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Keep the Torch Lit

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                Bucky Barnes shows up on Logan’s doorstep with a metal arm, a bad haircut, and a real shitty attitude. He’s got a mean slant to his mouth, like maybe he wants to skip right to the part where they fight, but there’s a desperate, shellshock-y blankness around his eyes that says any kind of fight would be a bad idea.

                Logan knows what it’s like. Maybe Steve Rogers is made of some higher substance, but guys like him and Barnes, you get their backs against a wall, and you better fucking pray that wall’s not holding up anything important. He’s never seen Steve panic. He doesn’t know what form it would take, if he did. But panic in Barnes is just the pulling of whatever pin keeps his worst instincts in line. Their flight instincts, as far as they have them, tend to manifest with all the grace of a grenade.

                “I got enough Goddamn problems,” Logan tells him, “without you bringing every version of law enforcement there is down on my head. I am undercover, shithead.”

                “War buddies,” Barnes tells him, like he’s had to convince himself of it. “We served together. You’re obligated to take me in.”

                “Been in alotta wars,” Logan says, crossing his arms over his chest. “Which side were you even on, again?”

                Barnes narrows his eyes at him. Anger’s a nice look on him. Burns away some of that hunted-animal fear. “You gonna let me in, Logan? Or should I go beg sanctuary from your telepath babysitter?”

                “Right, cuz Charlie’s gonna love you hanging around all his freakshow ducklings.” Logan tips his head to the side, thinks it over. “Why don’t you go play nice with Magneto, instead? He’d get a hell of a hard-on for that souped-up Hydra trashcan you’re carting around these days.”

                Barnes’ frown deepens at the corners. “Oh, yeah, that’ll go over real well with a Holocaust survivor. ‘Hey, it’s your pal, the Winter Soldier. Please don’t look too fucking closely at my fascist death-cult affiliations. I’m kind of embarrassed about it these days.’” 

                Logan snorts and shakes his head. What a fucking joke, he reflects, that Hydra took Barnes and puppeted him around for over half a century, turned him into exactly what he’d fought against.

                What a mean, shitty joke that Logan was here the whole Goddamn time and never figured it out. Between his memory problems and every single day seeming, somehow, to turn into a world-ending shitshow that required all of his attention, he hadn’t realized what happened to Barnes until his face started showing up on TV screens.

                At least Rogers had an excuse. He’s been busy being a damn ice cube for most of the time Bucky was under Hydra control. Logan’s just been fucking around, saving the world.

                “Yeah, alright,” he says, stepping back and holding the door open. “Get inside before someone sees you and thinks I’m desperate enough to sleep with you.”

                “Not on your best day,” Bucky says, sidling past. Logan notices the amount of space Bucky puts between them, but he has enough grace – just enough grace – not to comment on it. “Not on my worst.”

                “Yeah, yeah,” Logan says, waving him off, “everyone says that. At first.”


. . .


                It’s not much of an inconvenience, having Barnes around. He’s quiet, mostly. Self-sufficient. Gets a little chatty sometimes when Logan does something to piss him off, but otherwise he’s happy to spend hours on end silently interrogating Logan’s laptop and, sometimes, physically intimidating various appliances.

                Barnes can’t seem to ever ask for help, so it’s a good thing that he rarely needs it. The first time he made oatmeal he spent half an hour glaring at the little packet, studying the microwave like he thought maybe it was harboring Hydra secrets in its circuitry.

                “Why the fuck,” he yells at Logan, but only after he’s got his little bowl of lukewarm oatmeal in hand, “don’t you have any fucking pots or pans?”

                “Cuz I got a microwave,” Logan says, with a shrug. “It’s faster this way.”

                “You’re gonna get cancer,” Barnes tells him, and then shakes his head, reconsiders. “I’m gonna get cancer.”

                “Welcome to the future, Sergeant Barnes,” Logan says, because it clicked over in his head this morning, a still-image of an infantryman, a little dirty, a little hollow-eyed, with three chevrons on his arm and a dumb, winsome curl to his stupid hair. “Everything’s fast, and cheap, and gives you cancer.”


. . .


                Logan’s up in New York City, trying to track down a herd of runaway mutant kids before they blow up an embassy or render the Statue of Liberty sentient or get into whatever trouble the unchaperoned brats can find.  He’s been here three months, and finding them is turning out to be harder than it has any right to be.

                Charles asked him to go. He didn’t send Scott or Ororo. Logan figures out pretty quick that if it were something as simple as scared runaways, Charlie would’ve picked someone with a softer touch. He’s still not quite ready for what he finds.  

