“Nice place you got here, Buck,” Steve said, putting down one of the boxes.
“Don’t carry the boxes up here,” Bucky said, “that’s what the movers are for. You know, the ones I paid for?”
“You were carrying your case, and I had distinctly empty arms,” Steve said. “Just felt weird, I’m supposed to be helping you move in.”
“Uh huh,” Bucky said. He stepped into the middle of what would become the music studio, one of two rooms in his new condo that had double ceilings. He put his violin case down on the box, since Steve had moved it there anyway, and unclipped the latches.
“You need a hand with that?” And then Steve flinched, because it was frequently the wrong thing to say. He’d made two references to hands and arms in the last five minutes. Bucky tried to tell himself he didn’t notice, which was a lie, or that he didn’t care. Also a lie. But Bucky was getting really good at lying to himself.
“Nah, I just got a new one, I’m good,” Bucky said, and he waved the prosthetic at Steve. It wasn’t anything like a real hand or arm, and Bucky was still learning to control it, but he might, possibly, be able to play again. He didn’t bother to take the violin out of its case, though. He didn’t want Steve to watch how awkward the whole thing was. He plucked the strings, pizzicato, and listened critically. The violin was still in tune after the move. That was good.
“Call Me, Maybe?” Steve asked, rolling his eyes. “You’re choosing to christen your new house with Carly Rae Jepsen?”
“Been going through my head since this morning,” Bucky said. Also, if Steve was complaining about his musical choice, he wasn’t noticing how badly Bucky’s hand was shaking, playing it. He was going to declare that half a win. “And you recognized it.”
“We can’t all sight read Liebestraum in A Flat, pal,” Steve said.
“Honestly, I’m surprised you can pronounce it,” Bucky said. He’d been a concert violinist, once.
Before the accident.
“The acoustics are really good in here,” Steve commented, which was only repeating what Bucky had said. Steve couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.
“Yes, they are,” Bucky said. He closed the case.
Steve opened his mouth like he was going to say something else, possibly sympathetic, and Bucky didn’t want to hear it. “The movers are coming up now,” Bucky said, and he brushed past Steve to get to the door.
The condo was new, the building had only opened about six months ago, and Bucky was the first owner. Everyone else in the building was renting.
He probably wouldn’t have been able to afford a place like this at all before the accident. Three bedroom, two and a half baths, more space than Bucky had seen outside a concert hall. All for him, one cat, and a lot of emotional baggage. But after the lawsuit against the Starks, especially considering that Bucky had lost his arm, as a concert violinist… well, he’d sued the estate, not the Starks themselves, given that Howard had been driving drunk and he’d killed himself and his wife in the process of mangling Bucky’s arm so badly that the doctors had decided to remove it.
And the estate had paid out a ten million dollar settlement, after the lawyers took their bites. He was wearing a quarter of that settlement on his shoulder these days, and the condo represented another three million. With four million left in an annuity, he could probably live the rest of his life comfortably.
He didn’t need to work.
He didn’t need to play.
He looked around his big, empty, open living space and wondered what the fuck he was going to do with the rest of his life.
The movers brought the sofa in first, which was probably smart, because Bucky had them set it where he wanted it, and then flopped down on it. It looked like shit in the middle of this very nice condo. Second hand from his sister after she and her husband had combined households and he refused to give up his sofa with the two heated recliners.
“New furniture,” Bucky declared. “I’m going to need to get new furniture.”
“You’ve certainly got enough space for it,” Steve remarked. “Is anyone else coming up to help?”
“Nat’s bringing Alpine over after the movers get done, and Clint and Sam are gonna help me unpack and get settled in. You’re welcome to stay, booze and pizza for payment. You can figure out where to put my old furniture, you’ve got a good eye for that sort of thing.”
So, Bucky stayed on the sofa and watched, amused and despairing by turns, as Steve started straw bossing and interior designing Bucky’s condo.
One of the movers was wearing an ugly Fitbit sort of watch, the face huge. They were situating the table when a gleam of reflection sprayed off it into the room. For just a second, Bucky was blinded, and he raised his hand, his left hand, up to ward it off.
Bucky didn’t spend a lot of time looking at something that was attached to his body, honestly.
The robotic, terminator-style fingers, a bony, metallic framework still freaked him out on a regular basis. They didn’t do a good job of blocking the light, either.
