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the safe shelf

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The top shelf on the right side of the TV stand is for movies that are, not to put too fine a point on it, both safe and enjoyable.

"Safe" means they can go on any time, in more or less any mood or state of mind, and nothing's going to set off an unfortunate mental Rube Goldberg machine that ends in misery and upset for either of them. "Enjoyable" means that neither of them are going to go oh fuck this again, even privately, if the other one puts it on. It might not be the one they'd've picked if they were closer or had the impulse first, but it's okay.

It's not a crowded shelf. Technically some of them are on the iTunes or Amazon accounts, too, but if a movie qualifies, Steve finds a hard copy and sticks it on the shelf, for reasons that run from just liking how it looks, to still not being a hundred percent comfortable with how ephemeral digital everything feels (shut up, Tony), to it being just practical to have a backup and one that doesn't need anything more than a DVD player and a TV to work.

"Safe" (for him and Bucky, at least - not necessarily for anyone else) and "enjoyable" (likewise) are literally the only things guaranteed to be true of that shelf; in every other way, they're all over the map.

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

"You know," Bucky says, pointing at the screen with a blue taco-chip, "this is a terrible movie. I mean objectively, in terms of actual quality."

"It definitely hasn't aged well," Steve has to admit, passing Bucky the plate with the steak salad on it and ignoring the minute grimace. With any luck he won't have to point out that the chips don't actually count as eating, not even with sour cream and guacamole on them.

Bucky's sitting cross-legged on the futon, which is flattened and then pushed back against the wall; Abrikoska crawls out of his lap to sniff at the steak on the plate he's holding and Bucky taps her nose without looking down. "That and they were lazy as fuck - ooh, we have colour, never mind how we just cut a whole sequence out and can't even be bothered to re-do the next bit so they're not fucking holding bug-hunting stuff when there aren't any bugs."

Steve settles with his legs out in front of him, ankles crossed, and rests his own salad on his lap. "People still watch it, though," he points out.

"People still read James Joyce," Bucky retorts, "what's your point?"

Steve suppresses a smile and says, "We're still watching it."

"Yeah," Bucky admits, picking up the bottled soda he'd been drinking before Steve brought food. "Because apparently more times than we actually had money for in the theatre wasn't enough."

"Apparently not," Steve agrees, and when Bucky puts the bottle down, Steve looks not-quite-pointedly at his salad. Bucky rolls his eyes, but he does actually stab some with his fork and eat it, so that's a win.

After a few minutes of watching the matte painting of the Wicked Witch of the West's castle on the screen cut to the sound-stage and back, Bucky says, "I'm brain-damaged. What's your excuse?"

Steve reaches over to shove at his knee.

2. West Side Story (1961)

There is absolutely nothing about this movie they can take seriously.

It usually doesn't even get watched: just turned on and then left to play while each of them is doing something else, even if "something else" turns out to be (in Bucky's case) "lying on the futon with your eyes closed trying to ignore whatever the fuck you did to your neck this time". Or (in Steve's case) starting to experiment with gouache. Or playing with the kitten. Or threatening via text to hunt Romanova down and kill her because last time she was there she quietly replaced the soap and shampoo with something strange a friend of hers makes that she swears is nicer.

Steve knows all the words to "Maria" and can sing them more or less on pitch; Bucky's been known to rewind "Gee, Officer Krupke" four or five times. There's an almost ritualized discussion of how the movie makes the Puerto Rican gang seem so much more criminal than the white gang, and how if people did some basic first aid instead of standing around being upset, Tony might not have had to die.

"The thing is," Steve says seriously one afternoon, sitting on the futon, "as an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet it actually misses the point, though."

Bucky looks up from where he's lying on the floor on top of the sheep-skin with one leg hooked on the futon and says, "What, that the whole thing's Escalus' fault for fucking around instead of smacking the heads of the families together until they stopped inciting this shit?"

"Yeah," Steve says, "well, him and the Friar. Secular and sacred authority and both of them completely fail to fulfill their duty, and the really big thing is, they don't have any reason to. The Montagues and the Capulets weren't gang-leaders in bad neighbourhoods, they were high society, they had money and reputations and Escalus had leverage on them and you can stop laughing at me any time, asshole."

Bucky looks innocent, or at least "innocent". "I think I remember you writing this essay that once. And then only not getting your hand smacked arguing about it because Sister Michael never caned you."

"Yeah, well," Steve says, "she was wrong then. And the movie's wrong now." And then he changes position so he can shove Bucky's hips halfway off the futon with his foot, because he's laughing again.

Mostly Steve does that for plausible deniability: this is the first time Bucky's laughed in a week.

3. Monty Python: Life of Brian (1979)

It turns out to be one of Jane Foster's favourites, too. They end up watching it in the mini-theatre at the Tower, mostly because apparently Thor's spent the last month and a half studying up on Christianity. The poor bastard.

