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Burn the Ships

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It’s been over a year since the Avengers reversed The Snap. You still remember getting the call from Nat saying they had a plan. It was a long shot, but if it worked, they needed someone to be prepared for the world’s population to double instantly. Having worked your way to the top of the Stark Relief Foundation, you were the first person to step in after the Snap. You helped Nat account for the remaining Avengers, Steve set up counseling sessions, the UN organize a world census, and most everything else in the immediate aftermath. In fact, five years later, you joked with Nat that you were just starting to get your weekends back. But you were the only person who could possibly prepare for what would essentially be a global refugee crisis in a few weeks. These people had lost their homes, their families, their jobs. They would need to rebuild their lives, and that would take time.

Your highly sophisticated rehabilitation process included specialized teams around the world to ensure the strongest members of society- the firefighters, policemen, soldiers, Avengers- got the help they needed. You knew first-hand from working with Tony that people like that didn’t stop to help themselves, and no one made them. In fact, your main motivation in reaching out to Steve to lead the New York effort was to force him to participate in therapy. He’d never go to therapy, but he’d help in any way he could. He was one of your weekend meetings. Every Sunday. For five years. It was no surprise when he came to you after the Battle of Earth and explained his plan to stay in 1945. Well, the plan was a surprise. But you weren’t surprised that he asked you to watch out for Sam and Bucky. You didn’t even have to consider it.

That’s how you first met Bucky. It started slow. So slow, in fact, you were certain there was nothing there. Until there was. You thought for weeks that he and Sam were together. The way they argue, it’s still hard to believe they’re not. Sam offered to help as soon as he walked through the door, just like Steve said he would. You insisted he take care of himself first, and when your volunteers started to run thin, you’d welcome his help. Bucky didn’t speak to anyone besides Sam for a month. Not that you could blame him. You’d read his file (you’d read all their files). He’d been the Winter Soldier for seventy years, snapped out of it only to be put back under. He’d only been awake for two weeks when he turned to dust. He had no idea what to think.

Now, you were the one who had no idea what to think. When Steve (Mr. Rogers, as you liked to tease him ever since he got back) said he was too tired to go to the movie you had been wanting to see, he insisted Bucky take you. You were pretty sure he just wanted to force Bucky to make new friends, but it didn’t really matter. After the movie, Bucky drove you home and walked you to the door, just as he would have in 1945. But when you opened your door, he pulled you back and kissed you so hard you couldn’t think straight for days.

That was six months ago.

“I know you grew up in a different time, but goddamn!” You almost laugh, but hold it in. “You could not have possibly gone this slow before.”

He’s barely touched you since. Now, after spending over an hour holding hands and watching Netflix on his couch, it boils over. You know he saw it coming. He could tell something had been bothering you for a while. There’s no way he missed that, even if he is the most oblivious man you’ve ever met.

He groans, rubbing his hands across his face. “I didn’t.”

If nothing else, at least he’s not a liar.

“Then what the hell?!” Your anger turns into pleading, “Bucky, I want to move forward.”

“And I want to let this go.” He growls avoiding eye contact.

“That’s not fair.” You shake your head. “We’ve let it go for months.”

“No,” he scoffs, “just because we haven’t talked about it, doesn’t mean you’ve let it go.”

You lean away from him. “What the hell does that mean?”

“You keep pushing. Throwing yourself at me whenever we’re alone.”

“I would hardly call laying in your lap ‘throwing myself at you,’” you laugh.

“Fine, but my point stands.” He brushes hair out of his face. “You haven’t let it go.”

“You haven’t kissed me in six months!”

“Yes, I have.”

“Once.” You level your gaze at him. “On the cheek.”

He raises his eyebrows and tosses his hands in the air as if his victory is obvious.

"We're not in middle school." You slide over next to him, resting a hand on his knee. “Can’t we make out?”

He doesn’t react.

“I know you want to. I remember the way you kissed me that night.”

Still nothing.

“I should’ve pulled you into my apartment, pushed you onto the couch, and-”

“No.” He snaps his head up, looking you in the eye. “You shouldn’t have.”

