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The Long Road Begins at Home

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Successful method for beginning a day with a sense of normality: identify a need and make a plan.

The need Barnes has identified is for a mocha and a breakfast sandwich. His plan is to stand at the foot of Rogers’s bed and stare until Rogers wakes to go get them.

Barnes would go himself, except that 1. unstrapping his own arm to enable wearing a shirt could cause re-injury, lengthening his time of impaired functionality; and 2. none of the objects retrieved from his apartment have been shoes. Rogers’s feet are bigger, but Barnes has examined the choices available, and a man has to have limits. The terribleness of Steve’s shoes far exceeds those limits.

He has also discovered that cold coffee out of a cardboard container exceeds his limits.

Rogers sleeping the day away has the potential to exceed his limits.

Does using a metal finger to poke someone’s foot through two layers of bedding count as touching? Possibly touching-adjacent. Also effective.

“You okay, Bucky?”

At least, Barnes assumes that’s the question. Most of the consonants were left out.

“I don’t have any shoes.”

Rogers looks confused. It makes no sense that a person given to running at dawn should be so incapable of coherent thought after waking.

“You. What?”

“Mocha and breakfast sandwich required. But my shoes are across the street.”

It is November. Rogers should wear more clothing while sleeping, to avoid a chill. Current sleep pants are thin, plain fabric. Inferior.

“Bucky. Are you telling me to get out of bed and go get you some breakfast?”

“Confirm. Arm wrapping does not permit sufficient clothing, and I don’t have any shoes.”

Rogers actually. Smiles. Confirm: a goal and a plan improve general emotional states.

“Give me two minutes.”

Rogers accepts his mission to go to Starbucks – while wearing the bugged leather jacket – with a wry twist to his mouth but no complaint. He calls flying Sam 2 minutes after leaving.

“He woke me up and sent me out for coffee.”

“And you left him behind? I thought you’d be worried he’d bolt.”

Well, there’s the shoe thing.

“I was informed that he doesn’t have his shoes and he can’t get a shirt on. Sam, it was all I could do not to laugh at him.”

Why avoid laughing. Laughing is an indication of positive emotional state.

“Steve. Just watch yourself, okay?”

“Nope. Gonna watch Bucky.”

Flying Sam doesn’t trust. Even though he is a mission-assist. That would sting, except that Sam’s priority is Rogers’s safety. He and Barnes will find commonality in that.

At Starbucks, Rogers orders both their usuals, and the barista says,

“What, for real? Man, that is awesome! Hey Gael, Running Regular One just got his order and Running Regular Two’s!”

“Yeah! Love is in the air!”

“What?” Rogers says.

Uh oh.

“Bucky,” Rogers says aloud outside the shop, “what the hell.”

Pal, you are not going to ruin my breakfast.

Barnes waits by the door. It’s possible that he might be bouncing slightly on his toes. It’s within the realm of imagination that he makes a grabbing gesture in the direction of the coffee.

Yes. A proper hot drink increases the baseline satisfaction level of the day. Today is a significant improvement over yesterday.

“So I gotta ask,” Rogers says.

“Deny.”

“Um. Excuse me?”

“No asking. Now is the time for coffee and breakfast.”

It sucks to have two cherished food items and only one functional hand. The insertion of delicious food and delicious drink into his face is significantly slowed.

Rogers also appears to consider this day an improvement. He watches Barnes with an expression of amusement.

Good job, Barnes. Improved performance.

“So what is that? Your drink.”

Barnes demonstrates generosity befitting a high-quality protection detail and holds the cup out. Rogers’s reaction is hilarious: skepticism becomes surprise, becomes greed, becomes more surprise.

“That’s not coffee. Coffee’s a mild form of punishment. That’s dessert.”

You're a mild form of punishment. You have not been taking advantage of the future’s advances, Rogers.

“Incorrect. 'Three shot' indicates three shots of espresso, a highly concentrated form of coffee.”

So many words Barnes, well done.

When will Rogers give the mocha back.

“But it’s covered up by all that sugar,” Rogers says.

“Makes it better.”

“Well yeah, but it doesn’t taste like coffee.

“So what. It’s good.”

“Okay, that’s true.”

Rogers takes another drink.

Get your own damn mocha, Rogers.

Physical functioning still too impaired to simply reach across and grab the cup back. Also, his hand is full of breakfast sandwich.

Steve takes another drink.

