They kept the cameras rolling the entire time so they’d have as much material to edit as possible, once they started putting the behind the scenes look at the Avengers together. Neither Frank nor Annabelle was a film editor, but Tony Stark – fucking Tony Stark Jesus Goddamn Christ! – had offered his services for when they began editing. And since no one in the history of ever had been given this much access to the barely-masked heroes before, they wanted to record all the material they could.
Frank was pretty sure they’d have to lead with the mother freaking Winter Soldier/Holy Ghost/Bucky fucking Barnes bounding out of the compound like a golden retriever to greet them both. How could you not lead with that?
There were a few places they weren’t allowed to go with the cameras live, for obvious reasons. Private quarters, unless invited, the gymnasium locker rooms, Stark’s lab due to proprietary crap laying everywhere in haphazard piles.
And Stark would be hovering as they put together the final pieces, so anything reaching towards too much, they’d be sure to cut it and bury it before it ever leaked. With just Frank and Annabelle there, if it leaked, well . . . the Avengers would kind of know who to come for, and Frank sure as fuck wasn’t here for that.
Not that Frank or Annabelle intended to go leaking shit. If Frank hadn’t been a fan before, he sure as goddamn shit was now. James Barnes, or whatever name he was going by these days, had saved their lives. Frank was practically a loyal sidekick, okay, just give him some tights and point him in a direction!
They were invited back to the Avengers compound when the first two-hour long episode of the miniseries aired. To say that the last six months had changed their lives would have been a mild understatement. They’d kept half the profits of the sale of the miniseries at the insistence of the Avengers, the other half going to rescue efforts sponsored by the Maria Stark Foundation. And it had been quite a lot of money, to say the least.
But returning to the compound had been sort of like coming home. Bucky – not the Holy Ghost, he didn’t really answer to that and sort of laughed at you when you called him that, and sure as fuck do not call him the Winter Solider to his face or you’d have to go change your underwear – Bucky had greeted them a little more sedately than he had when they’d arrived the first time, though Frank had his camera out again for the follow-up interviews.
Bucky had a broken arm and a bruise that covered half his face now, and Frank suspected that was only what could be seen. The Avengers had saved the world again last week, after all. They were all a little banged up and traumatized as they ate their popcorn and settled around the movie screen.
Kind of fortunate timing to bring in viewers, not that Frank had been proud when that had glanced across his mind, okay, he considered these people his friends after his time with them.
The documentary was spectacular. It did exactly what they’d prayed it would do; it showed the world who the Avengers really were behind their armor, under their masks, beneath the blood and the bruises and the smoke and disaster. It showed the world that the Avengers Compound was . . . basically just a high tech pound, housing a bunch of strays who sometimes fought aliens and robots and shit.
The opening sequence was indeed Bucky leaping out of the door and grabbing Annabelle up with a grin to spin her around as she laughed in shock. When he looked to Frank and offered his fist, the camera paused on his gleaming white teeth and stunning good looks, letters typing across the screen like a typewriter in a stylized mission report.
Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes: AKA NOT The Winter Soldier, The Holy Ghost, ‘Bucky’ Barnes. Born March 1917. Died . . . a couple times. Just call him Bucky, or he gets kind of murdery.
Everyone watching in the common room laughed at that, even Bucky. Frank felt himself relaxing. He hadn’t even realized he was tense.
The video continued with a montage of meeting the other Avengers, each one freezing to give the audience a cheeky introduction.
Captain Steven Grant Rogers: AKA Captain America, Major Pain, Nomad, ‘Just call me Steve’. Born July 1918. Died just the once. If you hum ‘The Star Spangled Man With a Plan’ he gets kind of murdery, too!’
The subtitles drew laughs each time, even from the people who were essentially the butts of the jokes, and Frank could feel the tightness in his chest loosening more and more as they sank into the common room couches to watch.
“I thought we had backups in place for this?” a dry female voice asked in the pitch black darkness. The video wobbled, but it was nearly impossible to tell from anything but the sound. It was a moonless night, and there were certainly no streetlights near the compound, so there’d be no help there either.
“Well obviously not, or my toenails would be painted by now.”
A light flared nearby. Someone’s phone. Then another, trying to fill the void so they wouldn’t stumble around.
“Stark!” Rogers shouted into the night.
