1963-08-03 - Finding Bucky
Summary: Pepper finally tracks down where "Jack" has disappeared to then convinces him to dinner. They have a heart to heart.
Related: None specific
Theme Song: None
bucky pepper 

Bucky's proven to be a tough man to track down. In fact, were it not for the fantastic resources at Pepper's disposal, it would have been nigh impossible. He sleeps at Veteran's shelters, but infrequently— two or three nights a week, never the same shelter more than once a week, despite them being a goodly fifteen city miles apart.

The simple solution was the shotgun approach— just make sure to ask all the staff to keep an eye out for him. A few dollars here and there and some vague promises about a Stark foundation endowment had done the trick, and one of the volunteers had called Pepper when she'd spotted someone closely matching her friend's description.

So when she comes around to the East End VA, it doesn't take long for her to get escorted to the common room adjacent to the men's dorms. "I'm… sorry, Miss Potts," the aide says, looking around for some help. "Women aren't allowed in the male dorms without a male staffer. Some of the guys get, uh," she blushes. "A little rowdy." She fidgets, trying not to appear self-conscious in her candystriper dress next to the immaculate redhead and her self-possessed air.


Of course, it's probably a wise idea, considering Pepper isn't really dressed to go picking through rowdy male shelters. She's dressed quite nice — a form fitting green dress that hugs all of her hourglass frame like a second skin, and stockings with seams all the way up the backs of her legs. Her red hair is done in a stylish beehive, the initial bump emphasized by a black headband. Her lips are a perfect red and her heels just high enough to keep everything taunt and in place. She's probably giving a lot of guys a lot of ideas.

"Oh…it…It's quite alright. I can wait out here, if that's easier? Do you know when he came back or when he normally leaves? Or, even someone could go give him a message for me…" Pepper offers gently, her voice unmistakeable to anyone who might recognize it as well.


"I'm sure— oh! Bill! Bill!" The candystriper lunges towards the entrance and grips the arm of a passing VA worker, a younger fellow wearing a smart vest and tie. "Bill, can you go find, um… you said his name is Jack?" she asks Pepper.

"I think he's down on the south rooms, but—" she flickers her fingers towards the door, and flashes the man a winsome smile. "Wouldja mind, doll?" She gives his arm a squeeze.

Bill is apparently not immune to a smiling lass, because he straightens unconsciously and tugs his vest into place. "Of course," he says immediately, dropping his natural tenor into a baritone. "I'll go get him right away." He steps down the hallway, leaving the door open, and the candystriper tilts her head and sighs as he walks off.

"I just want to /bite/ him." She exhales. "Poor man hasn't had an original thought since 1959." She smiles coyly up at Pepper, clearly a bit uneased about the woman's sheer presence and trying to charm her a bit.


The redhead gives a warm little laugh and, just to make certain it's done, a sweet smile in Bill's direction too. "Thanks…he's my cousin and I just worry about him *so*…" Pepper states with the large eyes that help her get away with murder sometimes. Even if the story is loose at best, no one's really questioning a woman that looks like Pepper.

She then looks back in the direction of the Candystriper and gives her a thankful, understanding smile, "I really do appreciate this. I know he's gone through a rough time. Sometimes he doesn't trust us, you know…but it's all in his head. After what he's been through… they never really come back the same, do they?" Pepper is better at playing the concerned family member than one might realize, though her concern is actually genuine. Especially after the man took off before she was up in the morning. Before she could do anything more to help him.


"He's…" She bites her lower lip, watching Bill find the room and stick his head in. "I don't know. Something about him. I've seen the fellahs with, um, shell shock, you know— we keep things quiet around here, y'know. But he's more paranoid that most." Jack sticks his head out the door and stares down the hall at Pepper, then ducks into his room. He emerges a few moments later with a duffel bag over his shoulder.

"Like he won't leave his things in his room. Ever. Even if the doors lock," the girl murmurs. "Even if I offer to watch them for him. I don't see him getting stoned or drunk like some of the boys, but I always see him throwing out empty vodka every night. He just… keeps to hisself, you know?" Her voice drops to a whisper, then she pastes a smile on her face when Jack arrives. Though shorter than Bill, and with that habitual wary drop to his chin, he exudes that presence that clearly unnerves the two aides.

