Bucky stared at his reflection in the opaque glass viewing window. The SHIELD manacles that wrapped around his arms, wrists, chest, thighs, and ankles were at least four inches thick, bisecting his reflection into fragments of a man encased in metal. They were solid iron, if Bucky had to guess, and probably tested rigorously by the Hulk before being deemed strong enough to hold the enemies of SHIELD. Bucky stared at his own bored looking face as time seemed to drone on indefinitely. He wished there was something else for him to look at but SHIELD wasn’t exactly known for their interior decorating skills. Very few organizations put much thought into what the inside of a cell should look like. Hydra certainly hadn’t and SHIELD was no different.
Bucky wiggled his fingers. That was about as much as he could move without getting in trouble. He’d been yelled through a speaker yesterday for shifting in his seat too much so he ignored the cramping stiffness in his legs and forced his mind to wander. He thought about Shuri and Okoye, Captain Rogers and his two pals, his old Captain during the war, and his boss at the Brooklyn docks. Somewhere along the line, a song snagged at the back of his mind and stuck. Almost unconsciously, Bucky began tapping his shiny vibranium fingers against the solid arm of his chair.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
The rhythm felt familiar. It was the beat of an old song from decades ago. He tried to place the tune as he kept banging out the beat that skirted around the edges of his memory.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
It was nice. Ever since he’d been taken in by T’Challa and Shuri, things had been getting better. Bucky didn’t exactly understand what Shuri had done in his head but now he knew the song he was thinking of wasn’t buried by some Hydra programming trying to squeeze the humanity out of him. He just couldn’t fucking remember. What was more human than that?
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
It was a jazzy song. It had a spring in it. It was something you could really dance to.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
It was right there, on the tip of his tongue.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap ta—
“Please, refrain from tapping,” a voice over the intercom said.
Bucky stared up at the little speaker in the upper corner of the small white room. Then he looked back at the glass viewing window and gave it a big exaggerated pout before lifting his middle finger as much as he was able to through the restraints before huffing out a quiet breath and sitting still. He wondered who was watching him from the other side of the glass and what they were saying about him back there.
He’d been in SHIELD custody for four weeks now and each day was more unfathomably boring than the last. The highlights of his imprisonment occurred when someone came to interrogate him. It didn’t happen every day but at least Bucky had someone to talk to when it did. Not that interrogators were particularly good conversationalists but Bucky wasn’t exactly in a position to be picky. Fury came once; that meeting was stupidly unproductive. There had been six psychologists; none of whom returned for a second interview, and even two military interrogators. Then there was the Scarlet Witch.
Bucky liked the Witch. She was his ticket out of this place, he was sure of it. It had been obvious from the beginning that no one was going to believe him when he said he wanted to join SHIELD and the Avengers and Bucky didn’t blame them. It didn’t matter how many interrogations he sat for or how many lie detector tests he took, there was always the possibility that he was just an exceptionally good actor. Besides, Hydra had over 70 years to make sure he could pass any test SHIELD gave him so it was no wonder he’d been strapped to this chair the second he’d been spotted at SHIELD’s front door amidst the wet January snow.
Bucky hadn’t been sure how he’d convince them to let him out before the Witch arrived. He sort of just figured he’d keep repeating himself until he wore them down: “No, I’m not with Hydra anymore. Well, they imprisoned and tortured me until I was just a shell of a human being with no autonomy. No, I didn’t want to do the things they made me do. No, I’d rather die than go back there. I want to help you destroy them.”
It wasn’t working.
Then, one day, about a week ago, a young woman walked into his cell. She was small and pale with long dark hair and smokey eye makeup. Bucky had seen her once before on the news in Wakanda. She was an Avenger; one of the new ones. He didn’t know exactly what she could do but, from the look of things, she was pretty powerful, especially if she’d been sent in to speak to him alone. She’d stared at Bucky for a minute and Bucky had stared back. Then she raised her thin fingers and suddenly red fog was shimmering in front of his eyes. It didn’t hurt, but he could feel her poking around in his head. It was a familiar sensation. Hydra, Shuri, the Scarlet Witch: they’d all been in there. It was nothing new, but when she pulled away she looked surprised. Bucky just smiled at her. She hadn’t done anything to him, she just wanted to see what was in his head and now she knew the truth. All she had to do was tell SHIELD he wasn’t trying to infiltrate them and they’d let him go.
Three days passed Bucky wondered if being kept in solitary confinement for four weeks had turned him into an optimist but, on the fourth day, the Witch came back. She actually said “hello” that time. She said her name was Wanda and that SHIELD wanted her to take another look in his brain in case she’d missed something. She even asked his permission before wiggling her fingers at him, which was refreshing. Shuri had told him that someone messing with his brain without his permission was a human rights violation. Bucky told her that human rights only apply when everyone agrees that you’re a person. It wasn’t a happy thought, but, at that point, the fact that Bucky was verbally disagreeing with someone without worrying that he’d be punished was actually a big deal and Shuri had been thrilled enough to throw him an impromptu dance party in her lab.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
Oh, maybe he’d heard the song there.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Oh, honey, honey—
The cell door opened behind Bucky’s chair. In the reflection of the dark viewing window Bucky saw Wanda walk in before a SHIELD agent closed the door behind her.
“Hey, Wanda. Why can’t I tap?”
A smile twitched on her lips as she walked around his chair to stand in front of him.
“Hi, James,” she said softly, “Tony Stark was trying to do the math on how likely it was that you somehow managed to fool me and the tapping was annoying him.”
“He should try sitting in a white, windowless room for four weeks,” Bucky suggested, grinning at the glass over Wanda’s shoulder where he now knew that at least Stark was watching him through the one way mirror, “I think he’d love it.”
Wanda actually smiled at that and Bucky felt inordinately pleased with himself.
“He came to the conclusion that it was unlikely,” she finished with knowing eyes.
“Really?” Bucky asked, “Not impossible? I woulda’ said that it was impossible and no one knows more about having your mind poked at than me.”
“That’s probably true.” Wanda nodded, looking a little apologetic, “They want me to take another look.”
“Oh, hey, while you’re in there,” Bucky said, perking up, “I have this song stuck in my head and I can’t remember the lyrics or where I heard it. I think it’s an old one but I seriously can’t remember. Could you check that out for me?”
Wanda snorted. Her nose crinkled and another smile made her sad face glow.
“You really know how to make the best of a bad situation, don’t you?”
“I mean, there’s no place to go but up,” Bucky replied, wiggling his fingers again to show off his restraints, “It’s the little things, you know?”
Wanda nodded, her smile morphing into a grimace as she held up her fingers, red mist already congealing around them.
The red fog wasn’t cold or warm. It was just hazy and it made Bucky dizzy. He didn’t know how much time passed between Wanda’s fingers brushing his temples and him blinking away the confusion to stare up at her again but she was smiling at him as she pulled away.
“Mmm.” Bucky relaxed in his chair, shifting as much as he could to get comfortable, “I could really go for a milkshake right now. You have no idea.”
Wanda smiled at him again.
“There’s a diner downtown that has the best shakes, I’ll take you sometime,” she said.
Bucky’s eyebrows shot up.
“Yea—yeah! That would be great,” he managed to get out through his surprise.
Were they letting him out? Was that it? Was he free?
Wanda reached down and squeezed his fingers gently before heading back to the door, leaving Bucky to stare at his own surprised face in the reflective glass.
“Oh, and James?” Bucky’s eyes met hers in the glass, “Love on Top.”
“Ah,” Bucky smiled as the cell door opened and closed once again, “Beyoncé, of course.”
He stared up the plain white ceiling as the words came flooding back to him.
Oh, honey, honey. I can see the stars all the way from here…
Bucky’s debrief was long and annoying but, more importantly, it was finite. An agent handed him a stack of three t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a hoodie which now constituted all his worldly possessions. He’d had a handful of things from Wakanda— gifts from Shuri mostly— but SHIELD had taken them when he arrived. He asked one of the agents if he could have them back but the answer had been tepid. Bucky decided not to hold his breath.
Another agent, a woman named Hill, told him that he’d be sharing quarters with Agent Barton.
Clinton Francis Barton. Hawkeye. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Marksman. Partner of Black Widow: Natalia Alianovna Romanoff. Kill on sight.
Bucky scowled at the sound of Hydra whispers in his ear. Shuri had tried to get rid of them but it turned out that it wasn’t even part of the programming; it was Bucky’s own brain regurgitating information at him. All Bucky could do was ignore it.
From SHIELD’s perspective, Barton was a safe bet. He was one of the few Avengers who didn’t actively want Bucky dead. Bucky figured that Romanoff, Wilson, Rogers, and Stark were all squarely in the red for him and Hulk was far too dangerous to be anyone’s babysitter. That left Barton and Thor. Thor was a no-go, since he was off-world more often than not, which left only Barton. For Bucky though, Barton could be tricky; he was in Romanoff’s pocket and Bucky had shot her twice. She may sabotage him by convincing Barton to hate him on principle.
Bucky sat silently in the backseat of a van with his hands cuffed as SHIELD transported him to Avengers Tower. He was on probation, Hill had explained. He wasn’t an Avenger but, eventually, if he was approved by the team, they might let him assist them on missions since he’d been deemed sane and relatively safe by Wanda. That was good enough for Bucky.
After Wakanda, he’d tried taking Hydra on by himself. He was mildly successful, but they littered the globe like a virus and he needed more resources than just what he could scrounge up with $30 and a handful of guns. He probably could have asked Shuri for help, but she and T’Challa had already done so much for him. The last thing he wanted to do was take advantage of their kindness. He already owed them a debt that could never be repaid.
Besides, once he got his memories back, he realized that he really missed New York. He hadn’t been home since 1941, save for a handful of Hydra missions that he decided didn’t count. The van didn’t have any windows but he could hear the rumble of the city outside and it filled him with giddy anticipation. He remembered the bustle of the 30’s. He remembered going out dancing on the weekends with Dot from down the block and her cousin Lottie. He remembered taking his sister, Becca, down to the pier and eating peanuts on the rocky shore.
Bucky cut his train of thought off quickly. Thinking about his sister never left him in a good place.
He focused on the rumble of the van and the clink of his handcuffs as they rattled. It had been a while since they’d set off so they must be getting close. Not ten minutes later, the van came to a halt. Bucky waited patiently as the driver got out. Voices spoke quietly outside and then someone was unlocking the back. Agent Phillip Coulson was the one to swing the doors open.
Agent Phillip J. Coulson. Deputy Director of SHIELD under Nicholas J. Fury. Capture. Kill if necessary.
Coulson had been the one who came to arrest him when he arrived at SHIELD headquarters four weeks ago. It seemed that they’d come full circle as Coulson motioned for Bucky to get out of the van. Bucky ducked his head and stepped out, hoisting the backpack he’d been given higher up on his shoulder as best he could with the handcuffs still holding his wrists together. Two other agents stood off to the side and they kept their eyes trained on Bucky as Coulson escorted him through the mostly empty parking garage and into an elevator.
Bucky tamped down the urge to start whistling as the elevator silently took them up. They used to play music, back in the day, but the agents around him were clearly on edge and the last thing Bucky wanted was to be thrown back into that white box because he’d behaved in a manner that some paranoid agent deemed “suspicious”.
