Hello everyone! I'm pleased to present my fic for the 2018 Cap RBB. Huge thanks to tasteslikekeys for providing the wonderful art (seriously, the art's amazing; you can see both pieces on the AO3 version of this fic), as well as my beta L. You're the best, L. Also thank you to the mods for this event, it was lovely to participate and everything went super smoothly.
You can find tastelikekeys on tumblr or on AO3 with the same username.
That said, enjoy!
Steve had already been in his holding cell for about twenty minutes when he heard the footsteps coming down the stairs. Intrigued, he sat up on the uncomfortable metal bench and listened. He would peek his head out from between the bars—or try to, anyway—but he got the feeling that whoever was joining him in this precinct's holding area wouldn't appreciate the nosiness.
The door at the end of the hall of empty cells opened, and Steve caught most of the policeman's gruff, "Come on, then. In you go."
"I keep telling you, I was in my own home," a new voice said.
"Sure, haven't heard that one before." The sound of rustling metal keys, and then the next door over being opened. The new detainee would be in the cell directly adjacent to Steve's. "Just wait here until we get things sorted out."
"Like you're giving me a choice."
The door closed, the policeman left, and the other detainee sat down on his own bench with a huff. Steve couldn't be sure but, from the sound and vibrations, the man's bench was attached to the same wall that Steve's was—in essence, he and this other man were just a couple of feet apart.
Silence descended on the block of cells and Steve, never one for avoiding potential conversation, spoke up.
"Rough day?" he asked. With his enhanced hearing, it wasn't hard to hear the detainee's sharp inhale. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."
"No, it's fine." The detainee had a low voice, soft but loud enough for Steve to hear and understand. "Just didn't realize I had company." Though it was filled with caution, the man's voice wasn't unpleasant at all.
"Not much I can do to you besides bug you for conversation," Steve said candidly. The man snorted.
"Sure. Or you could start yodeling."
Steve shifted in his seat so he could put his back against the wall. "Y'know, I've never thought of myself as a yodeler. Or a singer."
"Not even in the shower?"
Steve felt his face grow warm and was glad for the wall. "I'm not going to admit anything."
The man laughed quietly. "Fair enough."
"What about you?" Steve asked. "Prone to singing?"
The man was quiet for several seconds. For the latter half of that stretch, Steve thought he wasn't going to respond.
"No, not really," the man finally said. "I don't mind listening, though."
It seemed that this man seemed inclined to stave off the silence as well. Steve was more than willing to oblige. "Favorite songs?"
"Mm. Classical, jazz. But pop songs'll get me sometimes too. Little bit of everything."
"Even country. But I need to be travelling."
"You do a lot of travelling?"
The man shifted and Steve listened to the cloth rustle. "Sometimes. Been trying to settle down recently. That's how I got arrested."
Even though the man couldn't see Steve's face, Steve felt an eyebrow creeping up. "What?"
"I looked too shady for my neighborhood," the man drawled. "Couldn't find my keys and my roommate wasn't around. One nosy neighbor later, I'm in the back of a squad car on suspicion of breaking into my own apartment."
"You're telling me." The man went quiet for a second. "What about you?"
It was an easy question. "Disorderly conduct for me. I was out protesting in the streets and they booked me before they realized who I was."
There was a short silence from the other man. Then, "You some kinda celebrity or somethin'?"
Steve, without anyone to stare at in shock, settled for a mute surprise aimed somewhere beyond the wall. This man didn't know who he was. Steve, suddenly needing to keep that anonymity, tried to play off his admission.
"Not really. Just know some officers here and there."
"And they booked you anyway?"
Steve slipped into the lie. It was nice to be unknown. "Yeah, well, they'd already handcuffed me by that point. Couldn't exactly let me go, and it didn't sit right with me to get let loose when they were arresting people right next to me."
The man snorted. "How altruistic of you."
"It isn't right to get preferential treatment just 'cause of who I am," Steve said, utterly failing to keep the defensiveness out of his tone. When the man didn't say anything, Steve wondered if he'd somehow hit a nerve. "Something wrong?"
"What? No, no. You just—you reminded me of someone I used to know."
Unsure what to say to that and noting the man's pained tone, Steve opted to change the subject. "What did you think of the march?"
"The protest this morning."
"Gotta be honest with you, I wasn't paying that much attention to it. I had other things to focus on."
