Bucky stared at his reflection in the opaque glass viewing window. The SHIELD manacles that wrapped around his arms, wrists, chest, thighs, and ankles were at least four inches thick, bisecting his reflection into the fragments of a man encased in metal. They were solid iron, if Bucky had to guess, and probably tested rigorously by the Hulk before being deemed strong enough to hold the enemies of SHIELD. Bucky stared at his own bored looking face as time seemed to drone on indefinitely. He wished there was something else for him to look at but SHIELD wasn’t exactly known for their interior decorating skills. Very few organizations put much thought into what the inside of a cell should look like. Hydra certainly hadn’t and SHIELD was no different.
Bucky wiggled his fingers. That was about as much as he could move without getting in trouble. He’d been yelled through a speaker yesterday for shifting in his seat too much so he ignored the cramping stiffness in his legs and forced his mind to wander. He thought about Shuri and Okoye, Captain Rogers and his two pals, his old Captain during the war, and his boss at the Brooklyn docks. Somewhere along the line, a song snagged at the back of his mind and stuck. Almost unconsciously, Bucky began tapping his shiny vibranium fingers against the solid arm of his chair.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
The rhythm felt familiar. It was the beat of an old song from decades ago. He tried to place the tune as he kept banging out the beat that skirted around the edges of his memory.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
It was nice. Ever since he’d been taken in by T’Challa and Shuri, things had been getting better. Bucky didn’t exactly understand what Shuri had done in his head but now he knew the song he was thinking of wasn’t buried by some Hydra programming trying to squeeze the humanity out of him. He just couldn’t fucking remember. What was more human than that?
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
It was a jazzy song. It had a spring in it. It was something you could really dance to.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
It was right there, on the tip of his tongue.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap ta—
“Please, refrain from tapping,” a voice over the intercom said.
Bucky stared up at the little speaker in the upper corner of the small white room. Then he looked back at the glass viewing window and gave it a big exaggerated pout before lifting his middle finger as much as he was able to through the restraints and then huffing out a quiet breath and sitting still when there was no response. He wondered who was watching him from the other side of the glass and what they were saying about him back there.
He’d been in SHIELD custody for four weeks now and each day was more unfathomably boring than the last. The highlights of his imprisonment occurred when someone came to interrogate him. It didn’t happen every day but at least Bucky had someone to talk to when it did. Not that interrogators were particularly good conversationalists but Bucky wasn’t exactly in a position to be picky. Fury came once; that meeting was stupidly unproductive. There had been six psychologists; none of whom returned for a second interview, and even two military interrogators. Then there was the Scarlet Witch.
Bucky liked the Witch. She was his ticket out of this place, he was sure of it. It had been obvious from the beginning that no one was going to believe him when he said he wanted to join SHIELD and the Avengers and Bucky didn’t blame them. It didn’t matter how many interrogations he sat for or how many lie detector tests he took, there was always the possibility that he was just an exceptionally good actor. Besides, Hydra had over 70 years to make sure he could pass any test SHIELD gave him so it was no wonder he’d been strapped to this chair the second he’d been spotted at SHIELD’s front door amidst the wet January snow.
Bucky hadn’t been sure how he’d convince them to let him out before the Witch arrived. He sort of just figured he’d keep repeating himself until he wore them down: “No, I’m not with Hydra anymore. Well, they imprisoned and tortured me until I was just a shell of a human being with no autonomy. No, I didn’t want to do the things they made me do. No, I’d rather die than go back there. I want to help you destroy them.”
It wasn’t working.
Then, one day, about a week ago, a young woman walked into his cell. She was small and pale with long dark hair and smokey eye makeup. Bucky had seen her once before on the news in Wakanda. She was an Avenger; one of the new ones. He didn’t know exactly what she could do but, from the look of things, she was pretty powerful, especially if she’d been sent in to speak to him alone. She’d stared at Bucky for a minute and Bucky had stared back. Then she raised her thin fingers and suddenly red fog was shimmering in front of his eyes. It didn’t hurt, but he could feel her poking around in his head. It was a familiar sensation. Hydra, Shuri, the Scarlet Witch: they’d all been in there. It was nothing new, but when she pulled away she looked surprised. Bucky just smiled at her. She hadn’t done anything to him, she just wanted to see what was in his head and now she knew the truth. All she had to do was tell SHIELD he wasn’t trying to infiltrate them and they’d let him go.
Three days passed Bucky wondered if being kept in solitary confinement for four weeks had turned him into an optimist but, on the fourth day, the Witch came back. She actually said “hello” that time. She said her name was Wanda and that SHIELD wanted her to take another look in his brain in case she’d missed something. She even asked his permission before wiggling her fingers at him, which was refreshing. Shuri had told him that someone messing with his brain without his permission was a human rights violation. Bucky told her that human rights only apply when everyone agrees that you’re a person. It wasn’t a happy thought, but, at that point, the fact that Bucky was verbally disagreeing with someone without worrying that he’d be punished was actually a big deal and Shuri had been thrilled enough to throw him an impromptu dance party in her lab.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
Oh, maybe he’d heard the song there.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap.
Tap tap ta-tap. Tap tap ta-tap. Oh, honey, honey—
The cell door opened behind Bucky’s chair. In the reflection of the dark viewing window Bucky saw Wanda walk in before a SHIELD agent closed the door behind her.
“Hey, Wanda. Why can’t I tap?”
A smile twitched on her lips as she walked around his chair to stand in front of him.
“Hi, James,” she said softly, “Tony Stark was trying to do the math on how likely it was that you somehow managed to fool me and the tapping was annoying him.”
“He should try sitting in a white, windowless room for four weeks,” Bucky suggested, grinning at the glass over Wanda’s shoulder where he now knew that at least Stark was watching him through the one way mirror, “I think he’d love it.”
Wanda actually smiled at that and Bucky felt inordinately pleased with himself.
“He came to the conclusion that it was unlikely,” she finished with knowing eyes.
“Really?” Bucky asked, “Not impossible? I woulda’ said that it was impossible and no one knows more about having your mind poked at than me.”
“That’s probably true.” Wanda nodded, looking a little apologetic, “They want me to take another look.”
“Oh, hey, while you’re in there,” Bucky said, perking up, “I have this song stuck in my head and I can’t remember the lyrics or where I heard it. I think it’s an old one but I seriously can’t remember. Could you check that out for me?”
Wanda snorted. Her nose crinkled and another smile made her sad face glow.
“You really know how to make the best of a bad situation, don’t you?”
“I mean, there’s no place to go but up,” Bucky replied, wiggling his fingers again to show off his restraints, “It’s the little things, you know?”
Wanda nodded, her smile morphing into a grimace as she held up her fingers, red mist already congealing around them.
The red fog wasn’t cold or warm. It was just hazy and it made Bucky dizzy. He didn’t know how much time passed between Wanda’s fingers brushing his temples and him blinking away the confusion to stare up at her again but she was smiling at him as she pulled away.
“Mmm.” Bucky relaxed in his chair, shifting as much as he could to get comfortable, “I could really go for a milkshake right now. You have no idea.”
Wanda smiled at him again.
“There’s a diner downtown that has the best shakes, I’ll take you sometime,” she said.
Bucky’s eyebrows shot up.
“Yea—yeah! That would be great,” he managed to get out through his surprise.
Were they letting him out? Was that it? Was he free?
Wanda reached down and squeezed his fingers gently before heading back to the door, leaving Bucky to stare at his own surprised face in the reflective glass.
“Oh, and James?” Bucky’s eyes met hers in the glass, “Love on Top.”
“Ah,” Bucky smiled as the cell door opened and closed once again, “Beyoncé, of course.”
He stared up the plain white ceiling as the words came flooding back to him.
Oh, honey, honey. I can see the stars all the way from here…
Bucky’s debrief was long and annoying but, more importantly, it was finite. An agent handed him a stack of three t-shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a hoodie which now constituted all his worldly possessions. He’d had a handful of things from Wakanda— gifts from Shuri mostly— but SHIELD had taken them when he arrived. He asked one of the agents if he could have them back but the answer had been tepid. Bucky decided not to hold his breath.
Another agent, a woman named Hill, told him that he’d be sharing quarters with Agent Barton.
Clinton Francis Barton. Hawkeye. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Marksman. Partner of Black Widow: Natalia Alianovna Romanoff. Kill on sight.
Bucky scowled at the sound of Hydra whispers in his ear. Shuri had tried to get rid of them but it turned out that it wasn’t even part of the programming; it was Bucky’s own brain regurgitating information at him. All Bucky could do was ignore it.
From SHIELD’s perspective, Barton was a safe bet. He was one of the few Avengers who didn’t actively want Bucky dead. Bucky figured that Romanoff, Wilson, Rogers, and Stark were all squarely in the red for him and Hulk was far too dangerous to be anyone’s babysitter. That left Barton and Thor. Thor was a no-go, since he was off-world more often than not, which left only Barton. For Bucky though, Barton could be tricky; he was in Romanoff’s pocket and Bucky had shot her twice. She may sabotage him by convincing Barton to hate him on principle.
Bucky sat silently in the backseat of a van with his hands cuffed as SHIELD transported him to Avengers Tower. He was on probation, Hill had explained. He wasn’t an Avenger but, eventually, if he was approved by the team, they might let him assist them on missions since he’d been deemed sane and relatively safe by Wanda. That was good enough for Bucky.
After Wakanda, he’d tried taking Hydra on by himself. He was mildly successful, but they littered the globe like a virus and he needed more resources than just what he could scrounge up with $30 and a handful of guns. He probably could have asked Shuri for help, but she and T’Challa had already done so much for him. The last thing he wanted to do was take advantage of their kindness. He already owed them a debt that could never be repaid.
Besides, once he got his memories back, he realized that he really missed New York. He hadn’t been home since 1941, save for a handful of Hydra missions that he decided didn’t count. The van didn’t have any windows but he could hear the rumble of the city outside and it filled him with giddy anticipation. He remembered the bustle of the 30’s. He remembered going out dancing on the weekends with Dot from down the block and her cousin Lottie. He remembered taking his sister, Becca, down to the pier and eating peanuts on the rocky shore.
Bucky cut his train of thought off quickly. Thinking about his sister never left him in a good place.
He focused on the rumble of the van and the clink of his handcuffs as they rattled. It had been a while since they’d set off so they must be getting close. Not ten minutes later, the van came to a halt. Bucky waited patiently as the driver got out. Voices spoke quietly outside and then someone was unlocking the back. Agent Phillip Coulson was the one to swing the doors open.
Agent Phillip J. Coulson. Deputy Director of SHIELD under Nicholas J. Fury. Capture. Kill if necessary.
Coulson had been the one who came to arrest him when he arrived at SHIELD headquarters four weeks ago. It seemed that they’d come full circle as Coulson motioned for Bucky to get out of the van. Bucky ducked his head and stepped out, hoisting the backpack he’d been given higher up on his shoulder as best he could with the handcuffs still holding his wrists together. Two other agents stood off to the side and they kept their eyes trained on Bucky as Coulson escorted him through the mostly empty parking garage and into an elevator.
Bucky tamped down the urge to start whistling as the elevator silently took them up. They used to play music, back in the day, but the agents around him were clearly on edge and the last thing Bucky wanted was to be thrown back into that white box because he’d behaved in a manner that some paranoid agent deemed “suspicious."
The elevator opened to a floor that looked more like a compound in lockdown than the beacon of hope that Avengers Tower was supposed to be. All the walls were glass, though the ones that faced the outdoors were frosted, and the sleek dark floor reflected the overhead lights with a dull sheen.
Bucky sighed. He’d been hoping to catch a glimpse of sunlight or maybe even a whiff of cold winter air before being locked in the Tower. Maybe one day he’d see the sun again, he thought melodramatically.
There were a good handful of Stark employees visible through the glass walls. Some were watching him darkly while others typed on laptops or scribbled equations on whiteboards. On the far side of the room, waiting for them, stood maybe half of the Avengers.
Wanda smiled at Bucky as they approached and Bucky grinned crookedly back. Barton stood at her side, arms crossed and face passive. A few feet behind them, Bucky saw Rogers, Romanoff, and Wilson, all watching him with varying degrees of suspicion. Romanoff was the most openly hostile. She scowled at Bucky with a touch of fury in her narrowed eyes.
Natalia Alianovna Romanoff. The Black Widow. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Former KGB. Partner of Hawkeye: Clinton Francis Barton. Protégé of Nicholas Joseph Fury. Kill on sight.
Wilson had the most attitude. His one raised eyebrow said “rip my wings off again and I will end you.”
Samuel Thomas Wilson. The Falcon. Avenger. Former United States Air Force. Former Air National Guard. Counselor at the New York Veteran’s Association. Recruited by Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Capture. Kill if necessary.
Rogers was a little harder to pin down. The furrow between his eyes pointed at distrust, but there was something uncertain in his frown.
Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Captain America. The First Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Strategist. Combat expert. No. 1 enemy of Hydra. Kill on sight.
Bucky wondered if Rogers knew that he’d been the one to pull him out of the Potomac. Sure, he’d also been the one to put him there, but still. Bucky wondered if he should apologize. He probably should. He’d shot Rogers four times.
“Hey, James,” Wanda greeted, “How are you doing?”
“Pretty good,” Bucky replied with an easy grin, “I own three shirts now and none of them are leather.”
Wanda chuckled but, more interestingly, Barton’s lips pursed like he was trying not to smile.
“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met.” Bucky held out his shackled hands.
“Clint Barton,” Barton said, shaking Bucky’s hand with a firm grasp, “I hear you’re a pretty good marksman.”
“I get by,” Bucky replied.
Barton didn’t seem to hate him. He wondered what Romanoff did, or didn’t, tell him.
“Agent Barton,” Coulson said, holding out a thin key, “The Winter Soldier is now in your custody.”
Bucky wished they wouldn’t call him that. He hadn’t picked the name. Hydra called him that because he was always cold. He would shiver uncontrollably when they took him out of cryofreeze. It wasn’t until the mid 70’s that he learned how to tamp down the reaction but by then the name had already stuck. Even the ones that didn’t remember the origin knew to say it mockingly. He didn’t even like the winter. Spring had always been his favorite.
“Yes, sir,” Barton replied, taking the key and giving Coulson a lazy salute.
With one last cautious look in Bucky’s direction, Coulson nodded back and he and his agents left them to it.
“So,” Bucky said, turning back to Barton, “I hear we’re gonna be roommates.”
“That’s the plan,” Barton reached out and grabbed Bucky’s wrist, “If you eat my pop tarts I’ll stab you in your sleep.”
Bucky watched Barton unlatch the handcuffs. As soon as they were off, Bucky rubbed the skin of his wrists gently. They were red and a little inflamed from the weeks in the chair. They would heal quickly, but it still stung.
“Are your wrists okay?” Wanda asked, peering down at Bucky’s raw skin.
“They’ll be fine,” Bucky told her quietly.
He loved her a little bit for asking. Their eyes met and she smiled like she knew.
“Come on,” Barton gestured to another elevator behind him, “I’ll show you up.”
Wanda hit the button and Bucky wondered if he should say something to the other Avengers now. He looked over and the three of them were standing huddled together, muttering tensely to each other.
“—just like that we’re supposed to be cool?” Wilson hissed.
“Wanda’s young, I still think she could be wrong,” Romanoff whispered.
“Just keep an eye on him,” Rogers placated, the furrow between his eyes deepening, “it’s better he’s here than out in the world doing who knows what.”
“Murdering innocent civilians,” Wilson muttered.
“Poisoning the water supply,” Romanoff guessed.
“Torturing puppies,” Wilson added.
In the corner of his eye, Bucky saw Rogers smile and shake his head. The elevator pinged. Bucky said nothing as he followed Barton and Wanda in.
Whatever. His apology would probably mean nothing to them anyway. He should save his breath.
The ride up to 63rd floor was surprisingly short and the doors opened to a wide empty hallway with a single door at the other end. As Barton led the way across the small foyer, Bucky spotted four cameras, one in each corner, monitoring who entered and who tried to exit. Barton punched a key code into the panel next to the door and with a click the latch came free. Barton pushed open the door and they stepped out into a huge open space. There was a kitchen on the right and a sofa the length of a school bus in the middle overlooking a large fireplace and an even larger TV mounted on the wall. There were several hallways branching off in different directions but the farthest side of the curved room was covered in floor to ceiling windows and bright afternoon sunlight was streaming in like giant floodlights.
“Damn,” Bucky breathed. He walked out into the space, feeling two pairs of eyes on him as he made a beeline for the windows.
“Can I sit here?” Bucky asked, looking back at Barton and Wanda as he pointed at the floor in the middle of the biggest sunspot.
“Uh, yeah?” Barton shrugged.
Bucky shrugged off his backpack and flopped down with a sigh, closing his eyes and soaking in the warm sunlight. The rug was soft and plush against his back and it felt like a cloud after four weeks in that stiff metal chair. Without opening his eyes, Bucky shrugged off the light windbreaker SHIELD had given him. Now in just a t-shirt and jeans, Bucky rolled onto his stomach and stretched out, his spine popping as it twisted. Bucky heard Wanda walk softly towards him and sit down on the edge of the couch nearby. He tipped his head to the side and cracked an eye open to look at her. She was staring down at him with a look of pleased bemusement on her face.
“Are you going to start purring?” She asked.
“Maybe,” Bucky drawled with a grin, “It's been a while since I’ve seen the sun.”
Bucky heard the sound of the refrigerator opening and closing, then a soda can clicking open as Barton situated himself on one of the loveseats surrounding the main living area.
Bucky turned back to the window. Looking out, he could see Manhattan stretching out in front of him with the still snowy splotch of Central Park to his left and the East River in the distance. It was a long way from the Brooklyn docks and several tax brackets up. He watched the little dots of cars moving around on the streets below and peered into the windows of the adjacent skyscrapers. He saw a lot of people in offices and conference rooms pointing at screens and bits of paper. He wondered what it would be like to have one of their lives. Normal. Quiet. Soft. The worst thing that could happen would be spilling coffee on your pants or going into the break room to find that the only free bagels left were the ones with raisins in them. Maybe the Bucky who danced and laughed and took his sister to the pier would have been fine with that. Now though, it would feel too small. To insignificant. There was no way he’d be able to do enough good in one of those offices to even begin wiping the blood from his hands. That sort of life would never be for him.
“Oh, these are for you,” Barton said, startling Bucky out of his thoughts as he kicked a box toward him.
Bucky tore his eyes away from the window and dragged the box closer to him. Wanda looked over his shoulder as he opened it to reveal two pieces of Stark tech: a laptop and a phone. Bucky picked up the phone and turned it in his hands. It was sleek and slate grey like his arm. He touched the circular button at the bottom but nothing happened.
“Do you know how to use it?” Barton asked as Bucky ran his fingers across the buttons on the sides, which yielded a similar, nonexistent effects.
“Uh,” Bucky dragged his fingers across the glass screen again, “in theory.”
Shuri had shown him a few things back in Wakanda, but their tech was so much more advanced than this. It had been intuitive to use and easy to understand. Though Bucky decided not to complain since the most advanced thing in his old life was a shitty radio that only worked if you tilted it at a 45 degree angle.
“It can’t sense the metal,” Wanda told him, nodding at Bucky’s vibranium arm, “you need to use your other hand.”
“Ah.” Bucky switched hands and pressed the circular button.
The screen lit up.
“Neat.” Bucky tapped through the pre-installed content.
There wasn’t much, just the contact information for Barton, Coulson, and Hill and a calendar with all the national holidays on it.
“Let me give you my number,” Wanda said, taking the phone from his hands, “that way we can talk, if you want.”
“Okay,” Bucky said, watching her type her own name into the contact book.
He wasn’t sure exactly what he’d talk to her about but having the option was nice.
“Come on,” Barton said, slurping from his soda can as Wanda handed the phone back to Bucky, “Let me show you your room.”
“I get my own room?” Bucky asked, surprised.
“Yeah? Did you think we’d be sharing a bunk bed or something?” Barton asked, his lips pursuing like he was trying not to smile again.
“I just…” Bucky trailed off a little, “I’ve never had my own room before.”
As a kid he’d shared with his sister, then he lived with two guys from the docks for a few years, then it was the war and you slept wherever it was warmest regardless of who else was already there. Having his own cryochamber didn’t count.
“Let me just—“ Bucky picked up his jacket and threw his backpack on before picking up his phone, realizing his SHIELD pants didn’t have any pockets, and quickly trying to figure out how to pick up his new laptop at the same time without dropping anything. He wasn’t used to having so much stuff. Luckily, Wanda came to the rescue. She folded his jacket over her arm and picked up his laptop for him.
“Oh, thank you,” Bucky said.
She just smiled gently at him.
They followed Clint down one of the hallways. At the far end, Bucky could see an open door leading to a fancy looking bathroom.
“Okay, so this is your hallway,” Barton said, pointing down the corridor, “There’s a bathroom, a study, and a bedroom.”
Barton pushed open another door to reveal a large bedroom. The bed was a king sized: plush and white. The room was bright and clean— a little sterile maybe— but comfortable and the far wall showcased the sprawl of New York through more floor to ceiling windows.
“Wow,” Bucky stepped in, not wanting to touch the white duvet in case he ruined them.
“I’m down that hallway.” Barton pointed back across the floor to a different hall at the other side of the living room, “So, uh, yeah?”
Barton looked around a little awkwardly as Wanda set Bucky’s laptop down on the wide desk in the corner. Barton’s eyes flicked from Bucky to Wanda. He wanted to leave, clearly, but he probably couldn’t leave Wanda alone with Bucky.
“Cool. Well, thank you.” Bucky said, “I’ll just get settled in then.”
Barton nodded and stepped back through the door, waiting for Wanda to join him before taking his eyes off Bucky.
“I’ll give you a call later then?” Bucky added as Wanda followed Barton out.
“Yeah,” Wanda smiled at him, “Milkshakes, right?”
“Hell yeah,” Bucky smiled back before letting it falter as the door swung shut behind them.
He could hear them whispering to each other as they left and Bucky quickly turned to stop himself from listening. He’d had enough eavesdropping for one day.
He dropped his backpack on a chair by the desk and pulled out his new clothes. They were all chosen by SHIELD so most of them had their logo on it somewhere, which itched at him a little. It had been Hydra who wiped his mind and put guns in his hands, but they did it while wearing SHIELD’s face. It was the worst part of this whole plan. Standing next to the people who were friends with those Hydra agents, who worked with them, who trained with them. But outwardly expressing any dislike of SHIELD would get Bucky thrown back into a cell so he hung the clothes up in the closet by his bed. Altogether he now had four white t-shirts, two dark pairs of blue jeans and one pair of khaki slacks with no pockets. He had one pair of uncomfortable black shoes, four pairs of black boxer briefs, four pairs of black socks, one black windbreaker, and one hoodie which was, shockingly, also black.
Wakanda had been superior in a lot of ways, fashion sense included.
Bucky hung his empty backpack in the closet next to his clothes before sitting down on the carpet by the windows. The sun was still shining, the sky was a soft blue, and Bucky tried not to think about the fact that he may have just traded one white cell for another.
Four days later, Bucky didn’t have much to report. He saw Barton sometimes. He’d come in and out at odd hours, band-aids and gauze stuck all over him as he disappeared into his own room. Wanda was sent out on a mission a day after Bucky’s release, but called from the jet and talked him through how to work the TV.
Bucky watched the Good Place, Shrek, and Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. He poked around the floor and found 37 tiny cameras in his rooms, and 15 more in the living area, which was expected. Bucky figured he’d probably never live without surveillance again and he tried to ignore it. He unsuccessfully attempted to make pasta on the kitchen’s unnecessarily complex electric stove before giving up and eating cereal instead. He wasn’t allowed to leave the floor so he puttered around reading the old paperbacks he found in the living room and practiced his knife throwing skills with Bartons cooking knives and a cutting board he hung on the wall. No one yelled at him for whistling or walking aimlessly in circles for half an hour. He could get up when he wanted and shower with as much hot water as he could use and eat as much as he could fit in his stomach. It was light years better than what he was used to so Bucky had few complaints.
It was nearing midnight on the fifth day when Bucky decided to see if there were any Cheez-Its left and found Barton lying on the sofa with his leg propped up and an icepack on his head.
“You okay, Barton?” Bucky asked, hovering by the kitchen as Barton blinked dazedly up at him.
“Yeah,” Barton sighed, waving him off, “got a little blown up, nothin’ major.”
“Oh,” Bucky wondered what kind of mission he’d been on and if he could have helped, “Do you want some Cheez-Its?”
Barton stared at him for a second before shrugging and pushing himself up.
“Yeah, why the fuck not.”
Bucky grabbed the box from the pantry. Luckily, it still felt at least half full. He brought the box over to the couch and sat down on the floor, close enough to Barton that they could pass the box back and forth but far enough away that Barton wouldn’t get uncomfortable.
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Bucky felt Barton’s eyes on him.
“Nat told me you were trouble,” he said.
“I shot her a couple times, I don’t blame her.”
Barton passed him the box.
“You seem okay to me.”
Bucky took another fist full of Cheez-Its.
“You remember the Chitauri invasion?” Barton asked, leaning back against the cushions.
“I was on ice at the time,” Bucky said, wondering where this was going, “I heard about it afterwards.”
“Well, long story short,” Barton continued, “Thor’s brother, Loki, mind controlled me and made me kill a bunch of SHIELD agents.”
Bucky looked up at Barton, who scowled at the ice pack in his hands.
“I was only under for a few days and it was bad enough,” he said, “Your file says you were under for at least 15 years.”
Barton looked at Bucky and there was understanding in his eyes.
“I don’t think it was your fault.”
Bucky felt like all the air had suddenly left the room. Shuri had told him it wasn’t his fault, but something about hearing Barton say it was wholly unexpected. With Shuri, Bucky’s mind told him that she hadn’t been there, that she’d never seen him in action, that she only knew him as the lost man trying to piece himself back together but Barton was a SHIELD agent and an Avenger. Bucky had tried to kill his partner, Falcon, and Captain America. He’d killed nearly thirty SHIELD agents in the fight on the helicarriers, not even counting the decades before that. So if Barton was saying it wasn’t his fault, it might be because he actually meant it.
“I—uh,” Bucky stuttered, “That’s— uh…”
“I get it,” Barton shrugged, snatching the box back from Bucky’s frozen hand, “I didn’t like hearing it at first either. Natasha was actually the one who said it to me. She wasn’t super pumped when I reminded her of that while we were trying to figure out what to do with you.”
“I’m a killer,” Bucky reminded him, “She has every right to be cautious.”
“We’re all killers here,” Barton retorted.
They sat in silence for a little longer before Barton nudged Bucky with his socked foot.
“So what actually happened up on those helicarriers, from your point of view?” He asked.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Well, I’ve heard Cap’s story and Nat’s and Sam’s,” Barton said, licking cheese residue from his fingers, “Wanda said that’s when you decided to switch sides. What changed?”
Bucky put the box of Cheez-Its on the low coffee table and wiped his fingers on his pants. He didn’t really want to go into it, but establishing trust with an Avenger would go a long way for him. He took a breath and looked for the best place to start.
“I woke up,” Bucky began, “They told me that Hydra was making their final move for world peace but a small group of SHIELD rebels were trying to stop them. They singled out Captain America as their leader and told me to defend the helicarriers at all costs. I went and I did just that. Rogers and I ended up on one of the carriers but as I was fighting him something felt off. He was wearing his old uniform, the one from WWII, and somehow it felt familiar even though my memories only went as far back as that morning.”
Bucky swallowed and saw Barton shift to lean forward on his elbows as he listened.
“Anyway, I shot him a bunch but he managed to reprogram the helicarriers and they started going down. My orders were to take him out no matter the cost so I kept fighting even as the plane started collapsing. I was all beat up and he’d strangled me a bit so I was dizzy but eventually I got him pinned down and something just felt wrong. I tried to tell myself that I had to finish my mission but something in the back of my mind said, ‘No, you need to protect him.’ I think that was the first thought I’d had on my own in decades.”
Bucky could feel Barton’s eyes boring into the side of his head as he spoke. He fidgeted with the hem of his hoodie.
“The helicarrier crashed into something and Rogers got thrown from the ship,” Bucky continued, “I didn’t even really think about it I just dove in after him and dragged him to shore. I didn’t know what I was doing but I knew that I didn’t want to go back to Hydra. I didn’t want to be forced to forget again, so I left. I just walked away...”
Bucky trailed off. Barton was staring at him like he was seeing him for the first time.
“You pulled Cap from the river?” Barton asked incredulously.
“Yeah,” Bucky shrugged, “I made sure he was breathing and stuff. Figured you guys would find him quick.”
Barton shook his head like he was reassessing his life.
“We all figured Cap managed to swim to shore before passing out,” he muttered, more to himself than to Bucky.
He stared into space for a moment before turning back.
“You said he looked familiar?” He asked, “What does that mean?”
“Well,” Bucky hugged his knees to his chest and pressed his bare toes into the soft carpet, “I recognized him in DC earlier, that’s why they erased my mind again in the first place. I just couldn’t put my finger on him at the time. Now that my memories are all back I can connect all the dots I couldn’t when they kept wiping me. I knew him, back in the 40’s.”
Barton choked on nothing but air.
“You’re lying,” he scoffed sharply, “You’re not that old and Cap would have told us if he recognized you.”
Barton was angry now. Of course he was.
“I’m not lying,” Bucky placated, “He just doesn’t remember, why would he? He met a lot of soldiers back in the war.”
Barton stared incredulously at him.
“You fought in WWII?” He asked disbelievingly.
“Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, 107th Infantry Regiment,” Bucky introduced with a halfhearted smile and mock salute, “I doubt that’s in my file. The government wouldn’t exactly want to take credit for me.”
Bucky could see Barton unsuccessfully trying to fit the pieces together in his mind.
“Wait, so then…” Barton asked, figuring out what he wanted to say as he said it, “You were a Russian soldier?”
Barton’s mouth opened and closed.
“I was born in Brooklyn in 1917,” Bucky added, cringing a little as Barton’s brow just furrowed even more, “I was a sniper tasked with protecting Captain America on a mission in Nazi occupied France.”
“Okay, so either you’re lying out of your ass or your entire file is wrong. The first thing it says is that you’re Russian.”
“Well, no one’s exactly consulted me about it so that’s not really a surprise.” Bucky said with a halfhearted laugh, “All the information SHIELD has about me started with the German branch of Hydra and then the Russian one. I don’t know what information got lost in the shuffle but in any case, they all treated me like a weapon of their own creation. They wouldn’t have advertised that I was American made.”
“Wait, so,” Barton asked, “How well did you know Cap?”
“Not very,” Bucky admitted, “I only met him once. The first time I saw him was when he and his team were charging into a town where the Nazi’s had a base. I had orders from my Captain to spot him from above so I took out any of the guys who got to close while he made for the town hall. Then a bomb went off. There was too much smoke and I couldn’t see him. I abandoned my post and went down there. My job was to keep Captain America alive and I couldn’t fail. He was sort of a living legend for the rest of us. Everything I ever heard about him was about how amazing he was and how much his guys loved him. They were the kind of stories that kept you going when you were lying in the dirt with the names of dead soldiers running through your head. I couldn’t be the one to let Captain America die so I go myself down there, saw him punch a tank and flip it over like it weighed ten pounds and then I fought with him until the battle was won. In the end, I remember him helping me up. There had been a grenade and it rattled my head a bit so he got me on my feet and said ‘thanks for the cover’ and punched my shoulder before he had to go. I swear, I wouldn’t have felt half as good about myself if the President of the United States had said that to me. Anyway, I guess it was an important enough memory that it stuck and when I saw him again I reverted back to my old mission: protect Captain America.”
Bucky fell silent once again. Barton stared blankly into space.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Bucky asked, sighing and looking out the dark window instead of at Barton’s face.
“I mean,” Barton rubbed the back of his neck, “That’s a lot of information and there’s no proof. It’s just your word.”
“Yeah, I know it doesn’t mean much,” Bucky shrugged, “I’m not asking you to change my file or anything. It’s just the truth— my truth, at least. It doesn’t matter to SHIELD but it matters to me.”
Bucky stuffed a fistful of Cheez-Its into his mouth and crunched morosely.
“Are y— are you gonna talk to Cap about it?” Barton asked uncertainly.
“Nah,” Bucky shook his head, “I doubt he wants to talk to me and it’s not exactly important. Like you said, if he remembered me he would have mentioned it by now.”
“This feels kinda important,” Barton muttered, laying back down on the sofa and pressing the ice pack against his forehead again.
“Ok, well, if he wants to sit down and chat I’ll bring it up.”
Barton grumbled something else but it was muffled by the arm he’d thrown over his face to smoosh the ice pack as hard as he could onto his bruises.
“You good, Barton?” Bucky asked, putting an elbow on the sofa and craning his neck to see how bad Barton’s injuries were.
Barton mumbled something else.
“What was that?”
“I said, my name’s Clint.”
“What the fuck kinda name is Bucky? I thought your name was James?”
“It’s my nickname.”
“I woulda stuck with James if I were you.”
“Noted.” Bucky said, smiling a little, “You should go to bed, Clint.”
“I am in bed.”
“You’re on a couch. You’ll feel better if you went to bed.”
“I’ll feel better if I don’t get up.”
“Okay, tell me that again in the morning.”
Clint opened his eyes and squinted at Bucky petulantly. Bucky just raised his eyebrows.
“I liked you better when we weren’t talking to each other.”
“Well, you shouldn’t have put us on a first name basis then. This is your fault.”
“Yeah, what else is new.”
Clint hauled himself up, wobbling a bit when he got himself on his feet. Bucky stood too, partially to make sure Clint didn’t fall and concuss himself further and partially because it was actually getting late and his eyes were starting to get tired.
“Well,” Clint scrubbed a hand through his hair, making it stick up even more wildly than it had been before, “goodnight, I guess.”
“Night.” Bucky patted him lightly on the shoulder before heading down his hallway, pausing at his door just to make sure Clint got to his own room without hurting himself.
When Clint’s door closed Bucky lay down in bed and pulled out his phone. He sent a text to Wanda.
Bucky: I think I made a friend.
Two days later, Clint invited Bucky to join him in the gym downstairs. Bucky wasn’t allowed to go anywhere on his own so this was his first chance to actually see the Tower past the elevator and the parking garage. He threw on one of his clean shirts, borrowed a pair of Clint’s shorts, and found a rubber band to use as a hair tie. With Clint to get him past security, Bucky stepped out of the apartment for the first time in six days.
They took the elevator down to a whole floor filled with mats, weights, a track, a pool, a firing range, and some wild looking machines Bucky didn’t even know how to categorize. He followed Clint to a line of punching bags and watched him jump at one of the bags, hug it to his chest and spin it around.
“Show me whatcha got!” Clint said with a grin, planting his feet on the ground and preparing for a hit.
Ever since their conversation the other night, Clint had been pretty friendly. They’d started eating meals together and watching shitty reality TV while Clint “read” the mission files SHIELD gave him. Clint had even asked Bucky to help him patch up a healing knife cut on his back that he couldn’t reach. The trust in that gesture wasn’t lost on Bucky so he did his best to make sure he was worthy of it, in between ribbings, of course.
Bucky pulled back his fist and punched. The force knocked Clint on his ass and punctured the synthetic skin of the bag, sending its contents spilling out onto the floor. Bucky laughed at Clint’s startled face and then laughed harder when he stood and rubbed his butt with a pout.
“Warn a guy!”
“You said to hit it!”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s use Cap’s bags.”
“He won’t mind?”
“Nah. They’re reinforced and like four times heavier so he doesn’t break them as often.”
They cleaned up Bucky’s mess and then he hit Rogers’ bag for a while, before holding one of the regular ones for Clint while he warmed up. As Clint finished up, Bucky noticed a small group of agents spread out across the gym, armed to the teeth and watching them with narrowed eyes.
“It’s cool for me to be here, right?” Bucky asked as Clint got in his last few punches.
“Yeah, as long as you’re with me,” Clint shrugged, “but you do kind of put the rest of the guys on edge. They won’t bother us though, they’re just watching.”
“In case I stab you or something?”
“Yeah, whatever. If you were gonna stab me you woulda done it after I finished all the Milanos.”
“Get the double dark chocolate ones next time.”
“Stop ruining my cutting boards and maybe I’ll consider it.”
It turned into a routine. Whenever Clint was around, they’d go to the gym together. After Wanda came back from her two week long mission, she started joining them. She wanted Bucky to teach her a couple things, in case she ever needed some non-magical solutions to her problems and Bucky was happy to help.
He started her off with some basic forms, how to duck, block, and dodge, and how to punch correctly before teaching her some combos. She was a quick learner and very focused. Clint got her to start using the weights to build up her strength and as much as she grumbled about it, Bucky could tell she was pleased every time Clint gave her a heavier load.
Twice, the SHIELD agents nearly attacked him. The first time he was showing Wanda how to flip someone and they thought he was actually hurting her and again when he grabbed her after they’d drifted too close to the barbells while sparring and she was about to trip. Both times Wanda had jumped in front of him and managed to pacify the agents who seemed all too eager to arrest him again. Bucky tried not to let it get to him but he couldn’t help but put his guard up when he walked past their stoic faces. Part of him wondered if any of them were Hydra agents still in disguise. He knew SHIELD had started over from scratch after Rogers disbanded and then reformed the organization from the ground up, but Hydra was tricky and they could slip through the smallest crack. Bucky tried not to let that thought keep him up at night.
Bucky still wasn’t allowed near the firing range though. Clint tried to convince the guys who oversaw the armory to just let them use the paintball guns for a bit but they refused. It was annoying since shooting was the thing Bucky liked the most. It was the one thing that grounded him and really made him focus, but Clint and Wanda provided a good enough distraction as the weeks passed. He could wait.
Rogers and his squad stayed away from him but he’d see them every once in a while from a distance. Occasionally, one of them would be leaving the locker rooms at the same time he was or wiping down the mats after some sparring while Bucky passed but they’d never done anything more than glance at him. Once, Wanda and Bucky had been walking down the hall to the water fountain when Rogers came out of the stairwell. He had clearly just got off a mission. He was grimy and sweaty and his dark blue uniform was a little torn. His eyes flicked to Bucky’s before landing on Wanda and giving her a small smile. Then he was gone.
“Don’t take it personally,” Wanda said, “he’ll warm up to you.”
Bucky didn’t believe her but he appreciated her optimism.
A month into their new routine, Bucky was wiping down Rogers’ punching bag when the Black Widow approached. Bucky could tell it was her by the way the hairs on the back of his neck stood up as he turned.
“Солдат, давай драться.” (Soldier, let’s fight.) Her Russian was precise and emotionless and she stared at him with cold eyes.
Natalia Alianovana Romanoff. Black Widow. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Former KGB. Partner of Hawkeye: Clinton Francis Barton. Protégé of Nicholas Joseph Fury. Kill on sight.
“I don’t want to fight,” Bucky replied, turning back to the bag, “and I don’t want to speak Russian either.”
“Это была не просьба.” (That was not a request.)
Bucky looked around for Clint, but he was at the range, on the other side of a soundproof glass wall, shooting arrows alone since Bucky wasn’t allowed over there and Wanda was upstairs practicing her telekinesis today. He wondered if this ambush was planned. He spotted Rogers and Wilson, watching silently from the door to the locker room and a few other agents, some watching him and some working out. He would get no help from any of them.
Romanoff stepped into the circle of mats and stared at him expectantly. Her straight red hair was pulled back, she wore long black athletic pants, and her hands were already taped up. She was ready. Bucky frowned and kicked off his shoes to join her. He redid his short ponytail with a blue hair tie Wanda had lent him and adjusted his own taped hands before stepping onto the mats.
“Sparring,” he said, “not fighting.”
“то же самое.” (Same thing.)
Her fist was hard and unrelenting against Bucky’s cheek. He took another punch and a kick to the side of the head. He blocked her attacks as best he could and took the ones he missed, but he didn’t hit back. He didn’t want to fight and he didn’t think Romanoff really did either. She just needed to get some of her anger out. Bucky could understand that. It wasn’t like he didn’t deserve it.
Bucky hit the ground. As he tried to push himself back up to his feet, Romanoff kicked him hard in the stomach and sent him rolling off the mats onto the hard concrete.
“Natasha!” Clint yelled, running over from the range, “What the hell?”
He grabbed her by the elbow and pulled her off toward the far wall. Bucky felt blood on his cheek and wiped it away as best he could as he sat up. He blinked dazedly around and saw two dozen pairs of eyes flick away from him and go back to what they were doing, all except one.
Rogers was staring at him. Wilson had joined Clint and Romanoff and the three were arguing quietly together but Rogers stood apart. He watched Bucky wipe his cheek again only to find more blood on his fingertips.
“Need a hand?”
Bucky looked up.
Bruce Banner was standing next to him with his hand held out.
Robert Bruce Banner, M.D., Ph.D.. The Hulk. Avenger. Biochemist. Nuclear physicist. Expert on Gamma Radiation. Do not engage.
“Thanks,” Bucky let the doctor pull him to his feet with a surprisingly firm grip, “I’m Bucky.”
“Bruce,” Banner said, tilting his head curiously as Bucky tucked the hair that had fallen loose from his ponytail back behind his ears, “You look like you could use a band-aid or two.”
“I heal quick,” Bucky replied, shaking his head.
He just wanted to go back to his room, watch the Great British Bake Off on mute, and eat all the Girl Scout Cookies Clint had bought yesterday.
“So do I,” Banner said, taking Bucky by the elbow and leading him towards the elevator, “still hurts though, doesn’t it?”
Bucky saw him give a little two finger wave to Clint as they got into the elevator without him. Rogers was still watching them. Bucky looked away as the doors closed. He wondered if Clint had told Rogers about their shared history. He didn’t think he had. Bucky didn’t even really want to acknowledge how much Captain America probably hated him after everything he’d done. The old Bucky would have cared so much. The new him was far less attached to the Star-Spangled Man but still, it was easier not to think about how disappointed his past self would be with how things had turned out.
Banner hit the number of a floor Bucky had never been to and waited at his side in silence as the elevator rose. Banner was smaller than Bucky expected him to be. He stood a little hunched over, making him seem even shorter than he was, and his mop of curly hair flopped down over his forehead to cover a good part of his face but underneath it all was something unyielding. He wasn’t afraid of Bucky and he stood with a calculated ease and control that made him feel dangerous, even as a little scientist.
The foyer to Banner’s apartment was the same as Clint’s but Bucky could tell even as the elevator doors opened that the place was different. The walls were thicker and the front door was reinforced. When Bruce pulled the door open Bucky could immediately see that, while the layout was the same, the windows were a good two feet of solid glass and the walls were a thick concrete but it was decorated like the homiest grandma’s living room he’d ever seen. The couches were huge and looked like they could swallow the Hulk whole if he wanted to wrap up in them. There were big throw blankets everywhere and pillows the size of mattresses with patterns that clashed horribly. Amidst it all, were pieces of machinery: a giant microscope, a disassembled electromagnetic wave generator, half of an MRI machine. Bucky followed Banner through the maze of soft cushions and pointy tools to the kitchen where Banner motioned for him to sit at the breakfast bar while he pulled out a couple ice packs from the freezer and handed them over. Bucky pressed one against his cheek, one against his ribs, and rested the last one he on his knee.
“It’s hard to get on Natasha’s good side but once you’re in, you’re in,” Banner said as he put the kettle on, “Believe me. I tried to kill her when we first met too.”
“Oh, yeah?” Bucky tried to sound less worn out than he was as Banner pulled mugs from his cabinet.
“Yeah, I’d give you more details but I can’t remember what the Hulk does all that well,” Banner shrugged, “It’s a bit like getting possessed. I just wake up somewhere new with fewer clothes and a path of destruction behind me.”
Bucky looked up, finally understanding why Banner brought him here.
“It’s not the same as mind control or programming,” Bruce said with a soft look, “but I get it.”
He fell silent and Bucky watched him select a tin of loose leaf tea from the shelf.
“They trust you though?” Bucky asked.
He knew the answer, but hearing it aloud wouldn’t hurt.
“They do.” Banner nodded, tapping the tea leaves into a little metal cage, “They asked me to join when Loki started terrorizing the planet way back when. They already knew who I was and how dangerous I could be, but they decided that they needed me to win that fight. They took a risk and it paid off. I think it was just easier for them when they were the ones who made that decision. You turning yourself in was unexpected and they didn’t know how to handle it.”
The kettle started whistling and Bruce poured the hot water into a small teapot with a hand knitted tea cosy on it.
“Anyway,” Bruce said, clearly trying to change the subject, “this is my ‘people are annoying and I don’t like them’ tea.”
He dunked the cage full of tea leaves into the pot.
“I drink it a lot.”
Bucky finally cracked a smile. He ended up wedged between two giant pillows on Bruce’s monstrous couch, listening to Bruce talk about the world’s scientific advances since the 40’s. He made a mental note to find a way to contact Shuri and yell at her for not telling him that people had walked on the moon nearly fifty years ago. He was stupidly upset that he’d missed that. So much so, that he forgot all about Romanoff and her buddies until Bruce’s tea was gone and Bucky was halfway to falling asleep under a heavy handmade quilt.
“Oh, come on! It’s been like three months!” Clint yelled at a bored looking Stark security guard, “If he was gonna try to murder us all he would have done it a long time ago!”
They were standing at the entrance to the shooting range. Clint had been trying to get Bucky in there for ages but it wasn’t exactly going well. It was now well into May and Bucky still hadn’t stepped within twenty yards of the range. Clint had suggested they break in during the night but Bucky was adamant about doing things above board. If they got caught, it would put him back way farther than however long it would take to get the Avengers to yield.
“Look,” Clint pinched the bridge of his nose, “I was put in charge of babysitting him and as his babysitter I’m telling you that he’s good to shoot some paper targets! Whose authority’s gonna be better than mine?”
“I’m sorry,” the agent said, not looking sorry at all, “I can’t let him in. You don’t have the clearance to grant him access.”
