It was hard to remember when the whole Instagram thing started, exactly.
"They log everything," Bucky'd said, early in this whole stint of pretending he was even fine with living in America. "You know what was nice?"
"Wakanda?" Natasha guessed boredly.
"Wakanda," Bucky said. Natasha kept staring at her phone, so Bucky let his thoughts languish, eyes hanging on the dumpster, the graffiti. His coffee, at least, was bitter enough to stun his senses into forgetting the alleyway smell. "No Google," he went on, when Natasha started paying attention to him again. "No Facebook. No fucking neural network keeping tabs on your browsing just to maximize advertising revenues."
"Not that they told you," Natasha corrected, but Bucky shook his head.
"It's a fundamentally different economy. Why would the Wakandan royal family want to sell information about my search for a decent pomade? No capitalism, no sale of user logs. You know what? It's the corruption that bothers me. Government and corporations are the same fuckin thing in America these days—"
Natasha rolled her eyes. "You've been talking to Steve way too much."
Bucky stared. He let the silence turn nice and awkward before opening his mouth.
"I can't believe," he said, affecting a tightness in his throat, "that you would just forget—"
"He's barely been in the ground… for three months. And you would just—"
"No one is buying this, Barnes. You know that, right?"
"If Steve were here—God rest his soul—"
"Okay," she said, going back to her phone. "Got it. Won't bring it up again."
Bucky stalled by drinking his coffee. He'd hated Starbucks then, but he did love that their most basic coffee order tasted like corrosive waste. Reminded him of the good old days, when he'd hated society for its violence to his spirit instead of its violence to everything else. "Even if he wasn't," Bucky went on, wincing, "I wouldn't need him to tell me what's right in front of me."
"Look," she said, and held up the screen so he could look at it. "It's a cute dog."
"I hate dogs."
She scrolled to a cat. "Oooh, this cat is being stupid."
The cat was being stupid. Bucky fought a fledgling smile. "I think you're missing the point."
"I'm not talking about the consumption of social media. Every picture you upload to a site like Instagram has your phone model, your location... You know how many shit-for-brains agents I found just from their forum presence and social media accounts over the last fifteen years?"
"You're saying that you're as stupid as them."
Bucky displayed his offense. "No."
"So if you're not stupid," Natasha said slowly, "there's no reason not to post on social media."
"Were you even listening? Corporate states! Sale of data!"
Natasha shook her head and sipped whatever candy-smelling monstrosity she'd ordered this time. "I think you're missing the point. You're a private citizen again. James Barnes is as dead as your husband." Bucky wasn't even sure where to start with that one. "If you turn off your location, strip metadata from your posts before you make them... you're as anonymous in this city as it's possible to be."
"Living off the grid makes you as anonymous as it's possible to be."
"You know what else it makes you?" She thumbed the lipstick off the lid of her coffee and handed Bucky the cup, meeting his eyes with put-upon sincerity. "Miserable."
Bucky took the coffee and held her eye. "I'm not drinking this."
Natasha gave him a sardonic look and flipped her head upside-down. Apparently he was supposed to just play cupholder. "You know," she said, resurfacing, tying her hair back into whatever effortless ponytail 'Karen' wore, "you should really try a new drink once in a while. You're free now, Barnes. You get to try new things whenever you want."
"You think I need you to tell me that?"
"So order something else next time. Anything's better than that. That stuff dissolves pennies."
"That's the appeal."
"I know how important it is to you to stay corrosive," she said, patting his arm fondly, "but branching out is the only way you're gonna get your life back."
Bucky handed Natasha her coffee back. "My shot at a life died with Steve."
He'd meant it casually, in the same spirit as his put-upon dramatics about Steve's so-called 'death.' But it came out way more honest than he intended. Just for a second, he felt a spreading, calcifying loss cake to his ribs.
Steve wasn't gonna be there when he got home. He'd spent a few years without him a couple times by now, but this felt...