"Fair enough," Steve acknowledged. "Got opinions on the whole 'arming teachers' thing they're circulating these days?"
"Mm. Touchy subject."
"You don't have to answer."
"If I give my opinion, you give yours."
"Well, I've already kind of admitted I was at the protest…"
"That just means you disagreed. Doesn't show any shades of gray." Humbled by the man's point, Steve waited for him to continue. "I can understand the reasons behind it—hard not to feel some sense of safety when you've got a gun—but I think it's taking the wrong steps. Not sure what the right steps would be, though."
"That's fair." Steve shifted in place; the bench wasn't all that comfortable. Even with the serum pumping through his veins, uncomfortable furniture was uncomfortable furniture. "I agree. I think the gun control measures people have been throwing around are worth looking into. Even if it's just basic stuff. Background checks and the like."
The man was quiet for a while. "Sounds reasonable. But I heard the protests were in Manhattan. That's not this precinct's jurisdiction."
Though the man's tone held no hostility, the accusation was clear. Steve sighed. "They didn't want me in the same place as the other arrested protesters."
"So you got all the favoritism."
"Yeah, so much better to be in an empty precinct," Steve said, sarcasm dripping from his words. "God forbid I get associated with anything like that." As quickly as it had come, his malice faded. "Just wish I could do more to help them."
"From what you've said, your face is enough."
"Yeah, maybe." Steve shifted to sit with his back against the wall opposite the bars; he felt weird talking to an empty cell when he was facing opposite the man he was supposed to be addressing. He wondered what this man would do if he knew who Steve really was. Captain America got a lot of reactions these days; everyone wanted him for their own agenda or automatically associated him with someone else's. The most glaring example Steve kept coming back to was the video series for high schools that they'd made him record in that impractical costume. Steve didn't care if a kid got into detention; Captain America, on the other hand, did. The separation between the character and the man was…was comical, really. But every time Steve went out, he just waited for the ball to drop. He couldn't even go to amusement parks or anything of the sort without getting bombarded by paparazzi, so most of the time he just…didn't.
Steve sighed and leaned forward. Was that all he was to the world? A symbol?
"Hey," the other man said, interrupting Steve's thoughts.
"What's up?" Steve replied absently.
"You ever feel like the whole world is passing you by?"
It was like this guy had read Steve's mind. Steve scratched his neck, wishing he could tell this man the truth and not have anything change. "God, you have no idea."
"Perfect." Steve got the impression the other man was smiling. "Misery loves company, right?"
"Suppose we're both having a pretty bad day," Steve admitted.
"You could say that. Might as well wallow together, since we can't exactly go anywhere else."
"I think I can do that." He appreciated the company and conversation. Much better than staring at the wall and thinking about his inevitable phone call.
Lounging on his back, Bucky was halfway to two hundred when the man in the other cell spoke up.
Was that supposed to mean something? "What?"
"Your opinion on onions."
"Uh." Strange request, but Bucky didn't have anything better to offer. "No opinion. Can be nice in cooking, otherwise just…there."
The man made an understanding noise. Then: "Skyscrapers."
"Tall. Great for making wind tunnels out of city blocks." He got the feeling that the other man was smiling.
"My turn," Bucky cut in before the man could offer up something ridiculous. He could use this opportunity to probe for information, get a better understanding of this man. "Nighttime."
"Great. Quiet, sleep. How 'bout reading?"
"I like it—it's calming. Pillows."
"Amazing, but a bit too soft sometimes. Bananas."
"Gross." Though they didn't used to be, if he was remembering right. "Card games."
"Good way to pass the time." The man was quiet for a suspicious few seconds. "Strangers."
Bucky's answer would've been much different about seven minutes previously. "Worth talking to, sometimes."
"I'll take it."
Sensing that the game had come to a close, Bucky let his eyes slide shut. He wasn't relaxed, not really, but he could at least simulate it.
"What do you call a fish with no eyes?" the man suddenly asked.
It was a dumb joke. Bucky cracked a smile anyway. Two could play at this game. "What's worse than finding a worm in your apple?"
"Not having an apple."
"Nope. Finding half a worm."
He heard the man huff. "Gross."
"You started it."
"That's true." Bucky heard the other man shifting in his seat. "You got a family?"
