I never thought I’d be writing fan fiction. Curse me now, but I’ve been never much of superhero girl. When I first saw Captain America: The First Avenger, I was more concerned with not running my fingers under the sewing machine needle. The movie was background noise, though I had a healthy appreciation for Peggy Carter’s badassery and signature red lip. In fact, the basis of my interest in The Winter Solider was how hot Sebastian Stan is.
Like most people I know, I’ve been in a weird fog since November. Words felt frivolous. When I sat down at the computer, I opened Scrivener, then fell into a bevy of YouTube tutorials and ASMR videos that didn’t dispel the creeping dread. At the time, I was finishing up my latest manuscript, a ridiculous RococoPunk comedy complete with thieves, crossdressing, and pastries. I’d never written a comedy before, and thankfully, it (mostly) distracted me from the lurking anxiety.
Of course, eventually I typed “The End,” and while it was gratifying to finish another book, I was left in the lurch of “what the hell do I do now?” I had a couple ideas on the back burner, but suddenly writing original fiction was too hard. I didn’t have it. It was different from finishing a book and forgetting how to start a new one.
I’d recently watched Captain America: Civil War. In fact, I’d live-Tweeted about it with a friend. If I’d known it was all about the Winter Soldier, I’d have seen it sooner. Then I realized what I was watching was a romance.
From the beginning, Steve and Bucky were always at each other’s sides, protecting one another. They’re not just best friends; they’re soulmates. Steve goes through medical experimentation on the off-chance that he can join Bucky in the war. He asks to be placed in Bucky’s regiment. When Steve finds out Bucky’s been captured (and is probably dead), he threatens to walk across Austria on the faintest glimmer of hope that he can rescue him.
And when he loses Bucky, Steve goes from “I don’t want to kill anyone” to “I won’t stop until all of HYRDA is captured or dead.” That’s pretty intense for them to be “just friends.”
Bucky is the reason Steve picks up the shield; Bucky is the reason Steve puts it down.
I went back and watched the first two Cap films and I was sunk.
I was Stuck(y).
A couple weeks later, that same friend invited me to write for Not Without You, a Stucky fan anthology she was editing. I said sure. Then I realized I didn’t know a damn thing other than what I’d taken from the movies. Suddenly, I had this story to write and no idea what I was doing.
To be fair, I usually don’t know what I’m doing until I start.
I turned to what I knew best: medicine. I wanted to write from Bucky’s perspective after the events of Civil War. Even in cryosleep, the brain still has to function. Bucky probably dreams now that HYDRA’s grip is loosened. What else would he do but poke at the memories they manipulated into making him the Soldier? So began “The Things in the Dark.”
When I started going through the trigger words and their possible meanings, I realized why I’d been drawn to Bucky. We have a lot in common. He was brainwashed; I’ve been gaslit. We both have depression and anxiety. We both rock smudged eyeliner and look great in black. I didn’t understand the reaction to Bucky going under again until I saw it through the lens of my own illness. I was upset he chose to go back into cryostasis, and while it was his choice, it felt like he was giving up. I felt the same way at the hideous conclusion of Penny Dreadful. It’s a decision not to fight the bad things that want to control you. I know fighting’s hard: I’ve dealt with depression since middle school; I’m in recovery for disordered eating; anxiety joined the party a couple of years ago. And yeah, say certain words, and my brain turns itself inside out in attempt to self-destruct.
But what he does is also an act of love, fueled by his desire to protect Steve. Ten words will turn Bucky into a killing machine, and until just walking down the street isn’t a risk, until the triggers are dismantled, Bucky can’t risk hurting the person he loves most.
But fandom made it better. I tripped into a collective writing happy endings. Steve and Bucky worked everything out. Bucky was dealing with his mental illness: therapy, yoga, adopting stray kittens. Serious issues still came up and were handled positively. Even the super dark, horrible stuff was eventually resolved and the boys got a chance to live. But more than that, the authors used these characters to express their personal struggles. It opens the field for diversity we don’t see in canon. Fan fiction becomes a medium to play with, as well as a way to broaden our perspectives and learn about others.
Now I’m part of it.
The fandom blew the anthology’s Kickstarter goal out of the water. I kept going. I had so much fun writing “The Things in the Dark” that I opened an Archive of Our Own account. I hit the ground running and didn’t stop. I’ve written pieces that definitely pushed my boundaries, but the best thing I’ve started is my Bucky and Clint comedy series. Acknowledging that comedy is something I’m good at has been a work in progress itself. More than that, writing things that make people laugh keeps the light burning in the darkness. I even have help from another friend who’s gracious enough to deal with my antics. She’s basically my Hawkeye.
Writers are always talking about how to “find the words.” These weren’t the words I intended to find, but through them I’ve found myself getting back into original works, albeit slowly. While a new story hasn’t presented itself, I’m doing a revision on my dark Victorian surgeon book and putting corpses (and myself) back together. It’s hard work, and if I don’t focus, I start sliding back into not doing anything. I’ve been reading more (and not just fan fiction; I saw that look) and refilling the creative well.
Unless something radically changes though, fan fiction is here to stay in my life. It’s nice to muck about on someone else’s playground, especially when said certain someone’s comic division is breaking all the toys so no one wants to play. Well, guess what? I’m a Slytherin, and I’ve decided I want it. I want to help the fandom continue to grow, I want to champion other artists and creators, and I want to help strengthen a community where so many have found inclusion, comfort, and support.
Most of all, I want to get back to finding the words because in the end, I create them all.