“In my defense Winnie, it’s not like I knew someone was filming at the time.”
“Your defense is that you thought no one was going to film when a crazy lady got into a fight with a bunch of bigass guys? In New York City?”
“With Nazis! Winn! You keep skipping over the part about there being Nazis! Literal damn nazis! I mean yeah, the news says they were limited edition Hydra nazis, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were nazis !”
“I know Becks, and I’m the one that sent you that thing about the moral imperative to punch nazis that Captain America did. But that was before you were on probation big sister. Now? Now you’ve gotten into a fight when Judge Jameson is looking for any excuse to throw you in jail. And this definitely lets him.”
This was the challenge in having a lawyer for a sibling.
“That’s the part you’re focusing--”
“You! Are! Trending! On! Twitter! I don’t even have Twitter and I know you are because the news has picked it up too!” She interrupted, screaming loud enough that Bucky pulled the phone away from her ear. She whacked her forehead against the wall of her tiny, crappy apartment, and let her sister yell until she ran out of steam.
“There’s one other thing, Winn.”
“Oh god what.”
“Did you watch the video?”
“Shockingly, no, I didn’t want to see you get mildly stabbed while trying to take on six guys. I’d like to live to see my daughter’s graduation you know, not die of a stress induced heart attack because my big sister is an idiot.”
“I was wearing my favorite sweatshirt.”
“You were wearing your Captain America sweatshirt?”
“While you fought Nazis.”
“Please say you had the hood up.”
She heard the long deep sigh on the other end of the line.
“Well at least that’s something. Dammit. Yelling at you woke Elli up. Look. Keep your head down, deny that it was you if anyone asks, and burn the sweatshirt. I gotta go, bye big sister, love ya, even if you are an idiot.”
The phone beeped, and she tucked it into the bag on her hip before sliding down the wall to sit in a heap. Her leg twinged at her. Mild or not, she had technically been stabbed ten hours ago. She’d cleaned it thoroughly, bandaged it, and started praying that if it got bad she could pass it off as a kitchen accident at the ER. Winn’s fancy lawyer friends were the only reason Bucky wasn’t in prison for the bar fight last year: Judge Jameson had hated her on sight. One toe out of line and he’d have justification to throw her in a cell. Fighting six dudes, three of which were in the hospital and the other three in jail cells was was way more than one toe. Just the damage she caused to that storefront would have been enough.
Bucky’s life was fucked enough as it was, she didn’t need to add a stint in prison.
Dishonorably discharged during Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because she rambled while she thought she was dying. Missing an arm, which was why she thought she was dying in the first place. Broke as anything. Living in an apartment that could maybe be counted as a closet. Working two jobs and still having to grin and bear it when Winnie snuck money into the pocket of her coat. Unable to handle roommates because the idea of someone in her space made her want to vomit. Single for the third year in a row after the disaster that was Jackie. Wearing a prosthetic that was top of the line right up until it broke down and she couldn’t afford the repairs, which meant she now had a very expensive hunk of machinery that on good days moved kind of, sort of where she told it to go and on bad days flailed out to punch walls at random.
And now, she was the subject of a twitter frenzy.
It would fade. It had to.
She pulled up the app for the two hundred and forty seventh time since the video went viral that morning.
It had to be calming down.
She tapped on #AlternaCap.
Oh god it was worse.
People were tagging the Avengers on their official accounts, asking what they thought of it. Bucky frowned at the sidebar that said #OnHisSix, tapped it reluctantly, and discovered the new movement to put her on the Avengers. Because that would go so well. Put the cripple with the super heroes.
Dammit. Her therapist would see her and know she’d called herself a cripple again. Then there would be another round of positivity speeches.
Then Bucky frowned harder. The damn video had a million views and climbing, how had no one noticed that her left arm wasn’t real? Scrolling again, then trying searching in the tag brought up nothing but exclamations of how hot she was. That didn’t make sense. She’d been in cargo jeans and a sweatshirt, no one could see her face. How was that hot? The only comments about her arm were that it had to be jacked.
And yeah, at one point she clocked a guy with it and put him on the ground with a single hit. That was because it was a heavy ass slab of metal. It was like getting clotheslined by an ibeam.
She scrolled up again and read closer.
