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Portrait #70

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It had been exactly one year since Bucky Barnes agreed to go back to the States with Steve Rogers. Six months since he hopped back on the quinjet, met with cold stares and snide eyes, looked at Steve Rogers and said “I’m glad I’m doing this,”, with Steve Rogers smiling softly and saying back, “I’m glad that this is your choice, Buck.”

Steve lifted his hand to Bucky’s neck, and squeezed it lightly, initiating physical contact. They turned to look out the window of the quinjet, Wakanda slowly fading away, as the ocean overtook the landscape.

*

Bucky sat on the couch in his Brooklyn apartment. He flipped through the journal that he had read thrice over, and looked at the clock, again. The place was empty, only to have the sounds of New York filter through the rooms from the thin warped windows that were placed right in front of the brick building.

The apartment had always technically been Steve’s -  since the beginning, since Sarah Rogers wrote it in her will. It sat there for those decades, with old notebooks underneath the floorboards, being hidden from the ever changing tides of time. When Bucky came back, that day three-hundred and sixty-four days ago, Steve handed him a worn leather journal.

“It was yours,” Steve sighed. “I, uh, was doing some renovations after the attack in New York. Found out they had been wanting to turn this place into a museum, and if Fury hadn’t told me that it was still standing, we would probably be standing in some gift shop, honestly,” Steve shrugged. “Anyway, this was underneath the floorboards. Your old bed was here, and I guess you hid this thing right before you went to bed...or before you went to war.”

“Thanks for keeping it,” Bucky held the book in his flesh hand - felt the dry fabric cracking onto his skin - feeling that it was real.

“I didn’t look in it,” Steve quickly said, like it was something that he made sure to remind himself.

“I didn't accuse you,” Bucky bounced the book in his hand, laughing slightly.

“Just want to make sure you know. Not sure what type of stories are in here,” Steve laughed.

“Even with the shit memory, I completely forgot about this. Thanks, Steve.”

“Anytime, Bucky.”

Bucky kept the journal by his nightstand for months, letting the suspense grow of what exactly was in the book. After five months living in the apartment, practically alone, Bucky was fed up with the incessant anxiety of not knowing. One night, he found himself gently untying the journal. He flipped open the cover slowly,being sure not to open to fast to break anything. The pages were browned, and crinkled from moisture, but the ink and pencil scratches were still there after all those years. Bucky dragged his metal fingers across the page, longing for the feeling of normalcy.

Bucky started to read, and read, and read, flipping each page carefully. Afternoon turned into evening, which turned into night, and soon, the only light that was filtering though his windows were from the street lamps. Bucky tensed when he heard the front door jiggle, and he immediately reached for the small pocket knife stashed in his shoes. The door turned and it was -

Steve.

For the past six months, Steve didn’t live in his apartment. Most times he stayed in Sam’s new place. It never felt like home to him, granted nothing really did. For Steve to be honest with himself,  home was sometimes seventy some odd years back, or sometimes in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes it was with Bucky, after he came back from the presumed dead.

It was hard to say.

Steve felt bad staying with Sam for a good portion of the week. Sam tried to argue that it was better for work for their jobs as Not-Avengers they could just go from apartment to quinjet - however, no matter how many times Sam insisted it was okay, Steve felt like he was intruding.

“I agree you gotta give him space, but you also can’t abandon your friend. He’s not quarantined,” Sam shrugged as he sat down on his couch, changing the TV channel to some lackluster baseball game.

“So, should I just hang out there, like I do with Natasha?”

“Yeah, Steve, it’s not that difficult,” Sam cocked an eyebrow. “Hang out. Watch TV. Talk about the girls you used to...what’s the phrase? Cut a rug with?” Sam laughed.

Steve sighed in frustration. “We didn’t really use those phrases. Stark’s father did, but I was pretty outside the crazy slang game.”

“Okay, back on the topic at hand. Don’t abandon him. He’s been abandoned before, so we don’t particularly want that.”

Steve nodded his head, and sat down next to Sam. “Yeah, I just. I just don’t know what to do.”

“Not for you to figure out, man.”

“Hand over the remote,” Steve took a sip of the seltzer.

“What’s wrong with the Nationals?”

“They suck. Choose any other team that is playing, and at least they can score better than .”

“I liked you better when you only semi-recently knew that the Dodgers moved to L.A.”

*

Steve made it so that he could see Bucky three or so times a week. Agreed upon by both parties.

“You sound like those assholes in Washington,” Bucky said, as he set up plates on the kitchen island for the both of them. Steve barked a laugh, as he swirled the sauce in the pan, letting the steam rise and the fresh smell fill the apartment.

“What are you making tonight...and for what occasion? This all seems too fancy for just another one of our ‘ agreed upon visiting hours ’” Bucky sat down on the stool, sipping on some water.

“First of all, that sounds like you’re in prison, which you are not. You just choose to stay in this place all the time, only going as far as a one block diameter around this neighborhood. You should come with me to Sam’s one night. He’ll be fine. He knows you.”

“He knows me as the guy with the metal arm who ran around an airport with him battling a kid.”

“That’s bonding time well spent, I think.”

“Barely,” Bucky rolled his eyes.

“I’m making sautéed brussel sprouts with honey, and I’m going to garnish it with goat cheese, and in the oven I have a roasted pork going in the oven. For your 6 months back in the States.”

“When did you learn all of this?” Bucky leaned onto the counter.

Steve took the hot pan off the stove and left it on the pan holder to cool off slightly, and he sprinkled some goat cheese over the greens to let the cheese melt softly. “After the Battle of New York, and most likely before, I felt empty. I stood at my window, looking down at the city moving on by, and...I needed to do something with my hands. Needed to make myself feel as though I was engaging with the world. So,” Steve put the pan on the kitchen island, and opened the oven, letting the smoke plume out. Steve coughed slightly, and waved at the smoke to try and let it disperse.

“Did you burn the pork?”

“I didn’t burn the pork.”

“You absolutely burned the pork.”

When Steve left for the evening, after the slightly burned pork and the perfectly cooked brussels, Bucky sat down at his desk. He wanted to do something he hadn’t in a long time.  

A blank piece of paper, some sharpies, some watercolors. He let his metal arm work with the fine lines, and his flesh to take up the more creative aspects. He felt at ease. Taking a break, Bucky opened up the window, letting the air drift in, catching the back of his neck every once in a while.

It took him around an hour to complete what he drew. He forgot he was able to - in all honesty - draw. The technology that Wakanda offered was nothing short of a miracle, but sometimes he felt as though his own brain was stopping things from coming through. There was something stopping him from remembering, but even though he forgot how to draw, he didn’t forget to place the phrase “#70” in the bottom left corner.

He leaned back in the wooden chair, closing his eyes slightly. The wind picked up just enough to float through his window.

Just enough wind to pick up his loose drawing, and let it slip into the alleyway of Brooklyn.

*

Bucky forgot about the drawing, but didn’t forget about well, drawing . Steve was correct in the assumption the need to do something. That night when he drew, he forgot about the loneliness, his empty apartment.

His tired life.

Bucky collapsed on his couch, pulling up the messaging app on his phone, and hovered over Steve’s name. He was going to text him. Going to ask what he can do, but he knew Steve and felt as though that he would just tell him those open ended statements that he tells his fans all the time.

Do what you think is best.

Chapter Text

It was those open ended statements that Bucky tried to avoid from Steve. Not that he hated them or anything - it was the same prose that was fed to Steve before his time overseas. From Steve’s mom, Sarah - God rest her soul - from his teachers that didn’t hate him after automatically forcing him to leave class for causing a disturbance, or from Bucky himself. Those statements always felt like advice that didn’t need to be advice. Over the past six months he had received enough not-advice advice from Steve, than he had his whole life, and just wanted to avoid it as much as possible.

The next day, Bucky shucked on a jacket and a hat, even thought it was the dead of summer. He kept his head low, as he walked out of his apartment door, and made sure that no one saw any recognizable features.

Bucky Barnes wasn’t quite cleared from his moniker to be a savior to the people. He was still, in the eyes of the public, a villain. Someone with a gun, someone that almost killed Captain America.

Someone that almost killed Steve.

The subways were empty enough for a Wednesday at twelve in the afternoon. People hung onto the bars, wiping sweat from their foreheads. Hearing the music emanate from their earbuds. A small kid, not more than three sat on his presumed mother’s lap as the train hitched and squeaked, and just waved at Bucky. A small smiled tugged on his lips. He almost waved back before the mom put down the child’s arm and whispering phrases about not talking to strangers.

He transferred two more subways before walking through Grand Central and ending up in Midtown. This place hasn’t changed, Bucky thought as he weaved in and out of people in too nice suits talking loudly on their phones. He bit on his lip as he waited for the walking signal to flash. The two lions of the library stood their ground, mid-roar.

It really hasn’t changed, Bucky thought again as a man bumped into him, still talking into his cell phone.

All he heard was the guy not say sorry, and mutter that the weird Brooklyn hipster in his brown canvas jacket didn’t even say sorry when he bumped into him.

Bucky just rolled his eyes.

Maybe it changed slightly.

Bucky opened the doors and stood inside the lobby of the library, and looked up. Looked at the ceiling, looked at the architecture that had survived all these years.

“Are you new to the library?” An older woman walked up to him in the empty area.

“No, uh. Just haven’t been here in a while,” Bucky cleared his throat.

“It’s an architectural and artistic feat, isn’t it?” the woman looked up at the ceiling as well, moving her hands back and forth. “Just the amount of time that had to go into what it looks like now must have been exhausting.”

“The clouds are amazing. The colors...everything,” Bucky smiled softly.

“So,” the woman looked back from the ceiling and made eye contact with Bucky. “What can I help you with today?”

“I’m looking to do something.”

“Well, I think you might be in the right place, but I think we have to whittle it down a little bit more than something.”

Bucky rolled on his feet, realizing he was testing this person’s patience today. He sighed. “I’m sorry, this...this was a mistake. Have a great day,” Bucky started to walk away when the librarian tried to keep up with him.

“There’s a bulletin board by the front entrance. People post stuff there every so often,” the librarian said as Bucky started to walk away. The room, although large and spacious in every which way a library is, started to feel small.

Claustrophobic, and panic inducing, and all the things that he tried to ignore, and all the things that his body still reacted to even though he was fixed. Bucky walked through the maze that was the library seemed to feel as though he was on autopilot, slipping in between people, hearing snippets of conversation.

He needed to get out.

He needed to get fresh air.

He needed -

Bucky stopped in front of doors, letting people move around him. There was a large beige bulletin board scattered with papers and flyers. Dogs were missing, and people needed help moving their couches. Tutors upon tutors were leaving their personal phone numbers, and sketchy ads were being left for student films asking for actors to act without pay.

Whittle it down some more than just doing something. The librarian's voice echoed in his head.

Bucky looked at each individual paper, stopping for a few minutes each time as he looked at what actually was being sold. He learned that there were a lot of dog walkers in the city, a lot of people that needed help. He got three quarters the way through each flyer when something sparked his interest.

Brooklyn Heights Community College

Fall 2018 Catalogue Now Available Online!

Bucky unpinned the flyer from the board, folded it up and stashed it in his back pocket before heading out back into the summer heat.

*

That night when Bucky got home to his empty apartment, he removed the crumpled flyer onto the coffee table, and made his way into the kitchen. He opened up the freezer and pierced some holes into the film, and hit a few buttons on the microwave.

Bucky leaned against the counter trying to figure out how his life just kept getting stranger.

Six months ago, he was coming out of cryo in Wakanda, with Steve by his side. Eight months ago, he was picking out plums in the market of some nondescript European city. Two years ago, he was on the bridge, about to kill Steve, and now, all these years later, he was making food in Steve’s old family apartment.

The microwave beeped, letting Bucky return to the present. The food steamed, and he placed it on the kitchen counter. He tried to get his mind off of things, but it kept returning to two things. Steve and art.

Bucky shook his head slightly.

*

Later that night, he took his old journal and returned to bed. He switched on his lamp, and adjusted himself and the covers so he became comfortable. He flipped the pages to March 12, 1941.

Two days after his birthday - a Saturday. He got drunk at the bar down the road from Steve’s place. Bucky wanted to go home with Edith Whitham but the notion of throwing up beckoned at him, after too many glasses of whiskey. With memories like these, he was happy that he couldn’t get drunk any more - the thought of emptying the contents of his stomach made his head spin all over again. He kept reading the words that he wrote, kept thinking about that night with the memories that were unlocked from his brain.

He remembers fingers on his face, swiping the sweat from his brow on an unusually hot night. He remembers himself trying to lean in to capture Steve lips. He remembers Steve pulling away slightly, missing Bucky, and pursing his lips to say no. Not the right time, Buck.

Bucky snapped the journal closed and placed it near the lamp. It was his fourth time reading the sentence of how he tried to kiss Steve. The fourth time those feelings passed through his body. The fourth time warmth pooled in his lower abdomen. There was no doubt his feelings for Steve amplified after the fight, after cryo. According to records, Steve practically stayed in Wakanda, in the cryo unit, because when Bucky woke up from his last freeze, Steve was there, standing over him smiling.

I didn’t want you to be alone when you woke up.”

He got up from bed to get a glass of water, checking the apartment to make sure that everything was okay, doors were locked, and things were in place. Not that it mattered, since having an ex-assassin in the apartment was good enough measure not to be robbed, but precautions were always good to set in place.
He passed by the coffee table again, the flyer still sitting there. Bucky grabbed it with his flesh hand and thumbed it open.

Brooklyn Heights Community College!

Fall 2018 Catalogue Now Available Online!

 

Courses Offered:

Art

Art History

Biological Sciences

Business

Bucky flipped through some more, ignoring the rest of the courses. He would have to apply online, have to show up for class have to show his face -

He rubbed his temples, easing the building pressure in his head. There was a small blurb in the bottom saying that he would have to sign up for classes online if he was already enrolled, and he didn’t think his phone was enough.

He had to go back to the library.

*

The trains were filled with different people. Vibrant colors, less tension in their shoulders, not letting the heat get to their moods. He walked out of Grand Central station, and followed his path from yesterday to get him back to the library. He walked around groups of tourists, after school programs, and small groups of people to get through the doors, and the saving grace of a cooler lobby.

“Back to try again?” The older woman from the day before placed her hands in her pockets.

Bucky cleared his throat. “Sorry about that...I thought those,” Bucky sighed deeply trying to not say the words, “were more controllable, but I guess I still don’t know how to manage them."

“Never apologize for that,” she smiled softly. “We have many veterans come in and out, it’s not like you’re the first man with a past to run out of here.”

He wasn’t sure if she knew who he was, or at least used to be, but he didn’t want to push further. “I went to the bulletin board,” Bucky said as he took out the crumpled flyer with his flesh hand, “and found this. The local community college is offering courses, but I don’t have a computer at home.”

“No laptop?”

“Can’t really afford one right now.”

“Ah,” She nodded her head slowly. “Come with me, I’ll help you get set up at the lab.”

“Do you have a name? Just so I don’t call you something I might regret.”

“Just call me Laura.”

“Nice to meet you Laura. I’m James.”

“You as well, James.”

*

He pulled up the website for the college. He got hit with too many tabs, too many options. Laura kept a book, and flipped it page by page.

“I can tell you’re not actually reading,” Bucky’s voice was gravely.

She snapped the book shut. “You’re attentive.”

“My last job needed me to be attentive,” he leaned back in his chair. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, you have to click on things, for starters.”

“I know how to work a computer. I’m not a hundred and two years old,” Bucky said. It wasn’t exactly a lie.

“What do you like to do, James?"

Bucky breathed through his mouth and looked at the screen. “Write. Write and draw. I’m good with numbers, before the war, I worked as a clerk - accounting assistant - and helped with the books and all, but it was just mostly me and my pencil.”

“Okay,” Laura smiled, “That’s a good start. Let’s try art. Are you looking to fully enroll? Get a degree? Or do you just need to get out of your place from time to time?”

“You psychic?”

“Like I said, you’re not the first veteran to step through these doors.”

Bucky scratched the back of his neck. “I need to get out of my place. I need to do something. I feel like I’m quarantined because my friend only comes over three nights a week to hang out.”

“Then you’re probably want to audit a class?”

“I barely remember how to audit taxes.”

“It just means that you would be taking the class but not for the grade. For the fun of it.”

“Fun - haven’t heard that word in a while.”

“Well, put that back into your vocabulary.”

“Okay, so we’re gonna have to click on that tab?” Bucky let his old Brooklyn accent filter through.

*

Bucky spent the entire time looking through the information that he got from the college’s website. The drawing class was already filled up, as well as painting, so they were out as options. He chose a critiquing class. A class he could balance.

He hoped.

Chapter Text

Bucky heard a knock on his door. Eight at night had come around quicker than he was used to, especially since he didn’t do much that day. The days before had been packed brim to brim and it was more that he was used to since he had been back.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, just...just different.

Bucky pushed the blinds aside to see Steve’s face, smiling slightly. He held up a few boxes of pizza, like an award. Bucky opened the door, letting Steve walk in and allowing the apartment to smell like heaven.

“Where’d you go for today’s pies?” Bucky asked, like it was an inside joke.

“Best Pizza on Havermayer Street,” Steve set down the boxes on the kitchen counter.

“You practically went to Queens for pizza?” Bucky asked. “That’s way too far to get a good slice.”

Steve laughed and opened up the first box, taking half the pie for himself. “Pizza is pizza. God, I’m sounding like Clint.”

“Look, as a native New Yorker, all I can say is if you want a good slice, stay in the surrounding area. None of that Connecticut apizza bullshit, or Chicago stuff. Those are my two cents.”

“You remember the time we went to New Haven?” Steve asked as he bit into the piece.

“Nineteen-thirty-nine? Took the train there, and had to drag you, once again out of the Yale bars because you got into a fight with the head of one of their social clubs.”

Steve chuckled, and washed down the food with some water. “We got a box before we traveled back to the city and I think you almost threw it out of the moving train.”

“I still can taste it in my mouth,” Bucky laughed and started eating. Their dinner was quiet, just the both of them enjoying both of their company. They both managed to eat almost all of the food that Steve brought. As they were done, Steve took the boxes outside into the recycling and leaned on the counter as Bucky scrubbed the plates. It felt like old times. It felt like the days where they was no work scheduled, and Bucky hung out with Steve.

It felt like home.

“So,” Steve started to talk. “I uh,” he scratched his neck.

“Out with it, Rogers,” Bucky cocked an eyebrow.

“I have a mission.”

“From who?” Bucky asked immediately.

“That's...that's not important,” Steve said.

“Okay,” Bucky tried to collect his thoughts. He wasn’t him. He wasn’t the small scraggly kid his parents forced him to play with down the street. Steve wasn’t the guy who fought with a trash can lid anymore. “How long?”

“Not sure.”

“Then I’m coming with you.”

“No,” Steve dropped his head and crossed his arms.

“I’m ready, Steve. Let me get back into the fight.”

“Are you, Bucky?” Steve said silently. “You’ve practically haven’t left this apartment in six months. You only go outside to get food, or to head to the crossfit gym you belong to, you can barely -”

Stop .”

Steve held his words back. “The scientists removed the words. They didn’t remove the memories.”

“I’m not a danger to everyone around me. I’m not a broken piece of machinery.  Not any more.”

“I know, Buck, but -”

“But what, Steve? You go off with your super friends and have a grand ol’ time ? What if you don’t come back from this one?” Silence filled the room. “What if the other side shoots you where it hurts? My arm might have been ripped off in that abandon building when we were fighting Stark, but I was still conscious. I still saw you bleed. We’re not immortal.”

“I have a job, and I have to complete it. There is really no other choice.”

