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It's Just Temporary

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"Shit, shit, shit. Come on, not today," Bucky pulled his phone out of his pocket and looked at the time again. 8:46am.

 He made a desperate noise. "Oh fuck me..."

The woman sitting to his left gave him a sharp look, glancing up from her copy of Fifty Shades Of Grey. He gave her a look back. Seriously? Who reads smut at nine o'clock in the morning on the train in full view of everyone? Bucky turned away with a frown and leaned back in his seat. Of all the days the train could get held up. Couldn't he just get a tiny break? Just once. Not being late on the first day of a new job due to a situation beyond his control wasn't a big ask in the grand scheme of things and he wasn't an entirely bad person: He ate his greens, he was kind to animals. Okay, he had a big problem with idiots which had cost him his last two jobs, but this was going to be different - this job was the one that was going to stick, he had promised himself.

Bucky jiggled his leg; the train was still stuck somewhere under the East River which was the real burn - he only had to make it to Wall Street Station and then Stark Industries wasn't far. He'd even left early to make sure that he would have plenty of time to get there. The agency wouldn't be happy if he fucked this up. He moaned low in his throat again and the woman next to him got up and moved to another seat.

It wouldn't be so bad if Bucky knew what he wanted to do with his life but he didn't. It was all well and good people telling you to go to college, but they didn't tell you what to do when you got out, which is probably why he was twenty-seven and still working whatever temp jobs he could get and spiralling headlong into a very nice quarter-life crisis, the degree hanging on his bedroom wall a constant reminder of what he wasn't doing with his life. It wasn't like he had expected to land his dream job when he left college - he wasn't that delusional, but he'd thought maybe he'd be a little further ahead in his life than he was now, that things would have fallen into place somehow. Although now, he couldn't even remember what he had even been trying to aim for anymore. The longer it went on, the less purpose he felt he had.

"You just need some direction, James," his mother had said to him on the phone last week. Bucky had gritted his teeth and just made a noise of false agreement at the vague statement. Direction to where? To what? If he knew where he was going and what he was doing then great, problem solved. Thanks, Mom. It also didn't help that when his father decided that he wanted to speak to him, which wasn't often, he always greeted Bucky with a sarcastic "So what's the life plan this week, Jim?"

"Dude, don't sweat it," Sam had said one evening, when Bucky had drunk one too many beers and had started to panic about everything in his life that wasn't happening. "No-one gets anything done anymore until they hit at least thirty." Sam had a promising career in the government doing something for political candidates (Bucky zoned out slightly whenever Sam started to talk about his work) already so it was easy for him to say and Bucky had just nodded, swallowing down his failings to store and review for the next morning.

The train finally started to move and Bucky leaned forward again, woofing out a relieved breath but sucking it back in again when he looked at his phone. 9:05am. There was a text from Pete too.

PETER P: Good luck today! Break the stock exchange or whatever the hell it is they do at Stark Industries (Pork Bellies and Orange Juice are hot, apparently)

He wiped the thin sheen of sweat from his forehead and got up to stand by the door suddenly feeling very hot and uncomfortable in his suit, his tie feeling more like a noose. He wasn't going to make it.

I'm totally fucked, he thought.

***

He managed to battle his way out of the station and broke into a run once he hit the street, trying his best not to elbow anyone, holding his bag at his side. Stark Industries was two blocks away and Bucky gritted his teeth. Please, he thought, let me just have this one thing and I'll be good. I won't mouth off as much, I'll be less of a smart-ass...just please don't make me have to tell the agency and my parents that I lost another job before it even began...

Bucky reached the building and shuffled through the large revolving door with a glut of other people, successful people who had jobs and didn't look like they'd just stepped out of bed after having fallen asleep in the best suit they could afford; people who probably owned their own houses and had matching dinner plates and pasta makers. He hurried to the main desk, trying not to sound out of breath and desperate.

"Uh, I'm starting a new job today? I have no idea where to go...the agency told me - "

The woman at the desk smiled at him. "Your name, Sir?"

"Barnes," he said and glanced at the clock on the wall behind the desk. 9:28am. He could taste the toast he'd had for breakfast.

The woman ran her finger down a list. "Alright, Mr Barnes. I have you here; I'll just call up for you. If I can get you to fill out a visitor's pass..."

