Lee versus Li: Black and White, Surround Sound, and High Definition
January 9, 2017
Barnes didn’t turn on the light as he entered the apartment he was temporarily sharing with Steve. He didn’t have to since the light over the stove was on, illuminating the kitchen and several cooling racks of pastries. The sink was piled with dirty dishes – apparently waking up in the future with conveniences like a dishwasher still had not converted Steve Rogers into anything resembling tidy. Barnes sighed and stepped up to the counter, shoving up his sleeves. He wouldn’t be able to sleep for a few hours, so he might as well take care of the mess.
Across the wide island, seated in the living area, was his best friend. Steve had a sketchbook open on his lap, but he was staring out the huge windows at the city lights.
“Was this celebratory baking or consolation baking?”
Steve half jumped out of his chair and Barnes raised an eyebrow. They both had better than normal hearing thanks to the serum; Steve must have been so deep in his thoughts he was half-way to China.
“Oh, hey, Buck. Ah, both, maybe.” He ran a hand through his hair and tossed his drawing materials onto the coffee table. The pencil rolled off the edge and Steve ignored it as he stood and moved to a bar stool. Barnes tried to remind himself to look for the damn thing before one of Stark’s robots tried to vacuum it up. Pencil lead probably wasn’t good for the little contraptions. How any man had gone through the army and come out bordering on slob was a mystery to Barnes. At least Steve made his bed in the morning now – but that was where his housekeeping skills ended.
“Gotta say, pal. If you’re not sure if the date was a success, that’s kind of a problem.” He rinsed bowls and spatulas and kept one eye on Steve. The punk didn’t look sad, but he was definitely concentrating suspiciously hard for someone who had spent the evening snuggled up with a soft thing like Darcy Lewis.
“Success, yeah, it was that.” Finally, a smile turned his mouth. As if a dam had broken, happiness washed over Steve’s face. “She’s planning the next date.”
“So? Why the dark brooding? Sounds like a good thing.”
“Yeah.” Christ. Steve looked half in love all ready. The last time Barnes had seen him so wrapped up in a dame had been in 1940 and that gal had knocked out Steve’s heart like she was Joe Louis at Yankee Stadium. In comparison, his feelings for Peggy Carter had been all pre-match hype. “It’s just…”
Barnes finished with the dishes and began wiping down the counter while he waited for Steve to get out with it.
“You ever turn a girl down, Buck? Other than that lady at Melson’s – the one with the-”
Barnes snorted, the memory coming back to him grainy, but still there. “With the horse face? Not that I recall, but I suppose that doesn’t mean much. You’d know better than me.” He paused, taking in the way Steve was rubbing at his pant leg, mouth smiling but shoulders tensed. “You ever turn a girl down, Steve?”
“Loads.” His face twisted, and Barnes could read that expression well. Disgust, guilt, and maybe a little bit of second-guessing. “When I was on tour…well, thank god for the chorus girls. Three of ‘em were married to guys overseas and they took it as a real personal insult if some gal tried to sneak into my dressing room.”
Barnes couldn’t help it, he laughed. All those years trying to set up his friend, working so hard to find the right kind of girl for Stevie and listening to his weak little romantic heart thrum at the idea of falling in love and having a family, all that and as soon as the ladies would give him a second look he was beating them off with a stick.
“Ain’t funny, jerk. Those women were vicious. There was one lady – in Missouri, I think – she pretended to be working at the theater, lead me to a storage room, locked the door and dropped her dress.” Barnes was gasping for air, imagining poor Steve faced with a naked, willing woman but too proper to do anything about it without buying her dinner first. “Just about climbed up me trying for a kiss. When I said no she bit me – drew blood!”
“Not so bad,” Barnes managed to force out the words past his chuckles, “with the right lady.” Steve was muttering and shaking his head, but he was still smiling, the back of his neck pink. “I take it what has you concerned is a little more recent that your USO days?”
“I just don’t want to – Sharon was pretty forward. Which is fine, good to know what a lady wants.” Barnes made a noise of agreement and Steve pushed on. “But it was…well, difficult to feel comfortable about that when you’re comparing her to someone else, right?”
“I’ve dated sisters.” Barnes stopped in surprise, verifying in his own head that the words which had popped out of his mouth were actual fact. Equally pleased and perturbed by his own apparent charm, he continued, “but never aunt and niece. I could see where that might get a bit…dicey.” He leaned back against the counter and folded his arms over his chest. It was nice to be talking about Steve’s problems for a change. Problems that would be fairly easy to solve, if the conversation was going where he thought it was.
“I really like her, Buck.” It took everything Barnes had not to roll his eyes and parrot Sam with a duh, idiot. “I know things are different now, more casual, but she’s important and I don’t want her to think that I just…and it’s been a while. A long while.”
“How long we talkin’? And let’s say before Sharon, how long?” Steve mumbled, and Bucky heard, but there was something to be said for inflicting embarrassment on a friend. “What was that?”
“You heard me, jackass.”
Just to string Steve out, he changed the subject. “What kind of fruit in these?” Barnes pointed to the pastries.
“Raspberry on your left. Sausage and green apple on your right. You gonna say anything helpful, or just eat my hard work and laugh at me?”
“I ain’t known her long,” the burr of Brooklyn tumbled from his lips and it felt right to Barnes, “but I’d guess Darcy is the type to tell you what she wants pretty clear. And to ‘ppreciate you doing the same. Nothin’ wrong with fessin’ up and still havin’ to wait a while, if that’s the way it goes. And she seems to have a thing for mooks with their feet in their gob.” He picked up a breakfast pastry and took a bite. It was still hot inside, almost too hot, and steam rose from the flaky crust. The smell of sweet sausage and tart apples was strong.
Steve blew out a long breath, and with it a lot of tension. “How was your night?”
“Watched a couple of Li movies with Wilson and Vision. And Stark.”
“Building’s still standing,” Steve noted.
“Hm. Been called worse names by better looking faces. Maybe none I deserved as much.”
“I have it on good authority that Tony doesn’t know any other way. It’s how he makes friends.”
“Not looking to be his friend.” Barnes grabbed a second pastry, Steve really did know his way around the kitchen. “Just don’t want it to tear apart your team.”
“Not just my team, Buck.”
Barnes stepped out of the way while Steve packaged up all the food. He was contemplating a glass of milk as Steve said goodnight and a memory clicked into place.
“1941? Bethany O’Malley.” She was a little fast and a lot friendly. He remembered the double date, two blondes but not the color of their eyes or dresses. Bethany’s friend faked a stomach ache within fifteen minutes of seeing Steve. He remembered Bethany confidently grabbing both men by the arms and taking the night by storm. He remembered she asked herself up for coffee, and while he had his hand tangled in her garters she had whispered a dirty suggestion in his ear and then called out for Steve. The skinny punk had crashed into the bedroom looking like he was expecting a fire. When met with a half-naked woman he had turned bright red. Her request of him had just about started an actual fire on his cheeks.
“Oh, God!” Barnes laughed. He dropped the milk onto the counter, hearing the plastic crack but he didn’t care. He’d clean it up later. “Oh God! You had an asthma attack! While she was-”
“Shut the fuck up, Bucky.”