Bucky flips through channels in the common room at the Avengers compound. “Steve, have you seen anything else about Sokovia.”
“Why?” Sam enters from the kitchen eating a sandwich.
Bucky groans. He didn’t know Sam had moved in already. “The Stark Foundation was shot up, said there were several injuries.”
Sam smirks, his mouth full. “You looking for names?”
Bucky rolls his eyes and turns back to the TV. His eyes scan the screen frantically, and runs down the hall.
Sam meanders into the living room and reads the headline. ONE DEAD AFTER ATTACK IN SOKOVIA. The reporter drones in the background as Sam hurries after Bucky, "...unidentified American..."
Bucky barges into Steve’s living quarters and looks around. With no sign of Steve, Bucky turns to leave.
“What are you doing?” Sam asks from the doorway.
“Looking for Steve,” Bucky growls. “Obviously.”
Sam takes a bite of his sandwich. “He brought Y/N to the hospital this morning.”
“What?” Bucky’s eyes go wide. “She’s back?”
“Late last night.” Sam shrugs. “Strange wanted her come in first thing for some tests. She must have needed surgery. Since Steve hasn't said he's on his way back.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Dude, it just happened.”
Bucky snarls, pushing past Sam. He jogs to the garage and jumps into his Tesla. Thanks to back pay, Steve had more money than either of them could have imagined in 1945 and insisted on buying Bucky a car. Bucky thought this one was ridiculous, but Steve insisted it was the best on the market.
When he arrives at the hospital, Bucky stops at the front desk and makes a beeline for your room. Steve glances up from his book when Bucky enters.
“What are you doing here?”
Bucky studies you. “No one told me.”
“I thought you knew.”
“Why’d you tell Wilson?” Bucky drops into the only other chair in the room.
“She did.” Steve shakes his head.
Bucky’s heart drops. Steve, he understood. But you told Sam and not him.
Your eyes flutter, and you shift in the bed. Steve’s eyes dart to Bucky, and he nods in your direction.
“Hey, kitten.” Bucky moves to the side of the bed, cursing under his breath for letting that slip out.
You squint your eyes open, wrinkling your forehead. “Bucky?”
“Yeah,” he smiles down at you, “you feeling alright?”
You look up at him through your eyelashes. “I like when you call me kitten. It makes my insides warm.”
Steve raises his book to cover his face and stifles a snicker.
Bucky smirks. “Kitten it is, then.”
You grin lazily before turning your head to Steve. “Where’s Jack? I thought…” You trail off, not sure what you thought.
“You asked me to drive you.” Steve answers softly. “Jack took the day off. Figured you’d be safe here.”
Bucky swallows his disappointment. “You look like you’re feeling pretty good.”
“I have a few pins in my shoulder.” You giggle, “A few more, and we’ll match.”
He instinctively flexes his left arm. “Not quite, kitten,” he lets out a breathy laugh.
You frown and hold out your hand. “Can I see?”
“I, uh,” he runs a hand through his hair, “yeah, I guess.” He pulls his chair next to the bed and holds out his left hand.
You run your fingers along the seams in his palm and push his hand closed into a fist. “It’s so intricate. Just like Tony said.”
Steve drops his book and stares at Bucky.
Bucky’s eyes dart to your face. “Tony…talked about me?”
You nod slowly, still tracing the joints. “He looked through SHIELD, well Hydra’s file on you.”
Bucky swallows hard. “Why?”
You shrug. “He asked me to find you after Steve split. Gave me a list of equipment you’d need to repair your arm. Pretty sophisticated stuff, none of my contacts had anything like it.”
Steve’s eyes get wider with every word. Stark had been hunting them.
Bucky pulls his hand away as you giggle, “Sophisticated’s a funny word.”
Bucky stands, gesturing for Steve to step into the hall. “What the hell?” he whispers.
Steve raises his eyebrows and holds his hands up. “I don’t know either.”
“He never said anything after…everything?”
“Buck,” Steve shakes his head, “when he got back from space, he chewed my ass about leaving, and we didn’t talk again until Scott brought up the time heist.”
“You two never…” Bucky trails off, shrugging. Tony was Steve’s best friend in this time, and he’d managed to ruin it.
Steve takes a deep breath. “We did…in a way.” After another breath, he continues, “But, not really. No.”
“It’s not your fault.” Steve claps a hand on his shoulder. “But if there’s someone you want to make up with, it’s better to do sooner than later.” Steve glances back to your door.
A lopsided smile crosses his face, and he pushes past Steve to walk back into your room.
