Who: Bucky, Natasha What: talking about SHIELD When: backdated, shortly before the first SHIELD meeting Rating: Green
Since his arrival, Bucky kept laying low in La Semana Hotel in the Flatiron District. It was probably the seediest place that anyone could find anywhere in Manhattan. It was also inexpensive while he figured out his next moves, and it had one thing that other places didn't have: a criminal element.
That was important to him for right now. If there was a raid, there would be one hell of a fuss being raised. No one there asked questions. No one there had expectations. No one talked to each other. Hell, ninety percent of the people going in and out of there wouldn't look anyone else in the eye.
It was a perfect place for someone to lay low and think for a little while. The TV wasn't on, and with good reason. First, no amount of wiping at the remote with a ratty washcloth was going to get the sticky gunk off it. No thanks.
Second, he didn't want to not be able to hear the sounds of people outside of his room. Sure, he didn't have super hearing or anything? But he could usually tell by footsteps if it was a man or woman, and make a ballpark guess about their weight. He accessed the secure network to create a new persona and cover story, listening for the slightest commotion in the hallway to tip him off ahead of time that he needed to be on guard.
Barnes had made it complicated to find him, but not near as complicated as Natasha had expected. That meant he either trusted this hodge podge of a group he’d fallen in with or he was rusty. She didn’t believe the latter.
She hadn’t recognized the name of the place once she figured out where he was, but research into it had made her sigh. There was only a few options here. She could walk in dressed like the escorts that usually frequented this place, a junkie willing to do anything for her latest fix, or some деревенщина (rube) lost in the city. She settled for a mix of all three. She needed to blend in but still be recognizable. It wouldn’t do to be shot by Barnes on his doorstep when all she was doing was checking in.
It was quick work to get past the locked lobby door and beyond the clerk behind the thick glass window. She’d have to take an extensive shower when she got back to the warren after edging past the discarded mattress in the hallway. She had to admit Barnes had a certain kind of taste in choosing this place. It was the perfect paranoid’s hideaway.
Natasha made sure she stepped on all the creaky floorboards when she was two doors away from Barnes’ door. She wasn’t here to surprise him. She was here to give him the intel on SHIELD and anything else he might need. Once she reached his door, she rapped on it lightly.
He could tell that this person was making themselves known on purpose. A fact he appreciated as he moved to the door and even opened it a crack to peek out. Seeing it was Romanoff - and how could he forget, he put a bullet through her and tried to kill her twice after that - he opened the door to let her inside.
It wasn't all complicated by bad memories. She had been open and honest with him on the network, and he knew she was going to be the same about the information she told him. Steve trusted her, and he trusted Steve.
"Might want to come in quick," he warned her with a faint smile. "There's two registered sex offenders wandering around. Pretty sure you'd kill them if they groped you."
That was a mess he'd like to avoid. So far he refrained from giving them a metal punch to the face. Even if it was tempting, that was a scene he didn't really want to be starting or involved in.
Natasha held back the scowl that wanted to form and merely arched an eyebrow. He wasn’t wrong. The ones like that deserved to get what was coming to them and she didn’t mind delivering it. She nodded her thanks as she slipped inside.
She’d stayed in worse bolt holes but that was cutting it close. She took a quick scan around the place and mentally shrugged. Whatever one needed when dealing with the aftermath of a situation was whatever one needed. She wasn’t one to judge. Clint had dragged her out of some...situations a time or two.
She moved to lean against a patch of wall that wasn’t too horribly discolored then pulled out a small folder from her ratty purse. “It’s not much since things are still getting going, but I’ve created a quick outline of SHIELD and how that’ll work with the Avengers. Anything else, you can ask me or Fury himself. And I’ll be working for both sides, hopefully with less collateral damage than previously.”
Landing in a new universe certainly qualified as a situation in Bucky's book. Another was SHIELD reforming, but he pretty much gathered by Steve and Natasha that it wasn't infested with HYDRA anymore. Or so he hoped.
He held out his hand for the folder, watching her face for any trace of subterfuge and finding none. She was hard to read anyway. Most Russian operatives were.
"I appreciate it," he said, in reference to the disclosure and the outline she was giving him. He was cautious, since it was hard to fault him after getting burned by HYDRA so many times. "I figured Fury was clean since Pierce wanted him dead. And you helped Steve."
