He wants to hug a lot, but he knows that makes Barnes want to hit things, so he tries to keep himself in check.
Close surveillance is stressful.
On the plus side, Rogers's sofa is a lot more comfortable than the crunchy mattress in his old, dumpy apartment. When he wakes in the middle of the night, Barnes can climb the open stairs to the sleeping loft and look at Rogers, verify his safety. That's pretty nice.
Another thing Rogers wants is for Barnes to meet the Avengers-people. It is a reasonable desire if Barnes is to integrate into Rogers's life. Except that it means talking to strangers. Strangers who know about his past. Who have the scientific knowledge to potentially knock Steve out and put Barnes in a cell.
"They're not putting you in jail, Buck. I won't let them," Rogers says.
As long as Rogers is at least 3 m away, Barnes can think of 26 discrete reasons why that logic is faulty. He can think, 'don't be naïve,' and 'last time I checked, you weren't in charge of any war crimes tribunal.' But when Rogers is close by, forget it.
It's like he puts out some super pheromone that makes one believe in truth, goodness, and harebrained schemes.
Of course, Rogers is sneaky, too.
"I mean, Natasha already likes you," he says to the pan in which he is doing terrible things to eight poor eggs that never hurt him a day in his life, "and don't you think she'd be the hardest case?"
As if Barnes hadn't overheard the entire conversation of furious whispers in Rogers's bathroom three days after contact, in which things had been said like 'I thought you were my friend," and 'how could you keep this from me.'
That's when Barnes learned that she was not only terrible to him, because she had said, in a perfectly normal tone,
"Gosh, Steve, I just assumed that after everything he went through, you would want him to make his own choices."
And Rogers had stumped out of the bathroom 20 seconds later looking mulish.
It almost made Barnes like her.
Rogers's point is not without merit. She could have put him down like a dog at several points in their acquaintance, but instead she has shown him kindness.Maybe he will ask her about it some time. But Rogers is wrong that she's the hardest case.
"No. Stark," Barnes says.
Rogers flinches at the eggs.
"Well," he says, "yeah. You're right there."
The eggs are approximately the consistency of a tire. Barnes makes a mission note to take over the cooking.
Twenty-four hours later, over pancakes at the Vinegar Hill diner where Barnes has been a regular since September, Rogers says,
"Maybe Barton! I think you'd like him."
"Arrow guy. Met him already."
Rogers squeezes his fork until it snaps in two.
This is why it's hard to talk to you, pal.
"Are you kidding me."
Barnes shrugs. Seems like Rogers would've preferred Barnes had spent his months of surveillance sitting alone in a room. Reasonable. Barnes still wishes the same thing for Rogers. Alone in a room is safe.
"When you and Stark hit that HYDRA office in Manhattan. Barton brought me the rifle."
Barnes has a terrible thought.
"I don't have to give it back, do I. When I see him."
Rogers isn't listening.
"He what? But he said he hadn't seen you! He told me right to my face!"
Barnes gazes at Rogers, who is so mad he's sticking his lower teeth out. Makes him look like a nutcracker. Reality adjustment is difficult. Barnes knows this. He wishes to make this adjustment easier for Steve.
"Really helped me out, too," Barnes says, "otherwise you would've been chasing me around while I was following you. Sounds exhausting."
Rogers blinks. Then he sighs.
"Yeah. You're right. Sorry, Buck. I'm glad he helped."
There are so many conversations that need to happen, and they're all locked up inside Barnes's mouth.
"You broke your fork."
"I know, jeez."
That afternoon, Barnes is merely trying to cross the room when Rogers blindsides him with,
"Actually, let's have you meet Dr. Banner."
What the hell, Rogers. Absolutely no doctors. No poking, no tests, no syringes, no scalpels, no gadgets, no drugs. No experiments. No restraints. No restraints.
"Hey. Hey, Bucky, what's going on?"
Rogers's voice has changed. It is suddenly very gentle. Barnes finds that he has backed himself into the corner nearest the door, and although he hasn't drawn a knife, his hand is hovering toward the one sheathed at his thigh.
Rogers jumps toward him, checks himself, then raises his hands.
"Oh God! No, of course, Buck. He's not that kind of doctor."
Yeah, like that's an improvement.
"No messing around in my brain."
"I promise. He's not that kind of doctor either. He's a scientist. He works with Stark. He's. He's a nice person. He's very quiet."
"I won't let him touch me."
"He won't touch you, Bucky," Steve says, "I promise. No one will touch you without your permission."
Why does that make Rogers look so sad.
The train to Manhattan is way less obnoxious when you don't have to pretend you aren't there. It's Saturday - the platform and car are both crowded. Barnes stands closer to Rogers than he would otherwise. Easier to intervene if bad guys show up, and if he's going to have to jostle anyone, Barnes's first choice is Steve.
Every time their elbows bump together, Rogers relaxes fractionally. Barnes thinks about the movies from World War II that they have watched together. The Bucky-person and Steve stood close beside one other, hands on shoulders.
Hey, mission. I could use some direction here.
But the mission imperative still won't speak to him. It's a knot of tension that persists in his chest. All the briefing wants to show him is hugging.
Ugh. So complicated.
December is cold. Barnes turns up the collar on his coat and ducks his chin into the scarf Rogers gave him. Rogers won't even wear a hat.
Probably too vain about his hair.
It is the first time Barnes will go inside his friend Building JARVIS. That's a cheering thought. Building JARVIS is mission-assist. Building JARVIS will ensure no harm comes to him. He puts his earbud in his ear.
