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The SSR – The Strategic Scientific Reserve – is one of those organisations that exists not on paper or in any tangible way, but is very much alive in the looks shared between two agents passing each other on the street, a line of code being fed into a cypher, a hail of bullets or a scribbled formula for a new weapon with the power to level cities. Of course, the SSR has a physical address – a PO box in Iowa – and an office – well, someone needs to do the paperwork – but it is more of a laboratory than an office, and more of a “wherever possible” than a concrete, material “where.”

The SSR is, in actual fact, a privately funded organisation which exists for the sole purpose of tracking down and securing all the research deemed dangerous to the human race. Of course, everyone knows that there is no such thing as the SSR because to say it exists would be a truly unfounded speculation, but if it did in fact exist, it might operate something like this: perhaps in a dingy lab an exhausted grad student comes up with a formula after a wild night of caffeine and desperation and the fumes of too much important literature. Perhaps, in the light of the next day, the grad student wakes up to several scrawled lines of equations which, on close examination, turn out not to be what the student wanted to invent at all, but in fact could be one of the most important breakthroughs in biological warfare in a generation. Perhaps the student trashes the formula and goes in search of another coffee; or perhaps, in a bid for approval from the higher-ups with which we all can sympathise, the student shows the formula to their professor, and the professor shows it to the head of the department, and the head of department shows it to a friend in the military, and before long the formula, and its potential applications, is attracting attention from many, well, let’s just call them interested parties for now. Perhaps, somewhere in the world, one of these interested parties is a Shadowy Nefarious Organisation, who hears about the exhausted grad student and the dangerous formula, and decides that the key to their Shadowy Nefarious Plan For World Domination – of which every self-respecting Shadowy Nefarious Organisation needs at least one – is this exhausted grad students’ formula, and promptly steals said formula. Perhaps, in this purely theoretical situation, the SSR might be tasked with stealing the formula back, and making sure that no-one can ever use it for Shadowy Nefarious purposes ever again. It is possible to imagine that perhaps the SSR has the best scientists in the world on speed-dial, and agents in every country, and access to labs and storage facilities and the vast wealth of its’ founder to fund all the theoretical stealing and inventing and protecting and testing that it might theoretically need to perform. Not that any of this at all confirms the existence of the SSR or any of the agents who work for this organisation, you understand. This is meant merely as an exercise in imagination and supposition, because as any good lawyer could tell you, we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the Strategic Scientific Reserve at this time, and they would be entirely right to do so. You see, the existence of the SSR and the continued survival of its agents depends on that precise unconfirm-able-ness which those lawyers just demonstrated so well.

Anyway. On with the purely theoretical story.

Bucky Barnes is an SSR agent and he is damn good at his job thank you very much. Damn good at evading the tendrils of Shadowy Nefarious Organisations, of whom this month’s flavour is calling themselves “Hydra,” and ordinarily damn good at giving even the most intelligent of Goons (which never seems to be saying much, does it?) a hard time.

Today, however, he is a little off his game. Embarrassingly, the reason for this is simple. He knew he shouldn’t have had that grey-ish looking meat for lunch, but damn him if he could resist the alluring smell of food-truck burritos, even while in the middle of a job. Bucky was sat outside a small café which was conveniently situated across the street from the building wherein a Hydra agent was, with any luck, currently in the process of stealing the ingredients needed to make a certain serum. This serum, the purpose of which we can neither confirm nor deny is the making of a super-soldier, and which had garnered a lot of interest since its creator, the off-brand warehouse equivalent of the serums original architect Dr Erskine, had demonstrated its’ lack of success on his colleague Dr Bruce Banner. The hapless doctor had been injected with the serum and promptly turned from a mild-mannered-nerd into a huge, green, perpetually-angry comic book cliché. It was sad, really, reflected Bucky – three public bathrooms within sprinting distance – as he sipped his peppermint tea – anything to help his poor tortured bowels – and smoked a thin cigarette which he had shakily rolled himself to give his hands something to do – and a handful of bushes that would do in a pinch – while he waited and watched the building opposite to see who would emerge. There had better be toilet paper.

Bucky Barnes did not think, despite the evidence for the contrary, that he made a brilliant choice for a covert agent, due in entirety to the metal appendage wired into his body in place of an organic left arm. It was, against all the rules of covert-operations and probably common sense to boot, a silvery vibranium metal with a high-shine finish which glinted in the sunlight and blinded any unlucky sod within half a mile who happened to catch him at the wrong angle on a sunny day. The Arm, as Bucky thought of it, had been a gift from the vastly wealthy founder of the organisation for which he may or may not work, remember that can be neither confirmed nor denied, after he’d rather tragically lost the previous one in a fall off an icy train high in the Alps some years back while trying to get to a Shadowy Nefarious Scientist by the name of Arnim Zola. The Arm was so shiny and distinctive that if he were to wear short sleeves in summer, he would instantly be recognised by anyone who’d had any kind of dealing with him in the past. On the other hand, The Arm was one-of-a-kind and had given him a fearsome reputation among his enemies for stopping bullets with his bare hand, and being able to give wicked painful Chinese burns. The Arm stood out like a sore thumb and was one of the reasons why Bucky was so uncomfortable doing this kind of up-close surveillance on their targets. Nat was better at this stuff, he mused. Hell, even Maria or Nick or even Peggy would be better at this than he was, he thought as he squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. Peggy would know better than to consume half a kilo of meat off the back of a dodgy-looking truck an hour before he was meant to be intercepting a dangerous super-soldier serum in the hands of an escaping Hydra agent. Peggy would not be sitting here feeling like the bottom was about to drop out of her, umm… bottom… and stupidly thinking that drinking her weight in peppermint tea would do her any good at all. Bucky, however, thought that he was not worth the paper he’d love to be wiping his ass with about now, as we shall see, and this was one of the defining aspects of his personality which contributed to getting himself into the truly shitty (in all senses of that versatile word) situation in which he was about to become embroiled.

Bucky Barnes had been waiting for an hour and a half, and had not moved once from his seat, something that was growing more and more difficult to do the more peppermint tea he consumed. He made a strange picture, disguised as a twitching hipster in desperate need of a shit and a shower, in a plaid button-down and black skinny jeans. Well, he was disguised as a hipster; the twitching, un-showered part was really just adding character nuance, he thought. Nothing at all to do with the dodgy grey food-truck burrito, which he was trying his best not to think about right now, Goddammit, but which despite his bodies best efforts still sat in his digestive system like a spicy grey half-brick.

Bucky checked his plastic Mickey Mouse watch. Dammit, why couldn’t he had disguised himself as a stereotype of a section of society who would at least wear an actual time-telling timepiece? Mickey stared back at him from the watch face, the grin on his face crumpled from where the cardboard watch backing was been replaced after being fitted with a GPS tracker and mini Geiger counter. His quartermaster was nothing if not enthusiastic when it came to gadgets and gizmos and unnecessarily miniaturising and hiding everyday items inside other everyday items. The fact that he had a sugar thermometer hidden in the ring finger of his metal arm was known to no-one except himself and the inventor, who’d received Bucky’s handmade (hah!) fudge for a gift last Christmas as a thank-you.

Bucky pulls out his phone with a grunt, struggling to slide his metal fingers into the tight pocket of his skinny jeans. He could not wait to get out of these circulation-stopping garments and into some nice, respectable so-old-they’re-practically-fossilised tracksuit pants and a soft warm hoodie, and curl up on his couch with a mug of anything other than peppermint tea. But. Save the world first, then stop for tea. That is what’s written in bold type with double underlining on the first page of the SSR agents’ handbook, after all.

The minutes tick by painfully as Bucky tries to neither fidget unnecessarily nor to fixate on how many seconds it would take him to dash to the small bathroom at the back of the café, jettison his cargo into the toilet bowl and return to his lukewarm peppermint tea. If he was smart about it, he reasoned, and he was able to keep the actual dropping of the log to under twenty seconds, he could be there and back within the timeframe that any Hydra agent could exit the building and disappear from his eye line around one of the buildings many corners while walking at a jaunty, carefree pace as though they did not have a biological weapon stuffed into an airtight container concealed somewhere about their person. But that was excluding the possibility of a getaway car or convenient bus… no. It would be better if he stayed where he was and tried to keep all thought of running water away from his mind for the time being.

Shitwithfuckingsugaron, there needs to be a bathroom in his life. Like now.

Sweating like a sinner in church and trying to keep his legs as close together as possible, Bucky stands and gallops towards the back of the café, all resolve gone. Strict schedule in mind, he’s unbuckling his belt as he shoves through the bathroom door, nearly colliding with a short, skinny guy who’s wearing a faded Rancid band t-shirt, skinny jeans and black Converse and had up until that point been standing at the urinal taking a peaceful piss. Bucky, being single-mindedly dedicated to finding the nearest stall and relieving himself, doesn’t even apologise as he knocks the guys shoulder sideways, causing the poor unsuspecting man to overbalance, spray his shoes with his own piss, and, most unfortunate of all, put a hand out to steady himself which actually touches the enamel of the urinal. If anyone has ever accidentally touched the bowl of a public urinal in mid-afternoon on a sunny Thursday and knows first-hand the absolute horror of feeling the clammy enamel under your hands and the defeated knowledge that you are going to need a decontamination shower POST HASTE, then you can empathise with this poor young man, whose name was Steve Rogers and who will in fact become very important to this story in just a short while. Not that Bucky knows it, rudely pushing Steve into the dreaded urinal edge as he barrels past, but this poor young man with the urinal-contaminated hand and the piss-soaked Converse is soon to become the love of Bucky’s life. He just has to sort his shit out (ahah! a pun!) first.