                “Hey,” Logan says to Barnes, when all the pieces finally slot together. “There’s some shitheads trafficking a couple dozen mutant kids around. Make ‘em fight. That kinda shit.”

                Barnes’ jaw works in an interesting way and then he looks up at him, eyes dark. “This how you make small talk? You’re pretty terrible at it. Maybe don’t make it a habit.”

                “No, asshole,” Logan says, as he puts a gun on the coffee table in front of him. “I was gonna go kill all of ‘em. You want in, or are you gonna be busy washing your hair tonight?”

                Barnes is stretched out on the couch, slumped low, legs propped up on the coffee table and crossed lazily at the ankle. He’s wearing one of Logan’s white undershirts, and there’s a coffee stain down the front that’s been there since at least yesterday. He looks like someone’s chronically unemployed uncle, one beer belly short of being the town drunk.

                When he sits up and takes the gun, checks it over with quick, professional hands, he looks like something else entirely.

                “Yeah, sure,” Barnes says. “Guess I’ll just wash my hair after.”


. . .


                Logan’s memories are still pretty fucking hazy, although being around Barnes has brought some of them back. Still, what he remembers of Barnes – focused, competent, cocky, and downright doe-eyed about Rogers – doesn’t match what he watches him do to the traffickers.

                It’s a little liberating, honestly. Whatever virtues he’s gained and lost over time, Logan’s never been nice. Sometimes working around the X-men can make him feel pretty shitty about that, but Barnes wades into the fight like he’s starving for it. And he’s just as mean as Logan, when he gets the chance to be.

                “Guess you’ll have to wash that hair after all,” Logan says, afterwards. He’s pretty sure he can see actual human gray matter sticking to one side of Barnes’ face.

                “Yeah,” Barnes says, brushing his hair back behind his ears, leaving a smear of red along his cheekbone. “Or you could do it for me.”

                That’s an interesting proposition. Logan squints at him. “Cap know you talk to other men like that?”

                Barnes shrugs and gets that cagey, unhappy look on his face that Logan hasn’t seen for a couple weeks. “I’ve done a lot more than talk with other men,” he says. “Figure, what the hell’s the harm of one more? Anyway, Steve and I—it was never like that. We didn’t promise each other anything.”

                Logan snorts. “The way you two idiots used to look at each other, I’m not sure anyone needed to promise a damn thing.”

                Barnes huffs out a breath and turns his back to Logan, rubs his hands on his pants like that does anything more than smear the blood around some. “You don’t want to,” he says, “you can just say no. You don’t have to be a dick about it.”

                “Not what I said.” Logan figures whatever’s between Barnes and Rogers is their own damn business. And maybe he doesn’t need Captain fucking America kicking down his door to get pissy with him about what he does with Barnes, but, when he remembers how Barnes had just taken some of those traffickers apart, he thinks all that trouble might be worth it.

                “I gotta get the kids to Charlie,” Logan says, finally. “If your hair’s still a fucking shitshow by then, I’ll see what I can do.”


. . .


                Logan calls Xavier and tells him he’s recovered the kids. Technically, he was supposed to call for backup when he found them, but backup would’ve meant arrests and trials, and Logan didn’t see any damn reason to put those kids through a trial when he could just put their monsters down for them.

                Anyway, the exercise was good for Barnes. Got him off the couch for an evening.

                Charles does his usual song and dance about how Logan needs to communicate and be part of the team and stop dropping bodies in the Hudson, Logan, really. But he sends Scott down in a jet big enough for all twenty-something kids instead of making Logan drive them up in a bus like some unholy camp counselor, so he figures Charles can’t be that mad.  

                Scott tells Logan that Charles wants to talk with him, so Logan takes his bike up, gets to the Institute an hour and a half later. It’s full dark by then, but he can see the lights on in Charles’ study when he pulls up.

                “Got some grading to do, Prof?” Logan asks, as he nudges Charles’ office door open and walks in without knocking.

                Charles smiles when he looks up to see him, but he’s got that tension between his eyebrows that Logan recognizes as a sign he’s had a long day. The whiskey Logan can smell in his half-empty cup of tea is another clear indicator.

                Logan’s still keyed up from what happened to those kids, and he’d only heard about it. Didn’t even really have to see much of it, because he and Barnes moved so fast. He can’t imagine what it’s like for Charles, catching glimpses of first-hand nightmares all evening.

                “I believe I asked you to call when you found out where the children were, Logan,” Charles tells him, in that earnestly helpful tone he trots out whenever he doesn’t want to call someone an idiot and an asshole to their face.

                “Yeah, you did.” Logan shrugs. “Just figured I’d handle it. These things move quick. They coulda been somewhere else by morning.”

