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I Understood that Reference

Chapter Text

It was bound to happen, Bucky supposes. Eventually the honeymoon is over and a bit of the magic is lost. Sure, it’s still pretty great. But day in and out, he pretty much knows exactly what he’s in for.

13 copies of Twilight, 5 hold requests for Gone Girl, 3 kids pulling anatomy books down from the shelves to giggle at, 2 irate patrons arguing about their fines, 1 lost looking blonde guy wandering around, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Bucky glares at the kids from his position at the reference desk at the middle of the large room. They don’t even have the decency to reshelf the book before they take off running out the revolving door and into the street outside. He begrudgingly stands up from the books he’s supposed to be entering into the catalogue and walks to where the anatomy book is lying open on the ground, displaying a pretty detailed rendering of a large intestine.

It’s nearly 5 now, just another hour and Bucky will be able to go home, lock the door and hunker down for the night in his apartment. Where no one touches his books, he isn’t responsible for gathering 20 copies of The Help for a book club, and he’s the only one who is allowed to write in the margins.

It’s not that he’s antisocial. Well, maybe a bit antisocial now that the bloom of hanging out in bars has worn off. Sometimes Natalie will drag him out, but Brooklyn has officially been adopted as the Hipster homeland. Any place they go is crowded with guys who look like the villain from old cartoons where women were tied to train tracks. Its better for everyone involved for Bucky to stay at home, ordering in food on Seamless.

Bucky sighs to himself, putting the book back, edging out the volumes surrounding it so that they sit flush with the edge of the bookshelf. Looking around, he realizes he’s going to have to have Darcy come through while she’s paging to tidy this whole area. She’ll hate it, and then become obsessed with it until it looks so pristine that people are afraid to disturb the order.

“Uh, excuse me?” a man’s voice sounds hesitantly from the end of the stacks, where the computers are. Bucky turns, expecting a nervous looking freshman from the college two blocks away, clutching an iPad in his hands. There’s a particularly prickly professor who insists her students use only print resources. And so every term, Bucky gets at least 20 shell-shocked looking kids who have no idea where to being with their research.

Instead, his eyes have to continue looking up from the place where they had land on the man. Up and up past broad shoulders to a handsome face with blue eyes.

“Bathrooms are in the basement.” Bucky answers, hopefully saving himself some time here.

The guy’s eyebrows come together on his forehead. “Okay.” He says, bobbing his head up and down. He turns away quickly and heads away, new looking sneakers squeaking on the marble floor.

Bucky rolls his eyes and goes back to his desk, trying to finish up his work for the day. He has Netflix and pad thai calling his name back at the apartment.

It goes on in silence for a few minutes. A couple patrons come in to use the computers, but they seem to know the drill of logging in and accessing whatever they need.

He hears the approaching sound of Darcy’s heels long before he sees her emerge at the entrance to the large room where the reference desk, computers, and nonfiction section are.

“Darce, I could use you straightening up in the stacks.” Bucky tells her, not looking up from his scanning.

Darcy snorts through her nose, “Yeah, sure. Whatever you say. Because clearly it would kill anyone here to put a book back the way they found it.” She taps her foot on the floor for a few beats. It’s long enough to get Bucky’s attention. “This guy needs your help finding something.” She says, nodding her head in the direction of the blonde guy from earlier.

Blonde guy has the decency to blush and look a bit more flustered at having to have Darcy lead him here.

“You got it Darce.” Bucky says, giving her a thumbs-up. She rolls her eyes and heads off to the stacks once again. “What can I help you with?” He asks the man.

The other guy shrugs, his hands in the pockets of a tan coat. He looks like he just came from church. Blonde hair combed neatly, black pants pressed with a crease, and a collared shirt beneath his jacket. Bucky absently picks at the messy way that the sleeves of his shirt are pushed up to his elbows, pushes his glasses up his nose and sets his shoulders.

“Card catalogue?” The blonde man asks, avoiding making eye contact with Bucky.

Bucky nods, pointing at a computer on a stand near his desk, “Over there, if I can help you further, let me know.”

The man nods. “Thank you.” He says, turning and walking to the computer terminal. He pulls a small spiral bound notebook from his pocket and places it next to the keyboard.

And then nothing. Bucky watches absently from his desk as the man prods at the mouse for less than a minute, and then cautiously presses a few keys. The computer screen lights up, displaying someone’s previous search for The Hunger Games. The blonde man stares at the screen in confusion for a long minute.

Bucky looks away for a moment, pulling open a new book and setting up his scanner.

When he looks back up, the man’s gone. Bucky looks over each shoulder, rising to peek around the corners of bookshelves around him. Only there’s no sign of him. Bucky goes to the computer catalogue to clear out the search and return it to the main page. There, resting against the number keypad for the keyboard is the small notebook.

Bucky picks it up, muttering to himself about the lost and found. He flips it a couple times in his hand before eventually throwing it in his desk drawer in case the guy comes back to claim it.

And then it’s 6 0’clock and Bucky gets to clear the desk for Natalie to take over for him.