“Oh my god, am I not an OG Avenger?” Clint threw his hands up, “What if Hulk was here, huh? Does he have clearance? Or— hey look it’s Cap. Hey, Cap! Get over here! Tell the man to let us in.”
Bucky cringed as Rogers looked up from the weights he was setting up on the other side of the gym. He put the weights down and came over, wiping a towel across the back of his neck and shaking out his damp hair as he approached.
“What’s going on, Clint?” He asked stopping a few feet away.
His eyes flicked to Bucky’s.
Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Captain America. The First Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Strategist. Combat expert. No. 1 enemy of Hydra. Kill on sight.
“We want to use the range,” Clint explained, “We just want to shoot some nice, non-sentient paper people. Is that so much to ask?”
Rogers crossed his arms. Bucky had never seen him without a little crease between his eyebrows. He was starting to think it was a permanent feature.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
He didn’t look at Bucky again but he didn’t exactly need to.
“Come on, man. Wanda, Bruce, and I have been telling you he’s chill for months now,” Clint elbowed Bucky hard in the side, “tell him you’re chill, dude.”
“Yeah.” Bucky automatically threw on his usual crooked grin, “Super chill.”
Rogers’ raised an eyebrow at him.
“And why, exactly, do you need to shoot things?”
“We’re marksmen, Cap,” Clint whined, “it’s our job!”
Rogers ignored Clint and kept looking at Bucky expectantly. Bucky figured his best shot would be to play to the Avenger’s best interest.
“I won’t be very useful to you if I can’t shoot anymore,” Bucky shrugged, “and if I can’t be useful then what am I doing here?”
Rogers was silent, then he nodded. Bucky hadn’t realized how tense he was until Rogers’ eyes left him. He rolled his shoulders out while Rogers turned to the agent guarding the door.
“Let them in, but make sure there are always least two Avengers in here when you do.”
“I’ll fucking take it!” Clint said with a little fist pump.
Rogers signed his clearance for the agent as Clint held his hand up for a high five from Bucky.
“Let’s shoot some shit! I bet I can beat you. Let’s do first to 40 kills— no— a hundred kills! First to a hundred, winner gets to pick tonight's movie.”
“Let’s just make it through the first round without getting kicked out,” Bucky muttered as they followed Rogers’ broad shoulders past the agent into the range.
“Right, right,” Clint acquiesced, “I’ll let you get back into it before I kick your ass.”
Bucky couldn’t hold back his smile. It’d been a while since he’d had any decent competition. Rogers and his gang had been the hardest fight of his life, mainly because their strengths lay in hand to hand combat, which Bucky was good at, but he’d always had more of a gift for looking through a scope. Besides, there had been three of them and only one of him, though, technically he won most of their battles even if he lost the war. Maybe that was why they were all so mad.
“Ten rounds each,” Rogers said, unlocking the cages that held all the guns, “half an hour.”
“Come on, Cap!” Clint groaned, “A time limit? Seriously?”
“You’re lucky we’re in here at all,” Rogers grumbled, giving Clint a look as he grabbed ammo off a shelf.
“This is fine, Clint,” Bucky said, nudging him as he giddily examined the small arsenal in front of him, “it’s more than enough time.”
He felt Rogers eyes on the back of his head as he ran a finger down the sleek metal body of a sniper rifle. Maybe a bit too much for his first half hour on the range. Something smaller might help put everyone at ease. He picked up a standard 9mm handgun.
“Okay, okay,” Clint said with a considering grin when he saw Bucky’s pick, “starting small? I woulda pegged you for a bazooka kinda guy.”
Bucky spun the handgun around his metal fingers, earning himself a glare from Rogers.
“It’s not worth going bigger if you don’t know the basics,” Bucky replied, stacking ten clips, “Sometimes it’s easier to kill someone with a pencil than a grenade.”
Rogers’ jaw clenched.
“Not that I have, will, or plan to kill anyone with a pencil ever,” Bucky added innocently, making Clint snort.
“Don’t joke about what you did,” Rogers snapped.
Bucky’s good humor turned sharp.
“Don’t tell me how to deal with my own trauma.”
Bucky turned and placed the stack of clips next to the bench at the edge of the range and faced the row of targets before Rogers could respond. He loaded his gun and flicked the safety off in one smooth motion. At the other end of the range was a paper target with the silhouette of a man. Bucky felt two pairs of eyes on him as he leaned into the familiar stance.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Bucky emptied the clip and the range fell silent. He removed the empty cartridge as a mechanical arm brought the target closer so they could see how he did.
“Whoa,” Clint breathed.
Bucky looked up. The target had one large bullet hole in the center of its forehead. It was too large to be one of Bucky’s 9mm rounds which meant that the hole had been carved by all 15 bullets slowly making the single puncture bigger with each shot.
Bucky loaded his next clip.
He’d forgotten how soothing the rhythm was. The ringing of the shot, the ripples of force that moved through his arms, the metal under his hands.
He emptied another clip, then another, then another, until his stack was gone.
He let his stance fall loose as he dropped the last clip onto his pile of empties and rolled his shoulders as the target came closer and revealed yet another perfect round.
Finally, Bucky turned. Clint and Rogers were both standing behind him, Clint looking absolutely delighted and Rogers as indecipherable as ever. Behind them, through the glass windows was a small crowd of Stark employees, a few SHIELD agents and, shockingly, Director Fury himself. He hadn’t seen Fury since their decidedly unproductive interrogation over three months ago but his face remained as impassive as ever. His eyes met Bucky’s and he gave a single small nod before walking away, his long black coat billowing behind him. Bucky wasn’t sure what to make of that.
“Dude, that was awesome!” Clint clapped Bucky on the shoulder as he went to put away his gun, “Normally, we put super good targets on the wall to show off but if we did that with all of yours there wouldn’t be any wall left.”
Bucky smiled indulgently as he carefully restocked his used clips and returned them to the armory.
“I’ve had a lot of time to get good,” Bucky said, “Are you gonna shoot? We’ve got another twenty minutes until our time’s up.”
“Oh, right! Sick,” Barton checked his gun before stepping up to the firing line and pulling out his hearing aids.
He turned back to Bucky and pointed at his ears.
“Means I don’t have to wear those annoying earplugs,” he said.
Bucky grinned and gave him a thumbs up before standing back and watching Clint take his first shot.
He was good. Very good. Bucky could tell he was showing off a little, but he didn’t mind. As Clint produced perfect target after perfect target Bucky could feel his competitive side rearing its head. Things were going to get interesting around the apartment, that was for sure.
In the corner of his eye, Bucky could see Rogers staring at him. He stared a lot and didn’t seem to care about getting caught so Bucky let him look. He didn’t want to confront him about it because then they’d have to speak to each other and so far all that had managed to do was vaguely piss them both off. Objectively, Bucky knew that if he wanted to get back into the field, he needed Rogers’ approval but he could do that without being his friend. Even Rogers would put aside his pride to get someone as skilled as Bucky back out there. At least, that was Bucky’s hope.
Clint emptied his last round and did a little victory dance when the target came back clean.
“Take that, Bucky!” He yelled, hopping away from the firing line and striking a dumb pose with his gun.
Bucky actually laughed at that.
“Shut up, dumbass,” Bucky replied, making sure Clint was looking so he could read his lips, “You look like an idiot.”
“‘Scuse you, if Charlie’s Angels can stand like this then so can I.”
Bucky added Charlie’s Angels to his mental list of things to catch up on, but laughed like he knew what Clint was talking about anyway. Clint slid his hearing aids back on and Bucky followed him as he took his gun back to its mount on the racks.
“It’ll be nice to have someone else who can shoot on the team,” Clint said as he locked up the cages again, “Tasha and I get by but, low key, none of these other guys can shoot for shit.”
Bucky muffled his laugh in his hand. He could feel Rogers glaring at their backs. Clint flung an arm over Bucky’s shoulders and led the way out. It was an unusual move, but the contact was nice so Bucky leaned into it.
“Like, if Stark didn’t have self-targeting weapons I don’t know what we’d do.”
Bucky snorted as they passed the agent in front of the range.
“And sure, Hulk is strong but precision isn’t really his ballgame,” Clint continued as they headed for the elevator, “Thor too— he can be a bit heavy handed. Cap’s probably got the best aim out of all of them—”
Bucky became acutely aware of the man behind them as Clint hit the elevator button.
“—but there’s only so much damage you can do with just a shield.”
Bucky bit his lip to keep himself from having any reaction to that. It was clear that Clint was trying to rile Rogers up. Bucky didn’t know why but he quickly decided it best to stay out of that particular argument, whatever it was.
The elevator doors pinged open and the two of them got in. When they turned, Rogers was scowling at Clint with what might have been genuine anger.
“See you ‘round, Cap.” Clint said, hitting the button for their floor and then jamming the ‘close door’ button about fourteen times as if Rogers would make a move to join them, which he didn’t. The doors slid shut.
“The fuck was that, Barton?” Bucky asked as Clint slid his arm off Bucky’s shoulders.
“Dude’s been pissing me off,” Clint grumbled, all cheer from earlier gone.
“Yeah, I got that much.”
“I’ve been trying to get you out of this goddamn building for months!” Clint finally burst, “and every time he’s just like, ‘he’s dangerous’, ‘it’s too risky’, ‘he can’t be trusted’. Bullshit! I’ve known you for ages now and, sure, you’re an asshole, but a fun asshole not a murder asshole!”
The elevator opened to their shared living room.
“You haven’t breathed fresh air in months,” Clint continued, opening the fridge aggressively, “you can’t even leave this floor without supervision and you don’t fucking need it. Wanda, Bruce, and I all know that you’re fine. Every test you took for SHIELD came back clean, we even have a testimonial from the fucking King of Wakanda that you’re fine so what the fuck is his problem? Sure you tried to kill him but, honestly, who hasn’t? If we all got caught up on who tried to kill who all the time we’d never get anything done.”
Clint shoved a handful of grapes into his mouth, temporarily stalling his rant, though he still looked murderous.
“We need you.” His voice was a little garbled by the grapes, “I wasn’t kidding about the rest of the Avengers. We get the job done, sure, but it’s always a strain. Besides, what the fuck was that shit he said to you in there? ‘Don’t joke about it.’ He knows that wasn’t cool. He’s been great with me when I got mind controlled and I know he would never say that shit to Wanda even though she killed tons of people too. We all deal with things our own way and yeah, sometimes that means you joke about it. He fucking knows that.”
Clint kicked the breakfast bar before seeming to finally run out of steam.
“I don’t know what his problem is but he needs to fucking get over himself.”
Bucky flopped down on the sofa. He couldn’t say much about what was going on in Rogers’ head. All he knew was his himself— at least he thought he did.
“What made you trust me?” Bucky asked, “I know it wasn’t my unverifiable story about WWII.”
“It was a combination of things,” Clint sprawled out across the carpet on his back and chewed his lip, “Wanda said you were trustworthy and I believed her. I decided to give you the benefit of the doubt because I knew what it was like not to have control of your actions. Your story threw me off but I talked to Wanda again and she insisted that you have pure intentions and that you’re not a liar. Ignoring what you did while under Hydra’s influence, I had no reason to doubt you so I decided you were innocent until proven guilty.”
Bucky hid his smile by pulling his knees up to his chest. Clint had taken a leap of faith and Bucky’s life was so much better for it.
“So my question becomes,” Clint continued, “what the fuck is Cap's problem? He’s supposed to be the tactical one! All signs point to you being fine, what’s his deal?”
If Rogers was ignoring all of the evidence then maybe this was more personal than Bucky had originally thought. Maybe Rogers was holding onto how brutal their fights had been way back when. If Rogers was as stubborn as Clint made him sound then maybe Bucky should go and apologize or something, just to smooth things over before the problem became more trouble than it was worth. Although, Bucky realized, Rogers wasn’t the only one who could pull strings.
“Fury saw me shoot today,” he said.
Clint froze with another handful of grapes halfway to his mouth.
“Now, there’s a guy who doesn’t care if you tried to kill him or not,” Clint said, looking intrigued, “did he look impressed?”
Bucky gave Clint a look.
“Right, right. He doesn’t have human facial expressions,” Clint thought for a moment, “He didn’t do anything?”
“He nodded,” Bucky said with a shrug.
Clint’s eyes went wide.
Bucky shrugged again.
“Bucky, that’s great!” Clint’s grapes went flying as he waved his hands, “Thats, like, practically a proposal!”
“You’re exaggerating.” Bucky rolled his eyes.
“I am not,” Clint insisted, “I’m well versed in the limited facial ranges of Nicholas J. Fury.”
“You didn’t even see it.”
“I didn’t need to. You’re fucking in, buddy.”
Clint held out his hand for a fist bump. Bucky wasn’t convinced and, besides, Rogers might still be a problem. But if this brought him one step closer to getting back out there and ending Hydra for good, then he’d take it.
“You’d better be right or I’m gonna be pissed,” he said as he tapped Clint’s fist with his own.
“Of course I’m right, Bucky. Come on, let’s watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer to celebrate. You’ll like it.”
Two days later, Bucky got the call. Well, less of a call and more of a second hand text message.
He was at the range again. Clint was behind him, chatting quietly with Wilson, who was watching them that day.
Samuel Thomas Wilson. Falcon. Avenger. Former United States Air Force. Former Air National Guard. Counselor at the New York Veterans Association. Recruited by Captain Steven Grant Rogers. Capture. Kill if necessary.
Wilson was alright. He wasn't openly hostile like Romanoff and he wasn’t passively disapproving like Rogers. He just gave Bucky a look that very clearly said “I’m on Rogers’ side” before treating him like any other agent. It was actually kind of nice. Bucky didn’t have to worry about getting shot from behind and he could expect a somewhat cordial greeting when they passed in the hallways now. Bucky mentally upped his friendship tally to three and a half. Not a bad score, all things considered.
Bucky had just lined up his next shot when Wilson made a noise behind him. It was a confused little “oh” followed by a long silence, then Clint whooped.
“I told you so!” Clint hollered, slapping Bucky on the back.
Bucky turned and glared at Clint before gesturing ostentatiously at the loaded gun in his hands.
“Forget target practice, Bucky!” Clint shouted, grabbing Bucky by the shoulders and shaking him, “Fury’s added you to the roster for tomorrows Avenger’s training session! You’re fucking in buddy!”
Bucky turned his wide eyes on Wilson, who was staring in shock at his phone. On the screen, Bucky could just see the shape of rapidly appearing text bubbles and some big capital letters:
Nat: WHY THE FUCK IS THE WINTER SOLDIER ON TOMORROWS ROSTER!?!??!
Bucky looked away. Engaging with Natasha Romanoff once had left his self esteem in tatters so he turned back to Clint instead.
“Man, the training sessions are always crazy,” Clint was saying, “Tony has this huge hologram room thing— I don’t really know how it works— but he can program it to create all these different scenarios. JARVIS creates an environment and we have to strategize to fight our way through and complete our mission within a certain time frame. Some of them are more intense than the actual battles we fight, just because we need to be ready, you know? Cap is usually in charge and there’s no way of knowing what scenario we’re gonna end up with but you and I will probably end up on sniper duty. It’s going to be so fun! I bet I can beat you to fifty kills.”
“Fun, isn’t really the objective,” Wilson said, putting away his phone and looking over at them tensely, “I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
“Ugh, not you too,” Clint groaned.
“Look, it's not that I think you’re secretly evil or something, Barnes,” he said, actually addressing Bucky, to his surprise, “but I work with a lot of people with PTSD and I’m not sure that throwing you into an intense combat situation like that will be the same as shooting targets on the range. Even if you walk in there with the best intentions, it could mess you up more than you realize.”
Bucky took a moment to consider it, after all, Wilson was an expert. He thought about the little voice in his head that automatically spewed information at him in Hydra’s many voices. He thought about the year he spent hunting Hydra on his own and the year he spent in Wakanda. It hadn’t all been doctors and therapy. Shuri made sure that he’d be able to handle himself in the world. There was no way she’d have let him leave Wakanda if she hadn’t had total confidence in him so even if he didn’t always believe in himself, he could always believe in her.
“I appreciate the concern,” Bucky said genuinely, “and believe me, I understand the risk you all are taking by letting me be here, but I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t ready.”
Wilson blinked at him.
“That’s fair, I suppose.” Wilson scratched the back of his neck and looked down at his phone again, “I mean, I personally might suggest a less dangerous team building exercise before jumping straight into a full combat situation but Fury’s the boss.”
“You think everyone can get their heads out of their asses long enough for a training simulation?” Clint asked, rolling his eyes.
“I want to think so,” Wilson sighed, typing out a response, “I hope that, when the time comes, we can all be professional about this.”
“Yeah,” Clint turned to Bucky, “Don’t worry, dude. Natasha doesn’t like you but she wouldn’t jeopardize a mission just to be petty. Cap wouldn’t either.”
“I’m not worried about them,” Bucky said with a shrug, “I just want to do my job.”
He turned back to the targets at the other end of the range.
Tomorrow was his chance to prove himself. He just had to be perfect and then they’d let him take down Hydra.
He raised his gun again and aimed.
All he had to do was shoot and there wasn’t anyone better at that than him.
“I’m not wearing this.”
Bucky stared through the sleek glass locker at the leather uniform of the Winter Soldier.
“It’s your armor, isn’t it?” Clint asked questioningly.
Around them the Avengers were all changing into their uniforms, each kept neatly in their own glass lockers. Rogers was lacing up his boots while Stark—
Anthony Edward Stark. Iron Man. Avenger. Genius billionaire industrialist. Former CEO of Stark Industries. Capture. Kill if necessary.
—simply stepped into his locker and it moved around him until the pieces of his Iron Man suit fit over his body like a glove. Romanoff was zipping up her vest and Wilson was strapping his wings on. Bruce and Wanda didn’t have much by way of armor so they were chatting on the bench behind Bucky while they waited for everyone else to get ready.
Clint pulled his own armored vest and quiver out of his locker while Bucky stared at his uniform while his heartbeat picked up speed.
“This is Hydra armor.”
The quiet bustling of the locker room fell silent when Bucky spoke a little more loudly than he’d intended. He closed his eyes for a moment and took a breath.
“I’m not wearing this,” he repeated, more quietly this time.
He felt Wanda’s hand squeeze his elbow.
“Okay,” she said, turning him around to face away from the black leather, “We’ll find you something else.”
To Bucky’s surprise, it was Wilson who pulled out a spare bulletproof compression t-shirt for him to wear, along with a pair of boots. Clint gave him one of his vests and helped him fit the straps over his broader shoulders.
“You’d better not look better in this than I do,” he grumbled as he tightened the last of the purple buckles around Bucky’s waist.
“Too late,” Bucky joked, gently shoving Clint’s shoulder with his own.
Clint gasped exaggeratedly as Bucky pulled his hair back with Wanda’s blue hair tie. The jeans he was wearing would have to do, he decided as the rest of the Avengers started leaving to convene in the Training Room. He took the earpiece Clint handed him before pulling out the rest of his stuff. He had a rifle, six smaller guns, four knives and four grenades. He strapped on his belts and holsters and felt a little comforted by the familiar weight of his gear. It probably wasn’t the best thing to use as a security blanket but Bucky wasn’t in a position to be choosy.
He followed Wanda and Clint to the Training Room where the Avengers were all standing around what looked like a small glowing table. The rest of the room was completely empty. It was perfectly square but you could fit at least two football fields side by side. There were no windows or doors, save the one they came in through, and the entire interior of the space was covered in large black tiles. Bucky stuck close to Clint as they walked the long way to the center of the room.
“Okay, we’re all here,” Stark announced, dressed in his Iron Man suit with his helmet tucked under his arm, “Let’s see what Jarvis has cooked up for us this time.”
Stark tapped the center of the small table, which Bucky could now see had some sort of touch screen in the center. Blue light burst from beneath Stark’s fingertips. A transparent hologram of a block of buildings appeared above the screen. It spun slowly as the voice of a man with a British accent began speaking.
“Today’s simulation is an alien invasion—“
“Oh, I love these ones,” Clint whispered to Bucky.
“— your mission is to destroy them before they destroy humanity.”
The hologram disappeared and the voice fell silent.
“That was ominous,” Bucky whispered.
“Yeah, Jarvis likes to be dramatic,” Clint replied with a grin, “brace yourself.”
Bucky saw the rest of the Avengers tense and turn to face the blank walls, Bucky followed Clint’s lead and readied himself.
Between one blink and the next the entire room changed.
Bucky was standing in the middle of a half destroyed street. The air was hot and dusty and it was completely, unnaturally silent. In the eerie quiet, a nearly inaudible snarl drew Bucky’s attention. Underneath a nearby car, a strange pale skinned creature was moving around. Bucky could see the glint of its cold eyes. It was eating something.
“Tony,” Rogers’ voice came in through the com in Bucky’s ear, “Get us a visual.”
Next to him, Bucky saw Clint draw an arrow. Everyone around him was cautiously drawing their weapons. He heard a loud whoosh as Iron Man took off.
“Nat, Clint, Sam, search for civilians and evacuate any you find. Wanda, Bruce, find the aliens and do as much damage as you can. Barnes—“
Bucky turned at the sound of his name. Rogers was looking at him like he wasn’t totally sure what to tell him to do before his expression turned resolute.
“Get somewhere high. Protect any civilians from above. Everyone, keep an eye out for the aliens, we need to figure out what they look like, what they can do, and how to kill them.”
With that, the Avengers dispersed. Wilson took off, Wanda launched herself up toward the taller building down the street, Clint and Romanoff took off to look for civilians, and Bruce morphed into Hulk before roaring loud enough to shake the ground.
Bucky forced himself to focus. The best vantage point was a well positioned building three doors down, Bucky made for it. As he moved, the creature beneath the car shot out and disappeared into the shadows of a doorway across the street. Bucky hesitated but kept running, he needed to get into position.
“Fourteen civilians on the east side,” Stark’s voice said in Bucky’s ear as he forced the door of his chosen building open, “twenty three more trapped in the basement of the building to your left, Romanoff.”
“Roger,” Romanoff responded.
Bucky raised his rifle as he made his way across the dim foyer. The windows had all been blown out and debris littered the floor. He quickly but cautiously climbed the stairwell at the far end. It was quiet inside.
“Any sign of the hostiles?” Rogers asked.
“Small, maybe the size of a dog,” Bucky said quietly, “They’re pale and quick.”
For a moment, no one responded.
“Alright, everyone keep an eye out.”
Bucky wondered if he should have kept his mouth shut. Maybe he should have waited until someone else spotted one. The point of this exercise was for him to prove his worth but it meant nothing if he pissed off the rest of the team in the process. He double guessed himself all the way up the stairs, where he was greeted by six corpses.
Intellectually, he knew he was in a simulation but there was another part of him that told him there was no faking that smell. He cringed as he silently stepped around the bodies. He scanned the landing for aliens before dropping to a knee to examine one of the corpses. It looked like something had chewed its way through the victim's abdomen and crawled out the other side. He checked out the other bodies. They all had similar holes in their stomachs.
“I think they eat people’s organs,” he said.
“Ew,” Clint replied.
Bucky could picture the exact face Clint was making and silently agreed.
He began moving more quickly now. He climbed up to the next landing, then the next. Sometimes there were bodies, sometimes not, but no sign of the aliens yet. Maybe they moved on after they made their way through the available food supply, Bucky reasoned. He made his way to the top floor and kicked his way through the locked door that led to the roof.
“Entering the building with the civilians,” Romanoff said, “We’re going to take them to the bank at the end of the block, it’s the most defensible position.”
“Got it. Tony, make sure their path is clear,” Rogers said.
“Yup,” Stark replied.
Bucky heard the hum of Stark’s suit as he positioned himself on the corner of a roof several streets over. As Bucky looked into the distance he could see they were on the edge of a desert. He wondered how far he could walk before he hit the wall of the Training Room. The hologram seemed to go on forever. The sound of gunfire brought him back to the rooftop.
“Shit, they’re fast.” Clint hissed, “I confirm Barnes’ assessment.”
“I haven’t seen any yet,” Wanda replied.
“We can hear screams from the basement,” Romanoff said, “I don’t speak their language but I’m guessing these things are bad.”
Bucky peered through his scope and stared down at the street below. The civilians would have to walk straight down this way to get to the bank. Bucky focused in on a shadowed doorway. He thought he could see movement. His gut told him to shoot but he waited. A pale form darted forwards. He fired once.
Through his scope he saw blue fluid dripping out of the wound in the creatures side. It tried to crawl forward towards the nearest car but Bucky had shot it in one of its six legs, it was limping. As it struggled forward, it’s skin began to burn. Smoke was rising from its form and it moved slower and slower as it reached for the shadows. Then it fell still. Puzzle pieces suddenly slid together in his mind.
“Clint, Widow! Get out of there and wait for back up! The aliens can’t survive in sunlight and they eat human organs. They’ll be converging on the civilians trapped underground. You’re going to be outnumbered!”
Clint’s com suddenly went haywire as the ringing of gunfire and the screaming of the civilians filled the air. Bucky could hear the chaos from his perch on the rooftop. He’d made a tactical error. He’d assumed the civilians would be in most danger out in the open, not indoors.
“Wanda, Sam! Get to the civilians. Tony get to the ones on the east side! Barnes keep your position.” Rogers ordered.
“I’ll be more useful on the ground,” Bucky responded before leaping from the building’s ledge. He dug his metal fingers into the brick to slow his fall and hit the ground running. Now that he knew he was safe in the sunlight it was easy to make his way through the streets.
“Barnes! I said keep your position!”
A tiny voice at the back of his head screamed that defying Rogers was a bad move, but it was easily overruled by memories of World War II. Sometimes you had to disobey your superiors to save lives and, in Bucky’s experience, it had always been worth it.
He ran for the building. He could hear the sound of gunfire getting louder and the familiar ringing of screams. He saw Wilson burst from a window with at least six aliens hanging off him as he hit the adjacent building while trying to kick them off. Trying to shoot at that tangled mess would be a fool's errand. Luckily, there was an easier way to kill these creatures.
“Wilson! Get into the sunlight!” Bucky shouted, running past him to get into the building.
He saw Wilson turn and start heading out of the shadows as he ran past him through the doorway.
Corpses— alien and human— littered the ground. Bucky spotted a stairwell that led down towards the basement and followed the sound of gunshots to its source.
Wanda was battling a hoard of the pale, sharp toothed aliens with her red mist while Clint and Romanoff shot the ones that got too close to the civilians they were protecting in the corner. Romanoff had blood streaked across her chest and Clint looked like one of the aliens had tried to go for his kidney. Wanda had a cut across her forehead which left streaks of red across her face. One of the aliens bit Wanda’s outstretched hand. A wave of—perhaps unwarranted— protectiveness surged through Bucky and he pulled the pin on one of his grenades and tossed it toward a group of aliens in the far corner before fighting his way to Wanda’s side. He traded his guns for knives and found that his metal arm was pretty good for crushing alien skulls since they couldn’t bite it properly. He made it to Wanda only a little bloodied. She was twirling her mist around them, wrapping it around the creatures and slicing through them. It was effective, but not effective enough.
“Wanda.” Bucky sliced through the jaw of an alien that lunged at him, “you need to level the building.”
“What?” Wanda shouted, “Why?”
“Sunlight kills them!” Bucky replied, kicking one that got its talons around Wanda’s calf, “if you break through the ceiling and the upper levels the light will take care of everything!”
“Okay!” She yelled back, “Cover me?”
Bucky refocused all of his attention on Wanda as she stopped fighting the aliens around her. Bucky pulled his handguns and began delivering headshot after headshot as Wanda’s red mist began gathering at the ceiling. Bucky moved around her, carving a circle of protection in the unending waves of aliens that threw themselves forward.
It was nice, feeling useful again, Bucky thought as Wanda broke through the ground level of the building. It had been months of nothing since he turned himself over to SHIELD so this was a nice change of pace. Not that screaming, gunfire, blood, and aliens were nice, per se, but it was familiar. The rhythm of protecting someone, the ease of knowing exactly who your enemy was, and the satisfaction of successful teamwork all settled comfortably in Bucky’s chest as Wanda’s magic blew the building above them open, letting the hot dry sun streak in.
The white aliens began to shriek as the light hit them. Up close, Bucky could hear the sizzle of their skin and smell the smokey char of their flesh as they shriveled up.
“Aw, gross,” Wanda’s nose scrunched as the little alien bodies fell around them.
Silence fell as the last of their enemies died. Bucky was about to call it a day when a distant explosion shook the ground.
“Cap, Stark? You guys good?” Clint said into his com as they started leading the civilians back up to street level.
“Uh… mostly?” was Stark’s response.
Suddenly, the sky shimmered and the jolly sound of trumpets echoed through the streets.
“What the fuc—“ Bucky cut himself off in surprise when the civilians vanished in an instant along with the heat and the rubble and the corpses.
They were back in Starks empty hologram room, scattered across the huge empty space. Bucky saw Rogers and Stark picking themselves up off the ground as he reoriented himself in the weird cube of a room.
“I think that went rather well,” Wanda said, grinning up at Bucky.
Bucky smiled back.
“What the fuck was that, Barnes?” Rogers shouted across the chamber.
“Oh, or not,” Wanda whispered as Rogers stormed towards them.
“I thought you wanted to be part of this team but instead you disobeyed orders and left Tony and I on our own!” Rogers continued, stopping in front of Bucky with a huff, “You were not where I needed you to be and Tony and I nearly lost the civilians on the east side!”
Now that Rogers was up close, Bucky could see that he’d been bitten by aliens pretty hard a couple times and then gotten trapped in the blast of an explosive. No wonder he was pissed.
“I realized Clint and The Widow were walking into an ambush and went to help them,” Bucky countered, “I wasn’t going to sit there and listen to them get torn up. I also found an easier way to kill the aliens and covered Wanda while she took out nearly sixty of them at once.”
“Clint and Nat can handle themselves,” Rogers shot back, “and no one else had confirmed your theory about the sunlight so it could have been a fluke.”
“You callin’ me a liar?” Bucky demanded, trying to tamp down the spark of anger in his chest as best he could.
“No,” Rogers replied, “I’m saying one incident isn’t a pattern. We can’t base our plans on one thing you saw when other factors could have been at play. You should not have moved.”
“If I hadn’t, they’d still be trying to fight their way out of that basement!”
“If you hadn’t, you could have helped Tony and me and then we could have gone to help them!”
“I was nowhere near the east side!” Bucky rolled his eyes, giving in to his frustration, “if I’d stayed on that rooftop I’d have been useless to everyone. You would have done the exact same thing in my position and you know it.”
“You don’t speak for me, Soldier,” Rogers snapped, “Know your place.”
With that, Rogers turned and stormed out. Romanoff, Wilson, and Stark quickly followed suit, leaving Bucky with Wanda, Clint, and Bruce.
“Yikes,” Bruce muttered.
“If you think I’m wrong just say so,” Bucky sighed, scrubbing a hand across his dirty face, “I’ll listen to you guys over Captain Righteous right now.”
Clint scratched at the back of his neck.
“I’m on your side, Bucky,” Wanda said, coming back up beside him, “I’m no strategist, but I wouldn’t have left you up on some rooftop when the targets couldn’t set foot in sunlight.”
“Thank you!” Bucky said enthusiastically, throwing an arm around her shoulders, “You’re my favorite. Have I told you that you’re my favorite?”
Wanda laughed and hugged him around his waist before tugging him toward the exit. Bucky saw Bruce smile and shake his head at them.
“Don’t get too frustrated with the Captain,” Bruce said as he followed them, “he’s just not sure how to properly integrate you with the team yet.”
“Yeah,” Wanda agreed, “he had no idea how to factor my abilities in with his plans until we had a couple good one-on-one training sessions where he saw exactly what I could do.”
“He knows exactly what I can do,” Bucky scoffed, “I’ve already used all my best stuff on him.”
“Well, maybe it’s more of a trust thing then,” Bruce mused as they stepped back into the locker room.
Rogers and his crew had already left. Their stuff was neatly packed away exactly as it had been before without a scratch on it. Bucky looked down at himself. The blood, the dust, the rubble was all gone. He looked back and watched Clint’s vest get spontaneously dry-cleaned as he crossed the threshold of the hologram room.
“Holographic aliens leave holographic bruises,” Clint said with a halfhearted grin when he saw Bucky looking, “Stark wouldn’t actually let us get hurt in there. Imagine if we did really bad and died or something. That would just be embarrassing.”
“Huh,” Bucky pulled off the vest Clint had lent him and Wilson’s t-shirt. He folded it neatly and left it at the bottom of Wilson’s locker. Wanda and Bruce both left fairly quickly, leaving Clint and Bucky to make their way back upstairs together. The elevator ride was unusually quiet and by the time they were back in their apartment Bucky’s patience had run out.
“Out with it, Barton,” he said as Clint poured himself a glass of water, “If you’re on Cap’s side, I get it. I won’t take it personally.”
Clint sighed dramatically.
“Look, I just—“ he took a moment to find his words, “I’ve been around longer than Wanda and Bruce. I was at SHIELD before they even pulled Cap from the ice. I remember what Stark was like, and Natasha too. I know we’ve talked about the Chitauri attack but you have to understand: that was our first mission as the Avengers and it was an absolute clusterfuck.”
Clint collapsed on the sofa and downed his water as he slumped back onto the cushions.
“We were all picked for the Avengers because we were the best of the best, top of our fields, which meant that there were some pretty big egos in the room and Cap had to do a lot of work to get us to be a functional team. There was so much training, so many intense conversations, all in the name of building trust and getting us to bond enough that we could all share the spotlight. What I’m saying is: a team only works if we all work together. Today’s test wasn’t to see if we could complete the mission, it was to see if you could be part of the team. Even if you made the right call in there, it still makes it look like you can’t be trusted to be where you need to be and if you aren’t where you need to be, then there’s no point having a plan in the first place.”
“I get that, Clint. Really, I do,” Bucky said, “but if I can’t adapt a plan in light of new information and if I can’t go to the aid of my teammates when they need it then what am I supposed to do? Just hunker down and hope for the best? Wait for approval before doing something that could save lives? The job got done, isn’t that enough?”
“On an individual level, sure,” Clint argued, “but in the bigger picture, its way better to be consistent than to fly by the seat of your pants every time. We’re the Avengers, man. If we fuck up, we fuck up big. We have to hold each other accountable and make sure we’re all on the same page, otherwise one stupid, well-meaning move could take us all down.”
Bucky scowled at the coffee table.
“I stand by what I did.”
“You were right to do it,” Clint said, nudging Bucky’s foot with his own, “we would have been overwhelmed without you. It’s just that you have to earn our trust before you pull a stunt like that.”
Bucky flopped down on the sofa next to Clint.
“I blew it, didn’t I?”
“Eh, well,” Clint shrugged, “you can’t really argue with the results but yeah. I don’t think you’re gonna get cleared for missions any time soon.”
Clint was right. The next morning, Bucky was making himself toast while Clint was out at a briefing when his phone pinged. It was an official notice from SHIELD.
After yesterday’s training session, Captain Steven G. Rogers has deemed you unfit for Avengers training until further notice. While his official report is confidential, the primary reasons for this decision stems from uncertainty about your ability to follow orders, a lack of confidence in your motivations, and the potential of personal conflicts that exist between yourself and several of the other Avengers. At such a time when these issues have been addressed, your position may be reconsidered—
Bucky stopped reading. Even before the Soldier, Bucky’s anger had always run cold and quiet instead of hot and loud and now the trait made itself known once again as ice flooded his veins. Silent and still, he seethed.
Inability to follow orders, lack of confidence, personal conflicts.
Bullshit. All of it.
If Clint were there he’d know what to say to calm him down but he wasn’t, so Bucky let the anger simmer. Then a spark became a cold flame and suddenly he was in the elevator hitting the floor number for Rogers’ personal apartments.
He wasn’t supposed to go anywhere without supervision and he didn’t even know if Rogers was in, but he didn’t care. He was so tired. Three months he’d spent trying to convince everyone that he was ready—two years, really, if you counted the deprogramming— and now all that stood between him and his revenge on Hydra was some asshole who had decided to turn him away before he’d even been given a chance. Bucky wasn’t going to stand for that. Not after all the work he’d done to get this far.
The elevator opened to the spacious entryway that led to Rogers front door. Bucky stepped forward and banged on the wood before he could think twice about it. His heart pounded in his chest as he waited. Restless fury coiled in his chest as he waited for Rogers to open up and give him a chance to strike. Bucky knew that he didn’t have much by way of a plan beyond wherever his indignant anger was taking him but was also too furious to care.
The door opened. Rogers was dressed to go out with a baseball cap on his head and a dark blue bomber jacket around his shoulders. He stared at Bucky tensely and Bucky was suddenly grateful for his icy temper. Rogers took one look at him and then stiffened like he was bracing for impact. He was waiting for the explosion, the scream of “what’s your problem?” and the pounding of fists. He was waiting for a confirmation of Bucky’s recklessness, thoughtlessness, and ego in the face of authority.
Instead, Bucky just stared.
He’d given Rogers plenty of time to look at him in the past few weeks so it seemed only fitting for Bucky to return the favor.
Rogers was a little taller than him, blue eyed, and square jawed. His blond hair was cut short but long enough in the front that it flopped forward a little bit. It wasn’t a standard military cut but it was still pretty conventional.
Standard, stable, authoritative, self-righteous.
What else could be expected from America’s Golden Boy?
Bucky watched Rogers’ tension grow as the silence stretched. It had only been 26 seconds before Rogers broke.
“Can I help you?” He asked, terse and uncomfortable.
Bucky waited another ten seconds before responding. Watching Rogers squirm minutely under his gaze was more satisfying than he cared to admit.
“Hiding behind bureaucratic bullshit isn’t a good look on you,” Bucky remarked quietly.
Rogers’ jaw clenched. He folded his arms and suddenly seemed to tower over Bucky as his bulk filled the doorway.
“I’m not hiding,” he replied sternly, “I’ve deemed you unfit for duty, Soldier. That’s it. If you can’t handle rejection, that’s your problem.”
Bucky silently bristled at the nickname.
“I did the right thing and you know it.” Bucky hissed softly.
“You disobeyed direct orders,” Rogers countered his voice rising with authority, “I need people who are reliable, not wild cards.”
“If only the old world could see you now,” Bucky scoffed, “I wonder what they would say if they heard Captain America advocating for blind obedience over free thought.”
Rogers’ face pinched incredulously.
“Are you really trying to compare me to a Nazi right now?”
“Hydra took my autonomy away,” Bucky replied, “and the first thing I did when I could think freely again was to swear to myself I’d never take orders without question ever again. I disobeyed because Clint and Wanda— my friends— needed help. Sitting on that rooftop doing nothing and letting them walk into a trap would have been a far more harmful crime than disobedience.”
The furrow between Rogers’ brows deepened.
“You know I’m right,” Bucky added, “and in my position you would have done the same thing.”
“You have no idea what I’d have done,” Rogers snapped.
“You’d have run in with no plan and no back up because you’re a punk who thinks the best way to stop a tank is to punch it.”
Bucky hadn’t really meant to say that. Revealing their shared history would bring up far more questions than it would answer and none of them would help Bucky get back in the field faster. It was a waste of time, but as Bucky watched Rogers’ face morph from restrained frustration to surprise he resigned himself to being sidetracked.
“How the hell do you know about that,” Rogers asked, all loud righteousness gone.
Bucky folded his arms and scowled at the door frame.
“James Buchanan Barnes, Sergeant of the 107th Infantry Regiment, US Army, reported M.I.A. in 1945.” He gave Rogers a mocking salute and let his Brooklyn drawl bleed into his words as he spoke.
Roger’s posture instantly changed. His arms dropped to his sides and the furrow between his brows vanished.
“You’re from the past.”
“Yup,” Bucky folded his arms again petulantly, “you woulda figured that out sooner if anyone had bothered to ask.”
A flash of guilt crossed Rogers’ face. Bucky could almost hear the gears turning in his head as his eyes swept across Bucky as if for the first time.
“And you know about the tank thing,” Rogers murmured almost to himself, “I never reported that which means…”
“I was there,” Bucky finished for him, “I was covering you from above. You’re welcome, by the way.”
Rogers’ eyes bored into his own. Bucky refused to flinch.
“I… I remember you,” Rogers’ breathed, “your hair was shorter but I… you abandoned your post to protect me.”
He was staring at Bucky with something akin to awe. While Bucky could hold his own against anger, stupidity, and violence, awe was something he was unfamiliar with.
“It doesn’t matter now,” Bucky said, dismissing the distant memory, “the point is that half the reason you’re standing where you are right now is because you knew when to follow orders and when to disobey them. Yeah, punching that tank was a stupid move but it drew enough attention that it gave the rest of us the element of surprise. So, yeah, I don’t know you that well but don’t pretend that what I did is evidence of some huge character flaw because I know you wouldn’t sit quietly on some rooftop while your friends got attacked just because someone told you to.”
Bucky expected some response or even acknowledgement after that but Rogers was still just staring at him with that strangely open look on his face. Bucky wondered if anything he’d just said had gotten through or if Rogers was still lost in the past.
“I—uh,” Rogers blinked and the furrow between his eyes returned, “Sorry, uh, do you want to come in?”
He stepped aside as if appearing like a decent host was suddenly important to him, despite the scrunch of tension that reappeared across his forehead, and through the doorway Bucky could see a cozy looking living room with a soft blue couch and hardwood floors.
The last thing Bucky wanted to do was sit and trade war stories with a man who saw them as glory days instead of the catalyst for the worst decades of Bucky’s life.
Rogers’ eyes flicked down then back up.
“Well, then,” Rogers’ rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, his face still pinched, “maybe you could meet me in the training room later? Consider it a reevaluation.”
This new uncertain Rogers was throwing Bucky off.
“A reevaluation.” Bucky deadpanned.
“Yeah.” Rogers scowled like the words were taking some effort to come out, “I don’t think anyone else is around to join us but we could do another training exercise so I can reassess the decision to keep you off the team.”
“Your decision— while disobedient— maybe wasn’t the worst thing you could have done,” Rogers admitted sheepishly, “given the circumstances.”
Of all the outcomes of storming up to Rogers’ front door, Bucky hadn’t predicted this. It took a particularly humble sort of person to admit to a mistake, even on a good day and was especially surprising coming from someone as used to giving orders as Rogers was. Bucky pushed the thought aside and focused on what was important.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll meet you down there then.”
“Okay. Around 11?”
Bucky didn’t know if he should say “thank you” or something.
“Thanks, I guess,” is what came out as he backed toward the elevator again.
“Sure,” Rogers nodded as he started inching his door closed, “see you later.”
Rogers’ door quickly shut and Bucky hit the elevator button as many times as he could. God, that was awkward. How do you act civil to someone who wrote a report about how shitty you were and then tried to walk it back?
Bucky hit the elevator button eight more times and settled on what he deemed was the most reasonable course of action: pretend everything was fine until it was.
Bucky arrived in the locker room ten minutes early. As predicted, no other Avengers were available. Clint, Romanoff, and Wilson were all stuck in the same meeting, Wanda and Stark were in DC working on a classified project, Thor still hadn’t turned up on Earth since Bucky had been in New York, and Bruce was in the middle of testing some new tech with a guy named Pym. So it would just be Bucky and Rogers. Bucky tried to think of this as a positive. After all, Wanda had said that one-on-one sessions with Rogers had helped solidify her place on the team. Personally though, Bucky wasn’t so convinced.
He’d had nearly an hour to think about all the possible reasons for this second chance that Rogers had suddenly deemed him worthy of but in the end it all boiled down to Rogers feeling some sort of solidarity with Bucky over their shared experience in WWII but what had come after the war was so different for both of them that Bucky found that he really didn’t want that to be their connection. He’d been such a different person back then and he felt no sense of pride or accomplishment when he looked back at what he’d done. Whatever little good he’d managed to do during the war did not outweigh all the pain he’d inflicted on the world afterwards, no matter how unwillingly. No, this connection was not something Bucky would indulge at all. As he stepped into the locker room Bucky was resolute that if Rogers brought up the war, Bucky would shut him down immediately, for his own sanity more than anything else.
Bucky was glad he’d mentally prepared when he turned the corner and got an eyeful of Rogers’ shirtless back. It wasn’t exactly news to Bucky that Rogers’ was ripped but it was something else entirely to see the strength under his smooth skin with his own eyes. Bucky schooled his expression as Rogers turned and nodded to Bucky.
“Hey,” Rogers said.
“Hey,” Bucky replied before forcing himself to focus.
After a moment of awkward silence, they both turned to their lockers. Rogers pulled a t-shirt over his head and Bucky stared at the Winter Soldier’s uniform still sitting behind the glass. He sighed. In the corner of his eye, he saw Rogers glance over at him. Bucky clenched his jaw and turned away from the black leather. He opened Clint’s locker instead. He probably wouldn’t mind if Bucky borrowed his stuff again.
Bucky pulled off his hoodie and tugged Clint’s slightly too tight vest over his head at fiddled with the latches. He didn’t totally understand how the straps interwove but he wasn’t about to ask Rogers for help so he just pulled and loosened them until it didn’t pinch anywhere and called it good. He piled on his small arsenal of weapons and turned around just in time to see Rogers reach around and place his shield on his back.
“Ready?” Rogers asked as he pulled out two earpieces and headed for the door.
“Yup.” Bucky took the earpiece Rogers offered him and led the way to the Training Room.
“I’ve asked Jarvis to run a scenario for two agents,” Rogers said as Bucky pushed the door open and stepped into the sleek black room, “let's just forget about yesterday and complete this mission as best we can, okay?”
It wasn’t exactly a stirring speech but Bucky nodded and walked side by side with Rogers up to the little glowing control panel in the center of the room.
“Morning, Jarvis,” Rogers said, tapping the control panel as it lit up, “What have you got for us?”
A new block of buildings appeared as a blue hologram above the panel. This time one particular building was highlighted.
“Today’s simulation is a hostage situation. An agent has been captured by enemy soldiers. Clear the building and free the hostage without harming the civilians outside.”