“Bucky, please,” your begging becomes more desperate, “I’m trying to understand, but I need something. I’m not asking to-”

“Then find someone else because I can’t.” He stands and walks into the kitchen, leaning against the counter.

You look at your hands and swallow hard. You can’t do this anymore. You need real connection and human contact. Your job takes too much energy to spend your free time with someone who doesn’t care enough to even try. You stand up and walk to the door.

“You’re unbelievable.” And you leave.

 

“Really, Steve, thank you.” You take a stack of folders from the old man sitting across the table from you.

“I may be retired, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help.” He waves his hand in the air. “Even if it is just paperwork.”

You grin. “Well, ‘just paperwork’ is the biggest help.”

“How are things going? You look terrible.”

“Thanks, grandpa.” You shake your head and hand him a new stack of folders. “Busy as ever. You would not believe the hoops I have to jump through.”

He raises an eyebrow in challenge.

You snicker, “Alright, maybe a little.”

“There was too much red tape before the Sokovia Accords,” Steve chuckles.

Steve’s door opens, and your laughter stops short. Bucky nods.

“I’d love to stay and catch up, but my schedule is packed today.” You gather your things and turn to the door. “James.” You slink past him, careful not to touch him at all.

As you shut the door, you hear Steve. “What happened there?”

That’s the million dollar question. What would Bucky tell him about last night’s events? Not the truth, certainly. He doesn’t tell anyone the truth. Not all of it.

The next month passes in a whirl. You see Bucky around the rehabilitation center with Sam or when you stop by to visit Steve. After the first week, he talks to you like nothing happened. Ever. Like you’re old friends. Never anything more. And maybe you weren’t. Maybe that’s why he was so upset when you pushed him.

But it doesn’t matter. You don’t have time to guess what he was thinking or wish it had ended differently. The excitement of everyone’s return is wearing off. Volunteers are burning out faster than they can be replaced. Donations have all but dried up. Governments are tightening passport, visa, and citizenship laws, making it nearly impossible for some people to get home or find work. You’ve been in meeting after meeting for thirty-seven hours straight trying to find solutions. And, today, you’re flying to Sokovia to get a firsthand look at their progress.

The Sokovians have had a rough decade. They were still recovering from the Ultron massacre when half their population disappeared, and now all those people are back. According to reports, they are not handling it well.

As you walk through the rehabilitation center to go home to shower and pack your bag, you hear that familiar voice.

“Hey, can we talk?”

You slow and turn around. “What, Bucky? I really don’t have time.” You must really look like shit because he isn’t taken aback in the slightest.

Technically, according to your “Healing Heroes” program, you have to have time to sit down with any top tier survivors who want to talk. The Avengers, for example.

“Do you want to go out again some time?”

You take a deep breath. “You know what I want.” You turn back around and take another step toward the door.

“Can we go out again sometime soon?”

You stop, a million thoughts running through your mind and not one of them about Sokovia. Okay, maybe one.

You rub your eyes and turn to face him once more, smiling. “I leave for Sokovia in three hours. If the reports are true, I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Sokovia?” His face tightens. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

You shrug, tossing your arms out. “They need help too, and no one else is doing it.”

“Maybe I should come.” He looks at the floor before meeting your eyes again. “You could use extra security.”

You feel yourself soften. He always cared too much. “You know I can’t hire you.”

“Volunteer, then.” He smirks.

You raise an eyebrow. “You know that’s not what I mean.”

He nods and stuffs his hands in his pockets. “Conflict of interest and all that.”

“Buck,” you shake your head, “you haven’t gone through any of the steps for clearance. Have you even set the first appointment with a counselor? Been to a single group session?”

He drops his gaze again and goes silent.

“Work on the checklist. We can talk when I get back.”

He nods slowly, and you head home.

