Bucky squints at Fury, sitting coolly behind his desk in front of the large plate glass windows looking over the city.
“You want me to babysit.”
It’s a token argument and they both know it, but Fury does him the kindness of not bringing it up. He sighs, like he was expecting this but is still disappointed. “Integrating Captain Rogers into the 21st century is imperative if he’s going to be leading my team on missions. And the sooner he’s cleared for duty the better.”
“And since I have nothing better to do you thought I’d be a good babysitter?”
Of course Bucky’s going to do it. Get to work with Captain fucking America? The man is an honest to god war hero and a living legend. Becca’s going to shit her pants when he tells her.
And truthfully he doesn’t actually have anything better to do. He’s barely clinging onto the lower rungs of the S.H.I.E.L.D. ladder, filing paperwork for other field agents in his own personal level of hell. Being entrusted with arguably the most important asset in S.H.I.E.L.D. history is a huge promotion. Especially given his shaky psych evals.
The explosion had him out of commission for two months in the hospital, in a drug-induced coma for almost half that. Sixty days in a hospital bed, staring at the plaster ceiling when daytime soap operas became too much to bear, reliving all the things he could have done differently.
The next two months at home were hardly any better, recovering as best as a body can on four hours of nightmare-addled sleep each night and being fitted for the most high-tech prosthesis Stark Industries had to offer. Learning to use the contraption took another two months, before he was even able to feed himself with it, let alone go back to work. Spending so much time with Tony Stark is enough to make anyone a little crazy, except zen master Pepper Potts.
He’s a highly trained covert operative, and he’s been sitting in a fucking swivel chair filling out reports at a desk for four months now. He hates fluorescent lights. Cubicles. He wants to be useful again.
But he’s also terrified of that responsibility. The last time he was entrusted to a team, two of them ended up dead, and the other left fieldwork permanently.
“You’re a valuable member of the team, Barnes,” Fury says, looking like his patience is running thin. “Plus you have the right security clearance.” Bucky slouches a little more in his chair.
“I just want you to admit I’m babysitting.”
“Will you do it or not? You know Romanov would jump at the chance.”
Bucky makes a face. He’s not going to leave poor baby-face Rogers to Natasha. She’d eat him for breakfast.
“When do I start?”
Fury had helpfully provided him with a prospectus for Captain Rogers’ intro to the future and to S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s remarkably detailed, almost down to the hour for the first month. It includes basics like U.S. and world populations, historical social events such as the Civil Rights movement and current international conflicts.
Captain Rogers has had access to the S.H.I.E.L.D. library and the Internet since waking up, but has hardly touched his laptop. According to his activity, the Captain was connected to the Internet for all of 20 minutes, long enough to do a Google search and read a couple articles about Agent Margaret Carter. He hasn’t so much as opened his laptop since.
Bucky knows about Steve Rogers. At least, as much as everyone else who took a history class in high school. Of course, he looked at the black and white picture in the textbook with interest, everyone did. But it didn’t go further than that, for him. Some of his classmates mooned about it, photocopied the book and taped the picture up in their lockers. Some of that infatuation had been renewed amongst the hipsters after the Captain had been found alive, with T-shirts and hats depicting the iconic red, white and blue shield.
Bucky read about them finding him in the ice online, along with the rest of the world. Natasha wouldn’t tell him anything, and he didn’t bother to ask Fury. But now, he has the entire file.
He reads it twice before he finds a half-chewed up black pen in his kitchen drawer and starts making changes to the prospectus.
They’d set Steve up with an apartment on the top floor of the building. Told him it was for his safety, but Bucky’s sure the Captain knows he’s being held captive. Bucky has a duffle bag of tech to brief him on, but when Captain Rogers opens the door, Bucky’s game plan changes.
For starters, he’s far more attractive in person than in the shitty old propaganda films he binge watched the night before. It’s almost funny how good-looking he is. Like a marble statue come to life.
Secondly, he looks miserable. He smiles because he’s polite, but his eyes are the saddest thing Bucky’s ever seen.
“Captain Rogers, I’m Sergeant James Barnes, Directory Fury sent me to—”
“Babysit me?” Steve says as he steps aside to let Bucky in. The apartment is immaculate, like it hasn’t even been lived in for the two months since he’s been out of the ice.
