Actions

Work Header

Winter's Ending

Chapter Text

Steve left the bundle of weapons on the floor beside the bed for now. Instead of dwelling on it - on the probable level of desperation that it must have taken for Bucky to place his trust in Steve and part with his weapons in this unfamiliar place - he brought Bucky into the living room of his apartment, where Darcy was sitting on the stool in front of the easel. She smiled as they entered the room. “Hey, there,” she said. “Feeling better?”

Bucky nodded, clasping his hands in front of his body as if he wasn't sure what to do with himself. Darcy said, “I was thinking it might be a good idea to introduce everyone else, one or two people at a time. To keep from getting overwhelmed with a thousand new people all at once.”

Steve considered, then nodded. “That sounds like a good idea. Where should we start?”

“I was thinking Thor and Jane.”

Steve nodded. “That works.”

“JARVIS,” Darcy said, “could I have an intercom to Jane's lab?”

“One moment,” JARVIS replied.

Bucky startled hard, nearly falling into the floor as he tried to scramble away from the unexpected voice. Steve caught him, gently setting him back on his feet. “It's okay, Bucky,” he said. “It's just JARVIS.”

“Who? Where?” Bucky's eyes were huge, darting all around the room as he searched for the speaker.

“JARVIS is an AI - artificial intelligence. He's part of the building. You won't see him, but he's always around to help with things. JARVIS, before you get that intercom, could you introduce yourself to Bucky? I completely forgot, and I apologize.”

“No need to apologize, Captain,” JARVIS replied. “Sergeant Barnes, I am JARVIS. As the Captain told you, I am an artificial intelligence designed and implemented by Tony Stark. My primary function is that of a butler or majordomo, but I also provide assistance to Mr. Stark in other areas as well. I also maintain and oversee the internal computer systems, as well as some of the physical security systems within the tower. I have no physical form, but as long as you are within the tower building, I am accessible to you and can provide assistance to you within certain specified parameters.”

Bucky calmed himself - not that it was hard, since JARVIS's voice seemed designed for calm. He nodded as JARVIS finished his self-explanation. “Okay,” he said softly. “So... you watch?”

“I do,” JARVIS replied. “The internal security cameras all feed into my databanks, and I monitor and store that data.”

“Neural processing?”

“Entirely digital,” JARVIS replied. “I have no physical format. I exist as code.”

“High-tech,” Bucky said, clearly impressed. “Noncorporeal sapience without a physical anchor.”

“You are correct, Sergeant,” JARVIS replied.

Bucky's brow creased. “Why do you call me that?”

There was a moment's pause before JARVIS answered. “Data indicates that your identity matches that of Sergeant James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, former comrade of Captain Steven Grant Rogers, also known as Captain America. Extrapolation indicates that the correct form of address would be Sergeant, as military ranks are considered higher honorifics than the simple masculine form of address 'Mister.' Is this incorrect?”

There was a long pause while Steve and Darcy exchanged glances, then looked over at Bucky. He seemed to be struggling. “Just a moment, please, JARVIS,” Darcy said. She crossed the room, holding out her hands. Bucky took them, glancing into her eyes and then away again.

“Does it bother you, to be called Sergeant?” she asked softly.

He nodded. “Nobody calls me that.”

“What do they call you?” she asked.

He closed his eyes. Shook his head. “Oh,” she said softly. “They don't call you anything.”

“No,” he managed.

She drew him to sit down on the sofa, curling up beside him and gesturing Steve to sit on his other side. “Okay. I can understand how it would be crazy confusing, then. Nobody's called you by a name for a really long time, and now suddenly everyone wants to call you something. It's weird, huh?”

He nodded.

Darcy bit her lip. “Well,” she said, “if it bothers you to be called Sergeant, then we can call you something else. Your name is James, and your nickname is Bucky. That's what Steve's always called you. Do you have a preference?”

He blinked at her for a moment, and she could almost see the wheels turning in his mind. Finally he said, “No.”

“Okay. Does it bother you if we call you Bucky? Does it make you uncomfortable?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“All right. Then we'll continue to call you Bucky, and you let us know if you want that to change, okay?” When he nodded, she continued, “Now, since JARVIS is programmed to address people in a more formal way, he'll also need to know what you prefer. Your last name is Barnes, but if you're uncomfortable being called Sergeant, I'm sure he can just call you Mr. Barnes. Will that be okay with you?”

“Actually,” JARVIS interjected gently, “I am fully capable of addressing any individual in whatever way they prefer. The more formal address is my default setting, but if someone prefers a different mode, that is available.”

“Well, then,” Darcy said. “How about George of the Jungle? We can have him call you that,” Darcy offered.

Bucky's lips twitched hard, and Darcy beamed at the sight. So did Steve. Bucky just shook his head. “Bucky,” he said. His voice was firm this time.

Darcy nodded. “So you want JARVIS to just call you Bucky?” When he nodded, she said, “Did you get that, JARVIS?”