If Natasha hadn't quite believed that Steve was dead, she could at least read his face well enough to get that there was something going on. "That's only true for as long as you let yourself believe it," she'd said, giving his arm a squeeze, and then she pinched out a smile and left him alone in Piss Alley with the world's bitterest coffee.
Bucky'd stood there a minute to feel sorry for himself, then said to hell with it and gone out to buy his first carton of cigarettes in seventy-two years. "Branching out," he'd muttered to himself, as though that justified it. In a way, it was true. Steve would never have let him take up smoking again if he was around to see it, and the so-called tobacconist didn't even have any Lucky Strikes. So in spite of Bucky's staunch insistence that his coffee be as close to flesh-eating as it was physically possible to digest, it turned out that he was about to try out something new that day after all.
Then Steve, of all fuckin people, opened an Instagram account.
—Wanna see pictures of my new neighbourhood? Steve asked. They were still encrypting everything in those early days, before they figured out that no one really cared whether they were communicating with each other or not.
—DON'T SEND ME ANY FILES, Bucky sent back in a hurry, not bothering with encryption, just to get it to him as fast as possible. not until you learn what metadata means and how to strip it from your pictures.
—I know what metadata means, came Steve's reply. Bucky could almost hear the sulk in it. Anyway I wouldn't send files over a loose connection, I know better than that.
—Do you want them or not?
—You didn't have to encrypt that one, Buck. It was two letters.
—who is this buck you speak of. i am alexei
—you are two-timing me?!
—You just remind me of some asshole I used to know. My point, Alexei, is all the pictures are posted on Instagram under the name dancingmonkey74 if you want to take a look. I'm going back in to strip all the metadata on it right now so SPARE ME the lecture.
Bucky nearly knocked over his vanilla-flavoured cola—all his 'trying new things' efforts seemed defined by their status as technically bad habits—in his haste to put 'dancingmonkey74' through a secure search engine. To his credit, Steve had used a phone that wasn't location-enabled—thank fuck something had sunk in about information literacy—and, apart from the glaringly obvious self-reference in his username, he didn't seem to give any other overtly identifying information in his profile.
He was, by all appearances, really Patrick Graham: a design student from Manhattan—God save his weary soul—living and studying in Paris.
Patrick Graham had 54 followers. Bucky spent the next hour and a bit carefully vetting every one of them.
None seemed suspicious. Most seemed to be French design students like Steve. Bucky let his shoulders relax and took the first real breath he'd managed in an hour, then took a second to do his level best at pulling all his hair out by the roots.
—this is fucking stupid, he sent through their message chain again.
—I know, Steve replied. He hadn't said anything the whole time Bucky was panic-vetting, probably on account of knowing him too well. Do you like my plant? I named him after you.
He was referring to a tall, knobby succulent he'd taken a moody shot of near a rain-streaked window.
—i like it, Bucky wrote. The lighting was good, or whatever.
Steve sent back a grinning emoji. Bucky stared at it for a stupidly long time, imagining Steve's floppy yellow hair sitting on top of it.
While Bucky was still staring, Steve sent: You can get notified every time I post if you make an account.
Bucky sent: fat chance. i better not catch you posting selfies on this thing, or so help me i will come and i will find you, and not in a way you'll like.
—I'm not that stupid, wrote Steve. Besides, it's a normal thing to have social media. Natasha told me it'd be weirder if I didn't.
Natasha had a point.
—you in touch with natasha?
That reply had taken a while.
—I meant before, Steve finally wrote.
Bucky's stomach sank. God, he was dumb as shit sometimes. He'd tapped out a quick apology, then thrown the laptop away from him. It'd been four months without Steve by then; if the loss still felt raw to Bucky, he couldn't imagine how bad it must have been for Steve. Bucky may not have loved coming back stateside to take over the role of Captain America, but at least he'd had support in doing it.
