“Hey,” says Tony Stark, voice muffled by the screwdriver clamped between his teeth. “You don't have a job, right?”
Bucky sighs internally. Here he was, hoping he could spend the next hour lying on his back, one-handedly scrolling through Instagram without making small talk, but he supposes he should have known better. He lifts his head from the surprisingly comfortable hospital-trolley bed to glare balefully at Stark. “Oh yeah. I put high school ed, military experience, PTSD, missing arm and 10k of debt on my resume and the offers came flooding in.”
Stark takes the screwdriver out of his mouth, fiddling with something impossibly small the the bicep of the prosthetic that’s 90% attached to Bucky’s shoulder. “Well you should never put your financial details on a resume, that's just bad sense,” he says vaguely. “I could probably pay that off for you.”
Bucky drops his head back onto the thin pillow, fixing his exasperated glare on his phone screen as he holds it back up. “No. You're already building me a new arm. I already owe you about….”
“Two hundred million dollars of R and D, tech development and materials, but who's counting,” Stark says, withdrawing the screwdriver and clicking the metal plate down. “You better not be taking selfies in my lab. Who even let you in with your phone? This is literally spitting in the face of your NDA.”
“I’m not,” Bucky lies. “Well, you can’t see anything in them except my face.”
“You baffle me,” Stark says. “I want to study your brain. You’re simultaneously a sixteen year old girl and and a hundred year old man in the same body. How does this happen, what is happening to the youth of today?”
“The economy,” Bucky says, tilting his chin up slightly to try and get rid of the jaw shadow that’s making him look gross. “And that’s sexist. You’re a sexist old man who doesn’t understand youth culture.”
“Call me old one more time and I’ll program this arm to punch you in your own face,” Stark says vaguely, leaning back to tap something on the mid-air screen he’s got thrown up behind him. “Now, concentrate real hard Buckaroo, and wiggle your fingers."
Bucky lifts his right hand and wiggles his fingers right in Stark’s face.
Stark grins. “Asshole. Now the vibranium ones.”
Bucky swallows hard, looks down at the dull sheen of his new fingers. He concentrates real hard, and the fingers all twitch.
Bucky drops his keys into the bowl by the door, kicking the door shut with his heel as he tugs his earbuds out. He grunts an indistinct hello over at his sister Becca, who is at the table eating cereal like the box is going to expire in the next ten seconds.
“Got a new arm yet?” she asks, eyes glued down on one of her awful boring medical journals. There are four open on the table, like she can read them all simultaneously.
“Does it look like I have a new arm?” Bucky replies, trying to extricate himself from the cord of his headphones, wishing for the millionth time that he could afford a pair of wireless ones. Not even Beats or anything, just a pair that has good bass and doesn’t try to strangle him everytime he uses them. “Final fitting isn't until the 23rd, and that’s if the next two relay sessions go as planned.”
“Just imagine it,” she says, eyes gleaming as she finally looks up away from her book. She’s possibly more excited than Bucky is. “On a related note, we're out of cereal.”
“How the hell is that related?” Bucky asks, but takes pity on her and decides to cook dinner. After all, he is the grown up here, by a whole eleven months and a boat-load of life experience. Still, he doesn’t turn down her help when she offers it, because chopping is one of things that is just a pain to do with one hand, no matter how much he practices. Asking her to help gets him thinking about first the not-too-distant possibility of having two arms again, and then the not-quite-conversation he'd had with Stark while fitting his potential new limb.
“So, Stark asked me if I had a job, earlier.”
Becca shovels her final fork full of stir-fry into her mouth. “Did you reply with something sarcastic and scathing?”
“Well it was a stupid question,” Bucky mutters, scowling.
Becca swallows, showing she's actually thinking about what she's going to say. “Maybe he wanted to offer you a job,” she muses.
Bucky snorts. “Sure. And you're gonna be named chief of medicine tomorrow.”
“Don’t mock the dreams of a lowly intern,” Becca says sternly. “I'll wash up. Go and dream about working for Tony Stark.”
"Shut up, Bec,” Bucky says and starts tidying up.
Bucky changes out of his skinny jeans, baggy tank, leather jacket ensemble, swapping his perfect early Fall outfit for a pair of gross Stark Industries medical scrubs. A nurse checks his vitals, tries to get him to surrender his I-phone and then ushers him into the lab. Tony Stark doesn’t say hello. Instead, he attaches sensors to Bucky's temples, the prosthetic to his shoulder and then says, “If you can move those fingers, I'll give you a job.”
Bucks blinks. “What?”
“Well, I will get someone to hand you the application forms and a pen because Pepper says I can't just give jobs out to my favourites.”
“What?” Bucky repeats. “You can't just give jobs out to your favourites.”
“Then why have favourites?” Tony complains, lifting Bucky’s hand and bending the fingers. “There are three people in this trial and you're the only one that offers enlightening conversations.”
Bucky snorts. “What, sarcasm and complaining about the subway?”
“Yes. Anyway, the job is office based, being a PA so you have to organise shit and take notes and type boring emails. Which is perfect because then I can test your motor skills.”
Bucky thinks of his last job. Staring down the sight of a rifle, breathing in dust and blinking sweat out of his eyes. He wonders if he misses it, some days.
He blinks himself back to the present. “I’m not working for you, Stark. I’d kill you within a week.”
“No, not me, I have a PA. You know the guy who hangs around outside sometimes and looks like he hasn’t slept in a week? Yeah, him. He’s great, so I’m good. It’s nice that you thought of me first, though.”
