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For Anyone But Myself

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“Steve?”

“Hm?”

“What’re you doing?”

Steve looked up from his sketchbook for the first time in about an hour, twirling his pencil between his fingers. “Sketching.”

“Mhmm,” Bucky hummed. “And what are you sketching?”

Steve looked up sheepishly, the ghost of a smile on his lips. “What does it matter?”

“When people draw me, I like them to capture my good side.”

Steve snorted as he returned to his page. “ People? I’d like to know just who else is drawing my boyfriend, Barnes.”

“Stark is great with a pencil, I’d have you know.”

Steve laughed as he continued to sketch, a blissful expression on his face. “Every side’s your good side, Buck.”

“You should know, Rogers.” Steve’s face turned beet red, and Bucky practically howled. “Oh, don’t act so innocent now. Just last night-”

Bucky .”

“Fine,” Bucky laughed, pushing himself up from the couch to head into the kitchen. “Coffee?”

“Please.”

Five minutes, a few minor burns, and one and a half hummed songs from the ‘30s later, Bucky stepped back into the living room of their dinky apartment, two steaming cups of coffee in hand (one black, one with milk, no sugar). Steve was still adding to the page in his sketchbook.

Steve smiled up at Bucky as he approached. Bucky handed him the cup and Steve thanked him, holding it in both hands and setting his sketchbook face down on his lap.

Bucky didn’t care much for Steve’s sketches. Well, that was inaccurate. He loved to see them, and he loved to see Steve happy - he just didn’t need constant updates. He wasn’t curious about Steve’s most recent projects, and he wasn’t even bothered by the fact that it was him Steve was sketching. He knew there were way more sketches in there, him being the solo subject, so he wouldn’t ask to see the current drawing - but Steve offered it.

“Want to take a look?”

Bucky shrugged, taking a sip of his coffee. “If you’ll let me.”

“I don’t hide anything from you, Buck. You know that.” Steve handed over the sketchbook and Bucky took it carefully, taking his time to flip through the pages, some of which he’d already seen. He looked again, anyway.

Buildings, lots of them. Low angles looking up, from the rooftop looking down, skylines. New York, Brooklyn. People, too, of all kinds, in coffee shops, libraries, walking down the street. Bucky. Smiling, concentrating, cooking, sleeping. The image was always close up, shading impeccable, proportions perfect. He somehow managed to make Bucky look real, but also… happier, with less stress lines and scars, in each image.

And then, Bucky reached the most recent one, and his smile fell.

It was him, in a black tank and blue jeans with his hair tied back in a bun. The drawing was from behind, and Bucky was walking, his head turned and tilted upward to show a silhouette of his face, and that was all well and good. Nothing he’d ever seen before - except for his left arm. Or, the absence of it.

Steve had rarely drawn anything below the neckline. If he did, it was in shadow, on an angle, whatever. He had never drawn the light glinting off the metal, the chinks in the material, the fingers assuming their natural position, bent slightly, always ready for action.

Always ready to grip a gun and press down on a trigger. Pull a pin out of a grenade and toss it to a nearby building. Wrap around a neck, tightening fingers one by one, metal squeaking, and squeeze-

Bucky’s breath caught in his throat and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force the images from his mind.

“Buck?” Steve asked carefully. Bucky heard the sound of him setting a cup down on the dusty hardwood and when he spoke again he was closer, resting a gentle hand on the side of Bucky’s face. “You alright? What’s going on?”

Bucky turned his head to Steve (away from the drawing) so Steve’s creased brow and worried expression was the only thing he saw when he opened his eyes.

“Why did you have to draw that?” His voice was low and raspy. Angry. Steve leaned back slightly, and though Bucky knew it wasn’t conscious, he forced himself to calm down and keep his emotions in check. Don’t let the monster out you’ve worked so hard to lock away.

“I- I’m sorry. I thought you were fine with me drawing you. It’s easiest to draw from experience, you know, but if you don’t like it-”

“The arm ,” Bucky said quietly. “Why did you draw it?”

Realization crossed Steve’s features and his shoulders slumped as he sighed lightly. “I love every part of you, Bucky. Every part.”

Bucky shook his head. “Not this. I don’t want you to love this. I don’t like this.”

“You should .” Bucky tried to turn his head away, but Steve rested a hand on his cheek and forced it back, leaning closer. “You should, because I do. There’s nothing wrong with it, no reason for you to hate it, I promise you.”