… the bike slides out from under him, almost as smooth as if he planned it, and the road grabs rudely at his arms and legs, slowing him down, slowing, but not slow enough, and the headlights of the oncoming car are so bright.
He doesn’t remember swearing, but he probably is. He’d read a paper in college about the last things people said before an accident and they were usually swears.
Everything is moving so slowly. He has time to notice that it’s a very expensive car, a golden Mercedes Benz, practically brand new. There are two people in the car, a man who looks merely shocked and a woman who is screaming.
He hits the car’s hood and bounces off and--
The weight, oh, so heavy, and it hurt, it hurts… he’s bleeding and his skin is raw. The car’s engine is churning and Bucky is laying on his stomach, staring at the road. He’s bleeding and he can see that, the dark flow of blood obscuring the little reflections of light across the gravel.
How did I get here?
Bucky tries to push himself up, and it doesn’t work, his arm’s not working, and he screams, oh, god, he’s screaming and he can’t stop until he’s breathless.
He rolls over on his side. The car is still running, the tires digging into the muddy ground, but it’s stuck, stuck on the tree. Bucky manages to get to his feet, he’s not sure how, but there were people in that car, there are people in that car, and he staggers to the driver’s side door, his right hand clumsy and careless and the knuckles are covered with scrapes all the way through his leather glove, and he’s so glad he was wearing his biker’s pants, because he doesn’t think he even tore skin on his legs, but damn, his arm hurts, it hurts.
He gets the door open and the driver spills out onto the pavement.
The man wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and the way he falls, he can’t be conscious. Bucky drops to his knees. “Sir?”
“Howard?” the woman says, and Bucky is trying to find a pulse, he doesn’t remember if he knows how to do that. He’s seen it in a million movies, but he doesn’t think he’s ever tried to find one before.
He can’t find one now. There’s nothing throbbing under his fingers.
“Ma’am?” The woman is sobbing. He thinks she already knows what he’s about to tell her. “Ma’am, are you hurt?”
“Howard,” she says again and Bucky looks up at her. Her entire belly and chest is smeared with blood, and after a moment, Bucky realizes that the dark thing -- that he thought was a shadow -- is part of a street sign, and it’s stuck in her.
“Howard’s fine, ma’am, he’s going to be fine,” Bucky tells her. She turns her head as if to look, but there’s no way she can see him.
She dies looking at him as he lies to her….
Her blank eyes are staring at him and-- “Bucky. Bucky, wake up. Come back to us.”
Bucky blinked a few times, and the light stung his eyes. Hadn’t it been dark just a-- “Shit.”
He shook his head. Nat was there, leaning over him cautiously, those jade green eyes of hers concerned. “What?”
“You back with us?”
“Never left,” Bucky lied. He was good at lying, and while his friends all probably knew he had some trauma, if he didn’t admit to it, he wasn’t going to have to talk about it with them. God, he relived that night often enough without having to explain it to anyone. “Just resting my eyes. It’s been a long week.”
“Mm.” Nat didn’t look convinced, but she let it go. She hefted the cat carrier, turning it so Bucky could see Alpine inside. Alpine looked... less than pleased with his circumstances. “Is it safe to let him out?”
Bucky let his eyes drift around the room; there were a ton of boxes stacked and neatly labeled in the room, but no movers. Had he missed the moving crew?
God damn it, he didn’t know how much time he’d lost, reviewing in his mind a situation he couldn’t possibly change now.
“Yeah, I think-- they’re done, right, they said they were done?” He glanced at Steve, who shrugged one shoulder.
“I signed for them,” Steve admitted.
“Great, thanks, you earned your pizza and beer,” Bucky said, and pushed up from the sofa. “Go ahead and let him out, I’ll get the box prepped--” He wasn’t even sure where the litter box was, honestly, but he’d had it set aside as one of the first things to unpack, so he just needed to find it.
“Yes. Steve, you call for pizzas.” She looked around the frankly barren room, chose a corner, and opened Alpine’s carrier.
Perversely, now that the door was open, the cat didn’t look interested in coming out. He crept up to the door, sniffed at the floor, and froze.
Nat clucked her tongue and sat cross-legged in front of the carrier, holding out her hand, tempting Alpine to come out and be petted.
“I think there’s snacks and some of his toys in the-- ah, here it is,” Bucky scrambled in his pocket for his folding knife. It was awkward to hold and grip right handed, but his left hand didn’t always clamp down the way he thought it should, and everyone would just fuss if he cut himself by accident. He sliced the tape open and started pulling out cat supplies.
