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Dirty Rotten Tricksters

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Raven Loses His Eyes -- possible Cree origin
(Adapted from an original telling by Miska Deaphon, Nikolai Nwch'ihwzoya')

Long ago on Turtle Island, certain animals walked among humans, and had human form. At that time, Raven lived alone in the woods. He was a curious, not to say nosy creature, so when he fell asleep, he had the habit of taking out his eyes, so they could continue to watch for him as he slept.

On one occasion, he woke from his nap to find that his eyes had gone.

“Oh my!” he thought. “I need new eyes!”

So he felt around until he found a blueberry bush, and picked two ripe berries to put into his eye sockets. But they were too dark for him to see with, so he took them out.

He felt around again, until he found a cranberry bush, and picked two ripe berries to put into his eye sockets. But when he looked out at the world, everything was red, and the berries were so small that they kept falling out. So he left them on the forest floor.

He felt around again, until he found another berry bush. He didn’t know what this one was, but the berries felt good and big, so he picked two and put them in his eye sockets. Success! With these berries, he could see.

Now that he could see again, he set off in search of where his own eyes could have got to. He paddled his canoe upriver, until he heard the sounds of people laughing. Being curious, not to say nosy, Raven paddled over to the bank to see what the commotion was about. On his way, he made himself clothes, by taking spruce branches and defecating on them -- because Raven’s shit was magical, and could make spruce branches turn into beautiful clothes.

He didn’t get as far as the sound, because he passed a young woman on the way, who smiled at him. He smiled back, and went back into the woods to make more clothes, which he gave to the young woman. Soon they were married.

They had a nice life, and Raven almost forgot about looking for his eyes. But he was curious, not to say nosy, so he was always asking about things. One of the things he asked about was where everyone in the village went to in the afternoons. All of them disappeared deep into the woods, while Raven and his lovely wife stayed at home.

“Oh, they go to play ball,” said Raven’s wife. “They call the balls they play with ‘Raven’s eyes’.”

And, quick as a flash, Raven’s desire to find his eyes was rekindled.

“Would you take me to where they play, dear wife?” Raven asked, and so she did.

They went into the woods, until they came to a group of people playing catch with two balls. They did look a bit like eyes. And the longer Raven watched, the more they looked like eyes to him -- his own eyes.

Raven really, really wanted his true eyes back, so he sat in his spot, wishing and wishing that the balls would fall near him -- and lo and behold, they did. So he grabbed them up and flew away, before anyone could catch him.

But his poor wife! Her clothes turned into spruce branches and bird shit where she stood.



Raven finds Steve

Raven noticed the pale little boy with the yellow hair one summer, as he was flying over the beaches at Tofino. He wouldn’t normally have paid such close attention to a mamaałni, but he overheard the boy telling his mother that he was putting his glasses on top of the green plastic bucket, placed upside down on the sand, so he could still see what was going on while he had a nap.

“Hmm,” thought Raven, “I think he might be one of mine.”

So Raven followed the boy that day. While he and his mother napped, some bigger boys came along and took the glasses from on top of the bucket, and started playing catch with them. They ran off with them when the pale boy’s mother woke up. She was furious, and the boy himself was inconsolable.

“But I can’t see!” he cried.

Raven followed as the mother picked up their bags and towels, packed away their lunch, and hoisted the pale boy onto her hip to follow after the thieves. The boys, of course, were long gone. The pale boy cried, and the mother put down their bags and rubbed his back, and took him to an ice cream vendor to soothe his tears with sweet food.

While the vendor was fetching their choices out of the big cold box at the back of his stall, the mother told him what had happened to her son’s glasses.

“I’m sorry,” the vendor said, as he handed over one vanilla cone and one strawberry and lemon sorbet cup with a little pink spoon sticking out of it, “I’ve not seen or heard anything.”

But a pale girl with curly, dark brown hair -- a little older than the pale boy -- tugged on the mother’s jeans, and said she had seen the boys take the glasses, and knew where they’d gone to.

“Can you take us there?” asked the mother, and the pale girl nodded.

“It’s alright Steve,” the mother told her little boy, “we’ll have your glasses back very soon, and then you’ll be able to see just fine.”

The mother insisted on paying for the girl’s ice cream, before they went off in search of Steve’s glasses and the boys who had stolen them.

“I’m Sarah,” said the mother, introducing herself to the girl, “and this is Steve.”

“I’m Peggy,” the girl replied.

Raven followed Sarah and Steve as they in turn followed Peggy across the sand to a stretch of beach where some bigger boys and young men were surfing and playing volleyball.

“That’s them,” whispered Peggy, pointing across to a group of boys who were throwing something that definitely wasn’t a volleyball up in the air and catching it again, tossing it between them and laughing.

Raven could see that it was Steve’s glasses. He glided over to the thieves, and the next time they threw the glasses into the air, he caught them neatly in his beak, flapped a few times, then glided back across to Peggy and Sarah and Steve.

Steve was busy eating his sorbet, unable to see what was happening, but Peggy and Sarah both stared in open-mouthed amazement as Raven set the glasses gently down on the sand in front of Steve’s bare toes, and flew off to perch on top of a nearby wall.

Sarah picked up Steve’s glasses, gently brushed the sand off the frames, and put them back on his face.

“You found them!” Steve cried, his face lighting up with a beaming smile.

“It… it was a… It was a big crow,” Peggy told him. “A big crow took them from those boys and brought them back to you.”

“Well, I never did,” muttered Sarah.

As Raven watched them walk away together, he felt truly satisfied with his morning’s work, and thought to himself, “Yes, definitely one of mine.”


Steve and his special things

Steve Rogers had a fairly normal childhood, all things considered.

His dad, Joseph, had died before Steve was born, a victim of his beat partner’s incompetence and gung-ho attitude. Two unarmed civilians, both black men, were killed by his partner in the same incident. His father’s partner, of course, never faced charges, but his mother was the beneficiary of her husband’s life insurance policy, as well as an NYPD pension, as a result.

While it didn’t make them terribly wealthy, it did allow Sarah to buy a small apartment in a less expensive area of Brooklyn. By being frugal, and picking up odd jobs once Steve started school, she was able to afford nice things for Steve, like good clothes, fresh food, holidays, and, when he started to show talent in that direction, art classes on the weekends and evenings.

Of course, a chunk of the money went on co-pays for Steve’s medical costs. Whether it was the shock of his father’s death during his mother’s pregnancy that caused it, or just sheer bad luck, Steve was a sickly kid. He had a heart murmur and low blood pressure, asthma and eczema, and was prone to catching any and all bugs that were going around. They turned into pneumonia often enough that Sarah dreaded the onset of winter, and the scent of hospital wards was almost as familiar to Steve as his mom’s home cooking.

He was short and skinny, and had glasses and a hearing aid, but the one truly remarkable thing about Steve was his friend, the raven.

It had started after he and his mom went to Vancouver Island on holiday when he was six years old. It was weird enough that a big, black bird returned his glasses to him. What pushed the situation into full on bizarre was that, about a week after they got back to Brooklyn, a big, black bird started leaving shiny and colourful things on his windowsill.

At first Steve didn’t really notice: a tiny quartz pebble one day, an iridescent pigeon’s feather the next; nothing that couldn’t have turned up there on its own. But then a silver quarter, a pretty shell, and a piece of green seaglass as big as his palm all showed up on the same morning, sitting there shining in the morning sun when Steve opened his curtains.

“Mom,” he shouted.

“What is it, honey?”

Steve clambered off his bed and got to his door just as his mom appeared in her flowery nightgown and fluffy slippers. “There’s things on my windowsill, mom.” He took hold of her hand in both of his, and pulled her over to kneel on the bed and look out of the window.

His mom raised the sash to take a closer look at the objects.

“They’re beautiful, Stevie. Did you put them here?”

“No, mom, they just appeared! Like magic!”

Sarah ruffled his hair and kissed the top of his head.

“That’s lovely, sweetie. Let’s bring them inside and put them in a safe place.”

Steve knew his mom didn’t believe him, but he did like the pretty things, and his mom found a special tin box to put them in.

From then on, two or three mornings a week, new objects, shiny, or colourful, or in interesting shapes, would appear on Steve’s windowsill. He would call his mom and show her, and they would carefully lift them up and place them in his Special Things box.

Even though it kept happening, his mom still thought it was Steve himself, finding objects and putting them on his windowsill, “like magic.”

“You’re such an imaginative child,” she would say with a smile, ruffling his hair and kissing the top of his head like always.

“There’s no such thing as magic,” his best friend Natasha sniffed, much blunter than his mom. “You’re leaving those things there yourself.”

Steve had to find out who was leaving the objects, so he could show his mom and Natasha that it was real, it really was magic, not just a game Steve had made up.

First, he took to leaving his curtains open at night, so he would wake up when whoever it was climbed up the outside of the house to leave the Special Things. He did that for a full week, but he didn’t wake up, and twice during that time, he woke up in the morning to see new objects on his windowsill, and no sign of who had left them there, or how.

Then he tried to rig up a trip wire on his windowsill, that would ring a bell by his pillow if anyone moved it. But again, he woke up one morning to find more objects on his windowsill, and the tripwire intact, with no sign of anyone having been there at all.

This had been going on for months by now, through the last of the summer, then autumn, and winter. They were now into spring, and Steve was determined to find out who was leaving the beautiful things for him before summer came around again.

He talked to Natasha at school, and told her his plan, then asked his mom if Natasha could come by for a sleepover for the whole weekend. His mom frowned a little at that, and her mouth twisted.

“Of course I’m happy to have her here, but I’ll have to ask her parents if that will be okay with them.”

His mom didn’t like Natasha’s parents, Steve could tell. He didn’t like them much either. They frightened him. The one time he had been to Natasha’s for tea and a playdate, he’d hidden under the covers in Natasha’s bed, their shouting had scared him so much. He told his mom that Natasha was still his best friend, but he didn’t want to go to her house again.

But somehow, his mom convinced Natasha’s parents that it was a great idea to have Natasha come stay with them for the weekend, and on a sunny Friday in March, she came home with Steve and his mom after school.

Steve took the first watch, from bedtime until midnight, and Natasha took the second, from midnight until four in the morning. Then they both sat on top of the bed, staring out of the window, waiting for who knew what to arrive as the pre-dawn light turned the sodium orange of the night to grey.

Suddenly, a big black shape appeared at the window. Natasha and Steve both shouted in their surprise, and scrambled back from the window onto the floor, peeking over the top of the comforter from their safe spot behind the bed.

Steve’s mom came rushing into the room, just as the black shape returned. Steve turned to her and whispered, “You see, mom! It isn’t me, it isn’t me at all!”

And sure enough, there was enough light by now to see the big, black bird letting a piece of a broken CD drop from its beak onto the windowsill outside the window.

“Well, I never did,” muttered Sarah.

He and Natasha and his mom had looked up what bird it was that very morning, even though it was 6am, and a Saturday. It was a raven. After that, Steve became obsessed with ravens, learning everything about them that he could: their habits and habitats, their legends and stories, from the trickster told of by indigenous tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast, to Thor’s birds in Norse mythology.

And he started to leave little gifts out for the raven, too, keeping his eye out for shiny and colourful and shapely things: a crocus from his mom’s window box; a snail shell from the park; lametta from their old Christmas decorations when his mom decided they needed a whole new set one year.

It became a ritual. At least once a week, in the pre-dawn light, the raven brought gifts to Steve on his windowsill; Steve found them in the morning, and put them in his latest Special Things box, of which he had several now. At least once a week, Steve left gifts for the raven on his windowsill before he went to bed at night; in the morning they were gone.

It was a touchstone of normality, when Natasha emancipated herself from her parents when she hit sixteen, and moved to California. It was, he knew in retrospect, the only thing that had kept him going, when he’d had to move out of the apartment that he’d shared with his mom his whole life, when she died so suddenly after a bout of ‘flu. The doctors hadn’t been able to find a good explanation for it, just that sometimes, a ‘flu virus was enough to cause organ failure, with the right genetic factors at play. It seemed like Steve’s sickly nature might be congenital after all.

When he moved into the group home, just a few months before his eighteenth birthday, he was utterly despondent, until one morning he found eight colourful, shiny pieces of detritus on his windowsill. The raven had found him, and he cried in relief at this tiny island of familiarity in a life turned upside down and inside out.

It was a no-brainer to choose college in Santa Cruz: Natasha was there, and he was sure, now, that the raven would follow.


Bucky helps a friend

When Bucky was twelve years old, he learned how to hide.

Not physically: he already knew how to do that. He could play hide and go seek as well as the next kid, and he was damned good at it. (Some of his friends at elementary school thought he had the power to become invisible, he was so good at it.)

No, when Bucky was twelve years old, he learned how to hide in plain sight, because that was when he first started to notice other boys. A few weeks after he started seventh grade, he would catch himself gazing at the older boys -- at the hair on the backs of their necks, or the dip between their collar bones, or their thighs and the play of muscles in their backs when they were playing sports.

He didn’t think anything of it at first. Of course he was aware of his surroundings; his home life had produced enough anxiety in him that he was always aware of his surroundings, alert for the next shouted insult or thrown plate. But when he started having dreams about those necks and hollows, those legs and backs, and waking up with sticky boxers, he realised that it wasn’t that kind of awareness. It was something much more troublesome, much more troubling.

His family weren’t especially religious: they had him baptised when they adopted him, but that was about as far as it went. The whole family went to St. Nicholas at Easter and Christmas, and mama went on some of the saints days, if she was feeling pious, but that was all.

They did, however, have an extremely black and white view of the world, and Bucky knew absolutely, even though his parents had never talked about it with him, that wanting to kiss boys was definitely on the wrong side of that extremely firm dividing line.

So he didn’t say anything. When he found himself gazing at boys, he put a sneer on his face and made a mocking joke. It got him more than a few punches to the face and the gut, but he already knew how to take a hit (thanks to his papa’s ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ attitude), and while his mama fussed and fretted at him about getting into trouble, his father always looked at him proudly when he came home with bruises.

(When they were out of mama’s hearing, Bucky’s papa would slap Bucky on his shoulder, squeeze firmly, and say, “Nobody messes with my boy, Иаков!” smiling the whole time.)

And that was how the rest of middle school went.

When he got to high school, though, both his father and his mother expected him to start dating a nice Russian girl, someone from a family they already knew, and was already part of their circle. The plus side of this was that he didn’t have to pretend to be interested in girls at school so much: he just told his school friends that his parents were really strict, and they accepted it at face value.