Steve, on the other hand, was in cover alone. That was the whole idea, of course; it was what they'd decided, in the twenty arguments it had taken them to reach a decision. If they were going to sell the idea, that's how it was gonna have to stay: Steve Rogers was dead. Any single leak meant more liability for everyone involved.
So: no-contact with everyone. Or... almost everyone. Steve had lasted all of three weeks incommunicado before sending Bucky the first message over the encrypted channel, and they'd talked almost daily since. Bucky had a good enough idea of where Steve was and what he was studying—and that was already too much goddamned information. It was too risky to be talking at all, let alone to be sharing this much info about their lives, and yet neither one of them seemed able to curb their impulses to stay in touch.
It wasn't so much that Bucky was worried about Steve being detected. With the level of detail they'd gone to for the sake of fabricating his death, it didn't seem likely anyone would even look. More worrying was Steve's connection with Bucky. All the VPNs and encryption protocols in the world didn't change the fact that Bucky, albeit under the Captain America name, was suddenly making himself a high-profile figure again. He was doing it specifically to draw attention away from Steve, which kind of opposed the purpose of their clandestine message server.
If the world at large figured out who was newly behind the Captain America mask, it wouldn't have been a far reach to look for Steve after all. But no amount of Bucky telling himself he was being egregiously fucking stupid every time he sent a message to Steve did anything to stop him from doing it. No amount of telling Steve he was stupid for messaging him in the first place achieved much, either.
Falling in love again had been the mistake. But there was nothing much to be done about that now.
—Don't worry about it, Steve wrote back.
Bucky sighed at the screen a while before finally replying: someone's got to.
Having maybe decided that Patrick Graham was a guy who used emojis as well as Instagram, Steve sent back a smiling face, followed by: a fistbump; two pink hearts; a frowning face with a single tear; and two men holding hands.
Bucky's stomach twisted. God, he loved that dumb bastard.
—stop, he wrote. And Steve did stop, and Bucky regretted it for the whole next five hours as he watched Patrick Graham's 122 Instagram pictures get slowly taken down and then reuploaded, one after another, newly without metadata. There was the Eiffel Tower; there was the Pyramide du Louvre; there went foggy morning after foggy morning, rainy day after rainy day. There wasn't a soul in a single one of them, lest the people looking for Steve mistake strangers for people he knows; he was careful enough. Steve was almost always careful enough.
But there was Bucky the cactus, sitting alone in Steve's bedroom window. Standing eternal and prickly vigil. Doing the job that Bucky should've done.
Not too long later, Bucky caved. He made his own godforsaken Instagram account. No one even made him do it.
It wasn't like he posted anything. Not at first. He followed 29 accounts posting photos of New York; @dancingmonkey74; @karebeartakesnewyork—which was apparently part of Natasha's new cover, to Bucky's incredulity—and a bunch of feeds of cats doing stupid things.
That was it. He got pinged every time Steve made a post, which gave him little dumps of dumb affection once a day or so. He started to look forward to pictures of that stupid cactus.
Still. The Instagram experience did inspire a few questions.
"Why are you always posting pictures of your breakfast on the internet?" he asked Natasha during one of their daily caffeine-nicotine infusion hours. "Why is it always porridge? Nobody needs to eat porridge in 2018. I used to eat porridge every morning and I got so sick of it I'd bring it to Steve."
"You brought Steve your castoffs?" she asked, but then she seemed to realize the implications of what he was asking. "Hang on—are you talking about Karen's Instagram?"
"I'm talking about your Instagram."
"Please. I'd never post a picture of oatmeal."
Bucky gave her a dubious look and took a drag from his cigarette. "Well, then, can you ask Karen if there's an Instagram setting for 'I don't want to see or be seen by foods from the Great Depression'?"
"You're not following me on Instagram," Natasha accused, eyes narrow.
"No," Bucky said, but then muttered the rest, self-hatingly, into the empty alley. "Apparently I'm following Karen on Instagram."
