"You know, I honestly was skeptical about this," Sam said, watching Bucky investigate a vending machine in the cafeteria of Stark Industries from across the room. "I know what I said to you about stopping him."
"Yeah, I remember that," Steve said, but his voice wasn't as sharp as it could have been.
"He seems like he's doing well," Sam said. "Relatively speaking."
Steve nodded, but he was frowning, eyes still on Bucky as he carefully fed a dollar into the machine.
"Steve?" Sam prompted.
"Hm? Oh -- no, it's just." Steve's frown deepened. "He's so quiet."
"No..." Steve sighed. "It's probably nothing. He just never talks. When he does, he seems fine. He smiles, he talks in full sentences, he just...doesn't do it a lot."
"Well, give him time," Sam said, patting Steve on the shoulder. Bucky hit buttons on the machine, then crossed his arms when it beeped in protest. "He's traumatized. Could be he can't always find his words."
"Could be," Steve agreed. Bucky, at the vending machine, fed a quarter into the machine, and then a dime. He pushed the buttons again, and a Snickers bar tumbled into the hopper at the bottom of the machine. He bent and pulled it out, unwrapping it.
"Get what you wanted?" Steve asked, as Bucky approached, half the candy bar already gone. Bucky nodded. "Wanna go watch the movie now?"
"Sure. What movie this time?" Bucky asked.
"Anime," Sam said. Bucky looked pleased.
"I like that better than his dumb four-reel romances," he said, jerking a thumb at Steve.
"Hey! There's nothing wrong with liking a love story," Steve said.
"Four reels of doe eyes and nobody kissin'," Bucky said. "That's what he always liked."
"Well, I'm pretty sure there are no doe eyes in this one, but I guess we'll see," Sam said. "My nieces like it. JARVIS?"
"I have queued your film for viewing and begun the process of popping popcorn," JARVIS said, as they got into the elevator. "Howl's Moving Castle awaits your pleasure, sirs."
"You said this wasn't a romance!" Steve said, an hour later, but he sounded so pleased that Sam ignored him completely. Bucky, sitting between them, seemed attentive, but he also seemed like he might be sleeping with his eyes open. Sam decided not to bother him.
Natasha found Bucky in the gym early one morning, beating up on one of Steve's boxing bags and blasting pop music. He stopped throwing punches when she turned the music down to bearable levels, but he didn't turn around, which either meant he was learning to be more trusting in the Tower, or he knew it was her.
"Little early for a bout," she said, as he steadied the swinging bag.
"Steve says all the workout trainer people on the internet say working out in the morning is the best," he said.
"You shouldn't believe everything you read on the internet," she said.
"I don't believe anything I read on the internet," he said, unwrapping his hands. "Whatcha need?"
"Nothing. The pleasure of your company," she said with a smile. "JARVIS said you were down here, I was up. Want breakfast?"
"Maybe," he said suspiciously. "Not bagels."
"What've you got against bagels?"
He kept silent, scowling.
"No bagels," she promised. "Let's go out. We'll get doughnuts from that little corner place."
"They got okay sour-cream doughnuts," he admitted. "Lemme shower so I don't embarrass you in public."
"Don't feel obliged, I voluntarily spend time with Clint Barton," she said. He shot her a grin.
"Five minutes," he promised, vanishing into the locker room. Natasha sat on the bench and took out her phone.
What's Bucky's deal with bagels? she texted Tony.
Like I know? What makes you think I would know? he texted back.
You're the one who buys the gluten free bagels.
Tony's reply was immediate. I like rice flour bagels! They're fluffy!
Live a little, buy an egg bagel and some lox for the sullen manchild next time you buy breakfast.
No. He took my crown as sullen manchild and I'm still bitter.
"So what team do we cheer for anyway, these days?" Bucky asked, and Steve startled and peanuts went everywhere. "Jesus, Stevie, you need to relax."
"I was relaxed, until you stealthed me!" Steve blurted.
"Stealthed?" Bucky asked.
"Tony invented it. For what you do." Steve began gathering the peanuts up and salvaging what was left in the little waxed paper bag he'd poured them into.
He'd always wanted to go to a ball game and have a sack of peanuts, but a severe lack of funds and a very severe peanut allergy had prevented him, in the thirties. Now there was nothing stopping him, but the TV was a little more convenient than trying to get out to a game. Here he could watch at least two at once. And eat as many peanuts as he wanted.
"Huh." Bucky vaulted the sofa and landed next to him. "But really who do we root for? The Dodgers moved to LA."
"The Yankees suck," Steve added.
"And the Mets..." he looked at Steve, and Steve looked at him, and they both said "No" in unison.
"I thought maybe I'd pick some farm league team," Steve said. "Been to a few triple-A games, they're fun. Lots of kids."
"Beer's still seven bucks a pop."
"How would you know?" Steve asked.
"I heard Clint gripin' about it. Maybe we oughta just draw one out of a hat."
Steve gave him a horrified look. "You can't just pick a team to root for! That's not how baseball works!"
"I hear people who like losers like the Cubs," Bucky said, taking one of his peanuts.
