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Bucky paced restlessly like a caged animal. Back and forth, back and forth. It put you on edge and was perhaps the reason you flinched harder than you needed to while Dr. Banner cleaned the wound in your side.

“Sorry,” he apologized with a wince. “Guess my hands aren’t sturdy today.”

“Your hands are fine,” you said flatly. It was Bucky that was the problem. His agitation was contagious. He hadn’t said a word since you’d returned to the tower after the mission. A bad sign.

The mission had gone well, at first. Get inside the HYDRA base without detection and steal what you could from their internal servers. Steve, Nat, and Bucky were lookouts from the ground while Clint and Sam covered the rooftops. You were put on hacking duty, breaking down firewalls and dismantling security protocols with your custom-made viruses.

Straightforward and simple, at least until a group of HYDRA agents stumbled onto your group and one managed to radio for help before your teammates could take him down. That’s all it took, one mistake for the entire mission to be compromised.

Weeks of intel-gathering thrown out the window. Unacceptable.

When Steve had told you to pull out, you’d disobeyed orders, fingertips flying over the keyboard as you transferred the data directly to the external drive you had hooked up to the data port. You could hear your teammates, overwhelmed by the onslaught of HYDRA soldiers, but you didn’t stop. Not even when Bucky had yelled at you to listen, just for once. You’d remained silent and focused on your task, and Bucky had broken from cover to run back for you.

It was the reason you were still alive and had received only a graze from a bullet instead of being laid out, cold and unmoving on a slab. The first shot the HYDRA agent took was partially deflected by Bucky’s vibranium palm, and the enemy never got a chance for a second shot.

Even if the close call hadn’t been enough to stop you, the missed bullet through the bank of computers did. You’d ignored the blood spilling down your tac suit and pulled out the external hard drive. The biggest concern on your mind had been that you’d gotten enough intel to make the mission worthwhile.

Bucky had remained silent as he’d covered your retreat, but the severe crease of his brow and the harsh scowl on his face had told you everything you needed to know.

He was pissed then and he was pissed now. Despite the fact you were safe in the tower being tended to in the medbay by Dr. Banner, Bucky was still on high alert.

“All done,” Dr. Banner said once he had finished wrapping the circumference of your waist with bandages. “It’s not deep but the glancing impact bruised some ribs. Lots of bed rest for the next couple days, okay?”

“Thanks, Bruce,” you said, consciously forcing the warmth into your words.

Bucky said nothing.

You didn’t bother to put your tac suit back on; it was torn and covered in dried blood, so you left the medbay in only your undershirt and leggings. You could sense Bucky at your back, looming like a dark cloud at your shoulder.

He remained laconic all the way back to your floor, his eyes straight ahead in the elevator. He avoided acknowledging you were there, and yet smothered you with his silent presence at the same time.

When you finally entered your shared residential suite and you heard the door slide shut behind him, you turned and opened your mouth.

Bucky never gave you the chance to speak. He grabbed you by the arm and spun you, shoving your back against the door. A pained breath left you at the jostling of your wound, but Bucky didn’t let go. He held you by both of your biceps as he glared down into your face.

“What the fuck were you thinking?” His voice was a low hiss and his eyes were dark coals.

You’d known this was coming, but you still baulked against his accusatory tone.

“I was thinking the mission took precedence. I was thinking there was no point in pulling out because the files were nearly downloaded.” His glare sharpened, but you didn’t relent. “I was thinking I wasn’t going to fail to do my part just because Steve wanted to play it safe.”

“Steve is the leader of this team,” Bucky growled, “which means you follow his orders. He wasn’t playing it safe, he was being smart. If HYDRA knew what we were doing, you don’t think they wouldn’t have taken steps to make sure the data we took would be useless? That hard drive is probably scrambled to shit, or worse, contains their own countermeasures to infiltrate our system if we’re stupid enough to upload it to our servers.”

You opened your mouth… and quickly shut it.

“Yeah,” he said very quietly. It wasn’t a nice kind of quiet. “Steve took all possible options into account. He made a call. You ignored it, because that’s what you do. You never listen.” He squeezed his fingers for emphasis.