Natasha stared a second in disbelief. Then, with the sort of speed usually reserved for getting out of danger in a hurry, she'd unlocked her phone and was scrolling furiously through her list of followers. "What's your handle?"
Rather than reply, Bucky elected to burn through the rest of his cigarette on a single inhale. God, he was getting sloppy.
"Midtown Wallflower?" Natasha guessed, ignoring his pointed silence. "Highline Assassin?"
"You really think I'd register under a Manhattan handle? Do you know me at all?"
She narrowed her eyes again and glared. "You're not... Brooklyn Sasquatch."
"Photo of three blueberries in the middle of a bowl of granular mush gets 105 likes a day. Fucking obscene."
"It's aesthetic porridge."
Bucky turned to her like she'd committed treason. "Aesthetic porridge?"
"Karen likes aesthetic porridge," she said neutrally.
Bucky shook his head. "Sometimes I think you take your covers too far."
"I've been burned enough times," she said, shoving her phone in his face. "You are Brooklyn Sasquatch."
Unfortunately, he was. He'd lasted six whole months as Cap before someone had managed to recognize him on the street—as Cap, thank god, and not as James Buchanan Barnes—ostensibly just from the line of his jaw.
Bucky'd started growing out his beard the very same day. He'd taken to the state of overgrowth surprisingly quickly, shaving only when he had to suit up as Cap, and even then usually only begrudgingly. It wasn't like maintaining a crisp image had been among his priorities over the last few years, but letting his bodily growth subdue him into literal, physical obscurity carried a certain appeal. Retaliation, maybe, against years of undue fucking military expectations.
"I look like a Neanderthal had progeny with a sheepdog," he'd reported to Steve the first time he'd grown it out. Steve had finally worn him down on whether a phone call was safe enough run through Signal, and Bucky was enjoying being able to fuss with his hair and hear Steve's voice in his ear at the same time.
"All I'm hearing," said Steve, "is that you managed to get sexier."
Bucky laughed. It felt weird to smile; felt weirder to see himself do it. "Well, you're not wrong. What do they call it? Am I a... bear now?"
Steve made a sound crossed between dread and interest. "Oh, God."
"You think I can get body hair going if I try hard enough?"
"Yeah, what's that about?"
"God only knows."
It was weird, in a way, having regular conversations with Steve without either of them ever talking about what they did in their day-to-day lives. No identifying details; they'd agreed on that much. Already Bucky'd had to plead with him to take down a couple Instagram photos that Bucky had been able to place on Google maps just from landscape details, and those conversations became tiresome enough that Steve complied with his requests just to stop Bucky from complaining.
Bucky had no idea if Steve was standing or sitting when they talked. He had no idea what his apartment looked like, which arrondissement he lived in, if he was even actually living in Paris. He'd only peripherally allowed himself to figure out that it was late evening in France and that Steve's voice was probably quiet because he was sleepy, since Steve had alluded in passing, months ago, to being an early riser.
Bucky'd filed that information away into the trap of his mind without choosing it. Now, uncluttered by other knowledge about Steve's life, the fact occurred to him almost hourly. Every time it started getting dark, every time Bucky was himself getting sleepy, every time he glanced at his phone or his inbox and mentally tacked six hours onto the current time, Bucky was left remembering that Steve was a morning person and that he was probably either awake or asleep at that particular moment.
It felt dangerous. Bucky buzzed with anxiety every time he even thought of him. Every shred of information he had on Steve felt dangerous to carry, and yet there was never the slightest chance Bucky would have given up anything about him. Bucky told himself this every time he felt guilty for remembering something about Steve's life, every time he sent another message; every time he waited for his phone to ping with that custom ringtone, So, in Steve's voice, taken from one of those PSAs that didn't represent his life at all.