"Pepper. How'd you find me?" he asks, eyes flickering around the room— doors, windows, the two men in the corner playing chess. Back to Pepper.


A quiet nod of understanding comes from Pepper, even if it's all new information to her. It puts a few more pieces into this very much unfinished puzzle. "I…I think he's just trying to keep calm. Everyone reacts different." She tries to reassure the woman, her red lipped smile returning again, worried and warm. But then there is no more time for conversation because suddenly they aren't alone any more.

"*Jack*!" She calls gently, not a yell, but some genuine happiness behind her tone to hear him. She reaches up to try and tug him into a hug, if he permits, but then either way leans back to look him over, "You left so fast the other morning. I… I was worried. I wanted to talk to you about… other things. So, I just… started asking around. Kept my eyes open. You know me, I'm resourceful. Do… do you have a few minutes to talk? Want dinner? I'll buy…"


Pepper has partially disconnected.


Billy's eyes bulge and he makes a strained sound. The girl next to him elbows him firmly in the floating rib, and he makes a cough out of it.

"We'll, uh… we'll leave you to it," Bill says. The two of them duck out into the hallway, leaving Jack and Pepper facing one another. The two men in the corner give Pepper speculative looks when she leans in to hug Jack. He doesn't quite return the hug, but he doesn't push her away.

He glares at the two men. With a flickering look at one anouther, they opt to take their game outside.

"I have time," Jack tells Pepper, nodding at her. He sniffs the air. "New perfume," he states, making it sound like a cold fact to contribute to the conversation.


"New shampoo, but yes…" Pepper still rather liked Chanel when she was going out, but she wasn't going anywhere fancy tonight so just has the tropical, lovely scent of her shampoo on right now. She gives him a warmer smile, almost flattered that he'd recognize the difference, but then she's looping her arm through his and turns on the ball of her foot, just a bit, to lead the way out of the building. She doesn't care who is looking, she's not going to act like she's ashamed of him, because she isn't. She's trying to be his friend.

Once they are outside in the warmer, balmy night, she lets her arm loosen a bit through his but doesn't let go. She just isn't clinging to him like he might run away at any moment, but she's a girlfriend taking a walk with her beau. "What do you feel like eating tonight? Anything special? We can go wherever you please." She's still sweet as pie, that cannot be denied.


"Oh." Jack follows Pepper, but he moves to her left for some reason, offering her the crook of his right arm. Probably because his duffel is strapped to his left shoulder? A bit gauche, but Jack doesn't seem to care.

"Anywhere is fine," he says, a bit short— not gruff. Just… Jack.

"Why'd you come find me?" he asks, after a few minutes. He looks sidelong at her. "I thought you said I could keep the towel. I can give it back," he says, starting to unsling his duffel before he finishes the question.


"No! It's not about the towel. Goodness, Jack… seriously. It's not. I… I wanted to try and help a bit more. You probably saved my life — it's the least I could do. We… we could probably get you a part time job with Stark Industries, you know? Janitorial work, or something… Heck, construction and repairs if you're good with tools. We could always use extra help. That might get you enough money to keep a steady room at the Y, or maybe even your own apartment…" Pepper coaches him hopefully, no hesitation in her voice, no lies. She genuinely just wants to help him and he ran away before she could.

She continues to walk, though her pale eyes now search the street, looking for any restaurant that looks halfway decent and not too crowded. Eventually, it's a little pub advertising fish and chips outside on a sandwich board that she chooses. It's not too crowded and it's very quiet, so she leads the way up their small stairs and into the low, dark room.


Jack's quiet, thinking about the offer, and follows Pepper along without any protest. She starts up the stairs ahead of him and he follows. Admittedly, despite himself— the sway of Pepper's hips ahead of him brings him out of his deep, almost sullen introspection.

Jack clears his throat and hustles up the stairs. The bartender gives Pepper and Jack a curious look— she's too high class, and Jack's clearly the sort of fellow who'd show up looking for a free cup of coffee. Money wins out over dismissal, and Pepper's led to a table.