Bucky shook his head. “Fine. Thanks for the pizza. Good luck on the job.”

Steve pushed himself off of the counter and crossed his arms. “Are you sure you don’t need any help putting away the dishes or something?”

“Everything is practically done.”

“Okay,” Steve grabbed his jacket and walked to the front door. “Will you be-?”

“I swear to Christ, Steve, if you ask me if I will be okay one more time, I will punch a hole into this wall. I’ll be fine. I’m -” Bucky sighed. “I’m going to be taking a course at the community college in month, online, but I don’t think it matters. I’ll be good.”

“Really?” Steve’s face almost lit up.

“Really.” Bucky wanted to smile at Steve’s happiness for him. He wanted to show that he was trying to get better. Trying to get people to understand that it wasn’t him behind the mask, that it was Hydra’s manipulation. So, when Bucky saw Steve turn the corner back onto the main street, it was the click of the door that made Bucky’s shoulders tense.

Ever since getting drafted, the idea of not knowing what came next haunted him. His fears were solidified when he fell of the train, and when he was set into cryo each time. The unknown idea if Steve ever would step back in Brooklyn put him on edge and felt like he was standing on a cliff, watching Steve halo into the abyss.

It was fucking frightening.


*

Bucky woke up the next day. No alarm, no outside noise. Just him and his bed. Empty once again. He padded to the kitchen and brewed a cup of coffee, holding himself over the kitchen counter, trying to wake up. The coffee machine sputtered and Bucky poured it into the cup.

No sugar, no milk.

Bucky walked into the living room, and realized just how empty his place was. No radio, no television. There were some books, but not many. It was the forced isolation that he just realized, but he was just unsure if it was going to change. If that idea of closing him off to the world was because of him or because of others, or if even it was a combination of both.

He should probably get a computer.

*

Bucky adjusted his hat so it covered his eyes more, trying to blend into the public. He wasn’t sure as to why it felt different - why trying to escape public eye was more of a nuisance. Maybe it was because Bucky was more conscious of the world. The way the world changed from before, rather than just phasing in and out of the shadows.

There was a dramatic shift between his defrosting in the eighties to nineties. One time, people with big hair and bigger suits walked the streets of an undisclosed back road, one year promoting new antenna televisions and the next year, promoting personal home computers. He remembers stopping in front of the store, looking at the infomercial. Looking at people typing up letters and just clicking send.

He remembers an older man, probably in his seventies seeing him, chuckling to himself, and saying “ We’re in the future, aren’t we?”. Bucky remembered a time when the craziest thing he saw was a flying car, and looking at Steve and practically saying the same thing.  

“Crazy technology, am I right?” The sales rep walked up beside Bucky.

“Yeah, I haven’t really seen one of this level before,” Bucky said. It was a lie. Hydra used more advanced tech. Tech that could destroy.

“Just in, new processor, and best for gaming. You a big gamer?”

“No.”

“Oh. Uh, what’s wrong with the one you have now?”

“Don’t have a personal one, just use the one at work. My phone does most of the work I need.”

“Probably too much for you. Just need to send emails, I’m guessing?”

Bucky sighed. “I’m taking an online class, so I need something to do...that.”

“Oh, nice!” the sales rep smiled, genuinely. “May I suggest this one?” the rep waved Bucky over to a smaller white computer. “Lightweight, portable, and basic. No frills. Plus, it doesn’t hurt the bank.”

He shifted his weight onto his other foot. In and out. “Okay, I’ll take it.”

*

Bucky plugged in the computer and opened it up, letting the logo brighten. He clicked on the Chrome app and let it open up his email. It was weird being online. He felt normal. He felt like the average thirty-five year old New Yorker. He felt like the guy that grew up in mid-nineties Brooklyn, with his mom that was still at his old two-story down by Avenue X right near Coney Island, where he and his friends would go to hang out, to steal a cigarette and drink cheap liquor by the concrete walls on a summer Saturday night. Where he would kick rocks into the water by the docks were people were fishing.

A few small red notifications were near his inbox icon.

[ART256:CRIT]: Prof. Johnson Just Uploaded a New Document: Syllabus FALL2018

[ART256:CRIT]: Prof. Johnson Just Uploaded a New Document: Welcome

How To Access Your Class

Welcome to Brooklyn Heights Community College

 

Chapter Text

Steve leaned forward in his chair on the quinjet, as he played with a loose thread on the knee on his suit. It had gone through battles, big and small. Times when a genocidal robot threatened to throw a whole city or small villains tried to uproot the Avengers tower in the middle of Manhattan. That one string started to fray as Steve relaxed. That one string started to fray as soon as he left Brooklyn. As soon as he got Bucky back, an left him again.

“Steve, we’re approaching the first sector,” Natasha said as she sat across from him, and started to buckle up, but Steve didn’t answer. “Steve?” Still nothing. “Captain Rogers?” She asked in her formal tone.

“Huh?” Steve looked up with almost bewilderment, and closed his eyes slightly to almost recalibrating himself.

“We’re approaching sector one one. We’re over international waters.”

Steve cleared his throat. “Thanks, Natasha,” he let go of the string. “Are you okay? Do you want me to wake up Sam so we can rotate?”

“I’m okay,” Natasha leaned back in her chair. “Are you okay? You seemed like you were zoning out there for a little bit.”

“Suit’s fraying at the knee.”

“How old is that thing now?”

“Four or five years old. It’s gone through maybe twenty-five battles.”

“Stark put nanite tech with the fabric right after the fight with Ultron. Took a few days to get it back to normal.”

“That’s new,” Natasha pointed to the empty A slot on his left shoulder.

“Doesn’t quite work anymore,” Steve raised his eyebrows. “Half an A doesn’t work.”

“Star doesn’t work either?”

Steve touched the empty slot. “I dropped the shield,” Steve sighed. “No longer that Star Spangled Man with the plan.”

“Song never worked anyway. Rhythmically off.”

Steve laughed. “I had the steps down, I’ll have you know. You can talk to Laura Wilcox. I think she still lives at the Shady Oaks Retirement Village in the city.”

Sam walked into the main cabin of the ship, stretching enough cause him to groan. “What are y’all talking about without me? Grandpa Steve’s sex stories? Where are we?”

“Oh my God, we didn’t have sex,” Steve didn’t hold a breath. “She was having a better time with Lucy behind closed doors.”

“We’re In sector one. Not too far, but enough to get us over into international waters territory.” Natasha answered Sam’s question.

“Does this mean you’re,” Sam put up air quotes, “‘still looking for the right person’ as you put it?”

“I’m not a saint, if that is what you’re asking,” Steve started to get uncomfortable, and took his seatbelt off. He got up and adjusted his pants. “I’m going to head to the front of the plane, Natasha, get some sleep.”

“You got it, Cap.”

*

Sam sat down next to Steve, watching the clouds pass underneath him.

“Really hoping this is my friend and fellow Avenger Sam Wilson, and not Sam Wilson CFMT,” Steve muttered.

“I’m a counselor, not a CFMT, and I’m not here as one either. I’m just watching the sun rise - I can’t do that?” Sam jokingly questioned.

“More than welcome,” Steve looked over to Sam.

“How’d Bucky take the news of this mission?” Sam asked.

“Not horrible, not great. More of the fact he was mad about not being able to join.”

“He could have,” Sam stated.

“Yeah, he could, but it’s also a risk.”

“How so? He’s pretty much screwed on as tight as possible. Didn’t Shuri fix everything?”

“She did,” Steve was quiet. “He still freezes up.  He remembers it all - every cryo, every zap they gave him. The last freeze was just to make sure it all came back without seizures. I can’t have the risk, and I absolutely hate that I see him as one.”

“Considering currently this is a privately funded operation, I can see your hesitation. However,” Sam shrugged, “Maybe you shouldn’t dictate what he can and can’t do, since...well, that had pretty much been his whole life.”

“I thought you said you were Friend Sam,” Steve muttered.

“I am Friend Sam,” he laughed.

“I know he doesn’t need my help, but it’s hard not to give it to him. He hasn’t really left his place in the six months since he has come back to the States.”

“He’ll get there. It takes time,” Sam said as Steve hummed in agreement, as he flipped a couple of switches on the plane. “So, did you receive any more information on what we’re doing down in the middle of...somewhere?”

“Nothing yet, but we were instructed that more information was going to patch through by the time we got three-quarters the way there. Then we’d be able to set up and strategize. Seems to me it’s more of a patrol mission than anything.”

“How long?”

“They didn’t really say. They said we had accommodations, so I’m guessing it’s longer than just a day or so.”

“What are we protecting? Seems something big, if they need us.”

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m thankful that we’re still being acknowledged, even if it was from a private firm. I was getting stir-crazy back in Brooklyn. You can only go to the market so many days without being recognized.”

*

Sam got dressed, into his uniform, and sat back down near Steve, who was still handling the controls. “So, what still has you staring off into the clouds like that?”

“I’ll give you two guesses,” Steve sighed.

“How about...that you’re technically a war criminal, now?” Sam chuckled.

“You only have one more, but thanks, really needed that right now.”

“Thinking about Bucky again, are we?”

Steve pulled his mouth into a straight line, and sighed. He flipped the autopilot on and swiveled his chair to Sam.

“Why did you stay at my place while we were in Brooklyn?” Sam asked.

“Getting right to the point are we?” Steve noted.

“Answer the question, Steve, because I know you have an answer.”

Steve scratched the side of his head, as he rested his elbow on the armrest. “Bucky and I had a past. Further back from before I went down in the ice,” Steve said as it became quiet. “We were...more than friends, but by the standards of the nineteen-forties, what we were...it couldn’t happen.”

“What do you mean by ‘it’?” Sam questioned.

“You damn very well know what I mean, Sam.”

“I’m not going to force you to say it. You can say it, whenever. They way you talk about him - Bucky - past Bucky - it’s more than just what we read in textbooks growing up. Every time you were near him, you risked your life for him. We ended up in this situation because you stood by him. You stood by Bucky.”

“I don’t think he remembers anything much between us. Our closeness. I didn’t want to...to overwhelm him in a right as he got back to the States. Doesn’t quite work when you’re resettling back home. I’m also a little wary on how he would react. I think it’s hard enough being blamed for the deaths of a lot of people when it wasn’t his fault, and to have another layer of re-realizing your feelings is a lot to take on. It’ll happen when it’ll happen.”

“What if it won’t?”

“Then, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Chapter Text

Dear James Smith,

Welcome to Brooklyn Heights Community College, and thank you for choosing this school as your start for greater things! Here at Brooklyn Heights Community, we are surrounded by a city with a vast history, and a thriving culture, and that is what makes our school so great.

We have a wide variety of on-campus activities such as sporting events and theater performances and art galleries hosted and performed by our wonderful and talented students.

Feel free to follow us on Social Media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and cheer on the Bulldogs during one of their games, by checking out the games schedule on our homepage!

Much Regards,

President of Brooklyn Heights College

Jeff Knightly

Bucky started to read the emails that he had received since he signed up for the class. Some had been just announcements of achievements of other students, and upcoming social events that he would rather not attend.

He was hesitant about his commitment. In the past few days that he had been rummaging around the apartment, his mind started to fray, but not how he was used to. He was used to discombobulation, confusion, and utter chaos. He was used to the panic that started to set it in because of wrongness and not unease. The wariness of doing something. The wariness of pretty much using this time in class as a time to move time along.

He closed his computer, sitting back on his couch, as some statements started to float through his head.

What I am even doing this for? Bucky thought. He opened up his computer again, and his mouse hovered over the new applications that were installed automatically over the past few days, but then thought it would be better to just bite the bullet. Whatever fear that was holding him back from reading a syllabus he would have to just push right through it.

He opened up the email from his professor.

Dear Class,

Welcome to ART 256: Critique.

My name is Ken Johnson, and I have been a professor here at Brooklyn Heights Community for the past five years with the Art department.  I bring you good news to everyone - this class DOES NOT require a textbook! This is a course that is based around subjectivism, so mostly the assignments and exams that will be given will be essays intended to provoke thought and ideas, rather than just stating blanket facts.

Participation is key, and do not give me the whole ‘I liked what X said, above.’ That will be given a zero as participation. We need to explain our reasoning. Art is subjective, as you know, and can be interpreted in a thousand ways to one singular person.

Please keep a copy of the syllabus in your files, and refer to it throughout the year.

All assignments should be submitted by the end of the submission day at 11:30pm.

This year’s theme we will be talking about post-modern art, and the modern portrait.

Keep an eye out for an email and do not forget to read the syllabus.

Warm Regards

Professor Johnson

Bucky snapped his computer shut and groaned. He felt like he took on too much, but he was already in too deep to the class. He would have to just ride it out, and remember this wasn’t for the grade. It was supposed to just get him through the days of monotony.

Bucky clicked on the last form that the professor submitted.

SYLLABUS - ART256: CRITIQUE

Bucky looked at the breakdown given. The whole class was dependent on one singular essay. Some days he would have to go onto the class blog and type up some small response to other people's drawings they had to upload. Every so often the professor would have to email and make sure that they were still on track to finish on time.  Bucky took a closer look at the essay portion.

Semester Essay 

  • POSTMODERN or CONTEMPORARY art will be assigned by me the first day of class.
  • Essay qualifications will be sent out with assigned paintings/drawings
  • I advise to heavily look over this qualifications list as they are important.
  • This essay should be written over the course of the class, as the criteria will be taught. I DO NOT want an essay during the third week of the course.
  • Drafts will be due before Thanksgiving on 11/26/19
  • Final Day to submit essay will be 12/17/19

This class is meant to increase your way of looking at art, and understanding the subjectiveness of it. We all see things differently, like we all create differently.

Bucky chewed on the inside of his lip. It was not going to be easy. The last time he wrote an essay, there were people struggling to buy bread on the side of the street. He was fifteen and some book. He leaned back in his seat.

Some book. Him and Steve were in the same class.

“Hey Steve!” Bucky caught up to the smaller boy with the burlap sewn bag almost toppling him over. “Stevie, wait up!”

Steve turned around, smiling, causing his glasses to push upwards. “Hey Buck! You remember your essay?”

“Psh, I’m not an idiot. I remembered. Finished it last before my pop got home.”

“You got to work on the car with him?” Steve pushed open the school entrance door.

“No, but I was able to hold the tool box, and pass him the right wrenches. He won’t let me touch that car, even if Marion Davis knocked on my front door and asked me on a date.”

“But you finished the essay?”

Bucky rolled his eyes, and fished through his bag for the papers that were clipped together. “‘Why the Book ‘A Farewell to Arms’ is the Book of the Century’ by James B. Barnes in crisp cursive. Three pages. My crowning achievement,” Bucky laughed.

“Mrs. Kincaid is going to be so proud,” Steve said, slightly chuckling as he stopped in front of their class room. Bucky shoved him slightly.

“Cram it, Rogers. I’m going to get a solid B on this paper. Ma’s just happy I picked up another book other than the Bible,” Bucky said, as he saw a girl start to walk toward them both. He patted his hair down, quickly loosened his tie, and leaned against the door. As she turned the corner into the small hallway where the room was located, Bucky nodded upwards, making her smile with a faint blush on her cheeks, as she turned into the room.

“Good thing you already wrote that thing because a switch just flicked on and the real Bucky Barnes just came back swinging.”

“I already did the hard work, and askin’ Suzie on a date is the fun part. You gotta have both sides of the coin.”

“That makes no sense. You were doing so well, Bucky,” Steve laughed as he walked into the classroom, with Bucky in tow.

Bucky blinked back into the present, realizing he idly grabbed some blank sheets and a pencil, and started to draw his old classroom.

*

Bucky confined himself to three places within the month he had been waiting to start the class.

His apartment was almost his saving grace most days. Most days he just didn’t feel like breaching to door. Most days he would wake up, get on his laptop, hit the refresh button, and disappointingly wait for...nothing. Nothing from his class, and nothing from Steve. It was one of those many days where he felt irrefutably alone. The apartment creaked on it’s own, stretching and breathing, and sometimes Bucky would think it would be doing the living for him, rather than the expired time that had been ticking away.

There would be days where he would venture to his gym. His apartment was nothing like where his handlers kept him. No matter the place Bucky was being held by his Russian captors, there was always at least one room dedicated being a gym. Each time he was defrosted the equipment would be better, and he would use it to ease his mind. To try and make sure the men who would be standing by the door wouldn’t hurt him for not following some sort of order. Five blocks ( 500 some odd steps if we’re counting ) was an old-school converted warehouse that became a cross-fit gym filled with older millennials trying to flip a monster truck sized tire for no apparent reason other than taking videos.

Before Bucky came back from Wakanda, before he made his choice, T’Challa bestowed a gift to him -  a brand new arm. The silver moniker was destroyed in his last battle with Stark, and he had no intention of going back to it. It was a symbol of the past. A symbol of how they took him by the collar and made him do what they wanted at every whim. Bucky wanted far away from it, so having the new one built by new friends, a new family, was incredibly important. Shuri installed a new cloaking device that mimicked his flesh arm, however he only used it going to the gym. Everywhere else, he tended to forget about the small trick, but even so - it made him feel slightly more normal.  The gym was open, practically all day. Bucky would generally go an hour and a half before closing - the only person that was generally there was the one man checking the schedule. When it seemed more crowded he got stares, even with the cloaked arm. Bucky would hide his face, and lift his weights toward the walls, but the workouts kept him centered and focused, especially with the serum pumping through his veins. It was his solitude, his way to get back to not thinking about someone and whatever was on his mind, learning that it was okay to get lost the mix of things. It was okay for his mind to drift.

August had rolled by - not fast, not slow. Bucky took in the warm summer breeze, and let the air billow in, thanking New York for its city planning efforts in trying to cure ailments with natural circulation. Each time he sat in his living room, Bucky would feel the warm gusts, and would soak them in. He would smell the familiar scents and would have to close the windows during the days of trash collection.

Late August days brought memories of Coney Island and the days when Steve would get sick right before the start of school. Bucky would repeatedly have to say ‘ We’ll just postpone our trip. We’ll go soon, I promised.’ , each weekend, even if they both knew if it wouldn’t quite work out.  Late August brought more tourists to the city, more people to his area, and more eyes on him, on the man that was just familiar enough to do a double take. The more people he saw, the less he went out during the day.

Every morning, like clockwork, Bucky would wake up and check the news about anything at all. Celebrity gossip, local news, and big sprawling news stories that included anything at all that wasn’t news about Steve.  Most that he came across always asked the question: “ Where is Captain America?” or “ What happened to America’s Poster Boy?” . They never asked about Steve Rogers - the faceless man behind the mask. Like clockwork, after Bucky clicked through the websites that he had been continuously scrolling through, he eventually ended up back in his school email, and saw the message he had been waiting for.

[ART256:CRIT]: Prof. Johnson Uploaded a New Message: REMINDER - First Day of Class Starts Tomorrow

Chapter Text

[ART256:CRIT] Professor Johnson uploaded a new message: First Day

Welcome to the official first day of school everyone! Today’s blog post is posted. Please head over to the site linked below.

Regards

Your Prof

Bucky clicked the link and waited for the site to load. In front of him, a fairly basic layout of posts. The site loaded more and up came was the post intended for the class he enrolled in.

Hello ART256!

Let’s break the ice. In the comment section below, begin with uploading any of your drawings to the site. Please comment on another student’s work saying...anything! Anything at all! I liked the colors because… or I didn’t like the use of line work in this context because… but don’t use those examples. I want this as an exercise in understanding what we’re trying to express in what we like and don’t like but constructively. Your work can be a simple pencil drawing or your mastery from ART220: Graphic Design. Shitty criticism won’t get you anywhere but clear and concise constructive criticism might make your date think you’re impressive. Uploading and commenting will be closed by tomorrow night at 11:59pm.

