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Burn the Ships

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Even with your over-rationalizing mind, you can’t deny the dirty looks you get on the bus. A teenager knocks shoulders with you, shoving you into the burly man behind you. It’s an older bus; the aisle is tight. A young woman with blue-tipped hair scoffs at you, and you could swear she called you a slut. The glares and mutters pick up in the coffee shop. You can’t shake the creepy feeling out of your skin. Almost everyone on the street gives you a wide berth as you walk back to the bus stop. A man with his light brown hair pulled into a bun sits on the bench with his ankle rested on his knee. He slides over as you approach, glancing up from his tablet. After a double take, he stands abruptly and hurries away. Your bus ride makes you uneasy enough to text Jack on your way back. He’s waiting in your office when you arrive.

“These were shoved under the door.” Jack lifts a stack of paper scraps and drops them back to your desk. “Not a lot of compliments.”

You drag your fingers through your hair, nails catching in your already falling curls, and let out a breath, puffing your cheeks. “Yeah.”

Jack narrows his eyes and studies your reaction, paper crunching in his fist. “How long have you been getting these?”

“Just since the news broke.” You shrug. “It was only a couple at first.”

“Weeks.” Jack slams his knuckles on your desk and grits his teeth. “And you didn’t tell me?”

“Jack, they w-”

“They’re death threats,” he roars. “I’m the head of your fucking personal security.”

“It didn’t start that way.” You shake your head, wrapping your arms around yourself. “Just insults, at first. But now.” You swallow hard.

“I can’t protect you if I don’t have all the information.” His lips peel back in a snarl, but his voice is softer.

“I’m not going to lie, Jack.” You straighten up and meet his eyes. “I’m scared. For me, for Bucky.”

He leafs through the notes on your desk. “Most of these are bullshit.”

“This isn’t Sokovia, Jack,” you breathe. “This is my home. I don’t leave at the end of the week. Someone will get to one of us, and Bucky can’t handle it either way.”

Jack groans, dropping his shoulders. “Do you want him added to your detail?”

You shake your head absently.

“It would be awkward, and he’s not technically a Stark Industries employee.” Jack pinches the bridge of his nose. “But I can put him in the rotation.”

“No.” You clear your head and move across the room. “I don’t want him to worry.”

“I get that, but if you’re not here or home, he should be somewhere nearby.”

“Not a bad idea.” You sink into the couch and lay back. “You said those men after Bucky were some kind of special forces?”

“Ex,” he lets out a ragged breath, “ex-spec ops guys. Had a run-in with the Winter Soldier.”

“Not the type to give a warning.” You rub your temples.

“No,” he concedes. “Like I said, keep Barnes close.”

“He’s had a lot of run-ins with a lot of dangerous people.”

“I’ll increase your security during the workday.” He picks up the stack of papers and makes his way to you. “You won’t, by chance, agree to a twenty-four-hour detail?”

You shake your head with a snort. No amount of fear would ever drive you to give up that much privacy. Jack drops the papers into your lap and sits by your feet.

You lift the top one and chuckle. “‘Nazi whore.’ Original.”

“My particular favorite is ‘Winter Slut,’” Jack snickers.

The knot in your stomach loosens as you joke about the absurd insults people come up with. Jack has a knack for calming you down. When you’ve gathered your thoughts, you return to your desk to get your day started. Jack sets about the task of increasing your security detail. By the end of the day, you have two extra men posted outside your office, and Jack doesn’t leave your side.

The next day, Jack accompanies you to all your offsite meetings. This includes a lunch meeting with Stephen and a handful of the donors he helped you bring in. Jack sits in the corner while you mingle. When you take your seats around the table, the waiter makes his rounds. You invite Jack to join you at the table, but he politely declines.

You grin, waving him over. “You can’t eat in the corner, Jack.”

“I appreciate the thought, ma’am.” His eyes scan the restaurant beyond your dining area. “But I prefer this perspective.”

“Make sure you get an order to go, then.”

He says the threats are empty, but he acts like you have a bounty on your head. Which is better than vice versa, but it’s still unnerving.