You resist the urge to drop onto your couch when you walk into your apartment. You know you’ll never get back up if you do. Instead, you strip off your clothes as you head to your bedroom, leaving a trail behind you. The floor is relatively clear; Jack must have come by and taken your clothes to the cleaner’s. Your suspicion is confirmed when you find your fresh dry cleaning on your bed next to your suitcase.

You let out a deep breath. It’s easy to understand how Tony fell for Pepper. He’s technically security, but you’d probably forget to eat if Jack didn’t leave sandwiches on your desk between meetings.

You take a quick shower and sort through your clean clothes while your hair dries. You have several freshly pressed skirt suits and two pairs of slacks. You pack two sets of heels, a pair of flats, and tennis shoes. You also choose a few sets of workout clothes and some jeans. After packing up your toiletries, you close your suitcase and begin filling a backpack with your work equipment. Laptop, files, tablet, migraine medication, and caffeine tablets.

Just as you finish there’s a knock at the door before Jack walks in.

“You ready to go?”

You smile as you drag your bags to the door. “Yeah, do we have time to stop for food?”

“Smoothie in the fridge.” He winks. “And I grabbed you a salad on the way over. It’s in the car.”

He takes your suitcase as you open your refrigerator. You grin as you take your tumbler from the middle shelf and take a sip. Strawberry mango. Perfect.

“Did you put-”

“Protein powder and chia seed? Yep.”

“What would I do without you?”

“Starve.” He says matter-of-factly. “But not before you got yourself shot.”

“First thing I’m doing when our federal funding gets renewed is giving you a raise.” You sling your backpack over your shoulder and follow Jack out the door.

“So, you and Barnes back together?”

“What?” You nearly drop your keys before you can lock the door.

“Sorry, not my business.” He takes a step back as you turn around. “Just saw you talking on your way out today.”

You snicker, “Do I have time in my schedule to date, Jack?”

“Not Barnes.” He presses the button for the elevator.

“What does that matter?”

“He’s…” Jack hesitates, “more damaged than most.”

“Yes.” You rub your burning eyes.

“He needs a relationship that can focus on him.” Jack sighs, “You just don’t have that kind of time.”

You nod, chewing at the inside of your cheek. It was an angle you hadn’t considered. Maybe the reason he never opened up to you was because you didn’t give him the attention he needed. He deserves a chance to heal from all that trauma. He needs to feel like he belongs again.

Chapter Text

Sokovia is a wreck. Protests fill every street. You’re constantly surrounded by armed guards. Ever since Ultron, no one in Sokovia wants anything to do with Stark. Unfortunately, Tony was a very branded man, and every piece of equipment the Foundation has comes with a Stark Industries logo emblazoned on the front. You manage to make it to your hotel with only a few scrapes and bruises. One of your guards took a baseball bat to the knee leaving the airport, but the crowd thinned out as you drove, and most of the rest of your team is unharmed.

You look at the new guy, worry written plainly across his face. Normally, you’d never bring a volunteer to a place like this, but funds are tight. His chest heaves with deep breaths, and his hands still look shaky.

“Welcome to Sokovia,” you smile, tearing off your bulletproof vest.

The sound of Velcro tearing apart fills the room as the others follow your lead. Watching you seems to remind the volunteer that he’s wearing a vest, and he begins pawing at the sides. “Is it always like this?”

You take a deep breath, watching the steam come off your body. “Only since Ultron.” Even in Sokovia’s moderate climate, those vests are suffocating. “Hopefully, we can repair some of that damage this week.”

He nods, and Jack holds up a bottle of merlot. “Who needs to take the edge off?”

The volunteer looks around nervously. Several people raise their hands or voice their agreement.

“Jack,” you grin, “what would I do without you?” You glance at the security team, noticing their less than eager expressions. “Agent Hamilton, would you gentlemen prefer something stronger from the bar?”

The senior agent looks up, smirking. “You always knew how to read a room, ma’am.”

“Alright, have your men sweep the suite, and then you can go for the night.” You wave a hand toward one of the bedrooms as you walk into the kitchen, glancing at the volunteer. “Greg, you want something?”