Until Next Time

Professor Johnson.

Bucky thought about what he was going to do. He didn’t have anything else. The last drawing he did flew off into the sunset months before, but there was a new one he was working on. He had to remember this wasn’t for a grade. He had to remember his old teachers wouldn’t chase him out of the room with a ruler, after any snide comments. Bucky rifled through the pages he had been pushing aside, and found the small pencil drawing he had done earlier. He grabbed the page and brought it to his desk, switching on the lamp to give himself more light.

He opened up his case full of pens and grabbed a small cup of water for his paints, and started to shift the page so he could get a better angle on the part of the scene he was creating.

It was his high school classroom, like he remembered. The desks were old and rickety, even for the thirties, with wood varnish crackling. He remembers picking at the side of the desk when he was bored. The pen strokes became darker when he was shading the back of the room where the light never shined. Dotting the edges as he remembered the dust. Bucky skidded his chair back from the desk, not realizing how much time he had put into the creation already.

Lunch was quick that day - a large sandwich he made, not wanting to get lost in the outside world. Bucky returned to the...piece of art he was making. He wet his brush and dipped it into the watercolor, making sure the brown was the right shade, and had the right amount of pigment to allow the desks to color, but nothing to sharp. He wanted it to be almost monochromatic - almost like a snapshot in time.

Bucky worked on the piece for another thirty minutes, making sure all the details he wanted to be to the best of his ability. He dipped the brush back in the used water for the last time that day, and let the piece of art dry.

His choices were made with each stroke, and for what it was worth, Bucky was damn proud of what he drew.

*

 

Bucky found himself back at the computer shop he had visited previously, trying to find something that he could use to take the painting and post it online. There was the thing but he couldn’t quite catch a name for it.

“You need a scanner?” the sales associate asked.

Bucky snapped his fingers. “That’s it.”

“Okay, uh,” the sales associate scratched their temple. “What do you need to scan? Documents or photos?”

“Photos...my nephew’s party was last week and the polaroids I took were took fun to not share it with the rest of the family that lives back in Russia.”

“Great,” the associate tried to show feint interest. They really didn’t care about the backstory. The associate walked over to the few models they had. “Cheapest to most expensive. Honestly, go with the cheapest model. Pretty much does everything the other ones do.”

“What about your commission?”

“I’m quitting this job at five.”

“Ah,” Bucky pursed his lips together. “I’ll take the cheapest model, then,” he looked at the schematics. “You weren’t lying.”

“Whatever you want man,” the associate bent down and grabbed the box and handed it to Bucky. “Thank you, and have a great day.”

“Good luck with whatever you’re doing,” Bucky gave a half-hearted smile and walked to the counter.

*

Bucky placed the scanner on his desk, and attached it to his computer. The painting was dry enough to scan in, albeit a bit wrinkly from using plain paper. Bucky scanned in, and clicked a few links to get back on to the blog.

Attaching the photo to the comments section, he scrolled through the rest that had already posted. Some were vast sprawling pieces done on canvas with oils, other were computer generated sketches, with a small little watermark by the left hand corner.

Bucky became increasingly self-conscious, increasingly exposed, but for what it was worth, he needed to step out from behind the shadows. The only way James Barnes could reclaim his name was to sit down and open up for the world to see. Bucky was not as good as an artist as Steve, this fact was obvious. Steve was worlds better, and probably could have ended up at MOMA if the whole 1940’s science experiment didn’t become a catalyst for their lives. Steve at age 42 would be standing next to Andy Warhol trying to explain his process and how his paintings tied into the Soup Can series. Bucky would be there off to the side near Peggy as they both cheered on his accomplishment. They would go out for celebratory drinks, and then Steve and Peggy would go home, and Bucky would stay at the bar wishing that he would have done something, and stop killing his liver.

A small notification sound emanated from his computer, pulling Bucky back to his desk, in front of his computer. Two people had commented on his drawing - both saying positive things about the structure and use of water colors, and both had some critical things to say as well. Bucky’s shoulders sagged lightly. They weren’t calling the piece bad in anyway, but pointing out places where it could be improved.

Something constructive.

*

[ART256:CRIT] Professor Johnson uploaded a new Private Message: Semester Paper

Dear James,

Thank you for participating in this semester’s class. I know you are one of the two students that is auditing, and taking it for your enjoyment. I don’t know your history with art, but you are good, James, and have something there, especially with your most recent assignment. You have an eye for catching certain features that I haven’t seen in a long time. I’m sharing a piece of postmodern art that I think you can do well with writing a long well flushed out critique. We will be discussing the four to five components over the course of the semester, but I want to make sure that you know your piece first. It’s located with a series of sketches (pencil, pen, marker, watercolors) that was unearthed with a lot the Captain America exhibit that just finished touring the country. This one in particular was picked up by a gallery exhibitor off the side of the street. Can you believe, it? An extremely famous series of sketches just floating around the city.

Bucky stopped reading as soon as he saw those two words. Was he going to be looking at Steve’s work?, he asked himself as he sipped his coffee.

This piece is actually by his best friend, James Barnes.

The coffee that Bucky was drinking was now all over his desk.

I know, I know, controversial choice now that we know what sort of person James Barnes molded into, but there’s something...something there that I want you to tap into, and I’m not just saying that because you two share a name. Here’s the link to the photo of the sketch, and the address to the gallery where it’s being displayed. I’m asking everyone that they visit the piece in person to get an up close look at their subject.

Let me know if you have any issues. We will be going over the first part of art criticism on Monday with Terry Berrett’s outline.

Have a great weekend,

Professor Johnson.

Bucky knew what piece it was. He knew , but even so, when he clicked the link to the photo of the sketch he still muttered a soft ‘ are you fucking kidding me’ when he saw his sketch of Steve that he had done just only weeks ago staring right back at him.

Chapter Text

Steve was sweaty, dirty, and tired. The sun was beating down on him as he stood outside the barricade. He wiped off a drip that came from his hairline, and down the side of his face. His shift was almost up, and Sam would swoop in next to patrol the barricade.

He still wasn't sure what was behind it. The payor kept quiet about what it actually was, but Steve could only have ideas as to what they are protecting, or if they were protecting  the village from...whatever it was. Within the weeks they landed, They have collectively fought three groups trying to get in. Some had casualties, some didn’t - the third group saw the Black Widow, standing at the ready with her electrified batons, and immediately turned around. On the warm late summer day that Steve stood by, he could only hope that the shower still had some cold water left. He wanted to make sure his body, although acclimating well to the conditions outside, his mind needed to be at ease that he wasn’t going to be left passing out.

A heavy hand landed on Steve’s shoulder. He almost reeled back his hand to throw a punch but stopped when he realized Sam was just getting him out of his thoughts. “You good?”

“In what sense?”

“In the sense you’re zoning out.”

“I’m good,” Steve sighed and gave a small smile. “Thanks for taking over. You’re good for the next twelve?”

“Good as I can be,” Sam placed his goggles on his head. “Any weird shit happen?”

“No, thankfully. No incoming forces, and nothing from the inconspicuous tower behind the barricade.”

“Great, get some rest, Steve.”

*

The shower was needed. The cold water melted away the thick layer of dirt that stayed on his body. Steve watched the brown water circle before disappearing into the drain. He stood by the mirror, and wiped the condensation seeing himself. A beard started to re-form on his face, but he didn’t had the intent to shave like he had before. Steve always felt like he had an image to uphold, even in the forties. Back then having a beard really wasn’t in style. Most men were clean cut, or had a pencil thin mustache if they were daring - trying to be like Errol Flynn. When Steve woke up those years ago, he felt as though he had some responsibility to be like the poster that he was reflecting. Not some strange man taking Steve’s name - someone that was recognizable to others. Someone that they could put their faith into.

The downfall of his moniker allowed him to be himself . When he dropped the shield, he was no longer Captain America. Steve was the only person left, and it was really hard to understand who he still was. Steve always had a fight in him - you can say that taking on the mantle of Captain America just allowed him to make it...more socially acceptable. He wasn’t the skinny kid who got laughed because he put his fists up to fight, he was the brute force punching people and it inflicted fear. It was that small thing, the fact that he was taken seriously about his fights.

The beard made him felt human.

Steve got on a pair of soft sweatpants, and got under the covers of his bunk. It wasn’t the California King mattress that was in Stark’s tower, but it certainly wasn’t Sam’s pull out couch. It was specially designed for Steve. Metal frame, extra support on the mattress and springs ( Steve, there’s no spring in mattresses anymore, you know this. It’s all just...foam? I think? Natasha countered when he first saw the bed), to make sure that if he happened to jump on it, the bed wouldn’t budge.

Every single time he got into bed, his mind immediately went to Brooklyn. He never told Sam, he never told Bucky, and he certainly never told his SHIELD assigned therapist.

Back then, every so often, Bucky and Steve would share their beds. Just platonically. The days when you just needed someone to be close, aching for the physical touch, or the days when it was something more. Steve would generally tuck himself into Bucky as he was the smaller of the two men at the time. Days where they didn’t have to wake up from an alarm, they would let the sun shine through the curtains, and be greeted by warmth.

There was this...shared understanding. They would never let it go too far, never go to where they couldn’t come back from. It was something they talked about and didn’t talk about at the same time. Bucky and Steve were close. Really close.

The museums weren’t wrong. They were best friends, it was true. They went out on double dates, practically moved in together even though Bucky’s family had enough room in their home for an extra person to stay, after Steve’s ma passed. But, Steve wasn’t an idiot. There were times he saw from the corner of his eye, Bucky looking up from the pages of his book. The times when he came home from a date, and just wanted to be with Steve. The nights were Bucky drank just too much and tried to kiss him.

Steve wanted to. He really wanted to, but he knew that if Steve got close, life would just rip him right away from him, and he didn’t want to have that feeling at the time. Steve didn’t realize that merely a few years later that that would exactly happen.

So, here Steve was, alone in his bed, and missing every ounce of physical contact.

Steve sighed and grabbed his cell phone that was sitting peacefully at his desk. He unlocked his screen and scrolled through his messages with Bucky. The times when he laughed because of stupid jokes, the times when Bucky sent him long sprawling messages speaking to Steve about things he hadn’t quite realized about the 21st century. Things that Hydra had been keeping from him. It was like seeing from a child’s perspective, if that child was a defrosted ex-assassin.

Steve saved some old photos of them he found online. Most of his possessions were museum property, and even though the Smithsonian at one point or another was ready to return all trinkets and photos back to Steve, he said no. He didn’t have the room, and well he had pretty much had been trying to move on. There were photos of him and Bucky he found on an old online archive, some photos of Peggy when she was younger, and kept them in a locked way folder for his eyes only.

Steve flipped through the photos, until he found one right before Bucky was drafted, right before Bucky held his papers in his hands and hid them from Steve. He was smiling, at a bar.

He could hear the music now.

“Steve, c’mon, they’re playin’ all the slow tracks. We should head to the one up the road. They have the band that actually kicks up the tempo. Get those dames a swinging,” Bucky raised his eyebrows and took a swig of his whiskey. He practically slammed the glass on the bar, and threw the bartender the tab money. He grabbed Steve by the shoulders and hugged him close.

“What if I’m good here, Buck?” Steve said as he was being practically pushed out of the bar.

“Nope. We’re dancin’ tonight Steve. No if, ands, or buts.”

The colder air brought Steve to his sense, finding himself a little bit more buzzed than he thought after that one drink. After a short walk, they found themselves at the swing bar. The jazz band finished their song as soon as Bucky and Steve walked in, letting the people settle for a few seconds, and sip their drinks. Bucky spoke into Steve’s ear so only he could hear.

“How ‘bout this. You get the drinks for four. I’ll find two gals for us to dance. We’ll see how the night goes?”

“I mean since we’re already here,” Steve said, dejectedly.

“That’s the spirit!”

Steve rolled his eyes, and headed to the bar.

“What?” Bucky said, after Steve left to the seats. “It wasn’t s’posed to be a pun, Steve! I swear!”

Dancing. There was a lot of dancing, by Bucky and two women, mostly. He watched with a drink in his hand, and saw someone going around with with a large camera. He remembers some...some random person just asking what they were doing, and the camera operator just saying something along the lines of “cataloging”.

Bucky’s photos made it in, and made it into textbooks to show what the late thirties were really like, and not the prim and proper ways that life seems to filter. Steve zoomed in on Bucky’s face.

There was joy. Something he hadn’t seen since he woke back up in Wakanda. There was intoxication, from the alcohol, from the women that were with him. Steve’s hand drifted below his sweatpants. A warmth spread in his abdomen, letting his hardening length feel the building pressure. Steve tried to imagine that it wasn’t his hand moving up and down his length. That it was someone else's, someone that had only one flesh arm.

Someone that was back in Brooklyn.

Steve’s breathing increased, and became labored as he kept thinking of him. He increased his grip as he reached the tip. He was almost there , he was so close . There was just a few more -

Natasha opened his door, causing Steve jump slightly, removing his hand from his cock quickly.

Shit, fuck-” Steve said as he practically almost fell off his bed.

 

Oh my God, Steve, I am so sorry,” Natasha closed the door quickly, as she tried to hide herself.

Steve pinched the bridge of his nose, and tried to calm himself down. “What’s the issue Nat?”

“Red alert at the Barricade. Sam called it in.”

Steve sighed, and got out of the bed. “Thanks. Suiting up now.”

Days like these, were the days he just wished he was in bed, and just close to the one person that could help him take the stress of the job away.

Chapter Text

Bucky looked at the glass door that was in front of him. The gallery name stuck out like a sore thumb.

S T I L L - L I F E

Some person had to meticulously scrape on each letter onto the door to make sure this pretentious gallery had a name. Bucky sighed, and walked in. The opening room was stark white. No other color, and the big concrete desk beckoned him with a sense of I’m better than you. A woman was talking on the phone, but she looked...she looked oddly familiar. The woman looked up from her phone and widened her eyes slightly.

“James?” Her voice.

“Lau-Laura?” Bucky furrowed his eyebrows.

“What a nice surprise,” she held the phone to the side, and put it back up to her ear. “Lacy, I’m going to have to call you back in a few okay? I have a client,” she finished her sentence, and hung up the phone. “James, it’s so nice to see you!”

“What are you doing here?”

“Sometime’s a librarian’s salary isn’t quite enough. I work three jobs,” she shrugged, “This just happens to be one of them. Have you started your class? What brings you to Still-life?”

“I did, that’s uh, why I’m here. One of the exhibits I have to write a critique on.”

“Oh, fancy,” she laughed quietly. “Which one? The multimedia one with the records? Or is it the highly controversial, as said by the New York Times, exhibit by our great historical figure of James Barnes?”

It was very strange to Bucky that his name was said aloud, referring to him as a third party. “Barnes’ exhibit. Specifically the new sketch you recently acquired.”

Laura got up from her chair. “Ah, number seventy. Someone saw that one in an alley millimeters away from a puddle of...something. Apparently they saw the exhibit days before and thought it looked familiar. Let me bring you up to the area. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

She waved him over and he followed her up the stairs. “How’d you recognize me?”

“Well, you were pretty memorable. Plus you dressed the same as before.”

“I’m feeling attacked.”

Laura just laughed as she turned the corner on the platform, and walked the rest of the way up the stairs. Another concrete desk sat in the room, with one other person typing away at the computer. “Hey, Jamal? Can you work the bottom desk? I just want to show my friend the Barnes exhibit.”

"No worries,” Jamal smiled and got up from the desk, and headed downstairs.

Laura walked into the open space that was the exhibition area. A large plaque hung right before they walked in explaining why they chose these series of sketches to show, especially in this political climate. A smaller typed out letter from the museum director was framed underneath. Bucky took a closer look.

To Whom this May Concern,

In light of recent events, we understand that keeping this exhibition up might be controversial, now finding out what happened to our fellow fallen patriot James Barnes and Captain America. Art of the time should not be taken out of context of this era. We, as a society, are still very shrouded as to what truly happened with James Barnes, and firmly stand with him as he is a victim as well. He was controlled and manipulated by the Hydra Nazi Science division and used for their gains. James Barnes is as much as the Winter Soldier as much as the guy who plays Barney the Dinosaur is well...Barney the Dinosaur. Please see this exhibit as a slice of time before the War, and enjoy. If you have any complaints, please feel free to address to myself, management, and will be happy to answer anything else.

Regards

Timothy Greene

Gallery Director of S T I L L - L I F E

“There was a small uproar online when reports started to come in about the Winter Soldier and James Barnes. People were shocked, but couldn’t be more crazy than Steve Rogers coming back from the dead, essentially.”

“I remember that day. My team in the desert nearly lost their minds.”

“They were fans of Cap?”

Bucky sighed. “You can say that,” he chewed on his lip. So how many of these portraits do you have?”

Laura started walking into the room, and waved him down. “So, we have a total of eleven, ranging from nineteen-thirty-five to today. Obviously number seventy is the most recent one. She stopped over to show him number seventy. There it was. The one he had done weeks ago. Still a little wrinkled from outside wear and tear.

“How’d you know it was part of the series that he did? Could be anyone.”

“Those gears in your head are spinning, now,” Laura smiled, and crouched down to number 70. “So every sketch that Barnes did he would sign his initials in the bottom right hand corner, and number the sketch in the top left hand corner. Obvious that he had no formal training, not like our dear friend Steve Rogers, but there’s something there. That is what authenticators look for. To see if it matches. Plus the style and use of the pen is similar even over the years.”

“I keep forgetting that James Barnes was alive for a lifetime.”

“Strange isn’t it?” Laura chuckled. “When we first received the sketches we thought that the portraits were done over the years, we didn’t think it was practically seventy.” Laura grabbed a small booklet and handed it to Bucky, “You can see them more up close if you don’t want to live here.”

“When does the gallery close?”

“Six tonight. You can stay here as long as you want, James, but you will just have to leave when we close.”

Bucky smiled. “Thanks.”

*

Bucky didn’t stay the full four hours, but left when enough time had passed to look at the ones he had seen. The first portrait that was shown was the second one completed. Ripped out from some journal, that probably fell out when transporting from archive to archive. Half of them were of Steve. Some from the war, some from...some previous time in the future. Doodles of small things, and heavy handed strokes of darkness.

It was a lot to process honestly.

Bucky got up from sitting on the floor, and said a soft goodbye to Laura.

“Thanks for coming in James,” she said as he walked down the stairs. “Our ours are located on the back of the booklet if you want to come back to see the series!”

*

Bucky’s apartment was quiet and still. He sat down on his couch and looked at the booklet that Laura gave him. Each one had an up close picture and a short description, but he turned his attention to his latest sketch. Steve was happy. He was...not afraid to show his emotions there. Every single time he had been fighting he was always been a stoic machine, and to see his face light up - it was just something to capture.

A soft notification sounded on his computer.

He opened to the email, and saw that his professor emailed the class.

[ART256:CRIT]: Professor Johnson Uploaded a New Message: How To Critique Art I

Below I have a list of various websites to use but the one place we will all converge on is from Terry Barrett’s 2004’s Criticizing Art: Understanding the Contemporary. This is a very detailed look on what we have to do as artists and critiquers as to how we can critique art. Is it for a journal? A paper (wink, wink!)? Are we being pulled for Official Art Criticism duty at a museum to offer sage advice? Or are you trying to impress your date, that is clearly not into you? It’s a situational context that you have to go about when understanding who you’re writing or speaking to.

The Pure Raw Sexual Energy might not be discussed so blatantly in in a scholarly article, but if you’re speaking to your date, then it could probably be dropped in casual context when you’re trying to draw up an analysis on the spot.