You bit down on the inside of your cheek to keep from reacting, to keep from saying something stupid, but your mouth got the better of you.

“I did what I had to, and you can bet I’d do it again.”

You saw it in his eyes. The moment you fucked up and went an inch too far.

“Right,” he said. “Okay.”

He grabbed you by the wrist and hauled you from the door, dragging you toward the bed.

“Bucky!” You tugged hard but he was much stronger than you. “What the fuck—“

Without warning, he picked you up and tossed you over his shoulder, lifting you as if you were nothing more than a toy. The breath was knocked out of you from the pressure against your side, but before you could struggle he shoved you down onto the bed. He followed you up onto the mattress and straddled your hips, grabbed your wrists, and wrenched them above your head.

Too late did you see the metal in his hands, and with a click he had you handcuffed to the headboard. These were not police-issue handcuffs either; they were electromagnetic restrains he must have taken from the armory.

You yanked hard against the cuffs, smarting your wrists against the unyielding metal. You glared up at him and tried to throw him off, but Bucky held you down by the shoulders.

“Stop that,” he growled forcefully. “You’ll hurt yourself worse.”

The surprise from his rough treatment turned into boiling anger.

“I’ll hurt myself? You have the fucking gall to say that after cuffing me to the bed?!” You spit fury and venom as you continued to try and buck him off. “Fuck you. Fuck you for even—“

Bucky mashed his lips against yours, cutting off your curses and rendering you helpless against the onslaught of his kiss. It was hard, sloppy and forceful, but when his tongue slid into your mouth you automatically tipped your head upward to meet his mouth more firmly.

When Bucky finally pulled away, your lips stung and your heart was racing. His expression hadn’t changed, as severe as before, only now his lips were swollen form the attention on your mouth.

“Finally. I was wondering if you were capable of being quiet for more than two seconds.”

You bared your teeth and were about to tell him off again when he moved. You thought he was going to get off the bed, but instead he shoved your thighs apart with his knees and pressed his hips against yours. You could feel the erection straining against his tac pants.

“Is this what it’s gonna take?” His sharp blue eyes watched you like a wolf closing in on its prey. “To get you to listen? You don’t seem to learn any other way.” His hand slipped under your thin shirt, calloused fingers running delicately over your bandage until he cupped your bare breast.

You pressed your lips tightly together, clenching your jaw and refusing to make a sound as he rubbed your nipple. They’d been hard before he’d even gotten there.

His eyes narrowed, and with a quick movement he grabbed the collar of your shirt with his metal hand and ripped your shirt in half.

“Bucky!” you squeaked indignantly. You liked that shirt.

He ignored you and pulled off the shredded remains, leaving your chest exposed to the chill of the room. He bent down and licked one nipple, toying with it with his tongue as his cool vibranium fingers played with the other.

You flexed your hips upward, trying to push him off, but it only made the friction against your core worsen. You tugged at the restraints and whined, needy and unable to be quiet about it. He knew your body too well.

Bucky moved downwards, dragging soft lips across your stomach and rolling your leggings down your hips and thighs as he went. Warmth was already pooling low in your belly, and you couldn’t hide the slick wet of your folds, fully on display for him as he laid you bare.

Parting your folds, there was tightness in his voice as he said, “Don’t have much to say now, do you?”

You hissed and tried to push against him with your legs, but Bucky held down your thighs with his arms, and keeping your folds parted he pressed his lips against your bud.

The whine in your throat escalated into a cry as he licked and sucked at your clit, relentless and greedy and driving you fast toward the edge. You couldn’t even feel the ache from your wound, his deft tongue filling you with sharp pleasure you had no defenses against.

“Oh, God,” you moaned harshly, “Bucky, I’m gonna—“

He pulled away. The pressure building in your core instantly came to a standstill. You gave a strangled noise in frustration, wriggling your hips, but he held them down as he stared you straight in the eye.

“I didn’t say you could come yet.”

You watched, shocked, as he got up from the bed and went to your shared dresser. He opened the top drawer, the one that contained your underwear, and riffled through it.

