Coffee and Cologne

by Tenshi

When enemies are at your door
I'll carry you away from war
If you need help
Your hope dangling by a string
I'll share in your suffering
to make you well
- Phillip Phillips - Gone, Gone, Gone

Steve had not for a moment imagined that Bucky would find him first. Captain Steven G. Rogers had no intentions of being found by anyone, and he had gone to some pains to ensure that. His old apartment--with the window glass and Nick Fury's bloodstains still all over the floor--had been locked up and deserted. Steve hadn't even gone back. While he was still in a hospital bed, Sam went there to pick up the few personal effects Steve had asked for: a couple of changes of clothes, his wristwatch, a sketchbook. The rest wasn't really important; Captain America had not been in the new century long enough to acquire much in the way of physical detritus.

Sam had not looked for wires, though surely some remained in the apartment, their signals pointed god-knows-where. There was no way for the apartment to ever feel secure again, even if they could determine who might be listening. So instead Sam took Steve's duffel to a small furnished apartment, one of several the vet center kept in readiness for soldiers with nowhere else to go.

Which, Steve thought, he supposed he was. S.H.I.E.L.D. was gone, Fury was in deep cover chasing Hydra's tail, and only Natasha knew where Natasha was going. Steve's new cell phone had only three numbers in it: Tony Stark, Sam, and Sam's favorite 24-hour pizza delivery joint. ("The only place in DC to get anything like NYC pizza," Sam had said. "Though it still sucks.") Steve had a new bike, his old shield, and a dog-eared file folder covered in KGB stamps. And a mission. Not since the first time he'd gone to rescue Bucky had Steve had a mission like this, under no orders but those in his heart. He was prepared for it to take a long time, maybe years, to track Bucky down.

But he had forgotten that there was another soldier with nowhere else to go.

"Who's there?"

The apartment was dark, silent. The digital alarm clock glowed with the sullen light of 3:24 A.M. Even the clatter of the nearby metro track was hushed. The breeze coming through Steve's cracked bedroom window smelled of rain. Everything seemed absolutely normal, except that he wasn't alone.

There was a shadow huddled up over by the dresser, little more than a smudge of deeper darkness behind the closet door. But it had eyes, and they glinted in the dull light of the clock, cold and black and unfriendly.

"I don't know," the Winter Soldier said, in a voice rusty with disuse.

Steve tried to swallow, but nothing in the area of his vocal cords was working right. "...Bucky?"

There was a noncommittal silence. "Maybe?" he said, at last, with the tiniest trace of a question.

Slowly, Steve's fingers uncurled from the haft of the crowbar wedged behind the headboard. Sam had told him to keep a loaded gun, but Steve had never heard of a crowbar jamming, running out of ammo, or shooting the wrong person. They were also quiet, untraceable, and easy to get at any hardware store. "Have you come to finish your mission?"

Bucky looked at him then, something in those glittering shadows actually seeing Steve and not beyond him. "...No." He shifted his weight, only a tiny movement, but in it Steve saw the flicker of uncertainty, and of pain. He remembered the feeling of arm bones cracking in his grip; he saw the awkward angle of Bucky's right elbow, and he swallowed down a wave of nausea.

"Cup of coffee, then?" Without stopping to wonder if it was a good idea, Steve reached over and yanked the chain on the bedside table lamp. The room was flooded with harsh yellow light, and the menacing shadow of the Winter Soldier became a ragged and broken doll slumped against Steve's nearly-empty closet.

"What?" With the light on, it was easier to see the confusion and pain drawn on Bucky's achingly familiar face.

"Coffee," Steve said, pulling his t-shirt over his head. "I'm having one, you want one?" He didn't bother with his jeans, walking right past Bucky and into the tiny kitchenette. Just be calm, like you would around a hurt animal, he thought, though his hands were unsteady as he pulled a pair of mismatched mugs out of the sink. Don't make it a big deal. Act like Tony would. "They've got this k-cup thing, it's pretty neat. Sam got me this hazelnut stuff but I'm not crazy about it, I'll just make us a plain old joe..." Steve busied himself with buttons and levers, while behind him there was a creak of leather, a soft hiss of pain, and one unsteady step, followed by another.

