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Eye for an Eye

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Chapter 1 • Bucky | June 26, 7:47 p.m.

I love D.C. in the winter. I love that there’s barely any snow. We do get a couple storms every season — four inches at the most. But coming from a place where snow would dump on us over and over, I’ll take it. 

Summers, however, are a different story. 

It’s usually always 80-85 degrees and humid, even when the sun goes down. And when there’s not a breeze, it’s suffocating. Case in point, right now. 

I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve wiped sweat off my forehead. But it’s not all due to the humidity. Part of it is stress — I just received a phone call from Wanda, one of Avenger Security’s newest agents, about a possible situation. 

Involving Piper. 

Maybe I should back up, to a couple of months ago. 

It was a two-week whirlwind. I was hired to protect and figure out who was harassing Piper Stewart, but we ended up uncovering much more than a lovestruck stalker. Hydra — an underground society hell bent on total anarchy — was trying to take her out, effectively keeping her father from running for President. Somewhere between solving the case and protecting Piper, I fell in love. We fell in love. 

But then I ended it — with a hand grenade, for good measure. 

Given the nature of my career and the enemies I’ve made over the years, there can never be a future with Piper. For her safety, I had to end it. Of course, I could have done a better job than just leaving, without so much as a goodbye. 

Almost a month after I left the hospital, Piper graduated from Georgetown, Summa Cum Laude. She began working for her Dad full-time, helping with the marketing of his campaign. At the beginning of June, Mr. Stewart was nominated by his party as its presidential candidate, which meant more work and travel for Piper. But as of now, she was still in D.C. 

I know all of this because she still wears her bracelet, which for some reason, gives me hope. And, also, because of Wanda. Just before Piper graduated, I got word that she was interviewing for a female secret service agent. I had Wanda go to the interview, prepping her on some of Piper’s hobbies and interests. It worked, because she was hired on the spot.

I know I shouldn’t have. But ever since the bombing and the information we found out after the fact, I’ve had a gut feeling Hydra is planning something else. I just want to make sure Piper isn’t involved.

Of course, that action put me in hot water at Avenger Security. Steve was furious when he found out I had Wanda infiltrate the Secret Service. In fact, he’s barely spoken to me, apart from some case updates. But I don’t care. I just want to make sure Piper is safe, until I know Hydra is done for good. Then I’ll be done.

But that day isn’t today. 

After parking my SUV, I hopped out, running up to the restaurant in the heart of downtown D.C. Wanda was there to greet me. 

“They’re in a private table to the left of the bar,” she briefed me.

I thanked her, adjusting my light weight jacket — and making sure I had all the equipment I may or may not need. I walked into the restaurant — a jazz song playing loud enough that I could easily slip in, break up the party, and get Piper out, without causing a scene. I spotted her in the far corner, my heartbeat slightly picking up. She looked beautiful. She had cut her hair — shoulder length, instead of it stopping in the middle of her back — and had on a navy colored dress. I watched as she politely smiled, nodding her head to the guy that was sitting opposite her. But knowing what Piper looks like when she’s happy, I knew it wasn’t a true smile. She was tolerating this guy at best.

Her date was wasted. Beyond wasted, actually. He was laughing loudly, waving his hands all around and swaying from side to side. Then, he was getting up, making his way to the crowded bar. Or rather, stumbling to the bar. That was my opportunity to get Piper out. I was just about to the booth when she looked up, noticing me. Her demeanor totally changed. Her smile left her face, which killed me. She then began looking around the restaurant, either for her date or a way out, I’m not sure. 

I stopped in front of her booth, suddenly at a loss for words. Seriously, you walk all that way and didn’t think of a thing? I yelled at myself. Say something! “Your date is drunk.”

Piper’s eyes widened. “That’s what you came here to say?”

I didn’t justify myself, I only extended my hand to her. “Let’s go.”

She began to laugh. “No, you’re not my bodyguard.”

“Wanda called me, so I kind of am at the moment.” 

“Wanda called you?” she snapped, her voice getting a bit louder, causing some looks from the closest tables. Why did I think this was going to be easy?

“Yes, now let’s go.”

“Oh, now I’m really not going anywhere with you — you’re crazy!”

“Piper —” 

Don’t.”

“Hey, was going on?” the guy slurred, beer in hand. 

I straightened myself before turning to him. He was the same height as me, but had a slender build. One punch would send him to the ground, no problem. “Miss Stewart is leaving.”

“We’re not finished with our date.” God, he reeked of alcohol. Something tells me he was knocking them back, probably even before the date started.

I was about to open my mouth when Piper cut me off again. “Actually Nolan, I have to be leaving. It is getting late.”

“It’s not even eight.” 

Piper gracefully slid out of the booth, quickly thanking Nolan for the evening out. I put my hand on her back, between her shoulder blades, escorting her out. I probably didn’t even need to do so, but I got a thrill touching her, even if the fabric of her dress separated my hand from her smooth skin. 

When we were outside, Piper whirled on me, her eyes angry slits. “Are you kidding me?”