Narrowing his eyes, Bucky starts to feel slightly suspicious. “So it’s someone you know.”
Tony puts his finger on his nose and points at Bucky. “Exactly.”
“Who the fuck do you know that needs a PA that’ll be able to type four words a minute?”
“If you can type four words a minute to begin with I'll be amazed. Besides, you can make coffee with one hand.”
Bucky shakes his head. “I'm not being some schmuck’s bitch, Stark.”
“Don't ever tell him that I said this, but he's not just some schmuck,” Tony says. “You’ll love him,” he adds, and grins wide enough for Bucky to be worried.
Bucky moves not only the fingers of his new hand, but his wrist too. Stark claims that Bucky’s a miracle and he’s a genius, then takes the arm away. On Bucky’s way out, he puts a tablet down on the bench and gestures for Bucky to pick it up.
“Your application form!” Tony says, like Bucky’s dense. “Come on, you’re like twenty-six, you're a millennial, you know paper is so outdated.”
Bucky shoves his I-phone in his pocket and picks up the tablet with not a small amount of trepidation. “You’re giving me a two thousand dollar, top-range StarkPad because you don’t like paper.”
“Just click save when you’re done and it’ll send it straight to me. Well not me, my PA.”
“You’ve not even given me a job spec,” Bucky argues. “I told you-”
“It’s all on there,” Tony says. “Job spec, contract, application form, pay and benefit details.”
“Benefits?” Bucky asks quickly. He may have his pride but he’s not dumb. Not being a one-armed veteran in this economy.
“Dental, medical, sick pay,” Tony handwaves, showing that he’s a bastard who has never had to worry about any of that, ever. “Nothing but the best for the people who make coffee and type four words a minute.”
“There’s a catch,” Bucky insists. “There’s gotta be.”
“Nope,” Tony says. “Now shoo, I have an Avengers meeting ten minutes ago.”
“Of course you do,” Bucky says. “Later, bitch.”
“Fill in the form!” Tony yells after him. Bucky rolls his eyes but doesn’t answer. On his way out of the building he passes Stark’s PA who has three Starkpads under one arm, a phone jammed between his ear and shoulder and a tray of six coffees balanced in his free hand. He looks determined but slightly crazy-eyed, but Bucky can’t really blame him.
Nope, thinks Bucky. Even dental isn’t worth looking like that.
Curiosity gets the better of him though, and he finds himself opening up the files on the StarkPad. When he sees the pay, he has to sit down. When he sees what the benefits cover, he slides off of the couch onto the floor. When he sees who he could be potentially working for, he mashes his face into a pillow and starts yelling inarticulately.
“No,” he says, caught somewhere between giddy excitement and shock. “No, no, absolutely no fuckin’ way, no.”
But the expenses account, whispers a traitorous little bitch voice in his head. You could buy new suits for work. Nice suits. You’re allowed twenty bucks a day for food. So many bagels can be bought for twenty bucks. You could go to Starbucks everyday.
“No,” Bucky gasps in delight, knowing that in this him versus him argument, he’s probably going to win.
You could start paying Becca rent adds the voice , and that does it. Even though the money left by their parents helps subsidise most of the rent on their tiny Bed-Stuy apartment, he aches to start contributing, to stop being such a burden.
Becca chooses that moment to stumble out of her bedroom, wearing scrubs and a hoodie and yawning so hard that Bucky can see her goddamn tonsils. Ugh. Working night shifts is not a good look on her. Neither are pink scrubs but Bucky’s going to keep his trap shut about that one. She’ll only retaliate by saying something about his haircut and that’s not a battleground he will entertain. He can rock an undercut without looking like a douche and he will not be told otherwise.
“Hey, Bec. Coffee’s on the counter.”
“Why are you making guinea-pig noises?” she asks. “I’ve not heard you make that noise since you got a talking Adventure Team Commander G.I Joe for Christmas.”
“I was eight,” he starts to argue, and then decides that he’s got bigger issues. “Speaking of Team Commander, check this out.”
He holds out the Starkpad. She looks at the not-actually-a-real-brand-Keurig and then decides he’s piqued her interest enough to hold off on coffee, walking over to snatch it from him. Just to be petty, he doesn’t tell her what she’s looking at, just entertains himself with watching her increasingly confused expression.
“Wait, did Tony Stark actually offer you a job?” she asks.
“Yep,” Bucky says. “Well, it’s a Stark Industries outsourcing position. I’ll be working for SI but actually within SHIELD. Apparently Stark is bankrolling a lot of the new SHIELD, in terms of paying tech personnel and shit.”
“SHIELD?” Becca squeaks. “New SHIELD?”
“No, the old one that got blown up five years ago,” Bucky rolls his eyes. “Bitch, you wouldn’t catch me working in DC even if SHIELD HQ wasn't at the bottom of the Potomac.”
Becca’s barely listening. Her eyes are zipping back and forth reading, and Bucky can barely contain his glee waiting for her to get to the really good part-
“WHAT THE SHIT, BUCKY?!” she screeches, and winces as their neighbor bangs on the wall. “What the fuck,” she hisses. “This is a joke, right?”
“No,” Bucky says. “I’m fairly confident it’s not.”
“You have to apply,” Becca says. “Bucky. Bucky . You have to apply. You’ll be working for-”
“I know,” Bucky says, and then, “I don’t know. Stark only wants me to do it so he can check in on my arm.”
“Who cares?! He could be offering it to you so he could check on your dick, you cannot turn this down.”
“It’s crazy,” Bucky says. “And you know the best part isn’t even who I’ll be working for.”