The elevator opened to a floor that looked more like a compound in lockdown than the beacon of hope that Avengers Tower was supposed to be. All the walls were glass, though the ones that faced the outdoors were frosted, and the sleek dark floor reflected the overhead lights with a dull sheen.
Bucky sighed. He’d been hoping to catch a glimpse of sunlight or maybe even a whiff of cold winter air before being locked in the Tower. Maybe one day he’d see the sun again, he thought melodramatically.
There were a good handful of Stark employees visible through the glass walls. Some were watching him darkly while others typed on laptops or scribbled equations on whiteboards. On the far side of the room, waiting for them, stood a good half of the Avengers.
Wanda smiled at Bucky as they approached and Bucky grinned crookedly back. Barton stood at her side, arms crossed and face passive. A few feet behind them, Bucky saw Rogers, Romanoff, and Wilson, all watching him with varying degrees of suspicion. Romanoff was the most openly hostile. She scowled at Bucky with a touch of fury in her narrowed eyes.
Natalia Alianovna Romanoff. The Black Widow. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Former KGB. Partner of Hawkeye: Clinton Francis Barton. Protégé of Nicholas Joseph Fury. Kill on sight.
Wilson had the most attitude. His one raised eyebrow said “rip my wings off again and I will end you.”
Samuel Thomas Wilson. The Falcon. Avenger. Former United States Air Force. Former Air National Guard. Counselor at the New York Veteran’s Association. Recruited by Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Capture. Kill if necessary.
Rogers was a little harder to pin down. The furrow between his eyes pointed at distrust, but there was something uncertain in his frown.
Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Captain America. The First Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Strategist. Combat expert. No. 1 enemy of Hydra. Kill on sight.
Bucky wondered if Rogers knew that he’d been the one to pull him out of the Potomac. Sure, he’d also been the one to put him there, but still. Bucky wondered if he should apologize. He probably should. He’d shot Rogers four times.
“Hey, James,” Wanda greeted, “How are you doing?”
“Pretty good,” Bucky replied with an easy grin, “I own three shirts now and none of them are leather.”
Wanda chuckled but, more interestingly, Barton’s lips pursed like he was trying not to smile.
“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met.” Bucky held out his shackled hands.
“Clint Barton,” Barton said, shaking Bucky’s hand with a firm grasp, “I hear you’re a pretty good marksman.”
“I get by,” Bucky replied.
Barton didn’t seem to hate him. He wondered what Romanoff did, or didn’t, tell him.
“Agent Barton,” Coulson said, holding out a thin key, “The Winter Soldier is now in your custody.”
Bucky wished they wouldn’t call him that. He hadn’t picked the name. Hydra called him that because he was always cold. He would shiver uncontrollably when they took him out of cryofreeze. It wasn’t until the mid 70’s that he learned how to tamp down the reaction but by then the name had already stuck. Even the ones that didn’t remember the origin knew to say it mockingly. He didn’t even like the winter. Spring had always been his favorite.
“Yes, sir,” Barton replied, taking the key and giving Coulson a lazy salute.
With one last cautious look in Bucky’s direction, Coulson nodded back and he and his agents left them to it.
“So,” Bucky said, turning back to Barton, “I hear we’re gonna be roommates.”
“That’s the plan,” Barton reached out and grabbed Bucky’s wrist, “If you eat my pop tarts I’ll stab you in your sleep.”
Bucky watched Barton unlatch the handcuffs. As soon as they were off, Bucky rubbed the skin of his wrists gently. They were red and a little inflamed from the weeks in the chair. They would heal quickly, but it still stung.
“Are your wrists okay?” Wanda asked, peering down at Bucky’s raw skin.
“They’ll be fine,” Bucky told her quietly.
He loved her a little bit for asking. Their eyes met and she smiled like she knew.
“Come on,” Barton gestured to another elevator behind him, “I’ll show you up.”
Wanda hit the button and Bucky wondered if he should say something to the other Avengers now. He looked over and the three of them were standing huddled together, muttering tensely to each other.
“—just like that we’re supposed to be cool?” Wilson hissed.
“Wanda’s young, I still think she could be wrong,” Romanoff whispered.
“Just keep an eye on him,” Rogers placated, the furrow between his eyes deepening, “it’s better he’s here than out in the world doing who knows what.”
“Murdering innocent civilians,” Wilson muttered.
“Poisoning the water supply,” Romanoff guessed.
“Torturing puppies,” Wilson added.
In the corner of his eye, Bucky saw Rogers smile and shake his head. The elevator pinged. Bucky said nothing as he followed Barton and Wanda in.
Whatever. His apology would probably mean nothing to them anyway. He should save his breath.
The ride up to 63rd floor was surprisingly short and the doors opened to a wide empty hallway with a single door at the other end. As Barton led the way across the small foyer, Bucky spotted four cameras, one in each corner, monitoring who entered and who tried to exit. Barton punched a key code into the panel next to the door and with a click the latch came free. Barton pushed open the door and they stepped out into a huge open space. There was a kitchen on the right and a sofa the length of a school bus in the middle overlooking a large fireplace and an even larger TV mounted on the wall. There were several hallways branching off in different directions but the farthest side of the curved room was covered in floor to ceiling windows and bright afternoon sunlight was streaming in like giant floodlights.
“Damn,” Bucky breathed. He walked out into the space, feeling two pairs of eyes on him as he made a beeline for the windows.
“Can I sit here?” Bucky asked, looking back at Barton and Wanda as he pointed at the floor in the middle of the biggest sunspot.
“Uh, yeah?” Barton shrugged.
Bucky shrugged off his backpack and flopped down with a sigh, closing his eyes and soaking in the warm sunlight. The rug was soft and plush against his back and it felt like a cloud after four weeks in that stiff metal chair. Without opening his eyes, Bucky shrugged off the light windbreaker SHIELD had given him. Now in just a t-shirt and jeans, Bucky rolled onto his stomach and stretched out, his spine popping as it twisted. Bucky heard Wanda walk softly towards him and sit down on the edge of the couch nearby. He tipped his head to the side and cracked an eye open to look at her. She was staring down at him with a look of pleased bemusement on her face.
“Are you going to start purring?” She asked.
“Maybe,” Bucky drawled with a grin, “It's been a while since I’ve seen the sun.”
Bucky heard the sound of the refrigerator opening and closing, then a soda can clicking open as Barton situated himself on one of the loveseats surrounding the main living area.
Bucky turned back to the window. Looking out, he could see Manhattan stretching out in front of him with the still snowy splotch of Central Park to his left and the East River in the distance. It was a long way from the Brooklyn docks and several tax brackets up. He watched the little dots of cars moving around on the streets below and peered into the windows of the adjacent skyscrapers. He saw a lot of people in offices and conference rooms pointing at screens and bits of paper. He wondered what it would be like to have one of their lives. Normal. Quiet. Soft. The worst thing that could happen would be spilling coffee on your pants or going into the break room to find that the only free bagels left were the ones with raisins in them. Maybe the Bucky who danced and laughed and took his sister to the pier would have been fine with that. Now though, it would feel too small. To insignificant. There was no way he’d be able to do enough good in one of those offices to even begin wiping the blood from his hands. That sort of life would never be for him.
“Oh, these are for you,” Barton said, startling Bucky out of his thoughts as he kicked a box toward him.
Bucky tore his eyes away from the window and dragged the box closer to him. Wanda looked over his shoulder as he opened it to reveal two pieces of Stark tech: a laptop and a phone. Bucky picked up the phone and turned it in his hands. It was sleek and slate grey like his arm. He touched the circular button at the bottom but nothing happened.
“Do you know how to use it?” Barton asked as Bucky ran his fingers across the buttons on the sides, which yielded a similar, nonexistent effects.
“Uh,” Bucky dragged his fingers across the glass screen again, “in theory.”
Shuri had shown him a few things back in Wakanda, but their tech was so much more advanced than this. It had been intuitive to use and easy to understand. Though Bucky decided not to complain since the most advanced thing in his old life was a shitty radio that only worked if you tilted it at a 45 degree angle.
“It can’t sense the metal,” Wanda told him, nodding at Bucky’s vibranium arm, “you need to use your other hand.”
“Ah.” Bucky switched hands and pressed the circular button.
The screen lit up.
“Neat.” Bucky tapped through the pre-installed content.
There wasn’t much, just the contact information for Barton, Coulson, and Hill and a calendar with all the national holidays on it.
“Let me give you my number,” Wanda said, taking the phone from his hands, “that way we can talk, if you want.”
“Okay,” Bucky said, watching her type her own name into the contact book.
He wasn’t sure exactly what he’d talk to her about but having the option was nice.
“Come on,” Barton said, slurping from his soda can as Wanda handed the phone back to Bucky, “Let me show you your room.”
“I get my own room?” Bucky asked, surprised.
“Yeah? Did you think we’d be sharing a bunk bed or something?” Barton asked, his lips pursuing like he was trying not to smile again.
“I just…” Bucky trailed off a little, “I’ve never had my own room before.”
As a kid he’d shared with his sister, then he lived with two guys from the docks for a few years, then it was the war and you slept wherever it was warmest regardless of who else was already there. Having his own cryochamber didn’t count.
“Let me just—“ Bucky picked up his jacket and threw his backpack on before picking up his phone, realizing his SHIELD pants didn’t have any pockets, and quickly trying to figure out how to pick up his new laptop at the same time without dropping anything. He wasn’t used to having so much stuff. Luckily, Wanda came to the rescue. She folded his jacket over her arm and picked up his laptop for him.
“Oh, thank you,” Bucky said.
She just smiled gently at him.
They followed Clint down one of the hallways. At the far end, Bucky could see an open door leading to a fancy looking bathroom.
“Okay, so this is your hallway,” Barton said, pointing down the corridor, “There’s a bathroom, a study, and a bedroom.”
Barton pushed open another door to reveal a large bedroom. The bed was a king sized: plush and white. The room was bright and clean— a little sterile maybe— but comfortable and the far wall showcased the sprawl of New York through more floor to ceiling windows.
“Wow,” Bucky stepped in, not wanting to touch the white duvet in case he ruined them.
“I’m down that hallway.” Barton pointed back across the floor to a different hall at the other side of the living room, “So, uh, yeah?”
Barton looked around a little awkwardly as Wanda set Bucky’s laptop down on the wide desk in the corner. Barton’s eyes flicked from Bucky to Wanda. He wanted to leave, clearly, but he probably couldn’t leave Wanda alone with Bucky.
“Cool. Well, thank you.” Bucky said, “I’ll just get settled in then.”
Barton nodded and stepped back through the door, waiting for Wanda to join him before taking his eyes off Bucky.
“I’ll give you a call later then?” Bucky added as Wanda followed Barton out.
“Yeah,” Wanda smiled at him, “Milkshakes, right?”
“Hell yeah,” Bucky smiled back before letting it falter as the door swung shut behind them.
He could hear them whispering to each other as they left and Bucky quickly turned to stop himself from listening. He’d had enough eavesdropping for one day.
