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23 December 2014 @ 07:53 pm
[Captain America Christmas Fic] The Memory Box  
Rating- G
Pairing- Steve/Bucky but it's pretty gen.
Warnings- A wee bit of angst
Summary- What do you get for the guy who has nothing?


The Memory Box
By evilkat



“Hey, check it out.”

Bucky turned from the Christmas tree at the sound of Steve’s voice and was greeted by the sight of the other man wearing an overly large, white knit sweater with a huge snowman on the front.  There were really no words to fully describe the absolute train wreck of an outfit, so Bucky didn’t try.  He just stared, unblinking while the other man held his arms out to the side as if to proudly show off this abomination.

“Look, it even lights up,” Steve gleefully exclaimed as he hit some sort of button hidden in the snowman’s top hat.  The eyes, buttons on the festive vest, and even the cheerful little snowflakes came ablaze in a bright, golden hue as if things couldn’t possibly look any worse.  Steve looked like a neon sign for someone’s twisted nightmare Christmas village.  Norman Rockwell was spinning in his grave.

“I got one for you, too.”

“I’m not wearing that,” Bucky answered flatly.

Steve’s smile crumbled.  “Oh, why?  Natasha said these ugly sweaters were in this year.”

Ah, that explained things.  Bucky supposed it should be at least some relief that Steve was willing to admit that the sweater was ugly.  “So it was Natasha that suggested you wear that…thing to the party tonight?”

“Yeah,” Steve replied, sounding a little suspicious of this line of questioning.

“There’s going to be press there tonight as well, right?”

“Yeah…and?”

Steve still didn’t understand.  He was going to have to break it down for him.  “So Natasha, who won’t even be at this party, suggested you wear that horrible sweater to a place where you will have you picture taken and will be interviewed on camera.  The potential amount of people to see you look ridiculous is quite high, don’t you think?”

Bucky watched the realization crescendo across the other man’s face.

“Oh, my god!” Steve exclaimed and ran out of the room.

Bucky chuckled softly to himself and turned back to decorating their Christmas tree.  He had been painstakingly laying the tinsel on each branch for well over an hour.   When Steve emerged from the bedroom a few minutes later, he was dressed in a more appropriate red button-down shirt.

“That could have been a disaster,” he said as he came over to stand beside his friend.  “Hey, the tree looks great, Buck.”

“Thanks,” he said a little sheepishly.  Compliments still embarrassed Bucky.  “I’m having some trouble with the tinsel.  It doesn’t seem to want to lay right.  It’s not-“  He stopped himself from saying- how I remember because he couldn’t.  There wasn’t a single memory he could tie the reason he knew something was off with the tinsel back to.

But that’s your reality when you were a brainwashed ex-assassin.  There weren’t too many memories left knocking around his skull, just vague feelings and stuff he knew without knowing why.  Halos of memories, really.  Except when it came to Steve.  The only real and true memories Bucky were sure were his all seemed to involve Steve in one way or another.  It was the only reason Bucky was here in the first place.  Out of all the places he could have ended up after the fall of Hydra and the fog in his head began to clear, finding Steve felt right.  If there was any place he still belonged in the world, intrinsically he knew it was with this man.  Steve was incandescent in the darkness, like he swallowed the sun.  The burning hot center of Bucky’s known universe and the gravitational pull was too strong for him to overcome.    

“Nah, it looks amazing,” Steve said before the silence could stretch on too long.  “You ready to go?”

There was a tinge of uncertainty in the other man’s voice.  He had been visibly shocked and pleased when Bucky had agreed to come to Sam’s party at the Veteran’s center.

“Yeah, just need to put on my glove,” he replied as he stuffed the unused tinsel back into the package and tossed it into the box of decorations.   He headed back towards the bedroom.