You take your glass and make your rounds, sliding through the door adjoining two suites. Usually, you’d have your own room, and the rest of the team would double up. Being in Sokovia, security wants to keep you all close. You take a seat at the table in the next room, and half the team follows. The other half, mostly assistants, huddle in the living room.

You take out a notebook and look across the table at your PR Director. “Lynn, you want to start?”

“Not particularly,” she laughs. “We haven’t had a presence in Sokovia for nearly a decade. I don't expect to be received well.”

As you motion to your swollen cheek, Jack passes you a towel full of ice and retreats.

“I think we’re passed begging received well,” you chuckle, pressing the ice pack to your face.

Lynn continues discussing her plan for rebranding Stark Industries in Sokovia. The Volunteer Coordinator jumps in when they begin discussing high publicity events, and the representative from Logistics almost has a breakdown ranting about how they couldn’t possibly obtain enough supplies.

After three hours of arguing, you send everyone downstairs for drinks. The truth is, no one is going to agree, and you need time to consider the options. You walk them to the door, and collapse on the couch. Leaning your head on the back of the couch, you let out a long sigh.

You look up when someone taps your shoulder. A glass of white wine appears next to your cheek.

“I know you prefer moscato,” Jack says softly.

You take the glass and swirl it under your nose. “Do you just break into my apartment and snoop around?”

“It’s called putting away groceries, and you gave me a key.” He passes you two ibuprofen tablets and massages your tight muscles.

“So, that’s why I always have something for dinner,” you muse jokingly. You don’t let yourself sink into his touch, no matter how nice it feels. “You didn’t want to grab a nightcap from the bar?”

“You look like shit.” He presses a thumb into a knot in your neck and taps your shoulder. “I'll order you some takeout. You take shower. It's going to be a long week.”

You groan as you get to your feet. You'd be lucky if it was only a week.

You’re incredibly unlucky, as it turns out. The week rolls by with little progress. Meetings lasted well into the night, and Lynn was pissed. Her job grew harder every day. You finally understood why your predecessor pulled the plug on the relief effort after Ultron. Sokovian disdain for anything Stark related runs deep. It’s beginning to look like it always will.

The free clinic you opened downtown receives only a handful of visitors and countless threats. After a group of teenagers pulled knives on the nurses, security added a metal detector to the entrance, which did little for appearances. You refuse to allow them to carry weapons openly, even Jack. The few local volunteers you had quit because of threats to their families. The outlook of your little expedition was not good.

“How’s Wanda doing?” You drag a hand down your face, mumbling into your cell phone. Your “office” is simply a desk in the corner. Not even a back corner, the only place you get cell service is by the large window along the front wall.

“Well, she’s still at the farm,” Clint chuckles over your phone.

Your eyebrows pull together as you open a file on your tablet. “Was she a flight risk?”

“For a while.” You can picture him shrugging on his end. “She took it all pretty hard.”

“Yeah,” you sigh, closing out of Wanda’s record. “I really could use her out here.”

“She’s nowhere near ready.”

“I know,” you sigh. “We’re outsiders. Maybe if she made a statement in Sokovian, they’d-”

“Y/N,” Clint’s tone ends your train of thought, “I don’t think you get how bad she is.”

“I know.” You glance at the empty coffee mug on your desk. She’s about as far from being cleared for duty as Bucky.

“You don’t.” A door squeaks open and slams shut on Clint’s end. He talks softly. “She keeps talking to Pietro when she’s alone. When I ask her about it, she says she’s just remembering old times.”

“What?” You shake your head, standing to refill your mug. “You think she’s hallu-”

Glass shatters amid screams. You drop to your knees, feeling like you’ve been punched between your shoulder blades. Jack rushes to your side, weapon drawn. A few agents secure the employees, and the rest flood into the street.

“Oh, mother of God.” You lean into Jack. “It burns.”

He snakes his arm around your waist and guides toward the emergency exit in the back. “Yep. Keep moving.”

“What the hell?” You look over your shoulder, trying to discern the situation from among the chaos.

“You wearing your vest?”