Rogers, you’re killing me here.

“Sure you don’t want to trade?”

What.

“Bucky, your glare is more terrifying than ever.”

Finally Rogers hands the cup over. The target has successfully re-established his status as a pain in the ass.

Unfortunately, even the best breakfast foods don’t last forever, and it’s only 3 seconds after Barnes has leaned back and rested the cup on his belly that Rogers says,

“So any idea why the folks at Starbucks apparently call us the ‘Running Regulars,’ have both our orders memorized, and now think we’re dating?”

“Neither of them said anything about dating.”

Oops. A giant super face can make a lot of giant super frowning.

“You have my clothes bugged?”

Does he think I’m an amateur.

“Confirm.”

“If you’re gonna sound that woeful about it, you shouldn’t have done it, Bucky! What were you doing? You followed me on my run every day?”

Nod.

“Where else, Buck?”

This is so stupid.

“Where. Else.”

“Ideal following distance five to seven meters.”

Rogers turns bright red. Is this anger red or something else. Dammit. The day is going downhill already, and it’s only 0946.

“And?”

Definitely anger red.

“Four times we have shared a subway car to Manhattan.”

“What!?”

Shrug.

“Made my job easier that you never bothered to look up.”

Rogers grips the arm of his chair so hard that the wood creaks. His face is no longer red but pale, eyes and mouth clamped shut.

Wonderful, Barnes. You’re on a regular schedule of upsetting the target every 12-18 hours. Great start. Keep up the close protection, you’re definitely great at it. You don't even deserve this mocha.

They stare at one another. Eye contact is difficult. Barnes feels exposed. He can remember wishing to lash out, to close eyes that have stared at him. He will not do that to Rogers. He chooses to not.

Mission, you could help me out here.

Silence.

Why is this so hard.

“Okay, look. Since we’re on the topic anyway. How long have you been living across the street?”

I’m growing new blood here, you can’t give me a break?

“A while.”

“How. Long.”

“Within twenty-four hours of your moving in here.”

“What?”

Super surprise is super loud.

“That building offered the optimal combination of surveillance and cover. Plus, Esther bakes.”

Let’s talk about the Olds instead.

Rogers puts his big dumb hand on his big dumb face.

“Jesus, Bucky. You followed me around DC like this too?”

As demonstrated by all the HYDRA mooks very helpfully deactivated for you Steve.

Nod.

“Since when?”

“Since I pulled you out of the river.”

“It was you.”

Voice indicates insufficient oxygen. Strong emotion again?

Nod.

“Bucky.”

Strong negative emotion. Identified: misery. First anger, now sadness.

“Bucky, why? Why did it take so long? Why’d you never just contact me?”

If the mission were coming back, surely this would be the moment. Its favorite person used its favorite word. But no. The mission imperative remains a silent knot of discomfort in his chest.

Dammit. And the day started off so well.

“Protection detail,” he says, because it is clear that Rogers requires him to speak, “close contact detrimental to adequate protection.”

“Protect? Me?”

Nod.

“Bucky, I can take care of myself. Don’t look at me like that, I’m a damn super soldier. You’re the one who needs protecting right now.”

Only as long as functionality is compromised, Captain Delusional of the Can’t Watch My Back Brigade.

“Who gave you these orders? To protect me. Not HYDRA.”

“Self.”

“What?”

“I gave the order.”

There is strong emotion again. Not so unhappy as before. What is causing it.

“How, Buck?”

Why does Rogers want to hear this. It’s not pertinent to current protocols. And he was badly injured that day.

“Please tell me.”

Well. If you’re going to be so polite.

“Mission override. Former mission: kill. Reset passcode: ‘end of the line.’ New mission: protect.”

What.

Steve.

Steve, don’t cry, pal. We can stop talking about it.

“Sorry,” he says.

“Sorry? For what?”

“For describing events that upset you.”

“Bucky, no,” Rogers says.

He moves close. But slowly, with hands visible. He sits close. It’s too close, but Barnes concentrates on breathing evenly. He doesn’t want to increase Rogers’s upset.

“That’s not,” Rogers says. “I’m not upset to remember it. I’m just. I thought you didn’t know me. I thought. You were lost. To me. I was ready to scour the world, to do anything. And now you tell me that you never left. You were right here. The whole time. Like you always were.”