“It’s a weapon.”

“They made it a weapon. It’s not your fault they forced you to hold it.”

Bucky set his jaw and turned his head to look forward, passing the sketchbook back to Steve with one hand. Steve just sighed and accepted it slowly, pushing himself to his feet.

“It’s not your fault, Buck,” he said quietly. “Nothing you did is your fault, not a single one. Everyone around you knows it. One day, I hope you will, to.”

Bucky didn’t respond. His jaw was clenched too tightly to say a word. Steve turned and walked to the kitchen, leaving Bucky alone.

Bucky couldn’t believe Steve. He refused to. Of course, everything he did, everything he had done, was his fault. Steve didn’t think so, for some odd reason. No one seemed to think so, but that was dangerous. Because any minute Bucky could snap, and they wouldn’t see it coming.

He wouldn’t, either.

Bucky wouldn’t relax. He was his own worst enemy, one and the same. If he ever got too comfortable, if he ever felt too safe, well, he always had a constant reminder of what he was capable of, fixed to him forever.

Chapter Text

Bucky forgot his gloves.

He didn’t know how he could’ve been so stupid . He even knew where they were - sitting on the armrest of the couch in the living room. He had just forgotten to grab them on the way out, and now he was standing outside his apartment building, the door closing and self-locking behind him, and he was supposed to be getting groceries.

Great.

He really wasn’t in the mood to walk all the way back up the stairs to grab them and come all the way back down, so he’d just have to manage.

A quick trip to the grocery store. Just grab the essentials - with his metal hand on full display. His metal dominant hand on full display.

He could just use his right hand, right? Just for today. Goodness knows Hydra had trained him to be ambidextrous. You couldn’t have an effective soldier that was only half good. He’d just have to monitor it closely.

Left hand buried deep in his jacket pocket. Right one pulled open the grocery store door, picked up a basket. He had to put the basket down whenever he reached for something, but that was alright. He could handle that.

He didn’t tie the self-serve bags of fruit closed. How could he, with only one hand? But that was alright - he would just balance them in his basket so they didn’t tip.

But then, they tipped.

A plastic bag dropped out of the full basket and plums scattered onto the ground, at least ten of them, all rolling in different directions. Bucky cursed as he bent down and began to pick them up. Obviously they were all going in the garbage, but he wouldn’t leave the mess for some poor sap who probably gets paid too little to have to do it.

He didn’t realize his mistake until a woman knelt opposite to help, and Bucky heard a sharp intake of breath.

He looked up suddenly and followed the woman’s wide eyes… to his metal arm, reaching for a plum that had landed equal distance between them. He must’ve pulled it from his pocket to work more efficiently without thinking.

He retracted it quickly.

“Oh, honey,” the woman said as Bucky’s face flushed red and he continued to scoop up plums with his right hand. “I’m so sor….”

Her voice trailed off and she leaned back suddenly. Bucky looked up curiously… and her eyes were fixed on his face.

She looked terrified .

“You’re… you’re him ,” she stuttered, and Bucky slowly leaned back. Give her space, plums be damned. “On the news. You….”

Shit . Why’d today have to be his errand day? Why’d he drop the plums? Why was she here, too?

Why the hell did he forget his gloves?

“I don’t want any trouble, Miss-”

"Stay away from me," she said loudly, voice shaking. Bucky felt the eyes of other shoppers on his back, but he kept his attention her as she slowly backed away. He remained on the floor, distraught, watching her disappear around the corner.

Whispers erupted from behind him. Most people, terrified people, backed away. Curious kids, brave adults, stepped forward.

Bucky kept his eyes down and continued to pick up the plums, moving faster now. He ignored a parent in front of him grab their child and pull the kid away. He ignored the sets of shoes that were standing at the end of the aisle, watching him. He finished gathering the plums and dropped them in the nearest garbage can, then stood and looked around him.

There was a group of shoppers watching him, giving him a wide berth. Some were looking at him cautiously, others curiously, others threateningly . Like they were protecting the woman who had left.

No one seemed to care that Hydra was out of his head, despite the fact that the information was publicised months ago.

