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did you see the flares

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The fact that Captain America’s birthday is also Independence Day never fails to amuse Bucky.

 

The rest of their motley crew are equally titillated, if not more so. Last year, Bucky’s first holiday spent with the Avengers, Tony had been left in charge of throwing Steve’s birthday party. No one is certain how that came about, and given the amount of flag-themed décor, they don’t much like to mention it. Except Tony – Tony will talk about it for hours if he thinks someone’s listening to him. This year, however, Natasha took charge of the planning, occasionally asking for the opinions of Sam and Bucky. Bucky’s still not entirely comfortable around groups, and he’s working on opening up to the people who are now his teammates, but he finds that the party tonight isn’t so bad.

One of Tony’s many, many properties includes a small mansion in upstate New York. It’s surprisingly understated, tasteful in a way that leads Bucky to believe Tony had nothing to do with its purchase. Three stories, an impressive back patio with a small garden, and three acres’ worth of neatly manicured lawn. The party is mostly taking place outside, despite the gathering rainclouds overhead. Natasha had, of course, planned accordingly for the weather; there’s a large open-sided tent pitched just beyond the borders of the garden. All of the guests are people Steve knows personally, as the birthday boy himself had been consulted on the matter. The only person not among the inner circle is the bartender, and even she has high security clearance. Music is streaming from speakers he’s yet to locate – just loud enough to be heard, but not intrusive. It’s the kind of music he and Steve grew up with, trumpets and strings and crooners, and there’s something tight and sad in his chest listening to it.

Steve made a joke earlier about Bucky’s days as a lady-killer, so naturally his friends have been teasing him all night. They’re specifically trying to get him on the dancefloor, desperate to see the moves Steve had bragged about. His modern aversion to social gatherings aside, Bucky’s not sure he remembers how to dance. He’s getting better every day, memories slowly piecing themselves back together, but there’s still a multitude of insecurities and self-doubt. He thinks he used to enjoy dancing, and may even have been as good as Steve claims, but even now his mind is too muddled to be sure. Besides, he’s a different man now. Hard to be a fleet-footed flirt with a metal arm and decades of brainwashed murder on your hands. Not that he’s bitching.

He’s been good about socializing, keeping up small talk with whoever catches him. Three hours into the party, near ten o’clock, he’s getting tired. He retires to a relatively empty corner of the garden, scotch in hand, and settles into a chair to watch the goings on around him. Steve is, unsurprisingly, the center of attention. Despite his increasingly dull mood, Bucky’s glad to see Steve enjoying himself. Bucky may be just as troubled, but Steve woke up from a seventy-year sleep to find his entire world gone. It’s a weight off Bucky’s shoulders to know his friend is making a new life for himself. Presently, Tony is trying to goad Steve into a drinking game with Thor. It’s futile; neither man can get drunk, and certainly not on anything being served at the bar.

Bruce has flown in from wherever he’s been hiding away – Ireland, Bucky thinks – and Natasha is making the most of his time. They’re standing at the bar, conversing quietly between themselves. Sam and Rhodey are swapping stories, each trying to outdo the other and ultimately ending up in fits of laughter. Clint’s brought his wife to the shindig, and Laura’s looking around in awe of so many superheroes in one place. She’s also making great small talk with Maria Hill and Phil Coulson. Bucky’s heard the stories surrounding the unassuming agent, now the current director of SHIELD. Dying but not dying seems to be a trend among their friends, Bucky muses. Vision is doing much the same as he is, observing the party from a quiet spot. Aside from a smattering of former SHIELD agents Steve considers to be friends, there isn’t much else going on. But the chatter and laughter and music – and maybe also the scotch – help to ease Bucky’s restlessness.

Someone’s missing, though, and Bucky’s noticed. In his observations, he hasn’t seen Wanda at all. Not as gloomy as Bucky, but just as quiet at times, Wanda is the only other Avenger he feels comfortable around. If ever he desires company and Steve is unavailable, Wanda is the person Bucky seeks out. He’s not particularly in the mood to talk, but her company certainly wouldn’t be unwelcome. He tries to ignore the nagging in his mind, but finally his curiosity wins out and he leaves the garden for the inside of the mansion. It’s much cooler than outside, the air on full-blast to combat the heat of the midsummer night. There’s even more food and booze in the kitchen, which is the first room coming in from outside. It’s quiet here, almost eerily so, and Bucky tunes his senses to his surroundings, listening. Wanda is about as in to group events as he is so he’s sure she’s found a private space for herself.