Bucky hesitated to answer. How much information did he want to give to a total stranger? He could be dangerous. But he was also the best conversation Bucky'd had in a long time. Bucky steeled himself. "I used to."
"No, it's not your fault." It was the fault of a massive Nazi organization that experimented on and tortured him for decades. "What about you?"
The man had stopped moving. Bucky couldn't even hear the brush of leather against leather anymore, which he'd assumed to mean that the man was making hand gestures until now. "I used to. It's…been a long time. But that's a bit morbid. Do you prefer dogs or cats?"
Thinking about the stray cat Natasha had brought in a couple of weeks ago, Bucky considered his answer carefully. "Both, I think. You?"
"I'm partial to dogs, honestly."
"You have one?"
"No. But I'm…I think I'm going to. Living alone can get—well. I think it'd be nice."
Curiosity piqued, Bucky pulled himself into a sitting position. "A guy like you lives alone?"
The man laughed. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Bucky swallowed and tried to backtrack. He used to be so much better at this. "You seem like a nice guy. Just kinda assumed you had someone to come home to."
For the first time, the other man was the one to create the uncomfortable silence. Bucky fidgeted where he sat, wondering how he could fix this misstep. That wonder turned to mild, static-inducing panic when the man stayed quiet. Clearly, Bucky had found a sensitive topic and, like some kind of amateur, had completely fumbled his attempt to redirect the conversation.
And he'd been doing so well, too. He tried for an apology.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to pry."
"It's all right." The other man heaved a sigh. "Got lost in thought, that's all."
The uncomfortable silence came back with a vengeance. Feeling that the divide between them was far wider than the thin wall separating their cells, Bucky laid back down and closed his eyes. It was easier to let time slide past when he hovered somewhere between conscious and semiconscious. Distantly, he was aware of the other man sitting down on his bench.
"I tried a few times," the man abruptly said, and Bucky cracked an eye open. "Just couldn't make the connection, you know?" Nope."It was more my fault than theirs, really."
Now that piqued Bucky's interest. This stranger had stories to tell. "Oh?"
"I didn't come here to talk about my love life."
"Right, you came here to sit on an uncomfortable bench in silence," Bucky jabbed. He was figuring this man out, slowly, and that meant he knew how to prod for results. "You gotta have something."
"Fine, but it's not about my failed dating life. And you have to tell one too."
"I have plenty of dating stories," Bucky said. He opted not to mention that they were mostly from the 1930s. What was a good story without some tweaking? "But I asked first."
He heard the other man sigh and shift a bit. For a while, neither of them said anything. Bucky figured that this man was just planning out his story, and he was right.
"There was this time," the man said, "that a friend of mine and I wanted to see a movie, but we didn't have the money. We were…fourteen? Well, I was fourteen. He was fifteen."
"Uh…I don't remember. It was a while ago. The, uh, act of getting in was more memorable than the movie itself. There was this small, local theater a few blocks away, one of the classic kind, you know? And it was an old building, and there was a balcony on the side, kind of hidden in the alley, but the second floor was just for the owner and such. So my friend comes up with the idea to climb the building next door and jump across. I…wasn't as athletic as him, so we hit a snag there. But my friend finds rope and, after jumping to the theater roof, throws down a rope for me and hauls me up."
"No one saw?"
"We were in a back alley, and it was a late showing. No one was looking. Once we're both on the roof, we drop down to the balcony. The door's locked, of course, and so B—James, my friend—produces a couple'a lockpicks and gets to work."
Bucky's memories of his childhood were still fairly hazy, but he remembered pulling a similar stunt with Steve. Apparently teenagers would be reckless no matter what decade they grew up in.
"Quite a skillset," he commented. The other man huffed.
"Yeah, not one he cared to share before then. I think he was trying to save it for a time to impress me."
"Were you impressed?"
"A little. But it took him a while to pick the lock. When he finally got the door open, he was so excited—he grabbed me by the hand to pull me through and ran headlong into Mr. Mor—Morroe, the owner."
Bucky saw that ending coming from a mile away. "I'm guessing he wasn't pleased."
"Not at all. I thought he was going to throw us off the balcony, he was so angry. He apparently heard us moving around from his office. We, uh…well, he shooed us out the front door after giving us both hearty slaps on the wrist and then marched back to his office. While he was distracted—and the rest of the workers were too—my friend dragged me through the crowd. Someone saw us get in, and reported it. We spent the whole movie hiding from Mr. Morroe. A lot of the audience helped us. I guess we were their entertainment for that night, not the movie."