Automated litter box; was it terrible of him that literally the first thing he bought after paying off some of his hospital bills, with his settlement money, was one of those fancy, self-scooping and packing litter boxes?
A packet of cat-jerky, which was Alpine’s favorite snack, and a handful of cat toys -- canvas mice and balls with bells. Somewhere in another box, would be Alpine’s cat tree.
There was enough space in the condo for a couple of cat trees. And maybe one of those fancy runner-paths around some of the rooms. Alpine liked to look down on people.
He dangled a mouse for Alpine, who just looked at him blankly. Though when Nat took it, the cat showed a little interest, stepping one foot out to sniff at it, and then another.
He batted it out of Nat’s hand, startled when it hit the floor and the little bell in it tinkled, and then raced under the sofa. Stupid scaredy-cat.
“We need music,” Nat informed Bucky.
“Yeah, okay,” Bucky said. “Right now, you got crappy bluetooth speaker, until I find my damn stereo.” He was one of the few people he knew who still owned a stereo; turntable and CD player and almost two terabytes worth of drive space to hold all his mp3s. Plugging in wires and setting up his speakers and checking the room acoustics was going to be exhausting, delicate little fussy tasks that had his arm over his head. Not tonight.
He sat the speaker in the corner, just where Steve had apparently dictated the television should be -- Bucky would have to move that, later. The westward window was going to put sunlight on the screen right when he wanted to watch his shows, but he wasn’t going to watch television today. He flipped through his playlists but nothing really screamed music to unpack to, so he just hit the upbeat music list.
“If Call Me, Maybe is on this playlist, you’re going to just have to admit that you like that horrible song,” Steve teased.
Bucky glanced down at his phone to see if it was in the list. It was, but about twenty songs down. He could skip it. Steve would never need to know.
“It’s like a Parisian chef whose favorite food is pork rinds and gummy worms,” Nat teased, but she was wiggling in time with the music.
“Hey, they make more money than I did,” Bucky said. As if money really meant anything. It was just a way to keep score. Although, he had to admit, he liked the new condo. He’d never had so much room in his life.
“Okay, pizza on the way, where’s the booze box, and we’ll start making this house feel like a home,” Steve said.
Well, good luck with that, Bucky decided. “I need some new art,” Bucky decided. “You should pick something.” Art would at least make the place look less empty. And the way Steve lit up was well worth paying for whatever he was going to select.
A few minutes later, Sam and Clint pushed their way in, joking and shoving each other the way they tended to do. Birdbrains.
The cat slunk further under the sofa.
Bucky tried to relax, let the warm love and subtle nudges toward helping him out actually reach him instead of making him defensive and nervous.
These were his friends, and they cared about him. He would have helped any one of them move and unpack. That’s what friends did, right?
“Friends help you move,” he said, waiting for someone -- probably Clint -- to finish off the saying.
“Real friends,” Clint started, and then he, Sam, and Nat all joined in to finish, “help you move bodies.”
Yeah, Bucky was home.
Someone was screaming. Loudly. Without stopping.
Jesus, didn’t they need to breathe?
Tony unglued one eyelid and pried it open. He closed it again, tightly, because the sun was evil and he really had to do something about creating and then installing voice-activated polarization control for his windows.
Of course, that would require talking, and he wasn’t sure he could move his tongue, weighed down as it was with the weight of whatever had died on it.
The screaming resolved into... scales. Someone was playing scales. Loudly. Right underneath him. Also, badly. Really badly.
He dragged his eyelid open again and squinted at the clock. A little after ten. So he’d gotten maybe... five, six hours of sleep. His head was pounding, almost as loudly as the screeching scales.
The scales were not getting any better with repetition. Some kind of stringed instrument, Tony thought. Violin, viola, something like that.
Vaguely, Tony remembered seeing a moving truck double-parked out front when he’d left the building yesterday, to start his pre-party drinking. Guess he knew now where they’d moved into: the apartment right below his. Great.
The scales stopped. Tony let out a sigh of relief. He rolled over, hoping he could get another couple of hours’ sleep.
They started up again. Jesus fuck. Tony pulled his pillow over his head, which didn’t help much, and groped around on his nightstand until his hand closed on a wrench. That would do. He reached down and banged it on the floor. Knock it the fuck off, some of us are trying to sleep off a hangover!
