"I fucking said I was gonna go. Get off my back!"
With a slam, James Barnes stormed out of his house and picked up his bike from where he'd thrown it down yesterday. He took a second to pull the hood of his black sweatshirt up over his head and then hopped up on the bike and pedaled away.
Balancing on a bike with his one arm wasn't that hard, and he'd had a couple of years to get used to it. What he hadn't gotten used to was the way people stared at him. The way they whispered. He'd gotten into the habit of tucking his empty sleeve into his pocket just so they might not notice immediately. At this point, though, he was "that one-armed kid" and no one was gonna ask him to try out for the baseball team. Or any team.
So what if he'd written some stupid story for English class in which all those assholes got what was coming to them? Would they rather he went out and actually did those things? Idiots. Now he would be "that one-armed terrorist."
When he'd been called into the principal's office last week, his mom was already there. Crying. He hated that they'd told her and made her cry. He could add the school's stupid administration staff to his already-long list. "We're going to give you a break on this, Mr. Barnes," Principal Coulson had told him. "We're aware of what you've been through the past couple of years--"
"Who isn't," James had growled.
"--AND," Principal Coulson continued, "we are well aware of the cyberbullying that's been going on, and we have been doing our best to make sure those students are reprimanded for their actions. That being said, this sort of thing would normally mean expulsion. We are giving you a second chance here."
"I'm so grateful." His voice had dripped with sarcasm. He couldn't even look at his mother.
"We will require you to meet with a therapist twice a week. This therapist is required, by law, to inform the authorities if she feels you are a danger to yourself or others."
Great, he thought, but didn't say. Instead he clenched his jaw and waited for Coulson to finish talking.
"Despite everything, your grades are exemplary... An expulsion now, in your junior year, could destroy any chance of college. I strongly suggest you take this second chance. Do you understand?"
As his mother had driven him home, she threw teary questions at him. "How could you do something like this, Bucky? Why didn't you come and talk to me? You know you can always talk to me, right? After what happened... I understand, baby, I really do..."
James had shut his ears. And he was planning to go the therapist, he was, but he had waited to leave the house. Who wanted to get to therapist's office early, and be stuck waiting there forever, while people came and went and saw you sitting there and thought you were crazy on top of having one fucking arm? And that's what was going to happen now. His appointment wasn't until four, and here it was, three-thirty, and he was already here.
He didn't even have his phone to distract him while he waited - "You've lost that privilege. No more Xbox, either." His mom knew well enough that he needed his laptop for school and he could do almost everything on his laptop that he could do on his phone or Xbox, so it hadn't been much of a punishment until now. Trudging up the stairs, he couldn't imagine what kind of magazines there would be. If he was lucky, they'd have Cosmo, which always had some guide on how to give the best blow jobs. Obviously they weren't going to have skateboarding or gun magazines. Not that he did much skateboarding these days, outside of his own driveway, trying to get his moves back. Failing most of the time.
The first thing James noticed when he entered the waiting room was that there were no magazines. None. Zero. Spread out on the little tables that separated chairs into groups of two were pamphlets. Probably shit like, "How Not to Kill Yourself" and "Are You a Psycho Who's Going to Shoot Up Your School?" and probably even "Is Your Kid Destined to Be a Total Loser?"
The second thing he noticed was the other person sitting there, staring at one of the pamphlets.
He almost turned right back around and left. Instead he shuffled up to the desk and checked in with the receptionist. "Hi, I have an appointment at four?" he muttered, hoping the blond guy wouldn't hear him. The waiting room wasn't that big.
"With which doctor?" the receptionist asked.
He looked around, then noticed the two doors. "Uh, sorry, I didn't realize there was more than one. I don't remember her name. This is my first time here."
"Are you James?" the woman asked.
"Yes." God, if the lady already knew that, then why did she ask him who his doctor was?
"Your appointment is with Dr. Hill. You're a bit early. Have a seat, and she'll come get you when she's ready."
He grunted and took a seat as far from the other guy as possible. That was hard, because Mr. Sports Hero had picked a chair in the middle of the room. God, entitled assholes like Steve Rogers made him sick.