Despite sleeping nearly the entire day after surgery yesterday, you’re more exhausted now than you have ever felt in your life. Sure, you worked the entire eleven-hour flight home ironing out funding problems, but that was a normal day. You’re barely in the door before you have one of your shoes off, dropping it on the ground. You don’t even bother to lock the door behind you since you’ll be leaving again after you take a shower. You drop your other shoe a few feet away and beginning stripping off your skirt as you make your way to the bathroom. The shirt is tougher, thanks to your sling.
You shower as quickly as your fatigued body will move, trying to keep your stitches dry. You drop your towel on the floor, too exhausted to finish drying your hair before getting fresh clothes from your bedroom.
“Fuck!” Bucky's silhouette in your doorway makes you jump. You turn around to face the wall.
“I’m sorry.” He sounds surprised and confused. “You know you’re still naked?”
“Then maybe you should turn around.”
“I would, but then I wouldn’t be able to stare at your ass.” You can hear his breathing quicken.
“Did you need something?” you ask, agitated.
“You told me to come over.”
You wrack your brain, confused by his claim. When had you even spoken with him?
Prompted by your silence, he offers, “At the hospital yesterday. You said you’d be feeling better today.”
You vaguely remember saying that, but it felt like a dream. Then again, so did the last three days.
“I…I’m sorry, Buck.” Words tumble out of your mouth faster than you can think. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I, um, have another meeting…and then…dinner, I think.”
“Yes. With me.” he laughs, “Granted, I didn’t know about the meeting.”
“I’m sorry. There’s just so much to do, I can hardly think straight.”
“Get dressed. I’ll drive you to the Rehab Center and wait for you to finish your meeting.”
You nod. “And then dinner. I promise.”
Bucky waits in your office. There’s a toothbrush on your desk, but the toothpaste is empty. A pile of clothes sit in your chair and files are scattered across the desk. There are files everywhere. The biggest stack is beside the couch, where it was obvious you had been sleeping. Or, more appropriately, resting between meetings. Your trashcan is full of protein bar wrappers. He decides to lay down on the couch while he waits. It’s four hours before you come back to your office.
“How long has it been since you went home?” Bucky stands when you enter.
“Well, I just got back from a weeklong trip.”
He motions to the clothes in the chair. “Before that.”
“I don’t know.” You rummage through the files on the floor. “I go back every few days to shower and grab clothes.”
“You can’t live on protein bars, kitten.”
You throw him an odd look. Of course, you didn’t remember the conversation from the hospital. You shrug, too tired to be embarrassed. “Are you ready?”
“After you.” He laughs, and motions toward the door.
Once in the car, you ask, “Where are we going?”
“My place. You’re in no condition to go out.”
“Bucky, I’m fine. We can-”
“The circles under your eyes are darker than my Vibranium arm. You can rest on my couch while I cook.”
“So, what has Bucky Barnes been up to while I was gone?”
He shrugs. “Helping Sam at the Center. Making sure Steve doesn’t break a hip.”
You laugh, “At least someone’s doing it.”
“What was that meeting about? It seemed a little long.”
“Alternative sources of income.” You groan, rubbing your eyes again, “Pepper says Stark Industries can’t sustain such a large operation much longer. Most of our corporate donors started pulling their funds months ago. The rest followed suit after Sokovia.”
“We expected this. It’s been a year and a half. People are moving on and forgetting that there are still others who need more help.” You shrug, not mentioning that you’re the one who fucked up by taking everyone to Sokovia. “Did you know there are still people who can’t get home? I mean you popped back up in Wakanda, thank God. Anyone else probably would have had you executed. But think about everyone who was on vacation or travelling for work. Their visas and passports expired. Their birth certificates are five years from their real age. And the more time goes by, the less understanding the State Department and other government agencies are. This work takes a heavy emotional toll on our volunteers, and we can’t afford to hire lawyers. Or counselors.”
Bucky nods, glancing at you out of the corner of his eye.
“And child trafficking exploded.” You rub your eyes. “Children were adopted after Thanos, and now their parents are back. But we have no good way of verifying that they’re actually the parents. Birth certificates are easy to forge, and the kids are five years older than they were when the parents disappeared, so photos are out.”
“Jesus,” Bucky whispers under his breath.
“Don’t even get me started about the kids who disappeared.” You turn to face Bucky, even though he’s focused on the road. “Do you have any idea how many people committed suicide after watching their child turn to ash? And now those kids are back.”
Silence hangs between you. What did you expect him to say after that?
“It all makes sense now.” He glances at you.
“Why you always look exponentially shittier after a single meeting.”
“You know, if this is how you treat your dates, that might be why you don’t have many.”
“Your hair looks like you just had the time of your life in a broom closet. You have no room to criticize me.”