But at home, his parents started bugging him about which girls he liked. Wasn’t that Anna pretty? Didn’t Galina have lovely hair? Natalia: such a good girl, and her parents so respectable (which, Bucky knew, actually just meant that they were extremely rich, as hard as nails, and had some serious connections).

He didn’t know any of the girls his parents pointed him at all that well. They saw each other at church sometimes, or at parties. It wasn’t so bad for a while. He bought some girly magazines and left them under the bed, to keep his parents off the scent. When they started to get really insistent, his sophomore year, he even bought a fleshlight which he stashed in the same place, so when his mama cleaned his room, she’d think he was a ‘normal’, hot-blooded (heterosexual) boy.

That got him into trouble though: his papa gave him a hiding, shouting at him in Russian that he wasn’t raising a pervert, and why couldn’t he just mess around with an easy American girl like a normal boy.

After that, he asked Natalia out, because she was the most intelligent and the least sly of the girls his parents deemed acceptable. He dated her from halfway through his freshman year of high school, and it was… nice. She understood how things were for him at home, because they were the same for her -- except maybe worse. They grew to like each other, trust each other, confide in each other, at least a little.

She worked out pretty quickly that he was gay. He hadn’t told her; he hadn’t told anyone, not a single soul. But Nat was not only intelligent, she was also smart and perceptive. They were sitting on his bed one Saturday afternoon, kissing -- with the door open to the hallway, for propriety’s sake -- when Nat broke off from nuzzling his jaw to whisper in his ear.

“You’re gay, aren’t you?”

Bucky froze, eyes wide and still as a statue. He didn’t blink. He didn’t breathe. Natasha pulled back to look at him, hands gentle on his shoulders. Her eyes flicked over his face, took in the rigid, panicked way he was holding his body.

“Yeah, I thought so.”

Bucky continued to stare at her, not breathing, not moving. Nat frowned.

“Hey, relax. It’s no big deal. I’m not going to tell anyone.”

After another few seconds, Bucky slumped down like a marionette whose strings had been cut. He flopped sideways onto the bed and closed his eyes. A few moments later, he covered his face with his hands; he was finally taking in air again, but in stuttering, shallow breaths. After a few moments more, he drew his knees up towards his chest.

He was hyperventilating for real now, anticipating the terrible, awful, painful, life-ending thing that was about to happen, now that his secret was out -- the thing that had lurked in his imagination for the past three years, formless and terrifying.

But… nothing happened... and nothing happened... and eventually, Bucky came back to himself. He felt a gentle stroking over his hair, and a sweet, quiet voice, singing:

Баю баюшки баю, не ложися на краю. Придет серенький волчок, и ухватит за бочок. Он ухватит за бочок, и потащит во лесок. и потащит во лесок, под ракитовый кусток.

Bucky took in a shuddering breath, and let his hands fall from his face. Natalia curled up behind him, slipped her arm around his waist, and carried on stroking his hair with her other hand, singing softly into his ear, until she reached the end of the song.

“I won’t let the wolves come get you, Яашa,” she whispered. “I have a secret, too.” And she told him.

It was a year later now. Bucky was nervous, his palms sweating as he checked again in his pocket, but he knew this was the right thing to do. Until Natalia had told him about her own secret, that fateful afternoon, he’d thought that her parents were harsh, like all the parents in their social circles were -- harsher than his own, for sure -- but nothing too out of the ordinary.

He’d been wrong, so wrong. Nat’s parents were… they were monsters, there was no other word for it.

They were rich, and they had connections in Russian politics (which was to say, connections in Russian organised crime), so no-one looked too closely at how they ran their household. And no-one would listen to one teenage girl, who was close to starved, but merely looked fashionably skinny, who was regularly beaten nearly to death, but had no bruises to show for it. It sickened Bucky to his stomach.

Over the past year, he’d helped her to set up the equipment she’d needed -- the tiny video cameras, the encrypted Internet connection, the cloud storage, the backups -- to gather evidence. Not to take her parents to court for their abuse of her. No, Nat was way smarter than that. She had put together a case for herself to become an emancipated minor.

Bucky was here, on a street in Hell’s Kitchen, about to deliver all the required evidence to Natalia’s lawyers on one small thumb drive. And if she was successful (Not if, thought Bucky fiercely, when), she would disappear from New York forever, take herself off to the west coast, to Santa Cruz, where her parents wouldn’t care to go, nor think to look for her.

He took a deep breath, squashing down his nerves and the pang in his chest that soon she’d be gone from his life. He didn’t think he’d ever be sexually or romantically attracted to a woman, but he did care deeply about her, his flame-haired Нaтaшeнкa.

More than that, she was the only person he knew that he could trust with the truth about himself. But he could survive another two years under his parents’ roof, keep his grades up so he could go to college anywhere he wanted (‘anywhere’ being University of California Santa Cruz, regardless of what majors they did or didn’t offer). He just needed to hold it together until then, just until then.

He could; he would.

He had to.


The Bluebird and Coyote -- Pima origin
(Adapted from the telling in Richard Erdoes & Alfonso Ortiz (eds.) “American Indian Myths and Legends”)

When the world was young, and all the animals on Turtle Island could talk, Bluebird wasn’t bright and beautiful like he is now. He was a dull, dun, ugly color. But he knew some magic, and he bathed in a still blue lake.

Four times he bathed, while he sang, “There’s a blue water, it lies there. I went in. I am blue.” And the fifth time that he bathed, when he came out of the water, he was blue all over!

Coyote was sorely jealous of Bluebird. Coyote was green all over, but he didn’t think it was as pretty a color as blue. So he asked Bluebird how he came to be such a striking blue color, and Bluebird told him.

So Coyote did the magic that Bluebird had shared with him. He bathed five times in the still blue lake, while he sang, “There’s a blue water, it lies there. I went in. I am blue.” And the fifth time that he bathed, when he came out of the water, he was blue all over!

But Coyote was a proud fellow, who thought a very great deal of himself and of what other people thought of him. In short, he was a show-off. He was so busy looking round to see if anyone was marvelling at his fine new color, that he bumped into a stump and fell to the ground.

The dust covered over all of his fine blue color, and from that day to this, all coyotes have been the color of dust.


Coyote finds Bucky

Coyote doesn’t come into town very often. It means he has to wear human form, which always makes him feel uncomfortable and out of sorts. But he’s bored, and hungry, and Santa Cruz isn’t such a bad place to con humans out of money and food and sex, especially this time of year, when the freshmen start arriving at the college up on the hill.

Santa Cruz is softer round the edges than LA, less suspicious, and has fewer tech bros than San Francisco or Palo Alto. Coyote hates tech bros. It doesn’t even feel good to con them anymore. They just make him want to throw up in his own mouth the whole time.

Which is why he’s currently sitting at a window table at Zachary’s on Pacific Avenue, with a full pancake breakfast in front of him: sourdough pancakes, eggs (sunny side up), bacon and sausage, with a side of rye bread, and endless coffee.

Life is good.

He’s just mopping up the last of the grease and egg yolk from his plate with the final chunk of the rye bread, when he notices someone on the other side of the street. Really, it’s hard to miss the guy: he’s wearing the brightest blue trousers Coyote has ever seen in his life. It reminds him of… huh.

Maybe this guy is one of his?

The guy’s young, a kid really, tall and still growing into his body, with dark hair and pale skin and a five o’clock shadow, even though it’s still morning -- just about. He’s checking himself out in his reflection as he walks past the storefronts.

Yep, thinks Coyote, this absolutely reminds him of that time when he’d tried to prettify himself up. Looking back on it now, green hadn’t been such a bad color, not really. But blue was so much finer.

Fuck that bluebird, anyhow.

When the guy trips on a paving stone, because he’s looking around slyly to see if anyone else is checking him out instead of looking where he’s going, Coyote laughs out loud.

Oh yeah, this one’s one of his, alright.

Time for some fun.


The roommate

Bucky looked around his dorm room, and pinched himself: he was really here. He hadn’t thought he’d make it through those last few months in Brooklyn, had been convinced that some disaster would befall, that the wrong person would speak to the right person to get the message all the way along the grapevine to mama and papa that Bucky was a cock-sucking faggot.

Not that he’d done much cock-sucking: just the one time, in the gym bathrooms at Senior Prom, trying not to drool on his tuxedo jacket, and spitting come into the toilet bowl when Jake was done.

Classy.

He hauled his duffel bag onto the bed to the left side of the window, unzipped it, and started unpacking into the wardrobe and tiny chest of drawers on what was now, he supposed, ‘his’ side of the room. He’d never shared a bedroom before. He hoped it wasn’t going to be too weird, having someone else in his space all the time -- he’d be living in someone else’s space, too, he realised.

As if summoned by his thoughts, a thickset guy, a little shorter than Bucky, with a messy thatch of dirty blond hair, rapped on the door that Bucky had left open.

“Hey,” the guy said, in a voice that was slightly nasal and a little rough, as if its owner was just getting over a cold. “You must be my roomie.”

The stranger’s face broke into a wide grin as he stepped into the room and stuck his hand out to Bucky, who had turned to face him.

“I’m Clint.”

“Hi,” said Bucky, taking the proffered hand and shaking it firmly, “I’m Bucky. Nice to meet you.”

He smiled back at Clint, feeling more than a little unsure of himself, but glad that at least his roommate wasn’t behaving like a complete jerk right off the bat. Clint disappeared into the corridor again, to reappear with an enormous black, grey and red rucksack on his back, which was packed almost to bursting to point and had bags and boots hanging off every available strap and toggle.

Clint bumped into the door jamb twice, trying to fit it through the doorway. Bucky shook himself out of the bemused daze he’d fallen into, watching this performance, and stuck an arm over Clint’s shoulder, righting the rucksack so it made it through into the room.

“Thanks, man,” drawled Clint, and flopped down sideways, rucksack and all, onto the free bed. “Ow,” he muttered, wriggling out of the arm straps and sitting up on the edge of the bed.

“So, where are you from?” asked Bucky, cringing inwardly at his banal choice of conversation topic.

“Nowhere,” replied Clint. “Everywhere.” He shrugged. “I ran away from the circus. How about you?”

Bucky boggled for a moment, then laughed, unsure whether Clint was being serious.

“I’m from Brooklyn,” he said; then, after a moment, “I guess you could say I ran away, too.”

“Yeah? Trouble with the folks?”

Bucky nodded.

“Yeah, you could say that. I, uh…” Bucky swallowed. He could feel his shoulders tensing, his body starting to fold in on itself. But he’d sworn he was going to be brave when he got to college, stop hiding, be himself, and he wasn’t going to get a better opening than this.

He breathed out, closed his eyes for a second, breathed in again. “I’m gay,” he said, voice trembling a little. “My parents don’t know. It… wouldn’t have gone down well.”

Bucky risked a glance over at Clint, and saw him nodding. His face hadn’t changed at all, as if this was a perfectly normal topic of conversation, not unusual or unexpected in the slightest.

“That’s not a problem is it?” Bucky asked, pursing his lips at how small his voice sounded.

Clint smiled at him, and said, “Nah, man. That just means more girls for the rest of us.”

He stood up, reached across the space between them and clapped Bucky on the shoulder in a friendly sort of way.

Bucky sighed out the tension in his gut, looked up, and smiled back. His shoulders relaxed down from where they’d been reaching up to his ears and he laughed in relief.

“Awesome.”

“Yeah, it is!” exclaimed Clint. “Wanna go find a beer to celebrate?”


Coyote ‘helps’ Bucky

Jeez, this kid needed to get laid.

Coyote had lost count of the number of times that thought had passed through his head just today. Seriously. The kid looked like he was tweaking on speed, the amount of nervous tension he had stored up. Sex was just what he needed to relax a little.

Hmmm. He liked this kid, even though he found him ridiculous -- or maybe because of it. If he needed help to get what he needed, and what he needed was to get laid, Coyote was gonna supply.

Getting the kid to hang out around other horny teenagers was easy enough. I mean, come on, it was a college campus. But after the first night’s nudging of drunken girls towards the kid at the inevitable party yielded no results, Coyote had to adjust his expectations. After a little observation, he concluded that it wasn’t that the girls weren’t attracted to the kid, it was that the kid wasn’t attracted to them.

But his eyes did wander after a few of the other guys at the party.

Okay, then, onto plan B: nudging drunken guys at the kid.

That plan worked way better.

--

Bucky looked down at the drink in his hand, then back up at the veritable Adonis who was leaning against the wall next to him. He hadn’t drunk that much had he? And yet, the blond, blue-eyed, Scandinavian beefcake next to him was flirting. With him. With Bucky. With James Buchanan Barnes.

Okay, then, he thought, and flirted right back. And kept right on flirting, until flirting turned into touching, and touching turned into kissing, and kissing turned into Oh My Fucking God SEX.

Not leaning against the wall at the party, of course -- although it was a close thing for a few moments there. The beefcake (his name was Thor, which did not add to Bucky’s confidence that he wasn’t hallucinating this whole thing), had picked him up by his butt-cheeks and pressed him against the wall, and Bucky had had no option but to wrap his legs around the guy’s hips, to go with his arms that were already around the guy’s neck, and hang on for dear life.

Thor hadn’t put Bucky down, either, but had carried him through the party and up the stairs to a blessedly empty bedroom, where he had proceeded to completely change Bucky’s life. With his dick. And his hands and his mouth. And... черт побери, what a night. Oхуити́тельно. And more than that, it had been fun; there had been laughter alongside the moans of pleasure and grunts of effort.

Now it’s morning, and Bucky is cuddled up against Thor’s side, Thor’s arm around him. He feels small and safe, and still incredibly horny. He stretches a little, rubbing himself against Thor, naked skin to naked skin, and starts kissing Thor’s chest. When he takes Thor’s right nipple into his mouth and sucks, Thor grunts awake and tightens his arm around Bucky’s shoulder.

“Well, this is most certainly an excellent way to awaken,” he murmurs, hand stroking down Bucky’s back, then making the return journey to play lightly over the back of his neck and behind his ear.

Bucky shivers. He hadn’t known before last night that ears could be erogenous zones. He knows now. Boy, does he know now! He lifts his head and smiles up at Thor.

“I thought I’d start the day the way I mean to go on,” Bucky says, heart in his mouth at his own daring.

Thor laughs aloud. “An admirable intention! But sadly, we do not have the whole day. Alas, I must go to the airport after lunch to return to Norway.”

“Oh.” Bucky can feel the smile sliding off his face.

“I was only here for a few days, to ensure my brother is properly installed in his accommodations. But, be of good cheer, friend Bucky,” Thor says, kissing Bucky’s lips, “we still have the whole morning to pleasure one another.”

And they did just that.