So that was two good points, along with reading all of the fallout that Natasha dumped on the internet at the end of that whole mess. Speaking of messes....
"You'll be working with Stark again," he added, as though that wasn't even a question. More a known statement. "Here's hoping things don't get awkward when we cross paths."
Keeping that to a minimum seemed like a good idea.
Natasha handed over the folder with no hesitation. It was what she’d promised him and what she herself would’ve wanted in his position. There was a lot that could go wrong, and had gone wrong, in organizations like SHIELD. The more people on their guard and aware of the internal workings the better. It’d been trained out of her to be open and easy to read otherwise she would’ve let him read her. Attempting that now would only cause suspicion.
“Steve’s a good man,” she said. He’d been there when her whole world had collapsed and been the only one to trust her. Even Fury hadn’t fully trusted her then. That had stung in more ways than she’d known what to do with. It probably explained a lot of the bad choices she’d made after.
She kept her features schooled. That had been a clusterfuck of epic proportions on all sides. “I think Tony’s managed to deal with that in an adult way. I know it’s not going to be easy for either of you but I think a working peace can be achieved. Tony’s grown a lot since then.”
"Steve's good and maybe Tony's grown a lot," he replied, "but it doesn't make the whole situation any less weird for him and me, or for Steve being stuck in the middle."
At least he knew her opinion on the matter and that meant a lot for her to offer it. He nodded to her in appreciation but otherwise, Bucky was equally unreadable, so withdrawn into himself that it was like a armored shell that he lived in. He stepped back to sit down on the rickety bed and began to look through the folder.
"It's definitely scaled down," he mumbled while turning the pages, his serious gaze skimming over the material quickly. "That's good. Easier to keep track of things. Seems like a good front too. A bakery. No one ever suspects the Muffin Man."
For a moment he was lost in the memories of one of his sisters and some of her friends singing that stupid song while skipping rope out in the street. She was probably dead by now, or so old and grey that she probably wouldn't remember him at all.
He closed the folder and looked up at her.
"You trust Fury too," he said slowly, watching her with an unflinching gaze, "or else you wouldn't be joining up to pull double duty with SHIELD and the Avengers. I don't feel so bad about it now. And maybe we'll get to be on the same side during a mission. Thanks, Natasha."
Natasha nodded in agreement with Barne’s words. “Yes, I’m glad. Less nooks and crannies that’ll slip by unnoticed and more people fully capable of stomping anything out if it crops up.” She grinned at his mention of the bakery. If he only knew what was behind that, but well, even Fury was allowed to keep his secrets. It wasn’t hers to giveaway.
She let the grin slid from her face. “Yes, I do trust him. Even after everything, I trust that his intentions are always in the right place. Sometimes it takes him longer to come around to the right point of view. He just needs the evidence to get him there and once he’s provided with enough, he’s capable of admitting his faults and moving forward.”
It’s not something someone in Fury’s position was normally graceful at doing. That didn’t mean there hadn’t been some bumps and bruises along the way, but as was life.
“I’m glad and I simply wanted to provide you what I wish someone had given me long ago.” She shrugged. One thing she’d learned after joining up with Clint and SHIELD was that sometimes you had to be the change in the world you’d needed. “I hope so too. It’ll be nice working toward the same goal for once instead of at cross purposes.” She paused and licked her lips. “What would you prefer me to call you? I can keep calling you Barnes, but I don’t know how you’re feeling about that connection to a self that’s been buried for decades now.”
Bucky was watching her closely, quiet and unmoving the entire time. Everything he was hearing put him at ease about this aspect, and made him feel like it was the right call going forward.
"You can call me whatever you want," he said, dropping his guard enough that a hint of a smile pulled at his lips. "Bucky, Barnes, whichever. No one really called me James anymore."
Even his siblings called him Bucky. It was a nickname that stuck, since he had one hell of a middle name that people liked to make fun of. At first it made him roll his eyes, but it quickly grew on him. Their entire damn neighborhood and everyone's grandma said 'Bucky' before he was deployed. He even started introducing himself that way, and if it wasn't for Steve - and for a list of people including Natasha and Sam, too - he probably would've lost that part of himself forever.
"I answer to hey you sometimes," he said with a shrug. "Jerk and Stupid are off limits. Steve's got dibs. You'll have to fight him for it."
