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It’s up! The rest of Ch 13, with the Neko Atsume stuff and meeting Lakeisha’s family and getting some of her Tragic Backstory. We’re also getting more of James’s cyborg deal revealed. I promise that’s cooler than it sounds. 

Chapter 13, That’s All Right (Mama), and I’m so high on knockoff Mucinex that I’m starting to think I’ve already used that chapter title somewhere else so maybe I’ll fix that and maybe I won’t. Fuck, we’re all lucky if I haven’t just pasted the script from the Bee movie in there instead of the chapter I wrote, because I don’t know where my face is.

I am most proud of this line:

Lakeisha stared at him, and it was really good she’d transcended her physical form or there would have been more hitting. “You would love for this to be about that, wouldn’t you?”

Oh siblings. I love siblings. Also I might set a record for the number of times I have a character curse in one segment of dialogue. 

Also, Baghead Idiot: 

My dude literally has an actual figurine of this character on his keychain. He’s got a real name, but in our household he’s just called Baghead Idiot. 
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This is another excerpt from Full of Grace’s upcoming chapter, because I was so bent on putting Neko Atsume into it that i have to commemorate that. This is notable for being possibly the only time I’ve actually incorporated any elements of my real-life relationship into my fic.

Natasha was poking absently at her laptop with James next to her on the couch when she got the email from Vision. It seemed oddly formal, to get an actual e-mail from an actual android; had he, himself a computer, sat down at another computer to compose it, or had he sent it with his mind?

The subject line was “our mutual friend”, so she opened it without saying anything to James. It was a link to a new info drop online: some snoop had uncovered a bunch more documentation on the Winter Soldier in some godforsaken Russian backwater.

Tony hasn’t finished translating it yet, Vision wrote, but what he’s understood so far has him panicking. Other documents have mentioned the existence of control words, but this one has an actual list and some of their effects.

Natasha suspended her breathing for a moment, before glancing over at James, who was giving his phone a deep look of concentration. He knew, then. He frowned, and scrolled sideways across the phone, and scowled deeper.

She set her laptop aside, then reached over and put her hand around his wool-sock-clad foot, squeezing gently and reassuringly. “It’ll be okay,” she said. She was still working out how to explain Vision to him, how to maybe get them to meet up, and most importantly how to get him to consent to being scanned without setting off his conditioning.

He blinked at her, expression clearing. “Oh,” he said, “it’s fine. I was just thinking about something.”

Maybe he didn’t know. She raised her eyebrows at him. “You looked upset,” she said.

He laughed, and leaned in a little closer to her, re-settling so she could see his phone. “No,” he said. “I’m trying to get a good picture of a cartoon cat from a game to text it to Steve.”

His phone was open to a screen full of a cartoon landscape, maybe a backyard or something, littered with cartoon cats in varying states of repose. All the buttons were in– Natasha squinted. Bubbly Japanese. It was very kawaii. “What is this,” she said.

“Neko Atsume,” James said. “It’s appallingly popular among non-Japanese-speaking nerds who can’t read the buttons.”

“Can you read the buttons?” she asked. 

He gave her an inscrutable look. “You can’t?” She shook her head. He frowned. “Why would they give it to me and not you?”

“They took things back out sometimes,” she said. “I think I was more of a flight risk.”

“Fair point,” he said, a little glum. 

“No, no,” she said, “tell me more about cute cartoon cats,” because I am about to wreck your day.

He grinned. “It’s a dumb game, you just put stuff out and then you check back and they’ve come by and are hanging out. It’s really relaxing, there’s not really any strategy. But I sent it to Steve and I’m trying to make him all competitive about it. Just to wind him up.”

“Maybe you really are a supervillain,” Natasha said admiringly. Steve’s competitive streak was possibly his most entertaining feature, but it was hard to exploit. He had to be pretty comfortable with you to be unwary enough to let you wind him up. He’d basically never be at that point with Tony, which was too bad, because that would be some quality entertainment.