Becca looks at him like he’s lost his mind. “Better than being PA for one of the original Avengers? The first Avenger?”
“Yeah!” Bucky says with a grin, leaning over to point. “Just scroll back up and look at the dental package on this bad boy.”
He doesn’t apply straight away though. The job seems straightforward but it comes with a high-risk-warning that’s literally written into the contract. Bucky’s been in a high-risk job before and lost an arm and a good chunk of his mental stability for it. He can’t rush into that again, he reasons. His therapist would be proud.
On the penultimate relay test, Stark demands to know where his application is, threatens to withhold the arm and then offers to up the wage. In the corner, his PA looks heavenward and immediately calls HR.
On the final relay test, Bucky hands back the StarkPad without a word. Tony picks it up from the table where he’d had Bucky place it, then throws it over to his PA who catches it without even looking. “Working for these guys isn’t all that bad,” says the PA. “The hazard pay alone is enough for a deposit on a decent sized condo.”
“The hazard pay alone would buy you a year's supply of leather jackets and shiny smartphones,” Tony translates into Bucky-speak. “You won’t regret it!”
“I regret everything, so much, all of the time,” Bucky says flatly, and Stark ugly-cackles.
He gets an email saying his application has been accepted on the 16th. He has a short interview with Stark Industries HR on the 19th. He forgets all about the possibility of a job while he’s admitted for surgery on the 22nd.
On the 23rd, he wakes up with his new arm attached. He can’t even think about the job, too caught up in the brilliance of his new arm, the first clumsy movements of his fingers as he lifts his hand and waves at his sister.
He has to stay in the SI hospital-lab complex for ten days after having his arm fitted. Outside the weather is turning colder, so Bucky spends most of his time inside complaining bitterly about it, in between PT and various neurological and physical tests. His sister visits and tells him to grow up, though she does bring him Starbucks so she is forgiven.
In those ten days, Bucky breaks two door handles, sixteen pens, one Starkpad and his earbuds. He also pulls what feels like every muscle in his back and shoulder, and gives himself a black eye when he goes to rub his eyebrow and misjudges the force needed.
Stark just shrugs and says that out of the three candidates, he’s still doing the best despite the black eye. One girl has broken her other wrist and can only move the new arm 60% of the time, and the other has had to have the entire prosthetic removed.
“One out of three isn’t bad, they say,” Stark says, with enough annoyance to show how he feels about that. “You have an interview tomorrow, by the way.”
“What?” Bucky yelps, and then howls when he realises that as well as making a truly embarrassing noise he’s just put his new thumb through the screen of his I-phone. He pulls it out with a sickening crunching sound, little pieces of glass falling to the floor.
“Oh look, you need the job to buy yourself a new one,” Stark says, and then has the audacity to look put-out when Bucky throws the remains of his beloved phone at him. “Jeez, ungrateful much? Call your sister, get her to bring you a suit.”
“How can I call my sister? I’ve just broken my fucking phone!”
Stark looks down at the shattered remains of the I-phone. “You kids, so attached to your material possessions,” he says, and Bucky sputters because he’d like to see Stark’s reaction if someone had taken one of his suits off of him. “Fine. I’ll get your contacts and apps and bookmarks and put them into a new Starkphone,” he says, and crouches down. “This doesn’t count as you handing me this by the way.”
Bucky murder eyes him, real fingers twitching. Stark picks up the remains of his phone and waves it at him before leaving the room. Bucky scowls and mutters, “yeah you better,” before remembering just how much porn is saved into the bookmarks of his phone.
He looks at his new metal hand and wonders if he could knock himself the fuck out just to save the indignity of Stark mentioning it.
Luckily, Stark doesn’t turn up to mock Bucky about the ridiculous amount of barebacking videos he has saved into his phone bookmarks. Less luckily, Pepper Potts turns up to return his phone and Bucky is torn between dying of mortification and asking her for a selfie. She’s so beautiful that Bucky’s poor bisexual brain can’t handle it.
“Tony asked me to return this,” she says, looking a little bemused. “I’m not sure why.”
“Uhhhh,” Bucky says, taking the phone. “Thanks. God, I’m sorry. Just, Pepper Potts is handing me a Starkphone. I feel like swooning.”
Pepper smiles. Bucky nearly does swoon. “You deal with Iron Man on an almost daily basis,” she says. “You should be used to meeting famous people by now.”
“Yeah, but you’re Pepper Potts,” Bucky says, trying to keep the awe out of his voice. “He’s just a man in a can.”
“I can see why Tony likes you,” she says. “And why he recommended you for the job.”
“God, the job,” Bucky says, pressing his palm to his forehead. His real palm, he’s not an idiot. “I nearly forgot. Oh man.”
“You’ll be fine,” Pepper says and her smile is so warm that Bucky can’t help it. He asks for a selfie. She says yes and Bucky uses his brand new Starkphone to post it straight to Instagram.
Becca turns up and helps him get into his suit. He would argue that he can do it himself but he’s only got one shirt and if he rips the buttons off then he’s gonna be going to his interview in a FRANKIE SAYS RELAX t-shirt. Also, turns out that tying a tie isn’t something he can do yet.
“You’ll be fine,” Becca says. “Want me to put concealer on your black eye?”
“I want this to go well, Becks,” he says. “Ugh, I hate being serious.”
“You will need to, at some point, start being serious about some things,” she says. “You can’t focus all of your energy on coffee and Instagram forever.”
“I can and I will.”
“You need so much more therapy,” she says fondly. “Now go get a job.”