--

Thor was Bucky’s first real experience of sex, but he wasn’t the last. In fact, it was as though having sex for the first time with Thor had opened the floodgates, and it seemed like there were guys throwing themselves at him everywhere he went.

Hey, who was Bucky to say no if the entire queer male population of UCSC wanted to get up close and personal with him? It wasn’t like it was a chore.

It was odd, though, that none of them ever wanted more than a one-night stand.

There was Bruce, who was a little older, and clearly very experienced if his skill levels at wringing every last bit of pleasure out of Bucky were anything to go by. He seemed gentle, and he was comfortable to be with.

But when Bucky asked if he wanted to meet up again, Bruce had said, “Sorry, I don’t do relationships. I have serious anger management issues. I’m working on them, but I’m not ready to test how far I’ve come yet.”

“But your dorm is in Rumi’s field,” had burst out of Bucky’s mouth before he’d thought about how insensitive that was.

But Bruce had simply said, “Like I said, I’m working on it,” with a rueful smile.

Then there was Sam. Sam was tall, and strong, and utterly gorgeous, with his dark skin, and deep brown eyes, and that smile that Bucky was convinced could power the entire campus with its infectious joy.

He knew it wasn’t going anywhere with Sam from the get-go: he’d been totally upfront, said he was bi-curious and wanted to get his gay sex virginity out of the way, so he could work out if that was something he was really into, or if it was just fun to fantasise about.

They’d had a great time, giving each other pleasure with their hands and mouths, but they’d ended it before they’d even fallen asleep. Sam had smiled at Bucky, with that cute tooth gap, and said, “That was a lot of fun, but I don’t think it’s what I’m into. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to find out.”

They’d kissed one last time before Bucky had got dressed and left to return to his own dorm room. Bucky was sad about it for a couple of days; he thought he could have fallen in love with Sam, given the chance. But Sam and he had stayed in touch: Bucky had been down a lover, but was now up a shit-talking gym buddy, which was okay with him.

Then there was Tony. They’d actually met in one of Bucky’s Engineering 101 classes. Tony’d arrived late, looking utterly dishevelled, which shouldn’t have been possible, given that he was wearing what Bucky was absolutely sure was an outfit entirely made up of Maison Margiela originals.

When the class was over, he’d started talking to Bucky -- or rather at Bucky -- and hadn’t stopped, dragging Bucky with him to the canteen for lunch, then over to the engineering labs, to which he’d somehow managed to acquire an all access pass even though he was a freshman.

Finally, Tony dragged Bucky over to his dorm room in the Men Promoting Positive Masculinity section of Rachel Carson College (which Tony had all to himself, despite it being a double) and plied him with extremely expensive liquor. Before Bucky really knew what was happening, Tony was eating out his ass like it tasted of nectar.

Not that Bucky had been complaining.

After who knew how long having some of the kinkiest sex Bucky had yet experienced, they’d collapsed together in a heap on the bed and fallen into an exhausted sleep.

In the morning (or, well, the afternoon) Bucky had woken to Tony patting him on the arm, and saying, “Hey, that was great. Hit me up if you wanna do that again some time. But next time it’d have to be with my girlfriend. Rules are rules: I get first try of hot men by myself, but after that it’s the two of us or nothing”

Bucky, only just rousing himself to consciousness, had simply replied, “Er, sure.”

He didn’t register fully what Tony had said until a few hours later, feeling dazed and a little dizzy after twenty-four hours in Tony’s company. When he did, he couldn’t control the face he pulled at the thought of being in a sexual situation with a woman present.

Too bad. Sex with Tony had been fucking mindblowing. It was good to have someone to talk engineering problems with, though.

And the line of hot men intent on having sex with Bucky had just kept coming -- pun intended. It was actually reaching the point where Bucky was thinking of being celibate for a week, just to recover.

But, energy and recharging time notwithstanding, it felt really, really good to be desired.


Breakfast with Natasha

It was 7.15am on a bright, late September morning, and Bucky was sitting in the window at Firefly with his flat white and a bagel, waiting for Natasha to finish her overnight shift and join him for breakfast. Bucky hated early mornings, but Natasha worked two jobs as well as being in her second year of an Ecology major, so Thursdays bright and early were the only time their schedules coincided. Natasha was worth missing his beauty sleep for once a week. He owed her a lot.

And here she was, moving like a dancer: back straight, neck long, head high, the morning sunlight gleaming off her red hair and her metallic, blue-framed sunglasses as she walked up to the coffee shop. She walked over to Bucky when she came through the door and greeted him with a kiss for each cheek, and an extra for tradition, then made her way over to the counter. A few minutes later, she was sitting across from him, sunglasses removed, delicate hands cradled around a mug of hot chocolate.

“So,” she said, voice low and quiet, “how’s life in Bucky world this week?”

Bucky smiled at her. “It’s good. Classes are going fine. Lots of ethics and how science and society relate.”

Natasha smiled back. “I remember.”

“My roommate’s cool. You should meet him some time; I think you’d like him. He claims he ran away from the circus, if you can believe it.”

“Sounds intriguing,” Natasha said, eyebrow raised. “How’s your love life? Still got guys falling over themselves to sleep with you?”

Bucky could feel his cheeks heating as he kicked Natasha gently under the table.

“Yes, actually. And I’m not giving you details, so don’t ask.” Bucky covered his embarrassment by taking a sip of his coffee. When he put it back down he said, “It’s weird, though. I never got this much attention in New York. I’m not that different, am I?”

“Yeah, well, you were surrounded by conservative Russians in New York. Don’t knock it.”

“Oh, believe me, I am not knocking it,” Bucky smirked, “just hitting it. What about you? What’s going on in that weird squid place you hang out at?”

‘That weird squid place’ was the marine biology lab in the Ecology department, where Natasha was hoping to be taken on as a grad student in another two or three years, to look at squid populations in relation to coral reef biodiversity. Yes, Bucky cared about her enough to remember that much detail.

“Oh, you know, full of fascinating, fascinating tentacles.”

“Please tell me you get calamari delivered for lunch.”

Natasha clutched her hand to her heart and opened her mouth in a caricature of shock, before returning to her usual laconic expression. “Only on April Fool’s.”

Bucky burst out laughing. “Oh my God, you really have to meet Clint. You two would get along like a house on fire.”

“Sure,” Natasha replied, a small, pleased smile on her lips.

Bucky knew she’d been avoiding relationships since she moved out to Santa Cruz. She found it difficult to trust people, with good reason. But she was so much more relaxed and happy now than two years ago when she’d left New York; she seemed so much healthier, and so much more comfortable in herself. And he got the feeling that she did want a relationship, at some point -- maybe now was the time?

Yeah, he was definitely going to introduce her to Clint.

--

Steve looked out to Seal Rock from his perch on the rocks that flanked the beach at Lighthouse Field. His eyes weren’t good enough to see the seals basking there in any detail, even in the bright sunlight and blue skies that this morning offered him, but their forms were still visible, like dark grey commas above the pale rock. The edges of their bodies, tiny so far away, seemed to shimmer against the sky.

He dipped his brush in his jar of water, and ran it over the cream block of watercolor in his palette, rendering the surface of Seal Rock on the paper pad resting on his knee in deft strokes. He moved his brush from paper to water to colors to paper again, swift and sure, and soon a recognisable picture of the curve of the bay, the lighthouse, and the seals upon their rock emerged.

When Steve was done with his painting, he dropped his paintbrush into the water jar and laid his pad of paper next to him on the rock, carefully open so as not to smudge the paint, and stretched his bony arms up to the sky, shaking his shoulders out as he did so. He always ended up with muscle aches and stiff joints when he painted in this spot, but he still came here every Sunday morning, to capture the view in all of its changing moods of sun and rain and mist.

“Hey, shortass!”

And there was the other reason he came here every Sunday morning: his weekly brunch date with Nat.

“Hey, teenyteen!” he shouted back, turning to see Natasha walking lightly over the rock towards him.

She grinned at him as she reached his position on the rock, and squatted down beside him, slinging an arm around his shoulder and kissing his forehead.

“Still painting seals?” she asked, a wry smile on her face.

“Still painting seals,” he replied, smiling back. “But I’m all done for the morning. Time for overpriced coffee from your favourite swanky coffee shop.”

Nat rolled her eyes at him.

“I work two jobs and have a full course load. Who are you to deny me my luxuries?”

“I would never dream of it, Nat,” Steve replied as he carefully folded down the cover of his painting pad, tipped out the water from his jar, and packed the pad, the jar and his brushes into his messenger bag. “Let’s go.”

It was a half hour walk from the beach to Verve Coffee Roasters. Steve sniffed as they entered: he wasn’t a fan. From the scent of burnt coffee beans to the truly terrible art behind the counter, the utter mismatch between the blocky wall patterning, diagonal wood panels, Hawai’ian shirt style wallpaper, and the geometric designs of the counter-front, to the ugly pots hanging from the ceiling, too high to actually see and enjoy the plants growing in them, everything about the place was a sensual affront. It was, at least, airy and light, he supposed.

But Nat liked it, and Nat was his oldest and best friend, and he didn’t begrudge her her choice for their brunch location. He suspected she’d only chosen it in the first place to pull his leg, but she seemed to find the decor relaxing, and claimed to enjoy the over-roasted coffee, so Steve wasn’t going to start complaining now.

They ordered their pastries and coffees (Steve’s with as much frothed almond milk and caramel syrup as he could stand, in order to cover the taste of the coffee), and sat.

“So, what’s happening in Steve world this week?” Nat asked, over the lip of her cup of flat white.

“Oh, you know, the usual. My tutors hate my art, because it doesn’t have a ‘concept’;” Steve made actual air quotes with his fingers. Boy, those tutors pissed him off, “I’m freaking out about the presidential election, just like everyone else; we need more people for campaigns work. Same old same old. How about you?”

“Oh, you know, sexual harassment at work, not being taken seriously at school. Same old same old.” Despite her apparently negative words, Nat’s eyes twinkled, so Steve knew she was actually pretty happy. “I did, though, catch up with an old friend from New York last week.”

“Oh?” Steve asked. He only knew about one other friend of Nat’s from New York, and he’d never met them.

“Yeah: Яашa.” Natasha’s mouth gave a tiny lift at the corners, a secret smile. “I owe him so much.”

Steve felt a pang in his chest.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more back then, Nat.” He took her left hand in his right, on top of the table.

Nat squeezed his fingers and smiled back at him.

“It’s fine, Steve. I got out,” she said. They shared a moment before Nat continued, just looking at each other, grateful to be here, now. “It was so good to see him after so long. I worried about him. I’d have got him out of New York with me, if I could. But he was looking good, like he’s relaxing into himself a little.”

“Were things bad for him back home?” Steve asked.

“Yes,” Nat said, “but that's his story to tell, not mine. I’m sure you’ll meet him sometime, now we’re all in the same place. But let me have you both all to myself for now, hm?”

Steve smiled back at her, and raised his mug of frothy bittersweetness.

“Sure thing, Nat.”


Steve rejects an offer of help

Steve was notorious around campus as the most righteous -- and skinniest -- Social Justice Warrior ever to exist. He knew this, because he got told it at least once a day by some douchebag. Occasionally, someone would say it to him with admiration, but most said it with contempt.

He was the official community campaigning organiser for the LGBTQIA+ association on campus, but more than that, if there was a campaign against any kind of oppression or for any minority group’s rights, he was somewhere in there, guaranteed. It was his duty, as a concerned citizen, and as someone who knew first hand the effects of injustice, and how the system closed ranks to protect wrongdoers.

It was just a few weeks into the first semester, but he had things pretty well organised already, knowing how to get things done from his four years of chairing his high school’s GSA, and volunteering with Youth Pride. The year’s campaigns were decided (by consensus, of course), a series of workshops were outlined, organising activities were delegated, and flyer and sticker designs were with the campus print shop.

There was always more work than there were people to do it, though, so when someone he didn’t recognise approached him on one of the campus walkways, asking to get involved with the campaigning and activist side of the LGBTQIA+ life on campus, Steve had been pleased.

“Hey,” the guy had said once he’d approached him, “are you Steve Rogers?”

“Yep,” Steve replied, looking up at him, “that’s me.”

“Oh, great! I really wanted to talk to you.” The guy’s shoulders slumped over, like he was trying to make himself shorter, to match Steve. “You’re, like campaign chief for the LGBT soc, aren’t you?”

“The LGBTQIA+ association, yes.”

“Right. Um. I’d really like to get involved, if you’ve, I mean, if you need new people?”

The guy was fiddling with the straps on his messenger bag, like he was nervous. Steve smiled at him.

“We always need new people. We meet every week to review what reaction we’ve got to our campaign activities and workshops, and if anything new has happened that we need to respond to. We have a plan for the year, but we’re always ready to set it aside if something important comes up, you know? You can get involved in as much or as little as you have time and energy for.”

“That sounds great!”

The guy smiled, and the change it made to his face was like the sun coming out. He stopped fiddling with his bag, and stuck out his right hand for Steve to shake. Steve took it, and asked, “What’s your name, by the way?”

“Oh, shit, sorry. My name’s Bucky: Bucky Barnes.”

Steve’s stomach dropped. Shit. He knew that name. Bucky Barnes was the freshman who was sleeping his way around all the gay, bi, queer and heteroflexible guys on campus. The last thing campaigns needed was someone sleeping their way around the group, causing drama. They had serious work to do.

“Hi, Bucky.” Steve nodded to him, and tried to keep the smile on his face, but he could see that he was failing by the confused look on Bucky’s face. “Well, it was great to meet you. I’d better get going, though; don’t want to be late for lectures. I’ll see you around.”

And with that, he walked off without a backward glance. He knew he’d been rude, but, well, what else was he supposed to do? This was serious work, and he didn’t need a party queer fucking things up for everyone. He'd been there before, and back again, and that was not an experience he was ready to repeat.


Sunday brunch

“Oh wow,” Bucky breathes, “that is amazing.”

He takes another big bite of his burrito, closing his eyes so he can focus on the sensations zinging over his tongue.

“You and that burrito need to get a room,” jokes Clint, jostling Bucky’s arm with his elbow -- thankfully after Bucky’s returned his beautiful, sublime, ecstasy-inducing burrito to its plate.

“No, that burrito needs to marry me,” responds Bucky, mouth still half-full.

“Gross,” complains Clint, throwing a balled up napkin at Bucky’s face as they both dissolve into giggles.

When Bucky’s roommate had first suggested he come with him for Sunday brunch to a ‘space-themed vegetarian café’, Bucky had been supremely dubious. But Clint was a decent guy. He’d been so utterly laid back about Bucky being gay, and even before Bucky really got to know him he hadn’t seemed like the type to play unpleasant practical jokes.