A million views and counting and nobody had realized she was a she. They thought she was a dude. Bucky couldn’t decide if she was insulted or flattered. Yeah, she wasn’t some waifish little thing, but she was definitely a woman.
Then it got worse.
One tweet, shared and re-shared filled up the feed.
One tweet from the actual Captain America, asking for a bit of help finding #AlternaCap to thank him, because Captain America thought she was a guy too. Obviously, it took off like wildfire since Steve Rogers had sent something like four tweets in the last year, and one of them had said ‘pppppppppoooooooooooiikkkkkk’
That was bad. Very bad. It was very very bad manners to turn down a polite request from Steve Freaking Rogers, and it was even worse when the guy was sincere. Except he was only ever sincere, it was some weird genetic modification thing -- that wasn’t the point. Bucky closed her eyes and breathed slowly, in and out, in and out, willing away the panic attack at the combined terror of A. Prison, B. Captain America, and C. The Media Whirlwind this sort of shit would cause.
Ten breaths later she was only about three percent calmer. That lasted until she refreshed twitter.
At which point a noise like a strangled goose came out of her mouth.
Right there was the response by Toni Stark directly asking AlternaCap to come forward to get his laurels. Then something about not being known for her patience, and a gif of a satellite camera zooming in. Toni Stark. Brilliant, gorgeous, badass Toni Stark.
The Toni Stark that ate up all the oxygen in every room she walked into. The Toni Stark that flew a nuke into space to save the city. Toni Stark.
Toni Stark was trying to find AlternaCap.
Bucky was fucked.
Shaking, Bucky deleted her twitter account, then shifted to every social media site she could think of. After half an hour, she still wasn’t sure if her facebook was hidden or deleted, but she was freaking out too hard to try any longer. This wasn’t something she could take to Winnie. Her sister didn’t need to know she wasn’t half as recovered as she claimed. From her favorites, Bucky pulled up the number for her therapist, and tried to breathe while it rang.
“--yeah, yeah, I know you can find anyone, shut up. This is Sam Wilson.”
She had the best therapist. Most of their sessions were shit talking each other the whole time because it let Bucky talk honestly. But when it came down to it, Sam had her back.
It took one word out of Bucky’s mouth for Sam to understand she was having trouble and start talking her through relaxation exercises.
Internet famous was only supposed to last a few days. Wasn’t that what everyone said?
That kid with the shoes. Grumpy Cat. The rainbow cat thing. Fuck. Memes changed so fast Bucky didn’t try to keep up anymore.
#AlternaCap should have blown over in a couple of days. It didn't. Of course it didn’t. That would have been a nice thing in Bucky’s life. And that couldn’t be allowed.
It really should have blown over when laser eyed robots attacked Baltimore.
All it did was prompt a renewed round of #OnHisSix which the Avengers gleefully referenced in post clean up interviews. Deleting her account didn’t mean that Bucky didn't keep checking twitter. Regularly. Possibly more like compulsively.
She hadn’t mentioned the reason behind the panic attack to Sam, just that she was having one, and when she was asked by one of the high schoolers at the coffee shop why she’d vanished from Insta, Bucky glared until they stopped.
Bucky had just been starting to relax from the hair-triggered, feral-cat state she’d been sitting in since it all started. Baltimore screwed that over royally.
Another two days, and both Bucky’s fear, and the puncture on her leg were in better shape. Then there were sea monsters in some tiny place called Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and Captain America almost got eaten and suddenly they were looking for her again.
A full week went by, the hashtag nearly died off, then Toni Stark tweeted “Come out Come out wherever you are. #AlternaCap” and Bucky had to call Sam from the supply room of the warehouse where she worked as a janitor.
One more week, and Toni Stark tweeted “Okay. Bored now.” Which sounded like the majority of what she tweeted during senate hearings, much to the internet’s collective delight. So Bucky didn't think anything of it. She was almost back to her baseline level of panicked, where it didn't impact her externally, just gave her stomach aches and nausea.
Bucky was doing so well.
Even Sam was proud of her.
Then Toni Goddamn Stark waltzed right up to the counter at the coffee shop looking like the child of Sex and War, and winked.
“I’ll take a large black eye no room, and a taste of whatever part of you you’ll let me have.”