Steve, who is definitely the sort of person to take a glancing blow to the shoulder from a metal-armed man as a personal insult, tries to zip himself up only using one hand and keeping the other on, the contaminated one, as far away from the rest of his body as possible. Gingerly, he steps over to the sinks and, in a not-at-all unpredictable situation in a public bathroom, observes that the dispenser is out of soap, because of course it is. Steve settled for trying to scorch the bacteria off his hand with the hottest water he can stand and swearing under his breath that he’s going to scrub his skin off as soon as he gets home. Once scalded to within an inch of his E. coli’s life, Steve addresses the closed stall door behind which he can hear sighs of relief and suspicious splashing sounds.

‘What’s your fucking problem, jerk? Watch out next time.’

The splashing sounds stop. A voice, deep and quiet and definitely pissed-off, comes from within the stall.

‘Will you please fuck off? I’m trying to take a shit here.’

‘Performance anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of.’

‘I am not kidding you little punk, you need to leave this bathroom so I can shit in peace!’

‘Who you callin’ little?’

‘Fucking get out!’

Steve huffs. ‘Jeez, fine. Just saying, a little courtesy next time. Other people have to use this bathroom too.’

‘Sure! Whatever! Now piss off!’

The voice coming from the stall is getting louder and higher with every exclamation like a shrieking kettle, and Steve thinks he should probably leave before the owner of the voice boils over, beats Steve to a pulp and leaves him on the floor of this disgusting public bathroom in more desperate need of a decontamination shower than ever. And then he’d have to disappoint his mother by being late for dinner, and if there was one thing that Steve Rogers would not do, it was disappoint his mother. He all but had an ironic tattoo of the word ‘Mum’ and a rose on his upper arm, because Steve dressed like a punk but was a hipster at heart and to hipsters, all tattoos are ironic. Just like the decision to wear the same Hot Topic jeans without washing them for six months. Pure irony. Sticking it to the man big time there.

The only thing that stopped Steve from getting said ironic tattoo, ironically, was the fact that his mother hated tattoos, and therefore despite being tatted up to the neck and down to the toes with all manner of art, Steve Rogers had never had the guts to take the plunge and disappoint his mother further by making his next tattoo a tribute to her. The hand which had been contaminated by urinal-cooties, the left hand, was covered in bright blue stars and planets which extended from his knuckles up past his wrist and petered out above his elbow, swirling nebulae and collapsing red dwarves tucked into the pale inside of his wrist and shooting stars sailing out of the crevasses of his knuckles. In the web of skin between his left thumb and forefinger Steve had tattooed a small, faded, angry-looking specimen of Carcinus maenas, also known by the less formidable name “green shore crab.” The crab seemed to be straining upwards with all six bony legs, and had pincers raised what was either an attempt at crustacean semaphore or a very clear “fuck you buddy” stance. That crab, it could be said, had Seen Some Shit by virtue of being on Steve Rogers’ left hand for almost six years, and was about to see a whole lot more, Pun Absolutely Intended.

Steve Rogers bangs the door as loudly as possible on his way out. In the silence of the bathroom, Bucky Barnes breathes, unclenches, and fucking finally waves goodbye to the ill-advised burrito. As quickly as possible, mindful of the schedule and Schrödinger’s Goon who may or may not be making off with a very potent and dangerous serum at this very moment, Bucky buckles himself back up and crashes back through the café to his outside seat just in time to see a familiar face disappearing around the corner and an ear-piercing security alarm split the afternoons’ lazy heat like an axe through cheese with its sudden intensity. Bucky runs, aware that he has fucked up but hoping beyond hope that he can still apprehend the serum-thief despite her having a good head start. He rounds the corner at a lumber, the weight of The Arm giving a not-small amount of inertia to his movements. Cornering tightly, it seems, is not one of The Arms’ abilities, as the extra weight flings him off course and Bucky makes a wide circle around the edge of the building but, by the grace of that same inertia and centrifugal force that made him mess up his turn due to The Arm, managing to veer so wide that he is missed by the crowbar being swung in an arc calculated to hit directly where his face would have been, had he not been bearing the weight of The Arm.

Bucky narrowly avoids being brained by the crowbar but then has to deal with the shocked and dangerous agent wielding it. The agent in question is a slight blonde woman with impeccable lipstick and hard blue eyes. Her hair is set in perfect victory rolls and she is wearing the agent equivalent of the Basic Bitch Uniform – a black leather jacket, black jeans and black boots. Bucky recognizes her without a second glance – Dottie Underwood was Smarter Than Your Average Goon, and in reality was not really a goon at all but more of a high-class assassin who was very mysterious and incorporeal like all good assassins were meant to be. The fact that Dottie was here at all answered both the questions of how much security the serum had been kept under and how much Hydra wanted to get their hands on it. Contracting Dottie Underwood for a simple smash-and-grab was like asking Mozart to play ‘Chopsticks’ at a middle school piano recital.

Panting slightly, Bucky draws himself to a halt facing Dottie, which was made that much harder by the above mentioned inertia generated by The Arm. Dottie had not moved, the crowbar held loosely in her right hand.

‘Barnes.’ Dottie was nothing if not stoic.

‘Undercrackers.’ Bucky was nothing if not hilarious even if he did say so himself. Which he did. Mostly to himself. Solely to himself these days, in fact, which spoke more to Bucky’s complete lack of social or personal life than his ability for self-reflection and awareness of the limitations of his own humour.

‘I know what you’re after but you won’t get it. You’re too late!’ Dottie taunts him, moving to display the airtight biohazard container which contained the stolen knock-off serum. It was, according to the laws of Bad Hollywood Spy Movies, stuffed down the front of her top. She must have some kind of biohazard bra, thought Bucky. It sounded very handy. Perhaps he should get one of those?

Clearing his head, Bucky lunges for Dottie, relying on his speed and strength to take her down, but Dottie is both fast and smart, not to mention a bit of a tease, and insists on leading Bucky on a chase through the alleys. Dottie leaps over bins and dodges through doorways while Bucky tries his hardest to catch her. This right here is what he was good at, the zipping of bodies through the air, the blunt force trauma of fists and knees and elbows, the delicate zing of bullets fired from elegant guns. Fuck all the hiding and the sneaking and the surveilling, Bucky is in his element as he catches up to Dottie and reaches out a hand to snag the back of her jacket as she turned to see if he was still there, inching closer until he grabs the jacket and then…

 

He is derailed by a triple-shot venti iced caramel macchiato to the face.

Attached to a skinny arm stepping out of the Starbucks on the corner. Followed by a surprised set of teeth crashing into his left (metal) shoulder, followed by a truly unfortunate knee to the groin. Bucky, Dottie, the serum and this mysterious bundle of lips, teeth and caffeine bowl over and over in a tangle of flying cream, stained black leather and flailing hands until they came to a stop in a stream of water and road juices above a storm drain at the side of the road. Dottie is the first to jump to her feet, and before Bucky can do more than identify his assailant as a pair of angry blue eyes and a sopping wet Rancid t-shirt covered in coffee, a dark blue van pulls up to the kerb beside them and a shaken Dottie pulls that damn crowbar out from fuck-knows-where and clobbers him over the head with it. Bucky never stood a chance. Steve receives the same unceremonious crowbar-to-the-head treatment, and once they’re both out cold Dottie tosses the crowbar away and helps the two burly men who’d jumped out of the van to haul Steve and Bucky into the back. Bucky is a little harder to haul than Steve, and the added weight of The Arm doesn’t help matters. In fact, it takes three tries and a lot of grip adjusting before poor unconscious Bucky can be successfully hauled into the van, and had he been awake he would almost certainly have wished to be out cold, especially for the part when Goon #1 drops him and Goon #2 almost grabs him in a very intimate area to stop his legs sliding out the door. Once in the van the two goons debate what to do with The Arm, knowing that it could cause a lot of damage if left to its own devices. They settle for handcuffing The Arm to the seat of the van and handcuffing Bucky’s right arm to Steve’s left.

Goon #1, Goon #2 and Dottie Underwood survey the two heaped bodies in the back of their van.

‘Who’s the other guy?’ asks Goon #2 after a beat. He’d been mostly successful in avoiding all the heavy lifting by pretending that Steve was a real pain to shift when in fact he’d grabbed himself the lightest load of all, a classic move universally known as the Older Sister Helping Mum With The Shopping Bags Scam.

‘Must be Barnes’ partner’ replies Dottie as she adjusted Not Actually A Biohazard Bra, ‘he helped Barnes take me down at least.’ She had noticed the Older Sister Helping Mum With The Shopping Bags Scam being quietly played out behind her and had promised herself vengeance in the form of making Goon #2 vacuum the crumbs of the exceeding flaky pastry she was planning to make him buy her out of the van seat cushions after they stopped for the night. Gotta get that rental company deposit back somehow, right?

‘But who is he?’ persists Goon #2, who was obviously not having a Good Brain Day.

‘No idea. Bring him anyway,’ was Dottie’s terse reply. The Goons and Dottie pile into the front seat of the van, Dottie claiming the window seat for herself and making Goon #2 squish into the tiny middle seat with the stupid child safety belt. Serve him right.

The nondescript blue van roars away from the kerb and becomes lost in the general cacophony of the city roads, loaded with one scheming, Not-Actually-A-Biohazard-Bra-wearing assassin, one biohazard container which was not in fact located within Dottie’s bra, two nameless Goons (who may as well be Sir Not Appearing In This Story* for all the plot points they drive, which is to say; none) thinking about their next tea break and the state of the New York traffic, one unconscious SSR agent and one unconscious Steve, whose thoughts and occupation cannot possibly be guessed at until the right time for a Big Reveal presents itself, plot-wise.

