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Somewhere Between a Rock and a Hard Place

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The Soldier knelt behind a low wall, gun cocked in his hands. This wasn’t his first skirmish with the damn Skrulls, but he was getting really tired of fighting them. The bastards could easily become anyone else, making it nearly impossible to tell the difference between innocent civilians and dangerous aliens -- especially when nobody had their coms on. Why was it always alien invasions? Wasn’t anyone out there more creative than this?

A suit of armor landed next to him, creaking as it knelt low behind the wall. The Soldier smiled a bit, glad to have the arsenal of Iron Man at his back. He shifted on his legs to face the other, dropping his gun so he could change to something a bit easier to handle in close combat. He’d wanted to do it earlier, but there hadn’t been anyone around to watch his back while he took the time.

Dagger? No, wasn’t quite big enough. Saber? When the hell did he pick up a saber? Bag of grenades? Okay, that might come in handy, but still not what he was looking for.

“Status?” he asked, trying to find the gun and knife set he knew he had on him.

Civilians are being checked as they’re escaping,” the distorted voice said. The mic was probably bad on his friend’s end. “Skrulls try to infiltrate as usual. Nobody else on the team has their damn mic on. Same old, same old. How you doing?”

“Thirsty, but I’ll manage. I forgot to fill my water bottle.”

There was a sigh in his ear. “How many times did I tell you--”

“Above!” The Soldier quickly stood to take a shot at an approaching Skrull, glad that this one hadn’t taken on a human look yet. “Watch it!”

I got it!”

The Soldier swore as the Skrull dodged, rolling into a hole in the building. “The hell you do! Now I have to go chase it.”

Whatever, I’ll scan to see if there are any others.” Iron Man took to the skies, leaving the Soldier behind to ease through the hole.

The armor of Iron Man was too bulky to head into zones like this, but the Soldier trusted the outside to be well-patrolled even after the “all clear” from his friend. He found a few discarded ammo packs and quickly picked them up before heading to the stairs. So far, no sign of the Skrull, so who knew where the alien disappeared off to. He could faintly hear another battle and figured Iron Man was dealing with his own sort of mess outside.

“Come out, come out wherever you are,” he singsonged into the darkness.

This was the moment he really regretted not grabbing those night-vision goggles when he had the chance. He could just hear the lecture later about it and vowed to stick it in his pack as soon as this was done. A creek on the floor above him had the Soldier tensing, pointing his gun up. He kept still as he listened for any further signs, heartbeat seemingly too loud in the otherwise quiet area. He turned to look at an upcoming stairway and that was his mistake.

The Skrull jumped out with a screech, slashing at the Solder with its arms. He swore and jumped back, hitting the doorframe he just came through. “Damnit! Son of a bitch!”

The only answer to his swearing was laughter over his headset and another screech, but the Soldier was ready for it this time. He brought his knife out and quickly slashed through the Skrull’s chest. Blood splattered across his vision as the alien stumbled backward, but it wasn’t down just yet.

Careful!” the warning came in his ear and the Soldier just rolled his eyes, already knowing that he had to be careful.

“You aren’t helping,” he snapped, slashing toward the Skrull again. “Don’t you have your own to kill?”

Finding supplies,” was the answer. “Got a shot outside the window, though.”

“I’m a big boy, I can kill one alien.” The Soldier took a precious moment to switch his weapon to a stronger gun, not caring that it was better for distance. He aimed, firing just as the Skrull jumped to make its kill shot.

More blood splattered around the room and the Soldier quickly backed up, reloading all his weapons in the process. He hated killing the bastards in close combat as it took awhile for the blood to clear, but it had to be done. He let out a long breath before heading further into the building.

I’m not picking up anything else,” Iron Man said in his ear.

“Ah huh. I’m just going to physically check. You left a good box behind last time.” He peeked into an empty room, frowning when he saw nothing there. “This place is bare, though. Found ammo near the beginning, but that’s it.”

Already raided?”