“Wasn’t me! I swear!” Stark’s voice returned, distant and sounding sort of muffled even as it drew closer. Something banged and Stark swore up a bleeped out storm before an electric flare of some sort cast him in a circle of orange light. “This is entirely not of my doing, if I had done this, the backup generator would have kicked in as soon as I started swearing!”
“Bucky?” Rogers called irritably after a few seconds.
“Hey bleep you, man,” Barnes’s voice filtered down the hallway. “I was in the middle of something.”
“What did you do?”
A hazy blue light flared to life in front of the man as he stalked down the hall, then faded just as fast, casting his face in a weird aura of billowing smoke from his lips before it snuffed out. One of his e-cigs that he kept ‘acquiring’ no matter how hard Rogers tried to block his efforts to do so. “Wasn’t me,” he declared, waving Rogers off as he entered the orange glow of Stark’s flare. He met Stark at the corner of the hallway, taking his elbow and stopping him abruptly before the man could stumble into a console table against the wall there.
“How about we all just stop moving around,” Wilson said reasonably, his voice calming, like honey being dipped from a jar. “Take a seat, save your toes. Tony, where’s the outage stemming from? Is this an attack?”
“No,” Stark answered, and his certainty was almost as soothing as Wilson’s calming influence. “It’s an electrical storm.”
“Bleeping Thor!” Rogers cried, causing the others to laugh raucously and mock him over his foul language.
On the right side of the camera, voices could be heard under the sudden cacophony of jests and more bleeping from Mr. American Pie cursing at them.
“What were you working on back there in secret?” Stark whispered.
“I’ll show you,” came the low murmur of a response. When the electricity was finally restored, a grinning God of Thunder stood on the veranda, waving through the glass doors, and Stark and Barnes were nowhere to be found.
They returned, of course, as the video cut through twenty minutes of chaos. Just in time for the lights to kick back on.
Stark had bite marks on his bare shoulders that the camera couldn’t help but glance over.
Rogers gave both men a calculated narrowing of his eyes, to which Stark widened his eyes and mumbled about tinkering with the back-up power as he retreated to his lab, and Barnes merely took a deep drag off his e-cig, giving a slow blink and a smile as Rogers’s stern expression wavered. It soon became obvious he was struggling mightily to maintain it.
It was also obvious that Thor had returned from Asgard with news, news that couldn’t be shared with the documentary crew, so before they cut away the camera focused in as Barnes and Thor greeted each other with oddly identical, silent inclinations of their heads.
“Sergeant Barnes,” Thor said, rather formally. “We’ve not properly met, I fear.”
Barnes moved forward warily to offer his hand, back rigid in contrast with his earlier loose-limbed strut. “I’m familiar with your work.”
“As I am with yours,” Thor replied, shaking Barnes’s hand solemnly.
Barnes snorted and brought his e-cig to his lips as they released one another. “Well that’s not terrifying,” he muttered as he turned toward the kitchen, Thor chuckling behind him.
When Thor turned to the camera quizzically, the video froze on his face, giving him his own humorous introduction.
A piercing scream jolted the camera as Frank startled, the video of Romanov and Barton sparring going sideways as he tried not to panic. The two combatants stood frozen, eyes wide as they gaped at the stairwell from which the scream had emitted, then they both burst into action, the camera struggling to keep up with them as they practically flew up the stairs.
The picture skidded into the common area, panning back and forth with impressive calm, if Frank did say so himself. A moment later, as the rest of the team who were within hearing range of the scream – which was to say, all of them within a mile radius – converged on the hallway that led to the private quarters.
Another scream rent the air, accompanied by gales of laughter as the sounds got closer, followed by scrabbling and the slapping sound of bare feet on concrete, the thumping of a body hitting the wall.
A moment later Barnes lunged into the common area, barrel-rolling with a speed that almost tricked even the camera, and promptly hiding his massive body behind Romanov’s petite frame. He ducked down, holding her hips as he used her as a human shield.
“What the Hell, Barnes?” Wilson shouted.
“It’s trying to kill me,” Barnes panted, sounding genuinely terrified.
More laughter followed from the hallway, breathless and wheezing and finally fading into nothing, replaced by the sound of someone sliding down a wall to the ground, overcome.
“Bucky, it’s just a little cat!” Rogers managed through his hilarity.