He dropped his backpack on a chair by the desk and pulled out his new clothes. They were all chosen by SHIELD so most of them had their logo on it somewhere, which itched at him a little. It had been Hydra who wiped his mind and put guns in his hands, but they did it while wearing SHIELD’s face. It was the worst part of this whole plan. Standing next to the people who were friends with those Hydra agents, who worked with them, who trained with them. But outwardly expressing any dislike of SHIELD would get Bucky thrown back into a cell so he hung the clothes up in the closet by his bed. Altogether he now had four white t-shirts, two dark pairs of blue jeans and one pair of khaki slacks with no pockets. He had one pair of uncomfortable black shoes, four pairs of black boxer briefs, four pairs of black socks, one black windbreaker, and one hoodie which was, shockingly, also black.
Wakanda had been superior in a lot of ways, fashion sense included.
Bucky hung his empty backpack in the closet next to his clothes before sitting down on the carpet by the windows. The sun was still shining, the sky was a soft blue, and Bucky tried not to think about the fact that he may have just traded one white cell for another.
Four days later, Bucky didn’t have much to report. He saw Barton sometimes. He’d come in and out at odd hours, band-aids and gauze stuck all over him as he disappeared into his own room. Wanda was sent out on a mission a day after Bucky’s release, but called from the jet and talked him through how to work the TV.
Bucky watched the Good Place, Shrek, and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. He poked around the floor and found 37 tiny cameras in his rooms, and 15 more in the living area, which was expected. Bucky figured he’d probably never live without surveillance again and he tried to ignore it. He unsuccessfully attempted to make pasta on the kitchen’s unnecessarily complex electric stove before giving up and eating cereal instead. He wasn’t allowed to leave the floor so he puttered around reading the old paperbacks he found in the living room and practiced his knife throwing skills with Bartons cooking knives and a cutting board he hung on the wall. No one yelled at him for whistling or walking aimlessly in circles for half an hour. He could get up when he wanted and shower with as much hot water as he could use and eat as much as he could fit in his stomach. It was light years better than what he was used to so Bucky had few complaints.
It was nearing midnight on the fifth day when Bucky decided to see if there were any Cheez-Its left and found Barton lying on the sofa with his leg propped up and an icepack on his head.
“You okay, Barton?” Bucky asked, hovering by the kitchen as Barton blinked dazedly up at him.
“Yeah,” Barton sighed, waving him off, “got a little blown up, nothin’ major.”
“Oh,” Bucky wondered what kind of mission he’d been on and if he could have helped, “Do you want some Cheez-Its?”
Barton stared at him for a second before shrugging and pushing himself up.
“Yeah, why the fuck not.”
Bucky grabbed the box from the pantry. Luckily, it still felt at least half full. He brought the box over to the couch and sat down on the floor, close enough to Barton that they could pass the box back and forth but far enough away that Barton wouldn’t get uncomfortable.
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Bucky felt Barton’s eyes on him.
“Nat told me you were trouble,” he said.
“I shot her a couple times, I don’t blame her.”
Barton passed him the box.
“You seem okay to me.”
Bucky took another fist full of Cheez-Its.
“You remember the Chitauri invasion?” Barton asked, leaning back against the cushions.
“I was on ice at the time,” Bucky said, wondering where this was going, “I heard about it afterwards.”
“Well, long story short,” Barton continued, “Thor’s brother, Loki, mind controlled me and made me kill a bunch of SHIELD agents.”
Bucky looked up at Barton, who scowled at the ice pack in his hands.
“I was only under for a few days and it was bad enough,” he said, “Your file says you were under for at least 15 years.”
Barton looked at Bucky and there was understanding in his eyes.
“I don’t think it was your fault.”
Bucky felt like all the air had suddenly left the room. Shuri had told him it wasn’t his fault, but something about hearing Barton say it was wholly unexpected. With Shuri, Bucky’s mind told him that she hadn’t been there, that she’d never seen him in action, that she only knew him as the lost man trying to piece himself back together but Barton was a SHIELD agent and an Avenger. Bucky had tried to kill his partner, Falcon, and Captain America. He’d killed nearly thirty SHIELD agents in the fight on the helicarriers, not even counting the decades before that. So if Barton was saying it wasn’t his fault, it might be because he actually meant it.
“I—uh,” Bucky stuttered, “That’s— uh…”
“I get it,” Barton shrugged, snatching the box back from Bucky’s frozen hand, “I didn’t like hearing it at first either. Natasha was actually the one who said it to me. She wasn’t super pumped when I reminded her of that while we were trying to figure out what to do with you.”
“I’m a killer,” Bucky reminded him, “She has every right to be cautious.”
“We’re all killers here,” Barton retorted.
They sat in silence for a little longer before Barton nudged Bucky with his socked foot.
“So what actually happened up on those helicarriers, from your point of view?” He asked.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well, I’ve heard Cap’s story and Nat’s and Sam’s,” Barton said, licking cheese residue from his fingers, “Wanda said that’s when you decided to switch sides. What changed?”
Bucky put the box of Cheez-Its on the low coffee table and wiped his fingers on his pants. He didn’t really want to go into it, but establishing trust with an Avenger would go a long way for him. He took a breath and looked for the best place to start.
“I woke up,” Bucky began, “They told me that Hydra was making their final move for world peace but a small group of SHIELD rebels were trying to stop them. They singled out Captain America as their leader and told me to defend the helicarriers at all costs. I went and I did just that. Rogers and I ended up on one of the carriers but as I was fighting him something felt off. He was wearing his old uniform, the one from WWII, and somehow it felt familiar even though my memories only went as far back as that morning.”
Bucky swallowed and saw Barton shift to lean forward on his elbows as he listened.
“Anyway, I shot him a bunch but he managed to reprogram the helicarriers and they started going down. My orders were to take him out no matter the cost so I kept fighting even as the plane started collapsing. I was all beat up and he’d strangled me a bit so I was dizzy but eventually I got him pinned down and something just felt wrong. I tried to tell myself that I had to finish my mission but something in the back of my mind said, ‘No, you need to protect him.’ I think that was the first thought I’d had on my own in decades.”
Bucky could feel Barton’s eyes boring into the side of his head as he spoke. He fidgeted with the hem of his hoodie.
“The helicarrier crashed into something and Rogers got thrown from the ship,” Bucky continued, “I didn’t even really think about it I just dove in after him and dragged him to shore. I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew that didn’t want to go back to Hydra. I didn’t want to be forced to forget again, so I left. I just walked away...”
Bucky trailed off. Barton was staring at him like he was seeing him for the first time.
“You pulled Cap from the river?” Barton asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” Bucky shrugged, “I made sure he was breathing and stuff. Figured you guys would find him quick.”
Barton shook his head like he was reassessing his life.
“We all figured Cap managed to swim to shore before passing out,” he muttered, more to himself than to Bucky.
He stared into space for a moment before turning back.
“You said he looked familiar?” He asked, “What does that mean?”
“Well,” Bucky hugged his knees to his chest and pressed his bare toes into the soft carpet, “I recognized him in DC earlier, that’s why they erased my mind again in the first place. I just couldn’t put my finger on him at the time. Now that my memories are all back I can connect all the dots I couldn’t when they kept wiping me. I knew him, back in the 40’s.”
Barton choked on nothing but air.
“You’re lying,” he scoffed sharply, “You’re not that old and Cap would have told us if he recognized you.”
Barton was angry now. Of course he was.
“I’m not lying,” Bucky placated, “He just doesn’t remember, why would he? He met a lot of soldiers back in the war.”
Barton stared incredulously at him.
“You fought in WWII?” He asked disbelievingly.
“Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, 107th Infantry Regiment,” Bucky introduced with a halfhearted smile and mock salute, “I doubt that’s in my file. The government wouldn’t exactly want to take credit for me.”
Bucky could see Barton unsuccessfully trying to fit the pieces together in his mind.
“Wait, so then…” Barton asked, figuring out what he wanted to say as he said it, “You were a Russian soldier?”
Barton’s mouth opened and closed.
“I was born in Brooklyn in 1917,” Bucky added, cringing a little as Barton’s brow just furrowed even more, “I was a sniper tasked with protecting Captain America on a mission in Nazi occupied France.”
“Okay, so either you’re lying out of your ass or your entire file is wrong. The first thing it says is that you’re Russian.”
“Well, no one’s exactly consulted me about it so that’s not really a surprise.” Bucky said with a halfhearted laugh, “All the information SHIELD has about me started with the German branch of Hydra and then the Russian one. I don’t know what information got lost in the shuffle but in any case, they all treated me like a weapon of their own creation. They wouldn’t have advertised that I was American made.”
“Wait, so,” Barton asked, “How well did you know Cap?”
“Not very,” Bucky admitted, “I only met him once. The first time I saw him was when he and his team were charging into a town where the Nazi’s had a base. I had orders from my Captain to spot him from above so I took out any of the guys who got to close while he made for the town hall. Then a bomb went off. There was too much smoke and I couldn’t see him. I abandoned my post and went down there. My job was to keep Captain America alive and I couldn’t fail. He was sort of a living legend for the rest of us. Everything I ever heard about him was about how amazing he was and how much his guys loved him. They were the kind of stories that kept you going when you were lying in the dirt with the names of dead soldiers running through your head. I couldn’t be the one to let Captain America die so I go myself down there, saw him punch a tank and flip it over like it weighed ten pounds and then I fought with him until the battle was won. In the end, I remember him helping me up. There had been a grenade and it rattled my head a bit so he got me on my feet and said ‘thanks for the cover’ and punched my shoulder before he had to go. I swear, I wouldn’t have felt half as good about myself if the President of the United States had said that to me. Anyway, I guess it was an important enough memory that it stuck and when I saw him again I reverted back to my old mission: protect Captain America.”
Bucky fell silent once again. Barton stared blankly into space.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Bucky asked, sighing and looking out the dark window instead of at Barton’s face.
“I mean,” Barton rubbed the back of his neck, “That’s a lot of information and there’s no proof. It’s just your word.”
“Yeah, I know it doesn’t mean much,” Bucky shrugged, “I’m not asking you to change my file or anything. It’s just the truth— my truth, at least. It doesn’t matter to SHIELD but it matters to me.”
Bucky stuffed a fistful of Cheez-Its into his mouth and crunched morosely.
“Are y— are you gonna talk to Cap about it?” Barton asked uncertainly.
“Nah,” Bucky shook his head, “I doubt he wants to talk to me and it’s not exactly important. Like you said, if he remembered me he would have mentioned it by now.”
“This feels kinda important,” Barton muttered, laying back down on the sofa and pressing the ice pack against his forehead again.
“Ok, well, if he wants to sit down and chat I’ll bring it up.”
Barton grumbled something else but it was muffled by the arm he’d thrown over his face to smoosh the ice pack as hard as he could onto his bruises.
“You good, Barton?” Bucky asked, putting an elbow on the sofa and craning his neck to see how bad Barton’s injuries were.
Barton mumbled something else.
“What was that?”
“I said, my name’s Clint.”
“What the fuck kinda name is Bucky? I thought your name was James?”
“It’s my nickname.”
“I woulda stuck with James if I were you.”
“Noted.” Bucky said, smiling a little, “You should go to bed, Clint.”
“I am in bed.”
“You’re on a couch. You’ll feel better if you went to bed.”
“I’ll feel better if I don’t get up.”
“Okay, tell me that again in the morning.”
Clint opened his eyes and squinted at Bucky petulantly. Bucky just raised his eyebrows.