“It’s all about control with you. You don’t know how to give it up, and that’s why you don’t listen. You come from civilian life, I get that, but it’s no goddamn excuse to treat each mission as if you’re expendable. You put your teammates and yourself in danger.”

“I don’t,” you said, breath still labored as your limbs shivered. “I don’t act like I’m expendable. I just complete the mission at all costs. Isn’t that what you soldiers do?”

Bucky didn’t respond, and instead pulled out his quarry, the pink bullet-shaped vibrator you kept hidden in your drawer. You didn’t even know he knew it existed, let alone where to find it.

“Soldiers listen to orders.” He closed the drawer with an angry snap and returned to the bed. “Something you’re going to learn before you go back into the field.”

“What?” He couldn’t possibly be saying what you thought he was saying.

“You’re a liability out there,” Bucky said with a scowl. He kneeled back on the bed right between your legs. “And until such time as I deem it, you’re going to be benched. When I see you’re willing to listen to orders, I’ll give Steve the go-ahead to let you back on the team.”

“You can’t!” He couldn’t do this to you! Being on the team, a part of the Avengers, it was your entire life!

His eyes narrowed dangerously, and he brought the vibrator up to your clit. “Actually, I can.”

As soon as he flicked on the switch, your mind was gone, your body a twisting, writing mess of wanton need and undulating pleasure. The vibrations traveled up your bud and throughout your thighs and lower belly, and somewhere in the haze of euphoria the irony wasn’t lost on you that a “bullet” was the cause of your problems twice in one day.

Just as you were about to reach your peak a second time, Bucky removed the vibrator and turned it off. You bit your lip and tried not to cry in frustration.

You had more strength than this, you weren’t weak, but you were tired and worn down and needed the release he denied you. More than that, you wanted Bucky to stop being angry at you and hold you in his arms, a comfort after the brush with death that did affect you.

You were also too stubborn to admit it. You glared up at him balefully, pressing your lips together as you defiantly jutted your chin.

Bucky scowled and leaned over you, his thighs once again holding your legs open. He dipped his fingers down between your folds, and the coolness of his vibranium startled a flinch out of you.

“Still not listening. Still can’t follow orders.” Bucky pushed, his fingers slipping past your entrance, made easier but your slick juices and eager body. “You know what your problem is? You can’t give up that control. You don’t trust anyone. You believe you know best and you can control everything that happens.”

“You sure… you’re not projecting?” you hissed out.

Bucky’s scowl darkened and he snapped his fingers forward, burying himself knuckle-deep before pressing his metal thumb against your clit.

You bit down a cry, refusing to surrender, no matter how unbelievably good it felt as he began to move his fingers. The warmth of your juices slipped down your ass, your walls tightening around him surprisingly fast.

“Jesus,” he breathed, “look at how wet you still are. Maybe you’re incapable of ceding control, but your body is more than willing.”

You shook your head and closed your eyes, chewing on your lip as you tried to relax your muscles, knowing that tensing up would only bring the impending orgasm that much faster. You couldn’t say quiet when he curled his fingers and rubbed against the sensitive bundle against your wall, and you bucked your hips against his hand.

“Eager, are we?” he practically purred. “I still didn’t say you could come yet. Open your eyes.”

You did so, unwillingly, but the sight of him looming above you, face flushed and his pupils blown, was an alluring picture you couldn’t look away from. You could feel it the moment your resolve began to crumble, and your lip trembled as you whispered, “Please.”

His brows rose and his voice dropped. “Please what?”

“Please let me come.” No, that wasn’t quite right. “Bucky, please, I need you to fuck me.”

“Are you going to listen from now on?” Bucky’s glare only intensified as he continued to fuck you with his metal fingers. “Are you gonna follow orders?”