Chapter Text

When Bucky Barnes comes to, stuffed into the back of a moving vehicle with the cheapest most chemical pine-scented car air freshener imaginable hanging above him, he is, quite understandably, less than overjoyed. He comes back to himself slowly, knowing in his brain that there are no good outcomes to waking up in a dark, swaying space after being smashed in the back of the head with a crowbar. Unfortunately, this is not his first time having these two things happen to him, nor was it the case that he’d never had to do either of those things to another person. Admittedly it was nice not to have to do it all in the same afternoon – and boy was that a crazy Monday – but if it was all the same to him, he wished he could have none of, rather than a subset of, these situations involving crowbars and handcuffs and moving vehicles going on right now.

Bucky is well aware of the fact that he is no saint, and so this confounding turn of events seems like some kind of badly-timed karma for him, and he wonders idly, in that not-quite-lucid space that occupies the end of dreaming, whether this had happened to him because he’d accidentally stepped on one of those ants which happened to have been a really bad person in their past lives and was therefore sending tiny ant curses his way. He tries to move The Arm but finds that it will only go so far before it stops. When he attempts to investigate what is stopping it, however, the other arm feels so heavy that he wonders if he’d been drugged while he was out. It takes him an embarrassingly long time, for a highly trained SSR agent such as himself, to recognise that he hasn’t been drugged, but in fact the weight pulling his arm down is of the physical rather than chemical kind, because he is handcuffed to something solid on his left and something squishy on his right. Bucky pokes the squishy thing, which mutters ‘Ouch’ in reply and tries to move their cuffed hands towards itself. This is quite painful for Bucky, who retaliates by jerking his right hand towards himself in a mean-spirited attempt to show the squishy thing that he is also alive and also hurting. The squishy thing groans once, then falls silent again.

Bucky needs to think. He knows that the situation is bad and he knows that he needs to get out of there, just as certainly as he knows that this is all his stupid fault for being stupid and acting stupid like a stupid… thing. Person. Whatever. Bucky’s brain berates his stupid, traitorous body for needing the bathroom at the wrong time, berates his legs for not running fast enough, berates itself even for not sensing that someone was about to crash right into him. As has been mentioned before, Bucky does not have a robust sense of self-worth, even though his considerable talent and experience as an SSR agent should convince him otherwise. Bucky is a man who, despite not enjoying violence or bloodshed, is very good at increasing the amount of both of those things in the world, and as such has managed to find himself in a career in which violence and bloodshed are a veritable certainty, much like those people who say they hate children and loud noises but then always turn out to be high school geography teachers.

To free The Arm is the work of about three moments longer than it should have been considering what The Arm is capable of, and that is the first inkling Bucky gets as to how far the unfathomable depths of shit in which he has found himself really extend. Bucky barely feels the jerk to his wrist joint as he pulls the handcuffs taut but the cuffs themselves do not rend and break, which is strange. Instead, three moments later, the seat leg to which the cuff is attached snaps with a satisfying pop and The Arm is free. This allows him to wiggle around until he can see the squishy thing better in the pine-scented gloom of the van. He realises that the squishy thing is in fact the tiny angry piss-shoed man who had prevented Bucky from going to the bathroom in peace earlier that day, albeit floppier, damper and covered in more blood and coffee than the last time they met. Still. He’d recognise that broken-yet-delicate nose, those pink lips, those… err, that stupid Rancid t-shirt and terrible tattoos anywhere. Great. Perfect! Just what he needed, a helpless civilian with terrible music taste right in the middle of Bucky’s operation.

Something long-buried stirs in Bucky’s chest. Bucky’s protective instincts, while mostly latent, are in fact as strong and steady as true North is to a homing pigeon. The thought of the tiny man unwittingly caught up in this mess and handcuffed to a metal monstrosity like himself is enough to make his brain surge into full wakefulness as he now needs to plot a way to get them both out alive. Although careless with his own life, Bucky would never ever risk that of an innocent merely because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Collateral damage is not his style, one of the main reasons why he’d been a sniper in the military rather than a tank driver, and also one of the main reasons why he’d left the military after only a short career as a highly-successful sniper. He knows he needs to get both him and Squishy out of the van and to an SSR safehouse where he can phone in his situation and… wait for… some sort of cavalry to arrive, he supposes. If he worked for the government, he’s sure they would send an extraction team. If he’d still been in the military they’d never leave a man behind. But since he works for the SSR, which we can neither confirm nor deny actually exists, all he has is his wits, The Arm, and the unknown quantity of Squishy, but even so he is determined to get out of the van with all three of those things intact. With or without the serum, Bucky doesn’t care. It would be a nice bonus, but the lives of the people in his care will always come above the job if he has any choice in the matter, which these days he is careful to make sure that he always does.

As the only awake person in the back of the van for now, Bucky Barnes lays still, rests his aching head, and plots his escape.

~~~~~

Squishy wakes after about forty five minutes, cranky and confused. He winces as he checks the back of his head but doesn’t seem all that freaked out by the blood he find matted in his hair, which interests Bucky. After about thirty seconds Squishy seems to notice that he is handcuffed to another person and Bucky can just see the moment the unfortunate penny drops and he recognises him because that is when he freaks out.

‘You!’

‘I can explain!’

‘What the fuck is going on? Why are you here? Why am I here? Why are we handcuffed together?’

‘I literally just said I could explain and I can if you shut up and give me the chance!’

Bucky can feel the start of a million tiny gremlins hammering away inside the mechanism of his skull. Just one conversation with Squishy was enough to set his teeth on edge.

‘To answer your questions in order; (1) we’ve been kidnapped, (2) I can’t tell you, (3) I dunno, and (4) probably for the look of things.’

Bucky actually has been wondering why they were cuffed together himself but he certainly isn’t going to say so now that Squishy had said it. And hey, who was Bucky to question Goon Logic, even if it made no fucking sense?

‘Buddy what you just said is about as far away from explaining everything to me than I could throw a paper airplane in high winds. Now, you wanna try that again?’

Bucky blinked.

‘You go to school to learn that terrible metaphor?’

‘EXPLAIN!’

‘Ok ok fine! Sheesh. I’m… sort of… a secret agent, I guess. That’s why I’m here. You… well I guess you’re unlucky – that’s why you’re here. The handcuffs are a nice touch, add to the whole ambiance of the place, but why we’re handcuffed together in the first place is anyone’s guess.’

Squishy narrows his eyes.

‘Secret agent.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘Don’t worry, I’m one of the good guys.’

‘Kidnapped.’

‘Yup. Peachy, isn’t it?’

‘You’re an asshole.’

‘… only to people who yell at me when I’m trying to drop a log in peace!’

‘No! Jerk! Gross! I only yelled at you because you bashed into me. Just because I’m smaller than you doesn’t mean you can just push me around.’

‘Hey you wanna spare me the lecture pal?’

‘You wanna shut the fuck up?’

‘Oooh my God let it go!’

Squishy glares at their cuffed hands for a long moment before finally, grudgingly, telling Bucky that his name is Steve. Bucky’s not sure if it’s a better name than Squishy, but for now he guesses he’ll have to concede that the nickname should stay inside his head. After replying with his own name – not his real name, of course, because that is Top Secret Stuff right there but ‘Bucky’ will do for now – Steve lets out a long breath and finally turns his cornflower-blue eyes away from Bucky’s slate-grey ones to survey their surroundings.

‘Can’t get out, I suppose?’

‘Not till the van stops.’

‘Why not?’

‘You wanna jump out of a moving vehicle doing eighty in traffic?’

‘If it’s gonna get us out of here!’

‘It’s gonna get us splatted on the tarmac like jam. Leave the stunts to the professionals, kid.’

Bucky winces at that because he hadn’t meant to sound like a patronising dickhead but he was trying to protect this guy and he had just got him to calm down but now…

‘Kid? Seriously?’

‘Oh for the love of – Here we go again.’

‘What is that supposed to mean?’

‘It means you just proved my point. Would it kill you to let things go once in a while?’

‘I dunno, would it kill you not to call me names?’

Bucky and Steve glare at one another for so long after that exchange that they don’t immediately notice the movement of the van turning off the road and slowing down until it bunny-hops to a stop and the drivers get out.

 

~~~~~

‘What do you mean there’s two of them?’

‘I mean there’s two of them. Two SSR agents.’

‘In the back of this van?’

‘That’s what I said isn’t it?’

‘SSR agents don’t work in pairs though?’

‘Well these ones obviously do.’

‘Hmph. Who are they?’

‘One of em’s Barnes. Not sure about the other. Could be a new guy. Doesn’t look like much trouble though,’ and here Bucky has to clamp a warning hand over Steve’s mouth to stop his outraged squawk, a kindness for which Steve lightly bites him in the back end of the van where they are crouching… and listen, my dudes, what I meant to say there is that Steve bites Bucky’s hand, not his back end, look, they’re in the back end of the van not… oh forget it. Back to the overheard conversation.
~~~~~
(Lawyers note: the author does not condone biting of the hand or the back end, nor do they condone the biting, licking or otherwise defiling of a rented vehicle. Signed: M. Murdoch and F. Nelson, Attorneys at Law).
~~~~~

‘If he’s SSR he’s trouble enough. I don’t have time for this – kill them both. I’ll take the serum to the boss.’

Bucky tenses at that, and looks over at Steve, crouched in the van next to him as nearby footsteps fade away. Steve’s eyes are wide and for a second he looks like a startled rabbit in the headlights. Bucky’s heart does The Thing it’s started to do whenever he thinks about Steve’s vulnerable body catching a hail of bullets or otherwise getting in danger, and he places a hopefully-reassuring metal hand on Steve’s other shoulder. At the touch of The Arm, Steve does not flinch back like he should. Instead, a transformation similar to that which Bucky imagines Dr Jekyll undergoing, if Jekyll were 5’4” and wearing damp white Converse. Steve’s alarmed face becomes less alarmed and more… furious. In fact, Steve looks as though the whole world has disappointed him, and he fizzes with righteous anger. It’s ferocious as hell to watch, and Bucky thinks that anyone who expects Steve to be less trouble than Bucky just because he’s smaller is about to be proved painfully, definitively wrong.