“I liked you better when we weren’t talking to each other.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have put us on a first name basis then. This is your fault.”
“Yeah, what else is new.”
Clint hauled himself up, wobbling a bit when he got himself on his feet. Bucky stood too, partially to make sure Clint didn’t fall and concuss himself further and partially because it was actually getting late and his eyes were starting to get tired.
“Well,” Clint scrubbed a hand through his hair, making it stick up even more wildly than it had been before, “goodnight, I guess.”
“Night.” Bucky patted him lightly on the shoulder before heading down his hallway, pausing at his door just to make sure Clint got to his own room without hurting himself.
When Clint’s door closed Bucky lay down in bed and pulled out his phone. He sent a text to Wanda.
Bucky: I think I made a friend.
Two days later, Clint invited Bucky to join him in the gym downstairs. Bucky wasn’t allowed to go anywhere on his own so this was his first chance to actually see the Tower past the elevator and the parking garage. He threw on one of his clean shirts, borrowed a pair of Clint’s shorts, and found a rubber band to use as a hair tie. With Clint to get him past security, Bucky stepped out of the apartment for the first time in six days.
They took the elevator down to a whole floor filled with mats, weights, a track, a pool, a firing range, and some wild looking machines Bucky didn’t even know how to categorize. He followed Clint to a line of punching bags and watched him jump at one of the bags, hug it to his chest and spin it around.
“Show me whatcha got!” Clint said with a grin, planting his feet on the ground and preparing for a hit.
Ever since their conversation the other night, Clint had been pretty friendly. They’d started eating meals together and watching shitty reality TV while Clint “read” the mission files SHIELD gave him. Clint had even asked Bucky to help him patch up a healing knife cut on his back that he couldn’t reach. The trust in that gesture wasn’t lost on Bucky so he did his best to make sure he was worthy of it, in between ribbings, of course.
Bucky pulled back his fist and punched. The force knocked Clint on his ass and punctured the synthetic skin of the bag, sending its contents spilling out onto the floor. Bucky laughed at Clint’s startled face and then laughed harder when he stood and rubbed his butt with a pout.
“Warn a guy!”
“You said to hit it!”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s use Cap’s bags.”
“He won’t mind?”
“Nah. They’re reinforced and like four times heavier so he doesn’t break them as often.”
They cleaned up Bucky’s mess and then he hit Rogers’ bag for a while, before holding one of the regular ones for Clint while he warmed up. As Clint finished up, Bucky noticed a small group of agents spread out across the gym, armed to the teeth and watching them with narrowed eyes.
“It’s cool for me to be here, right?” Bucky asked as Clint got in his last few punches.
“Yeah, as long as you’re with me,” Clint shrugged, “but you do kind of put the rest of the guys on edge. They won’t bother us though, they’re just watching.”
“In case I stab you or something?”
“Yeah, whatever. If you were gonna stab me you woulda done it after I finished all the Milanos.”
“Get the double dark chocolate ones next time.”
“Stop ruining my cutting boards and maybe I’ll consider it.”
It turned into a routine. Whenever Clint was around, they’d go to the gym together. After Wanda came back from her two week long mission, she started joining them. She wanted Bucky to teach her a couple things, in case she ever needed some non-magical solutions to her problems and Bucky was happy to help.
He started her off with some basic forms, how to duck, block, and dodge, and how to punch correctly before teaching her some combos. She was a quick learner and very focused. Clint got her to start using the weights to build up her strength and as much as she grumbled about it, Bucky could tell she was pleased every time Clint gave her a heavier load.
Twice, the SHIELD agents nearly attacked him. The first time he was showing Wanda how to flip someone and they thought he was actually hurting her and again when he grabbed her after they’d drifted too close to the barbells while sparring and she was about to trip. Both times Wanda had jumped in front of him and managed to pacify the agents who seemed all too eager to arrest him again. Bucky tried not to let it get to him but he couldn’t help but put his guard up when he walked past their stoic faces. Part of him wondered if any of them were Hydra agents still in disguise. He knew SHIELD had started over from scratch after Rogers disbanded and then reformed the organization from the ground up, but Hydra was tricky and they could slip through the smallest crack. Bucky tried not to let that thought keep him up at night.
Bucky still wasn’t allowed near the firing range though. Clint tried to convince the guys who oversaw the armory to just let them use the paintball guns for a bit but they refused. It was annoying since shooting was the thing Bucky liked the most. It was the one thing that grounded him and really made him focus, but Clint and Wanda provided a good enough distraction as the weeks passed. He could wait.
Rogers and his squad stayed away from him but he’d see them every once in a while from a distance. Occasionally, one of them would be leaving the locker rooms at the same time he was or wiping down the mats after some sparring while Bucky passed but they’d never done anything more than glance at him. Once, Wanda and Bucky had been walking down the hall to the water fountain when Rogers came out of the stairwell. He had clearly just got off a mission. He was grimy and sweaty and his dark blue uniform was a little torn. His eyes flicked to Bucky’s before landing on Wanda and giving her a small smile. Then he was gone.
“Don’t take it personally,” Wanda said, “he’ll warm up to you.”
Bucky didn’t believe her but he appreciated her optimism.
A month into their new routine, Bucky was wiping down Rogers’ punching bag when the Black Widow approached. Bucky could tell it was her by the way the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he turned.
“Солдат, давай драться.” (Soldier, let’s fight.) Her Russian was precise and emotionless and she stared at him with cold eyes.
Natalia Alianovana Romanoff. Black Widow. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Former KGB. Partner of Hawkeye: Clinton Francis Barton. Protégé of Nicholas Joseph Fury. Kill on sight.
“I don’t want to fight,” Bucky replied, turning back to the bag, “and I don’t want to speak Russian either.”
“Это была не просьба.” (That was not a request.)
Bucky looked around for Clint, but he was at the range, on the other side of a soundproof glass wall, shooting arrows alone since Bucky wasn’t allowed over there and Wanda was upstairs practicing her telekinesis today. He wondered if this ambush was planned. He spotted Rogers and Wilson, watching silently from the door to the locker room and a few other agents, some watching him and some working out. He would get no help from any of them.
Romanoff stepped into the circle of mats and stared at him expectantly. Her straight red hair was pulled back, she wore long black athletic pants, and her hands were already taped up. She was ready. Bucky frowned and kicked off his shoes to join her. He redid his short ponytail with a blue hair tie Wanda had lent him and adjusted his own taped hands before stepping onto the mats.
“Sparring,” he said, “not fighting.”
“то же самое.” (Same thing.)
Her fist was hard and unrelenting against Bucky’s cheek. He took another punch and a kick to the side of the head. He blocked her attacks as best he could and took the ones he missed, but he didn’t hit back. He didn’t want to fight and he didn’t think Romanoff really did either. She just needed to get some of her anger out. Bucky could understand that. It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve it.
Bucky hit the ground. As he tried to push himself back up to his feet, Romanoff kicked him hard in the stomach and sent him rolling off the mats onto the hard concrete.
“Natasha!” Clint yelled, running over from the range, “What the hell?”
He grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her off toward the far wall. Bucky felt blood on his cheek and wiped it away as best he could as he sat up. He blinked dazedly around and saw two dozen pairs of eyes flick away from him and go back to what they were doing, all except one.
Rogers was staring at him. Wilson had joined Clint and Romanoff and the three were arguing quietly together but Rogers stood apart. He watched Bucky wipe his cheek again only to find more blood on his fingertips.
“Need a hand?”
Bucky looked up.
Bruce Banner was standing next to him with his hand held out.
Robert Bruce Banner, M.D., Ph.D.. The Hulk. Avenger. Biochemist. Nuclear physicist. Expert on Gamma Radiation. Do not engage.
“Thanks,” Bucky let the doctor pull him to his feet with a surprisingly firm grip, “I’m Bucky.”
“Bruce,” Banner said, tilting his head curiously as Bucky tucked the hair that had fallen loose from his ponytail back behind his ears, “You look like you could use a band-aid or two.”
“I heal quick,” Bucky replied, shaking his head.
He just wanted to go back to his room, watch the Great British Bake Off on mute, and eat all the Girl Scout Cookies Clint had bought yesterday.
“So do I,” Banner said, taking Bucky by the elbow and leading him towards the elevator, “still hurts though, doesn’t it?”
Bucky saw him give a little two finger wave to Clint as they got into the elevator without him. Rogers was still watching them. Bucky looked away as the doors closed. He wondered if Clint had told Rogers about their shared history. He didn’t think he had. Bucky didn’t even really want to acknowledge how much Captain America probably hated him after everything he’d done. The old Bucky would have cared so much. The new him was far less attached to the Star-Spangled Man but still, it was easier not to think about it how disappointed his past self would be with how things had turned out.
Banner hit the number of a floor Bucky had never been to and waited at his side in silence as the elevator rose. Banner was smaller than Bucky expected him to be. He stood a little hunched over, making him seem even shorter than he was, and his mop of curly hair flopped down over his forehead to cover a good part of his face but underneath it all was something unyielding. He wasn’t afraid of Bucky and he stood with a calculated ease and control that made him feel dangerous, even as a little scientist.
The foyer to Banner’s apartment was the same as Clint’s but Bucky could tell even as the elevator doors opened that the place was different. The walls were thicker and the front door was reinforced. When Bruce pulled the door open Bucky could immediately see that, while the layout was the same, the windows were a good two feet solid and the walls were solid concrete but it was decorated like the homiest grandma’s living room he’d ever seen. The couches were huge and looked like they could swallow the Hulk whole if he wanted to wrap up in them. There were big throw blankets everywhere and pillows the size of mattresses with patterns that clashed horribly. Amidst it all, were pieces of machinery: a giant microscope, a disassembled electromagnetic wave generator, half of an MRI machine. Bucky followed Banner through the maze of soft cushions and pointy tools to the kitchen where Banner motioned for him to sit at the breakfast bar while he pulled out a couple ice packs from the freezer and handed them over. Bucky pressed one against his cheek, one against his ribs, and rested the last one he on his knee.
“It’s hard to get on Natasha’s good side but once you’re in, you’re in,” Banner said as he put the kettle on, “Believe me. I tried to kill her when we first met too.”
“Oh, yeah?” Bucky tried to sound less worn out than he was as Banner pulled mugs from his cabinet.
“Yeah, I’d give you more details but I can’t remember what the Hulk does all that well,” Banner shrugged, “It’s a bit like getting possessed. I just wake up somewhere new with fewer clothes and a path of destruction behind me.”
Bucky looked up, finally understanding why Banner brought him here.
“It’s not the same as mind control or programming,” Bruce said with a soft look, “but I get it.”
He fell silent and Bucky watched him select a tin of loose leaf tea from the shelf.
“They trust you though?” Bucky asked.
He knew the answer, but hearing it aloud wouldn’t hurt.
“They do.” Banner nodded, tapping the tea leaves into a little metal cage, “They asked me to join when Loki started terrorizing the planet way back when. They already knew who I was and how dangerous I could be, but they decided that they needed me to win that fight. They took a risk and it paid off. I think it was just easier for them when they were the ones who made that decision. You turning yourself in was unexpected and they didn’t know how to handle it.”