"People might take notice if you turn into a literal bear," Steve said, smooth and warm. His voice was rumbling; relaxed. It was past ten at night over there. He must have been getting ready for sleep.
Bucky curled his fingers over the edge of the counter. Maybe this phone thing really was a mistake. "Yeah," he said, trying to forget how much the roll of Steve's voice felt to him like home. "But they'd definitely never find me if I turned into another species."
"Always the optimist."
"Yeah, Pat, you know me."
Steve groaned. "Don't call me that. No one who knows enough to tap our phone conversations is gonna be fooled by 'Pat'."
It was sound logic, but Bucky was too joyed by Steve's annoyance to let it go. "You just had to stick with the Irish thing."
"You chose it for me!"
That much was true. But if you asked Bucky, Pat was short for Patriot.
"Besides," Steve went on. "I might be able to hide being Steve Rogers, but I can't pretend I'm not Irish."
Bucky flinched. "Oh, god, please don't use your full name."
"Steven," Steve said, directly against the receiver, "Grant Rogers."
Then Bucky had hung up, and Steve had sent half a dozen plaintive messages asking Bucky to call back, and by the time he remembered to encrypt them and Bucky actually did call back, Steve had already come up with new ways to torment him. Steve went on to ignore every single one of Bucky's attempts to make him feel like an asshole for not following basic protocols of security, instead dirty-talking him about all of his hair, and from there any pretense of civil conversation went out the window and devolved into a long-distance jerk-off.
Given that nothing bad happened after such a catastrophe of a conversation, Bucky was only about a hair's breadth from actually sending Steve a photo of his face-jungle to see what other filthy nonsense he could get Steve to say about it. Sex aside, it really was just a spectacle. He was a forest unto himself. The serum seemed to be boosting his hair growth at a pace that even he hadn't expected. At this rate, he must have been on his way to becoming the eighth wonder of the world.
So @BklynSasquatch, if begrudgingly, was born.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Bucky said to Natasha, hiding behind his coffee.
"Brooklyn and cats, huh?" she said, scrolling through his follows.
"I'm a complicated man of simple tastes."
But as he stared across the alleyway in a state of growing existential malaise, he realized how incredibly careless he'd been. If Natasha was looking at his follow list, she was definitely going to notice that he only followed two real people. One of them was Karen. And the other one was...
He tried to snatch the phone out of her hand before Natasha realized his wide-eyed despair, but somehow she managed to see it coming and snapped her hand out of his reach. "Whoa!" she shouted, holding her phone in the air. "Settle down, Sasquatch!"
"Just give me a second—"
"You got a secret, Barnes?"
"Gotta unfollow one account, Romanoff, I'm begging you, and then you can make as much fucking fun of me as you—"
"Which account is that?" She held Bucky at bay with one hand, the other scrolling down the list. There was no way she'd be able to hold him off for long, but she seemed content to rely on the tenuous premise that he wasn't prepared to suplex her into a dumpster. "Cats-of-world?"
"Smoothie the cat!"
"If Wakanda taught me anything, it's a healthy respect for cats. Give me the fucking phone—"
"Brooklyn... cats... Brooklyn cats... ooh, Manhattan!"
"You discovered my secret. I like Manhattan. Now hand it—" Bucky smacked her arm to the side and tried to snatch the phone, but she twisted her arm away and managed to use Bucky's shoulder as leverage to perform some kind of Black Widow kick-flip off the dumpster. She landed behind him. Bucky turned to see her grinning like the Cheshire Cat, still scrolling through his follows, and that was how they almost recreated the events of Odessa in a Brooklyn alleyway playing keep-away with Natasha's phone.
Bucky won in the end, Natasha's phone meeting an untimely end under the heel of his boot after he'd caught it during one of her impossibly showy throw-and-catch maneuvers while launching herself over his head, and he'd had to shell out for a new one—a considerably more expensive one, plus a godawful strawberry latte thing to make up for his victory—but it was worth it. In the thirty seconds Natasha had looked away to cheerfully examine her new shiny hellcomputer, Bucky had randomly followed a minimum of two hundred other accounts, unfollowing and re-following Steve along the way, thus losing dancingmonkey74 among a sea of randos who also happened to post pictures of rainy days and cacti in France.
