“Are you here to kill me?” Bruce Banner asks, “Because if you are, I promise you it’s going to be less fun for you than for me.”
The guy with a metal arm sitting at his table doesn’t move. He’s poured out a glass of milk from Bruce’s fridge, but it’s like, an inch in a very tall glass? Which is kind of weird. And though he’s got a pretty large gun, as well as an intimidating collection of knives and other sundry killing items, he doesn’t look like he wants to use any of them.
He looks confused more than anything, like he doesn’t know how he got here.
“Bruce Banner,” he says after a long moment. Bruce nods, waits for him to say something more. He doesn’t.
“You like milk?” Bruce says, cautiously pulling the chair opposite of this guy. “You can have more.”
The guy looks at the glass and manages to look even more bewildered, and it would be sad if he wasn’t an armed intruder in Bruce’s house.
“Look, is there someone I can call to get you, or something?” Bruce asks. “I just got back from work, and I’m not really equipped to deal with this kind of weirdness before dinner.”
“They tried to have you killed,” the guy says. His hair looks like it hasn’t been washed for a long time and he has the look of someone on the run. Bruce knows the look.
“You’re going to have to specify,” he says with a small smile. “Do you mean HYDRA this time? Or maybe General Ross and his band of merry men? Lots of people have tried to kill me.”
The visitor frowns and says, “I haven’t.”
“That’s nice,” Bruce says. “Are you staying for dinner? Though I guess you’re still working on that glass of milk, huh.”
He doesn’t answer. Bruce sighs, goes to the kitchen. He’s got nothing to fear from a big gun and a metal hand. The visitor walks in to the kitchen with him, silent not through intent but by habit.
“So what am I calling you?” Bruce says in a light tone, over the boiling pasta. The visitor looks at him confused. “Like a name.”
“I don’t have one,” he says, as casually as one might talk about the weather. Then he frowns. “The man on the bridge called me Bucky.”
“Like the… like the Howling Commandos, right?” Bruce says. “I can remember that. I worked with Captain America once.”
Bucky doesn’t really react to that, though his metal fist clenches a bit.
He eats what Bruce gives him and speaks when spoken to. Night falls and Bucky still isn’t gone, nor has he tried to kill Bruce. That’s a plus, at least, but it looks like he isn’t going anywhere either.
“You need a place to kip for the night?” Bruce asks. “Tell me if I’m wrong, but it looks like you’re in trouble.”
“Nobody followed me,” Bucky says, staring at the wall. He has a thousand yard gaze that discomfits Bruce. “Came here because I know I can’t kill you.”
“That’s um… wow. Should I be concerned?” Bruce asks.
“I can’t kill you,” Bucky repeats bluntly. Bruce assumes this is Bucky’s way of telling him that he won’t try.
“Well okay. You can have the guest room.”
Bruce wakes up to screaming and nearly suffers a panic attack because of it. After a couple seconds (You’re you, you’re not hurting anyone), he remembers. He has some kind of mercenary who goes by Bucky in his house, and apparently he’s having a nightmare.
He walks into the guest room, sees Bucky on the ground, absolutely still but screaming like something’s being ripped out of him. His metal hand is digging grooves into the floor. Bruce hesitates only momentarily before sitting down beside him. He can’t wake Bucky up, but he sits by him until the dream starts to pass.
Bucky’s eyes are wide and terrified at first but he blinks a couple of times and his gaze returns to whatever far-off point he’s found in the real world.
“Heck of a dream,” Bruce says quietly. Bucky’s eyes meet his for a moment and he sits up, mumbling something like an apology. “It’s okay. I get them too. You liable to go back to sleep?”
Bucky shakes his head.
“Yeah, me neither,” Bruce says. “How about some hot chocolate?”
It’s weird to see someone who looks like he should be starring in a Tom Clancy novel sitting in Bruce’s kitchen and sipping at the hot chocolate (with rainbow marshmallows) he’s been given. It’s not the weirdest thing Bruce has ever seen, granted, but it’s still pretty fucking weird.