If you're going to knife me in the ribs, Bucky, Steve thought, his hand hovering over the sugar jar, you wouldn't have bothered dragging me out of the Potomac.

With an involuntary grunt and very little in the way of stealth, Bucky landed in one of the kitchen chairs, and Steve let out a breath he had forgotten he was holding. He made quick work of sugar and creamer, wondering why, after all this time, the precise measurements of Bucky's coffee were still instinctive. He put one mug down in front of the wounded assassin sitting in his kitchenette, sat down with the other, and burnt his tongue on a sip he didn't taste.

Bucky was looking at the coffee, a crease between his brows. His metal fingers clinked on the ceramic as he pulled the mug towards him, but didn't drink. He just stared at it, while the steam fogged up the surface of his mechanical hand.

"It's not poisoned," Steve said, and Bucky jumped as though startled from some reverie. "I mean, you never took it poisoned before, so unless you've started that in the past seventy years--two cream, one sugar, dash of cyanide--"

"I haven't had coffee," Bucky said, in the first real sentence Steve had heard from him so far. "Not since... they never gave me any. I never had any. They'd give me some kind of... drink, or something. And an IV drip. When they brought me out."

Steve tried, for the sake of the situation, to keep the stricken look off his face. "When they... brought you out." It wasn't a question, but Bucky took it as one, if he even realized Steve was still there at all.

"Between missions, they would erase...freeze..." Bucky's face distorted, and there was an explosion of coffee and ceramic shards as his hand constricted around the mug. He didn't even notice, curling in on himself with a raw noise, his hands to his face.

Steve was already on his feet, caution be damned. The sleek metal arm was cold around his shoulders, but the rest of Bucky's body was hot with fever. One hand under the armpit was enough to lift him to his feet, and Steve had never been so glad for his strength.

"Maybe you came here for answers," Steve said, carrying the shivering wreckage of Bucky Barnes towards the bathroom, "but you're getting a friend, first."

For a highly-tuned murder machine, Bucky did a good impression of a sack of beans as Steve thumbed through all the snaps and buckles of his armor. He let Steve remove the battered leather and looked down at his mismatched hands in confusion, at the smooth planes of metal and the heavy bruising on his broken arm.

"You set this yourself?" Steve asked, gingerly cradling Bucky's arm, eyes narrowed at the yellow and blue mottling, already faded at the edges.

Bucky shrugged. "I guess."

Steve looked like he wanted to say something else, and he did, but he bit down on it out of respect for the delicate situation. Though he did not mend as quickly as Steve did (out of the hospital in less than a week for injuries that would have a normal man in rehab for months, if he even survived them), Bucky was healing fast.

Steve glanced at the ragged seam of scar where Bucky's shoulder turned to metal, and at the rapidly filling bathtub, and frowned.

For the first time, Bucky looked like he might remember what a smile was, though he wasn't so far along as to actually try it himself. "It's okay," he said. "I won't rust."

"I know, I read the--" Steve began, and stopped. He didn't want Bucky to see that file, not yet. The pictures were too clear, the descriptions too clinical. Subject's left arm and shoulder crushed prior to acquisition. The photos of the maimed body of his best friend had been hard enough to see, but the notes on his reprogramming were worse. Chemically-induced amnesia successful, though reflex hostility remains. Continued erasure therapy advised.

Steve reached over and switched off the faucet. I'll never let them have you again. But what he said out loud was, "I'll get you a towel."

There were not many new scars; Steve supposed that the Winter Soldier rarely sustained injury on his missions, or his increased healing abilities meant that only his oldest ones had left marks behind. He saw ones he knew, and pressed his lips together to keep from naming them out loud. You got that one when you barged in to save me from those toughs outside the Sunshine Lunch Counter--you knocked a guy's front teeth out with your elbow and should have gotten stitches. The little round one on your hip is Chicken Pox, I gave it to you when I was nine. You got the one on your knee when we built scooters out of old crates and you wrecked yours on a fire hydrant. You got the one on your side from a stray bullet when we were in Buron.