"Sounds like a good time."
"Definitely," the man said, voice infused with fondness. "Did you ever sneak into a movie theater?"
Several, and once—if he remembered right—in a very similar fashion to what the other man had just described. "A few. Actually got chased around the theater once too. 'Course, they, uh—they changed the layout of the theater since I was last there." Smooth, Bucky thought to himself dryly, but the other man didn't seem to notice.
"Seems like it's pretty common. Now, it's your turn."
Steve heard the man move around a little. "I suppose it is. I hope you weren't pinning your hopes on a dating story."
"Gonna wreck my dreams, huh?" Steve said almost without realizing it. This man was too easy to banter with. He was…a lot like Bucky, in that regard. The Bucky of Steve's memories.
The other man snorted. "For sure. But there's—I was wondering something."
"You had a rough life?"
Steve wasn't sure how to answer. "Depends how you look at it." He knew there were people who would love to be in his shoes, even if he wasn't always enjoying the Steve Rogers experience. Too often, his life took a backseat to his responsibilities.
"I was just askin' because you don't seem all that upset about being in a jail cell. Friend of the police or not, I would've expected you to be more…vocal about it."
Steve really didn't want to lie again. "I've been in some rough spots," he said. "What about you? You aren't complaining all that much either."
"Ah, well." The man shifted a bit. "I've had worse."
"Worse? I don't know about that. These benches are pretty bad."
The man huffed. "Yeah, that's true. This might be the worst. The company is better this time, though."
"You're too kind."
"Thanks, pal." The other man cleared his throat. "So, I should—for understanding, y'know—preface this with some character descriptions." Steve, in the privacy of his own cell, raised an eyebrow. "First, there's me: your typical heroic man. Then there's Timothy, a brash guy with a big voice and an obsession with his facial hair."
"Is the facial hair important?"
"To him, very. After that is Johnny, who got stuck with us because he lost a bet with Jack."
"Hell if I know. Those two were the only ones in our group who spoke a lick a' French, and they never shut up about it. Jack was actually fluent in French—he came—he moved here from France without ever really learning anything except basic English." Steve could definitely empathize. "Then there's Jones, the most logical reckless person I ever met, and Gabriel, the only one in our group who could ever keep a straight face when things went to bullshit. Oh, and the ringleader of our squad: Steve…en."
"Uh, yeah. Sorry—just. I, uh—he had a nickname, but it's a personal thing, y'know?"
"Sure, sure," Steve said. "Sounds like quite the group a' guys." He heard the other man snort.
"That's one word for 'em. So, to remind you: me, the best; Timothy, the brash; Jack, the French; Johnny, Jack's translator and accomplice; Jones, the unpredictable rock, and Gabriel, the actual rock. Got it?"
"Yup. You're really building this up."
"Oh, it warrants it. So we decide to go camping—mostly because Johnny lost his bet and he hates being away from civilization—and Steven finds this out-of-the-way place in the middle of the mountains. It's late summer, right, so it's pleasantly cool up there, but at night it gets stupidly cold, so no one wants to leave their tents unless they gotta take a leak, and even then it's a tough decision. We had one guy on watch—"
Shit. "Uh, yeah. You don't? You gotta be careful out there. Bears 'n shit."
"So we set up the three tents—little two-man things, flimsy as all hell, with the system that whoever's on watch will take the place of the guy replacing him."
"Things are totally normal the first night and the next day, but things get weird the second night. Since Johnny won the poker game that night, he claims first watch. I'm lucky enough to have dawn watch—the last shift—so I sleep through the whole night until Gabriel wakes me. And we're all bone tired, so I'm not quite awake when he shakes me an hour or so before daybreak. He tells me 'you gotta see this,' so I follow him, still a bit out of it, to the edge of camp. Gabriel points me to a pile 'a rocks, clearly stacked by hand. He tells me that he didn't stack them, and that Jones, who had the shift before them, hadn't either—but Jones hadn't seen anyone do it, and they weren't there when we arrived. And, y'know, Gabriel isn't the type to pull my leg or tell stories, right? So we wake up the rest of camp to try to find out the truth."