“I could show you the time of your life in a broom closet.”
He tenses, squaring his shoulders and tightening his grip on the wheel.
“Right,” you sigh. “Sorry.”
He shakes it off as he pulls into his usual spot in the parking garage.
After dinner, you sit on the couch and turn on the TV. You just look at him, scared to make a move after what happened last time. Fortunately, he reaches up and cradles your cheek. The metal is cool against your skin. You close your eyes and lean into his touch. When he doesn’t move, you open your eyes and study him. You search his eyes for some sign of what he wants from you.
Finally, you give and lean in, kissing him gently. To your surprise, he doesn’t pull back right away. When he does, he gently caresses your cheek with the back of his hand.
“That was nice.” You smile at him.
“Mhmm.” He drops his hand and looks away.
Your heart drops. “Can we do that again?”
He hesitates before taking a long breath. He leans toward you, taking your head in his hands. He holds you for a minute, and then pulls you in for another short kiss.
You smile, biting your lip. You move closer and kiss him again, letting your fingers get tangled in his hair. He drops his hands to your arms, rubbing them softly. When you nip at his bottom lip, he tightens his grip around your biceps before pushing you back.
“I just- I can’t.”
“I knew this was a bad idea.” You feel heat rise in your cheeks. Same, old Bucky. “If you hadn’t asked me while I was doped up, I wouldn’t have agreed.”
He drops his head and licks his lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry”
“I know you. You don’t change.” You stand and snatch your wallet off the kitchen counter.
You stop, but don’t turn around. “What?”
“Please stay. I don’t want it to end like last time. I want to make you happy. I just-” He shakes his head.
“Then you better figure it out, Barnes. I don’t have time to fuck around.”
“Isn’t that exactly what you’re here for?”
You smile and shake your head, letting out a quiet laugh. “I think we both know that’s not going to happen.”
His silence is deafening. “Good night, Buck.”
You walk out the door, already searching for the nearest bus stop. You can’t believe you let your hopes get the best of you.
No longer tired in the least, you go back to the Center to work on your congressional presentation. It’s the last source of funding you have. You’ve already begun pulling your support from international efforts. If they don’t approve your request for an increase, you’ll have to start boarding up rehabilitation centers across the country.
You spend the next two weeks working twenty-hour days, gathering statistics from various centers across the country. You pore over hundreds of global reports from the last year, analyzing every word, every equation. You compile your own reports. You schmooze Senators at lunch with the little money you have left in your personal account. They nod along as you present your findings and discuss your request.
Your seemingly endless supply of interns runs shifts around the clock keeping you fed and caffeinated. They schedule appointments with congressmen and make copies of your reports. Most of them have accumulated enough hours for the entire semester by the end of the first week. Come Tuesday, your interns are burnt out, and you’re on your way to a three-day Congressional grilling.
And just like that, the one moment you've been dreading for over a year is over. The one thing you spent the last two weeks preparing for, your last hope, slides through your fingers.
Three votes away. You trudge into your office Thursday night, not-so-fresh from Capitol Hill, to run the numbers. You sling your backpack onto the couch and kick your suitcase to the side. Your phone buzzes as you approach your desk. You fish it out of your coat, getting your watch caught in the pocket. Grunting, you tear your jacket off and drop it to the ground. Taking your seat, you glance at your phone and open the text from Bucky.
Come by when you get back from DC? Really want to talk.
What. The. Hell. You throw your phone across the room, screaming over the crash of glass as your diploma drops off the wall. The PhD in Civil Engineering you earned at MIT means absolutely nothing now. You did everything you possibly could, and it wasn’t enough. You had hoped success in Sokovia would refresh your stream of donations. You weren’t prepared for such a miserable failure.
You pull a bottle of champagne from the bottom drawer of your desk. You set it on top, fighting back the tears. You bought it to celebrate with the office after the vote. You were so sure. When the vote came back, you called ahead and told everyone to enjoy a long weekend.
You hurl the bottle on the same trajectory as your phone, watching with satisfaction as it shatters against the now empty wall. You retrieve the vodka and a glass from the same drawer and pour yourself a shot. Finally taking your seat, you drop your elbows on the desk and cradle your head in your hands.
“I was so close.”
Unlocking your top drawer, you search for a syringe and vial. You lift your skirt and run your fingers along the small, dark punctures along the inside of your thigh. Bruises are starting to show up. You’ll have to switch sites soon.
You fill the syringe and pour yourself another shot. Pressing against the injection site, you carefully shoot up. You inhale sharply as your muscles contract tightly. The foreign substance sends your heartbeat through the roof. The ache in your feet fades. The fatigue slowly drains out of your body, and the fog in your mind clears. You pour another shot.