The kettle started whistling and Bruce poured the hot water into a small teapot with a hand knitted tea cosy on it.
“Anyway,” Bruce said, clearly trying to change the subject, “this is my ‘people are annoying and I don’t like them’ tea.”
He dunked the cage full of tea leaves into the pot.
“I drink it a lot.”
Bucky finally cracked a smile. He ended up wedged between two giant pillows on Bruce’s monstrous couch, listening to Bruce talk about the world’s scientific advances since the 40’s. He made a mental note to find a way to contact Shuri and yell at her for not telling him that people had walked on the moon nearly fifty years ago. He was stupidly upset that he’d missed that. So much so, that he forgot all about Romanoff and her buddies until Bruce’s tea was gone and Bucky was halfway to falling asleep under a heavy handmade quilt.
“Oh, come on! It’s been like three months!” Clint yelled at a bored looking Stark security guard, “If he was gonna try to murder us all he would have done it a long time ago!”
They were standing at the entrance to the shooting range. Clint had been trying to get Bucky in there for ages but it wasn’t exactly going well. It was now well into May and Bucky still hadn’t stepped within twenty yards of the shooting range.Clint had suggested they break in during the night but Bucky was adamant about doing things above board. If they got caught, it would put him back way farther than however long it would take to get the Avengers to yield.
“Look,” Clint pinched the bridge of his nose, “I was put in charge of babysitting him and as his babysitter I’m telling you that he’s good to shoot some paper targets! Whose authority’s gonna be better than mine?”
“I’m sorry,” the agent said, not looking sorry at all, “I can’t let him in. You don’t have the clearance to grant him access.”
“Oh my god, am I not an OG Avenger?” Clint threw his hands up, “What if Hulk was here, huh? Does he have clearance? Or— hey look it’s Cap. Hey, Cap! Get over here! Tell the man to let us in.”
Bucky cringed as Rogers looked up from the weights he was setting up on the other side of the gym. He put the weights down and came over, wiping a towel across the back of his neck and shaking out his damp hair as he approached.
“What’s going on, Clint?” He asked stopping a few feet away.
His eyes flicked to Bucky’s.
Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Captain America. The First Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Strategist. Combat expert. No. 1 enemy of Hydra. Kill on sight.
“We want to use the range,” Clint explained, “We just want to shoot some nice, non-sentient paper people. Is that so much to ask?”
Rogers crossed his arms. Bucky had never seen him without a little crease between his eyebrows. He was starting to think it was a permanent feature.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
He didn’t look at Bucky again but he didn’t exactly need to.
“Come on, man. Wanda, Bruce, and I have been telling you he’s chill for months now,” Clint elbowed Bucky hard in the side, “tell him you’re chill, dude.”
“Yeah.” Bucky automatically threw on his usual crooked grin, “Super chill.”
Rogers’ raised an eyebrow at him.
“And why, exactly, do you need to shoot things?”
“We’re marksmen, Cap,” Clint whined, “it’s our job!”
Rogers ignored Clint and kept looking at Bucky expectantly. Bucky figured his best shot would be to play to the Avenger’s best interest.
“I won’t be very useful to you if I can’t shoot anymore,” Bucky shrugged, “and if I can’t be useful then what am I doing here?”
Rogers was silent, then he nodded. Bucky hadn’t realized how tense he was until Rogers’ eyes left him. He rolled his shoulders out while Rogers turned to the agent guarding the door.
“Let them in, but make sure there are always least two Avengers in here when you do.”
“I’ll fucking take it!” Clint said with a little fist pump.
Rogers signed his clearance for the agent as Clint held his hand up for a high five from Bucky.
“Let’s shoot some shit! I bet I can beat you. Let’s do first to 40 kills— no— a hundred kills! First to a hundred, winner gets to pick tonight's movie.”
“Let’s just make it through the first round without getting kicked out,” Bucky muttered as they followed Rogers’ broad shoulders past the agent into the range.
“Right, right,” Clint acquiesced, “I’ll let you get back into it before I kick your ass.”
Bucky couldn’t hold back his smile. It’d been a while since he’d had any decent competition. Rogers and his gang had been the hardest fight of his life, mainly because their strengths lay in hand to hand combat, which Bucky was good at, but he’d always had more of a gift for looking through a scope. Besides, there had been three of them and only one of him, though, technically he won most of their battles even if he lost the war. Maybe that was why they were all so mad.
“Ten rounds each,” Rogers said, unlocking the cages that held all the guns, “half an hour.”
“Come on, Cap!” Clint groaned, “A time limit? Seriously?”
“You’re lucky we’re in here at all,” Rogers grumbled, giving Clint a look as he grabbed ammo off a shelf.
“This is fine, Clint,” Bucky said, nudging him as he giddily examined the small arsenal in front of him, “it’s more than enough time.”
He felt Rogers eyes on the back of his head as he ran a finger down the sleek metal body of a sniper rifle. Maybe a bit too much for his first half hour on the range. Something smaller might help put everyone at ease. He picked up a standard 9mm handgun.
“Okay, okay,” Clint said with a considering grin when he saw Bucky’s pick, “starting small? I woulda pegged you for a bazooka kinda guy.”
Bucky spun the handgun around his metal fingers, earning himself a glare from Rogers.
“It’s not worth going bigger if you don’t know the basics,” Bucky replied, stacking ten clips, “Sometimes it’s easier to kill someone with a pencil than a grenade.”
Rogers’ jaw clenched.
“Not that I have, will, or plan to kill anyone with a pencil ever,” Bucky added innocently, making Clint snort.
“Don’t joke about what you did,” Rogers snapped.
Bucky’s good humor turned sharp.
“Don’t tell me how to deal with my own trauma.”
Bucky turned and placed the stack of clips next to the bench at the edge of the range and faced the row of targets before Rogers could respond. He loaded his gun and flicked the safety off in one smooth motion. At the other end of the range was a paper target with the silhouette of a man. Bucky felt two pairs of eyes on him as he leaned into the familiar stance.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Bucky emptied the clip and the range fell silent. He removed the empty cartridge as a mechanical arm brought the target closer so they could see how he did.
“Whoa,” Clint breathed.
Bucky looked up. The target had one large bullet hole in the center of its forehead. It was too large to be one of Bucky’s 9mm rounds which meant that the hole had been carved by all 15 bullets slowly making the single puncture bigger with each shot.
Bucky loaded his next clip.
He’d forgotten how soothing the rhythm was. The ringing of the shot, the ripples of force that moved through his arms, the metal under his hands.
He emptied another clip, then another, then another, until his stack was gone.
He let his stance fall loose as he dropped the last clip onto his pile of empties and rolled his shoulders as the target came closer and revealed yet another perfect round.
Finally, Bucky turned. Clint and Rogers were both standing behind him, Clint looking absolutely delighted and Rogers as indecipherable as ever. Behind them, through the glass windows was a small crowd of Stark employees, a few SHIELD agents and, shockingly, Director Fury himself. He hadn’t seen Fury since their decidedly unproductive interrogation months ago but his face remained as impassive as ever. His eyes met Bucky’s and he gave a single small nod before walking away, his long black coat billowing behind him. Bucky wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“Dude, that was awesome!” Clint clapped Bucky on the shoulder as he went to put away his gun, “Normally, we put super good targets on the wall to show off but if we did that with all of yours there wouldn’t be any wall left.”
Bucky smiled indulgently as he carefully restocked his used clips and returned them to the armory.
“I’ve had a lot of time to get good,” Bucky said, “Are you gonna shoot? We’ve got another twenty minutes until our time’s up.”
“Oh, right! Sick,” Barton checked his gun before stepping up to the firing line and pulling out his hearing aids.
He turned back to Bucky and pointed at his ears.
“Means I don’t have to wear those annoying earplugs,” he said.
Bucky grinned and gave him a thumbs up before standing back and watching Clint take his first shot.
He was good. Very good. Bucky could tell he was showing off a little, but he didn’t mind. As Clint produced perfect target after perfect target Bucky could feel his competitive side rearing its head. Things were going to get interesting around the apartment, that was for sure.
In the corner of his eye, Bucky could see Rogers staring at him. He stared a lot and didn’t seem to care about getting caught so Bucky let him look. He didn’t want to confront him about it because then they’d have to speak to each other and so far all that had managed to do was vaguely piss them both off. Objectively, Bucky knew that if he wanted to get back into the field, he needed Rogers’ approval but he could do that without being his friend. Even Rogers would put aside his pride to get someone as skilled as Bucky back out there. At least, that was Bucky’s hope.
Clint emptied his last round and did a little victory dance when the target came back clean.
“Take that, Bucky!” He yelled, hopping away from the firing line and striking a dumb pose with his gun.
Bucky actually laughed at that.
“Shut up, dumbass,” Bucky replied, making sure Clint was looking so he could read his lips, “You look like an idiot.”
“‘Scuse you, if Charlie’s Angels can stand like this then so can I.”
Bucky added Charlie’s Angels to his mental list of things to catch up on, but laughed like he knew what Clint was talking about anyway. Clint slid his hearing aids back on and Bucky followed him as he took his gun back to its mount on the racks.
“It’ll be nice to have someone else who can shoot on the team,” Clint said as he locked up the cages again, “Tasha and I get by but, low key, none of these other guys can shoot for shit.”
Bucky muffled his laugh in his hand. He could feel Rogers glaring at their backs. Clint flung an arm over Bucky’s shoulders and led the way out. It was an unusual move, but the contact was nice so Bucky leaned into it.
“Like, if Stark didn’t have self-targeting weapons I don’t know what we’d do.”
Bucky snorted as they passed the agent in front of the range.
“And sure, Hulk is strong but precision isn’t really his ballgame,” Clint continued as they headed for the elevator, “Thor too— he can be a bit heavy handed. Cap’s probably got the best aim out of all of them—”
Bucky became acutely aware of the man behind them as Clint hit the elevator button.
“—but there’s only so much damage you can do with just a shield.”
Bucky bit his lip to keep himself from having any reaction to that. It was clear that Clint was trying to rile Rogers up. Bucky didn’t know why but he quickly decided it best to stay out of that particular argument, whatever it was.
The elevator doors pinged open and the two of them got in. When they turned, Rogers was scowling at Clint with what might have been genuine anger.
“See you ‘round, Cap.” Clint said, hitting the button for their floor and then jamming the ‘close door’ button about fourteen times as if Rogers would make a move to join them, which he didn’t. The doors slid shut.
“The fuck was that, Barton?” Bucky asked as Clint slid his arm off Bucky’s shoulders.
“Dude’s been pissing me off,” Clint grumbled, all cheer from earlier gone.
“Yeah, I got that much.”
“I’ve been trying to get you out of this goddamn building for months!” Clint finally burst, “and every time he’s just like, ‘he’s dangerous’, ‘it’s too risky’, ‘he can’t be trusted’. Bullshit! I’ve known you for ages now and, sure, you’re an asshole, but a fun asshole not a murder asshole!”
The elevator opened to their shared living room.
“You haven’t breathed fresh air in months,” Clint continued, opening the fridge aggressively, “you can’t even leave this floor without supervision and you don’t fucking need it. Wanda, Bruce, and I all know that you’re fine. Every test you took for SHIELD came back clean, we even have a testimonial from the fucking King of Wakanda that you’re fine so what the fuck is his problem? Sure you tried to kill him but, honestly, who hasn’t? If we all got caught up on who tried to kill who all the time we’d never get anything done.”
