Fandom: Captain America/Avengers
Ratings/Warnings: Serious crack, a bit of angst, ridiculousness
Word Count: 4037
Disclaimer: If I owned it it would be ridiculous.
Summary: All of the Howling Commandos learned to use British Pounds during the war because Falsworth liked to cheat at cards. This knowledge is surprisingly useful after Steve thaws out.
“Tremble, Commandos, at the might of Union Jack. You fell into my trap the moment that you walked through that door and you have only seconds before the floor disappears beneath your feet,” the masked villain cackled as he looked down upon his foes. The Howling Commandos were trapped in a metal chamber, separated from the man who called himself Union Jack by bars of Vibranium that even Captain America could not hope to break.
Below the Howlers, the floor slowly began to turn transparent, revealing a pit of acid waiting to claim our heroes' lives.
All but Falsworth whom this mission was meant to rescue and who was revealed moments later when Union Jack clapped his hands. The Englishman was tied from head to toe with iron chains, his mouth stuffed with a cloth so that only muffled curses could escape.
“Your only chance of survival is to escape back into the tunnels from whence you came, which you may do if you answer this simple question that I ask. Enter the solution into the keypad by the door and you may yet live, but you Americans have no understanding of the beauty that is British currency,” their captor continued as the floor grew ever thinner beneath the Commandos' feet. “So think on this as you perish: what is three thruppence and a half-crown subtracted from ten Pounds Sterling with the addition of one more bob for good luck?”
“He does know that I'm French?” Dernier asked Jones disgustedly – in English of course so that the American didn’t have to translate for the rest.
“Does that mean you know the answer to his question? Or what the hell a thruppence is?” Morita replied before running over to the aforementioned keypad to see if he could bypass it.
“No, but it would be nice if people actually remembered it sometimes,” the Frenchman told him while Dugan looked for a way to get behind Union Jack and make the whole point moot. But the door through which they entered was the only exit from the chamber and they could not hope to hold onto the bars for long once the floor finally disappeared. Indeed, it was already starting to bow beneath the weight of our heroes and perhaps this would be the villain who proved too much for them.
Yet even as his squad was beginning to panic, Captain America stepped forward and spoke with confidence, “Don't worry, team. I studied hard in school so I know the answer now.”
The hero strutted over to the keypad and typed in a series of numbers, the entire team holding its breath to see whether their Captain had it right. But Captain America truly had studied diligently and the door let out a beep just seconds before the men would have tumbled into the acid down below-
“Bucky? What are you reading over there?” Steve asks as he walks over to his partner, the other man sitting on the couch with a slim magazine in his hands. “You've been laughing like crazy ever since you started it.”
“Captain America and the Heinous Kidnapping,” Bucky replies with a grin before leaning up to accept the other's kiss. “Tony gave it to me. Apparently, back in the 60s there was a movement to decimalize Pounds Sterling so that it was more logical and the traditionalists printed these awful serials to win over the younger folks. I guess you were still popular even then and they were hoping that these would stop the vote somehow.”
“Did they know that we only learned £/s/d because Falsworth was a dirty cheat who liked to pay his losses out in pence?” Steve laughs as he settles next to Bucky, wrapping one arm around his waist and settling his chin on the other man’s shoulder so that he can see the magazine. It really is cheap, the paper flimsy and the artwork reminiscence of his old USO posters, though it's the terrible prose that soon has him chuckling as well. “Seriously, did I ever talk like that?”
“Well, you had your moments, but the best part is that it worked,” Bucky tells his partner with a cackle. “Jarvis said that the new currency was voted down in Parliament due to ‘youthful pressure,’ because even Brits think that you look great in tights. And apparently they’re huge collector items since they only printed one run per magazine so, of course, Tony has them all.”
“What number are you on?” Steve asks, curling into Bucky a bit more comfortably. “For that matter, how many did they make?”
“Twenty-seven. Both Reveille and Weekend actually bought twenty-seven installments of this drivel and I've got twenty-six left to go. To be honest, I'm mostly just surprised that anyone managed to think of twenty-seven different ways that knowing £/s/d would have been any use at all. Which explains a lot about Union Jack, I guess.”
“Actually... You might be surprised,”the other man says, the amusement in his voice coming through loud and clear. “I'd wager I can think of at least five times when knowing the Pound Sterling served me well.”
“Seriously, Stevie? Now this I have to hear.”
