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Plums

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"Hey man, I got you something.”

Bucky looks up in time to catch the paper bag Sam tosses at him. Holding it carefully and away from his body, he raises an eyebrow.

“What? Why… oh, c’mon, do you really think I’d do something like that.” Sam crosses his arms and raises an exasperated eyebrow of his own. “Look, I promise that it’s not going to explode, it’s not going to poison you, it’s not a prank. This is me being nice. If this is the thanks I get...”

He eyes Sam suspiciously for a moment longer – more as a matter of principle than because he actually suspects the man is trying anything – then turns his attention to the gift.

It is a plain paper bag, rolled and scrunched at the top to keep the golf-ball sized globes inside from escaping. He tries to keep the growing smile off his face as he opens the bag to peer inside. Is it…? Yes! Half a dozen dark-purple and perfectly ripe plums.

Bucky loves plums.

It was one of the first things he discovered once he started the process of becoming a person again. He had walked past a tree filled with the ripe fruit, and something had prompted him to pick one. The first burst of sweet juice tasted like pure pleasure: the intensity of flavour and texture almost overwhelming. Every chance he got, he sought out more.

Later, came the memories. Preparing late-season plums for canning with his mother, sneaking slices when she isn’t looking. Counting a handful of coins, and the tart sweetness making him unable to regret the expense. Finding a fruiting tree in an abandoned churchyard somewhere in Europe, and gorging on the fresh produce.

Slowly, savouringly, he reaches into the bag and pulls out a plum. He holds it up to breathe it’s scent. He feels the smooth roundness, firm flesh just dimpling under metal fingertips. He… remembers.

Gently squeezing a plum in his gloved hand, then smiling at the stall vendor and handing over cash – lei and bani. Turning to head back to his tiny apartment, the sounds and scents of Bucharest swirling around him. Panic spiking as he hears a siren, coming towards him, then relief as it passes by without slowing. The persistent feeling of tension, paranoia rising, the certainty that people are staring at him, recognising him. He tries to talk himself down, work through his irrational anxiety, but then he sees the newspaper. Sees a photo of himself where he has never been – and it was a new photo, so he would remember, not like before. Returning to his apartment knowing it is time to run or fight or both, that the bubble of peace he has built is about to be shattered…

“- breathe. You’re ok. You’re safe. It’s just you and me. Everything’s fine. Just breathe.”

The calm voice – Sam – eases it’s way into his awareness. As he listens, the counterpoint of gasping breaths – his – gradually slows and steadies. Other senses return. He can feel the floor beneath him, solid where he slumped to his knees. The scent of plums fills the air; he looks at his hand and sees pulp coating the metal plates, squeezed through the fingers. The rest of the contents of the dropped paper bag have spilled across the floor.

Taking a deep breath, he looks up at Sam.

“’m ok now. Sorry, I just…”

Sam looks at him for a moment, then nods, intent reassurance relaxing into something more casual.

“Hey man, I get it; don’t sweat it. Note to self: I guess a bag of plums is a dangerous gift after all.”

Bucky gives a shaky laugh, as much from the release of tension as the weak joke. Carefully, he rearranges his face into a mournful expression.

“But I like plums…”