Bucky chuckles. “To help you integrate into this crazy century.” He sets the duffle on the coffee table and turns back. The dry look Steve shoots him takes Bucky by surprise. His laugh is real this time.
“Yeah, ok. I’m your babysitter. Fury wanted me to brief you on some tech, but why don’t we take a walk instead? You look like you could use some fresh air.”
Steve is squinting at him like Bucky’s going to pull the candy away before Steve can snatch it. “Am I allowed to do that?”
“Sure, as long as you don’t try giving me the slip.”
The mixture of hope, fear and longing that passes over his face makes a strange surge of anger flare in Bucky's chest.
"But first," Bucky says, "I need to see your laptop."
It's sitting on the entertainment center, gathering dust along with the remote control. Bucky logs on, disables the tracking app and replaces it. "Alright, let's go."
They walk down to the park and Bucky keeps up a steady stream of chatter, since Steve is surveying the city with contempt, like something once beloved that has been bastardized beyond recognition. Bucky talks about the new buildings that he knows about, the gentrification of the neighborhoods and the new restaurant styles. They get coffee and sit on a bench at the entrance to the park when Steve finally speaks up. He looks tired.
“Did you grow up here?”
That’s all the cue Bucky needs. He feels like an ass all of a sudden. Of course Steve wouldn’t want to hear about all the changes made to his city; everyone has probably been telling him all about it.
So Bucky tells him about growing up in Brooklyn, his family, enlisting, and even a little bit about the accident that took his arm, which surprises him. He only ever talks about it with his therapist, and even then it’s by force, but Steve has perked up and Bucky doesn’t want that to stop. He seems interested and he even chuckles once or twice at some of Bucky’s stories.
Steve looks down at the arm like he’s seeing it for the first time, which Bucky knows can’t be true. The exposed hand gleams like a fucking beacon in the midday sun.
“Stark Tech,” Bucky says. “Tony tried painting it red and gold but I told him I’d break his dick.”
Steve laughs, big and warm. Bucky wants to wrap himself in the sound.
“Yeah," Steve says, casting his eye over the skyline again, "his dad was like that too.”
“You took him to Central—?”
“Do you have any idea the security—“
“He’s a flight risk and a—“
“No, he’s depressed. You want me to integrate him, let me fucking integrate him.”
“You got in trouble didn’t you?” Steve says from the kitchen table, where he’s reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. Bucky had knocked and let himself in at Steve’s behest.
“Eh.” Bucky sets down the duffle on the countertop again. Maybe this time they’ll open it. Maybe not.
“Coffee?” Steve points with his cup over to the coffee maker and Bucky pours himself some then settles across the small table from Steve. “So what’s on the agenda today?”
“I’m not sure what would piss Fury off more, taking the subway or going to Starbucks,” Bucky muses.
“Why would you want to piss him off? He’s your boss.”
“Yeah, he’s also micro managing the shit out of me.”
Steve tries hiding his smile behind his coffee cup, “Let’s take the subway.”
He’s started being invited to Fury’s general strategy meetings again. If he’s got the clearance to babysit their most valuable asset, he’s apparently big enough for these too. Even though he sits in the corner and has nothing to offer, at least he’s being kept in the loop. Today, though, he’s only half listening.
He has the Project Rebirth file on his lap. He’s read it six times already, but he’s reading it again. Everything they know about Steve Rogers fits in a manila folder. His birth certificate, health records and mission history. There’s not much from before he joined the Army, though. He’s mentioned in his mother’s death announcement. His name is on a census with two male roommates in 1931.
He glances up and sees the sides of everyone’s faces, still paying attention to Fury at the front of the table, except Natasha, who’s staring straight at him. She’s trying to tell him something with her eyes, but he scrunches up his nose. Then she tilts her eyebrow one way and her lips the other and he gets it.
They have a silent conversation made up of Bucky squinting at her staunchly while she tries varying degrees of eye-widening and tilting her mouth this way and that.
He slips out of the room when the meeting is adjourned, making a beeline for the elevator. He punches the button and feels her come up on his right.
