"The librarian said, 'You can't buy no respect'
I said, 'Hey lady, what do you expect when I'm lying on the floor?'"
--Daniel Johnston, "Grievances"
Steve was lying in the side of a hillside--not hiding from anyone, yet, just watching--when he heard his phone ring. Fury had given him a phone that only he could hear, although he probably expected Steve would use it for more important things than just texting with Sam and Bucky. Oh well; it was his first mission in a long time, and he missed them a lot.
so I fucked up again , Sam had texted accompanied by a picture of Bucky holding a bottle of pomegranate juice and making what Sam said was called a duckface.
Is he okay? Steve texted back, although he figured Bucky wouldn't be making duckface if he wasn't.
just can't talk, he can nod/headshake/point so it's all good
You guys going home? The picture looked like they were in the food court of a mall.
Steve received a blank text for his trouble.
I'm just asking, Buck--if you feel good staying out like that, I'm happy for you.
It's fine. Nothing even happened yet. Didn't find her.
And no, it's not because I walk too loud. That's what you're thinking at me, isn't it? Stop worrying, Steve sent, and then texted, That is--I don't think you should worry.
stop using up my phone bill! he can't even write! Sam texted. what happened between you two anyway? he's acting weird.
Steve couldn't explain what had happened; except to say he hadn't been careful enough, and he'd been too careful. Those were his two typical failures, these days, when it came to Bucky.
When Bucky had backed down, at first Steve had just felt satisfied, like he must have been really convincing. Bucky understood it wasn't safe for him to go. Not only was he not ready for missions, he wasn't even interested in them--he didn't really train or even exercise. He'd lost muscle. He'd spent his freedom reading sci-fi and learning about computers and modern music, and Steve was far from complaining about that. He liked it, actually, the idea of Bucky doing safer things, person stuff, not having to fight anymore. And even if Bucky wanted to fight, he just wasn't in shape to do so.
"Are you shitting me?" Bucky had said at first. He was lying in Steve's arms, in his bed, all of him quiet and lazy. He looked about as un-Winter Soldier as possible, even with the arm--it hadn't taken too long, maybe the first or second grilled cheese, or the first time Bucky gave him the bird, before it started just being Bucky's arm. His hair wasn't as perfect as he liked it to be, but that was just because they'd been tussling with each other a little while before. "I haven't been training ?"
"What, you're saying you have been?"
"Steve..." Bucky sighed. "I don't need to train. You got no idea what they did to me, did you? A kitten would be dangerous with this arm."
"Then put it on a kitten and send it with me, 'cause I'm not taking you."
Bucky laughed perfunctorily and said, "But seriously, Steve, it's just wasteful--yeah, I have no plans of making what you do a career, I had enough of it, but why would you go alone when it's so easy for me to help you?"
"It's not easy ," Steve said. "You just asked me to be ready to kill you, a minute ago."
"If they take me again, I said. I had to ask, but they're never gonna be able to do it, which is their own fault for making me so strong."
"I'm stronger than you," Steve said.
"And you're not fighting against me so I don't see what that has to do with it. Besides, you might be physically stronger, but that means fuck all, that's not what I'm talking about." He waited for Steve to ask what he was talking about, but Steve wasn't too interested in arguing. " Can I tell you what I'm talking about?"
"Who's stopping you?" Steve asked.
"You," Bucky said. "I'm saying, someone like you will say, 'My job is my life,' and you mean you care about it or something. But you have a name and you sleep in a bed. Your life is your life, which makes you less effective."
"You're effective because you weren't a person," Steve said.
"You sound like you don't believe me--they wouldn't have done it if it didn't work. I'm always gonna be more singleminded than almost anyone, and no amount of soft living can make that wear off."
Steve didn't have anything to say, mostly because he had no idea if what Bucky was saying was true or not. He found he didn't care that much now. "What's the harm in trying?" he asked.
"No harm, believe me, I'm enjoying this stuff--as I just told you. But it's safer for you if I'm there, Steve. Why won't you let me be there?"
"No," Steve said. "No matter how good you are, I just don't like the thought of you going back out and fighting again. That's what--" He willed the words to freeze in his throat, but he was too slow.