Of course that speech results in hugging. On one hand, that means Barnes doesn’t have to say anything. On the other hand, he is keenly aware of the location of every knife within reach, and his left arm is whirring loudly, preparing itself for violence.

One small benefit: the briefing moves again in response to Rogers’s proximity.

“You’re gonna have to learn to protect me from close by,” Rogers says after several minutes of uneven breath and a few shakes.

He pulls back, and Barnes makes himself blink, to reset his higher brain functions.

“It’s difficult,” he says.

“We’ll figure it out,” Rogers says.

Barnes looks at him. Observation and intel from the briefing have told him: Rogers is stubborn. If he is determined to make close surveillance work, they will have to go to ridiculous lengths to achieve that goal.

“Okay,” Barnes says, and the day is not ruined after all by mission difficulty.

It’s a small but palpable victory.

There’s a very welcome shower, for which Barnes only has to inform Rogers 4 times that he does not require assistance. Even though washing his hair one-handed is obnoxious. Rogers has a very fancy shower head. Much nicer than the one across the street. Unlike the dumpy building, the hot water does run out. That takes 46 minutes.

After the shower, Barnes learns two interesting pieces of information: 1. Rogers feels strongly about the need to wear undergarments (“Jesus, Buck, don’t jeans that tight chafe?”) and 2. Rogers is no good at pulling hair back into a tail. Which is an operation that requires two hands, so hair in the face it is. Just as well: having Rogers standing so close at his back makes violence seem suddenly attractive.

At 1335, the door alarm rings again.

“That’s still the door buzzer, Bucky. When did you even have time to put a knife in your pocket?”

A knife. Poor Rogers, so naïve.

The visitor is the redhead, with bandages and banter. Also, the ability to put hair in a tail, which almost makes her into someone Barnes actually wants to see. And trouble, per her usual protocols.

“I’m glad you called JARVIS for backup, Barnes. It did Stark good to see that. Probably did you good to ask,” she says.

And damn her to a very cold fucking gulag, she stares at him with an expression that clearly means she’s also waiting for the great muscle-bound synapses in Rogers’s mind to find their way into the light.

At the time, she also has a pair of scissors and tweezers at work on the stitches in his shoulder. So nice of her to distract him from the increased pulse and cold sweat of close proximity and medical procedures by getting him in trouble. For the nineteenth time today. Just terrific.

“Wait. Call JARVIS?” Rogers asks.

Barnes can see her laughing at them, under her fake calm.

Sigh.

“Building JARVIS is mission-assist.”

“Am I a mission-assist?”

Lady, you are a menace is what you are.

But she meets his glare with her obnoxious hidden laughing. He’s still growing new blood, still overwhelmed by the developments of the past 38 hours. Perhaps his glare is weakened.

Also possibly his tactical planning ability. And intelligence. Good sense may never have been his strong suit. And the mission imperative isn’t helping him.

“Yes, fine.”

Romanoff looks actively pleased by that. Why.

“What’s a mission-assist?”

Yes, Steve. Definitely latch onto the unimportant parts. Keep that up, maybe I'll get off easy.

“It’s his word for friend, I think,” she says.

Followed, of goddamn course, by,

“Wait. You know each other?”

This time, it’s not so much that Rogers turns red with anger as it is that his face holds on it the promise of knocking one into next week.

“Steve, if you beat him up before I’m done taking these stitches out, I’m going to make you need stitches of your own.”

Rogers looks horrified at the suggestion that he might cause Barnes harm. Romanoff can really work a situation. It’s a problem.

Okay, and in this instance a benefit.

“Sorry, Buck. Sorry.”

And then the tweezers and the scissors go away, and Barnes hasn’t lashed out even once. All the knives stayed where they should. He only sweated a moderate amount. That is fortunate.

Although. It's possible Romanoff has done all that trouble-making on purpose, just to distract him.

Yikes.

His shoulder’s still a mess, even if it’s not actively bleeding. Pain levels moderately high. One of Lidia’s pills may be in order.

But the best news is the unstrapping of his right arm. He lets go a long breath when Romanoff unwinds the tape from around him. She has brought him a sling to use, so he can put on a shirt (slowly, gingerly, but – the worst part – button-down only and therefore a terrible plaid thing of Steve’s). Just having his arm freer releases some of his pervasive tension. The strapping was necessary to prevent damage, but it was restraint. He is free of restraint now. Baseline interior static reduced. Identified: relief.

Also, it’s really nice to stretch his right fingers.