As suddenly as the last time, Bucky found himself standing on a sunny street in what felt like Switzerland. People were bustling around, talking on cellphones and getting where they needed to go. Cars zoomed past, honking at each other and chasing down parking spots. Across the street, Bucky spotted the building they needed to infiltrate. As people hurried past them, Bucky stepped instinctively back into the shadows between two buildings and felt the sturdy presence of Rogers at his side as he did.
“Okay, game plan.” Rogers began, “We don’t have the resources to go in anyway besides the ground up. I say we do a quick perimeter, find the easiest entrance and take things from there.”
“I’ll go left, you go right.”
Rogers nodded and they split up. Bucky knew how to blend into a crowd, even when decked out with as many weapons as he had, but he was curious to see how Rogers’ iconic uniform fared while trying to avoid attention. Rogers disappeared around the other side of the building and there were no shouts or the ringing of gunfire as Bucky silently checked his side of the perimeter. There were cameras, which he avoided, and an armored door with a keypad. He met Rogers in the alley on the far side of the building.
“One door, camera, key pad.” Bucky reported.
“One door, two guards, three cameras,” Rogers replied, “but the windows above us aren’t alarmed.”
Bucky nodded and looked up. The first floor didn’t have windows, so they’d need something to climb to get up to the second story.
“Give me a boost,” Rogers said, eyes fixed on the closest window.
“You gonna smash it?” Bucky asked.
Rogers looked back at him with a raised eyebrow.
“No,” Bucky said, “give me a boost.”
Without waiting for a reply, Bucky put his metal hand on Rogers’ shoulder. Shockingly, Rogers said nothing. He just linked his fingers together and held them low enough for Bucky to step on. With one seemingly effortless hoist, Bucky was standing on Rogers’ shoulders. He quickly got his fingers on the window ledge and did a pull up until he could peek through. There were three soldiers, two facing the far wall and the third facing the door to the left. Bucky shifted all his weight to his metal hand and gave the window frame an experimental tug. Unsurprisingly, it was locked. Bucky pulled the knife from his belt and slid it under the frame. With a swipe and another tug, the window was open and Bucky was inside before the sound of the creaking wood could reach the soldiers ears. He knocked the first one out with a fist to the back of the head. By the time the other two turned, he had knives in both hands and soon they were imbedded between the plates of their bulletproof armor. Bucky poked his head back out the window. Rogers was still waiting in the alley.
Bucky stuck his arm out and watched as Rogers leaped, kicked off the brick wall to the adjacent building about half way up, and then kicked again to propel himself toward the window and wrap his gloved hand around Bucky’s forearm. He clearly hadn’t needed a boost. Bucky realized, a bit late, that the request had been a subtle test of Bucky’s ability to collaborate and he definitely hadn’t passed. Bucky hauled Rogers through the window all the same and watched him examine the scene Bucky had left.
“Huh, you’re quiet,” he mused.
Bucky shrugged and readied his rifle as the sound of heavy footsteps echoed down the hall.
Rogers didn’t offer up much more commentary over the course of the next few hours. They ran through the first scenario in record time, then another, then another. They didn’t talk much either, save for the necessary communication of their strategies and Rogers’ occasional little comments.
“You’ve got a sharp eye.”
“You favor your left side.”
“You’re running out of ammo.”
Bucky looked down. His tac belt had been ripped off by a silver-clawed swamp monster at the beginning of their current scenario and all that was left was a sliver of fabric and a lot of gooey swamp juice.
“This’ll be the last one, okay?” Rogers said, knocking Bucky’s shoulder and heading off to place the nitrogen core in the high pressure stabilizer to freeze the swamp, trapping the weird goopy alligators beneath the surface.
“Okay,” Bucky replied, a little thankfully as he kicked off a small goo monster that was trying to climb up his leg.
This whole ‘do-over’ experiment had been strangely easy. Not that the scenarios had been easy— they were exhausting— but Bucky hadn’t expected a partnership between himself and Rogers would work out at all. On one hand, Bucky got the sense that Rogers had been deliberately following Bucky’s lead just to see what he’d do. He doubted Rogers would have agreed on all his calls if they’d been in the field, but on the other hand, Rogers had given his own suggestions on every mission and they’d come to agreements that neither would have thought of on their own but had worked like a charm.
Bucky hauled himself up onto the low branch of a tree to get himself out of the water and watched Rogers stick the nitrogen core in the stabilizer from afar.
He was an odd guy, Bucky decided as Rogers whacked the seemingly sentient swamp goo with his shield before activating the core. He hadn’t expected such a self-righteous ass to be open to what Bucky had to say at all. It was like Rogers had just turned off his skepticism about Bucky and suddenly, they worked.
Bucky felt the humid air around him turn cold as a chill swept through the simulation. Frost began to criss cross its way across the murky water and up the bark of the tree Bucky was perched in. He heard a high screech as the mud and water froze, trapping the sharp-clawed swamp creatures in its depths.
“Yay,” Bucky sighed, sliding backwards off his branch while the little victory song played over the speakers and the world around him vanished.
He hit the ground of the black windowless simulation room and sprawled out on his back.
“That’s all for now. Thanks, Jarvis,” he heard Steve call to the AI before addressing Bucky, “Sorry, was that too much?”
“Nah, it’s fine,” Bucky said, not moving from his spot on the ground, “I just haven’t had this much field practice in the past few months. I’ll get back into the swing of it.”
“Too many late night TV marathons with Clint?” Rogers asked, almost teasingly, as he came over and, to Bucky’s surprise, sat down beside him.
“He’s surprisingly manipulative,” Bucky mused, staring at the black ceiling above them, “I don’t know how he convinced me to watch so many seasons of Desperate Housewives and yet, here I am, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Susan Meyer’s love life.”
Bucky wasn’t sure why he was telling Rogers this. He should be asking where he stands now with regards to the Avengers and if this re-evaluation changed anything but Bucky found himself holding off. Maybe it was because he was physically and emotionally exhausted from having to fight soldiers, then turn around and protect Avengers Tower from aliens, then infiltrate an enemy spacecraft, then stop some hallucinating engineers from launching themselves to the moon, and then kill a bunch of gooey alligator things in a swamp. Bucky felt like he had whiplash just from trying to get with the program every time Jarvis transported them somewhere new. It felt almost relieving to think about something as simple as the fictional escapades of a suburban housewife. She didn’t have to fight swamp monsters.
“Can I ask you a question?” Rogers asked, interrupting Bucky’s extremely unproductive daydream about Susan Meyer and Bree Van de Kamp beating an alligator with shovels, burying it in a flowerbed, and then framing some random asshole for its murder.
“Yeah, I guess,” Bucky replied.
“Did you pull me out of the river?” He asked, “After the helicarriers went down, I mean.”
Bucky turned and looked up at him. Rogers was staring at the wall with a clenched jaw.
Bucky wondered for a second if he was going to get a “thank you” and quickly decided he didn’t deserve one considering all the other things he’d done that day.
“I thought so,” was what Rogers said instead, “but I couldn’t square it with all the stuff you did after.”
“What do you mean?”
As far as Bucky knew, Rogers knew absolutely nothing about what he did between the helicarriers, Wakanda, his unsuccessful Hydra hunt, and then turning himself in to SHIELD.
“The trail you left us,” Rogers said, as if that explained anything, “the messages.”
“I—What?” Bucky sat up, “Messages I left for who?”
“For me,” Rogers brow furrowed, “when Sam, Natasha, and I chased you across three continents?”
Bucky blinked at him.
“You left a bloody and torn up Captain America shirt stuffed into the mouth of a dead Hydra agent for me to find?” Rogers said, searching for some flicker of recognition on Bucky’s face.
“You guys were looking or me?” Bucky asked, a little surprised.
“You killed a bunch of people and beat me to shit, of course we were looking for you!” Rogers half yelled indignantly, “Are you telling me you didn’t even know you were being tracked?”
“I mean, I only would have noticed if you guys were getting close,” Bucky cringed as the words came out, “not that you guys aren’t good at tracking or anything—”
“What about the shirt?” Rogers demanded, “It had my shield logo on it and it was shoved in that dead guys mouth like a taunt.”
Bucky thought back.
“I got a faded t-shirt with a star on it at a second hand store in Vietnam because I had about $18 to my name,” Bucky recalled, “it was cheap because it had stains on it so I wore it for a while and then, when the holes got too big to be decent, I started using it as a rag to patch myself up. Then I raided that Hydra base in Mongolia and I needed some guy’s vocal commands to work the computer but he also wouldn’t stop screaming so I shoved it in his mouth. After that I didn’t really want it back.”
Rogers stared at him incredulously.
“Wait, did you think it was some sort of threat?” Bucky asked.
“Oh my god, you did,” Bucky said, a smile creeping onto his face despite himself, “Wow, no wonder you don’t like me.”
Suddenly, Rogers groaned loudly and fell back onto the ground and covered his face with his hands.
“You seriously didn’t even know we were looking for you?”
“Sorry, dude,” Bucky said, biting back a laugh before reaching over and patting Rogers’ forearm, “I was kinda busy.”
“I spent five months of my life chasing you and you didn’t even notice.”
Bucky couldn’t help the snort that escaped him. Rogers moved his fingers away from his face and shot him a withering glare.
“It’s not funny.”
“It’s a little funny.”
Bucky was openly grinning now.
“So, let me just get this totally straight.” Bucky said, crossing his legs and thinking back over the past few years, “two years ago we met, fought a bunch, and then nearly drowned in the Potomac.”
“Check,” Rogers said.
“I go into hiding for a bit, run into Nakia, and end up in Wakanda for a year while you guys get your shit together over here and make SHIELD 2.0.”
“Then I leave Wakanda and start chasing down Hydra bases, unknowingly drawing the attention of you and your buddies.”
“Sounds about right.”
“You guys chase me down with no luck, only finding half destroyed compounds and Hydra corpses hours after I’ve already left for another country.”
“Something like that.”
“Then you find that gross t-shirt and assume I’m mocking you or threatening to kill you if we ever end up in the same room again.”
“And then I turn up at SHIELD’s front door claiming to mean you no harm so, naturally, you assume it’s all bullshit and that it’s only a matter of time before I poison the water supply.”
Rogers blinked at him.
“Thought maybe I’d torture a few puppies or something,” Bucky asked with a raised eyebrow.
Rogers at least had the good sense to cringe at that.
“Sorry,” he said earnestly, “we assumed the worst about you and we were frustrated that you’d even managed to get into the country without us noticing. We called you the Ghost, you know? You were always one step ahead of us and there was nothing we could do about it. We figured this time would be no different.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Bucky said, “for not shooting me on the spot or something.”
“You’re way too interesting to just shoot.”
Bucky was sure that Rogers meant that in a “you-were-in-Hydra’s-pocket-for-decades-and-are-therefore-strategically-relevant” kind of way but Bucky decided to take the complement anyway. It was a rare occurrence, after all.
“Can I ask you something?” Bucky asked.
“Why’d you decide to give me a do-over if you thought I’d kill you if I had the chance?”
Rogers sighed up at the ceiling.
“Clint’s been wearing me down.” Rogers admitted, “all the facts pointed to you being clear headed, I just had a hard time believing it. Then you told me you’re from the past and, well, I wanted to try something.”
“Try what?” Bucky asked when Rogers fell silent.
“Well,” Rogers sat up and glanced around as if he were about to share a secret and Bucky leaned in despite himself, “I don’t know if you’ve noticed but modern people don’t trust each other at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“When I fought in the War it didn’t even occur to me not to trust my own men,” Rogers said, “It didn’t matter if they were English or French or whatever, I knew we were all fighting for the same thing and that even if they didn’t want to be there they at least wouldn’t stab me in the back.”
“You don’t trust the Avengers?” Bucky asked incredulously.
“Well, I do now,” Rogers said with a shrug, “but they’ve all lied to me in one way or another and my old Tac Team at SHIELD— the agents I’d used to work with— they tried to kill me. Even Fury’s secrets have secrets but it’s because he’s been betrayed probably more than any of us. They’re all liars here. There is no one common enemy and everyone has their own agenda to do who knows what. That’s part of the reason it took so long for the Avengers to actually come together. Everyone starts out from a baseline of distrust, even when fighting together. I was too used to how it was during the War when you knew that whoever was standing beside you, no matter what language they spoke, would fight with you, not against you. Now-days, that sort of trust is a commodity. It has to be earned.”
Rogers sighed. Bucky didn’t blame him. He’d learned not to trust quickly after Hydra got their hands on him, but before that Bucky could remember the fierce loyalty that would burst in his chest like a flame when he saw someone in allied colors ducking for cover.
“So, to answer your question, I decided to try treating you like I would someone from back then. Someone who can be trusted implicitly.”
Bucky suddenly felt a surprisingly strong wave of anxiety. Implicit trust wasn’t something Bucky had experienced for a long time. It was a heavy burden to bear and impossible to mend once broken. Rogers must have a lot of faith if he was willing to go that far.
“I’m surprised you don’t have more questions for me,” Bucky muttered through his discomfort, “about how I ended up where I did.”
“Ah, well,” Rogers rubbed the back of his neck, “I hope you don’t mind, I texted Clint before we started training. He’s in a meeting but he’s good at texting under the table. He may have filled in a few of the gaps.”
Bucky looked up at Rogers in shock.
“W-what?” Bucky stuttered.
“I’m sorry,” Rogers repeated, “about what happened to you. No one deserves to go through something like that.”
He sounded sincere. Honest to God, swear on your mother’s grave, cross your heart and hope to die, sincere.
“I—uh. I—thank you.”
It was a more cohesive sentence than when Clint had told him it wasn’t his fault so Bucky privately counted that as a win. Rogers just nodded like it was nothing. But it was so far from nothing.
“You’re not what I thought you were,” Bucky admitted quietly.
“What did you think I was?”
“A self-righteous, authoritative asshole.”
Bucky had expected a scowl or an offended gasp, not a full bodied laugh that echoed through the emptiness of the Training Room.
“I wouldn’t backtrack so quickly,” Rogers laughed, “Some people would say you’ve seen right through me.”
“Oh, yeah?” Bucky couldn’t help but grin at Rogers’ amusement.
“Man, you should’ve heard some of the things my old Colonel had to say about me. He swore to the end that I sent him to an early grave, despite living well into his 80’s.”
“I bet,” Bucky smiled, shaking his head.
“Come on,” Rogers’ shook off the rest of his chuckles and hauled himself to his feet, “I can feel that gross swamp water drying on me. Let’s go.”
He held out his hand to pull Bucky up. It felt like a peace offering.
Bucky took it.
Rogers’ grip was firm and warm and familiar. Bucky shook off the distant memory of the last time he’d been pulled up by a beaming Captain America and followed Rogers toward the door.
Rogers had been right. Bucky could feel swamp water and goo drying on Clint’s uniform, making it uncomfortably stiff. There was blood splattered across Rogers’ back along with ash and rubble from the other simulations. A flash of guilt pulled Bucky’s mouth down into a frown as he stared at Roger’s broad shoulders. They both stepped through the door out of the Training Room and the debris vanished instantaneously along with any of the bruises and cuts they’d sustained. Rogers headed straight for his locker, resting his shield on the bench while he undid his tac belt.
“I’m sorry I shot you a bunch.”
Rogers froze with his buckle half undone. He turned and gave Bucky a look he couldn’t decipher.
“I’m sorry I strangled you until you were unconscious,” he replied.
Bucky bit back a smile.
“Sorry I shot you with a bazooka and threw you off a bridge.”
“Sorry I tried to saw your arm off with my shield.”
“Sorry I dropped you in a river.”
“Sorry I broke your dumb goggles.”
“Sorry I hit you with your own tiny shield.”
“Sorry I kicked you in the nuts.”
“Sorry you were so bad at hunting me down that I didn’t notice.”
Rogers threw his head back and laughed.
“Too soon!” He yelled through his laughter, smacking Bucky on the arm, “Too soon!”
“Sorry I accidentally left you a weird cryptic message about how I was gonna, I don’t know, kill you I guess.”
“No, stop,” Steve laughed, covering his face with his hands again to hide his embarrassment.
Bucky chuckled and started undoing the straps of Clint’s vest.
“Seriously though, what did you think that ‘message’ meant?” Bucky asked.
“You’re going to laugh at me,” Rogers said, his cheeks pink.
“I already am,” Bucky said with a good natured smile, “Did you think I was going to eat you or something?”
“What? No!” Rogers let out another bark of laughter and scrunched up his nose.
“Then what?” Bucky asked again, finally undoing the last strap and sliding out of the slightly too small vest.
“I thought it was a metaphor,” Rogers said sheepishly, “something about how I was just as bad as Hydra since I let them grow right under my nose or how SHIELD and the Avengers were indecipherable from Nazis or whatever…”
Bucky paused with his hand on the latch of Clint’s locker and stared at the Captain across from him.
“First of all,” Bucky started quietly, serious now and a little concerned, “you have way too much faith in my capacity for metaphoric symbolism and, second, I think that analysis says more about you than it does about me.”
Rogers’ head jerked up. His mouth opened and closed. Bucky wondered if anyone had told him that what happened two years ago wasn’t his fault either.
“Hydra is a weed that can grow anywhere,” Bucky said definitively, “It’s roots were planted long before you left the ice and it can be impossible to destroy something that preys on peoples fears as effectively as Hydra does. It wasn’t your fault, Rogers. Don’t blame yourself for not being able to see something no one else could either.”
Rogers stared at him. Bucky waited for a moment but when it became clear that Rogers had no response he turned and started carefully placing Clint’s things back in his locker.
Bucky paused at the sound of Rogers’ small voice.
“…that's my job.”
Bucky turned. Rogers was staring at the wall, his eyes unfocused. After a moment his eyes flicked back to Bucky’s. Bucky had never seen a man look so lost.
“Well,” Bucky was never one from empty platitudes so he tried a different route, “that’s what having a team is for.”
He tossed the words out with a smile. It took Rogers a second but he smiled back. It was a small thing but it lit his whole face up with warmth. A warning light went off in Bucky’s brain and he turned back to the lockers, intently aware of the man behind him.
Down that path lay danger, that was for sure. He had been in Wakanda when Shuri had “turned his human brain back on,” as she liked to say. It hadn’t been long after that he’d started noticing a doctor’s smooth cheek or the broad hands of a nurse. Shuri was right, as always. Noticing things like beauty made him feel human. That’s all this was, Bucky told himself. Rogers was good looking and he was just noticing. That was all.
Bucky’s phone blinked off as the call ended. He stared blankly at it. He hadn’t really expected Steve to retract his assessment just two days after his initial ruling, he hadn’t expected to be invited back to the Avengers Training Sessions the following week, he hadn’t expected the arrangement to continue for nearly two months, and he certainly hadn’t expected a call from Director Fury himself ordering him to suit up and get himself to the helipad ASAP.
A Nila wafer hit him in the side of the face. He looked over at Clint who was sprawled across his side of the sofa. Clint waved his arms exaggeratedly.
“Well?” Clint yelled, “What are you still sitting on your ass for?”
Bucky’s brain clicked into gear. He leaped up and bolted for the elevator.
“I’m taking your gear!” He shouted as he darted through the doors.
“Fine! But don’t touch my bow!” Clint hollered back as the doors slid shut.
Bucky felt anticipation buzz in his veins. His first mission since turning himself in. His first time outside in five months. His first job with an actual team since the war.
He was ready. He was so ready.
The elevator dinged and Bucky stepped out. His good mood soured slightly when he saw Romanoff, dressed in her Black Widow uniform, arguing heatedly with Rogers across the hanger. A quick glance across the open bay revealed that no other Avengers or SHIELD agents were preparing to go into the field for this one. It would just be the three of them.
Bucky tried to hold on to his positive attitude as he made for the rows of gear alongside the weapons rack. The lockers weren’t as elaborate as the ones next to the training room but the practical shelves served their function. Bucky quickly located Clint’s purple uniform and pulled it out.
“Это не твое.” (That isn’t yours.) Romanoff snapped from behind him.
Bucky had sensed her coming but he didn’t turn. He wasn’t sure how to act in a way that wouldn’t draw her anger any more than his existence already did. He settled for keeping his head down. He would prove himself to her through actions, not words.
“Clint said I could borrow it,” Bucky replied quietly, undoing the straps quickly now that he was a little more used to them.
“Твой костюм там.” (Your suit is there.)
Bucky glanced to the side. His Winter Soldier uniform had been tossed on top of a crate of ammo.
“That isn’t mine. It never was.”
Bucky ignored her. He pulled off his sweatshirt and tugged on one of Clint’s black compression tees. He stepped into Clint’s boots, slid on his gloves, and tightened the straps of his vest. He pulled his hair back into a ponytail with Wanda’s hair tie as he stepped toward the racks of guns but before his hand could touch the cool metal of the sniper rifle, the flat of Romanoff’s knife was pressed against the bare skin of his forearm.
Bucky went still and slowly turned to face her. Her straight red hair hung impeccably on either side of her face and her sharp eyes glared daggers into his despite the seemingly calm smile on her face. She pressed the point of her blade between the plates of Clint’s armor until it dug into his skin just above his hip bone.
“I’m watching you, солдат,” (Soldier) she hissed under her breath, in English finally, “You may have Rogers fooled with your sad American war hero story, but not me. I know how the Russians do things.”
“And yet here you are,” Bucky whispered, unable to remain silent for long, “an Avenger and a SHIELD agent. All you needed was for someone to give you a chance.”
He didn’t need to acknowledge who’s armor he was wearing. He saw her finger twitch on the hilt of her blade.
“One soldier out of a thousand ending up good aren’t odds I’d ever bet on. Clint was stupid to do so. He was just lucky it was me.”
“I don’t think luck had anything to do with it,” Bucky replied.
Romanoff shook her head.
“This isn’t about me,” she snapped, “I know what Hydra does to people. I know how SHIELD opened their doors and invited the parasite in and then pretended to be surprised when it ate the organization from the inside out. I know how deep Hydra buries their roots and I will not let them tear us down again.”
Romanoff pulled her knife away and stepped back, her face unreadable.
“And I’m not going to watch Steve be betrayed the same way twice.” She said in a whisper, “So give me a reason to put a bullet in your skull, I dare you.”
With one last look, she turned on her heel and walked away. Bucky watched her leave the shadows of the hanger and step out into the sun on the helipad where Rogers was speaking to a handful of agents, unaware of the scene that had occurred not fifty yards away.
Bucky knew Romanoff would deliver on her threats, given the chance, but he wasn’t surprised. He’d been expecting a conversation along those lines for a while now and, honestly, he couldn’t blame her. If another random Hydra agent walked over and said they wanted to switch sides, he’d be skeptical too.
It was the protectiveness of Rogers that had surprised him. He knew they were a close team but it hadn’t occurred to him that their relationship went past professional. Romanoff was designed to be efficient, ruthless, and detached. People who lived in the shadows as they did were taught to always look at the bigger picture, the greater good, not at the little people who scurried around them and sometimes got in their way. Her fondness for Clint, he could understand. He’d pulled her out, after all, and they weren’t so different in their methods but Rogers wasn’t like that. He didn’t hide in the corners like they did. He didn’t lie and wait and shoot from afar. He was big, loud, distracting, and central. He cared about the individual soldiers more than the big picture and he didn’t trade lives. He was a candle in the darkness that would shine a light on all their transgressions.
How Romanoff could stand so close to his fire without burning, Bucky didn’t know.
Bucky shook the thoughts from his head. He needed to be on his game now. Getting this mission right was all that mattered. He picked a rifle off the rack. Maybe soon he’d be able to get a rifle of his own; one he could personalize and tweak to his own specifications. It would be nice to finally have something that actually belonged to him.
He slung the rifle over his shoulder and picked up a few extra hand guns and knives until there were enough for him to feel comfortable but not too many that their weight wore him down. Then, he went to join the others on the helipad.
The first waft of a warm August breeze sent a shiver down his spine. He closed his eyes as he stepped across the threshold and into the sun. It warmed his skin in a way that just couldn’t be replicated through an inch of glass. The wind blew stray strands of his hair around his face and he tipped his head up to catch more of the warmth across his cheeks. This high up, the air tasted fresh and crisp amidst the heat of the summer and Bucky savored it with a smile. He took a breath, then another. He allowed himself twenty more seconds of joy before opening his eyes again. He found Rogers, Romanoff, and a fair number of the SHIELD agents watching him. It was fair. He’d just stepped into freedom for the first time, wearing one of their trusted teammates clothes, with a small arsenal of weapons strapped to himself, and he was grinning like a loon. Bucky didn’t care. He just breathed another sweet breath of fresh air and made his way over to the group.
Maria Hill was running the mission. She cleared her throat to get their attention and addressed the three of them as a surprisingly quiet jet landed on the strip behind her.
“This is a simple, in-and-out job,” she said, tapping lightly on her StarkPad, “a small force of Hydra soldiers ambushed a group of SHIELD agents working undercover in Minsk. We got the agents out but Hydra is working to decrypt the files they were able to grab. Your job is to retrieve the files and neutralize the threat.”
The brief was short but it sent another wave of anticipation through Bucky’s chest as he absorbed and memorized every word. Unaware of his excitement, Hill handed Rogers the StarkPad with the mission file on it.
“Everything else you’ll need is in there.”
“Thanks, Maria,” Rogers said, skimming the document quickly before handing it to Romanoff.
“Alright, wings up in five,” Hill said, nodding at the three of them, only lingering for a tense moment on Bucky, before retreating into the hanger.
Rogers led the way to the jet, which opened its doors as they approached. He looked over his shoulder at Bucky as they walked.
“Ready?” He asked.
“Born ready,” Bucky replied with a wide grin.
He was practically thrumming with energy as he stepped onto the jet and waited for Romanoff to be done with the file so he could read it.
The jet doors closed and the plane hummed to life. Bucky turned when he felt Rogers looking at him. He was starting to grow used to the feeling of those blue eyes on him, he realized as he raised his eyebrows at the Captain.
“Having second thoughts?” Bucky teased as the jet took off.
It was too late for Rogers to take it back now and it pleased Bucky to know that Romanoff was probably seething in her chair.
Rogers rolled his eyes, with a smile.
“Nah, I was just thinking that we should get you a proper uniform,” Rogers said, nodding at Bucky’s chest and the Hawkeye logo emblazoned across it, “Can’t have agents in the field getting confused.”
It was practical reasoning, but Bucky couldn’t stop the spot in his brain where Rogers lived from becoming just a little bit warmer.
“How did it go?” Clint asked from his place sprawled across the sofa as if he hadn’t moved in the two days Bucky had been gone.
“Fine,” Bucky said as he collapsed down beside him.
It had gone rather well, actually. The mission itself had been a pretty clear victory and significantly easier than almost every simulation from Stark’s Training Room. Ultimately, there’d just been a lot of recon before one big sting in the middle of the night. It had felt so good to get back out there, capture a couple Hydra soldiers, shoot the ones who’d rather die than yield, and chip away a little more of the Red Skull’s stain on the world.
The only downside had been the company.
Rogers was fine. He had been professional the whole time. Bucky didn’t even think he’d slept at any point. He just gave orders when necessary, poured over the files, and watched the compound with an analytical stare. It was Romanoff who’d really put a damper on the mood. She oscillated between ignoring Bucky completely and shadowing him so closely that he felt he could barely shift his weight without her knowing about it and silently disapproving. It was fine. Bucky could handle being monitored. It was nothing new. He just needed to keep his head down and do his job, which is what he was best at in any case. He kept to himself, he didn’t make small talk or whistle or wonder aloud about who was winning the episode of Project Runway that Clint was probably watching at that very moment like he sometimes did in Avengers Tower. Save for the two hours of actual combat, it had actually been pretty boring.
“Not one attempted murder between teammates?” Clint asked with faux disappointment.
“Hm.” Clint looked as bored as he sounded, but Bucky could tell by the slight squint of his eyes that he was actually really pleased, “Well, we had some visitors while you were gone.”
“Yeah, a bunch of agents came by and removed all the cameras in here.”
“So, now I can finally get a 3am snack in my undies without being creeped on,” Clint added with a roll of his eyes.
Bucky stood up, darted over to the kitchen, and pulled the clock off the wall. Sure enough the camera that usually watched over the open space was gone. Bucky ran into his bedroom. Above the headboard, under the sink, above the shelf, in his closet, in his dresser… they were all gone.
Bucky wandered out of his rooms in a daze and sat back down next to Clint.
“They’re gone.” he remarked absently.
“Yup,” Clint confirmed, popping the “p”, his eyes still glued to the commercial for tupperware that was playing on the TV.
“I guess I can kill you and get away with it now.”
“Psh, I’d like to see you try,” Clint grinned and kicked him, “Well, in much more exciting news, you’ll never believe what bullshit my boy, Tim, had to put up with on Project Runway this week…”
It was a strange relief to Bucky when the rest of August became much more fast paced than the last. He was being regularly deployed on missions, to his absolute delight, even though they were usually low stakes affairs. He could tell SHIELD and the Avengers were warming him up to do bigger stuff, testing his limits and his interactions with the other agents. He felt best when fighting with Clint and Wanda. The weeks they’d spent training together had honed them into a nice trio with Clint as their de facto leader, a role he stepped into shockingly well.
Bucky would include Bruce as another agent he liked working with too but he actually tended to spend more time with Hulk when they were deployed. Hulk was surprisingly fun. He’d first approached Bucky on a mission in a part of Russia that was so far east it might as well have been Alaska. Hulk had recognized him immediately and clapped him on the back so hard that Bucky had disappeared face-first into a snowbank. Hulk had then hauled him out, apologizing good naturally while Clint laughed loudly enough to nearly blow their cover. After that, Hulk let Bucky sit on his shoulders whenever he needed some height to spy on their targets.
Wilson, Romanoff, and Stark generally kept to themselves. They only engaged with him when necessary, though Wilson would sometimes trade the occasional sarcastic remark with Bucky but only when other people were around— in case he missed the sarcasm, Bucky suspected.
Rogers was the hardest to pin down. He was professional and sometimes friendly. He’d clap Bucky on the shoulder after a mission and smile at him when they happened to be part of the same conversation during their down time but Bucky could tell that Rogers was keeping his distance. They didn’t have the same sort of banter they’d had after their first one-on-one training session together. Even the jokes about how they’d attacked each other felt like they’d be out of line now. Bucky wondered if he’d overstepped the mark since he had still been technically suspected of being a double agent at the time. Romanoff had probably convinced Rogers that his nostalgia was clouding his judgement but the one thing that kept Rogers from sliding back into “begrudging ally” territory was the uniform.
During the first week of September, Bucky was tucking Clint’s things back into his locker after another successful mission when Rogers approached him.
Bucky stuffed Clint’s boots inside and shut the door with a clang before turning.
“Good work today, that shot from the back of the jeep was amazing,” Rogers said with a small smile, fiddling with the StarkPad in his hands.
“Thanks,” Bucky grinned widely back.
That shot had been fantastic. Bucky was going to spend all evening convincing Clint to add it to their growing list of “Best Shots Ever” despite the fact that he hadn’t been there to see it.
“So, I wanted to show you something, if you have a second,” Rogers went on, a little shyly to Bucky’s surprise.
“Sure,” Bucky shrugged, “what is it?”
“Uh,” Rogers figged with the Pad some more, “so I asked about getting you your own uniform but the guys said it might take a couple months to design and fabricate so I might have— well I may have taken matters into my own hands.”
Rogers held the StarkPad out to Bucky.
“It hasn’t been made yet,” Rogers continued quickly as Bucky took the StarkPad, “and this is just a preliminary design. I thought maybe you’d like to have some say in how it turns out and… stuff.”
Bucky stared at the image in front of him.
It was him. It was a drawing of him and Bucky could see Rogers’ neat handwriting along the edges of the page with notes about fabrics and buckles. The uniform itself was elegant in its simplicity. The blue top had one sleeve to show off his metal arm and the olive green pants and boots subtly reminded Bucky of his uniform back in the 40’s. It was about as far away as you could get from the stiff black leather of the Winter Soldier.
“You designed this?” was all Bucky could say as he stared down at the drawing.
“Yeah. Sorry, I should have asked you first,” Rogers said, shaking his head, “I got carried away.”
“Don’t be sorry,” Bucky said, finally looking up at Rogers again, “I wouldn’t have known where to start. This is amazing, thank you.”
Maybe it was the sun, but Bucky swore he saw a blush on Rogers cheeks.
“You should take that,” Rogers said, nodding at the StarkPad, “look the whole thing over and make whatever changes you want, then send it back and I’ll get it to Stark’s team.”
Rogers left quickly after that, leaving Bucky a little dumbfounded with another “thank you” still on his lips.
Getting Bucky his own uniform to keep people from mistaking him for Clint was one thing. Taking the time to actually design a uniform specifically for him was something else entirely. Bucky would have been happy if they’d just given him a standard SHIELD vest, he hadn’t even dreamed that he’d get any say in how it looked at all. Hell, he was still getting by with barely a handful of t-shirts in his closet. This was almost too much.
He spent the next several days pouring over Rogers’ drawing. Eventually, he carefully lettered his own words in beside Rogers’. He darkened the colors, added a thigh holster, a wider belt, and extra straps for all his guns, but even as the weeks passed and the uniform was impeccably fabricated by Stark’s team, Bucky couldn’t account for the surprisingly sweet gesture. Eventually, Bucky had to concede that he probably never would.
Regardless of how, Bucky was officially starting to feel like part of the team. Seeing his own uniform neatly in his locker next to the others made him feel warmer than anything else had yet. It was another small step towards acceptance, which mean that it was a small punch to the gut when Wanda invited Bucky to the Avengers Bi-Weekly movie night.
“The what?” He asked, his steps pausing as they made their way to the elevator after a long workout.
Bucky had bumped Wanda up to proper sparring and let her practice her new moves on him, which meant he was sporting more than one new bruise and wasn’t exactly keeping up with the conversation.
“The Avenger’s Bi-Weekly movie night is tomorrow,” Wanda repeated, hitting the number for Bucky and Clint’s floor, “We have one every other Saturday. Everyone who’s around gets together in someone's apartment to watch a couple movies and relax.”
Bucky felt his stomach sink. Nearly nine months he’d been in the tower and this was the first he was hearing of it. It must have been one of the groups most well kept secrets. Now that he thought about it, he rarely saw Clint on Saturday nights, he’d just never thought to keep track of Clint’s schedule. Intellectually, Bucky knew that his few friends must have been arguing on his behalf for a long time while Rogers’ crew argued that none of them would be able to relax while he was around. They probably never told him about it because they didn’t want him to feel left out. He’d just really thought he was making progress, and he was, considering he’d finally been extended an invite, but it still stung a little. His only consolation was the fact that Hulk probably hadn’t been invited either.
“I doubt the others want me to go,” Bucky finally got out as they rode up.
“So?” Wanda asked flippantly, “You’re already here and they’ll just have to get used to you.”
Bucky felt himself smile despite his mood. He was now sure that there had been many arguments made on his behalf.
“Come on,” Wanda encouraged as they stepped into Bucky and Clint’s apartment, “You can sit by me and we can eat popcorn.”
Bucky refilled his water bottle and then traded with Wanda so he could refill hers too.
“And we can make fun of whatever terrible movie the guys put on,” she went on, “it’s Steve and Sam’s turn to pick so it's either going to be something old that Steve wants to watch to catch up with the times or something for kids because Sam loves a good animated flick.”
That didn’t sound terrible. At least Romanoff wouldn’t be able to pick some gruesome Russian war film just to make sure Bucky left and never came back.
“Can we have peanuts too?” Bucky asked, sounding shy even to himself.
He quickly hid his embarrassment behind a long swig of water. God, what was wrong with him. If the Bucky from two years ago could see how upset he was about not being invited to movie night he’d stick a knife between his own eyes.
“Sure,” Wanda smiled at him, “I’ll ask Steve to put it on the snack list.”
29 hours later, Bucky uncertainly followed Wanda and Clint up to Rogers’ floor. Bucky knew that he was probably being escorted up so he didn’t bail at the last minute, which was fair; he’d gone back and forth about attending about every twenty minutes since being invited. In the end he’d convinced himself that everyone who already hated him would hate him no matter what he did and if he didn’t attend then everyone who didn’t hate him would start to hate him because he made Rogers get him peanuts and then didn’t even have any.
His convoluted logic hardly made sense in his own brain so he didn’t bother trying to explain it to anyone else.
Back in Wakanda they’d called him “White Wolf” sometimes. It was a nice name. He liked it. He liked the way the kids said it like he was full of mystery and intrigue. Now he felt more like a chihuahua. A small, nervous chihuahua following Clint and Wanda to Rogers’ door with his tail between his legs because he was going to watch a movie with some people who didn’t like him. He could jump out of a plane into a Hydra compound swarming with agents who wanted to turn his brain into scrambled eggs with a grenade in each hand and a knife between his teeth but somehow sitting down to watch a movie with the Avengers felt more daunting.
At least with Hydra he always knew he could shoot his way out. Here, he had no escape. He had to go in, watch the movie, and get out without insulting anyone, by accident or on purpose. That wouldn’t be so hard, right?
Wanda hooked her arm through his.
“Relax, Bucky,” she said, looking up at him with those big eyes, “it’s going to be fun, I promise. If anyone is mean to you I’ll make them spill on themselves.”
She wiggled her fingers to produce a small cloud of red mist to prove it. Bucky couldn’t help but laugh. He’d been so caught up in putting himself on his best behavior that he hadn’t even thought about what he’d do if someone else tried to pick a fight.
“My knight in shining armor,” Bucky crooned, squeezing her arm with his.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Clint bite back a smile before kicking Rogers’ front door open.
“Alright!” Clint yelled as they walked in, “What nonsense have Captain Buzzkill and Bird Brain picked for us this evening?”
In the four months since the last time Bucky had gotten a peek into Rogers’ apartment, it seemed that not much had changed. The space was homey and warm and, if Rogers himself had decorated, then he clearly had an eye for color. There were two large plush couches with at least three soft throw blanket strewn across each of them. The far wall was lined with shelves full of books and photographs and the floor was a dark wood before giving way to thick carpets. The eastern side showcased the sprawl of New York through floor to ceiling windows before yielding to cream colored walls littered with framed artwork. There were a couple modernist posters, a Leyendecker, and several ink drawings dotted across the space along with an odd mix of 40’s era antiques like an old radio and an art nouveau lamp along with a sleek modern coffee maker and a state of the art TV and sound system.
It would have been incredibly relaxing if not for the people who were currently making themselves at home there.
Stark and Wilson took up most of the first couch, talking about something to do with propulsion and aerodynamics, Bruce and Romanoff had their heads together over one of Starks many laptops and Clint quickly joined them, throwing an arm around Romanoff’s shoulders as he squeezed into the cushions next to her. Rogers himself was a bit away from the group. He was standing behind the kitchen island overlooking the whole scene while pouring various snacks into bowls. It looked like there were M&M’s, pretzels, popcorn, brownies, gummy worms, sour patch kids, potato chips, and a generous smattering of alcohols.
“Steve wants to watch the Princess Bride again,” Romanoff in an annoyed tone but she was smiling like she didn’t mind.
“Again?” Tony lamented, “I know that movie so well it plays in my dreams sometimes.”
“It’s a good movie!” Rogers argued from the kitchen.
Then Romanoff’s eyes settled on Bucky and her expression turned sour. Wanda quickly pulled him over to the kitchen.
“Hey, Steve!” Wanda called, “Need any help?”
“Sure,” Rogers’ smiled at them both, albeit a little more at Wanda than at Bucky, “you wanna start taking these bowls over to the danger zone?”
Wanda laughed and untangled her arm from Bucky’s before waving her hand and lifting all seven bowls with her red mist and sending them drifting towards the couches.
“Look, Bucky!” Wanda waved at him, “No hands!”
Bucky couldn’t help but double over with laughter. Wanda rarely made jokes but when she did, god they were stupid and Bucky loved it. Wanda lowered the bowls as she laughed along. Some landed on the coffee table, while the one with the popcorn landed on the floor, and the one with gummy worms fell into Wilson’s lap.
“That was terrible,” Rogers laughed, smiling as he poured drinks.
“Only Bucky appreciates my jokes,” Wanda sighed dramatically.
Bucky threw an arm over her shoulder and gave her a squeeze.
“Because they’re fantastic,” Bucky said with fake haughtiness, “and if Rogers was as cultured as us he would know that.”
Wanda laughed while Bucky gauged Rogers for a reaction. He wanted to see if his teasing would be welcome here or if he really would have to sit in stiff silence for most of the evening. To Bucky’s surprise and relief, Rogers actually laughed and raised his hands in surrender.
“Come on,” Wanda tugged Bucky toward the island, “lets help the poor Cap with the drinks.”
“Better not fly these over there,” Rogers cautioned, handing over two almost full glasses, “I really don’t want to have to clean orange juice out of my carpet again.”
“Don’t worry,” Wanda replied, “I’ve promised to only spill these under very specific circumstances.”
Wanda winked at Bucky as she passed and Bucky couldn’t help but feel like he had his own little defender with him. It was perhaps one of the most unexpected feelings he’d had since his brain had been pieced back together. The idea that someone wanted to protect him was almost unfathomable and yet somehow, here he was.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Rogers said, turning around and opening one of the cabinets behind him, “I got this for you.”
Rogers turned back around and held up a bag of salted peanuts.
“Oh, thank you,” Bucky blinked in surprise, “I always used to have peanuts at the movies.”
“Me too,” Rogers smiled, tearing the bag open and pouring them into a bowl, “last movie I saw back then was Casablanca.”
“That’s rough,” Bucky lamented with a smile, making Rogers look up in confusion, “not the most fun picture to take a WWII captain to. My last one was Cat People, now that was a good time.”
That startled another laugh out of Rogers, who bit it back like he wasn’t sure he was allowed to laugh before handing Bucky the bowl of nuts with a wry grin.
“I haven’t seen it, wasn’t it a horror movie?”
“Yeah, it wasn’t too bad though,” Bucky shrugged, “I bet the effects look terrible now.”
“You boys coming or what?” Wilson called from the couch.
“Yeah, I’m thirsty!” Stark shouted, waving for them to bring the rest of the drinks, “come on, let’s get this show on the road.”
Wanda threw an M&M at Stark who picked it out of his sweater and ate it with a loud crunch.
“Okay, the Princess Bride and then Ratatouille,” Clint announced, “Jarvis! Let’s go!”
Bucky helped Rogers gather the rest of the drinks and hurried them over to the coffee table then, at Wanda’s beckoning, he joined her in a two person loveseat beside the sofa while Rogers sat down on the couch on Wanda’s other side next to Wilson and Stark.
The lights dimmed and the large TV screen lit up.
The Princess Bride was actually a film Bucky had seen before. He’d stumbled across the book while absently wandering the East Coast with almost no memories and then tracked down the movie online while in Wakanda. He’d seen it maybe 14 times already and could easily recite the whole thing by heart. It seemed like the others in the room had a similar familiarity with it because the first time Westley said “as you wish” at least three people in the room mimicked him with breathless adoration before laughing. Clint pretended to swoon when the narrator revealed that “what he really meant was ‘I love you’.”
The jokes continued through the film but it wasn’t until the Cliffs of Insanity that Bucky tilted his head towards Wanda and whispered, “inconceivable!” in time with Vizzini. Wanda nearly choked on a pretzel and Bucky patted her back.
“You seem a very decent fellow, I hate to kill you,” Wanda whispered curiously alongside Inigo.
“You seem a very decent fellow, I hate to die,” Bucky and Westley whispered back.
Wanda grinned at him and from then on every other line was whispered back and forth between them in various stupid and exaggerated voices. Bucky noticed Rogers looking at them more than once but decided to ignore him. Considering the small ruckus the rest of the Avengers were making, Bucky decided it would be hypocritical of Rogers to tell him to keep it down if that’s what his problem was.
It was during the Fire Swamp sequence that Bucky felt a little tap on the arm he had thrown over the back of the loveseat. He looked over at Rogers, who nodded at the bowl of peanuts that was half empty on Bucky’s lap. Bucky felt several pairs of eyes on him as he reached over Wanda and held out the bowl for Rogers to take a handful before settling back down. He felt Romanoff’s glare on the side of his face all the way up until Westley was tied up in the Pit of Despair. Clint cut the tension with an alarmingly accurate impersonation of the torturer and then the room fell silent and focused as Inigo took his revenge on the six-fingered man.
Bucky sighed with satisfaction as the film ended with one final, “as you wish” and didn’t move as the credits rolled. Wanda had burrowed into his side over the course of the film and he didn’t want to disturb her. He looked down and Becca’s face suddenly swam before him. He flinched.
“You alright?” Wanda mumbled sleepily.
Bucky blinked and the memory was gone.
“Fine, fine,” Bucky whispered back, shifting away from her while pretending to stretch.
This had been happening more often over the last few months. Wanda reminded him of Becca in more ways than one and it hadn’t helped that she seemed as desperate for familial companionship as he was. She had told Bucky about her brother one evening a few months ago. They stayed up late that night, huddled together the couch with a pint of extra chocolate fudge ice cream between them.
Pietro Maximoff. Deceased.
Bucky shrugged off the thought in an attempt to keep his thoughts from spiraling while Wanda sat up and yawned. Rogers had gotten up to refill drinks while Stark ordered Jarvis to switch films. The rest chatted and puttered around during the short intermission until everyone was settled again and Ratatouille began to play.
This one Bucky hadn’t seen but he found himself charmed as he watched the little rat scurry around Paris. He hadn’t thought a lot about food when he was younger. The depression hadn’t hit his family as hard as others but they still had to cut back on the small luxuries they’d indulged in like daily home cooked meals. After that was the war and the rations, then Hydra, and then a long time on the run. In Wakanda, they’d had extraordinary selections of fresh fruit, sweetmeats, and the best meals the royal chefs could imagine, but Bucky hadn’t been able to partake in most of it because Hydra had kept him on a liquid diet. It was a convenience thing as far as Shuri could tell but it meant that solid foods didn’t agree with him much for his first year of freedom. Now though, he could eat pretty much anything and yet he didn’t. He at plain, quick foods mostly. Pasta, sandwiches, toast, and whatever junk food Clint shoved in the cabinets. It felt kind of odd to realize that he wasn’t experiencing his freedom to the fullest until a cartoon rat explained it to him but better late than never.