Natasha grinned. “Oh, maybe to be contrary, I’ll start calling you James again. It’ll be funny to confuse everyone around us.”
It also felt like a weird nod to the strange past that lay between them. Both former Russian operatives that underwent the shit show of their respective training programs and both broken in a variety of ways as a result. The only reason she covered more easily was the fact of having more years out in the world on her own and with Clint making her stay human.
“I think we all answer to that sometimes.” She laughed. “Nah, he can have those. I think I need to introduce you to a tv show called Supernatural where the brothers have a call and response that goes ‘Bitch. Jerk.’ to one another.”
"I might let you get away with calling me James," was Bucky's reply, one that sounded much less wary, even if everything else about him seemed cautious and guarded. It was a hold out from that past, and Bucky found himself hoping to one day get from where he was sitting to where Natasha was standing. To bridge the gap from that shit show.
He knew that would take a lot of time and patience. Along with not falling into the wrong hands again.
"And that show sounds ok, I guess," he added with a fleeting smile. Due to his upbringing, he wouldn't dare call a girl a bitch. His ma would crawl up out of the grave and slap him into next week. That left only one option. "Only if you're the jerk and I'm the bitch."
“Oh, well, then it’s decided. I’m going to call you James from here on out, unless the situation warrants a ‘Barnes.’” Natasha was pleased that Barnes, James, was showing signs of more than the extremely well trained supersoldier. It had taken months of Clint doing much the same to get her to be somewhat human. This was a good start.
There were going to be hiccups along the way but James had Steve and Peggy and her in his corner to help him through it. And when it came to it, most everyone else would likely help out in some form.
“I never said it was high art, but it was fun to be able to sit down and laugh at the special effects or the mythos of the show compared to everything else going on around us.” She chuckled. “Sure. Why not. I’ve been known to play that role though we’ll probably confuse Steve when he hears this for the first time.”
"If you say Barnes, does that mean I'm in trouble," Bucky asked, with an undercurrent of sarcasm that could be easily be picked up on. A trace of who he once was peeking out from where it was buried. It was easier to let it out around someone else who killed probably as many people as he had. It wasn't hanging between them. It was an accepted fact.
As for the show, it sounded like fun and the mention of 'high art' triggered something. Way back when, he used to like sci-fi and horror stories. He wanted to draw the covers for the magazines full of stories, full of spaceships and dames getting saved from swamp monsters. Steve was the better artist, but Bucky wasn't shabby either. Or at least he didn't used to be. He hadn't sat in art class since December of 1941, when the news broke about....
Bucky mentally shook that off while he continued to stare at her, and he mustered up a slight smile.
"Steve's not exactly the boy scout everyone thinks he is," Bucky said after a quiet pause. "He's a pain in the ass. Probably as much as Howard's son is."
Before he could elaborate on the reasons why, he patted his hand on the folder and said, "I better get to work reading this through. Thanks again. Jerk."
Natasha smirked. “I’ll leave that for you to find out. I can’t go telling you all my secrets on how to handle former brainwashed Russian assassins. Otherwise, there’d be nothing left for the book I’m writing.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “It’s a specialty niche, I know, but someone somewhere will find it handy.”
She wondered what went through his mind when he drifted off to far away places in his mind. She’d have to ask Clint his take on her own lapses when she was getting used to being human and not simply a tool to be pointed and directed at the next target. Did he have more intact memories than she had? Or was it the same jumbled mess of jagged, broken pieces she’d learned to accept as all she would know of her past or were things more whole for him?
It was also food for thought that he had adjusted to the modern times with a more operational and functional status than Steve. Maybe those excursions out, as horrible as they were to look back on now, had something to do with it.
She focused back on the now when James spoke again. “I think we’ve all suspected and despite all of Tony’s poking and prodding and attempts to get Steve to be less Steve he hasn’t broken yet. I’m looking forward to seeing you uncover the real Steve under all that symbolism and decency.”
Natasha let James’ view of Tony slide away unmentioned. That wasn’t for her to poke and prod at yet. Not until he was ready to address him directly by name. She gave him a lazy two finger military salute. “Any time,” she hesitated, it was weird but she’d started it, “Bitch.” She smiled. “You know where to find me if you need anything.”