‘I’m gonna kick the door down and then we are going to get out of here and away from these people,’ says Steve from between gritted teeth.

‘No! Don’t kick it down, they’ll hear you!’

‘What do you suggest instead genius?’

‘Gimme a second to think… I could try to break the lock. Heh, shoulda asked for a lockpick in one of these damn things,’ Bucky wiggles the metal hand in front of Steve’s face, who peers suspiciously at it with alarm and horror on his face.

‘What do you mean… what does it do now?’

‘Hold things. Wear gloves. Y’know, the usual.’

‘No shit. And?’

‘…and… also maybe contains some ahh… extras, which I… can’t tell you about. Top secret agent stuff.’ Sugar thermometer and a gadget for getting the wax out of earbuds. Real cutting edge stuff.

‘But no lockpicks.’

‘No.’

So helpful.’

‘Less of the sass, Steve. I’m trying to think of a way to get us out of here without being spotted. Now just shut up,’ and here Steve glares at him, angrier than ever before but, surprisingly, obliges and shuts up, ‘and let me have a think.’

The two men sit in knee-jiggling, side-eyeing silence for a good four and a half minutes before Bucky sighs and says,

‘Let’s just kick the damn thing down.’

Bucky and Steve kick the door down. The shitty lock on the back of the rented van breaks open with the combined force of their kicks and both doors bang back against the side of the vehicle. Bucky winces for whoever paid the rental deposit. Steve is out the door and tugging him forward before he can do anything more, and it’s a struggle to get him to stop and think about anything.
Bucky uses his bulk and weight to pull Steve back against him and huddles them both against the side of the van for half a minute despite Steve’s attempts to bolt straight away, but no-one comes to check out the bang. The van is parked in a garage that is both fittingly dingy and mercifully unoccupied, for now.

‘What are we waiting for? Come on, let’s go!’

‘Steve, wait! No, let me go first.’

‘I’m not letting you go first or we’ll never get anywhere!’

‘Well I’m not letting you go first or you’ll run us both into trouble!’

‘Well then let’s both go first!’

‘No, that’s – that’s not how it works – look, Steve, just – argh! Just wait, stop tugging!’

There’s a terrible wrist-crunching moment when Bucky turns left and Steve tries to go right but apart from that they make it out of the garage without causing more upset than a pair of startled pigeons. I mean, who knows? The pigeons may have been very upset indeed but without being able to ask them, Bucky had to assume that they were not at all put out. They did not attempt to use either him or Steve for target practice at least, so that was something. They run to the garage door – unlocked, because Goons are not known for their brains, bless them – and Bucky has to pull Steve back – again – before he hares off into the unknown without checking for hostiles. Bucky, being the naturally cautious person he is, only lets Steve follow him outside once he knows the yard is deserted and once he’s extracted a promise from Steve to shut up and listen, to which Steve only grudgingly acquiesces after about a minute of ranting.

They appear to be in the middle of nowhere, a deserted refuelling station full of dusty junk surrounded by scrub and trees, and with absolutely no signs that it serves as a base for a Shadowy Nefarious Organisation, although that’s kind of the point, so… job well done, really.

Still bickering, because of course Bucky would find himself handcuffed to the only civilian without the sense to let the actual secret agent he was handcuffed to lead them out of the villains’ base, Bucky and Steve set off down the dusty highway in the way that looks the most promising.

~~~~~

They have to stop every so often to accommodate Steve’s lungs, which means that Bucky stands at the side of the road while Steve coughs so hard he retches dry, trying to get the road dust out of his chest and throat. Bucky tries not to look or make any sound but it is hard, when you’re handcuffed to a shaking wrist, not to take the wrist in hand to offer some support. The only things stopping him from doing this are the battle-ready shore crab which guards Steve’s left hand, and the fact that the hand is attached to the human equivalent of a battle-ready shore crab, skittish and suspicious and ready to throw down at the drop of a hat. If you have ever had the misfortune to be viciously nipped by a crustacean while innocently strolling along the beach you will know the utter panic at feeling something alive wriggling and darting under your feet as your ankles are savagely assailed by an armoured enemy made entirely out of needles and pain. It is so, so much worse than accidentally brushing up against a frond of seaweed when you’re wading, and we all know how terrible and icky that is. Crabs are, for want of a better description, ten pounds of aggression and bull-headedness in a one-pound exoskeleton, and that is why Steve’s tattoo suited him so well. Apart from the exoskeleton bit, obviously. The main difference between a Steve and a green shore crab, thinks Bucky, might be the lack of eyestalks. It’s the thing that immediately stands out, but he’s sure that there are other differences if he dares to get close enough to learn them.

Bucky stares at the crab resting on the webbing of Steve’s clenched fist as he vomits into the roadside weeds for the third time in ten minutes, wondering, if he were to take the hand would he find himself at the mercy of the pincers? He squints into the far distance and thinks that he might be able to see the lights of a town through the mists, unless his eyes are playing a cruel joke on him and it’s some kind of forest-mirage.
Heaving Steve onto his feet from where he’d dropped onto his knees, Bucky wipes the edge of Steve’s mouth with his sleeve, which earns him a growl and a push from the smaller man. There’s no force behind it, however, which speaks to how exhausted Steve really is, because Bucky has no doubt that he’ll keep fighting as long as there is strength in his body.
~~~~~
Authors note: Just one more similarity between a Steve and a green shore crab. Not that there’s some big conspiracy here, but I’m just saying, look at the evidence, is all. Lot of similarities there and do you ever see Steve Rogers and a green shore crab in the same place at the same time? Huh? Do you? Think about it…
~~~~~

‘Come on Steve, I can see lights ahead. Not much further now.’

‘Piss… off… with your motivational bullshit.’

‘Wow Stevie, you’re a real peach. Come on Squishy, let’s move.’

‘…Did you just call me Squishy?’

‘No!’

He does not sound defensive. Nope, not in the least. He also does not blush a vivid shade of raspberry which is highly visible even in the gathering dusk. He does not avoid Steve’s amused gaze while they stumble onwards towards the distant lights.

~~~~~

Luckily for the two cold, tired men, the lights do indeed turn out to be… not a town because that would be too much luck to hope for, but a roadside motel, which is almost as good. No, really. Bucky checks them into a room using his SSR credit card and pretending hard that he’s just innocently holding Steve’s hand the whole time. Unfortunately, in trying to hide the handcuff that pinches his flesh wrist he has to use The Arm for everything, and the wide-eyed staring of the receptionist as she watches metal fingers gently punch his card PIN into the machine and the badly-concealed handcuff hanging off his metal wrist is enough to make his head hurt and his forehead sweat in shame.

The room they are given is fairly standard for a roadside motel in the Ass-End of Nowhere, New York. There’s one double bed, one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, one bathroom featuring a cracked toilet and a suspicious looking shower, and a tiny wall-mounted TV in the corner of the room. It’s not much but to the two men it looks like heaven. There are plenty of blankets in the cupboards even if they do smell a bit like mothballs. At least they’re warm. Being in a hotel room, however, brings a new set of challenges for the reluctant travelling companions. Bucky’s performance anxiety with regards to peeing in public which featured so memorably in their first encounter makes a hell of a return despite, or perhaps because of, Steve’s impatient cajoling and the worrying feeling that the crab tattoo is watching him. Eventually, Steve standing on the other side of the open bathroom door with his arm cranked around the doorway and Bucky’s right arm held straight out behind him, Bucky manages to force out a tiny amount of dark brown liquid, which only reminds himself how dehydrated they both must be. Tucking himself back into his pants with The Arm is always an unpleasant experience, because – well, do I really have to describe what happens when metal plates catch on sensitive flesh? – but it’s nothing he hasn’t had to do before. Steve, it turns out, has no such hang-ups about peeing in public and manages to take a relieving-sounding leak straight afterwards. They come to a collective unvoiced decision not to shower, which saves them from both having to navigate the awkwardness of undressing in front of each other and from having to actually get into the stained white shower box, which Bucky is just certain is an incubator for some terrible rare disease. Knowing his luck, it would probably be the one with the excessively large boils, bad breath and sudden incurable death.

After a quick trip to the vending machines outside and a midnight feast of chips, gummy worms and cereal bars eaten with grit-jawed patience as they take turns to borrow their communal arm to open the food packets, Bucky and Steve seem to have reached a kind of grudging truce. At least, that’s what Bucky hopes has happened as he eyes the creaky double bed with the knowledge that they are going to have to share. Bucky, despite his thousand-yard stare, awkward stance and general scary appearance, is actually a ferocious cuddler. He hopes it won’t destroy their new peace for Steve to wake up to being wrapped up in long arms like a squid. At least Bucky’s had a rest from Steve’s glaring and sass for the last hour or so, as Steve is currently so exhausted that Bucky’s had to coax him to eat and drink, something he’d not had to do since babysitting his sisters’ infant daughter some years before. Somehow, Bucky doesn’t think a choo-choo train going into the tunnel would be appreciated in this situation but hey, stranger things have happened. Like Steve shutting up for ten minutes together. That in itself is a miracle.

Bucky claims the side of the bed nearest the door, reasoning that if Hydra comes looking for them at least he’d have a better chance of defending them both. Besides, if anyone was going to get shot it should be him, the agent whose stupidity and slowness got them into this mess and not Steve, the unlucky civilian who bought a coffee at the wrong moment. They lay in bed, not touching apart from where their wrists brushed each other through the links in the cuffs, both on their backs staring up at the ceiling. Both wide awake, saying nothing. Eventually, with a huff, Steve turns to Bucky.

‘Ok this is weird.’

How does one reply to that?

‘Now that we’re somewhere a little quieter than that van, care to explain to me exactly why I’m here?’

Bucky sighs. He knew this was coming.