Clint genuinely just seemed like he wanted company while Nat (who was now his girlfriend) did whatever it was she did on a Sunday morning -- all Bucky knew for a fact was that it wasn’t church. So Bucky had gone along to Saturn with him. At first contact with his pancake, his taste buds had immediately made their enthusiasm known, and Bucky had kept on going along ever since.

Sunday mornings were usually quiet affairs between the two of them: most times, they were either exhausted from meeting deadlines all crammed up together (why didn’t their professors plan these things better? Or maybe they did plan things that way, and their professors were all just sadists), or they were hungover to hell.

On this particular Sunday morning, though, they were both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, having made a pact after Hallowe’en to lay off getting drunk through the whole of November. They weren’t laying off alcohol altogether -- I mean, come on, they were freshmen -- but both of them recognised that their livers needed a break.

It was nice. Really nice. Clint was the first straight male friend Bucky’d ever had who he’d been out to, and this was the first time they’d spent quality time together without being drunk or hungover or exhausted -- so, really, the first time they’d ever spent quality time together.

At first, Bucky had felt kind of awkward, not sure what to do with his openly gay self in a social situation without a drink in his hand. But Clint was a super chill kind of guy, and by the time their food had arrived, Bucky had absorbed enough of his calm to simply enjoy the food and their conversation, as simple as it was.

“So, where is it Nat goes to every Sunday? She won't tell me,” Bucky asked once he’d finished his burrito, clear-headed enough to be curious for once.

“Oh, she goes to hangout with her high school BFF. Well, I guess they’ve been friends since elementary school. He’s a great guy, but not real social, so they have a standing date.”

“Oh,” replied Bucky, his voice rising and falling in surprise. Why would Nat keep that a secret from Bucky? He shook his head as another thought occurred to him: “That doesn’t… bother you?”

Clint frowned at him over his latte.

“No. Why would it?”

“Oh, um, no reason I guess,” Bucky replied, embarrassed at his apparent faux pas.

His own experience of long-term relationships was pretty much limited to his parents and their friends and acquaintances -- including Nat’s. In his parents’ circles, for a partner in a couple, married or not, to have a friend of the opposite sex was considered tantamount to cheating in and of itself. Clearly, relationships weren’t like that for everyone, everywhere.

And after all, that was why he’d chosen to go to college as far away from his parents, their circle, and their rigid views on love and relationships as he possibly could, wasn’t it? The same way Nat had done, except she’d been so much braver about it.

Remembering that, Bucky relaxed a little.

“So what’s he like then, this Steve? Or does Nat keep him in a secret hidey hole?” he asked. He was only half joking. For all that Nat was friendly, and his friend, she was not a person who broadcast information about herself far and wide.

Clint struggled to swallow his mouthful of coffee before letting out a bark of laughter.

“Hardly! You don’t know Steve Rogers? I thought everyone on the entire campus knew Steve Rogers.”

“Oh,” replied Bucky, his shoulders slumping, “he’s that Steve.”

Bucky frowned as he thought back to his one real encounter with him. He could only conclude that Steve had been having a bad day, because the only alternative he could think of was that he had heard about Bucky’s reputation and written him off -- which, from someone as dedicated to seeing the good in people as Steve was meant to be… well, that really hurt.

Bucky knew he’d been a bit... free and easy, in the first few weeks on campus. College was his chance to finally, finally be himself, after so many long years of being buried under his parents’ expectations and judgement. They’d never beaten him, not what Bucky would really call a beating, not like he knew some of his parents’ friends beat their kids, and nothing like what Nat had endured. But there were other ways to make a young person’s life hell, and his parents had employed every single one of them.

College was freedom: parties, alcohol, and sex were plentiful and freely available, and Bucky had leapt enthusiastically into all of it with both feet. He was single and horny, he knew what he needed to about consent and safer sex, so what was the harm?

At least, that was what he’d thought until the last couple of weeks, since he and Clint had started their ‘no getting drunk’ pact. He’d calmed down a bit, and realised he wanted someone to date. Sex was great, but, much to Bucky’s surprise, after a while it wasn’t enough just to have great orgasms with whichever decently attractive guy was up for it at that night’s party.

He’d started to feel, well, lonely. He was getting more skin contact than he’d ever had in his entire life, but beyond Clint and Nat, he didn’t really have any close friends to speak of. Even Tony and Sam, as great as they were, were strictly an engineering buddy and a gym buddy. He was friendly with people, and they were friendly with him, which was enough for classes and study dates, but he’d started to find himself gazing longingly at the couples holding hands and kissing, going on dates, hanging out, and just… being in each others’ company.

Bucky discovered that he wanted to feel special, to be special to someone.

And that was when he’d found out that, in his enthusiasm for his new-found sexual freedom, he’d unwittingly built himself a reputation as a slut. He wasn’t the guy anyone thought of when they wanted to date, but he was the guy everyone thought of when they wanted a no-strings hook up. He just wasn’t someone people took seriously, when it came to interpersonal stuff, and apparently, based on Steve’s reaction to him all those weeks ago, that extended to social conscience and activism.

“I’m surprised Natasha’s BFFs with someone so judgemental,” said Bucky, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.

Clint raised his hands.

“Hey, I know next to nothing about the guy, beyond campus gossip. Nat doesn’t really talk about him much.”

“No kidding,” muttered Bucky, taking a sip of his lemonade.

They were quiet for a moment, then Clint kicked at Bucky’s feet under their table, and asked, “Hey, so, are you still coming to Nat’s for Thanksgiving?”

“Of course!” Bucky replied. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

He feels a genuine smile come over his face. Clint smiles back.

“Yeah, that’s what I like to hear,” Clint growls playfully. “Epic quantities of non-culturally-approved food: no turkey, no pumpkin, no sweet potatoes, no green beans, and no apple pie, anywhere. I think Nat’s planning burgers with everything, and chocolate mousse.”

Bucky laughs out loud.

“Awesome,” he says, lifting his glass and clinking it with Clint’s coffee cup. “Something to really look forward to.”


Thanksgiving

Natasha surveyed her kitchen -- if she could call it that -- with glee, satisfied with her mise en place: burgers? Check. Bacon? Check. Cheese slices? Check. Microwave fries? Check. Salad fixings? Check. Ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles? Check. And the chocolate mousses were ready in the mini-fridge to be eaten straight from their plastic cups.

Classy, just like an anti-traditional Thanksgiving ought to be.

There was a rap on the door, and Natasha strode from the ‘kitchen’, around in front of the couch (which doubled as a bed when she slept here), to answer the door. Like always, she checked the spyhole before opening up; it paid to be careful. But it was just Clint, six-pack of proper Czech Budweiser Budvar in one hand, and -- good grief -- flowers in the other.

“Hi,” Natasha greeted as she opened the door, kissing Clint briefly on the mouth before letting him in and shutting the door.

“These are for you,” Clint said, thrusting the flowers right under her nose.

They made a bright bunch: peonies, sunflowers and delphinia, with sharp green leaves and soft clouds of baby’s breath. Natasha took them from him, unwillingly charmed by the gesture.

“I don’t have a vase,” she said with a sly smile, “but I’m sure I can find something to put them in. Make yourself at home.”

With that, Clint put the six-pack down on the coffee table and flung himself onto the couch with an “Oof!”

“But no smoking up before dinner,” Natasha reminded, her head in a cupboard.

“No worries,” replied Clint. “Too early in the day for getting too mellow, anyhow.”

Natasha snorted at this uncharacteristic display of restraint from Clint. She finally found the big glass pitcher she’d been looking for in the cupboard over the sink, half-filled it with water, and plunked in the flowers.

“Perfect,” said Clint, raising a beer can to her.

She left the flowers on the kitchen counter and went to join Clint on the couch. He passed her a beer; she cracked it open and took a long swig.

“Oh, that’s good. Glad to see you’re expanding your horizons beyond your usual American swill.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Clint. “I happen to like American swill. But as this is an anti-Thanksgiving, I thought I’d bring something un-American.”

“Well, I congratulate you on your choice.” Natasha took another long swig. “Can’t beat real Budweiser.”

“No comment,” replied Clint, eyes twinkling as he took another swig of his own.

By the time they got to the cooking, Natasha and Clint were pleasantly tipsy -- just enough to make cooking junk food fun. Frying up the bacon turned into a game of faux fencing, with splatter screens as masks, and tongs (Natasha) and a fish-slice (Clint) as epees.

They were in the middle of the deciding bout when a knock sounded on the door.

“I win!” shouted Clint, gleefully raising his splatter screen and fish-slice into the air.

“No way!” complained Natasha as she made her way to the door.

“Yes, way!” crowed Clint. “You forfeit for door-opening duties.” Natasha gave him the finger as she looked through the spyhole. “This isn’t over,” she warned, pointing a finger at Clint, “but Steve’s here, so I’ll shelve it -- for now.”

She turned back to the door and opened it, wrapping Steve in a hug as he stepped through into her little home sweet motel room.

--

It was a good hour later before Natasha’s doorbell rang again. Steve was battling Clint at kitchen fencing by that point, but kept losing bouts because he was too busy laughing to put himself properly ‘en garde’. Natasha had managed to convince him to try a beer before food (a real rarity for Steve: he’d only done it because it was Czech Budvar, and he hadn’t tried it before), and he was rosy cheeked and giggly.

Natasha smiled to see it. She worried about Steve: he was so serious all the time. She knew he had a weird and wicked sense of humour underneath all that worthy righteousness, but she hadn’t seen him let it out much since he’d moved to Santa Cruz. She’d never asked him about it, but it was clear to see that his mother’s death had affected him deeply.

When Natasha heard the doorbell, she put her own bottle down on the coffee table, and stepped over to the door, checking through the spyhole as always; yes, it was Яашa, holding a bottle of… good grief, was that Царьская? He really was turning into a hipster. She rolled her eyes a little as she opened the door.

Привет, Нaтaшeнкa,” he said, smiling as he held the bottle of vodka towards her.

Иди сюда, ты хипстерский жопа,” she replied, and pulled him over the threshold by his arms. She gave him a brief hug, and they kissed each other’s cheeks, left, right, left. “Come on in.”

“Heeeey, Bucky!” Clint came over and slapped Bucky on the back. He was still holding the fish-slice when he did it, and ended up splattering everything and everyone within a metre radius -- which was pretty much the entire motel room -- with cooking oil. “Aaaaw, no,” Clint said, when he realised what he’d done.

He looked up at Natasha with his best puppy dog face; she just raised an eyebrow at him, which sent him to the bathroom with his shoulders slumped. He brought back a floorcloth and antibacterial spray, and got to cleaning up his mess.

“So, while that asshole is cleaning up after himself, let me get you a drink and introduce you to Steve.”

Natasha looked back to Bucky, and was surprised to see a frown on his face.

“We’ve met,” he said.

“Oh.” Well, of course. UCSC wasn’t that big a campus. She really shouldn’t be surprised that they would have met. But hey, that didn’t mean she couldn’t still introduce them.

“Well, you’re still both my friends, and this is the first time you’re meeting with me here, so I’m going to introduce you properly. Steve, this is Яашa; Яашa this is Steve.”

Natasha gestured from Steve to Bucky and back again. The frown didn’t leave Bucky’s face, and Steve just looked confused.

“I thought your name was Bucky?” Steve blurted.

“Yeah, it is,” replied Bucky, bordering on rude with how terse he was.

“But Nat called you Yasha,” replied Steve, getting that mulish look on his face that Natasha knew boded no good for anyone. “Yasha’s the one who helped her…” Steve stopped talking before he revealed Nat's secrets, eyes flicking to Clint, who was still on his knees, cleaning up.

“Yeah, that’s me,” said Bucky, jutting out his chin in defiance.

Time to intervene.

“Hey, hey, boys, tone down the testosterone.”

Steve and Bucky both turned to her and gave matching annoyed looks, their mouths open to object.

“I don’t care how queer you both are, you’re still male. Now quit it.”

They both shut their mouths at the same moment. Really, they were hilarious.

“Яашa is Bucky. Bucky is Яашa. They are the same person: this one,” she said, pointing at Bucky. “Now, how about you shake hands and we all have another drink?”

Things calmed down after that. They all cooperated in making the salad, cooking the burgers, and grilling the buns, dancing around one another in the cramped space. They even had a contest to see who could make the biggest sandwich without it falling to pieces. Steve and Bucky were still a bit awkward around each other, but Natasha figured it really wasn’t any of her business.

When they were finally all sitting in the sofa (Natasha and Clint) and the two tiny armchairs (Steve and Bucky) with their plastic pots of chocolatey goodness, Natasha asked Steve how LGBTQIA+ campaigns were going.

“Good,” he replied. “I mean, we’ve all been really freaking out the last month, since the election, so mainly we’ve just, you know, been there for each other, listening to each other’s fears. Now we’re looking at our campaign plans again, starting to think about what we need to focus on for the most impact.”

Natasha nodded. She’d never really understood Steve’s drive to change the world, but she knew it was important to him.

“You never got back to me about getting involved,” said Bucky. There was an edge to his voice which only came out when he was genuinely upset. Natasha was surprised: he didn’t usually let that out in front of people he didn’t know really, really well. She looked at his tumbler. How much vodka had he had to drink, exactly?

“Yeah, sorry about that. Things got busy, you know?” Steve replied. He was blushing, which could be from the beer, Natasha supposed, but he also had that shifty set to his shoulders that he got when he was lying. What the fuck was going on here?

“I’d still really like to get involved. Let me give you my number,” Bucky responded, putting his mousse pot down on the coffee table and reaching into the pocket of his cardigan.

“No, that’s fine. We’ve got all the people we need.”

Steve lounged back in the chair, holding his chocolate mousse close. But Natasha could tell he was probably still lying. In fact, unless something drastic had changed since the last time they’d hung out, she was certain of it. He’d been talking about how desperately they needed new blood for the campaigns group. When she looked back at Bucky, there was a twist to his mouth, like he knew Steve was lying, too.

Honestly, couldn’t she have a nice, quiet not-Thanksgiving with her three favorite boys without some kind of drama? It was all so middle school. She shook her head to herself: they could keep their tension, she was here to relax, and it was her place.

“Hey, on the subject of not moving, what say we settle in and watch An American Werewolf in London?” she asked, and put queer boys’ middle school dramas out of her mind.


What Bucky wants

It had been two weeks since the Thanksgiving debacle. At least the food and the films had been good. Bucky hadn’t been having a great time since. Being rejected for a second time by Steve, for what was clearly a bullshit reason, had really knocked Bucky’s confidence. He’d gone from semi-happily enjoying his sex life to being almost as insecure as he’d been when he first arrived in Santa Cruz.