I know Tony never shuts about the Battle of New York but the Avengers didn't actually become a real team for a few more years after that. You could say we all had our own issues to deal with before we could work together and no team was ever going to feel right without you anyway.
So I worked for SHIELD instead, following orders and pretending that I wasn't lonely as all hell. But even when I just wanted everyone to leave me alone to wallow, Tony would drop by once a month or so. He, Natasha, and sometimes Clint would drag me out on the town despite my protesting.
We never did anything too fancy since I probably would have bolted, but Tony would drive us around to see the sights and reserve tables at every hip new restaurant, though I'm still not convinced that sushi is something people actually like to eat for fun.
I was happier in the smaller diners, the ones that were almost like I remembered if I didn't look at the prices of the food. Not that it really mattered since Tony insisted on paying for everything back then, always going on and on about the renovations he was making to his tower for “the team.” To be honest, I think he was probably just lonely; we all were and that's why the Avengers are so tight-knit now.
But, to return to the point of this story – I swear there was one when I started – I had told Natasha that I was feeling nostalgic after Tony took us to this fish and chips place which actually offered vinegar. It was hardly the same since we weren't on wartime rations anymore, but it made me remember the first time we went to London when on leave.
So when Tony came by for his next visit, Natasha and Clint dragged us to this old English pub they knew. One of those places that tries to be authentic with the food and old-fashioned music – though authenticity is overrated when they only play the songs that I don’t like.
But there was a quiz competition on that evening and Natasha insisted that we enter our own team. Apparently this was something that she and Clint did for fun on their days off, called themselves the Widowmakers and everything.
You know the two of them are very keen on trivia competitions – they get the same way when we’re watching Jeopardy – and if I'd been on one of the other teams I probably would have surrendered then and there. Natasha even made Tony give up his phone to avoid him cheating and you know how much he loves that thing.
But Natasha and Clint didn't need it, or us for that matter, since the two of them had the game well in hand. He took all the sports questions, geography and children's movies, while she took current politics, pop culture and military history. Between the two of them, our team quickly rose to the front of the pack, vying for the lead with a group of professors who called themselves the Crossword Men. Seriously, Bucky, I never knew that pub quizzes could be so heated, but you should have heard some of the crust that they were throwing back and forth.
Tony mostly sat there drinking and egging on the participants while I watched and tried to stay out of the way. But as it turned out, the Crossword Men and the Widowmakers were tied going into the last round, the whole thing resting on who got the last question right.
Only this pub apparently took their authenticity seriously because this final question was something rather similar to that problem of Union Jack's. All bobs and pence and half-crowns and I've never seen the other three Avengers look so confused in all my life. You really should have been there, Bucky; I hadn't laughed so hard since you stole all those apples from old Mrs. Evans' tree and she chased you down the street with her ladle in her hand.
For that matter, you should have seen the way they stared at me when I calmly wrote down my answer and handed it over to the barman when time was up. Won us free drinks for the night – not that we really needed our tab paid off when most of it was Tony's – but Natasha and Clint were so happy about finally trouncing the Crossword Men that they both kissed me right there.
“They kissed you?!” Bucky exclaims, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
“Just on the cheek, Buck. Nothing to worry about,” Steve tells him with an easy laugh. “Although, Natasha and I did have a proper kiss a few years later when on the run from SHIELD. But I didn't know that you were still alive back then.”
“Well, I suppose that lets you off the hook; but that had better be the only time you forgot to mention before now,” the other man warns before claiming another kiss for himself. “Just take me along next time; I'd like to see this madness for myself.”
“Deal. You can take over military history. I’ve got general history covered and Natasha doesn't seem to like that category much.”
Anyway, to continue my story, the second and third times that I found £/s/d useful were both on a trip to England a while back. This was after I knew that you were still alive but before I found you and the Avengers were starting to come together as a team at last.
So we'd been invited over to meet with the Prime Minister, Pepper having set up the event to promote our image in the public eye. We were to smile, shake hands, and try to convince some of the world's leaders that we weren't entirely insane so that they wouldn't try to lock us up. Probably a lost cause given the way that Thor gets when he's drinking and Tony's standard refusal to be polite to anyone.
But no one was willing to disappoint Pepper – you know that look she gets – so we all ended up at a fancy dinner party in full uniform. At least they let me have one of my old army uniforms instead of making me dress up like Captain America, but it was still boring as all hell.
