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Peaceable Skills

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He’s keeping his head down, paying rent on his little apartment, buying his food, and not hurting anyone.

Not hurting anyone costs money, though. He doesn’t steal, and that means he has to pay. To pay he has to work. Most of the kinds of work he knows how to do are things he never wants to do again, or put him in situations where he might have to.

But he speaks a lot of languages, he doesn’t need to sleep much, and his new left hand has very neat handwriting. He does a little interpreting work here and there, among the other odd jobs he picks up, and eventually he looks up on a computer how to get work as a translator. It turns out he can do it just like that: on a computer. People can send money to him with just an email address, and he can get the money out of the internet and into his hands in an assortment of ways.

He does some work for free at first, just to show he can, and once he proves he’s accurate and fast he gets work pretty steadily. By the time he decides to stay a while in Bucharest, it’s an established thing; he prints out his clients’ documents, writes out his translations in a notebook, and then finds a place to use a computer so he can type them up and send them. 

There’s a whole network of public libraries in Bucharest, and he lets himself choose a favorite, not too far from his apartment, but far enough that walking to work and walking home from work become a part of his life. On his way to work he hurries a little; on his way home he walks slower, looks around more, steps into shops or stops in the market to look at the fruit for sale. 

He has a routine; he has locations where he can be found regularly. He refuses to be a person who can't have those things, even though he stays ready to run. He tells himself there are computers and libraries everywhere, and cheap apartments and fruit markets. He could do this anywhere, but for now, he does it here, walking from the library to his apartment past the stalls of the fruit sellers in Bucharest.

He buys anything he doesn’t recognize at least once, and he tries to eat a different color thing every day. He’s read that that’s important: variety. There isn’t much other variety in his life, staying in one place, staying quiet, but he likes that. His days only vary by what kind of fruit he’ll buy and what he’s translating, and among what languages. Mostly it’s tedious--he’s gotten a reputation for being good at handling technical instructions, and he doesn’t think about too much about why--but now and then he gets a personal letter or a scholarly article about a poet or an interesting kind of frog. People have different ideas of technical, it turns out.

There are only six computers at the library, so it’s no big surprise when he comes in one day and finds that they’re all in use. He signs up to get the next one free, and then goes to find a book about frogs, because that article made him curious. He can’t stay right there to read it, though; the stacks are too quiet. Every little sound he hears makes him look around for danger.

He takes the book about frogs over to the other side of the library, the corner where the children’s books are, and the bin of toys and puppets. He doesn’t get too close--he has a feeling being a grown man alone sitting on the soft bench in the children’s area would draw attention he doesn’t want--but he sits in the nearest adult-sized chair, where he can hear the children and their parents, a constant reassuring layer of noise, like birds singing in a forest. There are no predators here; this is a place where children play. 

He doesn't realize how much he's become a part of the furniture, as familiar to everyone around him as the place is to him, until one day a little boy walks up to his side--he only comes up to Bucky's shoulder--and says, "What's this word?"

Bucky looks around first for the boy's mother, realizing as he does that he knows who to look for. He's seen them here before, just as they must have seen him. He doesn't spot the woman anywhere nearby, but the boy doesn't seem concerned about that, except that he is stuck on a word in his book. 

The book--Bucky has to squint thoughtfully at it for a moment to be sure--is in English, and the boy is speaking Romanian. He peeks at the book in his own lap, which is about different kinds of rocks, because he never knew there were so many kinds until he translated a thirty page document on what kind of drill to use on what kind of rocks. The book turns out to be in French, which he hadn't noticed until now.

"Mister?" The boy repeats, pointing. "Do you know this one?"

Bucky clears his throat. "Yeah," he says. "Caterpillar." 

He has to think another moment to repeat it in Romanian, and then he has to explain a little about what a caterpillar is, and before he knows it the kid has conned him into reading the whole book. He looks up at the end to find that the kid's mom is hovering a couple of meters away with an apologetic look on her face.

She's not frightened. She doesn't think there are any predators here either. She just doesn't want her son to bother a stranger.

Bucky smiles and shakes his head. "I don't mind. It's a nice break reading a story like this instead of--" he waves his gloved hand at the book in his lap.

Her smile widens, and she prompts little Dimitrie to thank the nice man before they go.

It becomes a part of his routine, after that; somehow the children and their parents all just seem to know. It doesn't happen every day, but more days than not, he's interrupted by a child coming over to hand him a book. They lean against the arm of his chair while he reads to them, except the day a girl who can't be more than six comes over with a toddler held determinedly in both arms. The toddler is holding the book, and when Bucky reaches to take the book, he winds up with the toddler in his lap. The girl goes off without a word, and after Bucky and the toddler exchange a mutually confused look, Bucky shrugs and opens the book, and reads to the toddler until the girl comes back. 

He makes a list, on the back page of his translation notebook, of the stories he has read, with the names of the children he's read them to. This is also important to remember, he thinks. It is important to remember that children and their mothers (and big sisters) are not afraid of him. It is important to remember silly children's stories with brightly colored pictures. It is important to remember that he can be this person, who has a quiet little skill he uses to earn an honest living, and spends his afternoons in the library, sometimes reading to children.

Each day when he goes home, he tucks the notebooks into his backpack, in case something should happen in the night and he needs to leave and find some other library in some other city. He will run, if it comes to that. He will not fight. He will not hurt anyone. And even if he has to start all over somewhere far away, if he sits quietly in the same place often enough, he will become a man who can hold a stranger's baby on his knee and read a story.

Natasha hands off his backpack when she meets them at the Raft, exchanging it for Clint and Wanda, who she takes away with her to someplace safe. T'Challa offers the rest of them refuge in Wakanda, and Bucky is the first to agree.

He doesn't know if Wakanda will be safe enough, but he knows he has a better chance there than anywhere. Once they're en route he checks the date and digs into his backpack to find his work notebook. He's blown a translation deadline for the first time, and if he gets to a computer promptly after arrival he will just make the other two. 

He writes the translations out as he sits in the back of the Quinjet, Steve up front flying and Sam asleep across from him.

When he turns the last page of the notebook, his thoughts are jerked away from instructions on calibrating an industrial power washing mechanism by the discovery that this page is already filled, a list that covers nearly every line.

Dimitrie. The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

He thinks of what it would have been like if a man holding a certain book had walked up behind him, while Dimitrie was leaning on his chair--while he was holding that round-bellied curly-haired toddler on his lap--and said a certain sequence of words.

It is important to remember this: he can be a person who doesn't hurt people. He can be, but he isn't sure that he is yet. And until he is--until he can be sure--he has to find a way to keep everyone safe. He has to keep the predator away from the place where children play.

Wakanda has the technology to make sure of it, he thinks. He will ask when they arrive. T'Challa--king and warrior, protector of his people--will surely understand.

In the meantime, Bucky pulls out another notebook, finds some blank pages, and continues writing down his translation. He'll find some time to send it, with apologies for its lateness, before he shuts himself away.