Bucky wondered if he could continue his shopping. He wondered if these people would let him - but before he had the chance to try a young girl broke through the group, maybe twelve years old, running directly to him. Bucky watched her, brows furrowed, as she stopped right in front of him and looked up at him with large, brown eyes, her yellow dress swaying around her ankles.

" Sam! " her father tried to call her back, but he seemed too frightened to leave the safety of the group. Not even for your own child? Coward , Bucky thought as he slowly lowered himself to a crouch to face the girl. The entire crowd seemed to be holding their breath, waiting to jump to the little girl's aid. Though Bucky knew nothing would happen to this girl, he couldn't help but hold his breath, too.

"Hello," he said slowly, quietly. The girl smiled back.

"James Buchanan Barnes?" Bucky swallowed thickly as he nodded. "I did a report on you for school. You're a war hero."

Oh.

Bucky's eyes widened marginally as he sat frozen, watching the bashful girl.

"I, um… I was really upset when I learned about what happened to you," Bucky tensed, "but I just… I think you're very brave, and I'm happy to hear you're getting better."

It took all the strength Bucky could muster to blink back tears, smile at the girl. She wasn't against him?  She didn’t realize he was a monster? She wasn't scared to be with him alone?

She should’ve been.

"Thank you," Bucky managed to whisper shakily, and the girl smiled and nodded once.

"I'm glad you're here with us," she said quietly before she turned (her back to him, Bucky realized, startled) and returned to her father. Bucky watched him drag her away, his eyes kept on her the entire way, her looking back at him with a soft smile.

Slowly, the group dispersed. People were giving him cautious glances, but they were few and far between. Bucky rose to his feet shakily and picked up the basket, his left arm in plain sight as he walked - but he didn't much mind it.

That girl had given him the strength to keep going… even if he didn't believe a word she said.

Chapter Text

Bucky was running.

He didn’t know why, or where he was. He just knew he was running to something, and he had to get there, or something awful would happen to him. Some form of punishment, but he wouldn't let it happen, not this time. He wouldn't fail.

It was dark out. He was running beneath a sky full of stars with apartment buildings lining the street on either side, but they were looming over him. They looked haunting, jeering down on him.

Bucky kept running.

He was in some kind of suburb, but it was silent. There was no one in sight, and all lights were out. It was pitch black, but Bucky moved through the street effortlessly, boots hitting the pavement without a sound.

But something was… off. His left arm felt heavier, the metal making itself known - but there are also the added weight… of a grenade in his hand.

Bucky wanted to stop himself from walking, but as much as he tried, he kept moving forward. He knew what was about to happen had to be done. He ducked behind a building and hid in the shadows, located his target, a window near the top, pulled out the pin… and tossed the grenade.

The grenade smashed through the window; impeccable aim, no margin for error. A testament to the true purpose of his arm.

One second.

Two second.

Three-

Explosion .

Screams.

Man, woman, child. A family, he knew. Father, mother, son. The scariest part was-

He didn’t care.

Flames spread outward from the window. Smoke billowed from the building. Cries echoed into the night air. Bucky didn’t care.

He turned his back to the building and walked away, escaping into the night, sirens echoing from the street behind him. He didn’t turn to look back.

The Soldier had succeeded. He would not be punished.

Bucky startled awake in a cold sweat, chest heaving, mind racing. His eyes were large and wild as his hands scrambled for stability on the mattress, scanning the room around him for danger, threats, anything he should be wary of or fearing.

In reality, he understood the only monster was him.

“Mm… Buck?” Steve groaned from beside him, slowly pushing himself upright to mirror Bucky. “You alright?”

No, I’m not alright , Bucky wanted to say. He knew it was him who had killed all those victims. He knew he still had the potential to do it again. This stupid arm, this weapon, it maimed, tortured, killed… and it was stuck to him. It was apart of him.

He hated it.

He hated it, and he needed to get it off. He didn’t care what it took. It was tainted with blood. He didn’t want it. He just needed it off .

Bucky ,” Steve shouted, and Bucky jolted upright, out of his thoughts. Steve had moved closer, his face directly in front of Bucky, and his hands were hovering somewhere over his left shoulder. His eyes were wide and red and… panicked .

Bucky looked down, confused… and tensed.

The skin on his shoulder was red, bleeding at parts, pieces scraped away in a ring around the base of the metal. Bucky stared down at it, frozen.

“What….” he trailed off. There were too many thoughts ricocheting in his mind for him to think of something coherent to say.