“Right?” James said. He scrolled sideways. “I’m Captain America’s fuckin’ nemesis. Somebody’s gotta be.” He laughed. “Anyway. So, you pick what objects, food or toys or beds or whatever, to put out into your yard, and it attracts cats, and that’s all there is to it, but if you use different objects you get, like, rare cats. It’s a whole– thing. And I’ve been doing it a little bit so I already have a whole dossier of cats, and I’m going to mess with Steve about how many more I have and so on.” He showed her said dossier, and the cartoons were really cute. Apparently you could take the pictures, in-game, and save them in your book of cats who had visited you.

“If you don’t feed them do they die?” Natasha asked.

James shook his head. “Nah,” he said, “they just don’t come by. They’re not, like, your cats. It’s no big deal if you don’t check in for a while. You come back, you can just pick up where you left off. It’s not like the cats get mad or anything. You put out more food, they’ll come back.”

“I can see how that might be appealing,” Natasha said.

“Yeah, it’s basically zero pressure,” James said. “But it’s still kind of rewarding.” He swiped through. “This one’s my favorite. The cheapest toy you can get with your credits is a stupid plastic bag, and this cat just, fuckin’, wears the bag on his head. Like an idiot. His name is something like Spot or Dash or something but I call him Baghead Idiot. Because he is.” He laughed, bringing up the photo. “Look at this fuckin’ idiot with a bag on his head. It’s fuckin’ great.”

“What an idiot,” Natasha agreed, amused.

“He’s my fuckin’ favorite,” James said. “It’s so stupid. And look at how all their assholes are little x’s. Isn’t that fuckin’ adorable?”

“It is,” Natasha said. She leaned in against James’s warm body, and made herself comfortable. “But you have a real cat.”

“The real cat is more work,” he said. He exited the app, and put his phone down on the arm of the couch, and kissed the top of Natasha’s head. “You seemed like you were readin’ something a lot less entertaining.”

“I was,” she said. She sighed. She could feel his heartbeat through her shoulderblade, warm and steady.

“Don’t, then,” he said. “Stop thinkin’ about it for a minute, hey?”

“I can’t,” she said.

“It’s about me, ain’t it,” he said, low and soft. His heartbeat picked up, going a little faster.

She twisted to look up at him. He had known, then. “Yes,” she said.

He looked away. “I knew one was comin’,” he said. “Info dump, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Control triggers, in this one.”

“Fuck,” he said. He breathed in slow, and breathed out, and she could feel him slowing his heartbeat deliberately. “Each of ‘em only works once but– each of ‘em works, y’know?”

“I have some too,” she said. “They’re buried, the ones that are left, and I may never find them all.”

He wrapped his arm around her chest– the left one, solid and immovable and warm. “I tried to find out about mine,” he said. “But I– it’s like my– I’m not allowed to rr– to read-” He stopped talking, and sighed. “Mm.”

“I can read it for you,” she said. She hadn’t thought of that.

He put his cheek down against the side of her head. “Yeah?” His voice was very quiet, but he sounded almost hopeful.

She pointed at her laptop. “Hand that to me and I’ll read it and summarize.”

“I don’t know if I can even do a summary,” he said.

“Tap out if it’s too much,” she said.

He let go of her to reach her laptop for her, and she started scrolling. His heartbeat went erratic before steadying out, and he turned his head. “I can’t even look,” he said.

“Close your eyes,” she said. “Put your hand around my wrist and squeeze if it’s too much.”

“If I have a seizure I’ll break your arm,” he said. “No. I’ll use the other hand.” He put his right hand so that the backs of his fingers touched her thigh, and put his left arm down next to her. “Okay,” he said. “Here goes nothin’, huh? Hit me.”

She rubbed her cheek against his chest, turning slightly so the screen was less in his line of sight. “I’m not hitting you,” she said, “I’m going to read it first, and tell you the most important things first.”

“Good call,” he said, and dug his phone back out to look at the cartoon cat game again. “Hey,” he said, “check it out, I got Samurai Cat! I gotta text that one to Steve.”

“Do that,” she said fondly, sparing him a smile before she went back to her grim reading.
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Chapter update on Full of Grace: Chapter 9, GI Blues

In which Bucky punches Steve and Steve headbutts Bucky and there are contract negotiations because reputation is everything. 

