over his cheeks like wildfire. There’s no way Steve’s words can be misconstrued.
Bucky returns from the bathroom, only to find one of the drunk guys from across the bar all up in Steve’s business.
“Hey, Brooklyn!” Drunk guy shouts. He isn’t wearing a Nationals hat, but his shirt is garishly star spangled. “You don’t deserve the shield, commie fuck.”
“Lance, leave him alone!” Drunk guy’s friend call out. “He’s gonna kick your ass, bro!”
Steve has his piña colada in hand, sipping from the straw as he watches Lance impassively. It may seem like he’s ignoring the fuss, but his eyes are following Lance’s every move.
“My niece listens to those podcast things, and I heard you preaching some kind of bullshit.” Lance tries to make himself bigger by standing on his tiptoes, but Steve’s sitting on a stool that could turn Danny DeVito into a giant. He towers over him.
“You mean universal healthcare?” Steve says with a little crease between his brows.
“Socialist medicine!” Lance shrieks, spit flying everywhere, and Bucky quickly decides that enough is enough.
Bucky marches over, and grabs the back of Lance’s shirt, hauling him bodily away from Steve. “Get the fuck out of here, you wasted shithead.”
Lance shakes Bucky off, stumbling into a nearby table. He whirls around, and points a finger in between Steve’s eyes. “Mark my words, they’re gonna lock you up for putting ideas in kid’s heads. My niece—”
“Is a very smart young lady,” Steve says with a sunny smile that Lance does not deserve, “You might consider listening to what she has to say.”
“Fucker!” Lance grabs at Steve’s collar, nearly tearing his shirt.
“Let him go,” Bucky orders, a dangerous edge in his tone. Lance’s friends are all watching the scene with their mouths open. Bucky wishes they would stop rubbernecking, and help corral this guy.
“James,” Steve says, looking at him with eyes that are much too soft for the situation at hand. “It’s alright, he means no harm.”
Lance spits, “Is he dense?” He addresses Bucky, like Bucky gives a single flying fuck about his opinion. “I absolutely mean harm, what kind of socialist cuck—”
Bucky pulls his fist back and punches Lance right in the face. He goes down like a pile of bricks, raising a cloud of dust in his wake. Huh, so maybe no one cleans the floors in this bar. All conversation dies down to whispers, even the TV seems to be observing a moment of silence.
“Holy shit! Lance!” Finally his friends rush over, pushing Bucky out of the way. Lance moans in pain, clutching his nose. It isn’t even bleeding. How dramatic.
“You monster!” One of Lance’s friends pulls his head into his lap, sweetly pushing hair out of his face. He glares up at Bucky with murder in his eyes.
“Okay, wow,” Bucky says, hand raised in surrender, “Calm down, it was just a little punch.” His knuckles don’t even hurt. If he did damage to Lance’s face, surely he’d feel the evidence.
“You need to go.” The bartender clears his throat. He clutches a bottle of vodka in hand, holding it between him and Bucky, like Bucky’s going to sock him too. Just because he whacked one guy doesn’t mean he’s going to whack another one. He’s not crazy.
“Sorry about this,” Steve says apologetically. Hurriedly pulling a wad of cash from his wallet, he dumps it on the bar top. “The peanut fritada was great.”
“Piña colada,” Bucky murmurs, distracted by Steve’s arm slipping around his waist.
“Captain, you don't need to leave,” the bartender protests, but Steve’s already pulling him to the exit.
“Have a lovely evening, folks,” Steve tells the bar, and then they’re gone.
“I don’t fight the inebriated,” Steve says, as they walk back to Bucky’s place, “I save it for when they’re sober, otherwise it isn’t fair.”
The moment they left the bar, Bucky invited Steve over for dinner. He doesn't want the night to end, but all he has in his freezer are frozen dinners. Thankfully, there’s a Thai place at the end of his street. Steve seemed to enjoy the ‘peanut fritada’ so Bucky figures pad thai would be a safe bet. Steve mentioned it’s been on his to-do list for a while now.
“You’re talking about fair?” Bucky says, incredulous. “You could fight a t-rex and win. There’s no way sober Lance could have laid one on you. Sober Lance would have had the sense to run away screaming. Or at least attack you on Twitter.”
“I’m not on Twitter," Steve says wisely. "Is that the place?” He points to the restaurant, open sign flashing in the dark night.
Bucky orders red curry with a side of jasmine rice. When it’s Steve turn, he surprises Bucky by ordering the green curry. Steve insists on paying, and unsurprisingly leaves a big tip.
They take the elevator up to Bucky’s floor, arriving as nurse Jacob locks his door, a basket of scrubs balanced on his hip. He sends an empty smile Bucky’s way, but double takes when he registers Steve’s presence.
“Good evening,” Steve says, ever the polite gentleman. Jacob gapes as Bucky pulls out his keys. Geez, Steve isn’t that uncommon of a sight around DC, there’s no need to stare. Bucky pointedly slams his door shut after them, flipping the lock. He peers into the peephole just in time to see Jacob’s door close again, laundry apparently forsaken. What a weirdo.
“I live next to a nurse too,” Steve quips. The bag of takeout looks positively tiny in his hands, and his bulk makes Bucky’s studio apartment seem ten times smaller than it really is. He’s grateful Sam helped him hang a curtain around his bed. He didn’t make it this morning, or any other for that matter. He doesn’t want to seem… presumptuous.
“Small world.” Bucky hangs his keys on their designated hook. He points to the kitchen. “Plates are in the cupboard next to the microwave.”
They sit at the round table by the window looking onto the street. Steve seems really into the green curry. He gobbles it like a man starved of the good things in life.
"You'd do well on Twitter," Bucky points out as Steve happily chomps on a green chilli. "You have the constitution for it."
Steve steals a piece of chicken from Bucky’s plate. “I’d end up calling the president a dickhead, and get myself fired, or arrested for treason.”
Bucky nods his head in agreement. “That, and I can imagine all the thirst tweets sent your way.”
“Thirst tweets?” Steve asks, head tilted to the side in confusion. So no one’s explained that to him. Oh this is gonna be fun.
Steve shovels a forkful of rice in his mouth.
“Y’know, stuff like: ‘Steve Rogers could rearrange my insides anytime.’”
Steve’s eyes go wide, and his face turns cherry red. He opens his mouth, but no sound comes out. Instead, his hands fly to his neck in the universal sign of choking.
“Shit!” Bucky exclaims, leaping from his seat. He gives Steve solid whacks between his shoulder blades, and suddenly he’s coughing, then taking big gulps of air, and everything’s perfectly a-okay. Bucky sags in relief.
“What does that mean?!” Steve exclaims, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes. He’s laughing, Bucky realizes.
“It implies you’ve got a big dick.” Bucky leans against the table, his knee touching Steve’s thigh. The contact has his heart racing.
Embarrassed, Steve drops his face to his hands, blushing up to the tips of his ears. He’s laughing like a maniac, shoulders shaking with it. If Nurse Jacob has his ear pressed to the wall, he must think Bucky’s a comedian by trade.
“I don’t know what to say to that,” Steve says, looking up at Bucky, blotchy-cheeked. He’s gorgeous when he’s happy.
Bucky smiles faintly, feeling like he’s been struck by lightning. “The good thing about Twitter is that no one expects you to say anything at all. If the person tweeting about you is courteous, they won’t tag you in the first place.”
Grinning, Steve rests a hand on his knee. Bucky swallows. He's so warm, and so close.
“I feel comfortable around you,” Steve admits.
“I feel the same about you,” Bucky says quietly. A pin drop could snap the tension.
“This century’s been… difficult. The technology is overreaching, and there’s too much sugar in everything for my comfort.”
“Cavities everywhere,” Bucky breathes.
“I mean, vaccines are great, and so is water fluoridation, but it’s been one heartbreak after another.” Steve’s eyes go sad. "I’m just thankful for the people.” He slides his hand from Bucky’s knee to his thigh. “My best friend keeps more secrets than the CIA, but she still makes me laugh. Sam helps me remember that I need to take time for myself, and you… you’re—”
Bucky swoops in and kisses Steve. He lets out a little gasp of air, but immediately kisses back. Bucky raises his hand, curling it in Steve’s soft hair, cradling his head because he’s something precious.
He’s wanted to do this since the day they met.
Bucky leans into him until Steve’s back is pressed against the chair. Steve makes these little noises in his throat, and Bucky can’t help himself. He squeezes his eyes shut, kissing Steve for a few more breathless moments. He pulls back, pressing his mouth to Steve’s cheek for a final kiss. He smells like coconuts and holy basil.
“Are you okay?” Bucky murmurs, rubbing a thumb down the length of his neck.
Steve opens his eyes, and then his mouth, only to hesitate, closing it again. He gives him a complicated look; a mixture between fear and affection. Bucky’s stuck dumb by the emotions behind it. No one’s ever looked at him like that. It’s terrifying. He’s afraid that at any moment he’ll wake up and discover this was all a dream.
Steve’s brow furrows, but then he’s resting his hands on Bucky’s hips, pulling him back in.
He drags his lips across Bucky’s jaw to his throat. They’re soft, like velvet, and Bucky closes his eyes, enjoying the sensation. His heart’s pounding in his chest, threatening to send him into arrest.
“Oh,” Steve whispers, “Bucky.”
He drops his hand to Steve’s shoulders, keeping himself balanced. His legs spread on either side of Steve’s thighs, as his nose trails along Bucky’s carotid. His knees go weak, he’s in danger of collapsing at any second.
“Are we friends?” Steve asks out of nowhere. He’s shaking, it’s barely noticeable, but it’s there.
Bucky swallows, an uncomfortable chill settling on his skin, like someone left the window open in the dead of winter. He has a feeling he isn’t going to like what Steve has to say.
He nods. “I like to think we are.”
Steve hides his face in Bucky’s neck. He isn’t kissing him anymore. Bucky feels wetness on his skin, and the smell of salt sits heavy in the air.
He called him Bucky.
“James, can you forgive me?” Steve says quietly, and Bucky’s heart just about breaks.
He wraps himself around Steve in a full-bodied hug. “There’s nothing to forgive.”
Bucky drops onto his couch, a mug of cocoa in hand. The marshmallows slosh around, but nothing spills. Steve sits beside him, his own mug cradled in both his hands, the afghan Debbie knit for Bucky's thirty-fourth, thrown over his lap.
“I didn’t mean to,” Steve says.
Bucky shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have kissed you without asking.”
“I wanted it.” Steve says abruptly. Pausing, he nervously licks his lips. “I just didn’t want it for the right reasons.”
Bucky nods his head. “Because of my great-uncle?”
“We weren’t like that,” Steve says in a rush. He takes a deep breath, like he’s preparing to say something he’s never said before. “He wasn’t bisexual like me.”
“But you loved him?” Bucky guesses. Steve is so brave, and not just for the reasons that make him Captain America. It takes a lot of guts to open up like this, and Bucky intends to support him through it all.
Steve smiles sadly, taking a swing of his cocoa. “I did. I just never told him. He went off to war, and then I had Peggy. Loving her didn’t hurt as much. But now Peggy’s fading, and everything hurts… and I’m so sorry.”
Bucky balances his mug on his knee. He lifts his hand to Steve in the universal sign to stop talking. “Don’t apologize. Never apologize for changing your mind.”
“I hurt you.”
Bucky shrugs. “I’ll get over it.” At the devastated expression on Steve’s face, Bucky gives him a wide smile. “See, already over it.”
Steve runs a hand through his hair, making it stick up in all directions. “This is so difficult. This place, this city, this time. The people I work with, I don’t have the same relationship with them as I did with the Commandos. You’re the only one who would understand.” He looks at him with such desperation, Bucky reaches across the divide to take Steve’s hand.
“It gets better,” he promises.
“I’m responsible for these people, but I cannot bring myself to spend time with them outside the job.” Steve shakes his head, lip twisting. “I don’t like them, and that makes me feel terrible.”
“Buddy, you aren’t alone. No one likes their co-workers.” Bucky reassures. He can name a few reporters at the Post that he absolutely cannot stand. Most of them were weird around Ronit after she came out, and Bucky’s protective like that.
“I can’t afford to think that way,” Steve explains. “We need team unity. Last time I did something risky, Rumlow got hurt. The scars…” Steve shudders.
Bucky thinks about his own scars, hidden where no one can see them. He forces a smile on his face. “Scars are just signs that you’ve survived. Not to mention they look badass, especially in your line of work.”
Steve shakes his head. “Rumlow’s scars… they aren’t badass. They’re horrifying. Every time I look at him, it’s a reminder that I don’t belong here. Because I’m the reason he has them.”
Bucky frowns, concerned by how bothered Steve is by this. He lived through the second world war. Scars are nothing compared to shelling injuries, and amputations. Besides, Rumlow must be military. He knew what he was getting into. There’s no way he should be holding this kind of leverage over his superior officer.
Unless he’s doing it on purpose. Out of spite, or something more sinister. That kind of environment… it’s toxic.
“It can’t be that bad,” Bucky says weakly.
Steve draws a finger straight down his lip. “He has a cut right through here. He had to have reconstructive surgery for the burns on his face. Even now his left eyebrow won’t grow back properly.” Bucky freezes, but Steve doesn’t seem to notice, continuing, “I feel so guilty because it was my fault.”
Bucky’s throat clicks. He can’t seem to form words.
“I know Rumlow blames me for it. Whenever we're on a mission, he makes a point of pulling out this silver dollar, and staring at me while he kisses it. He never carried it before, but now he wears it on a chain around his neck.” Steve laughs tiredly. “Like it could protect him from me.”
“This guy,” Bucky starts casually, his heart in his throat, “Does he have dark hair? Crewcut? Muscled like no one’s business?”
“Why? Do you know him?” Steve asks, seemingly stricken at the thought that Bucky has met this man.
Bucky shakes his head fervently, mind racing. “Probably saw him at Starbucks, or something.”
“Oh,” Steve says, brow furrowing. Bucky’s hand goes clammy, and he withdraws it from Steve’s grip, lest he notice.
“He’s SHIELD…?” Bucky guesses, waiting for Steve’s nod, for proof. When it comes, it makes him shiver. “Then he knows what he signed up for,” Bucky adds.
His words don’t seem to bring Steve any relief. To be fair, Bucky’s isn’t in the frame of mind to be giving any.
Rumlow has to be Scarface, the ‘security guard’ at the shady water treatment facility in Virginia. Bucky doesn’t believe in coincides, and the injuries Steve described are pretty damn specific. Not to mention the silver dollar. Bucky’s silver dollar.
Rumlow works for SHIELD, and admittedly Bucky doesn’t know much about what Steve does for them. What he does know is that it’s black ops shit. The kind of stuff Nadia used to do for the army way back when.
Government agencies don’t like their people doing side work in the private sector, so SHIELD must have control over the facility. Thule Industries isn’t just a supplier for SHIELD. They are SHIELD. Which means that a governmental entity is directly responsible for countless human rights violations in Eritrea, the least of which is conscripted slavery. To top it all off, Bucky still doesn’t know what fresh hell they’re cooking up at the facility.
Worst of all, if Rumlow is a part of this, Steve must at least be aware of it. He’s Rumlow’s commanding officer after all.
Bucky isn’t entirely sure how he feels about that, emotionally. Physically, he’s going to be sick.
First Pierce’s drones, now this? This is too big for him alone, he needs a second set of brains. He needs to bring someone else in.
you, my sweet, are a fool
Steve R. [23 Apr]
Hope you’re having a good morning!
Steve R. [24 Apr]
Hey, I was wondering if you’d like to check out the Newseum with me? They have pieces of the Berlin Wall, and Nat keeps telling me to learn more history
Steve R. [24 Apr]
Nat’s just a friend, btw
Steve R. [26 Apr]
I bought a Thor apron. It was either that, or Iron Man
Steve R. [26 Apr]
I found an amazing lasagna recipe, it came out a little burnt but still delicious
Steve R. [7:18 AM]
The weatherman promised clear skies throughout, but it rains the entire drive up to Westminster. Fat drops splash across the windshield, and the radio is turned all the way up to compensate.
Jamila's parents live in a gorgeous mid-century home in Westminster, Maryland, an hour's drive outside of DC. It sits on acres of wooded land, with a backyard perfectly cleared to host a wedding rehearsal dinner. They're both immigrants, and renowned surgeons. They keep this house, as well as one in Baltimore, truly embodying the American dream.
"I hope they invested in tents," Bucky says over James Hetfield warning him to sleep with one eye open. Not his first station choice, but whoever drives picks the music, and Nadia’s always suffered a certain fondness for thrash metal.
"I hope you’ve invested in an umbrella." Nadia peers through the glass, wipers working furiously.
"It's in the trunk," Bucky admits with a grimace. “Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
Jamila's mother, Fawzia, greets them at the door, taking their umbrella, Nadia's bone dry coat, and Bucky soaking wet one. Light conversation carries from within, and there doesn't appear to be any tents sent up in the backyard. It’s to be an indoor affair then. Bucky combs his wet hair from his face. Good thing it’s warm in here.
Once pleasantries are over and done with, Fawzia holds out a wicker basket filled with phones. Bucky stares at it for a few clueless seconds, not processing what she’s asking.
“I know you DC types,” Fawzia says. Bucky swallows the lump in his throat, and his hand immediately goes clammy in his pocket, wrapped so tightly around his phone he’s debossing gemstones into his skin.
“Jamie,” Nadia teases with a devious grin, placing her phone in the basket, “This is a special day, no taking phone calls.”
A bead of sweat trails from his temple as he places his pink phone beside Nadia’s, smiling in a way that doesn’t reach his eyes. God, what if his editor calls?
Fawzia looks him over with concern. “Dinner is at eight,” she says, “Nadia, my dear, I’m sorry to ask this, but could you help my husband in the kitchen? It seems an extra set of hands are required, but I’m hopeless.”
“Wait, what?” Nadia says, flabbergasted, grin slipping off her face.
“Jamila mentioned that you’re an expert in Brazilian cuisine.”
“Did she now.” Nadia’s expression slides towards her infamous ‘I’m gonna kick someone in the nuts’ look.
Bucky covers his mouth, hiding a laugh behind a cough. Nadia shoots him a venomous glare. He isn’t sure how Brazilian jiu-jitsu became Brazilian cuisine, but evidently something was lost in translation.
“Yes...” Fawzia says, but with doubt in her voice.
Nadia sighs. “Well then, a Brazilian expert, that’s me.”
Fawzia looks down at Nadia’s resplendent sheath dress. “We keep an extra apron in the pantry.”
Fawzia points out the kitchen, and Nadia, determined as anything, marches off, either to ruin dinner, or to turn it into a Michelin star affair. Knowing her post-workout cookery skills, it could go either way.
“Sorry for stealing your date,” Fawzia says, a little wrinkle between her brows. “Everyone else is in the living room, enjoying halwa and drinks.”
With that, Bucky wanders into the house.
The floors are so shiny he can see himself reflected in them. Attached to the living room is an atrium; a glass room filled with greenery. There’s a blooming mango tree, and beside it a massive lime tree, heavy with fruit. A tabby cat rests on a wicker bench, flicking its tail back and forth, enjoying its indolent life.
And to think some people spend their fortunes on buying other people.
A folder burns a hole in his glove compartment. He adjusts his tie, subtly looking for Ronit among the guests. He’s going to tell her about everything he’s discovered. He trusts her ability to transform it into a publishable story.
“You're like a fish out of water.” Ronit appears, nudging him with her shoulder.
Bucky looks admittedly frumpy in a colourful argyle cardigan he grabbed for a bargain off the women’s rack. But he attracts no attention, exactly how he likes it.
She tugs him over to the drink table, pouring them something alcoholic and citrusy from a decanter. She wears a floor length slinky dress that only seems to accentuate the fact that she towers over him.
“Take it easy on me, I’m still learning how to swim.” He takes a sip of the drink. Bright, smooth flavors burst on his tongue. Yum.
Ronit frowns. “That makes no sense. If you’re a fish out of water, knowing how to swim isn’t going to do you much good.”
Bucky groans. “You’re killing me, Ronnie, you’re killing me slow.”
“Get your metaphors straight.”
“Suck my—halwa...” Bucky catches himself just as a kid wanders close, shoving a piece of gooey halwa into his mouth. He gives them a sticky grin, before taking off, launching himself on the lap of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to Jamila.
Ronit leans a hip against the table, eyes focused squarely on Jamila sitting with her family. Her ears flush pink, and a sappy grin slides over her face.
Bucky rolls his eyes. Oh to be in love.
He clears his throat, saying, “I have something to show you.” Just as Ronit says, “I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh,” Bucky says, “What is it?”
Ronit turns her attention to him, brown eyes studying him with all the experience of a person who has worked ten plus years in their field.
“It can wait. You want a second opinion?” She asks casually.
“More than that—” He’s interrupted by the shrill ringing of a cell phone.
Fawzia was right about DC types. Jamila stands abruptly, napkin sliding off her lap as she puts her phone to her ear. Her expression goes grim, mouth a thin line.
“I’ll be right there,” she says, hanging up the phone.
Frowning, Ronit goes to Jamila. Taking her by the hand, she pulls her away from the couches to relative privacy by the window. They have a rather animated conversation; harsh whispers, and hands flying. Bucky looks away, but he’s the only one doing so. All the other guests seem to think this is the spectacle of the season.
Abruptly, Jamila pull her hands out of Ronit’s grip, throwing them in the air. She whispers something that has Ronit taking a step back as if slapped. Jamila turns on her heel, and marches off. Her eyes meet Bucky’s for a second as she passes him by. They’re wet, filled with unshed tears.
Jamila’s gone, and right now Bucky is all Ronit has. This may be her wedding rehearsal dinner, but her family isn’t here. They weren’t even invited.
Bucky unfreezes, and takes Ronit by the wrist, hauling ass out of there. On their way out, Ronit grabs the decanter, then her phone from the wicker basket.
It’s only when they’re out in the drizzly cold evening that Bucky remembers he doesn’t have his coat. Thankfully his keys are still in his pocket. Ronit rubs her bare arms as she stands in the rain, wet and miserable, staring at the place where Jamila’s car was parked.
Once they’re in his car—the decanter tucked snugly into the cupholder between them—Bucky cranks the heat up, fogging the glass terribly. He hopes no one comes looking for them, because they will definitely reach the wrong conclusion.
Ronit rubs the back of her hand over her eyes.
“Ronnie...” Bucky starts, but not knowing what else to say, he unstops the decanter, offering it over. Ronit takes a record-breaking swing, the crystal glinting in the shitty incandescent dome light.
She wipes the back of her hand over her mouth. “I wish I was straight, I could just marry you.”
“I mean, I love you and all, but isn’t that a little incestuous?” Bucky says, worry gripping at his heart. “I have terrible absent mother issues, and you’re filling in for a woman I don’t remember. Forget Ronnie, I should just call you mommy.”
“Damn, that’s disgusting. Forget I said anything. I hate you.” Ronit makes a face. Normally, she would be laughing her head off. He’s never seen Ronit downtrodden like this. It frightens him.
“Talk to me?”
Her jaw clenches. “She’s fucking someone else.”
Bucky’s eyes bug out of his skull. “She said that?” He asks, voice strangled. “Jamila?”
“It was Rick on the phone,” Ronit mutters into her knees, conspicuously not answering his question, “I saw the way he was eye-fucking her at our engagement party.”
“Hold up.” Bucky lifts his hand. He needs to stop this crazy train in its tracks. “You know as well as I do that just because some guy is eyeing your girl, it doesn’t mean it’s consensual.”
“I know ,” she says, frustrated. “Then why hasn’t she told him to fuck off?” She rubs her reddened eyes. “Anyone else, and she would have.”
“Ronnie,” he says gently, “She works with him.”
“I’m scared she regrets sticking around for this.” With her hand shaking, Ronit gestures down her body.
Bucky is quick to shake his head so fast his brain rattles. “If she were having an affair, and I’m saying IF with big, capital letters because I still can’t believe it, it has nothing to do with your transition. She supported you a hundred percent.”
Kicking her shoes off, Ronit brings her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs. “What I was, when we first started dating… I can’t give that to her anymore.”
“Ronnie, look at me.” When she does, Bucky continues, “Jamila is bisexual. She is bisexual, and she loves you.”
“She left because of a campaign emergency. Rick is just another staffer. She should have given her phone to Fawzia, but she’s addicted to work. That’s an issue you two can sort out with a nice, calm conversation.”
“She’s been so distant lately… and yes, I know it's midterms,” Ronit grumbles, rubbing a hand down her face, smearing the concealer hiding the dark circles under her eyes.
Bucky clenches and unclenches his fist, wishing he could be of more help. The only thing he can do is be her friend. He reaches over, and opens the glove compartment, pulling out a pack of wet wipes. He hands them over. Then he takes out the folder.
“What’s this?” She asks when he hands it to her.
“Let me tell you a story.”
“I’m good,” Bucky says, apprehensive. They’ve been sitting in his car for half an hour as Ronit thumbs through her phone. The folder lies spread open on her lap, revealing the two sets of coordinates; one that took him to the facility in Virginia, and one that led him nowhere.
He drums his fingers on the steering wheel.