To Steve, the story sounded a lot like when he and the Howling Commandos had been holed up in the mountains in early Autumn under direction to stay under the radar and wait for further orders. There had been a whole saga that started with some sticks lined up on the edge of camp.
"Of course, no one knows who stacked the stones," the man continued. "At this point, I'm awake, and annoyed. Obviously someonedid it, but we don't know who. No one who was on watch saw or heard anything, and even our light sleepers didn't notice anyone movin' around who wasn't supposed to be there." The man shifts in place. "Since we weren't going anywhere anytime soon, the rocks became the focus. I personally suspected Jack, who'd had fourth shift that night when everyone's usually asleep. Who'd suspect the French guy?"
"Other than you?" Steve asked with a smile.
"Other than me. Steven thinks the whole thing's ridiculous and that someone is pulling a prank, but no one owns up the whole day. That night, we shuffle the watch: I get first shift, and Jack's after me. We keep the pile of stones where it is, untouched, because Jack and Johnny were muttering about curses all day and creeped the rest of us out, and in the mountains, you don't want any kind of supernatural shit comin' down on your head. I keep an eye out my whole shift, but there's nothing. I wake up Jack and fall asleep an hour or so into his shift, but I don't hear anything happen."
"You've got quite the mystery building," Steve commented. This really did sound familiar. Who knew that these kinds of campsite experiences were so timeless?
"Oh, at the time, we thought it was a pretty stupid mystery. The next morning, I wake up to hear Timothy yelling up a storm. We all rush over to him like sleep-deprived maniacs. He's standing over this weird carving in the dirt—like a compass, with the arrow pointing between two of the distant peaks. It's creepy as hell, but, like last time, no one can own up to it. Gabriel, Steven, and I are thoroughly convinced that someone's pulling one over on the rest of us. Jack and Johnny are still on their ghosts kick, while Timothy and Jones are waffling between the two ideas. Timothy is probably the most creeped out outta all of us; he'd had a…stressful week before we set up camp—disturbed sleep, nightmares, you know—so he wasn't ready for this. We launch a full investigation, but just like before, no one owns up. Jones takes it upon himself to tell a story that night about ghosts carving bloody symbols into the trees near lost travelers to mark the way to their deaths. It doesn't go over well."
Jim'd told a story like that during the Howling Commandos fiasco too. Steve still remembered some of the details: how lost regiments and squadrons were kidnapped and killed by the forest, their initials carved into the tree that suffocated them inside their trunks. Dum-Dum had damn near lost it.
"At this point, people are considering double watch, but no one wants to reduce sleep by that much. We end up shuffling the order again. I get watch in the middle of the night, right after Jack, so I can put my suspicions to the test. I sleep like a baby until Jack wakes me up, and then—because we're all pretty sure there aren't other campers coming in and messing with us—I spend my shift examining the campsite. I don't find anything other than the rocks and the carving. When I wake Steven up, I tell him, and he agrees to do another sweep. He's got better night vision than me by far."
Steve nods along even though the other man can't see him. The Howling Commandos had dealt with weirdly arranged sticks, rocks put into a circle, and, on the third night, a bunch of broken branches, clearly recently broken, from a tree, piled up.
"It rains that night—forgot to mention—so everyone's miserable by the time daylight comes around. At first, we think we're done with the mystery crap, but then Steven goes to take a leak and finds a carving on one of the trees near camp. We try to hunt for footprints or some other sign, but the rain that came in during my shift completely ruined any footprints. Jack and Johnny, at this point, are convinced that we're cursed and are muttering to each other in French. I never found out exactly what they were saying, but I know snippets of French and I'm almost positive they were discussing escape plans and sacrifices.
"Now, this was supposed to be relaxation time for us. Away from the pressures and all that. I'm fed up with waking up to creepy symbols and sculptures, so I sit everyone down and we go through what we know."
Bucky had done something exactly like that after the broken sticks discovery.
"Now, because Steven and I both examined the camp during our shifts—and Steve says he did too, and he saw the tree before it had a carving in it—we can erase me, Steven, Gabriel, Jones, and Jack from suspicion. Timothy and Johnny are adamant that they're innocent."
"Even when one of them clearly isn't," Steve says.