Tony Stark had given Bucky a simple silicone sleeve to pull over his cybernetic arm to give the impression that it was just an ordinary prosthesis.  The billionaire had also offered to make Bucky a new arm, but he declined.  The mere thought of being anywhere near a lab and being poked and prodded was almost enough to send him into a panic attack.

Steve’s smile faded a bit when Bucky walked back into the living room wearing the same dark grey hoodie he always wore when he left the apartment.  His metal hand was hidden in the front pocket.  To his credit though, he didn’t say anything about it.  He just followed Bucky around to the front door, picking up his shield along the way.

“You’re bringing that?” Bucky asked, one eyebrow gracefully arched.

Steve shrugged.  “Kids love the shield.”  


~*~*~*~*~


Sam was waiting for them in the hall outside the main room of the VA center.  He was all smiles when they walked in.

“Heya, Steve.  I was beginning to worry you’d be late and then I remembered who I was dealing with.”  He gave Steve a hearty handshake with a few pats on the shoulder and turned his attention to Bucky.  “James, it’s good to see you out and about.  Thanks for coming.”

Bucky returned the handshake with a smile that was mostly genuine.  “It’s good to be out, I guess.”

All of Steve’s new friends called him James.  Well, everyone except Stark.  That man had a penchant for nicknames.  And that suited him just fine.  Bucky was Steve’s name for him.  It was special.

“So, you ready for this?” Sam asked with a smile.

“I was born ready,” Steve replied.  Sam probably missed it, but Bucky caught the little tremor in the blonde’s voice.  He was nervous.

It was endearing that Captain America could wade into battle against any foe, but a room full of strangers was enough to get the butterflies churning.  Bucky found that mildly amusing considering that he was the star of the US propaganda machine during the war.  He had seen the news reels at the Smithsonian when he visited there- what was it- nearly eight months ago?

Sam pushed the double doors to the hall open.  “Ladies and Gentlemen!” he announced in a booming voice.  Everyone inside the room immediately went silent.  “Your guest of honor has arrived.  Captain America, Steve Rogers.”

Steve took a deep breath and gave Bucky one last smile before turning and striding into the banquet hall.  There was an immediate thunder of applause and camera flashes.  Bucky followed him into the room a few heartbeats later.  He wasn’t the star of the show.  No one was here to see him.  In fact, he was positive no one noticed that he had walked into the room at all.

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Bucky was taking a big risk being out at such a public gathering.  Hydra wasn’t an immediate threat anymore, but that didn’t mean that they still didn’t have eyes and ears on the street looking for the wayward Winter Solider.  And while Bucky didn’t really look the same as the huge pictures hanging in the museum, there was always the possibility of someone recognizing him.  He didn’t think the world was ready to handle another thawed out super solider just yet.  That day was looming on the horizon though.  He was going to have to atone for his past eventually.

Bucky slid past the groups of families and settled at one of the empty tables towards the back of the room.  From here he could watch Steve glad-hand the local politicians and graciously take pictures with all the veterans and their families.  After nearly an hour of watching and no one bothering him, he decided it was safe to head over to the drink table for some refreshment.  

It was a non-alcoholic party which was fine.  It’s not like it was going to affect him anyway, but every now and then Bucky craved a tumbler of whiskey if for nothing but the taste.  Another remnant of a past he couldn’t remember.  He decided on a glass of the holiday punch which turned out to be surprisingly fizzy and fruity.  He found a comfortable spot to hold up the wall while he enjoyed his beverage.

From his vantage he watched Steve taking on a swarm of kids who were using him as a human jungle-gym.  They squealed in delight when he was able to lift four of them with his arms and another one hanging off his neck.  When the blonde realized Bucky was not seated at the table his eyes frantically scanned the room until they settled on his new location.  Steve mouthed- are you okay?

Bucky raised his glass in mock toast to signal that he was.  And that was true for the most part.  He was getting a little antsy being around so many strangers, but no one was bothering him so he supposed he could deal a little longer.  It was only natural that as soon as that crossed his mind, a man came over to the table to get himself a drink.