Art, in it of itself, is subjective, but as described in Maria Konnikova’s novel How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, what we see is on a most and very basic level is objectiveness, or what we see first. We make snap judgements automatically, no matter the context, and it’s only when we sit back and say, “Wow, Professor Johnson! I haven’t noticed that before!” is when the subjectiveness starts to creep in.


I’ve attached a worksheet to this email. I would like everyone to complete it by tomorrow night (please upload by 11:59 pm!) back to the classroom submission board (no emails please! I can’t sort through 100 emails that quickly!) so we are on the same level of what Objectiveness vs Subjectiveness is.

For your papers, on the first few weeks, please write your opening paragraph and an objective statement about your assigned piece. Guidelines are also attached!

Happy Critiquing,

Professor Johnson

Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose, and could only think one phrase. Why me?

Chapter Text

James Barnes always had feelings for Steve Rogers.

Always.

Sometimes they were platonic, sometimes they were romantic.

He had felt like his life line with Steve’s was intertwined, that ultimately never ended. It just seemed to spiral and spiral, almost out of control.

Months ago, when Bucky came back from Wakanda something changed. It was like almost someone turning a dial that increased its intensity ever so slightly, as if they were slowly turning up the volume of the music. The platonic nature was left in the past. Not like his friendship was tarnished  - they were friends first, but it was now just being looked at in a different light.

As Bucky would hang out with Steve from time to time, over the course of the six months, Bucky would...look closer. He would look at the form of the way Steve’s shirt would fit on his waist. The way the cotton would stretch ever so softly when Steve would elongate his body to twist those muscles, and put his hands up when the movie was done, or stretch at the end of their lengthy conversations when he would come over to visit.

The physical-ness of things was very much up front and center, but emotionally the feelings didn’t resurface automatically. As the Winter Soldier - the facade he took under Hydra’s control -  confusion was the thing he was feeling. Confusion as to why the man in the red, white, and blue outfit was letting him kill him. Why he looked so familiar.

In the midst of his own personal deprogramming, when the decades of cryo that froze his brain and the serum that was slowly re attaching nerve endings, it was doing more than fixing .

In that, memories resurfaced, and with memories come with emotions tied to them.

It was painful in more ways than one.

*

One night, when Bucky was sharing a night with Steve, he recounted the time with Natasha when they were speaking with Zola. Steve told him about how they drove all the way to Jersey.

“Jersey. You went back to Jersey ?!” Bucky asked that one night, when discussing the everything and nothing at all.

“You’re missing the point, Buck,” Steve chuckled as he ate another forkful of rice. “Memories are just as vivid as movies for you and me. I could see myself - before the serum - running around. I still can’t believe Erskine made me go through all of that.”

“You know if I was there, I would have been laughin’ at you the whole time.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything less,” Steve said flashing his 100 watt smile.

*

That night, Bucky’s memories took him when he was first saved by Steve. When he was first pulled from the table, from which a short and small doctor with tiny round glasses injected him with something. They would ask him questions, but in return he just gave his dog tag numbers.  He remembers feeling those touches for the first time again, feeling the way Steve hoisted him up.

Bucky remembers the way Steve looked - he was so different. So much taller, so much thicker . Bucky was so used him being shorter, that during his missions with Steve it was a little difficult to adjust, not automatically looking down to talking to him.

From the rescue on the table, there was just something different about him. He looked at Steve in a way that was not friendly. It felt like he was stalking. Wanting to get closer, but not for the reason his body wanted. Each night, Bucky would lay in his tent, and have an urge to slip his hands around Steve’s throat, wanting to make sure that the enemy was defeated.

There was a time Bucky was sniping and Steve was in the crosshairs, and shook his head slightly to try and remove the thought. He killed a Hydra agent that was about to kill Steve instead. The small salute that Steve returned - Bucky never forgot, but the Winter Soldier did.

*

Bucky tapped his pen on his desk as he looked at the empty blank word document. The blinking black line stared back at him, almost mocking the idea that he couldn’t get any words down. It seemed so easy, just to say what he was staring at - other than saying it was just some drawing, that he did spend time on, but more the less something that had been lost to the wind.

He needed to remove himself from the piece. He needed to write this as James Smith, and well. Not James Barnes.

He was hesitant, though. Most of the time when he tried not to be himself, he just drew in - hiding in the shadows, his hat drawn down just a little bit more than usual. However, the last time he disassociated that much - he almost killed Steve.

Bucky’s breathing quickened, and his vision started to tunnel.

He palmed his eyes, putting more pressure to try and stabilize himself, trying to get the thoughts out of his head. He would be fine, he wouldn’t go back to what they did, it wouldn’t be -

A repeated string of music started to play from his computer, which caused Bucky to remove his hands from his eyes. A program on the computer, with a big blue S in the middle, with the words INCOMING CALL FROM STEVE ROGERS underneath. Bucky idly fixed his hair, and hit the green check mark.

Bucky? You there?”

“Steve? Hey,” Bucky cleared his throat, “how’d you get in contact with me?”

Skype. When did you get a computer?”

Uh, a month or so ago? I lost track of time,” Bucky paused, “Not in a bad way, it’s just kind of smushing together.”

Huh, well,” Steve pushed his longer than usual cropped hair back, “ Hi.”

Bucky chuckled. “Hi, Steve. Still haven’t gotten yourself killed yet?”

Steve laughed. “ No, still surviving.”

God, you even still sound like a hundred-year-old. ‘Still surviving,” Bucky mocked Steve slightly.

“You can put that on my tombstone .”

“I intend to,” Bucky shrugged. “Even though the connection isn’t that great -”

Blame the internet here, ” Steve cut in

“You look like you have been in a battle every day.”

You’re not wrong.”

“Who’re you fighting?”

Steve sighed. “I’m still honestly not sure,” Steve leaned on the arm of his chair, Bucky only realizing now that he was at the front of the ship, in normal clothes.

“That’s always a good sign,” Bucky said quietly, but his sarcastic tone was loud enough for Steve to hear. Steve retorted with a laugh.

You look good, Bucky. Brooklyn’s treating you well.”

Don’t try and change the subject on me, Rogers.”

There’s nothing else to say, most of its classified. Looks like we actually have to talk about things other than fighting the bad guys.”

“Wasn’t I the one that used to say that to you back in Europe?”

Yeah,” Steve smiled at the memory. “I used to get so wound up on strategy, that I would bring it up at the most inopportune times. I just wanted to make sure that everything was going to go to plan - make sure we had no lost steps. Everyone would be close to the fire, not really thinking about the next day. You would just go, ‘How about we can the military talk ‘till tomorrow. I know it’s something that’s on your mind right now, but it looks like we actually have to talk about things other than fighting the bad guys.”

“That was one of the worst impressions of me.”

Dugan had done worse .”

“I’m gonna have to go to his grave and give him a piece of my mind then,” Bucky arched his eyebrow. Some noise came from the back of Steve’s area. He turned around and said some words to someone behind the camera. He couldn’t quite make out what he was saying. Steve turned back and audibly sighed.

Not an emergency, but something just happened at the site. I’m going to have to go and check it out. I missed talking to you, Bucky. Should we set up a time to do this again?

“How about you call me? You sound like you have more things on your plate than I do.”

Are you sure?”

Get your ass to the front lines, soldier. We will talk later,” Bucky smiled softly.

Bye, Buck. Talk to you soon.”

Bucky waved before seeing Steve swivel his chair and jog lightly out of the camera’s view. He hit the END CALL button, before sitting back in his chair, staring back at himself into his computer’s dark screen.

Chapter Text

Steve wrapped his bloodied hands in gauze. Each time the soft holed fabric touched his open wounds, Steve sucked in a breath from pain. From his last fight from trying to keep people out from...whatever was there behind the wall.

“Why do you even patch your hands up?” Natasha bit into a piece of toast, “I mean, I know why , but those injuries? Those heal up like in, what, ten minutes?”

“Old habits die hard,” Steve said, shrugging. “Can you tape up the ends for me?”

Natasha held the piece of toast in her mouth, and grabbed the sport tape. She placed the silk tape on the ends, and made sure they were tight. She put down the piece of toast on her plate. “Those good?”

“In another life you would be a doctor.”

“A glowing review by another patient.”

Steve chuckled.

“Did your mom wrap your hands after you go into fights?”

“She was a nurse. She generally was internal medicine, but helped out with the bone docs from time to time. She treated most of my hand or nose injuries. Can’t tell you how many times I broke the old nose.”

“I’m sure Bucky took a lot of those hits.”

The mention of his name made Steve’s breath hitch slightly. “When we truly became friends, and when he was actually near my fights, he would step in. Sometimes he was the one punching, sometimes he got punched. Sometimes I was the one stepping in front of him, stepping in front of me.”

“Tell me about him.”

“You know him...you two were mortal enemies or something like that,” Steve’s tone was light.

“I’m well aware of our past,” Natasha readjusted herself in her seat. “I want to know the Bucky you knew.”

Steve looked down, and fiddled with his thumbs. “No.”

Natasha didn’t change her expression.

“It’s nothing against you or..it’s just,” Steve paused. “Another time.”

“Okay,” Natasha bit into another piece of her toast. “I’ll hold you to it.”

*

Steve wanted to run. He wanted to get out of the quinjet, to get the thick air in his lungs rather than the filtered air that ran through his quarters. He wanted to get eaten alive by insects, he wanted to feel the fear in his spine. Whatever they were protecting wasn’t giving them a challenge. It just felt like they were babysitting the one thing on this Earth that could probably protect themselves.

Steve tapped a few things on the quinjet mainframe. A map lit up on the windshield materialized. There were blinking dots scattered throughout the world. Two in the UK, some scattered throughout the US. Steve tapped on the one in New York. Bucky’s profile came up.

James Barnes - Avengers Status: Currently Decommissioned. Authorized by Director Nicholas J. Fury. TBD.

He tapped around the States. Scott Lang, Clint, Wanda, Vision. All decommissioned. It was his fault, his fucking complex that made them all essentially wards of state.

Steve wanted to run, because he wanted to get away from it all. This wasn’t him. He wasn’t the one to be fucking up people’s lives. He was there to only fuck up his life, but like always he caused things to snowball, which made him get to where he was today.

Steve tapped back to Bucky’s database, and thought about calling him again on Skype. To be determined. Steve sat back in his chair. It was almost...almost hopeful. Almost like Bucky had a chance to fight by Steve’s side again. He wanted to show that Bucky had enough to prove himself but at the same time, he didn’t want to force it on Fury to make that deciding factor.

Steve put his head in his hands. His mind felt like there were too many paradoxes closing in on him. He wanted to scream, he wanted to -

“Hey Steve, you wanna go for a run?” Sam asked from the back of the quinjet.

Steve wanted to go on a run.

*

Sam found a long forgotten hiking trail by the shallow edges of the forest. Ferns began to grow over the pathway, hiding it from the sunlight, so when each time his foot struck the ground, there was a slight bounce to each step. “This is a totally different feeling than concrete.”

“Doesn’t make a difference,” Sam took in a few breaths of air, “to me.”

Steve jogged lightly next to Sam. “You’re the one who suggested it.”

‘You’re the one who needed it,” Sam kept his pace. “Damn, you looked like you were vibrating out of your skin.”

“Just one of those days, you know.”

“You’ve been having ‘one of those days’ for a few weeks now.”

“Didn’t know my therapist was running with me today,” Steve said as he swatted away a low hanging branch.

“Didn’t know you were keeping tabs on the other Avengers.”

Steve stopped in his tracks, after taking a few steps to slow down and lean on his legs to catch his breath, for which he didn’t need to. It was more because it was like he was delivered a blow to the gut. “You weren’t really supposed to see that.”

“They’re not your responsibility, Steve,” Sam said with his hands on his hips.

Steve turned around and stuck a finger on Sam’s chest. “Yes, they are. I’m the one that got everyone in this situation. They’re all either in hiding, arrested, or stuck in some apartment like some...some fucking hamster in a cage.

“Do I gotta ‘Good Will Hunting’ you?” Sam looked right back at Steve. “Because if I do, I’m not doing it in the middle of the fucking forest.”

“Please, save me your film references for another spat,” Steve walked off angrily, “It’s not the time, nor the place for any of this.”

Sam dropped his arms to his sides. “We’re gonna have to talk about this Steve, friend to friend, one day!”

Steve just picked up his pace and started to run again.

Chapter Text

Bucky opened the door to S T I L L - L I F E , letting the door creak open. He placed his laptop underneath his arm, and gave a terse wave to Laura before heading upstairs to the exhibit. In the room he sat on the bench that faced the case of sketches, and just looked at the series, and heard those recognizable footsteps on the hardwood floor.

“Something on your mind today, James?” Laura said as she sat down next to him, still facing forward.

“What isn’t,” Bucky responded, scratching his neck, silently thanking himself that he tapped his arm to conceal the prosthesis.

“How’s your paper going?”

“Well,” Bucky sighed, “I haven’t started it yet.”

“Okay, coming back here’s a start. The booklet just not doing it for you?”

“I think I just need to see it in person for the words to flow,” Bucky opened up his laptop, to his generic background, and clicked the application for the word processor.

“Okay,” Laura smiled softly. “How’s life been treating you otherwise?”

Bucky leaned back on the wall. “It’s been weird.”

“How so?”

Bucky chewed the inside of his lip, trying to form words before he slipped up. “Well, I just got back about eight or so months ago. Still trying to readjust to civilian life. It’s...it’s tough. This class is good and all - I have more acquaintances out of my old circle of friends which is nice. My best friend though, he had to go away on a job overseas. Only talked to him a few days ago. He looked so...different. Tired.”

“Sounds like you miss him.”

“I do.”

“Seems like a pretty normal reaction to someone’s friend to being gone for a while.”

“It’s,” Bucky rubbed his chin, “it’s more than just missing him.” Laura didn’t answer. “I,” Bucky sighed. Saying the words would make it real. It would cement the things he was feeling at least the past months. For, if his memories were still correct, for decades. “I don’t think I’m ready to understand those feelings just yet.”

“You can only be ready when you’re ready.”

“What I am ready for is to start this paper.”

“Good deflection,” Laura laughed. “So,” she lightly clapped her hands together, “what’s the first thing you need to do when critiquing a piece of art?”

“Describe it without any biased opinions?”

“Are you asking me or telling me?”

“You’re sounding like my grade school teacher,” Bucky retorted back, with a slight smile, as he typed his fake name into the document.

“In another life, they say,” Laura chuckled. “This is all about just what you see , not feel.”

“I see a sketch. Most art is paints, or mix media at least. So. Pens, uh, watercolor, damp alley water.”

“We close at six, James,” Laura said as she was getting up from the bench, “and there’s a plug behind you if you need it.”

*

Bucky typed away, finally finding his groove in the draft paper. This is all about just what you see, not feel. Laura’s words echoed in Bucky’s brain. As he typed away, his mind drifted.

What you see.

Bucky saw Steve.

Bucky saw Steve cooking for him in his apartment, happy because his friend was home, happy because he followed the recipe. Bucky saw Steve’s eyes crinkle when he showed his grin.

He had been seeing is body shift around him, around the apartment in everyday clothes. The way the jeans sat nicely on his legs. The way his shirt stretched over his shoulders. The way Steve looked at Bucky when he thought that Bucky wasn’t noticing.

He was a tall, he was muscular, and he cared. Most of the time he wanted people to get away from him as far as possible. He wanted people to know that he was the part of society that didn’t belong. He was a dangerous man just left out in the wild.

Steve didn’t see that. Steve saw someone packed with hope that he could rise from the ashes, even when Bucky looked back into the mirror. Even when he saw someone that was abused, that was manipulated, that was turned into something that he didn’t ask for. Steve looked at him like he was Bucky from the past, even know he knew he wasn’t. Bucky was this new person.

Nature and nurture.

Sure, in the beginning he was still that Bucky. He was still the other kid from Brooklyn, trying to not say anything other than what was on his tags, but eventually they tore down those barriers. He wasn’t a person at all. He wasn’t a he, he was an it. An it that was frozen and thawed, and punished and -

Bucky felt tears fall down his face. Wiping them off for no one to see, he snapped his computer shut, placed it under his arm, and headed right for the door, floors down, not even saying goodbye to his friend.

*

Bucky ended back at his dark apartment, far away from what felt like the tiny space. The glow from his computer was the only thing that was giving some sort of light in his dark space. He had to finish this part of the draft. His cheeks were still damp from his tears. It was the release he was looking for, granted he wasn’t looking to cry at all. Bucky still felt as though there were things skating the surface, and needed to complete his thoughts on the sketch.

He opened up the booklet to the aptly named Portrait #70. A neatly scanned photo of the sketch was staring right back at him.

Steve.

The man that knew - knows - him. The man that would every so often, give the base of his neck a squeeze, as a terse hello. Bucky remembered that he used to give Steve those greetings back in the day. A quick soft hold and would then immediately bring him into a side hug.

Bucky craved the physical touch. The feeling would linger well into the evening, and every so often his hand would travel downward, after he would feel the all too familiar warmth that would set in his lower abdomen. He would imagine Steve’s lips on his neck, sucking until Bucky’s skin would bruise, if only for a second. He would think about Steve’s weight on top of his, with his knee by Bucky’s hip, slowly grinding on top of him.

Bucky’s breath would hitch, he would give more pressure to his hardening length, and release with a harsh grunt each time. There would be times he would just stare at the ceiling, almost frozen.

Times where he would have to take a cold shower, even though in a sense they didn’t quite work anymore. It would be just for the notion - the memory of doing so before. Bucky would lean his head on the tile, let the water cascade down his body, and try to think about something other than Steve Rogers’ body on top of his.

Bucky tapped on his computer’s keyboard, until he finished giving the basic description of the sketch. He looked closely of the strokes of the pen, the colors on the each side of Steve’s face that he used. He had to look at it from a perspective that wasn’t his. A perspective that wasn’t the Soldier’s either. He had to understand if he separated himself from the emotion that he put into the sketch, he found better understand the angle that the professor wanted or at least deserved.

It’s primarily why, when Bucky hit the period after his last word, he immediately deleted the pages of work he did within those hours. He sat back on his couch, bringing the computer onto his lap, and started to write the paper again.

Chapter Text

Bucky submitted his first draft shortly before the deadline. His professor would email the class on techniques, videos by professional critics, and gave out other resources that they could use. Within the weeks of writing, there were more assignments on the blog post. Trying to hone in the skills that the professor wanted them to build. Once a week, a new classic modern piece would be posted, looking for all the criteria in one small post.

As soon as he clicked the send button, and made sure the email went through, Bucky closed his computer, and released the tension in his shoulders, if only for a second.

*

The next day, after a large breakfast, Bucky shrugged on a sweater underneath his jacket and put on a hat. Summer finally started to fade from Brooklyn, and the early points of Fall started to to creep in. He was thankful that heavier jackets, as they allowed him to not stick out like a sore thumb. He walked more than a few blocks before reaching his destination. He looked up at the Beth El Synagogue, and sighed. The first time he arrived those months ago, he hadn’t been there in about eighty years.

An early Saturday, the middle of sabbath. As he opened the temple’s doors he sat down at one of the back benches, talking one of the free yarmulkes placed by the back. Bucky removed his hat, placed it on, and listened to the Rabbi’s morning speech.

Steve didn’t know about this. Not that he didn’t know he was religious or anything, that he was fully aware of, but the fact that he went back to temple. Steve had been quiet about returning to church. There would be days that when Steve would visit, he would be returning in his nice shirts. Probably also sitting in the back pew listing to the sermon.