“Indeed, Miss Lewis,” JARVIS replied. “Bucky, your preference has been noted and will be utilized until such time as you choose to log a change.”

Bucky nodded. “Thank you,” he said.

“You're very welcome, sir,” JARVIS assured him. “Miss Lewis, would you like that intercom connection to the lab now?”

“Yes, please.”

***

Thor and Jane were sitting by the window, Jane in Thor's lap with her head on his shoulder, staring out at the late afternoon sky. “I did some work for SHIELD, you know,” Jane said. “After you left. I was working for them when the Chitauri attacked New York.”

“The Son of Coul had informed me that you were moved to safety before the invasion occurred,” Thor rumbled. “I could not have done what I needed to do, if it were otherwise. I would have been too worried about you.”

Jane smiled slightly. “I was terrified,” she admitted. “Darcy was, too, but she'll never admit it.”

Thor gave a soft chuckle. “Certainly not.”

Jane drew a breath to say something else, but they were interrupted by the soft chime that was JARVIS's version of a polite throat-clearing. “Dr. Foster, Miss Lewis wishes to speak with you.”

“Oh, sure, JARVIS, thank you,” Jane said, sitting up. “What's up, Darcy?”

“I'd like you and Thor to come by Steve's apartment,” Darcy said with no preamble. “We have a guest, and we need to introduce him to everyone, but we were thinking one at a time in a quiet environment might be a better idea than all at once in a big, loud, open setting.”

Jane gasped softly. “Darcy,” she said. “Is it...?”

“Yes,” Darcy said simply. “Will you come?”

“We're on our way,” Jane said, jumping to her feet. The connection closed, and Thor raised an eyebrow in question. Jane explained, “It's Bucky. Steve's friend? The one he was telling us about the other night at dinner.”

Thor blinked. “He has retrieved his shield-brother already? How? I thought that he was believed to be hundreds of miles away in another city.”

“I have no idea,” Jane confessed. “You actually know as much about this as I do right now.”

“Then by all means,” Thor said, standing. “Let us go and learn more.”

They made their way upstairs, and Jane tapped on Steve's door. Darcy opened it, stepped aside, let them enter. There was an unfamiliar man sitting on Steve's couch, but as Darcy completed the introductions, Jane could see the Bucky she was familiar with - the one from history books and Steve's memories - underneath the just-showered hobo who was sitting there in sweatpants and a tee shirt.

Jane wasn't sure what to say, so she kept her mouth shut. Thor was under no such compunctions; he strode forward casually and offered his hand. Bucky reached back, seemingly out of reflex, and Thor clasped his arm the way he did with the Warriors Three. Bucky was clearly surprised by this, but Thor either didn't notice or ignored that fact. Instead, he pulled one of the armchairs nearer to the couch and took a seat, a broad smile on his face. “We have heard many tales of the Captain's lost shield-brother,” he said, and Jane was surprised to note that his tone was the same gentle one that he had used on Darcy when she was reverted to a child. “We were all overjoyed to learn that you lived still.”

Bucky stared at him. “Why?” he managed.

“Because the Captain is our shield-brother as well,” he explained. “And the bonds forged in that manner may sometimes be closer even than kin. To know that my brother's brother lives is as well to me as to know the same about my own.” A pained expression crossed his face briefly, and Jane couldn't help the pang of sympathy she felt for him. Despite everything that happened, Loki was Thor's brother, and that was not a bond easily broken, regardless of what Loki did.

Darcy moved into the kitchen, tossing Jane a significant look, and Jane followed. Thor was telling Bucky some story, possibly about the Chitauri invasion, and Steve was sitting beside Bucky, watching. Darcy went to the pantry and pulled out a box of cookies. Jane followed her, hoisting herself up onto the kitchen counter. “How did this happen?” she asked, keeping her voice just above a whisper.

Darcy ran a hand through her hair and said, “I went out for coffee a little after one. Just to get out, because it looked like such a pretty day and I hate being cooped up inside all day. And I was coming back from the coffee shop and he was just... there. Sitting on the big planter by the door. He touched my arm and I stopped and asked if he needed help, and he had Steve's shield in his bag. He showed it to me, and I realized who he was, and I damn near peed my pants. But I just... I just talked to him, and he seems so...” She paused, shaking her head. “He's hurting. I don't know what they did to him, but he's hurting bad.”

“Are you sure?” Jane asked. “I mean, it's great if he's really back and all, but what if it's some kind of a trap? Like the Trojan horse?”

Darcy nodded. “I've thought of that. So has Steve. But look.” She pulled her phone out of her pocket, unwound the headphones, and gave them to Jane. “JARVIS,” she muttered, knowing the super-sensitive mics would pick up her voice anyway, “would you send security footage to my phone from when Bucky arrived? Audio and visual, from the time we came in the elevator until we came to Steve's apartment.”

JARVIS chirped softly in reply, and the video popped up on the phone. Jane popped the buds into her ears and watched Bucky's struggle in the living room and his breakdown and panic over the food. When the video ended, she looked up at Darcy. “Okay,” she said, “he's messed up. Bad.”