“Yes.” You follow Jack thoughtlessly, feet moving without commands from your brain. You can barely hear anything over your heart pounding in your ears.

Your rental car waits at the curb at the end of the alley behind the clinic. Jack clears the alley before ushering you out the door and into the vehicle.

“Hotel,” he barks, slamming the door shut.

“What about-”

“They’ll get there when they get there.” He grabs your shoulders and twists you to face the window, sliding your vest down your arms. “You’re the face of Stark Industries right now. You’re the primary target.”

“Jack, what-”

He jerks a radio from his belt, and static crackles as he holds down a button. “Get Strange to the hotel, pronto.”

You turn to look at Jack, but he pushes you back around.

“Jack, answer- Jesus Christ!” You drop your forehead into the window. “Stop it!”

“Can’t.” He presses harder against your back.

The pieces fall into place. “Was I-”

“Yes.”

Your eyes go wide at the confirmation. “How bad?”

“It’s a good thing you stood up when you did,” he smiles. “You’ll be alright, but it’s probably going to hurt like hell.”

“Great.” You grit your teeth against the ache spreading across your shoulders and the burn under Jack’s hands.

“Hopefully Strange has some anesthetics or something for you.”

You let out a morbid chuckle. “I personally nixed those. Too expensive. We weren’t supposed to be an ER. Vaccinations, antibiotics, stuff like that.”

“Well,” Jack offers weakly, “it won’t get infected.”

You choke out a laugh through the increasing pressure on your back. “What exactly happened back there?”

“I don’t know much more than you.” The pressure releases as Jack inspects the wound, muttering mostly to himself. “Can’t really see anything through the shirt.”

“What?” You glance over your shoulder, wincing with the new renewed pressure.

“We’ll just have to wait for Strange to take a look.” He shakes his head. “We’re pretty sure it was just a guy on the street, realized he couldn’t get a gun past security and took the best shot he had.”

You reach for your vest as the car approaches your hotel.

“Leave it.” Jack brushes your hand away. “It’s been compromised. Just run fast and keep your head down.”

Jack steps out of the car first and shields you as you climb out. He wraps an arm across your shoulders and pushes your head down. You cradle your left arm as you make your way into the lobby as quickly as possible, which isn’t very. The ache in your shoulder has only deepened, and your entire back feels like it’s on fire.

Once inside, Jack lets you stand up straight, but still keeps an arm around your shoulders.

“Does it always feel like a billion knives being pushed through your skin?” you ask as the elevator door shuts.

“No.” He takes a deep breath and lets you go. “Sometimes you don’t feel anything.”

“Well, lucky me.” You lean your right shoulder against the wall.

“I don’t think the bullet hit your shoulder, but the impact might have fractured it. A few inches to the right, and I’d be carrying you right now.” He eases you upright and supports your weight as the doors ding open. “All things considered, you are pretty lucky.”

The dampness spreading down your back makes it difficult for you to believe that. You take a deep breath and set your eyes on the end of the hall. The farthest room from the elevator was a great idea from a security standpoint, but right now it just seems impossibly far away.

When you’re halfway to your room, Jack shoves you into the doorway to your left. You groan at the jolt of being slammed into the door. He draws his sidearm and advances down the hall. You hear several punches land and lean away from the door. You see a muzzle flash and jump back against the door bracing for the crack of the shot. Another punch, and Jack stumbles back to you.

You reach a hand up to his bloody cheek. He takes your wrist and pulls you down the hall. “Let’s get back to your room before another fanatic comes out of the woodwork.”

You nod and follow him, stepping over the knife in the middle of the floor. Glancing at the body on the ground, you manage to croak, “Is he-”

“Unconscious. Come on.”

He urges you down the hall and pulls a key card from his pocket. Once inside, he instructs you to change into a robe so he can inspect your wound. You sit down at the table and slide your left arm out of the robe, letting his fingers trail across your back.

“I’ve seen worse.” He prods around the edges of the bullet hole. “The bleeding slowed, at least.”

The skin is sensitive and tight. You flinch away, groaning and pawing at his hands. “Stop it.”

