Inlaws v. Outlaws: One Nickle
November 3, 2016
It had been a long day. Steve had been on edge all morning waiting for the expected call from Stark. And then the punk had been quiet and thoughtful afterward, his withdrawn mood putting a crawl on the back of Barnes’ neck and the urge to check the perimeter itching in his feet. Natalia’s video call had settled Steve down some, although that was mostly the promise of as much food as she and Wanda could carry. But there had been something in her voice that wasn’t said, in the pauses that weren’t there, that had forced Barnes up to the roof to get some air before the women were supposed to arrive.
Get some air and keep an eye on every approach to the building.
At least he allowed his rifle to lean against his chair, instead of clutching it in his lap. Wilson had followed him up with beer and the hot tea Barnes liked and a second crappy lawn chair. He didn’t say anything about the gun, just passed over the drink and sipped his own in silence for a good half hour.
“Would you want to see them? If you have family still out there?”
Wilson’s question was soft and easy, spoken without wavering or any weight to it. He might as well have asked if Barnes wanted chicken or beef tacos, or if he had ever considered watching soccer instead of baseball. It came at him out of the blue, shaking him from the hyper-awareness that had his muscles tense and his adrenaline on edge. Did he want that? His mother was pregnant when he got the draft notice. Da said it was a miracle – shouldn’t have happened at their age and with the other babies she had lost. Only one brother had lived past birth, and he died before he could walk – influenza. Becca had been seventeen when Barnes left for Europe. She might have married. Might have had kids, grandkids, great-grandchildren that kept on living and working and laughing and being free while he was being twisted into the Winter Soldier.
“I don’t…they shouldn’t have to see what I became.” The acknowledgment left an empty place low in his belly. A wound seared by acid and still festering even after he admitted it. What he was…he could…live with himself. But no one else should have to accept it. Steve, Wilson, Wanda – the Avengers had chosen him, but family didn’t get a choice and what he was now shouldn’t be forced on anyone. Barnes took a long sip of tea. It was dark and Russian and bitter and sweet with sugar. It both reminded him of the small good things in the darkness and gave him something to fill his mouth so no other words would fall out.
“You’re not done, you know.” Wilson propped his feet up on the edge of the roof, staring out at the rough neighborhood that surrounded their hideout. The sun was beginning to set, washing the worn buildings and dangerous alleys with an orange-pink light that softened the flaws. He took another pull of his beer, but didn’t face Barnes.
“None of us are,” he continued. “We don’t become. We’re becoming. It’s a process man. And it don’t ever stop ‘til you do. As long as you’re still stubborn enough to keep breathing, you’re still changing. Still becoming.”
Barnes thought about that as the sun slipped below the horizon and the California evening began to feel cool. Sitting on a roof, enjoying a drink and the sunset – it was so much better than he ever thought he would have again. Steve was safe and healthy downstairs. No one was actively trying to kill him. He had a team that would watch his back. His mind was his own. Wilson finished his beer, but still sat in his shitty lawn chair, picking at the label.
“This the part where you tell me the ugly duckling was really a swan the whole time?”
Wilson snorted. “Swan. Let’s be realistic, here. With that train wreck you call a face? Mallard, tops.”
“Ladies seemed to like it.”
“You’re remembering it wrong.”
“Museum in DC says otherwise. Books, movies. That miniseries Lang made us watch. The girl who turned you down flat at that bakery in Sofia.” Wilson snorted. Barnes took another sip. “Yeah. Pretty sure they find me attractive.”
“That ain’t attraction, Barnes. That’s pity.”
Barnes shoved him, not hard enough to knock him over, but enough to make him drop his legs to stay upright. Wilson laughed and called him weak and old. Barnes scowled, asked Wilson how pathetic it was to lose in a footrace against weak old men like him and Steve.
But he was thinking that a mallard was pretty good.