There was a funny thing that happened when Bucky and her metric fuckton of issues got provoked. Sometimes it meant she curled up in a ball and waited for the sweet release of meds. And sometimes it went the other way.
“Try that again and I’ll give you another black eye for free.”
Toni blinked, then a small smile spread over her cheeks, mischievous and brilliant. The trademark red lips were the only thing that looked like Toni’s normal public appearance. Her clothes were comfortable not trendy, jeans, a hoodie, and hair in a ponytail.
Considering that Toni Stark was Bucky’s reason for joining the military, reason for getting blown up, reason for not giving up when she was discharged, and the first woman Bucky ever masturbated to, if it hadn’t been for the terror, Bucky probably would have been babbling praise. Instead, Bucky looked bored, annoyed, and unimpressed. Not to mention, sarcastic as shit. Like she’d been before everything fell apart, and the way she still pretended to be around her family.
“I already know, you know.”
“Who you are.”
“As it’s written on my name tag, that’s not all that impressive.” She quipped, tamping the shot and levering it into the machine to brew.
Stark laughed, “Yeah, but I know what you do at night.”
“You know I work as a janitor? Kinda creepy you knowing that, but still not sure what’s it to ya.”
“Harriet Rebecca Barnes.”
“Well yeah, what the hell else is Bucky gonna be short for? Didn't pull it outta the clear blue sky. I also answer to Becks.”
Cup filled, shots added, lid in place, she slid it across the counter to Stark who had narrowed her eyes to a comical degree.
“Do you know who I am?”
“Nah. See I’m a simple Amish girl, and I ain’t ever seen any of the four million times your face has been on a screen, Ms Stark. Papa says that the TV is the devil’s work.”
“That so?” She asked, pausing for a drink of her coffee, “Guess you haven’t seen any of the ten million times that video of you has been played then.”
“Hm?” Bucky rinsed the shot cups and set them back in place. “Seen what?”
“There a reason you’re playing this so close to the chest, Harry?”
“Don’t know whatcha talking about, Ms Stark. Can I get you anything else? Muffin? Bagel?”
“A long walk on the beach?” Toni grinned.
“A second Black eye?”
The deadpan response without missing a beat set the woman cackling. She slid a hundred dollars and a business card across the counter, winked one last time and exited.
Bucky shivered, pocketed the cash--against company policy--and read the card.
It wasn’t Iron Man’s. It was Captain America’s. His name, a phone number, and on the back, a quick note jotted down.
Just want to get to say thanks.
It wasn’t perfect. In fact it was far from perfect. Miles from it. But there was no way in hell that Toni was going to stop trying to contact Bucky because of that little display, and maybe just maybe, Steve Rogers would be able to talk Iron Man out of it. Hence Bucky’s terribly inadequate plan.
There weren’t phone booths in New York anymore, using her actual cell phone was out of the question, and if Toni didn’t get talked around on the subject, then showing up on camera at a phone in a library was a bad plan. So Bucky risked it, wandered into the seediest side of town, and bought a burner phone with cash. Hopefully Jameson never found out.
She shuddered, staring at the numbers that would dial Steve Rogers, ridiculous hunk of muscle he was, and built up the courage to hit call.
This was round four of her trying to place the call and if she waited any longer it would be too late and she’d have to try to be brave the next day. Which was unlikely.
She hit call and held it to her ear, eyes closed and forehead against the wall of her crappy apartment.
Around the third ring, she realized that it was unlikely that Captain America picked up random phone calls from random phone numbers. On the fifth she realized she should have written something down in case she had to leave a message and panicked harder.
On the sixth, it picked up.
“Yeah sorry, one second, yes I know how a phone works, thanks. Hello?”
Holy shit Bucky was on the phone with Captain America.
“Hello? Is this— I’m sorry I don’t know what else to call you— is this Alternacap? Toni won’t tell me anything about you. She said she didn’t want to spoil the surprise. I know you don’t want the media attention, that’s pretty obvious. And I’m not going to force you into the public. I wanted to let you know that— thank you. That’s what I wanted to say. There were dozens of people, hundreds, that must have walked past that group that night and none of them did anything about it. But you did. And I wanted you to know that thanks to you we got some information we’ve been looking for for months. Nothing about it can be announced until we can hit all of the bases, but you should know that what you did— it helped. Thank you, sir.”
