he’s a hero (i wrote my thesis on him)

Happy birthday gyzym! I wrote you a remix-bedtime story. It’s not about Shortcut, but it is about people named James. And also a smithsonian and amusement parks. I hope you like it!

***

The first time they went on a date — a real one, not just screwing around between missions — they went to the Smithsonian. There’s a predictable dearth of advice on where to go on a first date with a post-human WWII vet who also happens to be your personal hero. Ultimately, Jim made the decision based on two things — one, it was fair warning about what Bucky was getting into, and two, at least Jim would get to see the new exhibits.That was sort of the acid test, Jim can admit it now, which was the main reason they went to the museum before they went to eat, because if Bucky had complained about the venue — the Air and Space Museum, no less, which Jim figured was a good compromise — they wouldn’t even have made it to dinner.

Bucky loves it. He spends a over an hour investigating the history and science of space travel — watching video broadcasts that Jim remembers watching live, as a kid — and swearing under his breath, amazed, much to the chagrin of every parent in earshot. He makes Jim run down the specs of almost every plane in the building, and it would be tedious, except for the way he leans over the exhibit rails and listens intently, and also, once, when they get to the scale model of a classic F16, runs his tongue over his teeth in a way that’s truly tantalizing.

(Really, it’s just lucky that Jim picked Air and Space — if he’d picked, say, the Hirshhorn Gallery, it would have ended up exactly like his more pessimistic predictions. But he doesn’t find that out until much later, and by then, it doesn’t matter so much.)

They stay until the museum closes, heading out to wander the streets of DC in search of dinner, because Jim hadn’t expected— that is, he might have been too nervous to— well, he hasn’t actually planned this far ahead. They end up in a nice little restaurant, the sort of place with tablecloths but not much of a wine list. The hostess seats them at a quiet booth in the corner.

"Let me just make something clear," Bucky says, once the hostess is out of earshot. He reaches over and grabs Jim’s hand.

Bucky is uncharacteristically serious and there’s something forced about his composure, and Jim has a sinking feeling that space ships and fighter planes aren’t really date material, even if you are on a date with a post-human WWII vet. They’re seated in a quiet corner booth, but frankly, aside from Bucky’s tendency to make terrible innuendo in front of the whole Avengers Initiative, Jim has no idea where they stand on the screwing-around-between-missions thing.

"If you’re trying to figure out if I’m embarrassed to be seen in public with you," says Bucky, heedless of Jim’s growing uncertainty, "the answer is: yes."

"Oh," says Jim. What. “I didn’t think-” Fuck, he can feel himself wincing, but Bucky hasn’t released his hand yet, and he’s also still talking.

"I mean, it’s nothing against you personally, Jim, but really," it turns out that the forced composure was to hide the shit-eating grin that bursts across Bucky’s face as he says, "No soldier wants to cop to having an Air Force boyfriend.”

Part of Jim’s mind gets stuck on boyfriend, but he’s spent years around Tony Stark, and has long ago learned to always have a ready comeback.

"You’re just jealous ‘cause SHIELD only lets you fly the kiddie jets," Jim says, around his own relief, smiling on it.

Bucky laughs and holds Jim’s hand across the table and — once he’s finished laughing — leans in for a kiss.

***

Jim has been to an amusement park exactly once in his life. It was a family vacation to Epcot, and what he remembers most about that was that his sister smuggled him onto the moon-mission simulator, which was the only ride he enjoyed enough to note.

(He has, however, been to the state fair a couple of times, since Jenny Ford, who he dated for two years in high school, insisted that they spend the evening of her birthday making out on the Ferris wheel. Call it a tradition, she’d said, smirking, as if he wouldn’t recognize it for the challenge it was.)

(Jim has a type, okay.)

When the others come back — inexplicably toting an armload of stuffed animals, each, and a giant plush gorilla — Jim has spent all day looking at promotional info about the roller coaster capital of the world, and listening to Pepper broker a business deal — which was actually impressive enough to hold his attention for a couple of hours, before they started getting into financial projections. He wanders off and his eye happens to fall on the map of the park, on the Ferris wheel.

It’s a transparent plan, but clearly Bucky approves, if the number of times he grabs Jim’s ass while they’re waiting in line is any measure.

A distant, rational part of Jim points out that this excursion could end in an extremely embarrassing story and the end of his term as a Responsible Adult. Kissing is one thing, but he’s familiar with Bucky’s MO and he’s certain that trading blowjobs at the zenith of a Ferris wheel would absolutely be justified cause for expulsion from the park. Bucky hooks his chin over Jim’s shoulder and says, “Always knew you were the smart one,” which makes it worth it.

(Sometimes, at the most awkward times, Jim thinks about his thesis, the one he wrote decades ago, about the contributions that Sgt. James Barnes made to modern attack strategy. He liked to think that you could tell a lot about a person by the way they played wargames. He was a pretty smart kid — compared to anyone but Tony — and he was just smart enough to think he understood the mind behind the strategies. Now, of course, he knows better, but hey, everyone thinks their younger self was a dumbass.)

Bucky slides into his lap as soon as they get into the car, not wasting a moment before he leans down for a kiss, cupping Jim’s face in his hands. Jim wraps his arms around Bucky’s waist and decides that Responsible Adult can take a short vacation of his own.

It’s sweet and slow, which is rare, for Bucky, and Jim breathes in the amusement-park smells of fried food and machine oil as the car goes up, up, up. There’s a breeze when they get to the top, and the car swings gently, but Bucky is steady against him, heat and weight, even in the metal arm as it warms to Jim’s skin. Bucky’s kisses are like trying to memorize the layout of a battlefield, intent, and Jim holds on as if the ride is much wilder than it is. It’s all hands-above-the-belt, though, which is — strange.

(Now he knows that the man behind the strategy has never played a wargame that wasn’t the real thing — no one ever mentions that, that he grew up fighting, for himself, for his friend, for his family. Now he knows that ‘you only live once,’ said with a flippant grin, means ‘you might die today,’ and, ‘you might not get another chance,’ and there’s a difference.)

"Well, that’s new," he can’t help saying, when Bucky finally pulls away.

Bucky smirks at him, says, “Oh, you want fast, I can do fast.”

Jim catches Bucky’s wrists, says, “Yes, I’m aware,” and gives him a look that says, don’t think I’ve forgotten the Taipei Incident.

"Fast it is then," Bucky murmurs, leaning in again, letting Jim hold onto his wrists for the moment, but there’s a discouraged cast to his eyes that Jim recognizes all too well.

"Maybe not," Jim says, carefully, pulling back so he can hold Bucky’s stare without going cross-eyed. "There are children around."

Bucky, used to code-words and riddles even before he joined up with one of the most super-secret paramilitary intelligence organizations in the world, understands what he means, smiles for real, even before Jim says it outright. “And we’ve got lots of time.”

Of course, ‘lots of time’ does not in any way prevent them from making out like teenagers — call it a tradition, Jim thinks as the car comes down, and Bucky’s metal fingers slide under the hem of his t-shirt, and he smiles into the kiss.