“So,” she says. “You got Rogers, huh?”
"Fury tasked me with getting Captain Rogers up to date on current national, international and S.H.I.E.L.D. policies," he says primly.
“You need any advice on a curriculum,” she says, letting the offer finish itself.
Bucky knows what curriculum she’d offer. Heavy hand to hand and ballistics combat training. Finish sculpting the perfect weapon. Bucky has known the Captain for five days, and he knows that would end in nothing but disaster.
Steve adapts to the rush of the city like a fish to water. Turning his shoulders to slip between crowds of people, avoiding eye contact like the veteran New Yorker he is. He attracts some attention, but not because he’s Captain America. S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t able to keep the story of his thawing under wraps, but the minor media shitstorm has died down a little, and there’s not many avid fans around anymore to recognize him in passing on the street.
That doesn’t mean people don’t notice the sheer mass of him; thick arms, broad chest, not to mention the unfairly square jaw and full lips. His blue eyes are hidden behind aviators, thank god, or Steve’d be beating the mob off with a stick.
Bucky takes him across the river and does several line changes, with no real destination in mind. Steve studies the map on the wall in the tunnel and follows Bucky around, a step behind and to his left. In the subway car, Bucky’s holding the rail with his right hand, his left tucked into his pocket and Steve is standing next to him. It’s lunchtime, and to avoid jostling the elderly Chinese woman next to him, Steve has tucked up into his side, their hips bumping as the car shakes along the tracks.
Across from them, two men are sitting angled together, hands held between them, trading light kisses and speaking quietly. Bucky forgets the pang of jealousy in his chest when he notices Steve also staring at them. Bucky catches his eye.
Steve shrugs. “Woulda got ‘em arrested two months ago.”
Two months ago, Steve was living in 1945, and today almost everyone he’s ever known is dead. Bucky can’t imagine that kind of aloneness.
Bucky leads them impulsively to his neighborhood, to the shitty tamale place he likes for hangovers.
“The owner lives above, and she opens up at 2 a.m. to get the bar crowd," Bucky says, leading Steve in.
There are about seven mismatched chairs around four tables and all of them are full. Metal pans are banging, grease sizzles and orders are shouted back and forth. Steve squeezes in close again, trying to take up as little space as possible in the cramped room. Bucky could shift his weight onto his heels and be pressed against him. He wonders how Steve’s chest would feel against his back.
He dismisses the errant thought as a human’s natural response to Steve Rogers. There’s nothing inappropriate about their relationship, there never will be. They work together, end of story. If Bucky finds Steve unfairly attractive, well, it’s simply a product of having eyes and a brain. It’s not like he’d ever do anything about it. Fury would have his head, then Hill would kick it around like a soccer ball.
When it’s their turn at the kitchen window, Bucky orders for them both in Spanish. Mrs. Montenegro scowls at him like she does everyone else, but gives them extra salsa. Bucky side-eyes her, but the woman's a vault.
They take their food down the street and sit at a relatively quiet bench to eat. Tamales are a pretty good eat-on-the-go food, but Bucky likes to dip his in salsa, and winds up with tomato juice dripping down his wrist and into his sleeve.
Steve, mouth full of corn and chicken, points and laughs as Bucky tries to mop it up with two flimsy napkins.
The next day they finally open the duffle.
The blinds across from the kitchen are open, letting in the morning sun, and Steve is sitting at the kitchen table as Bucky pulls out tech: headsets, locators, detonators, tablets, phones; everything Steve could feasibly need on a mission.
The prospectus had said to “reveal and brief on tech one at a time” so as not to overwhelm the Captain, but the prospectus is buried under a pile of mail at Bucky's apartment, so he lays everything out in front of Steve at once.
Steve picks up the GPS and looks at it dubiously. He presses the button and jerks when it beeps. Bucky pretends to be busy fiddling with a tracker as he watches Steve press all the buttons and tap the screen, to see what it'll do.
“Oh,” Steve says quietly, when he’s figured it out. He looks up at Bucky, eyes sparkling, with a grin that makes Bucky’s heart do a triple step.
For the first time, Bucky thinks he might actually be in trouble.