Bucky grabs hold of her with his real hand, the metal one whirring unhappily. “Oh god, what do I say? I have no interview experience, I have no job experience.”
“Transferable skills,” she says.
“What, like I once sat for thirteen hours scoping out a potential weapons drop and that means I’m patient?”
“Exactly!” she beams. “And you can spend three hours deliberating between two almost identical pictures of coffee cups which shows you have a critical eye.”
“Which shows I have nothing better to do with my day,” he grumbles. “Okay, I get it.”
“You’ll be fine,” she says. “Text me later, yeah?”
Bucky assures her that he will, takes a deep breath and heads out.
It takes two trains and a five minute walk to get to the outer entrance of the new SHIELD complex. It’s on the very edge of Brooklyn, overlooking the bay. Rumour has it that Commander Rogers - a born and bred Brooklynite - asked for the location as part of the deal he took when he became Commander. Some versions of the story go as far as to say that the exact words were ‘Brooklyn or fuck off,’ which may or may not be true, but has become a pretty epic meme in its own rights. Bucky may or may not ever admit to owning a t-shirt with it on.
It takes him twenty minutes to be cleared through the outer entrance, then he has to catch a shuttle down to the actual complex that appears to have been built on a purpose-made island out in the bay. It’s full of people in business suits and Bucky simultaneously feels like he blends in and stands out horribly. He catches a few people eyeing his hair and the metal fingers, and it’s only because he’s on best behaviour that he refrains from telling them to suck a dick.
Finally, after a thirty minute wait at the inner entrance, he’s admitted to the SHIELD complex. It’s relatively modern and new looking, but strangely spartan, with none of the decoration or frills that he’s used to seeing in big important buildings in Manhattan. It reminds him more of weird concrete architecture he’s seen in Europe and wonders if it’s for practical reasons, someone’s personal preference or because SHIELD 2.0 has no money.
“So you must keep your pass on you at all times,” says the person who’s been allocated to take Bucky from the reception desk to his interview. She’s small and blond and very efficient looking. “It has a tracker in, just so you’re aware. It’s so we can keep an eye on everyone in the building.”
“Fancy,” Bucky says, looking warily at the concrete corridors he finds himself walking down. They branch off at irregular intervals and he feels a little like a rat in a maze. “What if I clip it onto someone else?”
“Then you’ll be identified as a thermal signature without an accompanying tracker and descended upon with extreme prejudice,” says small and blond and efficient. “We take security very seriously here.”
“Yeah, I know, I was kidding,” says Bucky, wishing he could kick himself. Who makes jokes about security while interviewing for SHIELD, honestly? An idiot, that’s who.
“Sure,” says small and blond and efficient, and uses a passcard to swipe them through a set of steel doors. Bucky is expecting more concrete corridors so is surprised to find a huge circular room that's full of desks and computers. There’s even carpet here, and a few potted plants. A huge screen, currently blank, wraps around almost a quarter of the room. Around the opposite edge of the room are offices, separated from the main room by thick glass walls. Through some of the offices he can see huge windows overlooking the bay.
“Wow,” Bucky says.
“This is the hub,” says small and blond, ignoring his awe. “Contains emergency response stations, inter-department communications,” she says, pointing to different desks and cubicles, “meeting rooms, Director Hill’s office and Commander Rogers' office and quarters.”
“Wow,” Bucky says again, and desperately wishes he hadn’t had to surrender his phone at reception. Commander Rogers' office. Steve Rogers. The original Captain America. He’d get at least ten thousand likes for just a photo of the glass door with the nametag on.
‘Now is not the time to get starstruck,’ he tells himself sternly. ‘You might be working with these guys.’
And then he spots two figures sitting at a desk inside Commander Rogers' office and he nearly forgets to breathe. Small and blond and efficient ushers him in, politely saying, “Your candidate for interview, Commander,” before ducking out and leaving Bucky to flounder.
He finds himself sitting across from two of the most intimidating people he has ever sat across a desk from, and he used to be in the goddamn army. He gets the same sort of vibe, a surreal emotional deja vu as he stares at Director Maria Hill and Commander Steve Rogers.
Director Maria fucking Hill and Commander Steve fucking Rogers.
She’s in a neat pencil skirt and blouse. He is in his Commander's tactical uniform - a navy blue kevlar piece with bold red stripes down the shoulders. It makes him look like he’s spoiling for a fight, and makes Bucky feel two parts awed and one part intimidated. It could be the suit or it could be the six foot of solid muscle, Bucky thinks, then mentally plays both.gif in his head before remembering his manners and holding out his hand, introducing himself as James Barnes. He thinks that Rogers might actually crush his hand with his fabled super-soldier strength, but thankfully he just receives a firm and short handshake that in no way indicates that it was given by someone with superhuman strength. Hill isn't even looking at him, so he assumes she doesn't want a handshake and sits down. Good. His palms are getting sweatier by the second.
“So,” Rogers says, as Bucky sits down and tries not to fidget. He meets Bucky’s eyes and Bucky feels like he’s being pinned in place, X-rayed and judged all at the same time. “Stark seems to think I need a PA, and has sent me you to interview.”
“You do need a PA,” Hill says, flipping through paperwork on the desk. Bucky snatches a glance of a photo of himself, all shorn hair and sullen scowl. Ugh, his military ID does not a pretty picture make. “Stark was the one who decided to force your hand, so here we are.”
Bucky’s a little taken aback, and also a little annoyed. These guys invited him here, and now they’re acting like he’s bothering them. Rude.
“Have you got any experience working as a PA?”