"Right. So, we make the plan that Timothy and Johnny will have paired watch the next night. The whole day builds up to this; everyone's tense, especially Timothy, who's having probably the worst week of relaxation in his life. Everyone goes to bed early because, for whatever reason, we come to the collective conclusion that this'll make the weirdness be over faster. Steven and I are appointed to be Timothy's and Johnny's babysitters because we're apparently the most responsible out of our little group. Johnny and I take first watch, which is a double shift made even longer because we all went to bed early."
"Does anything happen?"
The man laughs. "Of course not. We finish up, wake Gabriel, and go to sleep like rocks."
"So if it wasn't Johnny…"
"Hold your horses. I'm getting there." The man clears his throat. "I wake up the next morning and Steve 'n Timothy are making breakfast. Neither one of 'em woke anyone up during their shift, so Johnny hops on the magical curse thing again. He's in the middle of his tangent when Timothy tells him to shut up. Y'see, it turns out that, this whole time, Timothy'd been falling asleep during his shift—not a deep sleep, but just enough to sleepwalk—and had been doing these random things without ever realizing it."
Steve let out a quiet, amused, "Huh." In truth, he was struck by how similar it was to his remembered history: Dum-Dum had been plagued by nightmares after a particularly dangerous mission that had interrupted his sleep and had led him to sleepwalk.
"So, Steven agreed to be paired with Timothy during watch, and kept an eye on 'im until the trip ended. D—Timothy got called the 'Ghost Whisperer' by Jack for weeks afterwards."
"Quite the story," Steve said.
"Yup. I'm gonna need time to think of another one."
"Oh, yeah, defin—" Steve stopped when he heard the far door open. A particularly burly police officer emerged and strode over to his cell.
"Someone's in trouble," he heard the other man mutter when the officer passed him by, their friendly, familiar conversation evaporating in that instant.
"Phone call," the policeman said, opening Steve's cell.
"Already." The officer walked side-by-side with Steve, keeping to his left. Steve didn't even think to catch a glimpse of the other inmate before he and the officer are well past the if he had tried, the officer was too tall for Steve to just look over him, and almost completely obscured the interior of the cells on Steve's left from view whenever they passed seemed that the universe—or the precinct—was unintentionally set on keeping their two prisoners anonymous to each other.
When they got into the main area of the precinct, with officers working at their desks around them, the officer that had fetched Steve handed him his cell phone. Steve leaned against a nearby vacant desk and dialed Tony.
The line rang once before Jarvis picked up.
"Apologies, Captain Rogers," the AI said, "Mr. Stark is in the middle of a project that requires both of his hands. May I assist you?"
Steve stared down at the floor in front of his shoes to avoid the looks of the nearby men and women. "I got arrested, Jarvis. Do you think Tony could send a car to pick me up? They took me to a precinct way out of the way, and it'll be late at night when I get out of here."
"Arrested, Captain Rogers?"
Steve heard a clamor in the background, a buzz on the line, and then Tony was speaking. "Steven Grant Rogers, arrested? Did I hear that right?"
"Yes, Tony. You did."
"Oh my star-spangled shorts, this is history in the making!"
"I shouldn't have to remind you that this isn't new."
He heard Tony sigh. "Yeah, yeah, you're Captain Rebel. I tracked your phone location—you'll have a car waiting for you in about twenty minutes, give or take ten minutes of traffic. Lucky for you Pepper had Happy running an errand in the area. So what put you in chains, huh? What fired up Captain America's patriotic, bald-eagle infused blood?"
Steve felt his lips quirk in a kind of passively amused smile. "The gun protests earlier."
"Ah."Tony sobered. "That's, uh…a sensitive topic, I hear."
"You know about it?"
"I'm not completely ignorant, you know."
Steve heard Jarvis say, "You have been in this lab for two days and sixteen hours, sir," to which Tony responded with, "Yes, I know, you can close the running clock application now."
Tony cleared his throat. "Anyway, try not to start a riot while you're there."
"I make no promises," Steve said. "Thanks, Tony."
The call ended. The officer—officer Brent, Steve now saw from the nameplate on his desk—stood. "We're still processing a few things, Captain," he said, "but you're free to go at this point."
Steve thought about the other man in the cell. "What about the other inmate?"
"The other…inmate?" Brent repeated.