“Yes!” Your mental armor cracked and crumbled into pieces, and you couldn’t stop babbling once the dam had broken. “Yes, I’ll listen, I’m sorry, I never meant to screw up so badly, I just wanted to finish the mission, I’m sorry—“

Bucky’s fingers were gone in an instant and he reached up to power off the electro-cuffs, throwing them to the side after freeing your wrists. His movements were barely controlled as he quickly removed his clothing, and he didn’t waste a second in pulling your legs around his waist as he bent forward and lined up his cock with your entrance. He pushed in, not slowing even when you whimpered, until he was fully buried inside you.

He crashed his lips against yours, less aggressive than before but with a taste of desperation guiding his movements, as if he couldn’t get enough. Tongue and lips clashing, his hips against yours in a steady rhythm, giving you everything you had asked for. Bucky’s hands curled into your hair, pulling your mouth even harder against his, hungry with desire as he plucked at your body like a tightly-wound snare.

Your orgasm hit hard and fast, leaving you crying and clinging to him in its wake. He buried himself in you up to the hilt, a choked, strained groan deep in his throat as he throbbed and spilled inside you.

He didn’t move away, his weight a comforting blanket as he panted into your neck, muscles slightly trembling. You pulled him close, leaning your cheek against his shoulder and running your fingers through his hair. Even after both of your bodies descended from the high, his light shivering didn’t stop.

You knew why, just as surely as you knew that slowly rubbing your fingers into his taut muscles was the only thing that would allow him to eventually relax.

You wished things could be different. That Bucky hadn’t been so broken down and shattered over the course of his unnaturally long life that he didn’t revert to this colder persona when something like this happened.

But that simply wasn’t the man Bucky was now. This is how he coped with fear and pain and trauma, and you’d known what you were getting into from the start. You were with him all the way until the very end, and sometimes he needed to be reminded that he wasn’t going to lose you. He had lost so much already.

“I’m sorry,” you whispered. “I love you. I’m so sorry.”

Bucky’s trembling softly subsided but he kept his face hidden in your hair, his voice broken. “If anything happened to you… that would be it for me. You’re all I’ve got left. If I lost you—”

“You won’t.” You pressed your lips to the side of his jaw. “I’m right here. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

***

In the end, it wasn’t a bullet that got her. It was the serrated blade of a knife.

Bucky had glimpsed the bright slash of metal too late. Quarters were cramped, the area badly lit, but it wasn’t a good enough excuse to not see the HYDRA agent before he plunged the knife into her back. Just to the left of her spine, adjacent to the T12 and L1 vertebrates, slicing open her left kidney and piercing into her stomach.

That’s what Dr. Banner told him later. At the moment, all Bucky could focus on, his vision narrowing down into a bright tunnel, was that she was on the ground, a pool of dark red seeping out from underneath.

Denial spilled form his lips as Bucky dropped to his knees, shoving his vibranium hand under her back and forcing his fingers into the breach, trying to stem the tide of crimson.

Please, no. Please, please, please. Not her. Not her!

She stared up at him, somehow able to focus her glassy eyes on his face. Her shaking hands gripped the sleeve of his tac vest, her face pulled into sorrow.

“I’m… sorry….”

Bucky shoved away his choking fear, pulling his focus to steady his voice even as he wanted to scream. “Nothing to be sorry for, sweetheart. You did everything right. It wasn’t your fault, it was mine—I fucked up, just, don’t talk, okay? Don’t say anything, you’re gonna be fine.”

He was babbling, he knew he was. He pressed the comm in his ear, demanding to know where the fuck the medivac team was, but Bucky never removed his hand from the spurting wound.

He never let her go, even when her eyelids fluttered closed, her body lax in his arms. He didn’t let go, even when Steve tried pulling him away. He snarled like a wild animal, holding her close to his chest.

She said she wouldn’t leave. She’d promised.

Eventually they pried her out of his arms, not too difficult when he had held her like she was made of brittle glass. He was out of control, lashing out at anyone who got to close, and he knew he was being a complete asshole, but he didn’t care.

Steve eventually had to put himself between Bucky and Stark when the billionaire had threatened to “light him up like a Christmas tree” if he didn’t stop “punching my guys.”

When they returned to the tower in a haze of confused noise and the chaos of jostling bodies, Bucky let the numbness overtake him. He heard the words but they barely registered as Banner explained they had taken her to surgery, but her kidney was ruined and her stomach had been punctured. He said they would do all they could.