Clint shoved a handful of grapes into his mouth, temporarily stalling his rant, though he still looked murderous.
“We need you.” His voice was a little garbled by the grapes, “I wasn’t kidding about the rest of the Avengers. We get the job done, sure, but it’s always a strain. Besides, what the fuck was that shit he said to you in there? ‘Don’t joke about it.’ He knows that wasn’t cool. He’s been great with me when I got mind controlled and I know he would never say that shit to Wanda even though she killed tons of people too. We all deal with things our own way and yeah, sometimes that means you joke about it. He fucking knows that.”
Clint kicked the breakfast bar before seeming to finally run out of steam.
“I don’t know what his problem is but he needs to fucking get over himself.”
Bucky flopped down on the sofa. He couldn’t say much about what was going on in Rogers’ head. All he knew was his himself— at least he thought he did.
“What made you trust me?” Bucky asked, “I know it wasn’t my unverifiable story about WWII.”
“It was a combination of things,” Clint sprawled out across the carpet on his back and chewed his lip, “Wanda said you were trustworthy and I believed her. I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt because I knew what it was like not to have control of your actions. Your story threw me off but I talked to Wanda again and she insisted that you have pure intentions and that you’re not a liar. Ignoring what you did while under Hydra’s influence, I had no reason to doubt you so I decided you were innocent until proven guilty.”
Bucky hid his smile by pulling his knees up to his chest. Clint had taken a leap of faith and Bucky’s life was so much better for it.
“So my question becomes,” Clint continued, “what the fuck is Cap's problem? He’s supposed to be the tactical one! All signs point to you being fine, what’s his deal?”
If Rogers was ignoring all of the evidence then maybe this was more personal than Bucky had originally thought. Maybe Rogers was holding onto how brutal their fights had been way back when. If Rogers was as stubborn as Clint made him sound then maybe Bucky should go and apologize or something, just to smooth things over before the problem became more trouble than it was worth. Although, Bucky realized, Rogers wasn’t the only one who could pull strings.
“Fury saw me shoot today,” he said.
Clint froze with another handful of grapes halfway to his mouth.
“Now, there’s a guy who doesn’t care if you tried to kill him or not,” Clint said, looking intrigued, “did he look impressed?”
Bucky gave Clint a look.
“Right, right. He doesn’t have human facial expressions,” Clint thought for a moment, “He didn’t do anything?”
“He nodded,” Bucky said with a shrug.
Clint’s eyes went wide.
Bucky shrugged again.
“Bucky, that’s great!” Clint’s grapes went flying as he waved his hands, “Thats, like, practically a proposal!”
“You’re exaggerating.” Bucky rolled his eyes.
“I am not,” Clint insisted, “I’m well versed in the limited facial ranges of Nicholas J. Fury.”
“You didn’t even see it.”
“I didn’t need to. You’re fucking in, buddy.”
Clint held out his hand for a fist bump. Bucky wasn’t convinced and, besides, Rogers might still be a problem. But if this brought him one step closer to getting back out there and ending Hydra for good, then he’d take it.
“You’d better be right or I’m gonna be pissed,” he said as he tapped Clint’s fist with his own.
“Of course I’m right, Bucky. Come on, let’s watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer to celebrate. You’ll like it.”
Two days later, Bucky got the call. Well, less of a call and more of a second hand text message.
He was at the range again. Clint was behind him, chatting quietly with Wilson, who was watching them that day.
Samuel Thomas Wilson. Falcon. Avenger. Former United States Air Force. Former Air National Guard. Counselor at the New York Veterans Association. Recruited by Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Capture. Kill if necessary.
Wilson was alright. He wasn't openly hostile like Romanoff and he wasn’t passively disapproving like Rogers. He just gave Bucky a look that very clearly said “I’m on Rogers’ side” before treating him like any other agent. It was actually kind of nice. Bucky didn’t have to worry about getting shot from behind and he could expect a somewhat cordial greeting when they passed in the hallways now. Bucky mentally upped his friendship tally to three and a half. Not a bad score, all things considered.
Bucky had just lined up his next shot when Wilson made a noise behind him. It was a confused little “oh” followed by a long silence, then Clint whooped.
“I told you so!” Clint hollered, slapping Bucky on the back.
Bucky turned and glared at Clint before gesturing ostentatiously at the loaded gun in his hands.
“Forget target practice, Bucky!” Clint shouted, grabbing Bucky by the shoulders and shaking him, “Fury’s added you to the roster for tomorrows Avenger’s training session! You’re fucking in buddy!”
Bucky turned his wide eyes on Wilson, who was staring in shock at his phone. On the screen, Bucky could just see the shape of rapidly appearing text bubbles and some big capital letters:
Nat: WHY THE FUCK IS THE WINTER SOLDIER ON TOMORROWS ROSTER!?!??!
Bucky looked away. Engaging with Natasha Romanoff once had left his self esteem in tatters so he turned back to Clint instead.
“Man, the training sessions are always crazy,” Clint was saying, “Tony has this huge hologram room thing— I don’t really know how it works— but he can program it to create all these different scenarios. JARVIS creates an environment and we have to strategize to fight our way through and complete our mission within a certain time frame. Some of them are more intense than the actual battles we fight, just because we need to be ready, you know? Cap is usually in charge and there’s no way of knowing what scenario we’re gonna end up with but you and I will probably end up on sniper duty. It’s going to be so fun! I bet I can beat you to fifty kills.”
“Fun, isn’t really the objective,” Wilson said, putting away his phone and looking over at them tensely, “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
“Ugh, not you too,” Clint groaned.
“Look, it's not that I think you’re secretly evil or something, Barnes,” he said, actually addressing Bucky, to his surprise, “but I work with a lot of people with PTSD and I’m not sure that throwing you into an intense combat situation like that will be the same as shooting targets on the range. Even if you walk in there with the best intentions, it could mess you up more than you realize.”
Bucky took a moment to consider it, after all, Wilson was an expert. He thought about the little voice in his head that automatically spewed information at him in Hydra’s many voices. He thought about the year he spent hunting Hydra on his own and the year he spent in Wakanda. It hadn’t all been doctors and therapy. Shuri made sure that he’d be able to handle himself in the world. There was no way she’d have let him leave Wakanda if she hadn’t had total confidence in him so even if he didn’t always believe in himself, he could always believe in her.
“I appreciate the concern,” Bucky said genuinely, “and believe me, I understand the risk you all are taking by letting me be here, but I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t ready.”
Wilson blinked at him.
“That’s fair, I suppose.” Wilson scratched the back of his neck and looked down at his phone again, “I mean, I personally might suggest a less dangerous team building exercise before jumping straight into a full combat situation but Fury’s the boss.”
“You think everyone can get their heads out of their asses long enough for a training simulation?” Clint asked, rolling his eyes.
“I want to think so,” Wilson sighed, typing out a response, “I hope that, when the time comes, we can all be professional about this.”
“Yeah,” Clint turned to Bucky, “Don’t worry, dude. Natasha doesn’t like you but she wouldn’t jeopardize a mission just to be petty. Cap wouldn’t either.”
“I’m not worried about them,” Bucky said with a shrug, “I just want to do my job.”
He turned back to the targets at the other end of the range.
Tomorrow was his chance to prove himself. He just had to be perfect and then they’d let him take down Hydra.
He raised his gun again and aimed.
All he had to do was shoot and there wasn’t anyone better at that than him.
“I’m not wearing this.”
Bucky stared through the sleek glass locker at the leather uniform of the Winter Soldier.
“It’s your armor, isn’t it?” Clint asked questioningly.
Around them the Avengers were all changing into their uniforms, each kept neatly in their own glass lockers. Rogers was lacing up his boots while Stark—
Anthony Edward Stark. Iron Man. Avenger. Genius billionaire industrialist. Former CEO of Stark Industries. Capture. Kill if necessary.
—simply stepped into his locker and it moved around him until the pieces of his Iron Man suit fit over his body like a glove. Romanoff was zipping up her vest and Wilson was strapping his wings on. Bruce and Wanda didn’t have much by way of armor so they were chatting on the bench behind Bucky while they waited for everyone else to get ready.
Clint pulled his own armored vest and quiver out of his locker while Bucky stared at his uniform while his heartbeat picked up speed.
“This is Hydra armor.”
The quiet bustling of the locker room fell silent when Bucky spoke a little more loudly than he’d intended. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a breath.
“I’m not wearing this,” he repeated, more quietly this time.
He felt Wanda’s hand squeeze his elbow.
“Okay,” she said, turning him around to face away from the black leather, “We’ll find you something else.”
To Bucky’s surprise, it was Wilson who pulled out a spare bulletproof compression t-shirt for him to wear, along with a pair of boots. Clint gave him one of his vests and helped him fit the straps over his broader shoulders.
“You’d better not look better in this than I do,” he grumbled as he tightened the last of the purple buckles around Bucky’s waist.
“Too late,” Bucky joked, gently shoving Clint’s shoulder with his own.
Clint gasped exaggeratedly as Bucky pulled his hair back with Wanda’s blue hair tie. The jeans he was wearing would have to do, he decided as the rest of the Avengers started leaving to convene in the Training Room. He took the earpiece Clint handed him before pulling out the rest of his stuff. He had a rifle, six smaller guns, four knives and four grenades. He strapped on his belts and holsters and felt a little comforted by the familiar weight of his gear. It probably wasn’t the best thing to use as a security blanket but Bucky wasn’t in a position to be choosy.
He followed Wanda and Clint to the Training Room where the Avengers were all standing around what looked like a small glowing table. The rest of the room was completely empty. It was perfectly square but you could fit at least two football fields side by side. There were no windows or doors, save the one they came in through, and the entire interior of the space was covered in large black tiles. Bucky stuck close to Clint as they walked the long way to the center of the room.
“Okay, we’re all here,” Stark announced, dressed in his Iron Man suit with his helmet tucked under his arm, “Let’s see what Jarvis has cooked up for us this time.”
Stark tapped the center of the small table, which Bucky could now see had some sort of touch screen in the center. Blue light burst from beneath Stark’s fingertips. A transparent hologram of a block of buildings appeared above the screen. It spun slowly as the voice of a man with a British accent began speaking.
“Today’s simulation is an alien invasion—“
“Oh, I love these ones,” Clint whispered to Bucky.
“— your mission is to destroy them before they destroy humanity.”
The hologram disappeared and the voice fell silent.
“That was ominous,” Bucky whispered.
“Yeah, Jarvis likes to be dramatic,” Clint replied with a grin, “brace yourself.”
Bucky saw the rest of the Avengers tense and turn to face the blank walls, Bucky followed Clint’s lead and readied himself.
Between one blink and the next the entire room changed.
Bucky was standing in the middle of a half destroyed street. The air was hot and dusty and it was completely, unnaturally silent. In the eerie quiet, a nearly inaudible snarl drew Bucky’s attention. Underneath a nearby car, a strange pale skinned creature was moving around. Bucky could see the glint of its cold eyes. It was eating something.
“Tony,” Rogers’ voice came in through the com in Bucky’s ear, “Get us a visual.”