The first time Bucky opened the doors, the Rabbi practically stopped speaking as soon as he saw him walk through. He stumbled through a few words, but managed to keep his composure. At first it felt like he was caught red handed, like an old-time bank robber. He felt as though there was some sort of panic button underneath the top of the lectern and when he would step outside cops would be surrounding the place of worship like a scene from a movie.

But, it didn’t happen. So, he kept coming back. He remembered the times back in the day when he went with this family, when his father angrily whispered to Bucky to keep the yarmulke on during the service, or when his mom would adjust his tie right before talking with the Rabbi. Those memories were the ones that stuck out the most, almost like his parent’s own emotional ties to the memories were stuck in his brain.

Light applause filtered through the synagogue when the speech was over and people started to get up from the benches and walk out of the space. He let people leave first, waiting until the last moments to finally get up and go, but at the end of the line, the Rabbi, hands in his pants pockets was practically waiting for him. The Rabbi shook a few hands of his congregation, waved them off and closed the temple doors before finally sitting a row ahead of Bucky and turning back to look at him.

“James, it’s been a few weeks since you last came here,” the Rabbi greeted him.

Hello to you too , Rabbi Shulman.”

“You were doing so well for the past few months, I got worried, sue me.”

Bucky chuckled. “Some stuff had come up, and honestly kind of forgot. But, I’m here now? Does that count?”

“For me? Sure, but for God?” The Rabbi shrugged, “Who knows until we meet Him.”

“I feel like I won’t have that answer for a while.”

“Great, then you can skip out service a few more times,” Rabbi Shulman laughed. “What’s troubling you this week, James?”

Bucky leaned back in his seat. “I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately. On my past.”

“Seeing a therapist for it?”

“No.”

“Mrs. Johansson’s got a great one she tells me, I can refer them to you?” Bucky furrowed his eyebrows. “What? This isn’t a Catholic confession. Plus therapy’s great! I see a therapist every other week. Being a Rabbi is tough.”

“I just don’t think any run of the mill therapist can do the trick for me. It’s a little bit more complicated.”

“So, then reflection. Not a bad thing,” the Rabbi held up his hand to stop Bucky from interrupting. “When we look to the past, sometimes we can see the future. That could be good, it could be absolutely horrible, but we have to do it at one point in our lives or another. What about your friend?”

“Steve?” Bucky chuckled. “I feel like you’re the only person in the world that is so blasé about us bein’ people from history.”

Rabbi Shulman chuckled. “It’s one of those things where you get to know the person, but you kind of forget? Like at first it’s so amazing that they did a thing, but in reality the person keeps it quiet. Eventually they just become, I don’t know, Abner from the deli, not Abner who saved a woman’s life by doing the Heimlich maneuver at Samuel’s Bar Mitzvah. Anyways, Steve. Does he reflect?”

“I mean, I’m sure he does, but he gets,” Bucky crossed his arms, not finishing his sentence.

“Most people do,” Rabbi Shulman understood what he was saying, “and that’s okay too. You shouldn’t feel bad about remembering. The actions that were done unto you, yes, you should feel some sort of emotion, you’re not some sort of robot.” The last word made Bucky wince slightly. “Neither is Steve. No matter what’s going on with the whole fast healing, or whatnot, you’re still you. Don’t be nervous to reflect. It can do you more good, than bad.”

*

Bucky closed up his jacket some more as he walked outside the synagogue, scrunching his face as the wind whipped around. The fresh air helped with absolutely nothing, but it allowed Bucky to breathe. If he took the subway he knew that it would start to be more crowded than summer.

He looked up at the buildings. Old, color diluted brick stood the test of time. Large engravings on top of the borders of the roofs dated the buildings to the early 20th century. Buildings that got through storms, sunny days, or even the gloomiest of the city’s history.

*

He got back home, and opened up his computer. As if it was like the professor had read his wandering mind, there were two emails waiting for him at his computer. The first was a response about the start to the paper. The professor liked it a lot, and said it was a strong start to even a piece that is difficult to talk about.

“Thanks for giving me the most difficult piece to work on,” Bucky grumbled.

There were some mistakes that, and had to restructure a few parts to the essay to make is stronger, but in a sense, Bucky was grateful that he had another pair of eyes to look it over and catch his mistakes.

He was glad someone else was being his snipe.

The second email was to the whole class.

[ART256:CRIT]: Professor Johnson uploaded a new message: Part Deux

Hello, hello to all my wonderful students!

Here lies the second part of your dreadful online class. This is where a bit more detective skills will have to come into play. So, grab your magnifying glass and your deerstalker hat and get ready to dig deeper into your art!

That’s right. We are starting our analysis phase of the class.

Basically, we want to know how the actual fuck the artist made this piece of art (I think I’m okay to swear in these emails?). In other words (or the less swear-y route) we want to know what parts of the piece mean what and why they used those features to express those certain ideas.

Over the next couple of days I will be updating the blog with exercises on analysis, and some pieces to make sure you’re comfortable with the analysis part before going forward with your papers.

Speaking on those, most of you have received feedback on the first draft. I have a few more papers to get through, so please bear with me! If you have any questions feel free to email me through your class site.

Alright, this email is getting longer than it needs to be. Next assignment on the blog is due by tomorrow night at 11:59pm as per usual.

Regards

Ken

Chapter Text

Natasha winced as the nurse placed some ointment over her cut on her cheek.

“That sting will go away shortly,” the nurse stated. “Alright, you’re all bandaged up. Doctor said to hold off on your shift for a few days.”

“That’s not fair,” Natasha muttered.

“Steve is enhanced, and Sam used his wings to get those enemies. You use hand to hand combat. It’s not that it’s unfair that you have to stay back, it’s that you’re injured .”

“As soon as those days are up, I’m heading back out.”

“Sounds good, and if you’re not following the doc’s orders, I’ll have them order bedrest for you,” the nurse hung her stethoscope around her neck and said her goodbyes to her and Steve.

“You’re going to become stir crazy,” Steve said to Natasha, as they sat in the patient room.

“I know.”

“Well, Sam’s not back for another twenty four hours. Do you want to watch a movie, grab some lunch from the mess hall on the other side of the base camp-”

“Steve, this isn’t Brooklyn. We just can’t stop into a bodega before sneaking into the latest showing of the next Oscar drama.”

“We can only make the best of a weird situation,” Steve said back.

*

Steve cut into his lunch as Natasha only sipped her coffee. “You have this look in your eye,” he said as he put whatever what was on the end of his fork into his mouth.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Rogers.”

“Remember when we had to Halo on that ship a few years ago?”

“When shit hit the fan more so than usual?”

“You can put it that way. You gave me that look about wanting me to divulge information. That’s the look.”

Natasha squinted. “You read me like a book. I’m to vulnerable right now.”

“No you’re not,” Steve chuckled. “I just know you...and not here. There’s...there’s too many people.”

“Well then, Steve,” Natasha said, standing with her cup of coffee, “Lead the way.”

*

Steve sat down at the small table inside their quinjet, and Natasha followed and did the same. Steve twiddled his thumbs.

“You seem nervous,” Natasha stated.

“I don’t think I’ve told these sort of stories to anyone before.”

“Okay, well. I’m all ears.”

Bucky read through his journal again, letting each page make a sound as he turned it. As he got through each entry, he noticed that one of the pages was thicker than the others. Looking closely he saw, that a page was stuck together. Laying the book down on the coffee table, Bucky carefully tore the pages apart, revealing some sketches. On the top right hand corner of the page, a lightly written in pencil were the words “ Portrait #1 ”. The basics of a profile and some sort of background was done on the page, but there was nothing really there. Just an inkling of a sketch, as though he just wanted to get something down on the page.

He checked the date of the previous entry. August. Warm, summer evenings before they would try and take on the town, even if they did just get back from their respective jobs or classes. He placed the journal down and filed through the pile of pamphlets on his table, and found the A Series of Portraits ’ pamphlet that Laura handed him when he was back at S T I L L - L I F E .

 

He opened up the pages to the first piece they somehow acquired, and looked at it closely. From the light he could see something, something that he couldn’t quite place, but at the same time knew what it was at the tip of his tongue. He had to go back to the gallery.

*

Bucky opened the door, a little bit more cautiously than last time. He was worried he made too much of a scene.

She wasn’t there, and if Bucky wasn’t just even a little bit disappointed not to see her, he would have been lying. Laura was probably the first friend he had made outside of...of nothing. This was his first friend in a little over seventy years. On his way through the front entrance, Bucky waved to Jamal, who waved back, but gave him the look of ‘ wait, maybe I do know you from outside of your visits to this place’. He didn’t want to think of it, but appreciated him just letting him go, knowing what he was going to do.

The floor had a few people. They were looking at James’ - his - work. He heard the soft whispers of wows, and the soft mutterings of people reading the snippets of (false? Fabricated? Not-remembered?) history that was displayed behind each of the cases. He stood off to the side, seeing the other pieces of art that were displayed, using it to deflect others into thinking he came here just for his work.

The others were far superior to his small sketches. The portraits were practically here just on historical merit alone. It felt unfair, and felt as though he was taking the place for others. Bucky took a deep breath, and hope the shakiness that he felt as he let the breath go wasn’t heard by others. He looked at the other prices around the top. As the people left until he was the last one there.

Bucky looked at the first sketch.

Portrait #2

He looks closer a the page that he drew on.

His orders. The paper that told him when and where to meet so he could be bussed to his days of learning to shoot, learning to kill.

*

May 1941 - Brooklyn, NY

Bucky tucked his greased-back hair behind his left ear. The summer sun started to peek through the spring clouds, and was starting to feel as though the classic New York humidity started to rise as each day moved on.  He stopped at right outside the door, making sure he got every letter that was sent to their place.

Not their place. The place. Steve and Bucky’s place.

Bucky placed the key into the lock and turned until the door gave and open into the still place, but there was a sound that caught his attention. He heard scratching against canvas - pencil against canvas. Bucky placed the mail on the entrance table, and headed towards the sound. Steve was in the kitchen, crouching over the table. “Hey,” Bucky said softly. “You’re back early.”

Steve continued to draw, not really paying attention to his surroundings. Bucky pulled out a chair and leaned forward on the table. “Where were you on the night of March thirty-first, nineteen-forty-one?” Steve quickly looked up from behind his glasses at Bucky and turned his attention back to his sketch. “ Son, you didn’t answer my question,” Bucky continued in his act.

Steve placed his pencil to the side, and leaned back. “Son?”

“Good cop, bad cop?” Bucky countered.

“Where’s the Good Actor Cop in this scenario?” Steve chuckled.

“Nice to finally see you join the conversation,” Bucky said finally getting the full view of Steve’s face. “Wait, why do you have another black eye.”

Steve sighed. ‘It’s nothin’ Buck. Hit myself with the door while I walk-”

“Who the fuck punched you in the face, Steve?” Bucky loosened his tie. “This is the third time this past month. The next time you,” Bucky started to walk around the kitchen, “get a black eye I swear to God, I’m gonna...I’m going to,” Bucky placed his hands on his hips and just sighed. “If I could find the people that did that to you I’m going to probably punch them right back in the face.”

“I can take care of myself, Bucky. I can take a punch.”

“I know you can take a punch, but you can’t also sustain punches for much longer. I feel like your gonna end up in the hospital with a face fracture.”

“I’m not gonna end up with a face fracture. Look Bucky, I’m tired. I’ve had a long day, I got fired, and got punched in the face. I just want to sketch this painting.”

“You got fired?”

“It doesn’t ma-”

“Of course , it matters Steve,” Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can maybe ask if my boss can hire you for some work? I can put in a reference?”

“Bucky, thank you, but I would rather sweep the Brooklyn police horse house than work with numbers. Just saying.”

Bucky sat back down at the chair in front of the table. “So, get a job at the police horse house.”

“You think they would hire me?”

“No,” Bucky chuckled, and Steve chuckled back, almost forgetting their spat. “What are you drawing?”

Steve sighed. “Nothing in particular.”

“Random lines and shapes?”

“Technicality, yes.”

Bucky looked at Steve, who turned back to his canvas. The pencil scratched along the surface, but Bucky wasn’t looking at the actions. He noticed that every time Steve dragged the pencil, he would bite on his bottom lip. He would squint at the canvas, making sure each line was right.

“Teach me,” Bucky said.

Steve stopped. “What?”

“Teach me to draw.”

“You took art with me back in middle school, you know.”

“I mean I know the very basics, but I’m nothing like you.”

“Compliments will only get you better seats at the synagogue, Bucky.”

“Oh, ha ha, very funny. I can get better seats because the Rabbi likes me.”

“Grab a piece of paper, and a pencil. I’ll re -teach you the basics.”

Bucky pushed out his chair and went back to the front of the apartment, and grabbed one of the pieces of mail addressed to him. He reluctantly opened it. He saw the letterhead.

He saw the letterhead that stated U.S. ARMY.

He saw the letterhead, and read the rest. One month. One month he was to report to base camp. He would be an active duty soldier, fighting the good fight. His mood changed for the worse. He would have to leave all behind. Leave Brooklyn, leave his family, leave Steve, because he knew that he would be never coming back to see them ever again, once he stepped on that bus. Bucky stashed the envelope in his suit pocket, and grabbed one of the pencils that was still in his pocket from work.

He placed the letter face down, so Steve wouldn't see, took off his jacket and loosened tie, and licked the tip of the pencil. “So, whaddya got.”

“What do you want to draw? Landscapes? Portraits? A bunch of lemons?”

Bucky chuckled, and looked at Steve. “You.”

“Really?”

Bucky cleared his throat. “I mean, artists draw what they see right? I see you, so...” Bucky shrugged.

“So portraits,” Steve said. “People have a basic shapes, but really kind of fall into a few categories. Mostly circles,” Steve got up out of his chair and moved it closer to Bucky.

He was close. Bucky could smell Steve’s sweat, from their apartment that didn’t have a fan. He could see the black and blue bruise that was already starting to turn green. He could see the scrappy kid from Brooklyn, that he had tried to kiss a little over a year ago. He saw the guy sitting next to him, the guy who he would be leaving in a month, and didn’t have the heart to tell him that he knew in his bones he would never be back.

“For a face, you’re gonna want to draw an oval,” Steve’s voice brought Bucky back to the present, “but don’t make the lines too dark because you’re gonna want to add detail later.”

“Okay, professor,” Bucky smirked, and Steve smirked back with him.

2018

Bucky’s mind returned to the present. To the gallery. He remembers feeling... feelings. He was so robotic, so confined to one thing that he couldn’t even show sarcastic laughter. Even though Bucky re-felt the anxious happiness that he felt when he was drawing next to Steve. He felt the anger to whoever those fuckers were that punched him in the face.

Hs second portrait was of Steve before the war. Steve with his glasses skewed, not smiling. On the edges, smaller circles and doodles were drawn probably by Steve to help Bucky understand the structure. It felt as though the picture was from another universe, because it felt more than just a lifetime ago.

“That’s such a nice memory,” Natasha smiled.

“It is,” Steve smiled. “A month later, Bucky was shipped off, and I became...became this. Funny how time works.”

“Any chance you can share more?” Natasha asked.

“Not...not today. But, maybe soon.”

Chapter Text

August 1943 - Prague

The group was on low-alert, orders given by Colonel Phillips and Agent Carter. Their original sweep of the city didn’t reveal anything that stood out as suspicious activity. Colonel Phillips, sighed, and took a big drag of his cigar before talking to the Commandos.

“You have twenty-four hours of rest time. I expect you all back here by sixteen-hundred-hours on the dot, no if ands or buts,” he ordered to the Commandos, all of whom who were standing there almost frozen. “What the fuck are you doing? Time’s a ticking. Go, ” Colonel Phillips furrowed his eyebrows. The soldiers loosened their grips on their guns, and visibly relaxed.

“Colonel, Agent, will you be joining us?” Dum-Dum placed his hands into his pants pockets.

“Me? No, I will be sleeping. Finally a day not worrying where do send those goddamn letters to for fucking once,” Colonel Phillips took another drag of his cigar. “Goodnight, boys. See you tomorrow night,” he said as he got up from his chair. Agent Carter, standing nearby chuckled to herself.

“I think I’m going to just call it a night as well. Gentlemen, enjoy, don’t be stupid,” Agent Carter said as she flashed a quick smile and headed back to her tent.

Bucky looked over at Steve who was following Agent Carter’s path. He knew Steve wasn’t trying to weird, wasn’t trying to be creepy. He was just a guy who never had someone take interest in him like that - that Steve at least wanted. “So,” Bucky addressed the team. “Why don’t we take one of those nice cars they have all parked over in that lot, and drive over to the place where they have the women and the liquor, huh?” A grin splashed across his face, and most of the team cheered.

Most.

*

The Howling Commandos walked through the semi-dilapidated eastern European city. Bucky still carried his notebook and pencil in his back pocket. It was a little smaller than the one he had back in Brooklyn. It felt so long ago - even if it was only a handful of years. Steve was….Steve was. Bucky looked at Steve’s large body. Compared to before, it was like his brain was transplanted into some dumb jock who could punch Hitler in the face 200 times.

The city felt like it escaped a fantasy. Castles with towers, flowing rivers with people rowing their boats, and churches with elongated doors and vibrant stained glass still stood. However, when they would look closer, the would see stores broken into with shattered windows, windows boarded up due to raids. It felt as though two universes - one utopia, and one dystopia decided to collide.

“Where shall we go and grab a few drinks before we split up for the evening,” Dum-Dum Dugan said as he waggled his eyebrows.

“We passed like five on the way here. We can just turn around and roshambo it before calling where we want to go?” Morita chimed in.

Jdu do toho ,” Gabe smiled and said in agreement.

“How about you, Cap? Sarg?” Falsworth asked, and suddenly Steve and Bucky had eight eyes staring back on them.

“Gonna just take a walk for now. Might meet up with you guys later, if we can find each other,” Steve stated. “What’s fun in wasting all that alcohol on me, when we all know Dugan is gonna end up drinking the bars dry?”

Bucky just rolled his eyes internally. He knew he was just making excuses. “I’ll join you, Steve. Wouldn’t want you to end up face down in a river. Meet at the car, if it isn’t stolen, by” Bucky looked at his watch, “by twelve-hundred hours.”

Light goodbyes, and well wishes were given as the group split up. Steve saluted them lightly goodbye as Bucky leaned on one of the nearby walls. Steve waited until the group was far enough away before looking back.

“D’you wanna check out Saint Vitus’ Cathedral or somthin’? Bucky placed his hands into his pockets as he pushed himself off the wall.

“I kind of want to spend my time alone,” Steve looked at Bucky.

“Well, that is the one fight you’re losing, today, Cap ,” Bucky started walking down the street.

“How about you go drink with the crew?”

“How many times do I have to rephrase the words, I want to spend time with you?” Bucky cocked an eyebrow as Steve caught up beside him.

“You have more friends than me.”

“We all know that ain’t true.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Saint Vitus’ Cathedral it is.”

*

“Wow,” Steve could only say as he slid onto a pew. He looked up at the ceilings that practically stretched to the Heavens. Either gold paint or gold leafing was attached to the crowning were the walls met, almost creating a frame for the organ that sat upon the balcony. Bucky shifted in his seat. He saw some people in other military uniforms. They weren’t part of the Czech division, and had some certain red arm bands that clung to their jackets.

Bucky looked away. He couldn’t do anything now. He couldn’t go up to them, punch them until they bled. He couldn’t find his pistol and shove their barrels down their throats, and let them taste metal.

So, he looked at Steve. He looked at Steve’s wonder and amazement. He look at Steve’s craning new neck muscles. How his skin ripped against every new moving part, but even so, behind those two pools of blue eyes it was still him. Every inch of his personality shined. He was still that kid with the temperment, but now his body just matched his ever growing wonder.

