Bucky likes Bruce, because everyone likes Bruce, and because unlike Tony, Bruce talks like a human. One day, Bruce hands him something. “I worked this up for you, thought you might like it.”
It’s the thing Tony’d made for him, the hand-held thing that’s sort of like the computers (he’s just about got a handle on computers, finally, but this is something else). He’d called it an iPad when Tony’d handed it over, because he’d seen TV ads for them and it looked kind of the same, in that all technology sort of looked the same to him.
Tony had laughed, long and loud, and gone on a speech about inferior products and how “if it makes you comfortable, Buck, call it an iPad, but never where I can hear you,” and so Bucky had sort of set it down and walked away. Touch-screen things didn’t really work with the arm, and besides he couldn’t think what he would use it for. But this is Bruce, and Bruce talks like a human, thinks like a normal person most of the time.
So Bucky touches the screen with his good hand and it brings up a world map, the one he’s used to, the one he knows is all kinds of wrong now.
“Pick a country, or an area, really.” Bruce is smiling, which is a good sign.
He presses on the little squiggly shape he recognizes as Czechoslovakia, where he’d had those great dumplings with the Commandos once. The screen zooms in until the map fills the area. A year, 1938 (the year Hitler got handed the place, he remembers it happening) hovers alongside, in greeny-blue letters.
“Press the triangle, there,” Bruce points to it, a triangle pointing right surrounded by a circle, right next to the year. Luckily for him, tech these days tends to use the same symbols over and over again, so he knows what the triangle means. He presses it, hoping in a weird moment of fantasy that it’s a time machine.
Instead, JARVIS starts to talk, but not from the in-tower speakers like usual: this JARVIS is smaller, quieter, coming from the screen in front of him. “In 1938, despite a military alliance with France, Czechoslovakia was ceded to Adolf Hitler during the Appeasement.” On and on, JARVIS talks as the years tick by and the borders change. Cities and areas are illuminated, zoomed in on when important, and arrows show troop movements and battles.
Bruce says, “To pause it, it’s just like the TV, hit the arrow again. Or, well, I guess it’s two parallel lines now. Then you can zoom back out, do another, or come back to it, whatever you want. It’s up-to-date as of yesterday, but it’ll update automatically if anything changes.” He peers over his glasses. “Thought it might be useful.”
Bucky just nods. It’s too hard to make words right now, but he’s pretty sure Bruce understands, being observant enough to notice two things Bucky thought he’d kept hidden.
Bucky likes Clint, because they’re functionally the same person — born a few years apart, fighting for different reasons, but basically the same. Clint’s just better at thinking the thing and not saying it than Bucky is.
Clint doesn’t speak a word of Russian, or Spanish, or French. They don’t have any languages in common at first, while Bucky slowly, torturously picks his English back up out of the basement it’d been trapped in for fifty years. It was okay, though, with Clint: they spoke weapons, glances, pointing and signals and tiny controlled facial movements that looked like nothing but were in fact paragraphs of information. They understood each other.
The first time Bucky spoke English all day, Clint was the person there. They were sparring, a morning warmup before a long day of recon, and Clint got in a lucky shot to Bucky’s guts. “Goddammit, Clint!”
It was accented, heavily, but it was English — a reaction, not a planned statement. They didn’t move for a split second, ages, really. Then they were back, fighting, Clint just as mouthy as always, but faster. He spat out swears and insults and jokes and Bucky reacted, in English, and it was good. Good like fighting always was, better, really, because the English felt natural, like the punches.
The arm never tired, but the two-thirds or so of Bucky still made of human stuff did, so they stopped after a while. Clint grabbed a towel, tossed it to him, and Bucky said, “Thanks.” It was a good day, the whole rest of the day. The accent faded, slow but sure; every morning spar was more and more talking and less and less Clint provoking gut reactions, and the Russian edges turned into something muddy and muddled, and then one day he asked for an orange and Clint’s jaw dropped.
“You said ah-ranj.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes,” Clint said with a wide, lazy grin, “you did. You totally did. Say ‘car’ now.”
“Fuck you, that’s a Boston thing, not a Brooklyn thing.”
Clint cocked an eyebrow. “Oh, you’re from Brooklyn now?”
Bucky slipped into Russian again, just for a moment. “Poshel na khui.”
The archer laughed then, head thrown back, and they got back to sparring.
Bucky likes Pepper Potts quite a bit (sassy redheads have always been a thing for him, see: Natasha), and he especially likes that she’s sort of frighteningly competent in the way no one else on the team really is: a normal person who’s just damn good at their job, not a mutant or a demigod or a zombified war hero or a freaky genius. She’s scarily efficient and merciless about deadlines and paperwork — if she was a marginally better shot, she’d be the sort of future version of that British dame of Steve’s from back in the day. He sees Pepper in a red dress once, and damn near trips over his jaw, because damn. Damn.