As they cross the threshold, he hears,
"Welcome, Sergeant Barnes. I am glad to see you in good health."
Rogers looks at him, sees the earbud, and rolls his eyes.
"If you will, please follow Captain Rogers to the security station. I will scan your hand and add you to the security files. Would you prefer your real name or an alias?"
"Confirm internal security of personal data."
"Sergeant," Building says, sounding offended, "I assure you no outside parties will have access, and all staff have signed strict confidentiality agreements."
"Real name's okay, then."
"Good morning, Captain, we haven't seen you in a while," the security guard says when Rogers scans his hand.
Barnes lays his right hand on the glass, and the guard frowns at the delay before the information shows up.
Then the man sits down in his chair abruptly.
"Hank, are you okay?" his partner says.
"It's Bucky Barnes," the guy whispers, staring at Barnes as if he were made out of cheese, "oh my God, it's Bucky freaking Barnes! Cap, you found him!"
Everyone is looking.
"He found me, actually. It's, uh, kind of a long story. And, you know."
The guard nods.
"Yeah, okay! Top secret, I bet! Sergeant Barnes, welcome home!"
Rogers pulls Barnes away toward the elevators, as the guy says,
"You want proof that miracles happen, it is standing right there, by God. James Buchanan Barnes. Look at him!"
"There's a guy who can't put two and two together," Barnes says as they step onto the elevator.
"Or," Rogers says, doing that thing where he makes his big, obnoxious point while staring off into the distance, "maybe there are plenty of people besides me who would just be glad you're alive."
Even if he hasn't been inside, Barnes has seen layouts and schematics of Building JARVIS. The labs are on floors 3-9. Rogers punches the button for 34. Floor 34 is two floors above the apartment Stark made for Steve. That is. Surprising.
"Not a lab," he says.
"No, Buck. Bruce lives in the tower. We're going to his home."
The man who opens the door is small, with curly hair and plenty of worry lines around brown eyes. But the man's expression is calm, and he holds his body as if relaxed. Not afraid.
"Bucky, this is Dr. Bruce Banner. Bruce, Bucky Barnes."
Barnes has rehearsed this in his mind. He holds out his right hand.
"Call me Barnes."
It comes out okay.
The man smiles at him.
"Pleased to meet you, Barnes."
They go into the apartment, which has lots of plants. Nice.
"I made tea," Banner says.
No wonder Rogers likes him.
"You have a floor with the Avengers," Barnes says when he receives his little clay cup.
"He is an Avenger, Buck."
Barnes peers closely at the man.
"Not recognized from video footage or the fight with HYDRA."
Banner looks disturbed. Rogers clears his throat.
"Bucky, Bruce is the Hulk."
"What is the hulk."
Banner and Rogers both turn red.
"Uh, the big green guy," Rogers says after a pause.
Oh. That would've been useful information to have been mentioned at some point.
"The green thing," he says. "I like the green thing. It's good to know the green thing's name. Hulk."
"You. Like? The Hulk?" Banner says. He spills his tea a little.
"Confirm. Green thing Hulk is tough and focused. And it's so big that it draws attention away from Steve."
Rogers puts his hand over his face. What did I say wrong Steve. But Banner smiles.
"That's unusual. There aren't too many fans of the big guy."
"I beg your pardon?"
"At Halloween. I remember. Four children dressed as green-thing Hulk. Three in standard costume and one in a purple tutu. The little girl in the tutu was extremely cute."
"Oh hey, that's right," Rogers says.
"I - " Banner says.
"Building," Barnes says, "how many green thing Hulk costumes were sold at Halloween."
"One point two million nationwide, Sergeant. Split approximately three to one in favor of children to adult."
Banner grabs at his hair, which makes it spring up off the top of his head.
"I don't even know what to say to that."
"You may also be pleased to know, Doctor, that 'Hulk Smash Talking Bop Hands' are projected to be a top-five toy at Christmas," Building says.
Building is a mission-assist for everyone.
"What are 'bop hands'?" Rogers asks.
Building projects an advertisement onto the television screen. Rogers laughs aloud at the bouncy foam hands that make silly noises. Banner looks ready to crawl under his own sofa.
"Oh my God, Bucky, it's the dream toy of our childhood!"
"Your childhood maybe, Sir Punch-a-lot."
Rogers stares, then laughs again.
It's a good sound, that laugh. Mission note: make commentary aloud when likely to induce laughter response.
Barnes listens, but the mission imperative remains quiet.
"Well, I'm not sure what to think about my giant rage monster alter ego being popular with children, but I guess it's not bad news," Banner says, "so thanks, Barnes."
"Building is the one with the information."
"He means you're welcome, Doctor," Building JARVIS says.
Barnes glares at the ceiling, which makes Banner grin. It makes the lines around his eyes look at home.
Banner has a face made for smiling and an apartment full of plants. Barnes decides to like him.
They stay for 24 minutes. Rogers and Banner talk about Stark's Christmas party, and how neither one likes the idea of standing around in fancy clothes with 250 drunk strangers. Smart men.
When they leave, Banner holds out his hand again.
"It was a pleasure, Barnes. I hope to get to know you better."
This is kindness. Barnes has learned to accept kindness.
"Thanks," he says, "me too."
"That was really nice, what you said to him about the kids," Rogers tells him on the train back to Brooklyn.
Barnes remembers his mission note.
"Figured watching you is about all the moping I want to look at," he says.
Rogers gapes briefly.
"You're such a jerk!" he says.
But he laughs when he says it.