Knowing Natasha, the ruse probably hadn't been enough. She'd probably identified Steve within minutes of parting, not least because of his terrible and obvious self-reference in the handle.
Still. Even if Bucky's timeline had become completely insufferable in the process, Natasha's inability to take no for an answer had at least tightened loops in his careless security. Her incorrigible snooping had probably ultimately done him a favour.
Unfortunately for Bucky, his following spree somehow got him followers back.
"What do I do with this?" he'd asked Steve, scrolling one-handed while exerting the least amount of effort possible in holding up his arm.
"Do you have to do anything?" Steve asked, muffled by a toothbrush.
"It's starting to look weird that I'm just following people with such niche content without posting anything. Romanoff was right; you gotta use social media the way it's intended or you're gonna stand out."
"Don't tell me you're gonna start posting cacti and cats."
"No," Bucky scoffed. "I'm clearly a Brooklyn 'grammer."
"A Brooklyn what now?"
It was pushing 1:00am; Bucky was still in his Cap uniform, minus the mask, miserably contemplating how many days it was gonna be before his beard would grow back. He was tired. He was slipping up. He was already missing his preferred Starbucks location, reserved for the Sasquatch so the staff didn't recognize him, the Captain America Starbucks inferior in every way. "Ignore me," Bucky muttered, exhausted. "Talking to Natasha too much."
"Of—what, my Instagram? You think I'd ask her for advice on social media?" He shook his head. "I can handle this. Brooklyn's in the handle; pictures of Brooklyn are relevant."
"Sasquatch is in the handle, too. You plan to start posting pictures of yourself around Brooklyn, make it like that traveling teddy bear thing?"
He'd said it with mockery in his voice, but Bucky embarrassed himself by taking the suggestion seriously. There was a lot of potential in constructing a mythology for himself that had nothing to do with his past or present jobs. It did take him the better part of two years to work up enough nerve to actually post a picture of himself, but even so, his Brooklyn-oriented strategy and knack with Photoshop meant that the Brooklyn Sasquatch racked up hundreds of thousands of followers by the time he did.
It was an instant hit. The Sasquatch went viral in a matter of hours. To his own ongoing embarrassment, Bucky kinda loved the process involved in building the Sasquatch persona up from the ground. He had a posting schedule. He kept spreadsheets on retention patterns. He knew that he tended to lose followers when he didn't post asinine captions with his asinine photos, and that, after he posted his face for the first time, his follower count had shot up so fast that he'd been beholden to post more or risk losing his following.
People loved photos of coffee, but they loved them more when Bucky attached some commentary to it about how life is like a triple-chocolate mochaccino. Throw in a shot of him in the sun, run it through eight thousand filters until facial-recognition software no longer picked up the edges of his face, and the begrudged account he'd made just to get notified whenever Steve posted pictures of plants had somehow, without Bucky's realizing, turned into a full-blown hobby that Bucky undertook with the care and precision of a trained operative stalking his mark.
"Did you actually just put a picture of your face online?" Steve had asked in lieu of greeting the first time Bucky had posted a selfie.
Bucky, however, had sat up in bed, too distracted by the look of him to respond. "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
"I figured you wouldn't care if I Facetimed you, given that you just posted a picture of yourself on the internet!"
"I'm talking about the man you killed whose face you apparently stole!"
Steve waved a hand, eyes closing. "It's my cover."
"It sure is something!"
"You're one to talk."
No matter what Steve had to say about the fact that Bucky seemed to be regressing through time into the ape from whence he evolved, Bucky had not—unlike Steve—dyed every single goddamn hair on his face.