                “So you decided to take on a dozen armed men by yourself?” Charles takes a bracing sip of what Logan suspects is more whiskey than tea.

                Logan catches the weird emphasis on by yourself and hopes like hell that’s the professor’s third or fourth cup. “Yeah, kinda.”

                “Logan,” Charles says, delicately. “Do you know the whereabouts of the Winter Soldier?”

                “Nope,” Logan lies, easy as anything. “Haven’t heard a damn thing, Chuck.”

                “Logan,” Charles says, rubbing at his eyes, “have you forgotten I’m a telepath?”

                “Well,” Logan says, a little less pleasantly, “I sure forgot you’re a Goddamn nosy son of a bitch.”

                “You’re in New York, Logan. You may have noticed a very large, very brightly-lit tower in close proximity? The Stark Tower? The Avengers Tower?”

                “Might’ve,” Logan says, mulishly. He’s not sure he appreciates the professor’s tone. He’s not one of his students, and he is only sometimes one of his X-men. “You got a point somewhere in all those hysterics, Prof?”

                “I’d like to remind you, Logan, that the government has not always looked kindly on what we do here, or the children we help. How do you think it’s going to go for us, if Captain America finds out that you’ve been cohabiting with the long lost Bucky Barnes? How is the U.S. government going to react to an X-men harboring an international fugitive?”

                “The U.S. government,” Logan says, as patiently as he knows how, “can get fucked. So can little Stevie, if he wants to get all shitty about it.”

                Charles frowns at him and sets his mug down. Logan fights the childish urge to put his hands over his head and the less childish urge to throw a chair at Charles. If Charlie wants in his head, he’s going to get there.

                “It’s rude to snoop,” Logan tells him. “You keep this shit up, and I’m gonna go buddy up with Lehnsherr and get my own bullshit headgear.”

                Charles sighs and shakes his head. “I think you’ve spent enough time in New York,” he says. “Why don’t you go get your things and come back here for a while?”

                “Does Barnes count?” Logan asks. He’s not sure he even wants to bring him, but he wants to know what Charles will say. He’s interested, always, in the lengths Charles will go to protect the people he thinks belong to him. “As one of my things, I mean.”

                Charles frowns but nods his assent, eventually. “Bring him,” he says, “if that’s something you want to do.”

                “Thanks, Chuck,” Logan says, as he stands up. “Real sweet of you to let me bring my friends over.”

                “If Steve Rogers shows up looking for a fight,” Charles says, looking at his mug like he wishes it would magically refill, “I’m going to let him find you.”

                “Do what you need to do, Charlie,” Logan says, laughing. “I can handle Stevie.”

                Charles huffs out an exasperated breath. “That’s an excellent attitude, Logan. Very helpful. I’ve just been sitting here, thinking to myself, how could we rope the Avengers into an all-out war over the single most asinine thing in the world?”

                “Imma tell Barnes you said that about him. Single most asinine thing in the world. Wow.” Logan waves as he makes his way to the door. “See you later, Chuck. Don’t wait up.”


. . .


                When Logan gets back, at something like five in the fucking morning, Barnes is in his bed. He’s washed himself clean, smells like Logan’s soap and Chinese takeout – which, to be clear, was Logan’s Chinese takeout – with only the softest undernotes of blood and sweat.

                At first, Logan thinks he’s naked, which is just real fucking presumptuous, but further investigation reveals he’s still got his boxers on. Must be those 1940s sensibilities, forcing him to make some half-assed nod to basic decorum.

                “Barnes,” Logan says, and kicks the mattress. “I’m back.”

                Barnes flinches awake and goes stiff for a moment before he rolls over to look at him and slowly relaxes. Logan figures, if he’d tried climbing in without waking him up first, he would’ve gotten himself thrown clear across the room. Which could’ve been exciting in its own right, but isn’t really the kind of excitement he’s looking for right now.

                Hell, it’s been a long day. He’s not really looking for any kind of excitement at all.

                “You missed your window,” Barnes tells him around a yawn. “It’s too damn early to fool around.”

                “Consider me fucking heartbroken,” Logan says. “Now pick a fucking side, and stop taking your half outta the middle.”

                Barnes considers himself and his placement in the dead center of the bed and then, wisely, rolls over to make room. Logan climbs in next to him and kicks at the blankets until he gets them arranged how he likes.

                “You want---” Barnes starts up.

                “I want to take a Goddamn nap.” Logan huffs against his pillow. “You can blow me in the morning.”

                “You can suck your own dick,” Barnes mumbles, voice scratchy and low with sleep, “if that’s how hard you’re gonna work for it.”