“I should learn to cook,” Bucky mused as Colette explained how haute cuisine wasn’t as snooty as people thought it was.
“Yeah?” Wanda replied through a mouthful of gummy worms.
“Yeah,” Bucky replied thoughtfully, “I’m tired of stealing Clint’s pop-tarts.”
“I knew it!” A fistful of popcorn rained down around them as Clint hurled kernels across the room, “You ass!”
Bucky caught one of the popcorn pieces in his mouth and grinned at Clint.
“You said they make your stomach hurt, I was doing you a favor!”
“I’ve had to start bringing Cliff Bars on missions, Bucky! Cliff Bars!” Clint hurled another handful of popcorn at him.
“They’re better for you!”
“I want sugar loaded deliciousness that as so processed I can’t tell what flavor it is! I don’t care if it makes me gassy!”
“I live with you, dumbass!” Bucky yelled, throwing his own handful of peanuts, “I care if you’re gassy!”
Wanda stifled her giggles in her hand, Rogers threw his head back and laughed openly against the back of the sofa, Bucky even thought he could even see Romanoff biting back a smile. Bucky grinned and let the moment wash over him as everyone resettled and attention turned back to the film.
The evening had turned out surprisingly well, Bucky decided as the film came to an end a little bit past midnight. He ate nearly a pound of peanuts, the movies were good, and no one tried to shoot him. It wasn’t a high bar but Bucky was shocked all the same.
As Jarvis turned the lights back on, the now lethargic audience took their time getting up and filing out. Bruce was fast asleep, glasses askew, against the cushions and Wilson gently shook him awake while Stark and Clint stumbled to their feet after a few too many drinks. Romanoff ushered the two tipsy men onto the elevator and seemed surprisingly tolerant of their off key rendition of “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. Despite the success of the evening, Bucky breathed a sigh of relief when Romanoff was gone.
Bucky decided to help clean up before following Clint out the door. Popcorn and peanuts littered the carpet, along with a surprising amount of other snacks that somehow hadn’t made it into anyone’s mouth. Rogers was back in the kitchen, rinsing empty snack bowls and putting away what wasn’t eaten. Bruce and Wilson stuck around to do their part before shuffling out with a few sleepy “goodnights”. When most of the mess was gone, Wanda tugged on Bucky’s sleeve.
“Ready to go, Bucky?” She asked, her tired eyes not completely focusing on him.
“You go ahead,” Bucky said, one arm shoved up under the couch cushions, “Clint and I really went to town with that food fight. I’m going to get the rest of it before I go.”
He pulled out a mostly flattened piece of popcorn and dropped it into the small pile of squished snack food he’d amassed on the coffee table.
“Alright,” Wanda yawned, “goodnight then.”
She surprised Bucky by wrapping him in a tight hug. Bucky hesitated before hugging her back, pressing his cheek briefly into her hair before letting her go and watching until Rogers’ door swung shut behind her.
“I haven’t seen her like that in a long time,” Rogers remarked quietly from across the room.
Bucky tensed. He hadn’t realized it was just the two of them now. He should have left with Wanda.
“How do you mean?” Bucky said, trying to stay casual as he went back to rifling through the cushions for wayward snacks with faux enthusiasm.
“Happy.” Rogers said simply, “Not since Pietro.”
“She’s a good kid,” Bucky said, “and losing a sibling is hard. She deserves to be happy.”
Deeming the couch free of peanuts, Bucky scooped up his pile of squashed treats and brought them over to the kitchen to throw out. Rogers was drying bowls with a hand towel over the sink.
“Have you?” Rogers asked quietly as Bucky stepped past him.
“Have I what?”
“Lost a sibling?”
Bucky froze with his foot on the petal of the trash can. He felt a lump at the back of his throat and quickly forced himself to calm down. He opened the can and dumped the snacks inside, wiping his hands on a tea towel before answering.
“Her name was Becca.”
A gentle hand touched his shoulder. Bucky didn’t look up. Rogers hand was so warm Bucky wanted to wrap himself up in it and stay there, but he absolutely was not going to cry in front of Rogers. He refused to. He swallowed and plastered on a smile before facing Rogers properly.
“It was a long time ago,” he shrugged, trying to brush it off.
Rogers let his hand fall and Bucky busied himself by gathering the last of the cups and bowls from the coffee table and bringing them over.
“Well, I’m glad you and Wanda found each other.” Rogers smiled softly before getting to work on the dirty dinnerware.
Bucky nodded but couldn’t bring himself to reply.
“Thanks for helping clean up,” Rogers said, his tone shifting to something more lighthearted, “We always make such a mess. And, uh, sorry it took so long for us to extend an invite. We should have done it sooner.”
Bucky finally looked up. That was the second genuine apology Bucky had gotten from Rogers now. Bucky didn’t know how to feel about that.
“It’s alright,” Bucky replied, “I get it.”
“Maybe next time you should choose the fil—“ Rogers was cut off by an alert bell coming from the StarkPad on the kitchen counter.
Bucky recognized the sound as a Hydra-related emergency notification.
“What’s happened?” Bucky asked as Rogers tapped open the message.
Suddenly, Bucky was looking at a picture of Brock Rumlow. He was wearing a SHIELD uniform in the picture and Bucky felt his chest start to constrict. Rogers scrolled down, there was another photograph. It was grainy and a little out of focus but that was definitely Rumlow walking out of a hotel somewhere in eastern Europe.
“It’s Rumlow,” Rogers said, unaware of Bucky’s quickening breath behind him, “he was one of the SHIELD agents who turned out to be a Hydra plant. I should have realized what he was sooner; he always gave me bad vibes. I just wrote it off as just me being unused to modern mannerisms. He’s been spotted in Poland, probably working with the Hydra faction there. SHIELD says they’re going to monitor him, see if he can lead us to someone higher up. Hm, I’m not sure how long a surveillance team would have before being spotted but— Barnes?”
Bucky slid down the wall and hugged his knees to his chest. Some days were better than others for him but he’d really thought today would be a good one. He should know by now that thinking about Becca always made him a little more fragile. Maybe seeing Rumlow’s picture yesterday would have been fine. Maybe it would be fine tomorrow. But for some reason, here and now, his body decided to betray him and give out on Rogers’ kitchen floor.
“Whoa, hey,” Rogers knelt down in front of him and Bucky’s vision swam with big worried blue eyes, “Do you want me to get Clint? Or Wanda?”
“I’m fine,” Bucky forced out, “I’m fine.”
“Barnes, I don’t think—“
Bucky pushed himself off the wall and up onto shaky feet.
“Okay, okay. Let me walk you down.”
Bucky didn’t protest as Rogers warm hand cupped his elbow to help him keep his balance as Bucky led the way to the elevator. Bucky did the breathing exercises Shuri taught him as they waited for the metal doors to open. He’d realized what was happening pretty quickly so he hadn’t worked himself up to a full panic attack, thankfully, but teetering on that edge was enough to shake the confidence he had over himself.
Rationally, Bucky knew that no one had complete control over their own body or emotions, but after going so long without any control at all, he needed this security. He needed the reassurance that he felt only what he chose to feel and that if he didn’t like something, he could avoid it. Most days, he could live with that delusion. Other days, like today, reality made itself known and Bucky had to face the consequences.
Bucky sighed out another timed breath as the elevator doors opened and Rogers steered them inside, pressing the button for Clint’s floor and standing steadfast at Bucky’s side as they went down. Bucky could already feel his heart rate slowing and his breathing coming a bit easier now.
“I’m fine,” Bucky said again, with a bit more confidence.
Neither of them moved and Rogers’ hand remained on his arm. The elevator dinged and Bucky followed Rogers into his and Clint’s apartment. Judging by the array of discarded clothing strewn across the floor leading to Clint’s bedroom, Clint had made it back and was probably already fast asleep in just his underwear.
“Messy,” Bucky chided blandly, kicking one of Clint’s socks as he passed it on his way to the kitchen, pulling his arm out of Rogers’ grip as he went. He poured himself as much water as would fit in his cup before downing it and pouring himself another.
Rogers was still standing there when Bucky was finished. He looked tense and miles away. He was trying to connect the dots between him and Rumlow, Bucky realized. He swallowed another gulp of water. Better get it out of the way while he was already upset instead of working himself up again later, Bucky decided.
“He was one of the people who tortured and brainwashed me.” Bucky said with no preamble.
Rogers eyes jerked up to him, wide with surprise.
“He would give me orders, hand me weapons, and hit me if I disobeyed. Only him and Pierce would hit me, the others were all too afraid.”
Bucky’s voice felt far away even to his own ears. He hadn’t spoken about much of this since therapy in Wakanda. Maybe he should contact Shuri and see if Dr. Ngoya would talk to him over the phone. That would probably be a good call either way, considering what he’d been up to since their last session over a year ago.
Rogers continued to stare at him.
Bucky didn’t know what to do. He turned and sat down on the couch, curling up and squeezing himself between the cushions.
“You said they’re not going to go after him?” Bucky asked quietly.
“Yeah.” Rogers came over and sat carefully on the arm of the sofa, “They’re going to follow him for a while. He might lead us to other Hydra agents.”
“He’s just out there.” Bucky muttered, more to himself than to Rogers, “Living his life.”
“He shouldn’t be,” Rogers said softly, “but SHIELD’s plan makes sense. It would be smart to find out who he’s working for now that Pierce is dead.”
Bucky thought about it. He thought about standing up, grabbing his guns, commandeering a jet, and flying to Poland right now. He thought about hunting Rumlow down and shooting him between the eyes before he could even lift his hand to defend himself.
In the fantasy, it felt good. He could use Clint’s access codes— he’d memorized them the week he arrived at Avengers Tower— after that he could easily subdue anyone who tried to stop him. He needed Rogers to leave first though.
“I didn’t mean to disrupt your night,” Bucky said emotionlessly, “I’ll be fine here, you should get to bed. It’s late.”
He couldn’t meet Rogers’ eyes as he spoke.
The original Bucky Barnes had been a pretty good liar. The Soldier had no need for lies. Now Bucky found himself inclined towards truth. It was occasionally problematic, like now. He could feel Rogers eyes on him and knew he wasn’t buying it.
“Yeah, that was pretty disruptive.”
Even for someone who didn’t like him, that was a surprisingly rude response.
“But I’ve got an idea of how you can make it up to me,” Rogers continued, “Let’s watch another film.”
“Let’s watch another one,” Rogers said again with a tentative smile, “or I really like I Love Lucy, I can put that on?”
He needs to monitor the Soldier, Bucky realized. He’d shown weakness and a lack of control: Rogers was sticking around to make sure he didn’t lose it and kill them all. There was no getting rid of him now. Fuck.
Whatever, the plan to go after Rumlow had been flimsy anyway and it definitely wouldn’t go well if Bucky still panicked when he saw a photograph of the guy. He wasn’t sure he even had the conviction to haul himself off the sofa in the first place. He was tired and Rumlow’s time would come. Bucky would give his life to make sure that happened.
“Yeah, whatever.” Bucky slid back into the cushions and fixed his eyes on the dark TV screen, “Just don’t wake up Clint. He gets cranky.”
Rogers grabbed the remote and put on an episode of I Love Lucy. It was an old show, from the 50’s if Bucky had to guess. He watched absently for a few minutes before Rogers decided the arm of the sofa wasn’t comfortable enough for him and he sat down on the cushions beside Bucky instead. Bucky forced himself not to tense up at the proximity. He could tell Rogers’ attention was on him instead of the show. He wondered if Rogers would try to restrain him if he moved suddenly. He decided not to test it. He sat perfectly still and tried to exude non-homicidal vibes despite his vaguely homicidal thoughts.
“If there’s one thing I don’t miss its long-johns,” Rogers said over the low sound of the TV.
Bucky focused back on the screen. Lucy was carrying a laundry basket with a long white sleeve hanging out of it.
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, “I would always sit on the buttons by accident.”
“Mine were always itchy.”
“They always bunched uncomfortably.”
“They would get so gross in the summer.”
“Ugh, yeah.” Bucky cringed at the unpleasant memories and Rogers chuckled.
“Tony has been giving me packs of super soft boxer-briefs every birthday since he found the old uniform his father made for me and saw the special undergarments I had to wear. I think he’s trying to repent.”
“I only have what SHIELD gave me,” Bucky replied, leaving out the part where he only had four pairs of underwear total, “but I’ve seen the Avengers patterned ones Clint wears. He’s got one with your shield on each butt-cheek.”
Rogers laughed. Even his laugh sounded warm. Bucky tried not to feel too pleased with himself. Besides, Rogers was only here to babysit him, not be his friend.
“Did you grow up around here?” Rogers asked, turning to look at him.
“Brooklyn,” Bucky replied, still squarely facing the TV.
“No way,” Rogers faced him fully then, “Whereabouts?”
“Uh, Flushing Ave, near the docks?”
“You’re shitting me.” Rogers pointed at himself, “Corner of Flushing and Bedford.”
Bucky shifted to look at Rogers. He tried to imagine his face younger and smaller.
“What school did you go to?” He asked, trying to picture the boys from his old school yard and comparing face by face.
“Lincoln. Class of ’35.”
“Class of ’34,” Bucky replied, quietly.
They’d been so close, they must have just missed each other.
“One year apart,” Rogers said, a little awestruck, “and to think, we both ended up here.”
“The world's a weird place.” Bucky mused, “Imagine if we’d met back then.”
“Yeah.” Rogers seemed lost in thought, “I feel like I would have remembered a ‘Bucky’ in the year above me. I thought I’d heard of everyone in that school.”
“I still went by James at the time,” Bucky said, “Only my family called me Bucky and then it caught on during the war.”
“James Barnes,” Rogers mused, “Oh my god, were you on the baseball team?”
“Shortstop.” Bucky sat up, “Are you fucking kidding me? Did we actually know each other?”
“I used to cut through the field to get home,” Rogers said, his eyes lighting up, “Sometimes, if I had detention, I’d go home late and walk through when you guys were practicing. A foul ball came my way once—”
A thin, pale face with a bruise across his cheek appeared in Bucky’s mind.
“—and I handed it back to you.”
Young Steve Rogers handed James Barnes a baseball.
“Holy shit,” Bucky breathed.
His eyes met Rogers’ and for a moment they just stared at each other.
“What are the odds,” Rogers whispered.
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed.
Rogers’ face broke into a smile.
“Do you remember Mr. O'Connor's history class?”
“Oh my god, how did he always manage to suck the joy out of everything?”
“It was like listening to a monotonous robot list dates for an hour every day.”
“Do you remember Ms. Martinelli’s dog, Frankie?”
“Oh, yeah! She would bring him to school sometimes. I remember when Tommy Farell tried to play fetch with him and he—“
“—broke principal Martin’s window with a tennis ball.”
“—broke principal Martin’s window with a tennis ball.”
Rogers laughed again and Bucky found himself joining in. He rarely indulged in memories that far back, often they just left him feeling sad and alone but it seemed that things were different now that he had someone to share them with.
“I saw him once at Coney Island,” Bucky said, “Tommy Farell, I mean. He was trying to win one of those ring toss games and he accidentally hit the carney in the nuts. Maybe he was just bad at throwing things.”
Rogers laughed again.
“I believe it,” he said, his eyes sparkling with joy, “I’ve never been to Coney Island.”
“My family used to go once a year.” Bucky said with a smile, “The ferris wheel was always my favorite. I’d like to see it again.”
“We should go sometime,” Rogers suggested, leaning against the cushions and smiling at Bucky.
Bucky woke with a crick in his neck and something heavy against his side. He blinked away the last of his sleepiness and looked down. Steve was asleep with his head on Bucky’s metal shoulder and his fingers resting gently against the plates of his forearm. Bucky stiffened instantly. Steve’s cheek had warmed Bucky’s metal skin through his t-shirt. He could feel the heat of him all down his arm. Bucky quickly tried to distract himself from the stutter of his own heartbeat.
The TV was off and sunlight was streaming through the windows. It was just past 9. Clint didn’t seem to be up yet.
Steve twitched in his sleep and resettled. It was no use. Every molecule of Bucky’s being was focused on the man beside him. Bucky hadn’t felt this off kilter since the sessions Shuri spent re-organizing his brain. Should he wake Steve up? Should he let him be? Why is he still here? How could he monitor the Soldier if he was asleep? How could he fall asleep in the Soldier’s presence anyway? Wasn’t his metal arm uncomfortable? What the hell was he thinking?
Bucky’s mind drifted back to the previous night. They’d talked for a long time about their childhoods in Brooklyn and all their mutual friends and how close they’d been to meeting. Steve had known the man who ran the fruit stand two blocks down and had been a neighbor of the family that had always given him and Becca hard candies when they saw each other. It was around when they’d been discussing the last years of the Depression that Bucky’s memories cut out. He couldn’t remember if Steve fell asleep first or if he did but he remembered how close together they’d drifted as they talked.
It was too fucking early for this. Bucky sat there frozen in a daze of confusion. Why couldn’t everything just be clear and straightforward? He just wanted to keep his head down, maybe make a few friends, and destroy Hydra. Was that too much to ask? He didn’t want these butterflies in his stomach as he felt Steve breathe against him. He didn’t want to relish the feeling of soft blond hair against his cheek. And he certainly didn’t want to have to bury his fists in the cushions to keep himself from touching Steve back.
Steve was Captain fucking America. End of story. There was no space in Captain America’s story for a former Hydra Assassin, no matter what history they shared— of that Bucky could be sure.
The sound of a latch brought Bucky out of his own head. He didn’t have time to react before Clint appeared in the hallway looking sleepy and disheveled in just a pair of Iron Man boxer briefs. He froze with one foot in the air and blinked cartoonishly at the sight in front of him.
Bucky couldn’t help but stare helplessly back as Clint stared at his Captain, fast asleep on a baffled looking former assassin.
“Uh, did I miss something?” Clint asked quietly, his eyes flicking back and forth between Steve’s sleeping face and Bucky’s desperate one.
“Should I wake him up?” Bucky hissed.
“I dunno man, this is so not my problem.”
With that, Clint quickly grabbed the last bag of pop tarts from the pantry and disappeared back the way he came.
“Unbelievable,” Bucky muttered under his breath.
So much for a rescue. Bucky looked down at Steve again. He was still comfortably squished against Bucky’s side. Now that Bucky wasn’t actively freaking out anymore, it was actually kind of nice. Weird, but nice. Bucky was just starting to relax again when Steve began to stretch. Bucky remained perfectly still while Steve shuffled around him before blinking blearily and stiffening. Steve jerked up, pulling away from Bucky and leaving a cold void in his wake.
“Sorry,” Bucky said quickly as Steve got his bearings, “I wasn’t sure if I should wake you up or not.”
“No, no, I’m sorry,” Steve shook his head, running a hand through his messy hair and rubbing his eyes, “I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”
He was blushing, Bucky realized.
“How are you feeling?” Steve asked, scooting further away and giving Bucky an appraising look.
“Fine.” Bucky said, standing up, “Really, I’m not going to go berserk or anything.”
“That's—“ Steve’s brow furrowed, “That’s not why I stayed.”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay,” Steve said, rubbing his cheek where Bucky could see the imprint of the metal plates of his arm fading on his skin, “I know how it feels to get lost in a spiral of bad memories. It’s not fun to do alone.”
“Oh.” Bucky didn’t know what to say to that, “Well, I’m going to have cereal now, if you want some.”
Bucky turned and walked over to the kitchen, deciding that his best move would be to ignore Steve until he went away.
“I can make eggs if you want,” Steve said, following Bucky to the stove, “Or I can show you how? Last night you said you wanted to learn how to cook.”
Before Bucky could muster up a placating denial, Steve began poking through the fridge for eggs. Bucky liked eggs well enough and he was pretty hungry, so he let him.
“Do you cook a lot?” He asked as Steve pulled out milk and butter.
“No, only sometimes,” Steve said with a grin, grabbing a bowl and a whisk, “just often enough to avoid the temptation of pop tarts.”
Bucky pulled himself up onto the kitchen island adjacent to the stove and watched Steve scramble a half carton of eggs together with a splash of milk, butter, salt, pepper, and a generous handful of shredded cheddar cheese.
“Is someone cooking?” Clint’s voice carried down the hall.
“Just whipping up some breakfast,” Steve called back, “You want some?”
“Fuck yeah I do.”
Clint appeared a moment later, dressed in a pair of grey sweats and a t-shirt.
“If I knew you were gonna cook I wouldn’t have eaten already,” Clint said, peering over Steve’s shoulder to get a better look at the pan before turning to Bucky and mouthing the words, “can he cook?”
Bucky just shrugged back. Clint hopped up on the counter next to him and they both watched Steve stir the eggs around in a pan until the liquid turned into a nice scramble.
“You guys really are snipers, huh?” Steve mused without turning around as he stirred the eggs one last time.
“Whatcha mean, Cap?” Clint asked.
“A guy comes into your space, commanders your kitchen, and the two of you immediately seek high ground and stare.”
Bucky and Clint looked at each other and then Clint quickly hopped off the countertop.
“It’s rude to call a man out in his own home you know.”
He flicked Steve in the back of the head as he left the kitchen to stare from the seldom used dining table on the other side of the island instead.
From there it was easy. Clint was a good buffer, whether he wanted to be or not. He and Steve chatted about their last mission together and some sort of betting pool that was happening about when Stark would realize they replaced his fancy Italian coffee with some crap they’d picked up from Dunkin’ Donuts. The eggs were pretty damn good and Steve left a half hour later with the excuse that he was still wearing yesterday's clothes. He threw one last sheepish smile in Bucky’s direction before disappearing back to his own apartment.
“That was weird,” Bucky muttered as he and Clint rinsed off their plates and stuck them in the dishwasher.
“Which part? The part where you and Cap slept together or the part where we all ignored it?”
“We didn’t sleep together,” Bucky hissed back.
“The fact that you have to make that distinction is evidence in and of itself that some shit’s going down between you two.” Clint argued, “I’m not really surprised, honestly. Sure, his opinion of you has done a complete 180 in the past few months but still, the guy’s been obsessed with you for like two years.”
“He’s not obsessed with me,” Bucky replied in surprise.
“Uh, you sure about that?” Clint asked with a raised eyebrow, “You were basically all he talked about from the day you shot Fury to the day you showed up here.”
“He was interested in the Soldier, not me,” Bucky said, shaking his head.
“Do you like him?” Clint asked suddenly, “You’ve told me what you used to think of him, but what about now?”
“Why does it matter?” Bucky replied, suddenly feeling very defensive and very exposed simultaneously.
“Because you slept together.”
“We did not—”
“You kind of did.”
“Agree to disagree,” Clint dismissed, hopping back up onto the kitchen counter and leveling Bucky with a look.
Bucky sighed and crossed his arms. He had no feelings for Steve along the lines Clint was implying. None at all. Sure, Steve was kind of hot but Clint was kind of hot too so that didn’t mean anything. Their crossed histories had been surprising but ultimately meant nothing either. They just once knew the same people, that wasn’t the same as knowing each other. They really had nothing in common. Nothing at all.
“He’s a pain, but he’s not as bad as I thought he was,” Bucky said after a moment.
Clint’s eyes narrowed at him.
“Alright,” Clint drew out the word suspiciously, “Whatever you say, man.”
Clint hopped down and grabbed a soda from the fridge before heading back towards his room. Bucky could feel eyes on the back of his head but he didn’t turn as he carefully shut the dishwasher. He sighed when he heard Clint’s door close and leaned heavily on the counter top.
Finally alone for the first time since yesterday morning, Bucky let his forehead touch the cool stone and tried to process everything that had happened since then. The mild panic attack had been less than desirable but overall, it had been good. Movie night had been a success and talking to Steve had been… Bucky thought back to those long minutes in the middle of the night. Steve had been close enough that if Bucky had moved his hand two inches forward they would have been touching. It had been oddly comfortable and maybe Bucky had warmed to Steve a little. Just a little though. Nothing serious. Certainly nothing that would warrant Clint’s interrogation. It was nothing.
It occurred to Bucky that his thoughts were beginning to sound an awful lot like denial but he quickly turned his mind away from that idea. He was just confused because Steve had kept him up so late and he hadn’t slept well on the couch. He was stressed and tired and Clint was putting ideas into his head.
Walking away from the scene of the crime into his own bedroom, Bucky decided that the best way to deal with this situation was to take a long, long nap.
Aliens were attacking New York. Again.
Well, it was the first time for Bucky, but the second time overall. Stark’s hologram room was enough to prepare him for some of the chaos but it couldn’t replicate the scale of New York City. The battle field went on for miles. The aliens had attacked out of nowhere and had quickly swarmed across Manhattan, leaving tens of thousands of civilians trapped across the island. Luckily, the aliens seemed to need respirators to tolerate Earth’s oxygen rich atmosphere and Wilson had managed to identify the tanks that supplied them with the gases they needed to breathe. Now it was a matter of locate and destroy.
Bucky ran passed a burning car and kicked off a lamp post to leap onto an aliens back and stab it in what he thought was probably its neck. The creature’s scream was like metal scraping against rock as it reached around and tried to grab Bucky with long clawed fingers. Bucky hauled himself higher up the creatures back, using his knife as a lever before ripping the tubing that connected its gas tank to his face with his metal arm. The creature collapsed as it suffocated and Bucky used its body as a shield as he shot at two more that were heading towards him. He quickly cleared the block but as he headed for the next one, screams drew his attention. A group of maybe a dozen civilians were huddled together with four aliens surrounding them, their gleaming claws twitching as they stalked around the group.
Bucky brought down the first two with a gun in each hand. By the time the third had noticed him, he already had a knife in its breathing apparatus. The fourth made the mistake of trying to bite into Bucky’s metal arm. Its teeth cracked against the dark vibranium and Bucky shot it in the eye with his free hand.
“Go that way!” Bucky shouted to the civilians, still scanning the area for hostiles, as he pointed down the street the way he’d come, “It’s clear there! Find shelter and hunker down!”
Bucky was already jogging away when he heard the voices behind him.
“Who was that guy?”
“He’s an Avenger! I’ve seen pictures of him on missions with Captain America.”
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t know. No one does.”
Bucky felt his heart trip over itself as he picked up the pace and started running. He wasn’t officially an Avenger but hearing the words spoken so confidently filled him with a sense of pride he probably wasn’t worthy of. It was true that there had been pictures of him fighting at various Avenger’s sides over the past few months, leading to some speculation from the public about his identity but no official statement had been made yet. Should he have a code name? All the others had one. “The Winter Soldier” was definitely out, “Bucky” was nowhere near cool enough, “White Wolf” was pretty good but it sounded better in Xhosa and Bucky wasn’t sure he wanted to stake his entire identity on an animal— he saw how Clint and Wilson suffered from the bird jokes and quickly decided that it wasn’t worth it.
Distracted, Bucky didn’t quite see the alien at his left until it was nearly on top of him. With a grunt, Bucky hit the ground and shot instinctively. His bullet ricochet off the creatures thick armor and its claws dug into his bicep. Blood flooded the inside of his suit as the claws left his flesh and a split second later Bucky realized its attention had been diverted by the low whirring of propellers.
A blast from Iron Man’s palm sent the alien flying backward in a blaze of fire and Bucky quickly hauled himself up as Stark flew past, still shooting as he went.
“You good, Barnes?” He called as he speed off.
“Fine, thanks!” Bucky called back before continuing forward to pick off any creatures Stark missed.
“We’ve located six more gas tanks that the aliens are using to refuel.” Clint’s voice said thought the coms, “Two more on the east side, three south, and one north.”
“Falcon, Widow, Hulk, head south,” Steve ordered, “Witch, Hawkeye, and Iron Man take the east. Barnes and I will take the north.”
Bucky was already heading north so he broke into a sprint, glancing down every side street he passed until he spotted the now familiar gleam of red, white, and blue amidst the burning rubble and bloody alien corpses.
“On your six,” Bucky announced as he shot the two creatures coming at Steve’s back while he fought two more with his shield.
“Thanks,” Steve sighed as he caught his breath once the creatures were down, “The tank is two blocks over. There’s gonna be more of them the closer we get. Stay sharp.”
Steve led the way, gently pressing his own side as they ducked behind overturned cars and dumpsters.
“You alright, Rogers?” Bucky asked.
“Fine,” Steve dismissed, but when he waved his hand Bucky saw the stain of red across it, “Let's just get this done quick.”
Bucky knew better than to try to convince Steve to sit this one out so he refocused on the mission with a new resolve.
The pair quickly made their way into the swarm. Aliens were returning from all over the city to refill their gas tanks before heading off again to cause more havoc. Steve and Bucky hid behind an abandoned van and analyzed the scene.
“We need to blow it up,” Bucky whispered.
Bucky felt around his belt.
“One grenade and a smoke bomb.”
“We need to get the grenade into the top turbine,” Steve said, pointing up at the tall cylindrical structure, “you have better aim than me so I’ll distract them while you get up there.”
Bucky glanced down again at Steve’s wound. Steve raised an eyebrow, challenging Bucky to talk him down.
“If you die I’m gonna be pissed,” Bucky replied with a shake of his head and then handed Steve the smoke bomb, “Here, in case you need cover.”
Steve took it and knocked his shoulder against Bucky’s with a grin before heading out into the open. Bucky stayed low and made his way around the perimeter for a better opening.
Off the main cylinder there were fourteen stations where aliens were refilling their tanks, each station had a guard and it took about a minute for each tank to fill.
Steve’s shield flew over the stations, just grazing the tops of the aliens scaly heads before ricocheting off a nearby building and returning to its owner. As heads turned and the grating cries of the aliens rang out, Bucky took the opening. He ignored the small army that gathered around Steve and launched himself up on top of the roof of a nearby bus stop. He held his right hand out straight and in the other he clutched the grenade with his thumb in the pin as he aimed up, took a moment to gauge the wind and trajectory, drew his hand back and—
A cry pierced the air, but it wasn’t the grating scream of an alien or even Steve’s low grunt of pain. It was a child. Bucky’s head whipped around and he saw a kid— a toddler— and the alien that was about to sink its claws into his soft cheeks. Bucky had his gun out in a flash. He shot the alien in the head as the child stumbled backwards, tripping over his own feet as he tried to get away. His cry had alerted the rest of the aliens to his presence, a dozen of them left the crowd around Steve and began heading for the child.
“Rogers!” Bucky yelled, shooting from his perch on the bus stop, “I’m too far, get the kid!”
He saw Steve burst from the chaos and sprint across the street, dodging the swipe of claws, and as his arms wrapped around the child, Bucky threw his grenade and Steve chucked his smoke bomb. Steve’s shield came down just as the blast wiped through the aliens around him and the kid. The smoke bomb went off a moment later, shrouding them in thick smoke. They were safe for now, but it would mean nothing if Bucky didn’t get that station down.
Now without an explosive, Bucky leaped from the bus stop, landed on one of the refilling stations and quickly climbed his way up the cylindrical tower. He heard a growl behind him and looked down to see three aliens following him up. Bucky climbed faster.
“Barnes what are you doing?” Steve’s voice hissed in his ear.
It sounded like he was running, probably to get the kid somewhere safe.
“I gotta get this station down,” Bucky hissed as he scaled the metal tower.
“What are you going to do? You can’t blow it up if you’re on top of it!”
“Really? I’m pretty sure I can.” Bucky half-joked as he reached the top.
A claw dug into his ankle.
Bucky made a fist and jammed his vibranium arm into the turbine. It cracked against his metal skin and Bucky felt his shoulder dislocate as the turbine engine fought against his stiff arm, sending sparks flying up around him. With his free hand, he pulled out his gun and aimed it down the shaft. Beneath him was a giant tank with a mix of hydrogen, methane, and oxygen, all he had to do was puncture it.
He fired a single shot. A wave of gasses came rushing up the vent. Bucky’s arm scraped once again against the turbine. One more spark was all it took. A rush of heat engulfed him as flames burst out of the silo.
Bucky stared up at the sky. His whole body tingled and he felt pleasantly warm. Blue eyes met his. It was Steve. His face was scrunched up all weird. Bucky tried to reach for him but his arms didn’t seem to be working. Something pressed against his shoulder.
“Yeah, no shit.” Steve’s voice sounded oddly strained, “That’s what happens when you blow your own arm off.”
“Huh,” Bucky blinked and then turned to look at the spot where his vibranium arm used to be, “you think I’d be used to it by now.”
Steve snorted before catching himself and biting his lip.
“You can laugh,” Bucky said, resettling on the rubble and closing his eyes again, “it was a joke.”
“Barnes, you need to stay awake,” Steve’s voice said urgently, “You definitely have a concussion. Open your eyes, Barnes.”
Bucky thought about obeying, but he’d been hit worse before and he had super healing anyway. It was probably fine.
Big hands shook him.
“‘M fine,” He grumbled, finally regaining control of his right hand and patting Steve’s arm, “Just resting.”
“Well, rest with your eyes open, goddamn it!”
He sounded pretty distressed and Bucky was kind of having a hard time processing things at the moment, so he opened his eyes.
“You’re upset.” He said blankly, taking in the crease between Steve’s brows and the downward curve of his lips, “Are you going to yell at me again?”
“I haven’t decided yet,” Steve bit out.
He was doing something to Bucky’s broken shoulder but for some reason Bucky didn’t care that much right now.
“I know it wasn’t the plan but it worked,” Bucky argued weakly, “I mean, it worked, right? Please, tell me it worked.”
“It worked,” Steve said, his scowl deepening, “Most of the aliens got blown up and I took care of the stragglers but that’s not what I’m mad about.”
Bucky tried to think of what else it could be. He felt like his brain was moving kind of slowly. Maybe he really was concussed.
“Wow, don’t hurt yourself.” Steve half joked, nudging Bucky’s chin with his fingers as he finished whatever he was doing to Bucky’s shoulder.
“I mean, don’t think so hard,” he amended softly, finally meeting Bucky’s eyes again, “It’s crazy that you survived. I didn’t think you would. That’s why I’m mad.”
“You wanted me to die?”
It wasn’t really a revelation but it made Bucky more upset than he cared to admit.
“No! No, no, no!” Steve shook his head vigorously and squeezed Bucky’s good shoulder, “I’m mad that you took such a dangerous risk! I thought you were going to die! That's bad, Buc— Barnes.”
“Oh,” Bucky looked up at the sky again, “That’s okay then.”
“It’s not okay.”
“I’m not arguing with you; you’re concussed.”
By the time Steve pushed Bucky onto one of the medical beds in Avengers Tower he was feeling a lot better. His head had worked through the concussion but he was a little upset at the loss of his Wakandan arm. He knew how much passion Shuri had put into it and he felt its loss even more viscerally when he reminded himself that she had made it especially for him.
“Don’t worry,” Steve consoled while a nervous looking medic tugged at Bucky’s uniform with somewhat unsteady hands, “Stark can make you a new one.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Bucky watched Stark's head shoot up in surprise from his own med station.
“Don’t trouble him with it,” Bucky said quickly, “I’ll call Shuri. I’m sure she’s thought of upgrades to the old model already.”
Bucky nudged the medic’s hesitant hands away and ripped open his jacket himself. It turned out that while Bucky had been lying in the street, Steve had fashioned him a rather good bandage out of the torn sleeve of Bucky’s jacket to cover the raw, bleeding stump of his left arm after the prosthetic had been ripped out. It had turned his uniform into a pretty nice vest, if somewhat impractical. With a good portion of it’s protection gone, Bucky didn’t feel so bad ruining the latches all along the front as he tore them apart and worked it off with one hand. The medic was clearly having a hard time deciding whether it was safe to touch him or not anyway.
“You got a friend that can check out Rogers?” He asked the medic as he leaned back against the bed, exposing his cut up and bruised torso for examination.
“I’m fine,” Steve said, waving a dismissive hand at Bucky’s medic and the one that had paused behind him at Bucky’s words.
“Uh, you were bleeding through your uniform, you’re not fine.” Bucky replied.
“You hurt, Cap?” Wilson called from across the room.
Wilson had a bandage taped across half his face and his arm in a sling. Next to him, a relatively unscathed Wanda pressed an ice pack against the back of Clint’s shoulder while another medic stitched up his leg.
“I’m fine,” Steve repeated, touching the bloodstain on his uniform lightly, “I’m healing already.”
“Yeah but you could still use, like, an ibuprofen or something,” Bucky argued.
“The medics are busy with real injuries, Barnes,” Steve said, “I don’t want to waste their time or resources with a cut that’ll be closed in ten minutes.”
“It’s not 1942 anymore, dude,” Bucky scoffed, “I’m sure we’re not going to run out of band-aids. Besides, you can’t be mad about me pulling a dumb self-sacrificial move and then turn around and refuse medical help because you don’t want to inconvenience anyone.”
Bucky was aware that people were looking at him but he was too tired to care.
“I wasn’t hit that bad,” Steve argued back, but it didn’t carry the same conviction it had before.
“You know, I was injected with the same serum as you,” Bucky said, pretending to think about it, “So by your logic, I should refuse treatment too. I wouldn’t want to waste precious resources.”
He sat up, jostling the medic who had finally began dabbing at the gashes across his torso.
“What? Barnes!” Steve shoved Bucky back down, “You’re literally bleeding.”
“Exactly.” Bucky’s hand shot out and tapped on Steve’s side just above his actual wound so he wouldn’t aggravate it but close enough to make his point.
Steve let out an involuntary gasp of pain and tipped forward, grabbing the foot of the bed to steady himself. Several hands darted out to catch him but stopped short of touching as Steve regained his composure and leveled Bucky with narrowed eyes.
“You play dirty, Barnes.”
“Yeah, what else is new? Sit your goddamn ass down, Rogers.”
A moment passed. Then Steve sighed and with a slightly hobbled walk, he sat down on the bed opposite Bucky’s, not before leveling him with one last glare. Bucky just smiled back victoriously and he watched the corners of Steve’s eyes crinkle gently.
Someone coughed and the tension in the room broke. Bucky’s medic returned over his torso and in the corner of his eye, Bucky could see three medics move to hover around Steve. As he let his wounds be treated, he heard the whispered conversation taking place at the other end of the room.
“I’ve been trying to get him to do that for years and Barnes does it in one fucking go? What the hell is happening?” Stark hissed.
“He had a pretty good argument,” Bruce whispered back.
“Hey, I’m great at arguing!”
“Maybe Cap is just way more injured than normal,” Wilson suggested quietly, “he got treated that time he broke both his legs jumping out of that building.”
“That was because I dragged him here and he couldn’t walk away,” Romanoff countered, “Somethings up with him and Barnes and I don’t like it.”
“They’re just getting close,” Clint said quietly.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Romanoff snapped.
For one terrifying moment, Bucky wondered if Clint was going to tell them that Steve spent the night last month, implying all sorts of other things along the way.
“I just mean that they get along,” Clint said evasively, “You’ve seen how they both fight. They think in similar ways.”
That seemed to placate Romanoff and Bucky forced his heartbeat to return to is usual rhythm. Turned out, even Clint could be tactful when he wanted to be. Bucky relaxed into the soft bed and turned his attention back to monitoring the medic standing over him as he felt the serum in his veins working its magic.
With some help from Clint and Jarvis, Bucky finally tracked down the contact information of the Wakandan ambassador and, after several very long phone calls, he’d finally managed to set up a Skype call to Wakanda’s royal palace. Now he sat on the floor in the living room with his laptop perched on the coffee table while Clint sprawled across the sofa watching Hoarders. Shuri had been thrilled to see him, opening with a faux-indifferent, “Oh, you’re alive.”
“What do you mean you broke it?” Shuri yelled through the video call ten minutes later.
“Sorry,” Bucky repeated, cringing as he spoke, “I stuck it in a turbine.”
“A turbine? Did it rip off?”
“Yeah.” Bucky held his empty t-shirt sleeve up to the camera of his laptop for her to see, “It dislocated my shoulder too.”
“Hm, well I can fix that in the next model.”
Bucky watched her pull up a hologram of his old arm and begin moving things around.
“So, this is what it takes for you to call me.” Shuri mused, looking up at Bucky, her hurt evident.
“I wanted to call sooner, really I did,” Bucky said, hoping his sincerity made its way through the Skype call, “but SHIELD took my kimoyo beads away and I didn’t know how to contact you.”
“They took them?” Shuri echoed in shock, “They should have appeared to their primitive technology as no more than metal beads.”
“They took everything,” Bucky said with a sad shrug, “even that wooden comb you gave me for my birthday and the little white wolf the kids carved for me.”
“And they won’t give it back?” She asked angrily.
“I asked but,” Bucky cringed again, “most of them still don’t like me much.”
“Assholes,” Shuri grumbled, “I told them that letting you have your own things was an important part of the deprogramming. I’ll ask my brother to yell at them, but in the meantime I’ll send you a few things along with the arm.”
“Thank you, Shuri.” Bucky said with a smile, “I missed your dumb face.”
“Isidenge.” (Stupid.) Shuri teased back, finally cracking a smile, “Unjani umXhosa wakho?” (How’s your Xhosa?)
“Ndixelele.” (You tell me.)
He could never quite get the clicks right but the children had been so thrilled by his accent that it didn’t bother him so much.
Shuri, on the other hand, pretended to gag.
“Abantwana kwakulula ukukholisa.” (The kids were easier to please.) Bucky grumbled, laughing a little at Shuri’s theatrics.
“Ugh, please stop!” Shuri laughed, “My brain is crying!”
“Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging?”
“I would, but my brothers been out of the country for like a week and I need someone to mock.”
“Lucky me,” Bucky said dryly, but pleased anyway.
“Tell me more about the shitty SHIELD people. It’ll be like listening to a hilarious podcast while I work.”
Shuri turned back to her holograph and Bucky happily began recounting the ten months he’d been in New York.
“Well, first of all, not all of them are shitty.”
“I don’t believe you but whatever.”
“Hey, no interrupting the Bucky Podcast.”
“Just you try and stop me, Barnes.”
“I’m gonna put you on mute.”
“You can’t, I hacked your computer from here.”
“Liar, you can’t do that!”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m pretty sure I can. Watch this.”
“Hey! Stop moving my cursor!”
Feeling more lighthearted than he had in a while, Bucky finally ended his Skype call with Shuri. They’d made plans to chat again at the end of the week and so Bucky now also had something to look forward to for the next few days. He shut his laptop and was about to get himself a snack when both his and Clint’s phones pinged simultaneously.
They glanced up at each other with matching grimaces. The odds of it being a new mission were high. Across the room from each other, they both checked the message. There was a moment of silence as they read and then Clint was leaping up from the couch and flinging himself at Bucky.
“We did it, dude!” He yelled brightly as he pulled Bucky into a tight hug.
Bucky, still too shocked to react, continued reading the message over Clint’s shoulder.
Now that sufficient evidence of your mental well being has been gathered, you have been cleared for monitored excursions outside of Avengers Tower during your free time starting today. This is not a complete exoneration— you MUST be accompanied at all times by a SHIELD agent or Avenger, you cannot be out for more than three hours a day, you cannot be out between the hours of 9PM and 6AM, you may not purchase anything with a value of over $75, you may not leave the island of Manhattan, and you may not come within 100 ft of any location that houses or sells ammunition or guns of any kind. Violation of any of these rules will result in the immediate termination of this agreement and you will be apprehended by SHIELD until further review.
Please direct all questions to Agent Phillip Coulson.
Director Maria Hill
“Why does SHIELD think I have $75?” Bucky asked against Clint’s shoulder, “Don’t they remember that they took all my money when I got here? All 32 of my hard stolen dollars?”
“Who cares? You’re a free man!” Clint pulled back and shook Bucky by the shoulders, “It took nearly a year but you’re free!”
Bucky laughed and squeezed Clint’s hand.
“You’re right. Thank you, dude. I owe you so much.”
“Pshh, don’t mention it.” Clint grinned back, “Besides, you did all the heavy lifting.”
“Agree to disagree,” Bucky shrugged, “Do you want to go somewhere with me now? I need a babysitter and we still have a couple of hours until 9.”
“I’m so sorry, man. I have a meeting in fifteen minutes.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Bucky tried not to get too disheartened, “I’ll go see Wanda, maybe she’s got some spare time.”
“Yeah! She’s been dying to take you to that milkshake place by the park.”
“Perfect.” Bucky headed for the elevator, “I’ll see you later tonight.”
“Don’t go to crazy out there!” Clint called as Bucky left, “and I call dibs on taking you to the pancake place on 5th ave!”
Bucky waved his acknowledgement as he hit the button that took him down to Wanda and Wilson’s shared floor. Wilson didn’t spend much time there— it was more like he was crashing in Wanda’s guest room that had its own office, kitchen, bathroom, and lounge when he was in town.
Bucky stepped into the foyer and knocked twice on Wanda’s front door.
“It’s open!” Wanda called.
“I hope you’re in the mood for milkshakes!” Bucky announced as he stepped inside.
Wanda perked up from her perch on the sofa, but it wasn’t her voice that spoke next.
“Milkshakes?” Steve asked pitifully from his position sprawled across Wanda’s plush carpet in a t-shirt and sweatpants.
“Oh, hello,” Bucky said dumbly as Steve quickly sat up and blinked at Bucky like he was too surprised to do anything else.
“Speak of the devil,” Wanda said with a cheeky smile, “Hey, Bucky. What’s up?”
“Well,” Bucky shook his surprise away and tapped back into his earlier excitement, “I’ve just been cleared to go outside.”
“Really?” Wanda stood up, “Bucky, that’s great!”
She hopped over the arm of the couch and wrapped Bucky in a hug.
“Yeah, I guess all of Clint’s nagging paid off,” Bucky laughed as he hugged her back with his one arm, “But I still need a supervisor so I was wondering if you wanted to go get those milkshakes you were talking about back when we met.”