But when he starts to dote on Pepper (everyone dotes on Pepper, everyone loves her, because she keeps Tony from imploding or exploding and also is the only one who knows how to get the robotic/semi-sentient espresso machine to not make Tony’s eighteen-shot-triple-dark bullshit) is when she brings him a book called Running With The Captain. It’s a biography, and he doesn’t recognize the name at first (Timothy Aloysius Cadwallader Dugan means absolutely nothing to him). Turns out, it’s Dum Dum, he wrote a book about the War and the Commandos, and Steve’s in there, and Bucky, too, and all the guys. Peggy Carter makes her appearance, and Howard Stark a time or two, and for a few days Bucky’s sort of wandering around dazed, reliving it all.
Anyone else wouldn’t have given him that, would have tried to keep from reminding him of what he’d lost. But Pepper, he realized, hadn’t thought of it that way: she’d given him back something good that he’d done, something he only occasionally could really remember. After Winter Soldier, the Howling Commandos sometimes felt like street games he’d played as a kid: not really real, like he just wanted them to be so bad that he tricked himself into believing it. Reading Dum Dum’s words (and he sounded just like himself, which was great), seeing photos and maps and reading letters and reports he’d long forgotten writing, it made it all real.
He didn’t hug Pepper, because with the arm he tried not to hug or unnecessarily touch anyone (you never knew, no matter how many times Tony assured him it was fine). Instead, he left her a Post-It with “Thanks” scrawled on it and a Hershey’s bar. Nothing would have been enough anyway.
Bucky likes Thor, most of the time, because he’s all made of smiling and beer and more smiling, and he reminds Bucky a tiny bit of Dum Dum Dugan, if Dum Dum had been a sort of god thing and had used a hammer.
Thor laughed when they met, because Bucky had still had no way to talk to the rest of the team (Tash spoke Russian, of course, and Tony’s suit let him speak anything, but everyone else had to make do with grunts and pointing), but Thor had just spoken anyway. Turned out Asgardian was some sort of Babel fish language, everyone heard it the same way, no matter what their native tongue was (which answered some questions the team had been holding about Thor’s brother and a few other things).
It was Thor who explained the Avengers concept. Tash hadn’t bothered and Tony couldn’t string two words together without making a joke, but Thor was constitutionally incapable of being sarcastic, so he made sure Bucky got it. Thor was also the one who figured out, weirdly, that Bucky avoided mirrors as much as possible. Or at least, he was the one who “accidentally” called the lightning in Stark Tower, cracking and destroying the mirrors on the floor Bucky split with Steve. Neither of them minded: Steve had developed a complex about not being the man in the mirror, and Bucky preferred not to try and figure out which parts of his skin were synthetic.
Thor made everyone go out drinking and dancing the night they found out his girlfriend was expecting. Tony picked the place, because Tash and Clint wanted this illegal gambling/karaoke place but Thor didn’t want his kid to go there. “Why would I expose the son of Asgard and Midgard to a den of darkness?” he’d asked, bewildered.
Of course, then the girlfriend lit into him about saying “son,” all, “What if she’s the daughter of Asgard and Midgard, what then?” Thor had been so thoroughly cowed that the evening had turned really surreal really quickly. The only clear images Bucky had in mind were Tony and Steve dueling on a pinball machine, Bruce standing in a corner holding a beer and smiling like a fool, and himself throwing up violently in the lap of someone he wasn’t sure he hadn’t slept with.
But anyway, the point is that Bucky likes Thor, because he seemed relatively uncomplicated. He’s definitely the most normal of all of them, sadly, and the only one with a real family. Bucky likes that Thor smiles, that he laughs, that he isn’t a big ball of angst all the time like all the rest of them.
Bucky likes Tony, even though everyone thinks he doesn’t; sometimes it’s just more fun to needle him and play dumb-jock-from-Brooklyn and watch Tony turn into a caricature of himself (not that he needs the help, generally) than it is to fight through it every time like Steve does. There are moments, in the light right, when Tony reminds him a tiny bit of Gabriel, or of Falsworth. He’ll joke in another language or puff out his chest just so, act all ruffled-feather to get his way, and they’re there, peeking out around the edges.
So sometimes he picks on Tony because of the Commandos. Sometimes he does it because Tony’s the only one who’ll rise to the bait, self-centered temperamental child that he is. Sometimes he does it because he likes to pry at Tony and see what’s hiding underneath the grin and jokes and babbling.
He didn’t, that is, he wasn’t this guy before, Bucky knows he didn’t used to do this, test people just because he could. And so sometimes he leaves Tony alone entirely, because he wants, at those times, to be the guy who doesn’t pick at scabs or pull at seams or dissect people just because it keeps him from thinking about his own bullshit (see also: robotic arm, brainwashing, memory loss…other things).