Next to him, Bucky saw Clint draw an arrow. Everyone around him was cautiously drawing their weapons. He heard a loud whoosh as Iron Man took off.
“Nat, Clint, Sam, search for civilians and evacuate any you find. Wanda, Bruce, find the aliens and do as much damage as you can. Barnes—“
Bucky turned at the sound of his name. Rogers was looking at him like he wasn’t totally sure what to tell him to do before his expression turned resolute.
“Get somewhere high. Protect any civilians from above. Everyone, keep an eye out for the aliens, we need to figure out what they look like, what they can do, and how to kill them.”
With that, the Avengers dispersed. Wilson took off, Wanda launched herself up toward the taller building down the street, Clint and Romanoff took off to look for civilians, and Bruce morphed into Hulk before roaring loud enough to shake the ground.
Bucky forced himself to focus. The best vantage point was a well positioned building three doors down, Bucky made for it. As he moved, the creature beneath the car shot out and disappeared into the shadows of a doorway across the street. Bucky hesitated but kept running, he needed to get into position.
“Fourteen civilians on the east side,” Stark’s voice said in Bucky’s ear as he forced the door of his chosen building open, “twenty three more trapped in the basement of the building to your left, Romanoff.”
“Roger,” Romanoff responded.
Bucky raised his rifle as he made his way across the dim foyer. The windows had all been blown out and debris littered the floor. He quickly but cautiously climbed the stairwell at the far end. It was quiet inside.
“Any sign of the hostiles?” Rogers asked.
“Small, maybe the size of a dog,” Bucky said quietly, “They’re pale and quick.”
For a moment, no one responded.
“Alright, everyone keep an eye out.”
Bucky wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut. Maybe he should have waited until someone else spotted one. The point of this exercise was for him to prove his worth but it meant nothing if he pissed off the rest of the team in the process. He double guessed himself all the way up the stairs, where he was greeted by six corpses.
Intellectually, he knew he was in a simulation but there was another part of him that told him there was no faking that smell. He cringed as he silently stepped around the bodies. He scanned the landing for aliens before dropping to a knee to examine one of the corpses. It looked like something had chewed its way through the victim's abdomen and crawled out the other side. He checked out the other bodies. They all had similar holes in their stomachs.
“I think they eat people’s organs,” he said.
“Ew,” Clint replied.
Bucky could picture the exact face Clint was making and silently agreed.
He began moving more quickly now. He climbed up to the next landing, then the next. Sometimes there were bodies, sometimes not, but no sign of the aliens yet. Maybe they moved on after they made their way through the available food supply, Bucky reasoned. He made his way to the top floor and kicked his way through the locked door that led to the roof.
“Entering the building with the civilians,” Romanoff said, “We’re going to take them to the bank at the end of the block, it’s the most defensible position.”
“Got it. Tony, make sure their path is clear,” Rogers said.
“Yup,” Stark replied.
Bucky heard the hum of Stark’s suit as he positioned himself on the corner of a roof several streets over. As Bucky looked into the distance he could see they were on the edge of a desert. He wondered how far he could walk before he hit the wall of the Training Room. The hologram seemed to go on forever. The sound of gunfire brought him back to the rooftop.
“Shit, they’re fast.” Clint hissed, “I confirm Barnes’ assessment.”
“I haven’t seen any yet,” Wanda replied.
“We can hear screams from the basement,” Romanoff said, “I don’t speak their language but I’m guessing these things are bad.”
Bucky peered through his scope and stared down at the street below. The civilians would have to walk straight down this way to get to the bank. Bucky focused in on a shadowed doorway. He thought he could see movement. His gut told him to shoot but he waited. A pale form darted forwards. He fired once.
Through his scope he saw blue fluid dripping out of the wound in the creatures side. It tried to crawl forward towards the nearest car but Bucky had shot it in one of its six legs, it was limping. As it struggled forward, it’s skin began to burn. Smoke was rising from its form and it moved slower and slower as it reached for the shadows. Then it fell still. Puzzle pieces suddenly slid together in his mind.
“Clint, Widow! Get out of there and wait for back up! The aliens can’t survive in sunlight and they eat human organs. They’ll be converging on the civilians trapped underground. You’re going to be outnumbered!”
Clint’s com suddenly went haywire as the ringing of gunfire and the screaming of the civilians filled the air. Bucky could hear the chaos from his perch on the rooftop. He’d made a tactical error. He’d assumed the civilians would be in most danger out in the open, not indoors.
“Wanda, Sam! Get to the civilians. Tony get to the ones on the east side! Barnes keep your position.” Rogers ordered.
“I’ll be more useful on the ground,” Bucky responded before leaping from the building’s ledge. He dug his metal fingers into the brick to slow his fall and hit the ground running. Now that he knew he was safe in the sunlight it was easy to make his way through the streets.
“Barnes! I said keep your position!”
A tiny voice at the back of his head screamed that defying Rogers was a bad move, but it was easily overruled by memories of World War II. Sometimes you had to disobey your superiors to save lives and, in Bucky’s experience, it had always been worth it.
He ran for the building. He could hear the sound of gunfire getting louder and the familiar ringing of screams. He saw Wilson burst from a window with at least six aliens hanging off him as he hit the adjacent building while trying to kick them off. Trying to shoot at that tangled mess would be a fool's errand. Luckily, there was an easier way to kill these creatures.
“Wilson! Get into the sunlight!” Bucky shouted, running past him to get into the building.
He saw Wilson turn and start heading out of the shadows as he ran past him through the doorway.
Corpses— alien and human— littered the ground. Bucky spotted a stairwell that led down towards the basement and followed the sound of gunshots to its source.
Wanda was battling a hoard of the pale, sharp toothed aliens with her red mist while Clint and Romanoff shot the ones that got too close to the civilians they were protecting in the corner. Romanoff had blood streaked across her chest and Clint looked like one of the aliens had tried to go for his kidney. Wanda had a cut across her forehead which left streaks of red across her face. One of the aliens bit Wanda’s outstretched hand. A wave of—perhaps unwarranted— protectiveness surged through Bucky and he pulled the pin on one of his grenades and tossed it toward a group of aliens in the far corner before fighting his way to Wanda’s side. He traded his guns for knives and found that his metal arm was pretty good for crushing alien skulls since they couldn’t bite it properly. He made it to Wanda only a little bloodied. She was twirling her mist around them, wrapping it around the creatures and slicing through them. It was effective, but not effective enough.
“Wanda.” Bucky sliced through the jaw of an alien that lunged at him, “you need to level the building.”
“What?” Wanda shouted, “Why?”
“Sunlight kills them!” Bucky replied, kicking one that got its talons around Wanda’s calf, “if you break through the ceiling and the upper levels the light will take care of everything!”
“Okay!” She yelled back, “Cover me?”
Bucky refocused all of his attention on Wanda as she stopped fighting the aliens around her. Bucky pulled his handguns and began delivering headshot after headshot as Wanda’s red mist began gathering at the ceiling. Bucky moved around her, carving a circle of protection in the unending waves of aliens that threw themselves forward.
It was nice, feeling useful again, Bucky thought as Wanda broke through the ground level of the building. It had been months of nothing since he turned himself over to SHIELD so this was a nice change of pace. Not that screaming, gunfire, blood, and aliens were nice, per se, but it was familiar. The rhythm of protecting someone, the ease of knowing exactly who your enemy was, and the satisfaction of successful teamwork all settled comfortably in Bucky’s chest as Wanda’s magic blew the building above them open, letting the hot dry sun streak in.
The white aliens began to shriek as the light hit them. Up close, Bucky could hear the sizzle of their skin and smell the smokey char of their flesh as they shriveled up.
“Aw, gross,” Wanda’s nose scrunched as the little alien bodies fell around them.
Silence fell as the last of their enemies died. Bucky was about to call it a day when a distant explosion shook the ground.
“Cap, Stark? You guys good?” Clint said into his com as they started leading the civilians back up to street level.
“Uh… mostly?” was Stark’s response.
Suddenly, the sky shimmered and the jolly sound of trumpets echoed through the streets.
“What the fuc—“ Bucky cut himself off in surprise when the civilians vanished in an instant along with the heat and the rubble and the corpses.
They were back in Starks empty hologram room, scattered across the huge empty space. Bucky saw Rogers and Stark picking themselves up off the ground as he reoriented himself in the weird cube of a room.
“I think that went rather well,” Wanda said, grinning up at Bucky.
Bucky smiled back.
“What the fuck was that, Barnes?” Rogers shouted across the chamber.
“Oh, or not,” Wanda whispered as Rogers stormed towards them.
“I thought you wanted to be part of this team but instead you disobeyed orders and left Tony and I on our own!” Rogers continued, stopping in front of Bucky with a huff, “You were not where I needed you to be and Tony and I nearly lost the civilians on the east side!”
Now that Rogers was up close, Bucky could see that he’d been bitten by aliens pretty hard a couple times and then gotten trapped in the blast of an explosive. No wonder he was pissed.
“I realized Clint and The Widow were walking into an ambush and went to help them,” Bucky countered, “I wasn’t going to sit there and listen to them get torn up. I also found an easier way to kill the aliens and covered Wanda while she took out nearly sixty of them at once.”
“Clint and Nat can handle themselves,” Rogers shot back, “and no one else had confirmed your theory about the sunlight so it could have been a fluke.”
“You callin’ me a liar?” Bucky demanded, trying to tamp down the spark of anger in his chest as best he could.
“No,” Rogers replied, “I’m saying one incident isn’t a pattern. We can’t base our plans on one thing you saw when other factors could have been at play. You should not have moved.”
“If I hadn’t, they’d still be trying to fight their way out of that basement!”
“If you hadn’t, you could have helped Tony and me and then we could have gone to help them!”
“I was nowhere near the east side!” Bucky rolled his eyes, giving in to his frustration, “if I’d stayed on that rooftop I’d have been useless to everyone. You would have done the exact same thing in my position and you know it.”
“You don’t speak for me, Soldier,” Rogers snapped, “Know your place.”
With that, Rogers turned and stormed out. Romanoff, Wilson, and Stark quickly followed suit, leaving Bucky with Wanda, Clint, and Bruce.
“Yikes,” Bruce muttered.
“If you think I’m wrong just say so,” Bucky sighed, scrubbing a hand across his dirty face, “I’ll listen to you guys over Captain Righteous right now.”
Clint scratched at the back of his neck.
“I’m on your side, Bucky,” Wanda said, coming back up beside him, “I’m no strategist, but I wouldn’t have left you up on some rooftop when the targets couldn’t set foot in sunlight.”
“Thank you!” Bucky said enthusiastically, throwing an arm around her shoulders, “You’re my favorite. Have I told you that you’re my favorite?”
Wanda laughed and hugged him around his waist before tugging him toward the exit. Bucky saw Bruce smile and shake his head at them.
“Don’t get too frustrated with the Captain,” Bruce said as he followed them, “he’s just not sure how to properly integrate you with the team yet.”
“Yeah,” Wanda agreed, “he had no idea how to factor my abilities in with his plans until we had a couple good one-on-one training sessions where he saw exactly what I could do.”
“He knows exactly what I can do,” Bucky scoffed, “I’ve already used all my best stuff on him.”