“Better?” Romanoff asks.

Nod.

“Don’t push it, okay? Anyone else would keep you strapped up for another two weeks.”

Undesirable.

“Anyone else would have him in a hospital,” Rogers says, then, “no, I get it, calm down.”

As nice as it is to have more freedom of movement and the stitches out, Barnes still feels wrung out by the time Romanoff leaves. The walls of Rogers’s apartment are close and unfamiliar.

Will this be how it always is, an ebb and flow of comfort and stress.

Sounds exhausting.

 

Is remarkably exhausting. Example the first:

“You should take the bed, Buck.”

Assess: sleep in that giant bed the smells like Rogers. Potential for actually sleeping: 0.06%. Potential for the briefing going bonkers: 704%. Tempting, if only to get the briefing to speak up. But no.

“Deny.”

“Bucky. You don’t - I’m not saying you have to kick me out of my own bed. I mean. That’s fine, if that’s what you want. But. We could share. If that would help. We used to, in the old days.”

Sure. Like that’s better. I’ve seen you sleeping, champ. Awake you might be Captain America, but asleep you’re Captain Cuddle. No fucking thank you.

“Deny.”

“I won’t -”

Stare.

“Okay, Buck. But at least let me pull the sofa bed out.”

The future is incredible. They put folded-up beds inside sofas. Too bad they can’t figure out an actually comfortable mattress. But it’s nice to be able to stretch out a little.

Example the second:

“I gotta move, Buck. Otherwise I feel like I’m having a full-body cramp.”

Barnes is well-versed in full-body cramps. They are a feature of the post-cryo thaw process. Unpleasant activity, to be avoided.

“Use the gym.”

“Bucky. I’ll break the treadmill. I’m not gonna get in trouble at the park.”

Sure. Because it’s definitely not true that 72 hours previously an entire HYDRA team was across the street.

“Don’t look at me like that.”

Too late.

“You can’t go with, Bucky. Look at you. You’re barely mobile.”

Barnes has an ace in the hole, though. Rogers becomes acquainted with the little stand of trees and low bushes off the running trail in Cadman Plaza Park.

“Every day,” Rogers says, watching while Barnes settles neatly into his usual spot.

“Confirm.”

“Jesus Christ, Bucky.”

It’s not one of those days where Steve has a bounce in his step. But at the end of his run, he looks more relaxed around the eyes.

 

There are good things as well. They eat at the little café, which turns out to make a superior French toast. Barnes introduces Rogers to the dumpy diner, and he loves it. Mission-compatible, well done, Barnes.

They have dinner with the Olds twice. The Olds are possibly magical. Rogers and Barnes can arrive at Ollie’s door with matching glares after an entire day of misunderstanding and a particularly ill-conceived attempt at dressing oneself that resulted in greatly increased shoulder pain – but by the end of the evening, Rogers has ceased speaking with his teeth clenched together, and even Barnes has laughed once.

Barnes demonstrates a small glimmer of basic intelligence after this and starts regularly suggesting (Rogers might call it “demanding,” but who cares what he thinks) visits across the street.

Adjustment. It takes time to incorporate new routines and parameters. Useful knowledge: avoid setting expectations too high until familiarity and comfort are achieved.

The worst part – worse even than Rogers’s confusion and his own continued physical impairment – is the mission imperative’s silence. That knot of discomfort in his chest remains, no matter what he tries.

Mission.

Hey, Mission.

Come on, don’t sulk like that, you big baby.

Barnes had really thought insulting it might work. There’s too much space in his head. The briefing has made its presence known, but it’s little more than a whisper in the background, so excited by Rogers’s proximity that it only offers up stevestevesteve.

So it’s still just Barnes kicking around in the wide-open spaces of his own brain. Like vertigo, or giddiness.

He places his left hand over his chest, over the spot where the silent mission imperative aches.

“Buck? Bucky, are you hurt?”

Another adjustment: being observed, reactions questioned.

“Not injured.”

“What is it?”

For once, Barnes actually wants to talk about it. Maybe Rogers will have insight. And if not, maybe it will help simply to talk about the imperative. Barnes misses it.

“The mission imperative is upset.”

It’s a bad way to start – this causes confusion.

“The what?”

“Hard to explain.”

Rogers is a good person. He settles into his arm chair, demonstrating patience.

“I’ve got nothing else to do, Buck. You can take a week to explain, if you want.”