“You look bored, I’ll tell you a story,” Ronit repeats, not giving him a choice in the matter.
“Is this another one of your lessons?” Bucky thought he left those behind years ago.
Ronit ignores his question. “Once upon a time, a shooter calls in a threat to a congressman’s meet-and-greet. The congressman has balls of steel, however, and doesn’t even blink.”
“He beefs up his security, and puts on kevlar. All because cancelling would set a dangerous precedent that any Tom, Dick, and Harry with a gun, and something against his policy, could make him look weak. The shooter shows up, as expected, and despite the increased security, fires at the congressman. Except he has terrible aim. One of the attendees is shot instead. It’s eventually leaked that the congressman knew about the shooter, but he still wins reelection.” Ronit peers at him over her phone. “What’s the moral of the story?”
Bucky runs his hand through his hair. “That you can’t win in this swamp hell of a town, because every goddamn politician is a fucking monster.”
“Did you read Alexander Pierce’s report?” She asks.
Bucky sighs. “It’s five hundred pages of bullshit and redactions.”
“It may drone on and on—excuse the pun—but that’s the point. Pierce hid his warmongering behind a mask of peace in order to secure permission to launch his drones.” Ronit hands her phone to him. “The purpose of the drones is to sample DNA from the air. They do not carry offensive systems.”
“Which is why congress isn’t worried about them,” Bucky says, “It violates privacy, but it does not kill, and after the president’s assassination, that’s what they think this country needs.”
Ronit snaps her fingers. “Exactly. Scroll down.”
He looks at the screen, frowning. “This document is one thousand pages long.”
“Scroll down,” Ronit says, calm as a cucumber.
Bucky does, and his mouth drops open. This is Pierce’s report, but the redactions have been unredacted, and there’s additional content. Five hundred pages worth. “Did the DOD release this while I wasn’t looking?”
“They did not.”
“How did you get it?”
Ronit rolls her eyes. “Have I taught you nothing? I downloaded it from a password protected site.” She taps the nine digit number that he thought was a miswritten coordinate. “This is an IP address.” She points to the sticky note. "This was the password.”
“I didn’t...” Bucky trails off as Ronit lifts a brow. He looks back down at the phone and starts reading.
Pierce was telling the truth: the drones will only collect information. The water treatment facility is being used as a factory to construct them, and to program the AI. The problem is that the drones are half of Pierce's solution. Another facility exists in an undisclosed location in DC, and it’s building something big, something that can use the drone data to eliminate perceived threats.
“Your whistle-blower must work for Pierce, or at least someone he trusts. Look at the table of contents,” Ronit says, grim.
Lightning streaks across the sky, and thunder booms in the distance. Shivers run down his spine, and hairs lift on the back of his neck. Bucky drags the scroll bar all the way to the top.
“Part one, mobile drone launch platform: Lemurian Star,” he whispers, as the clouds open up, rain falling in a downpour.
“As far as distractions go,” Ronit says, “You’ve pulled out all the stops on this one. I’m not even sad anymore, I’m just screaming-on-the-inside freaked-the-fuck-out.”
There’s the Ronit he knows and loves.
Bucky sighs, handing her the phone. “What was the surprise anyway?”
“Yeah?” Bucky tilts his head, confused. “You said you had a surprise for me?”
Ronit frowns, but then understanding floods over her face. “Right. It seems rather tawdry in comparison…”
“You know how you’re trending on Twitter, even more now after your foray onto CNN?”
“It wasn’t a foray,” Bucky mumbles.
Ronit blinks at him, unimpressed. “You straight up murdered that guy. We held a candlelight vigil on the newsroom floor. Victory takeout was ordered, tears of joy were shed, yada yada. Anyways, our executive editor is a big fan of your numbers, and since it’s gonna be May…” She waggles her eyebrows, waiting for him to fill in the rest. And fill it in he does.
“ No ,” Bucky says, flabbergasted. “The White House Correspondents Dinner, really?”
Ronit claps him on the shoulder. “You’ve made it, babe. Welcome to the adult table.”
Dinner is an awkward affair, but while the guests gossip and whisper, nobody gets up to leave.
With her makeup reapplied, Ronit is perfectly put together, like the events of the last hour never happened. If only Bucky could manage the same nonchalance. Nadia helped prepare a three course dinner, and the appetizer tastes like what would happen if God actually loved Olive Garden, but Bucky still picks at his plate, appetite shot to shit.
Later, as the storm rattles the windows, and the rain beats on the roof, Fawzia gives him back his phone, then stops him with a hand on his arm. She informs him that he will not be driving back to DC tonight. All the other guests live in the area, and can manage their short trips home, but Fawzia fears they’ll end up in a ditch off MD 97, and their bodies won’t be found until after a black bear has its way with them. Bucky fears her colourful imagination.
Fawzia puts them up in a guestroom with an en suite, but only one bed. Bucky’s too wiped from the day’s events to inform her that Nadia’s nothing more than a friend.
“You can have the bed,” Bucky declares, walking out of the en suite dressed in a pair of flannel pajamas that smell vaguely of mothballs, a towel wrapped around his head.
“Good, now I don’t have to get up.” Nadia grins from under the covers, her phone lighting her face in the darkness. There’s a squashy recliner by the window covered in a pile of blankets that weren’t there before. “Ronit came by with extras,” Nadia explains.
The moment his butt touches the squashy seat, Bucky knows he got the better deal. It’s softer than a cloud. He pulls the lever, and it knocks the breath out of his body when he goes from ninety to one-eighty degrees in one second. Goddamn.
He curls under the blankets, pulling them up to his chin. Staring at the ceiling, moonlight shining through the trees in ever shifting shapes, he says, “Can I ask you something?”
The bed creaks. “What is it?”
“Do you think Captain America is a good person?”
Silence stretches for what feels like hours, but then, “I don’t think Captain America is a person. I think he’s a piece of war propaganda constructed to convince men and women to enlist. Steve Rogers, though… he’s a good person. As good of a person I think someone can be.”
“You’ve never met him, how can you be so sure?”
She sighs. “Because you think the sun shines out of his ass, and you have the best judgment of anyone I’ve ever known.”
“What if I think he’s involved in some bad shit?”
Rumlow, and the Lemurian Star, and Alexander Pierce. He’s a captain, how can Steve not know?
Nadia doesn’t hesitate. “Do you really believe that?”
Bucky worries at his bottom lip.
“Do you remember what you told me?” She says, voice soft. “You said he was lonely. What made you think that?”
Bucky turns his head to look out the window, at the storm beating against the glass. “Because he’s been fighting every day of his life, but now he doesn’t have anything to fight for.”
“Whatever you think is happening, either he doesn’t know about it, or someone is lying to him,” she says. So sure of herself.
He wishes he could be that unwavering in his convictions.
A long corridor stretches in front of him, surrounded on all sides by ageless concrete. It could have been poured last week, or forty years ago for all he knows. He pads along, his feet bare and vulnerable. Lamps dangle from the ceiling, lighting his way. The bulbs hum, the only sound to be heard in the corridor. Until they aren’t.
Something else is humming; a fan cycling air over an evaporator coil, or a child crying for his mother.
Up ahead, it sits. Steel, and rivets, as usual. On the surface is something that’s never appeared before. A small window, the size of a book. The glass is frosted over, icicles forming between the two panes. He ventures close, but does not dare touch the door.
There’s a boy crying behind an unbreakable steel door. He has hair like the sun, and a face ruddy with tears. His clothes are… out of focus, browns, maybe, creams, overalls…
He raises his hand, and touches the glass. A knife pierces his skin. He shrieks, stumbling back, nearly falling on his ass. He curls his hand to his chest, shaking in fear.
He needs to communicate with the boy, he needs him to stop crying. He needs him to be happy, and safe. He can’t explain why he needs it to be so. It’s simply a fact, as the sky is blue, and as water is wet.
He peers through the window, and finds a man with dead eyes and his own face staring back at him.
Bucky wakes on the floor, limbs restrained. He kicks out, panicked, thrashing his arm and legs about, but he can’t move an inch. His breathing becomes heavy, and he starts wheezing. They’ve left him here to die, haven’t they? They’ve left him, and he’ll never see...
The thought falls away as Bucky realises the restraints are softer than they’re supposed to be. He concentrates on the plush carpet beneath him. He feels the flannel, and how the pajama top has slipped off his shoulder. He remembers that he’s not there. Wherever there is; Odessa, or even Iraq.
“Jamie?” Nadia asks, voice sleep-rough.
Bucky closes his eyes. He’s in the guest room, the rain has stopped, he’s safe. Nadia is here.
“I’m fine,” he croaks. Coughing, he clears his throat. “I need some fresh air.” He untangles himself from the blankets, an easy task now that he knows what they are.
“Don’t forget your jacket.”
Bucky shuts the door behind him. Jacket pulled over the flannel, he wanders through the dark halls. His socked feet make not a sound on the hardwood, but he still sticks close to the wall. He doesn’t want to wake anyone else. In the kitchen, Bucky makes sure to leave a small gap between the sliding door and the latch, so he doesn’t lock himself out.
Bucky leans against the porch railing, the cedar wet from the rain. It’s still drizzling lightly, but the overhang protects him from the worst of it. He pulls out his phone. It’s thirty past midnight.
“Fuck,” he swears into the night air, startling whatever creatures lurk in the treeline. "Fucking shit."
Sam picks up after three rings.
“What’s wrong?” He asks, tired but alert. He knows Bucky would only call at an unreasonable time if it was an emergency.
“Nightmare. A really bad one.”
“Do you want me to stay on the line, or do you wanna talk about it?” Bucky hears rustling through the phone, then a click like Sam turned on a lamp. A sudden rush of affection warms him. Sam’s always there, through thick and thin.
“Yeah,” Bucky says in relief.
He tells Sam everything; the freezer, the blond boy, everything, including the dead-eyed man with his face.
The line falls to silence, until all he can hear is water rushing through the gutter, and if he concentrates, the distant chirping of crickets.
Sam breaks first. “Are you remembering?”
“No,” Bucky says quickly.
“Are you sure?”
“Sam, I was kidnapped and locked in a freezer for days. Nadia said I kept myself warm by wrapping myself in styrofoam. I ate raw meat so I wouldn’t starve. If I could remember that, I would. In fact, it would be pretty fucking unforgettable.”
“If they’re not your memories—”
“—it sounds like you’re suffering from a textbook case of PTSD.”
Five years ago Bucky was on assignment in Ukraine when he was captured by a militia group. He was American, and killing him would have made their problems worse. So some idiot came up with the brilliant idea to stash him in the one place in a meat-packing warehouse with a lock on the outside.
His editor reported him missing to the embassy, and Nadia’s black ops team were sent in. They cut the power to the building which turned off the freezer’s circulation fan. It took two days to subdue the militia, two days before they could break open the freezer. When they did, Bucky was beyond hypoxic, his heart had stopped beating half an hour before as the carbon dioxide levels in the freezer reached critical. Bucky owes Nadia his life, not just because she helped rescue him, but because she restarted his heart.
All of that was something he read in a report. He can’t be suffering from PTSD, because wouldn't he need to remember the trauma for it to be traumatic?
“That’s impossible,” he tells Sam.
“What about the blond boy?” Sam asks. “It sounds like you’re only remembering him now. What if he was one of your captor’s children?”
Bucky frowns. For whatever reason that feels wrong. Bucky’s not sure if the boy is real, or if he’s a figment of his imagination. What he does know for certain, deep down in his gut, that whoever he is, Bucky did not meet him in Odessa.
That morning, after Bucky wakes up and pads over to the kitchen, he’s faced with a veritable spread. He's talking omelettes with cute garnishes, turkey sausages, fruit salad, and freshly squeezed orange juice. The TV above the kitchen island plays the morning news, and the view from the porch door is out of this world perfect.
He could use a little perfect after last night.
Bucky pours himself a cup of coffee that undoubtedly will be the best he'll ever drink. It almost makes up for the fact that he’ll have to wear yesterday's clothes for the drive back home.
"You could be twins," Ronit says, gesturing between Nadia and him.
Nadia grins. “Brother from another mother, heh?” They're wearing matching pajamas—a his and her set borrowed from Jamila’s parents.
Ronit winks, then fires finger guns at Nadia. "Exactly. But your wig is a bit crooked," Ronit says, and the grin falls from Nadia's face until nothing but an eerie blankness remains.
Fawzia slaps Ronit on the arm. “Don’t be rude.”
Ronit turns red, sputtering. "I am so sorry, I shouldn't have."
Nadia shakes her head. "It's fine," she says, and the smile turns back on, but it doesn't reach her eyes. Bucky’s gotten so good at reading her, he knows exactly when she’s faking. "A brat in my class thought it would be entertaining to stick gum in my hair, and well..." She mimes snipping a pair of scissors.
"I didn't notice," Bucky pipes in, "It looks exactly the same to me."
This time when Nadia smiles, it’s real. "Thank you, Jamie."
"Ronit, have I told you of the time my darling husband set my hair on fire during our residency?" Fawzia asks.
Said darling husband chokes on his orange juice, sputtering, “That wasn’t my fault.”
Ronit's jaw drops open. "No, you didn't," she says excitedly, "Please do."
Bucky spears a piece of omelet, lifting it to his mouth when something catches his eye on the TV. Dropping his fork, he dives for the remote, spilling coffee all over his plate, and interrupting Fawzi mid anecdote.
He turns up the volume, and everyone at the breakfast table turns to look at the TV.
“...attacked in broad daylight...”
The screen switches from the news anchor to blurry, shaky footage of a street. In the distance, a cop car emits black smoke, caught in a blazing inferno. The chyron says something about a terrorist attack in DC, but Bucky’s too busy staring at the footage to bother reading the ticker.
“...according to witnesses, police arrived to the scene, and fired upon a black SUV. The chase continued for several blocks, and damaged a number of civilian vehicles…”
Debris is scattered on the street. Just like...
Fawzia mutters something in Somali. He doesn’t know the language, but even he can understand a prayer when he hears one.
“...it is unknown if the second assailant, who attacked the SUV with a military grade explosive—hang on, we’re getting some new information.”
The anchor pauses.
“This just in, we have a picture of the second assailant, confirmed by witnesses...”
The screen switches to a figure dressed from head to toe in black, a red star upon his chest. Bucky would recognize that uniform anywhere. They released pictures of the Winter Soldier when he assassinated the president, but those were all aerial shots taken from a helicopter. Nothing like this. This picture, taken from a cell phone, shows him holding a fucking rocket launcher, wearing heavy-duty combat boots, goggles and a muzzle hiding his face.
Ronit gasps, “No fucking way.”
His face is covered, but it’s plain to see why she’s shocked. His proportions are not that of an adult. The Winter Soldier—the assassin who killed the president—is a goddamn kid.
A hand slips into his, and he just about jumps out of his skin. He looks at Nadia, and finds her staring at the TV, face pale as a ghost.
Her eyes slide to his. “We need to get back to DC. Now.”
if they send the wolves
Nadia isn't taking his calls. Which, in the grand scheme of things, is fine. Bucky supposes he deserves it. After all he’s been ignoring Steve’s texts since the night they kissed. Correction, since the night Bucky laid one on him. If Bucky wasn't certain Nadia’s impossible to kill he'd worry she slipped and fell in the shower and lost a few brain cells.
His ticket to the correspondent's dinner is just a shiny piece of paper. His real ticket are two pieces of government ID, and an extensive background check. They don’t let just anyone into this event.
His bow tie sits, ignored, at his side. To be fair, he’s been distracted. A courier dropped off a heavy-ass box from the DC Office of Tax and Revenue. The Maryland and Virginia offices came back with nothing he didn't already know, but DC took a while. They had a lot to work with.
He has to be at the dinner in an hour, so he figures he has a bit of time to skim through the box.
Famous last words.
A short fifteen minutes in, and Bucky finds what he was looking for. Thule Industries owns a defunct bank a few blocks from the Capitol, as well as a slew of riverside properties by the Potomac. Everything upstream of Theodore Roosevelt Island belongs to them. He’s talking residential, commercial, and industrial properties. Everything but the Triskelion, which is run by SHIELD. But, as Bucky already figured out, SHIELD and Thule Industries might as well be the same thing.
This is how Bucky understands it. The drones are manufactured in Virginia at the water treatment facility. They are then transferred to the Lemurian Star , a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, which acts as a launch platform and home base. They spread out all over the world, controlled by the AI which eliminates human guidance from the equation, meaning more ‘enemies of the state’ can be targeted at once. The drones sample DNA from the air, and relay that information to something else, and that something else has a big fat gun that can eliminate targets anywhere in the world.
It has to be an aircraft of some kind. Missiles are constrained by range, but aircrafts can take missiles and deliver them anywhere in the world.
Bucky is a hundred percent certain that Pierce—because it’s gotta be fucking Pierce—has contracted Thule Industries to build that something else in SHIELD’s own backyard, in the heart of fucking DC.
It’s easy to assume all of SHIELD is complicit. There’s no way anyone who works in the Triskelion doesn’t know about the massive construction project under their feet. But Bucky still has some faith in humanity. He can’t believe an entire branch of government would suddenly go dark side 1984 Big Brother style. Maybe higher ups are passing it off as something benign?
Wait a second...
He’s going to the motherfucking White House Correspondents Dinner. He’ll be rubbing elbows with some of the most powerful people in DC, any of whom can bring down Pierce in an instant. Cut the head off the snake and all that jazz.
It’s great, except for one small fact: politicians are a bunch of slimy fucks. Any one of them could be in Pierce’s pocket.
Fortunately, he knows a gaggle of congressmen who are definitely in league with Pierce: the committee members from the hearing.
There’s nothing congressmen like more than winning an election. To do that they need money, of which Pierce has an endless supply. When the DOD's budget is worth billions, it’s easy to misplace a few million. Give him a few hours on the Federal Election Commission’s website, combing through PAC and campaign finances, and he'll figure out where the money's going. If it’s going into the pockets of congressmen to buy their votes.
His rideshare arrives in two minutes. If he misses his chance at the dinner, who knows how long it will take to get an appointment with a non-diabolical White House official? He has to be certain the person he confides in isn’t in cahoots with Pierce, or he’ll end up like McGowan: dead on Federal lands.
He could bypass the White House altogether, and go straight to the CIA, but dammit, if SHIELD is compromised who’s to say the CIA isn’t as well?
Bucky groans. This is why Deeper Throat chose him, a reporter; they didn’t know who else to trust.
Bucky locks everything in his safe, and finally clips on his bow tie. It’s only when he’s standing at the curb, that he remembers not every congressman agreed with Pierce at the hearing. At least not at first.
Congressman Sawyer. He was agitated to the point of yelling at someone he believed to be a voter. Only personal matters can get someone that bothered. Sawyer is probably being blackmailed. Messy, for sure, and likely Pierce’s last ditch attempt to get him on his side.
Bucky climbs into his rideshare, a yellow sedan with racing stripes down the side, driven by a white guy whose name is the worst spelling of ‘Jason’ he’s ever seen in his life. Turns out he will be arriving in style to the Washington Hilton. Forget boring Lincolns, this is the way to go. Bucky would have preferred to take his own car, but parking fees at the Hilton are borderline criminal.
He’s minding his own business—as one does while in some stranger's backseat—when he notices a picture stuck to the dashboard. It’s of Jaysyn at his graduation, carrying a smiling child in his arms.
Bucky’s eyes widen in realization.
The pictures in Sawyer’s office. He was staring at his daughter like someone ripped his heart from his chest.
Bucky pulls out his phone.
A quick Google search finds Felicity Sawyer's name and Facebook. It’s locked down tight, unsurprising, considering her father is a public official. No big deal. He scrolls through her friends list, and sends off a dozen requests. Having done this before, he knows at least one will be accepted soon. Bucky’s Facebook account is nothing more than a relic from his past. It doesn’t mention his profession, only his alma mater, and has a few pictures of James Proctor, pre-amnesia, when he was a total snack, not a hopeless mess.
A notification pops up on his screen. Bingo.
From there it’s easy enough figuring out that she lives with her boyfriend, Darren, in Bloomington, Illinois. Her account is still being updated, which would normally fuck with Bucky’s theory, but the updates are all throwback posts. Nothing new. Her boyfriend is consistently liking the posts. So he doesn’t know.
Bucky enters ‘Darren Shepard’ into a white pages database, thanking the universe and everything good in it that only one result pops up.
Bucky signs into his burner app; it’ll create a temporary phone number that will deactivate once he finishes the call.
“Hello?” A confused Darren answers.
“Hi there, Mr. Shepard!” Bucky says, disgustingly cheerful. Even Jaysyn looks in the rearview mirror for one second. “I’m calling from Congressmen Sawyer’s reelection campaign.”
“Uh, hi?” Darren says, still confused. Weird. He should be used to this.
“We’re struggling with the congressman’s speech here.” Bucky chuckles, self-depreciative, to really sell the ruse.
“Sorry to hear it. Which spee—”
“I was hoping the team could speak with Felicity to hammer out some details.” Bucky thinks of a throwback picture recently posted on her Facebook. "She could give us some insights into the Disney World trip she took with the congressman back in ‘92, it could really touch some hearts.”
“She isn’t here,” Darren says, “She’s supposed to be with you guys in DC. I get why you’ve called me, her phone’s been broke for days, but I haven’t talked to her lately. I don’t even know if she has a new phone.”
Broke, his pasty white ass. There's no way anyone on a campaign trail could go an hour, let alone days, without a phone.
“Right, well, thank you for your help.”
“Wait, please. Could you have her call me when you finally get in touch? I’m really worried, uh... I didn’t catch your name?”
“My name,” Bucky repeats, panicked, “Oh, of course, it’s... Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz.”
Now, it isn’t illegal to misrepresent himself, but it is bad taste. Not to mention, stupid. He won’t be able to publish any of this. There are no Pulitzer categories for subterfuge. Not that he’s trying to get a Pulitzer. Fucking hell, if Ronit were here, she’d smack him upside the head.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite—”
Bucky hangs up.
“Shit,” he says quietly, but emphatically, staring out the window at the Hilton looming in all its brutalist, concrete-sexual glory. Thank God for Ronit and her cinematic obsessions.
“So…” Jaysyn starts, “Is Bucky short for Bang-zits-tah… uh wadda wadda…?” He winces, absolutely flopping the pronunciation.
Bucky’s seen How I Unleashed World War II with Ronit so many times he can quote entire scenes in his sleep. In Polish. He figures if the main character can use an exceedingly long and complicated Polish name to confuse a nazi officer, it would work on an American.
“Yup,” Bucky quips, climbing out of the car as it rolls to a stop at the curb. Jaysyn peers out the window at the line of Town Cars in front of the hotel.
“Well,” he says, “Have fun at your party?”
Bucky makes sure to tip Jaysyn handsomely.
“Just so you know, I will be drinking tonight,” Ronit declares.
“Me too,” Bucky replies, they’re early, and the only ones at their table. Everyone else is getting down and dirty at the countless pre-parties hosted all over the city.
He grabs a breadstick from the floral arrangement in the centre of the table. If they didn’t want him to eat the decor, they shouldn’t have made it edible.
“You’ll never guess what I figured out.” He takes a bite.
“Senator Stern is a closet nazi?”
“Wait, what?” Bucky chokes, coughing up a hunk of perfumed breadstick. Yuck, chemicals.
Ronit laughs. “Just kidding.” She narrows her eyes. “Or am I?”
“Fuck off,” Bucky shakes his head. “Actually, that would explain so much.”
Ronit sighs. “Yeah, I keep asking Jamila why she’s still working for that prick. There are so many better politicians out there, and any of them would be happy to have her.”
Bucky waves the breadstick between the two of them, before sticking it back in the arrangement where it belongs. “You and I will never understand the staffer brain.”
“It’s all the asbestos in old government buildings.”
They grin at each other, but then that grin starts to slowly slip off Ronit’s face.
“She isn’t coming today,” Ronit says sadly. “She said she was, but then she called, said she had to take care of ‘important business.’ Whatever the fuck that means.”
Bucky puts his hand over Ronit’s in comfort. Just then, he spots a flash of blond in the crowd. Craning his neck, his eyes fall upon a person he honestly did not expect to see.
At the sound of his name, Steve turns around. The moment he notices Bucky, his gaze falls to his and Ronit’s hands on the table. Bucky resists the urge to pull away. He doesn’t care if Steve thinks they’re an item. He doesn’t.
Ronit squeezes his fingers, then drops them as she stands. She holds her hand out for Steve. “Captain Rogers, Bucky’s told me so much about you.”
Bucky sputters. He did not!
A little crevasse forms between Steve’s brows. “Bu-James didn’t mention anything about you, Miss…?”
“Ronit, please call me Ronit.”
That crevasse smooths out almost instantly. “Nevermind, he’s told me a lot about you. It’s so nice to meet you.”
“Good things I hope?” She winks.
Steve blushes, ducking his head. It gives Bucky the opportunity to gawk at the cut of his tux, just not as thoroughly as he hoped. All too soon Steve’s looking up again, and his eyes meet Bucky’s square. “He mentioned your love of Polish cinema.”
Ronit kicks him in the ankle with a very pointy shoe. Still smiling, she glares down at him. “You told Captain America that I like movies . Out of all my hobbies, and everything you know about me, you told him about the movies."