At first all he can hear is the ticking of the various clocks throughout the building, the occasional creak and groan of a structure used to being unoccupied. He forces the noise from outside to fade into the background, and soon discerns another sound. Music, coming from the other end of the house. Interest thoroughly piqued, he starts toward it. Bucky weaves his way through the hall, past the den and the elaborate dining room, until he reaches what he assumes to be a parlor. A strange find in a modern home, but the novelty is lost on him when he peers past the doorway. Seated at a gleaming baby grand piano is Wanda.

Of course, he knew it would be Wanda. There’s no one else in the mansion except the two of them. His surprise stems mostly from the fact that she can play the instrument, and not badly. Every other note or chord, she misses a step; the flow of the song slightly out of time. He surmises this particular skill has been left to rust for some time. Perhaps she came across the piano and couldn’t resist. She knows he’s there, and he knows she knows (he’s never been able to surprise Wanda, not with his physical presence) so he quietly enters the room and takes a seat on the nearby armchair, content to listen and wait for her to acknowledge him. He doesn’t recognize the song, but it’s pretty and helps him relax. His love of good music has, it seems, followed him into the twenty-first century.

He takes a minute to really look at her, because she’s absolutely stunning. Typically her clothes are meant to be practical, but the dress she wears is strictly for aesthetics. It’s short and black, with long sleeves that make Bucky wonder if she’s getting warm. Her hair is down, as is her preference, but it’s ironed straight and shining in the lamplight. He’d caught a glimpse of red lipstick and he thinks he’d like to see more of it. In fact, he’s sure he would. A sudden crescendo brings his attention back to her playing. It’s not much longer before she finishes, much to his regret. She turns to him and smiles, though, and he’s not too put out(he’s also really enjoying the way that lipstick looks on her).

“James,” she says, looking pleased to see him. She’s the only one who calls him by his first name; the only one he allows the privilege. Among other reasons, he likes the way it sounds when she says it. Maybe it’s the accent. “I was wondering when you would find me.”

Bucky shrugs lightly. “Noticed you weren’t outside and I got curious. Didn’t know you could play.”

She looks fondly at the piano, lightly stroking the nearest black key. “My father taught me when I was younger. I am out of practice now.”

“Sounded pretty decent to me,” he compliments. “Just a little rusty is all.”

“Thank you.” She studies him for a moment, like she’s reading into his mind. Although she can, and he’d be helpless to stop her, she’s never breached his mind without permission. Not that she needs to – Wanda’s always been able to read him like a book. He often wonders how much of that is from her powers. “You are tired already.”

Unlike with the others, sometimes even Steve, Bucky doesn’t bother with pretense. “Yeah. Been a while since the last party, and I don’t usually stick around this long. ‘M only here ‘cause the party’s for Steve.”

Wanda nods. This she already knows. “I suppose we shouldn’t stay away too long. It would be rude and tonight is for the captain, as you say.”

The mere thought of going back out when he’s finally relaxed makes Bucky wilt on the inside. Wanda must sense this because she changes the plan on him. “Before we go back, I want you to do something with me.”

When she rises and holds her hand out to him, Bucky doesn’t hesitate to take it, allowing her to pull him to his feet. He lets her lead him through the house and up the stairs, curious but patient. They pass dozens of closed doors, long hallways, something that looks like a home library – until at last they reach their destination. They’re on the roof of the mansion, and Bucky is both surprised and not to find that it’s not just a roof. There’s a private bar, fully stocked, next to a grouping of several comfortable looking sofas and chairs. These are centered around a sizable fire-pit, with a small pile of precisely chopped wood set to the side. Wanda moves past the lounge area, though, straight to the edge of the roof. She kicks off her shoes and sits, her long legs dangling off the end.

He joins her, still curious, but not in any hurry to break the companionable silence between them. Her lack of need to fill a quiet is something he appreciates about her. This time, though, Wanda breaks the silence.

