Darcy doesn’t miss a beat, the moment the elevator doors slide open, she’s out onto the floor, immediately towards Sam’s desk, where they are all gathered, desk chairs pulled up. Clint’s feet are propped up on the edge of the desk. Sam’s swatted them away twice already to no avail. Steve hangs back a little, as Darcy bounds on to the group.
      “Just don’t knock over my coffee,” Sam says exasperated, as he moves a family photo over to another side of the desk. Darcy hands him the folder, photo side up. “Thanks, Darcy.”
      “Oh, and that check-up you asked on the gun, came back. His gun is the same brand. Same bullets too."
      “That is Barnes?” Natasha says amusedly, as she picks the folder out of Sam’s hand. “He definitely went through his punk phase.” Clint releases his hold on Sam’s desk and moves closer to Natasha, leaning over her shoulder, to see just what she is on about and promptly breaks out into a hearty, but short laugh.
      “Looks like he lost an eyebrow in the process,” he says and before he can continue, Steve cuts in:
      “He didn’t lose it. I spilled the hair bleach on his eyebrow.” He walks closer to the team, uncomfortable with the eyes on him, but he’s got no choice. “And the desk, a bit of the carpet and my favorite jeans.” Steve doesn’t look them in the eye, just vaguely at the folder.
      “Steve?” Natasha asks, confused. But it seems to start dawning on her.
      “That pale spot in his eyebrow, I bleached it by accident one day. Took a couple of months for the last blonde hair to disappear,” Steve repeats. “I thought he would get mad at me for ruining his face. But he grinned and said it looked cool. Winifred was a lot less happy with it than he was.” Without even bothering to hide it, Clint passes Sam a ten-dollar note. "You guys bet on me?" Should he really be surprised with this? No, not really. "What were you two betting on, exactly?"
      Sam has the decency to, at the very least, look a little bit ashamed. Clint just shakes his head with that same little grin still on his face.
      "Trust me, you don't want to know what I bet on," he says smugly. Steve turns his eyes on Sam, who just shrugs.
      "You don’t,” Sam repeats. “You really wanna trust Clint with that. I went with the sane option, that you two were childhood friends. And before you complain, I may have seen you two together at the hospital, but that does not mean that that I had any kind of advantage over Clint.”
      “Clint?!” Steve asks, more urgently now. Anything that Sam says he doesn’t want to know, well… Steve trusts Sam well enough, but he needs to know. Natasha rolls her eyes at the men, and opens up the folder; there is a sizable stack of paper in there, the printing at least not very small. She must have also printed up army records. The stuff they pulled when they were young wouldn’t be able to fill all those pages, even in a fourteen-point font.
      “He bet that you two had a one night stand at one point,” Natasha replies, obviously exasperated. “And that you are now so ashamed of it that you don’t even dare to mention it or look each other in the eye. There, I said it. Can we get back on case now, please?” Steve stares at Clint, a little incredulous.
      “Do I seem like the one-night-stand type of guy to you?” Okay, he has to admit that he didn’t exactly try for a serious relationship with all of the people he’s dated, there have been a few where he just wanted to have a little fun. But they always knew what they were getting into, that it would be no-strings-attached.
      “I don’t know. It’s not like we’ve ever gone out together. You seem like the type. And it is not like you seem to be picky when it comes to genders. So. Who knows?” Clint raises his eyebrows. “You didn’t say whether you ever did though.” Natasha sighs.
      “Did you, Steve?” she asks, and she can’t hide even that little spark of amusement from her voice. Steve shakes his head. Hell, no.
      “No, definitely not,” he replies. “No one night stands. No awkwardness. Can we get back to the case now?” Clint pouts, but reluctantly agrees.
      “Damn it, Rogers. I’ll get those ten bucks back from you one way or another.” Steve just smiles at them.
      “Be glad it isn’t a hundred,” he replies. “You should know better than to bet on me. “
      “Why didn’t you tell us, Steve?” Natasha asks. “You’ve been finicky and hiding all day, why didn’t you just tell us that you know Barnes? It is not that difficult.” Steve sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. The why. He can explain it, but only to himself. To the others, this might not make a lick of sense.