"I just like finding someone else who likes it more than Holy Grail," Jane says, settling into one of the arm-chairs and then looking around. "Where did we lose our blonds to?"

Darcy, who more or less glued herself to Foster's side and seems to have missed her desperately and is expressing this in the way of asshole cats everywhere by complaining and demanding attention, comes in with a slightly horrified and disgusted look.

"Oh my god," she says, and points out of the door, "make them stop."

"Stop what?" Jane asks, craning her neck back. Bucky resettles the idiot kitten on his lap and doesn't reply, but makes a private bet that he wins when Thor and Steve finally wander in, deeply engrossed in conversation.

"But that makes no sense," Thor objects, frowning. "The text is riddled with contradictions, some of them absolutely direct, you cannot reconcile them without recourse to - "

"And that," Steve says, sounding satisfied, "is why sola scriptura is the core absurdity of the entire Protestant schism. QED."

Foster stares at him while Darcy hides her face and Thor looks troubled and thoughtful. "So how did - " he starts.

"If we're gonna wait for Steve to be finished arguing with Protestantism and insulting half the population of this country," Bucky breaks in, mildly, as one of the only ways to stop this train before it gets up to speed, "you will never see this movie, because by the time he's done every other inhabitant of this planet will be dead, and the power grid won't work anymore."

Foster blurts an undignified snorting laugh and Steve attempts to sit down with dignity. "I'll explain more later," he says to Thor. "Admittedly, it's time for the movie."

"Yeah," Bucky adds, "hang around long enough and he'll start insulting the entire Catholic hierarchy too, and maybe finally get himself excommunicated."

Darcy grabs the remote in a sudden darting motion that almost gets her pinned to the floor by her wrist, and punches the buttons to start the film. "Any more theology that doesn't come from that screen," she says, "and I'm going to scream."

She also pretends to be mortified when Bucky, Steve and Foster all recite along with the graffiti scene - Steve naturally being the radical, Bucky and, hilariously, Foster chiming in with her best gruff voice for the centurion - but her body-language says this is the most comfortable and at home she's felt in weeks.

4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

It's hard to explain why this one stays on the shelf, but it does.

Steve suspects it has something to do with how patently absurd it is, from premise to effects to completely unnecessary and thematically discordant ending. He actually wonders a lot about the ending until he finds a note somewhere online that the guy who made the movie wanted it to have a happy ending. It would have worked better, Steve thinks, because then the movie is mostly about how fear eats the mind, and how repressed guilt turns into self-justification as armour against the fear of retribution.

Plus he likes Nancy, and it irritates him how she gets undercut by those last few seconds.

But it's still ridiculous. And that isn't what death looks like, and that isn't how blood actually acts even if you were to rip someone up like that, and basically, he figures, it fits in the same place as old fairy stories about the Devil.

It also helps, he thinks, that for both him and Bucky it'd frankly be nice to have something obvious and concrete to fight in nightmares. A nutcase with steak-knives on his glove would be kind of a relief.

They spend a lot of time trying to make sense of how the dream world and the real world are supposed to interact, what the rules are, and haven't really got there yet.

"There is a lesson here, though," Bucky muses at one point.

"Don't burn people to death in an orgy of vigilante justice?" Steve offers and Bucky shakes his head.

"No," he says, "just remember if you do, you need to soak the ground with holy water and get some fucking salt."

5. Children of Men (2006)

Bucky could recite every moment of this movie down to the exact time between gun-shots and bomb-blasts.

He's surprised Steve ever put it on the shelf. Hell, he's surprised it's as fucking soothing as it is for him, but he's definitely surprised Steve put it on the shelf, given that means it can go on whenever, no question or warning.

Steve says he likes Theo, likes the ending, likes Michael Caine's whole performance and always finds something new to see in it. For Bucky it's just like an impressionist painting, beginning to end, that leaves him calmer and his head quieter when he's done.

It might be Kee. It's probably Kee. He thinks a normal person would find the movie emotionally exhausting, sad, maybe even grim. For him it's like rain when you really want rain (instead of rain when it's been raining for days) and sitting and watching it fall outside your window when you don't have anywhere to go.

Maybe it's because the chaos of the world on the screen matches the chaos in his head. Maybe it's because Theo's so clearly half-numb to most of it, accepting his surroundings as normal in a way nobody else around him does, and the way Bucky suspects he probably would. There was a time in his life, Bucky knows, he'd've given almost anything (but in the end not quite anything) to go home, to get away from gunfire and artillery and the crash of all of it. Now -

He knows Steve worries, sometimes, about if (more likely when) something else big like the Chitauri or Insight happens, because he knows wherever he goes Bucky'll follow. Hasn't known how to explain that combat isn't even remotely a fucking problem without making Steve worry more: that in a fight all the things that fuck him up, all the shit that sends him spiralling, all of that'd be gone. The world'll be simple again, for a little while. That his head knows what to do with the noise of bullets and bombs and endless shouting.