“You were scraping at it,” Steve said softly. Bucky’s nerves were too shot to react to his gentle tone of voice. “You… you were really adamant it come off.”

“Then help me,” Bucky pleaded, whispering. Steve’s eyes widened. “Help me get it off. Steve, I need to get it off -”

He raised his flesh hand to where skin met metal, but Steve moved quicker than lightning to encompass Bucky’s hand in two of his own. Bucky lifted his metal hand to push Steve away but froze, guilt heavy on his features, letting his hand fall back to the bed.

“Go back to sleep, Buck,” Steve whispered, tears brimming in the corners of his eyes.

“I’m not delusional.”

“I know you’re not, just-”

“Sleep won’t fix this,” Bucky growled, but his voice was missing the pure anger. He was too emotional. He swallowed thickly to dislodge the lump in his throat. “This is me, Steve, and I don’t want it to be me. I can’t live like this anymore!”

Seve shook his head sadly. “It’s not you.” Bucky opened his mouth to argue, but Steve squeezed his hand lightly. “It’s not . I know you’d never do… that . Whatever it is you're fearing.”

“I did .”

“You weren’t you ! They had taken control of your mind, Buck. Did you make the active choice to… to kill all those people?”

Bucky looked horrified. “Of course not, but-”

“You weren’t you,” Steve said determinedly. Bucky sighed, and when he spoke again, his voice was quiet.

“You gotta admit, it would’ve been a lot harder for them to have made me do what I did, if I didn’t have the arm.”

Steve just shook his head slowly and pulled Bucky close, against his shoulder. He readjusted himself so his back was against the headboard of the bed, which creaked under his weight.

“You didn’t do any of it, Bucky,” he said quietly, and Bucky bit back an argument. Not tonight, but some other time, he’d make sure Steve knew. He had to warn him, or one day he’d snap, and it would be too late.

The sudden image in his mind of the metal arm squeezing tighter around Steve’s throat made Bucky jump, the only thing grounding him being Steve holding Bucky flush against his chest.

Bucky suppressed a shudder. He would have to warn Steve, make him understand, before it was too late.

For now, though, he’d sleep, and maybe things would be better in the morning.

(He knew they wouldn’t be. They never were.)

Chapter Text

“And just twist- no, the other way- perfect.”

Bucky’s metal arm detached with a satisfying noise somewhere between a suction and a pop and he rolled his shoulders back. He felt unbalanced, his weight oddly distributed - but as opposed to the way it had been feeling, now it was the opposite.

It felt good .

Good to be rid of the damn thing.

Tony cradled the metal as he walked over to his work table and dropped it to the desk atop piles of crumpled pages, searching said piles for a page full of scrawled equations he pulled out a moment later.

“Alright, so,” he started, turning back to where Bucky sat atop another desk in the corner as his eyes scanned the page. “This one should feel lighter, the weight not as awkwardly distributed. More natural. It should also be easier to operate, so there’s that. It can handle more elaborate movements, finger twitches, stuff like that-”

“Tony?” Bucky interrupted quietly. Tony looked up from his page, expression not the slightest bit guarded like it had been before, after… Siberia. Bucky fought to suppress a shudder - but there was no reason to, because Tony had been kind enough to move past it, to move past… everything Bucky had done, and now he was helping Bucky with upgrades for his arm - or, in today’s case, making a new one completely.

“Any new requests? I mean, I could probably insert a speaker, if you want. Constantly play music. I assume it wouldn’t be too difficult… actually, I could add an aux cord and-”

Tony .”

Tony smiled, blushing just a tad. “Sorry.”

“Would it be okay if I just… went without the arm? Just for today?”

Tony’s mouth fell open slightly before he collected himself. “Um….” He shook his head quickly to clear it of thoughts. “Yeah. Of course. I mean, your body, your choice, right?”

Bucky slid off the desk, smiling slightly when he had to stabilize himself with his right hand. He wasn’t used to falling to the right when he stood. He never thought he would be so happy to be unbalanced.

“So you’ll be back tonight? I mean, the Guardians could probably find use for a third arm, but I’m happy with two.”

“Yeah.” Bucky smiled as he stopped just inside the doorway. “Tonight.”

 

Bucky smiled more that day than he had in his entire life.