I pulled out my phone and opened my file of Nolan, showing Piper. She snatched the phone from me and began to read. Nolan had arrests for two previous DUIs, a DWI and misdemeanor for assaulting a cop (related to one of the DUIs). But the real kicker was his arrest for battery on an ex-girlfriend. 

Piper was silent as she read, handing me back my phone before speaking. “You ran a background check on my date?”

“You’re welcome.”

“Are you insane? Now who’s the stalker!”

“Listen, Wanda had some doubts about this guy. I was just following up.”

“Let’s talk about that — how do you know Wanda?” I barely opened my mouth before Piper had it figured out. “She works for you.” I nodded. “What the fuck is wrong with you!” 

Piper took off walking down the block. I quickly caught up with her and tried to pull her to me. “Piper, listen to me.”

“No! No!” she was shouting now. “You don’t get to touch me.”

“Get in the car, I’ll take you home.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you! You ghost me and then show back up, demanding me to go with you? Are you crazy?” She she shoved her hands against my chest, hard enough to make my breath hitch. “Get away from me.”

This was getting out of hand. People were starting to stare. There was the risk of someone recognizing her.

“Get in the car,” I repeated between clenched teeth. “Or I’ll put you in the car. Don’t make this any worse than it already is.”

She stared at me for a couple minutes, before taking in the scene around us. A handful of people were stopped, watching the exchange. Give it a few more seconds and someone would have their cellphone out to record the whole interaction. 

Piper finally relented, but not before huffing a breath, walking to my SUV. I opened the passenger door for her, but she walked past it, opening the back door and hopping in. She then promptly shut it with a slam, because of course she did.

Fuck, she really knew how to test me. All I could do was calmly breathe in and breathe out, hoping that would keep my anger from getting the best of me. As soon as I got in the driver’s seat, Piper was chewing me out.

“I don’t hear a word from you and now you’re concerned who I date? What I’m doing?”

“As I told you, Wanda was concerned.”

“Then why didn’t Wanda tell me about him, instead of calling you.” 

The way she said “you” was a punch to the gut. But I deserved it. I turned down a couple streets before I could find the right answer. An answer that wouldn’t make her hopeful. “Because I told Wanda to keep me informed.” 

“How great. You still have your thumb on me. Well, it goes the other way, too. How about keeping me informed, hm?” She paused from her rant, looking out the window. She was shaking her head. She didn’t speak until we got to her apartment’s garage. “I thought you were dead.”

I looked at her through the review mirror, expecting to see Piper’s heartbroken face. Instead, I just saw the back of her head, exiting the vehicle. I quickly undid my seatbelt and exited the vehicle, following her to the service elevator. I had to tell her the truth; she deserved that much.

“Piper!”

“Save it,” she replied, her eyes piercing into me just before the elevator doors closed. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2 • Piper | June 26, 8:36 p.m. 

I don’t know when I’ve ever been so mad. I was shaking. Literally, shaking. I tried to compose myself in the elevator, but failed. As soon as I was in the apartment, Jason knew something was wrong. Jason’s been staying with me on and off — mostly on, partially since Dinah’s boyfriend moved in and partially because I still can’t be in the apartment alone.

“Date was a flop?”

“Big fucking flop, thanks to Bucky.”

Jason gasped. “Terminator was there?”

I told Jason about how he showed up, Nolan’s background check and how Wanda was here to keep feeding Bucky information. “I’m just so tired of being lied to. Who does that? Who does he think he is?”

“Sounds like he still cares about you,” Jason offered. 

“Then he wouldn’t have left.” I couldn’t keep my voice from cracking. Thankfully, Jason totally understood. Tears threatened to escape my eyes, so I quickly pinched the bridge of my nose to keep them from doing so. “God, I can’t cry over him anymore.”

“It’s okay if you do. There’s no shame in that,” Jason rubbed my back, hugging me to him. Even though Jason’s been my sounding board for all the sadness, anger and confusion I have toward Bucky, I think he’s still hopeful. And for some sick, fucked up reason, I think I am, too. 

“I’m going to bed, I have an early morning,” I mumbled a goodnight and went to my room, sleep eluding me for most of the night. 

The next morning, I woke up an hour earlier than normal. I attempted to do some yoga, but just kept thinking about Bucky. 

What nerve did he have to come back to me, after he willingly left? Granted, he kept me from making a huge mistake — Nolan was a bad dude. Can’t believe I didn’t see that coming. But still. How dare he. 

But on the other hand, he wasn’t back in my life. He just showed up to warn me. He’s probably going to fade away again. Right?

I had to stop; the thoughts were just too much. I just need to be distracted. I decided to go into work early. I quickly dressed, put on makeup and grabbed a granola bar and quietly exited the apartment. Surprisingly, Wanda was waiting for me in the hallway.

“Hi,” I cooly greeted. May as well get this over with now, we do have a long day between us. “I was just heading into work early. You can come with, unless you need to get someone’s approval first?” 