Bucky blinks. “I assume you read my application?”
Maria looks at him sharply, but Steve Rogers does not. He sifts through the paperwork and Bucky notices the tiniest of smiles curving at the edge of the Commander’s mouth. His pulse picks up. Did he just make the Commander almost smile by being a cheeky fucker?
“Okay, let’s cut to the chase,” Rogers says bluntly, smile vanishing. “This is not going to be a typical interview because I got back into the country thirty two minutes ago and found out about this interview thirty one minutes ago.”
He sounds bored, impatient. Like he’s only here under duress and can’t wait to get this whole thing over and done with. It makes Bucky feel small, which in turn makes him bold and slightly defiant. He knows he’s short goddamnit, which means he hates anyone making him feel it.
“Well I’m sorry to be a burden to you and your busy schedule but I applied for a job and got offered an interview, so I’m here doing that,” Bucky says, crossing his arms over his chest. “Maybe if you weren’t serious you shouldn’t be the one wasting my time. If you don’t actually need or want a PA, I’ll be on my way.”
He resists adding 'bitch' to the end of his rant by the tiniest of margins.
Hill looks at him, if anything slightly impressed by his outburst. Rogers scrutinises him then after a pause that lasts a lifetime, he nods.
“You’re right. I guess I shouldn’t let my frustrations with other people impact on others. You’re here acting like a professional, so I should too.”
Bucky unfolds his arms, feeling slightly less catty. He maybe thinks that the inflection Rogers put on other people has less to do with him and a lot to do with Tony Stark. It’s not an apology, but Rogers looks contrite, and he’s waiting for Bucky to make his move.
“Is this interview for real? Or are you just humouring me? Or humouring other people?”
“It is for real,” Hill says firmly. Rogers twitches minutely, in the way someone might do when they’ve just received a stiletto to the shin.
“For real,” Rogers concedes, giving Hill a look out of the corner of his eye. Bucky sees it because of course he does, he was a trained sniper, and he doesn’t think it bodes well. “Though I meant it when I said this interview is probably not going to hold up as your most regular.”
“Well...I’ve only ever applied for the army so I got no frame of reference,” Bucky says with a shrug. Somewhere he thinks he shouldn’t be drawing attention to his lack of experience but it’s too late now. “It could be the strangest interview going and I probably wouldn’t know any different.”
“Good,” Steve Rogers says, and hands him a tablet. “This is my email inbox. You’ve got twenty minutes to action it, then you’ll explain your choices.”
“What?” Bucky says. “Are you kidding?”
“Nope,” says Steve Rogers, popping the P. “I’m going to go get a coffee. Go nuts.”
He nods at Bucky then gets up, walking out of a door inside the office into a room that has no glass walls and therefore immediately piques Bucky’s interest. Steve Rogers shuts the door behind him, leaving Bucky alone with Director Hill and the tablet.
“Is he serious?” Bucky asks Hill blankly. She smiles at him in the way someone might do before they tell you you’re fired, or that the good news is you only lost one arm.
“SHIELD is one hundred percent committed to providing job opportunities for locals and international applicants, including veterans,” she says, and then tones down the recruiter spiel a little. “Commander Rogers needs a PA. However, he is under the illusion that he can do without.”
“So you don’t think he’s actually going to hire me?”
Hill nudges the tablet closer to him. “I think you should do as he says.”
“Am I legally allowed to do this?”
“Yes,” she says. “Nineteen minutes.”
“Christ, alright,” Bucky mutters and sets the tablet flat on the desk, leaning over it. He props his metal elbow on the desk and rests his head on his fist, tapping away with one hand as quickly as he can. He knows he’s supposed to be getting used to the pressure needed for fine motor skills in his prosthetic, but he doesn’t think now is really the best time.
Rogers appears with a coffee eighteen minutes in. He doesn’t disturb Bucky deliberately, just does it by way of his sheer presence in the room, even doing something as mundane as sitting down.
“Sixty seconds, James,” Hill says, and Bucky nods but doesn’t look up, still tapping away. How is this even his life.
He has about twenty seconds left when he decides he’s done, sitting up and looking back at Rogers. Jesus fuck, he’s back at it again with the polite super-intense laser X-ray stare. “Done,” he says. “I think.”
Rogers nods, taps something on his desk and throws up a projection of the tablet screen so they can all see the mess that Bucky has made of his inbox in high-resolution detail. “Talk me through what you did.”
This is definitely not a regular interview, Bucky thinks, but he takes a deep breath and decides that he’s really got nothing to lose. Except the respect of a famed American icon, but whatever. Losing that can’t be as bad as losing an arm, in the grand scheme of things.
“Alright,” Bucky says. “So you had some flagged emails. That’s a tool that only works from within the inbox, so I assumed you’d flagged the senders. One I left as flagged because it’s got password locked attachments so I can’t do anything about them.”
“Good,” Rogers says. “What else?”
Surprised and bolstered by the praise, Bucky carries on. “The other one I opened, read the attachments, then resent it to you with a summary in the body. You’ll know if they’re important or not. And the one from the CIA, I deleted.”
Rogers leans back in his chair, drumming his fingers against the armrest. “You opened a confidential email from the CIA and then deleted it?”