It was the only thing she could think to say because her mother raised her with manners dammit. And when Captain America thanks you, you reply politely, goddammit.
“Oh. Thank you ma’am.”
“You call me ma’am again and I’ll climb through this phone and there won’t be anyone except for AlternaCap from now on.”
Manners only went so far.
The silence lasted long enough she had time to worry about threatening a national icon.
Luckily Cap laughed, “I don’t doubt it. So what should I call you? If you’re comfortable telling me, of course.”
“Depends, are you just gonna be all Captainy around Stark until she tells you if I don’t?”
“What did I just say, Rogers?”
“Well at least I’d get to meet you before the murder started.” He laughed again.
Bucky grinned. The guy reminded her of her unit. Of heat and sand and insults thrown around in place of compliments by guys who treated her like an equal. Cap could probably put her down without fully waking up from a hangover but they laughed anyway.
“But no, I won’t ask Toni to tell me about you if you’d rather I not know.”
“She might tell you anyway.”
“I’ll start talking about Howie’s sex life again. Usually shuts her up real fast.”
Bucky barked out a laugh. “How about a deal then? I’ll tell you my name, and you keep Toni from showing up in my life.”
“That’s a big ask.”
Bucky waited, silent and praying she wouldn’t have to destroy the burner phone in a few seconds. Then move. And change her name. And dye her hair. Possibly become a florist. Whatever it took.
“Counter offer. I’ll talk Toni into calming down, but I want to meet you in person.”
“Counter-counter offer. I destroy my phone and flee the state.”
“You do that and I don’t think the whole team could hold Toni back from trying to find you. She hasn’t stopped talking about you since she tracked you down. I should have noticed that she never used pronouns.”
“One meeting. And I’ll get Nat to help you vanish if you need it.”
“I’ll text a location.”
“Captain America knows how to text?” She couldn’t help herself.
“Well fuck you too, ma’am.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Bad idea. Very bad idea.
Random Central Park meetup with Captain America was a terrible idea.
She could see Stark Tower between the trees she was hiding under.
Any minute news crews would show up.
Someone would put it together.
#AlternaCap would explode.
Bucky fiddled with her phone, contemplating a quick call to Sam so he could remind her that breathing was non-optional.
“Hi. Thank you for meeting me.”
Captain America was definitely capable of -- but probably morally opposed to -- tackling her if she ran for it. So, Bucky took a deep breath, and clung to sarcasm.
“Well, I did tell you what would happen if you called me ma’am again.”
“Thought you were going to climb through the phone?”
“Tactically disadvantageous. You were with the Avengers at the time. Now you’re alone. Much easier to take you down out here and become the new Captain. Think anyone will notice the switch?”
He smiled, slowly wider and wider until it over took his whole face.
“Steven Grant Rogers.” He said, holding out his hand. His left hand.
As her only choices were to shake his hand awkwardly with her right, kick him in the shin and sprint, or acknowledge her prosthetic, she reached out with her left, hidden beneath a coat and a glove, to take his hand.
“Harriet Rebecca Barnes.”
The finger articulation had been jankety for six months but it managed an approximation of a grip and handshake. Good job craptastic arm. She went to pull back, but Steve had tightened his hold.
“That’s how you took down the guys.”
“Most people drop pretty fast when you smack ‘em in the face with a big piece of metal.”
“I bet you have.”
“Built my whole technique around it in fact.”
“Are ya planning to hold my hand all day?”
“Are you going to punch me with this?”
“Are you gonna call me ma’am again?”
He laughed louder, nodded and let go.
“That’s not what I expected you to say.”
“Unit gave it to me.”
She saw when the light went off in his eyes and she heard her slip.
“Unit.” He repeated.
“Army.” She answered the unspoken question.
“IED in Afghanistan.”
“Toni must not know that or she wouldn’t have walked away at all.” He mumbled, “thank you for your service. And at least the VA has gotten better at helping since Toni went on her crusade. She doesn’t like to talk about it but she’s done a lot of good.”
“I’m sure she has.”
“Shamed most of Congress until they approved the necessary funding.”
“That’s nice of her.”
“She and I drop in on VA centers when we can. Veterans deserve better than they were getting and those who come home injured shouldn’t be seen as something to be ashamed of. The two of us manage to bring in better press and get them the attention that keeps it in the news. I know you said you don’t want her to… Bucky?”