"Yeah. He said he's being held on potential charges of breaking and entering his own apartment." Brent shifted. He clearly wasn't sure if he should tell Steve anything. Steve turned up his charisma. "He seems sincere, and like he's got a lot of responsibilities he needs to get to right now."
"Well, uh," Brent waffled. Steve, sensing that charm wouldn't be enough, hit redial on his phone.
"What now?" Stark asked, picking up the phone personally. "There's no way you started a riot in less than a minute. Not even Captain America is that good."
"I did start a prison riot," Steve mused. "But that's not the point. Listen, Tony, there's another man who was in the holding cells with me, and—"
Tony groaned loudly enough to cut Steve off. "Don't drag me into your good Samaritan-ing,"
"Tony. He's a good man."
"Based on what?"
"Observation. Conversation. C'mon."
A loud sigh. "You know what? Fine. It's my good deed for the month. Put me on with an officer."
Steve handed the phone over to Brent, who had been watching with wide, shocked eyes. Steve could see him flinch under the weight of Tony's verbal onslaught and quickly flee to the sergeant's office. Five minutes later, Brent reemerged with his sergeant—a black man with graying, fuzzy hair—in tow.
"Captain Rogers, an honor," the sergeant said.
"The honor's all mine," Steve said on reflex.
"We're willing to release the other man in our holding cells provided that you take responsibility of transporting him to where he needs to go. It would be better for everyone if Captain America does it instead of us just letting him go, you understand."
Steve's polite smile turned a little stiff, but he kept his expression from shifting to anything negative. "Of course."
"Officer Brent will accompany you down to holding. Is there anything else you need?"
"Ah, no, thank you."
"Have a good day." The sergeant inclined his head, turned on his heel, and walked back into his office, where Steve could see stacks of paper in a box on his desk. No doubt he was a busy man; Steve almost felt guilty for inflicting Tony's force-of-nature personality on him.
"Right this way, Captain," Brent said. Steve really didn't need the direction to get back down to the cells, but he knew that going unaccompanied wasn't an option. Brent stuck to his left again, and Steve couldn't help a flare of anticipation rising within him at the thought of finally seeing the face of the enigmatic stranger who had talked with him for so long.
Bucky heard the door open and close again, and two pairs of footsteps coming his way. Was the other man back? Bucky would've thought the police would be done processing him by now. Even if all he'd seen of the other man was a brown leather sleeve and jeans, he looked like a perfectly upstanding citizen. Nothing like the shadiness that had gotten Bucky arrested.
The footsteps got closer, and closer.
"If you're sure about this," someone said—the police officer, the one who'd picked the other man up earlier.
"I'm sure," said the other man.
"Sure about what?" Bucky called. The pair finally stopped outside his cell, but Bucky didn't feel inclined to get up from his seat. "I wasn't expecting you to come…back…"
He trailed off when he finally got a good look at the other man's face. He knewthat face. Intimately. Suddenly, all of the coincidences he'd been brushing off—the way the other man spoke, the story he told, the sheer familiarity of their conversation—hit Bucky full force.
"Steve?" he whispered, hardly daring to believe. The cop looked between Bucky and the other man, brows furrowed.
"Do you two…know each other?" he asked. Steve's face had gone pale and Bucky doubted that he'd even heard the cop.
"Bucky?" Steve said.
The irony finally hit, and Bucky couldn't stop an incredulous little smile from stealing over his lips. His mouth was running before his brain caught up. "Really didn't expect to see you here, pal. Prison's more my thing."
Steve stepped forward, nearly hitting the bars. "It was—this whole time?"
Bucky swallowed. "Yeah. I guess—I guess it was me, you, this whole time."
"The story," Steve said. "The—that was the guys, right. In the mountains. That winter?" Bucky could only nod. Steve pressed his forehead into one of the bars for a second before he stood straight and turned to the cop. He didn't do anything obvious, but one second he was Steve and the next he was Captain Rogers. "You can release him, now."
There was really no way to say no to a determined Steve Rogers. The cop opened the door, and Bucky, after glancing between the bars and Steve, pushed himself to his feet. Feeling like he was dreaming, Bucky stepped out of the cell. For a second, he and Steve just stared at each other, a foot apart. Steve didn't look much different than the last time Bucky had seen him. Maybe a little less beaten to hell, a little less soaked, but that look in his eyes was exactly the same.