Bucky scribbled his name on the pass and the woman gave him a lanyard. "Take a seat and someone will be right with you." She gave him a bright smile.

He tried his best to smile back but decided he wouldn't want to be on the receiving end on what must look like a pained grimace. He walked over to the row of chairs closest to the desk and smoothed his hair down. The lobby was all clean lines and glass. Very minimal and a little pretentious, he couldn't help but notice. But then not much that was under the Stark brand wasn't pretentious. A security guard standing at the far end of the reception desk gave him a narrow eyed stare. Bucky tried a smile on him but the guy just glared at him harder. Well, fuck you too pal, Bucky thought and turned away.

"Barnes?" he heard someone call and turned around. A severe looking woman in a very smart and very expensive looking suit was striding towards him, her hair a shade of red that Bucky was pretty sure didn't actually exist in the spectrum of real hair. She looked pissed. Bucky tried to hold himself taller and feign some confidence.

"Yes, that's m - "

"You're almost a half hour late. You've got ten seconds to give me a plausible excuse or you're back out of that door." She looked at her watch and then back up at him.

Bucky fumbled desperately. "The train was held up. I left early...I couldn't..."

"Train from where?" she said, folding her arms and giving him a piercing look that intimidated him more than anything and he'd spent a stint in military school.

"Brooklyn," he answered weakly, already knowing for sure that he would be back out of the door in the next minute and trying to figure out what to tell the agency.

But she unfolded her arms and placed them on her hips instead. "Hmm. Okay. You get a free pass for today but only because one of our guys must have been on the same train and just got in himself. I'll tell you right now though: I don't take lateness lightly, especially on first days and especially from temps. Do you get me?"

Bucky allowed himself to feel a brief second of relief followed by more terror before nodding. "Yes...ma'am?" he tried.

The redhead gave him a look. "Follow me." She started off towards the bank of elevators across the lobby. Bucky picked up his bag and hurried after her, straightening his tie. The security guard who had given him the stink-eye was now less interested in him and more interested in the redhead.

The ride up to the 23rd floor was tense; the woman just looked straight ahead and made no attempt at small talk and Bucky just went with it, keeping his mouth shut, the tight feeling in his stomach telling him that this was already going all kinds of wrong.

They finally arrived and he followed behind her as she strode by reception, the girl behind the desk giving him an amused smirk and an approving eyebrow waggle as he passed. The office was pretty big, divided up into sectioned cubicles, everyone getting on with whatever is was they did up here, phones ringing, fax machines apparently still a thing and churning out paper. Several people said good morning to the redhead as she powered through the office, nodding and greeting them back. They eventually turned a corner, Bucky slightly out of breath from trying to keep up with her, and she ushered him into her office.

"Take a seat," she said and closed the door. Bucky sat down and brushed off the front of his jacket, waiting while she looked at a few sheets of paper in front of her.

"Okay, James Barnes? I've got that right?"

"Um, I prefer Bucky over James if that's alright, ma'am," Bucky said again.

"Fine. And seriously, enough with the ma'am. Women over forty get called ma'am and I'm far away enough from forty to be offended at being called ma'am."

Bucky panicked. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it as - "

She waved a hand at him to shut up and carried on reading. "So, what interests you about working at Stark Industries?"

Bucky hesitated and decided to go for a last ditch attempt at humour. "Well, I've always wanted to work on Wall Street. You know, greed is good?"

The redhead gave him a look. "Excuse me?"

"Um, like...Gordon Gecko. You know...the movie...Wall Street...?" he trailed off weakly. Shit. Okay, so she didn't do humour.

She snorted out a breath and carried on reading. "I can see that you've had quite a few jobs in the last six months. You want to tell me a little about that?" She didn't look up from her papers.

Bucky had been dreading something like this. "Well, most of them were very short term contracts and - "

"You worked at the Baxter Building but got dismissed for "gross misconduct against a fellow employee" which is, I think you'll agree, a pretty big thing." She looked up at him, an almost challenging look on her face.