“I’m sorry, Piper,” Wanda spoke in her Russian-like accent. I knew she was from eastern Europe, but she never really specified where. That’s okay, it doesn’t matter. “You have to understand, I’m the newbie. I have my own orders to follow. If there’s something that makes me uncomfortable, I have a duty to report it.”

“Whose orders?”

Wanda hesitated, but told me what I already knew. “Sergeant Barnes’. I’m sorry I went behind your back. And I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth about me, that I work for Avenger Security. I guess I thought I was protecting you, but now I see that all I did was hurt you.”

As far as apologies went, it was pretty good. “I guess I just felt like we were becoming friends.”

Wanda smiled her brilliant, wide smile. It was infectious, as always. “I think we are, too. And I promise, I will no longer be reporting to Sergeant Barnes. It’s just you and me."

I adjusted my bag across my body and walked toward Wanda. “Good, because I don’t have time to break in another security guard.” She chuckled, following me out of the apartment complex. 

Like any other day, we headed to the White House. It took less than 20 minutes to get from my apartment to the White House, where I spent my day in my Dad’s office, going over campaign strategy, poll numbers and public comments. Although technically since my dad was out of town, I probably didn’t have to come in. But I most definitely needed the distraction. 

I sat at his desk, looking over some new figures while Wanda talked with other agents. I could hear her talk to Paul, one of the agents that is usually stationed near my dad’s office. They seemed friendly and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had any interest in each other. As soon as the thought entered my head, I shook it out. It was none of my business. Besides, I didn’t like her butting into my personal life. I’m sure the same can be said for her.

I kept trying to look through files of old poll numbers, but was finding it increasingly difficult due to the mess that is my dad’s desk. No better time to clean, right? I was in the middle of organizing all the folders on the floor when Wanda walked in. 

“What are you doing?” she asked. 

I huffed out a breath. “I can’t begin to do what I need to do in this mess. So I’m organizing.” 

She chuckled. “Here, let me help.”

After about half an hour of sorting folders, we started to put them in order in a nearby filing cabinet. In the small filing cabinet in his desk, I kept files of poll numbers and other pressing topics. While I was straightening and going through the drawer, a certain file caught my eye. 

2004-2014 Hydra - CLASSIFIED

I looked to Wanda, who was busying herself with organizing the other filing cabinet. I used her distraction to open the file, a small gasp coming from my mouth when I saw the photos in the file. Gruesome snapshots of bodies in horrifying positions and scenes. There were reports – some with blacked out lines and others without – detailing the events. I quickly shut the folder and looked back in the desk. There were more files, all in 10-year increments, going back to the 1930s. Why would my father have this? 

I must have sad that out loud, because the next thing I knew, Wanda was by my side, with the folder in her hands. “These are classified documents,” she stated. “These should be with the FBI.”

I looked to her, questioning. “What do these mean?”

“I’m not sure, but it looks like these detail nearly every Hydra happening in almost one hundred years,” she closed the file, but kept her eyes on the stack of folders. “But I’m no expert.”

“Who is?” Wanda then looked at me, hesitating with her answer. “Bucky,” I replied for her.

“I think we should give these to him. He, Steve and Sam can dig into this more.”

I felt the familiar pang of fear bubble in my stomach. This was a bad idea. “I don’t know if we should give these to anyone else. I don’t want my dad to know we found out.”

“I can have these to the guys for copies and back in time before your father returns,” Wanda promised. “Piper, this is more than us. This is a threat to the world.”

I hesitated once more. “Well, when you say it like that.” 

No sooner than I spoke, Wanda had her phone out and she was calling Bucky. After hanging up, she left to alert security that he would be coming in via the back passage. I went back to busying myself with my dad’s desk, even distracting myself by sorting his thumbtacks and paperclips. But sadly, it did no use. I instantly knew when Bucky was in the room. My damn body betrayed me. 

Thankfully, he wasn’t alone. Sam was with him. He happily greeted me, putting himself between me and Bucky. Fine by me. 

I stayed at the desk while Wanda handed over the folders and spoke to the guys about them. I took advantage of the opportunity to sneak a look at Bucky. He looked like shit. He was clearly exhausted — he had dark circles under his eyes and a full on beard, instead of his usual scruff. Even his hair seemed lifeless - a dull brown, just hanging from his head. It was a few inches longer, touching his shoulders. I never even noticed last night, given my anger. I was still staring when Bucky looked up. I quickly looked away and went back to my paperclips. There were thirty-three of them.

Just as fast as they were here, the guys were off, promising to bring back the files in the morning. My dad would be back tomorrow night. “Plenty of time,” Sam assured me. 

Wanda helped me finish straightening, which we did mostly in silence. 

“H-how is Bucky?” I asked, immediately regretting it. I tried to cover myself. “He didn’t look so great, I mean.”

“I don’t think he gets much sleep these days.” She wiped her hands on her pants, attempting to get rid of any last remnants of dust. “I think he misses you.”