"That's what?" Bucky said. "Going back in and fighting with--"
"Just leave it," Steve said. He was thinking a few things, that he maybe always believed but rarely allowed to float to the surface. That the first time around Bucky already had been half broken and--did Steve see it? His memories were so tinted with later learning that it was hard to know. Maybe he'd just thought it was worth the sacrifice. Either way, he'd let Bucky keep fighting when he maybe could have made him go home; and either way, he'd given him up for dead the second time around. He was thinking, I didn't protect you, I let all of that happen, but I can protect you the third time around.
Bucky wasn't idealistic or bullheaded except when Steve made him be that way. He just wanted to enjoy life and that's what he deserved to be doing, not running around after Steve cleaning up all his selfish messes.
But Steve was waiting for Bucky to push back on him, anyway. They'd go back and forth a while but Steve planned to hang on and it wouldn't be hard to dig his teeth in. Not with Bucky lying next to him looking so safe and relaxed--well, not so relaxed anymore, but Steve could remember. He'd quit talking, as if Steve was going to just drop it.
"You're not going," Steve said.
Bucky sighed and raked his right hand through his hair. "Guess I'm not," he said. "I'm gonna wash up and go to bed. Good night, Steve."
He got up and went out of the room, leaving Steve to wonder what he was playing at. He didn't kiss Steve or anything, which he usually did, so Steve was wondering if that was supposed to make him sorry, or if Bucky was going to stalk back in and start sounding off.
Eventually he realized the argument was over. He went into the bathroom, scoffed at Bucky's nearly pristine toothbrush sitting next to his in the little toothbrush holder, and started his own routine. He kind of liked how Bucky was obsessed with hygiene when it came to how he looked, but couldn't be bothered to brush his teeth or eat a vegetable once in a while.
After he did his mouthwash and flossed he went and knocked on the door of Bucky's room. He didn't usually have the door shut, either. After a minute Bucky opened the door and stepped out and leaned against the wall in the hallway, looking at Steve.
Steve didn't spend much time in Bucky's room--usually they talked on the couch or at the kitchen table, or if a bed was called for, Steve's was bigger. Steve didn't want to share a room for several reasons, and Bucky presumably had several of his own, since he'd never brought the idea up either. Steve had thought at first maybe it would be important to Bucky to have his own room, that no one else went into or looked into. But while Bucky spent a fair amount of time in there alone--mostly working on the computer stuff, Steve thought--he'd invite Steve in without a second thought.
Now, for the first time, it felt like Bucky was actively trying to keep Steve from seeing inside his room. He stepped out carefully through a sliver of door and closed it behind him. He'd obviously just thrown some clothes on and his face was a little marked up, although that wasn't exactly unusual and would fade away in a minute which was why he did it so freely.
Steve waited until Bucky said, fairly pleasantly, "What is it?"
"Well, I mean--" Steve said, and waited again.
"What is it?" Bucky said. "You knocked on my door."
"Well, you stopped arguing," Steve said, feeling stupid.
"You told me to," Bucky said.
"So?" Steve said. Bucky raised his eyebrows at him, and his face hardened a little when Steve said, "Oh."
Steve reached out to touch his arm and Bucky stepped back neatly away from him, then looked steadily at Steve like he was daring him to say something about it.
"I didn't realize," Steve said. "I didn't--" Bucky widened his eyes at him; his mouth was disappearing inside itself. "What is it? Is there something you can't say?" Bucky breathed out angrily. "Can you--"
"You could tell me I'm allowed to argue with you," Bucky said. "You could tell me you didn't mean it the way it sounded."
"Of course I didn't," Steve said.
"And?" Bucky spread his palms out, stiffly. He was vibrating with impatience.
"And is that why you stopped, because--"
" You still didn't say it ," Bucky forced out.
"What. 'You're allowed to argue with me.' You really need me to--"
If possible Bucky was glowering even more. He shook his head and shoulders and started, "You might make it through on your own, but it's just stupid for you to take the risk. It'd be easier and safer with me there, it'd be faster, and the only reason you're against it is some kind of typical bullshit that you really need to have grown out of by now. And maybe some kind of extra new typical bullshit about me not being able to take care of myself." Steve just opened his mouth and Bucky said, "Jesus Christ, give it a rest, okay? Yes, I needed permission, leave me the fuck alone. You can't just keep everything away from me until I turn back into the old one! Because I won't, it's torture, it's pretending you're going to let me be normal someday but it's really just saying I can't have anything."
"It's not like that," Steve said.
"Bullshit and you know it. The only way you can win the argument is by shutting me up again."
"God, you think I did that on purpose?"