“You stop it.” Jack swats your hand and reapplies pressure with a towel he must have gotten from the kitchen. “I’m doing my job.”

“Jack.” Heat races through your body, and you feel sweat bead on your forehead. White encroaches on the edge of your vision. “I don’t feel good.”

“Yep.” He slides a trashcan in from the kitchen.

You grab the edges and bend over, retching loudly. You vomit with much more energy than you thought you possible at this point in time. “I need to lay down,” you groan hanging onto the edge of the trashcan.

“Yeah, sure, after-” A knock on the door interrupts, and Jack stands up to answer it. “-Strange fixes you up.”

You lay your head on the table, groaning to yourself.

Jack mutters with another security agent in the doorway. “I’m going to get another room. She’s not safe here.”

The other agent grunts an agreement and takes his post by the door.

Strange walks up and drops a bag on the table. “How do you feel?”

“Like I need a nap.” You glare up at him.

“You want me to give you another dose before I get started?”

“Please.” You wave toward the bedroom. “In my makeup bag.”

Strange shuffles around in the bathroom and returns with a vial in hand. He takes a syringe from his bag and begins filling it. “How long has it been since you used this?”

“The day after we landed,” you answer slowly, retracing the previous week.

“A regular dose?”

You nod weakly.

“I’ll give you double.” He taps the syringe and pulls a rubber band tourniquet from the bag.

You turn your arm over, as if preparing for a blood draw, and prepare for the burn. Strange ties off the rubber band and presses on the crook of your arm.

“Is this where you usually self-inject?” He raises an eyebrow, glancing up at you.

You shake your head.

Wiping a spot with alcohol, he gives you the injection. You immediately tense, all your muscles contracting. And it’s over.

You take a deep breath and roll your head side to side. The skin on your back tingles, and your heartrate skyrockets. Your breathing comes easier, and the nausea subsides.

“Is she diabetic?” Jack comes around the table to sit in front of you.

You glance at Strange and shake your head slightly.

“Yeah, something like that.” Strange begins working on the bullet still lodged in your trapezius.

Jack glares at you. “These are things I need to know.”

“I can handle it.” You take the granola bar he holds out to you. “This isn't your job, you know.”

“My job is keeping you alive. Until today, you were my biggest threat.” He nudges the granola bar back toward your face.

Your snicker morphs into a grunt, and Strange drops a piece of metal onto the table. Jack picks up the disfigured scrap and rolls it around in his palm.

“That’s the bullet?” you breathe out.

“Hollow point.” Jack nods and holds it back out to you. “Amazing what something as soft as the human body can to a piece of metal.”

You hiss while Strange prods around. “Isn’t that what a hollow point is supposed to do?” He’s not gentle by any stretch of the word. Every move is deliberate.

“You know a little something,” Jack smirks.

“Not really, I- shit!” You drop your head to the table. “What the hell, Stephen?” He doesn’t treat you like the word “fragile" is stamped on your forehead. He has a job to do, and he does it.

“I have to close the wound,” he answers flatly, tugging at the sutures. “You vetoed any pain meds stronger than Tylenol.”

“We don’t have the- money.” You grit your teeth, but don’t even attempt to pull away. You spent so long waiting for Bucky that every touch, no matter how small, felt so good.

“You need to get back to the states.” Strange ties off the thread and backs away.

“I thought you said I’d be fine.” You look between the two men.

Strange nods. “You need imagining so we know what the damage really is. And you're sure as hell not going to a Sokovian hospital.”

You look at Jack’s stern expression and drop your shoulders. “Fine.”

“Until then,” Strange continues, “I want that arm in a sling.”

You offer a choppy nod, the new sutures pulling at your neck. “You said we have Tylenol?”

Strange tosses you a bottle before closing his bag. “Get some rest.”

You stand and make your way to a bedroom and drop onto the bed. You whimper when your back slams against the mattress. You’d been working with Strange for over a year, and never once found yourself wondering what else his hands could do. Damn Barnes.