Bucky rubs the sore spot with his other heel. Pouting, he says, “I told Steve Rogers that you like movies.”
Her eyes soften.
“He also said that you’re the best journalist in all of DC?” Steve says, worriedly looking between the two of them.
Ronit hums, and her hand falls to Bucky’s shoulder. “I forgive you.”
“Thanks?” He glances up at Ronit, only to find her looking off into the distance, brow furrowed. “What?”
“I thought I saw...” Ronit shakes her head. “Nevermind, I must be losing my mind.”
Bucky shrugs. “If I can have a doppelganger, so can everyone else,” he says, and suffers a front row seat to Steve wincing like Bucky slapped him across the face.
Ronit clears her throat awkwardly. “Oh, is that um, Peter O’Toole? I’m just gonna say hi real quick.”
“Peter O’Toole is British, and he died last year,” he says weakly, but Ronit’s already gone. Bucky swallows nervously.
“So,” Steve and Bucky say at the same time.
Bucky clears his throat. “Go ahead.”
“You haven’t been answering my texts,” Steve says, all the while staring at his shoes.
Bucky picks up his fork, puts it down, then picks up his knife and rearranges it on his setting. He then realizes it'll interfere with the wait staff, so he returns it to its original place. Bucky didn't return Steve’s first text on purpose. After that, he didn’t want to explain why he didn’t answer that one time. After the sixth text, they stopped coming, and Bucky figured he screwed up royally. Bucky hasn’t read them. They’re like Schrodinger’s messages, they can’t say anything heartbreaking if he doesn’t look at them.
Steve continues, “You don’t owe me anything. You certainly don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to, but it would have been nice if you mentioned that when we parted ways.”
“Don’t be sorry.” Steve shakes his head. “If you need space, I’m happy to give it. If you never want to see me again, it won’t make me happy, but it’s up to you. I will get out of your life if you want me to.” Steve swallows, his throat bobbing. “I wish you would explain what I did to hurt you.”
Bucky groans. “It’s not you, it’s…” Bucky rubs his temple, a headache brewing. He swears under his breath.
“Fuck!” Bucky exclaims, startling somewhat at a nearby table. He lowers his voice, leaning close to Steve. “It’s Rumlow.”
“Rumlow?” Steve asks, completely and utterly baffled.
In the distance, Bucky hears a familiar laugh. Glancing around Steve he spots Ronit with a bunch of their coworkers. Her eyebrows lift when their eyes meet, and she waves her hand in a shooing gesture. The hall filled up, and he didn’t even notice. On the stage, the chairs meant to be sitting the President and the VP are noticeably empty. Bucky would be much more excited about that development if he wasn’t worrying over what the hell he’s supposed to say to Steve.
Bucky stands quickly. He grabs Steve’s wrist, and pulls him in the other direction away from his coworkers.
Bucky finds a private nook outside of the hall. Historically, knowing what he knows about this hotel, it’s probably been used for liaisons. Bucky tries not to dwell on that. He pushes Steve into it, and follows right after. Pressed up against a couple of service carts, they’re so close together Bucky could name the exact colour of Steve’s eyes if he knew anything about art.
“Rumlow,” Bucky hisses. “Do you know what he’s doing at the facility in Virginia?”
Steve’s mouth drops open ever so slightly. If Bucky wasn’t looking for a tell, he would have missed it.
“You do,” Bucky says, stumbling back into a cart. The corner of it puts a nice dent in the wall.
“No!” Bucky flinches, and Steve lifts his hands. He takes a few deep breaths, then licks his lips. “I’ve had my suspicions for a while about him, and my entire team for that matter.” He lowers his voice. “I don’t know about any facility in Virginia. What I do know is that I found bugs in my apartment. The same tech that we use on missions.”
Bucky stares at him for a long moment. “You think they’re spying on you? Why?”
Steve shakes his head, eyes wide. “I don’t know. I’m hoping you could tell me. What’s in Virginia?”
“Bucky!” Ronit comes skidding around the corner. She’s holding her shoes in one hand, a piece of paper the size of a post-it in the other. She notices Steve, and seems to hesitate, but then she says, “We need to go.”
She hands over the paper, and Bucky unfolds it.
You have accessed the website. You have the report.
The parking garage on Florida and T at 10pm.
And you will have everything else.
“It was tucked under my plate when the appetizers came out, but they got our orders mixed up. It was meant for you. I grabbed it before the others could notice.”
Bucky checks his phone: a quarter to ten. “Can we make it in time?”
“If we run,” Ronit says, holding out her hand, waiting.
“James, what’s going on?” Steve asks. Bucky tucks the paper into his pocket.
He looks between Steve’s worried face, and Ronit’s outstretched hand. “I have to go,” he finally says, slipping his hand into Ronit’s. “We’ll talk later.” She pulls him out of the nook.
“What’s happening?” Steve asks, following after them. “I can help if you just tell me.”
Ronit drops his hand to put on her shoes, and for some reason a cold feeling slides down his spine. Something is off about the note. The syntax is so different from the first one. Except, they know about the report and the website, how can they not be Deeper Throat?
“You can’t,” Bucky says, dismissive.
“I can! I can keep you safe.”
He doesn’t have time for this. They have to make the meeting. He has no doubt that’s why Deeper Throat didn’t give much warning. They don’t want him bringing backup. He’s going to have to explain who Ronit is, or risk spooking them. He can only imagine what would happen if he showed up with Captain America in tow. He might just give them a heart attack.
“I’ll call you in a few hours,” Bucky promises.
“We have to go,” Ronit says, checking the time on her wristwatch.
They book it down the corridor, past security, and into the cold night. But the sound of Steve yelling after him rings in his ears.
Bucky shivers as they wait for the crossing signal to change. He left his damn coat in check. Ronit side-eyes him worriedly. She doesn’t have the decency to look chilled in her shoulderless evening gown. The sequins on her dress reflect the lights as they turn green.
“I feel like I’m about to buy weed out of some drug dealer’s trunk," Ronit says as they jog across to the parking garage, and duck under the barrier arm. The garage is dimly lit, and somehow even colder than the outside.
“I was going to tell you something before I was distracted by Steve,” he says, sticking close to Ronit.
Ronit snorts. “At least you’re admitting that you find him distracting. You know what I call that?”
They walk down the ramp, and Bucky keeps an eye out for oncoming traffic in the safety mirrors. “Personal growth?”
“No.” Ronit huffs. “Thirst.”
“Yeah well, the thirst is real.”
Bucky’s well aware that clandestine meetings in underground parking garages are such a cliché. It’s not even the best place to meet a source. There are too many cameras, and too much reverb. Not to mention, it’s because of this trope that they look suspicious as fuck. It’s obvious Deeper Throat does not make a habit of whistle-blowing.
"We’ll lap around once, see if anyone approaches us?”
Ronit gives him a thumbs up, even as she wobbles in her heels. He’s not about to suggest she ditch the shoes. Who knows what kind of crap is scattered all over the floor, waiting to be stepped on.
“Do you remember Congressman Sawyer from Pierce’s hearing?” Bucky asks, a few rows in.
“The guy that changed his mind?"
Bucky nods. “I think Pierce kidnapped his daughter and is holding her hostage.”
“I think the underground is getting to you.” Ronit frowns. “You do know how crazy that sounds?”
Bucky describes the call he made to Felicity Sawyer’s boyfriend, and the congressman’s reactions to him asking about Pierce. They’ve done a full round of the garage when he adds, “Thule Industries—the shell company building the drones—owns an abandoned bank in Capitol Hill. Banks have vaults that lock from the outside, which would be the perfect place to keep a hostage—”
A car comes roaring down the ramp. Bucky jumps to the side and narrowly avoids becoming a pancake under the wheels. It drifts into a corner spot, screeching to a stop.
Bucky knows that car.
“Fuck me,” Ronit says, gobsmacked, as Jamila climbs out of the driver’s side. The passenger’s door smacks open, and Rick stumbles out, sweaty and gross. He seems to be in danger of throwing up.
“Sorry we’re late,” Jamila strides confidently over to Bucky, throwing a thumb over her shoulder at Rick. “This guy was puking his guts into a toilet only a few minutes before. We had to take a pitstop…” Jamila trails off when she notices Ronit. “Baby.”
“Don’t you ‘baby’ me,” Ronit growls. “This is your big secret? This is why you haven’t been coming home? I thought you were cheating on me with this white cheddar Cheeto!”
“Cheating?” Jamila stares at Ronit in horror. “With him?”
“Hey!” Rick exclaims.
“What the fuck did you expect me to think?”
Jamila throws her hands in the air. “I don’t know, anything but cheating! How could you think I’d ever cheat on you? You know how I feel about you! How I’ve always felt about you.”
Ronit stares at Jamila, wearing her entire heart on her face. A frown slowly takes over. “Stern. You hacked your boss. You hacked an elected official. Shit, honey, that’s a criminal offence. You could go to jail.”
“Actually, Rick did the hacking.”
Rick, if anything, seems to sweat even more.
“What have you gotten yourself into?” Ronit groans.
Jamila folds her arms over her chest. “I didn’t say anything when you went to Shanghai for that fucking free-press conference and nearly got yourself arrested. You couldn’t even fly out, you had to sneak out by boat to Taiwan!”
“That was a decade ago, get over it!”
“Uh, guys,” Bucky says. They seem ready to rip out each others’ throats. With loving concern.
Ronit works her jaw, hands clenched at her sides. “Why did you call us here?”
“Rick called James, not you,” Jamila says to her future wife, “I’m just the driver.” She swings her keys around her index finger. “Rick, go ahead. You said you had a jump drive to give him?”
“Uh,” Rick mumbles nervously. He rubs his sweaty palms on his chinos. “I do, um, have something, that is.” He pats himself down half-heartedly, eyes darting over Bucky’s shoulder towards the exit, like he’s looking for something. Or maybe he just wants to get out of here as soon as possible. “I may have…” He trails off, swallows, and all the blood floods from his face in a rush. His eyes widen until a ring of white surrounds his pupil. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers.
An ear splitting crack echoes in the garage, and Bucky falls to his knees. Hunching his shoulders to cover his ears, he shakes his head, blinking stars out of his vision. He nearly throws up at what he sees.
Rick lies on the ground, half of his head missing.
Warmth trickles down his cheek, and someone grabs him by the hand, dragging him across the blacktop. He’s dumped against a concrete pillar. Blood rushes in his ears. He can only make out vague noises, low and muffled. The pillar is shaking behind him like an earthquake. Bucky lays his head against it, closing his eyes.
He’s slapped across the face, and everything clears in an instant. The wound on his cheek stings like a motherfucker. It missed him by a bare inch. The thing that blew up Rick’s head like a watermelon nearly got him too. He’s shaking so hard, he can barely breathe.
“In, and out,” Jamila says, sliding her hand into his. Bucky follows her instructions, regulating his breathing. Dust flies in the air, and the pillar behind him shakes as the gun used to kill Rick pummels their hiding spot.
“He sold us out,” Ronit swears.
“Stern must have had the hack traced. That’s why Rick wanted a face-to-face meeting so bad,” Jamila mutters, “Damnit.”
“How are you not freaking out?” Bucky shrieks, voice pitched high in panic. He flinches as another shot strikes the pillar.
“Freaking out would be an inefficient use of my time. I’ll cry at my therapist later,” Jamila says, looking at her phone. “I don’t have service down here.”
“This garage has only one exit,” Ronit says, “The street. The entrance to the building is keycard access only.”
“There has to be a fire exit somewhere,” Bucky says.
“Yeah, near the street. We’ll be mowed down the moment we make a run for it,” Ronit says through clenched teeth.
“Your car,” Bucky says, “It’s right behind us, it’ll provide some cover if we drive out of here. Where is the shooter?”
“I saw him at the booth by the entrance,” Ronit says.
“Why the fuck isn’t he coming here? It’s not like we have weapons,” Jamila mutters. She shakes her head. “I vote for James’ plan. My car has a front view camera, I don’t even have to look through the windshield to drive. We can run the bastard over on our way outta here.”
Ronit nods, giving them each a hand, helping them up. “Count of three, and we run. One, two, three .”
The concrete explodes over his head. He’s thrown to the ground, and Ronit shouts his name as dust and concrete rains down on him. Pain radiates from his legs as he's bombarded with chunks of masonry. Bucky blinks, but he doesn’t see Ronit and Jamila anywhere. He swears, and slides to the ground. There goes their cover. The pillar is gone, blown to bits. If he moves an inch, he’s a dead man.
“Bucky!” Ronit shouts. He finds her peering at him from behind Jamlia’s car. It immediately shakes as a high powered round hits the door, shredding the metal.
“Go, go go!” He shouts, gesturing wildly at them. The car won’t make it if they use it as cover. They need to get out of here. Without him.
Ronit yells for him as Jamila grabs her. She opens the door, and tosses her in the backseat.
“I’m so sorry, James,” Jamila says as she climbs into the driver’s seat.
“You better name your first kid after me!” he shouts, closing his eyes in resignation.
“We don’t want children, you heteronormative bastard!” Ronit shrieks, as Jamila stomps on the gas, tires screeching wildly. Soon, he doesn’t hear anything but the splintering of wood, as the car plows right through the barrier arm, the engine’s roar fading into the distance.
The shots have stopped.
They’re gone. They’re safe.
He opens his eyes, and lets out a terrified scream as a figured dressed all in black stands over him.
He’s a nightmare come alive. Dark goggles and a muzzle cover the Winter Soldier’s face, a crimson star sits on his chest as he stares Bucky down, like he’s a bug in need of squashing.
A flash of blue and red flies out of nowhere, hitting the Soldier square in the chest. He goes flying, crashing into a minivan whose alarm immediately starts wailing.
Steve appears out of nowhere, picking up his fallen shield. Bucky stares at him.
“Are you hurt?” Steve asks.
“Am I hurt,” Bucky repeats stupidly.
Steve frowns. Metal creaks, and Bucky shouts a warning just as Steve raises his shield. The Soldier empties a handgun’s clip at him. The bullets ricochet wildly, digging into the blacktop inches from his face.
“Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!” Sam screams, flying in like he’s Tinkerbell with fucking wings. He drop-kicks the Soldier who goes skidding across the blacktop.
“Sam?!” Bucky shrieks.
“Go, Bucky!” Steve shouts, “I mean James! I mean, get the hell out of here!”
Bucky doesn’t argue, he rolls to his feet, and books it out of dodge. He runs out to the street, startling a couple staring curiously at the shattered remains of the barrier arm.
“Trust me,” he pants, trying to catch his breath. “You do not wanna go down there.” To emphasize his point, a flurry of shots ring out. The couple skedaddles in a hurry.
Bucky stumbles down the street. Everything hurts, his face, his head, his legs. He pulls out his phone, and tries calling Nadia, figuring she has trustworthy contacts in the military who can help Steve and Sam fight the goddamn Winter child Soldier.
After a few rings, it goes straight to voicemail.
Bucky swears like a sailor, and brings up his rideshare app. He hopes his torn tux, and the fact that he’s covered in an inch of dust doesn’t drastically lower his rating. Knowing his luck, he’ll probably be banned for life.
psycho killer, qu'est-ce que c'est?
“Dude, you look like wet shit,” Jaysyn says as Bucky climbs into his backseat. Unfortunately, Jaysyn is the only driver in the area. Unfortunate for Jaysyn, that is.
“Thanks,” Bucky mutters, dialling Ronit’s number from memory.
Jaysyn pulls away from the curb. “I’m guessing the party wasn’t that great. Did your girl dump you?” He asks, as if Bucky’s imaginary break-up was the reason he looks like a building nutted all over him. Jaysyn is probably real happy he invested in the seat covers Bucky’s sitting on.
“Something like that,” he mutters, putting his phone to his ear. Crossing his fingers, Bucky hopes she picks up.
“Bucky?” Ronit asks.
“Ronnie, you guys made it out all right?” Bucky asks, worried.
“Oh my God, Bucky, it’s you! I was so worried, I thought that asshole stole your phone after he…” She trails off. “I’m just glad you’re safe. Jamila and I, we’re fine.”
“Steve saved the day.” Bucky says. Then Bucky left him and Sam alone to take down a guy who killed eight secret servicemen, and the president. Bucky’s an amazing friend.
“No shit?” Ronit says. Murmurs sound from the other end of the line. “Jamila want to know if you called the police.”
Bucky shakes his head before realizing she can’t see it. “No. I figured Pierce would have… uh...” He looks up, and sees Jaysyn watching him in the mirror. “...a couple of blue men on his payroll.”
“Are you in public?” She asks.
“Okay then, listen. Our neighbour called a few minutes ago. Our house is crawling with guys in tac suits. We’re laying low in a hotel for now, paying with cash. But Jamila’s saying she’s locked out of her work and personal accounts. They must have accessed her laptop. All the evidence she had is gone. Jamila’s phone is burned. Literally. She made me microwave the damn thing.” Ronit pauses as Jamila says something. “We’re gonna to do mine next, and you should probably get rid of yours.”
“Mine is safe, it’s untraceable,” Bucky reassures her. Remembering Jaysyn is listening in, he adds, “My VPN, I mean, that I use to illegally download Disney movies…” He winces.
“Alright,” she says skeptically. “I’ll get a burner, and I’ll text you my new number in an hour or so. You might wanna call a neighbour and see if the Men in Black have found your place.”
Bucky bites his inner cheek. “I have to go home. Everything we, uh, need to make cookies is, um, in my safe.”
“Be careful,” she says.
“It was the guy!” Bucky blurts out before she hangs up.
“I don’t know if you got a good look at him when you were driving away, but it was him, Mr. Oswald two point o.”
“The Winter Soldier?” She hisses, picking up exactly what he’s laying down. “That means… fuck… that means he’s working for Pierce. This whole thing is a setup. This war he wants to start, he caused it.” Her voice slides from angry to horrified. “Pierce killed the fucking president.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says weakly, “Which is why I need that one thousand page cookie recipe I keep in my safe, even if Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones come for me. It’s our only chance of stopping the, uh, bureaucratic aliens.”
Thank god he printed out the report.
“Okay,” she says, shaken. “After I send you my number, call me so I know you’re not dead.”
“Will do. Talk to you on the flip side,” he says, hanging up. Bucky sits in silence for a few moments, staring at his phone.
Jaysyn clears his throat. “Dude, are you a spy?”
Bucky drops his head back on the seat, exhausted. “I’m a reporter for the National Enquirer.” God, he might as well just roll with the crazy.
“Ohhh. That explains so much.”
Bucky opens his contacts list, and selects the only number that came with the phone.
“Don’t tell me you wanna buy my weed, neighbour Buck, ‘cause I don’t sell to reporters,” Norlando says.
“Okay, so this is gonna sound weird,” Bucky starts, “But are there, by any chance, strange men in black raiding my apartment?”
“Biiiitch, what the hell did you do?”
Bucky sighs. “Fucked with the government.”
“Damn. Let me take a peek.”
Bucky looks out the window while he waits. They’re in his neighbourhood, only a few blocks from his building. Norlando better hurry. It’s now or never.
“There’s no one here, man, and no suspicious-looking vehicles parked on the street either. Whatever you did, you lucked out.”
“They might still show up,” Bucky admits. “Then they might start knocking on doors.”
Norlando hums in understanding. “In that case, I’m gonna get my mama, and we’re gonna fuck off. Thanks for the heads up, neighbour Buck.” Norlando hangs up just as Jaysyn pulls up to his building.
“Good luck with your writing. Power to the free press!” Jaysyn says. He drops Bucky on the curb, then takes off like a bat out of hell.
Bucky stands on the sidewalk, staring up at his looming building.
First, he needs to get all the evidence out of his safe. Then he has to find somewhere he can lay low, figure out if Steve and Sam are alright, call Ronit, ask where the hell Sam got himself a pair of metal wings, and actually get a hold of Nadia if she hasn’t brained herself on the side of the tub.
Oh, and he still has to call his sister.
It’s been a long day.
Bucky takes the elevator to his floor, and arrives just in time to run into Norlando, a carpet bag hanging from one arm, a frowning Mrs. Jones hanging onto the other.
“I didn’t think you had it in you,” Norlando says, as he walks past him into the elevator. “I always thought you were a goody-two-shoes white boy.”
“Guess I’m only two thirds of those things,” Bucky says, and Norlando laughs and laughs until the doors close with a snap.
Cautiously, Bucky unlocks his apartment, still expecting some government spook to jump out and arrest him, but he finds the place as he left it, letting out a sigh of relief.
He makes a beeline for the safe under his desk, emptying the contents into a dusty backpack. He puts it on, then clips it over his chest for good measure.
Bucky goes over to the window, studying the street with a critical eye, looking for any vehicles that seem out of place. He watches as Norlando pulls out of the lot in his Mustang, gunning it down the street.
A flash of motion catches his attention. Bucky turns to the building on the other side of the street. There, on the rooftop, a figure stands. The moon hangs huge behind him, bathing the Soldier in shadows. Bucky stares at him in horror. If he’s here, if he escaped, that means...
The Soldier picks up a grenade launcher, aiming it right at him.
He turns on his heel and runs for the door. He makes it into the kitchen before he’s blown off his feet, a wave of heat sending him flying into the wall. He must black out for a hot minute because he wakes up to alarms blaring, and the room plunged into darkness. Bucky staggers to his feet, leaning against the wall for support.
There’s a Bucky shaped indent in the plaster. His windows are shattered in pieces all over the floor, but there’s no evidence of a grenade anywhere.
With that sobering thought in mind, he clutches the bag’s strap, and stumbles over to his door, ears ringing. Out in the deserted hall, the sprinklers have turned on. The carpet squelches beneath his feet. The stairs are just down the hall, but nurse Jacob’s door is lying on the carpet. It has scorch marks all over the wood, as if it was blown off its hinges.
The Winter Soldier missed his apartment, but he seems to have hit his neighbour’s.
Pushing wet hair out of his eyes, he goes in.
“Jacob?” Bucky calls. The apartment layout is a mirror image of his. While his is a total mess, full of shit he doesn’t need, Jacob’s is a ghost town. He’s gotta be one of those clean-living minimalists who freak out at the thought of owning things.
A basket of scrubs sits by the door. It must have been knocked over in the blast. Something isn’t right about this place, and he’s not talking about the handgun lying among the scrubs. Bucky walks past what can only be a gun safe. He whistles. Either Jacob strongly believes in the Second Amendment, or… well, Bucky’s going with the ‘or.’
In the living room, he finds Jacob slumped against a wall. The paint is smeared with blood, and his neck is twisted at an angle. Bucky takes his wrist, searching for a pulse, but there’s nothing.
Something crackles, and Bucky looks up at the wall Jacob shares with his apartment.
At least ten flat screens fill up the space. They aren’t some run of the mill tech anyone could pick up from Best Buy. They are thin as a whistle. Stuff he wouldn’t expect to see outside the military.
All of them are playing static, like their connections were cut by the blast. Except for the one furthest from the window. Bucky goes closer, and his eyes widen.
That’s his bed. He’d recognize that rainbow blanket anywhere. Ronit gave him that for Pride last year. That’s his blanket, and that’s his bed, and that’s his motherfucking nightstand. Bucky looks over his shoulder at Jacob’s body. Bucky remembers when he moved in. It was raining, and Bucky held the front door open for the bastard to carry his boxes through. Bucky was still getting the previous occupants’ mail, and he had just left a stack of letters on the mailroom counter. It had only been a month since he moved in.
Jacob’s been spying on him for that long? Five fucking years. Shivers wrack his soaking wet body, but it isn’t the breeze blowing in from the window chilling him.
He needs to get out of here.
Bucky strides over to the door. He hesitates at the gun lying on the floor. James Proctor was supposed to be an expert marksman, but Bucky hasn’t touched a gun in five years. He isn’t sure if muscle memory applies.
He leaves it where it is. The only thing worse than a desperate idiot with a gun, is a desperate idiot who doesn’t know how to use a gun.
When Bucky pushes open the front doors to his building, car keys fisted in his hand, he’s confronted by a wall of cops pointing their guns at him.
“James Proctor! Drop everything, and slowly raise your arms—arm!”
Bucky’s keys clatter on the sidewalk, and a couple of cops take the opportunity to wrestle him to the ground, pressing his face to the concrete.
He’s being loaded into the back of a cruiser when he catches a conversation between two cops.
“Man, I can’t believe this, domestic terrorism? In DC of all places,” the first cop takes off his hat, mopping his brow with a handkerchief.
“Nice to know he ain’t just another lone wolf to you,” the other one says.
The first cop rolls his eyes. “First Captain America’s gone rogue, and now this. What a night—”
Bucky doesn’t catch the rest of the conversation because the door slams shut, and the cruiser pulls away, taking him god knows where.
The nice thing about the cell he’s currently sitting in is that it’s warm. Anyone else would say it’s stuffy as hell, but Bucky’s wearing a wet tux that began the night immaculate but now has holes in several places, so he appreciates the heat considerably.
The not so nice thing about the cell holding him prisoner is that he’s in it in the first place.