I shouldn’t have been angry at the answer, because I set myself up for it. But there I was, fighting back the urge to scream. “Then he shouldn’t have done what he did.”

“It’s not my place.” I gave her a look, which made her laugh. “After last night, I mean.” Wanda huffed out a breath. “Sergeant Barnes truly thinks he was protecting you. Keeping you from his worst fears. Maybe it was wrong. But we all make mistakes.”

I nodded my head. “Yeah, we do.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3 • Bucky | June 28, 1:12 a.m.

The amount of Hydra intel that Piper and Wanda found was staggering. There were a few blacked out pages and bits, but despite that, it was a pretty complete collection. Steve, Sam and even Tony helped me scan in all of the documents, finishing just after midnight. They were long gone, but I was still at my desk, looking over the files.

I couldn’t help but stare at the stapled packet labeled “2010.” I decided against opening it, already knowing what was in there. 

While this information was great to have, it still didn’t give us who or where Hydra was. I had no new information. But, I did have an idea who might.

Early the next morning, I was walking down the long hallway — the same hallway Piper and I walked down a few months ago — to talk with Jasper. He was about to undergo trial for treason, attempted murder, kidnapping and a slew of other charges. He’ll be serving life, no doubt.

I sat across from Jasper, who just smirked. I wanted to punch him. 

“How’s your cell?”

He smirk cracked into a smile. “Do you really care?”

“Not really.” I threw the folder of copies down — Sam had already taken the originals back to the White House. “We found these. We know all about Hydra’s past.”

The smirk remained. “You and all the good people at the FBI. That doesn’t stop Hydra from fulfilling its destiny.”

“We finally agree on something,” I relented. “So you’re going to tell me Hydra’s future.”

“Is that so?”

“Is Piper still a target?”

The smug bastard started to laugh. Really laugh. It was nearly a minute of straight laughing before Jasper answered the question. “She’s not the target. She never was the target.” I was about to ask what he meant by that, but was cut off. “You know, when I was told you were joining her security team, I admit, I was a bit worried about executing our plan. But once you saw Piper and made goo-goo eyes at each other, I knew we could still take her out. You are each other’s biggest weaknesses.”

I was out of my seat before I realized, taking Jasper’s head in my hand and throwing it down. The sound of his head smacking the metal table was so satisfying, blood running down from his nose. “You failed, clearly. She’s still alive.”

“For now.”

I whirled on him again, smacking his head forward before wrapping my metal hand around his neck. I could snap it just like that. “What do you mean?”

“I-It’s. Not. Over.” He choked out. My blood ran cold and a thin layer of sweat broke out. After a few more questions — and a few more head bashes — my interview with Jasper was done. I wasn’t getting any more information from him. And unfortunately, I couldn’t beat him to a pulp. Besides, Piper was still in danger. And I had to warn her.

I called Wanda, who told me she and Piper were already at the White House, since Mr. Stewart had gotten back a few hours earlier than expected. Perfect. I rolled up half an hour later, walking right into Mr. Stewart’s office. There was a meeting in process, but I didn’t care. 

“Sir, I believe you’re in danger,” I blurted out as a way of a “hello.” All eyes were on me, including Piper’s. I tried to avoid hers, but I couldn’t. Her mouth was slightly agape, her eyes forming an unspoken question.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” Mr. Stewart snapped. “How did you get in here?”

He started calling for security to get me out when I revealed what Jasper just told me. “Sir, Pi — Miss Stewart — is still in danger.” Everyone stopped. I kept my eyes on Piper who was now standing from her seat, her breathing quickening. “I believe Hydra is using her to target you.”

There were a few moments of silence before Mr. Stewart sent everyone out of the room, expect for Piper, myself and another guy, Graham, who claimed he needed to be in on the know. Once it was just us there, the questions started. “You think Hydra is targeting me?”

“I do.”

“And just how do you know that?”

Before I could answer with a lie I was prepared to give, Piper interrupted me. “I found the files in your desk, Dad. I gave them to Bucky.”

“You what?” He whirled, standing to face her. “You gave classified information to this man?” 

“Why do you have them?” she said in place of an answer.

Mr. Stewart went off on a tirade, shouting about how he was the Vice-President and he would have whatever he wanted in his desk. It was an ugly match, but Piper held her own, never needing any assistance from me. Once it quieted down, Mr. Stewart sat back in his chair and somberly spoke. 

“The FBI has had records of Hydra for years — since the bureau was founded. Given the recent issues, I got my hands on all of those files. I was just starting to look through it.”

“What are you looking for?” Piper asked.

Mr. Stewart just shook his head. It’s as if they were both oblivious to the fact that I was in the room with them. “I don’t know, really. Maybe I thought I could get a clue. Discover why they are doing what they’re doing?”

“And you’ve found nothing.” I answered for him. Mr. Stewart nodded before taking off his glasses and rubbing his face. “Hydra is going to do something big. Something to keep you from becoming President. And I have a feeling they’re using Piper to do that.”

“And how do you know that?” Piper snapped. 