“Oh!” Her face fell, “I would love to, but I have a meeting in like ten minutes. Some briefing for a situation over in Iceland.”
Bucky’s heart sank.
“That’s okay,” he said, plastering on a smile, “Maybe tomorrow?”
“I could take you somewhere?” A cautious voice asked from the carpet.
“I mean,” Steve continued awkwardly, “I was planning on stopping over at the bodega a block over to get some snacks for movie night on Sunday so if you wanted to join, maybe we could take a walk or something?”
“Yeah!” Wanda's face lit up again, “That sounds good, right Bucky?”
It sounded a bit nerve wracking honestly but Bucky wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Cool, okay!” Steve seemed to perk up a little, “let me just go get my stuff and I’ll meet you down in the lobby, okay?”
Steve stood and gave one last smile to Wanda before heading up to his apartment.
“Sorry,” Bucky said, waving at where Steve had been sitting, “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“Oh, it’s fine,” Wanda waved him off, “Steve just wanted somewhere to be dramatic.”
“Dramatic about what?” Bucky asked curiously.
“Oh, he was having a personal dilemma,” Wanda said, clearly trying not to laugh, “I think he needs a distraction.”
“Alright,” Bucky shrugged.
He was about to head out himself but he paused.
“Is he…” Bucky trailed off.
Wanda’s eyebrows raised.
“I mean,” Bucky struggled to find the right words, “You know him pretty well, right?”
“I would say so, yeah,” Wanda said with an odd look in her eyes.
“And he’s a good guy?”
“Of course,” Wanda looked genuinely surprised at that, “Why? Has something happened?”
“No, no! I just mean he’s… confusing. I can’t get a good read on him sometimes.”
To Bucky’s surprise, Wanda laughed.
“I think the feeling is mutual,” Wanda finally said.
“I mean it makes sense for him to be confused,” Bucky replied, “My past isn’t exactly straightforward, but I wasn’t expecting him to be so… confusing too.”
“You’re so eloquent today,” Wanda teased with another laugh, “Relax, it’s probably not as complicated as you think. Besides, you seemed to have a pretty good handle on things back in the med bay.”
There was something in her expression that made Bucky think she’d been talking to Clint.
“I was just too tired and injured bite my tongue and Rogers was being a dumbass.”
“I think he likes that about you.” Wanda said, biting back her smile, “The fact that you call him out on his shit, I mean. No one else really does.”
“That’s a weird kink.”
Wanda spluttered out another laugh and then threw her head back.
“God, I wish I didn’t have to be at a meeting like, right now.” Wanda glanced at her phone for the time and sighed, “Ok, I have to go but I want deets later!”
Bucky walked with her to the elevator and hit the ‘up’ button while she hit ‘down’.
“I’m not sure what sort of ‘deets’ you’re looking for but I’m pretty sure its just going to be a lot of walking around and not doing much.”
“Oh, I doubt it’ll be so boring,” Wanda laughed, stepping into the elevator as it arrived, leaving Bucky in the foyer for now, “It’ll be better than my meeting in any case.”
“Bye, Bucky! Have fun on your date!”
The elevator doors closed and Bucky was alone.
Bucky was panicking. Steve had said he was just letting Bucky accompany him while he ran errands, that’s not a date, right? Who brings someone on errands for a first date anyway? Bucky pulled the few shirts he owned out of his closet. He didn’t have many options but something told him he should go for the one that was a little tight. Why? He didn’t know. Maybe he wanted to look kind of nice? If he was going to be seen with Steve then he should at least look passable in case someone recognized them, right?
Bucky pulled off his plain white t-shirt and pulled the other, smaller plain white t-shirt. Then he tugged his black jacket on, pinned the sleeve up, and darted to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror. God, he looked so boring. Boring and monochrome, like he did every day. If he had any money he’d use this outing to buy himself some real clothes but he didn’t exactly have a paying job. He finger combed the hair that hung down from the messy half-updo that Clint had done for him that morning. The shorter strands fell around his face but there wasn’t much Bucky could do about them with only one hand. Whatever, it was kind of cute from the right angle.
Bucky crushed his forehead against his fist. He was a fucking assassin for God’s sake. He should not be standing in his bathroom trying to look cute for his weird co-worker who invited him along to run errands.
Whatever, it was fine. Bucky decided right then and there to get a grip. He was going to see New York properly for the first time. No combat, no mission, just him and the city. He was going to act as though any other Avenger were accompanying him. It would be fine and normal and absolutely nothing like a date.
Bucky stuffed his phone in his pocket forced himself to leave the apartment. For the first time, Bucky hit the button for the lobby and let it take him all the way down to ground level. When the doors opened, the first thing he saw was Steve.
Steve was waiting for him against the adjacent wall. He’d pulled a well fitting blue bomber jacket on over his t-shirt and had changed into dark grey jeans. He had a pair of sunglasses hanging from the collar of his shirt and a baseball hat in his hand.
“Hey,” he said as he stepped out of the elevator.
“Hey,” Steve said with a wide grin, “you ready?”
“Yeah, thanks for letting me tag along,” Bucky said genuinely.
“Any time,” Steve replied, leading Bucky toward the huge glass doors, “anything in particular you want to see?”
“Well,” Bucky replied, taking in a breath as he stepped onto the sidewalk, “I never spent much time in Manhattan so anywhere is fine. If I could, I’d go back to Brooklyn but I’m quarantined to the island for now.”
“Ah, that sucks,” Steve winced sympathetically as he led the way down the street.
The air tasted of asphalt, exhaust fumes, with a hint of something sweet from the flower shop at the opposite corner. Cars were packed together, barely moving as the lights changed, and people hurried down the sidewalks with their heads down, not making eye contact with anyone. It was a weekday in the financial district so the sidewalks were dotted with people in suits and black coats that had always seemed to be the color New Yorkers favored, especially in the gentle October chill. Amongst the people, Bucky felt a little less out of place.
“You’re smiling,” Steve remarked as they crossed the busy street.
“This is my favorite place in the world,” Bucky replied softly through his grin, “Actually, my favorite place is across the river, but this is close enough.”
“We have that in common.”
Steve smiled at him and gestured for Bucky to enter the bodega on the corner. It was brightly colored, a little cramped, and worn in the way places get when they’ve been around for generations. The shelves were lined with snacks, junk food, and a large selection of Asian and Middle Eastern spices and specialty items. A grey cat blinked at Bucky from the counter next to the lotto tickets.
“Afternoon, Mrs. Rajput!” Steve called as they entered.
Mrs. Rajput was a sweet looking older woman behind the counter with her hair pinned back and loosely covered by a yellow headscarf. She beamed at Steve as he gave the cat a gentle scratch behind the ear.
“Ah, Mr. Rogers. Come in, come in.” Mrs. Rajput replied brightly, “Who is your handsome friend? I haven’t seen him before.”
Bucky felt his cheeks heating up but beneath his embarrassment there was something familiar.
“James Barnes, at your service. I can’t believe it took Rogers this long to introduce us.”
Bucky tossed her the crooked grin that had gotten him into so much trouble before the war and watched her melt into giggles.
“Barnes,” Steve hissed in a slightly scandalized tone, “she’s married!”
“Ahh,” Bucky sighed dramatically and clutched his heart, “What a lucky guy.”
Mrs. Rajput waved her hand modestly and Bucky winked at her before allowing Steve to pull him between the isles of the small store. When he turned back to Steve, Bucky could see the back of his neck was red.
“Sorry,” Bucky chuckled, “Old habits die hard.”
“Do you flirt with all the women you meet?”
“She made the first move, bud. I just answered the call,” Bucky replied sweetly.
Bucky had always liked flirting. It was fun and easy. It usually led nowhere but it was nice to give and receive little complements with a willing partner. It was a small act but it was an easy way to brighten someone’s day. He hadn’t had many opportunities to flirt recently but it turned out he hadn’t lost his touch just yet.
Steve just laughed and shook his head as he started examining the snack collection.
They walked out ten minutes later with three bags of snacks for Sunday and a free mini cup of strawberry ice cream for Bucky, “because he was so sweet.”
Steve rolled his eyes at Bucky’s gleeful smirk as they left the store.
“You’re just mad that she likes me better than you,” Bucky teased as he took one of the bags from Steve even though he could definitely manage all three on his own.
He slid the paper handles down his arm to hook around his elbow so he could still hold up his little ice cream.
“She’s never given me free ice cream,” Steve pouted.
“Relax, Rogers,” Bucky laughed, “she gave us two spoons.”
Steve instantly perked up and they stopped at a small park where a group of kids were kicking around a ball and sat down on one of the benches to split the ice cream before it melted.
“You doing okay?” Steve asked as they took turns dipping their spoons into the little cup.
“I have free ice cream, what’s not to love?” Bucky replied a little confused.
“I just mean that you haven’t been out like this in a while, it can be overwhelming.”
“I’m not going to hurt anyone, don’t worry.”
“That’s not what I meant!” Steve pinched the bridge of his nose and Bucky paused with his spoon halfway to his lips, “I feel like I always word these things wrong. I mean that— I know our experiences have been really different, but being back in the city in a different time was really weird for me. I just wanted to make sure you were doing okay seeing the city again after all this time.”
“Oh.” Bucky hadn’t thought about it much, “Yeah, it’s fine.”
He looked around at the kids playing football and the bright cars lining the streets and the giant truck trying to turn a sharp corner while a bus blocked the next intersection. It was chaotic in the way New York always was, and always had been. The facade was different but underneath it all, things hadn’t really changed.
“It’s different but I was allowed out while I was the Soldier so I’ve seen the city in a few different eras.” Bucky added, “And I lived out in the world for about a year after I was deprogrammed so I’m pretty used to modernity by now.”
“Right,” Steve nodded understandingly.
“It must’ve been a lot more abrupt for you.”
Steve looked up at him and then away with a clenched jaw.
“Uh, yeah. It was…”
He trailed off.
“We don’t have to talk about it,” Bucky said, passing Steve the ice cream again, “but I’ll listen if you want me to. I get it.”
Steve was silent for another moment.
“Thanks,” he said quietly, “maybe another time.”
As they finished their snack in silence, Bucky remembered what Steve had said to him once about how it was better to get lost in memories with someone instead of doing it on your own. He quickly searched his mind for something that Steve would like as they got up to continue walking.
“Is there still a carousel in Central Park?” He asked as he followed Steve back to the sidewalk.
“I threw up on it once.”
Steve snorted and when he looked at Bucky there was a ghost of a smile on his face.
“William Cunningham said that he could eat more candy than me and I couldn’t have that sort of tarnish on my reputation so I ate 36 pieces of the saltwater taffy my grandma got me and my sister for Christmas and then my sister wanted to go on the carousel but she couldn’t go by herself so I had to go with her. I’m sure you can put the pieces together.”
“Once,” Steve began, “I was in class but I had just recovered from pneumonia and, while I technically wasn’t sick anymore, I was exhausted and my head was pounding like crazy so I asked my teacher if I could go lie down but it was Ms. Swinson’s class so of course she said no.”
“Of course,” Bucky agreed, remembering the severe white haired woman who had plagued 4th grade English.
“I was going to just sit there and bear it but then she said something rude to Jane Ainsley.”
Bucky remembered Jane. She had been good friends with his sister and had come by their house a few times. Bucky hadn’t known her well but looking back, he suspected she was dyslexic— something that English teachers in the 40’s had little tolerance for. Bucky didn’t want to think about what might have been said about her back then.
“So, I stuck my finger in my mouth and then when Ms. Swinson turned back around I vomited on her.”
Bucky choked on nothing and then threw his head back and laughed.
“What the fuck, Rogers!” He howled, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk and doubling over.
“It seemed like the best option at the time,” Steve chuckled back, “I have no regrets.”
“Jesus,” Bucky shook his head as they started walking again, “I guess that’s one way to get the job done.”
“I mean, she kicked me out and I nearly flunked the class but it was worth it for the look on her face.”
“Ooh, don’t let the press catch wind of you being a terrible student,” Bucky teased, “The tabloids will have a field day.”
“Ugh,” Steve groaned and rolled his eyes, “you know what? They could use a little disillusionment about how perfect they think I am. I should tell them how many times I’ve been arrested or something.”
“Arrested?” Bucky guffawed, “For what?”
“Protesting, mostly,” Steve shrugged, grinning at what Bucky assumed was some sort of fond memory of prison, “There were a few anti-immigration bills I did not approve of in the 30’s. Some healthcare stuff too and maybe a few other discriminatory bits of legislation sprinkled in there somewhere.”
“Shouldn’t all that be in your record?” Bucky asked as they rounded another street, passing boutiques and cafés as the financial district gave way to high end stores, “I feel like that’s kind of a hard thing to hide.”
“The government purged a lot of stuff when I became Captain America to complete the illusion.” Steve said, “After I actually joined the war effort they wanted me to live the character in real life, not just on stage. They edited my early life down into the more palatable tale of the bedridden orphan who became a war hero instead of the angry, poor, first-generation immigrant who got jacked and then ran an illegal off the books mission in Austria while not even being part of the army. It was a lot smarter for them to retroactively alter my past instead of letting everyone find out that the guy they called ‘Captain America’ was kind of a socialist.”
“Wow,” Bucky took a moment to absorb all that, “I guess they did kind of push the image of ‘righteous America hero’ without ever really going into specifics about what values you actually believed in.”
“They needed to be nebulous enough to be relatable to the entire American public, not just parts of it, which left me in a weird spot. After I woke up in the 21st century I got a chance to amend some of people's misconceptions. Maybe one day I’ll write a memoir or something and just list all the times I got arrested and all the illegal things I did in the army.”
“You could call it, How to Get Away with Stuff: a Steve Rogers Story,” Bucky suggested as Central Park came into view.
“Step one,” Steve continued with a laugh, “take a bunch of experimental drugs.”
“Step two: get everyone to worship you as a national icon by wearing America themed clothing for several years.”
“Step three: do whatever you want. The end.”
“I can’t believe I’m standing next to a New York Times Bestseller,” Bucky deadpanned.
Steve’s eyes crinkled as he laughed and his arm brushed Bucky’s as they stepped through the gates to Central Park.
“Hey, do you want a pretzel or something?” Steve asked, pointing at a small food cart near the entrance, “They have pretty good hotdogs too.”
On a rack in the cart, rows of golden pretzels sprinkled with flaky salt rotated temptingly under a yellow heat lamp.
“I would, but I don’t have any money,” Bucky admitted.
“That’s okay, it’s my treat.”
Half of Bucky wanted to protest but the other half told him that he deserved to let himself accept things when they were offered sometimes. Luckily for him, Steve was already heading for the cart.
Steve ordered two pretzels and two hotdogs with everything on them then led the way to another secluded bench overlooking the open park and they chatted while kids, couples, and friends moved around them enjoying the autumn afternoon. A group of college students set up a volleyball net on the other side of the field and were having what looked to be a very intense competition, while a group of middle schoolers played capture the flag on the edge of the rocky outcrop on their left. There were a few burnt spots in the grass indicating that there had been an alien invasion less than two weeks ago but the city was somewhat used to being at the center of disasters, big and small, since the Avengers took up residence there, and the cleanup crew had gotten quite good.
It was the calmest afternoon Bucky had experienced since he left Wakanda so he savored every minute of it as time passed and his three hour deadline grew nearer.
“We should probably head back,” Steve said quietly a while later.
They’d fallen silent after a while, just watching people go by as they sat together in the shade. Bucky felt like he could sit there forever as the afternoon grew late and the soft rustling of the branches above them hid the noise of New York traffic with every gust of wind.
“Probably,” Bucky agreed.
Neither of them moved.
Across the field a young girl was playing fetch with a pit-bull almost as large as she was. Bucky watched the dog scamper back with the ball, drop it at the girls feet and sprint around her excitedly as she picked it up and took aim once again. It was nice, not in spite of Steve’s company, Bucky realized, but because of it.
If this was a date, Bucky didn’t think he would mind.
He might even like it.
The realization came to him as calmly as the breeze across his skin. Of course Bucky liked Steve. Steve was warm and light and always ready to smile. The old Bucky had liked people for far less, that was for sure. It was human, wasn’t it? To like someone. Bucky liked feeling human after so many decades of feeling nothing at all. Besides, he wasn’t going to act on his feelings. It was more than enough to enjoy Steve’s company and even how tactile he was sometimes: clapping Bucky on the shoulder, or letting their arms brush when they passed each other in the Tower. Waking up beside him hadn’t really been unpleasant, just surprising, and if it happened again Bucky wouldn’t complain, but he knew better than to hope for it.
“Okay, actually though,” Steve said, finally shifting in his seat and smiling apologetically, “I don’t want you to get in trouble on your first day out.”
“Alright,” Bucky acquiesced, “Let’s go.”
They walked side by side out of the park and back towards Avengers Tower. Bucky was sure that somewhere inside an agent was staring at a clock, waiting for the minutes until Bucky’s three hour deadline was up and just itching to press the button that would send a fleet of SHIELD agents out to arrest him again. He wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
All too soon, Bucky back in the elevator, watching the floor numbers tick by.
“That was nice,” Steve said, his eyes resolutely stuck to the slowly climbing numbers above the door, “Maybe we could do it again sometime?”
“Sure,” Bucky replied, “I’m not allowed to go out alone, so if you’ve ever got more errands to run I’d be happy to tag along.”
“Right,” Steve’s jaw clenched, “Right.”
The elevator dinged and the doors opened to Clint and Bucky’s floor.
“I’ll see you on movie night,” Bucky said, walking backwards out the door so he could smile one last time at Steve, “Thanks again, for today.”
Steve’s returning smile was as bright at the midday sun.
The doors closed and Bucky was left alone in the entryway.
That night, Bucky fell asleep with the sounds of New York around him and saw that glowing smile in his dreams.
It was Bruce and Wanda’s turn to pick movies that week. Bucky went to Bruce’s place early to snag his favorite corner of the softest couch and he pulled a heavy quilt across his shoulders as he settled in. He liked to bundle up in blankets and sink into the cushions even when it wasn’t fall so he was already fully immersed when the others started to arrive.
Wanda and Stark were the first to appear after Bucky. They greeted Bruce who didn’t react when Stark called his name and jumped when Stark tapped him on the forehead.
“Oh, hi. Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.”
“It’s okay,” Wanda laughed, “Are we the first to arrive?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Bruce said.
Bucky bit back his grin from the sofa. Bruce had been absorbed in his work when Bucky arrived too. He figured Bruce would want the extra five minutes of focus before his home was full of chaos, but he hadn’t realized that Bruce had been completely oblivious to his arrival and now, hidden in the pillows, he had an opportunity to make an entrance that he wasn’t going to pass up.
“Whatcha working on there, Doc?” Tony asked, leaning over the island to look.
“Oh, I’m just altering the focus on Project A642J.”
“Ah, the ion beam still acting up?”
Bucky tuned them out. Wanda was puttering around the kitchen, pulling out bowls for the snacks Steve was bringing. Soon after, Wilson and Romanoff arrived, followed by Steve and Clint. They all gathered around the kitchen to see what snacks there were and to dish them all out.
“No!” Clint was lamenting loudly, “I don’t care who’s turn it is to pick movies. I’m not watching Coraline again!”
“It’s not that scary,” Romanoff placated.
“They try to sew buttons into her eyeballs!” Clint cried, “Her upstairs neighbor turns into a bunch of rats!”
Bucky had never seen this movie but he was starting to agree with Clint.
“Don’t worry, I’ll cover your eyes for the scary bits,” Wanda cooed, patting Clint’s head patronizingly.
“I’ve never seen it but I have to admit that I’m intrigued,” Bruce said, shaking the last of the pretzels into a bowl.
“Are we just waiting on Barnes?” Wilson asked.
Even from the couch, Bucky could see Steve visibly perk up.
“Is he coming?” Steve asked, “I was starting to think he was busy.”
“Busy with what?” Romanoff snapped, “He doesn’t exactly do much.”
“Hey,” Clint kicked her in the shin, “he does plenty.”
“He’s coming.” Wanda said firmly to Steve, ignoring Romanoff and Clint, “He said he was coming.”
“Well, he could at least show up on time,” Stark chided.
Seven pairs of eyes snapped to the sofa where Bucky had unfolded his little cocoon of blankets bit by bit until he was plainly visible, sprawled across the far end with his feet up on the coffee table. Bucky stared blankly back at them for a moment before barking out a laugh.
“Jesus, Bucky,” Clint laughed and clutched his chest, “You nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Stark coughed awkwardly and busied himself with the snacks. Bucky wasn’t upset though. He knew what Stark and Romanoff thought of him so their words washed over him like a wave before disappearing with no effect.
“You’re supposed to be the observant one,” Bucky replied, “If you didn’t see me it’s your own damn fault.”
Bucky scooted further into the corner to make room for Wanda as people started taking their seats and bringing over the snacks, but before Wanda could come over from the kitchen, the seat was taken by Steve.
“Here,” Steve held out a new bowl of peanuts, “I got these for you.”
“Oh, thank you.” Bucky took them.
“So, can you teleport or what?” Steve asked, settling into the cushions beside Bucky.
Over his head, Bucky saw Wanda start to make for their corner before pausing at the sight of Steve already there. Her eyes met Bucky’s and she smiled before sitting down next to Wilson.
“Nah,” Bucky replied, reburying himself in his fortress of blankets, “I just got here early. I didn’t realize Bruce hadn’t noticed.”
Bruce waved a belated “hello” at him from the armchair across from them and Bucky smiled back.
“Damn. I used to think that you must have had some sort of help getting around so fast.”
“You mean back when you were doing such a bad job of tracking me that I didn’t even notice?” Bucky asked innocently.
Steve gasped indignantly while Clint choked on a potato chip.
“Too soon?” Bucky asked over Wanda’s snorts of laughter, “I thought you’d be over it by now.”
“Shut up, I was doing my best.”
Steve smacked Bucky’s shoulder through the layers of blankets.
“Punk,” Bucky shot back, poking his toes out of the blankets to shove Steve’s thigh.
“Do you two need to be separated?” Bruce asked with raised eyebrows, holding up the remote and nodding at the movie that was ready to start.
Steve and Bucky quickly quieted down but Bucky could feel more than one pair of eyes on him as the lights dimmed and the movie started.
Bruce had picked the Martian, which Bucky found that he enjoyed quite a bit. He could see why Bruce liked it as he watched Mark Watney puzzle his way through problem after problem with physics, engineering, and botany. He laughed loudly when Watney declared himself a space pirate and found himself getting strangely emotional when he said what might have been his final goodbyes to his family.
The rest of the group watched a lot more quietly than they had last movie night— save for when Watney decided to puncture his space suit so that he would fly around “like Iron Man” which spurred a long debate about whether the move was cool enough that the questionable physics could be forgiven.
Towards the end, Bucky kicked off his abundance of blankets, finding himself overheating under the layers of fabric with Steve’s warm body at his side. When he settled back down, their shoulders touched and remained like that as they shared the last of the peanuts. It was odd, feeling Steve’s presence through the skin of his left shoulder instead of the metal plates that usually lay there. The Wakandan technology was good enough that feeling things through the metal arm was almost the same as feeling through skin but what was different was the solidity and the security he lost when it was gone. Without his arm, Bucky didn’t have his armor. He was exposed. He felt naked every time Steve shifted despite the two layers of fabric between them. It wasn’t bad, exactly. If it were Romanoff or Stark next to him he would have left the room by now, but it was Steve and somehow that made it okay.
Bruce flicked the lights back on as the credits rolled and after a quick stretch, a refill, and more arguing about physics, Wanda queued up her movie: an animated film that gave Bucky the creeps from the first shot.
“Wow, don’t like that,” he whispered as a soft breathy voice hummed over the visuals of an old doll with button eyes being torn apart seam by seam and then sewn back together by a pair of sharp needle-like hands.
“Just you wait, Barnes,” Clint hissed from his seat on the other side of the couch, “It gets worse.”
Steve chuckled next to him and then shifted a little closer. It felt oddly deliberate now that their shared bowl of peanuts was empty and gone. Any other time, Bucky might have ended up hyper focused on the physical contact but something about the simultaneously charming and horrifying movie playing in front of him kept his mind occupied as he and Steve sank closer and closer together on Bruce’s soft couch.
It wasn’t until Coraline’s hand was suddenly trapped by the gruesome, demented versions of her neighbors, Spink and Forcible, that Bucky became aware of how tightly squished together he and Steve had become. Mainly because he jumped. Luckily for his pride, Steve did too.
“Jesus,” Steve whispered, as they both got over the small scare, “this shit is for kids?”
“Yeah, what the fuck,” Bucky replied softly.
Steve was curled up beside him with his chest against Bucky’s left side, his head pillowed in the cushions a breath away from Bucky’s shoulder and sometime in the last hour, Bucky’s toes had tucked themselves under Steve’s thigh.
Now Bucky was stressed for multiple reasons.
He tensely watched Coraline re-enter the Other Mother’s lair and recoiled as she shed the last of her human disguise and crept around the room like a spider on eight spindly needle legs with a face like shards of broken glass.
“I know I’ve fought aliens and Nazis and stuff,” Steve whispered, almost directly into Bucky’s ear, “but if I saw the Other Mother coming at me I think I’d just start crying.”
“Wow, that would have been useful to know back when I was trying to kill you.”
“Next time.” Steve patted Bucky’s knee consolingly.
Bucky smiled in spite of himself. The rest of the film didn’t seem so scary after that.
“Well, that was objectively horrifying,” Bruce declared as the credits rolled once again.
“I told you!” Clint wailed dramatically with his head in Romanoff’s lap.
“You guys are all babies,” Wanda replied, standing primly to start cleaning up.
“Bucky, back me up here,” Clint moaned before glancing over at him and doing a double take.
Steve’s head had definitely fallen onto Bucky’s shoulder, Bucky’s toes were absolutely still under Steve’s thigh, and Steve’s hand was undeniably still resting on Bucky’s knee.
“I kind of liked the bit where the dad turned into a pumpkin and then drowned,” Bucky replied as casually as he could.
“I liked the part where she found the ghosts of all the other kids the Other Mother had murdered,” Steve added sleepily.
“And the part where the Other Mother sewed a kid’s mouth into a smile because he frowned that one time.”
“Mm, yes. A necessity for any quality children’s movie,” Steve said, yawning over the last few words.
“I think it’s time for bed,” Bucky suggested, nudging Steve up, more in an attempt to divert Clint, Wilson, and now Romanoff’s sharp eyes than out of any real desire to actually get up, “It’s nearly midnight.”
“Yeah,” Steve breathed wistfully, his eyes drooping, “bed.”
“Come on,” Bucky forced himself up, leaving a distinct void in the nest of blankets and pillows next to Steve, “Get up, Rogers.”
Steve groaned dramatically as Bucky hauled him up, blinking the tiredness out of his eyes and pouting before going to help Wilson collect empty snack bowls. As soon as Steve was gone, Bucky had no shield from the eyes of the rest of the group, which flicked to him constantly with varying degrees of confusion and suspicion. Bucky avoided their gazes, turning to rearrange the cushions and brush crumbs off blankets, because he hardly had an answer for any of them.
Why Steve had chosen to curl up beside him, he didn’t know. He wasn’t exactly a model citizen— being a brainwashed assassin and all that— and he wasn’t even all that much to look at. Maybe at one point he’d been a bit of a charmer, but now with the arm and the hair and the scruff he doubted his good looks, or lack thereof, was something Steve was thinking about. He’d seen photographs of himself before and during the war. He’d always had short hair, a clean face, and a winning smile. He felt detached from that person, but that face must still be there beneath it all.
The arm he couldn’t do much about. It wasn’t so bad when he had Shuri’s sleek prosthetic attached to his shoulder but without it all he had was half a limb. His hair he could probably fix. He flicked the long strands away from his eyes as he straightened the last of the pillows and placed them neatly in their respective spots. He hadn’t asked Clint to help him tie it back that morning to avoid being a nuisance, so it hung limply around his face after working its own way into a messy side part.
“Would you help me cut my hair sometime?” He asked Wanda, as he helped her stack a few errant cups.
“Oh? Were you thinking of changing it?” She asked, balancing the stack in the air with her red mist.
“It’s annoying to handle with only one hand,” he answered, blowing at one lock that had decided it wanted to fall directly in front of his right eye to prove his point, “and I’m not sure how good of a job I would do if I decided to cut it myself.”
He wasn’t lying, even though his real reasoning was a little bit different.
“Well, if you just want to get it out of your face I could help you braid it,” Wanda suggested, “That’s what I do to keep mine from strangling me in my sleep.”
“I don’t want to bother you every day—“
“It’s no bother,” Wanda said with a smile, carrying the cups to the small kitchen, “It’ll be fun!”
“Give him pigtails!” Clint called sleepily from where he was lying face first on the carpet.
“Do little braids like the Wendy’s lady,” Wilson suggested with a teasing smile.
“God, just chop it all off,” Bucky groaned, shaking his head back while he carried the last of the cups back to the kitchen in an attempt to move that one obnoxious lock out of his face.
“It looks so nice though.”
Steve’s voice was quickly followed by his hand, which reached out and hooked the offending lock around his index finger and then tucked it neatly behind Bucky’s ear faster than he could react. Then the cups in his hand were gone as Steve moved them to the sink and began rinsing them out like he hadn’t just inadvertently caressed Bucky’s cheek.
Bucky was frozen on the spot. In the corner of his eye he absently registered Wilson and Romanoff staring at Steve and then looking at each other with wide eyes. Even Stark’s mouth was hanging open in surprise and if that had been too much for Stark then it was definitely too much for Bucky.
“Ok, goodnight everyone,” Bucky announced loudly before making a beeline for the elevator.
Moments later he was joined by Clint who quickly hit the “close door” button several times.
They stood in silence for a moment, then Clint took a breath. Bucky already knew what was coming. He knew what Clint thought and this time, he had no good counter argument.
“Don’t.” Bucky interrupted before Clint had even begun, “Just don’t.”
Clint closed his mouth. They were almost at their floor when he opened it again.
“If you ask him to stop he will,” Clint said quietly.
Bucky took a breath.
It felt like an admission.
The doors opened and the two stepped out. Clint paused at the entrance of his hallway.
“If you want to talk…” he trailed off and nodded back towards his rooms.
“Thanks,” Bucky said with a small smile, “goodnight.”
Bucky stepped into his bedroom and sank down with his back against the door.
“What the fuck am I doing.” He hissed to himself, “What the fuck am I doing.”
The blank white walls held no answer. The plain black and white clothes in the open closet gave no reply. The twinkling lights of the city that never sleeps sparkled ambivalently at him through the window.
The ghost sensation of Steve’s warm chest against his side sent a shiver down Bucky’s spine. It seemed that that was the only answer he was going to get.
It had felt good, Bucky had to admit that now. He liked being near Steve, he liked talking to Steve, he just liked Steve. But why did Steve like him? He had no reason to. Bucky was a mess. A murderous, untrustworthy, shell of a person. He was a twisted, brainwashed assassin desperately attempting to atone for his uncountable sins. He wasn’t worthy of freedom, let alone affection. Steve should know that. He must have forgotten somehow and if Bucky wanted to be a good person now then he couldn’t just let Steve walk blindly into darkness.
This had to stop and Bucky had to be the one to put an end to it.
Bucky missed the next movie night. He told Clint he was busy and trusted that he’d pass the word on. Technically it was true, though he left out the part where he’d deliberately scheduled his next call with Shuri for that evening specifically to have an excuse not to go.
He’d been doing a good job of avoiding Steve too. He’d gotten to know the rhythms of the tower fairly well so he knew when he could go to the gym or visit Bruce without having to worry about running into him. He started using his daily allotted free time during the Tower’s scheduled briefs, which Steve, as the supervisor of three different Tac Teams, was required to attend. In a stroke of luck, SHIELD deemed Bucky trustworthy enough to go on more missions without direct oversight from one of the original Avengers the same day that Shuri’s new arm design arrived from Wakanda. It fit beautifully and the dexterity was phenomenal. The missions were smaller and a bit tedious but more frequent so Bucky had more than enough to keep himself busy.
All in all, it wasn’t that hard. Bucky was sure that Steve had been yelled at to some degree by Romanoff and Wilson anyway for letting Bucky get so close to him and if he did want to talk to Bucky, well, he didn’t exactly have his phone number.
Bucky’s plan to extract himself from Steve’s orbit was going perfectly, save for one small detail: Bucky hated every second of it.
He hadn’t even realized how much he thought about Steve until he tried to cut himself off. He hated remembering some anecdote from his past and having no one to share it with. He tried telling Wanda about the time he and Patrick O’Malley got detention once. She listened well, she laughed in all the right places, and it was fine, before Steve it might have even been enough, but now he knew that if he’d told Steve he would have chimed in with his own Patrick O’Malley story or a time that he’d been in detention too. It wasn’t Wanda’s fault; she hadn’t exactly had a typical life so far and his stories about America in the 1930’s probably weren’t all that relatable to her. Steve was literally the only person in the world who would understand. He was the only other person who’d lived those years, seen that war, and walked into the 21st century still as a young man. Where else was Bucky supposed to find someone with shared life experience like that?
It wasn’t just that either. Now that he’d had a taste, he craved the physical contact Steve had given him. Bucky didn’t think Clint would mind if he pressed himself close while they watched TV or something but their relationship didn’t really work like that either. He could hug Wanda and maybe lean against her while she braided his hair, but something about it just wasn’t the same. Like it or not, Steve had been a gift of everything Bucky hadn’t known he needed and he was having a hard time keeping his own vow to stay away.
Caught up in his own mixed emotions, he was half relieved and half horrified to see Steve standing in the lobby of Avengers Tower, dressed in his full Captain America uniform just as he and Clint returned from a short trip outside.
“Hey, Cap,” Clint called, saluting sloppily as they joined Steve by the elevators.
“Hey, I need a sec with Barnes,” was all Steve said.
His voice was clipped. Bucky tensed. Maybe he was mad that Bucky had been avoiding him. Before he had time to come up with his excuses, the elevator doors opened and Clint took a step back.
“Alright,” he said curiously, “I’ll take the next one.”
Bucky shot Clint a desperate look, Clint just clapped him on the shoulder and gave him an encouraging nod.
Then he was alone with Steve.
“We’re moving in on Rumlow.”
Bucky felt the ground shift a little and hoped it was just the elevator messing with his head.
“There’s a gala tomorrow night in Moscow.” Steve continued in precise military fashion, “He and the man we’ve identified as his new boss, some guy named Zemo, will be there. We’re going to infiltrate, locate, and extract. The team is me, Wilson, and Stark. Normally we’d put Romanoff on this one too but she’s still on a mission in Romania and can’t get away.”
Bucky nodded numbly. He wasn’t panicking, which was an improvement, but his bones were humming with nervous energy.
“Thanks for telling me,” Bucky replied a moment later.
“I can get you on the team, if you want,” Steve answered, his eyes latching to Bucky’s with an intense focus, “and if you think you can handle being around Rumlow and any others you might have met in your past. We could use your skills.”
Bucky’s instinct was to immediately say yes but he forced himself to think for a moment. Steve had said “extract”, not “kill” which meant he needed to be able to face Rumlow without breaking and even if he made it through the gala he’d be flying back to the states with Rumlow sitting chained up across from him.
It would be hard, but he could do it.
“Yes,” he said finally, “I can do it.”
He looked back at Steve with conviction and Steve nodded.
“Suit up. We leave in fifteen minutes.”
The gala was beautiful and ornate. It was some sort of anonymous charity event that gave the rich and ostentatious population of Moscow an excuse to throw a masquerade ball. Over a paired down version of his usual uniform, Bucky had been suited with a neat black tux, silk gloves, and a painted porcelain mask that luckily covered the entirety of his face instead of just the bottom half. He stood at the fringes of the party, a glass of champagne that he couldn’t drink in one hand and the other wrapped around the small pistol in his pocket. Steve and Wilson were both somewhere in the crowded ballroom, circling the perimeter as they waited for Rumlow or Zemo to appear. Stark was on tech duty since he was too recognizable, even with a mask, and his voice occasionally piped up over the coms as he watched them all on security cameras from the safety of the jet a mile away.
Everything was going smoothly so far. They’d gotten in without a hitch and their intel had been good. Steve had even spotted two low ranking Hydra agents scoping out the room before their boss arrived.
But Rumlow was coming and Bucky felt like he was walking a razor's edge.
On one side lay the chaos of his human mind— the side that left him shaking on the ground as memory and fear overcame him— and on the other lay stillness— the cold void of the soldier. Bucky needed to compartmentalize his emotions in order to make it through this mission but if he compartmentalized too much he worried that he would fall back into the Soldier's old patterns. Normally, he wouldn’t consider that a risk but he was standing in a room where everyone was speaking Russian and Brock Rumlow was about to walk in. Shuri had told him that even though she’d cleared his head he should still avoid triggers if he could and this was a minefield if he’d ever seen one. Bucky forced himself to remain calm and focused. If there was one leaf he could take from the Soldier's book it was that a bit of cold efficiency wouldn’t hurt.
Bucky steadied himself and kept moving. He wove in between women in long gowns with feathered masks, men in well tailored suits, and servers with trays of hors d’oeuvres.
“Incoming,” Stark’s voice piped up through the coms, “Zemo, four agents, all packing.”
Bucky didn’t let the news phase him. He kept moving with all his focus in his peripheral vision towards the entrance as Zemo, the new Head of Hydra, stepped into the ballroom. The four agents formed a protective box around him as they moved into the space and Bucky quickly assessed them all.
“Back right position is the leader,” he muttered, the movement of his lips covered by the mask, “front left has explosives under his shirt.”
“Noted.” Steve replied, “Rumlow?”
The four agents all wore identical black masks but none were Rumlow, Bucky could tell.
“He might appear later, keep your eyes open,” Wilson muttered.
The group was moving around the dance floor, towards the doors that led upstairs. The entrance was guarded by two men, who let the group in without question. The doors shut behind them and that it was Wilson’s cue.
There was a crash of glass and then Wilson’s voice cut through the music and chatter of the crowd.
“Oh my gosh, I am so sorry! Here, let me get that—“
Bucky ducked under the red velvet rope blocking off a stairwell at the far corner of the ballroom. With the security guards distracted, Bucky easily made his way up to the second floor which, if Stark’s intel was good, would give him access to the Hydra office upstairs without having to use the main, heavily guarded entrance, as long as he could squeeze himself into a vent or two.
Bucky moved silent as a cat across the marble floors and tucked himself into a doorway when the sound of voices drew near, then passed. He quickly undid the screws on a ground level vent hidden behind an ornamental table and slid neatly inside, pulling the vent closed behind him. He had to drag himself forward on his stomach across the dusty metal surface in the dark but as he navigated the ventilation from memory, he began hearing voices speaking in angry Russian.
“-Мудак! Это не должно быть сложно,” (—asshole! This shouldn’t be hard.) a man’s voice snapped.
“Мы научили его быть лучшим. Мы не поймаем его,” (We taught him to be the best. We won’t catch him) a second voice replied.
“Мы так сильно трясли его мозг, что он не мог даже прокормить себя, и все же остатки SHIELD все же сумели достать его первыми. Ваша некомпетентность поразительна.” (We scrambled his brain so hard that he couldn’t even feed himself and yet the remnants of SHIELD still managed to get him first. Your incompetence is astounding.)
Bucky paused for a moment, then continued. They were looking for him. Of course, they were looking for him. The fact that Bucky hadn’t realized that spoke simultaneously to the fact that his brain had in fact been scrambled beyond belief and to the fact that he was a lot better at hiding than even he had known. Neither Captain America nor Hydra had even managed to put themselves on his radar. It gave him some peace of mind to know that if he ever decided he needed to leave SHIELD, he could be fairly confident that no one would ever find him.
“У Ромлоу есть план. Мы не можем взять это у SHIELD, но мы можем выманить его и поймать его..” (Rumlow has a plan. We can’t take him back from SHIELD but we can lure him out and recapture him.) The second voice continued hastily.
“Где Ромлоу? Боишься показать свое лицо?” (Where is Rumlow? Too afraid to show his face?)
There was a beep in Bucky’s com, that was his cue.
He dragged himself forward one last time, then kicked forward hard. The metal grate on the ceiling of the Hydra meeting burst open and Bucky dropped in just as Steve kicked through the adjacent grate. Steve went for the agent with the explosives while Bucky went for the leader. Zemo was quickly circled by his men but Bucky knew all of Hydra’s defensive maneuvers and their weaknesses.
Bucky took out the leader by crushing his ribs with his metal hand, still hidden by his glove, and then kneeing him so hard in the crotch that he passed out. He shot the agent who made the mistake of running at him next and kicked the legs out from under the third but the explosion surprised him. He flew forward, hitting the wall and sending blood dripping down his face behind his porcelain mask, which split in two and fell to the ground. When his vision stopped dipping in and out of focus, Bucky saw figures scurrying around in the dense dust cloud and he hauled himself to his feet.
“Rogers?” he hissed, coughing a bit as the debris hit his lungs, “Rogers, report.”
There was no response.
Bucky grabbed the closest Hydra agent and snapped his neck, then broke the kneecap of the one next to him with his heel. The next figure he found in the dust was Zemo. He’d been struck by debris and was clutching his bleeding arm in the corner of the room. Bucky kicked aside a chunk of drywall and made for him. As he approached their eyes met and recognition sparked in Zemo’s eyes.
“говорить о дьяволе.” (Speak of the devil.)
Bucky didn’t think, he just pistol whipped Zemo unconscious and threw his limp body over his shoulder.
“Barnes!” Stark’s voice shouted over the coms, “What the hell happened in there?”
“I have Zemo, locating Rogers,” Bucky replied tersely.
He was aware of the ice flooding his veins and the freezing monotony of the Soldier’s violence flowing effortlessly from his limbs. It was the awareness that kept him grounded. As long as he was aware, he was still in control.
“Fucking hell, Barnes. I don’t speak Russian!”
“I have Zemo,” he said again, in English this time, “locating Rogers.”
Bucky kicked aside more chunks of drywall and broken stone as the last of the dust settled. He couldn’t spot Rogers’ form lying unconscious in the rubble anywhere which meant that Rogers wasn’t his problem anymore.
“Rogers is gone.” Bucky informed the group, already turning to leave.
“Copy.” Wilson responded, “I’ll find him.”
“I’m heading to the extraction point now.” Stark added, “Get your asses there quick.”
Bucky made his way back through the mansion. Most of the guests had fled when the explosion shook the building leaving Bucky to face off with only a handful of Hydra agents who noticed him carrying the unconscious form of their boss over his shoulder.
He made it to the extraction point in 6 minutes and 28 seconds.
He dumped Zemo onto the floor of the jet and left the SHIELD co-pilot to properly handcuff and restrain him.
“Цель выпо—“ Bucky cut himself off and forced himself to shake the ice from his head, “I—uh— I got him.”
“Great, where’s Steve?” Stark replied, abandoning his post at the monitors and marching towards Bucky at the back of the plane.
The ice Bucky had just shaken off was replaced by white hot panic.
He’d left Steve.
He hadn’t even looked for him, he just left with the target. Bucky ripped the gloves off his hands and tore the rumpled and bloody suit away from his chest.
“Jesus, fuck!” Stark reeled back at the sight of Bucky’s bloody face and stained tac suit, “That’s a lot of blood.”
“Stay here or suit up, Stark.” Bucky snapped before marching back out the way he came.
He left the sputtering genius and sprinted across the huge garden back towards the mansion.
“Wilson, any sign of Rogers?” He shouted into his com as he ran.
“I’m not sure!” Wilson sounded like he was mid combat as he replied, “I think they might have got him!”
Bucky felt the earth tilt as he stumbled up the stairs to the glass doors.
Hydra had Steve.
Hydra had their dirty, bloodstained hands on Steve: a man whose smile sang with sunshine. There were a thousand ways Hydra could wipe that light from the earth.
Bucky forced all thoughts from his head and focused. He steadied himself against the doorframe and took a breath. He needed to be perfect now. What was the point of all his training if he couldn’t use it to save one man? He closed his eyes and opened his mind to the monotonous voice of the Soldier.
Hydra rendezvous facility, Class R. Four levels. Holding, Intel, Communications, and Decoy. Subterranean vehicle storage, ammunitions, and evac-tunnels. High surveillance, temporary security, minimal use.
“Hydra uses this facility for quick meetings and drops so there are a few different escape routes, our best bet is the service tunnel under the building,” he said into the coms, forcing himself to translate the Soldier’s broken thoughts, “there will be at least three armored vehicles in the exit party, the first of which will hold any prisoners. Stark, monitor from above. The tunnel will let out between 3 and 5 miles away. The sniper will be in position on the second vehicle surrounded by three agents. The third car has a machine gun. Wilson, get down there and take out the gun before they leave, then get in the air.”
Bucky took off across the now empty ballroom to the door Zemo and his crew had first entered. He followed the hallway and quickly found the standard Hydra escape route. As he ran down the concrete stairs he heard the sounds of combat in the distance and the familiar sound of Falcon’s wings whirring as they shielded him from bullets.
Counting on Wilson to be more than distracting enough, Bucky slipped out into the garage. There were three armored vans, as Bucky had predicted. Bodies littered the asphalt and the ones who remained had their eyes trained on the winged man blocking the only exit through the tunnel. Bucky darted to the second car and latched himself onto the undercarriage. A loud crunch came from the third car.
“Gun down,” Wilson reported, “Evacuating through the tunnel.”
Bucky heard the whirring of Wilson’s wings speed up as he made his escape. The cars quickly took chase, filing down the narrow tunnel.
Bucky held himself above the ground rushing past him. He felt the back of his tac suit tear against the road and he lifted himself higher. He crawled toward the front of the car, ignoring the painful slap of wind and the sting of burning metal under his hands. He grabbed the grill, pulling himself up the front of the car before launching himself onto the hood. The car swerved as the driver startled, but he didn’t have long to react before Bucky punched his way through the windshield and tore the steering wheel from his hands. As the car lurched to the side, unable to steer, Bucky leaped forward, latching onto the back of the first car while the middle car crashed into the wall of the tunnel and flipping over, leaving just enough space for the third car to still make it past.