Bucky has no idea where his keys are. The cops took his backpack, and phone to evidence. Thankfully, he understands the importance of complicated passwords. No one will be able to unlock it to snoop through his call logs, and even if Ronit texts, they’ll still need to unlock the screen to read the message.
The only problem is his backpack. The crackpot shit inside won’t help the argument that he’s not a terrorist. The chances of the cops actually believing what they find is little or none. They already think he’s a danger to others. They marched out the drunks, flashers, and public urinators to another wing of the building, just so he can have this cell to himself.
There’s also the possibility that they’re on Pierce’s payroll, but he’s trying not to think about that.
So Bucky sits, and if he cranes his neck he can watch the boxy TV on the other side of the room. It’s playing a baseball game, and the Nationals are losing terribly to the Angels. As usual. The next time it goes to an ad, the grumpy cop watching from his desk switches the channel to Fox News in disgust.
Bucky wonders what they'll do to him. They didn’t drag him to an interrogation room, so maybe they called the Feds, and are waiting on them to fetch him. Simply put, Bucky’s fucked.
On the TV, a picture of Steve scratching his nose appears. It’s angled in such a way that it looks like he’s picking it. The folks at Fox News must have been waiting to use that picture for ages. The news ticker scrolls on by, casually declaring Captain America a traitor. Like he hasn’t given his entire life for his country.
Bucky presses his face against the grate.
The picture changes to a shaky video outside the parking garage. A bunch of SUVs and guys in tac gear form a semicircle, blocking the exit. Sam and Steve walk out with their hands over their heads. A soldier kicks Steve’s legs out from under him, pointing a gun at his face. Bucky’s heart just about stalls in his chest. Another soldier pushes the gun away, gesturing at the camera. The trigger happy soldier looks over his shoulder, and it’s fucking Rumlow. He scowls, and orders Steve to his feet, cuffing him, and then Sam.
Shit, Bucky thinks. If news crews weren’t on the scene, Rumlow would have killed them, no questions asked. He stares in horror as Steve and Sam are loaded into the back of an SUV. Rumlow will kill them, he knows it in his gut. He’ll kill them and say they tried to escape, and he’ll get away with it too.
Fuck, they’re probably already dead.
Tears prick at the corners of his eyes, blurring his vision.
The TV flickers, and turns off. The cop swears, pressing furiously at the power button on the remote. The lights go out, plunging the room into darkness, except for the faint glow of the cooling cathode tube, and the shaft of moonlight flooding in from the singular window.
“Goddamn budget cuts,” the cop mutters, rising from his desk. Bucky’s too terrified to stop him. The cop locks the door with a click behind him, leaving Bucky all alone. He’s under no illusion that this is a power outage. Bucky curls up in the corner furthest from the cell door, waiting.
Gunshots ring out, three of them, one after the other. Bucky flinches, eyes fixed on the door, he doesn’t blink.
He’s just a kid, Bucky thinks. And that kid is coming to kill me.
The door swings open, and a figure stands under the lintel. Short. He’s so fucking short and skinny. All too soon he’s walking over, stopping in the shaft of moonlight. He holds up a handgun, and Bucky closes his eyes, waiting for the end.
A shot fires, and metal screeches in protest. He opens one eye, as the cell door swings open, barely hanging from its hinges. The Soldier steps in, and aims at Bucky’s head.
Then he moves the gun to the door.
“You want me to come with you?” Bucky hazards a guess. The Soldier says nothing. “And if I’d rather stay here?” At that the Soldier points the gun back at him. Bucky’s hand flies up in surrender. “I’ll come with you, just don’t shoot!”
With his heart in his throat, Bucky steps around the Winter Soldier. He barely comes up to Bucky’s sternum.
"Are you taking me to Pierce?" Bucky asks. Nothing. "Are you going to kill me?" Still nothing.
All that silence has Bucking thinking. At the apartment the Soldier could have shot the grenade at Bucky's face, but he aimed for the person spying on him instead. He could have killed Bucky an innumerable amount of times in the garage, but he just… didn’t.
Bucky clears his throat. "Are you here on orders?"
The Soldier growls, almost like he's offended. Bucky can understand a no when he hears one. He doesn’t know how to feel about this new development, and he’s not entirely sure what to do. People don't write manuals on how to deal with murderous child soldiers who have escaped from their not-so-parental guardians. It’s not like Bucky can call child services.
The Soldier makes Bucky walk in front of him down the corridor, and up a flight of stairs. Bucky makes to turn right, but the Soldier grunts, pointing left. He hesitates. The evidence locker is on the right. If he can grab his phone and backpack, then he can…
The Soldier growls.
“Please, I need my backpack,” Bucky begs, “You can do whatever with me after, but I need to get it somewhere safe.”
The Soldier stares at him. Or he could be staring over his shoulder. Those goggles aren’t exactly conducive for reading his expression.
Eventually, the Soldier grabs hold of his shoulder and pushes him to the right. Bucky lets out a sigh of relief.
In the dim light Bucky can just barely make out the word ‘evidence’ on the door. He tries the handle, but it’s locked. The Soldier huffs. Pushing Bucky aside, he shoots the lock. The door swings open to reveal a cop pointing his gun at them. He’s so young, barely out of the academy. Sweat beads on his brow, and his hands shake, finger an eighth of an inch off the trigger.
“Hey, let’s not do anything we’ll regret,” Bucky says, hoping he can diffuse the situation. He senses movement out of the corner of his eye, and darts his hand out. He grabs the barrel of the Soldier’s gun, just as it's raised to shoot.
In the blink of an eye the Soldier rips it out of his grip. In another blink, he's on the other side of the room putting the cop in a sleeper hold. A few moments later, and he drops him unceremoniously to the ground.
“Thank you,” Bucky sighs in relief, “Thank you for not killing him.”
His stuff hasn’t been logged into evidence, and Bucky snatches his bag and phone from the counter. As he’s led through the precinct, he wonders why there’s a distinct lack of cops on the premises.
The Soldier takes him out the back door.
Bucky’s Chrysler sits in the middle of an alleyway, its bumper dented and scratched to all hell. Seeing it is like a breath of fresh air. Bucky squints in the dark. Those aren’t his plates.
Bucky hesitates for a hot second, and the Soldier points the gun at his face.
He climbs into the driver’s seat. Nadia's fuzzy dice still dangle from the rearview mirror. He nudges them with a knuckle, sending a quick prayer to whoever or whatever is listening.
The Soldier rides shotgun. He's well aware of the pun, thank you very much. Bucky holds his hand out for the keys, but the Soldier ignores him. Bucky sighs, and unlocks his phone. He sees a million calls from his editor, and his sister, and a single text from an unknown number saying it's Ronit. He saves Ronit’s new number to his phone, but just in case, he grabs a pen from the console. Bucky scribbles the number on a bare patch of knee revealed by his torn tux.
Beside him, the Soldier pulls the muzzle off his face. He unclips the goggles, tossing them in the backseat.
"Nice to know they aren't super glued to your…" Bucky trails off, staring at the Soldier in shock. His hair is buzzed short, but Bucky would recognize the slope of that nose, and the indent on that chin anywhere.
Bucky slowly turns away, taking a few deep breaths to calm himself before he starts laughing hysterically. He unlocks his phone, and hits redial.
It rings for only a second before his sister exclaims, "Bucky, where have you been?"
"Debbie, don't take this the wrong way, but do I have a secret love child?”
For the life of him that's the only reasonable explanation for why this murder kid shares his face. Maybe that's why not-nurse Jacob was spying on him? Was James Proctor a sperm donor for evil? Maybe he sold his kid for a bag of cocaine? Maybe, maybe, maybe. He doesn’t know what his past self was capable of, is what he’s saying.
What if it's all a big government conspiracy? He wants to smack himself for that thought. For fuck’s sake, he sounds like McGowan. Then again, it turned out McGowan was right. About some things at least.
What’s one more doppelganger added to the mix?
"What are you going on about, have you been drinking?"
"Do I have a secret love child who was kidnapped and turned into a killing machine?" Bucky's voice goes high and reedy at the end.
Silence sits on the line, pure and utter silence.
"I think you'd better come to Indiana," she says, surprising him. Bucky’s never gone to see her, it’s always been the other way around. Why has he never gone to see her? "Bring the boy.”
“How do you know he’s—”
“Make sure you drop by our parents’ grave first, yeah?"
"Goodbye, Bucky," she says, hanging up.
Bucky blinks down at the contact picture of his sister—she’s holding a massive red mushroom, making kissy faces at it—wondering what the hell just happened.
“That was weird, even for Debbie, and Debbie's pretty fucking weird,” he tells the Soldier.
It’s not a bad idea, he can lay low in Indiana. He can do his research there, figure out who can be trusted, and who’s working with Pierce. He’ll interview Jamila over the phone, and have her add her own details. Then, once everything’s ready, he can contact his editor, and publish their findings. He just needs to convince crazy pants beside him that Indiana’s the best course of action.
The Soldier cranks down the window, letting in the chill.
“Hey,” Bucky says, “Close the damn—”
The Soldier grabs the phone from Bucky’s hand, flinging it into the distance. It shatters into glass and electronics against a brick wall.
“What the fuck!?” Bucky exclaims, clenching his empty hand, too startled to do anything more than catch flies with his mouth. The Soldier reaches into the backseat, pulling out a coffee stained road atlas that is definitely not Bucky’s. He flips to a map of the continental United States. Squinting at the paper, he turns it this way and that, grumbling in frustration.
“You can’t read,” Bucky states, surprised by how unsurprised he is. Of course Pierce wouldn't send his child soldier to school.
Without making any sudden movements, he takes the atlas. He points to the left of the Delmarva Peninsula. “This is where we are: Washington DC.” He moves his fingers over the letters, saying the name slowly. Moving four states to the left, he points to Indiana. “My sister lives here, in Lafayette.”
The Soldier snatches the atlas back, and throws the car keys at Bucky’s face.
k-holes are wishing wells
After a few hours on the road, Bucky decides he can’t keep calling his passenger the Soldier in his head. Without the goggles and the muzzle, he looks like an ordinary teenager. And like any ordinary teenager, he’s a complete shit.
“Get your legs off the dash,” Bucky says for the millionth lime. They’re only a third of the way through a ten hour drive, but Bucky’s losing his goddamn mind. It’s no wonder Ronit and Jamila don’t want children. He’s tempted to kick the kid to the curb, or at least make him ride in the trunk. He’s been carving notches into the door with a knife. Bucky tried to take the knife once, and got the thing pointed at his jugular. He hasn’t made an attempt since.
They’ve reached an equilibrium of sorts; one where Bucky tells him not to do something, and the kid willfully ignores him. Honestly, he’s reminded of himself. Bucky was not aware genetics worked like that. He always figured assholery was a trait filed firmly under nurture.
Bucky needs to come up with a name for him before he starts calling him Junior.
They pull into a truck stop somewhere at the end of Pennsylvania. Surrounded by densely packed trees and semis, it’s nothing more than a glorified truck stop.
Junior—damn, too late—slides out of the car, heading for the trees without looking back.
“Hey!” Bucky calls out, but Junior’s gone. Hopefully just to do his business in mother nature. Bucky isn’t looking forward to pissing in a bathroom that hasn’t had a good scrubbing since the seventies, but he’d choose that over the woods anyday.
In the bathroom, he changes out of his ruined tux into the spare clothes he keeps in his trunk. He pays for gas with the dwindling supply of emergency cash stashed under the donut wheel. Plastic is out, considering the police have labeled him a terrorist. He wonders if it’s safe to be traveling in his own car, the switched plates notwithstanding.
Bucky hovers near the Ho Hos, pretending to weigh the cost-benefits of ingesting something that sugary. He’s keeping an eye on the TV above the counter. If the Feds put out an APB for his fugitive ass, they’ll broadcast it throughout the Northeast. But there’s nothing, just the usual small town fare. Those cops didn’t call the Feds. Which begs the question, if they didn’t call the Feds, who the fuck did they call?
SHIELD, Bucky thinks. They definitely called SHIELD.
Bucky walks back to the car, carrying an armful of sugar-free junk food. He has no intention of spending the next six hours trapped in a car with a hyperactive deadly assassin.
He finds the kid lying on the backseat. Junior ditched his gear for a pair of white trainers, sweats, and a hoodie. The hoodie has Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis printed over the front. Bucky has no idea where he got it from, but damn, that’s a good disguise.
“Here.” Bucky tosses a bag of veggie straws at Junior, and he catches it out of midair. Junior points over the console at the passenger’s seat.
Bucky peers at the stick figures carved into the door. They don’t have faces, but they’ve got heads, and that’s a good sign, isn’t it? He still has some humanity left in him. There’s a plastic bag sitting on the seat. Bucky nudges it open, and his eyes just about pop out of his skull.
Staring at the wads of cash, he asks, “Did you make a withdrawal from a tree?” Bucky's not expecting an answer, and he doesn’t get one. Junior keeps munching on his straws. He sighs. “At least we don’t have to sleep in the car.”
With the extra cash, Bucky gets them two rooms at a motel down the street. Two rooms, because there’s no fucking way he’ll get a good night’s sleep in the same room as Junior. He figures if Junior hasn’t run off yet, he’s unlikely to do so now.
In the end, Bucky didn’t have to bother with two rooms, because he wakes in the morning to Junior sitting criss cross applesauce on the floor, his face a spare inch from Bucky’s.
Bucky shrieks like a little baby, but he’s proud to say he doesn't shit himself.
Driving through the countryside, he quickly learns that there's no shortage of stars and spangles in rural America. Here, people like their patriotism as they like their whiskey; neat, and straight from the tit.
He thinks about Steve, as they drive past soggy fields, greenery beginning to peek from the soil. He thinks that if Captain America was dead, it would be all over the news, but there’s nothing. His fellow reporters know about as much as he does.
They stop for snacks just west of Columbus. Bucky watches as a news anchor talks about Steve and his winged accomplice. They interview the owner of the parking garage, and he takes them on a tour of the crime scene. The concrete that was once splashed with Rick’s blood is still tinged pink, the pillar is still beaten up. They say Steve remains in SHIELD custody, but no statements have been released.
A man in a pair of grass-stained coveralls waits in line at the register, shaking his head, saying what a damn shame it is. What a damn shame.
Middle America’s holding her breath. And Bucky’s holding it with her.
He finally breaks down and calls Ronit on a payphone as they get into Indianapolis. He explains his plan, but leaves Junior, and his arrest out of it. He’s too afraid she’ll call him an idiot for trusting that a person capable of killing thirty-three people in cold blood would not snap his neck if the mood strikes.
Bucky doesn’t see a killer when he looks at Junior. All he sees is himself. He sees the childhood he doesn’t remember, and he feels so much hurt and anger he wants to hurl. In a way they both lost their young years to war.
He tries calling Nadia, but she doesn’t pick up, and Bucky has to lean against the side of the phone booth, taking deep breaths in and out so he doesn't burst into tears.
They run low on gas a half dozen miles outside of Lafayette. Bucky swears he topped up the tank, but whatever, it’s nearing noon, they need to stop for lunch. The first few road stops are closed, and by the time he’s driving on fumes, he pulls into a gas station cum diner advertising the best milkshakes in Indiana.
He pays for gas while Junior investigates a flower bed. Bucky watches him through the window, keeping an eye on him as he sticks his face into a bunch of daisies. At the last truck stop Junior knifed some soccer mom’s minivan, and they had to make a run for it before she noticed. Bucky still feels bad.
“That your kid?” The attendant asks, sunny smiles abound. Bucky nearly blinds himself on all that shiny enamel. He’s never seen someone so happy to be selling gas.
“Yeah,” Bucky answers, because what else is he supposed to say?
“He’s cute,” he says, gesturing below the counter. “We’re having a promotion on candy. I’m sure he’d like some.”
“I’m sure he will,” Bucky says, but doesn't make a move to buy any.
The smile slides off the attendant's face. He clears his throat, handing over Bucky’s change, along with a slip of paper. “Customers who purchase gas get ten dollars off a meal at our restaurant.”
“I only filled half a tank.”
He shrugs, tugging on the lip of his collar. “I don’t make the rules.”
Bucky extracts Junior from the flower patch, pulling a white petal from his hair. “You hungry?” He asks. Junior doesn’t say anything, but he does pop a flower in his mouth. Bucky supposes that’s answer enough.
The tables are covered in kraft paper, a cup of crayons in the centre. Before Junior can pull out his knife to start carving up the booth, Bucky hands him a crayon. By the time the waitress shows up, he’s covered the paper in stick figures.
The waitress is uncomfortably bubbly in a way that pit stop waitresses should never be. She’s all smiles, complimenting Junior on a drawing that is more scribbles than anything else. She takes Bucky’s order of two burger combos, but comes back with gigantic milkshakes instead of water.
“I didn’t order these,” Bucky says, as Junior absolutely demolishes his burger in only a few bites. He tries to snatch Bucky’s, but Bucky pushes the fries towards him instead. There’s nothing like empty carbs to fill the hole in one’s heart, and stomach.
She winks. “On the house for two cuties such as yourselves.”
“Oh.” Bucky flushes. “Thanks.”
He leaves her a good tip, and she waves to them as they leave, milkshakes in hand. Bucky sets his on the roof, as he digs in his pocket for his keys. He’s too full to partake in his strawberry delight, but Junior has no such reservations, mouth glued to his straw.
In his other hand, he holds a bunch of crayons.
Bucky frowns. “You can’t steal from people.”
Junior keep slurping his milkshake, unconcerned.
“Are you listening? That waitress was really kind, she doesn’t deserve this.” Bucky’s well aware that they’re just crayons, but it's a matter of principle. “You’re not supposed to steal from nice people.”
Bucky tries to take the crayons. “Give them here.”
Junior screams in his face. It’s so sudden and unexpected that Bucky—like the mature adult he is—screeches right back. Junior startles, and nearly falls on his behind.
“Give them to me,” Bucky repeats, firm, and Junior hands them over. “Get in the car.”
He climbs in without incident, and doesn’t even put his feet on the dash.
“Jesus,” Bucky mutters, depositing his milkshake into the cupholder. “What did they do to you?”
Junior stares out the front window, clutching his milkshake as Bucky pulls them out of the lot.
The cemetery where his parents are buried is in one of the nicer parts of town. After a stop at the visitor’s centre, the caretaker directs him to this plot.
The lilacs are in bloom, and their sickly-sweet scent perfumes the air. Opening the back door, Bucky grabs the bouquet of flowers he purchased from a nearby florist. It was the most expensive bunch he could get without having to place an order. He’s guilt tripping himself, honestly. He hasn’t come to see his parents in five years, not once. He really is a shitty son.
Junior sits on a polished tombstone, drinking his milkshake, staring off into the distance. Bucky feels so bad for screaming, he doesn’t tell him to move.
Bucky finds the Proctor family grave in the middle of the row. His parents died on a snowy New Year’s Day, the victims of a drunk driver. He always figured that’s why Debbie worries over him so much. They’re all the other has left.
Standing in front of it, he tries to feel something for two people he doesn’t remember. But as usual, there’s nothing. He touches the cold granite. There’s his father’s name, and then under it is his mother’s, and then under that…
Deborah “Debbie” Proctor
May 14, 1989 - January 8, 2005
His hand falls from the stone.
But… but Debbie isn’t dead. His sister is alive and well. She grows mushrooms in her closet, and she loves him enough to worry over his well being. He talks to her every week. She’s isn’t dead.
She can’t have been dead for ten fucking years. Is this what heartbreak feels like? This clenching, terrible feeling in his chest? It sucks.
He senses, rather than sees someone behind him. There’s a certain heaviness in the air, and he knows that if he turns around right now, nothing will be the same. Bucky climbs to his feet, and taking a deep breath, he turns.
It’s Nadia, but her hair is red like blood.
Bucky closes his eyes. “Not you too.”
“Why didn’t you drink the milkshake, Jamie?”
Bucky opens his eyes, and Junior’s slumped against the tombstone, his milkshake spilled on the ground.
“What the f—”
Bucky yelps when Nadia stabs something into his neck. He scrambles at the syringe, yanking it out, hot blood flowing in its wake. Bucky stumbles, eyes crossing.
“Relax, it’s just ketamine,” she says.
“Horse tranquil— tranquilizers?” He slurs, blinking rapidly. His fingers uncurl, and he drops the syringe. Bucky trips over his own feet, but someone catches him. “Sam?” Bucky murmurs, looking into a set of brown, worried eyes. Sam puts pressure on the hole in his neck, grip slippery from all the blood.
“You couldn’t have stuck it someplace better?” Sam mutters.
“It would not have worked fast enough. He could have attacked us. It had to be his jugular.”
“You said it yourself, he doesn’t remember.”
“Cornered animals remember how to bite,” she says.
Bucky’s vision clouds, and he nearly falls to his knees, but Sam takes his weight. “Let’s get him to the car. You get the kid.”
“He’s not a kid. He’s a monster, and don’t you forget that,” Nadia says. “Put Jamie in the Chrysler. In the backseat. With his healing the bleeding will stop soon, you don’t have to put pressure.”
Sam wraps an arm around his waist, pulling him so his feet drag on the ground. “Kidnapping him isn’t enough. We’re taking his car too?”
“You’d rather we left it here? Put him in the car, and you drive the van.”
“Fine.” Bucky’s arranged on his side, on something soft. He rubs his cheek against it.
The last thing he hears before he floats into the aether, is Nadia saying, “...I’m sorry.”
Bucky comes to with the feeling that his neck bones have been liquified into soup. He’s crammed into the backseat of his car, but most importantly, he can’t move his limbs.
“What’s goin’ onnn?” Bucky slurs, blinking light out of his eyes. If he cranes his jammed neck, he can see the sun hanging big and red in the rear window, kissing the horizon. It’s evening, and if the sun is behind him, it means they’re driving east. Back to DC.
“You’re awake,” Nadia says. “Good. We need to talk.”
“Where’s Junnior?” Bucky licks his dry lips.
“Junior, huh?” Nadia chuckles. “Sam has him in the van ahead of us. You should have had that milkshake. You would be out cold if you did. This drive wouldn’t be nearly as unpleasant.”
“I knew there was ssomething off ‘bout that waitress.”
Nadia lets out a little laugh. “Yes, she’s still in training, but those two were all we had.”
“Traaining? For the army?”
“Jamie, I hate to break it to you, but I was never in the army,” Nadia says quietly.
Tears prick in the corners of his eyes, and he buries his face into the upholstery.
“My ssssister,” Bucky mumbles, and he feels his heart break all over again.
“An actress,” she pauses, then adds, “I’m sorry.”
“Youuu’re not.” Bucky cries, big fat tears rolling down his face. “What the fuuuck, Nadiaaa?”
Nadia doesn’t speak for a long time, and for a while Bucky thinks she isn’t going to say anything else for the rest of the ride.
“A long time ago there was a girl," she eventually starts. "Every winter her parents struggled. They starved, so they could put food on her plate, but it was never enough. They sold her to the state, knowing that with them, she would never go hungry. This girl was trained to spy, and she was trained to kill, and the man who taught her all of this, he was called Zimniy Soldat.”
Bucky didn’t know Nadia could speak anything other than English, but this language flows off her tongue like music.
“He was ruthless in his training. He demanded the best, and when he didn’t get it, he hurt her. This girl was taught to fear nothing. While she succeeded in every other endeavor—weapons, seduction—she failed in that. For she feared him.” Nadia’s voice shakes. “She feared everything about him, but his eyes were the worst. So cold and lifeless.”
“When she was still a child, but almost a woman, Soldat became something else. He took the girl; stole her under the cover of darkness. He told her that she was a prisoner, that her service to the motherland was rooted in abuse. It was something no child should have to endure. He wanted to take her to the decaying west, to America.”
Nadia laughs, humorlessly.
“The girl did not understand that what he did, he did for her own good. He could have left her in the motherland, but he chose to risk everything to save her. He should have abandoned her.” Nadia sighs. “He left their hideout to arrange a boat, and she, fearing that he had gone insane, called their handlers. They electrocuted him with cattle prods, and they bound him in chains, but he did not look upon her with hate. They spoke the control words, and once again he became Soldat.” Nadia’s voice cracks. “That was the last time the girl saw him while she was still a girl. She will remember the look in his eyes until the day she dies.”
“Nadia,” Bucky murmurs.
“My name is Natalia Alianovna Romanoff. But you can call me Natasha.”
“Black Widow,” Bucky whispers, thinking of a woman with red hair and pixels for a face.
The car rolls to a stop.
“When I defected from the KGB, I chose the United States because of him.” She unbuckles her seatbelt. “That’s the freedom he wanted me to have.” She climbs out of the car, and opens the door above his head. Grabbing him by his armpits, she hauls him onto the blacktop.
They’re in a parking lot surrounded by trees. A grocery store stands only a few feet away, posters on the windows proclaim a closing sale.
She goes down on one knee, and drapes him over her shoulders in a fireman carry.
“I will do anything to ensure this country remains free,” she tells him.
“America was never free,” Bucky says, “Not for a lot of people.” If America was free, he could marry someone of his own sex in all fifty states. If America was free, prisons would not be overflowing with people serving sentences they do not deserve. If America was free he would not be in this situation in the first place.