“Because I was just with Jasper, who let it slip.” Piper didn’t react, she just simply sat back in her seat and looked at the floor. “I believe their attempts to derail you as becoming President is just one of the ways they will execute their plan of total anarchy.” 

I detailed how Hydra agents are everywhere and able to blend in anywhere. They’re anywhere from international corporations, which are legitimate businesses that are fronts to conceal illicit activities; government agencies, which we’ve already found out; and formed in various criminal groups around the world, the mob being the most well known front. Piper and Mr. Stewart were silent while they took all the information in.

“You seem to know a lot about Hydra,” the other guy in room finally spoke, almost in an accusing sort of way. He was an older man, a few inches shorter than me, not really fat, but not really thin. He had a look about him that reeked of arrogance. I didn’t trust him. 

“I lost my arm because of Hydra. And I was tortured by Hydra.” Piper, her Dad and Graham were silent, absorbing the bombshell I just dropped. “So yeah, you can say I know a lot about them."

“I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are,” Graham asked, his shrill arrogance piercing through the thick silence. 

“This is Sergeant Barnes, Piper’s bodyguard,” Mr. Stewart introduced me with a wave of his hand. 

Ex-bodyguard,” Piper quickly corrected.

“Not anymore. Not until this is figured out.”

“What?” both Piper and I spoke in unison. 

“Dad, you can’t be serious,” she snapped.

Mr. Stewart didn’t relent. “If what Sergeant Barnes is saying is true, we need the protection. There’s no better person for the job.” 

“I won’t let you down, Sir.” I responded, cutting Piper off from another outburst.

Mr. Stewart held my stare before going back to his paperwork; it was an unspoken agreement of some sort. Keep my daughter from harm, but stay the hell away from her.

“Do I get a say in this?” Piper shouted. “Is anyone listening to me?”

“Wanda will still call all the shots,” I offered, trying to reach some agreement. “I’m just here for backup. And to get more intel on Hydra.”

Mr. Stewart, who looked up during my offer, nodded. “That sounds good. Piper?”

“Like it fucking matters,” she mumbled, shooting me a murderous glare before going back to her own papers.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4 • Piper | July 2, 10:15 a.m.

It wasn’t even a full week since Bucky was re-hired and he was already the dutiful bodyguard. He was always there: in the same room, whispering into his earpiece, or walking a few paces behind, always watching. He was true to his word, however, letting Wanda take the lead. But it didn’t matter. All I could focus on was Bucky. 

I would catch him talking to Wanda, a low voice between the two. It reminded me of our time in the safe house, just the two of us, whispering under the sheets. Every once in a while, I would catch him pushing his hair back, making me wish I was running my fingers through his hair. And don’t get my started on his cologne.

But mostly, it was just his presence. Being near him still gave me those damn butterflies. And god damn it, as much as I hate to admit it, I do feel a safer with him here.

I also couldn’t stop thinking about the bombshell Bucky dropped on us: how Hydra had tortured him. He’d shared with me a bit about his military background, but never that. Then again, why would he? What sane person would want to remember that? I can’t believe what all he’s been through.

I shifted in my seat in my own little desk, just a few feet away from my dad. My dad had it brought in from storage the day after I accepted the job. Graham loved to tease me about it. Dickwad. Any ways, back to work. I can’t spend my time and energy focusing on Bucky. I have more important things to do — like finish researching for Dad’s first debate tomorrow night.

The first debate would take place right here in D.C. tomorrow night. All of us were on edge with nerves. Well, all of us but Graham. Dad was especially nervous, since he is running against one of his oldest friends: Senator Warren Hanks. “Hanks,” as I’ve always known him, and my dad served as senators together and, more recently, Hanks as ambassador to England, so my Dad and he continued to work closely together. Publicly, both stated they remain committed to supporting each other no matter what. But there’s most definitely an unspoken feeling that their friendship will be changed. How could it not?

I was in the middle of finding comments and reactions to a couple of Hanks’ proposal points when Graham barged in — okay, the door was open, but whatever — listing off demands.

“Isn’t there another intern you can bug?” I said in place of a greeting.

“I need you to run new poll numbers now, tomorrow morning and the second after the debate,” he rambled. “You also need to take your Vice-President Stewart’s introduction speech to the news studio so they can get it in the prompter ahead of time.”

“Graham, I’ve already told you that shouldn’t be done until a couple hours before. We don’t want it leaked,” I reminded him. Seriously, this guy. 

His pointed face contorted, making him look even more pinched. “I believe you’re supposed to do as I say.”

“And I always do, but this time, I’m working on something for my dad,” I shot, turning back to my laptop. Thankfully it shut Graham up and got him out of the room, but not without huffing a dramatic breath. Diva.

I had enough self control to keep from calling Graham a name, but Bucky knew me well enough, so he did it for me. “What an asshat.”

“Be nice, it’s all he has going for him,” I mumbled. Bucky chuckled, which made a small smile appear on my face. I quickly got rid of it. No, Piper. You’re mad at him. Remember?!