So what if he had to alter his walk to keep from falling when he turned around corners? So what if he reached for something with his left hand, then had to reassess when nothing happened? There was no longer a large piece of metal permanently fixed to him. He was fully human, or so went the illusion. It was easier to pretend. Nothing else mattered.

And what do you do when you’re having a good mental health day?

You run errands.

People held the door open for him all day. A kind elderly man helped him pick up groceries at the store. A young girl asked him what happened (to the horror of her mother, but Bucky assured her it was fine). He lost it in the war, he had said. It wasn’t technically a lie. (And luckily, she hadn’t asked which war.)

Tears sprung to the mother’s eyes, and she told him her father-in-law had served, and as a result her wife had been inspired to join, who was currently serving in Afghanistan. The woman confided in him, told him she was worried for her wife’s safety. Bucky comforted her, and she… hugged him. There was no metal arm to be deterred by. He held her in her moment of sorrow, until she collected herself and apologized. He assured her it was fine; he gave the little girl a high five, and they continued their shopping.

Bucky watched them go, unable to move his eyes until they disappeared around a corner. Without his arm, with his empty sleeve, people gave him funny looks, sure. They were pitiful, and he hated pity, but it was better than the disgust people openly displayed when he looked like… when he was - a cyborg.

He actually managed to get a dollar off his coffee at the shop, so he bought a second one for Steve - and, he needed a tray. He couldn't carry both cups at once. He beamed at the cashier when he handed it to him, and the man couldn’t help but smile back. (It wasn’t often he had seen customers that happy.)

Bucky kicked open their apartment door and headed straight for the kitchen table, where Steve was filling out some kind of paperwork. He looked up in surprise as Bucky approached him.

Bucky offered Steve the tray who pulled out a cup for himself as Bucky settled opposite him; though his confused eyes never once left Bucky’s blissful expression.

“Buck?”

“Hm?” Bucky answered as he took a sip of his peppermint mocha. Trying something new - why not? He hated it, of course, but it was still good, he couldn’t help but notice. Actually, somehow, at the moment it seemed like the best thing he had ever tasted.

“Are- are you okay?”

Bucky smiled at Steve then, a full, toothy grin, and Steve leaned back slightly. “Never better. Why?”

“Oh. Uh….” Steve shrugged, clearly shaken. “You kept your eye on your coffee when it was being made, right? No one slipped anything in it?”

“What’re you implying, Stevie?”

“Bucky, you haven’t called me that in years.”

“I want to bring it back.”

Steve still hadn’t touched his coffee.

“You’re not… drugged , right? The serum should’ve made that impossible, but I guess-”

Bucky tilted his head back and laughed, long and loud and carefree, and Steve jumped.

“I’m happy , Steve. It’s a good day.”

 

The evening came all too quickly.

Bucky bussed back to Tony’s place. He got pity stares from everyone he passed, but he was also offered a seat as opposed to standing and gripping the handholds on the ceiling. He turned it down, but it was nice of the man to offer.

Too soon, he arrived at Tony’s place. Too soon, he was seated back on that desk. Too soon was the arm reattached, Bucky’s weight shifted in the opposite direction.

Too soon was he once again the cyborg, his worst enemy (but what others might call his favourite acquaintance) fixed to his side - and now, with Tony's upgrades, it felt more natural. It was truly a part of him, one and the same.

Too soon was he once again the monster.

That night was one of the worst he’d had in weeks. He was in a depression and nothing could pull him out. He had a dream he was drowning, his left arm too heavy for him to swim back up and break the surface.

The next day, he saw a sign advertising peppermint mocha.

He almost gagged.

Chapter Text

On December 16, Bucky visited a cemetery.

He brought flowers, petunias and bluebells and the prettiest he could find (because he didn’t know what they liked) and visited the cemetery he knew all too well, the one he visited too often, sitting atop a large hill overlooking the bustling city of New York. Up here, though, it was calm and quiet, the air too clear and sky too blue for such a gloomy day. A thin layer of snow covered the ground, and it crunched under the weight of Bucky’s boots.

Bucky stuffed his left hand, the metal one, in his pocket as he approached the graves, even though it was already covered by a glove. Two layers of concealment. It seemed like the wrong thing to expose here.

Bucky stopped in front of the pair of graves just below a willow tree. They were in their own secluded area of the cemetery, marble tombstones with perfectly engraved and maintained letters - and there were already flowers, lots of them. Of course, Bucky expected no less attention and global awareness for the Starks - he was just glad it was quiet now.