“Cats are pound for pound the most effective murder machines on the planet, Steve!” Barnes shouted back. He ducked further behind Romanov, pressing his cheek to her perfect backside and squeezing his eyes shut, obviously operating under the assumption that if he couldn’t see it, it couldn’t see him.
The camera caught Rogers’s hand flopping helplessly from just behind the wall, and then it crept closer, trying to angle down the hallway to get a better view. Rogers sat with his legs splayed, laughing so hard he was red in the face. Behind him, strutting down the hallway, was a lanky black cat with cute little white paws and a white nose.
“Where did that come from?” Stark asked, looking between the feline and Barnes, obviously trying to fight a smile.
“It –” Rogers had to stop to take a deep, shaky breath, “It followed us home from our run. It’s cute, right?”
Barnes barely moved, just enough to peek around Romanov’s hip. When the cat saw him, though, it immediately fluffed up to twice its size and hissed.
A yowl accompanied its sudden attack, but it was impossible to tell which creature the sound came from as the cat, the Black Widow, and the Winter Soldier all went down in a heap.
The video cut to a brief scene of Romanov sitting cross-legged on the floor with a purring cat in her lap as Barnes commando crawled out of sight behind the couch.
It cut again to a shot of the cat flying over the couch and a startled, terrified yell as hands and feet and a black tail with a white tip flew around just above the top of the cushions. One more cut, and viewers were treated to a shot of the empty couch. A moment’s staring though, showed the couch wasn’t empty at all. A perfectly motionless lump hid itself beneath a fleece throw blanket as the cat perched atop, licking its paws victoriously.
“What is wrong with this thing?” the lump cried to anyone who might still be conscious after laughing themselves breathless.
No one came to his aid, but the cat began tearing frantically at the blanket, jumping like a fox in snow and kicking with its back legs to finish the prey it thought it had already killed.
The next shot showed Barnes hunkered down on one end of the couch with his blanket, the cat on the other end, its tail twitching. They were staring each other down.
Barnes pointed at the animal warningly with his metal hand. “Mutually assured destruction,” he warned.
Wilson strolled past with a gym towel around his shoulders and a bottle of water, eyeing the occupants of the couch. “You are two-hundred pounds of crazy in a ten pound bag, man.”
Barnes merely pointed two of his fingers at his own eyes, then transferred them back toward the cat. It narrowed its yellow eyes, tail twitching harder. The stalemate faded into a commercial break.
Stark and Rogers sat at a table in the corner of the common area as morning light streamed in through the wall of windows, a chessboard between them. Both were frowning in consternation, heads cocked as they stared at the board.
Sounds in the background indicated someone in the kitchen, making breakfast with murmured, sleepy conversation. The camera panned toward the action, showing Wilson and Barnes moving around one another in the kitchen fluidly, as if they did it every morning. Point of fact, they did.
“Did they go to sleep last night?” Wilson was asking as the camera moved toward them.
Barnes shook his head as he whipped eggs.
“Aww, were you cold all alone, Barnes?” Wilson teased.
“Metal warms to the touch,” Barnes responded, deadpan, and Wilson made an exaggerated face as he shook the thought out of his brain.
“I hate you.”
“Don’t come for me if you’re not ready for it, birdbrain.”
Wilson edged himself onto the counter and let his legs swing free as he took a careful sip of the coffee he’d just poured. “What are we having?”
“Dammit!” came a cry from the chessboard.
Barnes responded without missing a beat. “A meltdown, apparently.”
The documentary cuts to one of the ‘confessional’ type interviews, with Barnes staring into the camera expressionlessly. “Yugoslav Attack. Tony leads with it every time.”
Another cut, with Stark looking over his sunglasses at the viewers. “It’s a classic. Perfect strategy. No one here can beat it.”
Cut to Barnes. “Delay castling, rook to C-8. Queenside attack. Boom.”
Cut to Rogers. “Bleeping Yugoslav Attack, man. I can’t beat it!”
Cut to Barnes. “But no one asks me, so . . .” he says with a shrug.
Cut to Rogers. “Greatest strategist of our generation, my ass!” he mumbles as he looks down at his hands in consternation.
Cut to Stark, laughing maniacally, head thrown back to show his teeth.
Cut to Barnes, a black cat with white paws perched on his metal shoulder, purring furiously. Barnes is sighing and shaking his head as he stares into the middle distance.