Bucky could feel his chance slipping away again. He wasn't sure there was much point in telling her the whole story. He had been doing data entry in one of the Baxter Building's finance departments and had to watch day after day as some smug dick called Victor sleazed his way around the office, casually stroking the asses of most of the female employees, dodging complaint after complaint made against him because he was some big shot who could apparently talk his way out of anything and the words of at least six women against his counted for nothing. Bucky had finally snapped one morning after one of the other girls in his section, a really sweet kid called Susie, had started to cry to her friend, frustrated that nothing was being done. Bucky had casually followed Victor into the kitchen and, as he was leaning against the counter talking to a couple of other guys Bucky didn't know, had nonchalantly cupped Victor's crotch with one hand whilst reaching for a mug in one of the cabinets. It was a dumb idea. A really dumb idea. But Bucky wasn't known for his good ideas.

"Hey guys, how's it going?" Bucky had said cheerfully, waiting for the look of disbelief and horror on Victor's face before giving him a winning smile and a quick squeeze and then leaving the kitchen. Bucky had been gone within the hour but not before seeing, with some smugness, that word had spread (offices were weird little worlds unto themselves that he'd never really understood, not staying in any one place long enough to become a part of things) and that Victor was already a joke, unable to casually laugh off the "harmless" treatment he liked to dish out so much.

"Um, I was trying to prove a point and it wasn't seen as such." He didn't elaborate, wondering how much the agency had decided to disclose on his record.

Bucky couldn't be sure but he thought there was the briefest flicker of a smile on her face. But the lighting in here was pretty harsh and he could easily have been mistaken.

"You also worked in a bar very briefly and was fired for "unacceptable behaviour." Again, warning bells are ringing, Mr Barnes. This isn't a good pattern."

Again, Bucky sighed inwardly. The bar job had been a disaster waiting to happen. On his second shift, Bucky had stood behind the counter watching a total prick of a human being, some big guy with an obvious superiority complex, incessantly pick on a smaller guy and his date, watching as they grew more and more uncomfortable. The big guy's taunts were getting more and more lewd and things would have eventually escalated into a fight, even though the smaller guy was doing his best to try and diffuse the situation with humour, but then seeing that the big guy was out for conflict, had started to become more nervous. Bucky had pinpointed the exact moment that the big guy was going to make his move and had dumped a pitcher of beer over his head, watching the guy's look of pure surprise with satisfaction. For good measure, Bucky had tossed a bowl of peanuts into his face too, hoping that there was something to the urban myth of bar snacks and urine. There had been enough time for Bucky to smile at the guy before he had catapulted himself over the bar and punched Bucky in the face and both of them had fallen to the floor and started to beat the shit out of each other.

"I'm not sure what to...the whole bar environment probably wasn't the best place...for me..." Bucky could hear the desperation in his voice and hated himself for it.

The redhead leaned back in her chair and considered Bucky for a moment. "That just sounds like you telling me what you think I want to hear. Tell me honestly: Why were you fired from those jobs?"

Oh well, nothing to lose now, he thought. He took a deep breath. "The guy in the Baxter Building was a misogynistic sexist asshole who needed to be taken down a notch or two and the guy in the bar was a prick out looking for a fight and I tried to prevent a potentially horrible situation by being an impulsive idiot." He couldn't read the look on the redhead's face. "Should I just leave now?" Bucky asked miserably.

The redhead watched him for a moment longer then slid a stack of papers over to him. "We'll need you to sign all of these and hand them back by the end of today. Your contract runs for six months but there's a chance the role could become permanent after that. You'll have a weekly progress meeting with me and you can give me your timesheet to fax over to the agency at the end of every week. You get an hour for lunch, a half hour today because you were late - I'll let you sort out what time you go with Steve. Toilet breaks whenever you want but don't abuse that and spend twenty minutes in there texting or going on Facebook. The kitchen is for everyone, just clean up whatever you use and label any food in the refrigerator. I'll give you the number for human resources - Phil will be the guy for that - but you can come to me for anything and I'll do my best to help. Fridays are casual dress. I'm Natasha, by the way."

Bucky just stared at her.

"Did you get all of that or do I have to go through it all again?"

"Oh, yes, I got it. Thank you m - Natasha." Okay, so she was giving him a chance. Bucky took the papers from her desk and thanked whatever deity had decided to listen to his pathetic pleas.

Natasha stood up. "Right, follow me and we'll get you to work."

***

Bucky followed Natasha through the office to a cubicle in the far corner, a bunch of boxes stacked at least a couple of metres high on one of the desks. A blond guy sat at one of the computers on the other desk working his way through a pile of papers.