Steve sniffed. "I think we can do better than that."
"You got a problem with the Cubs?"
"Well, we can't exactly go to a home game."
"Quinjet. Or I hear they got these things called cars...."
"I'm not rooting for the Cubs," Steve said firmly.
"Well, maybe I will."
Steve gave him a sad, betrayed look. "You're not an evil person, Buck."
Bucky rolled his eyes. "That only worked for two weeks. Maybe. Who's playing, anyway?"
"Dodgers," Steve said.
"And who -- " Bucky began, but then he squinted at the screen. "The Cubs. You!" he said, turning to Steve. "You're still a Dodgers fan. After they abandoned us."
"I don't have to be! It's just what was on!" Steve said. "Don't eat my peanuts, you Cubs-loving traitor. Get your own."
"Fine." Bucky got off the couch. "I'm stealin' Nat's beer. You want some?"
"No, steal me Bruce's."
"Your funeral," Bucky said, wandering towards the kitchen. Steve watched him go, then turned back to the TV just in time to see the Dodgers run a beautiful double play.
"Go Dodgers!" he said, but out of respect for his clearly mentally ill friend, he didn't say it too loudly.
It wasn't like Bucky had disappeared under a sheet of ice and emerged seventy years later. Not like Steve. He'd been awake for bits of the late 20th century -- usually the most exciting, flammable bits, but he'd seen hemlines rise and telephones shrink and all the rest of it. At least, in flashes. So he wasn't as unprepared for the future as Steve had been.
But, he sometimes thought, that might be the problem. Steve had woken up in the new century with basically nobody to gripe to and nothing familiar about anything, so he'd had to either embrace the future enthusiastically or end up curled in a ball in a corner, weeping. Bucky supposed it was a testament to his character that he'd chosen enthusiasm.
Bucky, on the other hand...well, he had Steve, of course, and the other Avengers, and some context, so he didn't have to sink or swim the way Steve had.
And that was causing some turmoil. Because really, he didn't think the 21st century was that great, and there were a lot of things he thought he personally could have improved upon if he'd been given the power, and also just a lot of bullshit.
But you couldn't tell Steve Rogers that debit cards and pop music and postmodern art were bullshit. You just couldn't do that to a fella like him. And Bucky didn't even hate a lot of that stuff, he just...he hated what it stood for. The fact that he'd been kept back. He'd been left behind.
For instance, he hated manbuns (why even call them manbuns? Weren't they just buns, regardless of the gender of one's hair?) and he wore one. But he had a lot of hair, and he hadn't really been able to bring himself to get it cut yet. For one thing, Steve would freak out about it, probably. And the point was, he felt entitled to hate them, because he couldn't do anything about them.
One of the few things about the future that didn't piss him off was Tony Stark's workshop. In part, probably, because Tony was always in there, and when Tony was in a room anything else even remotely annoying was drowned out by the sheer Tony Starkness of him.
Terrible music was booming over the speakers when Bucky knocked on the door and got the It's unlocked wave to come in. Jesus, was everyone in the future deaf?
"Sorry, what?" Tony asked, when Bucky turned the music down.
"Nothing," Bucky said, joining him at the welding bench. "Whatcha building?"
"A better mousetrap," Tony said.
"Well, I guess if anyone could, it'd be a Stark."
"Nah," Tony said, setting the welding mask aside and wiping his forehead. "Dad always said nobody needed to build a better mousetrap, just a better way to sell the ones you have."
"Well, Howard was kind of a bastard."
Tony smiled at him. "That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me all week."
"I aim to please."
"What can I do for you, Doctor Kimble?" Tony asked.
"No, that's a different -- okay, I'll explain later, we'll watch some TV."
Bucky just stared at him. Tony was incomprehensible most of the time, but you learned to pick things up from context. At least, sometimes.
"Just needed a break," he said, finally.
Tony gave him a knowing look. "Dodgers in the playoffs?"
"It's rude to hate another fella's ball team when they're doing as well as the Dodgers are this year."
"To his face, anyway," Tony said. "That's cool, I don't really do baseball, I'm happy to hate the Dodgers with you."
"I'm pretty good at hating them on my own. They left Brooklyn, y'know."
"I did know, yes. You're pretty judgemental for a guy who worked for the Soviets for decades."
"The Soviets didn't much let me make up my mind how to feel on that, or anything else, so I figured I've got some catching up to do," Bucky pointed out.
"I hate bagels, y'know."
"So said your fellow Red. Why?"
"And vending machines," Bucky added.
Tony looked at him, eyebrows raising. "What'd a vending machine ever do to you?"
"A dollar thirty five for a candy bar is highway robbery," Bucky said vehemently. He wanted to stop, because after all Tony probably owned those vending machines, but he couldn't seem to shut up. "And they know it! And they know you'll pay it! I'm not even mad about paying a dollar thirty five for a candy bar!"
"Could've fooled me," Tony said, looking faintly nervous.
"It's the fact they know you're not gonna go down to the store and pay seventy cents for one when there's one right there on the other side of the glass for nearly twice that. It's just a tease!"