He doesn't worry about it setting him off. He worries, maybe, a little, that it'll be a relief. That after God made sure Bucky wouldn't end up a drunk, because He fucking thinks He's funny, that'll end up being his drug.

Doesn't matter: whatever's going to happen when it comes to that shit, it'll happen, and they'll deal with it then. For right now, it might be fucked up, but Theo and Kee's world is like a kind of hypnotic lullaby, and by now he knows every beat.

6. Mononoke no Hime / My Neighbour Totoro / Kiki's Delivery Service (1997 / 1988 / 1989)

Miyazaki they watch in Japanese, if still subtitled. Steve's just starting with Japanese, and in terms of practice it's down the list from getting Spanish up to speed and starting Mandarin and Tagalog, because Steve cares most about talking to the neighbours. The dubs all grate on Bucky like not just nails but cat-claws on a chalkboard and more than half the time he spends most of the movie with his eyes closed to skip the subtitles, too.

Mononoke is Steve's film, all epic landscapes and battles, superhuman bravery and quote unquote "deeds of arms". It's more or less exactly the shit he liked reading best when they were kids, while being completely different at the same time because it's set on the other side of the world, and all the trappings are new. Bucky doesn't mind it. He likes the way Steve is when it's on, when he's watching. Likes how some of the feeling of burden goes away.

Kiki is Bucky's, which's surprised everyone who's found out he likes it. Bucky shrugs, and Steve doesn't see any reason to explain. He's pretty sure it's because it's small; it's because the magic is just another skill, another talent; and the story is just a girl who gets stressed out and lonely and forgets how to do something that used to be simple, and then figures it out again. Steve doesn't think it takes a lot to guess why that appeals. The victories are small enough to be believable, so they can matter.

Totoro is like coffee, and the knife, and banter that's almost ritual by now. In the end they accidentally find out it'll even help Bucky sleep, and a digital copy goes on the tablet and sometimes gets put on a timer, in the bedroom, tablet propped up and turned towards the bed so Bucky can see it lying down. It's less a movie, less a story, and more kind of a touchstone or maybe a painting that moves.

They're the only animated movies on the top shelf. Other than them, sometimes animation is too many colours and too many lies, and for Bucky it'll be anything from irritating to unhealthy. Most of the time it's okay, but 'most of the time' isn't enough to go on the shelf.

He'll watch these three with his eyes shut and be happy about it, though, so they stay.

7. The Princess Bride (1987)

Tony's forbidden them from tossing Fezzik and Inigo's lines back and forth. Apparently the movie gets into Tony's head like an earworm, except it's the dialogue for more or less the entire movie and he'll still be stuck with it two days later.

They ignore his ban on a regular basis. Who says whose part depends entirely on who starts it, and Sam isn't any help at all - he just picks up the lines for whoever the third person is in the scene. His imitation of Westley is flawless to the point it's almost creepy.

He's the one who sent Steve their copy, who said, Look I know the blurb looks dull and boring and whatever, just watch the movie, okay?

There was no way for Sam to know Bucky used to read Steve school books when he was too sick to get out of bed, because Steve hadn't told him yet, but it meant even the beginning Sam told him he'd have to get through was -

Well. Kinda nice.

"I use the bit about the head-jiggle a lot at work," Sam says at one point. "It's pretty damn useful - first off a lot of people have seen the movie, more than you'd think, and second, it's a great way to talk about that tension. Because on the one hand, earlier that day - "

"He was dead," Steve finishes. "Which means any movement at all is a fucking miracle."

"And on the other hand if Fezzik doesn't stop trying to make a head-wobble sound like a big deal when Westley's got much bigger problems, he's gonna bite the guy's throat out," Sam says. "Yep."

Tony insists he's going to stop talking to them if they don't cut it out, and especially if they don't cut out improvising off whatever he says with new rhymes in imitation of the scene on the ship, but it hasn't happened yet.

Steve thinks he's full of bullshit, frankly, and has way too much fun trying to figure out how to end his sentences with something they can't possibly rhyme.

8. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Steve asks people not to talk about this one around Bucky. Not to bring it up. Not to start the conversation. He knows Bucky won't; he needs them not to, either.

He means it, too. He asks anyone who might matter, and he makes God-damn sure they understand that he's serious about it. It's not a joke, it's not something that's funny to push, it's not . . . it's not that it's dangerous, not that they're going to get anyone killed, but just, please: don't. It's important.