"Steve? This is your temp, Bucky. Bucky, this is Steve - he'll walk you through you what you'll be doing, train you on the system, show you the ropes."

The guy - Steve - turned around and stood up, holding out his hand. He was taller than Bucky by a good few inches and was one of those guys built to look good in whatever he was wearing, whether it was the very nice suit he had on or a garbage bag. Bucky was pretty sure the guy could make a garbage bag look like a red carpet outfit. He suddenly felt very shabby in his own it-fits-so-it'll-do suit and he shifted on his feet.

"Hi, good to meet you," Steve said, shaking Bucky's hand enthusiastically. Bucky shook back and smiled as best he could.

Natasha looked at her watch. "I'll send Don over to take your picture for your ID card sometime before lunch. If you need me for anything, just come to my office but I think Steve will be able to cover you for most things. Is that alright?" She looked at Steve.

"That's fine," he said and turned to Bucky with a warm smile. "We'll manage."

Natasha nodded and left without another word. Bucky didn't realise he'd let out a relieved breath until Steve laughed softly.

"Yeah, she can be pretty scary but she's actually kind of nice once you get to know her."

Bucky sat down in the office chair at his desk and ran a hand through his short brown hair. "Oh man, I thought for sure that this job had ended before it had even begun. The train was late, I made a stupid joke when I should have kept quiet..."

Steve sat down. "Well, it looks like everything worked out. I wouldn't worry too much - everybody gets nervous on their first day."

Bucky put his bag under his desk and sighed. "I've probably had more first days than most..." he muttered.

"Okay, well, I guess I'll run you through everything. It's not the most exciting job; we'll basically be processing any incoming purchase orders and invoices and then - " Steve indicated the plethora of boxes on the desk next to him, " - we just make our way through all of that. All of those files need to be logged electronically. Not fun, but it needs to be done."

Bucky nodded as Steve talked him through everything, making sure that any invoices from Shield Securities took priority over all others, how the system worked, how to log everything, but it wasn't long before the familiar gloom of dissatisfaction and failure started to settle over him. This was it, this was what he could get used to - a lifetime of internal databases, boxes of outdated files, office politics. I'm going to be doing this for the rest of my life, he thought. I didn't make the most of what I had to offer and this is what I'll be doing for the rest of my life. He could already hear what his parents would tell their friends at parties: "James? Oh, he's got a job. Nothing particularly amazing but then that's what we've come to expect from him."

He swallowed and nodded as Steve mentioned something about grouping PDFs and the urge to get up, walk out and leave and just go somewhere else, anywhere, was so strong that his leg twitched.

"Um, are you okay?" Steve asked and Bucky glanced up, breaking out of his self-pitying stupor for a moment. Steve looked concerned. "You look a little...odd."

Bucky rubbed the back of his neck. "No, yeah, I'm fine. I just...it's been a stressful morning."

Steve gave him a sympathetic look. "Why don't you go and get some water or something? This can wait."

Bucky gave him a grateful nod. "Uh, where's the bathroom?"

Steve showed him and Bucky hurried off, locking himself in a cubicle and sitting on the toilet lid, taking a few deep breaths. He pulled his phone out and replied to Pete.

BUCKY: Thanks man - train was late, almost didn't make it, fine now but wondering WTF I'm doing with my life

He sat for a moment and gathered himself and then left the cubicle and splashed some cold water on his face, throwing his reflection a dirty look in the mirror. This is all your own fault, he told himself.

"Feel better?" Steve asked as Bucky sat back down.

"Yeah, thanks. Sorry - I'm not usually this flaky..."

Steve held up a hand and gave Bucky an earnest smile. "It's fine; I know new jobs can be tough."

Bucky spoke before he even had a chance to think about it. "It's more like...do you ever get the feeling that there's another you, a you that got everything right that you're running parallel to but no matter how hard you try or how fast you run, you can't catch up?" He looked up, hoping that Steve didn't think that he was a complete lunatic.

Steve blinked a couple of times. Bucky gave an embarrassed laugh. "Sorry - it's a bit early on a Monday morning to be getting into existential angst."

Steve shook his head and smiled politely. "No, it's okay." He didn't seem like a bad guy, Bucky thought.

"Okay, so you want me to just log this stuff?" Bucky indicated the stack of paper next to his computer.

