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Rougher Times Than These

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Traffic along the harbor was backed up for three miles. Bucky drummed his fingers on the cracked leather steering wheel cover and sipped from his large, lidded cup of too-weak gas station coffee, waiting for the line of cars to budge more than an inch. He listened to locals shouting to each other from dinghies and fishing boats along the docks through his open window and grimaced at the odor of low tide. At least the weather was holding, and the job itself promised to be indoors. Clint tipped him off about a buddy of his on the Coast Guard who mentioned the luxury yacht that docked last night due to engine failure.

“They just got back from Aruba. Guess they’re doin’ a world tour for their wedding anniversary,” he told Bucky over a couple of beers and Frito pies eaten straight out of the bags. “Better start prayin’ they have a bad mechanic fixing that boat. Means more money for whoever stops by for a visit.”

Bucky stirred the remnants of chili, chopped onions and soggy corn chips with his spoon and shrugged. “Long as they need me to build ‘em something, I don’t care about the mechanic or when they ship out of here.”

Clint snorted into his beer and nodded. “Fair enough. Get out there. Make that money and skedaddle.”

Darcy tended the bar at the bowling alley and listened in more than casually as she wiped the counter. “I heard that the two of ‘em are a piece of work.”

“How?” Bucky asked before scooping up the last bite of lunch from the crumpled bag.

“Money doesn’t necessarily mean good taste. The older one was business beige and looked like he had a stick up his ass. His husband, though... “ Darcy glanced around to make sure no one else was listening, even though the bowling alley was almost deserted. She rolled her eyes as she explained, “That guy looks high maintenance and like somebody you don’t wanna get caught next to on a crowded subway.”

Clint “hmm’ed” and shrugged. “Trophy husband, huh?”

“He’s good looking until he opens his mouth,” Darcy added as she began to dry a rack of beer mugs that came out of the dishwasher. “Then, you just wanna get out of the way.”

Bucky ignored that, sucked it up, and packed his tools into the pickup that morning, steeling himself for a ride. He needed the money. And, who knows? If she liked his work and paid him what it was worth, it would mean good word of mouth. Bucky finally made it to the marina’s crowded parking lot and found himself a spot all the way in the back. He unpacked his toolbox and donned his belt. The air was balmy and humid enough that he was thankful that he wore a loose tank top, armholes gaping open all the way down to his ribs. His jeans were wrinkled and torn but clean, his last pair for the week that lived up to that claim.

Bucky followed the captain’s directions to the pier where the Frigga was docked, and he felt like someone punched him in the chest. “Holy crap,” he murmured, whistling at the sheer size and gorgeous lines of the luxury vessel. Everything was immaculate, fresh, and top of the line, and Bucky saw its staff and crew hurrying around the deck. From the port side, he heard the low sounds of two men bickering.

“...it’s like you planned to take this trip by yourself, Tony, honestly. I can’t live like this for the next month. That’s not a closet. It’s a joke. If I didn’t know better, I’d think you wanted me to rough it.”

“If I wanted you to rough it, darling, we would have gone on that safari I suggested that you so gleefully shot down. This is your project. You deal with it. My skeet is calling my name.”

“Calling your name is what I’ve been doing all morning, but you don’t seem to care.” Bucky heard that voice, haughty but pleasantly deep, with a New York accent, groan in long-suffering fashion. “Ugh… fine, then. I’ll take care of it myself. Just like I do with everything else.”

“Hey,” Bucky called out, waving from the dock at a stately, fit-looking man with well-styled, thick dark hair and a swarthy tan. He wore weekender clothes with designer labels and had a skeet rifle slung over his shoulder. He rocked back on his heels when he saw Bucky and raised his brows.

“Oh, look what the cat dragged in… Good morning! Who the hell are you?”

“You called for a carpenter?”

“No!” And to Bucky’s surprise, he stalked toward the starboard deck, his indication that he’d been dismissed.

“O. Kay.”

“You’re the carpenter?” That voice changed direction and grew closer, and Bucky heard light foot creaking on the shallow steps leading down from the upper deck.