He set his small bouquet down - on Maria’s side, only because her heap of flora was so much smaller than her husband’s. Howard’s tombstone was barely visible between all the flowers and cards of well wishers.

He felt ashamed as he looked down at what he had brought. Did he even deserve to bring it? Did he deserve to be here? It was guilt that had plagued his mind annually, ever since he had returned from Siberia. The look on Tony’s face…. He had felt guilt before that, but after he felt haunted. How he was even allowed in Tony’s presence, how the man somehow managed to have forgiven him and become his ally - his friend , he had no idea.

Bucky placed his flowers on the ground and lowered himself to his knees in front of the grave. He took a moment to just breathe , looking first to the tombstones, their pearly white seeming to taunt him as he bowed his head.

“Hello,” he said quietly, a little awkwardly. He never knew how to start these conversations, but he always knew how they ended.

“It’s been 27 years,” he started, twiddling his fingers. “And I don’t know if it’s… if it’s okay for me to be here, really, but-” He stopped, took a deep breath. “I wanted to… apologize. To say sorry. And I know that doesn’t mean much… doesn’t mean anything , really, because I took so much- I took everything from you, and from Tony, and I don’t… I don’t know how I expect you to forgive me, really. I don’t know if you ever will… but he did. Tony, I mean. You… you raised a great man.”

Bucky sighed as he looked around at the blue sky above, the city below. “He’s… intelligent, and brave, but also kind. I wish you could’ve seen him grow up. I’m sorry you can’t, but, I mean, apologies. They were never good for much. I just… just don't know what to do instead.

"It wasn't me, if that's any consolation. I mean, it was me, and it… probably doesn't help…." Bucky's voice trailed off and he groaned, somewhere deep in his throat.

"I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say. If I could go back, somehow give my life for yours, I'd do so in a heartbeat." He stood and brushed off his jeans. "I… I guess that's it." He turned away, stopped, turn back. "I'm sorry."

And then he was gone, head down and hands buried in his pockets, leaving the cemetery just as a group of what appeared to be students entered to honour the fallen couple.

 

On August 10, Bucky visited a grave.

It wasn't a cemetery. He couldn't even call it that. It was a small plot with a few pretty stones rising from the ground; not official tombstones, but the biggest landmarkers anyone in the neighborhood could find, or afford. It was nestled between houses, a small square of grass, with a broken fence lining it.

It wasn’t what his Ma deserved, but it was the best he could do at the time.

“Hey, Ma,” he greeted quietly as he stopped in front of a larger, red stone, jagged edges surrounding one smoothed-down face which read:

Winnifred Barnes

we love you ma ♡

It was a hasty job done by him and his sister Rebecca when they were young, chipped roughly into the rock. Bucky smiled when he saw it (and vaguely, he wondered where his sister was now. He shooed the thought away before it could take root - he couldn’t deal with another death today).

He gently laid the flowers he had brought in front of the “tombstone”, four purple lilies. He felt a twinge of guilt as he straightened, taking in the unkempt grass around the stone and the other graves that were left without flowers. He hadn’t seen this place in years . Since he left for the war, really, and he was always worried to come back.

He didn’t know why today, on his mother’s birthday a hundred years later, but he felt it was finally time.

“It’s James,” he said quietly, hands in his pockets as he stood above the rock. He didn’t want to lower himself to the ground just yet; he felt… maybe he didn’t deserve to. It had been so long since he visited her. He didn’t know if she would accept him.

“I’m sorry it’s been a while. See, I didn’t think I was… ready.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know if I really believe in this whole idea. Talking to a rock - kind of crazy, y’know? I mean, how do I know you’re even listening? I just… have to have faith, I guess.”

He dropped clumsily to his knees now, more exhausted than anything. Even if he was just talking to a rock, he could imagine it was his mother - and his mother always accepted him. It would make this whole thing easier.

“How’s Becca? Is she… up there with you? You’ll take care of her, right? And if she’s not….” Bucky sighed, closing his eyes and dropping his head. “I miss her. I miss you both , really, so I guess it’s kind of backwards that I didn’t come earlier, it’s just… I’ve changed , Ma.