Nadia, no, Natasha says nothing as she carries him through the abandoned store. She takes him into the back, past a pair of swinging doors. He still can’t move anything but his head.
He wants to ask her why? Why him? He trusted her. She said she wasn’t army, but the army rescued him from Odessa. She rescued him from Odessa. Is his life a lie? His sister. His godamned sister is not even a real person.
“Debbie,” Bucky sobs.
“She followed protocol, and told you about the grave,” Natasha says delicately, “I knew that if you didn’t see the proof with your own eyes, you’d never believe me.”
“Who am I?” Bucky asks, and the world spins as Natashsa sets him down in a chair.
Junior is slumped against the wall; knocked out, hogtied, and stripped of all his weapons. Sam stands beside him, but Bucky can’t bear to meet his eye.
It’s cold. It’s so cold he can barely stand it. A walk-in freezer lies in front of him. It might be the one from his dreams, if he could only remember the details. In front of the freezer stands a middle-aged man with grey hair and glasses that magnify his eyes, and beside him, none other than Norlando.
“You too?” He asks.
Norlando chuckles. “Yeah.”
Norlando shrugs, and his ballistic vest moves with him. “I made a deal. Off the books.”
“Did Jacob make a deal too?” Bucky spits, bitter.
Norlando frowns. “You mean the nurse? Nah, he’s got nothing to do with this, it’s just me. I send the boss updates on you, and he keeps the heat off my business.”
Bucky's head spins. Thinking this hard makes him want to throw up. “Your boss? Do you mean Alexander Pierce?”
Norlando gives him a funny look. “Director Fury.”
“Of SHIELD?” He turns to Natasha. “You work for SHIELD?” Bucky shakes his head. “SHIELD tried to kill me. They…” He looks at Sam. “They arrested you and…” His eyes widen. "Steve."
“Steve is fine,” Sam says. “He’s safe. He doesn’t know we’ve come to get you...”
Natasha easily shoves past the middle-aged man, despite the fact that he’s planted like a concrete statue, blocking the freezer. She struggles to lift a thick metal bar off the door. No one helps her.
“Remind me,” Sam says to Natasha. “Why doesn’t Steve know we’ve come for him?”
“He would try to stop me, and I don’t have time to deal with him. The sedative is wearing off,” she says, and Sam looks at him, sees the way he’s clenching his hand in a fist.
“I don’t like this,” Sam protests, crossing and uncrossing his arms. “Stop you from doing what?”
“He can’t protect himself like this,” Natasha states, matter of fact.
“Isn’t that the point? You said he was dangerous…” Sam’s eyes flick to him, then away. “We can protect him,” Sam argues. “Once we explain everything.”
“He’s weak, and I won’t allow them to have him. Not again,” she says. The bar falls, shattering a tile. “I know the control words, just in case. They’ll work, Evgeni?”
The middle-aged man adjusts the glasses on his face, staring at Bucky with something like fear in his eyes. “When I installed the block in his mind,” he says in heavily accented English, “I could not touch the triggers. I could only brick them up. They will work if the wall is dismantled.”
“Dismantled?” Sam says blankly.
“The cold. I put the fear of cold in him,” Evgeni says, like ha ha, fear of God, fear of cold, same thing. “If the cold frightens him, he will not seek it out. The block had to be simple, and it had to be physical. Language takes years to program, but physical states are easy.”
Natasha pulls open the freezer door, and a rush of ice crystals blow from the darkness within.
“You’re going to put him in the freezer,” Sam states, horrified.
“This isn’t what Fury wanted,” Evgeni warns. “We’re supposed to bring Proctor to Cleveland. We weren’t supposed to touch Soldat.”
Natasha whirls around. “Then why the fuck are you here?” When Evgeni says nothing, she says, “Exactly. Because Nick knows I’m right.”
Bucky tries to move away, but his legs are useless. He shifts his centre weight, but all he does is fall off the chair with a painful thud. Lying on his side, Bucky breaks his silence with a simple, shaking, “Don’t.”
“The stronger personality always wins when blocks are dismantled,” Evgeni says to her, “Two souls cannot exist in one body, Romanoff. If we bring down the wall, Soldat will kill him. James Proctor will disappear forever.”
“What?!” Sam exclaims.
Natasha strides over to Bucky, grabbing him by the front of his shirt. Bucky pulls at her wrist, trying to loosen her grip, but she’s rock solid.
“Nat!” Sam yells, but Natasha ignores him, dragging Bucky towards the freezer. “Stop!” Sam reaches for his side holster, but comes up empty. “Fuck!” He steps towards them.
“Mr. Jones,” Natasha murmurs, and Norlando pulls out a gun, aiming it steadily at Sam.
“Don’t move,” Norlando says, expression completely blank. “Fury left her in charge.”
“Stop,” Bucky begs, shaking in fear.
“Fuck you for this,” Sam growls, watching helplessly, his eyes wet with tears. “You’re killing him!”
“I’m saving him!” She spits, then seems to compose herself. “When I told you about him, I thought you would understand.”
“What I understand is the guy who made him saying that this will kill him,” Sam says, voice cracking. “Steve will never forgive you. He’s in love with him.”
Natasha hesitates for barely a second, but then she says, “He’s in love with James Barnes.”
“James Barnes is dead,” Evgeni says, matter of fact, “He died when they made Soldat.”
Natasha shakes her head. “But he didn’t, you fucking idiot. James Barnes is the reason I’m here,” she says with the confidence of a little girl who believes in nothing but the man who made her.
The man who tried to save her.
Who saved her?
Who was it, if not...
Bucky’s eyes widen in understanding, and all of a sudden, he feels no fear. His hand falls from her wrist.
She pulls Bucky to his feet at the edge of the freezer. “I’ll see you soon, Jamie.”
She pushes him into the cold darkness, and the last thing he sees, before the door slides shut, is Natasha’s green, green eyes.
Bucky lies on his back, squinting up at the burning sun.
He’s on the flat roof of a one story building. The surface beneath him has been painted with tar, and if he presses his finger into it, he leaves behind his impression. Peering over the edge reveals a small lot containing one car; a boxy coupe in an intense shade of mustard yellow. What really catches his attention is the license plate. It isn’t from any place he recognizes. If he guessed, he’d say it looks European.
“We are a few miles north of the Black Sea,” a voice says. He turns his head to see himself assembling a sniper rifle. No, not himself, someone who looks an awful lot like him. His hair is long like his, and his face is the same, but younger. He’s as much a carbon copy as Junior.
“He’s our clone. And yes, I know.” He bobs his head, like ehh whatcha gonna do? “It was not my idea. As it turns out, when you die a little on a mission in Vietnam, your handlers tend to get antsy.”
“Who are you?” Bucky asks, but he already knows the answer. He didn’t lose his arm in Iraq, he lost it...
“I’m you,” the Winter Soldier says, “In the summer of ‘09, and this…” He points as a Jeep comes peeling down the road, raising a cloud of dust in its wake. “...is your beginning.”
The Soldier lifts the sniper rifle, laying it flat on the ledge.
“The sun is in the wrong position,” the Soldier says, “I was told to expect her from the east. Instead, here she arrives from the west. Little did I know that she left her nuclear engineer in a safehouse in the city.”
He fires the gun, but the Jeep swerves wildly. The shot takes out a huge chunk of dirt instead. The Jeep goes down an embankment off the side of the road.
“The sun reflected off my scope. She saw me a mile away.” The Soldier throws away the rifle, grabbing another gun. “Follow me, do not go far. This is our memory, you cannot go where we have never been.” The Soldier steps off the side of the roof.
Bucky scrambles to his feet, rushing over to the edge. The Soldier lands in a crouch, walking off the drop like a model on a runway. Bucky looks around for a ladder, but there’s none to be found. Sweat beads on his forehead, but he takes a deep breath. This is all inside his—their—head. It’s impossible to die in a dream, isn’t it? Shaking, he steps onto the ledge. Closing his eyes, he lets himself fall.
The dust is like flour beneath his fingers. He opens his eyes, and he’s crouching on the ground.
Fifty feet away, the Soldier takes hold of the Jeep door with a silver left hand. He rips it off the frame, then lights up the interior with gunfire. He doesn’t see the figure roll out from under the chassis, but Bucky does. The figure wraps a wire around his legs, yanking it. His arms go up, and the gun goes flying, still firing. A few bullets pass through Bucky, like lead through jello.
The Soldier rolls away, just in time to miss a knife planted where his neck was.
“I did not teach her this,” he tells Bucky jovially, “I’m too big to fit under cars.”
“Uh,” Bucky says astutely. The Winter Soldier has a terrible sense of humor. He hates it.
Natasha rolls out from under the Jeep with a handgun, which she then empties into the Soldier’s chest. His arms jerk with every shot, and Bucky winces. He doesn’t have any bullet holes on in chest. He would remember if he did.
Her eyes are wide, brow furrowed. She blinks, and seems to realize he’s wearing armor, because she fires her last two shots into his thighs. Blood spurts, but the Soldier doesn’t scream.
Bucky has two long scars on his thighs, but he’s never thought anything of them. Debbie said they were the result of him falling out of a tree as a kid. He now knows to take everything she’s said with a grain of salt.
The Soldier scrambles for his gun. He gets one shot out, before Natasha kicks it out of reach. She levels the gun at his face.
Bucky takes a step forward, and then another one, until he’s standing with them.
The Soldier closes his eyes, then—to Natasha, not Bucky—he says, “Спасибо.”
“Нет!” She hisses, and Bucky realizes she’s clutching her midsection, blood seeping through her fingers. “Иди на хуй!”
The Soldier grins. “She told me to get fucked.”
“Thank you, I also have ears,” Bucky whispers in wonder. He can understand everything they’re saying. He knows it’s Russian, and he understands the meaning of the words without associating them with English.
“I bet it tickled her funny bone when you told her we liked the ladies and the gents, huh?” The Soldier jokes.
Natasha pulls another gun from her waistband. This one sparks as she powers it up.
“She didn't laugh. She hugged me,” Bucky murmurs, “And then she thanked me for trusting her.”
When Natasha pulls the trigger, it fires a bolt of electricity.
He opens his eyes to a shabby flat. Plaster flakes off the ceiling and walls, and dust motes hang in the shaft of sunlight coming through a dirty window. Over his shoulder, on the other side of the room, is a flimsy door, blue paint cracked and chipping. It’s easily the most vibrant thing in the flat.
Bucky sits in a wooden chair. Draped over the back lies a faded afghan. It must have been a brilliant emerald green in its heyday. In the only other chair, a boy with blond hair relaxes, one leg crossed over the other. He watches Bucky with eyes that are so familiar.
“You’re the boy from my nightmares,” Bucky says, staring at him in awe. He’s so clear, so lifelike, so frail. “Who are you?”
“I am you.” He smiles, tapping his temple. “Where it counts. Mirrors were a luxury in our youth. We saw our face reflected in his.”
"Yes," the Winter Soldier says, coming into view. He pulls a chair out of nowhere and sits beside James Barnes. "We'll answer any questions you have."
“I’m sure you have many,” Barnes adds.
"Questions?” Bucky starts, pursing his lips, “Yeah, I've got them. Number one, what the fuck? Number two, what the fuckity fucks? Number three, what the ever-living fucks?"
The Soldier grins at Barnes like they're sharing a secret. "See, I told you he'd be funny.”
“Excuse him,” Barnes pats the back of the Soldier’s hand, matter of fact. “He has no tact, and five years alone with me in a corner of your head couldn’t fix that.”
Bucky mutters to himself, rubbing his face with his hand. Barnes smiles like an idiot, and Bucky’s seen that same look on Steve’s face too many times for it to be anything less than disconcerting.
“Okay, wait,” Bucky says eventually. “Explain the clone.”
The Soldier smiles at him eerily. It’s just a bit off, like he never learned the proper way to bring his eyes into it. Bucky gets the feeling that he’s trying way too hard to seem personable, so that Bucky will feel comfortable.
The Soldier shrugs. “What’s to explain? He was born by surrogacy in the seventies—”
“—he has a real mother?”
The Soldier shakes his head. “Not genetically. He’s identical to us on the cellular level. The surrogate was the wife of a lesser Hydra official who volunteered—”
“Did you say Hydra?” Bucky asks breathlessly. “I thought this was some big American conspiracy, and it turns out it’s just World War Two fucking nazis?”
“It’s always nazis,” Barnes says wisely, and accurately.
“Did we forget to mention Hydra?” The Soldier asks Barnes who shrugs. “I think we forgot to mention Hydra.”
“To be fair,” Barnes says, “That should have been Natasha’s job.”
“She had enough on her plate convincing the others she wasn’t murdering him.” He gestures to Bucky. “Not that she succeeded.”
“Touché.” Barnes bobs his head, blond fringe flopping.
It’s so weird speaking with a different version of himself in a younger version of Steve. In fact, this whole situation is bonkers. Completely looney. Bucky keeps expecting to wake up in his bed hungover. If an inebriated mind alone could come up with a scenario like this, the universe must have a drinking problem.
The Soldier scratches at the unshaven bristles on his chin. “Hydra has infiltrated the American government, for decades they've been working behind the scenes to take over the world.”
“Pierce is..?” Bucky asks.
“Hydra,” Barnes says
“The President?” Bucky ventures, suspecting he isn’t going to like this answer.
“The one our clone assassinated?” Barnes says. “Hydra. The new one? A dick. Evil can’t always be explained that easy.”
“Why would they kill him if he was on their side?” Bucky mutters, but then it clicks. “To push Pierce's drone program. That’s so fucked.”
The Soldier chuckles. “You should have seen what he made me do. It would make you sick. Pierce sees things in terms of means to an end. For him, killing a president is a means to an end. Killing a few million people will be a means to an end.”
Bucky shakes his head. “That’s his goal with the drones?” Bucky scrubs a hand over his face. “I need to help them. I need to get out of here.”
He looks over his shoulder at the blue door, and he knows, deep in his gut, that’s his way out.
Bucky stands, but a hand wraps around his wrist, stopping him.
“I want you to take us with you,” Barnes says. “We can help.”
“How?” Bucky asks, “We share one body. Evgeni said only one personality can exist at a time.”
The Soldier shakes his head. “That quack was the only shrink Fury could find on such short notice, he doesn’t know jack shit about us. I’m here, aren’t I?” The Soldier throws a thumb in Barnes’ direction. “He’s a real boy, isn't he?”
“We can coexist because we are the same person at different points in time.” Barnes climbs to his feet. “I came first, then Winter, and finally you. We aren’t three separate personalities.” Barnes stands on his tiptoes, touching the side of Bucky’s head. “You’re just missing a few memories.” He smiles.
“Some of them are good,” the Soldier adds, “But most of them, you’re better off without.” The Soldier steps back. “You should go. The two of you, together. You’re better off without me.”
Barnes shakes his head, and strangely enough Bucky agrees. They can’t leave the Soldier in the back of his head with no one to keep him company. No matter what he’s done, he doesn’t deserve that.
“We leave together,” Bucky states firmly.
“What I’ve done…” the Soldier looks away. “It will haunt you.”
“You had no choice,” Barnes says. He pulls the Soldier into a hug, wrapping thin arms around his barrel-like chest.
“I know. But I did it,” the Soldier whispers, resting his chin on top of Barnes’ head. He meets Bucky’s eye. “And they will persecute you for my sins.”
Bucky cracks a smile, going over to the door. “Let them come with their pitchforks and torches. I’d like to see them try.”
The Soldier chuckles. He returns Barnes’ embrace, picking him up and swinging him around. Barnes laughs, clinging tight. Bucky’s heart clenches in his chest at the sight of them.
“Okay,” the Soldier says with a nod, setting Barnes down. “Okay.”
"You ready to kick some nazi ass?" Barnes asks, touching Bucky’s elbow. The Soldier slings an arm over Bucky’s shoulder.
"As ready as I'll ever be." He wraps his hand around the knob, and pulls it wide open.
this machine kicks fascists in the dick
Bucky kicks down the freezer door. It flies across the room, crashing into the opposite wall. He steps out from the cold, clothes steaming as they hit the warm air.
The first person he sees is Natasha. She levels a handgun at him.
"Who are you?" She asks. No, demands.
In the Red Room the madame would make the girls stand for hours on pointe. It was grueling work, mentally and physically. Eventually every girl would fall, except for Natasha. Her legs wouldn’t shake. She could control her breathing so it wouldn’t labour. She wouldn’t even sweat.
"Answer me!" The gun shakes.
On the surface she was the perfect assassin. A machine with a blank face.
“Желаниe,” she hisses, and an emptiness settles over his mind.
Sam stands a few feet away, like he can’t bear to come closer. He stares at Bucky, and his devastation rings clear.
“Pжавый.” And the taste of pennies blooms on the tip of his tongue.
Bucky was the Winter Soldier, and he could see her cracks. She was never truly able to disassociate from her feelings. It’s why the Soviets failed with the Red Room. They weren’t able to fully remove the girls’ souls. Instead, they inadvertently taught them how to fake it ‘til they make it.
It’s the problem with free will. The Winter Soldier had no soul, because he had no autonomy in the confines of his own head. Natasha’s freedom of mind—hindered as it was by her teachers—was still intact. She can pretend all she wants, but she has a heart, and it’s caused her nothing but pain.
“Семнадцать.” The points of knives score down his back.
“Хватит,” Bucky says, “Nadia, stop.”
Her facade cracks, pieces crumbling from the edge. “What did you call me?”
Bucky takes a step forward. “Nadia Wood, clinical insomniac, and queen bitch extraordinaire,” he says softly. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but it would be nice if you didn’t turn me into a killing machine.”
“Jamie?” She ventures. Her arm falls, and the handgun with it. Her mask follows a few seconds later.
“It worked?” Sam says to Natasha, hope in his voice.
“It worked alright,” Bucky says, tapping his temple. “The Soldier is here, along with James Barnes. I remember everything.”
And boy, does he.
A frosty morning in a tenement flat more than half a century ago comes to mind. Bucky’s by the stove heating an iron to press his shirt, but he’s getting no ironing done. He’s wasting coal at this point, but he’s too busy staring at Steve’s naked back, water droplets glistening on his skin. Steve’s wiping his neck down with a cloth, leaving goose bumps in its wake. Bucky will be late if he doesn’t hurry, but he can’t look away when Steve starts scrubbing his shirt on the washboard. The movement of his lean muscles, the stretch and pull, hold him captivated.
He felt ashamed then, but there’s no shame now.
Sam shakes his head, grinning wildly. “You two need to talk, get your shit sorted.” He throws a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ll let the others know what’s up.” The doors swing shut after him.
“Where’s Junior?” Bucky asks.
“Outside. We're getting ready to leave,” she says.
Bucky nods. “He’s my clone.”
“I figured.” She sighs, holstering her gun.
“When he wasn’t in cryo they had him locked in an empty room, watching videos of me. Guess that’s why he’s so fixated on me.” She snorts softly. “My handlers said he was useless, but look at him now, a president under his belt. Just like me.”
Bucky nods. McGowan got that one right at least.
She takes a deep, shuddering breath. “This isn’t what we wanted, you know? Солдат was supposed to stay buried. This new life we arranged for you; your job, your sister, it was supposed to be James Barnes’ second chance.”
The history books love to embellish the past. James Barnes was not a reporter. He was a rewrite for the Brooklyn Eagle. He took reporters' notes from the field and typed them into publishable articles. He wanted to be a reporter so bad, but he couldn’t afford the education that would require, so he settled for second best.
“We, meaning you and Nick Fury," Bucky says.
“We took what intel we could, then scrubbed every trace of you from the record. We brought a surgeon to remove your arm, and Evgeni to bury Солдат. We figured the least we could do was give you the life you were supposed to have.”
“What changed?” Bucky asks.
“Project Insight happened. Pierce turned out to be behind it all.” She shakes her head. “We thought Hydra’s infiltration of SHIELD was superficial, but it's a goddamn infection, and it’s gone septic. I don’t know who to trust. Fury was shot, he nearly died. Then they sent the clone after you.”
Bucky fills in the blanks. “You were scared for me.”
She looks him in the eye. “Of course I was, Jamie. I didn't know if they wanted you dead, or if they just wanted you.”
“Why do you care?" Bucky asks softly, curiously. "I treated you horribly.” He remembers looking down on a little girl with red hair, dissecting her every weakness, training her to be better, faster, dead on the inside.
She smiles sadly. “That’s the monster they made you. When you were given a choice, you tried to save me.”
Bucky purses his lips. “Please don’t use the trigger words,” he says. “I have the Soldier’s memories, but that’s all they are, memories. I'm not him anymore. I don't think like him, and I don't feel like he does, but the words erase everything but him. Promise me, Natasha.”
She crosses an x over her heart, then slips her hand into his. “I promise.”
Bucky looks into her eyes, searching for any sign of dishonestly, but all he finds is an unwavering earnestness. Bucky nods, satisfied.
Sam bursts through the swinging doors, skidding to a stop in front of them.
“We have a problem.”
There’s a hole the size of a quarter between Evgeni’s eyes. Blood and other unmentionables are puddled beneath him, but it’s the hole that gets him. It’s so perfectly round. The guns Bucky once worked with were never capable of such precision.
“Jesus christ!” Norlando exclaims. “That fucking hurts!”
The contents of the first aid kit Natasha got from under the register spill onto the ground, as Sam quickly and efficiently stops the bleeding from a gash on Norlando’s arm.
“Don’t you have any weed in that kit of yours?” Norlando hisses. “Or oxy?”
“No,” Sam says, short and biting. “Can you imagine what would happen if first aid kits came stocked with oxycodone.”
“Alright, alright, no need to get testy,” Norlando grumbles.
Bucky stands, rubbing at a spot of blood on his jeans. He goes over to Natasha. She has an app open on her phone, showing a blinking red dot on a map. It's moving further and further away.
"Should I be worried you've put a tracking device in my shoe?" Bucky asks.
"It isn't in his shoe," she says, distracted. “That’s the first thing they always remove. I stuck it between his shoulder blades.”
“The fucker—ow!” Norlando winces, trying to pull away from Sam, to no avail. Sam’s got a rock solid grip on the gauze he’s holding against the wound. “The fucker that took the kid looked like if Mason Verger and Scarface had a baby.”
Natasha and Bucky blink at each other. Abruptly, she turns on her heel, power walking to his Chrysler.
“Rumlow,” Bucky says, following after Natasha. “You stuck your tracker on Junior, but forgot to take out Hydra’s?” He stops in front of the driver’s door as she rounds the car to the other side.
“You didn’t remove it either.” She tosses something over the hood, and Bucky lifts his hand to catch the keys before they hit his face. “Drive.”
“Gee, I wonder why,” Bucky says, not at all sarcastically.
“Uh, guys?” Sam says, worried. “What’s the plan?”
Bucky calls over his shoulder. “Keep my weed-dealing, double-crossing neighbour from bleeding out—”
“Fuck you too, neighbour Buck,” Norlando groans.
“—and we’ll come back for you once we get Junior.”
“I’m counting on it, since apparently I can’t take this gunshot victim to a hospital,” Sam says, adding, “Be safe, you two.”
He climbs into the car, sticks his keys in the ignition, and adjusts his mirrors. “Why are you so short,” he complains, finally able to see out the rear view mirror. “Where are we going?”
“We’ll cut them off before they get on the freeway,” Natasha says, “We need to take a few back roads, I hope you’re not attached to your suspension.”
“My mechanic is amazing, he can fix anything,” Bucky says, pulling out of the lot. He turns left when Natasha tells him to. “But you’re footing the bill.”
“Fair enough,” she says. “Right, at the next light. Step on the gas, we need to be breaking some speed limits.”
Bucky takes the turn at sixty miles an hour, and something goes sliding in his trunk. He thinks it might be Junior’s big ole bag of money. Or maybe the backpack full of evidence.
“Did Steve tell you about Rumlow?” Natasha asks as they drive down a long, empty stretch, pushing eighty.
“In a way,” Bucky says, not taking his eyes off the dirt road. He wonders if his rusty reflexes are attuned enough to avoid a deer if it leaps from the forest. “I met the asshole before I knew his name.”
Bucky explains his trip to the water treatment facility; getting conked on the head, and waking up in an interrogation room to Rumlow’s shitty disguise.
“He took the silver dollar you gave me, the prick.”
Natasha laughs viciously. “It isn’t going to bring him any luck.”
He bounces an inch off his seat as the wheels hit the edge of the blacktop. Bye bye country road. His engine roars in protest.
"One last turn, and we have them," Natasha says, looking up from her phone.
He rounds the corner, spinner knob flying under his hand, and spots a hulking SUV a short mile away. It hurtles towards them, head on. The street is one lane. On one side is a riverbank, and on the other, an impenetrable mass of trees. There's nowhere to go but forward, and they're going in the wrong direction.
Bucky's life flashes before his eyes.
"Excuse me," Natasha says, unclipping the pair of fuzzy dice from the mirror.
"Uh." Bucky's eyes dart from her to the road as they play a game of car crash chicken. The Chrysler would probably survive if they hit the SUV at ninety an hour. They certainly won't.
Natasha cranks down the window. "Brake when I tell you to."
"What!" Bucky exclaims, barely a hundred feet from the SUV.