But the last thing Steve wanted was to pelt Bucky with a slew of confusing memories. Even when he was still in the hospital, making plans and daring to have hope for the first time in seventy years, he'd already promised himself that he would let Bucky remember things on his own time. So the only sound in the bathroom was the splash of water and the scrape of a razor, as Steve tried to unearth the man he knew under the Winter Soldier's cold silence.

Bucky hated having things done for him, he always had. Had it been the old Bucky sitting there in the tub, even with one arm fractured and another he didn't want to immerse, he still would have tried to take care of himself. But now he submitted to Steve's ministrations with the patient indifference of a man used to being handled.

It was Steve that was uneasy, hoping his nerves wouldn't show every time he touched Bucky's skin. He scraped neat paths in the shaving foam around Bucky's jaw, while Bucky bared his throat to the razor blade, unflinching. At first Steve hoped it was a sign of trust, but from the dull light in Bucky's eyes, he knew it was only apathy. Somehow that was more painful to Steve than all the photos heaped up in that old case file.

"You taught me how to do this, you know," Steve said, before he could stop himself, yearning for even the barest flicker of recognition in Bucky's blank face. "Never needed to shave much, before. But after the experiment I was glad I knew how."

"Hoyt's Cologne," Bucky said, as though from someplace far away. He was looking through Steve now, which was just as well, because all the color had left Steve's face. "You'll never get a dame if you don't--" His voice trickled down to a whisper, and he blinked twice. "Steve?"

Steve's heart lunged into his throat, memories jumbling together. A glass dime-bottle of cologne, half-full, the label worn with use. Bucky got one every Christmas and made it last all year. The contents smelled like bergamot and oranges, like Bucky. It was the first of many double-dates, almost all of them failures. For Steve, anyway. Bucky usually wound up with twice the goodnight kisses.

"You'll never get a dame if you haven't got a good shave, your shoes shined, and cologne." Bucky, expert in all matters surrounding dames and the getting thereof, eyed Steve's collar with a critical frown.

"I really don't think--" Steve began, nervously smoothing his hands over his hair. He didn't believe any amount of shaving or shoes or smell was going to get any woman to look his way more than once.

"Good!" Bucky gave him a bracing slap to the shoulder. "You think too much anyway. Here, you keep that," he added, pushing away Steve's hand with the bottle of Hoyt's in it. "Time I started buying my own cologne, anyway. Now come on. And remember, when you get on the Cyclone, she'll want you to hold her hand..."

The past dropped away like the track of that roller-coaster, and it left Steve feeling almost as queasy as he had the first time. He swallowed, and answered, with equal care. "...Yeah?"

Bucky didn't answer, but something lifted off of him, a weight on his eyebrows, his shoulders. He looked at his reflection in the bathwater and tilted his head, as though wanting to confirm that it was actually him. Steve let him look, willing to give him as long as he needed. But it was only a minute later that Bucky looked back up at him and said, "I'm tired."

Steve didn't trust his voice. He just nodded.

It was almost dawn by the time Bucky fell asleep, lying in Steve's bed with his wet hair fanned across the pillow, his artificial hand resting, half-curled, next to his face. Steve didn't want to think about how long it had been since Bucky slept in an actual bed, but he thought it, all the same, as he thumbed through the tiny contacts list on his phone over and over.

Now what, he asked himself, with the deadliest assassin in the world sleeping there beside him, wearing the face of a man he thought long dead. He was standing on the edge of something, some abyss with a depth he did not know. And though he seemed safe now, Steve still wasn't sure if Bucky was going to pull him back from that edge, push him over it, or take his hand as they jumped down it together. He needed a friend, and his thumb hovered between Tony's number and Sam's.

He remembered the clickety-clack of Arnim Zola's computerized consciousness, and the smug triumph in the headline that announced Howard Stark's death. He remembered Natasha asking him if that kiss in the mall had been his first in seventy years. He wasn't ready to talk to Tony yet.

He pressed the icon to ring Sam's cell phone and slipped out into the kitchen, not wanting to wake the man sleeping in his bedroom. But soon enough he would wake up, and Steve would find out whether he had rescued Bucky Barnes, or the Winter Soldier.


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