“I don’t mind you staying until you feel safe doing whatever it is you plan to do after,” Bruce says mildly. “I’m not going to ask any questions.”
“Thank you,” Bucky says.
“There’re a couple things I would like from you in return,” Bruce says. “Nothing big. I want you to find another place to put the weapons you brought with you, and I want you to make some noise when you’re walking around. I don’t like being surprised. No surprises in general, okay?”
“No surprises,” Bucky nods.
“I think we’ll get on just fine,” Bruce says with a smile.
At first things are weird. Bruce knows exactly how much weird he likes in a day and while this isn’t the upper limit, he could have used a bit of fair warning. Bruce is not going to teach this guy self-love. No way. He’s had enough impromptu therapy sessions at Stark Tower to last him a good long while and he is not that kind of doctor, damn it.
Bucky is strange. He spends hours in the one defensible position of Bruce’s whole house, a corner by a window. He’s put the weapons somewhere else, like Bruce asked him to, but Bruce gets the sense it’s his habit to gravitate towards these spots. Bruce buys him new clothes, eyeballing his sizes because it looks like Bucky didn’t even have a change of clothes with him when he decided to set up camp at Bruce’s house, and his hygiene is fairly questionable.
Still, Bruce remembers back to college and his awful roommates, who didn’t wash even though they knew how in order to, what? To stick it to the man? Bruce was never particularly good at understanding their meanderings. Anyway, Bucky isn’t nearly as bad.
And then there’s the news, which gets crazier every passing day as more and more people analyze everything that came out on the internet a couple weeks ago now. One thing Bucky and Bruce share is that the news deeply distresses them both, so they take to watching teleserye instead. Bucky knows Tagalog, which is a bit of a surprise for both of them, and translates for Bruce when Bruce asks.
“What’s happening now?” Bruce asks. “Why’s Carlito talking with Maria.”
“Carlito isn’t really Jacquelina’s brother. He was adopted at birth. He’s actually Maria’s son,” Bucky says mechanically, and grabs a handful of popcorn from the bowl on Bruce’s lap. “He’s known for years, and he and Maria are working together to get a hold of her fortune.”
“Say it isn’t so, Carlito,” Bruce frowns. “I liked him.”
Bucky doesn’t say anything until Bruce asks him to translate again. Bruce really hopes he’s watching the show because he likes it, and not because he feels obligated to.
Conversation with Bucky is rare and always a bit of an adventure. As far as Bruce can discern, he has no favourite foods, books, music, or movies. Then one night they’re watching The Wizard of Oz. They’re at the part with the Tin Man and Bucky seems more engaged with what’s going on than usual.
“I think I’ve seen this one before,” he says quietly. He’s hogging the couch blanket. Bruce thinks he feels the cold more than most.
“Yeah,” Bruce smiles, feels rare nostalgia wash over him. “It would be on my TV every Easter when I was a kid. I didn’t know until college that it was in colour because I only had black and white before.”
He doesn’t mention how when he was twelve, his father threw a bottle through the screen of their television and they never got a new one. Very few are close enough for that kind of admission, and Bucky just seems far away in general.
“I like it,” Bucky whispers, and then cringes as though he’s been slapped. He withdraws deeper in the couch blanket and snaps his jaw shut with an audible click. Bruce’s brow furrows.
“Are you okay?” he asks. Bucky’s eyes are wide and panicked. “Bucky?”
He turns off the damn movie, and sits closer to Bucky, who’s shaking. His hands are ice cold in spite of the couch blanket and he looks terrified, scared of some punishment that Bruce isn’t going to inflict. It’s heartbreaking.
“Who did this to you,” he mutters, more for his own benefit than Bucky’s. Bucky doesn’t respond. His hands are shaking in Bruce’s, but they hold tight. Bruce doesn’t extricate himself, even though he wants to get Bucky another blanket, or a hot sweet drink, or something.
They sit like that for a long time, until Bucky takes his hands out of Bruce’s and walks soundlessly to his room, couch blanket trailing behind.