                It’s weird, having someone this close when he’s trying to sleep. Logan usually can’t tolerate it. It’s why he’s always walking out on the people he goes home with.

                Well, it’s one of the reasons.

                But Barnes’ scent is familiar, smells enough like home that it doesn’t bother him much. Logan kicks a couple more times, just establishing that Barnes should stay on his side and keep his hands off Logan’s blankets, and then he settles into sleep.  


. . .


                He wakes up, a little, when Barnes gets out of bed, and then he wakes up the rest of the way when Barnes drags the screeching window open and starts smoking, leaning half his bare torso out into the early morning.

                “S’pposed to do that all the way outside,” Logan grumbles, rubbing at his face as he sits up.

                “Oh, fuck off,” Barnes offers, faint and more than a little half-assed. “You smoke in the shower.”

                Logan can see from here that his hands are shaking. He watches his sharp, steadying inhale, the way it stretches all those old scars across his back. Some of those scars never should’ve healed. Barnes doesn’t heal like Logan does, or even like Steve does, but he heals faster than a person should.

                Logan counts all the ways Barnes should’ve died, but gives up when it starts to feel like the kind of project that could easily trip into the double digits.

                “Have bad dreams, princess?” Logan asks, finally.

                He doesn’t know how to do soft. He never learned. And Barnes would probably just spit in his face, anyway.

                “Yeah,” Barnes says. His shrug is casual, but he’s already going for another cigarette. “About you.”

                Logan considers taking that personally. But he imagines most people who know him are justified in having a few nightmares about him.

                “I have,” Barnes says, unprompted, and gestures, unhelpfully, toward his own head. “Problems. Sometimes. With people, in proximity.”

                “Well, Christ’s sake,” Logan says. He climbs out of bed and starts kicking through the heaped up clothes on the floor for whatever looks cleanest. “You were a prisoner of war for—what? How many decades?”

                “That’s not what I was.” Barnes drums his fingers on the windowsill for a second and then shakes his head, like he has to deny it twice, just to make sure Logan knows he means it. “I wasn’t.”

                Logan rolls his eyes at Barnes’ back. “Whatever the fuck you were, I think it’d be pretty fucking clear to anybody with a brain that you’re gonna have proximity issues for a while.”

                Barnes’ shoulders hunch up tight, and so that’s it. That’s the problem. Logan may not know much about how people, but he’s always known where they’re weak.

                “What’re you doing here, Barnes?” Logan asks. He hasn’t asked, since that first day. It hadn’t seemed like any of his Goddamn business.

                Barnes flicks the cigarette away and turns to stare at him. There’s a weird look on his face, and he leans more than he needs to, shifts into the light. “Weren’t we gonna fool around?” he says. “You’re chatty this morning.”

                Logan gives him a long look. It’s the kind of look he gives Summers, sometimes, when he gets especially shrill. “Cut the shit, Barnes. You don’t wanna talk about it, fine. Don’t fucking try to distract me with your pasty cyborg body. For fuck’s sake.”

                He grabs a sweatshirt off the floor, checks it for any evident stains, and is about to pull it on when Barnes grabs it right out of his hands.

                “I’m going out,” he says, over Logan’s obscenities.

                He grabs a pair of jeans off the floor and Logan’s wallet off the bedside table on his way. Logan cannot believe his fucking nerve, but, honestly, he’s a little charmed by it. He’s always been a little charmed by it.

                Logan’s not sure why Barnes is here. But it’s starting to get pretty damn evident why Logan’s letting him stay.


. . .


                Barnes comes back with more cigarettes and new clothes. He’s got a backpack now, too, and he starts filling it with things he’s acquired over the couple months he’s spent at Logan’s place. Logan figures he’s leaving, gives him the space to do it, but, once Barnes has all his shit gathered up, he sits down next to Logan on the couch and looks at the TV, and Logan figures fine, whatever, they can do this, if he wants.

                Barnes is quiet for an hour or so and then he looks over at him. “Thanks,” he says. It sounds awkward in his mouth. Like he’d rehearsed a whole speech and, when it came time to open his mouth, that was the only word he had left.  

                “Sure,” Logan says, with a shrug. “War buddies.”

                “I’ve gotta go.” Barnes doesn’t sound excited about it, but he also doesn’t sound like he can be talked out of it. Not that Logan can think of a single reason to try. “If Steve finds out I’m here--”

                “Stevie,” Logan says. He is exasperated by all these people who keep throwing that name in his face like it’s some sort of threat. “Barnes, if Rogers wants to have a fight over your honor, that’s fucking fine with me. Sounds like a good time. I haven’t seen him in a while. We’ll have a reunion, the three of us.”