Bucky tore the back door off the van, throwing it at the car behind, hitting the windshield and shattering it before ducking inside.
Steve was chained to the ground. His arms were clasped in huge metal manacles from elbow to wrist and his face was covered with a metal visor that locked his mouth shut and kept both his eyes blind. In front of him were four Hydra agents, each with stunning batons and guns.
The first one, Bucky head-butted, then tossed out the back of the van. The second got him in the stomach with his baton. The sting was familiar and Bucky felt his vibranium arm go momentarily rigid as the electricity shocked him. He grabbed the baton with his working hand and twisted it up, despite the pain, until the agent had to let go or dislocate their own shoulder. They chose to let go and Bucky shoved the baton up underneath their helmet and let the electricity flow until the third agent shot him in the metal shoulder. The bullet bounced off harmlessly and as the agent lined up another shot, the air changed. They were out of the tunnel.
Stark’s missile hit the car behind them, sending it up into the air and then down in a pile of metal and flame. Then Wilson hit the top of the first van, bringing it screeching to a halt as the driver was quickly dealt with. Bucky grabbed the gun from the hip of the agent still reeling from the force of the stunning baton and disposed of the remaining two with dual shots to the chest.
“Barnes, do you see Cap?” Wilson’s voice came urgently through the coms.
“Yeah, I got him,” Bucky replied, dropping to one knee in front of Steve, unable to keep the relief out of his voice.
He started with the visor. He crushed the locking mechanism between two metal fingers and gently pried it away from Steve’s face. The moment it unlatched its metal grip Steve’s scratched and bloody face tipped back and he sucked in a ragged breath.
“Yeah, those things are rough,” Bucky muttered knowingly, quickly moving on to the thick manacles around his arms.
Steve blinked, taking in the scene around him and swallowing.
“Fucker had his hand on the explosives before I could neutralize them,” he explained apologetically in a rough voice, “I got tossed in the blast and suddenly there were eighteen guys around me.”
“And they thought they could get away with capturing Captain America without a hitch,” Bucky shook his head and clicked his tongue mockingly, “talk about biting off more than you can chew.”
The manacles finally fell away and Steve clasped his wrists, shaking the feeling back into them.
“They almost had me for a bit too.”
Their eyes met and Bucky saw gratitude there.
“Good thing you weren’t alone,” Bucky replied, standing up and holding out a hand.
Steve’s fingers slid against his own and he pulled the bruised Captain from the van.
“Oof, lookin’ rough there, Cap,” Stark chided as he landed neatly next to them, followed shortly by Wilson, “But there’s no need to take it personally. We all get kidnapped sometime or another.”
“What?” Steve asked, completely baffled.
“I’ve never been kidnapped,” Wilson said as Stark’s visor popped up.
“All in good time, my man.” Stark said as if imparting some great ancient wisdom, “All in good time.”
“Are— are you threatening me?”
“Stark, can you call the jet please?” Bucky interrupted before they all got too sidetracked.
He was physically and mentally exhausted. He absolutely didn’t want to stand around trading jibes when he could be curled up under the jet seats sleeping away the nine hours it would take to fly back to New York.
“I’m just saying, it happens to everyone eventually. I don’t want dear ol’ Cap to be too hard on himself for getting caught,” Stark said in a tone that was either completely genuine or swimming in mockery, Bucky couldn’t tell.
“I appreciate it, Tony, but I’m fine,” Steve knocked Stark on the metal shoulder, “It wasn’t exactly months of captivity.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Stark replied with a grin, the teasing undertone in his voice taking over, “ten minutes in handcuffs can do a lot to a guy.”
Bucky barked out a laugh, as much to his own surprise as anyone else’s. He really must be exhausted if he was laughing at Stark’s innuendos.
“Oh, gross,” Wilson’s nose wrinkled and he turned away, talking once again into his com, “Yeah, we need that jet here now.”
“Barnes gets it!” Stark pointed at Bucky with a thick metal finger, “Now that’s a man with a refined sense of humor.”
“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” Bucky replied, a tired smile still tugging at his lips.
Steve looked torn between laughing and scoffing and ended up just shaking his head and following Wilson to the side of the road.
The jet came down not two minutes later and the four of them shuffled on board, all ignoring the still unconscious Zemo, who was shackled and contained in the clear bulletproof cell next to the back entrance.
Bucky immediately collapsed on one of the seats near the front, finally allowing himself to relax as the jet took off and they left the cool evening air of Moscow behind them.
It always felt a little strange, turning off the hyper-focus he settled into while running missions and allowing himself to trust his environment enough to be truly calm again. It always felt a bit like stripping off armor, but in the presence of Steve, Wilson, and Stark, who were also removing their own armor and sinking down to rest, he felt safe.
Bucky blinked up at Steve.
“Mind if I sit here?” Steve gestured at the empty spot beside Bucky.
He had been planning stretching out across the four empty seats but he shook his head and scooted over to give Steve more space.
Stark and Wilson were still bickering in the back while Stark clambered out of his armor and Wilson watched with a judging tilt of his eyebrow. Neither of them paid him or Steve any mind as they settled down next to each other.
“Thanks for taking care of the mission,” Steve said softly, staring out the front windshield at the dark clouds flying past them, “and for keeping everyone together.”
“It wasn’t me,” Bucky refuted quickly, “It was a group effort.”
“I heard the whole thing,” Steve replied, tapping the com in his ear, “I couldn’t say anything but I heard it all. You started running point when I didn’t respond and the others listened to your commands. You completed our mission and you got me back. That was you.”
Guilt churned in Bucky’s chest.
“It wasn’t me,” he repeated, pulling his knees up to his chest and sinking down behind them, “I got a little… confused.”
“I heard,” Steve replied softly, “but you were only confused for a moment. You never lost sight of the mission and your loyalty never wavered. You might have been speaking Russian but that’s not the same as being part of Hydra.”
Bucky had no argument for that.
“And the guys trust you,” Steve continued, nodding back to where Wilson and Stark continued to argue about the benefits and drawbacks of wings versus jets, “If they didn’t they would have suspected you immediately. They would have thought you deliberately led us into a trap where I was meant to be captured.”
Steve was right. It hadn’t even occurred to Bucky but he was right. Stark would have shot him in the head with a missile if he’d thought Bucky had anything to do with Steve suddenly going missing.
“They like you,” Steve concluded, sliding down in his seat until his shoulders were level with Bucky’s, “and so do I.”
Bucky felt his willpower crumbling as the clouds around them began to thin and a soft cheek slowly came to rest on his shoulder as the sun rose.
He’d told himself that he was staying away for Steve’s own sake, to protect him, but now he wondered if it had all been a lie. Maybe he was trying to protect himself.
He thought about Romanoff, standing next to Steve’s blinding light and wondered once again how she didn’t burn. How could she stand next to his immeasurable goodness and not crumple under the weight of all the red on her ledger? Then again, Steve wasn’t the shining beacon of American righteousness Bucky had thought he was. The realization didn’t dull his brightness, if anything it enriched it with new color. He was just a man after all. A man who got detention as a kid and ate hot dogs too fast and pouted when old ladies didn’t give him free ice cream. And if Steve was just a man, then maybe Bucky was too. Maybe he wasn’t the shadow of darkness luring Steve into the abyss. Maybe, if he indulged the timid rush he felt every time Steve touched him, it wouldn’t be so bad.
Bucky swallowed roughly and, for the first time in decades, he allowed himself to hope.
He glanced down at the man sleeping on his shoulder. There was blood smeared across his temple and dark bruises bloomed across his jaw and cheek. His arms lay resting on his lap and his thigh was pressed against Bucky’s.
Bucky glanced around subtly. The pilot and co-pilot were both focused on their duties. Wilson was asleep with one leg on his folded up wings and his head tipped back against the wall of the jet. Stark had three StarkPads fanned out in front of him and was twirling around a holographic model of Wilson’s armor, paying no mind to anyone or anything around him. Safe from prying eyes, Bucky let his hand shift. Without moving enough to dislodge Steve, he snuck his fingers across the small gap between them and gently hooked his elbow around Steve’s.
He rested his fingertips against Steve’s wrist and listened to the rush of his own heartbeat as Steve’s arm tightened softly around his.
Every molecule of his being was focused on those warm spots of contact along his side. He felt like he was thrumming with it as the ends of Steves blond hair brushed his neck.
The plane hit a patch of turbulence and Steve stiffened next to him.
“’S just turbulence,” Bucky whispered, tightening his arm around Steve’s reassuringly.
Steve relaxed, shuffled further down in his seat, and settled Bucky’s arm more comfortably in his lap. Half of Bucky had expected Steve to push him away and the other half reveled in its victory as Steve’s fingers began moving towards Bucky’s palm.
Bucky watched, half nervous and half enraptured, as Steve’s fingers traced up his wrist and brushed across his thumb. He stroked Bucky’s knuckles and felt along the pads of each finger tip. He turned Bucky’s hand over and dragged his thumb across the freckle on the side of Bucky’s pinky. Bucky let his fingers curl and uncurl whichever way Steve pushed him as he continued to explore Bucky’s hand as if it were the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. As Steve touched him, he watched Steve’s hand move with equal fervor.
Steve’s hands were broad and warm. His fingers were smooth and soft, save for the few spots Bucky could feel that were dense with calluses. The thing that drew Bucky’s eye the most though was just peeking out of the sleeve of his jacket. The slope of his wrist and the gentle curve of bone was surprisingly delicate. It spoke to an elegance of a former self and, not for the first time, Bucky wished he’d been able to know Steve before the serum. He wondered how different that hand would look, how slender and nimble those fingers would be, on a man a foot shorter and twice as thin.
It would have been quite a sight, Bucky decided, feeling slightly lulled by the hum of the jet and the soft caresses Steve was littering across his skin. He would have been just as intense and just as beautiful.
Bucky wasn’t sure when he fell asleep but he woke with his cheek pressed against soft hair and a hand entwined with his. As he blinked away his remaining exhaustion his eyes instantly met Sam’s, who gave him the twitch of a smile before turning back to the phone in his hand. Tony was passed out on the next bench with his face pressed against one of his StarkPads and light streamed in through the windows above him. Bucky couldn’t have been asleep for more than five or six hours but he felt more rested than he had in a while. He lifted his head off Steve’s before trying and failing to stretch a little without waking him up.
Steve made a small noise of protest before his nose crinkled and eyes blinked awake.
“We there yet?” Steve mumbled sleepily, lifting his head to stretch out his shoulders and twist his spine from side to side.
“Fifteen minutes to landing,” Sam told them.
Steve sighed and slumped back down in his seat. He squeezed Bucky’s hand tightly before letting go to undo the straps of the gun harness under his jacket that was bound to be more than uncomfortable by this point. Sam kicked Tony awake as the jet began its descent toward the landing pad on the roof of Avengers Tower and Bucky busied himself by pulling out his phone and checking to see if Clint or Wanda had texted him while they were gone.
Clint had sent him a video of a cat trying to crawl into a tissue box and then getting its head stuck with the caption, “that’s you.”
Bucky smiled and sent back the middle finger emoji.
The jet came to a slow halt before landing on Avengers Tower with a small jerk. Pistons hissed and the jet powered down as the doors opened and the team came slowly out.
Pepper Potts was waiting for Tony on the tarmac and quickly whisked him away with news about Stark Industries while Sam led the way into the hanger, stripping off the last of his gear as he went and dumping it in his locker. Bucky followed suit and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Sam approach Steve, whisper something, then clap him on the shoulder before turning to leave. He tossed Bucky a little two-fingered salute before disappearing farther into the building and when Bucky turned around, Steve was waiting for him.
“You doing alright?” Steve asked, falling into step with Bucky as they made for the elevators.
“Yeah, fine,” Bucky replied, deciding not to mention the dried blood he could feel still caked across his skin under his clothes, “mostly healed by now. How about you?”
“The same,” Steve said with a shrug, “nothing too bad.”
“Besides getting blown up?”
“That’s pretty par for course, actually.”
“That is deeply unsurprising.”
Steve chuckled and hit both his and Bucky’s floors as the elevator doors slid closed in front of them.
“So, I…uh,” Steve started, then paused, then started again, “I spoke to Maria— Agent Hill— about you. I should have told you before but I got distracted by this mission and everything.”
He waved his hand in a sort of all-encompassing gesture.
“Alright?” Bucky replied uncertainly.
“I asked her about that clause in your probation that limits you to Manhattan and asked if maybe it could be extended to all five boroughs, including Brooklyn.”
“Really?” Bucky turned to face Steve properly with wide eyes, “What did she say?”
“She said she’d think about it.” Steve said with an apologetic cringe, “She needs to run it by Fury and all that, but the fact that she didn’t just say no is pretty good.”
“That is pretty good,” Bucky mused.
He hadn’t even thought of asking since it felt like he was pushing his luck regardless.
“And I was thinking,” Steve continued a little sheepishly, “if she does say yes, maybe, if you still wanted to, we could go to Coney Island sometime.”
That sounded like a date. That definitely sounded like Steve was asking him on a date. Bucky felt his heart swell. Steve liked him. Steve really liked him. Three years ago Bucky had been the shell of a human being, wandering the eastern United States with no thoughts in his head beyond the desire for food and shelter, and today Steve Fucking Rogers was asking him on a date.
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open on Steve’s floor. Steve’s eyes darted nervously between Bucky’s and the doors that were sure to close again in a moment.
“Yes!” Bucky said quickly, shaking the flurry of thoughts from his head, “Yes, we should go.”
“Really?” Steve’s face lit up as he took a small step backwards towards his front door.
“Yes,” Bucky said again, feeling a blush creeping up on his cheeks, “I… yeah.”
“I’ll see you around then.”
Bucky shoved out a hand and caught the doors as they began sliding closed. His heart was pounding, his mind was still reeling, but he hadn’t felt so happy in decades and happiness, it turned out, made him brave.
There was a security camera in the corner of the elevator behind him and another one in the hallway to Steve’s door so he wrapped his fingers around the lapel of Steve’s jacket and pulled him forward until he was standing in the blindspot right in the doorframe of the elevator.
“Thanks for talking to Hill for me,” he whispered, his hand still fisted in Steve’s jacket.
“Of course,” Steve nodded, still smiling mere inches away.
Emboldened by that smile, Buck tilted his face up and pressed a kiss against the bruise on Steve’s cheek and he felt Steve’s small surprised gasp under his lips.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” he breathed against Steve’s warm skin.
“I knew you’d come get me.” The words were spoken so confidently that they were impossible to think of as anything other than the truth.
Bucky pulled away and found Steve’s blue eyes sparkling back at him. Feeling a little dizzy, Bucky took a step back.
“I’ll see you later then.”
“See you later.”
Steve’s parting wave and glowing smile disappeared as the elevator doors closed and it continued its descent to Bucky and Clint’s floor below.
Simultaneously elated and shocked, his heart pounding and his face flushed, Bucky barked out an incredulous laugh, clutching the railing along the wall for balance as the enormity of what had just happened caught up with him.
He was going on a date with Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers. The guy he read about in comic books while splattered with mud and blood in the battlegrounds of France during WWII. The guy who punched tanks and ran into battle like he couldn’t die. The guy who had unknowingly pulled Bucky Barnes back to the surface of his consciousness after decades spent encased in ice. Who else but Captain America could have done all that so easily?
And just like that, Bucky’s elation turned sour.
What the hell was he thinking? He couldn’t be with Steve. He was a former Hydra assassin for fuck’s sake. Captain America and the Winter Soldier? No fucking way. Even if Bucky wasn’t an assassin, if he were just some regular guy with a regular life he still wouldn’t be worthy of someone like Steve. Steve was the stuff of legend. He was the icon that had inspired the masses through one of the darkest periods in history. Who was Bucky to lay any sort of claim to him?
Bucky stumbled out of the elevator, into his and Clint’s apartments, and stood, horrified in the entryway.
I should have said no, the voice in his head whispered, I don’t deserve him.
“You alright, dude?” Clint’s voice called over the back of the sofa.
Bucky eyes caught Clint’s and he didn’t know what Clint saw on his face but the way his eyes widened made it clear that the emotionless mask of the Soldier had long since melted.
“Shit, did the mission go bad? Do you want chocolate? Sit down, I have some of that fancy shit somewhere.” Clint stood up and began frantically searching through the already strewn about pillows.
Bucky wandered over and plopped gracelessly on the floor.
“Why does Rogers like me?” he asked softly, his heart still pounding in his ears.
Clint froze with a throw pillow in either hand.
“Uh,” Clint’s mouth opened and closed again. “Maybe you should ask him that? He doesn’t really confide in me all that often.”
Even Clint couldn’t come up with a reason. Doubt gnawed at Bucky’s heart.
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t lots of great reasons though,” Clint added frantically, tossing the pillows aside and gesticulating wildly with his hands, “You’re pretty nice and you have soft hair and… you’re really good at shooting things and you’re good looking and… uh… you’re kind of an ass but like in a fun way and… um…”
“He only likes that I grew up at the same time he did,” Bucky said, interrupting Clint’s floundering, “beyond that there’s nothing.”
“That’s not true, Bucky. You’re not giving yourself enough credit.”
“I was only allowed to go outside properly for the first time three weeks ago,” Bucky countered, “And even then only with supervision.”
“That’s hardly your fault.”
“I have nothing to offer anyone, let alone him.”
“Where’s all this coming from?” Clint crouched down on the floor next to Bucky, “Did something happen on the mission?”
“The mission was fine,” Bucky replied tensely, “He asked me out on a date.”
Clint’s eyes went wide.
“Thats…” he began enthusiastically before trying to account for Bucky’s apparent mood, “…great?”
“The Winter Soldier can’t be with Captain America,” Bucky said finally.
“Hold on a second,” Clint sat down right in front of Bucky, “You’re not the Winter Soldier.”
“So what?” Clint’s jaw tensed, “Steve isn’t Captain America either, you should know that by now.”
Bucky did know that. Captain America was a persona invented by the public that Steve, on occasion, inhabited. But it wasn’t him. It wasn’t even close.
“Still,” Bucky whispered.
“Screw all this,” Clint rolled his eyes and then smiled softly, “These aren’t real reasons, you’re just scared.”
“I am not,” Bucky snapped, not meeting Clint’s eyes.
“You are. Everyone is when they’re starting something new.” Clint reached out and squeezed Bucky’s shoulder, “It takes courage to let someone in but you deserve something good, Bucky, you really do. Steve’s a great guy and you should give this a chance.”
“He shouldn’t like me,” Bucky whispered.
“Isn’t that for Steve to decide?” Clint asked gently, “Give him the dignity of his choice. He must damn well think you’re worth it.”
“But…” Another excuse didn’t come.
“Do you not like him?” Clint asked.
“What?” Bucky finally met Clint’s eyes again in his surprise, “Of course I do.”
Clint’s face broke into a grin.
“So, what exactly is the problem again?”
“Oh, that’s right,” Clint’s smile widened, “There isn’t one. You got this, dude. I know it’s probably been a long time since you’ve dated or anything so if you want to go slow just say so. Steve’s a good guy, he’ll understand. Besides, I haven’t seen him signing up for Tinder or anything so I doubt you’re the only one in that boat.”
‘I just—“ Bucky gritted his teeth.
He tried to put his thoughts into words but they slipped from his grasp as his mind churned with doubt and comprehension and logic and insecurity. Clint was right. He was scared.
“What if I mess it up?” he whispered, fidgeting with the soft fibers of the carpet as he spoke.
“Then I’ll buy you a gallon of that ice cream you like and you can eat the whole thing,” Clint replied, “It won’t be the end of the world, I promise. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re going to mess it up. Steve’s really gone on you, it’s actually kind of funny.”
“Yeah?” Bucky felt a small smile tug at his lips.
“Someone just has to mention your existence and his face fucking lights up.” Clint continued, relaxing back against the sofa, still absentmindedly looking for his chocolate, “Like, literal hearts in his eyes, it’s ridiculous.”
“Oh.” Bucky couldn’t help but be a little pleased as he pulled his knees up against his chest and rested his cheek against them.
He needed to change and shower, there was blood in his hair and gunpowder residue on his hands, he was starving, and exhausted, but he didn’t have the energy to move.
“What else does he do?”
“Oh, I’m so glad you asked.”
A few days later, Bucky wandered down to the gym by himself. He didn’t need Clint to escort him around anymore and he took advantage of that fact by going places early and then hiding so he could pop out and scare him. It brought Bucky an unfathomable amount of joy, which he needed now that SHIELD had Zemo locked away in the cell that Bucky himself had once been held in. The interrogation was set for the following day and Bucky teetered between elation and terror at the prospect of facing Hydra’s new leader even if he would be on the other side of the cell door this time.
Bucky pushed the thoughts of Zemo from his mind. His part was done, there was no use worrying about something that was out of his hands.
He was just contemplating whether or not he could squeeze himself between the weight racks before Clint came when a voice called out to him.
Sam waved him over from the other side of the room. He seemed to be watching Steve deadlift a ridiculously loaded barbell. Bucky hadn’t noticed them across the gym and his heart kicked into double time as he made his way over.
“Hey, guys.” Bucky weaved between the machines and equipment to stand next to Sam as Steve finished his set. Steve grinned widely at him and he couldn’t help but smile back.
“Is this not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen?” Sam asked with a shake of his head, “He’s holding like, 900 lbs and he’s not even sweating.”
“I’m feeling it a little bit,” Steve said with a lackadaisical grin, as he lowered and raised the barbell again.
Steve’s tight athletic shirt was stretched impossibly across his broad chest and thick biceps. Even his loose basketball shorts were starting to look taught with each squat. The memory of seeing Steve’s shirtless back flashed across Bucky’s mind as Steve continued to lift the weights. Bucky felt his face start to heat up and he quickly looked away.
“This asshole,” Sam rolled his eyes and nudged Bucky with his shoulder, “Please tell me you’re more normal than him.”
“Well…” Bucky trailed off.
The serum Hydra had given him was by all accounts on par with Steve’s. He probably couldn’t lift that much simply because he was trained for stealth and speed which required him to be light on his feet, unencumbered by too much muscle mass, but if the situation called for it Bucky was sure he could get the job done.
“Jesus, you super soldiers and your drug enhanced biceps,” Sam threw his hands up, “you’re gonna make me look bad in front of the lady from Tac Team 2!”
“I’m sure Agent Hernandez thinks you’re very cute, Sam.” Steve teased as he kept going. He was on rep 8 or 9 by Bucky’s count, and that had only been since he’d been watching.
“Cute isn’t going to cut it, Rogers!” Sam lamented.
“Have you tried?” Bucky asked, still a little distracted by Steve’s thighs.
“'Have I tried’," Sam echoed indignantly, “Have you tried?”
“Yeah,” Bucky pulled out his most charming smile, “works wonders.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got that whole,” Sam waved his hand in front of his face, “roguish charm thing going on.”
“Aww,” Bucky tilted his head teasingly, “you think I have roguish charm?”
“This is not where I wanted this conversation to go,” Sam muttered, biting back a laugh and shaking his head.
“Don’t get shy on me now, Wilson,” Bucky replied, pouting sweetly before breaking into a laugh when Sam shoved him.
“You’re cute, Barnes,” Sam conceded, “but not that cute. I’m going to go see if Agent Hernandez wants to go for a round at the shooting range with me. Don’t have too much fun while I’m gone.”
With one last pat on the shoulder, Sam made a beeline for the agent refilling her water bottle by the lockers, leaving Bucky and Steve alone just as Steve finished his set and the barbell hit the ground.
“Don’t let me keep you if you’ve got a routine to stick to,” Steve said, not quite making eye contact as he adjusted the tape on his hands.
It was a little terse, but not unkind. Perhaps the teasing with Sam had gone too far. After all, he and Steve had a standing date on the horizon and yet they’d never quite managed to flirt properly in the past few months. It definitely wasn’t due to a lack of desire, Bucky noted as Steve rolled his stupidly defined shoulders and ran a towel across his smooth forearms. To Bucky, flirting wasn’t serious and Steve deserved something better than that: he deserved someone serious about him.
Steve didn’t know that though, Bucky realized as Steve’s eyes flicked to his and then awkwardly away. Well, if Steve wanted to be flirted with then Bucky was more than happy to oblige.
Steve’s head whipped up. Bucky’s grin widened.
“You heard me, Rogers,” Bucky goaded, tilting his head challengingly, “Don’t tell me you haven’t been itching for a rematch.”
Steve’s eyes narrowed suspiciously but the corners of his mouth twitched upward.
“If I recall,” Bucky continued, stepping forward until he could see the small streaks of green in Steve’s blue eyes, “I’m sitting on quite a decisive victory at the moment.”
Steve’s brows lifted into a slightly incredulous arch.
“The helicarriers at the bottom of the Potomac would beg to differ,” Steve retorted with a smirk, lifting his chin so Bucky had to tilt his head back to look up at him.
“And which one of us was unconscious when that happened?” Bucky asked, pretending to think.
Steve closed the gap between them, his chest brushing Bucky’s.
“You sure you want to do this, Barnes?” He whispered with an edge of excitement in his voice as his breath ghosted across Bucky’s cheeks.
“I can think of a couple things I want to do,” Bucky replied softly.
He let his eyes wander Steve’s face; down the angles of his cheeks to the curve of his lips and back up the slope of his jaw. This close together, Bucky watched Steve’s lips part and his eyes darken as he caught the innuendo.
“—but this’ll do for now.” Bucky finished, letting his eyes linger on Steve’s lips a moment longer before meeting his eyes once again.
Before Steve could respond, Bucky turned and made for the closest sparring mat. The gym was fairly empty but a good dozen agents were at various machines overlooking the mats. It was by no means private, but they wouldn’t have a big audience either. When he reached the far side of the mat he glanced over his shoulder toward Steve. Steve was still standing where Bucky had left him. His cheeks were tinged with pink and he was holding his towel significantly lower than he had been before. Bucky bit back a smile. It might have been a while since he last did this but he hadn’t lost his touch just yet.
He gave Steve another moment to compose himself as he taped up his hands and hoped that his butt looked good in his borrowed shorts. When he turned back around, Steve was standing across from him almost vibrating with energy.
“First to three,” Steve declared, lowering himself into a fighting stance.
“Only three?” Bucky asked with a disappointed pout, “That’s just foreplay though, right?”
Steve’s pink tinge quickly deepened to a dark red that spread across the bridge of his nose and up to the tips of his ears but he didn’t let his voice betray him as he began to get with the program.
“You think you can take more?” Steve teased back.
“Show me what you got, Rogers,” Bucky replied, his excitement growing as he sank into his own stance, “but you should know: I give is good as I get!”
Bucky darted forward, grabbed Steve’s wrist while he was still distracted, twisted, and slammed him into the ground. The loud thwap! of Steve hitting the mats drew the attention of the surrounding agents but Bucky paid them no mind. His heart was racing as he stepped back and resumed his stance while Steve slowly looked up at him from the ground.
Bucky watched Steve's surprise morph into realization and realization morph into hunger.
Steve rose from the mats with slow, deliberate movements, his eyes never leaving Bucky’s.
“Bold words,” Steve whispered, “but is that all they are?”
Bucky caught the foot that came flying at his face but missed the elbow that drove itself into his side. He hit the mats and quickly rolled back onto his feet to deflect the fist that nearly clipped him in the chin.
Memories of Steve’s fighting style came flooding back to him as Steve’s unrelenting blows pummeled a familiar rhythm into the mats.
He favors fists over footwork, Bucky remembered. He began aiming his attacks at Steve’s lower half. His muscle mass makes him inflexible, Bucky realized. He twisted, darting around and behind Steve, forcing him to either contort or lose his balance. His abs are really firm, Bucky noted. He slid his hand up Steve’s chest, letting Steve kick his feet out from under him while his fingers drifted across planes of muscle.
“Getting distracted there, Barnes?” Steve asked with a smirk, leaning over Bucky as he lay sprawled across the mats.
Worth it, Bucky decided as he blinked away stars.
“You should take your shirt off,” Bucky suggested with a bright grin, foregoing all subtlety now that his head was a bit rattled and his pants a bit tight.
“And here I thought you liked me for my winning personality,” Steve scoffed with a laugh.
“You knew what you were doing when you bought a shirt three sizes too small,” Bucky retorted, hauling himself to his feet and readying himself again.
“The score’s tied,” Steve said, not bothering to contest the point, “lets—“
Bucky squeezed his arms tight around Steve’s torso, throwing them both to the ground. Steve’s legs quickly wrapped around Bucky’s hips and he flipped them over, slamming his weight onto Bucky’s ribs as they grappled.
Steve had the upper hand. He was more skilled at hand-to-hand combat than almost anyone. If Bucky had a knife hidden somewhere, well, that would be a different story, but as it was, Bucky was running out of options. He deflected another punch with his back still pressed into the mats. Looked like he was going to have to play dirty.
Bucky hooked his leg around Steve’s waist and got a hand on the back of his neck. He pulled Steve down until their cheeks brushed and he could whisper into his ear.
“Ahh,” he moaned breathlessly.
Steve froze. Bucky used the leverage of his leg around Steve’s hips to flip them again until he was on top. He seated himself on Steve’s abs and trapped both of his hands with his own.
“Distracted, Captain?” Bucky teased, sitting back enough to look down at the man between his legs.
Steve looked completely dazed. His eyes were dark and slightly unfocused, his dark blush had spread down his neck and under his shirt, and his pulse was racing underneath Bucky’s hands.
“Cheater,” Steve panted, not moving even when Bucky loosened his grip.
“Aw, don’t be a sore loser,” Bucky teased, tapping the tip of Steve’s nose with his finger.
“I didn’t lose.”
“You sure about that?”
“This is exactly where I want to be.”
Bucky blinked. Steve grinned up at him. Bucky felt heat sear down his spine and settle there as Steve looked up at him with those hungry eyes.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bucky muttered, becoming aware once again of the other people in the space around them.
He stood up and took a step back from Steve, who slowly made his own way to his feet. Their fight had drawn more than a few eyes but Bucky doubted any of them had heard much of their hushed teasing. Before he could give it too much thought, Steve’s warm hand touched his elbow and tugged him towards the locker rooms. Bucky quickly followed Steve’s retreating back, nervous excitement spiking in his chest as they turned down the empty hallway. Steve pushed open the locker room door a little too hard and it bounced off the adjacent wall with a bang. A quick glance revealed that the room was empty and as soon as Bucky stepped inside, the door shut behind him.
Steve fisted his hand in Bucky’s thin t-shirt and a moment later his back hit the cool lockers.
“Where the hell did that come from, huh?” Steve groaned, his nose nearly brushing Bucky’s as he crowded him up against the hard surface, “Twenty minutes ago I would have called you shy.”
“I just—” Bucky breathed, cutting himself off to take another breath as Steve’s chest pressed against his, “—I just wanted to make sure you knew I was interested.”
“Message received,” Steve replied, a smile twitching at his lips, “loud and clear.”
“Just checking.” Bucky grinned, “I like you a lot, Rogers.”
Steve’s face broke into a smile as bright as a sunrise.
“You should call me Steve,” he whispered back, his breath ghosting across Bucky’s lips as he sank closer.
Bucky could feel the warmth emanating from Steve’s skin and he tilted his face up as if he were trying to catch the rays of sunlight on his cheeks. Steve’s hand came up to cradle the side of his neck and he let his eyes slide shut as Steve closed the last of the space between them—
“—gone for three weeks!”
“No way. I thought it wouldn’t take longer than a week.”
Steve and Bucky jumped apart as two agents Bucky recognized from Tac Team 6 noisily entered the locker room. They each nodded at Steve but didn’t pay them much mind as they began pulling out towels and fresh clothes.
His heart pounding, Bucky dared a quick glance at Steve. The blush had reappeared on his cheeks and he gave Bucky a small, embarrassed smile.
“I should, uh,” Bucky swallowed roughly, “I should go see if Clint is here. I was supposed to meet up with him.
“Right, right,” Steve nodded understandingly, more for the benefit of the Team 6 agents than Bucky, “I should see if Sam’s totally ditched me or not.”
Bucky led the way out. Clint was standing by the punching bags with his arms crossed and his lips pursed as he bit back what was sure to be a shit-eating grin. He’d definitely seen that whole thing, Bucky realized with an internal groan. Sam was walking back over from the shooting range which meant that Bucky and Steve’s paths were quickly diverging. Before they split though, Bucky felt a warm hand brush his own. He looked back and saw a surprisingly sweet smile on Steve’s lips.
“Can I call you later?” Steve asked quietly.
“Yeah,” Bucky smiled back, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Bucky was about to turn away when Steve piped up one more time.
“I—uh,” he bit his lip, “I like you a lot too.”
Bucky felt the shimmer of unbridled elation in his chest as Steve looked shyly away, and then back at him with those crystal clear blue eyes.
“Just, for the record,” Steve added endearingly before taking a step backwards.
“Noted,” Bucky replied, trying to hold back his laugh as he kept his eyes on Steve as he backed towards Clint.
With one last look, Steve turned to face his friend and Bucky did the same.
Unsurprisingly, Clint was grinning at him and wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
“Cap and Bucky sitting in a tree!” Clint sang, quiet but emphatically, “K-I-S-S—“
Bucky quickly pulled Clint into a headlock and slapped a hand over his mouth, still unable to contain his smile but not wanting the whole tower to know about him and Steve just yet.
“—I-N-G!” Clint finished, muffled through Bucky’s palm.
With a tug, Clint freed himself from Bucky’s arms and spun around to face him.
“I fucking called it,” Clint congratulated himself ostentatiously, “Day fucking one I was on that shit and you were all ‘we didn’t sleep together’— what bullshit! I saw right through you Barnes. You can’t fool me.”
“Yes, yes,” Bucky rolled his eyes, “You’re a master of perception.”
“They don’t fucking call me Hawkeye for nothing, pal,” Clint flung an arm over Bucky’s shoulders and started walking them towards the shooting range, “and I definitely saw you guys dry humping on the mats too, don’t think I didn’t miss that, and I saw you guys just sneak off to the locker rooms for a hot second. That was too fast for a quickie but tell me he’s a good kisser at least. You can never be sure with guys that good looking. Sometimes they try to just fly by on their good looks and don’t bother actually getting good. It’s kind of sad really—“
“If I tell you will you do me a favor?” Bucky asked, kicking open the door to the range and detangling himself from Clint to grab his favorite rifle.
“Anything for my favorite roomie,” Clint replied with a grin, “What’s up?”
“Can you text him my number?” He asked, “ He said he wanted to call me later.”
“God, you old people,” Clint snorted as he pulled out his phone, “nearly a year you guys have been doing this dumb dance and you haven’t even traded phone numbers yet.”
“It’s that gosh-darn newfangled technology,” Bucky drawled, shaking his fist in front of him.
“Did you ever use one of those old ass telephones with like, the earpiece on a string?”
“Please,” Bucky scoffed, “as if I was rich enough to use a telephone.”
Clint laughed and pocketed his phone again.
“So?” He asked, wiggling his eyebrows again.
Bucky sighed dramatically.
“I have no idea if he’s a good kisser or not, we haven’t kissed yet.”
“What?” Clint cried, “You guys are killing me here.”
“It’s not my fault,” Bucky argued back, “I did great work when we were sparring.”
“That was pretty hot,” Clint conceded with a wry grin.
“But we got interrupted in the locker room.”
“Ah, well,” Clint shook his head and slung his bow over his shoulder, “public spaces are not the greatest for spontaneous make-outs— don’t you dare have sex on our sofa. I sit there.”
“Whoa, alright,” Bucky held his hands up placatingly, trying to follow Clint’s sporadic line of thought, “We literally just established that we weren’t there yet.”
“Yes, but logic follows,” Clint replied haughtily, “You guys will fuck exclusively at his place. He doesn’t have roommates and I’ve already seen enough after that show you just put on.”
“Two seconds ago you were into it,” Bucky teased, while silently agreeing that Steve’s place was probably a safer bet if they ever actually managed to go on their date.
“Yeah, but I don’t want that in my snacking zone.”
“Alright, alright,” Bucky laughed, “I will not fuck anyone on the butt- shaped divot you have carved into the sofa.”
“Good,” Clint stepped up to the firing line, “I worked hard on that divot.”
Bucky took the spot next to his friend and positioned his rifle against his shoulder.
“Highest score gets the last box of Pocky.”
“Oh, you’re on.”
Bucky’s bare feet padded against the hardwood floor as he slipped into his bedroom. He wiped the last of the water from his face with a hand towel before changing into a pair of Clint’s spare sweatpants and pulling back the thick duvet.
Over the months, his bedroom had gotten a little more homey than it had been. He had a few knickknacks from Clint and Wanda along with a few high-tech pieces from Shuri, including new kimoyo beads which he had tucked into his nightstand for safekeeping. He still had the same impersonal wardrobe and the shelves were still more empty than not but he had long since started to feel like the space was actually his.
He curled up under the warm comforter and faced the widows. He liked sleeping with the curtains pulled back so he could watch the twinkling of Manhattan as he drifted off. Sometimes he watched the little lights for hours before sleep finally took him. It gave him a sense of comfort that he didn’t feel very often and he cherished it.
Just as he lay his head down, his phone buzzed on his nightstand. He slipped an arm out into the cool air and grabbed it to see a text from an unknown number.
Unknown: Hey, it’s Steve. Are you still up?
Bucky smiled into his pillows. He felt like a kid with a schoolyard crush as he saved Steve’s number into his phone. Unable to wait, Bucky didn’t bother replying and just pushed “call”.
It rang twice before Steve picked up.
“Hey,” Steve’s low voice greeted gently.
“Hey,” Bucky whispered back, sure his smile was audible as he tucked himself back in and stared out into the dark New York evening.
“Sorry, I know it’s a bit late.”
“It’s alright,” Bucky replied, “What are you up to?”
“Just heading to bed. I had a meeting with Fury that ran long.”
“It was about you, actually.”
Bucky stiffened at that.
“Oh?” He said again, more cautiously this time.
“Maria talked to him about giving you more freedom and he asked me to come in to give him a full report.”
“Aren’t there a couple of, um,” Bucky paused, “conflicting interests there?”
“Yeah, I had to be a bit transparent about that, sorry,” Steve admitted sheepishly, “I told him that I’d gotten a bit attached to you, which led to a whole other discussion.”
Bucky could almost hear Steve’s eyes rolling through the phone.
“Anyway, after reviewing everything I’m 85% sure that he’s going to say yes to you being allowed to leave the island.”
“Really?” Bucky asked incredulously, “You’re that sure?”
“I give a good speech,” Steve replied with a laugh, “It’s kind of a requirement for the job.”
“I’ll say,” Bucky said, still a little bit in shock, “Thank you for talking to him, really. I’d still be trapped in this tower if it weren’t for you and Clint.”
“Of course,” Steve said, “You shouldn’t have been confined in the first place. Consider it my apology for doubting you for so long.”
“You had good reason,” Bucky replied, shaking his head even though Steve couldn’t see him, “I would have been more concerned if you’d just let me waltz in.”
“I suppose.” Bucky could still hear the edge of guilt in his voice.
“Anyway,” Steve said, clearing the air, “are you going to the interrogation tomorrow?”
Right, Zemo. Bucky burrowed further into his blankets. He’d been doing such a good job ignoring Hydra since the mission in Moscow, but seeing as the interrogation was in less than fifteen hours it was probably time to face reality.
“Yeah,” he replied after a moment, “I’m just going to watch. I don’t want to talk to him or anything but… I want to be there.”
“All of us will be there for you,” Steve said quietly.
“Yeah, it’s a brave thing you’re doing,” Steve said, “facing your enemy head on like this. We’re your team so we’re always going to have your back.”
“I mean, Zemo is the head of Hydra, I’m sure everyone else is required to attend—“
“Only I’m required to attend,” Steve interrupted, “but all the other Avengers are coming because you’re one of us now and we protect our own.”
“Th-They said that?”
Bucky suddenly felt tears prickling at the corners of his eyes. Romanoff definitely wouldn’t be there for him tomorrow but Clint, Wanda, Bruce, Sam, Tony, and Steve… yeah, maybe they would be there for him.
“No one wants you to have to do this alone.”
Bucky buried his face in his pillow and breathed.
“Y-yeah,” Bucky swallowed, “Yeah, okay.”
There was silence for a moment.
“You want to talk about something else for a bit?”
“Sure,” Bucky wiped the tears from his face and tugged the blanket more tightly around him.
“Okay. Well, today I watched a YouTube video about how doctors back in the day used to prescribe heroin to patients who had coughs and I was like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve done that.’”
Bucky barked out a wet laugh.
“My mom used to give me a mixture of about six different opioids when my stomach hurt,” he contributed softly.
“Welp, you can’t be in pain if you’re unconscious and high,” Steve said with a laugh, “A doctor once prescribed me cigarettes for my asthma.”
“Jesus, how did anyone survive to adulthood back then?”
“I have no fucking clue.”
“Do you remember Peter Pain?”
“Oh my god, yes. All those ads of Peter Pain whacking people with bats. I feel like I saw ads for that every day— that and laxatives.”
“Oh yeah,” Bucky found a smile on his face as he reminisced, “Why was everyone so constipated back then?”
“Probably had something to do with all the Shit on a Shingle we ate.”
“Oh god,” Bucky laughed out loud and rolled onto his back, “I forgot about Shit on a Shingle. I’m so glad I’m never going to have to eat that gross dried meat ever again.”
“And gelatin,” Steve continued, “people put gelatin in places gelatin should never be.”
Despite the trials that waited for them both in the morning, Bucky spoke to Steve for nearly two hours that night— about old mundanities now drenched in hindsight, about the benefits of modernity, about Tony’s absurdly manicured facial hair, about the original Star Trek series, and about the picture of Steve that had been turned into a meme last week. As time ticked by and the flickering lights of the city never dimmed or wavered out his window, Bucky found himself wishing that Steve’s voice wasn’t whispering to him through a little speaker. He just knew that if Steve were here with him his heart would settle and his fears would vanish. He thought about getting up and taking the elevator upstairs. He thought about knocking on Steve’s front door and asking to spend the night. He thought about curling up with his arms around a warm body and that sweet low voice breathing laughter into his ear. He imagined feeling that smile against his cheek and the rumble of that voice vibrating against his chest.
Bucky fell asleep listening to Steve’s soft breathing through the phone and feeling the ghost of an imagined embrace around him.
Bucky stood motionless as he stared through the one way glass window that showcased the plain white cell and the man strapped to a chair in the middle. Helmut Zemo was not the most imposing figure Bucky had ever come across. He had a plain looking face and thin wire framed glasses. The colossal chair that kept him still made him look small and soft in its metal grasp. Bucky wondered if that’s what he’d looked like when the Avengers had been watching him from this side of the glass. Bucky shifted uncomfortably and Zemo scowled at him but Bucky knew from experience that he could see nothing but his own reflection.
Steve was somewhere behind him looking over Zemo’s file for the hundredth time while SHIELD agents watched Zemo from every angle on their monitors. The interrogation was scheduled to begin in another fifteen minutes and Bucky stood in front of the glass as still as a statue as the seconds ticked by.
Somewhere behind him the door to the viewing room swung open and shut again. Bucky didn’t turn to look. A moment passed and then a hand gently clasped his shoulder. Clint.
The door opened and shut again. Sam stepped up to Bucky’s side and mimicked his tense posture.
Another click of the latch and Tony came sauntering in. He went right up to the glass to take a look and then turned and declared: “He looks like a douchebag.”
Wanda came next, she wrapped her fingers around Bucky’s arm and squeezed gently. Then Bruce stepped in, choosing to hover near the back, and finally Romanoff appeared. Bucky didn’t see her but he felt her presence in his periphery. Why she had chosen to come, Bucky couldn’t say, but for once it felt like Bucky wasn’t on the receiving end of her fury.
Whatever doubts Bucky might have had about his place on the team were finally and firmly quelled. Bucky was profoundly grateful that Steve had prepared him for this as a sense of safety washed over him even as he stood not twenty feet from a man who thought of him as nothing more than a tool of destruction.
Bucky let his crossed arms relax so that he could grab Wanda’s hand, just to give himself something to hold on to as Director Fury arrived, nodded at Steve, and then left. Moments later he reappeared at the door of the cell. Zemo’s head lifted as the door behind him opened and Fury stepped in.
Fury walked slowly around the chair and leaned casually against the frame of the window to face Zemo.
“I hear you’ve been looking for the Winter Soldier,” Fury began with faux indifference, “and it looks like you’ve finally found him.”
“Yes,” Zemo admitted, his English was colored with a mix of Sokovian and Russian, “I was surprised that SHIELD would choose engage with methods you proclaim to be so abhorrent, but I suppose an asset like the Soldier is too good for even you to ignore, Director.”
“James Barnes is here of his own free will,” Fury corrected firmly.
Zemo’s head tilted back as he laughed.
“Fool,” he scoffed, “the Asset has no free will, we made sure of that.”
Safe behind the glass, Bucky felt his stomach churn. Clint’s grip on his shoulder tightened.
“You weren’t as thorough as you thought you were,” Fury replied tensely, “and while I’d love to get into the details—“
“If you are not controlling the Soldier then someone else is,” Zemo’s grin bordered on manic as he settled into his seat, “After your little run-in with Pierce, Hydra scattered but as you rebuilt SHIELD we rebuilt too. In fact, we’re still finding little factions of Hydra all across the world that went into hiding when the helicarriers fell. I wonder which one of them got to the Soldier before you did.”
Zemo turned to face the glass and sneered.
“I wonder which one of us sent the Soldier waltzing up to knock on your door and I wonder which fool let him in.” Zemo thought for a moment, “Or perhaps the fool is one of ours too. You can never really be too sure nowadays, isn’t that right?”