The violin made a startled squawk, which was almost worse than the scales had been, and then several sharp notes floated up through the floor, not the off-key scales, but someone plucking the strings.
It took Tony a moment to realize what he was hearing; rap music wasn’t his favorite, but everyone had been cranking out Cee-Lo Green’s song for a few months, back about five years ago or so.
Driving round town with the girl I love / and it’s like fuck you
But the music -- if Tony wanted to dignify it with that name -- stopped after that, and really, what more could he hope for?
He sighed and snuggled back down into his blankets, but now that he’d woken up, he couldn’t quite seem to get comfortable again. He turned over and tried again.
“Dammit,” he croaked. He threw back the covers and sat up, scratching his hands through his hair and over his face. Well. If he was up anyway, he might as well get dressed. Pick up a quart of coffee and one of those terrible grease-bomb breakfast sandwiches, and go into the office. Obie would be pleased.
“I know you’re still processing your grief, son, and that’s fine. I’m not trying to rush you. But you need to put in a little effort, once in a while. It’s been six months.”
Tony rolled his eyes at the memory, and then winced, because that hurt. He pushed himself upright and shuffled toward the bathroom. He couldn’t begrudge Obie trying to keep the company rolling along, he supposed. That’s what Obie did. Obie had only taken half a day off for the funeral, even, and had been working harder than ever, since.
Maybe that was Obie’s way of processing his grief.
Though it was hard to imagine Obie being grieved about much of anything, really, except maybe a big stock drop.
Tony loaded his toothbrush with paste and scrubbed the taste of dead things out of his mouth, then splashed his face and examined his beard. Scruffy, but not too horrible. He’d shave before going out tonight; no need to shave for SI. Who was going to care?
He pulled on jeans and a t-shirt -- and then, at least 87% certain Obie would drop in on him as soon as his presence became generally known -- pulled on a button-down over that. Compromise, he was all about compromise.
He stuffed his wallet in one pocket and his phone in the other, and took the elevator downstairs. God, it had been such a good idea to rent an apartment away from the SI headquarters. It was just far enough that Obie wouldn’t drop in unannounced, and not unless it was something important. And it didn’t have all those awkward and uncomfortable memories clinging to it.
Made it easier to forget.
He wasn’t expecting the small crowd of paparazzi clustered just outside the building entrance, though, and at least one camera went off while he was still blinking in shock, before he’d managed to paste on his public grin. He paused, then exaggeratedly looked down at himself. “Yep, I remembered pants today,” he said. “What’s up, guys?”
“Mr. Stark, Mr. Stark, have you heard the latest?” one of the reporters said, bringing their cameraman entirely too close. “The man involved in your parent’s death--”
Tony’s stomach clenched at the mention, and he let his smile get a little wider, a little sharper. “Is, hopefully, re-learning how to live his life after the accident,” he said, probably just a little too loudly. “You’ll all have to excuse me; I’m late.” He ducked his head and shouldered through the throng.
“-- spent three million of your company’s money for a luxury condo, Mr. Stark, do you have a comment--”
He shouldn’t comment, he shouldn’t comment. He could practically hear the lawyers and Obie all reminding him that he absolutely should not comment on pretty much anything, but he couldn’t resist pausing just long enough to quip, “In this town, you’re lucky if three mil gets you a nicely-painted shoebox.” An utter lie, of course -- Tony’s own apartment only went for four million and some change, and there were apartments in his building that went for as low as two and a half. But disparaging housing prices in the city was like talking about the weather anywhere else. “Just wait ‘til he gets his first winter heating bill.”
Oh, thank Christ, a taxi. Tony flagged it down, and the press crowded closer to him, trying to get some last words in… “Mr. Stark, it doesn’t bother you that--”
Tony slammed the cab door and shook his head, pointing to his ear. Can’t hear you, la la la.
Christ. Couldn’t they give it a rest? It wasn’t like Barnes had bankrupted the estate or anything, and for fuck’s sake, Howard’s carelessness had cost the man his damn arm. Tony didn’t care what he did with the money.
But that wasn’t a story that played well with the press. They wanted rivalry, resentment. Sparks and spite. Well, fuck that. Tony didn’t want to hate anyone. He just wanted to build his robots and tinker with code and drink himself to sleep every night. Was that so much to ask?