AN1: Upon realizing that I did *not* need an opening chapter of 7000 words, but that I could divide it in two, I've decided to start posting. I'm hoping that, with 3 parts already done and work on the 4th begun today, I can stay ahead of the game, even with work. Updates will occur every 1 1/2 to 2 weeks, unless I fall behind and then it's the interminable wait for me to finish.
AN2: This is a Bucky-centric story, so all of his standard issues apply. There's no violence, but the memory of violence and violent dreams are present. Also, there are psychological issues out the wazoo, so be forewarned. This isn't dark fic, but there are some disturbing images thanks to the torment Bucky has endured.
AN3: Title a lyric from "The Ghost in the Machine" by The Fire and the Sea. The story begins about two weeks after the end of "That Which You Seek," so towards the end of April (assuming the events of The Winter Soldier occur when the movie premiered). The song that Darcy's listening to later on is "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys.
AN4: The characters do not belong to me. They belong to Marvel and are being used for non-profit, entertainment purposes only.
And The Wounded Sing
But Darcy doesn't explain. She just holds out her arm and a second later something like a camera shutter sounds. Then the photographer lowers the camera, and Bucky heaves a sigh, shifting beside Steve. The war machine demanded, so the war machine took, snatching their faces and their friendship with each click of the shutter. Bucky clenches his jaw and tries to focus on the photographer again, but behind him, he sees Dum Dum duck down and gather a clump of mud in his hands. A smile starts to stretch across his face as Dum Dum inches up on Falsworth, pristine in his—
"Oh, yeah. That's going on the wall."
Bucky blinks, seventy years passing in the brief closing of his eyes. Darcy stands beside him now, rather than Steve, and they're in her apartment in Avengers Tower, not the mud fields of war fatigued France. He stays still and tries to calm the racing of his heart. Darcy bends over her phone, a broad smile on her face. The sight soothes Bucky, it eases the tension ratcheting within him and grounds him in the here and now.
"What is?" he asks.
She turns toward him and holds out her phone. He glances down at the screen, sees Darcy in half the frame, the same broad grin on her face as she leans into the figure in the other half. The man there frowns as he looks at her, his face nearly obscured by a bushy beard and long, tangled hair.
It takes Bucky a long moment to realize that the man with the hair is him.
He doesn't know when he last saw his reflection, not the specific year, but he knows it was still early, his hair relatively short, not Army reg but not the scraggly mess of now. One of the first times they put him in cryo then. Maybe the first, he doesn't know, but he watches. In the glass, he watches his body freeze. The cold sets in, and his eyes widen. He lifts his hand and tries to move, but he can't, and panic sets in as he remembers the eighth grade and Becky Johnson in the apartment below his with her bird in its cage, pale yellow wings battering the bars as it tried to—
He starts, his eyes snapping up to meet Darcy's. Her grin is gone, replaced by warm eyes and a creased brow, and he hates it when she looks at him like that, when Steve does too, because it means that he's slipped again, that he's lost his footing in the roiling churn of his mind.
Swallowing hard, he shrugs and tries to summon a smile. "Sorry. Didn't recognize myself." The response deepens the frown on her face, so he continues before she can comment. "What's the wall?"
Darcy narrows her eyes. He knows she's contemplating whether to follow the former comment despite his addition of the latter. He estimates his chances at 60/40, Darcy usually more willing than Steve to abandon the two dreaded words: "You okay?" Bucky hates the question, the two words and their infinite variations as steady a presence during the past two weeks as Steve and Darcy themselves. When he stares out the window, "What's up, Buck?" When he frowns at the coffee maker, "Everything okay?" When he sleeps too much or not enough, "Do you want to talk about it?" He finds lying to Darcy harder than lying to Steve, so he doesn't usually, spitting out an answer through gritted teeth.
Now though, he doesn't need to, something in his face convincing Darcy to relent. He's not sure what. He can't control his expression anymore, too much turbulence within for him to restrain.
"It's something that holds up a building," she says, her brow still creased.