He looked up from his drink at the face of the guy he was talking to. He couldn’t make out much, with the way his eyes kept blurring -- just thick, short, dark hair, a rugged face, and a five o’clock shadow so thick it looked permanent.

He slung back the vodka in his glass and didn’t really feel it as it went down.

“You want another?” the guy asked.

“Sure, why not?” Bucky replied, and the guy (what was his name? Brad? Brook?) obliged, filling Bucky’s tumbler halfway, leaning over Bucky and feeling up his thigh as he did so.

They’d run out of conversation topics some time ago, but Bucky hadn’t had the energy to move. The room party (if a few college students in a dorm room decorated with a few straggly pieces of tinsel and some beer and spirits could be called a party) had wound down already, to the the extent that there wasn’t really anyone else to talk to now, anyway. The few people who were still around were either unconscious or making out with each other.

Bucky felt a pull of melancholy in his chest. Just the same as every other party he’d been to at college. And just like every other party, he was going to end up fucking a guy he didn’t really know, then wake up next morning to find him already gone or just leaving ‘for an early lecture’.

No-one, it seemed, was interested in dating; or at least, they weren’t interested in dating Bucky.

He sighed into his vodka and took another swallow. His eyes landed on... Brock, that was the guy’s name… on Brock’s hand, which was still kneading Bucky’s thigh, fingers pressing into his inseam a little uncomfortably.

“Do you want to go out on a date with me?” Bucky asked.

“What?”

Bucky frowned: he’d managed to get the sentence out clearly, with no slurring, he was almost certain. He repeated himself, looking at Brock’s face:

“Do you want to go on a date with me?”

“Ha!” Brock threw his head back and laughed. “You’re kidding, right? No, I don’t wanna date you. I’ve been coming on to you all evening ‘cause I thought you were down to fuck. Least that’s what I’d heard: Bucky Barnes, he’ll fuck anything with a dick, no strings attached.” Brock frowned, and gripped Bucky’s thigh harder. “You are down to fuck, right?”

Bucky felt like his heart was dropping into his guts. He took hold of Brock’s hand and removed it from his thigh.

“No,” he said; his voice came out a little wobbly, and louder than he’d meant it to. “No, I’m not.”

Brock tried to grab him again, but Bucky stood up, threw the rest of his vodka in Brock’s face, and dropped the tumbler on the floor. Bucky just caught Brock’s shocked look before he turned and stomped away as fast as he could, on his unsteady legs, out of the room and all the way through the corridors of Crown College to his and Clint’s room.

When he reached it, he put out a hand to steady himself against the door jamb. Why did he feel like crying? He took a few breaths, then unlocked the door with as little noise as he could. He saw by the lamplight coming in through the thin curtains that Clint was already settled in bed, so he crept through the door, shutting it behind him as quietly as he could. He stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers, and got beneath the covers on his own bed.

Clint stirred and looked over at Bucky, his half-lidded eyes shining in the dim light.

“All okay?” he asked, voice low.

Bucky shrugged. “I guess,” he whispered.

Clint nodded and settled down again. “Go to sleep, Bucky.”

Bucky nodded back, even though Clint’s eyes were already closed. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep right away, and he hated lying in bed thinking, especially when he was drunk and emotional, but he didn’t have much alternative.

He curled fully onto his side, hugging his knees to his chest and pressing his closed eyes to them, so that patterns of light swirled inside his lids. How had he managed to fuck everything up? How had he managed to fuck everything up so badly that guys he’d never even met before already saw him as nothing but a no strings fuck? He was pretty sure Brock wasn’t even gay, just after a warm, willing hole for his dick.

Bucky felt tears leaking from his eyes, and held his breath. He didn’t want to cry about this, not with Clint here.

“Tell me about it.”

Bucky flinched. Clint was awake still? Damn. But… well, if Clint was offering to listen, Bucky was just drunk enough to take him up on it.

“I think I’ve fucked up my whole life already,” Bucky whispered. “I just… I just want to date someone. Someone nice, who wants to, to, to have coffee with me, and listen to my thoughts, and tell me all about the life they want, and, and hold each others’ hands, and…” Bucky trailed off, as the thought formed clearly in his mind for the first time. “And make love to me. I want someone who’ll make love to me, and let me make love to them. I’ve had enough fucking for the sake of fucking. I want someone to make me feel s... s... special.”

Bucky’s whisper broke into a sob, as he started crying for real. He wrapped the comforter around his mouth and nose to muffle the sound.

“No, no,” Clint mumbled, “the dogs don’t want blueberry pie, they want pizza,” made a snorting noise, and turned over.

Bucky almost choked on his tears. What the…? Clint wasn’t even awake? He’d poured his heart out to empty air? With a pang of desperation in his chest, Bucky surrendered himself to tears, and eventually to sleep.


Coyote’s Strawberry -- Crow origin
(Adapted from the telling in Richard Erdoes & Alfonso Ortiz (eds.) “American Indian Myths and Legends”)

One day, Old Man Coyote (who was, to be frank, a dirty old man) saw a group of pretty young women picking wild strawberries on the edge of the woods. Being a wily fellow, the next day, before the sun rose, he hid in the strawberry bushes with just the tip of penis showing, looking for all the world like an especially large and juicy strawberry.

When the girls saw it, they all wanted to pick it for their haul. One tried to pluck it, but it wouldn’t come loose. One pulled at it, but it wouldn’t come loose. One even tried sucking and nibbling at it but it wouldn’t come loose. It just started weeping and producing a fluid that looked like milk.

Eventually, the young women, frustrated at not being able to pry loose this large and juicy strawberry, went away to search for a flint to cut it off with. Old Man Coyote heard what they planned to do, and sped away while they were gone.

When the young women returned and saw that the huge strawberry was nowhere to be seen, they guessed that it was all a trick Old Man Coyote had played on them, and they decided to get their revenge by playing a trick on him in return.

The young women had brought cooking meat with them on their gathering expedition. They took the raw meat and smeared blood all over themselves, then lay face down in a place they knew Old Man Coyote always went to hunt.

When Coyote found them, he thought that they had been attacked and killed by neighbouring enemies, and worried for himself, in case the warriors were still nearby.

“Ah,” he thought to himself, “I can check how long the bodies have been dead for. Then I’ll know if the warriors are still close.”

So he bent down to sniff the young women’s bodies, first one, then another, until he had had a good sniff of each. And each time his nose came close, the young woman he was sniffing let out an enormous, silent fart!

By the stench that arose every time he sniffed one of the bodies, Coyote reckoned the enemy warriors were long gone, and he relaxed on his haunches. Then the young women all leapt up and laughed and laughed and laughed at the trick they’d pulled on Old Man Coyote, until he couldn’t stand it anymore, and slunk away.


Rock bottom

“You coming to the party tonight, Bucky?”

Clint looks over at where Bucky’s lying on his back on top of his unmade bed, staring listlessly at the ceiling. He doesn’t know the guy’s moods perfectly -- they’ve only been roommates a few months after all -- but he can tell that he’s not doing so good.

He and Bucky hadn’t become super close, but they were around each other a lot -- spent every Sunday morning together at Saturn, getting brunch -- and they were good friends now. So Clint’s noticed, okay? Noticed the grins becoming smaller smiles, becoming tiny, wistful curls of Bucky’s lips, and finally disappearing altogether. He’s noticed Bucky’s open body language closing off, like he’s trying to hide himself away inside his own skin. Clint hadn’t noticed so much before winter break, but since they came back in January, the difference has been really stark.

Clint doesn’t know what’s up exactly. He’s concerned, but they don’t have the kind of relationship where they ask each other about personal shit. So he does what he can to try to cheer Bucky up: makes sure he goes to his Thursday morning coffee with Nat, drags him along to the canteen every day to make sure he’s eating, and invites him to parties, just so he can be sure Bucky’s not spending all his time between lectures and labs moping by himself.

“Sure,” Bucky replies. He doesn’t sound enthusiastic about it, but it’ll get him out of their room for the evening, and around people in a normal social setting, so Clint counts it as a win.

They’re on the other side of midnight, now, and he’s wishing he’d kept his mouth shut.

The evening had started well enough. Bucky had put on his game face as he put on his clothes -- as stylishly put together as ever, dressed to impress in charcoal grey jeans and a black t-shirt so sheer that Clint could see his saint pendant hanging on its long chain over Bucky’s sternum, to say nothing of his nipples and his abs.

As always, Clint thought to himself that, if he swung that way himself, he would most definitely try to get into Bucky’s pants. But getting people in the sack wasn’t the root of Bucky’s problems, as far as Clint could see. He’d seen him in mildly to extremely compromising positions with half the queer men on campus, he swore. (Although never in their dorm room, as far as he knew, for which Clint was eternally grateful.)

Bucky had sex appeal in bucketloads: he knew it, and he knew how to use it. It was a running joke between Clint and Nat that Bucky was so busy checking out who was checking him out most of the time, that he was going to walk straight into a lamppost one of these days.

So they’d gotten dressed, and, in Bucky’s case, primped and preened, and gone to the party, which was just getting going as they arrived. Clint walked into some of his stoner friends near the door, and Bucky wandered off towards the drinks while Clint was fist-bumping and taking his first drag of the night. Mmm that was good stuff, smooth and sweet.

Clint didn’t see Bucky again all evening, but he wasn’t worried: Bucky was a big boy. He was probably just off somewhere making a conquest. He remained unworried until Nat walked up behind him sometime in the early hours and grabbed his arm.

“I need you to come with me, right now.” Her voice was quiet and terse in his good ear. “It’s Bucky.” And before Clint could say anything in reply, she was dragging him away and up the stairs into one of the dorm rooms.

“Oh, shit.”

Clint started laughing. He couldn’t help it. The scene in front of him was too ridiculous.

Bucky was sprawled out on the bed, face up, apparently dead to the world, naked, except for his pendant and a mound of fresh fruit that had been arranged over his crotch.

“It’s not funny.” Steve Rogers was crouched on his haunches by Bucky’s head, fingers pressed to the side of his neck, and it was he who was hissing at Clint now. “He’s out cold, and he could have been roofied. Anyone could have done anything to him while he’s like this.”

In the middle of the pile of fruit, the tip of Bucky’s dick was sticking out, painted to look like a strawberry. The whole lot was topped with a note. Clint leant closer to read what it said:

I’M THE SLUTTIEST FRUITIEST FAGGOT AT UCSC. DO WHATEVER YOU WANT TO ME. NO LUBE REQUIRED.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Clint whispered. He very much did not feel like laughing anymore: not at all. He swore he could feel the blood draining out of his face, and he clung to Natasha’s hand where her fingers still had a death grip on his elbow. “What do we do?”

Steve hovered his hand over Bucky’s mouth and nose.

“Well, he has a pulse, but it’s kinda sluggish, and his breathing is really shallow.”

Nat moved forward to lean over Bucky, resting her left hand on the mattress, and pressing his earlobe between the forefinger and thumb of her right. She said his name a few times. “Bucky, Bucky, come on Bucky, let me know you’re in there.”

Bucky gave no response at all.

“Shit.” Natasha all but collapsed onto her butt, and clasped Steve’s leg. She repeated Clint’s question: “Steve, what do we do?”

A stern expression overtook Steve’s face. “We need to get him to the ER, right now.” Steve took Nat’s face in his hands. “Nat, you stay with him -- and take a picture before you move that stuff,” he gestured towards Bucky’s dick, wincing, “just in case he decides to press charges. You,” Steve continued, shifting his gaze to Clint, “you’re his roommate, right?” Clint nodded. “Go get him some pyjamas or something from your room and meet us back here. I’m going to go get my car.”

Which is how they had ended up here, in the ER waiting room at Dominican Hospital, waiting to find out if Bucky was even going to live through the night. Jesus fucking Christ. Clint had had no idea that getting roofied was so dangerous, just by itself, let alone whatever happened to someone after they’d been drugged.

He pressed his forehead to Nat’s shoulder. She was sitting between him and Steve, and they were each clasping one of her hands. They sat there not speaking, surrounded by the noises of the hospital.

Clint wanted to voice his worries to Nat, to get some kind of reassurance, but he knew none would be forthcoming.

“Do you think he’s going to be okay?” Clint whispered eventually.

Nat just patted his hand, and Clint let himself drift away for a while.

--

“God, no, Steve, Bucky’s not like that at all!”

Natasha raising her voice wakes Clint partway from his nap. He makes a grumbling noise into her shoulder, but keeps his eyes closed and tries to drop off again.

“I mean, yeah, he’s acted kinda slutty since he got to college, but God, he was a virgin before he got here. I know he comes off as a player if you just listen to gossip,” Clint can hear the severity in her voice, like she’s brow-beating Steve as she says it, “but honestly, he actually wanted to get involved with your campaigns. He’d never say it, but he was really hurt when you ignored him about coming to organising meetings, and then when you turned him down flat at Thanksgiving? That was a dick move, Steve.”

“Oh God,” moans Steve. “Shit. I owe him such a huge apology.”

“Hey, it’s okay,” replies Natasha, her voice sympathetic, “you weren’t to know. And I know you’ve had problems before.”

Steve snorts. “That’s an understatement. Nothing destroys a group faster than some party queer joining just to bed some fresh meat. We seriously do not need that kind of drama right now.”

“I know, Steve, but that’s not Bucky, no matter what it looks like.”

The pair of them are quiet for a moment, and Clint feels himself floating again, right on the edge of going back to his nap.

“I get that now, I do.” Steve’s voice is quiet. “Will you help me work out my apology…?”

Yeah, that’s good, that’s really good, Clint thinks to himself, and he smiles into Nat’s shoulder as he finally tips over into sleep.


How Raven Got His Feet -- Quileute origin
(Adapted from the telling in “American Indian Myths and Legends”)

One fine day, Raven set off to visit his friend, Bear. They spent the day talking, and soon it was time for food. Bear went up into his store-room, and pulled out some nice dried fish for them all to eat for their meal. He beat it until it was soft.

Then he set to getting oil together to dip the fish in, so it tasted good. He set up a frame around the fire, with a bar right above it. Sitting down on his seat beside it, he propped up his feet on the frame, right over the flames.

Raven watched everything he did, because he was a curious, not to say nosy fellow, who liked to learn new things.

Soon enough, Bear being a fellow with plenty of fat on his bones, oil began to drip out of Bear’s feet and into the dish he had set above the fire.

Bear asked his wife, “Is plenty of oil coming down?”