“Got something stuck in my teeth?” Steve smirked.

“Big ol’ piece of lettuce, right in your two front teeth,” Bucky chuckled lightly. “You wanna go down by the river and grab something to eat?”

“Sure...just,” Steve cleared his throat. “There was this one time when I was going through some stuff that my ma left me in a box. It was a letter to my dad at the time he was at war. She wrote that she had always wanted to visit each Church in Europe with him. Wanted to pray to God, to thank Him, in each country he survived. I just need a moment. You can go outside. You don’t have to be here. I know that,” Steve paused and saw the men with the red arm bands, and his shoulders sagged. “I know that you have already prayed today.”

Bucky understood, and nodded softly. “Take as much time as you need,” he said as he leaned into Steve’s shoulders lightly.

*

Children laughed as they ran along the bridge’s barrier’s looking down into the river’s edge, around Bucky and Steve as they leaned on the railing, looking down at the people rowing their boats.

“Crazy to think they barely know what’s going on out there,” Steve said, “The fact they could just keep having fun, not dealing with...everything.”

Bucky looked over to Steve. The sun was setting behind him, and the light breeze coming off of the water was lightly blowing his hair. “Well, you have to not think about that. This is why Phillips gave us that day off."

“It’s just...difficult with all of it running through my head.”

Bucky just stood in front of Steve, not moving, not doing really anything other than looking at him. Looking at the colors. Looking at the area. He thought of in a different time, a different place, they could have been on vacation. Maybe with their families, maybe with each other. “What makes you happy, Steve? What makes you forget about the worst part of humanity?”

“Painting.”

“Alright, well we don’t have access to that right now but how about we sketch? Like we used to back in Brooklyn?” Bucky dug into his pants pockets, where he pulled out his notebook and pencil.

“You just have that lying around?” Steve asked.

“Yeah, I just whip it out whenever there’s an emergency,” Bucky said sarcastically, and Steve rolled his eyes. “I brought it because I like the architecture here. Thought it would be a nice way to remember this place without a camera.”

“Alright, well rip out a few pages for me and chip me a piece of the pencil. Let’s try to relax then.”

The sun set over the past few hours there were sitting near the bridge, as the sun beat down on the brick. Sweat trickled down the sides of their faces, as they concentrated on their sketches. Bucky blew off the excess lead that crumbled on the page. He wrote a small twenty on the top right hand corner.

“What’d you draw?” Steve asked. “I thought that the father and daughter were good subjects, and the background was somethin’.”

“I drew the church,” Bucky lied. He couldn’t get the image of Steve’s face being haloed by the sun’s rays, with the wind slightly swooping his hair.

“Let me see,” Steve smiled. “I want to bask in your holy drawings.”

“No,” Bucky snapped the journal shut. “I don’t trust you. You’re gonna rip out that page and show it to my Rabbi.” Steve chuckled at Bucky’s response. “You know what he’s gonna say? He’s gonna go ‘ Ah, James, it’s so good you’re divulging into other spiritual nuggets but don’t forget your roots. Also Esther Goldsmith is having this week’s seder dinner. You should come. Her great-great-granddaughter is going to be there. You two should get to know each other.’”

“All the times I ask about your Rabbi, you always bring up the joke that he’s trying to set you up with a girl.”

“Because he is , Steve.”

*

Steve and Bucky decided to go back to basecamp and wait out their leave as the only hotel rooms that were available to rent were not meant for sleeping. The both of them agreed that they would meet at the rendezvous site on time to meet the rest of the team for them to tell stories of the women they met, and immediately forgot their names.

Bucky holed himself up in his tent writing and sketching in his notebook. Something...something felt off. From the time he was rescued, Bucky felt something course through his veins. It felt like he was lightheaded, like he was walking on clouds most of the time. It was the times he was resting when these fleeting moments started to occur more and more. Bucky sketched more of his current drawing. Number twenty-two was written on top.

It was Steve, but the perspective was...it was off. Like instead from a place of longing to be with him, it was from a place of anger. Of wanting to hold him high above his head crushing his windpipe, and hearing the last gasp of breathe from -

Steve knocked lightly on the metal pole that held up the tent, causing Bucky to jump and drag his pencil across the page. “Shit.” Bucky looked down. He noticed that the dark line that stemmed from the middle of Steve’s head.

“Did I interrupt something?” Steve asked as he waited outside the tent.

Bucky turned over, completely unaware that he pushed his computer off the bed. The memory...changed. He knew he was dreaming...sort of. He felt as though at first he was watching a movie playing back scenes, and he was the actor. Now, he felt as though he was looking at Steve. He felt as though he was there.

“No, I was just journaling again,” Bucky sighed, and placed the notebook to the side of the cot. He shifted himself so he was sitting up. He finally took a good look at Steve. He was in his undershirt and green military pants, hair tousled, and looked almost scared. “Had a nightmare?”

“Would have to fall asleep to have one,” Steve chuckled. Bucky gestured to the empty bed beside him, and Steve followed.

“Why do you think you interrupted anything?"

“You had that look on your face when you’re really focused.”

“I was just writing. That’s what you do in a journal. You...write.”

“You do more than just write.”

“Peekin’ in my personal stuff? Isn’t that like a crime, somewhere in the world?”

“Could be a crime in Kansas,” Steve shrugged, “but no, I am not, if you have to know. I just know when you’re sketching, thanks to the stroke of your pencil.”

“Gonna have to sketch like I’m writing the alphabet then,” Bucky gave a small huffed laugh.

“Look, I,” Steve sighed. “I have too many things going on in my head.”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

“Ha ha very funny. Just lemme talk, alright?” Steve asked and Bucky gave a silent affirmation. “One of them is you.”

That’s not how it went.

He was supposed to say Peggy. He came to the tent to talk about how he had feelings for Peggy and he wasn’t sure how to talk to her about it.

“What do you mean?” Bucky questioned.

“Remember those times back in Brooklyn? Those times we shared a bed? Or...or that time you came home drunk and tried to kiss me?”

“Look, Steve. I’m sorry if that ever made you feel uncomfortable, I swear I’m not-”

“Bucky, I don’t think you get how much I want to kiss you back.”

This is no longer reliving a memory. This is a dream.

Bucky didn’t wake himself up.

“I don’t think you understand. Back when I was...smaller, you would always be there. You would be the one to help me. Even when I had nothing, I had you.”

Bucky slowly put his legs over the bed, removing the thin blanket. He leaned forward. “Well, It’s just you and me and...probably twenty other guys close by in thin tents. What are you gonna do about it?”

Steve put his finger under his chin, lifting it slightly, and stood up so he was looking down at Bucky’s face. He embodied warmth, and when Steve bent down to capture Bucky’s lips, he could feel it shooting down his neck. The rush and excitement captured the two men. Bucky stood up, allowing him to deepen the kiss. His hands drifted downwards, hesitating. Bucky pulled back and placed his hand on Steve’s cheek.

“How long have you wanted this?” Bucky asked quietly, “because I am sure it has been just as long as me.”

“Years, it’s been years.”

“Is it okay if I,” Bucky said after his hand drifted downwards practically hovering over Steve’s pants.

Steve swallowed hard. “Y-yes. Yes, please.”

Bucky leaned in and, placed pressure on Steve’s hardening cock. A moan almost escaped Steve’s mouth, but Bucky captured it with his lips. Steve pushed forward causing Bucky to get back on the cot. He adjusted himself so he was laying down, with Steve on top.

His dick was straining in his boxers, but when Steve slipped the waistband down, the release from the pressure caused him to inhale sharply. When Steve wrapped his large hand around Bucky’s cock, the surge of ple asure ripped through his body, and when his hand started to move up and down the length of his shaft -

*

2018

Bucky woke up in the middle of the night, covered in a thin layer of sweat.

It was time to clean the sheets.

Chapter Text

Time felt as though it was ticking slower.

Bucky would watch the clocks slowly change from one minute to another, as he just stared at the next part of his essay. Bucky flipped through the pamphlet again trying to see if he missed anything, but the melodic ringtone of Skype beckoned him back to procrastination.

He hit the accept button.

Hey there,” Steve said, his voice slightly robotic sounding. Steve was on his bed, resting the computer on his chest.

“Good,” Bucky looked at his phone for the time, “evening? What time is it there?”

“O-twenty-hundred-hours.”

“Just say eight at night like the rest of us,” Bucky chuckled. “What’s up?”

“Can’t call my friend? ” Steve shifted in his bed, so is back was flush against the wall, and adjusted his laptop screen.

Bucky rolled his eyes. “You can you can. How’re ya, Stevie?”

Steve sighed and looked off screen. “ I’m...I’m tired. Really tired. Had to work a few days in a row because Nat got injured, but she’s back on the field.

“How about this, we hang up, got about your days, you get some sleep and we talk later?”

I’ve been thinking about Brooklyn.”

That stopped Bucky from thinking. “What about it?”

Steve opened his mouth and closed it. “ Just...just all of it, but more specifically nights. When we slept. The winters were too cold for me at times, and I asked you to just give off your warmth.”

“That’s a little foggy for me,” Bucky became quiet. “Tell me about it.”

Bucky remembered, but he wanted to hear from Steve. He wanted to hear how he would jokingly shove Steve in the mornings when his cold feet touched Bucky’s. How Bucky would wake up in the middle of the night, blanket-less because Steve curled up with the covers surrounding his whole body.

They talked for a little while longer before he saw Steve’s eyes become heavy, and yawn. “Steve, you’re falling asleep on camera.”

“Hm? ” Steve responded as he tried to open his eyes. “ I’ll be fine. Just want to hear your voice for a little bit more.

“How about I tell you about something that I remembered?”

I’d like that.

*

Late February 1944 - Swiss Alps

 

The tents that the Howling Commandos set up were reinforced for the cold weather. A snowstorm was on the horizon about two days out. The commandos decided to bunk up, and save materials for the other troops that were stationed in the areas.

There was a mission that involved a train.

Arnim Zola was traveling central Europe by rail with multiple Hydra weapons stored in the cars. The train, as informed by Agent Carter from one of the double agents, was heading back to Hydra headquarters where the Red Skull would be planning his latest attack. As soon as the message arrived they had 4 days to set up and strategize how they were going to go about the attack.

Steve and Bucky were in the same tent. When Steve went in first, the rest of the commandos seem to immediately choose where they would be sleeping. He caught snide eyes and raised eyebrows when Bucky realized what was going on. They…knew. Knew in a way that wasn’t supposed to be talked about. Knew in a way that if they said anything to anyone else, he would be locked up in jail and left to rot.

But the Commandos knew, and didn’t say a word, and they were practically teasing with him. When Bucky unzipped the tent, he gave the finger to an empty area, hoping that at least they would see his shadow.

Steve was already on his side, with face to the side of the fabric of the tent. His body was moving up and down quietly, letting Bucky know that he was sleeping. There wasn’t much light - no lamps, no candles that could burn down their current quarters, and no flashlights in reach. The only thing that was giving Bucky some sort of light was the flicking fire that was still burning outside. He drew his journal from the pocket of his pack, and found his freshly shaven pencil from the side.

After shucking his clothes down to his long johns, Bucky started to write. He started to write about his past few days - about their trek from place to place, but eventually it all just boiled down to Steve. He could hear sounds from distant memories. Laughter, as the waves crashed behind him. His pencil started to move in longer strokes, but seemed to go down a little heavier than he was used to. The outline of his face was pressed in to other pages. He kept drawing more erratically. More as though it was something obsessive. When he was done and wrote a small ‘#33’ on the top left and corner dropped his pencil. Something was different, but he tried to ignore it. He turned a few pages in the journal, and began writing again.

Steve shifted and turned over in his cot, facing Bucky. He finished his sentence, and lightly closed his journal. The back of his mind started to spin. He heard small whispers of someone speaking to him.

Telling him to get close to Steve.

To wrap his hands around his neck. To lift him up with one arm, and slam him down to the ground to let him feel the full force of the soldier that he is.

Bucky got up from his cot and unzipped the tent immediately and practically ran outside.

Panic.

Thought-inducing panic.

He breathed the cold air in, and let the air fill his lungs. It stung slightly, but it felt good . Almost like he was meant to be in the cold. Bucky placed his hands over his eyes, and applied a little pressure before dragging his hands over his hair. Bucky shut the door on the thoughts that had been escaping his mind, like all the other times he did.

He realized he was still in his long johns, but in the time he was practically running out of the tent, he put some shoes on and a jacket. He sat back down on the log, not really caring about it being ten degrees colder than the air. The fire was still whipping around, still giving off heat.

Bucky sat there until the last ember died out, until the campsite that they set up in was practically pitch black, save for the moonlight. His head was still practically spinning, but it was better than before. Back in the tent, Bucky shucked the jacket, and removed his shoes, before placing his journal to the side, and getting back into his bed. Steve was still asleep. He didn’t know, he didn’t need to know, so he placed his journal back under his cot.

He would place the journal back into his bag, and continue on his entries and sketches, when he would return from the mission. He would tell stories of excitement, sorrow, and action all condensed within a few pages.

But, for James Barnes, tomorrow never came.

Bucky shifted himself in the cot to look at Steve, and whispered -

*

2018

“Goodnight, Steve,” he said to the image and sounds of Steve snoring right into the computer’s camera, and logged out of the Skype application.

Chapter Text

June 1945 - Hyrda Base - Undisclosed Location

Bucky awoke in a haze, with his right arm hurting more than usual. He...he didn’t remember much from what ever happened. He started to feel the blankets underneath his exposed skin and the tightness of the straps that surrounded his body.

He was captured. Trapped. Tortured.

Bucky looked around. He was in a cold metal room - no windows, nothing. Something still felt off. He felt as though his body wasn’t there.

He looked down, and to his horror it wasn’t.

His right arm was surgically sutured below the base of his shoulder.The screams echoed throughout the metal room, and came right back to him. Quickly, a door opened up and a few men in neatly pressed suits walked in quickly. One passed behind him, holding his body down tightly against the table.

Soldat, calm down. Tell me, what is your name?”

Russian.

Why did he understand Russian?

“James Buchanan Barnes, 32557-”

A bucket of cold water was thrown on his face. He coughed, sputtered, and gasped from the freezing temperatures.

Your name, soldat,” the man said, with a deep menacing tone. “Remember what we have taught you the past few months.”

“I don’t remember anything.

“Tase him,” were the words Bucky heard right before he felt the sharp pains of electrocution run through his body. He breathed heavily, almost as if that helped the pain dissolve faster. “Now, your name, Soldat.

Bucky kept his mouth shut. His mind turned in ways that was only familiar from the past few months before he fell.

Bucky fell.

A blast hit the side of the train that faced the cascading cliffs of the alps, and in a matter of seconds Bucky hit the ground.

“Am I dead?” Bucky whispered. “Am I dead, is this Hell?” Bucky whispered. “Oh, God, I’m dead. I’m gone. Steve. Steve’s alone.

“Captain America died, Soldat. Months ago.”

“What?” Bucky’s eyes started to tear up.

The man in the pressed dark green suit, leaned in and grinned. “Well, this is something I didn’t think you would react to.”

He was my best friend,” Bucky gritted through his teeth.

The man in the green suit grabbed Bucky’s chin, hard. “Oh to have a reaction like that, means something more than thinking he was your friend, Soldat.

Bucky spat in his face.

He is malfunctioning. Get him to the memory wipe machine. Put it to zero. We need him to remember this. Don’t remove anything. Give him something to think about, though, so he never does that again,” the man yelled to the two men behind him. One held him down as the other undid the straps to the bed. When he was let free, the henchmen dragged him off the bed and into another room, and put him into a machine that clamped around his head.

*

August 1955 - Hydra Base - Undisclosed Location

It - he - looked into the mirror that was in front of him.

They called him an it. A thing. A weapon. They called him those words throughout his supposed life. They thought he didn’t remember, but he had some sort of inkling that there was something, something before he came out of his first cryo. He wasn’t an idiot, as much as he pretended to be when he was with his handlers. He knew that that much excessive electrocution, for however long he’s been with the team, would have killed a regular person years ago.

But he was no person.

He was...something else. He was The Soldier.

The Soldier kept looking into a mirror every time he was allowed to use the bathroom. He would take a warm shower, each time he was allowed to bask in the warmth that ran down his back, and when the mirror was still clouded with condensation, he would use his flesh arm to draw out a face. A face from a lifetime ago.

When he was done, and added a number to the top right hand corner to finish it, he would bring the chair that randomly sat in the back corner and watched the mirror dry.

He watched the face fade into obscurity once again.

He heard the loud banging on the metal door that separated him and his handler. “Hey, you fucker, are you done in there?”

He rolled his eyes. He hated to comply to the words that were thrown to him but it was better than being reprimanded. Better than all the times he was burned, or his flesh arm broken, or his metal arm being taken away. It was better than being hurt .

He opened the door, still fully nude, and was led back to his room to be dressed and put back into the frozen tube that he hated so much.

The handler stood by the door as he watched The Soldier get dressed into his cryo outfit. There were times he felt bad. Taking advantage knowing that this guy was a prisoner of war, knowing that he was abused, knowing that he was a puppet for the organization he worked for.

However, at the same time, he didn’t care.

“What do you do in the bathroom after you take a shower?” the handler asked. There was silence. “Permission to speak, Soldier.”

The Soldier placed the crisp t-shirt on and sat down on the bed, resting his arms on his legs, and looked at the handler. A shiver went down his spine. “I’m...watching,” the Soldier said, his voice rough from the lack of use.

“Watching what? Yourself?”

“No.”

“Then what?”

He used to draw. I think.”

“Who?”

“The man who used to inhabit this body before me.”

“Oh...okay.”

“I just have a feeling to just sketch a lot.”

“What do you sketch?”

“A man he used to know.”

“Steve Rogers?”

The Soldier practically jumped out of his sitting position and immediately had his metal arm around the handler’s neck, cutting off his air.

Don’t say that name.”

The handler grasped for the arm that just grew tighter around his neck, until his arms became limp, and his body sagged. In his hand, before his vision went back pressed the small button in his hand that lit up the facility.

The alarms went off, loudly. He let go of the man in front of him, and immediately ran out of his room, and towards...somewhere.

He got close to the door that was in front of him, until the guards tased his neck and took his tranquilized body to the big machine that zapped him until he couldn’t remember anything more.

*

It was cold.

So very cold.

*

March 1969 - Hydra Base - Undisclosed Location

The Soldier was kept in a cold dark cell. There was one cot, and one small table where he was able to eat. The past few times he had been defrosted - the past few times he had been used - there was only a few days time when he woke and stood outside the target’s house to get a good look at to who he was going to kill.

He was awoken yesterday, and now awaiting orders in the confines of his own room. His current handler was a woman. New. Different.

As he was walking down the hall being held by his flesh arm, he heard whispers of a new war.

How many was it now?

*

He sat at his desk and just looked at the wall, and waited to be pulled.

He heard laughter behind the metal door, and then a small couple of knocks.  His handler, plus a few other people opened his door. He got up from his chair, and stood at attention, with his hands locked behind his back.

“At ease, Soldier,” one of the guards held a glass, “we just wanted you to have a glass of water.”

Some of the guards sniggered in the background, the lead turned around and gave them a look that quieted them down immediately. He hesitantly grabbed it and placed it on his desk, and stood back in his place. “Uh, that is all. Please drink the water.”

He looked down at the glass and back at the guards. He drank the water, and handed the glass back.

It was just water.

Until it wasn’t.

He felt strange. His body was numbing at the edges of his three limbs, but it felt almost pleasurable and wrong at the same time. Like eating a cookie when your mother said no dessert before dinner.