“I thought you had personal security,” one of the doctors quips.

You arch an eyebrow. “Jack is head of my personal security. Though he technically works for Stark Industries.”

Another man chimes in over his drink, “With such an intimidating boyfriend, I wouldn’t expect to see you with any other escort.”

Jack shifts in the corner, leaning into the balls of his feet.

“My personal life is not up for discussion, gentlemen.” Your lips twitch into a smirk, as you tuck a strand hair that escaped your French twist behind your ear. “But, if you’re that eager to meet him, I’m sure I can arrange something.”

After a beat of awkward silence, Stephen clears his throat. “What these idiots are getting at is that we’re all curious.”

He chuckles at your surprise. You were hoping to throw them off with the offer.

“Neurosurgeon,” he motions to himself and waves around the table, “plastic surgeon, biomed and cybernetics engineer. Sergeant Barnes is an intriguing case.”

“Well, he’s long retired.” You shoot Stephen a glare. “And we have a meeting to start.”

Jack sits silently in the corner, observing the surroundings. He shadows you all day again, watching for threats. When you wrap up your day, later than you’d hoped, he drives you back to your apartment and walks you to the door, waiting for you to get safely inside. The lights burn your eyes, so you use the flashlight on your phone instead.

A silhouette in your living room makes you jump with a squeal. You process Bucky’s face as your door swings open with a crack. Jack rushes in, sweeping the room with his pistol. Before you can let out your breath, Jack is at your shoulder, muzzle leveled at Bucky’s chest.

“Who are you today?” Jack asks, level-headed.

Bucky raises his hands slowly, tucking his chin to his shoulder with a jagged breath. “It’s me. I’m here.”

Jack glances between you and Bucky before holstering his weapon. “I busted the door. You shouldn’t stay here.”

Bucky’s head snaps up as you click on a lamp. “What’s going on?”

“What are you doing here?” You shake your head. “You- you still have a key?”

“I-” He shrugs apologetically and nods. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“Do you have a place to stay?” Jack turns to you.

Bucky takes a step forward, eyes glued on you. “What’s going on?”

“I’ve gotten some threats recently.” You rub your arms, pulling into yourself. “Probably empty.”

Bucky takes a deep breath, studying you. “I’ve got her.” He dismisses Jack and steps up to you. “I can take you to my place. Or the compound, if you’d be more comfortable.”

You wave Jack out as Bucky stares him down.

“Is it because of me?” Bucky’s eyes fall to your feet.

You sigh, running your hand over the back of your neck. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“But it’s me.” He gnaws at his bottom lip and kicks at your floor. “I’ll take you to the compound. You’re safer with Steve and Sam.”

He edges past you, head down and hands in his pockets.

“Buck,” you lunge after him and grab his elbow, “you didn’t do anything.”

“No,” he shakes his head with a scoff. “And people still want you dead.”

“You said you wanted to talk to me.” You pull him back to the couch and sit.

He resists and stalks back to the door. “Not anymore. It doesn’t matter.”

“Stop it,” you shout, following him. “Stop trying to protect me from yourself.”

“I can’t lose you.” He grabs your arms, holding you back.

“So, you’re just going to push me away instead?”

You watch his chest rise and fall as he works his jaw. He studies you, wheels turning behind his eyes. The clomp of feet above your head is the only sound.

“I’m a big girl,” you laugh. “I know the risks.”

“I know,” he sighs and drops his shoulders, pulling you into him. “I missed you.”

You smile against his chest, taking a deep breath of his rich, earthy scent. Your arms wrap around his waist, hands resting at the small of his back. His bionic hand splays possessively over your back, fingers spreading across your shoulder blades. His other hand cups the back of your head, massaging your scalp gently. The warmth of his fingers sends tingles down your spine as you pull yourself tighter to him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers into your hair.

His strong chest heaves under your face, lifting your head with every breath. The rhythm of his heart beating against your cheek soothes you into a peaceful sense of security. He’s here, and for the first time ever, it feels like he’s staying. No air of anxiety or insecurity. No tension in his muscles or fear in his voice. For the first time since 1945, he settles, with no thought other than what’s right in front of him.