Curiosity gets the better of Bucky three days later. The blonde guy hasn’t come back to stare blankly at the computers some more. And his notebook has been sitting in Bucky’s desk drawer for just as long, untouched. So, on an incredibly slow Sunday afternoon, Bucky quietly slides his drawer open and reaches for the notebook.

He at least has to check to make sure there isn’t anything crazy inside.

There isn’t.

The first page is blank. The second page, there is an address listed, about 4 blocks from the library. It’s close to where Bucky lives actually. Then there’s a small grid below this with a line winding its way through seemingly at random from one point to another.

Except, when Bucky turns the notebook on its side, he sees that it’s a map, from the apartment building to the library.

Bucky frowns. Does this mean the guy’s new to the area and doesn’t know how to get to the library? It’s not of a hard trip. And anyone who has lived in the area for more than a few weeks would be able to tell you exactly where it was. You couldn’t miss the large stone façade and the granite steps leading to the front doors if you wanted to. Some days when he rolls in to work late, Bucky tells his boss that he missed the building completely, she makes him be in charge of calling back all of the inquiries about programming.

On the next page Bucky finds a list. A seemingly random list of things:

V Day
I Love Lucy (TV show)
Martin Luther King Jr
Moon Landing
Berlin Wall (up and down)
Steve Jobs (Apple)
Thai Food
Star Wars/Trek
Nirvana (Band)
Rocky (Rocky II?)
Game of Thrones (Game? Show?)
Harry Potter
Bees (Missing)

After this, in the same neat handwriting, the man has written ‘Library card?’ and circled this.

And of course, Bucky feels like an asshole. For falling prey to the age old stereotype of the bitter, knowledge-hoarding librarian who didn’t see a cry for knowledge when it was right before him. And also for looking at the notebook in the first place.

He’s not the kind of person who really takes things to heart. It’s how he can go weeks without calling his parents or hanging out with Natalie. Very much of Bucky’s life has been in the books he reads and surrounds himself with.

But this nags at him. All day. Even through the patrons who bug him every few minutes and the earnest teenagers who have come for Bucky’s recommendation of what they should read next. He feels guilty for whatever reason.

When he gets home that night, he stares at his walls and walls of books neatly put away over the years. He must have dozens of bookcases at this point, mismatched in size and material just to fit in his not so spacious apartment. But it still works.

Bucky sighs to himself, meandering over to his history section. It’s not nearly as full as his fiction or mystery area. But there are three full shelves of heavy political biographies and accounts of major historical moments.

He plucks “Alan Turing: Unlocking the Enigma”, “The Monuments Men”, and a general history book about WWII off the shelf, throwing them into a random Whole Foods reusable shopping bag. On his way back out the door, Bucky takes one of the 10 paper menus from his favorite Thai place around the corner and throws it in the bag.

It’s a short walk to the address listed in the notebook. Bucky doesn’t even know if this is where the guy lives or not. For all he knew, he was about to leave this stuff for some unsuspecting person. Whatever.

Bucky climbs the steps to a brownstone that’s been split into two apartments. He throws the notebook back into the Whole Foods bag and hits the buzzer for the top floor where the name “Rogers” has been written neatly on a small label.

He leaves before there’s any chance for an awkward encounter along the lines of “Sorry I was an asshole, have some books about World War II if you’re into that kind of thing.”

Bucky keeps his head down even as he distantly hears the sound of a door opening down the block. He goes back to his apartment, selects a book at random and settles in for the night.


Two days.

Squeaking shoes and the scent of soap approach Bucky’s desk. Bucky looks up to see the blonde man got Bucky’s books, as he’s holding the Whole Foods bag in the crook of his arm not unlike Bucky’s mother would if she was coming home from the store.

“These are yours.” The man says, holding the bag towards Bucky, two patches of red doting his cheeks. Bucky didn’t think that people still blushed. This guy must do it to make up for everyone else.

“Thanks.” Bucky says, taking the bag. “How did you—“

“Property of Bucky Barnes—Return to rightful owner or die.” The man deadpans back. And Bucky remembers Darcy’s personalized book stamp that she gifted him with last Christmas. She had told him that at least this way, she would feel a bit guilty for not returning Bucky’s books in a timely manner. It still took months and a tactical plan for Bucky to get his books back, but at least they were identifiable.

“Ah,” Bucky sighs. He closes the book before him and sets his hands together on the desk. “What can I help you with today?”

“I need more books.” The man says, pulling that familiar notebook out of his pocket. “And also, I Love Lucy.”

Bucky nods, standing up.

“How about I show you how to find them?” Bucky asks, walking to the computer terminal that gave this guy so much trouble in the first place.

“That would be great.” The guy says, and then he seems to think better of himself. “I’m Steve.” He says, sticking his hand out to shake Bucky’s.

Polite, doesn’t know how to use a computer, tucks his shirt into his pants, and has exquisite hygiene. Bucky doesn’t know where this guy came from, but it sure as hell wasn’t Brooklyn.