"Yeah, please. See how you get on. If you need anything, just let me know." He smiled again and turned back to his own work.

Bucky pushed down the dark cloud that was starting to storm over his vision and got to work.

***

An hour and a half later, a guy with a digital camera came over to their section.

"You the new guy? I need to take your picture for your pass. Hey Steve, how's it going?"

Steve turned and gave the guy a smile. "Hey Don. Yeah, okay I guess."

Bucky stood up and Don indicated a blank patch of wall behind him. "Just stand there. Okay, ready..."

"Wait, do I need to - " Bucky began but Don took the picture and looked at it. "That's fine. I'll print up your pass and get it to you by tomorrow." He started to walk away.

"But I think I blinked - don't you want a back up?" Bucky asked, not quite prepared to settle for having a terrible photo on his pass too.

"No, it's fine," Don called over his shoulder.

Bucky made a noise and sat back down. "Great."

"I'm sure it'll turn out fine." Steve offered Bucky a dried apricot from a bag on his desk. Bucky took one.

"Yeah, I haven't been big on breaks so far so it'll be a miracle if it does." Bucky glanced around at the office. "So, does the big man himself ever come here?"

Steve leaned back. "Who, Stark? No, it was on the news a while back, I mean they told us when it happened, obviously, before it made the headlines, but he had some kind of breakdown and pretty much stays in his penthouse all the time. His wife is kind of running things for the time being."

"What happened to him?" Bucky asked.

Steve shrugged. "Nobody's entirely sure. He's always been a bit...eccentric to say the least. Some people said it was a stress-induced thing, other people think he had some kind of accident but no-one really knows for sure. It's all been kept pretty quiet."

Bucky snorted. "Maybe he's gone all Howard Hughes. You know, pissing into empty bottles and saving them, not cutting his fingernails..."

"Maybe. I kind of feel bad for his wife though. I met her once; she seemed like a good person."

"So, uh, what's it like working here?" Bucky asked.

Steve sat back in his chair. "It's okay. The people are nice. I've certainly had worse jobs. I was a security guard with Shield before I came up here. I actually worked the lobby downstairs for six months."

Bucky raised an eyebrow; he didn't seem like the security guard type - he certainly had the build for it but Bucky couldn't imagine him being particularly intimidating. "Really? Why'd you quit doing that?"

Steve shrugged. "It wasn't really me. I heard about an opening up here so I went for it and got it."

Bucky gave his chair a lazy spin. "The security guy downstairs gave me some really dirty looks when I came in this morning; you'd have thought I was smuggling in weapons or something. I guess he takes his job pretty seriously."

Steve laughed. "Clint? He's actually pretty cool. I worked with him for a while - I think he just likes to make people think he's all tough and ready to hustle out any trouble makers."

Bucky glanced behind Steve at the papers pinned to his wall; memos, health and safety junk, the usual. There were several postcards of a coastline pinned to the wall too and a calendar with, of all things, jellyfish on it.

"What's with the jellyfish?" Bucky asked, nibbling the dried apricot.

Steve looked at the calendar. "Oh, I just - it's all sea-life. I like...the sea. You know, marine biology." He gave Bucky a little smile. He had very blue eyes.

"Yeah?"

Steve nodded. "Yeah, I go up to Montauk a lot, whale watching, walking on the beach. I worked on a fishing trawler for a little while up there too."

Bucky gave an impressed chuff. "Wow, that's pretty cool. Why the hell are you here in this place if you could be doing that instead?"

Steve gave a little frown, as if no-one had asked him that before. "I don't know," he said softly. "I guess I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do."

"There seems to be a lot of that going around," Bucky said with a sigh.

Steve looked at his calendar and the postcards. "What about you? Why are you here?"

Bucky threaded his tie through his fingers. "Because temp work is the only work I can get. I have a very particular talent in that I can't hold down a job for very long."

"Why, are you some kind of troublemaker?" Steve looked at him with a little smile.

"Yeah, something like that." He told Steve about the incident at the Baxter Building and the guy at the bar.

Steve leaned back in his chair. "You might have lost those jobs, but what you did was really admirable. Stupid but admirable."

Bucky gave a surprised laugh. "Hey!"

Steve laughed with him. "I like to think I'd have done the same." He looked down and gave a little shrug. "I hope I would have, anyway."