What was Steve even doing here? That was the better question. He guessed Steve was waiting for some younger brother or sister who was in the doctor's office right now. Had to be. You couldn't get more all-American than Steve Rogers, in his fucking Levi jeans and white t-shirt and letter jacket. James had never even spoken to the guy but he knew all about him. Captain of the football team. Honor Roll. Student Council. In fact, Steve was probably in the running to be valedictorian too. As if he wasn't perfect enough.
Well, he couldn't sit here and stare for the next twenty minutes. He picked up a pamphlet from the table at his elbow. "Teen Talk About Exam Stress." Ugh. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Steve glanced over at him. He held the brochure up to cover his face, then drew up his knees so he could actually open the brochure. The things no one ever thought would be hard until you had one arm: opening up a fucking brochure.
"Hey, you go to my school, right?" Steve asked.
Jesus Christ. James glared at him over the top of the brochure. "Yeah?" he said.
"I'm Steve," Steve said.
James rolled his eyes. "We're in, like, three classes together."
"Oh." Steve's shoulders slumped a bit, and he looked back down at his brochure. James glanced at it, then peeked over at the other brochures on the table. The color on the top was green, which meant Steve Rogers was reading "Teen Talk About Body Image."
I am not going to feel bad, James thought, then said, "I'm surprised you don't know me. I'm practically famous." God, what had made him say that?
"What for?" Steve asked.
"For this." James lifted the empty sleeve and waggled it around. From the look on Steve's face, he hadn't realized that James had been missing an arm. And there was only one kid at George Washington High School missing an arm.
"Oh! You're Bucky Barnes."
Goddamnit, that nickname. Bad enough when his mom used it. "My name," he said icily, "is James."
"Yeah. Wow, I didn't recognize you with the black hair, I guess."
James rolled his eyes again and glared at his brochure. "Not that hard if you ever actually looked at my fucking face," he muttered.
The rest of the time passed in awkward silence. He could practically see the gears turning in Steve's head. Probably trying to figure out what else he could talk to me about, James thought. Not like we run in the same social circles. Or maybe he's trying to figure out why I'm being so rude.
He refused to believe he had been rude. Steve hadn't even apologized about James's arm. Most people did. Or they asked how it happened. But no. Steve had looked at him like the missing arm was a giant fucking clue, and he'd solved the mystery and maybe even deserved a prize. Never mind that he'd called him by the nickname that had turned into a fucking nightmare in middle school. In high school he'd tried to re-brand himself as "James," but instead of helping his social status, it just turned him into a nobody. And then the accident. If people weren't actively making his life a living hell, they didn't even see him.
The woman's voice cut into his thoughts and he stood up, tossing the unfolded brochure down on the table. He gave Steve a little glare as he walked through the door. I dare you to tell everyone at school you saw me here. That's what he hoped his look conveyed. Steve just got a wounded look on his face and looked down at his hands.
James had gone to therapy before, it wasn't like he had no idea what was going to happen. Dr. Hill seemed like a nice lady, and she made it clear that he could say anything he wanted but that she did have to report anything she thought was a concern. "Now, I've heard the school's side. I'd like to hear your take on things."
He found it easier to talk to Dr. Hill than he had with his previous therapist. Of course, Dr. Zola had made him talk about losing his dad and his sister and his arm, which he didn't want to do. He told Dr. Hill all about the assholes at school and the shit they put on his Facebook page until he'd finally just deleted his account. Then they'd found his Tumblr page and started leaving anonymous hate there until he'd blocked them and blocked anon mail, but he rarely went online anymore.
He didn't tell Dr. Hill about the website where he spent most of his time when he did go online.
Since it was a first meeting, he had plenty to talk about, and he didn't have to get too deep. For the most part she listened and asked him a few questions about his feelings when he paused or struggled with what to say. Then the fifty minutes were over and he was free to go.
"I'll see you on Thursday, then?" Dr. Hill said as he opened the door.
"Yeah, Thursday." He made sure he sounded the exact opposite of excited. Two sessions a week? Was that really necessary? He made his escape into the waiting room, and nearly stopped dead when he saw who was coming out of the other door.
