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Bring Us Back a Souvenir

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Even with all his hair hacked off, he doesn't look like a Bucky, Sam thinks. Maybe as some sort of stupid joke, like naming your most vicious dog Sweetpea. Steve's told him the stories, and he's seen the old newsreels; he knows what this Barnes guy used to be like. But it's not like knowing what to look for is going to magically make some spark rise to the top. This isn't an excavation. No lazy, mischievous grin for miles here. Sam's never seen a guy wound so tight.

When Sam drove them all out to the state park, Barnes (Sam has agreed not to call him Winter Soldier, even to himself) spent the whole time in sniper mode, never relaxing, just scanning and evaluating when all their company was songbirds. It gave Sam the willies. He remembers those slugs he favored, the bullets that rammed in like they came from a railroad gun. Having Barnes stare at the back of his head the whole drive home wasn't great either. Not even Roberta Flack on the speakers could defuse that.

Steve had seen too many movies, thought it was just like Jenga or something: pull out one crucial memory, trigger one perfect experience and he'll come flooding back. Sam had had the talk with him who knows how many times. That isn't how we work, man. That's just not what brains do. Steve kept trying to find a way in, but Barnes would go along with anything. You'd ask him what he wanted to do, and you just got that dead-fish stare. Didn't matter to Steve, God bless him: he's talk to Barnes for hours about their past, just monologue to himself and wait for a reaction.

"This isn't some Hydra assault," Sam finally told him. "You don't barrel in and tell him all about this person he should be. He doesn't even think he's a person yet."

Steve had dropped his eyes. "I don't know what else to do," he said.

"I do. You gotta leave him alone for a few days. Just leave him with me. He's got no expectations with me."

"He fought you once or twice."

Sam shrugged. "Like that makes me special."

But Steve left. And Sam's got Barnes all to himself for a few days.

All right.

"Hey, man," he says easily, strolling into his own living room like it's a minefield. "Phillies versus Dodgers later this afternoon. I'd like it if you watched it with me. Two o'clock."

Barnes stares at him, perched on the edge of the couch so tense it's almost a crouch.

"Steve's in Brooklyn right now dealing with some of his own shit," he continues, heading for the kitchen, every movement practiced and fluid. "Feel free to come and go, but don't hurt anybody. And be back for that ball game."

He expects Barnes to just vanish in a puff of smoke, like he always does, but the guy just sits there. He's still staring, but into the middle distance now. Sam makes a big pot of coffee. Barnes hasn't moved when he comes back with two mugs. That's good: he's vulnerable like that. Sam's seen that face on God knows how many others. He holds out the coffee.

Sam can't help watching that other arm while Barnes accepts the mug. He's sinking it back into the couch cushion; Sam always notices the dent it leaves when he gets up. Now that he's seen the scars all along the arm's seam, scars he can classify about ten different and terrible ways, he's plenty aware of those too, under that too-big shirt.

"Black, nothing in it," Sam says.

Barnes sniffs the coffee, then draws a deeper breath, inhaling. It's nothing special, just grocery store beans, but Barnes lingers over it. Sam doesn't say anything, just tastes his own cup and decides it needs more creamer.

"You should have a key," Sam says after a while. "I know it's fun and all scaling all those rails, but you can come in and out through the front door too."

The very last thing he actually wants to do is give the guy who made the Cold War a key to his apartment, but Barnes accepts the keys and slips them in his pocket without a peep.

They wind up taking a walk, which seems more fitting for a dude who's pushing 96. Without all that gear and his rhino-skin uniform, Barnes is just about Sam's size, for the most part. His first instinct is to stalk, but Sam just keeps it normal, just walks, taking in the sights and the spring air. There's a park a few blocks away; Barnes watches passersby from under the brim of his hat, his breathing too even and deep.

"Hey, man," Sam says. "Not that you need my help, but you're safe here. No one's coming for you."

"What do you know?" Barnes snaps, and Sam, who hasn't heard his voice in six days, not even at night, keeps his face neutral.

"Less about this than you. But you give me a head's up when you see what you're looking for. I'll help."

They see ducks, and a whole lot of tulips, and a bunch of shrieking kids chasing each other around a playset. Barnes lasts about twenty minutes, which Sam doesn't think is too bad. As soon as they get back, he stakes out a spot at the kitchen table. Barnes even partakes of the cold pizza he'd vanished for the night before last. He uses his head to rip his food, not his hand, but he takes a second slice.

Sam fiddles with his phone for a while in the quiet. His dad won't stop emailing him (half his messages are still forwards) and his sister is asking how to fend off the press. A text pops up as he's composing a note to a VA buddy.


He responds right away. We saw some ducks.

A long pause. Then: So you've been to the mirror.

Sam snorts. Barnes looks up, but doesn't enquire. I'll tell you when there's anything. When he closes out of the SMS, he catches a look at the time. "Whoa, game's starting soon!" Sam hops out of his chair and makes a beeline for the fridge. "Come on, man, I got asshole craft beer and cheese doodles for this."

Barnes, once invited, takes a seat on the left side of the couch. He cradles the bottle in his real hand awkwardly, working to not make it a weapon. "I know you can't get drunk," Sam says, dropping the bag of virulently orange puffs between them. "But shoot, it still tastes good, even if you can't get a buzz."

Sam leans back and spreads out. He steals glances at Barnes, who doesn't ask questions about the game or its mechanics. His expression shuts down like a sea creature closing up when the national anthem comes on. Could be good, could be in pain, Sam has no way to let him tell. Barnes never seems to drink his beer, but it keeps disappearing.

Barnes ignores the cheese doodles. He watches the game with the intensity of a cat. Actually, if he wasn't so terrifying, Sam might suggest recreating viral cat videos with him. Steve said Bucky had always had a good sense of irony and fun. Of course, the artist formerly known as Winter Soldier might destroy a piano if asked to play Keyboard Cat. Maybe in a few months. His war isn't nearly over.

It's the top of the fourth before Sam notices that Barnes is tracking the Phillie Phanatic. That goofy-ass mascot has been mocking the Dodgers and shooting hotdogs into the stands all the while, flashing its giant red star all over its back. Barnes' body is blocking his arm. Sam isn't sure whether he needs to defuse this.

"They need to switch up that pitcher if they have any hope of turning this around," he says, and can feel himself on the verge of babbling. This guy is a harder nut than he's ever seen before. At work, he'd kick him up in the first five minutes of assessment. Barnes doesn't take the bait, and so Sam starts talking, about games he's seen in the past, great plays by mediocre players, how the coaches are sending their signals, what kind of strategy the teams are pitting against each other.

"I got it," Barnes says, interrupting him. There's a softness in his voice, a drawl, a wryness that almost seems like an accident. Sam watches him idly tap the lip of his bottle, a soft tap of flesh against glass.

"Okay," says Sam. "I'll shut up now."

During the seventh inning stretch, he texts Steve. Called himself I. Drinking all my beer too.

A minute later: That guy's an idiot.

Barnes is still glancing out the windows from time to time, but he's dividing his attention evenly enough. That might be Bucky sitting next to him, Sam thinks. Fractionally, temporarily, for now. That's a foothold for something new, anything else.

Sure is, he types back, exhales and settles in.