"Are you a chimney sweep?" Bucky asked. "Did the ghost of Patrick past take you over and change your appearance? What is this?"
"You said we weren't giving each other identifying details, or I'd have told you. Every time I tried, you tried to bury me in cursing—which seems hypocritical to me now, by the way, given that you—"
"One thing at a time! Is your hair always that short?"
"Yeah, it is! This is how Patrick looks, Buck, it's how I've looked for two years. Citing my appearance as scandalous when you're sitting there, a bona fide cryptid—"
A smile tugged at Bucky's mouth. God, he'd missed the way Steve's eyebrows knit in the middle when he got going. "Cryptid, huh?"
Steve faltered into silence. Bucky blinked at him, licking his lips against his stubborn smile.
"Sexy cryptid," Steve murmured.
Bucky coughed a laugh. "Didn't I say?"
"I said, actually. Glad you didn't disappoint."
"It was always a risk, but I kinda depended on your ability to get off on the thought of me as a Sasquatch as a relative given."
Patrick still blushed like Steve Rogers, at least. "Jesus, Buck."
Then it seemed to sink in that it was the first time they'd seen each other in two years.
Two goddamned years of encrypted messages and telephone calls and there, finally, was proof Steve was there. Suddenly Bucky understood why Steve's first instinct on seeing his face on Instagram had been to pick up the phone and see his face some more.
"Hi," Bucky rasped, tipping over in bed.
"Hi," Steve said back, smiling and shy. He'd lain down on the sofa and held his phone there, like Bucky was lying there beside him; Bucky did the same. Then they both hung on the airwaves in silence, getting used to each other again, Bucky taking note of the way Steve's eyelashes were still blond; the way he wore coloured contacts that probably also obscured his retinae from scans. He was still soft around the eyes. Under all that Patrick still lived Steve Rogers.
"Maybe I should go blonde," Bucky'd muttered at last. Steve's whole face had lit up when he laughed, and so Bucky hadn't wasted time regretting his frankly stupid decision to post a photo of himself on Instagram.
After that, he and Steve started to Facetime daily. Bucky kept posting to Instagram. Then, forced to face the fact that this was his new life whether he liked it or not, Bucky registered the Sasquatch's face with the government under the name of William Yves.
Bucky had way more hair and muscle mass than the real Yves ever had, even before Yves had been blown off his feet in Italy in 1943. It'd just been one of those names that had never left his head, lodged in his memory beside his own serial number. Yves had been the type to stop at a tree, after the rains let up and the water dripped free, just to feel the texture of leaves between his forefinger and thumb as they drank in the sun, like he'd never seen a tree before. Like he'd never see another one again.
It fucked Bucky up to remember how he'd smacked the kid's hand and shoved him forward, scolding him on how crawling across a battlefield was good way to get killed. Two months later, Yves died just like that: crawling across a battlefield. It was one of those prophecies Bucky'd wished he'd never told. Yves' name stuck with him after sleepless nights spent wondering if Bucky'd willed his death into being just by saying it aloud. Knowing that it was crazy. Convinced he'd done it anyway.
If Bucky hadn't been able to save Yves' life then, maybe he could give his name some kind of new life now. Bucky took pictures of flowers in spring and leaves in autumn and posted them with stupid captions while living under Yves' name. He thought, maybe, if Yves had had the slightest idea what Instagram was or the kind of bullshit Bucky was posting to it every day, he might have been proud that his name was attached to beautiful things; that, in some small way, everyone who liked a picture of blooming life liked the same things as him. That this was how Bucky communicated with Steve, the stupid love of his stupid life, nearly a hundred years later and three and a half thousand miles apart. That Bucky stopped and felt the leaves in spring, and thought of Steve and Yves and every other gorgeous thing.
The point was that, regardless of the purity of Bucky's intentions—or lack of intentions, as the case may be—the whole Instagram thing was pretty obviously positioned to fuck up his life from the start.