Actually, it was a lot like my USO days with the photo-ops and smug government officials so I guess propaganda hasn’t really changed that much. Though now, of course, you have to assume that everyone is always filming you and I’m really not sure why my bedhead has its own tag on that Twitter thing. #HotMetalSoldier makes a lot more sense to me.
Anyway, I was just downing my tenth glass of wine in an attempt to take the edge off of my boredom when I felt someone brush by me, the touch much too light to be another old dame pinching my ass sneakily. So I reached back and grabbed the person's hand, pulling them into a side alcove before glancing at my prize. It was a pickpocket judging by the handful of bills between their fingers, bills that had been in my jacket when the night began.
I probably should have called security then, but she was just a little thing and it's not like most of these people didn't have change to spare. So instead of turning the girl in, I figured she deserved a lesson in proper thieving, how to get the most bang for her buck as it were.
Because you know £/s/d can be misleading, bills that sound smaller actually worth more in the bank, and if she was going to take this sort of risk, she should aim for more than a few shillings as her reward. The thief – she said her name was Peggy for an odd coincidence – was very impressed by my knowledge of the conversions once she believed that I wasn't going to report her and it was nice to talk to someone who wasn't overawed by Captain America.
To tell the truth, I'm not sure she even knew who I was and even if she had, I'd wager she would have been more impressed by my knowledge of money anyway.
And before you say anything about giving her more useful assistance, you know that you can't help people who don't want to change their minds. Better this than charity that she'd refuse and if most of my pounds ended up in her pockets by the time we were finished, that was simply a matter of making sure Peggy's skills were up to snuff.
She was from France you see, though she wouldn't tell me then how she'd ended up in England, and £/s/d had been confounding her ever since she'd arrived. So all in all it was a far more productive evening than I had expected, even if I hadn't managed to convince the Prime Minister of anything.
But I also hadn't made a fool of myself, which is more than I could say for Thor or Tony considering the amount of alcohol they'd drunk. At least Tony's awful dancing was the worst of it so the Avengers actually made out pretty well considering how badly the whole mess could have gone.
Besides, I left one of Pepper's cards with Peggy and as of a few months ago, Stark industries has a sticky-fingered personal assistant watching over things. Tony's head of security adores her like a daughter and tells everyone about each thief she spots. That never would have happened if I hadn't been able to calculate pounds and pence in my head so I count it on the tally as a job well done.
Oh yeah, and number three was the spy I caught on the way back to the airport where Tony's jet was parked. The man was posing as a taxi driver and tried to give me six crowns in change for five florins, which is just ridiculous. Still, the Avengers sorted him out soon enough.
“I think your priorities are a little skewed, Stevie; but you always were a putz. Tell me your fourth example was actually something good.”
“You know the fourth time, Bucky; the fourth time brought you back to me.”
I guess it did, didn't it? My memory was still fuzzy then; I knew that I knew you but I couldn't tell you why. It was all just flashes, little bits of the past without any framework to make sense of them. So I stuck to what I could remember: hatred and rage for the ones who stole my history and the settled feeling of a weapon in my hand.
But even though I poured my focus into burning Hydra's bases to the ground, I couldn't forget you entirely. You were always there behind me, dogging my footsteps with an awkward persistence that should have been laughable.
You were never a very good spy, Steve; I always knew when you were getting close even with Sam's help. But even though I should have set up an ambush to take you out once and for all, I couldn't bring myself to hurt you, memory or no. You were under my skin, buried somewhere deeper than Hydra could root out. Only I wasn't sure if you were real, not really, because Hydra had tried that sort of thing before.
My world had been made of lies for so long, everything that I had thought was true built on a cracked foundation, and seeing you again had brought the whole thing tumbling down. So I couldn't kill you and I couldn't let you catch me, not until I was certain we were both the people that I thought.
Because I couldn't be sure that I was really Bucky, either; how could I be when I had spent so long as nothing more than a cipher for Hydra's needs?
So I found myself adrift, unwilling to ask questions that anyone could answer and unable to remember the truths that would prove our reality. I was barely even a person and what the world said of you did not match my scattered memories.
Yet even when I'd forgotten everything that mattered, some things were clear inside my mind and for whatever reason, our poker games were brighter than almost anything. I remembered Falsworth getting almost fifteen dollars off you before we figured out that he was running all the £/s/d calculations in his favor and made Peggy explain exactly how British money worked.