He doesn’t mention the incident the next morning, nor does he mention the movie. He is a little warmer to Bruce’s attempts at conversation though.
Bruce realizes the prosthetic is crudely grafted onto the rest of him. Bruce doesn’t ask him how or why, doesn’t even mention that he might be able to help. Some of the calibration is clearly off and the fingers on that hand are quite stiff, to the point where he can’t operate them some days. If it bothers Bucky he doesn’t mention it.
The dreams get better, or they get quieter. Sometimes Bruce wakes from his own dreams and finds that Bucky is already in the kitchen, staring at the wall. He never makes himself hot chocolate, even though Bruce is pretty sure he likes it. Maybe it hasn’t occurred to him yet that he can indulge in himself now and again.
And then Natasha Romanov comes to visit. She looks different- her hair’s been cut short and dyed ash blonde, and Bruce can’t imagine the Black Widow wearing a sweet white summer dress with a grey and blue floral on it, but he supposes that’s kind of the point. He’s frankly amazed she’s still in the country after breaking the HYDRA story, and he tells her so after inviting her in.
“You’re hosting a person of interest in the case,” Natasha responds, removing her circular white-framed shades. Bruce’s expression makes her smile. “Or don’t you watch the news?”
“I’m not the most up to date guy,” Bruce says cautiously, and gets up to put the water on for tea. “If you’re here for Bucky, I’m sorry, but I promised to keep him safe.”
“How do you know his name?” Natasha says. Her jaw is set.
“He told me,” Bruce says. “Is there a reason he shouldn’t?”
Natasha isn’t paying attention to him. She’s looking over his shoulder. Bruce looks behind him and sees why. Bucky is standing in the door frame of the kitchen with wide eyes.
“I won’t tell anyone,” she says, “I just wanted to talk.”
“I shot you,” Bucky says.
“A couple times now, yeah,” Natasha says. “I got better.”
Bucky looks like he wants to bolt, but he silently comes into the kitchen, back pressed against the countertop in case he wants to reach for a knife.
“Steve is looking for you,” Natasha says, and this is the wrong thing to say because a steak knife lands in front of her clasped hands and sticks straight up from the dinner table.
“He’s not the only one,” Bucky snarls. Actually snarls.
“Sorry, when you say Steve do you mean Rogers?” Bruce asks. He hadn’t even entertained the thought that the guy living with him was that Bucky. Natasha nods tersely.
“He doesn’t want to turn you over to anyone. He just wants to see you again,” she says. “You helped him, didn’t you?”
Bucky’s got another knife. Bruce is a little concerned, but Natasha is deadly calm and she’s generally a good barometer when it comes to this sort of thing.
“Don’t tell him I’m here,” Bucky says.
“What should I tell him?” Natasha asks.
“He needs to stop looking for me,” Bucky says.
“He won’t stop,” Natasha says, “unless you tell him directly.”
Bucky’s flesh hand is shaking around the knife, and he finally drops it. His eyes, childish in their fear, flit to Bruce for half a second, seeking, what? Council? Permission? Natasha sees his look, and her expression softens.
“I won’t tell him where you are,” she promises. “Is it all right if I come back now and again, though?”
Bucky weighs the option for a long time, and nods.
“Make sure you’re not followed,” he says. “Coming or going. It’s Bruce’s house.”
It’s the first time he refers to Bruce by name. Natasha smiles.
“I promise,” she says. The kettle for tea whistles and Bucky takes it off the element before fleeing to his room.
“He’s actually Bucky Barnes?” Bruce says, blindsided.
“No,” Natasha shakes his head. “Hasn’t been for a long time. Why did he come here?”
“He can’t kill me,” Bruce says. “Feels safer that way, I guess.”
“Is that what he wants? To be safe?”
“I think so,” Bruce says, gives her a cup of tea.
“I guess that’s why it took me so long to find him,” she says, taking a sip. “If I were him, I’d be looking for revenge.”
They sit at the table in silence, drinking their tea. Bruce has a lot of questions Natasha almost certainly has the answers for, but seeing as he would never ask Bucky these questions, he keeps them to himself.