Even through the cold that surrounded him like a cocoon, Bucky knew that was bullshit. He could see it in Banner’s eyes.

By the time he returned to their shared room, it was late into the evening. They would be eating dinner by now in the common room. Should have been. She should be here right now, not Bucky, and there was no one left to argue his point in the empty room that stared back at him.

He stood there and simply stared at the landscape that had been their life, seeing her everywhere he looked. Even now, a part of him expected her to walk through the door, eyes sparkling as she caught sight of him.

Bucky never understood why she looked at him that way, as if she was happy to see him, but now he’d never see it again.

He sat down on the mattress, hard, and hung his blood-stained hands between his knees. Each breath he took was one she didn’t, and that cruel calculus was the final blow to the façade.

He buried his head in his hands and wept.

***

It was a sign of how large the hollowness that occupied the space in Bucky’s chest had become when half the world could disappear with the snap of someone’s fingers and he barely noticed the difference. Everyone said the world seemed bleaker, less color and joy in it, but Bucky assumed it had been that way all along.

The Avengers hadn’t escaped the Decimation unscathed, but the original core team were still alive. And Bucky. In a cruel twist of fate, he had survived. He would have given anything to trade places with Sam, or Rhodes, or T’Challa. They actually deserved to be alive and could be a resource in the hard days to come.

But Bucky kept his resentment to himself and carried on. There were still missions, always more missions, and he executed them with the cold efficiency he had known as the Winter Soldier. He knew Steve worried about his return to “old habits,” but unless Bucky actually went AWOL and started turning his guns on allies instead of mission targets, then he didn’t truly have any cause to take him off the team.

And then, there was a mission that should have been like any other. Those were the ones that tended to go to shit, if Bucky’s experience was anything to go by. There was some kind of machine, nasty old HYDRA stuff that had been pulled from one of Red Skull’s old vaults.

Bucky didn’t understand how it worked, something to do with Tesseract-powered tech like those power cells they’d used back in the war, and Stark had a solution. Blow it up with a big-ass bomb. Typical.

They hadn’t anticipated the specially lined walls of the underground bunker would interfere with the detonation signal. There was no way to trigger the bomb unless by physical access.

Bucky didn’t even bother to volunteer—he simply broke from the group and disappeared into the catacombs.

“Buck!” Steve’s voice came to him over the channel, crackling from the increased interference. “Where are—you—goi—ng!”

“Someone’s gotta set off that bomb,” he said, not slowing his pace as he rounded another corner. “I’m almost there. You guys have two minutes to get out of the blast zone. Better time it, because I’m about to lose radio contact.”

“No! Bucky, STOP!”

“Sorry, Steve.” He slowed his footsteps and shone the muzzle flashlight of his carbine onto the bomb, so small and innocuous. Stark certainly had made his killing toys more efficient. “I’m really sorry.”

The channel was dead and silent like a grave. Bucky thought that was about right.

He settled in, sitting next to the bomb and resting his weapon on his knees. He could hear someone coming, several someones, the practiced rhythm of their rapid footfalls telling him it wasn’t the team. HYDRA must have known what they were up to.

“Too late, assholes.”

They rounded the corner, and Bucky opened fire. The first wave all went down without a fight. The second managed to get a few rounds into his chest and stomach.

It was all right. He was where he needed to be. There was no fear, barely any pain, and he felt alive for the first time in months.

“I’m glad it was me,” he spat, the taste of iron hot on his lips. Something was broken inside him, even his super soldier abilities weren’t able to heal it fast enough, but that was okay.

“I’m glad it was me who took you fuckers down.”

Bucky jammed his closed fist against the button to open the control console on the bomb, entered in the bypass code, and with a red-tinged smile, hit the detonation switch.

***

“Bucky?”

He startled awake, his breath choking in his throat as he looked around with the stark fear of a wild animal.

You wanted to reach out and touch him, but you knew that was precisely the wrong thing to do when he was caught in the throes of panic.