Before long, you feel like you’re drowning in liquor, but the lump in your throat is gone. You look across the room, glassy-eyed. Your diploma soaks up champagne on the floor. Your cell phone looks unharmed, though that’s unlikely. You stand on shaky legs and make your way across the office. Your high heels do nothing for your stability. From halfway, you can see the ink on your diploma smudging. You steady yourself just enough to be confident taking a step into the spill. The first step is solid. The second takes some focus. On the third step, you set your heel on a piece of glass, and it slides out from under you. You throw your arms out, trying to regain your balance and only knock yourself over. You wrench around, landing on your back. You feel your new scar tugging at the back of your neck.
“Mother fucker.” You roll onto your stomach, glass crunching underneath you. The skin of your palms rips open as you push yourself back to your feet.
Walking carefully out of the mess, you drop onto the couch and fling your shoes to the side. The room teeters around you. You press a hand to your forehead, smearing blood over your face. You shouldn’t have drunk so much. But what did it matter now anyway?
Easing off the couch, you make your way to the clinic area. You can at least wrap your hands up before going home. The plain, white tile is cold on your soles. Thankfully, your shoes saved your feet, so you aren’t tracking blood across the freshly mopped floor. You look up from your hands when you catch a glimpse of light filtering out from under a door.
You knock before pushing it open. “Strange?”
He looks up from the desk and chuckles at your frazzled appearance. “Bad day?”
You bark out a laugh. “Bad week.”
“We’ve all been watching C-SPAN.” He nods, looking back to his work.
“What are you doing here?” You take a seat in the chair across from him.
“Paperwork.” He shrugs. “Logging hours, calculating expenses. This is a huge tax write off, and I’m not losing that because you shut it down.”
You let yourself laugh before running a hand down your face. “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
He glances up, realizing the blood is fresh. “Do you want me to look at that?”
“Would you?” You hold your hands out. “I came over here to bandage them up before going home.”
He takes your hands and looks them over. “There’s still glass in the wounds. Come on.” He motions to the door and leads you to an exam room.
“I fell,” you offer sheepishly, sitting on the exam bench.
He glares at you as he washes his hands. “Yes, I can smell that.”
“Don’t-” you pause, knowing you sound ridiculous. “Judge me.”
“If anyone here has earned a bender, it’s you.” He plucks glass from the cuts with a pair of forceps before rinsing them with a small squirt bottle.
You close your eyes and rest your head against the wall. His touch is gentle, so much different from Sokovia. He wipes the blood off your face with some kind of antiseptic wipe and asks to check the scar on your shoulder.
“This was barely finished healing.” He presses the surrounding area, making you groan. “Looks like you split it open.”
“Of fucking course.” You huff out a laugh.
He injects a local anesthetic in your shoulder and gathers suturing supplies.
“I may have mentioned, I’ve had the shittiest week in the history of shitty weeks.” You lay on your stomach, giving him access to your shoulder. “And I’ve been working with relief efforts across the universe for six years.”
“That’s a lot of shitty weeks,” he mumbles, stooping over your back.
“I’ve slept a total of twenty-five hours this week. I have read, analyzed, and presented hundreds of statistical reports from the last year, spent nineteen total hours in a Congress grilling only to come up three votes short.”
“Yeah, that hit everyone pretty hard.”
“Three fucking votes.” You rub your eyes. “Now I have to start deciding which centers to shut down and where to cut services.”
“Icing on the cake?” He taps one of your hands.
“I ruined my diploma and probably broke my phone.” You shake your head.
“You need to get some rest.”
“I wish I could.” You feel light tugging at your shoulder. "I haven't been able to sleep since Agent Hamilton was-"
“Have you been…” Strange slides back to look at you, “self-medicating?”
“At this point, it doesn’t even matter.”
“Well,” he ties off your stitches and steps away, “you can’t sustain a schedule like this.”
You study his face. You can’t believe you’re about to say, “Do you want to fuck?”
He raises his eyebrows at you. “I don’t date coworkers.”
“We’re not coworkers.” Oh god, what are you saying? “And I didn’t ask for a date.”
He pauses, thinking it over.
“I’m sure being the sorcerer supreme is a stressful job,” you mock.
“Astral projection.” He smirks. “I can sleep and work.”
“Well, aren’t you a lucky fucking duck?” You slide off the bench.
“My medical opinion, however,” he looks you over, “is that you need a good fuck.”
“Let’s just do it. We can work on good later.”
He pushes you back to the exam table. “Later, huh?”
You slide onto the table and wrap your legs around his waist. “The hardest part of my job has only just begun.”