"Bring us to a complete stop… Now!" She yells, and Bucky stomps on the brakes, as Natasha pulls the hand brake. The car makes a nightmarish noise, skidding out of his control as he fights with the wheel. They turn towards the river, and Natasha throws his fuzzy dice out the window.
"Hey! What the—"
The dice explode under the wheels of the SUV. With a deafening boom, a massive fireball throws all two tonnes of metal and squishy human into a copse of trees that splinter under force. The SUV lands on its roof with a mighty screech and show of sparks, wheels spinning comically.
The Chrysler squeals to a stop at the edge of the crumbling road, a few feet from the rushing river.
What the fuck!” Bucky squeaks. “That was in my car all along!?”
Natasha climbs out, nonchalant. “Contingency plan, it has a remote detonation.” She pulls her gun from its holster. “If a winter was too cold, or you got stuck in a snow drift—”
“You were gonna blow me up!” Bucky yells, scrambling out after her.
Natasha rolls her eyes like it isn’t a big deal, but it is. It’s a very big deal to him. The fuzzy dice were a gift.
The backseat window explodes in a shower of glass.
Bucky ducks behind the hood, but Natasha is exposed. She’s done him wrong in so many ways, but she still means so much to him. If she gets hurt—
She grunts, and suddenly the shooting stops. A thud comes from the direction of the SUV.
“Nat,” Bucky whispers harshly, heart beating. He’s so surprised when she stumbles around the car that he falls on his ass. “Shit, you’ve been hit.”
She’s holding a fist to her shoulder, blood seeping through her fingers. Panting heavily, she braces a hand on his car, leaving behind a smear of blood as she lowers herself to the ground.
“Rollins is dead,” she says, grimacing. “The idiot never wears his seatbelt. He’s a pile of mincemeat at our three o’clock, between a pair of pines.”
Bucky takes a quick peek, and indeed sees a pile of mincemeat. If he didn’t have memories of doing much worse to people who didn’t deserve it, he might throw up. Shrugging off his zip up hoodie, he bundles it against her wound. He makes her hold it, putting pressure, while he checks her back. It didn’t go through. She wasn’t shot with a high-velocity bullet. Good. No amount of first-aid could help with that kind of trauma, and tourniquets are useless on shoulders.
“Rumlow?” Bucky asks. He assumes Rumlow was shooting at them. If it was Junior, well, that would suck.
“He won’t be a problem anymore,” she says weakly. But he didn’t hear any gunshots from her end.
Bucky checks her arms, her legs, her back, all over, but finds no other holes despite the blood. They’re like the freaky twins from The Shining. He too has blood all over the front of his tee from when she stabbed him in the neck with a needle. He always did think of her as another sister.
Looping the hoodie’s arms over and under her shoulder, he pulls them tight using his teeth, but not too tight to cut off circulation, tying a knot. She smiles, leaning bodily against the car. “Go get mini you.”
He finds Junior in the backseat. Well, on the ceiling of the backseat. He’s got a gash on his forehead, but it’s superficial. He isn’t wearing any shoes. Turns out Natasha was right. They always ditch the shoes first.
Junior blinks up at Bucky as he crouches in front of him. He grabs the front of Bucky’s shirt, fisting the material in his hand. He doesn’t do anything else, he just holds on, and Bucky lets him.
“We have to go, kid,” Bucky says, peering into the front seat. Rumlow lays spread eagle on the cracked windshield. He’s not breathing, but Bucky can’t see any sign of injury. Amid the smell of melted plastic and metal, he catches a whiff of burning hair.
Bucky pulls Junior from the car, setting him on his feet.
“Stay here, watch for glass,” he says, opening the driver’s door. Curiosity killed the cat, but better to know than have it bug him for the rest of his life.
There’s a circular burn mark on Rumlow’s black shirt, above his ballistic vest. Bucky pulls aside the shirt, and the fabric crumbles to ashes beneath his fingers.
A few minutes later when he climbs out of the SUV—a familiar piece of metal in his palm—Junior’s gone.
Bucky finds him crouched in front of Natasha, staring at her curiously. It doesn’t seem like she’s in any danger, but Bucky doesn’t know what to expect when it comes to Junior.
Bucky holds up the scorched silver dollar, lifting a brow. “Really?”
She grins, but it’s strained with pain. "Remote activated taser disk." Sweat dots her brow. He needs to get her to Sam, stat.
Bucky rolls his eyes. "Is it even silver?"
"Of course. Silver is an excellent conductor of electricity."
“You’re a real bitch, you know that, right?” He says, crouching so he can wrap his arm around her waist, pulling her to her feet. He opens the door, laying her on the backseat.
She sighs. “I disagree, my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard.”
He pockets the taser disk. What can he say? It’s lucky.
Sam drives the Chrysler. It’s making weird noises, but Bucky absolutely refused to abandon it in bum-fuck Indiana. Natasha gets to ride shotgun, on account of her injury, satisfactorily padded and braced until they can reach the safe house in Cleveland. She swears there’s a doctor who can care for her, but he feels weird about not taking her to a hospital.
Speaking of gunshot wounds, Norlando declared his superficial, despite the fact that there was a spot of red bleeding through his bandage when they returned with Junior. He accepted a duffel filled with god knows what—Bucky likes to think smurf bobble heads—and told Bucky they were square over the phone. Bucky does not agree. He paid for it fair and square, and Norlando spying on him does not equate a secondhand phone, no matter how untraceable.
Norlando took the soccer mom van in the opposite direction, and frankly, Bucky hopes he never sees him again. He grows the best weed on the East Coast, but he's a spying spy who spies. And he feels gross enough about the cameras Jacob installed in his apartment.
Bucky brushes his fingers over the two Spongebob bandaids on Junior’s arm where he cut out the tracker that led Hydra to their location. Junior didn’t make a noise as Bucky did it. Sam threw up. "You aren't pissed that Junior killed Jacob?" Bucky asks eventually.
"Your neighbour, the civilian?" Natasha asks.
"I know about the cameras," Bucky says plainly.
Natasha makes a confused noise, like she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She can't see it because she can't turn around, but he’s glaring at the back of her head.
"We didn't install cameras in your apartment, if that's what you're implying."
"I sure hope you didn't," Sam says threateningly. At least Sam has his back.
"We didn't, we're not that fucked up," Natasha insists, and strangely enough, Bucky believes her. These last few hours, she's been honest with him. Why would she lie now?
If it wasn’t her people, who did Jacob work for? Steve believed his team bugged his apartment, and his team turned out to be Hydra. They weren't fooled in the slightest by James Proctor. They always knew he was their asset. That's why Rumlow tried his luck with the trigger words. They've been struggling to get the Soldier back for the longest time, but never figured it was as easy as sticking him in the cold without a jacket. Fucking idiots.
Bucky smiles as he scrubs his fingers through the velvety fuzz of Junior’s buzz cut. He rubs his cheek contently against Bucky’s knee, like a cat. He reminds Bucky of Liho, affectionate when she wants to be, but willing to rip out throats if it comes down to it.
Who's looking after Liho now that Natasha's here? Do they know how much she loves sardines dipped in peanut butter? A thought springs to mind, and it leaves him shaken to his core.
"Is Liho even your cat?"
Natasha meets his eye in the rearview mirror. "Of course she's my cat."
There’s a kind of relief in the way Natasha tacks on a wordless, ‘dumbass.'
When Natasha said 'safe house’ he didn't think she meant a hundred foot concrete dam outside of Cleveland. To be perfectly honest, he was picturing a cabin in the woods, cut off from civilization.
Instead, he gets Steve, his arms folded over his chest, a frown on his lips. Bucky loses his breath at the sight of him. He's melting under those disapproving eyes, and they aren’t even directed at him. Bucky takes him in like a man deprived of the good things in life. Bucky’s always loved his lips. He would watch movies with glittering, gorgeous starlets, and he would fantasize Steve in their place. His lips got so red when he worried at them. As a teenager Bucky thought of nothing but kissing those red, plump lips. He suffered a number of whacks across the back of his head, courtesy of his ma, because of that distraction.
The thirst is so fucking real.
Bucky wants to run up to him like a soldier returning from war, because that’s what he is, isn’t it? He’s a soldier returned to his one true home. Will Steve see through to the soul of him? Will he know that he’s not just James Proctor anymore, but the boy he loved?
Bucky climbs out of the car with a sleepy, too old to be carried Junior on his back, the backpack filled with evidence in hand.
Steve looks from him to Junior, and surprise flashes in his eyes.
“Sam?” Steve says, voice small and confused. “That kid...”
“Is the Winter Soldier,” Sam sighs, opening Natasha’s door. “Can you help me with her?”
“But James… shit, Nat.” He sees the condition Natasha’s in, and runs forward to help her out of the car.
Bucky’s disappointed, but he has bigger fish to fry.
Inside, they meet with a surgeon—Dr. Fine—and a dark-haired woman who introduces herself as Maria. Dr. Fine tries to take Natasha away to tend to her shoulder, but she insists on seeing Fury first. She is stubborn as a Siberian trying to milk a bear. That hasn’t changed since the Soldier knew her.
Steve gestures to Junior who’s clinging to him like a monkey. “Isn’t he heavy?”
Bucky could laugh, and he almost does. Instead he smirks, waggling his eyebrows. “You calling me weak, Rogers?”
A blush spreads over the top of Steve’s cheeks, and he quickly looks away. “I could take him if you’re tired,” Steve says to his shoes.
“Nah,” Bucky says. “He’s fine.”
Maria pulls back a curtain of plastic, revealing Nick Fury lying propped up on pillows. He looks so weak. Five years ago, when he stood over the cot Bucky was strapped to, he was an impenetrable fortress. Don’t get him wrong, he’s still intimidating, but now he doesn’t look like he could hurt a fly without pulling a stitch or two.
His eyes land on Bucky. He knows what he is. Bucky doesn’t know how he knows, but he does.
“That was not the plan, Romanoff,” Fury says, but he doesn’t sound angry, if anything he seems amused.
She drops into the chair by Fury’s bedside, finally letting Dr. Fine take care of her shoulder. “I’m changing the plan.”
“You knew she was right,” Sam says abruptly, and on a laugh. He shakes his head. “Man, I can’t believe this shit.”
“Knew what?” Steve asks, confused. “Is this about James?”
“You got the kid, and you got the reporter, that’s all we needed,” Fury says.
“Someone better tell me what the hell is going on,” Steve says in his infamous no nonsense tone. God, Bucky’s missed him.
“What’s going on?” Sam says, voice rising in pitch, “I’ll tell you what’s going on—”
“Natasha saved my life,” Bucky says softly.
“Why were you in danger?” Steve asks, eyes wide with worry. “You’re a reporter, you’re supposed to be safe. When you were attacked in the garage, I thought...” He whirls to look at Fury. “You told me he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Maria and I nearly died in Virginia, and you’ve been lying to me all this time?” Steve takes a deep breath, chest moving up and down. “Why the fuckdoes the Winter Soldier look exactly like Bucky?”
“He’s my clone,” Bucky says, and something breaks in Steve. It’s in the way his shoulders collapse, and the look in his eyes. Bucky’s never seen him so defeated.
“Your clone, or…” Steve’s voice breaks. “Bucky’s?”
“We need to talk about some things, Steve.” Bucky turns to Maria, pointing over his shoulder at Junior. “Is there a place I can put him?”
She nods. “We’ve prepared a playroom.”
Bucky grimaces. “How fifty shades of you.”
Bucky leaves Junior in a room that looks too much like a cell to be comfortable, but this talk with Steve is long overdue, Junior will have to bear with it. Thankfully, it comes equipped with a TV, and access to Netflix. How he can get WiFi underground in a dark, musty dam, but not in his own apartment is an unexplained mystery. The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, hoping for the best.
He doesn’t expect Junior to like it, but to his surprise, he stares at the screen like… well, like a kid stares at the idiot-box.
Steve watches, arms crossed over his chest as he leans against the jamb. Bucky wonders what he’s thinking. Wonders if he sees a young James Barnes in the shape of his nose, or if Junior’s life is too depressing to remind him of his happy past.
Bucky clears his throat nervously. Steve looks to him, but the words that fall from his mouth are not what he was planning to say.
“Winnie the Pooh’s gonna be banned in China soon.”
“Do I wanna know why?” Steve asks, pulling away from the door. Bucky shuts it, hearing the locks engage. It’s as much for their safety, as it is Junior’s. If Hydra shows up to take Junior, they’ll have to drill through a foot of solid steel to get to him.
“People are making memes comparing him to President Xi,” Bucky says, “Some of them are rather good.”
“Politicians never change, do they?” Steve says, shoulders brushing as they walk down the corridor.
“Nah.” Bucky chuckles. “Touchy, the whole lot of them.”
They end up in what was once a cafeteria. There’s a solid inch of dust covering everything, and all the lights have gone out, except for one. Steve brushes some of the dust off a table under the solitary lamp, clearing a spot for them.
Their thighs touch as they sit beside each other, and Bucky is reminded of that time he kissed Steve. If he knew then what he knows now, he would have slipped him a bit of tongue. Or maybe not, because Steve still doesn’t know who he is. Not really.
Before Steve can open his mouth to ask any number of questions, Bucky speaks first.
“What’s this about you and Maria in Virginia?”
“Short version? Pierce fired a missile at us.”
“Fucking hell.” Bucky shakes his head, eyes wide. “What’s the long version?”
Steve laughs lightly. Pushing a hand through his hair, he says, “When you escaped the garage, the Winter Soldier slipped away. We were going to go after him, but Rumlow captured us.”
“I saw that on the news.” Bucky swallows, throat bobbing, remembering the hopelessness he felt sitting in that jail cell. “I thought he killed you.”
“He was about to,” Steve says darkly, “But Maria saved us. She brought us here. I thought Fury was dead, but he was just lying low with Nat. He said SHIELD was compromised by Hydra. Someone powerful was pulling the strings, and we needed to find out who.”
“I didn’t trust you,” Bucky admits, jaw clenched with shame. In retrospect, if he was going to trust anyone it should have been Steve. “I could have told you it was Pierce.”
Steve flexes his fingers. “I didn’t want you involved. You nearly died in that garage. I figured you’d be safer away from all of this.” He looks right at Bucky. “I was so scared for you.”
“I’m not a fragile flower.”
“I know.” Steve reaches out, placing a hand over Bucky’s. “You’re smart, strong, and funny.” He cracks a smile. “Not to mention curious to a fault. I always look forward to your texts. You make me laugh James, like I haven't laughed in a long time. Whenever I read your work, or see you on TV roasting assholes,” Steve chuckles, “I feel so much pride. I’ve only known you for a month, but I care about you.” He squeezes Bucky’s hand.
Bucky can’t look away from him. He’s always orbited around Steve, like the moon does the earth. That hasn’t changed in nearly a hundred years. He smiles helplessly. “You still haven’t told me about the missile?”
Steve nods, chewing his bottom lip. “Nat took Sam to follow up on a tip about the Winter Soldier. But Fury had intel pulled off the Lemurian Star. It led us to a deserted factory in Virginia, and a supercomputer.”
“The AI,” Bucky says.
Steve shakes his head. “Not the AI. That’s the messed up part.”
And then Steve explains that Arnim Zola—the monster that made the Winter Soldier, whose consciousness was uploaded into a computer after death—created the AI drone program. Its sole purpose is to identify those who are, and who might become threats to Hydra’s new world order. Nice to see Zola hasn’t strayed far from his eugenicist roots. He revealed the slow infiltration of SHIELD by Hydra though Operation Paperclip. Then Pierce fired a missile from the Triskelion, sacrificing Zola to kill them.
“But the AI isn’t dead?” Bucky says.
“Zola was tethered to his hardware, but the AI has already been deployed with full permission and support from Congress. They launched yesterday. That’s why we’re a hundred feet underground in the middle of the forest. The drones are out there, collecting data for the helicarriers as we speak.”
Bucky has no idea what helicarriers are. They’re after his time, but he suspects they’re what SHIELD was building in its own backyard. They’re the gun that will execute millions in order to rush in Hydra’s new world order.
“Now it’s your turn,” Steve says, “What’s this about a clone?”
Bucky opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, someone clears their throat.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Maria says from the doorway. Both Steve and Bucky turn around. Her eyes dart down to their clasped hands, then back up to their faces. “Romanoff says you have intel.”
journalists prefer blondes
Bucky tells them everything. He shows them Pierce’s report. It gets passed around while Bucky explains what Jamila discovered while working for Stern. They’re gathered around Fury’s bed like it’s their own private war room.
“The problem,” Natasha starts, “Is that we don’t know who’s involved. If Jamie’s saying the former president was Hydra, how far up does it go?” Bucky’s happy to see the colour returned to her cheeks.
"Stern," Maria says, "But that's obvious if this originated from his office." She gestures to the report.
"STRIKE," Steve adds.
“The current president?” Sam offers.
Bucky shakes his head. “He’s a homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic piece of shit, but he isn’t Hydra.”
“Too bad,” Sam quips. “Would’ve been nice to stick him behind bars.”
"That's it?" Fury asks, "That's all we've got?"
"Even if Hydra keeps evidence of their misdeeds on SHIELD servers, our remote access was terminated,” Natasha says.
Steve rubs a hand over his face, a frown pulling his lips down. "Say we bring down Pierce, and we stop the helicarriers. If we miss someone…"
"The cancer will spread anew," Bucky finishes, meeting Steve’s eye. His lips twitches in a faint smile. Bucky tears his gaze away. "What if I could get you more names?"
“How?” Maria asks.
“I follow the money,” Bucky says. “I know a few congressmen were paid off by Pierce to approve his drones. Give me access to the FEC database. I can look up which PACs are working towards reelecting those congressmen. If I find ones that transcend party lines, and whose donors seem suspicious, I can cross reference them with donations given to other representatives. It isn’t proof that they’re Hydra, but it is proof they’re being paid off.” He nods his head, and finds five equally puzzled faces staring back at him.
“It can’t be that easy,” Sam says.
Bucky frowns. “I wouldn’t say it’s easy. It’ll take me hours, maybe days…”
Fury shakes his head. “We don’t have that kind of time.”
“Then by all means, do you have a better idea?” Steve says to Fury like the protective golden retriever he is. Bucky wants to both kiss him, and crawl into his lap. That compulsion isn’t going away anytime soon.
“Yes,” Fury states, “Rogers brings down the helicarriers, and we take care of Pierce.”
"When do they launch?" Bucky asks, drumming his fingers on the arm of his chair.
"Two days, if they haven't pushed ahead of safety checks," Fury says.
"That's cutting it close," Sam mutters.
“Sawyer,” Bucky says, the thought popping into his head. “Congressman Sawyer of Illinois. I think his daughter was kidnapped by Pierce. If we can save her, he might be willing to name some names.”
Natasha taps her chin thoughtfully.
Steve nods firmly. “Our first goal is to bring down the helicarriers. But we also need to eliminate Hydra. If we cut the head off the snake—that’s Alexander Pierce—we’re still left with a body that can regrow another head.”
“We publish it,” Bucky says, gesturing to the report. “I bring Jamila in, and we go public. Then we let America do what it does best; have a witch hunt.”
“That sounds like a phenomenally terrible idea,” Natasha says. “I like it.”
Bucky drops his head onto the desk, groaning in agony. Maria set him up with a laptop, and an internet connection that’s faster than the speed of light, but this is still grueling work.
“What about ‘Americans for a Better America the Day After Tomorrow and Not Yesterday?’ With a name like that they have to be fake,” Ronit asks through the speakerphone.
“They’re legit, unfortunately.”
“‘Republicans for the Election of Hamsters?”
Bucky frowns, and picks his head up to scan the list on the monitor. “Now you’re just fucking with me.”
“Gotta keep you on your toes.” Ronit laughs.
Bucky can picture her perfectly in that moment: with her leather jacket, crooked smile, and gams that could make a daddy long legs jealous. Debbie’s still an open wound, but at least he has Ronit.
“Jamila says ‘CarsonPac’ is bad news. Stern took a meeting with them, but didn’t bring anyone from his staff.”
“Awesome.” Bucky yawns, adding it to the list.
“When did you last get some sleep?”
Bucky thinks about it, really thinks, but the fact that he’s drawing a blank proves Ronit’s point.
“I know you’re apparently some jacked up super-soldier, but you’re nearly a hundred years old, you need to sleep.”
Bucky rolls his eyes. “I already regret telling you everything.”
She chuckles. “Is that why you’re not telling Steve?”
Bucky looks behind him, but the room is as empty as ever. He takes a deep breath.
“Can I be honest with you?” Bucky asks quietly.
“Of course, always.”
“Of him, or of telling him?” Bucky doesn’t say anything, and he supposes that’s answer enough. “Y’know, the first time I was arrested—”
“You were arrested?” Bucky frowns.
“Like that’s hard to believe,” she says, and yeah, of course Ronit was arrested. She’s big on the whole civil disobedience shtick. “I sat in that cell, terrified because the only option I had for bail was Jamila. She was always on the straight and narrow, and I was so afraid of what she would think. I almost called my parents instead.”
Bucky winces. Ronit’s parents are pieces of work: Hamptons Republicans who care more about their public image than their own child.
“When I didn’t come home, she hunted down the protest organizers to find out what happened to me. Then she showed up with a lawyer. She got the charges dropped for me, and everyone else who was arrested at the protest. Then she took me home and rawed me into—”
“Ooookay,” Bucky interrupts.
Ronit chuckles. “You gotta believe in the people who love you, otherwise what’s the point?”
Bucky thinks hard and long on Ronit’s advice, even after they’ve ended their call.
He’s getting ready for bed, hair wet from his shower, sitting on a squeaky cot, when he decides that she’s right. He needs to tell Steve. He needs to believe in the man he loves.
The new phone Maria gave him has everyone’s numbers programmed into it. Opening the address book, he starts a new conversation.
Me [11:15 PM]
Where r u?
Captain S. Rogers [11:18 PM]
The bridge above the dam.
Me [11:19 PM]
Captain S. Rogers [11:20 PM]
He brings a flannel lined hoodie with him, just in case. It smells like mothballs, and is two sizes too big for him. Even his sweatpants are sliding down his hips. His perky ass is usually enough to stop his inevitable pantsing at the hands of gravity, but he actually had to tie the drawstring on these.
It’s not like they can pop into Cleveland for a shopping trip. Not with the possibility that there are drones out there, looking for them. The dam is in a remote enough location that they should be fine. When they make their move, they need to strike fast, and they need to strike quick. Before Pierce sends another missile their way.
As it turns out, he doesn’t need the hoodie. And not because it isn’t cold outside. The draft blowing off the river is cold as balls. The difference is, that now, it doesn’t bother him.
He finds Steve leaning on the railing, looking into the darkness below. It’s pitch black out here, but the moon provides just enough light that he can make out the smile that slides on Steve’s face when he sees him.
Bucky holds up a bottle of room temperature Orangina, apologetic. “It’s all I could get.”
“Good enough,” Steve says. Snatching the bottle, he cracks it open with a carbonated hiss.
“I couldn’t find glasses, I hope you don’t mind…” Bucky trails off when Steve wraps his mouth around the lip, throat bobbing as he drinks.
He offers the bottle back to Bucky.
“Have they not been watering you?” Bucky jokes, taking a sip.
“I like oranges, Bucky.”
“I know.” He sighs. “Listen, Steve, there’s something I gotta tell you.” He blinks slowly. “Wait… what did you call me?”
Steve quirks a brow. “Was I wrong?”
Bucky stares at him in surprise.
“Don’t you think I’d know my best friend?” Steve shakes his head, smiling lightly. He grabs the bottle from Bucky. “There’s a touch of Metropolitan in your accent, that wasn’t there before.”
"What are you, a goddamn linguist?" He says, strangled.
Steve laughs. "I asked Sam, and he explained everything."
His eyebrows fly up to his hairline. "Everything?"
"Yeah, Buck." Steve turns to look out into the darkness. "I'm so sorry about Debbie."
He shrugs. “Can’t mourn what isn’t real.” Bucky sits on the lower railing. “Y’know, Fury had a Hollywood level FX team create my family photos? Fucking waste of money. They could have just had Debbie say they were lost in a flood, and I would have believed her.” Bucky hunches in on himself. “I believed everything she said.”
“She was real to you,” Steve says quietly, balancing the Orangina bottle beside him.
His fingers are numb from the cold, but he couldn't give a slightest fuck. Bucky shrugs. "At least I got Becca back."
He thinks of the ringlets in her walnut brown hair. How she loved the silky ribbons he bought home to tie around her collar. How she cried when he boarded the ship taking him away to war. She died in 1998 from natural causes, and the poem the real Debbie Proctor wrote for her obituary was nothing short of beautiful. If Fury didn’t want him to look it up, he shouldn’t have given him access to the internet.
Bucky tilts his head to better observe the heavens. Dotted with pale stars it reminds him of that terrible month he switched shampoo and developed a severe case of dandruff.
Steve follows the line of his gaze. "It looks like dryer lint," he says.
Wow, they really are a pair.
"Do you remember your first wool coat?" Steve asks. “You saved up for months.”
“First of all it was a cashmere topcoat. Second of all, I can’t believe I only paid sixteen bucks for it, talk about inflation.” Nowadays sixteen dollars would barely cover brunch.
