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Walkin' After Midnight

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There’s only one bar in Old Town that he regularly patronizes. It’s a little hole in the wall place that plays American music from the 1940s. The walls inside are plastered with Allied propaganda from World War Two, and pictures of pin-up girls and American celebrities.

He thinks it’s supposed to appeal to ex-pats, considering the country’s turbulent participation in the war, but in actuality it’s mostly locals filling the seats.

He slides onto a stool at the bar, in the corner so he can have his back to the wall, and holds up one finger when the barmaid makes eye contact with him.

Timisoreana vă rog,” he says.

He always keeps a few lei in his pocket, enough for one beer and a tip. He never stays long enough for two.

Mulțumesc,” he says when the barmaid sets the bottle in front of him on a little cardboard coaster.

He doesn’t drink the beer right away. Instead he listens to the conversations happening around him. Many are in English, others in various local dialects, and one couple in the back is murmuring sweet nothings to each other in Serbian; he can hear it even over the music.

You must remember this
A kiss is still a kiss
A sigh is just a sigh
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by

Part of him feels an almost overwhelming sense of longing for the easy intimacy of a conversation between friends, nearly as much as it fills him with anxiety. What could he possibly have to talk about now?

He picks up the bottle, the glass only fractionally cooler than room temperature, and takes a deep swallow. His eyes close involuntarily as a snatch of memory comes to him.

“Is it supposed to taste this bad?”

Bucky shrugged. “Pop seems to like it well enough.”

“Maybe it’s better cold.”

He pulls a palm-sized notebook and a pen from his back pocket and scribbles the remembered dialogue into it. In his mind’s eye he can see Stevie, thin and pale and making a comical face as he tasted beer for the first time.

The majority of his memories are of Stevie, at various ages but never as the well-muscled man that faced him on the helicarrier. Maybe those memories are gone forever.

A woman appears at his side, pressing her breasts against his metal arm.

Nu sunt interesat,” he replies in a firm tone.

She leaves with a shrug and he finishes his beer. He’s had all the human interaction he can stand for one night. He tosses a tip on the bar and winds his way to the door, Bing Crosby singing him out.

Moonlight becomes you, it goes with your hair
You certainly know the right thing to wear
Moonlight becomes you, I'm thrilled at the sight
And I could get so romantic tonight

It’s just as crowded outside the bar as in. He passes by outdoor cafes and entrances to trendy clubs. The smells of tobacco, sweet cheese fried dough, and beer permeate the air.

He sticks to the shadows, leaving Old Town behind as he ducks down a cobblestoned side street. He has a strong affinity for Bucharest, a city that seems to be trying to come to terms with itself much the same way he is. Old versus new. Past versus present.

He never killed anyone in Bucharest.

Two women in tight dresses pass him, giggling as they hold on to each other and very obviously drunk. After a moment’s hesitation he casually follows at a distance until they get safely to Old Town. The streets can be like a maze, and it would be easy to get lost. Or accosted.

“You help old ladies across the street, too, Buck?”

“Shut up, punk.”

He thinks he was an honorable person, before. He hasn’t felt like one in a very long time.

He walks the dark streets, encountering fewer and fewer people as he gets closer to the apartment he’s renting. Pretty soon he’s the only one there and the solitude fills him with a sense of calm. He takes a deep breath and lets some of the tension drain from his shoulders.

Maybe tomorrow he’ll go to Cișmigiu Gardens, feed the swans. He has a lot of time on his hands, even with the part-time job he picked up. He wants to shake loose more memories, get a better understanding of the person he used to be so he can figure out who he wants to be now.

There’s someone sitting on the steps in front of his building, elbows on their knees. He hangs back, assessing the situation. His night vision is good, and he can’t detect a weapon. The man is wearing a brown leather jacket and jeans, and there’s something so familiar about him.

And then the man lifts his head, moonlight clearly illuminating him. Stevie.

His heart is pounding in his chest. How did Stevie find him? He’d been so careful. And though Stevie clearly sees him, he makes no move to get up. Stupid, loyal Stevie, who hadn’t fought back against the Winter Soldier because all he could see was his friend.

“Hey, Buck,” Stevie says, and there’s hesitance in his voice.

“What’re you doing here?”

“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

He can hear the truth of it. And maybe he’s feeling a little reckless himself, because he walks past Stevie and unlocks the door, and looks back at him over his shoulder.

“You want to come up?”

The look he gets in return is heartbreakingly hopeful, and he wonders if he’s making a mistake. But Stevie smiles at him, and it’s the only home he can remember.

He holds out his hand – his real hand – and his breath catches in his throat when Stevie takes it. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen now, but something tells him he won’t be alone in figuring it out.

“I’m with you till the end of the line, Bucky.”