“Well you gave me the tablet so if you didn’t want me to read anything…” Bucky trails off, leaving the ‘so it’s your own fault’ part unsaid. “And there were locked files on other emails, so I assumed you have privacy settings that are keeping me out of anything you really don’t want me to see. Anyway, all it said was ‘incoming call at 4pm NRR’ so I put it in your calendar and deleted it. If NRR means something other than no response required, oops, my bad. Anyway, you had two emails about scheduling Avengers training so I inputted that into your calendar too, and then eight emails about meetings with SHIELD personnel. I arranged four of them, rearranged one and I’m sitting on the rest because they sound like shit that the Commander of SHIELD shouldn't be bothering with, but I don’t yet know the delegation procedures. You also had an email from Natasha Romanov that I flagged because if that’s really the Black fuckin’ Widow I don’t think you want to be ignoring it. The eight emails from Tony Stark I deleted, because he just kept telling you shit like 'come over to Avengers Tower', and I’ve actually been there in person when he’s not really paying attention and says shit like ‘hey Jarvis email Steve and tell him he’s boring’ while he’s working on things so I figured you could do without.”
He falls silent, catches Maria and Rogers staring at him and then winces and tries to think how many times he just swore. Oh fuck it. In for a penny.
“Oh...and the one from the head of PR at GenCorp?...I didn’t do anything about it because I don’t know uh...the correct tone? Like how formal to be? But I would have told him to shove his sponsorship ideas, because it’s goddamn common knowledge the Avengers are not into political or corporate affiliation and if they were, they wouldn’t affiliate themselves with their greedy, less than minimum wage paying, no ethical or environmental considerations, piece of garbage company. But obviously, in a really polite way if that’s what you wanted me to do.”
Rogers turns and looks at Maria. She leans her elbows on the table, massaging her temples and looking like she regrets everything that led her to this point in her life.
“He’s hired,” Rogers says, then looks at Bucky. “James, you’re hired.”
Hill gives Rogers a look that’s one part alarmed, two parts exasperated. “Commander, I think we should talk about this-”
“Nope,” Rogers says. “I’m hiring him.”
Bucky blinks. “Are you serious?”
“Wait,” Hill says, grimacing and doing that thing where someone tries to be bitchy about someone else right in front of their face. “Steve. Listen. You know why...you know why this candidate made it this far.”
Rogers nods. “I am sending Tony Stark a gift basket.”
“He’s not expecting a gift basket, he’s expecting you to have a tantrum.”
Rogers handwaves her, his attention back on Bucky. “Ignore everything she says. You’re hired. I want you to be my PA. On one condition.”
Rogers turns around, yanks open a filing cabinet and pulls out a tablet. “Do all that for real. Sorry, the tablet you had was a dummy. Couldn’t exactly have interviewees sending emails back to the CIA.”
“Including the email to the GenCorp guys?”
Rogers grins and leans back in his chair, looking very pleased with himself. “Especially the email to the GenCorp guys.”
An hour later, Bucky leaves his interview, this time escorted by Commander Steve Rogers himself. He’d actioned the inbox for real, asked Rogers to call him Bucky instead of James, and been handed yet another tablet which contains the SHIELD personnel procedures he’s allowed to read off site. Rogers apologises for the fact Bucky’s not been given a manual specific to his job title, because as Rogers points out, he's never had a PA before and wasn't expecting to get one.
“I think to begin with the job will be one part making me coffee, one part dealing with my goddamn inbox and one part winging it?”
“I can deal with that,” Bucky nods. “I’m a little bit...I can't believe you’re trusting me to do those things.”
“You passed the security checks, you’ve got good military experience and I like you,” Rogers says. “And I have come around to the idea of paying someone to deal with the hell on earth that is my inbox. I’ve paid my dues. I fought Hitler. Someone else can fight the inbox.”
Bucky bites down a snigger. From the way Rogers glances at him, he definitely noticed. Bucky clears his throat, smooths down his tie. “You like me?”
“Well. You swore nine times and basically called the boss of GenCorp a fascist asshole in your interview,” Rogers shrugs, and glances at his watch. “Shit. I’m late for a thing. As of Monday, you’ll know all the shit I’m late for because you’ll be in charge of my calendar.”
“Sure,” Bucky says, while internally thinking ‘holy fuck I’m in charge of Commander Rogers’ calendar, I am not qualified for this, who the fuck decided this was a good idea.’
“I’m gonna find someone to walk you out,” Rogers says, clearly no longer paying attention to Bucky. “Where’s Anaya, oh hell. Oh! Clint! Perfect timing, I need a favour.”
Bucky looks up from his stack of paperwork and feels his jaw drop. Because standing right in front of him is Clint goddamn Barton. Hawkeye. And he’s tall and he’s got his bow in his hand and he’s wearing black and purple tactical gear and he’s tall and he’s scruffy and he’s blond and tall . He’s taller than Rogers. Bucky kind of wants to climb him like a goddamn tree.
And he’s looking right at Bucky, eyes scanning him from top to toe. They’re blue - not like Rogers' blue X-ray eyes, but more grey and stormy. Oh god, Bucky’s about to start quoting The Princess Bride in his head, he’s doomed.
Barton finally tears his eyes away from Bucky, grinning and mock saluting. “Whatup, Cap?”
Rogers pulls a face. “Stop calling me Cap. I’m not Cap anymore.”
“So sorry, Commander,” Clint Hawkeye Barton yawns, itching his eyebrow with the end of his bow. His eyes wander back to Bucky and he jerks his chin towards him. “Who’s the short kid?”
Bucky bristles. The urge to tackle Barton and mount him fades. Well, maybe not fades, but is joined by an urge to punch him. Maybe he’ll mount him then punch him. “Kid? ”
Barton grins. “But you didn’t contest short.”
“I’m five foot one, why would I argue that?”
“This,” Rogers says, talking over them, “is my new PA, Bucky Barnes.”