Steve grins. "You would religiously pick off the pills. It got so threadbare."
Bucky lets out short laugh. "The damn thing split its seams."
"You came home so forlorn, I thought someone had died."
Bucky frowns at him. "My cashmere topcoat died."
Steve tries to keep a straight face, but he fails miserably. "I'm sorry, someone we actually cared about."
Bucky gasps. "Steven Ulysses Sarah Grant Rogers, you bitch."
Steve drops a hand, gently cupping the back of his head. “I don’t have three middle names, Buck.”
Bucky can't breathe . Steve starts scratching his fingers through his hair, absentmindedly, like he doesn’t realize what he’s doing.
Bucky clears his throat. “I’m trying to be funny.”
Abruptly, Steve ruffles his hair like Bucky used to do to him when they were kids.
“Steve!” He laughs, pushing him away. Their knees knock together as Steve fights to put him in a headlock. Bucky gives as good as he gets. It's nice to know Steve’s ribs are still ticklish. He feels better about making him giggle mercilessly when his breathing doesn't labor like it once did.
One of their elbows—he isn't sure whose—hits the bottle of Orangina. It goes flying off into the darkness, shattering on the river rocks below.
Steve's mouth presses against his. It’s abrupt, and involves his chin more than anyplace else, but it still makes him squawk. Bucky's arm flails, hitting the railing. It’s awkward. It’s frankly a fucking weird kiss, but then his hand comes to rest on Steve's neck, and Steve slides his mouth a little up, and everything clicks into place. Steve kisses like he's trying to weld his mouth to Bucky's. He isn't any good. It's hard and dry, their noses mashing together, but it's Steve , which means it's the best kiss he's ever had.
He brings his hand up to Steve's jaw, and tilts his head so, oh . Their mouths slot together like puzzle pieces, and the kiss turns slow and focused.
Steve has a white-knuckled grip on his hoodie, and when Bucky licks his bottom lip, like he's wanted to do for years, a seam tears. Steve's hands slide down his ribs, then over his shoulders, to his back, his thighs. It's like he can't make up his mind what he wants to touch, so he settles for everything.
Bucky’s brain keeps making the Mac error noise. He’s glitching out. The processing chip that is his libido is on roaring fire.
Bucky pulls back with some reluctance. "Steve, christ, slow down," he says roughly.
By god, he can't argue with that logic. He grabs Steve by the front of his shirt, hauling him down for more. Their tongues slide together. He hooks his leg around the back of Steve’s calf, wishing he could pull Steve into him. Why aren’t they touching more? They should be touching everywhere. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realizes that this is no romantic first kiss. This is a straight up prelude to fucking each others’ brains out.
Steve’s making these delicious keening noises. Bucky's dick is hard, but his neck is killing him, and the angle is all wrong.
“I need to stand up,” Bucky mutters, with a final nip at Steve’s lips. He pushes Steve a step back, then whacks his head on the top railing. His feet go out under him, and he falls flat on his ass in the worst wipe-out in history.
“Bucky!” Steve exclaims, dropping to his knees, hands fluttering over him. His head hurts even worse than his ego, if possible. “Shit, are you okay?” He holds Bucky’s face in his big hands, thumb stroking his cheekbone. Bucky swallows convulsively. “I’m gonna need you to answer me, buddy.”
“I’m fine,” Bucky mutters.
“That was some tumble.”
“I’ll show you tumble, baby,” Bucky says, swallowing when Steve’s eyes dart to his mouth.
Steve smiles like the goddamn sun, moon, and galaxy. “We should probably talk about this, huh?”
Bucky kisses him, then says against his lips, "I'd rather do something else with your mouth."
Steve pulls back so he can look in his eyes, blushing furiously. “I’m in love with you.”
“Mmm,” Bucky says, dazed, feeling like cartoon cherubs and hearts are flying around his head in circles. “I wanna do you, nasty boy.”
Steve laughs. “ Jesus , do you have a concussion?” He brushes the tips of his fingers across Bucky’s brow.
“I’m concussed for you.” He tangles his fingers with Steve’s, kissing the back of his hand. “I love you too, you sexy beast.”
Junior imprints on Fury like a newborn duckling to a coyote. Bucky would be worried, but this duckling’s got teeth, and he isn’t afraid to bite.
“English. Eng— lish ,” Fury says to Junior’s puzzled face.
Bucky laughs, shaking his head, as he triple-checks his backpack, making sure he has everything he needs.
Bucky’s dressed to the nines in a suit embedded with carbon nanotubes. Even though it’s meant to fit a guy two sizes bigger than him, he still feels like a badass bitch wearing it. The fabric is supposed to be bullet-proof, but he hopes he won’t have to test it out. The others will be handling the more active side of things, which makes sense considering he hasn’t touched a weapon in five years.
“Something funny?” Fury says to him. Bucky looks up just as Junior plucks the straw from a glass of water at Fury’s bedside, shoving it up his nose.
“He’s non-verbal,” Bucky says, “He understands minimal English, but he’s better with Russian.” Bucky then informs Junior—in perfect Russian—that if he shoves a straw too far up his nose, his brain will be sucked out of it.
Junior stares at him in wide-eyed horror. He slowly extracts the straw from his nose, throwing it away. Bucky laughs.
Fury lifts a brow. “Anyone tell you that you’re terrible with children?”
Bucky rolls his eyes. “What are you going to do with him?” He asks casually, zipping up his backpack.
“He assassinated a president,” Fury says, booping Junior on the nose. Junior goes cross-eyed, scrambling at his face.
“That president was Hydra.” Bucky chews on his lip. “He’s just a kid, a kid who was abused and used. If anything, he deserves a fair trial.”
“What he deserves is a childhood,” Fury says, a frown pulling his lips down. “But it’s much too late for that.”
Bucky opens his mouth, but before he can say anything more, Natasha pushes aside the plastic curtain. She’s dressed in her infamous catsuit, a duffel dangling from her grip, ready to go.
“You good?” She asks, cocking a hip out. If Bucky didn’t see it happen, he never would’ve guessed she was shot a few days ago.
Bucky slings the bag on his back. “Yeah.”
She looks at him critically, eyes narrowing. Whatever she sees, she must find agreeable, because she nods.
“Do you remember how to use this?” She holds out a handgun, grip first.
It’s been five years since he’s held a gun, but as he takes it from her, his hand fits comfortably around the grip. He stares down at the gunmetal, feels the cold weight of it, and says, “I don’t think I like guns.”
Natasha chuckles, she reaches into her duffel, pulling out what can only be described as a holographic fanny pack. Bucky takes it with a quirked eyebrow. He thinks he’d get along swimmingly with the bastard whose gear locker she dug this from.
“In our line of business, if someone likes guns it’s a sign to stay far, far away from them.”
Bucky snorts. “What about you, what’s your favourite weapon?” Unzipping the fanny pack, he find it jam packed full of magazines. If everything goes according to plan, he won’t need them.
Natasha gestures to her muscled thighs with a salacious smirk.
Bucky hates this car. It's ugly. It’s the opposite of streamline. It was made by a company founded by the nazi party. For fuck’s sake, he felt dirty just installing his spinner knob on the wheel. Cars like this one were driven by SS officers, and now he's driving one.
The Beetle putters along the streets of DC, acting all cutesy, and people pass by unaware that slaves used to build these cars in concentration camps.
"I hate you," he tells the dashboard vehemently. It tells him in a bland voice to turn right.
Why did Natasha get to take the Kia? He wanted the Kia. The Beetle's an electronic monstrosity, with too many touch screens telling him where to turn. Incorrectly, he might add.
"The Beltway, at this time of day, are you fucking kidding me!" Bucky exclaims. He’ll take the backroads like a sane person, thank you very much.
He had to leave his Chrysler behind at the dam because it's too 'conspicuous.' Whatever . Natasha just hates his style.
Bucky pulls up outside a shady motel in Alexandria. He peers out of the windshield, and a bubblegum pink curtain in a top floor window flutters. A few moments later, a woman in a badly-fitted pantsuit emerges from her room. She’s wearing a massive sun hat that wouldn’t look out of place at a British royal wedding, gigantic sunglasses that hide most of her face, and a feather boa. Even with her terrible disguise he’d recognize Ronit a mile away. Jamila follows, head ducked, a baseball cap over her hijab.
Ronit pushes aside the passenger seat, sliding into the backseat, leather squeaking as she gets settled. Bucky grins at her in the rearview mirror as she tries to fold her long legs into such a small space.
“How are you, James?” Jamila asks, closing the door after her.
“Oh, you know.” Bucky starts the engine, pulling them out of the lot, “In a constant state of losing my shit.”
“Me too,” Ronit pipes up, patting the seat under her. “Sweet ride, though, I’ve always wanted a Love Bug.” She leans closer to Bucky, as if divulging a secret. “Herbie was my childhood hero.”
Bucky’s eye twitches.
The plan goes like this:
While Bucky drives to Alexandria to pick up Ronit and Jamila, Maria knocks out the power to Ideal Federal Savings Bank. An EMP, a big block of illegal hardware stashed in the backseat of the Kia, will theoretically take out everything electronic within a few blocks' radius. It will also, theoretically, cut off all communication devices, at least for a little while. Ten minutes of theoretic dead silence, and Maria and Natasha should be in and out with time to spare.
He’ll know they succeeded if—his phone pings with a message—that happens. Bucky pulls up to the curb, in the only parking spot available beside Buchanan Field. He checks the message.
Black Widow [3:41 PM]
Package is secured. 😮
“Get it?” Ronit asks, reading over his shoulder.
Bucky nods. “Got it.”
“Good,” Jamila says. “Let’s bring down our government.”
Bucky kicks his door shut. The hustle and bustle of the street roars all around them. It’s nearly four in the evening. People will be heading home from work, taking off their pants, pulling off their bras, yanking the levers on their recliners, ready to watch a bunch of people yelling at each other on live TV.
Ronit promised that her contact, Ryan, would be able to get them on CNN. But when Ryan meets them at the loading dock in the back of the building, Bucky suspects that she isn’t senior enough to get them even close. It isn’t a tough conclusion to reach, considering she’s wearing a plaid shirt, has noise-cancelling headphones around her neck, and a beanie on her head. Oh , and she’s sneaking them in.
Leaning on the back wall of the freight elevator, he whispers to Ronit, “How do you know her?”
“Ryan’s in my film club,” Ronit whispers back, nodding her head. “Total nerd.”
Coming from Ronit, that’s saying something. Bucky tugs at the knot in his tie. Ryan’s definitely not high enough to get them on TV.
Ronit’s eyes fall to his neck. “Ties are for narcs,” she teases, trying to add some levity to the situation.
Bucky frowns. “I like ties.”
She elbows him in the ribs. “Narc.”
“Children, a little sobriety, please,” Jamila says, then she sighs. “In hindsight, I wish we planned this better.”
“At least Bucky has a gun,” Ronit says, more of a joke than anything else. Hopefully...
“If you make him point his gun at Wolf fucking Blitzer, I’ll never talk to you again,” Jamila declares. “He has the perfect name for TV, what would America do without him?”
Fair point. If push comes to shove, and they can’t get on air, they’ll figure out another way to release the information. It’s just… the others are storming the Triskelion right now. He just wishes he could be of more help.
The elevator opens to a dimly lit, empty hallway. Nearby, a busy studio prepares to air one of CNN’s most watched programmes, but if he concentrates hard enough, he can hear gulls cawing on the roof. This whole tapping into his latent supersoldier abilities thing is wild.
“Follow me, but be quiet,” Ryan says, waving them forward. Bucky’s practically walking on his tippy toes, he doesn’t think he can get any sneakier. “I can’t get you a meeting with Raoul—he’s our senior producer—but I can show you where his office is. The stuff you have is pretty solid, I’m sure he’ll want to air it.”
“Thanks, Ryan,” Ronit says with a big smile, and Ryan blushes like a tomato. “I owe you big time.”
“Ronit Nowak?” A familiar voice says from behind them, making Bucky jump a foot in the air.
Behind them stands Wolf Blitzer, in the flesh. Ryan lets out a little eep, and runs off like the wind. So much for taking them to Raoul’s office.
“Raoul didn’t mention that you were on the show?” Wolf asks.
Bucky grabs Ronit’s sleeve, whispering furiously, “You know Wolf Blitzer?”
Ronit tugs herself out of his grip. “Apparently.”
Wolf grins, shoulders relaxed like he didn’t just catch a bunch of trespassers where they have no business being. “Don’t you remember? We met at last year’s correspondents dinner. I thought I’d see you again this year, but I must have missed you.” He laughs. “Your piece on who’s who in the White House was just outstanding.”
Yikes , Bucky winces. CNN lifted so much from that story, it’s not even funny.
Ronit smiles stiffly, shaking his hand. “I remember you,” she says, like she doesn’t remember him at all.
“And Captain Proctor, you’re here too.” Wolf shakes his hand, and Bucky smiles nervously. Then to Jamila. “Congrats on your marriage, Mrs...” Wolf trails off, tilting his head to the side, eyes twinkling. “Did you two decide to hyphenate?”
“Actually, we’ve postponed the wedding,” Jamila says jovially, shaking Wolf’s hand for far too long, Ronit sends her a sharp look.
Wolf frowns. “So sorry to hear that.”
Jamila shrugs. “It’s been a rough week.” She spins Bucky around, then opens his backpack, pulling out a copy of Pierce’s report. She hands it to Wolf. He looks at it, then back up at them with nothing short of befuddlement. Jamila taps the cover with two fingers. “This here is the scoop of the century. Interested?”
“This is insane,” Raoul the balding producer says, flipping through Pierce’s report. “You expect me to believe this shit?” He slaps it on his desk, leaning back in his chair with his arms folded over his belly. “The DOD is calling Cap a traitor, and now you’re saying the traitor's actually Alexander Pierce.”
“Campaign finances don’t lie,” Bucky argues, torn between staring at a perfect view of the Triskelion in the window, and the screens on the far side of the office. Wolf’s interviewing some run of the mill campaign manager about something inane when he could be broadcasting the biggest scandal this country has ever seen.
This needs to get out there, or after Steve brings down the helicarriers, he’s going to be arrested for treason, and shoved in a deep, dark hole. Needless to say, Bucky’s five seconds away from tearing his hair out.
Ronit slaps the list of donors, congressmen, and PACs with the back of her hand. “Pierce paid off these elected officials to get his drones launched. This is proof. He didn’t bother hiding it. Why should he? After those ships go up in the air, he doesn’t have to answer to anyone.”
Jamila nods. “I work for Stern, and I will be an open witness. I’ll tell the world everything.”
“You worked for Stern. Last I heard, he fired you,” Raoul says, his brows flying up to his receding hairline. He shakes his head. “This sounds like ratfucking to me. I won’t risk our reputation on the allegations of a disgraced staffer.”
Jamila’s nostrils flare, glaring at Raoul like he wants to strangle him. “This is bigger than Watergate and you goddamn know it. Don’t be an idiot.”
Raoul shakes his head, turning to Bucky, he says, “Why didn’t you go to your editor?”
“Print is too slow for this,” Bucky says, loath he is to admit it. He looks Raoul straight in the eye. “The world remembers Woodward, and Bernstein’s reporting because Ben Bradlee backed them up. The Washington Post is synonymous with Watergate because he took a leap of faith. Take a leap of faith,” he says, emphasizing every word.
The door to the office opens, and Ryan pokes her head in. She’s been guiltily hanging outside all along. She thinks she’s being sneaky, but the walls are made out of glass, and potted plants don’t make good hiding places.
"Raoul, something’s going down at the Triskelion." She points out the window. A thin stream of grey smoke spirals from the Potomac.
“We know the story, put us on the air so we can tell it,” Bucky says finally.
Raoul’s face scrunches up in a pained grimace. “Sonofabitch,” he swears, and Bucky knows that they’ve won. “Get these idiots to makeup,” he says to Ryan, “We need them on air five minutes ago.”
bullshit dot gov
Bucky hears the helicopter as an intern clips a microphone to his shirt. Gulls squawk, taking off into the air, but their wingbeats are drowned out by the chopping of blades through the air.
There’s no helicopter landing pad on the roof of this building.
Bucky frowns. The intern is talking to him, waving a hand in front of his spaced out face, but he’s too busy concentrating. The helicopter isn’t passing by. It’s hovering, and that can mean only one thing.
Ronit steps in front of him, worry in her eyes. Jamila's already on air, explaining how she and Rick discovered Stern’s shady dealings. Bucky tunes back into the studio just in time to hear Ronit ask if he's feeling alright.
"I can't go on air," Bucky says. He pulls off the microphone, yanking the wire from under his shirt. Unclipping the transmitter from his belt, he dumps the mess of wires and electronics into the arms of a very confused intern. Undoing his tie, he pulls it over his head. “Where’s my backpack?”
Ronit looks at him weirdly, tapping the straps on her shoulders. She’s been wearing it this whole time. That just goes to show how distracted he is. She shrugs it off, and he unzips the top while she’s still holding it, shoving his arm in past papers and folders, until his fingers skim holographic vinyl. Bucky pulls out the fanny pack, and Ronit stares at him like he’s grown a second head.
She knows exactly what’s in it. He told them on the drive over, just in case he’s out of commission and they have to take care of themselves. Ronit’s never touched a gun in her life, but Jamila worked for a Pennsylvanian senator: a state ranked twentieth in gun ownership per capita. She’s a visible minority, and a woman, Stern made damn sure he was photographed with her whenever they campaigned at shooting ranges and gun shows. Anything to attract gun-toting left voters.
"Hey, hey," Ronit says, like she's trying to calm a bucking horse. She pulls him away from the crowd. "I know you don’t like CNN, but it's gonna be fine, you've been on TV before."
"That's not it," Bucky says, clipping the fanny pack around his waist. He reaches back in the bag, and discreetly pulls out the gun, sticking it in his waistband. “They know what we're doing, they've come for us."
Ronit's eyes go wide with fear. "That fast? How?" She hisses.
Bucky shrugs, taking a deep breath in preparation for what he has to do. "My guess, a drone caught us. They must have eyes on the media."
A loud wailing sounds through the studio. Both of them look up in surprise.
"We've lost broadcast!" Someone calls.
"Then get our signal back, doofus!" Raoul shouts, arms folded over his chest, sweat stains under his pits.
"They're doing this," Bucky says under his breath. "They've killed the broadcast."
"Then they'll come down to kill us." Ronit’s shaking, and Bucky rubs her arm, trying to soothe her, but she’s terrified, it’s plain to see.
Bucky clenches his jaw in determination. "Not if I can stop them." But he hesitates. He has a weapon, but he can’t face them like this, they could know his trigger words, and if they bring out the Winter Soldier, this entire plan is screwed.
Ryan rushes by, headphones around her neck. Everyone else has those flimsy headsets, but she has a pair of padded, noise-cancelling headphones.
Bucky squeezes Ronit’s forearm. “Go tell Jamila what’s happening, but don’t let anyone else know, especially Raoul. He looks like he’s a minute away from having a stroke.”
Ronit nods. She slips her hand into his, squeezing for a second before letting go. “Be careful, Bucky,” she says, “If you die, I’ll write your obituary, and make sure the world knows you’re a total slut.”
“But I’m not…” Bucky trails off, considering. He nods. It’s pretty good motivation to not die.
He slips away from Ronit. Ryan runs through the studio, and Bucky follows her, pushing through a crowd of people. She forgoes the elevator, and jogs goes up a flight of stairs. All the while Bucky keeps his ears peeled. The helicopter has disappeared, but that doesn’t mean anything. Twenty men could be standing on the roof for all he knows, and any one of them could know the trigger words. He needs those headphones.
He follows Ryan through a door, then skids to a stop in a dark room filled with mixer consoles and monitors playing feeds from the studio. A bespeckled man blinks at him in confusion. Coffee dribbles from his mouth onto his polo, a #1 boss mug in hand.
Bucky’s struck by a memory from the thirties; of rushing into his editor’s office at the Brooklyn Eagle, brimming with pride because he found a story. He doesn’t remember what that story was, but he knows it was good. Or it was before he startled his editor, and his cigarette fell onto his starched shirt, burning a neat hole in the cotton, and in him. Bucky was only assigned reporters with terrible writing for months after.
“Can I help you?” Numero uno boss asks, but Bucky pushes past him to a harried Ryan, bent over a console, flipping switches, and turning knobs.
"Hey," Bucky says, getting her attention. He points to her headphones, "Can I borrow that?"
Her face makes a series of complicated expressions.
“What the fuck?!” Someone exclaims, and Bucky whirls around. He expects men with guns storming the studio, but all he finds are people huddled around a bank of monitors. He pushes them aside, and is faced with what appears to be a security feed of a utility hallway.
A guy holding a big ass gun, dressed head to toe in tac gear, stands over another guy with his head buried in a cabinet-looking thing. Shit, Bucky doesn’t know how to fix that.
Ryan comes to stand beside him, clicking her tongue. “Aw man, not the satellite uplink.”
Bucky looks at Ryan, and Ryan looks back at him. He realizes that what he’s about to suggest is a phenomenally bad idea, but what choice does he have?
Bucky points to the screen where the guy throws a cable over his shoulder, diving back for more. “Can you fix that?”
Bucky imagines that if Fury saw him now he’d throw Bucky into the deepest, darkest pit for endangering a civilian. Then again, he recruited Bucky’s botanist neighbour to spy on him, so who knows what’s going on in Fury's head?
“Stay behind me,” Bucky orders. He can’t hear Ryan, but he can feel her presence as she wheels along a mobile tool box. Her loudest playlist consists of punk rock that’s mostly Dead Kennedys. Bucky thinks it strangely appropriate, considering he contributed to at least one Kennedy being dead.
The music is a double-edged sword. Bucky can’t hear a damn thing over it, and it’s driving him nuts. When he was the Soldier, he used his hearing more than any other sense. To have it taken away is about as devastating as the fact that he’s never used a gun with only one hand.
Bucky peers around a corner, and there are the bad guys. There are only two of them, and a veritable heap of cables behind them. Bucky doesn’t know if they know what they’re doing, or if their orders were to rip out whatever wires they could get their hands on.
He wordlessly communicates to Ryan to stay put.
Aiming, he pulls the trigger, but the gun clicks. It doesn’t fire at all. Quickly, before the baddies notice, Bucky darts back around the corner, glaring at the gun.
He forgot to load the damn thing. Bucky pulls a magazine out of the fanny pack, sticks the gun upside down between his knees—pointed away from them—then proceeds to shove the magazine in. Ryan stares at him, probably wondering how she got stuck depending on a guy with one arm who doesn’t know the first thing about gun safety.
Bucky checks if the safety catch is enabled while Ryan silently judges him. Rolling his eyes, he sticks the gun around the corner, firing off two shots.
Ryan’s mouth drops open, eyes widening comically, and Bucky realizes didn’t look where he was shooting. By the look on Ryan’s face, she heard some bodies dropping. Bucky takes a quick peek, and finds the two bad guys lying prone on the ground.
“You fix that,” Bucky points to the cabinet, “I’ll take care of the guys that definitely heard that.”
Ryan nods, and with a smile, holds her fist out. Bucky, grinning, pumps it.
He takes off down the corridor, past the bodies.
Back in the control room, the security feed showed a bunch of Hydra agents waiting on the roof, all of them with big, scary guns. At this stage in Pierce’s hostile takeover, it seems he doesn’t want to be caught raiding CNN.
A sign indicating roof access leads him to a door. He tucks the gun into his waistband—he’s practically an educational video on what not to do with a gun—but when he turns the knob, the door smacks against something. Through the one inch gap, Bucky comes face to face with a surprised set of eyes.
Bucky slams the door shut. It quakes under his hand, and two holes appear in the metal.
Bucky pushes it open with force, slamming it into the guy. He lets go of the handle, and grabs him by the front of his vest, yanking him forward so his nose hits the jamb, breaking and spewing blood everywhere.
“Ew, ew, ew,” Bucky mutters, but he keeps whacking the jamb with the guy until he goes limp in his grasp. He lets him go, and he collapses in a puddle of evil.
Bucky runs up the stairs. The first agent he sees, he takes by surprise, shooting him in the foot as he’s on the flight above him. The other two see him coming, and get a few shots in, knocking him back into the wall, but his suit takes care of it, and then he takes care of them.
At this point he’s feeling equal parts a total badass, and like he’s going to throw up if he sees any more blood. Considering he’s been pro gun control for the past five years, his memories of the century before are conflicting to say the least. James Barnes would have married his Johnson rifle given half the chance, and while the Soldier was impassive to everything life threw at him, the only thing that didn’t hurt were the guns placed in his hands.
Bucky takes no pleasure in shooting the people on the roof. The only thing that keeps him going is the fact that if doesn’t stop them, they’ll kill his friends, then turn him into a killing machine.
The gun clicks empty, and taking cover, he holds it in his mouth to stick a new magazine in. It tastes like gun oil, and the disgusting guard Hydra made him wear so he wouldn’t bite off his tongue while they fried his brain.
Man, this sucks.