“If you’re done talking out of your ass,” Fury replied coldly, “why don’t we go back to the part about all those little factions of Hydra.”
As Fury settled into the interrogation and began pulling out thread upon thread of information about the condition of Hydra’s resources, Bucky felt like he was going to be sick.
Zemo had poisoned the well. All the trust he’d built over the last nine months would now be reviewed with a fine toothed comb. Every word he’d said, all the time spent convincing everyone, it would all be tainted with the possibility that Hydra still had their hands on hi—
“He even talks like a douchebag,” Tony remarked with a dismissive eye roll.
“He must have even worse intel than we did,” Bruce added with surprise, “He seems completely unaware of the year you spent in Wakanda, which is probably the safest place on Earth if you want to avoid Hydra.”
“And he’s clearly never met Coulson,” Sam said, shaking his head, “If that man works for Hydra I’ll eat my wings.”
“Like, if you’re gonna lie at least pick something plausible,” Clint said haughtily, “Yeesh, what an idiot.”
“What did you expect,” Romanoff chimed in, “his first name is Helmut.”
Bucky couldn’t identify the emotion swelling in his chest as Wanda gave his hand another squeeze. The Avengers were standing by him. They trusted him. They believed him. Against all odds, Bucky realized that he had won. He was on the other side of the glass now and it would take more than a few words from a fanatic Nazi to send him back.
“Are you alright?” Steve’s voice whispered from just behind him.
He slipped his free hand around to his back, palm facing out, and a moment later, Steve’s soft fingertips pressed against his own. Steve rubbed gentle circles along Bucky’s knuckles with his thumb as the interrogation proceeded. Fury was handling Zemo well. He knew when to push and when to wait, when to sit back and when to intimidate. It would take more than one session, but they would get the information they needed, Bucky was sure of it.
That night, Bucky curled up in bed and stared out the window across New York City. He felt light. Like a great weight had been taken off his shoulders and now he was drifting up above his mattress and up towards the dark night sky.
When he’d first arrived in New York he’d been looking for revenge on Hydra. He thought that wiping them from the face of the planet would finally allow him to rest, that he would finally be at peace. He still wanted revenge and he still wanted Hydra gone, but he never could have imagined the illuminating swell of hope in his chest that sprung forth at the realization that for all of Hydra’s efforts, he was somehow still capable of love.
It was love he’d felt with Wanda at his side, Steve at his back, and his friends all around him. He was capable of love. He was worthy of love. He had to be. If the Avengers were standing up for him then he had to be worthy. He had to spend every day of the rest of his life making sure he was always worthy.
Bucky felt tears prickling at his eyes once again. Alone in his room, he let them fall. Barely contained relief flowed from him as he curled his comforter around him and allowed himself to revel for a moment in the fruits of his labor.
Amidst all the emotion and exhaustion of the day and all the work that still remained to be done, Bucky found that there was one person he wanted there with him in the soft quiet of the evening.
He picked up his phone and hit ‘call’.
“Hey, Buck.” Steve answered with an audible smile on his lips.
“Hey,” Bucky couldn’t help but smile at the sound of the voice that was quickly becoming his favorite, “are you busy?”
“Nah, I was just thinking about you actually.”
“Yeah. Are you still trying to learn to cook?”
“Clint and I have been trying out a couple of things, why?”
“I think I’m going to try to make lasagna for next Sunday’s movie night. What do you think, do you want to give me a hand?”
“That sounds amazing, though I’m not sure I’ll be much help.”
“Of course you will. Your cute face will inspire me to impress you with my amazing culinary skills.”
“Well, then,” Bucky smiled into his pillow, “how can I resist?”
Two days later, Bucky sat in his usual spot on the carpet while Wanda’s nimble fingers twisted his hair into a braid. Anticipation was thrumming through him and his knee bounced incessantly as he tried to sit still.
It was happening.
He’d gotten the notice yesterday that Fury had ruled in his favor. From now on, Bucky could travel through New York City almost entirely unencumbered by SHIELD regulations. He still needed a babysitter and couldn’t go near any weapons but for the most part, he was free. He was going to see Brooklyn again. Steve was going to take him there. On a date.
“Sit still, Bucky.” Wanda nudged him in the thigh with her toes, “I’m trying to make you look nice.”
“Sorry.” Bucky sat still as Wanda stuck another pin into his hair and then started twisting the loose hairs around his face between her fingers.
“How does it look?” He asked as Wanda stood and took a look at her work from the front.
“I didn’t want to do anything too fancy.” she said, adjusting an errant lock before smiling with satisfaction, “It’s your usual half updo but I French braided the top so it's a bit more put together.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Bucky stood, “Thanks,Wanda. I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t here.”
“You’re going to knock his socks off, “Wanda said, grabbing his new olive green bomber jacket and helping him tug it on.
Twenty minutes after Bucky had received his clearance to leave, Clint had dragged him out to the mall halfway across town to buy him some clothes for his upcoming date. Bucky had tried to refuse but it hadn’t taken much for Clint to persuade him that his drab wardrobe of white t-shirts and a single black jacket just wasn’t going to cut it, especially as the weather turned cold once again. They’d returned to the Tower with more bags than Bucky knew what to do with. He now had seven colorful button down shirts, three Henleys, four tank tops, three pairs of jeans, two packs of Avengers themed underwear— Clint insisted—, slacks, a bomber jacket, and an expensive dark blue pea coat.
It was huge indulgence. All Bucky could do was say “thank you” over and over while Clint just waved him off with a smile and a shrug.
Now Bucky pulled his jacket over his light grey henley and straightened the collar to lie flat against his neck. Out of the corner of his eye, Bucky spotted Clint watching from the kitchen. He was texting someone and grinning widely at them.
“What are you laughing about, Barton?” He asked, pulling the longer locks of his hair out of his jacket.
“Oh, nothing,” Clint singsonged with a chuckle, “I’m just texting Sam. Apparently Captain Indecisive is having second thoughts about his outfit.”
Wanda stifled a laugh in her hand while Bucky bit back a pleased smile. He liked knowing that he wasn’t the only one stressing out about this date and he was sure Clint was providing Sam, and therefore Steve, with his own colorful commentary of Bucky’s movements as he prepped.
Bucky tugged at his sleeves again and glanced at his reflection on the dark TV screen. His hair looked nice. He couldn’t see the braid in the back but Wanda had styled his natural curls with some sort of cream and they hung elegantly around his face, emphasizing his square jaw and high cheekbones. He hadn’t thought much more about cutting his hair since it was easy enough to manage with both hands, but the fact that Steve had said he liked it long was more of a factor in Bucky’s decision than he intended to admit to anyone.
He ran a hand across his chin one last time to make sure he’d cleaned up his scruff completely before taking a breath and turning to face his friends again.
“Thanks for your help guys,” Bucky said with a smile.
“Dang, Barnes!” Clint called out, pretending to fan himself, “You clean up good.”
“I still think these pants are too small, but thanks,” Bucky laughed.
“They’re skinny,” Wanda said at the same time Clint shouted, “It’s called fashion!”
“But really,” Wanda interjected, “You look great. It’s going to be amazing.”
“I hope so.” Bucky took a deep breath, “Okay, I’m going to head out.”
“Oh, wait!” Clint suddenly shot up and ran into his bedroom.
Bucky looked at Wanda, who shrugged.
“I picked these up from Phil yesterday,” Clint’s voice came back around the corner as he returned carrying a small cardboard box, “It took a while to get them out of storage but I thought you might want a little good luck charm to take with you.”
Clint opened the box on the kitchen island and suddenly a small carving of a white wolf was in his hands.
“These are…” Bucky pulled out the comb Shuri had given him, the drawing Iyawa had done for him, and his old kimoyo beads, “Clint, thank you.”
“No worries, man,” Clint clapped him on the shoulder with a grin, “Now get out of here. You’re going to be late.”
Torn between rushing out and pouring his gratitude onto Clint, Bucky settled on giving him a tight hug, hoping his immense affection translated through the gesture, before tucking the little wolf into his pocket and hurrying out.
“Text me if you want to bail!” Clint called as Bucky stepped into the elevator, “and be home by eleven! Don’t put out until the third date! But if you do use protection! And don’t eat tacos! It’s impossible to look sexy while eating a tac—“
The doors slid shut, cutting off Clint’s advice. Bucky laughed to himself as the elevator took him down. He was oddly calm. He was excited, sure, and maybe a little giddy, but all nervousness or anxiety was surprisingly absent as he clutched the wolf in his pocket. Maybe it had something to do with the phone calls that had quickly become a daily occurrence.
For the past four nights Steve’s voice had lulled him to sleep after an hour, sometimes two, of talking about nothing and everything. Bucky felt like he’d been gifted a glimpse into Steve that few people were privy to and he cherished it. Steve told him stories about Peggy Carter and Howard Stark. He whispered to him about his mother and his childhood best friend, Luke. He told him long winding tales about the soldiers he fought with and the civilians he met along the way. He talked about what it was like meeting Tony and Romanoff and how he ran circles around Sam in the park until Sam got fed up and introduced himself. He told Bucky about all the people he’d cared for and lost and the new ones he’d found along the way. Likewise, Bucky found himself divulging his own secrets in the dim light of evening. He told Steve about Becca, Dottie, Jim Farnsby, and the cat he had as a boy. He told him about his old squad, his mentors, Shuri, Nakia, and Okoye. He told him about the children who had taught him to speak Xhosa and who he had taught to play soccer in return. It was strangely liberating to be so open about everything and know that his losses would be understood so acutely.
Talking to Steve was less like getting to know someone knew and more like coming home after a long, long time.
Filled with a combination of anticipation and confidence, Bucky stepped out into the lobby of Avenger’s Tower. He nodded to the security guard, Laurence, and was heading over towards the waiting area when Steve’s voice called out to him.
Bucky turned and saw Steve’s bright smile coming quickly towards him from the entrance.
“Oh, hi.” Bucky felt his mouth to go dry as he took his date in.
Steve was wearing a tight white t-shirt and a black leather jacket over some faded and well-worn jeans. His hair was a little more voluminous than normal and artfully messy. His eyes sparkled like rippling water and his cheeks flushed a beautiful bright pink.
“I just pulled my bike around front,” Steve said a little breathlessly as he came to stop at Bucky’s side, “I hope you don’t mind if we take it instead of the train.”
“Sounds great,” Bucky assured him, “You look really nice.”
The complement came out a little less articulately than Bucky would have liked. What he wanted to say was something along the lines of, “God, I just want to bury my face in your chest and hug you for about forty five minutes and also touch your hair a little bit” but he thought he managed to get the gist across.
“Thanks,” Steve beamed at him, “I like your jacket. Olive’s a good color on you.”
Bucky felt his cheeks flush as he tugged, a little self consciously, at the hem of his coat.
“Thanks,” Bucky managed, “you ready to go?”
“Yeah!” Steve led the way back outside, “You excited?”
“Yes,” Bucky sighed, “I’m so ready to go home.”
Steve looked at him with something incredibly soft in his eyes.
“I know the feeling.”
Steve’s bike was parked on the curb outside. He pulled two helmets out from underneath the seat and hopped on, the engine roaring to life as he scooted forward to give Bucky enough room. Bucky straddled the bike and, with fortifying breath, leaned forward to press his chest against Steve’s back and wrap his arms around his waist.
“Ready?” Steve called behind him.
Steve kicked off and took them flying up the street. It was strangely freeing to be on a motorcycle, Bucky decided as Steve wove them through the streets towards the river. The wind, the maneuverability, the risk— it was very Steve. Bucky smiled to himself at the realization.
He settled in against Steve’s back as he took them through Manhattan and across the bridge. Maybe it was just him, but Bucky swore he felt the air change as they crossed into Brooklyn. He squeezed Steve tighter as the wheels of the bike hit the solid ground of Long Island and he had to close his eyes for a moment as the streets of Brooklyn Heights greeted him home.
Steve took them the long way through Park Slope and Flatbush before taking a detour to Fort Hamilton and finally down to Brighton Beach. By the time the bike came to a halt overlooking the sea Bucky felt a semblance of his old self coming back to life within him, the one he thought had died on Arnim Zola’s table.
He slipped off the bike in a daze and walked forward until his hands hit the railing separating the street from the beach and he stared across the water that he’d known since he was a child.
Steve silently came up beside him. They stood there for a moment, just watching the waves roll in and tracing the paths of distant ships crossing the vast horizon. Without Steve leading the way, Bucky wasn’t sure he’d have been able to make it across the bridge.
Bucky reached over and slotted their fingers together.
“I don’t know how you did this on your own,” Bucky whispered over the crashing of waves.
“It was the only way I could do it,” Steve replied solemnly.
“I wish I’d been there,” Bucky said, “We could have done this together.”
Steve gripped his hand tighter and Bucky heard him swallow roughly as he looked away.
“Hey,” Bucky turned to face Steve properly, “It’s okay.”
He pulled Steve in, wrapping his arms around his neck and holding him tight. He felt Steve’s hands come up to clutch at his waist for a moment before enveloping him. The hug was as warm and anchoring as Bucky had imagined it would be. Being held by strong, gentle arms was something he hadn’t felt in far too long and he sank into it with the knowledge that Steve needed this as much as he did.
He felt a shaky breath against his shoulder and then Steve’s face burrowed in against the side of his neck.
“I’m glad you’re here now,” Steve whispered against his throat.
They stood there for another long minute until Steve lifted his head, pressing his forehead against Bucky’s for a brief moment before pulling away. His eyes were only a little red as he took Bucky’s hand again and gestured down the beach.
“C’mon, we still have so much to see.”
Bucky smiled and let Steve tug him forward towards the fairgrounds.
“I did not!” Bucky protested loudly, “I just took notice of which targets were fake, that’s not a crime.”
Steve snorted but clutched the large three foot long Sock Monkey Bucky had won for him like he never planned on putting it down.
“The look on that guys face though,” Steve added more quietly, with a conspiratorial grin, “His eyes got huge when you rolled up your sleeves and flashed your arm at him.”
“He was about ready to shit his pants, that’s for sure,” Bucky laughed, “I should have shot the target next to his face, just for fun.”
“I guess he didn’t think about what would happen if an Avenger came to his fair booth,” Steve joked as they continued down the pier.
“He probably would have rigged the gun more than he already had,” Bucky mocked with a shake of his head, “That thing was so messed up it was like trying to hit a wiffle ball across a football field with a croquet mallet.”
“And yet you won the biggest prize,” Steve mused, hoisting up his new giant Sock Monkey.
“Pssh, as if they let any idiot into the Avengers,” Bucky scoffed.
“I remember when these came out,” Steve said, smiling down at the Sock Monkey’s big face, “My Ma had a pair of socks with the red heel and everything. They came with instructions to make them into monkeys.”
“They were ugly little buggers,” Bucky added just to hear Steve laugh.
“Yeah, this design’s a lot nicer,” Steve agreed with another chuckle, “The old ones looked a little like they would haunt your nightmares.”
Bucky laughed and steered them back towards the beach. They had already ridden the ferris wheel, eaten way too much fried dough, played a few carnival games, and seen a couple shimmery fish near the surface of the water. It was surprising that Steve hadn’t been noticed yet but Bucky didn’t want to push their luck.
“Come on,” Bucky tugged Steve towards the nearly empty beach, “I want to go stick my toes in the water.”
They made their way down to the shore and kicked off their shoes. Steve made a little picnic blanket out of his and Bucky’s jackets for his Monkey and they rolled up the hems of their pants before charging towards the sea. Steve ran too far out and then ran quickly back, yelping as the cold water hit is skin. Bucky laughed at him before doing almost exactly the same thing when the water turned out to be a lot colder than he anticipated— it was November after all and the two of them weren’t invulnerable to the dropping temperature despite the warmth the serum had infused them both with. Still, Bucky insisted on making up for the summer he had been trapped in the tower and splashed around, trusting the serum to keep him from getting frostbite while Steve laughed at him from the shore. They puttered up and down the beach together for a while. Steve found an almost completely intact scallop shell the size of his hand and Bucky found a smooth round rock with a white stripe that went all the way around its diameter.
As the tide rolled in, they found themselves sitting on their jackets, hands entwined, watching the clouds roll by as their feet dried in the sand.
When his eyes started to get tired of looking up at the bright sky, Bucky looked over and saw that Steve’s were shut and there was a smile on his lips as the salty breeze drifted across them. Content to just lie there for a little while longer, Bucky didn’t disturb him. He sat up and watched the waves smooth out the sand before retreating back and rising once again.
His mind drifted. He thought about Steve and their history, their near misses, and their almost lethal fights, and the question that had plagued Bucky’s mind over the last few months reasserted itself in his mind.
If he was ever going to ask it, now would be the time.
Steve cracked an eye open and pushed himself up onto his elbows.
“I need to ask you something.”
“Alright,” Steve smiled and Bucky’s breath caught in his throat at the sight.
He didn’t think he’d ever be over how beautiful Steve was.
“I’ve been wondering,” Bucky began, “I know that when you first started showing an interest in me the others— Sam and Romanoff— probably told you what a bad idea that was.”
Steve’s brow furrowed and he sat up.
“They had a point,” Bucky continued, “especially back then but, well, I guess I’m just curious about why you didn’t listen to them.”
Steve blinked in surprise.
“Why do you like me?” Bucky finally asked.
The answer both intrigued and terrified him but he asked anyway. He had to.
He watched Steve scoot forward until they were facing each other and then take a breath.
“You’ve intrigued me since the day we met.” Steve admitted softly, “The more I learned about you the more complicated I realized things were and then when I thought I knew all there was to know about you suddenly you’d do something completely out of the blue like turn yourself in to SHIELD, or start humming a Beyonce song in your cell, or march up to my front door stare at me for what felt like hours.”
Steve smiled at the memory.
“That was so unexpected I hardly even knew what to say,” Steve said, laughing at himself a little, “and then you told me that we’d met back in the 40’s and suddenly I had to reevaluate everything I ever thought I knew about you. After that I decided to abandon all preconceptions I had because clearly they weren’t doing me much good. I decided to get to know you— the real you and I found that…”
Steve swallowed and traced a finger across the slope of Bucky’s metal palm.
“You stand up for what you believe in. You don’t let anyone push you around. You tell me when I’m wrong and you always get back up. You watch terrible TV with Clint and you let Wanda braid your hair and you know how to make Hulk laugh. You were torn apart by Hydra and yet the only way they could get you to do what they wanted was by telling you that your actions were helping the world because at your core, that’s the kind of person you are and even Hydra couldn’t take that away from you. After everything you’ve been through— the Depression, the War, Hydra, all of it— you still choose, every day, to be kind.”
Steve’s fingers wrapped gently around his metal wrist.
“That’s why I like you.”
Bucky felt as though the world had just tilted on its axis. No words came to his mind. No response emerged as his brain shut off and his heart took over. Through the pounding of his heartbeat in his ears and the unfamiliar rush of pure adoration that consumed him, Bucky gave in and took Steve’s face in his hands. Bucky saw was Steve’s eyes widen and his lips part before his own eyes slid shut and for the first time he tasted the sunlight that radiated from every fiber of Steve’s being.
The kiss was hot against the cold and sweet with a touch of salty sea air. Bucky’s fingers gripped at Steve’s short hair and he felt big hands wrap around his waist as Steve’s mouth opened. Bucky felt the world shift once again as Steve’s back hit the sand and their chests pressed together. He could feel Steve’s heart beating a mile a minute beneath his fingertips.
Bucky pulled away with a gasp.
“Stevie,” he whispered against Steve’s lips.
Steve just hummed in agreement before tilting his head up and kissing him again. And again. His hands roamed across Bucky’s back and then up into his hair, tangling his fingers through the long strands and using it as leverage to tip Bucky’s head to just the right angle.
“Stevie,” Bucky breathed, just to say it again.
He felt Steve smile into their next kiss.
Steve laughed softly.
“And here I thought you’d be calling me ‘Rogers’ until the end of the line.”
“You keep surprising me too,” Bucky whispered.
“I”m not as good at speeches as you are,” Bucky sighed, touching his forehead to Steve’s and cradling his face with his hands, “but just know that… I’d do anything to see you smile. Anything at all.”
A smile crept across Steve’s face like the waves across the sand and Bucky’s heartbeat stuttered.
“You’re more succinct than I am, I’ll give you that.”
Bucky laughed a little desperately and Steve kissed it away. They got lost in each other for a while, sprawled out across the shore. They lay side by side in the sand, looking at each other, occasionally reaching out to touch, but saying nothing, and Bucky knew that he could spend his whole life staring at that face and never get enough of it, but regardless of his wishes, the Earth continued to turn and the sun began to set behind them.
“We should go,” Steve whispered.
Neither moved as the waves continued to crash and the sky grew steadily darker.
“I don’t want today to end,” Bucky said softly.
Steve leaned forward until their noses brushed.
“But, on the up side,” Steve added with a smile, “after today we have tomorrow.”
Unable to articulate the wave of emotion that blossomed within him, Bucky closed the gap between them once again and hoped that Steve understood.
The ride home seemed far too short as Bucky clung to Steve’s back and when they rolled into the parking garage of the tower Bucky felt his heart sink a little as he let Steve slip out of his arms.
Steve took his hand as they stepped into the elevator, his giant Sock Monkey freed from the small compartment under the seat of the motorcycle and tucked safely under his other arm, and hit the number for Bucky’s floor and his own.
“We’re making lasagna together tomorrow, right?” Bucky asked as the floor numbers ticked by on the elevator’s sleek screen.
“Trying to, yes,” Steve corrected with a grin.
“I thought you said you could cook, Rogers!” Bucky teased, “I thought you were going to impress me—“
Steve grabbed him by the belt loops and pulled them chest to chest and nose to nose.
“Say my name,” he demanded, eyes bright and intent.
Bucky felt a grin spread across his own face.
Steve pushed him a step backwards.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Captain Rogers.”
Bucky’s back hit the glass wall of the elevator.
A sigh fluttered across Bucky’s cheek.
“Say it again.”
“Stevie,” Bucky repeated, intentionally breathless as he let the word roll across his tongue.
An almost imperceptible moan fell from Steve’s lips before he dipped down and Bucky savored the now familiar taste of Steve’s kisses.
“You should always call me that.”
“Only if you kiss me like that every time.”
He felt Steve smile against his skin.
“Well, maybe you should only call me that in private then.”
Bucky was just about to tilt his face up once again when the elevator dinged and the doors slid open.
Steve took a reluctant step back.
Bucky backed through the doorway, then darted forward to steal one last sweet kiss from Steve’s smiling lips before detangling himself from Steve completely.
The doors slid shut and Bucky closed his eyes, trying to commit every detail of the best day of his life to memory. He could still smell the salty sea air on his clothes as he basked in the joy he could feel radiating off him like starlight.
Somewhere behind him he heard the shuffling of feet and then a bang. He turned and saw Clint stumbling out of his bedroom with a hand thrown over his eyes as he tried to navigate their living room blind.
“Bucky is that you?” He called loudly, “Is Cap here? Are you wearing pants?”
Bucky grabbed one of the pillows from the sofa and whacked him with it, laughing as Clint stumbled back and flailed.
“Ah! Okay, okay! There’s no need for violence—“ Clint cut himself off as he took a good look at Bucky’s face, “Oh, shit! Someone definitely got smooched today!”
Bucky felt a hot blush rising on his cheeks and an uncontrollable smile broke across his face as Clint laughed delightedly and began poking him all over.
“Give me the deets, Lover Boy,” he sing-songed, “Deets! Deets! Deets!”
“Nothing happened!” Bucky yelped, trying to avoid Clint’s fingers which somehow knew all of his ticklish spots, “We had fried dough and the ocean was really cold.”
“And then you made out!” Clint guessed with a whoop, “Yes, man! Nail that shit down! That ass is yours!”
Bucky snorted and fell into giggles as Clint pushed him down onto the sofa and then collapsed next to him.
“God, I’ve been on the edge of my seat all fucking day,” Clint told him dramatically, “this whole thing has been like a really long and convoluted episode of the Bachelor but better.”
“I’m glad you’ve been entertained,” Bucky replied, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, I have been,” Clint grinned at him, “You two dumbasses are perfect for each other.”
“Thanks,” Bucky scoffed, hiding his smile behind a cushion.
“I’m happy for you, man.” Clint leaded over and head butted him in the arm.
“Wouldn’t be here without you,” Bucky said sincerely, “so thank you.”
“Yeah, dude,” Clint replied dismissively, as he always seemed to do in the face of gratitude, “I’m just the greatest matchmaker on earth, no big deal.”
“It’s a big deal to me,” Bucky countered.
Clint just smiled and shrugged.
“Seriously,” Bucky pressed, “thank you.”
Bucky watched Clint’s jovial facade fade into something more gentle.
They fell silent for a moment.
“So, how much money are you willing to bet that Cap is masturbating, like, right now?”
Bucky choked on air and then laughed until his stomach hurt.
Steve’s promise of “tomorrow” turned into “next week” when Bucky, Clint, and Romanoff got called on a mission the following morning. It was a simple mission, time sensitive but not extremely difficult. All they had to do was get in, destroy some servers, take out some Hydra goons and they’d be home in a couple of hours. Yes, Bucky was a little annoyed that it interfered with his and Steve’s plans but at the same time he knew Steve would still be waiting for him when he got back.
On the short jet ride to an extremely remote part of Canada, Clint wandered back and forth between Bucky and Romanoff who, as usual, were sitting on opposite sides of the jet and not interacting. Over the months, Clint had seemingly given up on getting them to be friends when it turned out that stubbornness was the one thing they had in common. Despite their tempered hostility, Bucky and Romanoff were a good team. They were efficient, punctual, reliable, and effective agents individually and together, they worked like a well oiled machine— a byproduct of their shared backgrounds, Bucky figured. As annoying as it was that Romanoff was the one he had this connection with, it was also kind of nice that he didn’t have to bond over it with her. It was a part of them that neither wanted to talk about so their arrangement wasn’t exactly a hardship. They did their jobs well enough so no one bothered pushing them any closer together.
It was fine. Until it wasn’t.
Bucky sprinted through the compound. The servers had been destroyed, almost all of the Hydra agents were down, and the ones that weren’t would soon be blown to bits by the explosives Clint planted in the basement.
Romanoff was at the extraction point, Bucky was standing next to the abandoned explosives, and neither of them had heard from Clint in fifteen minutes.
“I don’t see him!” Bucky shouted into his com, “He’s not down here. He just placed the charges and vanished!”
“Well he’s not fucking up here either!” Romanoff shouted back, “Where the hell did he go?”
“I don’t know!” Bucky swept the room one last time and then ran for the stairwell, “I’m checking the base level again.”
“Barton!” Romanoff called urgently, “Barton are you there?”
“I swear to god, Clint,” Bucky cursed to himself, sweeping the ground floor and coming up empty once again.
The sound of screeching tires outside gave Bucky pause.
“Reinforcements,” Romanoff hissed, “get to the extraction point, Soldier.”
“We can’t leave without him!” Bucky shouted, readying himself as the sound of agents swarming outside reached him.
“We’ve swept this place four times, he isn’t here anymore,” Romanoff shouted back, “Either his com got blown and he had to escape on his own or Hydra has him and they’re long gone. The only other possibility is that he’s dead and I refuse to believe that. We need to extract and get to the rendezvous point.”
Clinton Francis Barton. Hawkeye. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Marksman. Partner of Black Widow: Natalia Alianovna Romanoff.
Kill on sight.
Romanoff was right. Bucky knew she was right. There was nobody in the building so if Hydra had Clint… Bucky didn’t even know how to finish that thought. He hadn’t cared about anyone this much since the war and the sheer terror that gripped him at the thought of what might happen to him, or what might have already happened, almost made him falter in his tracks. Somewhere below him he could hear the Hydra reinforcements swarming the building but it felt strangely distant as he met Romanoff on the roof and the jet quickly collected them.
Romanoff hit a button and the explosion rattled the jet as the compound behind them fell to flaming pieces.
Ten minutes later they landed at the rendezvous point five miles from the mission site.
“Run continuous scans for Barton’s com signal,” Romanoff ordered their SHIELD pilot, “We wait for three hours.”
She didn’t say what she’d do if he didn’t appear by then and she didn’t need to. Bucky sat tensely on the open ramp of the jet, staring out across the hard cold landscape towards the plume of smoke that was rising in the distance. Romanoff walked over and sat down a few feet away.
Silent as statues, they waited.
Two hours passed. Then three. Three and a half.
Romanoff slammed her fist down on the ramp.
“Move out!” She shouted at the pilot, who flinched hard and quickly began activating the jet’s launch sequence.
“We can’t just leave!” Bucky followed her into the jet, his fury barely contained, “We should keep waiting.”
“He’s not coming, Soldier!” Romanoff screamed, shaking with rage, “Either Hydra has him or he’s dead already! Our best chance is to regroup with the others and if he’s alive we’ll find him.”
“No!” Bucky shot back, “You don’t understand what could be happening to him! If Hydra has him we need to get to him now!”
“We didn’t even detect them leaving with him! How the fuck do you propose we start tracking them down without more resources, huh?” Romanoff shook her head, “We need more Avengers and we need more tech. This was supposed to be a simple job and we fucking blew it, I’m not letting us make that mistake again. We didn’t even hear him get attacked—“
Bucky saw the moment her eyes at him turned sharp.
“Если вы подумаете на секунду, что я имею к этому какое-то отношение я вырву вам горло,” (If you think for one second that I had something to do with this I will rip your throat out) Bucky hissed before she could bother accusing him of anything.
It was the first time Bucky had voluntarily spoken Russian in nearly three years and it had the desired effect.
Romanoff’s jaw clenched but she said nothing as the jet began to rise.
“We regroup,” Romanoff repeated through gritted teeth, “I’m running point and those are my orders.”
Bucky wanted to keep arguing but the part of his brain that wasn’t screaming with worry and terror told him that Romanoff cared for Clint even more than he did. She wouldn’t gamble with his life.
When the jet landed back in New York the rest of the Avengers greeted them silently on the tarmac. Wanda came to Bucky’s side and squeezed his shoulder. Romanoff was quickly approached by Steve and Sam but she held up a hand to stop them before they reached her.
“What have you found?” She demanded as the group circled up.
“His com signal went out before the building exploded,” Tony said, tapping frantically on one of his StarkPads, “We suspect he was ambushed as he lay the charges. The attack was silent and swift. Even he didn’t see them.”
“Based on Hydra’s usual MO,” Steve continued, “I’ll bet he was hit with a tranquilizer and then removed from the building.”
He turned to Bucky.
“It’s possible,” Bucky nodded, trying to think clearly and rationally, “there was no blood, no scuffle, and no gunfire but…”
He paused and braced himself.
“But Hydra’s stance on him was always clear: Clinton Francis Barton. Kill on sight.”
A tense silence fell across the group.
“It’s possible Hydra’s objectives have changed since the organization fell and Zemo was taken into our custody,” Bruce reasoned, “They could be holding him as a hostage for leverage against us.”
Bucky silently thanked whatever gods he could think of for Bruce’s deductive reasoning skills and clung to his words like a lifeline.
“They may want to trade him for Zemo,” Sam added, “We shouldn’t rule anything out.”
“We need a way to zero in on his location,” Stark muttered, starting to type again and biting his lip.
“With Hydra’s current resources they couldn’t have gotten too far,” Steve said with a furrowed brow, “Tony and Bruce, work on locating him. Sam and Wanda, work with SHIELD to gather all the intel we have on Hydra’s bases in North America focusing on the northeastern quadrant, we need all the information we can get. The rest of you: stay on guard. We need to be prepared to move out at any time.”
The circle broke and the teams moved off to get started. Romanoff quickly strode away, not looking at anyone and not disarming her weapons as she entered the Tower.
Steve put his arm around Bucky’s shoulders as they walked together.
“Get some rest,” Steve said quietly, “You’ll need your strength.”
Bucky nodded silently.
Their fingertips trailed apart as Bucky pulled away, stepping into the building while Steve turned to address the Tac Teams awaiting his orders. Part of him wanted to wrap up in Steve’s arms and stay there. The other part hissed that he wouldn’t find any comfort while knowing Clint’s life was still on the line.
As the elevator took him down to his and Clint’s apartments the images of metal tables, needles, chains, and blood flashed through his mind. Memories he had stowed away bubbled to the surface of his consciousness. He remembered being strapped down back when his left arm was still mostly intact. A masked Hydra doctor brought a saw down at his elbow.
Bucky stumbled into the apartment. His hip hit the kitchen island and he lurched for the sink as he felt his chest clench and his stomach churn. He coughed up what little was in his stomach, his chest heaving painfully as he gripped the ledge of the sink and tried to calm down. Gasping, Bucky turned on the tap, gathered what little water he could in shaking hands and rinsed out his mouth before gulping down a few mouthfuls. With his stomach still in knots and his chest constricting painfully, Bucky sank to his knees on the tiles and curled up with his back to the cabinets.
He knew it wasn’t his fault. Clint was a skilled agent and if Hydra had managed to get the drop on him then they could have gotten the drop on any of them. No one couldn’t have foreseen this outcome. Still, as Bucky’s eyes drifted across the home that used to just be Clint’s he couldn’t help the black pit of guilt that sank into his chest.
All he could do now was wait until Stark and Bruce found him and then they’d go back out, guns blazing, and bring their friend home.
Hours passed without Bucky feeling them come or go. Sunlight had drifted up the walls and then disappeared and gave way to darkness. Bucky remained on the kitchen floor, staring straight ahead, consumed with numb, throbbing, guilt. No one tried to contact him which meant Tony and Bruce had gotten nowhere in their search for Clint and the deafening silence of the apartment echoed the vast emptiness of his mind.
Seeing nothing was better than seeing nightmares.
Bucky would have remained dormant all night and all day had the ringing of his phone roused him from his tense meditation. Moving for the first time in hours, Bucky snatched his phone from his pocket and answered it without checking who was calling.
“Привет еще раз, солдат.” (Hello again, Soldier)
What was once numb flooded with ice as the voice of Brock Rumlow consumed Bucky’s mind. Rumlow’s Russian wasn’t great but it was unmistakable.
“Did you miss me so much that you went looking for me at SHIELD?” Rumlow continued in English.
Bucky couldn’t respond. The air in his lungs had frozen too.
“I thought you might have come to see me earlier, but it turned out to be a little bird instead.”
Bucky heard a grunt, then a yelp.
Bucky forcibly shook off the ice and did a quick calculation.
“Отчетность активов для дежурства.” (Asset reporting for duty) Bucky replied calmly, “Готовы соблюдать.” (Ready to comply)
There was a pause.
“На кого вы работаете?” (Who do you work for?) came the tentative response.
“Hail Hydra,” Rumlow finally agreed, “Report to compound D84HQ for reprogramming.”
The line went dead.
Bucky swallowed and slowly rose to his feet. Now that he had a course of action his mind focused like a finely tuned instrument as all emotion fell away. He placed the phone gently on the kitchen countertop and took stock of his assets.
He was still in his uniform, he had all his weapons, he was a little low on ammo but he had enough. Compound D84HQ was on Kasungatak Island, a remote place off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Bucky had told SHIELD about it and all the other Hydra facilities he knew of and the place had been cleared out by Steve and Wanda five months ago. Rumlow must have found a way around their safeguards. Whatever the case, Bucky would need a jet to get there. He wasn’t entirely convinced that Rumlow had bought his deception so he needed to be careful as he plotted course. Clint was still alive, for now, and the facility on the island wasn’t equipped for torture, though, it did have a mental recalibration device that was tuned to Bucky’s specifications. If Rumlow got it back up and running again, he would strap Bucky back onto it the moment he had the chance to ensure the Soldier’s compliance.
Bucky clenched his fists. If that’s what it took to either secure Clint’s release or give him the chance to escape, then Bucky was willing to do it.
Bucky picked up his phone again and sent a message to the Avengers:
Meet on the launch pad. Be ready to leave. I know where he is.
“I hate this.” Steve’s voice hissed through Bucky’s com.
“You don’t have to like it.” Bucky replied softly.
He lowered his jet over the vast Canadian landscape. He’d be at the island in five minutes. Steve and Romanoff were already there, breaking into the facility while the rest of the Avengers and all the agents SHIELD could spare waited ten miles behind them on high alert. The last time he’d been at this facility was in 1963, if he remembered correctly. It was an open warehouse inside with a few stations for tech, medical, and arms functions and an escape tunnel dug beneath. There weren’t a lot of places to hide inside but the rafters above the light fixtures were a good spot to perch— a flaw in security that Steve and Romanoff were now exploiting.
“Just keep your sights on Clint,” Bucky added, “I know what I’m doing.”
Bucky brought the jet lower, not bothering to hide his course as the landing pad of the Hydra facility came into view.
The jet touched down and Bucky saw movement in the few windows of the compound.
“Widow,” he said, standing up and checking his com to make sure it was well hidden.
He had been waiting to address her because he knew Steve would stop him if he could, but he was out of Steve’s reach now. The clock was ticking and not even Steve could stop it.
“Yes?” She responded, too focused to bother with her usual tone of displeasure.
“If they get me back in that chair I need you to kill me.”
“What?” Steve snapped, panic rising in his tone.
“Quiet, Rogers. You’ll blow our cover.”
“I would rather die than let them use me again,” Bucky whispered, “So if it looks like they’re going to get me I need you to make good on your promise and put a bullet in my skull.”
“In English,” Bucky insisted, “I need everyone listening to know that I told you to do this. I don’t want people to think that you murdered me.”
“Soldier,” Romanoff replied incredulously, “Are you sure?”
“I know what I’m risking,” Bucky said, “It’s my life for his.”
“Clint will hate me. Rogers will hate me.”
“Tell them to give me the dignity of my choice,” Bucky replied, hoping Clint’s own words would resonate louder than his own, “I think he’s worth the price.”
“Bucky…” Steve’s pleading tone cut through the debate.
“If everything goes to plan it won’t come to that,” Bucky reminded him, “I just want to be sure that someone will have my back if this all goes south.”
“I’ve got your back, Barnes,” Romanoff said finally.
“благодарю вас, Romanoff.” (Thank you)
Bucky stepped from the jet and walked straight for his enemy’s front door.
Bucky followed Hydra procedure to the letter as he entered the building. He swept the perimeter, he punched in his personal key code, he marched in, completely ignoring the three Hydra agents just inside the entrance as he handed over his weapons, and made a beeline for the center of the warehouse.
Now unarmed, he passed six stations where a handful of Hydra scientists had paused their work trying to restart the old tech that had been disabled by SHIELD not long ago. They watched Bucky enter with intent eyes. As he rounded the last of the agents, he saw Rumlow waiting for him next to the chair that would erase Bucky Barnes from his mind once again. He refused to let his steps falter as Rumlow’s dark hair and cold eyes brought memories flooding back. He powered through and temporarily embraced the dispassionate persona of the Soldier that he could sometimes feel hovering in his periphery. He came to a halt fifteen feet away. He heard the shuffle of Hydra agents surrounding him and cutting off the exits. They knew the Soldier could be hostile; even when Bucky was on their side they always had guns on him. He’d almost forgotten what it felt like to be a monster even to his supposed allies.
“Report,” Rumlow demanded, forgoing a greeting as he scanned Bucky with his cold dark eyes.
He seemed to have stepped into a position of leadership once Zemo was taken and he clearly enjoyed being in command if the sneer on his face was anything to go by.
“Mission 2HJ46: failed.” Bucky replied emotionlessly, “Captain Rogers escaped. The helicarriers fell. Hydra was compromised. The Asset reported to rendezvous location 48DJ.”
“Martins?” Rumlow turned to one of the agents on his right.
“Oh, um,” Martins turned to his laptop and clicked something, “location 48DJ: Alexandria, Virginia. It’s just outside of DC. It was abandoned the day of the Triskelion attack. No one’s ever returned there.”
“And what did the Asset do when no one came to the debrief?” Rumlow asked, turning back to Bucky.
The suspicion in his voice was growing. He had seen a lot of Bucky’s programming so he knew that after a while Bucky’s own memories would start to come back. Bucky needed to distract him if he was going to get away with this.
“The Asset was assigned mission: STRIKE.”
Rumlow’s head cocked.
“That was my mission,” Rumlow said, his eyes narrowing, “to infiltrate SHIELD.”
“Agent Rumlow failed,” Bucky continued in the Soldier’s drone, “the Asset was required.”
Bucky heard someone snort behind him. Rumlow’s face turned red and furious but Bucky ignored him and pressed forward.
“The Asset successfully infiltrated SHIELD and was positioned amongst the Avengers. Mission STRIKE: Success.”
“Enough!” Rumlow snapped, “Reynolds, get Barton! Martins, give me the book.”
Rumlow held out a hand and a moment later a thin red book was handed to him. Bucky’s stomach dropped. The Winter Soldier book was a complete account of his programming from day one. It included every tool Hydra ever used to control him; including his trigger words. He thought the book had been lost when Hydra fell. He shouldn’t have been so optimistic.
Rumlow flicked the book open and began flipping through its pages. Bucky thought of Shuri, who had spent a whole year detangling Hydra’s web of control over him, and silently put his faith in her once again.
In the far corner of the warehouse, two guards came out of the entrance to the escape tunnel. Between them was a bound and struggling figure.
“I have eyes on Barton,” Romanoff’s voice hissed through the coms.
The guards dumped Clint at Rumlow’s feet. His hands and feet were tied together, his hearing aids had been removed, and a mask had been fitted over the lower half of his face to keep him silent. His right eye was swollen almost shut and Bucky could see dark stains across his black and purple uniform. It took more effort than Bucky expected to keep himself from running to him and shielding him with his body. Bucky tried to remain passive as Clint’s one good eye looked up at him as he hauled himself to his knees. His breathing was shallow, his ribs were probably broken.
“Who is this?” Rumlow asked casually, still flipping through the small book.
“Clinton Francis Barton.” Bucky recited almost automatically, “Hawkeye. Avenger. Elite SHIELD agent. Marksman. Partner of Black Widow: Natalia Alianovna Romanoff. Kill on sight.”
“Kill on sight,” Rumlow repeated, finding the page he was looking for and smiling to himself, “Now that mission STRIKE is complete there’s no need to keep him around, is there?”
He nodded to Martins and suddenly there was a gun being held out to Bucky.
“No.” Bucky agreed.
“Oh, and just so that we’re all on the same page,” Rumlow added with a smirk, “I took the liberty of tracking down the ten trigger words that ensure the Asset’s compliance.”
“Shit,” Over the coms, Bucky heard Romanoff’s weapon cock.
Bucky took the gun.
“Aim to subdue, not kill!” Steve hissed desperately to Romanoff.
Bucky’s head began to pound.
“I can’t take chances, Steve.” Romanoff replied softly.
The Soldier aimed at Clint’s head.
“He fought through the programming once, he can do it again!”
Clint’s uninjured eye widened.
“Возвращение домой.” (Homecoming.)
“This was his last request.” Romanoff whispered.
“Natasha,” Steve begged, “Please.”
“Грузовой вагон” (Freight car.)
The Winter Soldier pulled the trigger.
Bucky watched the bullet hit Brock Rumlow right between the eyes. He watched the skin break and the bullet disappear and he savored each expression that flitted across Rumlow’s face as his shock turned slack and the life faded from his body. Bucky felt blood flooding the inside of his clothes and as Rumlow fell backwards, so did he.
It was bright. The light shone through Bucky’s closed eyelids and he turned away from it. He felt heavy. His body was stiff. Something warm was wrapped around his hand. Bucky’s eyes felt thick and sluggish but he forced them open despite how much he wanted to roll over and go back to sleep.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust but when they did Bucky realized he was in the Avengers Tower infirmary. He was tucked into one of the long term beds in a private room and a half dozen tubes and cables were running from his body to the machines around him.
Steve was asleep in the chair next to his bed. He had laid his head down on the sheets next to Bucky’s hip and had tangled their fingers tightly together. The back of Bucky’s hand lay under Steve’s cheek so it was enveloped in Steve’s warmth from both sides.
A touch of guilt planted itself in Bucky’s heart as he shifted on the bed, trying not to wake Steve as he stretched out his sore muscles. He felt tugging across his chest. With his free hand he lifted the hem of his thin t-shirt and looked down at himself. There was a patch of gauze taped to him just to the left of his sternum. Bucky shifted again. It felt like a single bullet wound maybe half an inch above his heart.
The door opened and Natasha Romanoff walked in. She was carrying a plate of what looked like pasta in one hand and a glass of water in the other. She froze when she realized Bucky was awake. She blinked at him like a deer in headlights, one foot still out the door.
“Your aim isn’t as good as I thought it was.” Bucky joked softly.
His voice came out rough and gravely but strong.
Natasha’s seemed to falter as her eyes flitted around the room before finding Bucky’s again.
“I— uh.” She swallowed.
“Can I have some of that water?” Bucky asked, rubbing his throat and wincing a little as he spoke.
Natasha quickly came to his side and handed it over. She lay the plate down on the small table to his left and hovered awkwardly as he downed the water. He handed her back the empty cup and she placed it on the table.
“Is Clint okay?” Bucky asked, his voice a lot smoother now.
“Yes,” Natasha sighed as she leaned against the heart monitor, “After you and Rumlow went down Steve and I immediately rushed in. We managed to handle most of the guys on the ground. Clint even managed to trip a few of them. He’s got some broken bones but he’s awake and should be healed up in a month or two.”
Relief flooded through him and he let his eyes close for a moment just to properly process that Clint was alive. That Rumlow was dead. That Shuri’s genius hadn’t let him down.
Natasha whispered the words so quietly Bucky almost didn’t hear it. He opened his eyes again and stared at her.
“I know you didn’t do it for me,” she continued, “but thank you.”
Bucky nodded once and looked away.
“He’s one of the best people I’ve ever met,” he replied.
The corner of Natasha’s lips twitched into an almost imperceptible smile.
“Is he mad?” Bucky asked, looking down at Steve.
“Oh, they’re both furious,” Natasha huffed out a small humorless laugh, “Clint yelled at me until his stitches popped and Cap hasn’t even looked me in the eye since you went down.”