But he had never had a cookie before, so he wasn’t sure where these references were coming from.

The sound of the door opening up again resonated throughout what felt like time.

“Hey there, man,” He looked up to see a guard with a piece of paper and some colored pencils, “give us a portrait of yourself...or draw something.”

“Why?”

“We wanna know, but like. Wait another hour.”

It felt like he knew what he was talking about. So he waited, until the clock struck a new hour, like there was an internal system in his head.

He added colors and lines that felt like they were moving far off to the page. Every time he put the pencil down and dragged it across the paper. He could hear the painting sing as if an orchestra was right behind him. He was done.

The portrait was moving. There were no eyes, just empty holes blinking and moving and facing him with his lips saying ‘sixty-four’.

He started to scream in fear. That face.

That face had been following him. In the dreams that he had when he was asleep, and times when he was zoning off into the distance.

As he was screaming, throwing things off of the desk, and turning his cell upside down, other guards tried to restrain him. Words floated through the air of angered and confusion to whom exactly gave The Soldier LSD.

It was a chaotic harmony of words and clatter than folded around him, and he never wanted it to end. He felt more himself as the world turned and felt as though all the questions that filtered through his brain were being checked off in a list.

“Will he be able to complete his task tomorrow?” asked a guard to a man in a white coat.

“Probably not, even with the enhancements, it’s going to wear off in half the time, but that still puts it at 12 hours. We can’t take the risk, unfortunately.”

The guard swore in German. “Okay. Thank you, doctor. I guess then thirteen hours and back in the cryo chamber until the next directive by Zola.”

*

October 2013 - Hydra Base - Undisclosed Location

The Soldier sat in his quarters at his desk. He was brought out for a special mission. Something to end all the missions, and become greater than he would ever be, as described by his handler, at his most current residence. It was weird - going to his handler’s house. He was never really allowed before but something had changed in the last couple of decades.

Psychology, the study of the brain . Since the late eighties, he would be visited by someone with a sharp shirt, a pen and a notebook. They would ask him questions and then frame his answers that would better serve his handlers, not his well being, but The Soldier was used to it. Technology rapidly changed as well. Instead of the brick off colored fridge that would always be in the break room when brought in to visit, there were the sleek stainless steel monstrosities that would hold too much food for a small family to handle.

But it was the sign of the times.

Pierce - he was not allowed to call him this, but it was what others said -was always lurking around in the spotlight. He was the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. or just another name for the organization. Chop one head off, two will grow in its place. The phrase didn’t change, even though he felt that it could use some re-working. Hearing it for the some odd decades he was control, it gets old.

The room he was in was nice. So much nicer than anything he had been offered. Everything else had been cold, metal, unloving, but when he awoke his bed was soft, and comfy, with a wooden desk. It was almost frightening, as though he was a child being lured by a mean old witch.

He didn’t know if he was allowed, so he just sat at the desk and just watched the supplies gathering dust.

What felt like hours later, Pierce knocked on the door. The Soldier stood at attention.

“At ease,” Pierce tightened his tie, “It’s just your friendly neighborhood director,” he closed the door. “Sit down, relax.”

The Soldier followed the order. Pierce pulled up a chair and watched The Soldier sit still, staring directly back into his eyes. “We have received an order, from the man above me.” The Soldier tensed. “Don’t worry. Things still have to fall into place. Give a few days. I am here merely to be a friend.”

The Soldier didn’t have friends.

“You see the paper in front of you, and the pencils?”

The Soldier nodded.

“I want you to be relaxed as possible for this mission. I read in your file, that you used to draw from time to time. Is that true?” The Soldier was quiet. “Answer me.”

Da.

“Well, then. The world is your canvas.”

Pierce let the Soldier draw for some time. He allowed his metal arm to be dominant even if it didn’t inherently feel right. He wanted to make sure that all the lines were drawn precisely, because if they were not, he was sure to get punished because it wasn’t perfect.

He needed to be a perfect soldier. This was all he knew. The Soldier was always fighting, always taking commands from his leader, and as far as he knew he was doing the right thing. Anything else was warrant for punishment.

*

Pierce walked in as The Soldier kept sketching, kept shading perfect mechanical strokes.

“Stop, stop. Stop at once, Soldier.”

He put down the pencil, stepped away from the desk, and sat down in the corner on the other side of the room.

“Do you know who this is?” Pierce asked strongly. The Soldier didn’t answer. “ Answer me, do you know who this is?”

“No,” The Soldier said in English.

“I’m taking this,” Pierce held up the drawing, dragging his thumb over the written ‘#69’ in the top right hand corner. “I’m taking this to the psych team. You won’t see this again.” Pierce turned to the henchmen behind him, “Grab the rest of the papers and pencils.”

“Yes, sir,” said someone behind his handler.

Pierce shoved the paper in The Soldier’s face. “Are you sure you don’t know who it is?”

“No,” The Soldier repeated himself.

“Are you just saying no so you won’t be punished?”

“No, sir.”

“Okay,” Pierce nodded as he folded up the paper, and placed it in his inside pocket of his jacket.

“Who...who is it?” The Soldier asked tentatively out of turn.

Pierce started to walk out of the room. “Your next target. Report to base room for gear up in seven hours, Soldier. Hail Hydra.”

The Soldier nodded. He did well. No memory wipe, no punishment. He was able to work, to do his best for the Director. “Hail Hydra.”

*

2018

Bucky winced at the memory, as he looked at the last portrait that was displayed that he drew. It was void of any emotion, of any life. Number 69 was the only one they found from his years as The Soldier, and well, he was glad. It wasn’t something he wanted people to remember him by.

Bucky closed his laptop after he finished his part of the essay, sending it out to his professor. As he walked out of the gallery, he gave a terse wave to Laura, and she waved back from the comfort of her own chair. She started to get up, before Bucky walked out. She wanted to talk, to speak, but he just had too much on his mind and wanted to be alone.

Chapter Text

[ART256:CRIT]: Prof. Johnson Just Uploaded a New Message: An Interpretive Dance

Dear Students,

Thank you for Part 3 of your essays! I will be going over them and giving feedback to everyone within the next two weeks. Just like the past two parts you will be absorbing the reflection and then modifying your papers for the final draft submission.

I know you’re all excited to get to Starbucks and get those Pumpkin Spice Lattes like the rest of us, but let’s sit down and bring a nice refresher for Part 4!

Four (get it?!) this part we will be looking at subjectiveness rather than the objectiveness. In the first part, objectiveness was important to the see-er as it was the first thing they were brought, but now we are looking deeper. Think of it this way: You’re at an art gallery, you have a glass of cheap, but not horrible, wine. You look at a piece of art, but you’re not paying attention to your date, who is tapping their toe quickly. You’re so entranced by the piece you start to think, what the fuck does this mean?!

As art critiques, we’re not only here to regurgitate the exact physical ways, we are here to share our own interpretation of what the artist is putting out. Sometimes it matches, sometimes it doesn’t.

The first assignment on the blog is posted, and like in the last few parts of the essay, we will have pieces to talk about online, and small short writing assignments to be posted. The fourth part of the essay is due the day before Thanksgiving (11:59pm, as per usual!). I will use the long needed break to go over your parts and give them back. For the final submission, I will make sure to go over what I expect from everyone again, but for now, let’s think outside the box!

PSL and Warm Regards,

Professor Johnson

*

“The investor asked us to stay here to at least through Thanksgiving,” Steve said, with his hand by his mouth, leaning back in his chair. Trying to get everyone in one place at one time was tough, but somehow every so often, they managed.

“Thanksgiving?!” Sam retorted back. “You gotta be fucking kidding me. We’re practically doing nothing here other than being gatekeepers.”

“Sam’s not wrong here, Steve. It’s been, what, practically two months of us not doing much, and getting sticks and stones in return?” Natasha added.

“Look, three more weeks. Our investor is paying us double. We wouldn’t have to do this again for at least a year, if no other investor chooses us. It’s a matter of livability."

“Livability?! Livability?! Steve we’ve been livabilitying it for the past fucking two months out of a cramped airplane and ninety-degree heat,” Sam paced around the conference area.

“I didn’t say yes, I just wanted to bring it up to you guys before I did anything impulsive.”

“Well, that’s growth on your personality at least,” Sam practically spat. Steve heard something from behind closed doors. The Skype ringtone.

Saved by the bell, Steve thought as he got up from his chair. “I have to take this call. We’re tabling this until later tonight. I’ll message the cover to make sure we can get together again.”

Steve walked off, leaving Sam and Natasha angered and confused in the back of the quinjet.

*

Steve tapped the space bar to be able to pick up the line.

Hey, there good afternoon,” Bucky’s voice resonated throughout Steve’s quarters.

“Buck, you gotta get some sleep, it’s literally 2am where you are,” Steve’s voice was tired.

Everything okay?”

No.”

Bucky just stared at Steve. “ You wanna expand on that? Even though you used so many words, I’m going to need you speak on that more.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “The uh, the investor who is controlling our mission pretty much sent us a message to explaining we have to be here longer.”

Longer?”

Yeah. Like almost a month longer.”

Bucky leaned back in his chair and placed his hand over his chin and looked away. Purposely or not, Steve didn’t notice that Bucky was visibly distraught.

What the fuck are you doing there anyway? You never tell me, no matter how many times I ask, no matter the amount of conversations we have in the middle of the fucking night.”

For you,” Steve mentioned.

Oh shut the fuck up, Steve.”

Steve pinched his nose. “I can’t tell you because honestly I don’t even know.”

You don’t - you don’t know Steve?” Bucky leaned forward in his chair. “ Steve, this isn’t you. You don’t go into fights blind.”

I did back then.”

No, you didn’t. You knew exactly what you were doing, and who you were fighting. Who we were fighting.”

It was Steve’s turn to look away. “How’s you class going?”

Don’t change the subject.”

“Well, deal with it. We haven’t made a formal agreement yet on this bullshit. How’s your class going?”

Bucky pursed his lips. “ It’s going fine. Learning a lot.”

About?”

Not important.”

“What is it? Basket weaving? You making an Etsy store of baskets?”

Fuck you, that’s an important skill. Can’t tell you how many baskets I’ve made when I was stationed in Russia during downtime.”

What’d you catch?”

Bucky sighed heavily, and gave a look of defeat to Steve. “ We’re coming back to this argument, Steve. Don’t think I will forget. During missions when they were not making me stay on a building trying to kill a person from seven-hundred feet away, there would be missions where I would have to kind of camp out in the woods. I would make these baskets for catching food. Practically kept me sane, when the memories started coming back. Made me focus. Wasn’t my ma’s Gefilte fish dish but hey, I took what I could get,” Bucky chuckled.

“I still can’t believe you liked that dish. No one liked that dish at your family’s Passover celebrations. Not even your Grandma.”

My bubbe loved that shit. Don’t insult her,” Bucky laughed. “ You’ve been away too long, Steve.”

It wasn’t what Steve expected to hear from him. “I don’t know what to do, Bucky. One hand, we’re getting paid to protect. Getting paid to do a job. On the other hand we really don’t know what the hell we’re protecting.”

A real moral conundrum you have here.”

Sometimes I wish you were here to actually talk to me about this, face to face. I feel like I make decisions better with you.”

You don’t make better decisions, you just quickly decide what do whatever the fuck you were going to do faster. You use your head too much, Rogers.”

And you, your fists.”

No one has complained about that before,” Bucky winked which made Steve choke on his own spit.

“Oh my God, Buck you just can’t say that.”

Yes, I can. It’s the twenty-first century Steve. People can say a lot of things now,” Bucky responded, and Steve shook his head with small laughter. “ If you have to stay there for another month, you have to stay there for another month. It’s your job, technically. If ‘Tasha and bird brain want to leave, they leave. You’re still their Commander.”

Steve bit his lip. “Why are you my voice of reason?”

Good question, I never signed up for that.”

Look, it’s getting late for you.”

I know, I know.”

Try and get some sleep, Buck. I’ll be here for you if you wake up.”

Bucky gave a small smile, and waved. “ Have good afternoon, Steve.”

“Goodnight, Bucky.” Steve waved before hitting the end call button. Bucky gave a small smile, before the screen went black. Steve sat behind his black screen, looking at the reflection of himself.

Steve missed him so much. He wanted to be near him, to feel his warmth. From the beginning of their friendship, Bucky was the one who gave Steve hope. Who had him understand that everything will be okay in times of trouble. He wasn’t lying when he said that Bucky felt like his voice of reason. Growing up he had to be impulsive because he didn’t know what was going to happen next. He didn’t know if he was going to die by the fists of others or by the might of his illnesses. He wanted to do everything at once, and if he mulled it over he wouldn’t survive. Bucky was the guy who put his hand on his shoulder and would ways talk to him to really make sure if it was important to him.

When the War happened, again, he was there with Bucky by his side. There was...more of an allowance to friendship. Bucky didn’t intercede that much, only when the stakes were too high and needed to have him just stop and think for a minute, for which Steve had to do as he was still looking at the blank screen.

The tightness in his chest grew, because he had to make a decision, and he knew that decision was something would keep him and Bucky away longer, and well. It hurt.

It hurt, because for Steve Rogers, as long as he knew Bucky, or James, or even the Winter Soldier, it was love that rested in his heart, and he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to ever tell him.

Chapter Text

For the better part of the mid-twentieth century Steve Rogers had to keep his feelings about Bucky close to him. He would always see him dance with the women he was around with. Flirting with the women that wanted to be flirted with and danced with who he wanted to.

Steve Rogers, for the better part of the mid-twentieth century was jealous.

Bucky tried to kiss him, one night after a night of heavily drinking. It was his birthday, and he went out with his friends from his high school days, that were not friends with Steve, and got plastered. They drank until the sun almost rose. At the time they were living together, him and Bucky. He was a clerk, Steve was working various jobs, as he was still taking classes and couldn't work full time.

Steve remembers the banging on his front door. He got up, brought his bat and moved the curtain to see Bucky’s face peering in, still knocking on the window. Steve rolled his eyes, and unlocked the door, letting Bucky walk in slowly.

His face lit up when Bucky realized who it was. His smile became warm, and just stared at Steve.

“Come on, buddy. Let’s get you some water, and into bed.”

“M’name isn’t buddy, it’s Bucky. But it’s not Bucky it’s James,” Bucky slurred.

“I know, Bucky.”

“You said my name,” Bucky drunkenly smiled.

“I did,” Steve said back.

“I like when you say my name, Steve.”

“Mhm,” Steve just kept moving Bucky to his bed. Steve sat him down and started to remove his clothes, in order to get him to go to sleep. There was no reason to go back, for Steve, as his day was just about to start. As he unbuttoned each button, Bucky looked up to him. It was rare, as it was technically physically impossible, but Bucky looked up, and Steve wiped away the sweat from an unusually warm morning. Bucky leaned in, trying to capture Steve’s lips. Steve leaned back and sighed.

“Not the right time, Buck,” Steve said back. Too drunk, too inebriated, not clear headed. Steve finished getting him dressed for bed, put a glass of water on the nightstand, and from then until eternity, neither of them spoke about that night. During the night where Steve couldn’t sleep, he thought about the phrase constantly, and even more so when he was pushed into the 21st. Things were...better. Not amazing, but better than when he wanted to have the company of men back in the mid-twentieth.

During World War Two, it felt as though they skirted around each other. Bucky being the one to always be looking at Steve, and Steve to always be looking for the next move.

Steve had Peggy.

Almost.

He loved her, and wished that things would have gone differently for the both of them. He wanted to live a life with her, start a family.

Maybe own a house with a stupid white picket fence, but things changed, and ended up crashing a plane into the ocean, and waking up in an entirely different world.

Ever since Bucky was back, they returned to their old ways. Not only of the world of friendship, but the world of not saying things, and saying it at all times. Steve not being sure if it was love or lust, or even both. The concept of just being with someone was so enticing to Steve, especially after all those years of feeling as though he was a lost soul in a crowded room.

But, after speaking with him on Skype those few times, he finally felt as though he wasn’t lost anymore. He was by his side, even if Bucky was still mad that Steve didn’t allow him to fight with him and the crew. He felt as though they were just circling each other in terms of explaining what they meant to each other. Each conversation had the inkling of them being on the cusp of saying ‘I miss you’ because, each time Steve spoke to Bucky from thousands and thousands of miles away, he wanted to say it.

For one of the many few times in his life, just didn’t know what to do.

*

Steve walked out of his room, and back into the main hall, seeing that Natasha and Sam were enjoying their day off. It felt like they were back in New York. Back in the comfort of their own home while they all were able to be part of the normalcy that was created. Steev flicked on the television. All that was looking back was the black screen of an unpowered device and well, he already dealt with that today.

The T.V. was set to a worldwide cable network - he could watch Korean dramas, or even The Graham Norton Show live, however all Steve wanted to do was invite the air of Brooklyn back into the quinjet, not caring what the others thought.

-we got to Sasha Jones for our next culture spot, right here in Brooklyn. Sasha?”

A tall woman with a navy blue blazer walked along a stretch of sidewalk with the camera following her path. “ Thanks Michael. We’re here right in the heart of Brooklyn for our next ‘Culture Spot’ on WNYC 10. This little gallery, called S T I L L - L I F E has become the talk of the town thanks to one somewhat controversial portrait series.”

The scene changed to her now walking into the quiet gallery’s area. “ The curated set, consisting of six portraits, and five general sketches. What sets this set apart from the other general sketches is that they were all drawn by Sargent James Buchanan Barnes, or more currently known as The Winter Soldier.”

Steve almost dropped the remote.

With us today, we have the gallery director Timothy Greene. Can you explain to us why you have chosen to spotlight these works, and why you think that these are not controversial?”

The reporter handed the mic over to director, whom he could only assume as Timothy Greene.

“Sergeant Barnes was a victim. He was abused, manipulated, and tortured to become a puppet for Hydra. He was a victim. The sketches and portraits we have here weren’t made by the Winter Soldier, so we can only assume they were made by James Barnes. Eighty percent were donated by the Smithsonian. When collecting and archiving during the many years, the archivists found a vast stack of journals collecting his whole life, which had be recently sealed off for public viewing, as now it is an invasion of his privacy. What was not lost to poor archiving or weathering of the pages was given to us. The last two, they’re a little bit more special. More recent, and donated to us by anonymous people. So, no I don’t believe they are controversial, but more of a window into history’s path, through James’ eyes.”

Sasha nodded her head as she listened, and when Timothy Greene was finished she took the microphone back to herself. “The portraits are currently being held at the Still-Life Gallery right here in Brooklyn. On our website you can read the full article and get the hours of the place to see these relics up close. As far as we know, the series is here indefinitely, until further notice. Back to you, Michael.”

Six of the portraits, when the camera panned across the set of sketches, were all of Steve throughout his time during the mid-twentieth century. Steve wished he could just turn right to Bucky, look at him and as him why, and try to not mention that somewhere, deep in the Smithsonian museum where his own personal journals were located, that he had done just the same.

As Steve got up from his couch to make another call, the emergency lights flicked on, causing the three of them that sat in the quinjet to immediately stand up and get orders from their commanding officer.

Bucky woke up looking at his ceiling. It was that type of day. The day where he didn’t want to move, didn’t want to get out of bed and face the world. He was remembering maybe too much of his past, of what he had done. He grabbed the worn journal that still sat by his bed, and opened it up to another random day, and read the book from there.

He was happy. Bucky was living his life in Brooklyn, going to temple, drinking more than he should have during the week, roughhousing it with his friends in the middle of the street. He was enjoying his time. The times when he wrote in his bed, near Steve. He could see where the pencil stood in its place as he watched Steve in their apartment. Desperately trying not to look, and look at the same time.