Bucky cocks a brow at her, and her grin returns, though not as bright as before. Still, he latches onto it, to the reprieve that she gives him. His smile comes with less effort this time, though his face feels stiff. The stiffness must not show, or Darcy also lets that go, for she turns for her bedroom then, tilting her head for him to follow. He does, Darcy now one of the fixed points around which he orbits. He knows that's why she let Thor and Jane return to London to pack her belongings for her. Darcy told him that she stayed because of her collarbone and for Tony too, already, allegedly, becoming a diva of a boss. A clever lie, one he allowed because it kept her close, it kept his anchors secure and his world from splitting apart.
A sliver of guilt darts through him. He doesn't remember being this selfish before, but before he had and for so long he hadn't. He's swung wildly back in the other direction, a frantic pendulum clutching on with desperate hands.
In her room, they weave around the unpacked boxes to stand before the bare bed, the mattress and box spring pristine and blinding white.
"That," Darcy says, pointing before them, "is the wall."
Bucky glances where she points, at the wall opposite the end of the bed, the one perpendicular to the windows and shared with living room. He stares at it a moment before turning to her and raising his other brow. "So it is."
Darcy ignores his sass, moving instead to stand before the wall. "Soon," she says, waving her left hand around, her right still bound by her sling, "all of this will be covered."
"Postcards, pictures. Including yours," she adds, pointing to her phone. "Ticket stubs, drawings, bookmarks. Whatever appeals. Whatever's… me." She turns away from him to stare up at the blank surface. Bucky waits out her quiet, sensing revelation. He soaks up each disclosure she gives to him, settling the pieces that she shares into his cracks and gaps. He knows he shouldn't. A better man wouldn't, but death long ago killed the better man in Bucky, so he takes what she's willing to give and tries not to push for more.
"I do it wherever I go," she says after another moment, her voice soft. "I pick a wall and make it me. I guess I don't need to now. I can put all this on Instagram or Tumblr, but— I don't know. Old habits, I guess. I've been doing it since I was a kid."
Darcy looks down and he can see the edge of a wry grin on her face. Bucky wants all of it, but if she wanted to share it with him, she would have turned. "It used to drive my dad nuts, how many holes I would put in the wall to tack things up." She looks back at him now, the wry shade to her grin shifting to a mischievous tint. "Seems right to do the same to Tony."
He nods, unsure how to respond to any mention of Tony, now that he remembers. He looks again at the wall and tries to imagine Darcy on the bland beige paint. She'll probably cover the beige with colors, with life. His bristly frown seems out of place there, a dark cloud on a sunny day. He used to smile, he remembers doing so, to dames and his ma and, always, to Steve, who needed to smile more, too serious now, so focused on joining the goddamned Army so he could go off and get himself killed. Bucky tilts his chair back and launches into a complicated pantomime of his boss going apoplectic at some stunt Hardin pulled, waiting for the smile, waiting, waiting, and grinning when it comes, bright in his pale—
"You should make one."
Bucky controls himself this time, he doesn't jump, he just shifts his gaze over to Darcy, who faces him now. Despite his efforts, he's dulled her too, the mischief gone and the concern again in her eyes. But it's the determination lifting her jaw that freezes him. Bucky stares at her for half a second before he understands. She wants him to make his own wall. His pulse jumps at the thought of an entire wall devoted to him, the frowning brute from the photo staring down at him. Maybe he could still evade, if he explained. Darcy always wanted him to use his words, so he tries now, carefully.
"I don't have anything for a wall."
"You'll get stuff," she says, digging in. "Everybody gets stuff."
The Soldier never did, but he doesn't say this. He doesn't want her to be sad.
"It doesn't have to be a whole wall," she says in his silence, moving toward him, hopeful now. "We can get a little corkboard to start. Oooh—" She twists back around and actually starts to bounce with excitement. "Do you think Tony would make the whole wall corkboard? Because that would be awesome."
Bucky jumps on her distraction and tries not to sigh in relief. "Maybe. He said it was yours, didn't he? Decorate however you wanted."
Darcy doesn't respond. She just turns back around, grinning again, giddy at all of the ways she could and would make Tony suffer for his lax decorating policies.