‘You’re here because I’m not the best secret agent in the world. I work for a private organisation called the SSR. As I’ve said before, we’re the good guys. I promise. We’re not all secret agents. Most of us are scientists or engineers but some of us have to occasionally get our hands dirty. That woman, Dottie? She was stealing something… I can’t tell you what but I was meant to stop her. But that didn’t happen. I was meant to make sure the… thing she stole… was properly secure and that didn’t happen. I was meant to be back at home drinking tea and feeding my cat by now and that certainly hasn’t happened!’

Steve is quiet for a long moment.

‘Don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s done now.’

‘That isn’t comforting.’

‘It’s not your fault. Or at least, I don’t blame you. You couldn’t foresee that Dottie would run any more than you could predict me coming around the corner at the wrong time.’

Bucky has to grin at the fierceness in Steve’s voice as he tries to convince Bucky that he isn’t to blame for their current predicament, which he thinks is a laughably simplistic way of looking at things.

‘Besides, you got us out of there and into this room. It’s safer than being kidnapped and far warmer.’

‘Yes you’re right Steve, I can mark today down as a success in my calendar.’

‘No need to be facetious. I’m just trying to make you feel better.’

‘Oh my God. If that’s what you think you’re doing, please don’t!’

‘Fine! I won’t!’

‘Good!’

‘Fine!’

It seems as though Steve, in a move which would surprise exactly no-one who knew him, always needs to get the last word. To break the awkward silence that follows their not-quite-argument, Bucky gently draws their cuffed hands over to him so he can get a good look at them. The cuff on his left wrist has still not snapped despite his best efforts, and it’s so unusual that he can find something strong enough to resist The Arm that he’s more than a little intrigued, not to mention concerned as to how Hydra got their hands on tech like this in the first place. Steve doesn’t resist when he pulls on the cuff, just lets his left hand be dragged along and dangle from the cuffs, the crab tattoo waving like crustacean semaphore. He also doesn’t resist as Bucky begins to explore the cuffs with his metal hand despite the fact that it must feel strange, and Bucky warms up to him just a little bit for that. He doesn’t know why people always expect The Arm to be cold, but as anyone who’s ever sat with an overheated laptop on their laps can attest to, electronics get warm. Bucky’s Arm has a whole system of cooling fans and panels which lift and ripple and whir like the wing flaps of an aeroplane to cool itself down when it overheats, but for the most part it stays at a comfortable warmth, like that of an Xbox which had been playing Uncharted 4 for a couple hours.

‘StarkTech. Shoulda known. Probably stolen.’ Bucky grunts, peering closely at the underside of the cuffs. The good news is that, being StarkTech, the cuffs had been developed by one Tony Stark who happens to be both the son of the SSR’s founder and a close personal fremeny of Bucky’s. The bad news is that if they were StarkTech there was no way he could break out of them, even with The Arm. StarkTech cuffs were designed to hold even the most belligerent of genetically-engineered lab experiments, and were generally reckoned to be unbreakable by people who made it their lives’ work – and their lives’ worth – to know about such things.

Stark lives in New York most of the time. New York is, by his best guess, not more than two days’ travel away from where they are. If he and Squishy Steve can avoid killing each other for that long, they’ve got a real chance of Tony being able to get them out of the cuffs in a short amount of time. That’s a big If. At the present moment, handcuffed to ninety pounds of piss and vinegar, Bucky is more afraid of Steve’s bony elbows and narrow glare than of all the Hydra agents in the world turning up at their door.

It has been said that falling in love is like falling asleep – very slowly and then all at once. This, however, is complete bullshit, on both counts. Bucky falls asleep roughly at the same rate at which bread goes stale – the more you try to stop it the faster it goes. The same could be said for falling in love. That night in the motel ends with him sleeping deeply curled around Steve like a question mark, solid punctuation in the story of Steve’s life throwing everything into uncertainty, despite vowing that he would stay awake and keep watch for Hydra agents.

Bucky and Steve both drift off to sleep worn out by the day’s activity and their constant arguing. Bucky promises himself he’d keep one eye on the door all night but finds his eyes shutting the moment he switches the bedside lamp off. For now, defenceless in slumber, both of them can finally ignore the other in peace.

Chapter Text

What do you know about the behaviour of gravity in outer space? There is a theory which asks that you think of space as a rubber sheet stretched tight in all directions. You can see how a heavy object such as a cricket ball placed on the rubber sheet would cause it to dip. This mimics the behaviour of an object in space which has mass, such as a planet. The heavier the object, the deeper the gravitational well created in the rubber sheet, meaning that the larger the astronomical body, the greater the area of gravity which is deformed around it. If a second object with equal or lower mass is also placed on the rubber sheet it will take the shortest and most direct route possible to join the first object in the gravitational well. In this way, the presence of matter in 3-dimensional space warps the gravitational field in a manner that encourages the accumulation of more and more mass. The presence of matter in space controls how the very fabric of physical space-time around it behaves. Human beings with matter, beings who matter, those human beings with that indefinable gravitational pull that everyone feels but no-one knows the source of, those people go out into the world and tell the world what it is. They change things; they matter. Steve Rogers may just turn out to be one of those people, and Bucky Barnes, although he does not realise it yet, is being caught oh-so-gently in his gravitational pull... oh alright its a set of handcuffs and a Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, but the other thing sounds way better.

In the same way as a cricket ball resting on a rubber sheet can represent the movement of planets through space, the bodies of two sleeping men can represent another of the universe’s most fundamental laws: that if two people go to sleep in the same bed taking up equal amounts of space when they do so, by morning one of them will end up sprawled over four-fifths of the mattress and the other curled into the corner trying to huddle under a triangle of blanket. It’s unexplainable. Just one of those things.

Here’s a maths question for you: If the mattress of the bed in question represents a rubber sheet that represents the universe, and a sleeping Steve Rogers who represents a cricket ball which represents a planet is placed on one side but migrates to the middle, what mathematical relationship best describes the movement of an exhausted Bucky Barnes around the periphery of the space? Is it the same one as describes the movement of a second cricket ball across a rubber sheet, compelled by the laws of physics to snuggle up to the first object in their own private gravitational well of space-time?

Steve Rogers, despite his tiny stature, manages to take up roughly 80% of the bed space, and in the darkness of night seemed to transform into a lump of unmovable stone, like a reverse-cave-troll in a beloved High-Fantasy novel. No amount of poking, rolling and pushing would let Bucky move Steve over, and he doesn’t have the heart to wake him up and yell at him to keep his arms and legs and snores to himself. This is another of those laws of the universe; that the smaller the bedfellow the more space they take up. This is why any human trying to sleep in the same bed as a tiny kitten will without fail find themselves sleeping in ridiculous positions around the edge of the bed like milk lurking around the edge of a bowl of porridge, while the tiny kitten somehow takes up the entirety of the flat space in the near vicinity.

When Bucky wakes in the grey light of the next morning, he is curled around something warm. Squishy, his brain supplies, although whether that is intended as a noun or an adjective at this time in the morning is anyone’s guess. Squishy-and-warm is breathing and snoring, so Bucky’s brain thinks dog-warm-happy without quite knowing why, and then, swimming up into the sunlight of reality, Steve.

Steve is tucked into the crook of Bucky’s arm, scrunched up in the foetal position but with his legs flung out across the bed and his spine pressed up against Bucky’s stomach. Bucky’s right arm is serving as his pillow and their cuffed hands are flopping together in front of Steve’s face. The Arm is, as always, a dead weight on his left. Sleeping with The Arm was never easy, as it could not be detached. Bucky had learned that having The Arm on top of him while sleeping led to nightmares of being held down and restrained, so he’d learned to sleep on his back with The Arm cushioned on the mattress and not touching any part of his body. This morning, however, as Bucky is twisted around Steve and they are both sprawled into the top corner of the bed, The Arm is resting at an awkward angle, not quite on top of his ribs but not quite flat either, his left shoulder twisted back behind him under the weight of The Arm. It aches already, never a good sign. Without waking Steve, Bucky rolls his body away from him so that he’s lying on his back again, and attempts to flatten out his spine. He notices how much he misses Steve’s warmth, but more than anything he revels in the silence of sleep. A sleeping Steve is an innocent-looking creature, soft and kitten-like with fluffy-duckling blonde hair and loose limbs, the exact opposite of the little ball of rage that he is when awake. Bucky might even go as far as to call him cute, although he’d deny it vehemently if asked. Only in sleep though, is he cute, for an awake Steve Rogers is many things, far too complicated and yet at the same time perfectly summed up by the word ‘cute.’ He is fiery and angry and righteous and unafraid to defend himself. He is impatient, and yet so willing to put up with the idiosyncrasies of others. He is exhausted, and yet never complains. He is magnetic yet he pushes people away. Polarising. (Authors note: Because he’s like a magnet and magnets have polarity… get it? No? Anyone? Ahem).

Gently, Bucky shakes Steve awake, and immediately has the rare privilege of watching him wake up. It happens all at once, from sleep to full wakefulness in the blink of an eye, not unlike how a seemingly-innocent log floating in the Nile can suddenly turn out to be a hungry crocodile. Steve glares up at Bucky for a moment before his gaze softens.

‘Don’t you know its bad luck to wake a sleeping Irishman?’ Steve’s voice is thick with sleep and rust, and it makes something inside Bucky shiver.

‘I think you can take it. How ya feeling today Steve?’

Steve sits up, wincing when the cuff pulls on his wrist.

‘Well seeing as yesterday was one of the worst days I’ve had in a long time – I mean, I pissed on my own shoes, I spilt my coffee, got knocked over the head and kidnapped and I missed dinner with my mum – today can only get better, don’t you think?’

No crocodile in the history of the world has ever had as much sass as Steve Rogers first thing in the morning, and that is the main difference between Steve Rogers and a crocodile.