Barton looks delighted. “You hired a PA? You actually listened to Hill and got someone to help? Mark this day as a National Holiday, someone call the guys in charge of holidays.”
“Stark hired me a PA,” Rogers points out. Bucky’s starting to think that there’s more to this story than he’s current got security clearance for. He’s known about this job opportunity for weeks, which does not explain why Rogers has apparently only known about it for an hour and a half.
“Ohhhhh,” Barton says, now eyeing Bucky like he’s about to explode or something. Great. Now everyone suspicious of him just because he’s come by way of Tony Stark. Though, in fairness, they’re not so suspicious that they’ve not let him have the job, and he’d probably be pretty suspicious of Tony Stark’s motives too.
“Exactly,” Rogers says. “But turns out the joke’s on Tony.” Rogers is now gesturing to Barton. “Bucky, this is Clint Barton.”
“The tallest Avenger,” Barton says, and then he winks at Bucky. Bucky would swoon, if he were in a period romance. “What favour do you want, Commander?”
“I’m late for around five different things,” Rogers begins.
“This is why you need a PA,” Barton says.
“Yeah, I know,” Rogers says, and he’s already stepping backwards away from them. “Walk Bucky out? Get him signed out and make sure Hannes gives him his phone back. Bucky, I’ll see you Monday, okay? I’ll have someone collect you from the main desk and I’ll meet you at eight so we can get your official- Yeah, Maria, I’m coming. Yes, okay - Anaya, there you are-”
He walks away, still having around five different conversations. Bucky watches him go, feeling like he’s on the periphery of a hurricane.
“He’s less fun now he’s Commander,” Barton observes, watching him go. He’s got one end of his bow propped on his foot, spinning it around with his palm resting on the other end. “He’s all business and stress.”
“I guess that’s why he hired me.”
“Mmm,” Barton says, not sounding convinced. “Right, let’s get you out of here before your security pass expires and explodes.”
Bucky cocks his head. “No offense, but what are you doing here? Isn’t Avengers Tower in Manhattan?”
“Us Avengers have a weirdly incestuous relationship with SHIELD,” Barton says, and starts walking. “Even worse now Steve’s in charge of SHIELD. Like he’s technically still on the Avengers roster. If we were on Facebook, our status would be it’s complicated.”
Barton swipes them out of the hub and they walk back down the corridors. Bucky keeps fighting the urge to glance up at Barton because Barton is at least a foot taller than him and that makes it super hard to do casual glances. He gives in after about five steps and his stomach jolts because Barton is already looking at him.
“You’re the guy from the prosthetics trial, right? Stark’s wunderkind?”
“Well, the arm works, so I guess,” Bucky says. “He talk about me?”
“Only your arm,” Barton says, and his eyes track Bucky up and down again. “He’s not said a lot about the rest of you, which I think is a damn shame.”
Bucky feels his face go hot. Oh god. Is this flirting? Is Barton flirting?
“Good things come in small packages,” he says, then promptly wants to punch himself. How fucking lame.
“Clearly,” Barton says, amused. “Anyway, here we are. Reception. Please do your best to get Rogers to sign off on a coffee bar in here. The vending machine sucks.”
“I’m not sure that’s in my job description?”
“You listen here,” Barton says, and goes so far as to stop Bucky, putting his hands on his shoulders and looking him right in the eye. Bucky shivers because he has a thing for tall guys and competence and Barton is literally the tallest Avenger. “Steve has been refusing to get a PA since we built this place. So the fact that Stark wrangled you in is not a big deal, because he’s been trying to do it for months, but the fact Steve said yes? Big deal. And with great power comes great responsibility.”
“You’re an Avenger,” Bucky says, looking Barton square in the eye. “You should be able to manage without my help.”
“You’d be surprised,” Barton says. “I may look the part of a dashing hero, but I’m just a regular guy who would kill to get his hands on a decent cup of coffee.”
He slides his hands off of Bucky’s shoulders, lingering a little too long. Bucky is now 80% sure that this is flirting, that he and Barton have both laid eyes on each other for the first time and mentally gone ‘yes please.’ Maybe he needs to make a move before he actually signs a contract and stupid workplace ethics come into force on Monday morning.
Barton’s actually looking at him like he’s waiting. Bucky opens his mouth but he stalls; his cocky attitude and fearlessness are actually either a front or a byproduct of some serious insecurities that he likes to pretend he doesn’t have, so putting himself out there and hitting on a literal Avenger is massively out of his league.
Do it, a voice in his head tells him. Rogers hired you, ergo you’re not that bad. Ask the Avenger to go for coffee and then take him back to your place. Well. Maybe not your place because Becca. Maybe a hotel? His place? Does he live in Avengers tower? Oh fuck it just start with coffee!
Before he can articulate asking Barton to join him for a proper cup of coffee, Barton’s phone rings. He pulls it out of his pocket and Bucky is vaguely horrified because it’s an honest to god flip phone.
“Hi,” Barton says, and looks dismayed. “That was today? Okay, I’m on my way. No, I’m at SHIELD, I just got back and Steve wanted me to look at a thing - okay. Yeah.” He snaps the phone shut and gives Bucky a look that can only be described as deeply regretful. “I gotta go,” he says. “See you around, Bucky.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, and then Barton is gone, walking out of the complex and tapping away on his sorry excuse for a phone with both thumbs. Oh no, if they’re gonna end up sleeping together then Bucky is gonna have to do something about that phone.
"Fuck, fuck, shit, fuck.”