“Hey,” he greeted Bucky warmly.  “I needed a break from the chaos.”

Bucky hmmmd cordially into his cup in reply as he took a sip.  He couldn’t help the deeply ingrained instinct to size up this new person as a potential threat.  He was more than likely in his early thirties.  Moderate height and build- no appearance of hidden weapons.  Bucky would have designated him as a civilian, but due to the venue he had military training, so that could not be dismissed so easily.  The mental checklist came to a dead stop when Bucky noticed that the other man was deftly pouring himself a drink with a prosthetic arm with split hook attachment.  He smiled at Bucky when he caught him staring.           

“Sorry,” Bucky muttered and quickly looked away.  He felt bad now.

“Don’t worry about it,“ the man said as he finished getting his drink.  “I’m used to it by now.  The kids like to call me Captain Hook.  Arrrrr!”  He shook his arm playfully.  “I’ve heard every possible pirate joke, so don’t worry about offending me.  Besides, I’m sure we could swap stories- one fellow sufferer to another.”

Bucky’s head snapped up to look at the man who casually motioned to the arm stuffed into the pocket of his hoodie.  He hadn’t realized that it had been in there the whole time.  Even with the glove, Bucky kept his arm hidden out of habit. “Yeah, I…” he trailed off when he realized he had no idea what to say.

“Don’t worry about it,” the man said as he waved off Bucky’s attempt.  “I was really self-conscious about mine shortly after too.  It took me a few months to get the hang of it.  I hear they’ve made all kinds of new developments in the technology.  They even have ones that will let you feel what you touch.”

“Really?”  Bucky couldn’t disguise the amazement in his voice if he tried.

The man nodded as he took a sip of his drink.  “It’s some sort of bio-feedback that send impulses through the nerves of whatever is left of your arm.  They’re really expensive though, so it’s highly unlikely that the VA is going to pick up any of that tab.”

“Yeah,” Bucky replied wistfully.  Was that even a possibility for him?  There wasn’t anything left of his arm.    

The man suddenly stood a little taller.  “Uh oh, the wife is giving me the stink-eye.  I’d better go.  Hey, it was nice talking to you.  We have meetings here the first Thursday of every month, just us amputees, if you’re interested.”  He must have noticed the way all the color drained out of Bucky’s face because he quickly added, “You can sit and listen, if you’d like.”

“O-okay.”  He tried to simile politely and give the impression that he wasn’t trying to melt into the wall behind him.  He was eternally grateful that the stranger didn’t want to shake his hand.  Bucky didn’t do well when unfamiliar people tried to touch him.  The man left and he was once again left alone with his thoughts and a tightness in his chest that usually signaled he was reaching his limit.  He decided that it was probably best if he went and sat back down at the table.  People were less likely to approach him there.

After a few minutes Sam stopped by to check on him.  He didn’t want to let it be known that he was itching to leave, but he could tell by the other man’s line of questions that it was obvious.  When Sam asked if he wanted him to let Steve know, he quickly tired to shut him down.  There was no need for his hang-ups to deny everyone the pleasure of meeting a national hero.  When Sam walked away again, he watched him go over and say something to Steve who then immediately looked in Bucky’s direction with concern.  He scowled down at the table.  He didn’t need to watch as Steve practically vaulted over the crowd of people that separated the two of them.

“Heya, Buck, how are you holding up?” Steve said softly as he slid into the chair next to him.

“I’m fine,” Bucky said through gritted teeth, eyes darting around to make sure no one else was watching them.  “Sam didn’t need to go running over to tell on me.”

“He was worried that you were getting a little overwhelmed.  We can le-“

“No!” Bucky snapped a little too loud.  He took a moment before continuing in a quieter voice, “I don’t want to be the reason you have to leave.  I can take a cab home.  There’s no reason you have to go because of me.”