Bucky smiles at him, small and unsure. He suspects that Steve is blaming him, even if only in the privacy of his own head, for yesterday being such a bad day, because (1) he’d only pissed on his shoes because Bucky had knocked into him mid-flow, (2) he’d only spilled his coffee because Bucky had knocked into him mid-sip, (3) he’d only been kidnapped because Bucky had knocked into him mid-chase, and (4) he’d only missed dinner with his mother because Bucky had blundered into his life and wreaked a trail of destruction, the evidence of which had crusted onto those no-longer-white Converse. It did not appear, however, that Steve wanted to assign blame out loud for these things, a fact which Bucky could not quite get his head around. In fact, the look that Steve was not giving him could only be described as expectant, as though he fully expected Bucky to be able to pull a solution to their predicament out of his ass, which he could not do. Bucky had, in his teenage and adult life, stuffed many things up his ass, both organic and inorganic, but even so, fitting a pair of StarkTech bolt cutters, a hair tie, a change of clothes and two tickets back to New York up there was a bit of a stretch, and that’s not even counting breakfast, soap and a metric fuck-ton of strong black coffee. He doubted he could hold much coffee in his ass anyway. Well, maybe a small espresso but definitely not a triple shot venti iced caramel macchiato. That just sounds sloppy.

The first thing that Bucky does, after he and Steve are dressed, is use the ancient payphone in the motel lobby. He’s both horrified and incredibly grateful that such a relic as an actual payphone still exists, but remembers the click of the connection and the grainy dial tone from his youth with a rush of nostalgia. The slightly greasy mouthpiece of the phone and the faint smell of urine are not-so-welcome reminders of what public phone boxes used to be like, along with scratched insults, half-hearted gang signs and accusations of sexual deviance graffiti’d onto the glass panes by jealous ex-boyfriends. It is only after he puts all his spare change into the machine that he realises – he doesn’t know Tony Stark’s phone number. Of course he’d had it saved in his phone, the very expensive not-paid-off-yet phone that Dottie had taken from him yesterday, and the reason he’d saved it was so that he didn’t have to memorise it. Of course, he thinks as he reluctantly hangs up, of course there isn’t a simple solution. Steve, who is standing outside the phone box with his left hand dangling from the cuff and that heartbreakingly expectant expression on his face, is surprised when Bucky slams the receiver down, stalks out of the booth and mutters,

‘Let’s just see if they’ve got a computer I can use.’

~~~~~

Bucky manages to email Tony Stark and within two minutes of sending it the payphone in the motel lobby shrieks with an incoming call. Bucky leaps up from where he’d been sitting at the lone computer desk that Steve had sweet-talked the receptionist into letting them use to grab the receiver. Typing While Handcuffed should be made a new form of torture, in Bucky’s opinion, because not only did Steve not move his wrist fast enough to allow Bucky to type well, but he read Bucky’s emails and loudly corrected his spelling. Typing accurately on a keyboard is, unfortunately, just one of those things that The Arm is not quite dextrous enough to do, meaning that Bucky’s pace and spelling are shoddy at the best of times. With a snarky Steve attached to him, it is almost unbearable, so when the phone rings and provides a distraction, Bucky wastes no time. He is large enough that when he takes off across the lobby he pulls Steve along with him; Steve, however, has refused to stand up and so is being pulled across the lobby on a wheely desk chair. Surprisingly, this does not endear them to the receptionist, and any lingering effects of Steve’s sweet talk go straight out the window. Catching a glimpse of the handcuffs as their arms stretch out from each other probably doesn’t help either. Bucky can see her reach for her mobile out of the corner of his eye and he’s almost certain she takes a photo.

In fact, the receptionist, whose name was Darcy, had taken a photo, but not for the reasons Bucky thought. Darcy had clocked the handcuffs as soon as the two strange men had walked in. Working at a roadside motel she was used to people using the premises for less-than-subtle kinky, extra-marital and otherwise socially-unacceptable sexual activity. In the annals of the motel, therefore, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Now, the large man who’d dropped out of the sky the month before wearing nothing and wielding an oversized mallet had been something to write home about. Darcy had been delighted. She’d snapped a photo of him too, but only after she’d tasered him. The two men who stiffly limped into the motel reception last night and asked for whatever room was available looked like something out of a Dr Seuss book – one tall, one short; one dark, one fair; one skinny, one stacked; both wearing identical exhausted expressions. There was probably a perfectly good poem to be written about this somewhere but Darcy would be fucked if she could figure out what it would be at 3am on a Sunday when they checked in. The next morning, however, the two men look far more at ease with each other and Darcy reminds herself just how much a good hard dicking can do to improve a person’s outlook on life. The fact that they are still handcuffed together is a little odd but hey, each to their own, right? Darcy watches their behaviour closely, noting the faint smell of coffee and stale milk that is coming from the little blond one and how the tall dark one squeaks and whirs when he moves as though he were powered by clockwork. The sight of the small blond one flying across the lobby on her poor old wheely desk chair being pulled along by the tall dark one – and is that a metal arm?? – was, however, just weird enough to make it onto the motels’ Wall Of Weird, a carefully curated collection of surveillance footage stills and sneakily taken photographs detailing the best moments from the oddest hotel guests. The blurred snap of two men rushing across the lobby took pride of place for three weeks before it was usurped by the photo of the old man and the bootlaces… Don’t ask.

As soon as Bucky picks up the receiver he hears the stream of Tony Starks consciousness transferring itself directly into his brain. He’s braced for it though, knowing exactly what he was letting himself in for by having a conversation with Tony.

‘So. Buckaroo. I hear you got yourself into a spot of bother. Tell me PC Plod, how’s Your Get-Along Shirt? Getting along well, I hope? No, don’t tell me you’ll only disappoint me. Listen up tin man. JARVIS has booked you and your 50 Shades of Grey companion into the 3 o’clock train leaving for New York. I trust you can find your way to the train station without getting stuck to any more of my tech? I’ll meet you at the station and you can use your Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Got all that Robocop?’

‘Uh…’

Great!! See you in eighteen hours.’ The line clicks dead.

Bucky stares at the phone as though it were a snake, and carefully sets it back in place. Steve immediately wants to use it to call his mother, and Bucky would rather have all the awkward conversations in the world than overhear a grown man explaining to his mother why he missed dinner and is handcuffed to a stranger in a town hundreds of miles away. It is almost second nature to him now to hold his hand away from his body so that Steve can have use of their joined limbs when he dials the phone number, and Bucky stands awkwardly outside the phone booth with his arm articulated around the mostly-closed door like he’d been doing it all his life. It is slowly becoming easier to deal with being handcuffed to a stranger, and some things, like peeling a banana and reaching for the light switch without getting out of bed, are in fact made easier by having a five-foot-nothing pain-in-the-ass attached to your only human hand. Who knew? Perhaps a Steve would become the latest fashion accessory and everyone would want one. Perhaps he should receive royalties for popularising the idea. Perhaps he should stop thinking so much about this and remember that he would only be handcuffed to the human shore crab for eighteen more hours before they’d part ways and never see each other again.

They have a few hours to kill before their train leaves, so Bucky carefully prints out their tickets and folds them neatly into the pocket of his tight jeans. Having run out of things to do, Bucky and Steve are faced with two of the most horrifying uses of spare time that anyone in our modern society can endure… small-talk and sightseeing. It turns out, after careful inspection of the optimistic pamphlets in the motel lobby, that they are miles away from the nearest town and that there really is nothing to do or see within a hundred mile radius that doesn’t involve mud. Sightseeing crossed off their list, they decide to go for small-talk. Bucky won’t let them go and sit in the tiny café attached to the motel for fear of Hydra operatives spotting them, so he and Steve hole up in their room once more. They both perch on the bed, close enough not to put any strain on their wrists but not close enough to accidentally touch. They mostly sit in silence, and it is more awkward than opening a tin of sardines. Steve produces a biro from somewhere inside his clothes and starts doodling a caricature of Bucky on an old receipt; Bucky snatches the pen off him and gives his crab tattoo some sunglasses and a fruity drink in retaliation. Steve wants to take a nap so Bucky obligingly parks himself on the bed next to Steve while he does so and mindlessly watches the TV with the sound turned down low. After about an hour, Bucky turns to Steve and sees that the smaller man has moved since he fell asleep, and now his cuffed wrist is bent at a painful-looking angle. Bucky moves his own hand around Steve so that he can straighten his wrist out and take some of the strain of Steve’s arm. It means that Bucky’s own arm has to be held at a slightly awkward angle, but he doesn’t mind.
~~~~~
Bucky thinks about Steve’s sheer resilience to everything that’s happened to them so far and finds himself slightly in awe.
~~~~~
Bucky wakes Steve up very gently, keeping a respectful distance and using his voice to cajole Steve out of sleep. Steve’s blue eyes flutter open and he gives Bucky a sleepy scowl. Something inside Bucky’s stomach flutters at the sight of the scowl, like a pebble turned over in a stream diverting the course of the water, and try as he might he can’t kick the pebble back into place. Bucky pushes his stomach-troubles down, vaguely aware of the burrito in the back of his mind, and tells Steve that their shuttle is almost here. Tony, or more likely JARVIS, had booked them seats on a shuttle taxi to take them to the nearest train station. It was most likely JARVIS as Tony had a tendency to forget that other human beings were not all offensively wealthy and did not have access to a fleet of classic cars at all times. JARVIS was a good guy like that, if a disembodied sentient computer could at all be thought of as a guy. Bucky wondered if he was being disrespectful by assuming JARVIS’ pronouns and resolves to ask him… er – them, if he ever makes it back to Stark Tower.
~~~~~

How do you kill time on a long-distance train journey? Look out of the window, count the passing cars, make up stories about the other passengers in your carriage? Bucky and Steve did all of these things, and could say with confidence that they were now surrounded by three red suitcases, nine children, one small Pekingese dog wearing a fetching Fez and whose owner was probably on the way to terrorise a community of Lilliputians with their new Fez-wearing overlord, and more gum, litter and bird shit than anyone could realistically be expected to count. It is nice, thinks Bucky, to have another person to share your ridiculous brain-farts with on long distance journeys. Steve is an unexpectedly good travelling companion, and even when it seems like they’ve run out of fellow passengers about whom to speculate, Steve’s imagination comes up with more wonderful games for them to play. These become more and more nonsensical as all possibilities are exhausted, culminating in the game of Could You Kill Me With It, which is frankly more boring than it sounds. The game involves Steve pointing to objects they can both see and asking Bucky,

‘How would you kill me with that?’