They almost didn't go. Because it turned into a bad day, because some idiot was an asshole in line at Starbucks, because Bucky snarled quietly at him, and scared him, and then got hit with having done it by the time he got home. They go to the theatre because Steve decides fighting too much about it is worse than just going and letting Bucky push himself until he falls over. He expects they'll have to leave within the first twenty minutes.

The cineplex they use is older, has smaller individual theatres and the doors to each of those are right by the back row of seats. That's part of why they use it. It makes it easy to leave if they have to, means they don't bug anyone else, and it's not like they need to be any closer to sea.

And in the first minute and a half Steve's surer and surer that they're going to have to go. Almost starts to get up except that Bucky touches his wrist and shakes his head and okay maybe not now, but they are going to have to talk about stubbornly sitting through negative stimulus when he doesn't have to and when it's messing him up, when they get home.

Which is to say, they're going to have to fight about it, because there's no way that doesn't end in a fight.

So they stay. And Steve gets a little distracted by Furiosa, he'll admit that - it's not like he doesn't know he has a type when it comes to women, he's not stupid. The part about transfusion makes him wince, glance sideways at Bucky and note how Bucky's left hand is curled up in a fist.

Steve's ready to draw the line and take the mess. He's pretty sure Bucky's waiting for him to, because Bucky's just started to lean away, so slightly probably no one else would notice. Steve's even reached over to put his hand on Bucky's wrist, when the moment with the water and the women and the chains flickers onto the screen.

It means Steve's looking at the moment Bucky's attention gets dragged away from him. The moment Bucky leans forward and when the tension in his right arm changes from clenched and wound up to, very briefly, just suspended. And frankly the fucking responsible thing to do would probably be to keep going, to leave the way Steve meant to leave two minutes ago, but he hesitates.

When Max fires the shots into the sand, Steve lets go of Bucky's wrist and sits back a bit.

When Furiosa asks, want that thing off your face? Bucky's left hand opens and flattens on the arm of the seat.

They don't leave. Not until the stylized credits finish and the long ones start to roll.

Bucky's quiet when they walk home, after the movie's over, but it's . . . a different quiet from the one Steve gets worried about. If Bucky's gaze keeps shifting, if his eyes don't rest on anything, it's not the fast flicker of paranoia or suppressed panic. It's just . . .

Like he's thinking and looking for somewhere new to let his gaze sit.

Three quarters of the way home Steve says something about having read that most of the stunts were real, and even the little old ladies did a lot of their own. Bucky blinks at him like he's coming back to the world, but only for a second, and then he laughs and asks if Steve could possibly blame them. Steve admits he can't and they talk about the mechanics and whether the insane flaming guitarist and his pavilion were just a jacked up version of a drum corps or a regimental piper, and Steve very carefully doesn't touch the plot at all.

And there are ways - have been ways, up till now - that Bucky asks physical contact, that he initiates sex. With the biggest thing about them, the thread that runs all the way through all of them, being how there's always an out and there's always fear. Steve ignores it, pretends not to notice it, but it's always there - Bucky's always waiting for the moment of avoidance.

Distaste. Disgust.

Not even rejection, because he'd have to wait longer, push further for Steve to even have time to get all the way to rejection: Bucky's waiting for the twinge, the flicker of expression, the change in the way Steve takes a breath. Always.

Except now. Except when he takes his coat and the zipped up sweatshirt off, except when Steve hangs up his own jacket and turns around and Bucky's right there, catching his face to kiss him, like for once, for once he can just assume Steve'll want to kiss him back. Like he can

It's a good assumption. They make - just - it to the flattened-out futon; later, the kitten's annoyed as Hell they aren't properly in bed.

In the morning Steve texts Tony and says, I need a favour.

Says, I need a clean, good quality copy of this movie.

It goes on the shelf. It being Tony, of course, it looks like he's reached forward in time, got the actual blu-ray and dragged it back. He waves away thanks (while delighting in it) the backhand way Tony does and Steve's a little bit surprised he doesn't ask why Steve wants it so much.

Steve shrugs it off, and works on explaining how he needs everyone not to talk about the film. At all.

And he doesn't ask what hit Bucky's head like that, and Bucky doesn't offer to explain. Steve can guess - it's not like there's not a bunch of things that could - but he doesn't know exactly what it is, what shape, what detail, and it doesn't matter if he does. He doesn't need to. Whatever it is, him understanding it, anyone else understanding it: that's not the point.

Not fucking it up is. Not even by accident.

It's not magic. There isn't any magic. Steve reminds himself of that all the damn time: that it's little pieces put together, that it matters, and that looking for that magic point where everything turns around is not just fucking stupid, it'll also bite him in the ass. So it's not magic.

But it's not nothing. So the movie goes on the shelf, with the rest of them.