In the middle of a song about nazis being the least punk thing ever, while he’s being shot at by a bunch of nazis, Ryan’s phone beeps. Bucky ducks behind a solid wall of concrete, setting the gun down to pull it from his pocket. It’s a Tweet from CNN.
The Situation Room ✓ @CNNSitRoom • 6 May
We apologize for technical difficulties, streaming is now available. cnn.it/6ie94Ti
Hallelujah, Ryan got it done. Bucky clicks the link. The video loads, and a chunk of concrete is blown out near his head. Bucky returns the phone to his pocket—still playing the video—and pops up to take out the bastard harshing his vibe.
“...you claim Felicity Sawyer was kidnapped by Alexander Pierce...”
A dark shadow falls on him, and Bucky rolls out of the way as a guy jumps into his cover. He knocks the gun out of Bucky’s hand, and it skids far out of his reach, stopping a few inches from the edge of the roof.
"Bitch!” Bucky exclaims.
“...she has since been relocated to a safe house, and reunited with her father…”
The guy reaches for his headphones, but Bucky kicks his knee, and something cracks, bending it the wrong way. He collapses, mouth open in a silent, agonized scream. Bucky aims the next kick at his head.
“...the kidnapper wanted my support on pieces of unrelated legislation, but my chief of staff pointed out that with my vote the drones would launch…”
Bucky dives for the gun, falling on his face when he’s shot in the back. The suit absorbs most of the impact, but it’s still going to bruise.
“…They took me from my hotel room. I didn’t see their faces, Wolf, these were no hired thugs, they were professionals…”
He rolls on his front, and gasps for air when he’s shot in the stomach. The gun is still far out of his reach. He sticks his hand in his pocket.
“...to interrupt, but there are reports of massive ships emerging from the Potomac river, upstream from the Triskelion...”
Another round to his stomach, and Bucky chokes, bile filling his mouth. Someone stands over him, and the tip of his boot touches Bucky’s forehead.
Bucky hurls his lucky silver dollar at the agent’s face. It bounces off harmlessly, but startles him.
“...what you’re seeing is Captain America, and an unidentified man with wings…”
Bucky twists his body, tripping the guy. His arms pinwheel, and Bucky grabs hold of his ankle, yanking. He disappears over the edge of the roof.
Bucky spits the bile from his mouth, then collapses on his back.
“...evacuate the area as falling debris can be deadly…”
Bucky’s eyes widen, and he scrambles to his knees. He peers over the edge of the roof, hoping he hasn’t killed some poor civilian via falling Hydra. He lets out a huge sigh of relief as the agent lies prone on the roof of the atrium.
Bucky looks up, to a perfect view of the Potomac, and above it, a sky filled with fire and smoke, and three massive helicarriers.
Bucky sighs, then grabs his gun. One more agent to go.
“...data collected by the drones will be fed to the helicarriers…”
Carefully, with his gun trained, looking for any sign of movement, Bucky pads along the roof, ducking under cover as he goes. The last agent is nowhere to be found.
“...for what purpose…”
His ears are full of explosions from the battle’s Steve’s fighting. It’s a distraction, to say the least. He’s trying to keep himself alive, but he’s too focused on—
It’s like being punched in the chest. He thought the bullet to his stomach was bad, and it was, even muffled by the carbon nanotubes, but this is a billion times worse.
“...what other purpose does a warship with hundreds of guns have…”
Whoever designed this suit should have made the shirt bullet-proof too. It’s a significant flaw, leaving a perfectly vulnerable triangle of space over his chest. He’d like to lodge a complaint with the designer.
“...but to kill…”
Bucky’s taking these little gasping breaths, because he can’t pull enough oxygen into his lungs. He does some weird pirouette thing, and turns his whole body—because turning just his torso is a recipe for disaster—and shoots the guy that popped a hole in him.
Take that, bitch, he thinks rather than says, because he’s too busy fighting for air.
Bucky stumbles against a wall, sliding down. The headphones have been knocked off his head, the phone, fallen, he doesn’t know where, but it doesn’t matter at this point. The guy that shot him holds a hand to his neck. It’s spurting blood everywhere, but he’s still standing. He’s making these weird sucking noises, trying so hard to make words come out of his mouth, but the stubborn bastard can’t talk. At some point he gives up, and just points his gun at Bucky’s face.
Bucky fucked up. He stares down the barrel of a loaded rifle, and knows he fucked up real bad. He just hopes Steve doesn't read his obituary. God, he’ll probably clip the damn thing out so he can cry over Bucky’s slutty, slutty life.
The guy wobbles, and his eyes cross comically. Falling face first on the roof, he raised a cloud of dust in his wake.
Ryan fistpumps the air, throwing down a bloodied wrench. She stands with her hands on her hips like a bonafide superhero, grinning toothily at Bucky. “You know, at a moment like this, the words of the brilliant director, Wojciech Smarzowski, come to mind—”
“Oh no!” Bucky interrupts dramatically, “I’ve lost so much blood, I’m losing consciousness...” He throws in a swoon, and a fluttering of lashes to really sell it. “Please... get help...”
“Shit!” Ryan exclaims, and then she’s gone.
Bucky sighs, settling in against the wall. “Dodged that bullet—” He coughs, and splatters his pants with blood and chunks of something that might be his lungs. Gross.
Using his teeth, and a bit of awkward maneuvering, he tears off his empty sleeve, holding the fabric to the wound on his chest. Damn this hurts like a bitch. A collapsed lung he can handle, but broken ribs suck so much. Last time he smashed all his ribs in Vietnam, he cried like a little baby, freaked out his handlers, and ended up with an adorably murderous clone for his trouble.
Bucky chuckles, and immediately winces, unbidden tears streaming down his cheeks.
Head lolling, he stares into the distance. The sunset is so beautiful, made all the more prettier by the lack of helicarriers in the sky. If he survives this, he’s taking a nice, long vacation somewhere cold, like Antarctica, or Greenland.
Steve can keep him warm.
He wakes to a slow, rhythmic beeping. Groaning, Bucky lifts his hand to rub his eyes, but a clunky piece of plastic whacks him in the face. Bucky stares at it, confused. Is that a clothes peg on his finger? He turns his head, blinking slowly, and his heart leaps into his throat.
“Steve,” Bucky whispers. Steve blinks his eyes open, and smiles like the most beautiful thing Bucky’s seen in his life. He reaches out and takes Bucky’s hand, rubbing his thumb over his knuckles. The clothes peg is attached to a monitor with a bunch of indecipherable numbers and squiggles on it.
Hospital. He’s in a hospital.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Steve murmurs. He brushes back a strand of hair from Bucky’s face.
Bucky wiggles uncomfortably, but stops when a sharp pain brings tears to his eyes.
“Steve,” he says again.
“I have a tube in my dick.”
Steve purses his lips as he tries not to laugh. He’s terrible at it. He looks like he’s constipated. Bucky stares at him, at his bright eyes. He turns Steve’s hand over, intertwining their fingers.
“That would be your catheter,” Steve says with as much seriousness as he can muster while still cracking a smile. “You’re not supposed to move while your ribs heal.”
“Oh,” Bucky states, staring at his blanket covered lap, meditating over the state of his being. “Zero out of ten, would not recommend.” It might be best if he doesn’t think about his dick, the situation it’s in is extremely uncomfortable.
“I’ll be sure to tell the nurse you don’t appreciate her hard work,” Steve says wryly.
Bucky’s eyes bug out of his skull. “Noo,” he whines, “Hundred out of ten. No, a thousand out of ten. I support nurses.”
“What are you doing to this poor man?” Sam asks, walking into the hospital room with three coffees in a holder. He hands one to Steve, then takes a seat in the chair on the other side of his bed. He places the third coffee on the last empty chair.
“Pulling his dick—wait…” Steve turns a vibrant shade of red, and starts sputtering like a mid-century Pontiac running on lard. “I mean leg. I meant leg, Sam! Stop laughing! Sam, stop it right this instant! Sam!”
Bucky would laugh, but with his ribs… been there, done that, so over it.
Steve pushes his hair from his red, blotchy face. He’s cute when he’s embarrassed; ducking his head so he doesn’t have to meet either of their eyes.
Sam takes pity on him. He leans back in his chair, grimacing as it squeaks terribly. “Nat said she was going to the giftshop, she should be here soon.”
“That coffee isn’t for me?” Bucky asks, disappointed.
“By all means, feel free,” Natasha says from the doorway. “If you’re craving black coffee with a shot of espresso.” She shuts the door behind her, then saunters over to the bed, pressing a kiss to Bucky’s forehead. She settles in the last free chair, a gift bag by her side, coffee balanced on her knee.
Bucky makes a face. “You’re a heathen, woman,” he says fondly, eyeing the bag. It’s covered in a pattern of miserable orange ducks with thermometers in their mouths and compresses on their foreheads. “That for me?” He pulls away from Steve so he can make gimme hands.
Steve laughs. "I should have gotten you something other than flowers.” He points to the massively garish bouquet sitting on the bedside table. Bucky doesn’t know how he fit the darn thing through the door.
“What am I supposed to do with flowers, eat them?” Bucky sniffs the air, trying to catch a whiff, but all he smells is disinfectant and burnt coffee. He pouts, disappointed.
“Stop being so cute, you two, it’s disgusting,” Natasha says, handing Bucky the bag. He takes it eagerly and upturns it onto the covers. A stuffed bear tumbles out.
“Thanks?” He says, questioning. The velour is so soft as he runs his fingers over it. He loves it.
Natasha shrugs, but she looks pleased. “I figured since I’m going to be locked away for dumping classified files on the internet, I might as well give you something to remember me by.”
“You’re not going to be locked away,” Sam says tiredly, like they’ve had this conversation countless times before. “They’re going to issue a subpoena, and have you speak in front of a committee. Then they’re gonna sweep everything under the rug because they want you on their side.”
“Bah,” Natasha says, dismissive, waving away Sam’s explanation. She points to the bear instead. “It talks.”
“Huh.” Bucky shakes it, but Natasha grabs his wrist, stopping him. He raises his eyebrows.
“I wouldn't do that if I were you,” she warns.
Carefully, Bucky sets it down. “Nat,” he enunciates slowly, so she knows he isn’t joking around. It says a lot about his life that he has to ask, “Is there a bomb in this bear?”
She tweaks Bucky’s nose, like she can’t believe how silly he’s being. “Of course not.” Bucky lets out a sigh of relief. “It’s a grenade, and it’s in the flap beside the battery pack. If you’re ever in a pickle…” She mines lobbing a grenade. “...boom.”
Bucky, Steve, and Sam stare at her incomprehensibly. Grinning back at them—the cat that got the cream—she squeezes the bear’s paw.
“I love you!” It exclaims in a cutesy voice, followed by a series of obnoxious kissy noises. “You’re my bestest friend in the whole wide world!”
“You are the actual worst,” Bucky informs Natasha after the bear finishes its spiel. She doesn't even have the decency to look ashamed. “And I love you too, you absolute crazy person.”
“Um, Nat?” Steve pipes up, nervously wringing his hands. “Do you remember the stuffed dog you got me after the Battle of New York?” He chuckles. “There's no grenade in that, is there?”
She smiles indulgently, patting the back of Steve’s hand. “I think you already know, Steven.”
Five Months Later
The bedroom is pitch black when he awakens with a start. Bucky lies in bed, staring up at the ceiling, unable to go back to sleep. His phone is far out of his reach, but considering it’s usually bright outside when he gets up, it’s early as hell. He sighs. Might as well get the day started.
First things first: he needs out of bed without waking Steve.
He should have known he was doomed to fail from the start.
“Mmm, Bucky?” Steve whispers, the big lump of him stirring under the sheets. He snakes a hand out, wrapping it around Bucky’s wrist.
Bucky freezes, he has one leg on the floor, the other on the far side of Steve’s hips.
Gently tugging his arm from Steve’s grasp, he soothingly combs the hair from his face. “Shhh, love” he whispers, “Go back to sleep.” He slips off the bed, pausing to take in Steve in all his mussed, sleep-grumpy glory. It still surprises Bucky that he gets to love him on the regular.
Steve belongs in Bucky's bed, hell he should never leave it. He already has a drawer in his dresser, and a few hangers in his closet. He helped Bucky pick out this apartment—free from spying botanists, and people who aren’t actually nurses. His Thor apron hangs from a hook in Bucky’s kitchen. For fuck's sake, he keeps the shield in a designated place tucked behind the door. It shouldn't take that much effort to convince him to move in for keeps.
Bucky blames tin can man. He keeps leaving Steve voicemails, trying to convince him to move back to New York. Steve’s expressed interest, but he keeps telling Stark that it isn’t the right time. Steve wants to stay in the same city as Peggy until... well, and Bucky doesn't want to leave DC. He loves his job, and he loves the life he’s built for himself. Besides, trying to find work in New York with his fake-ass credentials is a recipe for disaster. Stark doesn't know he isn't James Proctor. He thinks Steve's a cradle-robbing weirdo for dating his best friend's great-nephew, but Natasha said it would be best if he didn’t know the truth. After all, Bucky did kill his parents.
Somewhere down the line, that secret is going to bite him in the ass.
“What’s the time?” Steve mumbles. He reaches blindly for the bedside table, and nearly knocks his glass of water over. Thankfully, Bucky manages to right it just in time. He grabs Bucky’s phone to check the time. The pink case looks ridiculous in his big hands. Bucky wasn’t able to find the exact bedazzled case, but he did find something similar. It even has a strap specifically designed for one-handed folks.
“Four in the morning, what the hell,” Steve groans, light from the screen accentuating the angles of his face in all the worst ways.
“I’m going for a run,” Bucky declares, walking over to his dresser. He pulls on a pair of shorts.
“Bucky, you are not going for a run at four in the morning, come back to bed.” Steve tosses his phone somewhere on the bed, which Bucky does not appreciate. Rolling on his back, the sheets slide to his waist. He’s wearing the shirt Bucky got him as a joke on his birthday, it features a picture of a clown with the words 'Washington, DC’ scrawled over it, and under that in parentheses, ‘District of Clowns.’ It made Steve laugh so hard he choked.
“I’m freaking out,” he admits, plopping himself down on the edge of the bed. Steve sighs, sitting up so he can wrap his arms around Bucky’s shoulders. He sticks his nose in Bucky’s neck, breathing in deeply, raising goosebumps on his skin.
“Did you sleep at all?” Steve murmurs.
Bucky rubs one of the scars on his thighs. “No,” he admits.
Steve runs a hand down his spine, coming to sit behind him. His legs go on either side of Bucky, hand moving to his chest, holding him, just holding him. “It’s going to be fine,” he murmurs into Bucky’s ear.
“You don’t know that,” he mutters, leaning back into Steve’s warmth.
“I know you, and you’re an expert bullshitter.”
Bucky chuckles lightly, letting Steve pull him back into bed. Steve arranges them so they’re lying down, facing each other. He touches Bucky’s left shoulder, skimming his palm down his torso to his waist. He isn’t afraid to touch. The first time he saw Bucky without his shirt, he kissed his scars like they were just another part of him. It made him cry like a little baby.
Bucky drifts off with Steve’s arms around him, and wakes at eleven, a short two hours from when he needs to be at the fanciest hotel he will ever step foot in, giving a sworn deposition to a bunch of lawyers in order to keep Natasha out of jail. It’s a lot of pressure, to say the least.
"I think I'm having a midlife crisis," Bucky says, searching desperately for the shoes he polished yesterday to within an inch of their life. James Proctor wouldn't have bothered, but James Barnes would rather die than leave the apartment wearing dress shoes in which he can't see his reflection. “Help me, you lazy bum.”
Steve groans, kicking the blankets off his legs. He reaches over the side, pulling Bucky’s dress shoes from under the bed.
"You're not having a midlife crisis,” Steve says, handing them over. Bucky sits beside him to put them on, tying and retying neat little bows. “You're having an endlife crisis, you grumpy old man."
Bucky flips him the bird. "Suck my dick, Rogers."
Steve lifts a brow, unimpressed. “Gladly, if it’ll get you to relax.” He yanks on the back of Bucky’s suit, making him sprawl on the covers, feet hanging off the side.
Bucky blinks in surprise as Steve slinks off the bed like a cat, falling to his knees in front of him. He rubs Bucky’s thighs, questioning.
Bucky leans back on his elbows, staring down at him. “If I’m late—”
“You’re not going to be late,” Steve says, kissing one suit-clad knee, then the other.
“If you get jizz on my pants—”
“Oh, Bucky.” Steve grins, hands creeping up to his fly. “You know I swallow.”
He’s not late. In fact, he arrives at the hotel thirty minutes early. Bucky is calm as a cucumber, settled in the squashy roller chair across from the DOD’s lawyers, and the camera that will record everything.
When Mr. Walter, the lawyer Jamila recommend, arrives, he drops into the seat beside Bucky’s with a quizzical smile.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Proctor. I must say I’ve never had a client attend a deposition glowing as you are. New moisturizer?”
Bucky coughs into his fist, hiding the blush on his cheeks.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
VIDEO DEPOSITION OF CPT. JAMES PROCTOR, a witness in the above-entitled cause, reported at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco Washington,700 F Street, N.W., Tokyo Boardroom, Washington, District of Columbia, commencing at 1:08 p.m., pursuant to the agreements as stated on the record and/or the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
APPEARING ON BEHALF OF THE PLAINTIFFS:
MR. BARTHOLOMEW M. HICKS, III
HICKS & BENNETT LLP.
APPEARING ON BEHALF OF THE DEFENDANT:
Mr. LEE WALTER
WALTER & KOONZ ATTORNEYS AT LAW
CPT. JAMES PROCTOR, USA, Ret.,
Having been duly sworn, testifies as follows:
BY MR. HICKS (1:08 p.m.):
Q. Good morning, CPT. Proctor.
A. Morning, lawyer prime. (laughs)
Q. It’s Mr. Hicks. (clears throat) Let’s proceed with some background information to start. I’d like to talk about your service history.
A. Three tours in Iraq, and then an honorable discharge. (shrugs) You know about as much as I do.
A. I have no memory beyond the past five years.
Q. Nothing at all?
A. Not even the taxes.
Q. And that’s a permanent condition?
A. Oh yes. Amnesia isn’t like the movies, lawyer prime. (taps his temple) It’s nothing short of swiss cheese up there.
Q. One thing I don’t understand -- remind me, what was your highest level of schooling?
A. Bachelors in communications.
Q. Yes, communications. How could you possibly get a job at the most prestigious newspaper in Washington with no memory of your education?
A. (chuckles) For starters, I am, in fact, a white man, meaning I only get jobs I’m unqualified for. Also, I like to think I’m one lucky bastard.
MR. WALTER: I object with respect to the relevance of the questioning.
MR. HICKS: What would be the basis for the privilege?
MR. WALTER: Irrelevance. The Washington Post’s hiring objectives have nothing to do with the topic at hand, and I instruct my client not to answer.
CPT. Proctor: Are those hors d'oeuvres? (whistles) Do the taxpayers know they’re paying for us to snack on hors d'oeuvres?
BY MS. BENNETT (1:46 p.m.):
Q. (Presents Exhibit 3) Can you tell me what this is, CPT. Proctor?
A. Sure. That’s a picture of my great-uncle.
Q. And who is your great-uncle?
A. James Barnes.
Q. (Presents Exhibit 4) Now, can you tell me what this is?
A. That’s a picture from the files Natasha released.
Q. Describe it please.
A. If you insist. That’s my brainwashed, prisoner of war great-uncle when he was stored in a cryo-tube like a hunk of meat.
Q. He looks an awful lot like you.
MR. WALTER: Objection, that’s speculation.
A. (chuckles) I know what you’re implying, Ms. Bennett, but didn’t you read the Hydra files? James Barnes is dead. He died in 2009 in Odessa at the hands of the Black Widow.
Q. And the other Winter Soldier? (Presents Exhibit 5) The clone?
A. Cute kid.
Q. That kid assassinated the President.
A. The Hydra President.
Q. (clears throat) What happened to him?
A. (shrugs) How would I know?
Q. He’s a danger to himself and to society.
A. Ms. Bennett, I don’t know what you expect me to say. I’m just a reporter. My friend’s wife thought I could handle a scandal. That’s the reason I’m here. Not because of my great-uncle, or his clone, but because I’m a reporter. Is that good enough for you?
MS. BENNETT: Fine. I will pass the witness. Thank you.
MR. WALTER: We will save our questions for court. Thank you.
MR. HICKS: Great. Thank you.
CPT. Proctor: (gestures to the refreshments table) Does this mean I get to take home the leftovers?
(Deposition concluded, 2:14 p.m.)
Bucky skips down the hotel steps, feeling like a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders. In a few weeks, he'll testify in court with Jamila and Ronit. Hopefully Natasha won’t be convicted for violating the Espionage Act, and he can finally put this all behind him.
Steve’s waiting for him by a planter full decorative kale, wearing his go-to tourist disguise of baseball cap and lensless glasses, looking like a total snack and a half.
“Hey.” Bucky slides up to him, happily accepting the kiss Steve presses to his cheek.
“How was it?” Steve asks, slinging an arm over his shoulder.
“Boring as shit,” Bucky says. “Here, I brought you something.” He hands over a bundled cloth napkin that Steve opens to reveal fruit, pastries, and expensive cheese. Unfortunately, it’s all squished together from when Bucky snuck it out inside his empty sleeve.
Steve doesn’t seem to mind by the pleased sound he makes. He picks a blueberry embedded in a piece of cheese, popping it into his mouth. “Thanks, Buck.”
Bucky grins, tucking himself snugly into Steve’s side. They walk down the block to where Bucky parked his Chrysler; out of place amid the Mercedes and Bentleys dotting the curb. When he said the hotel was posh, he meant it. It’s even fancier than the place Ronit and Jamila were supposed to have their wedding. They never got their deposits back for the hall, and had to tone down the wedding as a result. They got married in Jamila’s parent’s backyard. Bucky cried so much he could barely see where he was going when he walked Ronit down the aisle. Thankfully, she was gracious enough to forgive him for treading on her toes not once, not twice, but three times.
“They asked me about Junior,” Bucky says.
“Yeah? How’s he doing?” Steve asks, picking at the leftover crumbs on the napkin.
“Driving Fury up the wall.” Bucky grins, turning his face up to the afternoon sun. A breeze blows by, cool for the season. He relishes in it. “I think they’re in Prague.”
“Did Fury say that?” Steve asks, folding up the empty napkin, and tucking it in his pocket. Bucky can’t blame him, it’s Belgian linen. It probably costs more than Bucky makes in a day. “He’s usually cagey about their whereabouts.”
“Junior gave it away. He learned some new, regional specific phrases.”
“Oh?” Steve quirks a brow. “Like what?”
Bucky chuckles. “I pointed out the pre-pubescent moustache he insists on growing, and he told me I could, and I quote, ‘vyser si voko.’”
Steve nods. “Is that... good?”
“Oh yes, very kind of him,” Bucky says jovially. They stop in front of the Chrysler, and Bucky takes Steve’s hand in his because sometimes he can’t resist touching him for no reason at all.
Steve narrows his eyes, “I detect a hint of sarcasm.”
Bucky laughs. “Duh, a teenage boy told me to go shit out my eye, I’m feeling very hurt on the inside.”
Steve’s mouth drops open. “He did not.”
“He did. Kid’s a bigger asshole than you were at his age.”
Steve frowns at him. “I never said anything like that to you. You and I were perfectly civil with each other.”
“Yeah?” Bucky asks, lifting a brow.
Bucky pinches Steve’s palm, and he pulls away with a yelp. “What about that time you threatened to drown me in the Hudson?”
Steve’s face scrunches up like he’s trying to remember. “I’m pretty sure that was because you left your wet socks to dry on the coal stove, then forgot all about them, and our flat stank like burnt, decomposing sheep for a month after.”
“It wasn’t that bad.” Bucky purses his lips, pulling his keys from his pocket.
“It was horrible,” he says firmly, but then his serious expression dissolves into a smile. Before Bucky can unlock his door, Steve snatches the keys from him. “You could make it up to me?” He pulls out a pair of tickets from his jacket, waving them in Bucky’s face.
Bucky snatches them right out of Steve’s grip. “The Newseum, really?” Bucky smiles helplessly, heart swelling in his chest.
“You did promise. Besides, it’s only four blocks away, and you paid for parking for the whole day.”
Bucky scowls. “Yeah, thirty bucks, practically highway robbery.”
Steve returns the tickets to his pocket, then holds out his hand. “I love you a whole lot. Wanna go see a chunk of the Berlin Wall?"
Bucky slips his hand back into Steve’s, squeezing it. He looks up at Steve’s sun-warm, beautiful face, and he feels so fucking happy he could scream.
He wants to see a chunk of the Berlin Wall with Steve. He wants to invite their friends over for dinner parties, even though they both can’t cook anything but lasagna. He wants to curl up on the couch with Steve, and watch bad movies. He wants to read Steve his articles, then laugh when he gets fired up over terrible legislation. He wants Steve to tell Stark to sod-off, and finally move in with him. He wants to marry the bastard, and have Ronit step on his feet as she walks him down the aisle. He wants everything and more. And he gets to have it. This is all his. This life is his. He’s earned it.
And he gets to share it with the people he loves.