Maybe it was mutual. Maybe Steve initiated it, or maybe Bucky swayed a bit on his feet. Whatever the cause, the result was the same: a hug so tight that Bucky could barely breathe. He dug his hands into Steve's back and squeezed his eyes shut.
In all the years he'd spent rebuilding himself after dragging Steve out of the Potomac, in all the months of living with Natasha, he'd been missing something. It wasn't until this very second that he realized that that thing was Steve. Not just memories of him; his presence, the way Steve spoke, the way he whispered Bucky's name into his shoulder while squeezing the air from Bucky's lungs, he'd missed all of it. Seventy years of brainwashing brought down by one man that Bucky was finally, finally seeing again as himself. He and Steve disengaged with some silent signal, but Steve kept a hand on Bucky's shoulder and Bucky kept a hand on Steve's shoulder and it wasn't even ridiculous because both of their eyes were watering and the rest of the world didn't exist.
"I missed you," Bucky said.
"Missed you too, Buck."
They embraced again and separated fully this time. Somehow they made it out of the precinct without falling to pieces. Whatever ride Steve expected wasn't there yet. They stood in the tiny parking lot, shoulder to shoulder, as the setting sun tinged the sky in hues of orange and pink.
Bucky glanced at Steve, wondering what he was supposed to say.
Steve knew Bucky was looking at him, but he didn't dare turn his head. He was barely sure how to handle himself right now. He wasn't entirely sure that this wasn't all a dream, but the breeze and the city sounds and Bucky's heartbeat next to him all felt so completely real. The longer he stood, though, the more the rest of the world began to filter through.
Finally, he couldn't stand the silence. "So, your roommate," he began. "Who are they?"
"I'm only gonna tell you if you promise you aren't gonna get mad at 'em for it."
"It's someone I know?"
"Never said that."
"Don't 'Buck' me, Steve."
Steve heaved an irritated sigh. "All right, fine. I promise. Now who is it?"
Steve stared. "Natasha? Seriously?"
Bucky stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "She…well, she and I have a bit of a shared history, and she found me. She helped me get to where I am now. I—the road to this—" he gestured at himself—"hasn't been easy."
Steve looked back out at the street, turning over the thought of Natasha keeping that big of a secret from him for so long. He wanted to be angry, or indignant, or something, but if she'd done it at Bucky's request—if she'd been helping him—then Steve couldn't justify anger. She'd done what she thought was right.
"Steve?" Bucky asked quietly.
"I'm not mad," Steve said. "I just. Why not contact me sooner?"
Bucky's whole expression faltered slightly before he broke eye contact. "It's hard to explain. I—I wanted to talk to you. I did. But. I wanted to do it as me, and I…I didn't know if I was myself."
Steve pressed his lips into a thin line. He would've accepted Bucky no matter what state he was in, but saying that now wouldn't change anything.
He lifted a hand and squeezed Bucky's right shoulder. He didn't have any words to say. He hoped the gesture communicated enough; it was an old habit, full of memories and time. Bucky stiffened under his touch but quickly relaxed. He bowed his head slightly, his eyes closed.
"You know, Steve," he said, "when I pictured the future, this isn't exactly what I had in mind."
Steve huffed a laugh, letting his hand drop back to his side at the same time. "Yeah. Yeah, me neither."
Bucky swallowed and looked up, his gaze tracking towards the stars. Steve couldn't read his expression. "Monty'd be callin' us a couple'a maudlin assholes right about now."
"He wouldn't be wrong."
"Yeah, well." Bucky sighed. "This life I've had…I don't know if I'm worth all this, Steve."
"You are," Steve said without hesitation. "And whatever comes next, we'll face it. Together."
Bucky didn't look at all surprised by Steve's answer. A wry smile tugged at his lips.
"'Til the end of the line." Steve kept quiet, sensing more to come. "And if I've jumped tracks?"
"Then I'll help you back."
"That simple, huh?"
"You always were stubborn."
"I've been told it's my worst feature."
Bucky shifted on his feet. "I don't know about this, Steve."
Steve took a breath to brace himself. "We'll do what we have to."
"That might not be enough."
Steve caught Bucky's eye. One afternoon wasn't a complete picture of Bucky, but it was more than enough. A single instant on the helicarrier had been enough. A glimpse on the highway had been enough. So Steve set his jaw and willed Bucky to believe.
"It will be."