"Come on," she says. "Let's go unpack. I need to plan what else I can do that'll make Tony cry."
That night he wakes to the smell of blood. It's not the first time. For some of them, real blood accompanied, his own or his victim's. For others, like now, the memory simply overpowered him, so much that he feels it on his skin, trickling down his throat, gumming in his hair.
Breathing in, Bucky opens his eyes. The trench he nearly died in lingers before him. His first battle in the war, nothing that Basic could prepare for, nothing that the stories from the vets in his unit could adequately describe. The man beside him— Longman— had died looking at Bucky, blood spurting from his mouth as he pitched forward, his hands scrambling for any sort of hold, for any grip at life. He'd been shot in the back while he pissed himself in fear. Or maybe it had been Bucky who pissed himself in fear, dirty and broken, crouched in a dirty, broken world.
Breathing in again, he pushes up off the floor. Night still darkens the city beyond the windows. The clock by his bed reads 4:38. An hour and a half this time. He might try again when the sun rises, might curl up in the armchair in the living room and drift off to the brightening of the sky and wait for Steve to wake him with the more pleasant smell of toast and bacon.
For now, he crosses to the bathroom and switches on the sink. Bending over the basin, he scrubs the sweat from his face and the back of his neck. The cool water douses the dream and brings him fully back to the present. When his fingers dig into his beard, Darcy's picture flashes before him. His eyes dart to the mirror, but they skitter away before he sees more than a gleam of teeth in the dark and the shine of his hand as it moves through his beard. He hadn't looked in a mirror straight since his return, hadn't looked in the glass since that first horrific time. What would he see if he did? The bearded man from the photo, the one with Darcy and Steve and a hope for a chance now, or would he see his own gaunt face reflected in the glass of a cryo tube, everything after he dove for Steve in the river nothing more than a desperate, dying dream.
The toilet lid cracks as he slams it back to throw up the thought and the pizza that he'd eaten with Darcy.
The day that Bucky had moved from the medical wing to the apartment he shared with Steve he'd catalogued the possessions that everyone designated as his. Clothes included his boots, combat pants, and armor, three pairs of socks and three of underwear (most of them given to him by Steve), two shirts, both tees (one from Steve and one from Thor), as well as the sweatpants and hoodie from Darcy. For weapons, he had the broken shock prod (whereabouts unknown), his knife (on his person at all times), and six guns (one with Steve, the rest in the armory somewhere in the Tower).
The room that Steve said belonged to him contained objects prior to his arrival, and Steve said that those belonged to him too: three walls painted a pale blue and a floor-to-ceiling bank of windows, an empty closet and a gleaming bathroom, a bed that he avoids with a table and a lamp he never turns on, and a chair by the windows that he slept in once (abandoned for the one in the living room, the sun rising on that side of the building).
More than he had for seventy years, the asset owning nothing, not even himself.
Sergeant Barnes had all the accoutrements of war but none of life: dogtags and sergeant stripes, a sniper's rifle and regulation pistol, three uniforms including his specially constructed kit for the Commandos, combat boots, liquor (occasionally), letters (until his capture), and a cot and a tent that he sometimes shared with Steve.
Bucky had owned more, items slowly accumulated over the first two decades of his life and then obsessively cared for. In the shower that morning, he had tried to remember the first object that belonged to him, settling, in the end, upon a stuffed bear, which, he decided, he'd never tell Darcy about, she needing no more encouragement in her persistence to call him bear. The bear had disappeared by the time Bucky became Sergeant Barnes, replaced by books and magazines (he recalls Homer and Hemingway and a small collection of Astounding Science Fiction) and a radio that was always on whenever he was home. Bucky had a photograph of his family given to him by his mother the day he moved out to live with Steve, and he remembers hanging it next to a drawing given to him by Steve for his nineteenth birthday, one of the two of them somewhere, he can't remember now.
He tries to follow the thread, to visualize the bedroom that he shared with Steve, but the image slips from his grasp, wrenching to the side to focus instead on Steve's half of their room. More drawings hung there, of Steve and his ma, another of Steve and Bucky, and half a dozen of the city that birthed them, that shaped them and haunted him endlessly as he froze.