After that the games got more even since Falsworth was only cheating because he was a shitty card player and the rest of us had a decent head for math. Everyone but Dum Dum and you always made sure that things were fair anyway.
These memories were the realest things I had then, along with snatches of you before the serum that made me wonder if I was mad. Because I was certain that the man I'd met upon the highway bridge was that same scrawny fellow and I had trouble trusting that the exhibit at the Smithsonian was accurate when Hydra was so very good at rewriting history. But nothing that I read about you made mention of any poker games, or anything at all unsavory, so I could only hope that these memories might be true after all.
You always used to pocket one coin when we started, saying that you were saving it for next time in case you lost it all. You took a shilling in the Broken Arms and a thruppence at the Three Keys when the Howlers were on leave, another dozen bits in the woods across half of Germany.
So I figured you would remember if you were really my Steve Rogers and I truly had memories that belonged to Bucky Barnes. I hoped you would remember and that's why I left you the clues I did. Because neither SHIELD nor Hydra would have bothered to give a plant such a useless bit of knowledge as the £/s/d conversions from 1945.
“I almost didn't realize, you know,” Steve tells his partner, wrapping his arms a little tighter around Bucky as he does. “It wasn't until you left that stack of florins at the Hydra base in Russia that I figured out what was going on. And even then it took some time to work out what your message was.”
“Well, I'm glad you did; I'm glad I wasn't crazy after all,” Bucky says, staring down at his hands fixedly. He still doesn't like to admit to weakness, not even to Steve, but he wants the other man to know this part of the story now. “I know my clues were probably a bit overly cryptic, but I had to make sure you were really the person that I thought you were. Because my Steve Rogers would never have forgotten what we got up to at the Queen's Bed in Westminster and I was sure you'd understand my meaning if I spelled out the pub's coordinates in shillings and half-pence.”
“No, I never did forget that. But I count myself lucky you waited until I arrived. I know it took longer than I liked.”
Of course I waited; I would have waited months to see my Steve again. Because I couldn't keep going without knowing who we were, who I was, and cracking ciphers had never been your strong suit when the war was on. I would have waited until I was certain that you were never coming and then I probably would have made it my life's mission to kill you all.
Because that would have broken me – what was left to shatter anyway. If those memories were as fake as all the others that Hydra had shoved inside me, another man made to wear my hollow shell, then I don't think I could have survived the truth again.
I certainly wouldn't be here and I doubt that I'd be happy; I'd probably be buried in some unmarked grave somewhere. So I'm not sure if I've ever been as relieved as I was when you finally walked through the door that evening, two weeks after I left the last piece of my message in Dubansk for you to find.
Seeing you again snapped something back together in my head, some piece that had been missing, and I blame that for my overly enthusiastic greeting when you arrived. We certainly startled the rest of the patrons and the waitress who always served me, though I'm pretty sure she just thought I couldn't talk. But you were real, which meant that I was real; I was a person underneath Hydra's conditioning and as long as that was true, I would be okay eventually.
Steve has to kiss Bucky then, press him back against the couch and kiss him until they're both breathing hard. Because he had known that Pounds Sterling brought them back together and he was right there with his partner on the long road to functionality, but he'd never realized how close to the edge the other man had walked.
If Steve hadn't noticed the coins or hadn't been able to figure out the message; if Sam hadn't realized that Bucky was still using 1945 conversions to spell out his coordinates; well, he doesn't want to think about it now. Steve would have lost Bucky all over again, failed him all over again, and he could not have lived with that.
So – although he never thought he'd say this – he thanks God that Falsworth was a dirty lying cheater who was terrible at poker and sets about proving to his partner that they're both very real indeed.
It's only much later that the two men finish their conversation, after they shove their clothes back into a vague semblance of order and Bucky picks up Captain America and the Heinous Kidnapping from where it lay forgotten by the couch.
Because the magazine reminds him of the question that started this whole tangent and he sprawls on top of Steve with a contented sigh as he opens the story up again. “So you never did tell me; what's the fifth time that knowing pounds and pence came in handy after you thawed out? Is there an actual example in your story or should I just go back to the wonders of Union Jack?”
But Steve just laughs at the dig, nudging the magazine out of the way so that he can grin up at his partner and reply, “That's easy, Buck. Number five is the Avengers' monthly poker game, of course.”