“Sure am.”

“Well, what the hell took you so long? Were you waiting for that awful haircut to grow out?”

Bucky opened his mouth to give this piece of shit back as good as he got, but it went completely dry at the sight of its owner, all five-and-a-half feet of him. Guy couldn’t weigh more than a buck forty-five. Built like a swimmer, with a hard, flat abdomen and lithe limbs. He wore nothing but a pair of pale blue, silk pajama pants and wire-rimmed sunglasses with a Dior logo on the stems. Bucky immediately assumed he was hungover, but he still moved with surprising, indolent grace, clearly a man who didn’t have anywhere to be at the minute.

“Got caught up in traffic coming down the hill.”

“Down the hill,” Mr. Wonderful muttered under his breath. Bucky saw him roll his eyes behind those smoky lenses. “You realize that was a rhetorical question? That the answer doesn’t matter? Because you’re late?”

“You never gave me a time. You just said to stop by-”

“Jarvis said to ‘just stop by’ after I told him I wanted you here no later than nine AM.”

There was no way this guy could’ve rolled out of bed any earlier than ten minutes ago.

“Better late than never.”

“We’ll agree to disagree.”

Bucky sighed. “You mentioned-”

The blond held up a quelling hand.

“Jarvis… mentioned that you had a closet you wanted repaired?”

“Remodeled,” Bucky was told. “So, will you do it or not?”

Bucky’s mind reeled. “You’re going to be here for, what? A week?”

“Not if I can help it. The mechanic thinks he can get us back en route within two days. It will need to be finished way before then.”

“Way before… okay. Okay. I’d at least need to see it before I -”

“Follow me.”

“-accept.” Bucky watched him pivot on his heel and stalk back up the steps, and he followed him wordlessly, enjoying the view the entire way toward the living quarters. All right. Darcy’s assessment rang true; the guy was a lot more attractive when Bucky didn’t have to hear him speak, but that ass spoke for itself. Bucky realized that the crew and serving staff were watching him, and that his own features felt transfixed in that dumbstruck expression that only happened when something truly fucked him up. He focused instead on the nape of that slim neck shown to perfect advantage by that messy undercut style.

“It’s right through here. I don’t know why I never got around to having anyone in to fix this. We had so many more skilled carpenters in the city… are you paying attention?”

“Uh.” Bucky found himself goggling once more at the careless spill of wealth. The living quarters boasted of the same embarrassment of riches. Plush fabrics in gaudy patterns and edgy, bold colors filled the bedroom suite. The king-sized bed was dressed in heavy damask and so many throw pillows that you practically had to excavate the bed from under them to actually sleep on it. Sculptures. Succulent plants in mosaic-patterned vases and pots. Oil paintings.

All of this. On a boat. Bucky snorted back a laugh at the sight of the portraits of the couple. Both of them looked overcoiffed, overdressed, and constipated. They were holding a matched pair of ginger-brown corgis. The corgis were dressed in designer sweaters.

Designer. Sweaters.

“What did you say your name was again?”

“Bucky. Barnes.”

“Bucky Barnes.” Bucky’s new job rolled the name around in his mouth. “You’re serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

“Good Lord. Well. I supposed you can tell a lot about a person by their name.”

“What can you tell about me?”

“That I need to lock up my prescriptions and that you don’t have a close enough relationship with soap.”

“Huh? HEY!”

To add insult to injury, the guy picked up a bottle of cologne and spritzed himself first, a brief whiff of citrusy, metallic scent that was too sharp for Bucky’s taste, and then he reached over and sprayed Bucky with it, too, without bothering to ask permission. Bucky coughed and fanned the air in irritation. “Do you mind?!” Bucky demanded.

“Yes. I do. That’s what I’ve been trying to convey.” And just when Bucky thought this guy couldn’t show him more shocking examples of bad client etiquette (he was batting a thousand so far), one of the members of his staff walked in, dressed in a crisp, white shirt and an impeccable dark vest. He carried a tray of canapes and crackers, along with a small, silver pot of something shiny, black, and slimy looking that made Bucky wrinkle his nose. “It’s about time, Jarvis. I was worried that I’d have to wait.”

“Apologies, sir.”

“Surely, I’ve heard them all by now.” Jarvis gave him an expectant look as he picked up a round, white wafer and spread it thickly with the slime, using a tiny knife. He took a delicate bite, grimaced, and then spat it out onto a tiny napkin. “Jarvis. What the hell. What did you just serve me?” Bucky skirted around him and began measuring the space with a retractable tape. Anyone else would have thought a walk-in closet on a yacht was enough.

“Caviar, sir,” he told him, nonplussed. His features were tranquil, but there was something in his eyes that pleaded with Bucky, briefly: Just fucking shoot me now. For the love of a merciful God.

“Did you get this at the Dollar General? Oh, God, it lingers…” Mr. Sunshine made tongue-scraping motions and shooed Jarvis off. “Take that slop back to the kitchen and throw it out.”

“I’ll be sure to let the Russian tea room back in Manhattan know that their product was most inferior.”

“That’s a gross understatement. And that was gross caviar. Unacceptable. Please remind them that caviar should be round and hard and of adequate size, and it should burst in your mouth at precisely the right moment.”

Bucky’s face went blank. His nerveless fingers let the measuring tape snap shut. Jarvis coughed briefly, nodded, and backed his way out of the room. Good luck, he mouthed at Bucky. Bucky’s stomach was still twisted up with apprehension. This dude was loaded, but he was also batshit crazy. Bucky was having second, third, and tenth thoughts about taking this job, but then he remembered that the kids needed school shoes, backpacks, and a metric crapton of stuff that he couldn’t afford. Not unless he wanted to take that job at the fertilizer plant.

“Come here. As you can see, this is inadequate. A five-year-old designed the living quarters, as you can tell by the lack of space. I don’t want to have to keep all my shoes in boxes, and I want to have some drawers for my delicates… are you paying attention?”

“Delicates. Shoes. Got it. So, are you thinking shelves, or-”

“Shelves. Did I ask for shelves?”

“No. Just so we’re absolutely, crystal clear, your Majesty, what are you asking me for?” Bucky’s voice lacked any fucks to give, but he still gave him his most winning smile, dimples and all.

This guy wasn’t buying it. He removed his sunglasses and slid them up onto the top of his head.

Bucky’s breath caught. Those eyes were a pale, milky blue, like matched opals. Guy might be an asshole, but he had good genes. Long, sandy lashes. Heavy, arched brows that looked like they saw a pot of wax and a pair of tweezers. Without the glasses, Bucky noticed one tiny flaw. His nose was crooked, and only really noticeable if you squinted and stared long enough. (Bucky had to catch himself, and coach himself not to squint. It took more effort than he thought he had.)

It was the kind of face that Bucky wished he could wake up to, drowsy and sleep-tousled in the morning sunlight. But Fate was cruel and had an awesome fucking sense of humor.

“I’m asking you to remodel the closet. I want access to my belongings and my shoes and I want it organized. I want it completed in two days. Can you handle the job?”

Bucky hooked his thumbs into the armholes of his tank, tugging it down and lacing his fingers together, just to mess with him. Sure enough, those eyes flickered over his exposed pecs, but they zoomed back up to his face in an instant. He looked bored. Bucky shrugged. “I can handle it. It’s not gonna come cheap.”

Then he looked even more bored. “Name your price.”

“Three thousand,” Bucky told him without blinking.

The man’s lips curled. “And you said you’re a professional carpenter?” Bucky opened his mouth to set him straight, but he held up a hand, waving him off. “Beggars can’t be choosers. I haven’t a doubt in my mind that you’re probably the only carpenter up here in Elk Snout. Just get it done.”

“Aye, aye, Cap’n.”

“Grant. Grant Steven Rogers-Stark.”

Because of course this guy hyphenated.

“Well, la-di-dah,” Bucky muttered to himself as his client disappeared. “Well, Barnes, let’s get this show on the road.”

*

 

“When are you gonna get home, Barnes? The natives are getting restless.”

“I know, Barton, and you know I’m good for it. I’m totally gonna do you a solid when I get back. You saved my life by taking the girls.”

“Yeah, well. I’m already regretting it. The twins superglued my ass to a kitchen chair and stole the remote while I was stuck. I never want to watch that much Disney Channel again. Except maybe Phineas and Ferb. That show’s fucking hysterical. Whoever wrote it is a friggin’ genius.”

“I didn’t know I’d end up here overnight,” Bucky admitted. “I thought this was just gonna be a quick repair. Easy-peasy. But she wanted a remodel, and I need the dimes. My gas tank was practically empty when I came down the hill.”

“I know that, man. I’m just sayin’. We’re talking a pretty big favor when you get back. We’ll discuss whether it’s sexual. I’m flexible.”

“And you’re kidding.”

“Only a little.”

“You’re the best, Barton.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere. But a six-pack of imported beer will get you a good time.”

“Barton. C’mon.”

“A guy’s gotta try.”

 

A familiar, and by now despised voice behind him demanded, “Do I pay you to make phone calls? Or am I paying you to remodel my closet?”

Captain Hot Pants reeked of cologne and tanning oil. He wore a tiny, lime green speedo and a mesh tank top, and those ridiculous sunglasses were back on his face. A platinum Rolex shone on his wrist, competing with his wedding bands. He paused in berating Bucky to pick at one of his fingernails, making a tsking sound.

“Just checking in,” Bucky assured him. “Everything’s moving right along.”

“Just remember that I’m not paying you by the hour.”

Just basking in your presence is payment enough. “Hey. Can you ask Jarvis if he has anymore of that tapenade? It’s friggin’ fantastic.”

“I’ll be sure to let him know. He’ll be thrilled.” Bucky knew he was rolling his eyes behind those glasses, but it didn’t faze him.

Grant exited quickly, as though he found Bucky distasteful, and he presented Bucky with yet another distraction. That speedo was a thong. “Jesus,” Bucky muttered. That ass. Like two perfect little half-moons, tanned, tight and ripe. A tiny, strawberry birthmark winked at Bucky from the left cheek. The sight of it burned itself into Bucky’s brain and shut down all rational thought. His mouth had dropped open for who knew how many seconds, before he snapped out of his trance. He got back to work with some difficulty, resenting how tight his jeans felt from just that one glimpse.

Before Bucky could even finish mitering another drawer, Jarvis appeared with another of his carefully arranged trays. The tapenade accompanied a selection of crackers, cheeses and thinly sliced meats.

“You’re a gem, buddy.”

Jarvis gave him a curt smile. “You’re most welcome, Mr. Barnes.”

“Hey. How did you end up working for that guy? Did you lose a bet? You can be honest?”

“I’ve been working for the Stark family for over thirty years.”

“The Stark family?”

“I was formerly employed by Howard and Maria Stark of Stark Steel Industries. They oversee five shipyards and operate primarily out of Long Island. When they passed, their son, Anthony, inherited the estate. You’ve met him. Clever facial hair. Carries a skeet gun?”

“Yeah. We’ve met.” Bucky sighed. “You’re a saint.”

“I’m merely loyal. Will you be needing anything else, sir?”

“Got anything to drink?”

“There’s an ice bucket in the corridor, sir. I packed it with a few bottles of sparkling water. Will that be all?”

“I’m good.” Bucky clapped him on the shoulder. Jarvis turned on his heel and left, eager to be done with the questions. It was just as well. Bucky didn’t plan to get too attached to the Stark-Rogers family. He had no doubt that Jarvis would give him the bum’s rush out off the deck once that money was in his pocket.

Bucky could almost taste it. It would help him to tie up a few loose ends and give the girls a good foundation, until he could get funding for his venture with Clint. The closet was taking shape. Once Captain Hot Pants gave it his seal of approval, Bucky was out of there.

Bucky lost himself in the noise and dust for the next few hours. He scrubbed the sweat from his brow and lowered his goggles, shucking the work gloves to reach for his snacks. While he loaded a cracker with prosciutto and gouda, he heard that voice again drifting to him through the open window.

“When did the mechanic say he would be finished, Tony?”

“Any time now. We might be able to ship out tomorrow morning, sweetums.”

“God, Tony, don’t call me that.”

“All right, Granty-Bear. Just be patient. We can’t rush good work.”

“I just can’t wait to get the stench of Elk Snout off of me. And of that filthy carpenter. God, I can’t take it another day.”

Bucky nearly choked. Okay. Guy was hitting below the belt.

“And the way he eats. It’s like he thinks we’re running a bed and breakfast for a biker gang.”

“You went through a rebellious phase before we were official, sweetums.”

“Tony. Please. There’s ‘rebellious,’ and there’s making questionable life choices.”

“Give yourself some credit, dear. You chose me.”

“And I question that every day.”

“Grant. That was unnecessary.”

“So’s that polo shirt with those slacks. Go make yourself useful and talk to him. Find out when he’s going to be finished.”

“Who? The mechanic?”

“No. The dirty carpenter. Jarvis, make sure you count up what’s in the safe before and after he leaves.”

“Certainly, sir.”

Bucky’s face flamed with indignant rage. The fuck? He chucked his hammer onto the bed and scrubbed his fingers through his hair in frustration. How the hell did this guy have the nerve? Bucky showed up, poured all of his creativity and energy into this job, and hammered it out on an impossible schedule, so that this guy could access his shoes and his “delicates” without dirtying those manicured hands. Bucky sweated his ass off while he just wandered the decks, tanned, got oxygen facials and shopped online, talking with his mother about country club memberships and how Tony was “in denial” about his testosterone levels, and a host of things Bucky couldn’t give a damn about. He was just about ready to rip his ears off the sides of his head if he had to listen to Grant Stark-Rogers mention whether he could get tickets to Fashion Week or whether the oysters in Jarvis’ bouillabaisse were locally sourced one more time.

He was just so spoiled.

Bucky gritted his teeth and turned on his saw to drown out the noise of their chatter.

*

 

The following morning, Bucky showed up bright and early to clean up the room, using his shop vac to clear out the sawdust. The shelves and drawers were even, freshly varnished and immaculate. Bucky knew at least a dozen friends of his who would give their eye teeth for that much closet space, or to have all the fancy clothes and shoes that this guy owned to put in it in the first place. Wasteful. It was wasteful. But, hey. Whatever floated his boat.

Bucky packed up his tools into their box and laid his tool belt beside it out on the deck, not wanting to waste any time. He needed to get to the bank when it opened to make the deposit and put gas in his truck for the ride up the hill. Clint was champing at the bit to get his house back, and the girls were getting antsy. Doreen got a hold of a box of blue hair dye and experimented on Clints beagle, Lucky. Bucky promised him he’d pay for a trip to the groomer’s to set things straight. If Nat was still alive, she’d have had some choice words for how to be a good houseguest, but Bucky was tired. He was just… so goddamned tired.

Jarvis arrived with a coffee tray and automatically poured him a cup.

“Buddy, I’m gonna miss you,” Bucky assured him as he took a sip of the sharp, bright French roast.

“You flatter me, Mr. Barnes.” He appraised Bucky’s work and nodded in approval. “Let me fetch Mr. Stark-Rogers. He will be eager to see the finished product.”

“Yeah, color me eager, too.”

Jarvis bit his lip and exited smoothly. He returned moments later with Steven in tow. He was dressed in tennis whites and once again reeked of that cologne. The sunglasses were hooked in the neck of his shirt, and he had his hands stuffed into his pockets. He paced the room indolently.

“Well? Show me.”

“I think you’re really gonna like this. Check this out.” Bucky pulled him forward by the elbow and picked up a small remote. “You just use this. Just like a garage door opener.” Bucky hit pointed it at the new shelves and hit the button. The shelves rotated on little toggles, dividing and moving the racks mounted there, which each housed a pair of shoes. Bucky staged the display with a few pairs just to give him the visual. He hit another switch, and one of the drawers opened, displaying the “delicates” inside. “Accessible and organized. No need to leave your shoes in the boxes. You wanna find ‘em? Just hit the switch-”

“What is that?” Steve’s voice held bewildered exasperation. The enthusiasm that Bucky had hoped for was missing from his tone.

“What do you mean, what is it? It’s your closet. I remodeled it, just like you asked. I made it functional.”

“But what did you make it out of?”

“Wood,” Bucky said simply.

“I know it’s wood. But what kind?”

“Oak.”

“OAK?!”

“Oak. O. A. K. Oak. Which is a type. Of. Wood.”

Steve gave him a long-suffering sigh and rubbed his brows. “Really? What planet are you from that you think this is acceptable? I asked for cedar.”

“No. No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did. I explicitly asked for cedar!

“The hell you did! You never mentioned it.”

“Well, everyone knows you make a closet out of cedar! It keeps out the moths!”

“Buddy, you can take that up with the moths, but you need to pay me first, and I’ll be on my way.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not paying for this. This is shoddy workmanship. You didn’t do what I asked.”

“Since when did you ask? Every word out of your mouth’s been a direct assault on my character or a demand! ‘Don’t touch the safe, carpenter. They’re called utensils, carpenter. Don’t tramp dirt across my Persian rug, carpenter.’ You’ve got some nerve. And I’ll tell you another thing: I have a hard time believing any biker would take you for a ride, with that stick that you’ve got shoved that far up your ass!”

Hectic splotches of color rose up in Steve’s cheeks. “I KNEW it. You WERE listening!”

“Hard not to, sweetheart. We can all hear you across the pier, complaining and bitching to anyone who will listen!”

“Oh, that’s it. Get out. Get off my boat. Your services are no longer needed.” Steve stalked out of the suite and up onto the deck, with Bucky close on his heels. Bucky saw the boat through a haze of building rage.

“No longer needed? Just give me the money you owe me-”

“HA! Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not paying for that train wreck! Learn how to do your job!”

“Learn how to do my job? This, coming from the trust fund kid who I’ve watched lay around on this damned boat with kale or some such shit on your face-”

“Kelp. It’s kelp.” Steve rolled his eyes at Bucky’s nerve and lack of distinction.

“Whatever! You have all these people waiting on your hand and foot, buddy, but I haven’t seen one person on this tub that wouldn’t be thrilled if you accidentally tripped overboard during a storm!”

Steve looked pissed. His nostrils were flaring, and his chest heaved. “Everyone wishes they were me! You know nothing about me!”

“I could guess plenty about you, ‘Granty-Bear.’ I know no one’s ever shown you a good time and made you speak in tongues. You’d never be this uptight if they had!”

“Jesus, the nerve of you! I don’t know how to have a good time?!”

“The hell you do!” Bucky dared.

“Watch me.” And Grant crowded Bucky, stomping on his foot with his Italian loafers before he gave Bucky’s shoulders a shove, really putting some back into it for a guy that small. Bucky toppled backward over the rail, and his breath burst from his chest with the shock of the bracing, salty water as it swallowed him up.

He scrambled up to the surface, cursing. “HolyshitholySHIT! It’s fucking FREEZING! You ASSHOLE!”

“I don’t know, Bucky. That was pretty fun. Hey, let’s have some more fun!” Grant reached for his tool box, heaving it.

“HEY! Those cost me money!”

Splash! His box of screwdrivers and nuts went floating away. His tool belt soon joined it, and Bucky heard Tony from the port side of the ship muttering.

“Well, that didn’t go well.”

“Start the engines, Captain Earl!” Steve cried out. Moments later, they roared to life as Bucky fought against the building wake, trying to get to his tools before they were lost to the choppy, foaming water.

“You’ll pay for that!”

“Have a nice life! I know I do!”

 

Bucky managed to retrieve most of his tools and threw them up onto the pier in about three trips. By the time he hoisted himself up onto the deck, he was exhausted, half-frozen and pissed beyond belief. He was out two day’s worth of work that he could have done anywhere else, and he was further in the hole than he was before.

Great. Just fucking great.