Not that he thinks about that much anymore. Today he stands outside his Sasquatch Starbucks, drinking their latest caffeine-sugar hell concoction after four glorious weeks passed without once needing to suit up as Captain America. He scrolls through Instagram without thinking about it, making mental notes about which posts fared better—springtime, it seems, is a pretty big hit. The growth on his face has finally grown back to a respectable state of sentience for the first time in a while, and Bucky entertains himself by spinning on the sidewalk, coffee and cigarette poised in one hand and his phone in the other, trying to find the best possible angle for a selfie that casts his face in enough shadow without completely obscuring his features.
He figured out a long time ago that the more weird shit he does with a sufficiently high-priced phone in his hand, the more he blends in. Bucky's gotten into the habit of rotating humiliating rituals daily just to keep his cover intact.
God bless filters. God bless New York. Even when he does get recognized by the occasional Instagram follower, Bucky—inspired by Steve's faux-outrage at the look of him—makes like a cryptid and employs every reasonable measure to disappear from sight within the next five seconds.
Apart from increasing his follower count, his dedication to the image of an unphotographable urban sasquatch also has the benefit of keeping his Winter Soldier skills sharp. Repurposing the assassin shit for his Instagram hobby feels weirdly okay. It's the furthest thing from what the Soviets intended, so if he has to make use of indoctrinated skills, using them to avoid being photographed as a ridiculous bigfoot version of himself somehow makes it palatable.
So far the only image anyone else has snapped of him as been so blurry as to be plausibly deniable. Being a cryptid has turned out to be actually kind of a genius cover. Bucky isn't sure why he hadn't thought of becoming a sasquatch earlier.
Deciding he's got enough selfie angles to choose from, Bucky scans around and sets down the sidewalk. Natasha probably isn't going to show up. It's a crapshoot these days. She's busy with something involving Nick Fury that Bucky neither wants to know about nor wishes was happening at all, but the fewer questions he asks, the better off they both are. "Karen" hasn't been burned yet either, which means she also has to juggle her day job as an executive assistant—something Bucky's also figuring out isn't so much cover to protect her own life as it is an infiltration.
He hasn't asked about that either. Briefly he almost worked up the courage, but then he thought about how Natasha deadpanned about killing anyone who knew what she was doing. Given how their play fights tend to go, Bucky doesn't really want to have a real one. It's not because he doesn't think he can win; it's just because he isn't sure that he could, and also because he really, really doesn't want to have a falling out with Natasha. Pushing three years as Captain America and Bucky still hasn't exactly gotten better at making friends.
So: no more caffeine-nicotine infusion hour, or at least not so often. Bucky still values the ritual for himself, but he knows when to cut his losses. He's got shit to do this morning anyway.
That's when he turns the corner and sees the Captain America signal hanging in the sky.
"Uh," Bucky says, stopping dead on the sidewalk, phone balancing precariously in his hand. "Huh."
For one thing, he doesn't have a Captain America signal.
So… that seems like kind of a bad sign.
He stares. Other people are staring; that justifies his stupefication. He looks between the signal, his phone, and his coffee and cigarette, and tries to slot his priorities in order.
He should really go investigate, except for how it's clearly a trap. He could call Wilson for reinforcements, but then he'd be asking Sam to go into the trap on his behalf. He could leave it alone and hope that it's nothing—maybe it's the early hour or the fact that he hasn't fully caffeinated yet, but he can't seem to figure out what possible reason someone would have to bait him into a fight when he's won every altercation except against the Avengers over the last five years.
Unless it's Hydra.
It's probably not Hydra.
It... could be Hydra.
Bucky'd been having such a nice day.
Turning on his heel away from the Capsignal, he goes back to his apartment. He'll have to suit up and shave. Farewell, Brooklyn Sasquatch. Bucky'd have to pull out some archived photos to generate content over the next couple weeks.