“Possible,” the Soldier agreed. “I’ll check one more floor.”

The Soldier was halfway up the stairs when he heard a familiar snarl. He froze, trying to figure out where it was coming from, but he couldn’t pinpoint the exact direction. The knife came back into his hand before he turned, looking to see if he missed something behind him. The snarl came again and the Soldier finally looked up.

“Fuck!” It was too late. The Skrull jumped hard on him, knocking the Soldier down the stairs. He tried fighting against it, but the alien took one good slash and the Soldier’s own blood covered his vision. “Son of a bitch!”

The Soldier tried to fight the Skrull, but he was fading fast. He tried one last kick before he twitched and everything went black.

 

---

 

In the living room of a small apartment, Bucky swore and slammed his hands down on either side of his keyboard, frustrated at the Mission Failed flashing across his monitor. He had been so close! Nobody had been able to find the box of hidden loot promised in the latest Avengers update, but he was sure he could be the one to do it with his friend’s help. But that was nearly impossible to do if the damn aliens wouldn’t just stop and leave him alone.

“Why is it always the ones from above that suck the most?” he asked, leaning back in his chair as his computer screen faded in so he could watch what the rest of the team was doing. His stats for the match came up on the side and they weren’t bad -- more kills than he thought, actually.

I told you not to go in there,” his long-time online friend, Iron, said. The name hadn’t come from Avengers despite the fact that he played as Iron Man, but instead an old screen name from when they first met. Iron had been a Knight in some fantasy game they’d met in, and he had chosen the username knight_of_iron to try and indicate how strong he thought he was.

“No you didn’t,” Bucky said, waiting until Iron dodged a Skrull. There was no sense in distracting him despite their bickering.

Will you at least go get some water now that you’re dead and leaving me to the cleanup?”

“Just because you asked, I’m going to say no.” Bucky glanced to his alarm clock and wrinkled his nose as it clicked over to past midnight. They had been at this longer than he thought. “I think this is my last round anyway.”

Workaholic,” Iron teased as he took out a small group of Skrulls with his power-up. “You sure you can’t stay another round or two? I won’t be here tomorrow.

“If I could, I would. I have a meeting later this week to prep for.” Bucky stretched his arms up and grinned. “Remember when we’d spend the entire weekend online?”

Best weekends of my life.” Iron turned to take out another Skrull, though they both knew it was a wasted effort. Nobody else on the team was alive. “Dammit these things get harder every time.”

“That’s what happens when you level up, duh.”

Smart ass.” He flew around the makeshift city until he found a larger horde. “Just for you, Shadow.”

Bucky smiled at the nickname, a relic of the first username he had when he met Iron. Even though it had been years, neither had given the other their real name, sticking instead to the affectionate nicknames of their teenage years. It was why he only knew his friend by the name Iron.

In the fantasy game, Bucky thought himself a secretive badass assassin, so his name for years was coldblooded_shadow. Iron teased him when they met in the open world, claiming that an assassin who specialized in fire could never be considered “cold.” Being a teen at the time, Bucky had stupidly shot back that no part of his sword was iron so his name hadn’t made sense either. Instead of playing the game, the two ended up bickering back and forth for over an hour until the sharp words turned into curious questions and an eventual team up. The two of them laughed about their first meeting and hadn’t looked back since.

“You’re just sacrificing yourself for the points,” Bucky accused as soon as he realized what Iron was doing. “Oh come on. Don’t pretend it’s for me so we can get out of the game.”

Caught me,” Iron said, laughing as he attempted to save trapped civilians. It didn’t work and he was soon overrun by the Skrulls. He was able to use one last powerup, jumping his score as a few more Skrulls dropped before his health ran out.

Game Over flashed on the screen before taking the team to the main menu. The others with them, all unknown to either of them, soon dropped and it was just the two of them in the waiting screen.

“I think they’ve abandoned us,” Bucky said, clicking to see more of his stats. “Don’t think they appreciated your sacrifice.”