His whole face smooshed down when he was frowning.
“You look a bit—“
“Don’t look it.”
“You look like you’re about to punch a guy. I’m the only guy around. So this seems like something I need to know.”
Anyone else she would have already insulted them and marched home. But again, manners plus Captain America was making that harder. Plus him. Himself.
Yes he was gorgeous, beyond gorgeous. A literal work of art. He was hot enough her almost perfectly gay heart was tempted. That was a stupidly superficial reason to answer him. But. He also had a reputation for being an excellent human being, an upstanding gentleman, and he was a literal superhero. And Sam always told her she should let herself trust when it felt right.
“VA isn’t for me.” She forced out.
“If you’re uncomfortable I know someone that—“
“Captain, the VA doesn’t give a damn about people with a dishonorable discharge.” She gave him a moment to process that, then continued, “Seems like you were gearing up towards talking me into some photo ops, so let me just stop you before you start. Bad idea. Bad press. Bad optics. Very bad idea. I didn’t come forwards before because nothing good would come out of it. But Stark found me. And you wanted to meet me. So here we are. Captain Steve Rogers, motherfucking superhero and Bucky Barnes, dishonorable discharge and cripple.”
“Disabled.” Steve interrupted, like he’d been trained to say it, but not meeting her eye.
“Call it what you want. Look. We had a deal. I met you. Go talk Iron Man into leaving me alone.”
“Bucky.” He caught her by the shoulder, stammering when he realized how high the prosthetic went, “you-you- uh, shit, uh, look I just wanted to say thank you. That’s why Toni found you. You took out six hydra agents on your own. Two of them talked and we’ve taken out half a dozen bases. You saved a lot of lives. You deserved to know that.”
It was nice to hear, but it wasn’t worth the disaster that talking to them again would cause. Bucky nodded, pulled her shoulder free, and walked away with her head held high.
Toni was bouncing on her heels when Steve walked off the elevator.
“Soooooo? How was it? How was she? Isn’t she great? Did she do that thing with her eyebrows where she looks like she’s going to deploy lasers? I wonder if she’d let me give her laser vision. It would make a great superpower.”
“Why didn’t you bring her back? Ugh. Did she ask for time to think about it? What is there to think about? Who doesn’t want to be a superhero? Evil people. That’s who.” Toni gasped over dramatically, “Is AlternaCap evil? My heart is broken. But I’m going to love having a reason to see her again. Let’s make sure we drag the fight out for a couple months.”
Steve dropped onto a chair and waited for Iron Man to calm down.
“You know why I went to meet with her Toni.”
“Blah blah wants us to leave her alone. Blah blah false modesty. You went to talk her out of all that, and into a super suit with us.”
“She’s not interested.”
Toni narrowed her eyes, “you’re saying that like we aren’t interested.”
“Maybe we aren’t.”
“No. Toni. I told you. And I told her. Leave her alone. You know if she’d asked for some reward you’d be happy to give her anything, especially when the fifth base had the biggest archive yet. If she asked for money or a car or a job or a new arm, you would have done it immediately, but she asked us to leave her alone, so that’s what we’re going to do.”
“But Steve, Steven. Darling. My frost bitten bestie. You can’t take something interesting away from me. That isn’t fair. And she’s incredibly interesting.”
“Leave her alone.”
“Toni, remember that long talk you gave about consent in the modern era after the Chitauri that made me think I had accidentally offended you or assaulted you and so we didn’t talk for a month?”
“I vaguely recall it.”
“Do you remember telling me that just because-”
“--I thought someone would like something--”
“--I couldn’t force it on them--”
“--even if it was a widely accepted nice thing?”
“I was talking about you being too chivalrous, not about giving someone money and a hero suit they’d be under no obligation to use.”
Steve waited for Iron Man to finish thinking it through, and knew it was done when she scoffed and dramatically rolled her eyes into her head.
“Fine! Fine. You win. I’ll leave the pretty woman alone. I won’t tell anyone how incredible she is. I won’t tell the rest of the team. I won’t even tell Pepper to fix AlternaCap’s credit score or something. I’ll let her languish in her stupid jobs in her awful apartment, and I won’t bother her in any way in her personal life.”
“I hate you.”