The itch to return there rises within him again. He understands why he can't go to Brooklyn now, not with Hydra in pursuit and his ability to fight balanced on his cracked and heaving mind. But he wants to see the bridge and the river and the piers and the little park that Steve went to so he could try to get a better handle on the color green. He wants to so much his heart races and his breath comes fast, so before he can consider beyond his need, Bucky is on his feet and moving across the hall to the entrance to Steve's room.
The door is open as it always is, though the one to Steve's bathroom is closed and the shower on beyond. A few boxes line the walls, Steve's possessions from D.C. arriving late the week before, packed by a man Steve called Sam. The room resembles his own, but bigger, with two walls of windows and different furniture, but Bucky bypasses everything except the pictures and photos on the right wall. Color distinguishes the present from the past. Despite his need, his eyes linger on the present ones, clustered together in a shining silver frame. He sees one of Steve with the Widow; she wears a fond expression and a bright orange tee bearing the words "I'm with Stupid" and an arrow that points straight at Steve. There's another of her and Steve with a second man wearing a bandage on his nose and the bearing of a spy. Bucky recognizes Thor and Steve in London, and the doctor here in a kitchen in the Tower sharing a pot of tea with Steve.
The older ones, though, snatch his breath and send his heart rate spiking again. A gorgeous portrait of Peggy sits in a burnished oval frame beside a drawing of Steve's ma, different from the one that hung on the wall of their old apartment, this one likely rendered after his resurrection. Candid shots of the Commandos inhabit their own frame, but it's a small strip of pictures tucked in the bottom right corner that has Bucky reaching out. July weather made their collars wilt and skin shine with sweat, but it hadn't dimmed the smiles on their faces, Bucky and Steve at Coney Island to celebrate Steve turning twenty. He had set aside extra money for two months, wanting to make a day of it, this Steve's first birthday since the death of his ma. Steve had tried to talk him out of it when Bucky told him of his plan, citing his need to work, summer more forgiving on his lungs than winter, but Bucky had won out in the end, and looking at him now, flushed from the sun and a double helping of hot dogs, Bucky knows he was—
The soft thud of the shower door brings Bucky out of himself. He clutches the photo-strip in his hand; Steve moves in the bathroom. Darting forward, Bucky tries to replace the photos in the corner of the frame. As he does, he catches sight of his reflection in the glass. His hair is wilder than usual, matching the panic in his eyes. His hand stills at the sight, freezing his present self beside his past. The disparity between the two hits him like a freight train, like a punch from his own left arm.
How had he ever been that happy?
The vision wavers, hot tears in his eyes, as Bucky turns and flees from the room.
He hears the music before he even opens the door, if what assaults his ears can even be called music. Easing inside Darcy's apartment, a cacophony of sound blasts him. There's a man— no, multiple men— singing— no, speaking— no, yelling— about sabotage and a water gate. The beat shifts and the strings crunch; Bucky never would have thought that instruments could make those sorts of sounds when everything stops for three seconds. Then the strumming comes back in, and he hears Darcy and someone else yell from her bedroom. The men yell too, and Bucky tenses at it all, his hand inching toward his knife as he inches toward her room, then the music abruptly stops again and he does too, his heart pounding in his chest.
From inside her bedroom, he hears Darcy groan. "Jarvis, my man. That was the best part."
"Apologies, Ms. Lewis. But Sergeant Barnes is here to see you."
Bucky grits his teeth at the voice from nowhere, but before he has time to react further, Darcy barrels out of her room, sliding on the wood floor in sock feet. He slips his knife back into its holster with his left hand and reaches for Darcy with his right, grabbing her just as she's about to tip over onto the floor. She uprights, grinning, latching onto his arm for balance. Bucky takes the moment she uses to catch her breath to take her in. She wears her hair pulled back and her glasses now. The bright green of her t-shirt nearly blinds him, but she's warm beneath his palm and soft, and he used to be like this, he saw it in the photos, he used to be happy and safe and whole, and he thought that the chair would fix him, that he'd be stable again and that he could be, that he could be, but he can't, he can't, he can't even—
He tenses as Darcy wraps her arm around him and moves in for a hug, but then he's moving too, drawing her close, his lungs shuddering as he tries to breathe. She twists her head to the side and presses it against his chest. Her arm tightens around him, her finger clutching his hoodie. Bucky closes his eyes and rests his chin on the top of her head; he lets the scent of her shampoo and the feel of her hair against his face still the roiling mess inside of him.