Bucky turned back to his computer. "Well, I wouldn't recommend it. I hate to tell you this but you're currently working with the world's biggest directionless fuck-up. Enjoy." He gave a bitter little laugh and began typing again. He could feel Steve watching him for a moment before he turned back to his own work.

***

At 12:45pm, Steve got up and peered over Bucky's shoulder. "Wow, you've really got the hang of this already. Have you logged all of those?" He indicated to the stack of papers in Bucky's in-tray.

Bucky nodded. "Yup. I'm a quick learner - one skill on my résumé that I don't mind bragging about."

"Good work. I'm going to lunch; you can go whenever you want."

Bucky picked up another invoice. "I'll give it a half hour; I was late anyway."

Steve gave him a nod. "Okay. See you later."

Bucky watched as he walked off. He sat back and rubbed his neck. I could still leave, he thought to himself. I could walk out right now and no-one would give a shit. He looked up at the florescent lights and the ceiling tiles as if the confirmation he needed to do so would come from those. Everyone expects me to quit, he thought to himself, why should I disappoint them now? His phone vibrated in his pocket. He glanced around before taking it out.

PETER P: You need to get a job at my place - blow stuff up with me

BUCKY: Blow stuff up??

PETER P: We get to blow stuff up this week. I LOVE MY FUCKING JOB

BUCKY: Good for you, glad one of us does

PETER P: Wanna go for a drink later? Talk about it?

BUCKY: Thanks dude, maybe another time

PETER P: Your call. I need to go and set fire to teddy bears

BUCKY: ?!?

PETER P: :D

Bucky put his phone back in his pocket and got back to work, deciding to stay and try and make a go of it, for himself at least. The office was quiet, most people having gone out for lunch and Bucky considered going out for the half hour he had, but he doubted his resolve to come back afterwards. Better to stay here. He carried on with the logging, settling into an automatic unthinking rhythm, happy to let his mind drift and not think about anything for a while. At 1:25pm, people started to return to the office and get back to work. As much as Bucky felt he should talk to a few people, he wasn't really in the mood for small talk and hung back for a little while before picking up his bag and heading for the lunch area - a large sterile room with some tables and chairs set out, a row of vending machines against one wall. There was a blond woman reading a newspaper at one table and she looked up and gave Bucky a smile of acknowledgement before turning her attention back to her paper.

Steve was sat at a table in the far corner, his back to the room, engrossed in looking at his phone and eating an apple. Bucky hesitated for a moment and then wandered over.

"Is it okay if I sit here?"

Steve looked up and smiled. "Sure." He put his phone down and wiped his mouth.

"You don't go out for lunch?" Bucky asked pulling out his sandwich, a diet coke and a bag of chips from his bag.

"If the weather's good but I generally just come in here." Steve fiddled with his phone.

Bucky took a swig of his coke. "So, who do you hang out with here? Anyone I should avoid in particular?"

"I don't really know anyone well enough here to be honest."

Bucky gave him a look. "You've been here a while though, right?"

Steve thought for a moment. "Including when I was a security guard? Just over a year."

Bucky nodded but didn't ask him anything else, chewing his sandwich thoughtfully. A year working at one place was a long time to go without having made a least a few friends. Steve seemed nice enough, unless he was a total asshole and Bucky just didn't know it yet but he didn't think that was true. Maybe he just kept to himself.

Steve was looking at his phone again. He glanced up and gave Bucky an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I was just looking at tide times for the weekend." He put his phone in his pocket.

Bucky shrugged. "It's okay. I don't mean to pile on the questions; just looking to keep on my toes here. That way I might be able to last more than a week without mortally offending someone."

"Well, you haven't offended me. Yet."

Bucky gave a small laugh. "Yeah, we'll see how long that lasts. I think I made it to "15 days without incident" once and that was a while back."

Steve started to clear up the remnants of his lunch. "Here's hoping you make it to a month. I'm going to head back."

Bucky nodded. "I won't be long. Figure I'll make a good impression on my first day in some way. I don't think I could take another stripping down by Natasha quite so soon."

Steve stood up with a grin. "I'll vouch for you."

He turned and walked out of the lunch room, greeting the blond woman as he went and putting his apple core in the garbage can. Bucky finished up his lunch quickly and headed back to his section. Halfway there, he veered off towards the kitchen to make himself and Steve a cup of coffee. He had no idea if Steve even liked coffee but he wanted to do something to try and...fit in? Even if it was just something small. Maybe it was time to try and start to make an effort.