Bucky trips out of his apartment on his first official day of work, already running late. He’d gotten up so early too, wanting to eat a decent breakfast and get his stuff together. What has actually happened was that he spent way too long deliberating over which outfit to wear, then spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to get his hair to look perfect, and now he’s running late. He’s not even had time to take a decent selfie of his new look, which was going to be his way of showing his Instagram followers that he’d got a job. It’s not like you can just announce that shit; you need to do it in a more subtle, tactical way.
“Good luck!” Becca shouts from inside the apartment. “Don’t sleep with any superheroes on your first day!”
“I’ll do my best,” Bucky yells back. He hauls his satchel onto his shoulder and tries to juggle his keys and jacket with minimal success, dropping both. He bites back more cursing and kneels down to pick them up-
“On your knees again?” comes a familiar voice, and Bucky steels himself, shoulders going tense. He grabs his stuff and stand up, ignoring his neighbor.
“Hey, I said hello.”
Bucky straightens up and narrows his eyes at his neighbor, who is standing there and leaning against the doorframe of the next apartment. He’s barefoot and in sweats, and has he really come out here just to give Bucky a hard time?
“You didn’t, you made a joke about me being queer because you think you’re hilarious.”
“Well, if the shoe fits,” the guy says.
Bucky hasn’t been through ridiculous amounts of therapy to land himself in trouble by punching his neighbor, so he walks away. The guy knows he’s a veteran and knows he’s disabled, which Bucky thinks should make him more goddamn respectful. Seems like for some people, the queer thing overrides anything and everything else about a person.
“Hey, since when did you get a new arm?” the guy shouts.
Bucky flips him the bird over his shoulder and walks away. He’s got bigger problems, namely that he’s late, and he’s late for his work at SHIELD 2.0 which involves working for Commander Steve Rogers. It’s still not sunk in yet.
He arrives at the reception desk at four minutes past eight. The moment he steps through the outer doors he’s wincing and trying not to show it because Rogers is already there. He’s leaning back against the reception desk chatting to Hannes, all tall and imposing and making everyone in the vicinity look nervous.
“You’re late,” he says to Bucky. “Hand in your phone. You’ll get a work phone later. Induction and security first.”
“Okay,” Bucky says, and surrenders his phone without complaining even a little bit, which is his way of apologising for being late. “I’ve got that paperwork. I didn’t sign it though because it wasn’t specific to us. You. This position. Job.”
“Good,” Rogers says. “Here. Official pass. Do not take it off while you’re in the building.”
“Yeah, I know, heat trackers, extreme prejudice,” Bucky says, taking the pass and running the attached lanyard through his fingers. “I got it.”
“If anyone asks to see your pass, show them but do not let it leave your hand. No-one is allowed to handle anyone else’s pass.”
“Wow,” Bucky mutters. “This is intense.”
“One of the most secure facilities in the States,” Rogers says unapologetically. “In the world, if I get my way. Come on. You’ve got about thirty seconds of freedom before you sign your life away.”
Bucky laughs, but it fades quickly. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Mostly,” says Rogers, and starts walking. Bucky hastens to follow, looping his lanyard around his neck and wondering what the hell he’s got himself into.
Bucky’s first day passes by in a whirlwind of paperwork, coffee runs and feeling pretty out of his goddamn depth. He sits through meetings with HR, meetings with PR, meetings with Rogers and then spends the last thirty minutes of the day actually being vaguely useful by looking over Rogers’ calendar and scheduling Avengers training sessions.
By the time he gets home he’s over-caffeinated, has a headache and his back is aching. He’s been mostly using his right hand for everything, trying to keep his left in a vaguely natural position, still terrified of breaking things.
And he had been kind of hoping to run into Barton again but the universe hates him and had kept his day completely Hawkeye free. Though maybe that’s a good thing. He can’t be flirting; he’s too busy trying to work out how the fuck he can do this job that he probably doesn’t deserve.
Becca takes one look at him when he stumbles through the door and immediately goes into look-after-Bucky mode; she sits him down on the couch, throws a blanket at him and orders pizza.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” he says, staring at a spot about five inches right of the TV. “I had to sign NDAs and insurance forms and someone mentioned a 401k and I didn’t even know what that was so I just nodded. You're my emergency contact, by the way.”
Becca hums in sympathy and lets him go on.
“And it’s not just the fact I have a job and I don’t know how it works. I’m working for superheroes. Everyone in the building is super competent and gorgeous and I’m basically hipster trash and some of the agents keep giving me the side eye.”
“Who cares?” Becca says. “You don’t work for any other agents. You work for Rogers. Is he giving you side eye?”
“No,” Bucky admits. “I just. I get in my head that they’ll say something to him. Like, I’ve been working there for all of a day but his opinion really matters. I want to do well. I don’t want to let him down.”
“Well, they say he can inspire a rock to fly,” Becca shrugs. “Makes sense that he’s inspiring you to be the best PA you can be.”
“I broke a teaspoon,” Bucky blurts out. “I made him coffee, and thought I’d try the left hand, and I bent it clean in half.”
Becca’s mouth twitches. “You just need more practice.”
Bucky’s not sure on that. “He said he’s gonna get me my own desk,” he says. “A desk, Becca. My own desk.”
“You work for Captain America and it’s the desk that blows your mind,” she laughs. “Wow.”
“And the sheer hotness of the Avengers when you see them in person,” he says sagely, and raises his mug. “To Hawkeye’s biceps.”
“Hawkeye’s biceps,” she echoes seriously, and they clink mugs in a very grown-up toast of hot chocolate.