So Mr. Popular wasn't here waiting for a brother or sister. He was here getting therapy himself. James put his head down and fast-walked out of the waiting room before Steve could see that he saw him. It felt good to have some dirt on the golden boy.
It was only after James started riding home that it hit him. If someone like Steve wasn't happy, what hope did someone like James have?
When Steve got home, he pulled out his textbooks and opened his laptop and plugged in his headphones and tried to block out the sound of his mother's breathing machines in the other room. He kept stopping to pull out one earbud and listen for that sound, the sound that meant she was still alive.
He also found himself going on Facebook, looking for Bucky Barnes.
James Barnes, he corrected, after that particular search got him zero results.
There seemed to be a million James Barnes in the U.S., but none of them were Bucky. He had some vague memories of shit the other guys on the team had said in the locker room on the first day of school. It had been hard to miss Bucky in the locker room before gym class, with that short sleeve shirt with no arm coming out of it. A lot of the guys had stared, not in a mean way. "The fuck are you looking at," Bucky had said to Bruce when the big guy had walked by, opening gawking.
Bruce Banner wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to fuck with. Most of the time he was your average science nerd, if you ignored his size: kind of shy, super smart. But his temper had a hair trigger. "Just wondering if your right hand gets tired," Bruce had sneered, and the other guys thought that was hilarious.
"Let's go, ladies!" Coach Ward had called, and they'd all hustled to the gym, all except Bucky, who never came out of the locker room, wasn't there when they returned after class, and never showed up again.
"That was mean," Steve had said to Bruce as they walked out.
Bruce was still in a mood, and all he said was, "Fuck you."
He was captain of the football team, but mostly because he was the quarterback and good at remembering plays. He wasn't really close to any of the guys on the team. Thurgood Odinson, known as Thor to even the teachers, was his closest friend, but their friendship was more about playing video games and being wingmen at parties than anything else. Steve hadn't even told Thor about his mom. Hadn't told anyone at school. Definitely hadn't told any of them about going to see a shrink. Most definitely hadn't breathed a word about being gay.
He finished his math homework and then into the kitchen and heated up one of the many casseroles in the fridge. Back up in his room, he ate while he finished his chemistry homework, then brought his dirty plate back to the kitchen, washed it, and heated up some soup. This he carefully carried to his mother's room.
The cancer that was slowly killing her made it impossible for her to get out of bed, or even sit up without help. It still shocked Steve to see the big hospital bed in place of the antique wooden one that had once been his grandmother's. Now that bed was dismantled and sitting down in the basement. Steve had hauled it down there himself.
"Hi, Mom," he said softly, and her eyes fluttered open.
She smiled. Talking wasn't something she did much of anymore.
"I'm just going to sit you up a bit." The bed whirred.
There was a day nurse who came in while Steve was at school; the night nurse didn't come in until seven and was only there for a couple of hours. The rest of the time, his mother's care fell on his shoulders. He was lucky, he supposed as he spooned soup into his mother's mouth, that Sarah Rogers had been so active in the church. This was football season, and there was a whole network of nice church ladies who didn't mind coming over and knitting for a while, or baking casseroles. His mother had plenty of friends and coworkers too. He didn't have to worry about cooking or cleaning or leaving his mother alone.
He didn't want to think about what would happen to him after she was gone.
She fell asleep while he was feeding her. He wiped her face and laid her down, then put the soup in a container for later. When he shut off the light in the kitchen, it seemed like the whole house was dark. He hadn't sat in the living room in months. He'd canceled cable while his mother was still in the hospital. Before she'd decided to come home to die.
English homework was next, the only homework he had where he didn't feel like a mindless robot, regurgitating information. He'd figured out the best way to write a paper, laying down a thesis and supporting evidence, so that he could think as little as possible.
By the time he was finished – his English paper that was due in two weeks finished, several chapters ahead in his reading, he heard the night nurse come in, and that was when he got up, put his books away, brushed his teeth and washed his face, and went to bed.
He was so tired, but in the end, he just lay there, unable to sleep, until one in the morning.