“We should go.” He pulls away hesitantly. “Do you still have clothes at the compound?”

You look up, resting your chin on his collarbone. “I want to go to your place.”

“Let’s go, then.” He steps back, guiding you out with the hand on your back.

You ride back to his apartment in silence. Streetlights roll by your window lazily as you drive through town. Bucky’s hand drifts awkwardly between the steering wheel and the center console, resisting his instinct to rub your thigh. You follow him from the garage to his apartment, chewing on your lip.

When you enter his apartment, you gape speechless at the boxes stacked around the living room, his few personal belongings presumably packed inside. The bare walls stare back, begging you to ask.

“James, what happened?” you sigh, feeling your throat close.

“I turned my keys in when I left,” he chuckles. “Steve managed to convince my landlord to give me the rest of the month to pack up.”

“It’s been weeks.” Your eyes mist over. “What happened to us?”

“I just-” He runs his hand across his jaw and over his brow bone. “I needed some time to think.”

“And?” Your eyes wander his figure, studying every subtle movement.

“And I love you,” he says.

You wait, holding your breath. “That’s it?”

“No, but-” He huffs out a laugh, pink dusting his cheeks. “It’s not- It’s dumb.”

An involuntary smile spreads over your face at his eyes crinkling behind his grin. “Humor me, please.”

His blush deepens reddening the skin down his neck. “I think-” He stuffs his hands in his pockets and grins at the floor. “I think I’m ready to let you love me.”

You rock back on your heels, lips twitching indecisively. His rosy cheeks and embarrassed laughter make your heart skip a beat. If the world could see this Bucky, the one you know, this mess would be over. The timid, sentimental lump of insecurity in front of you is closer to a puppy than an assassin.

Taking his heated face in your hands, you lean in. His eyes search yours, vulnerability crashing through the cracks in his cool façade. He leans his forehead against yours, nose brushing over your cheek. His shaky breaths fan across your cheek, urging your mouth closer. Your skin tingles, chills spreading from your lips. Your fingers curl into the soft, short hair on the back of his neck as you tip your chin up and bring his lips to meet yours.

His hands wrap around your waist and pull your hips to him, parting his lips to deepen the kiss. You welcome his familiar taste, savoring the sweetness of his tongue. His fingers glide up your sides, knuckles skimming over your blouse. The warmth of his exhale against your cheekbone flips your stomach, sending flutters through your toes. You tilt your head, pulling your lips a breath away, and swallow hard. Bucky’s hand cups the side of your face, palm pressing firmly into your cheek. His fingers press into your neck, drawing you closer with a single, deliberate movement. You melt against his firm chest, warmth spreading through your own, as his mouth captures yours confidently. His heart thrums languidly, matching the steady tempo of his tongue. His lips, charged with pure longing, send electricity down your spine.

Every move brings you deeper into him. Each breath more intimate than the last. Your skin tingles under his strong, protective grip. You steal a peek at him, pulling away for air. He drags you back in, swallowing your breath. His comforting scent fills your lungs, consuming your senses. The only sound is your desperate breathing. He doesn’t let you pull away, fingers tightening, afraid to let you go. You don’t fight it, afraid of bringing him back to reality. His body presses firmly against yours, curving gently to match your posture, aching to be closer. The kiss says everything he was afraid to. Each touch opens him further, enabling you to feel his soul and share his emotions. He pulls away completely raw, his deepest fears and desires all but scrawled across his forehead.

Your noses skim over each other, as you stare intently into his cool, grey eyes. “Does this mean you won’t leave anymore?”

“Kitten, it would take God himself to take you from me.” He presses his lips to yours, his hands settled securely on each side of your face. “I’m not going anywhere.”

He kisses your nose and forehead before tucking your head under his chin. You glance around the room, wandering if the heat in your face is from your blush or his body. His arms cradle you gently in an embrace you wish could last an eternity.

“I think your things are packed up in my room,” he breaths, finally letting you go.

With a short nod, you push off his chest and set about opening boxes until you find your toothbrush.