In the kitchen, the girl from the front desk was leaning against one of the counters eating a muffin and talking to a tall dark-haired woman. She gave him a brash smile when he walked in.

"Hey there," she said with a cocky tilt of her head.

Bucky smiled back, slightly awkwardly. "Hello." He found two plain white mugs and held them out. "Are these okay for anyone to use or do they belong to someone? I wouldn't want to get on anyone's bad side by using their "special" mug or something."

The dark-haired woman laughed. "Yeah, that shit does not go down well in this place. Those are fine. Just make sure you wash them up afterwards or you'll be in for a world of hurt." She headed out of the door and waved to the girl from reception. "See you later."

"Take it easy, Drew," the girl called and turned her attention back to Bucky as he poured out two mugs of coffee. "So, what the hell kind of a name is Bucky?"

Bucky had been steeling himself for the whole name thing, just like he did at every job he started. He didn't want to have to go through the whole nickname story because over the last couple of years, it had become less of a nickname and more of a way to distance himself from the disappointed way his parents talked about "James" and what he wasn't doing to make them proud. James was the fuck-up. There was still a tiny chance that Bucky could be someone who did something worthwhile.

Bucky frowned and stepped forward, reading the girl's ID pass hanging from her lanyard. "What the hell kind of a name is Darcy? Is your mom Jane Austen?"

Darcy laughed. "Ooh, yowch! Good one."

"How did you know my name anyway?"

Darcy snorted. "I work the front desk - it's my job to know everything about this place. You think I just answer the phone and make coffee for the big-wigs? I know everything that goes down on the 23rd floor. You're in my 'hood now, homes."

Bucky gave a sarcastic laugh as he picked up the coffee pot and began to pour. "Wow, do I have to whack someone before I'm considered one of the family?"

"Laugh all you want, but I know that you were late and got your ass reamed out by Natasha this morning. I also happen to know that your agency has you on a one-strike-and-you're-out clause too, so you need to be a good boy. I'm sure you being late today should technically have warranted a strike but I guess Natasha was won over by those puppy-dog eyes and decided to keep that one to herself."

Bucky put down the coffee pot and frowned. "If that's a joke, it's not funny."

Darcy gave him a withering look. "Like I said, I know everything that goes on around here. You get that one for free."

Bucky sighed and rubbed his face. "Shit."

Darcy chewed the last bite of her muffin and wiped her hands. "You'll be fine. You're working with Steve and he's about as un-strikeworthy as it gets."

Bucky finished pouring out the coffee. "Thanks for the heads-up," he mumbled. Now that he knew that he was on thinner ice than he thought, he was suddenly even more terrified about doing something wrong than he was five minutes ago.

Darcy headed out of the kitchen. "He likes cream and two sugars," she called before she was out of sight.

***

Steve seemed genuinely grateful when Bucky handed him his coffee. "How did you know how I take it?"

"The girl at the front desk. Darcy or whatever her name is." Bucky didn't feel as hopeful about his situation as he did before lunch and tried his best not to settle into another funk. Steve seemed to notice that something was up but didn't say anything as Bucky turned back to his work. He deliberately tried not to clock-watch for the rest of the day, keeping his head down and answering politely but in monosyllables when Steve tried to make cheerful small talk. He eventually got the message that Bucky didn't want to speak to him and carried on with his own work quietly.

At 5:20pm, ten minutes before Bucky was finished for the day, Natasha called him into her office. His stomach clenched as he walked in the door, not quite knowing why. He didn't think he'd managed to screw anything up quite yet. Maybe it was just her that made him nervous.

"So," Natasha leaned on her desk, eyeing him. "First day. How do you think you did?"

"Okay, I guess? I did a bunch of work..."

"I had a chat with Steve and he seems happy with you so I'm happy. See you tomorrow." She threw him a little smirk and a nod and started to type something on her laptop.

"Thank you," he muttered and stood back up. He considered asking Natasha about the one-strike clause but chose not to; she would have mentioned it if he was meant to know. He got back to his desk and worked for another five minutes before logging out of the system and picking up his bag.

Steve turned to him. "So, you did good for your first day. Thanks for your help."