Steve rolled his eyes and placed a hand on Bucky’s thigh under the table where no one would see.  “Listen to me, Buck.  It’s okay if we go.  You should not feel guilty about wanting to leave.”

Bucky looked back down at the table.  It was hard to meet Steve’s eyes when the other man spoke so earnestly.  After a few heartbeats passed, he nodded his acceptance.

“Good,” Steve said as he withdrew his hand.  “Get our jackets and I’ll meet you out in the hall.  I just want to let Sam know and say a few goodbyes.”

Bucky was pretty sure he had made it out to the hallway before Steve could even get up from the table.  Once away from the crowd he began to breathe a little easier.  He didn’t want to admit that Sam was right to get Steve to come over.  He was probably heading for a full-blown meltdown and didn’t even know it. 

It took about ten minutes for Steve to come out and the two headed to the car in silence.  The radio was turned low on the drive back to the apartment, but Bucky didn’t feel much like conversation.  Steve seemed happy to oblige and let the Christmas songs fill the space.

Bucky stared down at the bionic arm lying across his lap.  He flicked the middle finger of his flesh hand against the palm of the metal one.  There was no sensation.  A small hit like that wasn’t enough to register anything.  He did it again to the tip of his metal index finger and there was, again, nothing.  The sensors in the arm needed something more extreme in terms of pressure or temperature for his brain to be able to register it.  For normal, everyday functions it was like using a limb after it had fallen asleep.  Of course, there were no pins and needles, but he needed to watch the movements carefully because he was essentially numb.  But that man at the party said there were prostheses now that allowed for feeling.  Is that something that wasn’t possible when he had been given this new arm all those years ago?  Could he be given a new arm now that the technology was different?  Hope was a dangerous thing in this new world of his.

He was brought out of his thoughts when Steve reached over and entwined his fingers with Bucky’s metal ones.  “Something on your mind?” he asked softly.

Bucky shook his head and wished more than anything he could feel the heat from the other man’s hand.  He looked over to Steve who briefly took his eyes off the road to share a gentle smile with him.  Their two hands stayed together for the rest of the trip home.

Back at the apartment, Bucky turned their Christmas tree on and began to fuss with the tinsel once again.  Steve turned the stereo on and the room filled with cheerful holiday music.  “Are you hungry?” he asked Bucky.  “We kind of skipped out of there before dinner was served.”

“Oh..yeah, I guess so.”  Bucky tried to no feel too guilty about their early departure once again.

“I’ll heat up the leftover pasta from the other night,” Steve said as he disappeared into the small kitchen.   

Bucky listened to Steve putter around the kitchen while he continued to fret over the tree decorations.  He wanted it to look nice even if the stupid tinsel wasn’t cooperating.  Maybe he should just use garland next year.  At least the retro hand-blown glass ornaments looked nice.  Again, there was something familiar about the style.  The memory was there, just on the edge of recollection.  It just needed a trigger of some kind.

“Bucky?”

He turned to see Steve standing next to the couch.  The blonde’s body language was apprehensive.  Bucky turned fully around to face him.  That was when he noticed the box.

“I know we said no gifts, but I’ve been holding on to this for a while,” said Steve as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.  “The doctors told me that I should let your memories come back on their own, but I figured there wasn’t too much I could mess up with these.”

He held out the box and Bucky cautiously took it from him.  It was a small, innocuous looking brown cardboard box, slightly larger than a shoebox, but sturdier.  Cradling it in the crook of his metal arm, Bucky removed the top.  His eyes widened at the discovery of its contents.  It was filled to the top with old pictures.

“I’ve been holding on to these for a while.  I got them from your sister, Rebecca,” Steve said as he reached out to take the lid from him and place it on the couch.

Sister?  That’s right; he had once had a family back when he was human.  Surely they’re all dead by now.  Bucky rummaged casually through the box, pushing picture after picture of people he didn’t recognize to the side.