Back in the kitchen, Barnes moved to dice onions for an omelet, and the camera followed the lightning fast knife work almost reverently. Wilson kicked his feet, drinking his coffee with a childlike glee as he watched. “I gotta learn to do that, man. Shit’s gourmet.”
Barnes finished the onions, but then turned with the knife to look at Wilson contemplatively. With merely a flick of the knife, he gestured Wilson closer and pulled the peppers to the cutting board.
Wilson perked up, grinning. “Yeah?”
“What do you need, a ring? Come on.”
Wilson hopped down and moved closer, nearing the knife held in the former master assassin’s hand without a hint of trepidation. He took it from Barnes, still grinning as Barnes rolled his eyes. The camera focused on the lesson, giving the audience a full minute to take in the gentle, patient way Barnes is when he’s instructing someone, even under the gruff exterior he maintained.
Frank had decided from the moment they were approached that their goal was to show the world the real people under the skins of their imperfect heroes. No one more so than Bucky Barnes, who was still rather feared and misunderstood by the public.
Frank found himself grinning as viewers were treated to the reality under the smirks and narrowed eyes they saw in press conferences and the terrifyingly competent swagger in battles, that Barnes was not only a tender heart, but also clever and wicked in that he proceeded to ‘teach’ Wilson into making the entire remaining breakfast as he sat on the counter and drank Wilson’s coffee, feet swinging gleefully.
Frank’s nerves were at an all-time high as the next segment began. He surreptitiously watched the others as the documentary continued.
The video was dark, but not incomprehensible. The moonlight streamed in, bright and gorgeous. But a shadow remained, unmoving, keeping watch as the camera moved carefully closer.
A blue light bloomed suddenly, illuminating Barnes as he hunched against a wall in the common room. It was obvious that it was a courtesy he would not normally give, letting the audience know he was there. He wore black yoga pants and a black tank top, the metal arm gleaming when the moonlight finally inched across the floor to hit it.
“You okay, man?” Frank’s voice came softly.
Barnes nodded, beckoning Frank closer with another hit of the e-cig. “Sight lines,” he explained in a murmur, gesturing to every possible entry into the massive room. “Can’t sleep.”
The documentary stretched on solemnly, the puff of the e-cig and Barnes’s steady breathing the only sounds.
“I know I ain’t ever gonna be an Avenger, not really,” Barnes finally said quietly, blowing out a stream of vapor and sinking into himself as if all the air in him had gone with it. He lowered his head determinedly, though, jaw set, eyes hard as he gazed through the windows. “But they’re my family. No one’s getting to them on my watch.”
As the episode ended and the sparse credits rolled, the common room was silent as a tomb. Bucky sat with his head down, eyes still on the screen, shoulders tense. He hadn’t expected that bit to make it in, but he trusted Tony’s judgment, God help him, so he wasn’t worried about the general public seeing it.
The team, though . . . he felt his shoulders going tight. He wasn’t officially an Avenger, even though he fought and bled with them. He knew it wasn’t his team, not really. He was an imposter here and always would be. No one would ever call him an Avenger. He hadn’t been particularly keen on the others knowing he felt that way, though.
He could feel eyes on him now and he worried his lower lip with his teeth, squinting at the now blank screen as if more video would pop up to save him.
“Buck,” Steve said quietly, edging closer to him. His hand fell gently on Bucky’s shoulder, squeezing. Tony’s hand slid into his metal one, tender and familiar. Bucky didn’t move, he didn’t dare. He didn’t even breathe. But then Steve leaned closer and kissed him on the neck, just under his ear and making him shiver. Tony mimicked the action from the other side.
“Goddamn, I love you,” Tony whispered in Bucky’s ear.
That seemed to release a flood from the others, and they all piled on, cooing at him and hugging him, planting sloppy, loud kisses all over him as he squawked in alarm and tried to get away from the sudden dogpile on the couch.
He was briefly aware of Frank and Annabelle both laughing, Frank’s camera rolling as he filmed the entire debacle before Bucky disappeared beneath the press of bodies.
Bucky couldn’t help but laugh as he continued to struggle to get away.
That night, once the commotion had died down and the cameras were gone once more, Steve and Tony made sure to show Bucky just how wrong he was, showering him with gentle caresses and scorching hot kisses, taking turns riding him well into the dawn.