“Strange says you can’t get those wet for at least 24 hours.” Jack sets a bottle of pills on the nightstand and tosses a sling onto the bed. “Antibiotics. You need to take two tonight.”

“I feel like shit.” You sit up, wrapping the sling around your neck. “A bath would have been nice.”

“You can take one, just don’t get the stitches wet.”

You shake your head, realizing someone took your hair out of its ponytail. “Too much work.”

“Get some rest, while I pack your shit. Then I’ll help you clean up the blood, at least.”

“What are you getting at, Jack?” You glance at him as you sink into the pillows.

“Nothing.” He kicks open your suitcase and walks to the closet. “I’ve been there. It sucks.”

You watch him fold your clothes not so neatly and tuck them into your luggage. Letting your mind wander for the first time, you barely hear his monologue.

“… a lot with SHIELD. Hell, saw a lot before SHIELD…”

You wonder what Bucky would have done if you’d let him come. He has more training than Jack, maybe he would’ve seen it coming.

“…nice to have help…”

He hasn’t been back in the field since being the Winter Soldier. Chances are just as good that he would’ve lost it. This is probably the best-case scenario.

“…weird, but I’m still here…”

Yet, you still wish you’d let him come.

“So, seriously, if you need anything, I’m happy-”

“Jack?” This is a bad idea. “Would you lay down with me?”

He freezes, staring at you. “What?”

“I just-” you take a breath, pressing a hand against your head. “I’m a little high strung.” That’s it. You just need some security so you can sleep.

He narrows his eyes, but nods. “Yeah, of course.” He climbs onto the other side of the bed and wraps an arm around you.

You pull in closer to him, grounding yourself in his warmth. Slowly, you begin to hear the rest of your team trickle in and pull you back to common sense. You shift away from Jack and groan. He turns to watch you ease to your feet.

“We should get up.” You go to the bathroom to change out of the robe.

“Yes, ma’am.” He chuckles, picking up right where you interrupted him.

“Come on, Jack. Don’t be-”

“I get it.” His eyes dart to the door when you emerge in your gym attire. “Go show everyone you’re alright.”

You make your rounds, assuring everyone it was only a flesh wound. One of the security agents hands you your phone, which you must have dropped in the flurry. You have twelve missed calls and twenty-three unread texts, all from Clint. Typing out a quick reply, you chuckle to yourself. He’s going to be pissed when he turns on the news tomorrow.

When Strange tells you to wind down, Jack grabs your bags from the bedroom. You call everyone’s attention and explain that you’ll all be returning home tomorrow afternoon. They need to pack their bags and be ready to leave by 10:30 in the morning.

With that, Jack escorts you to your new room two floors below. You sit on the couch and click on the TV. You wonder if the media has covered the attack yet.

Jack walks in front of the TV and whistles. “I don’t speak Sokovian, but they don’t look too upset.”

“Shouldn’t everyone be in a different room?” You look up at Jack with heavy eyes.

“Not enough vacancies.” He carries your bag to the bedroom as he finishes, “You’re the priority.”

You drag your good hand down your face and groan. “This was a terrible idea.”

“Getting shot? I’d have to agree,” he laughs, scanning your face for any hint of relief.

You just glare. “This whole thing. We shouldn’t have come.”

He pinches his eyebrows together. “What changed your mind?”

“Look at us,” you pout. “I put everyone at risk for nothing. They don’t want us here.”

He sits down beside you and rubs your shoulder delicately. “You couldn’t have known they’d go to these extremes.”

“Bucky did,” you mumble, slumping back against the couch.

Jack takes a deep breath. “He didn’t see it coming. He’s just very cynical.”

You snicker halfheartedly. “Who were they?”

Jack groans. “An extremist group. Happy warned us. They’ve made attempts on Tony before.”

Your face drops, and you look away, tamping down your anger.

“Did you want to clean up a little?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Your struggle to keep your voice level.

“What?” He tugs at your shoulder, trying to turn you back around.

“About this group,” you snap pulling away from him. “Don’t you think that would have been helpful information in my decision to intervene here?”