Jack slings his duffel bag behind his chair where it's protected by his person and sits without ceremony, hands in his lap and eyes focused on the far edge of the tabletop. Even with his head slightly bowed, he clearly misses very little of what's happening.

"I… don't know. Can push a mop," Jack admits, finally. "I worked for a phone company. Did some assembly line labor. Spent a summer making hot dogs on Coney island."


Pepper gives that sugar sweet smile in the bartender's direction, reassuring and disarming at the same moment — who could ever tell Pepper Potts no? Very few people, as evidenced by the fact that she tracked Bucky down here AND by the fact he's followed her out of the safety of the shelter. Even if she seems non-threatening, the fact that tracking him down didn't set off his paranoia probably shows alone there is something special about Pepper.

Once they are seated, she murmurs to the waiter, "Two coffees and a bottle of whiskey please, thank you. And menus." Since he didn't seem thrilled about making decisions, she's just going to make decisions for both of them. And that decision involves a lot of properly Irish coffee. She then looks back to him, nodding, "That's all good… Then we can start with the janitorial staff. Or maybe there is an opening in the cafe`. Which would you prefer? Do…do you want a job?"


Jack shrugs his right shoulder at the question, offering neither a yes or no. "I've got everything I need in here," he tells Pepper, kicking his duffel with a bootheel. "Don't need more things. Things slow you down."

He pauses, then, eyes flickering. More than flickering— a tic in his left eye, as if he's arguing with himself.

"If-" he says, suddenly. He pauses. "If I worked for… Stark. Would … would, we…" He bites off whatever his next words are as the waiter shows up with their coffee and booze, shifting in his seat. He hasn't removed his heavy, worn old field jacket yet, despite the relative warmth of the restaurant.


The redhead is almost cursing the timing of the waiter — they always had awful timing — but she gives a gentle smile in the waiter's direction and nods simply, "I'll wave when we are ready to order." Pepper states simply, the tone almost an order, clearly a hint to NOT return until she motions to him that it's the right time, but she does it with such a sweet smile that she manages not to sound like a bitch.

Then she is looking back to him, her head tilting slightly, "…Would we…what? Just… out with it, Jack, seriously. You can ask me anything. I'm listening. It's just us here." And, well, the good amount of whiskey she's now pouring into each of their cups of coffee. Clearly, they needed it. Her nose wrinkles a bit at the quality of the whiskey the bartender brough, but that's why it's being dilluted with coffee it seems!


Jack's lips thin. Not just thin— he's got park of his cheek between his teeth, and is biting hard. The question's one that looks so hard— /so hard/— to ask. He's struggling, clearly. Not just struggling. /Fighting/ past some block, some kind of inhibition, to get the words out.

His eyes flicker to Pepper, but it takes two times before he can actually look her in the eyes.

"If I took the job… would you and I see … more of each other?" he asks, his voice a low rasp that's almost a whisper. There's an abrupt *CRACK* from under the table and he blinks, looking a bit startled— a few splinters fall on Pepper's bare toes. Seems he was gripping a support arm under the table and found a weak knot, for there's a large crack running through the table's base now.


That question about seeing each other, even if it was so hard he seems to have broken the table. He's skittish, almost like a child, and if she makes a big deal out of the broken table it's just going to scare him away more. She reaches her hand out instead, trying to take his palm, even if it's the one that didn't hurt the table. She's just trying to give him something soft to hang onto, something more reassuring than old wood.

"…It's okay. And yes, if you took the job… we would see each other more. We could get dinner once a week, or lunch… and I'd check in on you at the office. But it means you'd have to stay around. You… you'd have to be willing to work with and trust people again. I know that's hard for you. I know you're scared… I can't say I know why. But you don't have to keep running. If you find friends you can… trust, people you can care for… it'll make life better."


He doesn't quite recoil from the touch, but he is slow, so slow to respond— heavily callused, blunt fingers slowly opening to the gentle touch of her manicured fingertips. Jack looks down at the hand gripping his, and then finally looks at Pepper. There's a shock, there, and a question unasked.

"…just … dinner," he says. It should be a question— his tone makes it an uncertain agreement. Oh, he's torn to shreds, it's obvious. The question lingers in the air, and yet he can't quite bring himself to do more than he's already done. Already, too many eyes are flickering to them at the sound of the table cracking.