And she replied, “Yep. Plenty of oil. The dish is already half full.”

When the dish was full, they all sat together and ate, dipping their dried fish in the oil that Bear had made. And when they were done, there was still plenty of oil left, so Bear gave it to Raven to take home to his wife.

Raven had had such a good time and such a good feast at Bear’s house, that he wanted to return the favour, so he invited Bear to his home the next day. Just as before, they spent the day talking, and soon it was time for food. Raven went up into his store-room and pulled out some nice dried fish for them all to eat for their meal. He beat it until it was soft.

Then he copied just what Bear had done: he set a frame around the fire, with a bar right above it, sat down on his seat beside it, and propped up his feet on the frame, right over the flames.

But no oil dripped from Raven’s feet.

Raven asked his wife, “Is plenty of oil coming down?”

And she replied, “Nope. But your feet are getting all black.”

So Raven told his wife to put more wood on the fire, sure that he just needed a bit more heat to make the oil come down. She didn’t want to, but he insisted, and so she did. His feet hurt from the burning heat of the fire, but he kept at it, sure he could make some good oil for dipping the dried fish.

Raven asked his wife, “Is plenty of oil coming down?”

And she replied, “Nope. Not one drop of oil. But your feet are starting to curl up and crack.”

Finally, the pain in his feet was too much, and Raven rolled away from the fire, crying out in agony.

Bear went away chuckling to himself, as Raven’s wife scolded him, “How many times do I have to tell you, copying what other folks do just doesn’t work!”

And from that day on, Raven’s feet were black and curled and cracked.


Bucky wakes up -- and an apology

Bucky drifts awake, dipping in and out of consciousness until he can finally make it to full alertness. He’s lying on his back, which is not how he sleeps, ever, and the sheets he’s lying between feel starchy and stiff. There’s a pain in his left hand, and something on his face. He opens his eyes and looks up at the ceiling: polystyrene tiles.

He’s almost sure this isn’t where he fell asleep, except he doesn’t actually remember falling asleep. He looks to the side and sees a drip hanging from a metal pole, feeding into a cannula on the back of his left wrist. What the fuck?

Before he can panic, he feels a slim, cool hand take his fingers on the right side of the bed. He turns his head that way and sees Natasha holding his hand in a delicate grip.

“Нaтaшeнкa?”

Natasha brushes the hair back off his forehead and kisses the skin she’s uncovered. Her eyes look watery.

“Яашa,” is all she says for a moment. Her gaze darts across his face and her grip tightens on his hand. Finally, she adds, “I’m so glad you’re awake.”

“What happened?” Bucky asks, confused and concerned.

“Someone roofied your drink at the party. It was… it was bad.”

Bucky can feel his eyes going wide.

“Did someone…?” He can’t even finish the thought, let alone the sentence.

“No, no, nothing happened to you, the doctors checked,” Bucky gasps in a breath at that admission, “but you still…” Natasha looks down at her hand over his. “You nearly died, Яашa, from the drugs and the alcohol together.” She looks up at him, looks him in the eye. “So I’m really, really glad that you’re awake.” Her voice is wobbly and tears threaten to spill over onto her cheeks.

“Hey, hey, no crying,” Bucky says, squeezing her hand as tight as he can, although he can’t muster much force. “I’m here. I’m alive. I guess I’m not quite okay yet, if I’m still in a hospital…?”

“The doctors say you’ll be okay to leave in another day or so. They want to keep you in for observation, just to make sure.”

“Wow. Okay. So, er, do I want to know what happened?”

Natasha grimaces.

“Probably not,” she says, “but I think you should. Then you can decide what you want to do -- whether you want to press charges or not, when we find out who did this.”

“Press charges?” Bucky’s head is spinning.

“It was a serious assault, Яашa.” Natasha’s voice is quiet, but intense. “We have enough evidence to attempt a court case,” she pauses, “but only if that’s what you want.”

“I…” Bucky isn’t sure what to say. “Leave all that for now, Нaтaшeнкa. It’s too much. Just, would you call a doctor for me?”

Natasha strokes his hair again, a small, sad smile on her lips.

“Of course,” she says, and leaves the room.

--

Bucky’s talk with the doctor goes okay, he thinks. He asked Natasha to stay for the conversation, and take notes, so he has a short list of things to do and not to do over the next few weeks and months, and a long list of symptoms to keep watch for if he wants to stay living and breathing.

The fact that he nearly died hasn’t sunk in yet. He’s still in the hospital, although they let him get up and walk around the corridors this afternoon, wheeling his drip around with him. The fact that he remembers nothing between drinking a vodka martini and waking up here is making the whole thing feel incredibly surreal.

It’s early evening now, and Bucky’s sitting on the side of his bed, just contemplating whether or not to turn on the TV up on the wall and see what’s on cable right now, when there’s a knock at his door.

He scrambles to get under the covers, self-conscious about sitting around in his pyjamas. Once he’s covered enough to feel okay being seen by strangers, he says, “Come in,” but there’s a little lift at the end, like he’s not sure if he means it.

The door opens, and a slim, lithe figure enters, with blond hair and a serious look on his face. Steve Rogers. Bucky frowns. He’s confused. What’s Steve Rogers doing here?

“Uh, hi?” he says, feeling stupid at making a question out of every word.

“Hi,” Steve replies, raising his hand and giving a little wiggle of his fingers. “Is it okay if I come in?”

This doesn’t help with Bucky’s confusion, but he was feeling bored, so… sure. Why not?

“Sure,” he says with a shrug. “Why not?”

Steve closes the door behind him and walks towards the bed, taking a seat in the chair next to the bed.

“So, don’t take this the wrong way or anything, but, er, why are you visiting me?”

Steve’s eyebrows lift on his face, before his face clears and he says, “Oh, yeah, I guess you don’t know: it was me that found you.”

“Er…” Bucky is not feeling any clearer on what is going on here.

“At the party,” Steve says, as if that will make his reasons for being there apparent.

Suddenly, Bucky realises what that means. “Oh, shit,” he whispers and covers his face with his hands. He can feel his face burning up with shame. Steve, who already thinks that Bucky’s a worthless slut, has seen him at rock bottom, unconscious, probably naked, and… Bucky doesn’t even know what else.

He knows Natasha has a picture, just in case Bucky wants to take this through the courts, she said (to which his first and last thought was, and remains, “Fuck, no!”) but Bucky himself hasn’t seen it -- hasn’t wanted to.

But Steve? Steve saw him like that, in whatever humiliating pose he was placed in, in real life.

“Hey,” Steve’s voice is quiet, and Bucky feels the slight pull of the covers at what he assumes is his hand on top of the bed, “it’s okay. You’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Bucky gives him an Are you fucking serious?! look through his fingers.

“Are you fucking serious?!” he says, into his palms, his voice a full octave above its normal range.

“Yes, I’m serious.” Steve certainly sounds like it. “You did absolutely nothing wrong, and I don’t see why you should feel embarrassed, just because some sick bastard decided to assault you.”

Bucky’s so surprised at what Steve’s saying that he actually lets his hands drop to his lap.

“That’s better,” Steve says, smiling at him, eyes warm.

“Okay,” says Bucky, slowly, “but I’m still not sure why you’re here, exactly.”

The warmth in Steve’s eyes dulls a little, and he looks down at his hands, then back up at Bucky. He squares his shoulders and says, “I’m here to apologise to you.”

Bucky looks at him, knowing he must be looking like an idiot, because his mind has just ground to a halt in a kind of terminal fit of confusion.

“Why?” he finally manages to get out. “You didn’t drug me. Did you?”

Bucky doesn’t think so -- unless Steve has some kind of multiple personality disorder maybe? He is so confused right now.

“God, no!” Steve says, and looks appalled, so Bucky believes him. “But I still need to apologise to you. I let what other people said and thought about you affect how I viewed you, and that wasn’t fair to you, at all. I thought I was over relying on other people’s judgement, copying other people and following the crowd, but apparently not.”

Steve smiled at Bucky, as if he was letting him in on a secret. “I thought all the times when I went out in the sun like everybody else and got burnt to a crisp, or ate bread like everybody else and got a three day belly ache, or went out drinking like everybody else and spent the night in the bathroom had taught me my lesson, but apparently not.”

Steve’s face turned serious; he sighed, and looked down at his hands, fiddling with the bedcovers. “I can’t help but think that, if I had welcomed you into the activist group, whoever did this to you might have thought twice before hurting you like that, because they’d have known there were a group of people here who had your back.”

Steve looked up at Bucky, and did the shoulder squaring thing again, “So I’m sorry, Bucky. I was very, very wrong to treat you the way I did, and I’d like the chance to start over.” He offered Bucky his hand, palm up on the bed. “Friends?”

Bucky looked at Steve’s palm, then up at his face, and really didn’t need to think about it.

“Yeah, we can be friends,” he replied, and took Steve’s hand.


Raven chides Coyote

“Hey, asshole, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”

Raven strode across the lawn to where Coyote was resting under a redwood tree, lounging on his back with his eyes closed, a grass stalk poking up from his mouth. His left knee was raised to support his right foot; his right arm was crooked behind his head to support it.

Coyote looked tiny against the girth and height of the massive tree, but Raven’s focus was entirely on him, with not a single thought to give to their surroundings. Raven stood over him, toes almost touching Coyote’s ribs, his hands fisted against his own hips

“What the fuck was that bullshit you pulled with that freshman? He could have died, for fuck’s sake!”

Coyote slowly blinked open one eye, and gazed up at Raven through its slitted lid.

“Good afternoon to you, too, Raven. Why yes, it is wonderfully clement weather for the time of year. And I am perfectly well, thank you so much for enquiring,” he said, then closed his eye and continued to swivel the grass stalk back and forth between his lips.

Raven could sense the hairs on his head rising with his anger. He felt like he was literally about to blow his top. He flung his fists down by his side, arms rigid, and raised his face to the heavens in an almighty shout, then stepped over Coyote, only to sit heavily on his belly, with his knees digging into his chest.

“What,” shouted Raven, pulling the grass stalk out of Coyote’s mouth and flinging it away, “the fuck,” he grabbed his shoulders, and shook them, so that Coyote’s eyes opened wide in surprise, “did you think,” he shook him again, “you were doing?” and again. Then Raven shifted his arms to wrap his hands around Coyote’s throat, squeezing as he spoke to make sure of Coyote’s attention. “He could have died, you moron!”

Coyote scrabbled at Raven’s arms, finally moving out of surprise and into action. Raven lifted his hands away, catching hold of Coyote’s wrists and pressing them down onto the grass. Coyote scowled up at him.

“It was for his own good,” he said.

Raven gaped down at him in utter disbelief. After a few moments of silence, in which they stared at one another, he found his voice:

“How the hell was being drugged against his consent, left unconscious, with a written invitation to rape him, then nearly fucking dying ‘for his own good’?”

Coyote shrugged.

“Whatever. His friends are closer to him now, and they pay him more attention. He has a real social life, and that blond of yours is spending more time with him. I’d say that’s a pretty good outcome. Now will you get off me, you lump? I have some quality lolling about to get back to.”

Raven did not, in fact, get off of Coyote.

“You! You are fucking unbelievable! Haven’t you ever heard of free will? Or consent? You… you... “

Coyote shrugged his shoulders.

“Eh. Consent’s overrated. Sex is sex, you know? And humans are funny. Anyway, that Badger kid was planning something already; I just gave him a little tip in the right direction.”

Raven felt his face twist in disgust at Coyote’s words, and at the attitude that they belied. Abruptly, he stood up, unable to deal with that asshole anymore. He narrowed his eyes and pointed down at Coyote’s pretty, guileless face, his voice coming out sharp and clipped.

“I will only warn you once: stop fucking with Bucky Barnes. My human likes him.”

Raven stalked off, shoulders bunched up almost to his ears with angry tension. He didn’t look back once, so he didn’t see how Coyote pressed his hand down onto the crotch of his jeans, lower lip between his teeth, eyes thoughtful as he watched Raven’s ass walk away.

It took Coyote a good week of coaxing and cajoling, and a whole lot of grovelling, but in the end Raven agreed to Coyote's idea: after all, he knew a good revenge plan when he saw one.


How Raven Killed the Whale -- possible Cree origin
(Adapted from this telling)

There came a time for Raven when he was always hungry. From dawn until dusk, he searched for food, and from dusk until dawn, his aching, empty belly kept him awake.

One day, he heard of a whale that was swimming back and forth on the western side of the island. The people in the village by the coast were living off their winter stores, even though it was summer, because they were too scared of the whale to go out fishing.

Raven flew to the village to see what he could see, not only because he was a curious, not to say nosy fellow, but because he knew that, with his cleverness, he could surely trick the whale and feast on its meat for a long time.

Raven perched for three days, watching, and watching, and watching from the edge of the cliff overlooking the stretch of water in which the whale was swimming, until -- aha! -- an idea came to him for how to get what he wanted. He wandered off to fetch his knife, some firewood, tinder, a flint, and a sack to carry it all in. Then he walked back to the cliff edge, and cried out as loud as he could, “Hey! Hey, cousin! Come here and let’s talk!”

Whale opened one eye and blew a plume of water out from his blowhole, but he did not come to the shore. Instead he said, “Cousin? You are not my cousin,” and closed his eye again.

Raven persisted: “But I am, Cousin Whale. You and I are cousins, and I can prove it to you.”

Whale opened his eye again, and was just curious enough to make his way over to Raven’s cliff.

“How can you prove that?” Whale asked. “It’s impossible: you are a bird, and I am a whale. We cannot be related.”

“Oh, but we are,” said Raven. “If you open your mouth, I will prove it to you. If you open your mouth, I will show you how our two throats are exactly the same shape, and so we must be related!”

Whale thought about this for a moment, then blew a few spitting drops of water out of his blowhole (his equivalent of a shrug) and opened his mouth as Raven had asked.

As soon as Whale’s mouth was open far enough for him to fit through, Raven ran inside, all the way down Whale’s throat and gullet, and into his belly. Once he was right down in the whale’s belly, Raven started a cooking fire, and began cutting meat from the sides of Whale’s belly. When the fire was hot enough, Raven cooked the meat and, oh, it was good to eat! Raven ate and ate until he was full, and fell asleep.

He was woken by Whale calling to him.

“Raven, Raven, I know you are eating my flesh. You are welcome to my muscles and fat, but please, please do not eat my heart.”

Raven readily agreed to this; the whale was so enormous, how could he ever run out of flesh to eat? But of course, Raven ate, and ate, and ate, until he had reached the end of Whale’s meat and blubber. He thought of his agreement with Whale, but Whale hadn’t asked him not to eat his kidneys and liver, so Raven cut those out and cooked them.