"Uh -- "
"You know what's wrong with a bagel? People think you can eat one instead of a doughnut. That's an actual thing I saw on a fitness website on the internet! Want a doughnut? Eat a bagel. No! I want a damn doughnut!"
Tony crossed his arms, looking less nervous, more amused now.
"Oh, you think that's funny?" Bucky asked. "You know what's not funny?"
"I actually literally can't wait to find out, this is amazing," Tony said, but Bucky was already barreling onwards.
"You can't move a baseball team! You just buy a bunch of players which is pretty creepy by the way, and then you call them the same thing somewhere else but they're not the same at all! CHANGE THE NAME, you can't have the Dodgers! And while we're on THAT topic, the Cleveland Indians, really? Even I know that's racist and I'm from 1922!"
"Yeah, well, there's the Redskins," Tony said.
"Don't get me started," Bucky growled.
"Too late," Tony pointed out.
"And -- and the internet, wow, let me tell you a thing about the internet, I don't even know how to feel about the fact that a global gathering place means all the idiots in the world can get together and decide who deserves to be allowed to play a video game."
"Oh, no -- "
"In my day if a lady wanted to play a video game -- well, we didn't have them, but we'd damn well have shared our controllers!"
"Someone showed you GamerGate, didn't they?" Tony asked.
"Like it's hard to find?" Bucky snorted. "And -- and skinny jeans. Nobody looks good in skinny jeans. And why's everybody gotta have a tattoo now? I don't even like Howl's Moving Castle, it's just confusing! And..." he took a deep breath, then sighed and abruptly felt himself run out of steam. "The future sucks," he said viciously.
"You done?" Tony asked.
"Gimme ten minutes, I'm sure I'll find something else to be irrationally angry about," Bucky sighed.
"You were getting a little Old man yells at cloud right there at the end," Tony said. "Not that I'm not with you on skinny jeans."
"We ain't even got flying cars and your dad personally promised me flying cars."
"Oh -- we have flying cars," Tony said. Bucky blinked at him. "I mean, not a lot of them because FAA regulations and the potential for a lot of horrible death, but we do have them."
"Where? I never saw an ad for one or anything."
"SHIELD has a few. Von Doom out in Latveria has one, he bought a sports car and had it converted, because he has an inferiority complex. I've got two. One of them's probably as old as you, Dad showed it at the World Exposition in the forties."
"The Expo?" Bucky asked. "I saw that."
"What'd you think?" Tony asked, leading the way down a row of parked cars, interspersed here and there with scattered engine parts and Iron Man pieces.
"I was impressed, till it blew up," Bucky said.
"Story of my life. Here we are," Tony said, whipping the sheet off a cherry-red touring sedan with a long hood.
"I'm not getting in that thing," Bucky said.
"So untrusting, in one so young. I souped it up. It flies fine," Tony said, holding the door open. "In."
Bucky eyeballed him, but he cautiously climbed into the car, then yelped when Tony climbed over him to get to the driver's seat.
"Starks always take the fastest route from A to B," Tony said, taking a key from under the visor and turning the engine over.
"No matter how many people they knee in the manhood?" Bucky asked.
"That was your thigh."
"Close enough for government work."
Tony grinned at him and pushed a button on the dashboard. The car jerked upwards. Bucky braced himself briefly against the ceiling.
"Seat belt," Tony sang out, buckling his own. Bucky hastily slid the belt across his lap and tightened it as Tony zipped the car over the workshop, upsetting what little paper was lying around, and out through the Iron Man exit. The one that was very narrow at one end --
They burst out into the Manhattan night sky, and Tony leaned out the driver's side window to check the paint job.
"Not a scratch," he said, satisfied, and aimed the car northeast. "So. You seem to be repressing a lot of rage about a lot of really inconsequential things."
"They're not inconsequential to me."
"Clearly. You're the judgiest man I've ever met, and frankly, it's an honor," Tony said, glancing at him with a smile. "That's what happens every time you get quiet and Steve freaks out about you being quiet, isn't it? You're judging."
"Pretty much. Ma always said if you can't say anything nice..."
"Well, you lived through the Roosevelt era, so you ought to know how that one really ends," Tony said. Bucky frowned at him. "Alice Roosevelt?"
"Yeah, what about her?"
"Well," Tony said, shifting gears for no apparent reason, "Alice Roosevelt said, If you can't say anything nice, come sit by me."
Bucky looked at him, eyebrows raised. "Did she."
"She did. And I think we can both learn from her example," Tony said.
"Where are we going?" Bucky asked.
"There's a pizza joint I like," Tony said. "It's got a dining patio out front. I figure we could go sit and criticize everyone who walks past. Looking cool and saying catty things is one of my favorite pastimes and it's not like I can take Steve Rogers out for pizza and judging."
"But it's real pizza, right? Not that stuff with basil leaves and tomato slices on it."
"Shame on your Italian ancestors," Tony said, but he grinned. "Yeah, it's 'real'."
"Better be, I ain't got time to eat leaves on my pizza."
"Bucky," Tony said, as the car lowered to buzz traffic on the upper east side, "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship."