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ice clowns

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“Are you…” The man pauses awkwardly, as if hoping Bucky will look up and finish the sentence for him. Bucky’s just sympathetic enough to glance at him out of the corner of his eye, and the guy startles at the acknowledgment, jumping like he’s been mildly electrocuted. He settles on a shaky, “…okay?”

“Yeah.” Bucky rolls his shoulders back with a soft groan. He’s been trying not to hunch them like this so much. They get tight and tense too quickly, especially the one attached to a huge hunk of metal, no matter how much the vibranium upgrade and access to Wakandan medicine have helped. The urge to fold himself like origami until he blends invisibly with the furniture is still hard to shake, when he’s left to his own devices and operating under his own identity. Say what you will about the Winter Soldier conditioning, but he had great posture in those days. He’s been contorted in an objectively ridiculous position for the better part of an hour, barely noticing or resisting it. “I’m not a big fan of…sitting around quietly in buildings full of law enforcement.”

The guy smiles at that, of all the reactions. “Oh. Yeah, me neither. My wife force fed me a Xanax before this.” He looks around quickly in a sudden panic. “Not really force-fed, of course,” he says loudly, presumably for the benefit of any listening authorities. “And it’s not illegal Xanax. Obviously. I mean, I would never—just to be clear, the bottle has my name on it. Definitely. Did that sound sarcastic? It wasn’t. She just enthusiastically encouraged me to use a medication. As prescribed. By a psychiatrist.”

“No one’s paying attention,” Bucky tells him. “You can calm down.”

“I hate cops,” the man says breathily, head in his hands. “I’ve been trying to get used to Secret Service guys, with the job and all, you know, but they freak me out. Are Secret Service cops? They feel like cops, but with kind of a spy vibe. Is that right? Am I crazy?”

“They’re not cops, exactly,” Bucky muses, eyes darting around as if he hasn’t already taken a full head count of the security personnel. “But they’re not not cops. They’re not spies, though. Spies are fine, for the most part.”

“I’m irrationally scared of police,” the other guy admits. “Sorry.”

“What, are you a criminal or something?” He doesn’t look like a criminal. He looks like an accountant.

“No!” The guy adjusts the knot on his tie, and it’s nice not to be the twitchier one in this situation for once, without even putting on an act. “Of course not. I said the fear was irrational. Hey, how do you know what spies are like?”

“Because no offense, but you look like an accountant,” Bucky tells him, hoping to cut off that line of questioning. “Or one of those guys with a podcast about board games.”

“That’s not offensive, but it is uncannily accurate,” he counters. “Should I be offended? Now I feel like maybe I should be.”

“Sorry.” Bucky shrugs. “You can say something mean about me, if it helps.”

“You look like a…” The accountant guy squints at Bucky. “You look like a goth Tim Riggins.”

“That’s not mean. You can do better.” Bucky grins at him, a little endeared.

“Actually, you know who you kind of look like, is—“ The guy cuts himself off and blanches suddenly, which is just Bucky’s luck. It’s not like he’s taken great pains to be unrecognizable—he’s a public figure hanging around a government building in D.C., waiting for an even more obvious celebrity to get out of a meeting and go to lunch—but he does still generally hope to avoid this kind of thing.

“Do you need another Xanax?” Bucky asks him. He shakes his head silently. Bucky adds, “What’s your name anyway?”

“I’m the Ice Clown,” the poor man blurts, now apparently incoherent with terror. “I mean—I meant—you’re the Winter Soldier? I mean, I’m Ben. I’m sorry? Wyatt, also. My name. Ben Wyatt. You’re, you’re Bucky Barnes, you’re a war hero, you’re the—you and Captain America—you...”

“Ice Clown?” Bucky asks, dimly aware that he now sounds almost as stupid as this Ben guy.

“It’s a derogatory nickname from my past,” Ben says in one breath. He looks up, calming himself as if to reassure Bucky. “It’s okay now, though. I redeemed myself.”

“That makes one of us,” says Bucky, forgetting that to the untrained ear, his wry moments tend to read more threatening than funny.

“What? No,” Ben insists, eyes wide and alarmed. “No, I wasn’t implying—“

“Buck, are you menacing Congressman Wyatt?” asks Steve, emerging from an open door. A chorus of babbling voices rises behind him. The question is tinged with the Captain America voice. Not the one he uses to talk to schoolchildren, but the one he always insists—usually without the benefit of said tone—is just how he talks. Bucky jerks his head up, frowning and ready to protest, but Steve just takes his hand lightly and holds the other out for Ben to shake. “I’m Steve. Nice to finally meet you. Leslie has told me so much.”

“She’s been known to do that,” Ben says, with a weird, aborted movement that might have been the start of some kind of bow. He catches himself right in time for Steve to keep a straight face. Bucky thinks he’d like to bring this guy with him on a mission sometime and just kind of leave him alone. See what happens. “I know a lot about you too. Sorry. I…wow. Captain Rogers, it’s an honor.”

He’s blushing, and still shaking Steve’s hand, so Bucky suddenly likes Ben a lot less, even though he already knows he has a wife who’s a friendly gubernatorial candidate in Indiana, the one Steve endorsed as the kind of leader he always imagined for America’s future or whatever during his whole post-Thanos image rehabilitation publicity tour, a relatively tolerable part of what was generally a huge pain in Bucky’s newly revived ass. She’s the one who sent Bucky a notebook you can microwave all the ink out of for his last birthday, just because she likes Steve a lot and apparently understands Bucky intimately after meeting him once, briefly.

“Just Steve,” Steve tells Ben, who stutters, “Yes, sir. I mean—okay, Steve,” just as Leslie Knope runs into their midst like a small, blonde tornado.

Bucky, having considerable experience with such people, clings close to Steve’s side and gets out of her way.

“Ben! Ben. You’ll never guess what—oh, hi, Steve,” she says with a cheerful wave. She gives Bucky an appreciative once-over. “Hi, Sergeant Barnes! You’re looking very tall, dark, and handsome today, if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Hi, Leslie,” Bucky says politely.

“Have you ever thought about bringing back the mask?” she asks, squinting at him as if picturing it. “Just a little one to add some mystery back into your wardrobe? I think it would be very—“

“Honey,” interrupts Ben, sounding strained and dropping his voice low. Steve and Bucky pretend they can’t hear out of basic politeness for their non-enhanced companions. “You didn’t tell me I’d be meeting Captain America and Bucky Barnes today. I would have worn a nicer suit.”

“I didn’t?” Leslie looks shocked. “I’m sure I did. I told you Steve would be here. Which Steve did you think I meant? You shouldn’t wear a nicer suit here, anyway, with all these agents roaming around watching everyone. You’d sweat right through it.”

“It could’ve been Harrington! I don’t know,” Ben says with an exaggerated shrug. “You wouldn’t even tell me what the meeting was about.”

“Obviously not, because I’m bound by confidentiality when Captain America is involved! I thought you understood that!” Leslie isn’t even trying to keep her voice down, shrill and excited. “Why would I meet with Harrington? That’s your thing.”

“I don’t know,” Ben says, gritting his teeth, “maybe because if the future governor vocally supported it, he’d see that Cones of Dunshire would be a great addition to his tabletop gaming empire?”

“Did you have a nice time with Ben?” Steve mutters in Bucky’s ear, teasing.

“No,” says Bucky.

“Be nice. Leslie’s a good friend.”

“How many friends can you possibly have?” Bucky grumbles. “I used to be the only person who liked you, I’m pretty sure. Did you invite them already, too?”

“I didn’t invite them,” Steve says. Bucky waits patiently for the other shoe to drop. Steve puts an arm around him. “Pepper did, though.”

Bucky sighs. “I told you we should’ve eloped in Wakanda.”

“For the last time, no you didn’t,” Steve insists. “Shuri’s the only one who brought it up, and that was to warn you not to.”

“I thought my body language during that conversation was pretty clear,” Bucky says, just to egg him on. “It meant, ‘The only way I will attend my own wedding is if it has a guest list long enough to include Shuri but short enough to leave out Tony Stark.’”

“Clearly we have a serious communication problem,” says Steve. Bucky nods. “I’m not uninviting Tony, though.”

“Might as well skip to the divorce, then,” Bucky sighs. Steve punches his arm. “Ow.”

“Tony’s my friend.” Steve always says that like he’s reminding himself more than Bucky, but unfortunately, it always seems to work.

“I know,” Bucky says, resigned to his fate. “Do you have any intel on this Ice Clown thing? What the hell is that about?”

Steve laughs and pulls out his phone. “Yeah, hang on. It’s pretty good.”

“Steve? You guys want to go get some waffles?” Leslie asks loudly once Steve’s texted the Wikipedia entry to Bucky and put his phone back in his pocket. “They’re not as good as the ones back home, but at least they’re not a salad.”

“Bucky?” Steve asks. Bucky glares at him, long-suffering. But he actually does want waffles, and Steve can tell. “Yeah, we’re in.”

Ben looks between them. “Are you sure? He didn’t even say anything.”

“Ben,” Leslie says, enthusiastically horrified. “Do you not trust Captain America?”

“Good call, if so,” says Bucky. “You know, he used to be an international fugitive.”