Flipping to the page of when he sketched his first portrait, he looked at it again, trying to recreate the memory as when he first moved his pencil. He felt the sense of warmth and heaviness in the middle of his chest, and remembered where he felt it before.

Steve was here burning a piece of pork in his oven, making dinner in their apartment.

Sharing a space.

Living a life that wasn’t just two super-powered people in New York City, and forgetting about all of the weight that was still sitting on top of their shoulders. It was the feeling that Bucky was home, that Bucky was safe from Hydra, but also, he was in control of his own thoughts and feelings and his own life.

Bucky drew because he was happy, he was centered, and it was unmistakable that Steve Rogers only had made it better. His seventieth portrait of Steve Rogers was the one that solidified it all - the colors, the small strokes that he made and the undeniable fact that he drew him happy was sealed love letter to him saying that in all of the years they had been together or not, Steve was the only person that he came back to, and the one person that stuck in his mind even after he was tortured to the brink of death.

Bucky couldn’t lie to himself any longer.

Chapter Text

Weeks had gone by without an ounce of contact from Steve.

No emails, no messages, no Skype calls.

It was just quiet.

Thanksgiving was just him and some food he picked up from Boston Market, that just didn’t quite taste the same as a freshly baked turkey.

When Bucky went back to S T I L L - L I F E to take a peek at the portraits one last time, he wanted to just thank Laura for her patience with him. Not many people did.

“It’s gotten a lot crowded here lately,” Bucky mentioned as he walked up to her desk.

“Yeah,” She smiled. “The local news did a full piece on the entirety of the series. It’s really helped our little place,” Laura looked at the people that passed in and out of the door. “Have any plans for Thanksgiving? You going to your family’s place, or your significant other’s family’s place?”

Bucky scratched the back of his neck. “Whole family died a long time ago, and the latter part is still a bit complicated, so I’m eating alone. Just another Thursday night for me.”

“You’re welcome to join my family and me, if you want?”

Bucky gave a small smile. “Thank you, but no, I uh. I don’t think it’s the right time right now for me to be around people.”

“Usually when people say that, it’s more important than ever to be around the ones who care for you, and the ones you care for.”

“The only person I care in that way is still overseas,” Bucky’s voice was quiet.

“Ah, well,” Laura leaned on the desk, “if you still need to be with some company,” she handed him a small card with an address, “feel free to show up here. No judgements passed at the table."

Bucky took the card and held it in his hand for a moment before pocketing it. “Thanks,” was the only thing he said before waving a small goodbye, and heading out the door.

*

Thanksgiving ended and the days moved on still with no contact from Steve. November slid right into December. The air got crisper and the jackets got even heavier. Even with the drop in temperature Bucky would see small flurries fall from the sky, letting them stick to his hair as he walked the streets in Brooklyn.

The class started to wrap up. Bucky pasted most of his revised paper together, and started to work on the last part. It was decent at best, but was encouraged to try a little harder by his professor even though it wasn’t for the grade.

His calendar on the wall on his fridge indicated that Hanukkah was starting in a few days. When he woke up on the first day of December, Bucky immediately padded around the apartment trying to find his menorah.

If he even had one.

Back in the forties, when Bucky moved in with Steve, Winifred Barnes, his mother, made sure to give him one to always keep, to always have. Bucky remembers one year when the first night landed on Christmas. It was the second year without Sarah Rogers by Steve’s side. Bucky remembers helping Steve get the smallest and cheapest tree (it was more like a twig, in all honesty) and let him decorate it how he wanted, or at least how Sarah would have wanted it.

As Steve was setting up the tree, Bucky walked to the kitchen, and placed the menorah on the table. Grabbing the candles, he placed the first candle in it’s slot and lit the Shamash. As the sun set, and the candles burned he said his three prayers. However, Bucky decided to say one more on the anniversary of Sarah Rogers’ passing.

When Bucky was done, he got up from his chair and turned around to see Steve leaning on the frame of the door.

“Which prayer was that?” Steve asked.

Bucky placed his hands inside his pockets. “ El Malei Rachamim,” Bucky let the words echo. “Prayer for the dead, for Sarah.”

Steve dipped his head and pursed his lips. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I didn’t, but I wanted to.”

“I uh,” Steve looked at Bucky. “I have a present for you. For the holidays. Both Christmas and Hanukkah.”

“Steve,” Bucky sighed. “We said no opening anything until tomorrow. No matter where it lands.”

“I know, I just really want to give it to you.”

“I don’t have mine wrapped or anything -”

“You can still give me the gift tomorrow morning on Christmas.”

“Fine,” Bucky rolled his eyes, and Steve handed him the brown paper covered something to him.

“It’s nothing special.”

Bucky raised an eyebrow. “It’s gonna be something special, Steve. No matter what,” he slipped a finger underneath the pasted edges. It was leather bound and filled with the edges of the paper not uniform. It had personality. “A book?”

“Not exactly,” Steve awkwardly chuckled.

Bucky flipped through the book. The pages were empty, lined lightly from top to bottom. “A journal?”

“Yeah,” Steve said. “Like I said, nothing special.”

Bucky wrote a lot, nothing formal. It was just to set his feelings and day to day recordings. It helped nothing, but it allowed him to be able to vent when necessary. Steve noticed him sitting outside when he wanted to write - trying to get away from the world for no reason. “Thank you, Steve. Really.”

Steve smiled.

The next day on Christmas, Bucky gave Steve a blanket. He had to throw out everything of Sarah Rogers including her homemade quilt that she made for him when he was younger and sicker, thanks to the sickness that she caught. Doctors said it was a risk to keep as they feared with Steve’s compromised system.

So Bucky asked his mom to help him make a new one for him.

Nothing special.

*

Bucky sat down in the Synagogue’s chairs by the back in his usual spot. He listened to the Rabbi talk about the importance, like the other thirty or so times that he had sat through listening through pretty much the same speech, but it made him calm. It made his soul still.

When the Rabbi stopped talking and everyone left the temple, Bucky as per usual, stayed in his spot.

“James, we must stop meeting like this,” the Rabbi sat down in the row in front of him.

“Should I meet you at the altar next time?”  Bucky raised an eyebrow, and the Rabbi chuckled.

“I am, fortunately and unfortunately, married so no need to meet me there,” the Rabbi smiled. “Happy Hanukkah. I am glad this Synagogue can be your place of prayer for the holiday.”

“Well, it’s my first since I started being a civilized human again, I’m glad I was welcomed with open arms.”

The Rabbi nodded. “Anything I can help you with this week? How’s your friend? Your class?”

“Steve? I haven’t heard from him the past few weeks. His mission has taken over, but I don’t know what’s happening. He could be dead for all I know.”

“He’s not dead.”

“Were you able to contact him?”

“No, but if Captain America died, we would have heard it by now. Everyone has a camera.”

“True.”

“...and your class?”

Bucky sighed. “It’s almost done. In a week or so we have to submit the whole paper. The professor sent out another email, we have to physically hand them in.”

“...and?” The rabbi leaned into his chair.

“Well,” Bucky raised his eyebrows, “not many people react kindly when they see the Winter Soldier is in their room.”

“Maybe, but maybe when you hand them a nicely put together essay instead of a semi-automatic into their face, they might react differently. The pen is mightier than the sword.”

“I don’t think that is what that phrase means.”

“The phrase means that typed out letters are better than incessant bickering, just like you’re doing now,” the Rabbi said as he looked at his watch. “I would like to discuss this more, James, but my wife if making a delicious meal for the first night, and must go. Would you like to join?”

“No, thank you, Rabbi Shulman. I’m sure your wife’s food is delicious, but I have some things to take care of. I’ll be back for tomorrow’s service.”

“No, need,” The Rabbi chuckled as he got up from his chair, “just come back for the last night. We catch up better if we haven’t talked in a while anyway.”

*

That night, after writing the final pages to his paper, Bucky stood in front of his bathroom mirror. He looked at his long greasy hair, that was always hidden under a hat. He looked at his beard that made him look tired and grey.

Bucky wondered.

Bucky wondered if he just it all off. Wondered if maybe not looking like the Winter Soldier and maybe looking like James Barnes, also known as the Winter Soldier, would be more approachable. He couldn’t deny that the highly trained assassin wasn’t him - it was, and even more so a bigger part of his identity now than just being a sergeant in the 107th. Maybe it was time to not get stuck in the memories of the past, but learn and move forward.

Maybe it was time to cut his hair.

Chapter Text

It had been three weeks since the emergency call that put Steve, Natasha, and Sam into a conundrum where they couldn't refuse the work. A standoff occured between the team that they were employed with and it took practically eons to finally have them sit down and let them talk since who ever stabbed Steve through the right part of the chest didn’t quite solve anything other than make him angrier.

Good thing the Hulk was still...gone.

The nurse that had helped them before with Natasha’s injuries, wasn’t the least bit shocked when she started to patch up Steve.

“This wound is already starting to close up,” she raised her eyebrows, “I’m impressed, Steve. I think this is a new record.”

“Must be all the milk I’m drinking,” Steve muttered.

“Gonna try out the stand-up scene when you get back to the States?”

“Only if this can be my first bit,” Steve tried to shrug, but winced at the pain. The nurse stabilized his body, and put some pressure above the ace wrap. “When is the official send off for us?”

The nurse blew air out of her mouth, trying to think. “Later today, I think they’re just trying to wrap things up with the discourse. Anxious to get back?”

“I mostly just want to have a burger. Or ten.”

“I’m with you there, Steve. When I get to D.C. to see my mama, the first thing I’m doing is hugging her, then seeing what she made for lunch.”

“Literally the first thing I’m doing is getting into my bed and sleeping,” Natasha said as she sat down in the pilot’s seat.

“Honestly, same.”

“Well,” the nurse finished applying pressure on Steve’s shoulder, “you’re all set with me. Your wound should close up within the next hour or two, but keep the bandage on until you land in New York.” Steve nodded with a small smile. “It’s been a pleasure treating you all. Thanks for...thanks for protecting all of us.”

“Just doing our job,” Sam smiled.

*

Twelve hours later the quinjet took off to the States.

Twenty four hours later, the quinjet landed in a private airfield, and twenty-four hours and ten minutes later, Steve Rogers was back on American soil.

He breathed in the smogged up air.

It was good to be back.

*

Steve stashed his bags at Sam’s apartment, as he wasn’t quite ready to see Bucky at their - Bucky’s - apartment. He needed to enjoy some time alone. Spending the months with Sam and Natasha were great and enjoyed the constant company with them, but he wasn’t able to be alone. He needed space from...people.

He found himself wandering in Brooklyn. It was cold - colder than he originally thought. Spending so much time in tropic type weather really made the high thirty-degree weather seem like something subzero.

At times he felt like he was below the ice again, but Steve tried not to think about how he couldn’t move, could think. How he felt as thought he was suspended in time, but every so often could hear the echoing of cracks in the ice around him.

Steve slipped into a place, where the door was open. He needed to get warm.

Steve only realized he slipped into an art gallery by the time he finished taking his jacket off, and someone saying a soft ‘ oh my God’. Steve turned around, and faced a woman with her hands up to her mouth in shock, still sitting in her chair.

“Ma’am, good afternoon,” Steve turned on the facade.

“Captain Rogers,” the woman placed her hand out for a handshake, “it’s an absolute pleasure meeting you. Thank you for visiting our little gallery here.” Steve shook her hand and looked around, and saw the name of the gallery painted on one of the walls near the entrance to the first floor. S T I L L - L I F E.  It was the gallery he saw on the news.

“Thank you for the warm welcome. I saw the piece that the local news did for this place. Wanted to check it out.”

“By all means, please,” the woman smiled and gestured to the gallery, “and if you’re looking for the selected portraits they’re on the second floor.”

“Thank you,” Steve paused.

“Laura.”

“Thank you, Laura.”

*

Steve meandered around the gallery looking at paintings done by local artists. Mix media, oils, and charcoals were ever present. Steve’s hand itched to get back drawing fine lines and over taught canvas. Steve walked through to the second level and was slightly thankful that there wasn’t another person monitoring the floor. Before he walked in, Steve noticed the letter from the director. He remembered the name from the news.

He walked in. There were no other paintings on the wall, no other sculptures sitting in the corners - just a case filled with neatly preserved sketches.

Eleven to be exact.

Steve walked closer.

It was Bucky’s hand strokes after all. Of the six portraits that were sitting in front of him, at least four were from World War Two, and maybe from even before that. The last two were different. They were much clearer, noting that not too much time had passed between the retrieval of the pages and Steve standing and looking at them today. At least one had been from his time as the Winter Soldier.

That one made his heart tighten.

“The second to last one is my favorite, honestly,” Laura said from behind Steve, but far enough away that her voice echoed slightly. Steve turned around and raised an eyebrow. “The strokes are not his, and his at the same time. There’s an internal battle as to who was trying to draw...you. Some of the shading is similar to the ones in the past, and with Portrait number seventy, but the outlining and angling is too sharp. It was almost like he was drawing to impress, not for himself.”

“I’m sure there was a reason.”

“I’m sure of it too, but he hasn’t told me yet.”

Steve turned around at her statement. “You know him?”

“Comes in here often actually. I don’t think he realizes I know who he is. He’s really nice.”

“Not many people say that about him.”

“Not many people know him.” Steve turned back to the series, still listening to Laura speak. “It’s overwhelming, I’m sure, but I think this isn’t a conversation for you and me, if my interpretations of the series are correct.”

Steve bit on his lip, and turned around. “My conversations with people don’t usually get this personal.”

“I apologize, I overstepped my boundaries. I didn’t mea-” Laura was cut off.

“No, no. I think it’s an interpretation held by a lot of people. Thank you for letting me wander around,” Steve gave a small smile, and put his jacket back on, before heading back down the stairs.

Chapter Text

Bucky walked into the empty classroom at the community college. All the stress about not wanting to be recognized and recognized all the same left his body and the annoyance for stressing entered. A large handwritten note on the whiteboard was printed for everyone to see.

IF I AM NOT PRESENT, PLEASE LEAVE ESSAYS FACE UP ON MY DESK

THANK YOU

Bucky had only completed a task that fast since he was the Winter Soldier ordered to kill someone at close range. He tightened up his jacket as he walked past a small group. He noticed out of the corner of his eye people giving him a double take.

*

December shifted from the mild forty degree afternoons to the crisper days that made up the week, but Bucky was happy to finally be on his way home into his apartment. The class was done.

The rhyme No more papers, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks rang through his head. Bucky remembers some kids younger than him at the time chanting it as they walked home when school was over back before.

It was weird being done with something that didn’t...cumulate into something else. He wasn’t going to take another class, not become a famous art critic or artist from it, so there was nothing left. He felt like the sum total of the past few months amounted to null.

He felt empty.

 

Bucky stopped at his door before he keyed into his apartment. His lights were on.

Someone was in his apartment.

He opened the door slowly and quietly, just enough that not even someone with advanced hearing could scout him out. Bucky walked slowly, making sure to step over the spots that he definitely didn’t spend hours marking to know where the wood didn’t creak. There was a man in a black peacoat, blondish, and hunched over, and just sitting.

Bucky quickly acted and walked in, taking the man, who was a lot heavier than he expected and pinned him against the wall.

“Steve?” Bucky furrowed his eyebrows and let go of Steve’s jacket almost immediately when he saw his face.

“Hey there, Bucky,’ Steve smiled. Bucky kept his hands on the lapels on Steve’s jacket, holding them lightly, before realizing, and letting go.

“Uh, hi. Welcome back?” Bucky asked, stepping back and giving Steve some room. The other man winced slightly. “Oh my God, what the fuck happened.”

“Just got stabbed through the shoulder, no biggie. It’s practically done healing.”

“You got stabbed through the shoulder?!” Bucky’s voice was rough. “Fucking Christ , Rogers. Is this why you haven’t done anything, haven’t called, haven’t messaged...anything.”

“I’ve been a bit busy. Like, you, I guess.”

“What do you mean?”

“I saw your gallery opening.”

Bucky was silent.

“Is that your class?” Steve sounded bitter. “Drawing me, drawing places?”

“No, no ,” Bucky bit back words. “No. My class was something...different.”

“Why don’t you just tell me?” Steve furrowed his eyebrows.

Why do you want to know?!” Bucky now started to become irritated. “What does it matter, Steve? You just came back from a five month gig in somewhere in the middle of the world and you’re grilling me about some drawings I did seventy years ago?”

“Because I want to know if what I’ve been feeling for those past seventy years or so is true. I want to know why you did those drawings, from the forties, and even from a few years ago?”

“A few years ago?” Bucky questioned, almost playing it dumb.

“Number sixty-nine. That one had to have been at least from the later years of your stint as the Winter Soldier.” A quick flash of Pierce snapped into the front of his mind. “Why’d you draw all of those portraits?”

Bucky sat down. He wasn’t going to win this war.  Bucky took the palms of his hands and rubbed them on his eyes. “I drew them because you were always there.”

Steve sat down, and leaned back into his chair, looking at Bucky. “What do you mean?”

“You were the only one who knew me, really, knew me. When I was drunk, you were the only one to take care of me. You were the only one to clean me up, get me dressed for bed, and leave a glass of water on my table. We fought together in war, in some strange circumstances. I was your right hand man, and you treated me with honor and dignity even after my death. When I was the Soldier, you were the only person I remembered. Even after the decades of electrocution, torture, manipulation, you were the person I thought of to keep me as sane as I could. When I came back from Wakanda it was you who made a home, but after all this time you were my home.”

Steve was silent.

“I think that’s why I was so frustrated when you left. I was going to go back to this place where you weren’t there. This sort of almost emptiness. I think that’s why I sketched, you specifically. It was some way to feel like you were near me.”

“When you died,” Steve started, “the idea that I wasn’t going to have a normal life started to settle in. Even if me and Pegs worked out, you were always in the picture. My neighbor, Uncle Bucky to the kids, something like that. I never figured that you wouldn’t be in it. You were always there, whether it was beating up bullies, or going on double dates with,” Steve was finally able to look at Bucky . Healthier. Happier.

His hair was cut short - styled like when Bucky was by his side during the war.

“What are you staring at?” Bucky could only say after Steve’s speech.

“You.”

Bucky was silent, not knowing how to react. “I think,” Bucky sighed. “I think I love you. I think I’ve been in love with you for the past few decades...and I think, pushing all societal barriers aside, me sketching you was the only way I knew how to tell you.”

Steve got up from his chair, still wearing his jacket, and brought his chair closer to Bucky. He brought his hand up to Bucky’s stubbled face and held it in his hand, stroking Bucky’s cheek with his thumb. Bucky allowed it, and moved his body closer to Steve’s.

“Can I kiss you?” Steve asked, and in return, Bucky closed the space between them, slotting their lips together. Their kiss was rough and electrifying and everything in between. Just enough warmth encapsulated Bucky’s body to make him feel happy, before Steve broke the kiss. Bucky moaned slightly in pleasure as he felt Steve’s body melt away.

“I think that answers a few of our questions,” Steve shrugged, and met Bucky’s eyes before tentatively going back in for another quick kiss.

“You’re my home, Steve. Don’t ever forget it,” Bucky said, with a small smile on his face.

*

A few days later, Bucky found himself in bed, watching the snowfall from his window. Hanukkah passed, and everywhere else started to ramp up their Christmas decor, but he couldn’t care less about what the outside world and their ever changing days. Steve was by his side, sleeping peacefully with his head resting near the crook of Bucky’s neck.

Bucky smiled he was happy. Had been happy for the past few days.

Bucky opened up his gift that he received on the last day of Hanukkah - a brand new leather bound notebook with the words on the inside that said “ You’re my home” - and started to sketch Portrait number seventy-one.