We were silent for a few minutes before Bucky spoke up. “So, what are you working on?”

I closed my eyes and huffed out a breath, still unable to look at him. “Are we really doing this?”

“Doing what?”

“Making small talk? Like we’re old friends?”

“Jesus, Piper,” he snapped. “All I’m trying to do it talk to you.”

I whirled on him. Was this really coming out of his mouth? “Now you want to talk? Not months ago? After you ran away?”

“If you let me explain —”

“No! I don’t care what excuse you have.” My voice had increased in volume, but Bucky stayed stoic, unchanging. His steely gaze just stayed on me, weathering through the storm that was my anger. It infuriated me.

“I’m sorry,” he finally broke the silence that settled upon us, his tone firm. It’s like he was stating a fact, not apologizing. He got up from the loveseat in the corner and walked towards me, stopping a couple feet from me. I remained in my chair. “It was an awful thing I did and I’m sorry. I should have talked to you. But what’s done is done.”

“‘What’s done is done?’ So that’s it? I’m just supposed to be cool with it?”

Bucky shrugged. “All I can do is tell you my reasons. And hope you forgive me one day.”

I could have laughed. “That’s the thing, you haven’t really explained your reasons.” I got up from my chair, keeping my eyes cast upwards to the ceiling, because I was afraid to look at him while I brought up our last conversation. “Y-you called yourself a monster. You said you were scared about never coming back.” Silence. I decided to be brave and look at Bucky. “Is it because of Hydra?”

There was a flash of emotion in his eyes. Sadness? Fear? Or maybe hurt. But before I could fully determine what it was, his stoic look was back. “I’m not discussing that.”

“Bucky.” Now I was the one pleading. 

“Enough,” he snapped. Obviously it was a sensitive subject. 

I didn’t get the chance to press him, like he did to me. Wanda walked in the room, stopping short when she saw our positions, the mood of the room tense and angry. “Is everything okay here? Bucky replied with a quick “yes” and I returned to my desk. “Sergeant Barnes, it’s been asked that you assist security with a sweep of the auditorium. For tomorrow’s debate?”

“Sure thing,” he replied. He walked out the door, the corner of my eye catching him glance at me before he was fully out of sight.  

“You sure you’re okay?” Wanda asked once again. I attempted my best smile and gave a nod, returning to my work. 

The next evening, I was in the auditorium at my now alma mater — George Washington University — for the first (of many) Presidential debates. Dad was running through some last minute facts and figures with Graham and another campaign staffer. I was more or less there for moral support.

“Well I guess it’s now or never,” a loud voice boomed over the hustle of backstage. We all turned to see where it was coming from, but already knew its owner: Senator Hanks. I smiled as my dad shook hands with Hanks. They both had a tough, brave front on. 

“Piper, honey, good to see you,” he enveloped me in a hug, squeezing my shoulders a little too tight. He pulled out of the hug, but kept his hands on my arms. “I’ve been so worried about you. Everything that’s happened.”

“Thanks, Hanks. It’s been…something.”

“If you ever need anything —”

“It’s fine, really. I’m in good hands.” I glanced over at Bucky who was watching the whole interaction from the back of the room. Like the creeper he is. I watched as Hanks touched my hands with his — noting his massive diamond ring he wears, toting his time as an NCCA football champion for Auburn — before walking over to the stage. 

“Shall we do this, my friend?” Hanks asked. 

The two waited by the side of the stage as their names were called: my dad first, then Hanks. Both received a rousing round of applause and then the questions began. I nervously crossed my hands over my chest, rocking back and forth on my feet. It took me a few minutes to even realize that I was flanked by Wanda and Bucky. We remained standing there in a somewhat comfortable silence until Dickwad Graham came over to us.

“He’s not hitting the points we talked about. Are you sure you gave him the points?” he snapped.

“Yes, Graham.” I snapped back. “It’s the first debate, give him time.”

“If we don’t win this debate, we may as well lose the entire race.”

“Lighten up, man.” Bucky piped in.

Graham scoffed, rolling his eyes at Bucky. “If you’re going to be joining us on more of these types of events, perhaps you want to look the part.” 

Graham walked away — not before he heard me yelling a big ‘Fuck you!’ — leaving us three in the shadows, once again. I tried to focus on the debate, but snuck a peek over at Bucky, who was looking down at his appearance. He was wearing the black pants he often wore when protecting me months ago, a black shirt and his black leather jacket. His hair — a bit neater than what it was days ago — was tucked behind his ears. He looked fine, like he was trying to blend in.

“Don’t listen to him,” I offered. I couldn’t suppress the need to comfort Bucky and I don’t know why. Probably because Graham always feels the need to put someone down to make him look better, and I’m getting fucking sick of it. “Graham’s an asshole. And he likes to hurt others.”

I walked away before I could hear his response. 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5 • Piper | July 4, 7:32 p.m.