"Pepper, I—" he starts, then aborts it.

His eyes alight on the whiskey, and he reaches for the bottle, uncorking it smoothly. The stocky fellow pours the whiskey into his mug, totally forgetting to add coffee, and throws back a solid five ounces of the cheap swill in one gulp, exhaling oak into the air.


It's not until he's stammering out about dinner that Pepper seems to realize that maybe he's working with her because he's sweeter on her than she realized. She keeps her hand in his, tender, firm, just slowly brushing the pad of her thumb back and forth across the side of his hand, a constant reminder that she's still there. She's not going anywhere.

"Dinner. Yes. Once a week, at least." Pepper states that with a wider, warmer smile, trying to let him see that happier things can be real! There is worth in staying around. Then he's about to say something else and her head tilts to the side, a few loose curls that have fallen out of their pins brushing on her shoulder. She blinks, waiting, but then he's drinking and not speaking.

"…Jack. Talk to me… please. I won't ever let it leave this table… You can trust me. Please. Just talk to me. I know it's hard… " She coaches him softly, not commenting on the gulping of whiskey. She's trying to keep everything as normal as possible.


"You, uh…" Jack eyes his whiskey, shaking his head. "You're too… good," he says, clearly struggling with the words. "Don't deserve it." His fingers tighten a bit on hers. "But you keep showing up. Looking for me." He looks up at her, visibly in pain and more than a little wary— even a bit frightened.

"Why do you keep looking for me, Pepper? What do you want from me?" he says. Maybe that's that weak hinge, then— the chink in his person. That idea that he has nothing that Pepper Potts, the woman herself, could really possibly desire.


Unless he physically pulls her hand away, Pepper's palm isn't going ANYWHERE. So, as he tightens, she actually smiles just a little bit. She squeezes back, reassuring and tender. He's got loads of strength on her, he could probably break her if he needed, but she shows no fear what so ever. She just holds on tight and drinks in a deep breath.

As he comments on what she wants, though, something in Pepper's heart breaks. She shakes her head almost immediately, "God…Bucky…I…I don't want anything *from* you. I…I want things *for* you. I want you to have a happy life. I want you to…to have another chance. Like you gave me, that day in the alleyway." She then confesses with a little warmer a smile, "…Maybe I want to see you actually smile, for once. Think that maybe you got a night sleep. I'd…really enjoy that, in truth."


The tic in Jack's left eye flickers and stops, and his face goes placid. "All right," he tells her. The corner of his mouth ticks in a moue that suggests a ghost of a smile— an aborted one, anyway. "You're too kind, Pepper. I'll try to be worth of that."

An odd change, to come so sudden. As if he's rediscovered his equilibrium. "I should find some work," he agrees, returning to the topic of work. "If Stark Industries will take me I'll start this week." He looks down at his clothing, his hand slithering from Pepper's fingers to tug at his jacket. "I think I need new clothes."


The change, the melted away tick, the fact that he actually is putting some effort into a smile, it's like day and night. She abruptly smiles herself, a smile that lights all the way up to her eyes. She really is beautiful, but when she smiles like this she could light up a room. She seems genuinely relieved, buying the changes it seems. "I…I'm not too kind. I just got lucky… and people have been nice to me too. And I think you… you're something else, you know that? The way you fought back there. You just stepped in, not knowing me at all… It was amazing." And Pepper can get a bit starry eyed on occasion too.

"And you're handsome. Especially when you clean up. So, of course I'm going to help. And Stark Industries will take you. I make half the hiring decisions these days. I'll see where we have an opening and you can start on Monday. Does that work?" She finally lets his hand go, though it does make her smile slightly falter. A part of her had been enjoying that.


There's that strange sense of a disconnect in the conversation. Like at that moment in a lull when you turn to speak to someone, and find the back of their head— and then you turn away, only to catch them preparing to say something back and thinking better of it.

"I'll go get some clothes," Jack promises Pepper. Oddly, he suddenly has little trouble looking at her. Perhaps that electrifying smile has broken through, after all? "And I'll be there at 0600," he adds, pouring some coffee into two cups and adding a dollop of whiskey to both.