Whale was very weak and ill by this time. He had stopped swimming a while back, and had simply been drifting with the current. Not long after Raven had eaten his kidneys and his liver, Whale said to Raven, “Raven, we are coming to shore. I am too weak to swim for deeper waters, so we will be beached.”

Hearing this, Raven thought his agreement with Whale didn’t matter much anymore, so he shrugged, and he cut out the whale’s heart, and ate it. Poor Whale died immediately, and washed up on the beach near the village.

When the villagers saw that the whale was dead, they dashed down there with knives to cut it open, and start portioning out its meat. But when they cut open its belly, they found no flesh to eat, not even any organ meat, just a gore-covered raven that flew out of the carcass and away.

--

Coyote Kills the Giant -- Flathead origin
(Adapted from the telling in Richard Erdoes & Alfonso Ortiz (eds.) “American Indian Myths and Legends”)

One day, Coyote was wandering his way along a river valley, when Old Woman stopped him and said, “Coyote, Coyote, take care. There’s a giant further up the valley. Turn around now if you value your life!”

Coyote, who was a proud sort of a fellow, and, to be quite honest, a show off, snorted, and replied, “Do I look scared at such a tale, Old Woman? I’ll just pick me up a good, stout stick, and beat the giant with it if it so much as breathes at me wrong.”

And with that, Coyote picked up a good, stout stick off the ground, and went on his way.

After a while of walking, the sun got up high in the sky, and Coyote was getting hot. He saw a nice, dark, cool-looking cave in front of him, so he went inside to get out of the blazing heat.

All of a sudden the cave got very dark, and he couldn’t see where he was going very well. But he could hear the sound of a woman crying, so he walked towards that, bumping into walls as he went.

“Hey there,” he said, once he’d gotten close enough to the sound that he figured he was in front of the woman, “what’s got you so upset?”

“Oh,” she wailed, “I’m so hungry, so hungry! My belly aches, it aches!”

“Well, why don’t you just go out of the cave and get some food?” asked Coyote.

“Don’t be foolish,” replied the woman, “we’re not in a cave. We’re in the giant’s belly.”

Coyote didn’t believe her, so he retraced his steps towards the cave mouth, but when he got there, there was no cave mouth to be seen in the sliver of light that shone horizontally where it had been: just a curved row of stalagmites, and another of stalactites, all interlocking, blocking the way. Coyote stepped a little closer, and eventually he saw that they weren’t stalagmites and stalactites at all, but teeth.

Damn! The woman was right!

He turned around and walked back to the woman, and she led him into the centre of the giant’s belly, where a group of people were sitting around a small campfire, looking miserable. There were Wolf and Bear, Crow and Raven, Spider and Fox, and all kinds of other people. They greeted Coyote, and told him how long they had all been there, and how long it had been since they had eaten.

Well, thought Coyote, there’s a simple answer to that. He took the knife from his belt, and started cutting flesh from the walls of the giant’s belly, and set them to cook over the fire. He kept doing this until everyone had had their fill.

This went on for several days: Coyote cut out the giant’s flesh, cooked it over the fire, and everyone ate. Eventually, the flesh ran out, and Coyote started cutting out the giant’s organs to eat: its intestines, its kidneys, its liver.

Finally the only edible part of the giant left was its heart. As Coyote cut into it to portion it out for all of the trapped people, the giant began to die. In its death throes, it opened its mouth wide to bellow its pain, and all the people ran towards the light and escaped.

Coyote and Woodtick were the last to get free. Woodtick got stuck in the giant’s teeth as at last it died and closed its mouth, so Coyote pulled Woodtick hard until he popped free.

And that is why Woodtick is so flat: but at least he’s alive.


Coyote and Raven eat a monster

“Hey, Brock!”

Brock woke with his face pressed into his Physics 102 textbook. He looked around, fuzzy headed, to see who’d been shouting right in his ear. It was Jack. What a douche.

“No need to shout,” he grumbled, as he sat up.

“'No need to shout,' he says.” Jack rolled his eyes. “I’d already called your name four times. What the fuck, man?”

“Bad night’s sleep,” Brock mumbled, rummaging in his bag to avoid looking at Jack.

The truth was, it was more than just one bad night’s sleep. He hadn’t had a night all this week when he’d slept through, or felt rested when he woke up.

Every night, he had the same dream.

In the dream, Brock was lying flat on his back on the beach, a few hundred yards from the boardwalk, arms and legs outstretched, staring up at the night sky, filled with stars. There were no lights from the boardwalk, no sound from anywhere. Every night, in the dream, Brock would try to get up, and would be able to move nothing but his head and neck. Every night, in the dream, after he’d struggled with all his might to move a single muscle, and had been able to move not even a fingertip, panic would set in.

That was when the real nightmare would start.

As he looked around himself, Brock would see the shadowy figure of some kind of wild dog, padding in an unhurried way towards him from the direction of the train tracks, mouth open in a grin that showed all of its very sharp teeth. It would come straight for him, sniff him over, toes to scalp, then sit at his head and howl.

Shortly afterwards, a huge bird, black all over, would appear from the sky, and perch on Brock’s left foot, poke at his toes with its beak, then hop up his leg until it reached his belly. Then the dog and the bird would nod to one another, and start eating Brock’s flesh.

It was excruciatingly painful. And it was happening night, after night, after night.

The first night, they ate the muscles of his legs and arms, then the wild dog rolled Brock over with its paws and snout, and they ate the muscles of his back and buttocks. When Brock woke from the dream, a hoarse whimper in his throat, he was so relieved. Just a dream. Damn, that was some fucked up shit.

He’d been weak all day afterwards, shaky, but relieved.

The next night, though, it happened again, just the same. In this dream, the dog and bird ate into his belly and took out what Brock thought were his kidneys and ate one each, the dog wolfing it down, while the bird pecked at it persistently until there was nothing left.

The next day, Brock had not only been weak and shaky, but had to keep going to the john to empty his bladder. He even had to leave a class partway through, he’d been so desperate, which had been excruciatingly embarrassing. What was he, a third grader? And his pee had smelt awful.

The third night, it was his liver, the fourth his intestines.

Now Brock was weak, shaky, had to pee all the time, was jumping at every little thing, and he had the stomach ache. What the fuck was wrong with him? This was more than fucked up. This was creepy.

Brock did not want to think about what might happen tonight. He didn’t want to go to sleep ever again, and was intensely grateful to Jack for waking him up before he could start dreaming, although of course he’d never say so. He didn’t want people thinking he was a nutjob and sending him to see a counsellor. Only freaks and losers saw counsellors.

(Or worse, locking him up. Or the absolute worst possible: telling his dad.)

“You coming to Econ?” asked Jack, jolting Brock from his reverie.

“Yeah, yeah.”

Brock collected his books together and shoved them into his bag. Shit, he’d got no work done at all, and he’d been here for two hours.

“Hey, Jack,” he asked, as they headed out of the library, “do you know anywhere on campus that sells ProLab?”

--

It turns out, once you get past Steve’s tight-ass public persona, he’s actually Bucky’s kind of asshole. Bucky would not have guessed it in a million years, but here they are, trying to sniff out, and hoping to take down, whoever it was that roofied Bucky, and nearly killed him in the process.

Left to his own devices, Bucky would have just tried to forget that the whole thing had ever happened. It’s not like he remembers any of it, and he doesn’t want to try. He insisted Nat delete the picture she took at the scene of the crime from her phone.

She argued with him about it for a while: the shithead that did this to him deserved everything that was coming to them, by legal or any other means. Bucky did not at all disagree with that sentiment. But at the same time, giving evidence? Going through the courts, in public, for everyone to see and know what had been done to him (whatever that was)? No way. He was not setting himself up for that kind of humiliation.

Sam and Tony had both visited Bucky a couple of times in hospital, and had just been glad he was doing okay, vague as they were on what had actually happened. Bucky was touched that they had visited at all. Perhaps he had more actual, real friends than he’d thought.

Steve visited Bucky in hospital practically every day after he’d apologised, and had kept close ever since Bucky got out. He’d accepted Bucky’s feelings about not wanting to go through the courts, but he hadn’t wanted to let it rest there. What if whatever shithead it was who did that to Bucky went and did it to someone else, too? And didn’t Bucky himself deserve some kind of closure, some kind of restitution?

Clint, thankfully, had expressed no opinion on the matter whatsoever. Hanging out with him after Bucky’s release from hospital had been blessedly restful.

Steve and Nat both respected Bucky’s desire to put it all behind him, he knew that. They were pushing Bucky out of concern for him. When he thought about it calmly, he was touched. And maybe they had a point? Maybe whoever did this to him did deserve some punishment. Maybe he himself did deserve some kind of closure.

Bucky thought about it for a good couple of months before he made his decision. He was adamant about not going through the courts, not doing anything public, but he had finally come to agree that maybe finding out who had done it, and at the very least warning people in the LGBTQIA+ association about them, was the right thing to do, and might also help Bucky himself feel like he was back in control of his life.

Bucky, of course, didn’t have the first idea of how to go about it. Steve, though? Steve had a brilliant tactical mind behind all that earnestness, and he catalogued and drew in all of Bucky’s resources -- even the ones he didn’t know he had: Nat’s surveillance skills, Clint’s carnie background, Sam’s charm, Tony’s finances, and Steve’s own activist network.

It had taken them three weeks of persistent work, but in the end, they have it: the name of Bucky’s assailant. They’re all of them hanging out in Tony’s room when it happens.

“Bingo!” shouts Tony. He’s looking over Nat’s shoulder at the screen on his desk, where they're both sitting.

Bucky's with Steve, Sam and Clint on Tony’s bed, working out revision timetables. Tony and Nat turn to them as one. Tony has a bright grin on his face, while Nat’s smile is small and sly. She looks like the cat that caught the canary.

“So, who is it then?” asks Sam.

Bucky holds his breath. Now it comes to it, he’s not sure he wants to know, not sure he wants to put a face to the shadowy monster who almost killed him.

He’s brought out of his incipient panic by the feel of a hand on his shoulder and another on his wrist. Steve.

“It’s okay, Bucky,” he says, in a quiet voice, “you’re okay.”

Bucky takes a shaky breath, another, and nods at Steve, who’s sitting on the edge of the bed next to him. He’s right: Bucky’s okay. Bucky turns back to where Tony and Nat are still smiling at him.

“So...” Bucky’s voice is a whisper. He coughs, and tries again. “So, who was it?”

Tony gestures to Nat to deliver the two words that are the result of all of their efforts.

“Brock Rumlow,” she says, “ex of Crown College. He flunked out just last week, after, get this, a nervous breakdown. His dad’s ranting about his ‘failure of a son’ on Facebook, and how he’s ‘not fit to take on the good name of the company’. Oops.” Natasha paused her commentary to pull up a few more records. “Aaaaand he’s currently in a psychiatric hospital in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. His prognosis is ‘not good’.”

Nat’s revelation is greeted by a shocked silence. Clint is the first to break it.

“Looks like we don’t need a revenge plan after all,” he says with a shrug.

“Behold, your sins will find you out,” says Sam, his face solemn.

“Karma’s a bitch,” says Tony, utterly gleeful. “This requires a celebration!” he shouts, and heads for his liquor cabinet.

Bucky feels… he doesn’t know how he feels. He’s stunned. Life just isn’t that neat and tidy. Never before has he known life to be just. Never before has he heard of anyone who has hurt him or those he loves receiving their just desserts. It’s the unbelievable shiny red cherry on top of the entire, surreal shit sundae.

“You okay?”

Steve’s voice is quiet beside him. Bucky reaches for Steve’s hand and squeezes.

“It’s just so… weird. The whole thing.”

“Well, hey,” says Steve, settling his arm more firmly around Bucky’s shoulder, “at least we know he’s well and truly gone from campus. And we know he can’t hurt anyone else where he is now.”

“Yeah,” says Bucky, smiling down at Steve’s earnest face, “yeah, I guess that is worth celebrating.”

Bucky lifts his face to the room.

“Tony,” he shouts over the hard rock that is now pumping into the room from Tony’s weird speakers, “mine’s a cranberry juice, plain, no chaser.”

“You got it, boss,” Tony shouts back. “You got it.”

--

Raven flew down from his perch high up in a redwood tree, from which he’d been observing Steve, Bucky and their friends. He landed on the grass, and hopped a couple of times, until he was within speaking distance of Coyote, who was basking in a patch of sun, soft belly exposed to the world.

Raven hopped and flapped closer still.

“Ow!” yipped Coyote, as he wriggled and struggled back onto his four paws. “What was that for?”

Raven cawed in delight. He’d given Coyote’s sheath a light peck, just because he could.

“I couldn’t resist,” he said, when he’d finally managed to stop laughing. “Just a friendly greeting.”

“Humph,” grumbled Coyote. “Well, in future, keep your friendly greetings to yourself.”

“What?” replied Raven, all wide-eyed innocence. “I thought consent wasn’t something you worried about,” then dissolved into the corvid equivalent of giggles.

“Har-de-har-har,” was all Coyote said for a moment. Then, in an aggrieved voice: “I thought I was forgiven.”

“Oh, you are,” replied Raven, a twinkle in his eye. “That was just for fun.”

Coyote rolled his eyes.

“Well, anyway,” he drawled, “what’s the outcome? All accounts settled?”

“Oh, yes,” said Raven. “All accounts settled in full. Very satisfactory.”

A thoughtful look settled on his face as he thought about Steve and Bucky sitting close on the edge of the bed.

“What do you say,” he asked Coyote, “to staying paired up and doing something nice for our two boys up there?”

Coyote looked Raven up and down, taking an awfully long time about it, given how short Raven was in his bird form.

At last, Coyote spoke. “What did you have in mind?” he asked.

“How would you feel,” asked Raven in reply, “about a road trip?”


Summer arrives

Finals were over, and Bucky had passed with a combined GPA of 3.8. He was ecstatic. Even if his parents had been funding him, they wouldn’t have been able to complain about his results. As it was, he was still glad he’d taken out so much in student loans (even if he was probably going to regret it in another three years’ time), because it meant he got to do exactly what he wanted for the summer, and his parents couldn’t say a damned thing about it.

And what Bucky wanted to do for the summer was spend as much of it as possible with Steve.

Bucky’d been thinking about the options, about how he could convince Steve that he really wanted to be with him, rather than go back to New York for the summer, but as it turned out, he didn’t need to.

Clint, Nat, Steve, Bucky, Tony and Sam were all sitting in Zachary’s together, chewing the fat, their food finished and the ice melting in the bottoms of their glasses. They’d become close while they were looking for Bucky’s attacker, and their friendships had only blossomed through the spring and the pressure of finals.