"Don't you finish at five-thirty?"

Steve gave a little sigh and indicated to the pile of files next to him. "I need to get these logged before tomorrow. I'll stay for a little while. Take it easy, Bucky." He turned back to his computer.

"Thanks for showing me the ropes," Bucky said, feeling bad that he'd been so sullen since lunch. It wasn't Steve's fault that Bucky was constantly screwing up or on the verge of screwing up. He wanted to say something else but couldn't think of anything.

"You're welcome," Steve said without turning around.

"See you tomorrow," Bucky said and headed out of the office, not looking at Darcy as he walked by the front desk.

***

Bucky's mood sank lower on the train ride home and by the time he got back to the small two-story townhouse he shared with Sam, he was ready to call everything quits and pack up and move to Alaska or Russia or anywhere else that was remote and where he had less chance of letting anyone down just by being himself . He yanked off his tie and threw it on the armchair, kicked off his shoes into the hallway and flipped on the TV as he strode into the kitchen to microwave some tasteless frozen meal and eat it straight from the carton. After a moment, he kicked off his trousers too.

He was into the second episode of an America's Next Top Model marathon when he heard Sam's key in the front door. He fumbled for the remote and quickly switched it over onto the History Channel.

"Hey dude," Sam called and came into the living room, putting down his briefcase and taking off his jacket. He gave Bucky a look when he saw what he was watching. "Hitler's Secret Bunker? Come on, man; I already know about your guilty little secret love for ANTM. You don't have to pretend you're into any of this deep stuff; I already know you're a shallow dick."

Bucky laughed and switched it back. "Rumbled."

Sam made a pleased noise and sat down on the couch next to him. "Ooh, season six. Jade is such a bitch."

They sat in silence for a few moments watching the contestants attempt to krump in designer shoes before Sam said, "So I'm guessing by your festering silence that the new job was a bust?"

Bucky twirled the TV remote around in his hand like a baton. "No, it was fine."

"But...?" Sam prompted.

Bucky threw the remote down between them and covered his face with his hands, groaning loudly. "What am I doing, Sam? What the fuck am I doing?"

Sam gave a long sigh. "Buck, you have to pull it together. You know I love you like an annoying brother but this Charlie Brown, cloud over your head, sad sack behaviour isn't doing you any good and it's starting to piss me the hell off."

Bucky sank lower on the couch and threw his hands up. "I know, I know. I just...what am I supposed to do?"

"Okay, okay, just calm down. So what happened? Something's got you all worked up."

Bucky told Sam about the one-strike clause and the general feeling of his life slipping deeper into a confusing slop. "I mean, the job isn't anything horrendous and I'm not dissing office work but it's just...I know if I put the effort in I could do so much more for myself. I just have no idea what to do." He looked at Sam, despondent. "It's a shitty feeling."

Sam patted Bucky on the shoulder. "Okay. Well, we have to do something because I can't keep coming home and finding you on the couch, in your underwear - which is really just...keep your pants on please, for fuck's sake - acting like you've just been kicked in the balls repeatedly because it's started to get me down too."

Bucky gave Sam an apologetic glance. "I'm sorry; I know I haven't been any fun..."

Sam got up and opened his briefcase, pulling out one of his yellow legal pads and a pencil. "No, you really haven't. Pete texted me earlier too and told me that he thought you weren't doing so great." He tossed the pad and pencil into Bucky's lap. "This is what we're gonna do: You are going to make a list of all of the things you want to get out of your life, no matter how stupid you think they are and then we're going to go through the list and narrow down what you can realistically do and how to go about achieving it. Okay?"

Bucky gave Sam a despairing look. "Sam - "

Sam held up his hand and glared at Bucky. "Nope. We are doing this. I can't stand to see you wallow any more so just make the damn list. We'll go through it at the weekend."

Bucky sighed and picked up the pad and pencil. "Alright. Thank you, Sam. You don't have to do this, you know."

"I know, I'm awesome. I didn't think that when I rented out my spare room I'd be turning into some kind of life coach for a guy who can't keep his pants on for longer than five minutes when he steps through the front door. Seriously dude, please put them back on - I don't want to have to steam clean my couch because there's a chance you might accidentally teabag it."

"Too late," Bucky said and broke into a fit of laughter at the horrified look on Sam's face.