“They’ll get over it,” Bucky said, smiling a little, “It’s not like you actually killed me or anything.”
“I would have.” Natasha said with a level of discomfort that surprised him.
“I asked you to.”
There was another pause.
“Why didn’t you?” Bucky asked.
Natasha didn’t respond for a long time.
“It was a combination of things,” she admitted, not making eye contact, “I couldn’t do that to Steve, or Clint, or Wanda, or basically the whole rest of the team, and, despite everything, I might have been starting to think that my—um— animosity towards you was slightly unfounded.”
Bucky’s eyebrows raised a good two inches at the admission.
“I’m sorry it took me so long,” she said finally.
She sounded disappointed and Bucky was shocked to realize that it was in herself.
“Thanks,” Bucky replied gently, accepting her apology with ease, “I appreciate that.”
Natasha stepped forward, hesitated, then sat down gingerly at the foot of Bucky’s bed.
“When Rumlow read the trigger words,” she began, “when you shot him, was that you? Or was that the Soldier?”
Bucky thought for a moment. He let his head hit his pillow again and sighed.
“It was him,” Bucky whispered, “just for a moment.”
“But he didn’t shoot Clint.”
“No,” Bucky shook his head, “I think there was enough of me still in there for him to know that Clint wasn’t his enemy.”
“I guess the Soldier got his revenge,” she mused.
Natasha nodded understandingly, then looked over at Steve and his hand holding Bucky’s to his cheek.
“I remember when he told me about the first time he saw you,” she said quietly, still looking at Steve, “he said he chased you down across three buildings and then threw his shield at you as hard as he could.”
“I remember,” Bucky replied, his own memories of that day were clouded with darkness, but he remembered the impossibly strong man with blond hair chasing him like no one else ever had.
“He said you spun around and stopped it dead in its tracks.” To Bucky’s surprise, she was smiling, “he said it with so much awe in his voice, like he was impressed, but then he paused.”
Natasha looked down at her hands again.
“He said you looked like you were wearing a straight jacket,” she said, “he said your face was locked in a muzzle, and your eyes looked desperate.”
Bucky swallowed roughly. Steve had frozen when he caught the shield. Even in the darkness, the Soldier had seen how blue his eyes were.
“He insisted that there was something going on there, something that we didn’t understand yet,” Natasha muttered, “I told him that he was just projecting.”
“You were trying to protect him,” Bucky whispered, “I don’t blame you for that.”
“I should have recognized you for what you were.” Natasha insisted, “Just another victim trying to find their way out.”
Bucky felt his heart clench.
“Steve saw it,” she finished, “I should have seen it too. I’m sorry.”
“You’ve apologized a lot in the past five minutes.”
“I know,” she scowled, “I’m doing my best over here.”
“Oh, shut up.”
Bucky laughed, accidentally jostling Steve. He quickly stilled but Steve’s cheek shifted under his hand. He looked down just in time to see Steve’s eyes flutter open and then jerk up when he realized Bucky was awake.
“Bucky! I—“ he cut himself off when he realized Natasha was there.
She quickly stood up and cleared her throat.
“I should go see how Clint’s doing.”
She made a beeline for the door but before she could reach it Bucky called out to her.
In his periphery, Bucky saw Steve do a double take at the sound of Natasha’s first name. She paused and looked back at him over her shoulder.
“You get to shoot me one more time,” Bucky said with a grin, “then we’ll be even.”
Ever so slowly, a real, genuine smile crept across her face. The eyes that had once felt so piercing softened into something gentle and friendly as she reached for the door handle.
“Deal,” she replied and with one last nod, she was gone.
“So, I guess you guys are friends now,” Steve said as the door shut and they were left alone.
His voice was strangely clipped and when Bucky looked over there was anger in his eyes.
“Don’t be upset with her,” he said softly, squeezing Steve’s hand gently, “she was doing me a favor.”
“Oh, I’m plenty mad at you too,” Steve replied, his scowl deepening even as his thumb rubbed soothing circles across the back of Bucky’s palm, “I get why you asked her to do that, I really do, but instead of making that a possibility in the first place you should have just waited and let us come up with a plan that wouldn’t have put your life or autonomy at risk! I don’t care if your plan was the easiest; I refuse to trade lives. Losing you would have been just as bad as losing Clint and the goal is always to save everyone. No, that doesn’t always work out but you have to at least give us a chance instead of throwing your life on the line at the last minute and not giving anyone else a chance to save you, you absolute moron!”
Steve came to the end of his seemingly prepared rant and huffed out one last angry breath before flopping back into his chair and scowling at the adjacent wall.
Knowing that no words would calm Steve’s rage, Bucky just lifted their still joined hands and pressed a kiss to the back of Steve’s hand.
“I’m not sorry,” he whispered against Steve’s skin.
Steve’s wide eyes turned on him again.
“My life is mine and I’d risk it for any one of you.” Bucky let the back of Steve’s hand drift across his cheek. Its warmth filled him with a contentment that couldn’t be rivaled, “If we’d waited any longer to find Clint he may have been dead already by the time we got there and, like I told you before, I’m not the kind of person that can just sit there and do nothing when I have the power to help.”
Steve’s expression was unreadable.
“You like that about me,” Bucky reminded him with a tentative smile.
The mask of cold anger on Steve’s face cracked and the anguish of almost losing him bled through. Bucky immediately opened his arms and Steve threw himself forward to bury his face in Bucky’s shoulder.
“I’m still mad,” Steve told him in a slightly desperate, muffled voice.
“I know,” Bucky whispered back gently.
“This conversation isn’t over.”
He wrapped his metal arm around Steve’s neck and ran his other hand up and down his side as Steve clutched at the blankets and rested his head against the metal, careful to avoid the center of Bucky’s chest. Bucky ran his hand through Steve’s hair, content to lie there until the sound of Steve’s breathing lulled him back to sleep.
It was nearly a week before Bucky saw Steve again. He woke up alone in his hospital bed and found out from a nurse that Steve had been called on a mission not long after Bucky had fallen back asleep. Bucky was saved from dwelling on their argument for too long due to a painstakingly long debrief that nearly knocked him back out again. Luckily, despite nearly being shot in the heart, it didn’t take long for him to recover thanks to his enhanced body. He was out of the infirmary in two days and walking around without any pain in four. The day after that he was back in the field.
Now that Rumlow was dead, Hydra was without leadership once again. The organization was scrambling to get back on its feet but it was so divided and scattered across the continents that mistakes were inevitable. Tony had scanners sweeping the planet minute by minute and as the Hydra factions reached out to each other trying to organize new leadership, they were intercepted. The Avengers and SHIELD were now picking off Hydra compounds one by one on almost a daily basis. It was death by a thousand tiny cuts and, so far, it was working. Bucky hoped that each small victory would be one that Hydra would not be able to recover from.
Along with the increase in missions and the looming defeat of Hydra, Bucky was about to be officially introduced to the public as an Avenger. Bucky attended meeting after meeting about how to do it, what to say, what to hide, and who should make the announcement. Weeks seemed to pass as arguments and negotiations flew back and forth and there was more than one night where Bucky didn’t sleep after staring for too long at the long list of his own transgressions. Eventually, it had been decided that Hill would hold the official press conference. They’d tell the truth while framing Bucky as an America war hero taken as a prisoner of war for seven decades. Clint tried to tell him that they were framing it that way because it was true but Bucky wasn’t totally sure he believed it yet. He would probably have his fair share of supporters but the critics were sure to flood in quickly after them. There was too much blood on Bucky hands for that not to be inevitable. It would come, and it would pass. If Bucky could win over Natasha Romanoff then maybe he could do anything.
A thousand meetings and missions seemed to pass but in reality it had barely been two weeks since what was now being referred to by the group as, “The Incident,” occurred— in which Bucky had nearly murdered Clint and then Natasha had nearly murdered Bucky. It was a bit of a touchy subject, more for everyone else than it was for Bucky and Natasha, who affectionately called it, “The Soldier’s Revenge” but only in Russian and only to each other.
Surprisingly, Bucky and Natasha’s new friendship had led to a remarkable improvement in the groups function as a whole. Their minds thought more alike than either had previously realized but now that they were on the same page, they barely needed to speak to each other out in the field as they wove around each other, guns in hand. They became one seamless unit and together they helped hone each other’s skills even more; Natasha helped Bucky brush up on his hand-to-hand combat skills and Bucky challenged her to up her game while looking through a scope. For all that they’d avoided each other, Bucky found that Natasha was quickly becoming one of his closest friends.
Despite all the changes that were happening around the tower, one thing that stayed constant was the nightly phone calls. Whenever Steve and Bucky weren’t on mission, they would talk every night for as long as they could both stay awake. More than once, Bucky thought to himself that it would be a lot easier if they just fell asleep together instead of phoning each other from a couple floors away, but he held off of bringing it up. He was a little unsure of where they stood now. Steve had been distant since “The Incident,” seeming to favor phone calls where they spoke about their days and whatever odd thing was on their minds over seeing Bucky in person and Bucky didn’t push, despite how much he wanted to. Bucky tried not to jump to conclusions but it was difficult not to worry that Steve was having second thoughts about him romantically. Steve had every right to, considering everything, but Bucky hoped he was just misreading the signs. Either way, Bucky knew that they still had more to discuss about that day and that Steve would remain out of his reach until they did.
“You should just go talk to him,” Clint advised through a mouthful of potato chips.
Clint was officially out of the infirmary too, though it much worse shape than Bucky had been. The purple cast on his leg went from thigh to toe and his entire left shoulder was held still with a sling and a whole lot of medical tape. The swelling around his eye had gone down significantly though the cuts and bruising around his fractured cheekbone still consumed most of his face. He was a pretty pathetic sight, to say nothing of all the internal damage including two fractured ribs and a broken collarbone. Despite the damage, Clint was in fairly high spirits. He seemed to enjoy ordering people to get him things and pouted pathetically when he was left alone for more than fifteen minutes. He was particularly pleased that Bucky and Natasha had hit it off so well, despite the fact that they were now going to the range without him.
“I can’t just walk up to his front door,” Bucky replied, hugging one of the couch pillows to his chest as he finished explaining his situation to Clint.
“Why not?” Clint asked, scooping up some M&M’s which were supposed to be saved for Saturday’s movie night, “You’ve done it before.”
“Yeah, but I just feel like he doesn’t want to see me.” Bucky fiddled anxiously with a loose thread coming off the pillow.
“Did he say he doesn’t want to see you?”
“Then you’re just pretending he doesn’t want to see you based on like, the tone he had one time or some throw away thing he said. Cap’s never been one to mince words anyway and if he didn’t still like you he wouldn’t keep calling you every night.”
Clint washed down his M&M’s with half a can of soda before burping loudly.
“He doesn’t call me every night,” Clint added in a grumble.
“Aren’t you supposed to be eating healthy to assist your pathetically healing body?” Bucky chided, brushing some pretzel crumbs away from him.
“Candy is calories and calories are energy,” Clint replied confidently, “what more could my body want?”
“Vitamin D?” Bucky suggested dryly.
“So, get me some orange juice,” Clint declared, “I can only eat what you put in front of me so, really, this is your fault.”
Bucky sighed and hauled himself up. He carefully stepped around the danger zone that was Clint’s nest of things he needed within arms reach which included, for some reason, a bow, four different StarkPads, a bowl of milk, and the Encyclopedia Britannica vol. VIII. Bucky pulled the fridge open and examined its somewhat meager contents.
“We’re out of orange juice,” he called over to Clint, “but we have six bottles of ketchup for some reason if you want a glass of that.”
“Cap always has orange juice,” Clint said, wiggling his eyebrows, “why don’t you go upstairs and ask him for some?”
“Ugh, Clint!” Bucky swung the fridge shut and crossed his arms.
“What?” Clint held up his hands defensively, “There’s not a problem here you couldn’t solve by talking to the guy, that’s all I’m saying.
“That’s not helpful.”
“You’re making this harder than it needs to be.”
“I am not!”
Bucky’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He cut off the incredibly unproductive conversation to see a text from Steve.
Steve: Are you in the tower?I want to talk to you sometime soon.
“Whoa, are you okay, dude?” Clint asked curiously, “You look like you’re gonna be sick.”
“Steve…” Bucky took a breath, “Steve wants to talk.”
“Okay,” Clint replied cautiously, “did he say ‘we need to talk’? Because, I’ll admit, that’s not a fantastic sign.”
“He said, ‘I want to talk to you sometime soon,’” Bucky read off.
“Okay, okay,” Clint placated, “I can work with that. It’s neutral, non confrontational. There’s just not a good way of asking to talk without sound like you’re about to drop some crazy shit.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agreed, though wasn’t convinced, “I guess I should go then.”
“Okay,” Clint’s concerned voice called out as Bucky made his way towards the elevator with dread in each step, “We have ice cream and stuff. If you need someone to kick his ass for you I… well, Bruce is probably available. Cap could kill me with one punch right now.”
“Thanks, Clint,” Bucky stepped into the elevator and hit the button for Steve’s floor, “I’ll see you later.”
“I’m rooting for you, man!”
The doors slid shut and Bucky tried his best to calm his nerves. Maybe Steve just wanted to talk about next week's mission, or Wanda’s upcoming birthday, or the gala Ms. Potts wanted him to attend. Or maybe Steve was going to break up with him.
It was probably best to just rip the bandaid off, Bucky decided. He stepped out of the elevator, crossed the small entryway to Steve’s door and knocked three times before he could bail and run away.
The door opened a second later to a surprised looking Steve with his phone still in hand.
“Oh, Bucky!” Steve relaxed and tucked his phone back into his pocket, “Did you get my message?”
“Yeah. Sorry, I should have replied first.”
“No, no, it’s okay,” Steve shook his head, “do you want to come in?”
“Sure.” Bucky stepped awkwardly inside.
He’d been to Steve’s place a good handful of times now but he felt weirdly out of place without the excuse of movie night and the presence of six other people as a buffer. He stood nervously by the couch, watching large snowflakes drift lazily past the window as Steve shut the door and hovered a couple feet away.
“So, what do you want to talk about?” Bucky asked, not wanting to beat around the bush.
“Oh, um,” Steve faltered, then scratched the back of his head nervously, “well, that’s… um… right. Uh.”
Bucky felt his eyebrows raising involuntarily.
“Someones articulate today,” Bucky mused jokingly.
Steve laughed self-consciously and fell silent. The ticking of the clock in Steve’s kitchen was oddly loud in the silence. Were these breakup vibes? Bucky wondered, these felt like breakup vibes.
“Oh, um, sit down,” Steve said suddenly, gesturing at the couch.
Bucky suspiciously followed Steve’s lead, sitting down and then watching Steve sit a good two feet away.
“Are you…” Bucky asked, concerned now, “Are you okay?”
“Yes,” Steve said quickly, then tilted his head, “Well, yeah. I mean. Physically, yes.”
Bucky looked at him expectantly, hoping his dread was contained enough that Steve didn’t notice it.
“I just, um,” Steve took a fortifying breath, “I just wanted to make a… um… make a confession.”
“Well,” Steve shrugged, “It’s not really a secret but I… I need to tell you what happened after… after Nat shot you.”
Bucky blinked in surprise. He’d read the official report of what happened and he’d heard Natasha’s brief summary back in the infirmary and nothing stood out to him.
“Alright,” Bucky nodded for Steve to continue, growing more and more anxious by the second, wondering what might have been left out of the official reports.
“Ok, well,” Steve began, “I actually don’t remember much of what happened, to be honest.”
He swallowed and Bucky forced himself not to interrupt while Steve collected himself properly.
“I remember begging Nat not to do it,” he whispered, “I remember hearing her fire. I remember watching you fall and seeing Rumlow go down with you. The next thing I knew, all the Hydra agents were dead, I was covered in blood, and my hand was wrapped around Nat’s throat.”
Bucky sucked in a breath. No one had told him that.
“I wasn’t strangling her,” Steve continued, “but I had her up against a wall and she couldn’t move. I didn’t know that you were still alive, none of us did, I was just so … so angry at her, at you, at myself, at everyone and everything that contributed to getting us into that room. I just held her there for a moment and then… and then I realized I was crying.”
Steve’s eyes closed.
“I couldn’t move, I could barely breathe, I wanted to go to you but I couldn’t bare to look at your… at your body so I just stood there. I managed to let go of Nat and she just hugged me. I couldn’t hug her back but, despite what she did, she’s my friend and I couldn’t push her away either. Then the rest of the guys came in. They got Clint up and Wanda’s the one who realized you were still alive.”
Steve sighed and hung his head.
“Nat may not be as good as you and Clint, but there’s no way she’d miss a clean shot like that unless she wanted to.”
Steve fell silent and Bucky, slowly and carefully, shifted his hand across the cushions. He didn’t touch Steve, but he knew Steve could see it and would take it if he wanted to.
“Look,” Steve stared down at Bucky’s outstretched hand, his own fingers clenched tightly together, “the reason I’m telling you this is because what I felt that day scares me and what I did to those agents scares me. I didn’t realize how vulnerable I was making myself by caring so much about you and after how invincible you seemed when we fought, I forgot that one well placed bullet could still kill you.”
Steve looked up at Bucky then. His eyes were a little raw and there was something pleading in his expression.
“But I’ve thought about it a lot and you’re right; your life is yours and you can do what you want with it. I just need you to understand that you’re not alone anymore. I need you now. Clint needs you, Wanda needs you, and Bruce, Sam, Tony, and Nat does now too. I know we all risk our lives on a regular basis but part of our job is to protect each other. Just give us a chance to do that before you run headfirst into a suicide mission. I know you and Nat aren’t bothered by what happened but I can’t do that again.”
Steve swallowed and shook his head.
“I can’t do that again.”
Bucky took in Steve’s words and felt guilt churn in his stomach. He hadn’t thought about it like that. He’d been willing to die for his cause for so long that he hadn’t thought he had another option. He hadn’t thought that he’d ever have something worth living for again.
He reached out, taking Steve’s chin in his hand and turning his head until they were looking into each others eyes. There was apprehension on Steve’s face and Bucky hated it.
“I’m sorry,” Bucky whispered.
Steve’s eyes slid shut and Bucky leaned forward to press their foreheads together.
“I’m so sorry,” he said again, “I shouldn’t have— I wasn’t thinking about what that would do to you. I was just thinking about what I thought needed to be done. Hydra has been successful, in part, because of me and I feel responsible for that. I wanted to atone, I wanted revenge and I’ve been willing to die to get it for years, but you’re right. I forgot I’m not alone anymore. I didn’t take into account what all of us could have done together.”
Bucky cradled Steve’s face in his hands and let the truth of his own words sink in for both of them.
“I’d rather die than be controlled by Hydra again but I should have trusted you all to keep that from happening in the first place,” he admitted softly, “I’m sorry.”
He tilted his head to the side and pressed a kiss to Steve’s cheek, then the other. Steve’s hands wrapped around his and held him still.
“You won’t do it again?” Steve pleaded.
“I won’t do it again.”
“Good,” Steve muttered, finally opening his wet eyes again, “because I intend to keep you around for a long time, Barnes.”
“Yeah?” A smile crept back onto Bucky’s face.
“Until the end of the line,” Steve whispered.
I love him, Bucky realized. Half of him froze in shock and the other half laughed and whispered back, of course I do.
“Until the end of the line,” Bucky echoed.
His heart beating a mile a minute, swimming in guilt and love, Bucky brushed his nose against Steve’s, silently asking for a kiss, and then sighed deeply when Steve gave him one.
Starved of the taste of Steve’s lips for far too long, Bucky sank into it. He hooked his arms around Steve’s neck and held him close even as the kiss ended. Steve let out a shaky breath that ghosted across Bucky’s lips. Steve’s hands came up around his face. They hovered an inch away from his skin, almost afraid to touch, as his eyes roamed, hungrily taking in Bucky’s eyes, his lips, and the curve of his cheeks.
“Stay with me for a while?” Steve asked softly.
Bucky pressed his cheek into the palm of Steve’s hand.
“Say the word and I’ll never leave.”
“Don’t tempt me.”
Bucky’s laugh filled their next kiss with joy as Steve pushed him back onto the couch cushions, overwhelming him with his hands and his lips as he felt up and down Bucky’s torso, learning and memorizing the curves and planes of his chest with each touch.
Bucky let himself be kissed, enjoying every nip and bite as Steve drank in his fill, reveling in the fact that Bucky was alive and under him. He tangled his fingers in Steve’s short hair as lips trailed down his neck, sucking marks into his skin while Bucky snuck his fingers under the collar of Steve’s shirt to trail patterns across his back.
Long minutes passed as kisses faded into breaths and they lay quietly together, completely entangled. Steve’s arms held him close, safe from the world and all its terrors, wrapped tightly in his warm embrace.
Bucky got the feeling that the gentle touches were soothing Steve’s wounds but they weren’t satisfying them. Something more tangible, more visceral, needed to be done for Steve to really believe that Bucky wouldn’t be torn from his grasp once again. Bucky needed to put a smile back on that beautiful face and cover his body in kisses. What he’d done that day was a mistake that words alone could not fix. It would take a long time and a hundred acts of devotion for Steve to believe that Bucky wouldn’t sacrifice himself like that again. Bucky wasn’t sure what he could do to truly regain Steve’s trust but here and now, Bucky figured he could at least convince him that he really was in this for the long run.
“Stevie.” Bucky whispered into the silence and the darkening room.
“I wanna do something for you.”
“Like what?” Steve asked his fingers trailing lightly across the surface of his metal forearm.
“Like strip you down and spread you out.”
Steve’s fingers froze against his arm.
“Maybe mark you up a little bit.”
Bucky felt Steve take in a sharp breath.
“How does that sound?”
He dug his fingers into Steve’s shoulders hard enough to be properly felt.
“I—” Steve rolled his hips against Bucky’s and the air around them suddenly turned hot, “I—”
“I’m here to stay, Steve,” Bucky whispered back, “Let me prove it to you.”
“Yes,” Steve sighed into his ear before hauling him up to his feet.
Bucky stumbled forward and wrapped his arms around Steve’s shoulders for balance. Steve clutched Bucky’s waist and picked him up before walking them down the hall towards his bedroom. Bucky giggled against Steve’s shoulder and stretched out his toes, trying and failing to touch the ground as Steve carried him.
“You should carry me everywhere.”
“You should take your pants off.”
Steve lowered him down onto a soft carpet and slipped his hands up Bucky’s shirt while Bucky was distracted by the unfamiliar space.
Glancing around, Steves room was homey and comfortable. It was decorated with soft blues, greens, and dark wood but the light walls made it feel airy and open while the tall windows showcased the same view that Bucky saw out his own window at night. The bed was huge, somehow even bigger than Bucky’s king sized one downstairs. It was made up with a thick winter duvet and dark blue pillowcases. On the armchair to the left of the bed sat the giant Sock Monkey Bucky had won for him at Coney Island.
Bucky smiled as Steve’s hands ran up across his chest, feeling his pecs and the cool metal on his left side. He fisted his hands in Steve’s shirt, pulling it up and off in one smooth motion before pushing him hard onto the bed. Steve bounced on the edge of the mattress and Bucky stared down at the chiseled planes of his bare chest, his stupidly wide shoulders, and the cut V that disappeared beneath his jeans. While Bucky was busy ogling, Steve got to work on his pants, popping the button and lifting his hips off the bed to pull them down—
“Wait!” Bucky grabbed Steve’s wrist to stop him.
Steve’s head jerked up in concern.
“What? What’s the matter?” Steve pushed himself up onto his hands and looked up at Bucky with wide, worried eyes.
“No, no, let me just—“
Bucky darted around to the side of the bed, grabbed the Sock Money and carefully turned it around. An incredulous snort came from the bed and then it descended into a peal of uncontrollable, almost silent laughter as Bucky came back around to stand in front of Steve.
“We can’t do it in front of the Monkey!” Bucky cried dramatically, “I’ll look up and see those dead, beady eyes watching me and just instantly go soft.”
Steve’s laughter got louder. He clutched his stomach and rolled onto his side, shaking with the force of it.
“Please don’t tell me you jerk off in front of the Monkey, Steve,” Bucky grabbed Steve’s wrists, holding back his own rising laughter as he pushed Steve back onto his back, “Steve, this is serious. Have you traumatized the Monkey or not?”
Unable to properly respond Steve just shook his head.
“Wha— what the— you’re so—“ Steve gasped as he tried to regain control of himself, “It’s a sock!”
“A sock that’ll judge me. God, how do you live like this?” Bucky sighed dramatically before catching Steve’s infections laughter and joining in.
“You’re ridiculous.” Steve couldn’t hold back his smile as they kissed again.
While Steve was still getting over the last of his giggles, Bucky finished undoing his pants for him and pulled them down.
“Make sure you hide my pants,” Steve teased as Bucky dumped them on the floor, “Wouldn’t want them to see all this.”
He gestured up and down his naked form. Bucky’s laugh got caught in his throat as he took in the sight of strong thighs and a full, thick cock, flushed and ready between his legs. Having already forgotten Steve’s joke, Bucky grabbed Steve’s knees and pushed them apart before dropping down and sucking on the highest point of Steve’s inner thigh.
“Ah!” Steve jerked underneath him as Bucky bit down on the stupidly soft skin and licked across the mark.
He went to town, biting and sucking as many places as he could across Steve’s hips and thighs until Steve’s hands tangled in his hair and his little gasps started to get desperate and small beads of liquid were beginning to gather at the tip of his hard cock as Bucky crept closer and closer without touching it.
“Bucky,” Steve hissed, “Bucky, c’mon.”
Bucky kept sucking the little spot right next to his dick. Then there was a sharp tug on his hair.
Bucky leaned back and admired his work. There were a good half dozen little hickeys littered across Steve’s skin, all dark and vibrant against Steve’s pale skin.
“Yes?” Bucky drawled, pushing Steve further up the bed so he could lie on his stomach between Steve’s legs.
“Why are you still dressed?”
“I don’t need to be naked to do this,” Bucky replied sweetly right as he flicked his tongue across the head of Steve’s dick.
“Ah!” Steve gasped as Bucky wrapped his fingers around the base and tilted it towards him so it was at the right angle before sucking off the little droplets that had begun dripping down the shaft. He mouthed at the head, kissing and licking while Steve twisted his hands into his quilt, his muscles straining as he forced himself to lie still.
Bucky ran his smile down to the base before licking from root to tip and letting the head rest against his tongue for a moment just to feel the weight of it. Steve groaned above him and Bucky looked up to see bright blue eyes staring back at him. Steve was biting his lower lip and the flush on his cheeks went all the way down to his chest. Bucky squeezed his balls with his free hand and when Steve’s head tipped back in pleasure, Bucky sucked the head of his dick into his mouth. Steve’s moan became a strangled gasp as Bucky sank down as far as he could before pulling off with a pop. He watched goosebumps appear across Steve’s skin as the cool air hit his wet dick before sucking it back into the warmth of his mouth. He bobbed his head a few times, testing his throat and getting back into the feel of it, sucking at the head for a moment before sinking back down farther than he’d gone yet. Steve’s shaky breaths filled his ears as he sank down again and again.
Suddenly, Steve’s grip on his hair went tight.
“Bucky, I’m gonna come.” He spoke so quickly Bucky almost didn’t catch it.
Bucky quickly pulled off and squeezed the base of Steve’s cock hard, catching his breath while Steve gasped, then groaned as he stumbled back from the edge.
“Not yet,” Bucky whispered, kissing the curve of Steve’s hip, “Not yet.”
“Nngh, sorry,” Steve hissed as Bucky stroked his cock with his hand.
“Don’t be,” Bucky smiled up at him, “that was pretty hot.”
Steve sighed and relaxed back into the sheets as Bucky pressed little circles under the head of his dick with his metal thumb.
“We just have a few more things to do before then,” Bucky added in a low voice as he let his free hand drift lower, behind Steve’s balls, to just rest against his hole.
Steve sucked in a breath.
“Yeah,” Steve sighed, spreading his legs even further across the mattress.
Bucky pressed a little, feeling the tight muscle resist against his dry finger.
“You have lube?”
“Yeah, in the nightstand.”
They both looked over towards it and saw the armchair with the Monkey, now facing away.
Steve’s body shook as his giggles started coming back.
“See!” Bucky let go of Steve’s dick to point at the stuffed animal, “Imagine if he was watching us, would your dick not just immediately shrivel up?”
Steve’s laughter filled the room once again and he hid his face in a pillow as Bucky shook his head and clambered over Steve’s naked body to grab the lube himself. He found the half empty bottle easily enough and straddled Steve’s torso, sitting on his abs, before pulling the pillow away to look down at Steve's still laughing face.
“I’m right,” Bucky declared before kissing the laughter out of Steve’s mouth.
He felt his way down Steve’s chest, cupping his ribcage and tracing the ridges of his abs before leaving a trail of kisses down his neck, across his collarbones, and to his nipple. He bit down on it before continuing across Steve’s sternum, his abs and back to his waiting dick.
Steve was still stifling the last of his laughter when Bucky pressed his now slick finger back against his hole. His smile remained, though the laugh turned to a sigh as Bucky spread a thin layer of lube across the tight rim before pressing the tip of his finger against it. After a moment, the resistance yielded and Bucky worked his fingertip in and out a few times, loosening it until his first knuckle slid in effortlessly.
Bucky watched his finger disappear in and out of Steve’s body and felt his own dick start leaking in his pants. He’d been ignoring it so far but it was becoming hard to concentrate as he worked Steve past the second knuckle. Not wanting to pause, Bucky just pushed himself up to his knees between Steve’s legs and squeezed himself as best he could through his jeans with his free hand.
“I told you you should have taken your pants off,” Steve chided breathlessly as sweat gathered across his skin.
Bucky crooked his finger in retaliation and Steve’s sharp cry was music to his ears. Bucky did it again just to see Steve’s eyes squeeze shut and his muscles tense before pulling back out and trying for two fingers this time.
Once he was two fingers deep it wasn’t hard to make Steve moan with every thrust. Steve was exceptionally sensitive and he writhed when Bucky kept his fingers buried deep and just brushed them back and forth inside of him.
The flush of Steve’s skin made his eyes even brighter and Bucky bent over him to kiss his slack lips and hear every whimper up close. Steve’s arms wrapped around his neck and held them together as Bucky stretched him for a third finger. Steve’s mouth fell open and he sucked in a breath as Bucky worked him open. His eyes met Steve’s and he got lost in their swirling blue depths as he thrust into Steve with his hand.
“Nearly there,” Steve breathed against Bucky’s lips, “nearly ready.”
“God, Stevie you’re gonna feel so good,” Bucky whispered back, kissing him again while he felt the smooth, hot walls around his fingers.
Steve hissed as the rough fabric of Bucky’s jeans brushed against his dick and Bucky pulled away apologetically.
“Sorry,” Bucky whispered, before catching Steve’s eyes again and thinking back to their earlier conversation, “sorry.”
Steve shook his head.
Bucky leaned down and kissed the center of Steve’s chest.
“It’s not.” He replied so softly that no one but him could hear.
Bucky pulled back and quickly pulled his shirt over his head with one hand. Without pausing, he unbuttoned his pants and kicked off his shoes before shedding it all onto Steve’s floor. He clambered back over, taking a moment to lower his bare skin across Steve’s and feel the warmth radiate through him as Steve’s arms pulled him close.
Bucky felt Steve’s hand pause on the scarred skin of his back. Hydra had not done a clean job of getting rid of his arm and it showed. Even Shuri couldn’t mend the wide inches of scar tissue that criss-crossed his left side like spiderwebs. Steve’s hand came around to slide across his chest and Bucky was almost grateful for a moment that the bullet scar from Natasha’s gun had quickly gotten lost in the chaos that already marred his skin. He let Steve explore his body and take in the mess left by other peoples hands.
Steve leaned up and kissed the seam of his metal arm. Bucky shivered as Steve’s breath warmed the sensitive metal before he pressed his lips along the thick scar tissue, up his neck, and against his lips once again.
Bucky hadn’t been concerned that Steve would reject him because of his body but he felt the soothing balm of relief all the same. He hid his emotions in the crook of Steve’s shoulder for a moment, running his hands up and down Steve’s sides as he got himself together.
Bucky heard the click of the lube shutting once again as Steve’s hand drifted down his chest and wrapped itself around Bucky’s cock. He jerked at Steve’s gentle touch after having gone so long with no relief and bit down on Steve’s shoulder as a calloused hand, slick with lube, started sliding up and down his shaft.
Steve nudged him up so they could kiss again and Bucky slid his hand back between Steve’s legs. Still slick and open, Bucky slid three fingers in one more time, just to be sure as his eye’s met Steve’s once more.
“Ready?” Bucky asked, gently rubbing at Steve’s hole.
“Yeah,” he breathed.
Steve’s arms came around Bucky’s neck and Bucky pressed a hand against Steve’s ribs as he lined himself up.
The head of his cock brushed Steve’s hole. Bucky braced himself and stared down into those sea blue eyes as tight heat began to envelop him inch by inch. Steve’s mouth fell open and Bucky bit down on his own lower lip as he fought back the desire to just thrust. He kept it slow, pushing forward until finally, after what felt like minutes, Bucky felt his hips hit Steve’s thighs. He paused when he was fully inside, just to take a breath and kiss Steve’s sweaty temple. Steve’s legs wrapped around him and hooked around each other against his lower back and his hands brushed Bucky’s long hair out of his face, tucking it behind his ears.
“Bucky,” Steve whispered.
Steve’s slack mouth lifted into a smile. He pulled Bucky down into another kiss, his tongue was distracting enough that Bucky wasn’t prepared for the rolling of hips against his and the lighting strike of pleasure that shot through him. He moaned into the kiss and his hips thrust involuntarily. Steve broke away with a gasp and his smile was back as his eyes fluttered shut.
“Yes,” Steve hissed.
Bucky planted his knees into the mattress and grabbed Steve tightly by the hips to hold him still as he began snapping his hips forward again and again. He watched Steve’s body rock forward and back with each thrust. The sheen of sweat across his skin reflected in the dimming light from the window, illuminating him with a gentle glow. His blond hair was mussed and the dark blush across his skin was perhaps the most beautiful thing Bucky had seen in a long time. Every one of Steve’s breaths was now punctuated with a sharp gasp or a little moan. It was almost too much for Bucky to bear.
Suddenly, Bucky felt like he was moving through a dream. How this could possibly be reality, he didn’t know. He almost didn’t believe it. The heat of Steve’s skin, the warm hands holding his face, brush of slick skin— it was intoxicating.
Feeling more than a bit overwhelmed, Bucky pulled himself out of Steve’s grip and sat up on his knees for a moment. The cool air of Steve’s room washed over him and when he looked back down, he got an eyeful of Steve’s heaving chest and his thick cock lying against his stomach.
“God,” Bucky breathed.
He looked down further and saw his own dick buried in Steve’s ass.
“You alright?” Steve groaned, rolling his hips a little to get Bucky moving again.
“Uh-huh, yup, yeah, totally.”
Bucky pulled out, ran the tip of his cock around Steve’s reddening hole once, and then pushed it back in. Steve groaned. He did it again. And again. Then he started pulling out just to watch Steve’s body open up for him when he pushed back in.
Bucky watched Steve’s fingers fist into the sheets.
“C’mon,” Steve groaned loudly as Bucky pulled out yet again, “if you don’t start going faster I’m just going to ride you.”
Bucky’s dick jerked against Steve’s entrance.
Another time, Bucky told himself sternly as he imagined Steve bearing down on him with that little crease between his eyebrows that he always got when he was concentrating on something, another time.
“Alright,” he placated gently, settling back down over Steve to kiss him apologetically, “I got distracted by how pretty you are.”
Steve scoffed but Bucky kissed him again so he couldn’t deny it. Bucky tugged on Steve’s thighs, pushing them up with his hands until they were folded up on either side of Steve’s chest. He held them down with his shoulders and gripped the mattress on either side of Steve and barely gave him a moment to brace himself before Bucky was thrusting in earnest with full, deep strokes.
Steve sighed long and loud, biting down on his lip as Bucky picked up the pace.
“Harder,” Steve whispered.
Bucky didn’t even think of denying him. He thrust harder. Steve started inching up the bed with every roll of his hips.
Bucky repositioned himself and felt a bead of sweat trickle down his spine. He thrust harder.
“Stevie,” Bucky groaned.
“Ah! C’mon, Buck.”
“Don’t wanna hurt you.”
“You can’t. You tried, remember?”
Bucky paused to give Steve a dark look. Steve just grinned back up at him.
“You know what I can take,” Steve added, wrapping his hand around the back of Bucky’s neck and squeezing, “you won’t hurt me.”
“Okay,” Bucky gave in, knowing that it’s what Steve needed, “just, stop me if it’s too much, okay?”
Bucky let his restraints fall and with his next thrust he pushed not as hard as he thought he should, but as hard as he actually could with all his superhuman strength. Steve’s head tipped back, his grip on Bucky’s hair went tight, and his answering moan was completely silent. Bucky kept going, hard and fast. It was nearly six thrusts later that Steve got enough air back into his lungs to gasp out a stuttering, “Oh my god.”
Bucky chuckled against Steves cheek and then bit down on the long expanse of his neck as the bed shook beneath them.
“I got you,” Bucky whispered and brushed their lips together in what was more a breath than a kiss.
He littered hard bites across Steve’s neck and shoulders, scratching his fingers down whatever skin he could reach as he assured Steve that he was there and safe and real with all that he had. Steve clutched desperately back at him and every deep thrust was punctuated with a high gasp.
Bucky next thrust was accompanied with a dull thump and he looked up to see that Steve’s head had finally made contact with the headboard.
“Ow,” Steve laughed.
“Oh! Sorry, baby,” Bucky smiled as cradled the crown of Steve’s head in his hands and pulled them back down to the middle of the mattress with an apologetic kiss.
“Mmm,” Steve moaned through a wide smile, “that’s new.”
“What? Callin’ you baby?”
Steve smiled against Bucky’s lips as he nodded.
“You still like ‘Stevie’ better though, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” Steve sighed as Bucky got his rhythm going again.
“What was that, baby?”
Steve laughed, then moaned sharply as Bucky rolled his hips.
Steve hauled Bucky back in for another wet kiss and Bucky held him tight and secure against his chest before picking up his brutal pace once again. The bed rocked with them as Steve’s fingers clutched at his shoulder blades. Bucky could feel the inevitable wave building inside him but he held it back. He wanted Steve to come first. He needed Steve to come first.
He crushed them closer together making his abs brush against Steve’s hard dick with every movement. Steve drew in a sharp breath as the friction became constant alongside the pounding rhythm of Bucky’s cock inside him.
“Fuck, Bucky,” Steve whined, biting down on Bucky’s lower lip, “Fuck.”
“C’mon, Stevie,” Bucky encouraged, his hips never faltering.
“Mmph,” Steve shoved his tongue into Bucky’s mouth with both hands fisted in his hair, pulling it sharply, as his body went tense.
The already tight grip around Bucky’s cock squeezed even tighter and he felt the splash of hot come against his chest as he kissed Steve through it and felt himself teetering on the same ledge.
What little control Bucky had left vanished as Steve went slack beneath him and his head fell back against the sheets, his breath still heaving and his eyes half closed.
“Yeah,” Steve sighed breathily, a dazed smile appearing on his face, “keep goin’, Buck.”
Bucky didn’t need much more encouragement. He pressed his forehead against Steve’s damp temple and chased his release within the heat of Steve’s body. Steve sighed with satisfaction into Bucky’s ear and Bucky felt himself start to shake.
“Ahh, Stevie!” was all he managed to get out before his he felt himself crest with a jolt of pleasure as his own come slicked the way between Steve’s cheeks even more.
Bucky pushed through it, then began to come down with a stuttering gasp. He slowed to a gentle pace, feeling his come dripping out of Steve before pulling out for the last time.
His panting breaths mingled with Steves as they both lay still together. Bucky slid his hand down and gently ran his fingers across Steve’s hole again. It was hot and stretched after all that. Bucky pressed his cool metal fingers soothingly against it, his own sticky come coating his fingers, and felt Steve shudder with his whole body.
With a sigh, Bucky kissed Steve’s jaw. Steve turned his head and they just stared at each other for a moment.
“You okay, Stevie?”
“I’m so good, Buck. You don’t even know.”
Bucky laughed against Steve’s cheek.
“You can show me next time,” Bucky replied softly.
Steve’s sleepy smile turned eager.
“Give me a minute and I can show you right now.”
Bucky laughed loudly, allowing himself to be moved as Steve tangled their limbs together and then flipped them over, settling on top of Bucky like he belonged there.
“You know, not everything is a competition, Stevie.”
“That sounds like something a loser would say.”
“I don’t know if I can lose in this position,” Bucky mused with a grin, sliding his sticky hands up Steve’s thighs.
“So, then what’s the problem?”
“… I don’t even know.”
“Good,” Steve sprawled out on top of him and kissed him in a way that would have been innocent of there wasn’t still come smearing between their chests every time they touched, “because I’ve been thinking about your ass for like a year and I haven’t even gotten to touch it that much yet.”
“Well, who’s fault is that?”
“Definitely not mine,” Steve decided, sliding his hand between Bucky and the sheets to squeeze his ass, “Mmm, squishy.”
Bucky snorted, then broke into giggles while Steve pressed his grin into Bucky’s shoulder.
“You make me stupidly happy, Rogers.”
Steve looked up at him with a soft look in his eyes.
“Or maybe just stupid, who’s to fuckin’ say?”
The pillow Steve whacked him with ended up on the floor in a pile of discarded clothing and stayed there until long past the next morning’s sunrise.
“Bucky!” Clint called over the arm of the sofa, contorting himself to hang mostly over the edge as the large cast that still encased his leg lay propped up on the back of the seat, “Bucky! Can you get me another soda?”
“If you ask me for one more thing I’m going to throw this at your head,” Bucky hollered back from Steve’s kitchen, holding up a new soda can, “You may be a great marksman but a great catcher you are not.”
Clint groaned dramatically while Natasha laughed at him.
Despite the teasing, Bucky brought over Clint’s soda, his chocolate, his chips, his phone, and the blanket he liked because the stains he would inevitably leave on it blended in with the hideous pattern. He dumped everything on Clint’s lap, rifled his hair patronizingly, and then scooted past Natasha to take his seat next to Steve.
Steve didn’t look up from his phone but automatically lifted his arm for Bucky to scoot under as he settled down next to him.
“Whatcha reading?” Bucky asked as he made himself comfortable against Steve’s side.
Steve smiled and tilted his phone so Bucky could read the tabloid article along with him.
“—yesterday’s press conference regarding the newest addition to the Avengers, Sgt. James Buchanan Barnes. The Avengers spokeswoman, Director Maria Hill, revealed that the mysterious dark haired man was born in the early twentieth century and served in WWII before being cryogenically frozen for several decades by Hydra. Director Hill did not take any questions, which leaves many wondering— was this a common occurrence in 1945? How many more frozen men can we expect to dig up to become national icons? Are they all going to be this attractive?”
Bucky snorted and rolled his eyes.
“They've’ got a point, Buck,” Steve laughed, “we’re pretty cute.”
“Shut up, I’m adorable,” Bucky insisted.
Steve put his phone down and dropped a kiss of agreement onto the top of Bucky’s head.
“Okay, I’m ready!” Clint announced loudly, having properly rearranged himself on Steve’s biggest sofa, “Roll movie two!”
The lights dimmed for the second time that evening and the movie began playing.
“Wait,” Tony blinked and looked at Bucky incredulously, “Is this the Princess Bride again?”
“It’s a good movie,” Bucky pouted.
“We literally watched it last month when it was Cap’s turn!” Sam yelled through a mouthful of M&M’s.
“Please don’t tell me you picked this just because Steve likes it,” Tony groaned.
Bucky just shrugged, snuggling into Steve’s side even further with a wide grin.
“Inconceivable,” Wanda grumbled, unable to keep a straight face as Bucky laughed.
“It’s a good movie!” Steve shouted back.
“I bet we could literally act the whole thing out word for word at this point,” Natasha mused.
“Dibs on the weird Priest!” Clint shouted.
“Dibs on Inigo!” Sam chimed in.
“You guys are the worst,” Steve muttered as Tony loudly began reciting Westley’s lines over the sound of the TV.
Bucky excitedly tossed the bowl of peanuts he was holding at Steve.
“Dibs on Vizzini!”
Steve wrestled Bucky back into his seat and held him still with strong arms while Bucky laughed. Tony, a little drunk already, stood on the coffee table and loudly declared his love to Buttercup, played somewhat apathetically by Natasha, and Bucky settled with his back against Steve’s chest and looked up at him.
“Why do you like this movie so much?” he asked with a smile.
“I don’t know,” Steve shrugged, laughing a little at Bruce’s terrible impersonation of Prince Humperdinck, “I guess I just love a masked man in black.”
Bucky guffawed and pushed himself up to his knees and turned to look at Steve properly.
“Oh my god, you’re Buttercup,” Bucky laughed excitedly as Steve groaned.
“It was a joke, Buck.”
“Was it, Steve? Was it?” Bucky threw his arms around Steve’s neck, “You’re supposed to say, ‘Bucky and I are joined by the bonds of love and—’”
Steve fingers tickled up Bucky’s sides but he powered through while Sam shouted Inigo’s mantra across the boisterous room despite the fact that Inigo wouldn’t appear on screen for another fifteen minutes.
“‘And you cannot track it, not with a thousand bloodhounds!” Bucky continued.
He yelped as Steve rolled them off the sofa into a tangled heap on the floor.
“‘And you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords!’”
Steve laughed into Bucky’s ear as he wrestled him into the rug.
“C’mon, Stevie, say it!” Bucky laughed, fending off Steve’s tickle attack.
Steve grabbed Bucky by the wrists and pinned him down before dipping down to give him a quick kiss.
“As you wish,” Steve whispered through his grin just as the narrator on screen chimed in:
“But what he meant was, ‘I love you.’”