A week of talking. Terrible. Surely it won’t take that long.

How to begin.

“I made the new orders, to protect.”

“Yeah, Bucky, you told me.”

“One part of me. The mission imperative.”

“One. Part of you?”

“Confirm. One part of three: mission head, mission imperative, mission briefing. I’m the mission head. The other two don’t talk so much.”

“Wait. Three? What?”

It’s not that hard to understand, pal. Surely you can count to three.

“Confirm. Mission head – the guy you’re talking to right now – the imperative, the briefing.”

“These are. Parts of you?”

Nod.

“The imperative got confused. By the reprogrammer. It accepted the passcode to kill you. It’s upset. Won’t talk to me.”

“You have voices in your head?”

Why do you say that like it’s a bad thing.

“The briefing and the imperative. The briefing downloads memory. The imperative is mission support. But the imperative is upset and won’t talk to me.”

“Your memory? Is a separate part of you?”

You must be saying it wrong, Barnes.

“Confirm.”

“Okay, and what’s the whole ‘confirm’ and ‘deny’ thing?”

It’s a thing?

“Query unclear.”

“Bucky, don’t go all robot on me, I’m not criticizing.”

The technical term is cyborg, Rogers, learn some damn vocabulary. I’m doing my best here.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to change the subject. I’m just trying to understand. There are three of – you – in your head, and one part has gone quiet, because it listened to the HYDRA guy?”

See, not that confusing. Easily summed up.

“Confirm. I feel it, here,” he says, and taps his chest, “upset. But it won’t talk. Got too much space in my head.”

Rogers takes time to think about it. Barnes can see a big pile of upset growing in the distance.

He’s going to call flying Sam.

He’s going to say it wrong.

And then flying Sam, who’s already on the fence, is going to think Barnes is bonkers on top of dangerous.

Barnes will say it for the mission: avoid.

“Bucky, I don’t understand this at all. Can I call –“

“No.”

“But I-“

“No. Flying Sam doesn’t know me. You can talk to Lidia.”

“How did you? Wait, ‘flying’ Sam? Why Lidia?”

Am I supposed to answer all those questions.

“Lidia knows me.”

“Was she a psychiatrist or something?”

“Unknown.”

“Okay, Buck. Okay.”

Rogers clearly doesn’t like it, but it’s kind of him to agree.

And yet again, the Olds demonstrate their value as mission-assists. They go across the street, where Barnes spends a highly enjoyable afternoon receiving the healing vibrations of cat Eleanor’s purring while Esther bakes peanut butter cookies for him. Ollie comes over and the three of them grouse about the cold weather and the inadequate supply of affordable sweaters in Brooklyn. Esther and Barnes set Ollie straight about Rogers’s cardigans and how they are not to be admired.

“You people have no sense of style,” Ollie says.

Barnes, as the only person in the room whose waistband is not hiked up under their armpits, is confident that Ollie is incorrect.

After an hour, Lidia fetches Ollie away.

“We need the benefit of what little insight you possess,” she says.

Hilarious.

Esther turns on her TV. There is a whole network of nothing but cooking shows.

“Esther,” he says, “you’re just showing me this now? I thought you liked me.”

“I do like you, Jimmy,” she says. “I was trying to avoid rotting your brain with television.”

Reasonable. What little brain he has ought to be preserved. But the shows are good. There is a lot more to baking than just cookies.

When is he going to regain function of his right arm.

By the time Rogers, Ollie, and Lidia troop back upstairs, Barnes has a long mental list of recipes to try and even had a short nap. Rogers tries to pet cat Eleanor, but she draws her head back and stares at him with obvious resentment.

“I don’t think she likes me,” he says.

“She likes you just fine on your own,” Esther tells him. “She has her own set of priorities.”

Excellent cat. Barnes scratches behind her ears.

Rogers gazes at Barnes even more than usual during dinner, with an expression that is serious but not obviously sad or angry.

“Good talk?” Barnes asks him when they’re back across the street.

“Yeah, Bucky, thank you. That was a good idea. I don’t know that I really understand, but it helped. Lidia has been through a lot.”

That explains how she knows things. How she is unafraid. But Barnes identifies: sadness, that Lidia has suffered.

“She thinks you’re doing great, Bucky.”

That is useful to know.

Also useful to know, ten minutes later from the sleeping loft, after all the lights have gone out,

“I think so too.”