                Barnes rolls his eyes, but he smiles, a little. There, and gone, but it counts. “I have to go,” he says again. This time, he just sounds resigned. “I have to go to Steve. I was always gonna have to go.”

                “You don’t have to do a Goddamn thing,” Logan tells him. It seems important that Barnes knows that. “Except pay me back for all that beer you drank. You gotta do that, but the rest of it is just someone else’s bullshit. And you’ve got enough bullshit of your own.”

                Barnes shakes his head. “He’s the best thing I know.” The way he says it, it sounds more like a burden than a gift. “I have to.”

                “Sure,” Logan says, after a minute. People seem called to Steve Rogers. Logan’s never felt any kind of tug in Steve’s direction, but there have been a few people over the years who could pull Logan along like it was nothing, like they’d hooked a line straight into him. So he gets it.

                “Thanks,” Barnes says, again.

                Logan snorts and shakes his head. He gets up to grab a beer and grabs another one for Barnes without thinking about it. He figures he’ll be drinking beer two at a time for the next couple days, until he drops the habit.

                “What exactly,” he says, as he sits back down and hands the second beer to Barnes, “are you thanking me for?”

                Barnes screws his mouth up like he feels bad about something. “You didn’t have to take me in.”

                “Sure,” Logan says. “But you’ve been here for months, and you haven’t exactly been filled with gratitude the whole time. You still owe me for that microwave.”

                Barnes smirks, and doesn’t look at all contrite. He’d hated that fucking thing. “Taking me with you,” he tries, “yesterday.”

                Logan nods. Barnes had seemed to enjoy the fight. “That all?”

                “I’ve been kinda shitty to you.” Barnes picks at the label on the bottle and tips his head back against the couch. It seems like maybe he’s found his way to that speech after all. “I didn’t come here because—I came here because of what you can do. Your healing factor. I came here for that.”

                Logan blinks. He can see it, now that Barnes has said it. How maybe spending decades hurting people without wanting to could make you regard yourself with a low level of trust. How you might be inclined to choose sturdy company. “Are you trying to tell me that something other than my charming personality brought you here?”

                Bucky hesitates for a second and then looks over at him. He smiles, crooked, and Logan gets a flash of him from seventy years ago. “That was a bonus,” he says. “But I came here because I figured I probably couldn’t kill you, even if I really tried. And, anyway, you wouldn’t let me.”

                “And Steve would let you,” Logan says.

                Bucky shrugs and sits up. He finishes his beer and sets the bottle down carefully on the cluttered coffee table. “Steve almost did let me.” He says it soft and ashamed, like the worst kind of confession.

                Logan’s been a lab rat for worse experiments than the one Barnes has been running. He thinks about getting pissed off, but he doesn’t see much point in it. And, anyway, it’s nice, in its way, to be trusted with something that Steve Rogers wasn’t.

                “Were you gonna fuck me just to see if you could?” Logan asks, suddenly.

                Bucky goes still for a second and then shrugs. “Wanted to do it,” he says. “But also wanted to see if I’d stay—I don’t always know what’s gonna set me off.”

                Logan had been there the night he lost his last TV to a commercial for a new Call of Duty game. He knows all about weird shit setting Barnes off. “You ever think you could just tell Rogers that you’re a little fucked up and maybe establish some ground rules? Like Goddamn adults?”

                “I am not,” Barnes says, “a little fucked up.”

                Logan rolls his eyes. “Christ, you’re not that fucked up.” Bucky turns to look at him, eyebrows raised, and Logan hesitates for a second before shrugging. “He hangs around with Stark these days. His frame of reference’s loosened up a bit.”

                Bucky’s mouth works itself into a flat line, and Logan snorts.

                “I don’t think he’s fucking Stark,” Logan says and then he shrugs. “And, if he is, who cares? Who hasn’t?”

                The look Bucky gives him indicates that’s not entirely helpful. He takes the beer out of Logan’s hand, drains it, and sets it next to the other one. “I’m going to bed. I’m leaving in the morning.”

                He goes, coincidentally, to Logan’s bed. Logan figures that’s some kind of invitation.

                He’s interested. He’s not noble enough or blind enough to pretend he isn’t.

                He stays up late watching TV and then falls asleep on the couch. Even while he’s doing it, he’s not sure if it’s for himself, or Barnes.  

                The next morning, he goes to wake him up, yell at him again about his beer tab, and he finds that Barnes has snuck out at some point, left the window wide open behind him. Logan’s still stitching together memories from seventy years ago; he’s got no idea how things ended between them back then, but, based on the relative lack of bloodshed alone, he’s ready to call this progress.