‘Hmm, how would I kill you with a mouldy bag of chips? I’d… hope that you were a vampire and throw the chips in front of you. Then, when you stopped to compulsively count the chips as all vampires must, I’d stake you through the heart with a stake fashioned from one of the seats.’

‘Ok, McGyver, that was impressive.’

‘I am very impressive.’

‘Sure you are. OK. That.’ Steve pointed to a rolled up magazine peeking out from the seat in front of them.
Bucky sighed. The answer was obvious, really.

‘That’s easy. Conceal a gun underneath it and shoot you.’

‘That doesn’t count! Ok how about that banana over there?’

‘Get out my gun, shoot you with it and then eat the banana. Totally foolproof and impossible to defend against.’

‘But what if you don’t have a gun?’

‘Why would I try and kill you with a banana if I didn’t have a gun? I wouldn’t stand a chance!’

‘Alright alright, how about this shoe? Tell me how you would kill me using this shoe, and don’t you dare say you’d pull your gun out.’

‘Why can’t I pull my gun out?’

‘Because that’s not how the game works, jerk. Now answer the question.’

‘Hmm, if I had to use your shoe to kill you I’d probably just stick your head inside it and make you inhale foot-fumes until you died from stink-overload.’

Steve is laughing so hard he starts to splutter, but manages to choke out, ‘That’s not a thing!’

‘It is too a thing! That’s how I defeated the Infamous Hawkeye; he never washes his socks.’

Bucky is not about to tell Steve that ‘The Infamous Hawkeye’ is in fact his friend Clint and that in fact it had been himself who’d had the terrible experience with passing out after sticking his head in someone else’s shoe. Like all good stories, this one starts with this one time back in college… he’d been dared by Clint to take a shot of tequila from Clint’s sweaty sneaker after a night of drinking and partying, passed out immediately afterwards, and had ended up being carried into the hospital on Clint’s back and dribbling unashamedly onto his shoulder. Steve didn’t need to know that for now, though.

~~~~~

Another game was Secret Agent Employee Of The Month. Bucky was actually indirectly responsible for this game, which involves Steve giving Bucky two choices and asking which one would be more likely to get him the Secret Agent Of The Month award after Bucky had let slip that the SSR actually had one of those.

Steve wrinkled his nose. ‘But how do they decide that though? Who’s been the most secretive? Who’s the best at sneaking?’

‘Nah, its mostly like who’s actually turned their paperwork in on time or unloaded the dishwasher two days in a row.’

‘A golden achievement, then.’

‘Well you don’t exactly get your photo on the wall. That would defeat the purpose of “secret” agents, if there was a wall with all our faces up. You do get a box of chocolates in the mail though, but they always send me pralines. I hate pralines.’

‘Wow being employee of the month sounds so tough. Pralines eh? Well it just so happens that I love pralines. You should win me some.’

‘And how do you propose I do that? I’m not exactly employee-of-the-month material at the moment.’

Steve lifts his head from where it has dropped lightly onto Bucky’s right shoulder, an indignant look in his eyes.

‘Why not? You leave your dirty dishes in the sink or something?’

‘Ha ha, Steve. I don’t think that any of this-’ Bucky waves an arm in the general direction of everything ‘-is the kind of mess that gets you in the boss’s good books.’

‘Don’t say that! Look at what where we are!’

‘Yeah, exactly – I made you piss on yourself, spilt your coffee, got you kidnapped and handcuffed to me and made you miss dinner with your mum, as you were so fond of telling me yesterday morning.’

‘No – I didn’t mean it like that – I meant… you made a mistake, alright, but you’re putting it right. You’re getting us back to New York under the radar and you’ve got a way out of these,’ Steve lifted their linked hands and jiggled them, making Bucky giggle, ‘as soon as we get there. Don’t talk yourself down.’

Steve Rogers: Mom Friend.
~~~~~
There is a part of Bucky, the hidden, sentimental part of him which believes in things like hope and loyalty, which never wants the honeyed afternoon train journey with Steve to end. They move together easily now, swaying as one with the train carriage, fitting together as they hop onto the platform in New York hand-in-hand, looking for all the world like a happy couple. This part of Bucky is dismayed, but perhaps not that surprised, when they find Dottie and The Goons waiting for them at the turnstile, and another two Goons closing in behind them. Bucky’s hand tightens around Steve’s, and he pulls the smaller man closer even as Steve moves to attack. This time will not be like last time, because this time he is fully conscious and determined to keep Steve Rogers safe.

Chapter Text

When a belief is confirmed over and over again in multiple situations, it ceases to be a belief and starts to become a science. Perhaps this history of scientific accuracy is why Bucky Barnes, when confronted with three Goons and one Dottie, knows, with a sickening feeling just to the left of his liver, that this situation will not end well. He would know, after all, he hasn’t spent his adult life in the employ of various secretive organisations in order to develop a faulty nose for trouble. He also knows, with equal certainty, that it is time for Bucky Barnes to fight. As has been mentioned, way back in the beginning of this story, Bucky does not enjoy fighting, but seems to get himself into situations in which his not inconsiderable skills in that area are in constant demand. At this point in his life, it’s all pretty much instinct, anyway.

Bucky grabs Steve by the elbow and pulls him close as the Goons move in. Dottie, being Dottie, must read in his body language that he is about to flee, because she moves to stand right at the other side of the turnstile, blocking their exit that way. Bucky and Steve are now crowded up against the turnstile from behind by a crush of impatient New Yorkers heckling and demanding they move out the way as well as the two nameless Goons who’d driven them away in that pine-scented van, and hemmed in in front by Dottie and two more Goons. There’s only one thing for it, really. Bucky feeds his ticket into the turnstile machine, waits for the light to turn green, and steps forward. He means to take on Dottie and the Goons at the turnstile exit so that they can only come at him one at a time, but in his haste has conveniently forgotten that train station turnstile gates are the invention of the devil sent to piss off even the most patient of saints, and that he still has Steve tucked against his body and this means twice the usual number of legs are attempting to go through the turnstile at once, and he moves through the bars way too slow. The turnstile locks with Bucky’s legs still halfway through, and Steve still on the other side. Bucky is straddling the gate, the seams of his ridiculously skinny jeans straining over his stretched thighs. Dottie sighs at him and grabs The Arm to try and untangle him, muttering ‘Amateur move, Barnes,’ as she leans in close. The throng of angry New Yorkers behind Steve is starting to drift towards that most dangerous of states, the Angry Mob Mentality. All they see is an idiot who doesn’t know how train stations work, and come one, what sort of dropkick country-bumpkin doesn’t know that in this day and age? People like that got no place in the city making trouble for the rest of us, the Mob thinks. Steve, because he is an angry green shore crab, gives a particularly vocal asshole the middle finger before attempting to free himself from the turnstile and Bucky.

Bucky uses the heft of The Arm to shove Dottie backwards, not pulling his punches. Letting Steve see what The Arm can really do is a dangerous move, as he knows from long experience that it leads to awkward silences and carefully-phrased questions about whether or not he’s jerked himself off with it. He has, if anyone’s interested, in his lonelier hours, experimented with putting a flesh glove over The Arm and pretending that it’s someone else’s hand doing the jerking, but he will never admit that in a Court of Law. He’s pathetic enough as it is. Anyway, back to the story.

Dottie flies across the atrium of the station and collapses against a wall, giving Bucky enough time to lunge for Goon #1 and smash his head into the metal barrier. He’s aware that behind him, Steve is fumbling one-handedly for his own ticket and carefully trying to free Bucky and himself from their odd straddling-reaching dance in which each man is both leaning away from the turnstile with their lower body while trying to lean across the turnstile with their respective joined arms. Bucky is trying to keep his right arm as still as possible while The Arm makes light work of Goon #2, grabbing his shirt and flipping him over the barrier to be stamped underfoot by the Angry Mob. By this point, TSA guards have started to notice the fray and make their way over. Great, Bucky thinks, more civilians to protect. Steve makes tiny little hopping adjustments to his balance as Bucky turns to figure out where the next threat is coming from.

Steve finally manages to get halfway through the barrier but then he too is trapped by the gates, but Bucky, who has his mind on several things at once, thinks that Steve is all the way through and so launches himself forward, expecting Steve to follow. All that happens is that he feels the shockwave of an uncomfortable grating crunch through the metal of their cuffs and is jerked backwards roughly, ending up on the floor. Steve wails in pain and Bucky looks back to see him clutching what is very obviously a broken wrist with his free hand, his left leg still half buried in the turnstile. Bucky uses The Arm to wrench one of the metal poles of the turnstile out of place and bodily drags Steve forward, terror sinking in at the thought that he hurt Steve.
He hurt Steve.

He. Hurt Steve.

You can put the emphasis on that sentence anywhere you like and have it read aloud by the greatest Shakespearean actor to ever live, and it still wouldn’t come even close to representing the anguish that Bucky feels at having actually hurt Steve.