"Can you tell me where I will be working in the building?"


It's happened before, those few scraps of conversation that disconnect, the pieces that don't always fit and yet Pepper can't quite understand it. Part of her just says it's the pain of his experiences, whatever is wrong in his head. But it seems so consistent. Pepper frowns a bit, then reaches her hand over to lace through his fingertips again. If he allows. She holds on tighter this time, putting her strength behind those warm, small fingertips.

"If…if you want to come by Friday morning, I can get you a forward of a check to get new clothes, and show you around a bit. Get you comfortable…" Pepper offers softly, but that's clearly not where her head is. She just studies him again and, seemingly out of nowhere, she murmurs softly, "…Jack, what…Happened to you? What do you remember? Sometimes it's…like… there's pieces of you that just don't fit… and I worry. God, I've worried about you since that first night…"


Jack's face goes from placid to frozen. The hints of humanity thawing out his blue eyes refreezes like a cold breeze on an icy lake, and his hand sits lifeless under Pepper's fingers. Unresponsive to her touch.

That tic returns to his left eye, his gaze rapidly going in and out of focus. "The cold," he says, his voice hoarse. "It gets in your veins. Then in your bones. Then you can't remember what it felt like to be warm."


The woman listens, she doesn't interrupt him or deny him, but it makes Pepper ache to hear. She is silent for several heartbeats, her throat tightening. She then abruptly shifts off her chair and into the side of the table he's on, the booth side, so she's sitting next to him. She lets go of his hand, but only so she can wrap her arm around his back. If he permits, that is. He could push her away. But she's trying to actually give his body what physical warmth she can, somewhat like the night on the couch.

"…We… we can work on helping you remember. You can be warm now, Jack… you just have to work with me." Pepper whispers softly, every part of her against him is warm and soft. She smells like tropical fruit and, this close, vanilla soap.


Jack tenses and coils. He grits his jaw. He almost seems to /suffer/ when Pepper hugs him.

But he doesn't move away. He turns his head towards Pepper, slowly, the muscles in his neck trembling with the strain of flight versus the scent of citrus and cleanliness and Pepper's own soft skin.

His hand trembles once on the table and he looks into Pepper's eyes, separated suddenly by a mere whisper.

His hand closes on Pepper's, and though he doesn't crush her fingers, his hand grips hers as if holding her in place as effortlessly as she has him.

Then he brushes his lips against hers. Just once. Haltingly.


That wasn't exactly what Pepper expected from this. She wanted to give him warmth. Care. Actual body heat, if she could. The kiss is a step beyond. But still, she doesn't pull away. She lets him press that kiss there, taking a small, warm taste of his full mouth. Just to see what it's like. To let him know that he is cared for. She lets it linger a bit longer than the halting kiss he gave her, but then she's pulling back just enough to take in a deep breath.

"…is… that any… warmer?" Pepper whispers against his mouth, her soft smile returning, pale eyes tilting up to look straight into his gaze. No fear. No doubt. She trusts him, despite the power behind his body and the tension in all of him. She trusts him not to snap in front of her.


Oh, he /almost/ pursues her retreat, but there's still that lingering uncertainty that checks him. But his fingers tighten on Pepper's and he exhales raggedly. He could stand a shower, but the smell of him is a sharp contrast— woolen, warm, a bit musky and with a sharp suggestion of metal and machine.

"Yeah. Much… warmer." He nods at Pepper and then, it happens, the first suggestion of a crack in the levy— the corded muscles under her fingertips start to relax. Just a little. But it's real, and it's directly in response to her warm affection.


Even just a small little crack is enough. It feels like miles, not inches. Pepper doesn't let go of her arm around his ribs, she just gives him a tighter squeeze in turn and allows her head to rest against his shoulder for a few heartbeats. "…This is nice." She whispers, like they were on some sort of date. She squeezes his hand in turn.

"But…we really both should eat. If I drink any more of this coffee and *don't* eat, I won't remember the way home." Pepper admits with a small laugh. But she's not getting up. She remains on that side of the table with him, the whole damn restaurant can think they are dating, she doesn't care.

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