So he’s lying on his belly. Lying on his belly in an air duct that, let’s face it, was too small for him when he wasn’t in the radiation suit. And he’s lying on his belly in the air duct in a radiation suit and there’s a weight on his back, and there’s a metal arm around his neck and Clint Barton knows that there are times there’s just nothing you can do about the way things go, that there are, well, there are just some times you lose. There are those times when you find yourself with a super-soldier sitting on your back with his arm around your neck and your favourite paring knife poised to cut open your radiation suit and you know you’ve been had and you, well you find yourself thinking, Okay but seriously, seriously this was not how it was supposed to go.
Six Weeks Ago
Clint’d been discharged from the hospital with a pamphlet about ASL, a prescription for painkillers, and a tiny percentage of hearing left in one ear, and nothing at all in the other. Well, it wasn’t like it was the first time he’d had his ass handed to him and lived to (kind of) regret it. And it wasn’t the first time he’d done without hearing. They didn’t call him Owlear, they called him Hawkeye, and his eyes were just fine, thankyouverymuch.
It was right about the time Steve was starting to have a hard time with Bucky. While he’d been out of action, SHIELD, or more likely Nat and a handful of trusted underlings (probably Sam and Steve) had brought Bucky Barnes in from the cold, or in from wherever the hell he’d been (on second thought, Nat had come back tanned and freckled and carrying a large white hat under her arm, so probably not literally in from the cold. Anyway.) and the clearance stuff and the hospital stuff and the PTSD stuff was all looking good. Until it suddenly wasn’t anymore.
Clint, being a sucker, had seen the look of exhausted heartbreak on Steve's face one afternoon when Clint was going in for yet more hearing tests and Steve was stalking like a ghost outside the mental health offices. So Clint, being a little soft in the head, said, "Look man, if there’s anything I can do…" and left it at that, because, Jesus. What could Clint Barton, ex-carnie and world champion pain in the ass, recovering from biting off more Russian Mafia than he could chew, possibly offer Captain America?
But Steve had brightened and said, “Actually, there is something. He's retreating. It was good for a while and it's bad again. I can't reach him. He’s alone and he won't let anybody in. He needs someone who's not a therapist and not me. He needs something that keeps his mind busy. Everybody knows about the Winter Soldier, but Bucky was head of his class most years. This boredom is at least as bad for him as anything else…” and then he turned his head so Clint couldn’t see what he was saying any more but when he looked back his baby blues are approximately as wet as the Pacific and he was saying, “So I thought maybe baking, because it’s precise? If you could.”
Steve flushes red. “Sorry,” he says, mouthing a little excessively. “I forgot. Maybe baking.”
“You want me to bake with Bucky Barnes?”
“Natasha says you’re really good at it. And… and I need to give him something he can do safely, in the tower, with people I can trust.”
Clint frowns. “Is this a bet?”
Steve shakes his head but Clint doesn’t trust it. Oh he knows Cap has a hard time spinning fables, but he also knows that Bucky Barnes pulled his ass out of the fire more often than not before the war, and Tony once told him that Cap had spent a whole month pretending to have no ability to operate his Starkphone just so that he could effectively sabotage Tony’s phone when he left it unattended.
No shit, Barton, Tony'd told him. Changed my passwords to “I<3Dum-E”, changed the background to a picture of a bagel, set my ring tone to “Never Going to Give You Up” when Pepper phoned. He’d sighed and shaken his head, angry and impressed in the way only Tony Stark could ever manage to be and said, Rickrolled by Captain America. Can you imagine the shame? And Clint had had to admit that the whole thing was pretty damn impressive.
So he doesn’t really trust Steve Rogers. Captain America? Sure. But Steve Rogers? Ehh. Probably not. Not as blindly as maybe he did before, anyway. And, frankly, he hadn't meant to really offer. It was supposed to just be a nice gesture. But he had offered, and Steve had asked. So. Well. Sometimes you just had to get on doing what you said you’d do. After all, how hard could it possibly be?
“Sure, yeah, whatever,” Clint says, shrugging even though his shoulders, both of them, still hurt. “Where?”
“Tony’s said there’s a set of test kitchens on the 33rd floor. It’s…” he shrugs, mimicking Clint as he does. “It’s secure there. But there are still going to be knives and things.”
“Yeah, and don't forget the Winter Soldier and his arm.”
Steve smiles and cringes all at the same time, but Clint nods.
“Is this because of what Loki did to me? I mean, if it is, I get it. It makes sense that you'd want him around somebody who’s had somebody in his head before, somebody who still functions.” He tries not to think about what Kate would say to that, how hard she'd laugh at the idea of him teaching anybody anything that would fall under the umbrella of 'life skills'.
"It's not about that, not entirely anyway."
"Yeah, well, I've been sidelined so it's not like I'm too busy to bake some pies with your buddy."
Steve sighs. “Thanks,” he says. “Seriously, that’s great of you. Thanks.”
And then Captain America's giving him a big, relieved smile and that's it. Can't back out now.
Steve is twisting his hands, wringing his hands. This is killing him. In fact, Bucky's pretty sure it’s killing both of them. They’re both dying of boredom. At least Steve has whatever you have to have to have access to the world outside, where things happen, where missions take place, where there are targets and things to focus the mind on. At least he can get away. Bucky, though, Bucky’s stuck in luxury. Desperately, desperately tedious luxury. People with soft voices, and a heavily vetted selection of dishwater-dull movies to watch, and suspiciously violence-free paperback novels to read, boredom as pervasive and painful as a broken bone, and now Steve tells him he's set up some kind of baking-date with a guy he's never met before?
“Something you should know about him is that he’s, uh, he’s deaf, Bucky, so you’ll have to tap him on the shoulder to get his attention.”
This is some kind of cockamamie way of assessing him. Has to be. Bucky tired of being asked to talk and he's tired of being told whatever he feels is alright and he just wants something to break, to pull to pieces, because he is as angry as they say he is, sure, but the thing in him that's so angry is not the kind of thing anybody who wants to live in society should ever let out. He can't unleash on the therapists and on Steve. People'd end up dead, and him too probably. So he's been shutting out the therapists and the counselors and he knows it's getting back to Steve. So he's been shutting out Steve too. But Steve's smart, and he's tenacious and there's no way he's not going to try to keep making Bucky better. Whatever 'better' means.
“Baking?” Bucky asks, going back to the previous point.
Bucky frowns at him. Steve’s done a lot of crazy things in his life, not the least of which was slipping into Bucky’s motel room in Nevada, alone, when Bucky was one notch down from frothing at the mouth and literally splattered with the blood of Hydra agents, to talk him into coming back to New York with him. But this feels almost off the scale. Bucky’s never baked a damn thing in his life. To his knowledge, he’s never expressed any interest in baking, either now or in their previous life in Brooklyn. It's either an assessment of some kind or Steve’s gone off the deep end.
“Baking,” he says again, like the word’s going to change if he says it enough times.
“Yeah. I thought you might like it. I mean… you seem so miserable these days. Maybe a change is what you need. And you’ll like Clint, he’s… he’s… you guys have a lot in common, actually.” Steve works up that “we’re all in this together, boys” kind of smile that Bucky remembers vividly from another lifetime and opens to the door.
“Baking,” Bucky says again, shaking his head, and follows Steve out.