"You can hug me with your left arm, too, you know. There's no sweater danger this time."
Bucky tenses again. In his hesitation, Darcy pokes at his arm with her right elbow. He lifts his arm out of her reach.
She huffs out a small sigh against his chest. "Dude—"
"Come on," she wheedles. "One of us should be hugged properly. I don't get this torture device off for another two weeks."
He finds himself starting to smile, the other constant the past few weeks aside from Steve, Darcy, and their constant questions of concern about his state of mind being Darcy's complaints about her sling. "Then we wait two weeks," he says, breathing her in.
She expels another sigh, but relents, relaxing against him. "Fine. But this is just further proof, you know."
At her comment, his smile widens, but he conceals the amusement in his voice. "No, it isn't."
"Yes, it is." She tilts her head up to look at him. Bucky wipes the smile from his face, dredging up something resembling a glare, which just brings the grin back to hers. "It's alliterative, dude. That makes it law."
"Does it?" he asks, raising a brow. "So does that mean you're a duck? A dinosaur? Darcy the dingo?"
"If I start howling at the moon and eating cats, then you can call me dingo. Until then, bear, it's Darcy."
Bucky smirks at her and preps for a response, but a sound from her bedroom, the scrape of a shoe on the floor, stops him. He'd forgotten about the second voice, the one who had yelled along with Darcy to the song.
"It's just Tony," she says now. "He said yes to the wall of cork and came to take a few measurements. He's probably, like, three seconds from detonation at trying to be quiet for so long."
There's an indignant squawk from the bedroom followed a second later by the man himself, Tony strolling out with a tape measure in his hands. Bucky extricates himself from the hug, sidestepping Darcy as she tries to reach for him.
"The cork monstrosity isn't up yet, Lewis. You still need to be nice to me."
Darcy scrunches up her face in concentration before shaking her head. "That's not why you hired me."
"I was drunk when I hired you."
Darcy grins at him. "So clearly all your decisions should be made while you're blitzed because that's when the good ones happen."
"Debatable," Tony mutters, tossing the tape measure from hand to hand. He pauses and his body grows tense, and Bucky knows he's about to turn to him, to try to talk, to expect conversation in return. His mouth goes dry and his pulse accelerates. The urge to run rises within him, but he tamps down on it, feeling Darcy watching.
"Kid said she was trying to talk you into one of these wall sores."
Bucky nods, keeping his gaze fixed on the floor. He tries not to think about Howard.
"How do you not like this?" Darcy asks Tony. "A whole wall that's devoted exclusively to you? That's like your wettest wet dream."
"Not if it's made of cork, it isn't."
Bucky bites down on the inside of his cheek and closes his eyes.
"What would suit your delicate sensibilities then? Velvet?"
"Gross, Lewis. I may have lived through the 70s, but I've still got taste."
Howard eyes the drab military fabric some underling holds before him a moment before sighing and pinching the bridge of his nose. At the sigh, the underling starts to sweat. Bucky tries not to smile, the man just doing his job, or trying to, but Howard launches then into a gesticulating rant about image and taste and how he's about to break out in hives just looking at that godawful fabric so there's no way in hell they can clothe Captain America's best friend in it so would the underling be so kind as to take that heinous cloth out back and blow it up with a—
He lurches back with a gasp. "Sorry. I'm—" He looks up, locks eyes with Howard— with Tony, who stares at him, his brow creased and mouth a thin, flat line. Gaze darting back to Darcy, he says, "I… I— I have to go."
He turns though she calls and strides for the door, the lock clicking closed on her curse as he walks away.