Normally, July 4 is spent with a bunch of friends in my apartment, catching up and sharing gossip, followed by drinking and firework viewing on the patio. There’s no better view of them anywhere in the city. This year, however, plans had to be changed. 

After the debate, we — read, Graham — felt it may “behoove” us to hold a small (large) rally to bolster support for my dad. (Seriously, who the fuck says behoove?) It’s not that Dad was awful in the debate. He was great! But, he wasn’t stellar. But neither was Hanks. Truthfully, both candidates lacked “firm stances” and “proactive measures to see us through in the coming years,” according to the Washington Post. Fucktards. 

While Dad was pretty pleased with the first debate, he still saw value in Graham’s idea. We spread the word on social media and were rewarded with three hundred or so rally attendees at Meridian Hill Park. Bucky and Wanda, who were already on edge given the recent threatening information, called in extra security, just to be safe. We were joined by Natasha and another agent named Clint, who preferred to have a birds eye view. 

Dinah also joined us for the rally, largely because we’ve always spent the Fourth together for as long as I can remember. She was decked out in red, white and blue — face paint, beads, temporary hair dye — while I was more reserved, white pants and a blue tank top with red stars. Dad was festive with a blue blazer and a slightly larger American flag lapel pin. Crazy man. 

“Thanks again for coming with me,” I nudged Dinah with my shoulder, receiving a smile in return. “It means a lot that you’re here.”

“Your Dad is the perfect guy for the job,” she answered. “We all know it. Soon everyone will, too.” She bumped me back. “But we’re still drinking after this, right?”

I chuckled. “Yes, Dinah.”

We both stopped talking as Graham made his way to the podium. I hated to admit it, but I was slightly pissed that Graham was the one to introduce my dad. Ever since he was governor, I would be the one to announce him. It was cute and the media ate it up. But truthfully, I’m his biggest cheerleader; so it’s fitting that I be the one to announce him.

I shook my head of the thought. This was Graham’s show. Besides, he knew all the right words to say. I’m better off to sit back with Dinah, taking it all in.

The crowd was spectacular. They were so receptive and engaged, boisterously clapping throughout Dad’s speech, cheering him on when he delivered his points. I made a point to scan the crowd, taking in the diverse makeup — children, teenagers, middle aged and elderly, women and men of all colors and backgrounds. It was great to see such a turnout, especially on a big holiday for the nation’s capitol. I was still scanning the crowd when my eyes stopped on Bucky. 

He was across the way, under a tree. Even though he was wearing sunglasses, I knew his eyes were busy surveying the crowd. He was once again dressed in all black, making me sweat a bit more. As the afternoon progressed, it was starting to warm up. I can’t imagine he was comfortable. But he did look rather good…I quickly looked away before I was caught, instead focusing on the last part of my dad’s speech.

Dad concluded to the rousing sound of applause. People were whistling and cheering; the ones closest to the podium reaching out to shake my dad’s hands. I was interrupted from watching Dad take a selfie with a young boy with a firm hand on my shoulder. I jumped, but quickly recovered. 

“Sorry I didn’t mean to frighten you!” the older woman said. Truly, she didn’t. Just given everything that’s happened to me, I’m a bit jumpier than normal. “I just wanted to say how much I have loved watching you grow up.” 

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you,” I replied in what I hoped was my most sincerest voice.

The woman went on, talking about my past like she was there for every minute of it. Which given how public my life has been, she probably was. Another lady soon joined her, asking me questions about my kidnapping and what I thought of Jasper’s first arraignment. Before I knew it, the small crowd had grown to nearly a dozen people, all prying. It felt like a hundred. 

That’s when the panic attack started. 

It’s like I was backed up against a wall, metaphorically speaking. I was hot and voiceless. I just wanted to scream, but nothing was coming out. My knees were about to buckle when I felt a strong hand on my right hip and another hand on my left shoulder.

Bucky. 

He pressed his body against mine, knowing that I was probably going to pass out any minute. I leaned in to him, already feeling relief knowing I had someone to lean on, both figuratively and literally.

“I’m so sorry, but Miss Stewart needs to leave now,” he informed the crowd. His tone was clipped, basically dismissing the crowd. There was a audible moaning amongst the people, but it was drowned out by the buzzing in my head.

Bucky’s metal hand shifted, resting on my other hip, turning me from the crowd and guiding me to where our waiting SUV was. “Are you okay?” He had to repeat it a few times before I fully realized what he said.

“I thought I was going to pass out,” I answered. “It’s like a panic attack or something.”

“You been having a lot of those?” Bucky asked, his eyes flashing a look of worry. His hand was now pressed against my back, guiding me up the hill to the vehicle.

Before I could respond, Dinah was in front of me. “Where’d you go? I look over and you were gone.”

“Um, nowhere, I was just talking to some potential voters. That’s all.” 

I don’t know why I lied to my friend. She would have understood. Or maybe it’s because I was a little embarrassed, for whatever reason. 

“We’re heading to The Orange for drinks,” Dinah declared, hopping in the back of the SUV. The Orange was one of our favorite places; we always sat on the upstairs deck. It was loud, exciting and exactly what I didn’t want at this present moment.