“And,” he added, “I had to give the location of my emergency escape stash to Steve so he could make it out alive, so it was just a clusterfuck all over. Had to give him my boots!” He gestured widely. “So then I had to use his, and he wears stupid boots, like some kinda idiot who never went through Infantry Basic. I figured he was with the Rangers, they’d give him jump boots, right?”

“You’d think,” Natasha said, amused. James was in Aggrieved Storytelling Mode, which was one of her favorite modes of his.

“No! He had bullshit boots like he’s gonna prove somethin’ with ‘em.” James sighed extravagantly, subsiding with a violent gesture. “I ask you. Steven fuckin’ Rogers. Never really did a tour with the Infantry, so he doesn’t really understand about fuckin’ boots. What a fuckin’ nancy.”
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I felt shitty today, so I wrote this on gdocs instead of being productive. 

It’s not a deleted scene, it’s not a preview or anything. It’s just, there’s a bit in the as-yet unpublished Ch 8 of FOG, just a detail, where Natasha notices that James still has nailpolish on his toenails, and remembers that she put it there. She’d painted his nails a different color months ago in an earlier chapter, so I put the detail in this one that he’d had her re-do it. 

So– this is the scene where he got this particular re-coating of nail polish. And it’s not plot-significant, I just wanted to spend the time. 

This is the luxury of fanfic. i’ve been contemplating going back to original stuff, but you don’t get to have this, traditionally, in regular fiction– just, to no purpose, characters spending time together and being themselves. And yet, it’s what people want, in fanfic. 

So, since I felt shitty, I went and hung out with James and Natasha. James was feeling shitty too. Natasha knows how to not make that a big deal. It has no bearing on the next chapter (which I’ll probably have up by the weekend if no other disasters strike) except to account for the detail of James having painted toenails. 

Gen-ish, G-rated, like just under 1k words (real short, for me!)

what u up to 2nite, Natasha had written a couple of hours before, and James hadn’t written back. He wasn’t having a good couple of days, she was pretty sure; something had triggered him, and he’d vanished. 

She’d been over at the Avengers Academy for most of it. She knew he’d been by, because he was the only one who fed Liho canned food and the old can was gone and a new one started, but no people-food had been missing, so she rather thought he’d only stopped by to feed the cat. He hadn’t done any laundry, and she didn’t think he’d taken or left any clothing.

He had put away the dishes she’d left in the drying rack, which was an amusing detail.

She wasn’t going to text him again. She’d resigned herself to not hearing from him, and had started making dinner for just herself, when her phone buzzed. Expecting Jess or Bobbi to be texting her, she left it for a few minutes before she got around to picking it up.

i got no plans, he wrote.

There was no reason for that to make her smile. I was gonna make piroshki, she wrote, which was a lie; she’d put together a pot of borscht because it was easy and froze well and she knew sometimes if she left a note he’d eat something like that out of the freezer. She mostly lived off things like that when she was in town. But she had the ingredients necessary for piroshki. It just wasn’t something she’d bother with for herself.

I’m not good company, he wrote back, but if you need help eating piroshki i could definitely be of service.

I could use some assistance of that nature, she wrote, and got out the ingredients, and hunted down her rolling pin. Also Liho could use some attention, you know how she gets when I cook.

I can help with that, he wrote.

The door opened about twenty minutes later, and James came in with a canvas grocery sack and a wine bottle in a paper bag. He set the paper bag on the counter, the canvas sack on the table, and went back to the doorway to take his shoes and coat off. Liho immediately leapt up and perched on his shoulder, purring before he’d even touched her.

“Hey,” Natasha said, smiling at him. He looked tired, dark circles under his eyes, and his body language was jerky and closed-off. He didn’t answer her, didn’t quite smile, but his face changed shape a little, and she knew him well enough to recognize it as an acknowledgement of her greeting.

Without shoes on he moved quietly that she could only really track his motion by the proximity of the cat’s purring. He stayed in the room briefly, going through the contents of the canvas bag– mostly papers– then moved off into the other room. She knew better than to try to make small talk.