"No," Bucky said and sighed, tipping his head back against the wall. "No, I know you--I know you want me argumentative." His voice was reedy and he sounded as close to breaking down as he ever had, except when he'd had the apple.
"There's not a way I want you, Buck."
"Bullshit to that too." Bucky brought his chin back down to look at Steve. "Wanting me free to be how I want, wanting me to not have these problems--that is something. And I work pretty fucking hard and it's not all for you either--even though by rights I shouldn't want things for myself but yeah, I know I can, shut up--but it's never gonna be easy and that's not--" All the fight seemed to go out of him as he spoke and he slumped against the wall. "It's not, well...I just don't like it," he finished, weakly. Steve reached out for him, again, and Bucky put his palms up. "No."
"Sorry," Steve said.
"Not your fault I'm pissy," Bucky said.
"Sorry to be an asshole, 'cause I'm about to be an asshole," Steve said.
"Oh, a once in a lifetime event," Bucky said.
"It's just it's--you're pretty good at telling me not to touch you, and I don't think you would have done that when you first got back. You wouldn't have told me I was an asshole, either."
"Great," Bucky said, "so do I get a party for doing something that's completely normal for everyone else who's a real person and not whatever the fuck I am?"
"I thought you liked parties," said Steve.
"I wish I was more like him," Bucky said. "The wrong soldier. No interest in hurting people, but this...looking so much like Bucky, talking like him and shit, it just pisses me off sometimes."
"There's a lot in between the two of you," Steve said.
"A lot in between you and the wrong soldier, too."
Bucky sighed and rolled his shoulders. "I don't know, maybe it's true I'm not mission ready. Not for your bullshit reasons, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day and me not being one or the other--well, it's a little hard to manage even sitting at home eating gummy worms."
"You went out and got them and didn't tell me?" Steve asked. "Where are you keeping them?"
"That's for me to know, asshole," Bucky said.
"I don't have all the best reasons, even aside from my typical bullshit ones," Steve felt able to concede because it seemed like he was winning the argument. "It's, uh, pretty sentimental."
"You're mad about the gummy worms, you son of a bitch."
"I mean, I just kind of want you home," Steve said. "Having fun, not fighting. And I also kind of, I'm not real heroic when I think about encountering anyone from Hydra, especially anyone who directly worked with you. You know?"
"No, I don't know," Bucky said. "Unheroic how?"
"Well," Steve said, "it's just nothing I want you to know about, is all."
"I don't ever want you to do un-Steve things on my account," Bucky said. "Nobody's worth it."
"Well, if you don't come on the mission," Steve said, "you wouldn't know if I do anything you consider an un-Steve thing."
"I'm actually also sentimental," Bucky said. "It's not that I don't think you can take her down on your own--I know that'd make you bristle up pretty badly, right? I'm pretty sure you'd be fine. I'd just rather be there. Just like you know I'd be fine, right? You just want me home."
"I guess I think you could do it," Steve said. "I don't want it. But, no, if you need me to say it, I won't stop you."
"Thanks for that," Bucky said. He sighed. "Like I could even say no to you when I was the real Bucky. I'll stay home and have fun, Steve. But it won't be fun. You should get it out of your system and let me come next time."
"So is that you? The wrong soldier's not just giving in for me?" Steve liked winning but he wanted it fair and square.
"Steve, baby, I am the wrong soldier," Bucky said. "Let me show you something."
He pulled his shirt down to reveal the scar tissue on his chest and shoulder that radiated from his metal arm. This was puzzling, because there was nothing to show--not only had Steve seen him with his shirt off, but he was especially familiar with the scars. They were very sensitive and Bucky had showed Steve how if you ran your fingers over them, it made him shiver. If Steve used his mouth, then Bucky would lie back and swear quietly, with his human hand over his face.
What else was there to see?
"You probably wondered why there's scars," Bucky said, "when I don't and you don't scar anywhere else. You probably wanted to ask before but you were being polite and all that."
"Not true, it's just I only care about getting you to make weird noises," Steve said, and it was mostly true. But he had wondered a little.
"You're smooth, okay, credit where credit's due, Steve. But it's because I spent so many years trying to pry it off myself, before it settled on me--peeling the skin back, trying to pick down under the metal. There's no under the metal, of course. I was confused about that. It doesn't come off, you know?" He took Steve's hand and pulled his fingers tight against the place where the metal started. "It's not a bad arm, in my opinion--not anymore, anyway. But it doesn't come off."