“We are close enough to the town to see their celebrations,” she explains, and Bucky remembers that the property is close to Hayville, literally right outside the city limits. As close and high up as they are, they can easily view the lights and can even see the mass of revelers milling around. “I have seen one such display already, and I believe there will be another soon. They are magnificent to watch.”

He realizes she means fireworks, and is suddenly touched. She has invited him into her space, to watch something that probably no one else on the property is even aware of. Steve thus far has been his only true friend, but Wanda is rapidly earning the coveted title. Though he sometimes wonders if he could have more with her, right now he genuinely appreciates the friendship she offers. He doesn’t voice any of these thoughts, but he somehow knows that Wanda hears them all the same.

“Well, if we’re gonna watch the show we oughta have a drink,” he decides, rising and heading for the bar. He supposes beer would be more appropriate, but finds himself rather more interested in the unopened bottle of Jack near the top shelf. “You like whiskey?”

He returns without waiting for her answer, twisting the bottle open and inhaling. He’s always been keen on whiskey, and it’s been a long time since he’s had Jack. Ever a gentlemen, despite his sordid past, he offers Wanda the bottle first. He assumes it’s her first go with the heady drink, but is very pleasantly surprised when she downs a hard swallow. Seeing his reaction, she grins. “I do like whiskey.”

“A gal after my own heart, huh?” he quips, taking his turn. It burns all the way down, pooling like molten fire in his belly. It’s a nice feeling, to say the least. Given the experimentation they’ve been subjected to, Bucky’s not worried about getting drunk. They’re nearly a quarter way through the bottle when the first rocket goes up.

They watch the red flare as it ascends, a skinny plume of smoke steadily rising until it winks out, only to burst open a moment later in a riot of color and sound. The rest follow almost immediately – a quick procession of red and blue and gold. Thunderous booms and crackles, starbursts and showers of sparks. Some are shaped differently; an oval here; a heart there, occasionally a smiley face. There are other colors, too – green and purple, a sickly bright pink and a dark orange. It’s not quite as intense given their distance from the show, but it’s still a sight. When the finale starts, gold after red after blue, Bucky’s eyes flick over to Wanda of their own volition.

He knows she’s aware of his scrutiny, though the term is a bit harsh, so he admires her openly. He likes the faint play of color on her cheeks, flickering touches from the show in the distance. They sparkle most noticeably in her eyes, though everything about her seems lit up from the inside. He thinks it’s because she’s genuinely enjoying herself, rapt by the colorful display, and he’s happy that she’s happy. He wonders when that started, when her happiness affected his own, but saves the thought to analyze later(preferably when the mind-reader isn’t standing right next to him). For now, he allows himself the pleasure of being in the moment – a truly rare occurrence for him. He savors the burn of the whiskey, the bright lights of the fireworks, and the company of the woman sitting beside him. He’d never imagined he could have something like this; something simple and fun and normal. It’s an encouraging experience, one that lends him hope for the future.

The display ends almost as abruptly as it began and though they both stand to return to the party, Wanda lingers. She looks up at him with deep green eyes, eyes that speak as much as they see, and a great wave of feeling crashes over Bucky. The urge to kiss her is overwhelming, but he senses the time isn’t right – not yet. So he waits, meets her steady gaze and patiently awaits her next move. She links her fingers with his – his metal fingers, and it does things to him to think his arm doesn’t bother her the way it bothers him – and offers a small smile. “Thank you for watching that with me.”

“Thank you for sharing it,” he replies, earnestness showing in his face. “It was special.”

“I am glad you think so.” Something warm shines in her normally cool eyes and the warmth is mirrored in the deeper places of Bucky’s heart. “We go back to the party now?”

The thought isn’t quite as discouraging as it was earlier. “Yeah. Punk’s probably wondering where I’ve got off to. Better not let him worry too long.” Bucky grins. “If you’re agreeable, I’ll treat you to a dance. They’ve been beggin’ me for hours, and I’m told I was pretty good back in my day.”

Wanda chuckles. “Are you good now?”

“I honestly don’t know.” He offers her his arm and leads her back toward the party, where Thor’s cantankerous laughter is echoing over the property. “Care to find out?”

Her eyes find him again, and Bucky swears he can still see those fireworks. “I do.”

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