“Sounds good,” I said, sliding into the seat next to her. Once I was in and the door was shut, I realized Bucky had been holding my hand, the sudden loss of warmth and comfort prevalent. I don’t know when he slipped his hand into mine — right after my panic attack or as we were walking up the hill. The only thing I did notice was the craving I had to hold it once again.

The Orange is on the outskirts of D.C. proper, which was fine with me. The parade route finished near the bar, so the streets were still blocked off, but there were still a lot of people in the vicinity. Jason and a couple of other friends were already upstairs at a table when we arrived, already on their second drinks. Dinah and I joined them while Wanda and Bucky stood to the back of the restaurant scoping it out. 

“So I see you couldn’t shake your flunkies,” Meredith (whose more Dinah’s friend than mine if we’re being totally honest) said.

Normally I would have joined in on the ribbing, but not now. Not after everything I’ve been through…not after everything Bucky had done for me.

“They’re here for my protection,” I shot back. “They’re not sitting with us.” Meredith sensed my tone and dropped the subject.

We talked a little about the Rally before Dinah changed the conversation to her boyfriend. Damon was the current flavor of the month. He was a DJ (ugh) by night and a promoter during the day (double ugh). I tried my best to be interested, but I just couldn’t. Every so often I would glance over at Bucky. Sometimes our eyes would catch each other, other times he was busy scanning the crowd. He seemed on edge, and I don’t know if it was from my emotions earlier.

“Pipe, want to help me bring back drinks from the bar? Our waitress seems to be stretched a little thin,” Jason asked. I quickly agreed and followed him to the small bar across the way. There were only two waitresses working the roof, which was now at maximum capacity, so they were running around like crazy. 

We put in our drink order, with Jason raising an eyebrow at my choice of a peach ice tea. “I don’t feel like drinking right now,” I told him. 

“Want to talk about it?”

I may not have known Jason as long as I have Dinah, but we’ve always had an instant connection. I truly can tell him anything without judgement or concern. “I had a panic attack earlier, after the rally. I guess I’m just a little on edge.”

He nodded, understanding. “Does Bucky reappearing have anything to do with that, too?”

I shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.” I glanced over at him, my blood pressure spiking when I saw some skinny red head talking to him, twirling her hair around her stupid finger. He had a smile on his face, but I knew he was just being polite. At least, I hoped he was. “He helped me through it.”

Jason followed my stare. “Are you —”

“No.” I finished for him. “I still can’t forgive him.”

“Do you honestly think he did it to hurt you? He really seems to care about you, even after everything that happened. I mean, why else would he come back?”

Jason had a point. Bucky would never be the type to keep popping up, making me relive my grief over and over. 

“From an outsiders perspective,” Jason paused, biting his lip from finishing the sentence. 

“What?”

“You’re not going to want to hear this.”

“Jase, tell me!”

Jason huffed out a breath. “I think you just need to bang him.”

“Jason!”

“There’s a reason hate fucking is a thing,” he told me, as-a-matter-of-factly. “You get all that frustration out — get some dopamine — and get on with your life.”

Our drinks were handed to us, stopping the conversation then and there. Thank GOD. We took them back to the table, where Dinah was still talking. Instead, I thought about Jase’s suggestion. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. So why was I still entertaining the notion?

Soon the conversation shifted to Jason’s upcoming tour. I listened intently, not being able to contain my pride. He would leave for a drag tour around the East Coast in a week, but would be done a week before the election.

“I still feel awful I couldn’t make you more clothes,” I lamely said.

He waved his finger at me. “Honey, you’re crazy busy running a campaign! And you altering what I have helped me out tons!”

The conversation drifted in and out, but remained light and fun, that is, until Dinah started knocking back shots. Then the party quickly fizzled. 

“I’m not ready to go home,” she complained as I lifted her from the table. 

“We’re going to my place,” I snapped. Truly, I just wanted to go home and go to bed, even though it was only 7:30. I struggled getting her up and moving, but had better success once Bucky was on her other side. A few people were now staring, so we hurried out of there.

Flanked by Jason and Wanda, we all left The Orange and cut through the side alley. Dinah decided she was fine to walk, unwrapping her arm from my neck, and practically pushing Bucky to the ground. I was about to comment when I flinched, a loud popping sound coming from behind us. Fucking fireworks. 

I turned to see what asshole was popping them off in the street when my face froze in horror. There was a large red stain forming across Wanda’s white shirt. From there, everything happened in slow motion. Wanda pushed Jason to the side before she collapsed, while Bucky also rushed Dinah to the side — causing her to hit against the brick wall, followed by the ground — before covering my body with his and pressing us against a nearby dumpster.

The popping continued, more muffled than before. I felt Bucky’s hot breath against my ear. He was barking out orders, but I was completely unaware if he was even speaking to me. All I could do was watch the blood spill from Wanda as the gunshots continued to ring in the air.