“Hey,” you said quietly. “It’s okay. Bucky, look at me.”

His blue eyes settled on you, still too round and frightened. He blinked, confusion framing his brows as his gaze went from you to the bedroom at large, dim but lightening from the golden light of dawn peaking behind the blinds.

Bucky turned back to you and his face crumped. With a strangled cry in his throat, he gripped onto you tightly and buried face into your chest. You returned the gesture, wrapping your arms around his neck and pressed your lips into his hair, not caring it was damp with sweat.

“Another nightmare?” you asked, even as you already knew the answer.

He nodded wordlessly, otherwise not moving as he pressed his ear firmly to your chest.

You knew it wasn’t just a simple embrace; he was listening for your heart, assuring himself it still beat at a strong and steady rhythm. As he always did after that, Bucky moved his flesh hand over your back, pushing up your nightshirt so he could trace his fingers next to your spine. He released a trapped breath when he found the evidence of the old knife wound, puckered but healed over with scar tissue.

You pulled back from him, only far enough to cup his face in your hands. Bucky was a mess, his hair rumpled and his eyes red and glassy, but he was lucid and aware of where he was. You much preferred that to the mornings when he couldn’t wake up, screaming and fighting with terror and you had to call Steve or Tony to hold him down until he woke up.

“Which one?” you asked softly, searching his eyes. You wondered if it was the one where he hunted down the remaining heads of HYDRA. He always died at the end, gunned down and left in a pool of blood.

Or maybe it was the one where everyone disappeared in the Decimation. Those nightmares were always worse for him, where he survives but everyone around him vanishes into dust.

Bucky tightened his jaw. “The… bomb one.”

You tried not to flinch, and probably failed. That was your most hated one, because it was mostly based on real events. At the time of that specific mission, it would still be weeks before you would pull out of your coma, and Bucky had nearly gotten himself killed trying to be the martyr.

The only reason it hadn’t worked was because Tony had disabled the on-site detonator purely for that reason. He’d known Bucky was reckless to the point of self-destructive, and because of his foresight, Bucky hadn’t been able to go through his plan. He had survived.

Barely. He’d still had to recover from several bullet wounds, some of which had shredded some pretty vital stuff, but there had been no trace of them by the time you’d woken up. You’d learned all of this secondhand from Steve, and it had taken all of your control not to tear Bucky a new one for being so unbelievably stupid.

But then again, how many times had you scared him to death on missions with your own reckless behavior? You’d’ finally understood then where all that anger had come from.

You released a slow, heavy breath, and pulled him forward, pressing his mouth against yours. Bucky melted, his lips pliant under yours, and you breathed him in just to reassure yourself that both of you were still here.

You pulled back and leaned your forehead against his, brushing your thumbs against his jaw.

“I told you, I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you.”

Bucky didn’t say anything, leaning forward to bury his face in your neck. By the trembling of his muscles you knew he was still upset, and you could guess at the black thoughts running through his mind. Not as bad as they used to be, but still there and always would be.

“Promise?” he asked, his voice an unsteady croak.

You tightened your hold on him. “I was stabbed, you were gunned down and nearly blown up, and we both survived the end of the world.” You couldn’t help but smile a little. “I think we’ve proven how stubborn we are, at the very least. But yes, I promise.”

When he finally pulled away, you asked, “Breakfast?”

Bucky looked at you thoughtfully, but then shook his head and lay back down on the bed. Before you could go anywhere, he caught your wrist and tugged you down on top of him, forcing you to straddle his hips.

Oh, you thought as his growing erection pressed against your stomach. It was going to be one of those mornings. You liked those mornings.

“Later.” He traced his tongue over his chapped lips. “Come here.”

His words might have been an echo of an order but you were the one who took the lead, catching his lips as you pulled off your nightclothes, needing just as much assurance as him that you were all right, everything was all right. Each touch and caress told you that it was, or at least it would be, as long as you still had each other.

Through the heat of your bodies and the squares of sunbeams slowly traveling up your walls and filling your room with light, the cold darkness of the fear and the nightmares were chased away.