It was a regular fucking day. As regular as it got when you had a bunch of shit in your head and you were coming off of a bad “episode”.
That's what they called it. Back in his day, they whispered words like shell shock and came back changed in conversations nobody was supposed to repeat, like they'd invoke the Devil himself if they got too loud. Men coming back from war either shoved it down and drank the pain away or put a bullet in their brains.
Sometimes he wondered if he shouldn't fucking try it. Couldn't walk away from a piece of metal shredding through your skull, could you? Super healing or not.
Not that he knew. Guess even Hydra wasn't out of their goddamn heads enough to try that particular experiment. Didn't want to risk the fucking Fist.
And this wasn't back in his day anymore. No, now they were called episodes, and he was some old geezer in a young body with a fucked up head that had to go to therapists, have sessions, talk it out, deprogram, fucking do everything that would keep him alive when all he wanted to do was just go back to Italy and lay down on the fields with all the others.
The way he should have.
He thought about it sometimes. Going back. Italy, or maybe that pass. Jump right off and reset everything.
This was the closest, though, that he'd ever come to going through with it. All because of one goddamn song on a music player that belonged to a pretty girl with a wide smile.
Music was innocent. It was moving and goddamn spiritual and the purest thing human kind could ever produce--and it made him destroy an entire room.
What do you do when you have lifetimes full of shit that horrified you engraved in your brain? When you couldn't even look at yourself in the mirror without wondering what your ma would think of you now?
Ma. Becca. All the boys back home.
Bucky closed his eyes.
He'd run off into the wilderness and then doubled back. What kinda fucked up you gotta be that even the thought of hurting people didn't keep you from seeking them out?
The prickle on his skin gave her away, that goddamn sixth or seventh sense he couldn't turn off. He raised his head and saw her standing just a few feet away, a tall dream of a dame with dark hair and kind eyes.
Kind eyes? He almost laughed at himself. The hell was he thinking there?
She was watching him, face neutral but strangely sympathetic, like she wanted to reach out and soothe him.
Bucky sat back on the bench, regarding her warily. There was more to her than the designer clothes and the shoes that could kill a man. He couldn't put his finger on what, though, and that was driving the shithead inside crazy.
Her lips curled into the slightest of smiles. “May I sit?”
Her accent made the words roll. He'd traveled in the last coupla decades; had all kinds of languages shoved into his brain. Nothing in his memories tagged her accent as familiar.
The hell was that about?
She didn't move closer. There was about a dozen people meandering around. Of all the places for him to head after a fucking episode, it had to be the park. Like that made any kind of sense.
But it might as well have been just the two of them for all the attention she paid their surroundings. Her whole being was focused on him and only him.
Assassin? Agent? Widow? Wary, he watched her watching him, trying to assess the threat level and come up with zero. Just a bunch of gut feelings swirling together. “I know you, doll?”
Her lips curved all the more. “No.” Her chin ducked down a little, like she was laughing at something he couldn't hear. “We have a mutual acquaintance, however.”
His eyes narrowed.
“I have a fondness for archers,” she clarified. “Especially haphazard ones.”
Fucking Barton. He should have shoved Darcy's cake down his throat and watched him choke on it.
She waited patiently for him to make a choice, her fingers casually linked together.
You know what? The hell with it. He'd already been through enough shit. What was a little more? “Seat's all yours if you want it, sweetheart.”
Sometimes the old Bucky slipped out, smooth and easy. Other days the words wouldn't come at all. He was just a thing, some piece of meat that barely functioned.
"Your music player's broken."
He scooted over on the bench, leaving her plenty of room.
“Thank you.” She didn't perch on the edge; she settled in, back to the boards, like she had every intention of staying awhile. One long leg crossed over the other.
He tried not to be obvious about noticing. Fucked up he may be, but he had a few damn manners left in him.
She breathed in the air and exhaled in pleasure. “It's a beautiful day.”
“No offense, honey, but you got a point in coming here?”
“Yes.” She turned her head, beautiful face kind of lit up in the afternoon sun like she as made of something that didn't come from Earth. “I wanted to meet a fellow warrior.”
Warrior. Not a soldier. Not an assassin. Something better.
He laughed bitterly. “That's a hell of a line. Want to try another?” He offered her a cheeky grin. “I'll let you charm me into dinner, if that's what you're after.” Used to do that all the time--go out with a pretty girl, sometimes a fella when he could swing it, eat, laugh. He'd thought life was hard then, and he'd wanted to drink up all the drops of joy he could get his hands on.