“I went to war, see, that stupid draft. Stevie - you remember Steve? Rogers? He didn’t get drafted, but he really wanted to fight… we wanted what the other had, and it screwed us both up, I guess.

“Got on the train, fought, but I- I was captured, see, and they….” He shoved a hand up against his mouth, ground his teeth together. “They made me kill , Ma. They made me a weapon. A monster . I didn’t remember anything , not Stevie, not Becca… not you . And when - when Steve saved me, I wanted to come back, I really did, say hi, because I remember when I was young you would always forgive me.” He stopped suddenly, let a smile break through. “Remember when I knocked that vase over? I was terrified you would be mad, so I hid behind the couch - but you just scooped me up in your arms, asked if I was hurt. Don’t bother crying about things out of your control . I-I still remember.”

Bucky shook his head, looked to the stone. “But I didn’t think I was ready. I was afraid . I was damaged goods. I- I couldn’t see you like that, and whenever I thought I finally had the courage to, something happened. I mean, I was framed, I realized I- killed my friend’s parents. The Starks. You remember them? Howard? And then… things just kept getting worse.”

Bucky brought a hand to his face and swiped quickly across his eyes. “I don’t know what to do, Ma,” he whispered. “I’m a freak. I’m dangerous . They say I’ve healed, but I don’t believe…. It’s still in me . I can feel it.” His voice was harrowed, and he was beginning to tremble slightly despite the summer heat. “I wish you were here. You always knew what to say. I just… I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I can continue. I’ve done awful things… me being here, it’s not good for anyone. Not me, not for… the world . Not for Stevie, and not for… you. Your memory. I mean, is this how you want to be remembered? Is this how you want the Barnes family name to continue on?”

He looked at the sky above, watched the clouds pass as tears slipped down his cheeks. He slowly leaned over until he was curled against the rock, his mother’s name pressed up against his cheek.

“Please, Ma, I need your help. Anything .”

Clouds continued to move, wind rustled the trees. Cars passed in the distance.

But nothing happened.

“I miss you, Ma.”

Bucky remained curled up against the stone for a long time.

Chapter Text

Bucky was tired of being shot at.

He was shot at in the war. He was shot at when he was brainwashed. He was shot at with the Avengers, but he never expected to be shot at in the middle of a busy street. It was kind of refreshing that the gunman didn’t seem to be aiming specifically at him, though.

Actually, no. That was horrifying.

He was going for a morning jog, hair tied back and wearing a zip-up hoodie (and gloves, always gloves) when a loud shot rang out, and the screams started.

People were running toward him, faces pale and eyes wide with panic - but there were too many, and by the sound of it the gunman was too close for them all to get away safely. Bucky needed a distraction.

Another shot. More screams.

Bucky fought against the tide of people in the busy marketplace as stands were overturned, fruit and other goods covering the ground - but the group was thinning. Bucky was almost at the front of it.

And the gunman came into sight.

She was tall, dressed in all black with a scarf covering half her face, hair cut short as she pivoted, looking for a target - but not a specific target, it seemed. Any target.

She was a terrorist shooter.

Bucky ran faster.

He just pushed past the wall of stragglers, the last people disappearing behind him as the woman turned her attention to him, taking barely a second to aim before she shot. Bucky’s left arm was up in an instant and he blocked the bullet, running toward the woman. She shot again and he blocked, taking a moment to plant his feet and absorb the impact; but that moment was when she played her card.

By the time Bucky’s arm was lowered and he looked up, she was running away from him, toward one of the overturned stands, and Bucky saw what she was doing a second too late, the wide, terrified eyes of a young boy just peeking up over the wood making themselves known to him.

He stepped toward the boy but there was no chance he was getting there in time. The woman lifted him by his arm and wrapped her forearm against his chest, pulling him close to her, despite his screams. Bucky tried to make eye contact with the boy, the young boy who couldn’t be older than ten, as he screamed and cried - and the woman pressed the barrel of a gun to his head.

“I don’t know what you are,” she called across the square to Bucky, “but I’m leaving, and you won’t follow me, or the boy-” she tightened her grip on the child, and his cries grew louder- “will pay for it.”

Bucky didn’t know where the child had come from. He didn’t know where his parents were, or why he didn’t run . What he did know was the boy’s large, blue eyes were watching Bucky, begging him to save him as the woman tugged him back. Even from here Bucky could see the child trembling with fear.