“That's what I said,” Darcy replied, her lips twisting. “But he came to us. That's gotta mean something, right?”

“Maybe, but who knows? I just hope this doesn't come back to bite us in the ass.”

“From your lips to God's ears,” Darcy said sincerely.

***

The big blond man and his tiny brown-haired woman - Thor and Jane, he reminded himself - stayed for about an hour. The wo- Darcy spent most of that hour in the kitchen with Jane, talking, probably about him. Thor spent most of that hour regaling him with stories of aliens coming out of the sky over New York, which he would probably not have believed except that he had a metal arm and Steve used to be skinny until he volunteered for a science experiment and also, oh yeah, somehow it was 2014 and he had a life's memory that consisted of precisely six days and some echoes that rattled around in the deep, dark places behind his eyes.

When Thor and Jane left, he felt unaccountably exhausted, and he wondered if maybe there was something wrong with him. But Darcy flopped into the chair Thor had just vacated and said, “I love the guy, but man does he make me tired.”

Steve chuckled, leaning back on the sofa. “Between him and Tony, I'm surprised we don't spend all our time lying on the floor wondering what just happened.”

“Sometimes when they're down in the lab together, that's exactly what I do,” Darcy confessed. Steve laughed.

He sat there, listening to the two of them banter, and he thought about Thor and about Jane, and he scratched his dog's head. Thor had wanted to know the dog's name - or, more specifically, had asked how he should address such a noble beast - and he had not had an answer, so he just shrugged. “No matter!” Thor had boomed. “Such things can take time.”

He stared down at his dog. His dog needed a name. Pets got names; he knew that. Names like Rex and Rover. People got names like Steve and Darcy. His dog should have a name.

He thought about that as he listened to Steve and Darcy wonder whether they should call Natasha down next or Sam. The consensus seemed to be that Natasha would come with Clint, while Sam might bring Tony because they had been spending a lot of time together testing the new wingsuit, and for whatever reason, Tony should not come yet. He suspected it was to do with what Darcy had said earlier, about Tony poking his arm with a stick.

He was just as happy not to have his arm poked, with a stick or anything else for that matter. If he could rip the damn thing off and throw it away, he would. But then he would have no arm at all, only whatever stump remained behind, and the scars were already bad enough.

He paused, examining that thought. His hand came up automatically to rub at the side of his chest, where he could just feel the roughness of the scars under his shirt. He'd never thought about them before. He'd never thought about taking his arm off before, either. He knew it could come off; it had been replaced once, in 1962, when it had gotten mangled in a piece of machinery. One of the priests at the orphanage had lost an arm in a similar way, working in a meatpacking plant before the Great War.

He raised his head and looked at Steve. “Father Flanigan,” he said.

***

Steve, who had been in the middle of saying something utterly ridiculous, stopped cold and stared at Bucky. “What about Father Flanigan?” he asked.

“He lost his arm before the War,” Bucky said.

“Yes, he did,” Steve replied, sitting forward on the couch. “Working in a meatpacking plant.” He smiled slightly. “Do you remember how he used to tell us stories about Ireland?”

Bucky shook his head. “I remembered his arm,” he said. “I was thinking about my arm and I remembered his.” He looked down at his hand. “I remember... it was 1962 and … and I don't remember the mission. I don't remember. ” He shook his head. “But I remember that... there was a big... thing.” He held up his hands to indicate the size of whatever the thing was. “And I got my hand caught in it. Tore it all to hell. They had to change it out.”

Darcy winced. “Did it hurt?”

Bucky shook his head. “No, I... I don't think so. It doesn't really feel, you know. Well. Not from here down.” He pointed at a spot just below his shoulder. “I think that's where the stump is.”

It was Steve's turn to wince, but he rallied. “Do you remember anything else?”

Bucky considered it, then shrugged. “No. I don't think so.”

“That's good, though,” Darcy said. “It's good that you remembered that. Do you know what that means?”

Both men shook their heads at her, and she rolled her eyes. “It means , you goons, that the memories are still there. They aren't gone, just... put away, maybe. They can be retrieved.”

“Oh,” Steve said, his eyes widening just a bit.

Bucky looked down at the dog. “What about Max?”

Both Steve and Darcy startled at that. “What about Max?” Steve said.

“For the dog,” Bucky said. “It needs a name. People get names. Pets get names.”

“I think Max is a great name,” Darcy said. “What do you think, Max?”

Thus addressed, and also granted scratches, Max wagged his tail. Darcy grinned. “I think he likes it.”

“Good,” Bucky said. “It's good when they like their name.”

There was a moment of silence. Then Steve said, tentatively, “Do... you like your name?”

“Tools don't have names.” The words fell from Bucky's lips like lead weights. “Tools have labels. Wrench, hammer, knife, gun, we have a mission for you.”

“You're not a tool, though,” Darcy said gently. “I know they treated you like one for a long time, but that's over now. You're not a tool. You're a person, and you have a name.”

Bucky just shook his head. “Not yet,” he said.