The topic turned to their plans for the summer.

“Well, I’m going to be working for good old dad,” said Tony, a grimace on his face.

“Hey, don’t knock it,” said Clint. “I’ll be stuck stacking shelves at Wholefoods. But hey, at least I get to stay in one place.”

He beamed across to Natasha, who looked like she was kicking him under the table in retaliation; she really did not appreciate public displays of affection, even ones that didn’t involve touching.

“And I’ll be sticking with the same jobs I’ve had for the past two years,” said Natasha. “Gotta pay the bills somehow.”

Clint gave her a look, as if he was going to argue with her, but she raised an eyebrow and he subsided.

“What about you, Sam?” asked Bucky, trying to divert attention from their silent spat.

Sam rubbed the back of his neck and looked a little sheepish.

“Oh, um, I’m going to be staying with my aunt in Harlem. I’ve got an internship.”

“Yeah?” asked Steve. “That’s great. Who with?”

“Médecins Sans Frontières,” Sam replied. He actually blushed, which Bucky thought was adorable. He slapped Sam on the shoulder.

“That’s amazing, man. Congratulations!” he said.

“Wow!” said Steve.

“Yeah, Sam, why didn’t you tell us before now?” asked Tony. “You and I’ll practically be neighbours.”

“Oh, you know, I didn’t want it to be a big deal. It’s only in administration,” Sam explained.

“Bullshit,” said Natasha. “It’s an amazing achievement. Plus, you’ll get to see how they do things, get your face known, make all kinds of useful connections. This deserves a toast!”

Everyone agreed, and Sam continued to look embarrassed but pleased as they all ordered drinks and toasted his success.

“What about you, Bucky?” asked Sam, when the congratulations had died down.

“I don’t really know,” said Bucky, frowning. “I haven’t planned anything yet. The only thing I know for sure is I’m not going back to New York.”

Natasha patted his hand, and gave him a sympathetic look.

“Oh!” said Steve, “That’s great!”

Bucky looked over to him in surprise. Steve blushed a little under his scrutiny.

“I don’t mean it’s great that you don’t know what you’re doing,” Steve said, a little frown creasing the skin between his eyebrows, “obviously! I mean it’s great that I can ask you to come on a road trip with me.”

Bucky blinked a few times.

“Seriously?!” he asked.

“Yes, seriously.” Steve answered, a sweet smile spreading across his lips.

“Where?” Bucky asked, grinning back.

“Route 66, of course,” Steve replied, right eyebrow raised. “Where else?”


Planning a road trip (is more taxing on the brain than you might think)

It turned out that Steve wasn’t just driving Route 66 for fun; it was for research for his art. Bucky didn’t even know that people did research for their art, but Steve was pretty damned serious about it. He wanted to create collages and multimedia works which explored resonances and contrasts between the experiences of Scottish and Irish people displaced and killed by the potato famine and the Highland Clearances, with the experiences of Native Americans displaced and killed by those same Scottish and Irish people as white settlers.

“My art teachers keep telling me that I need a ‘concept’,” Steve actually made air quotes with his fingers, “but all the ideas they suggest to me feel fake, made up just for the sake of it. This is something I really care about.”

It was all way over Bucky’s head, but if it meant he got to spend a month or two driving across America with Steve, it was a-okay with him. It did lead to a few arguments when they were planning their route, where to stay, and what to do, though.

“Hey, Steve, look at this!” Bucky said, shoving his laptop over onto Steve, who was sitting next to him on Bucky’s bed. They were both leaning against the wall, Steve writing down ideas for their itinerary with pen and paper, Bucky relying on technology. Bucky pointed at the webpage open on his browser.

“We have to stay here, Steve.” he said.

WIGWAM MOTEL. Have You Slept in a Wigwam Lately? announced the sign at the top of the photograph that took up most of the screen. But instead of delight at the utter cheesiness and vintage Americana on display, Steve’s face showed only horror.

“We are not staying there, Bucky.”

Steve’s voice had an edge of finality to it.

“But why not, Steve? It’s so cheesy!”

Steve’s face looked utterly aghast as he stared at Bucky, his mouth and eyes wide open.

“How can you ask that, Bucky?” Steve clicked around the scant pages of the motel’s website. “It’s blatant appropriation and misrepresentation of Native American cultures, and look, it’s not even accurate! The motel rooms are shaped like tipis, not wigwams.”

“Sorry,” Bucky grumbled, taking back his laptop. “I just thought it would be fun. You do remember fun, right?”

“Yes, Bucky,” Steve replied through gritted teeth. “I also remember that our country is built on genocide, and I’m not about to give money to an establishment that celebrates that.”

Bucky sighed. He could see Steve’s point, he supposed. He thought for a moment, tapping at his front teeth. He went back to the route planner website he’d found, and looked a little more carefully, bearing in mind what Steve had said.

After a while, he found a few links that he thought would be more along the lines of what Steve thought was appropriate. He nudged his shoulder against Steve’s to get his attention.

“What about these?” he asked quietly, offering Steve his laptop.

The tabs on his web browser were open to an Instagram account and a couple of Facebook pages of ‘Indian Trading Posts’ selling mostly tourist tat, but with what looked, at least to Bucky’s untrained eye, like genuine Native crafts here and there amongst the mass-produced detritus.

Steve looked carefully at each page, and nudged his shoulder back against Bucky’s.

“Yeah, these could be a worth a look, Buck. It’s still kind of exploitative, though.”

“Really?” Bucky frowned. “But these all say they’re at least partly owned and run by Native people.”

“Yeah,” said Steve gently, “that’s definitely the case. But this is likely one of the few ways they can make a living. It’s economic coercion to exploit themselves.”

Bucky felt like his eyes were crossing. Political science was not one of his strong subjects.

“So, is it still okay if we go there? I mean, are we still exploiting Native people by going there if this is how they make their living? Oh boy, my head’s starting to hurt.”

Steve laughed softly and put his arm around Bucky’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Buck. There isn’t an easy answer here. And it’ll certainly be useful for my art projects.”

Bucky relaxed against Steve’s arm. Then another thought occurred to him.

“Steve,” he started tentatively. “Steve, does that mean you’re exploiting Native people by researching them for your art?”

Steve sighed.

“That’s a really great question, Bucky, and it’s one I’ve asked myself a lot. I honestly don’t know. Trying to answer it is going to end up being a big part of my artist’s statements on next year’s projects.”

“Hey,” said Bucky, excited at the idea that had just popped into his head, “how about we look for some Native American artists along our route and see if they’d be open to having conversations with you, you know, get their perspective not just as Native people, but as artists?”

Steve beamed up at Bucky.

“Bucky, you’re a genius!” he said, and wrapped his arms tight around Bucky.

Bucky blushed, and gently hugged back.

When Steve let go, he turned his full attention to Bucky’s laptop, and started doing some web searches of his own.


Steve and Bucky (finally) catch a clue

It had been an amazing trip. Bucky’s idea and Steve’s subsequent research had resulted in much more than either of them had been prepared for. Not only did Steve get to meet and have conversations with Native artists, but through those connections, both Steve and Bucky were welcomed as guests at a small number of pueblos and powwows along their route.

Bucky had been completely blown away. Living in New York City his whole life, he’d known that Native Americans still existed, but he had had only the vaguest notion of what their lives were like, which of their traditions were still living, what challenges they faced. The whole trip had turned from a summer of fun, hanging out with Steve, into an eye-opening, mind-expanding, and humbling pilgrimage.

But as significant as those experiences were, they still weren’t the most life-changing of the trip. That happened in Arizona, near the border with Texas, at their last stay in a motel before they turned around to go back to California.

Bucky had just been walking across their motel room when it happened. He somehow managed to trip over his own feet, on the perfectly smooth carpet, and went flying across the room. He landed directly on top of Steve, who had been daydreaming like a champ, hands behind his head as he lay on top of the bed covers.

Bucky just about caught himself before he headbutted Steve, and found himself nose to nose with him, staring down into his surprised blue eyes, suddenly very aware of Steve’s body beneath his, slender and slight, but strong, and so, so beautiful.

He had a weird few moments when he felt like he wasn’t in control of his own body: his hands slid up Steve’s forearms, and he brushed his lips against Steve’s in a touch as gentle as fur brushing feathers. Steve’s eyes were still wide, but the expression in them was moving from the shock of being landed on, into a warm curiosity. He felt Steve’s breath hitch underneath him, felt his own thighs sliding down to the bed to bracket Steve’s legs, bringing Steve’s crotch into contact with his belly, hard denim and cold studs pressing into his skin where his t-shirt had ridden up in his fall.

With a rushing swoop in his gut, and a shiver up his spine, Bucky felt himself landing fully in himself again, his body his own. As he did so, he thought, So, this is happening. He could feel his pulse beating in his throat.

“Hi,” Bucky said, his voice quiet and breathy. He hadn’t moved his head, so he was speaking against Steve’s lips, and felt it as they moved into a smile.

“Hi,” Steve replied, arching his brow. He pulled his hands from behind his head and moved them to link his fingers with Bucky’s; he lifted his chin to lick his tongue between Bucky’s teeth, then gently sucked on Bucky’s lower lip, releasing it with a nip. “So, this is new,” he continued.

A little huff of a laugh forced its way out of Bucky’s throat, and he grinned. “Yeah,” he said, pressing deeper into the kiss, shivering as Steve wriggled beneath him. “Do you like it?” he asked.

Steve tilted his head to the left, not shifting his gaze at all, and grinned. “Yeah,” he replied. “Yeah, I do.”

“Do you…” Bucky kissed Steve again gently, “Do you want to keep doing it?”

Steve turned the kiss wet and hot, gripping Bucky’s hands tight.

“Yes, I definitely do,” he said.

It was so long since he’d asked the question, and he was so distracted by the kiss, that Bucky took a moment to remember what Steve was talking about. When he did, he breathed out and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he asked, “And if we do more than kissing…”

Steve cackled and said, “Oh, you want me to taste your strawberry?”

“Oh my god, I can’t believe you went there!” Bucky tried to get his hands free from Steve’s grasp, so he could slap his arm in retaliation, while Steve gripped tighter and laughed even harder. “That was not okay!”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Steve was still huffing out little laughs around his words. “I’m so sorry. You’re right, that wasn’t okay.” He kissed the tip of Bucky’s nose. “What was it you wanted to ask?”

Bucky, a little mollified, but still embarrassed, dipped his head so he was looking at Steve’s chin, rather than into his eyes. His voice was quiet as he asked, “If we do more than kissing, will you still want me around afterwards?”

At that, Steve shook his hands free from Bucky’s and flung his arms around his back, squeezing him so hard that Bucky found his face squished into the collar of Steve’s lumberjack shirt.

“Steve,” he mumbled into Steve’s neck after a good ten seconds had gone by, “I can’t breathe.”

“Sorry, sorry.” Steve stopped squeezing him and let him up, brushing Bucky’s hair gently back behind his ears. Holding Bucky’s face tenderly between his hands, he looked into Bucky’s eyes, finally serious. “Bucky, you’re one of my best friends, and I love you, and I’m falling in love with you.” Bucky’s breath caught at Steve’s words, and his eyes started to prickle with tears. “I’m gonna stick with you as long as you’ll keep me.”

Bucky’s chest felt full and bright, like his heart was about to burst. The only thing he could do was kiss Steve, kiss him again and again, and smile until he felt his face was going to split in two.

When he could finally speak again, he nuzzled Steve’s nose with his own, and told him, with a crack in his voice, “I’m gonna keep you forever, Steve. Forever.”

And Steve smiled back, just as wide.

--

Coyote sniffed his way around the base of the trash can at the farthest corner of the motel parking lot. He yipped to himself in glee when he found a half-eaten packet of stale cheetos and a piece of chicken skin that had fallen on the ground. He gulped down the chicken skin, then spent a frustrating few minutes getting all the cheetos out of the packet and into his mouth. He sat up and settled onto his haunches, chewing and grinning and panting his pleasure. Human trash was so tasty in this century.

He heard a flutter of wings above him, and looked up to see Raven perched on top of the trash can for a moment, before he transformed into his human form, arms braced behind him and heels kicking against the side of the can. Coyote shook his fur and changed, too, sitting cross-legged on the tarmac.

“You shouldn’t eat trash, you know,” Raven said. “It’ll make you sick.”

“Pfft,” Coyote replied. “It hasn’t so far,” (Raven raised a sceptical eyebrow at him,) “and it tastes so gooooood.” He closed his eyes and lifted his head as he stretched out the vowel sound, right up to the point where it wanted to become a howl.

Raven snorted, and Coyote opened his eyes to catch him looking back over his left shoulder at the motel building.

“Do you think we’ve given them enough of a push this time?”

Coyote rested his right elbow on his knee, and slumped his chin down to rest in his hand, peering around the trash can with a considering look in his eyes, following the direction of Raven’s gaze. He had really enjoyed playing with this human, but honestly, it was starting to lose its appeal; time to move on to some new entertainment.

“If they can’t get themselves together after all our efforts, then they really are idiots.”

Raven snorted down his nose as he bobbed his head and pushed himself off the trash can, landing lightly on the balls of his feet.

“Good call,” he said, rubbing his hands against the seat of his pants, and adding, “for once,” under his breath.

“I heard that,” grumbled Coyote.

Raven ignored him, clapping his hands and rubbing them together.

“Time to go, then.”

He started striding across the asphalt towards their 1971 Dodge Challenger that was showing off all of its dirt and smudges in the midday sun, not glancing at Coyote even once. Coyote tried to feel put out about that, found he couldn’t be bothered, and shrugged. He followed on behind, enjoying the view of Raven’s buttcheeks in those tight jeans as his lean muscles moved underneath the denim… and found himself flat on his back, with a sharp pain in his face and at the back of his head and all down his right side.

He lay there blinking up at the blue sky for a while, his head ringing slightly. Eventually, Raven’s face came into view, and he managed to get his eyes to focus.

Raven raised his eyebrow. “I know I’ve got a cute ass,” he said, smirking, “but I didn’t think it was that distracting.” Coyote looked up at him in confusion. “You walked straight into the rockscaping, you doofus.”

Raven grabbed hold of his arm and hauled on it until Coyote was sitting upright, then crouched down next to him so they were eye to eye.

“It’s called xeriscaping,” said Coyote. He must have hit his head kinda hard.

Raven rolled his eyes and kissed him, right on the mouth. “Come on then, asshole,” he said, standing up and pulling Coyote to his feet. “There’s a whole lot more road to see.”

FIN