The woman took a step back, and Bucky took one forward, so the distance between then hadn’t changed.

“Let him go,” he said dangerously, taking one step forward for every step the woman took back.

She just laughed. “And let you kill me? No, thanks.”

“I’m not going to kill anyone, but he’s a kid .”

“We were all children once,” she said angrily, and Bucky knew he had struck a nerve.

“And do you want to harm him, to soothe your own aggression?”

“You don’t know me!” she shouted, and the child winced as the gun was pressed forcefully against his temple. Wrong nerve .

Bucky scanned the space around him. The street had been deserted. (Did no one care for this kid?) It was just him, and her, and the boy. There was no one coming to his aid, so he’d have to find a solution on his own.

Well, it wasn’t the best, but it was all he had.

Bucky overtly moved his eyes to look over her head down the street and shouted, “ Shoot her!

The woman fell for it.

She turned, gun raised to face the nonexistent threat, her grip loosening on the kid, and Bucky took his chance.

He sprinted toward the pair and the woman turned back around at the sound of his footsteps, began to move the gun back down to the boy’s head, but it was too late. Bucky shoved the boy to the side with his left arm and wrapped his right around the woman’s wrist, squeezed tightly and turned until she was forced to drop the gun. She kicked out a foot but Bucky caught it and pulled until she fell to the ground, a heavy smack emitting from where her head hit the pavement. Her hands fumbled for traction, but Bucky sent a kick to her head, and she was knocked unconscious.

Bucky stood for a moment, breathing deeply, watching the woman to make sure she was unconscious - but not dead, he knew. He had… fought enough people to recognize the difference. (Usually, it ended the opposite way.)

He turned around then, caught sight of the boy hidden back behind the stand. Well, he was loyal, Bucky would give him that.

Bucky lowered himself slowly, peered across the street at the boy.

“You can come out,” he said gently. The boy didn’t move. “It’s okay. She’s….” He looked down at the body behind him. “Gone,” he muttered with a shrug. “I won’t hurt you, it’s alright.”

The boy inched away from the stand, out into the open, and for the first time Bucky noticed his overgrown hair, the dirt coating his face, his scraped-up and ill-fitting clothes… and the prosthetic leg they barely concealed. Bucky put on a smile, hoping it looked comforting as opposed to downright terrifying. He didn’t… smile at children often.

The child stepped slowly toward him and Bucky stayed put, not wanting to approach for fear of startling him, until the boy stopped a few steps away from him.

"What's your name?" Bucky asked.

"James."

A small smile crossed Bucky's features. "That's my name, too. But most people call me Bucky."

"Why?"

Bucky shrugged. "You'd have to ask them." The boy smiled, and Bucky swore his heart soared. "Where are your parents?"

"Gone." James answered so calmly and with such finality, it made Bucky shiver.

"What d'you mean, bud?"

"They left. A long time ago. They never came back."

Bucky's heart dropped to his shoes. "... oh. Do you have family? Anyone you can stay with?" James shook his head, emotionless; then he froze and thought for a second.

"There was an old woman. She bought me stuff, but she stopped coming, too. I dunno why."

"Where do you live?" James pointed behind him. "The stand?" James shook his head and pointed again. Bucky's eyes widened. "The alleyway? " A nod. Bucky bit back a curse. "Where do you get your food?"

"I take it."

Stealing is bad. The words were right on the tip of his tongue, but Bucky couldn't bring himself to say them. After all, how often had he been left without the money to buy food, barely getting by?

Guilt wormed its way into Bucky's heart, even though he had nothing to do with James' situation, and a sudden thought crossed his mind. Maybe it was crazy. Maybe it was the guilt talking, but he voiced it anyway.

"Hey, James?" The kid looked up with the brightest blue eyes that mirrored Bucky’s, his faulty-looking prosthetic on his right leg that corresponded so well with Bucky’s new high-tech one on his left arm, and Bucky knew this wouldn't be a mistake. Maybe it would get him a minor kidnapping charge, at the worst - but at the best, he was getting a kid off the streets, which was something he and Steve sorely needed about a hundred years ago. "How would you like to come live with me?"

 

Ten minutes later, he opened the door to his apartment, a new presence at his side.

"Hey, Steve?" he called as he walked in, closing the door behind James.

"I'm in the kitchen."

"I got a kid."

It took Steve a moment to respond.

"You what? "