She poked her head in a moment later to ask if he was all right, and he had nodded off at one end of the couch, curled up with the cat in his lap. She’d had a suspicion he didn’t sleep much when he wasn’t around her, and this only reinforced it. He ate, she knew he couldn’t go long without food, but she was pretty sure he mostly subsisted off of packaged food supplements if she wasn’t there to notice.

It wasn’t that she fed him. He did most of the cooking when they were together. She just sort of suspected he didn’t bother being human if no one was there to observe him. It wasn’t a dependency on her, but it wasn’t healthy independence either.

She woke him up to eat, when the food was ready, and he snapped awake with no hint of grogginess.

“Everything okay?” she asked him, when they sat down at the table.

He nodded. It looked like he wanted to say more, but there didn’t seem to be a good connection from brain to mouth, so she just smiled at him and went back to eating, unconcerned.

“Good,” he managed, after a while, gesturing with his chin at the food. She grinned.

“I know,” she said.

“Sorry the company’s bad,” he said, looking unhappy.

She smiled and shook her head. “If you think I don’t know about that kind of thing, James– I can put the TV on if you’re self-conscious, but it doesn’t bother me.”

He looked relieved. “Thanks,” he said. She held out the ladle, offering him another serving, and he managed a smile as he accepted it.

After dinner she sat next to him on the couch and flipped idly through channels before handing him the controller and hauling out her nail polishes. As she’d sort of hoped, he settled on an old movie, and then watched raptly as she did her nails.

She nudged the basket over toward him. “Pick a color, I’ll do yours.”

He laughed silently at her and vanished to the bathroom, but when she looked over after he came back he’d washed his feet and had picked out a couple of bottles, and was cleaning his nails with rubbing alcohol like she usually did.

“Teal,” she said, investigating the bottle.

“Teal the Cows Come Home,” he corrected her, and she laughed.

“And pink glitter,” she said. “Oh, sorry– I Can’t Hear Myself Pink. Accent nail?”

“Topcoat,” he said. “Just on the big ones. Maybe just a stripe.”

“You have excellent taste,” she said, and set to work.

Once his nails were dry, he went and took a shower. He came out tousled and pink and with his face a lot more mobile. He sat next to her and leaned in to kiss her cheek. “You feel better?” she asked.

He settled next to her, putting his arm around her shoulders, and she leaned on him. “Yeah,” he said. “Now I do.”

Chapter 7

Oct. 22nd, 2015 12:05 pm
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“Holy shit,” Natasha said faintly.

“It’s not like you gotta stitch something like that,” James protested. “That’s the kind of thing that heals up on its own in cryo.”

She stared at him for a long moment until he thought through what he’d said. “I’m not putting you in cryo,” she said.

He blinked. “No,” he said, looking distantly toward the floor, “no, you’re not.”

Chapter 7 of Full of Grace is up at AO3, featuring many things but among them more James and Natasha roommate shenanigans, Lakeisha being Bucky Barnes’s #1 defender, and the Winter Soldier getting a verified blog and doing a Q&A. 
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So I haven’t slept tonight, and that’s really annoying, and I’m too unsettled to do any real writing, so instead I dug up that damn missing scene.

And yeah, I never used it; I wrote it during the drafting process when I wasn’t sure how long Ora Pro Nobis was going to be or where I was going to go with it at the end. (And it ended up suffering, like all my attempts at writing fic for a challenge thing, from being really absurdly truncated at the end.) 

I wound up discarding the entire angle. But the image was good, or has somewhere within it the seeds of something poignant. Rigas Melnais Balsams, or Black Balsam, is sort of in the Jagermeister family, approximately similar to Fernet Branca; an intensely bitter herbal “digestive aid” type liqueur. It’s the sort of thing my dude’s grandfather drank. Traditionally, it is diluted with vodka– it is very high-proof and very bitter. Two parts vodka to one part Balsams is the accepted dilution. During the Soviet era, it was widely held that spiking terrible Soviet champagne with a liberal helping of Balsams made it just about drinkable, or made you incapable of caring, and either was acceptable. 

So here, have a salvaged scrap from a derelict storyline. Maybe I can rework it and use it; probably not, though, so here it sits for now. 

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