They reach detente of sorts, at least about the arm. Tony swears up and down it’s safe, that Bucky’s got control, but Bucky doesn’t buy it.
“It feels like it’s waiting, like if I slip up—”
“What, you’re gonna choke me? In my metal suit?” Tony peers over the stupid shades he thinks make him look younger. Bucky swallows the words he knows would make Tony turn closed-off and sarcastic, would actually strike a nerve. He’s not that guy, is he? “Or were you planning to punch the demigod? Or the guy whose healing factor puts that clawed asshole in yellow to shame? Maybe you were gonna go after the giant green rage monster dressed like a scientist?” Tony pushes his sunglasses back up his nose, managing to make it look more cool than it really should.
“Or perhaps you were considering attacking the redheaded woman everyone on this team of mutants and indestructibles is afraid of — you can decide which one I mean.” Tony grins, a quick flash of white teeth, tilts his head back like he’s presenting his chin for a punch. “Don’t worry about it there, Detective Spooner, you’re in control of it. The cybernetic brain,” and Bucky’s lost again, like always. But he feels better, maybe, a tiny bit.
Tony gets, a few days later, the arm-wrestling match he’s been begging for. They end up rolling on the floor snarling, and Bruce has to stand there and look serious at them before they stop. They don’t arm wrestle again, for a while. At least, not where anyone can walk in and send Bruce after them.
Bucky does not like Nick Fury. Bucky does not like SHIELD, really, although apparently he would have liked the semi-mythical Agent Coulson everyone talks about (or pointedly doesn’t talk about, in Tony’s case). That they call their personal jet Phil sometimes, when it’s being temperamental, makes him think it’s probably true.
Coulson, or the specter of him anyway, haunts the edges of Stark Tower, of the plane, of the huge ridiculous air-carrier thing they call The Hive when Fury’s not around. People talk about him without talking about him, people do things for him or his memory, and people make these grand and tiny gestures all the time, about this guy who died before Bucky woke back up.
When Thor’s kid is born — and it’s a son, so point to him re: the den-of-darkness argument — they name him Cole. It takes Bucky longer to get the joke, or the meaning really, than he feels comfortable admitting to anybody.
Steve keeps a set of bloodied trading cards in a pocket in a jacket he never wears. Bucky knows about it because when Steve’s downstairs punching endless bags into oblivion, sometimes Bucky snoops. He’s a nosy guy, is the thing, and Steve’s nearly a stranger sometimes now, so who’s to stop him? Anyway, the cards, Steve would never, ever keep cards with his face on them. Put two and two together, and it’s the ghost of Coulson again.
One day, Tony disappears. Pepper won’t tell anyone anything, and JARVIS pretends to be malfunctioning, and no one talks. When he comes back, his eyes are suspiciously not red and not puffy, unlike the other million times Bucky’s seen his eyes. Another Coulson’s ghost moment.
Bucky starts to wonder if Coulson ever really existed, sometimes, or if he’s some sort of totem or mascot the team made up to give them something to blame beauracratic fuckups (“Coulson never would have let this happen,” “Coulson would kick your ass if he knew”) and military bullshit on.
He finds a picture once, a long time later. Nick Fury and Maria Hill and Galaga (whose name is Joel but, for some reason, has no other name as far as the Avengers are concerned, and it’s one of those pre-Coulson things no one will tell Bucky) and a bunch of other SHIELD agents Bucky vaguely recognizes. Some of them he knows intimately, drenched in blood, and it hurts to see them and know that he, or someone in his head, killed them without a second thought. Everyone’s names are inscribed on the bottom of the image, and Coulson turns out to be the nondescript balding guy between Fury and Adeoye (and Bucky blanches for a second because Amelia Adeoye had died at his hands, stone-faced and solid to the end, and he hates this, hates it).
He — Coulson — doesn’t look like he’s anything special at all. He looks boring, like a midrange desk guy, someone who keeps to himself, keeps his mouth shut, doesn’t get his hands dirty. Bucky makes the mistake of saying that aloud, and Tony hears him.
“You don’t know anything about Phil Coulson. I suggest you keep your uninformed stupidity to yourself, and stop digging through other people’s things.” His voice is icy, which means something is deeply wrong.
Bucky tries to apologize, but Tony’s gone before he can stutter out the words. After that, he pays more attention to what people say and don’t say, do and don’t do, when it comes to Coulson. He doesn’t understand it yet, but maybe he will if he keeps his mouth shut and his ears open.
Steve and Tash…Bucky can’t really talk about them. Hell, talking to them is hard enough most days; everything he wants to say to Steve is terrifying (“dumb kid who couldn’t run from a fight/you got big/I had him on the ropes/
I love you/ I love you/ I love you”) and everything he wants to say to Tash, well, it doesn’t translate one way or another (“you’re the only one who knows me/I’m not a good man/Ty menya lyubish?/ I love you/ Ya lyublyu tebya/ I love you”).