Funny how life can illuminate just how wrong you are. He was real damn enlightened now.
Her brow quirked. “I'm afraid I'm otherwise engaged.” She plucked at the hem of her shirt. “Business meeting.”
“Finance?” he guessed.
“Yeah? Have a pal who likes that. Wasn't into much more than comics myself.”
“Art is a beautiful way to express our deepest wants,” she allowed. “It allows us see our desires realized.” She tilted her head. “I imagine there's a few things you would like to see.”
His ma. The old neighborhood, the way it used to be. Small Steve. His sister. His soul. “Can't think of anything,” he lied hoarsely, looking back at the park. Everybody was living their lives here. They weren't frozen, paralyzed by something they couldn't fight. “Look, I don't know what Barton told you--”
“Nothing,” she said. “I was walking by and I saw you. You're easy to recognize from his stories.”
“He didn't mention so much about you.” And if he was a little bitter about that, sue him.
She nodded. “That is because I asked him not to. I was not...in a good place, when we met.”
He glanced at her, frowning.
She just smiled. It didn't reach her eyes, but they didn't harden either. They just...gazed back at his, saying things he didn't know that he understood. “The world can be a very dark place, James Barnes,” she told him. “We've both lived long enough to see that.”
And she didn't mean lived as in the years they looked like they'd been alive. She didn't mean that at fucking all.
He didn't realize he was gripping the bench with his human hand until a piece of it broke off.
She wasn't bothered in the least. “I was once very young. Naive,” she added with a smile, which dimmed a little. “Hopeful.”
“What about now?” he couldn't help but ask. “You one of those that think time heals all wounds?”
She threw her head back and laughed—outright laughed in his face. “Centuries wouldn't erase the things I've seen,” she told him.
“So what?” He had to press. Had to. “What do you do?”
For a second she was quiet. Distance. Then, “I love.”
Love? Peace and rainbows and shit? Didn't exist. Not for some people.
She turned to face him. “I love the people I choose. Protect them,” she added, staring him right in the eye. “I do what I must to make sure that they can love who they want and live their lives to the fullest.”
Like a old news reel, Steve's face—new and the one before—sprang up in his mind. Goddamn idiot went from getting jumped in an alley to jumping out of planes without a parachute. He'd seen the footage. Just about gave him a heart attack, and that was saying something these days. “Won't fix anything,” he declared, jaw right.
“Are you certain?” she returned softly. Then she sat back. “There is no easy answer. No final battle to end the war. I wish there was.”
And that, he thought, sounded like the most honest thing he'd ever heard. “So what then?”
She shrugged. “You must decide if the ones you love are worth the fight.”
He thought of blond hair. Blue eyes. That snotty sense of humor nobody else seemed to get. A girl staring him down across a table with blood red paint on her fingernails.
He shoved a hand into his hair. It caught on some of the ridges in the metal hand, even with the glove Stark made for him before it all went to shit. “And what if I can't?”
It hurt to ask. Hurt to admit. But he was so tired. So fucking tired. He just wanted to close his eyes and have it all finish.
“Then let the one you love fight for you.”
He looked up at her, leaning on his hand, just...too heavy to move more than that.
She hesitated for the slightest second, then raised her hand. Gently—so fucking gently, like a woman petting a babe for the first time—she laid it on the crown of his head. “You are mighty, James Barnes. And you are better than you think.”
And you know, he wanted to believe her? Her, some woman he'd never met before, with legs that went on forever and a way of talking that shouldn't have soothed him like it did. He didn't need some soft coddling, or pink tinted glasses. He needed facts. Figures. The real shit that he could ground himself in.
But damn, he still wanted to lean into that touch and let her take the pain away. She almost had him thinking she really could.
He didn't know how long they sat like that, him sitting there and her touching him, but after a couple of minutes she suddenly asked, “Have you ever had ice cream?”
He sat up, confused and strangely languid. “What's that, doll?”
“I am very fond of it. There is a shop nearby that still makes it the...old-fashioned way. I would like some. Would you care to join me?”
An ice cream parlor on a sunny afternoon, with a dame that felt like she was from another world. Bucky felt the corners of his mouth turn up, and something in him got lighter. “You know what? I think I would.”