"Is this absolutely necessary," Bucky asked.
He chose to ignore the way Steve sighed, long-suffering, into the darkness of the cab.
"You didn't have to come, you know."
Bucky snorted. "Have you met Natasha? Have you been around her when she's cranky?"
Steve smiled and, in the shifting streetlights, it was just about the handsomest thing Bucky had ever seen.
"She's always cranky," Steve answered.
"Yeah, you didn't see her after Stark modded her widow bites."
Bucky braced himself for the cold as the taxi slowed to a stop. He shouldn't complain. Natasha never asked them for anything. A little trip to the store for some aspirin was no big deal. And it didn't matter how "super" or "soldier" he was--Natasha with a headache was not something he ever cared to witness.
And he wouldn't complain. It was just that it was 5am. And her phone call had dragged Steve out of a perfectly warm bed. She had interrupted their cozy tryptophan coma and Steve, loyal friend and all-around good guy, just couldn't say no.
"It'll be quick," Steve promised, "and if you're good, I'll get you one of those god-awful canned coffee drinks you like."
"I can get my own," Bucky muttered under his breath, but took Steve's hand anyway and stepped out of the cab...
Into what was clearly an ambush situation.
"Steve! Fall back!"
But Steve just stood there and blinked. "What the hell..." He craned his head to see over the trembling ocean of people. "Bucky, what the hell?"
Hundreds of people were crowded together outside the store. Had there been a fire? Bucky didn't see any smoke. Was it a riot, a protest? The people did seem pretty irate and anxious. But Bucky was relatively sure this wasn't a revolution; he didn't like to think about it much, but he'd seen plenty of those firsthand and he knew how to quash them. He knew how to handle them. This... He looked around a little helplessly.
But before Steve could answer, the main entranced hissed ominously open. The noise of the crowd rose to a fever pitch and everyone pushed forward in a mad rush.
What he did know was, he had let his guard down and now he and Steve were separated by about a dozen people. He did a quick assessment: three anxious housewife types, four men muscling around and clutching newspaper clippings, and half a dozen teens looking bored, amused, and determined in turns. Pretty harmless.
With a shrug, Bucky let overly polite Steve be swept away toward the women's clothing. He'd be fine. They were superheros, damn it. Bucky would complete their mission and they would rendevous afterward.
A lady thought he was reaching for some plastic atrocity she wanted, so she hit him with her purse. "My kid wants that, you asshole," she yelled.
"I don't even have a kid," Bucky yelled back.
It had been a weird morning.
But somewhere on the interminable trek from the impulse candy to the perfumes--the pharmacy was still a distant mirage in the retail desert--Bucky was putting it together. Apparently twenty-first century Americans felt war was too distant. Once a year, they dragged it kicking and screaming from its deserts and fallen Communist regimes and dropped it point-blank in the middle of their shopping centers. The Romans had it right with their gladiators and their Coliseums: humans needed a little battle, a little bloodshed.
Bucky should be a goddamned anthropologist.
Not that he didn't love the future, mostly. So great in so many ways. He just wasn't getting the appeal of this particular aspect. He couldn't see himself getting whipped into a frenzy over some half-price electronics or clothing at fifty cents a bushel. Sometimes, he missed the dignity of the 1940s, the way people knew how to do without--
Was that a vintage-style soda fountain?
He waved his arms as he saw his friend moving through the writhing crowd. Steve looked a little sheepish as he clutched two pairs of nice-looking leather gloves.
"Stevie, look! I fought a kid for this. Remember that soda shop down the block when were kids? And that one time you drank too fast and the bubbles went up your nose and your asthma kicked in and we had to take you home and--"
"Is that a waffle maker?"
Bucky looked down at his cart full of boxes--when did he get a cart?--half embarrassed, half proud.
"It's cast iron. Nobody uses that anymore. Now it's all aluminum or steel--are people stupider now, Steve?"
Steve grinned. "They got you, Buck."
"The ads, the marketing. They got you."
Bucky frowned. "Fuck you," he said, "I've got a waffle iron."
Before Steve could do more than smile in response, the phone buzzed in his jacket pocket. Bucky watched as he pulled it out and frowned down at the screen.
"What," he asked.
Steve turned it around so he could see.
Having fun, boys, the text message read, good luck getting out of there some time this month.
It was accompanied by a selfie: Natasha shoveling a forkful of their leftover mashed potatoes into her smiling mouth.
"God damn it," he said.
Steve laughed, glancing at the shelves lined with tiny plastic bottles. "I guess the aspirin was a lie," he said.
"When is the last time you heard Nat admit to pain?"
"I still doubt she is physically capable of it," Steve said and looked around, mapping an exit, "come on. Let's get out of here before they get any more of our money."
His eye strayed to a single box on an island display. It looked so lonely there, abandoned. On its face, a smiling woman was wrapped in the advertised product: a patently ridiculous blanket with sleeves and a hood.
Steve shot a competitive look at Bucky. "Mine," he said.
Bucky grinned. "Not on your life," he said, and clotheslined Steve as they both darted forward.