Whatever, we don’t need them. Besides, they were already dead.”

“Uh...”

Don’t even try to correct me. We could have taken the horde on together if we were stocked enough.” Iron trailed off, and then groaned. “Fuck, I didn’t get the damn points.”

“Maybe don’t do it as a game-over move next time?” Bucky closed down the game completely so he wouldn’t be tempted to go back in. The Discord channel he and Iron shared popped up and he leaned back to stretch again. This time, thankfully, his back popped. “I’m too old to sit this long.”

That’s a load of shit, but okay. Got anything this Friday?

“I do believe we have a quest this Friday, sir Iron,” Bucky said, putting on a horrible British accent. One day, he would get it right.

Iron sent a few sword and shield emojis in their chat before laughing. “Sounds good. I should be here by seven.

“Seven it is.” Bucky sent the fire emoji. “See you then.”

Until Friday.

Bucky ended their voice chat then and stood. He and his friend Clint had a meeting with the head of Stark Industries on Friday morning to discuss a potential job regarding the project they were working on. The two had been roommates through college and Bucky got tired of Clint’s hearing aids not working all the time. With permission, he used Clint as one of his final projects and made a prototype for the new devices. After that, Clint added his own expertise and the two had been working together ever since.

Bucky tripped over a discarded shirt outside his bedroom door, cursing as he stumbled into the wall across from him. Working together and living together -- sometimes it was a hazard and he questioned that decision, but they worked well together no matter the environment. Mostly. Sometimes.

“Clint!” He went down the hall and found his roommate in the kitchen, opening and closing cabinets as if looking for something. “Pick up your shit.”

Clint turned and arched an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, what? I can’t hear you.”

“Bullshit,” Bucky said (and signed). “You missed your door when you tossed your shirt down the hall.”

“Nah, that was your shirt. I was returning it.” Clint found a box of half-eaten Cheerios. He sniffed the inside before shrugging and grabbing a bowl from a cabinet he hadn’t bothered closing. “Steve texted. Said he and Sam wanted to come by later.”

Steve, Bucky’s best friend since they could walk, was the recipient of another prototype aid. He and Clint had different issues and Bucky found that once he fixed one, it wasn’t that difficult to expand and fix another. It gave Bucky a purpose he didn’t even realize was missing, to help people, and he was hoping Stark Industries agreed.

They just had to nail the presentation.

That’s mostly where Sam stepped in. While they met through Steve, it became clear soon enough that he had a knack for talking with people. He started out slowly helping Bucky and Clint, but eventually became their full-time PR guy. He’s the one that set up the meeting, so he was probably coming by to make sure they were ready.

“I don’t know why he always asks. They’re welcome here.” Bucky opened a cabinet to grab a bag of chips. “Did you eat my Doritos again?”

“Is the world round?” Clint sat at the table, poking at his bowl with his spoon to make sure every Cheerio was wet with milk.

“Asshole.” Bucky took out a bag of sour cream and onion before sitting across from Clint. “Did you finish the presentation?”

“Was that my job or Sam’s?” Clint pushed the remaining bits of dry cereal down, visibly holding back a grin. The longer Bucky stared at him, the more Clint cracked until he snorted. “It’s done, relax. Got it finished as you were flirting with your online boy-toy.”

Bucky hoped to hell that he wasn’t blushing. “I wasn’t flirting with Iron.”

“You’re always flirting with Iron.” Clint shoved a spoonful into his mouth. “Oo meed who we-ax,” he said around the food.

Bucky flicked a chip at Clint, smirking as it landed in his bowl. “I am relaxed. And chew with your mouth closed, you cow.”

Clint loudly chewed for a moment before swallowing. “You’re a terrible liar,” he said before taking another bite -- chewing normal again.

“Whatever,” Bucky said as he took out his phone, “at least I’m pretty.” No new messages, which could be a good or a bad thing. “I’m going to bed.”

“Night, princess.”

Bucky flipped him off, heading back to his room. Friday couldn’t come fast enough.