“Becca’s doing great,” Steve continued though Bucky was only half paying attention.  “She’s in a nursing home in Howard Beach.  We can go for a visit…if you want.”

“Yeah…maybe,” Bucky replied without looking up, still digging through the box.

“She also said she threw in a couple of more recent pictures of her family.  You know, husband…kids, so don’t be surprised if there are people you don’t know.”

They were all people he didn’t know, but Bucky had enough sense to not say that out loud.  He wasn’t sure he would be able to recognize a picture of himself until he came across one.  He looked to be about ten years-old sitting on a flight of stone steps.  Next to him was the smaller, scrawnier version of Steve he sometimes got flashes of.  He snorted softly and turned the photo around to show the other man.

“Oh man,” Steve laughed as he plucked it from Bucky’s fingers.  “I forgot how huge my ears used to be.  Good thing I grew into them, right?”

“Not yet,” Bucky deadpanned.

“Hey,” Steve whined in mock hurt, “We all weren’t born looking like a model.”  Whatever witty remark he was about to continue making died on his tongue as the box fell to the floor and the pictures scattered everywhere.  “Bucky?”

Distantly he could hear Steve speaking, but the world suddenly narrowed sharply to the sole photograph he clenched with both hands.  Bucky was suddenly very unsteady, swaying dangerously, his legs threatening to give.  The woman…the woman in the picture, he knew her.  Steve caught him by the elbow and guided him down onto his knees.

“Bucky?  Buck, what is it?” Steve said as he knelt across from him.

There was no air in his lungs for him to answer with, but he tried to choke out a response.  “Mom.”  It was barely a whisper.   Bucky pulled his hands into his chest as if he could absorb the photo into his body.  His eyes burned with unshed tears.  When he tilted his head up towards the ceiling, they fell in steady streams from both corners.  The past came alive for one, glorious moment.  He could remember his mother standing in the living room of their old apartment where the picture was taken.  The stale smell from his father’s cigarettes that perpetually hung in the air…the white doilies that his mother crocheted hanging off the arms of the couch…the finger waves in her dark, chestnut hair.

“Talk to me, Buck,” Steve said as he placed a gentle hand on Bucky’s flesh shoulder.

Bucky inhaled sharply as he was pulled back to the present.  “I remember…I remember her.  My mother…I remember…”  The rest of the words dissolved into sobbing breaths as he began to openly cry.

Steve reached across the distance between them and pulled the dark-haired man to him, burying his face in the crook of Steve’s neck.  He held him there until Bucky could get a handle on the surge of emotions.  It took longer than Bucky would have liked, but when it passed and he was boneless in those strong arms, he realized that this was truly where he was meant to be.  And the beautiful, if not overwhelming, memory he just experienced meant that the dam was finally broken.  Bucky couldn’t think of anyone else he would want to share this journey with.  Steve, who swallowed the sun and became the center of his universe.  

“Thank you,” he whispered.

Steve’s arms tightened around his body.  “Merry Christmas, Bucky.”

In the background, Judy Garland sang “Have Yourself a Merry, Little Christmas” and Bucky thought to himself, yes, for the first time in a very long time, I think I will.  It wasn’t going to be an easy road, but he was slowly learning that it was okay to want a little happiness for himself.

-End-

~*~*~*~*~
Niagara Falls, Frankie-angel.  So, I just wanted to write a little Christmas story, but now the muses are going, “why don’t you write another one where they go visit Bucky’s sister and talk about the pictures?” or “how about Bucky takes up Stark’s offer for a new arm?”  I make no guarantees, but never say never.

About Bucky’s reaction to the tinsel, up until the 60’s tinsel was made from silver foil with tin and lead.  For obvious reasons, using lead was a bad idea.  Nowadays, tinsel is made from either PVC or mylar and is not as heavy as the old stuff, so it doesn’t hang as well.  Feedback is always appreciated.  Happy Holidays everyone!