He was out. He was out, he was out, he was free and kicking and running and whole and out.
By his calculations, the nearest HYDRA base was over 100 miles away. There shouldn’t be any agents anywhere near him. And, if he’d managed to get everything done right on the library computer a kind French woman had let him sue for a couple of hours longer than he should have been allowed to, each and every base would be exploding at some point over the next twenty four hours and all the agents somehow ended up on Interpol’s blacklist.
They were never, ever going to be coming after him again.
He changed his appearance, but not to hide. Because he wanted a change, knew what he wanted. He cut his hair, dyed it pink, got fake red nails on one hand because he could. He didn’t like it, so he took them off; had the all cut short and painted green instead. He went into a department store with make-up counters and a women there showed him how to put on lipstick and false eyelashes and colour in his eyebrows. He asked if it was the done thing t colour one’s eyebrows blue or purple or other wonderful, alive colours like that and she said it wasn’t, which Bucky found to be rather a disappointment. It was, however, an option to shave liens into your eyebrows, which he duly did upon his return to the little house he had bought on the edge of the town.
The house was in a state.
While on the library computer, he had managed to access the account of back pay James Buchanan Barnes was owed by the US army. He had transferred the money to a new account, then consulted inflation rates, felt sick by the amount of money he now owned, gave a large chunk of it to a charity working with sick kids and used some more of the money to buy the house.
Which was in a mess.
It was old and dirty and falling to pieces. There was a room- Bucky later realised it was a dining room- almost entirely full of broken teapots. There were no curtains, no carpets, two sinks in the kitchen for some strange reason.
Bucky spent his first day living there clearing enough space for him to be able to make a bed out of a sleeping bag, some embroidered cushions and a stuffed toy pig he had seen in the window of a charity shop and felt sorry for. Once that was done, he ate a sandwich and a tub of potato salad, then sat on the backstep and stared at what was more a jungle than a garden.
It felt strange to look up at the sky and realise that he was looking at the very same stars he’d stared at while on missions, the same stars he;d stared at in the war, the same stars that had been staring down at him two lifetimes ago in Brooklyn even though he hadn’t been able to see them, the same stars he’d had above his head when he broke free of HYDRA. It didn’t feel like the same stars or the same sky or even the same world. He had nothing left of his past life other than the scars HYDRA hadn’t managed to rub out. Sometimes in the loneliest corners of the world, when his mind felt most fragile, he wondered if everything before now had been a lie; a mad, ridiculous, heart-breaking story arc written by his imagination. When he felt like that, he would press his metal hand to the inside of his thigh, feel the cold and remember all the other cold he’d been pressed against and then he knew that though he’d always had a good imagination, he couldn’t think up something that real.
One day, after overhearing a conversation in the supermarket while on a quest for cheese, Bucky went to the library again and looked up the Captain America exhibit in the Smithsonian. He saw a picture of his old face plastered on a wall next to Steve’s, then turned the computer off and walked home.
He never questioned Steve’s existence again.
He sorted through the teapots and arranged them into a pattern, out on the lawn. Then he dug up the muddy mulch path to the front door and placed the teapot pieces in the ground instead. The mulch went around the tomato plants a neighbour had given him.
He went shopping for curtain and bout a sewing machine, fabric and a how-to book instead.
The TV behind the counter in the shop was playing a newsreel about the Avengers.
Bucky took another trip to the library.
He alternated making the curtains with painting the walls. Each room was a different colour, no grey.
Once the curtains were made, he cleaned all the rooms and started going to boot sales to look for furniture. He cleared the back garden and planted an apple tree and a pear tree; a row of raspberries, a row of potatoes, a row of cabbage. The tomatoes stayed out the front, y the flowers.
Slowly the shelves filled with books and pretty rocks. His hair grew out pink than then he cut it short again and got a job in the school as a receptionist three days a week. Eh adopted the cat; a scruffy grey thing with blue eyes that made his heart ache. The days when he didn’t work, he gardened and cooked and sewed and looked after his neighbours; 93 year old Ella on the left and Mrs Minchony with three kids under the age of five on the right.
One evening in a Spring, someone knocked on the door. Bucky was quiet for several moments after he opened it.
“I brought you flowers.” Steve said. He held them out to Bucky; white and blue.
“Thanks.” he spoke English with a French accent now but with Steve in front of him he felt it slipping away into Brooklyn.
Steve took a step forward but before he could make it all the way in, Bucky kissed him.
“I thought the French kissed each other on the cheeks.”
Bucky smiled. “Lucky for you I ain’t Fench. Come and meet my cat.”