“Well, maybe it’s more of a trust thing then,” Bruce mused as they stepped back into the locker room.
Rogers and his crew had already left. Their stuff was neatly packed away exactly as it had been before without a scratch on it. Bucky looked down at himself. The blood, the dust, the rubble was all gone. He looked back and watched Clint’s vest get spontaneously dry-cleaned as he crossed the threshold of the hologram room.
“Holographic aliens leave holographic bruises,” Clint said with a halfhearted grin when he saw Bucky looking, “Stark wouldn’t actually let us get hurt in there. Imagine if we did really bad and died or something. That would just be embarrassing.”
“Huh,” Bucky pulled off the vest Clint had lent him and Wilson’s t-shirt. He folded it neatly and left it at the bottom of Wilson’s locker. Wanda and Bruce both left fairly quickly, leaving Clint and Bucky to make their way back upstairs together. The elevator ride was unusually quiet and by the time they were back in their apartment Bucky’s patience had run out.
“Out with it, Barton,” he said as Clint poured himself a glass of water, “If you’re on Cap’s side, I get it. I won’t take it personally.”
Clint sighed dramatically.
“Look, I just—“ he took a moment to find his words, “I’ve been around longer than Wanda and Bruce. I was at SHIELD before they even pulled Cap from the ice. I remember what Stark was like, and Natasha too. I know we’ve talked about the Chitauri attack but you have to understand: that was our first mission as the Avengers and it was an absolute clusterfuck.”
Clint collapsed on the sofa and downed his water as he slumped back onto the cushions.
“We were all picked for the Avengers because we were the best of the best, top of our fields, which meant that there were some pretty big egos in the room and Cap had to do a lot of work to get us to be a functional team. There was so much training, so many intense conversations, all in the name of building trust and getting us to bond enough that we could all share the spotlight. What I’m saying is: a team only works if we all work together. Today’s test wasn’t to see if we could complete the mission, it was to see if you could be part of the team. Even if you made the right call in there, it still makes it look like you can’t be trusted to be where you need to be and if you aren’t where you need to be, then there’s no point having a plan in the first place.”
“I get that, Clint. Really, I do,” Bucky said, “but if I can’t adapt a plan in light of new information and if I can’t go to the aid of my teammates when they need it then what am I supposed to do? Just hunker down and hope for the best? Wait for approval before doing something that could save lives? The job got done, isn’t that enough?”
“On an individual level, sure,” Clint argued, “but in the bigger picture, its way better to be consistent than to fly by the seat of your pants every time. We’re the Avengers, man. If we fuck up, we fuck up big. We have to hold each other accountable and make sure we’re all on the same page, otherwise one stupid, well-meaning move could take us all down.”
Bucky scowled at the coffee table.
“I stand by what I did.”
“You were right to do it,” Clint said, nudging Bucky’s foot with his own, “we would have been overwhelmed without you. It’s just that you have to earn our trust before you pull a stunt like that.”
Bucky flopped down on the sofa next to Clint.
“I blew it, didn’t I?”
“Eh, well,” Clint shrugged, “you can’t really argue with the results but yeah. I don’t think you’re gonna get cleared for missions any time soon.”
Clint was right. The next morning, Bucky was making himself toast while Clint was out at a briefing when his phone pinged. It was an official notice from SHIELD.
After yesterday’s training session, Captain Steven G. Rogers has deemed you unfit for Avengers training until further notice. While his official report is confidential, the primary reasons for this decision stems from uncertainty about your ability to follow orders, a lack of confidence in your motivations, and the potential of personal conflicts that exist between yourself and several of the other Avengers. At such a time when these issues have been addressed, your position may be reconsidered—
Bucky stopped reading. Even before the Soldier, Bucky’s anger had always run cold and quiet instead of hot and loud and now the trait made itself known once again as ice flooded his veins. Silent and still, he seethed.
Inability to follow orders, lack of confidence, personal conflicts.
Bullshit. All of it.
If Clint were there he’d know what to say to calm him down but he wasn’t, so Bucky let the anger simmer. Then a spark became a cold flame and suddenly he was in the elevator hitting the floor number for Rogers’ personal apartments.
He wasn’t supposed to go anywhere without supervision and he didn’t even know if Rogers was in, but he didn’t care. He was so tired. Three months he’d spent trying to convince everyone that he was ready—two years, really, if you counted the deprogramming— and now all that stood between him and his revenge on Hydra was some asshole who had decided to turn him away before he’d even been given a chance. Bucky wasn’t going to stand for that. Not after all the work he’d done to get this far.
The elevator opened to the spacious entryway that led to Rogers front door. Bucky stepped forward and banged on the wood before he could think twice about it. His heart pounded in his chest as he waited. Restless fury coiled in his chest as he waited for Rogers to open up and give him a chance to strike. Bucky knew that he didn’t have much by way of a plan beyond wherever his indignant anger was taking him but was also too furious to care.
The door opened. Rogers was dressed to go out with a baseball cap on his head and a dark blue bomber jacket around his shoulders. He stared at Bucky tensely and Bucky was suddenly grateful for his icy temper. Rogers took one look at him and then stiffened like he was bracing for impact. He was waiting for the explosion, the scream of “what’s your problem?” and the pounding of fists. He was waiting for a confirmation of Bucky’s recklessness, thoughtlessness, and ego in the face of authority.
Instead, Bucky just stared.
He’d given Rogers plenty of time to look at him in the past few weeks so it seemed only fitting for Bucky to return the favor.
Rogers was a little taller than him, blue eyed, and square jawed. His blond hair was cut short but long enough in the front that it flopped forward a little bit. It wasn’t a standard military cut but it was still pretty conventional.
Standard, stable, authoritative, self-righteous.
What else could be expected from America’s Golden Boy?
Bucky watched Rogers’ tension grow as the silence stretched. It had only been 26 seconds before Rogers broke.
“Can I help you?” He asked, terse and uncomfortable.
Bucky waited another ten seconds before responding. Watching Rogers squirm minutely under his gaze was more satisfying than he cared to admit.
“Hiding behind bureaucratic bullshit isn’t a good look on you,” Bucky remarked quietly.
Rogers’ jaw clenched. He folded his arms and suddenly seemed to tower over Bucky as his bulk filled the doorway.
“I’m not hiding,” he replied sternly, “I’ve deemed you unfit for duty, Soldier. That’s it. If you can’t handle rejection, that’s your problem.”
Bucky silently bristled at the nickname.
“I did the right thing and you know it.” Bucky hissed softly.
“You disobeyed direct orders,” Rogers countered his voice rising with authority, “I need people who are reliable, not wild cards.”
“If only the old world could see you now,” Bucky scoffed, “I wonder what they would say if they heard Captain America advocating for blind obedience over free thought.”
Rogers’ face pinched incredulously.
“Are you really trying to compare me to a Nazi right now?”
“Hydra took my autonomy away,” Bucky replied, “and the first thing I did when I could think freely again was to swear to myself I’d never take orders without question ever again. I disobeyed because Clint and Wanda— my friends— needed help. Sitting on that rooftop doing nothing and letting them walk into a trap would have been a far more harmful crime than disobedience.”
The furrow between Rogers’ brows deepened.
“You know I’m right,” Bucky added, “and in my position you would have done the same thing.”
“You have no idea what I’d have done,” Rogers snapped.
“You’d have run in with no plan and no back up because you’re a punk who thinks the best way to stop a tank is to punch it.”
Bucky hadn’t really meant to say that. Revealing their shared history would bring up far more questions than it would answer and none of them would help Bucky get back in the field faster. It was a waste of time, but as Bucky watched Rogers’ face morph from restrained frustration to surprise he resigned himself to being sidetracked.
“How the hell do you know about that,” Rogers asked, all loud righteousness gone.
Bucky folded his arms and scowled at the door frame.
“James Buchanan Barnes, Sergeant of the 107th Infantry Regiment, US Army, reported M.I.A. in 1945.” He gave Rogers a mocking salute and let his Brooklyn drawl bleed into his words as he spoke.
Roger’s posture instantly changed. His arms dropped to his sides and the furrow between his brows vanished.
“You’re from the past.”
“Yup,” Bucky folded his arms again petulantly, “you woulda figured that out sooner if anyone had bothered to ask.”
A flash of guilt crossed Rogers’ face. Bucky could almost hear the gears turning in his head as his eyes swept across Bucky as if for the first time.
“And you know about the tank thing,” Rogers murmured almost to himself, “I never reported that which means…”
“I was there,” Bucky finished for him, “I was covering you from above. You’re welcome, by the way.”
Rogers’ eyes bored into his own. Bucky refused to flinch.
“I… I remember you,” Rogers’ breathed, “your hair was shorter but I… you abandoned your post to protect me.”
He was staring at Bucky with something akin to awe. While Bucky could hold his own against anger, stupidity, and violence, awe was something he was unfamiliar with.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Bucky said, dismissing the distant memory, “the point is that half the reason you’re standing where you are right now is because you knew when to follow orders and when to disobey them. Yeah, punching that tank was a stupid move but it drew enough attention that it gave the rest of us the element of surprise. So, yeah, I don’t know you that well but don’t pretend that what I did is evidence of some huge character flaw because I know you wouldn’t sit quietly on some rooftop while your friends got attacked just because someone told you to.”
Bucky expected some response or even acknowledgement after that but Rogers was still just staring at him with that strangely open look on his face. Bucky wondered if anything he’d just said had gotten through or if Rogers was still lost in the past.
“I—uh,” Rogers blinked and the furrow between his eyes returned, “Sorry, uh, do you want to come in?”
He stepped aside as if appearing like a decent host was suddenly important to him, despite the scrunch of tension that reappeared across his forehead, and through the doorway Bucky could see a cozy looking living room with a soft blue couch and hardwood floors.
The last thing Bucky wanted to do was sit and trade war stories with a man who saw them as glory days instead of the catalyst for the worst decades of Bucky’s life.
Rogers’ eyes flicked down then back up.
“Well, then,” Rogers’ rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, his face still pinched, “maybe you could meet me in the training room later? Consider it a reevaluation.”
This new uncertain Rogers was throwing Bucky off.
“A reevaluation.” Bucky deadpanned.
“Yeah.” Rogers scowled like the words were taking some effort to come out, “I don’t think anyone else is around to join us but we could do another training exercise so I can reassess the decision to keep you off the team.”
“Your decision— while disobedient— maybe wasn’t the worst thing you could have done,” Rogers admitted sheepishly, “given the circumstances.”
Of all the outcomes of storming up to Rogers’ front door, Bucky hadn’t predicted this. It took a particularly humble sort of person to admit to a mistake, even on a good day and was especially surprising coming from someone as used to giving orders as Rogers was. Bucky pushed the thought aside and focused on what was important.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll meet you down there then.”
“Okay. Around 11?”
Bucky didn’t know if he should say “thank you” or something.
“Thanks, I guess,” is what came out as he backed toward the elevator again.
“Sure,” Rogers nodded as he started inching his door closed, “see you later.”
Rogers’ door quickly shut and Bucky hit the elevator button as many times as he could. God, that was awkward. How do you act civil to someone who wrote a report about how shitty you were and then tried to walk it back?
Bucky hit the elevator button eight more times and settled on what he deemed was the most reasonable course of action: pretend everything was fine until it was.