Bucky uses The Arm to obliterate the gate, not caring who sees, and they both limp through and into the relative safety of the front atrium. Behind them, the Goons seem to have been lost in the Mob, who have now descended into infighting and have failed to notice that the barrier is in fact now free. Bucky pulls Steve along, his brain a fizzing cauldron of shame and wariness and horror. He has to get Steve out of the cuffs, he doesn’t care about secrecy or cover or blending in. Thankfully, Stark Tower is only a few blocks away and Bucky practically runs there with Steve in his arms, complaining all the time like the worlds’ most indignant bunch of flowers, all bundled up and safe but still shaking his head at anyone who gets too close. Perhaps Steve is also capable of pollination; that is a mystery to be addressed another time. Steve squeaks at Bucky to put him down, but Bucky knows that he has to get Steve uncuffed and away from him as soon as possible before he hurts Steve even more, and preferably gets him medical attention, so he ignores Steve’s demands and carries on running.

Tony Stark himself is waiting in the foyer of the Stark Tower, and personally conducts them up twenty dizzying floors into his lab. Bucky finally sets Steve down, not looking him in the eye as they wearily haul themselves over to the bench where a laptop and a set of keys rests. Steve is still trying to support his broken wrist, and his face is now the colour of uncooked bread dough as he winces through the pain which shoots through his with every slight movement.

In the end, the story of how Bucky and Steve finally separate from one another is as anticlimactic as their meeting was dramatic. Tony Stark takes one look at the two bedraggled, stinky men in his lab, avoiding one anothers’ eye and trying not to breathe too deeply, and bursts into deeply uncomfortable laughter. One flourish of the master-key later, and the connection between them is severed. The weird camaraderie of the past twenty-four hours is instantly gone, as now there is, quite literally, nothing to keep them together and they can go back to their separate lives and forget this ever happened. Steve is taken to the nearest hospital by Tony’s driver Happy to get his wrist re-set and Bucky… well, Bucky goes back to his Steve-less apartment and his cat Missy and his empty fridge and his empty life. He didn’t even get to say goodbye. He finds that his body won’t let him forget Steve, as he wakes up with his right arm flung out across the bed so as not to hurt Steve’s wrist, and he finds himself automatically holding his right arm out from his body when he needs to pee as though Steve were still attached to him, standing impatiently around the corner and trying not to listen. He finds that he needs to stop himself from looking Steve up online to see how he is doing, or visiting the art store where he works in the hope that he’ll be on shift. An artist with a broken wrist – he’d taken away Steve’s great love in addition to getting him kidnapped and handcuffed and having to miss dinner with his mother. Bucky knows that he is a failure, and usually The Arm is enough to remind him of that, but now there is the shiny friction-burn scar around his right wrist from where the cuff sat and the memories of all the ways he’d ruined Steve’s day to highlight that fact.

~~~~~

Hydra has the serum. It sucks balls but they do. They decide to test it on the cockroach that’s been annoying the lab assistant for months and who he’s finally managed to capture with the aid of some alluring pheromones. The idea of a genetically-enhanced cockroach was not thought through and the resulting chaos caused large-scale panic which the SSR was able to subdue. In the cockroaches’ rampage however, the original serum was lost and therefore the cockroach, nicknamed Steve Roachers by the Goons unfortunate enough to have been on the receiving end of a shore crab pinch, roamed the subways of New York long enough to terrify a few maintenance engineers and become an urban legend. Steve Roachers eventually went on to lead a gang of insect outcasts in a glorious campaign of vengeance against the invading spider foes and became known as Captain Cockmerica. (Author’s note: Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.)

Another author’s note: The Roachvengers consisted of Iron Roach, Hawkflea, Blue Bottle, The Inedible Slug and the Man-Ant. The Roachvengers may have been a shitty name but insects are not known for their wordplay, and trust me no-one wants to be in the Cockvengers. Or maybe you do, whatever floats your boat).

~~~~~

 

Bucky goes back to work. He takes all manner of jobs he can possibly get, sometimes without even checking what the mission involves. This is the situation which leads him into a close-quarters skirmish with the Roachvengers one terrible, creepy-crawly Saturday afternoon in the large sewer under Times Square which features a lot more slime and excrement than most interactions involving human combatants do. After a long and, even if he does say so himself, glorious battle, the fight ends with a beleaguered Bucky Barnes neatly severing the head from Captain Cockmerica and watching while he scurries around the cavernous sewer they are fighting in, headless and all the more terrifying for it. A headless cockroach the size of a lion wearing a stylish American-flag uniform obviously held together with spider webs and charging around a confined space containing other insects, a severed head, and a very nauseous SSR Agent is never going to have a happy ending. Bucky ends up throwing up his lunch, a disappointing salmon bagel with too much pepper and not enough schmere, which immediately mingles with the river of shit at his feet and is swept away. The Man-Ant becomes stuck in the gelatinous vomit and is borne away down the sewer, perhaps the first time that Bucky can say he defeated a genetically-enhanced ant using his own bodily fluids. On second thought, it is perhaps the only time any SSR Agent can say that, although we cannot reveal that kind of classified information.

The Blue Bottle is cunning, beating her wings, biting and buzzing and confusing him, but is defeated when Bucky throws a decaying rat carcass in her direction and she is entranced by the truly delicious odour of decomposing rodent flesh as all blue bottles seem to be. The Inedible Slug is still on its way to the fight. Even a genetically-enhances slug is still a slug, and no-one ever said they were fast. Hawkflea eats too much sewage and has to have a lie-down, and Iron Roach scuttles back into the darkness of the sewer, defeated.

Three months pass. Bucky makes no attempt to contact Steve, and why would he, after all? Steve has probably forgotten him by now, and that’s for the best, really. It’s not like he’s missing Steve or anything. It’s not like his heart lifts every time he sees a golden head bobbing in the street, or hope twists his stomach when he hears words spoken in a deep Brooklyn accent. It’s not like he browses through hundreds of photos of crab tattoos online trying to find the one that Steve may have gotten. It’s not like he phones the hospital to try and talk to Steve only to hang up before he can be transferred. It’s not like that at all. It’s not, because that would be sad and pathetic and Bucky Barnes is not sad and pathetic, he is an SSR Agent and a Certified Badass to boot (he’s got the badge to prove it and everything, even if it was a birthday gift from his sister), and he is a ghost story, a nightmare in the heads of his enemies, a swift shadow moving through the night and leaving destruction in his effortlessly-sexy wake, he is…

…oh who is he kidding?

He is a sad, strange little man who’s only joy in life is when he gets to dress his cat, named Missy (short for Miserable Bastard), in a kitty-sized chef jacket and terrible blond wig to look like Gordon Ramsay, and pretend that he’s on Masterchef. Well, someone’s gotta do it. Bucky and Missy are currently locked in a month-long battle of wits over ownership of the sole green cushion which rests on the couch. If Bucky is sneaky he can distract Missy with cat treats and then settle into the cushion without fear, but he has learnt the hard way not to disturb Missy if she happens to be napping on the green cushion when he flops down onto the sofa a respectable distance away. It is the fate of all cat owners to cede their most beloved, comfiest and fluffiest belongings to their Feline Overlords, along with most of their socks and control over the TV remote.

After the Battle of New York Sewers Bucky considers the idea that it might be a good idea to give any remaining serum to Missy and watch her bat the Iron Roach around like a kitten with a ball. It would certainly save him a lot of trouble, and Missy would need the exercise if Bucky was going to carry on attempting to placate her temper by feeding her more cat treats than was strictly healthy. Bucky wonders if he should mention that in his mission report. He decides against it only after thinking of the size of the litter tray he’d have to get in order to cope with the genetically enhanced pellets Missy would drop. It would probably, he thinks, be easier just to surrender control of the green cushion before his cat becomes a super-soldier. Perhaps he could get a saddle and rise his cat into battle? These thoughts are not new for Bucky, who has been attempting to distract himself from not-missing Steve for three long months, torn between wishing that Steve would look for him and wanting Steve to forget about his existence entirely.

 

~~~~~

Steve Rogers, in the three months that he has been apart from Bucky Barnes, has not forgotten his large, attractive protector. Not at all, because Steve Rogers is an artist, and in his capacity as artist, his apartment is littered with drawing materials. Steve Rogers lives in a damp studio apartment in Brooklyn with a bed and a desk and an old saggy couch and a tiny foldaway kitchen. In the damp studio apartment, next to the bed, is a bedside table with a wobbly leg and one drawer which doesn’t close properly. In the drawer is where Steve keeps his most personal (translation: most embarrassing) works of art. A lot of them are confused renderings of dreams he’s had, sometimes featuring large cockroaches and terrible wordplay. Some of them are… let’s call them anatomical drawings which is really just a fancy way of saying "dicks." Lots of dicks. Sometimes the dicks were attached to other parts of human anatomy, like balls. Sometimes the dicks and balls are attached to actual drawings of humans. Although Steve would never admit it, over the past three months there has been the odd study of the way light glints off overlapping metal plates and the play of a smile over a beautiful face with slate grey eyes. Steve Rogers, you see, has not drawn Bucky’s dick because let’s face it, it is a little creepy to draw people who you know naked without their knowledge or consent, but he has drawn his memories and dreams and imaginings of Bucky’s smile, Bucky’s Arm, Bucky’s fighting stance. He has drawn the way they met and the way they argued and the way they worked together and the way he looked when Steve last saw him, standing alone in the middle of Stark Tower, rubbing his wrist and looking after Steve with opaque eyes.

Steve thinks that there must be a word for the way he has started sleeping on one side of the bed with his left hand thrown out to the side, the way he’s having to teach himself to pee with the door closed, the way every ache and twinge of his healing wrist makes him adjust his position to ease the pressure from a non-existent cuff. He’d only known Bucky for twenty-four hours, for fucks sake. He couldn’t be… he isn’t actually… missing him… was he?

He is. Steve Rogers is pining for Bucky Barnes, and he has no idea what to do about it.

Well, fuck.