      “I didn’t want to tell you, until I found a good moment, a good manner to say it at,” Steve says, the feeling of déjà vu washing over him. “I wanted to avoid being kicked off the investigation, and I know that I shouldn’t have. But this cannot be Bucky. It just can’t.” Natasha frowns at Steve.
      “’s from his middle name. Buchanan,” Steve explains. “Bucky, Buck. Might use Sarge or Yasha too. Neither of them is likely to come by, but you can’t shut out nicknames if they’re being used around you.” Steve’s always had that be an issue. He picks up nicknames like someone else might accents. “We’re good friends. It is why I responded so weird yesterday and today. I didn't want to believe that my friend could do something like this. I know that is naive of me, but it is the truth." He should have a better speech ready. He really should.
      "Seriously, that's all?" Clint asks. "Look, we've all had to investigate friends. It's not pretty, but we understand it's difficult. Why didn't you just tell us yesterday?" Steve shrugs.
      "Conflict of interest," Steve says. "I thought you might kick me off of the investigation just because I am friends with him and wouldn't be able to form a good opinion." Honesty is never the most uncomfortable option. "I should have told you guys and you wouldn't have made a big deal out of it, I know." Clint's face lights up a little.
      "Oh, so you are the friend that Barnes didn't go to visit when he was in trouble," he says. "That 'sorry' in the interrogation room was directed at you." Steve nods.
      "Yeah." It was part of their little secret language project. Steve taught Bucky sign language, so they would be able to talk about whatever to each other without parents or brothers or sisters listening in to their conversations. At Steve's place, they could just speak Russian, how much Steve really knew at that time anyway. And Sarah Rogers would roll her eyes and tell them to stop speaking Russian, before the neighbors got suspicious, and Winifred Barnes would smile and tell them to 'quit it, before I decide that you must be planning something bad', but they would love every second of it. Admittedly, the Rogers's had the worst neighbors possible when they still lived in that apartment; racist to a fault, they firmly believed that a woman's place was in the kitchen and taking care of the kids, of which they had six, the parents were still convinced that Reagan had it right and that those atom bombs were the right idea, and the kids were little bullies both on the playground and in classes, showing exactly the same racist beliefs their parents did. Very right winged family, with kids that wound up beating Steve up more than once just because he looked like he was trouble. "That was aimed at me."
      "We won't make an issue out of it, but the moment you let your friendship with the guy cloud your judgment, you've got to go. We can't have you just neglect a prime suspect here. The evidence is there and you just chalk it up to coincidence," Sam replies.
      "I don't want to. But it's just not Bucky. It's so not Bucky. He would never carve anything in his victim's necks."
      "And why not?" Steve scowls at Sam. "Look, we're willing to give you the benefit of the doubt here, Steve, but you have got to work with us a little too." Steve sighs. Just how far can he go, without betraying Bucky’s trust? Even his brothers and sisters don’t know about it.
      "He's got a scar. On his neck," he finally allows. "A brand mark." He regrets it the moment it comes out of his mouth; It is the completely wrong thing to say. Because this might add more fuel to the fire. They'll see the branding of the victims as a way of reliving his own crimes. Make them pay for what has been done to him. it is a completely logical way of thinking, he would come to the very same conclusion with others, but not with Bucky. "No, listen to me first, before you go making excuses. He hates that thing. he won't even let his family see it. He covers it up all the time. He would never do that to another person, because he knows how much it hurts to see it every single time he looks into a damn mirror. Didn't you see the way he was with Lauren in that hospital room. The way he kept poking and scratching at his own scar, while she was talking? It hurts. And to him it is a lot more than just a scar." Maybe a more civil tone would work better, but Steve is getting a little too defensive. They do not look convinced, not in the slightest. "You just gotta trust me on this, guys."
      “You know what this looks like, right?” Sam says and while it is clear that he is trying to keep himself unbiased, it is difficult to see through a clue as big as this one. “He has a mark exactly where the victims are branded?”
      “I know. You can trust me," Steve says. "If you don't give him the benefit of the doubt, give me the benefit of the doubt. Something is off about this, actually completely off. And it is not just because it is Bucky." God, he's pleading now. Clint sighs and shakes his head.
      "Don't make us regret it. Find something that doesn't fit with his MO. Find the faults and fix them, Rogers. You owe us that much." And he does owe them that much, so he reluctantly agrees.

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