“We didn’t think they’d make an attack at home.” Jack watches you pace across the living room. “They like to keep these things in our backyard, not their own.”

“These are things I need to know.” You glare at him.

“You would have changed your mind.” His voice is so calm.

You scoff, “Of course I would.”

“You didn’t make anyone come here.” He locks eyes with you, determined to hold your attention. “They followed you because you believe in what you’re doing, and they want to help.”

“How does that make a difference.”

“I’ve known you for more than five years now,” he adds softly. “If you hadn’t tried, you would never forgive yourself when Sokovia falls. You needed the deniability.”

You tear your eyes away from his and walk into the bathroom. All Bucky had done was try to keep you from going. He wanted you to be safe, sure. But you weren’t made of glass. Hell, you’d just been shot and were still standing.

Jack follows you, waiting outside the door. When the shower turns on, he knocks quietly. “Come on, you’re not supposed to be in there. You’re going to get an infection.”

You unhook your sling and carefully pull your shirt over your head. You inhale the steam, letting the warmth clear your mind. “What’s your game?”

He leans his head against the door. “My what?”

“Why do you help me so much?” You need to know. Your head tells you it’s his job, but a piece of you hopes it’s something else. You really need your head to be right.

“I don’t have a game.”

You wait. Good. It’s just a job. That’s good.

“I-” He lets out a nervous laugh. “I believe in you too. Just like everyone else here.”

You drop your head, turning off the shower, and slide your bra off. Wrapping a towel around you, you open the door. “Will you please help me wash the blood off?”

He nods, waving you over to the bed. You lay face down and unwrap the towel, leaving you in just your gym shorts.

“Strange did a decent job around the entry site.” Jack walks to the bathroom and soaks a washcloth with warm water. “But the rest of your back is a mess.”

You brace for the pressure on your sore muscles, but he just drapes the cloth across your back and returns to the bathroom. The tension slowly eases as the steam seeps into your muscles. You relax into the soft bed, your eyes fluttering closed.

He spreads the new washcloth across your lower back and begins rubbing at the dried blood on your shoulders. “Why did you hire me?”

You turn your head to look over your shoulder. “What?”

“No one else would.”

“I’m not one to judge on past mistakes,” you smirk into a pillow.

“Right. Barnes.”

You let yourself laugh. “Barnes.”

The light pressure begins to soothe your muscles. The ache is barely noticeable now.

“I get it, you know?” He moves down to your lower back. “How he feels. Being manipulated. Looking back and knowing it was wrong.”

“Jack, I don’t think it’s quite the same.” You rotate your neck slowly.

“I know, but just-” He waves a hand in the air. “Knowing you can’t go back. You want to get past it, but no one will let you.”

You listen silently, running through possible motivations for telling you this. You hardly notice that he isn’t cleaning your back anymore, just massaging it, being careful not to come too close to your wound. You should tell him to stop, but it’s so relaxing, and his hands are so warm.

“It’s taken me ten years to get here. Barnes will come around.”

“Yes,” you roll your eyes, “I always wanted to start a brand-new relationship at forty-nine.”

“Fair enough.” His hands freeze as if he’s just become aware of his own actions. He wraps your towel around and tucks it in at your back. When you manage to turn yourself over and sit up, he’s waiting with your t-shirt in hand.

You take it and, with your back turned, slide it over your head. You turn on the bedroom TV and let Jack help adjust your sling.

“Almost ten years,” he mumbles standing behind you, “and I still have to prove myself.”

You turn to face him, kneeling on the bed. This is a bad idea. “As far as I’m concerned.” You brush your thumb up his cheek and smile. A very bad idea. “You don’t have to prove anything, Rollins.”

Damn it, Barnes. You lean forward, pulling his face to meet yours. His lips are just as warm as his hands.

Chapter Text

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.”

“Steve, I-”

“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.”

“Oh.”

“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.

“What?”

“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.

“What’s wrong?”

“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.

“Stay.”

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.”

Chapter Text

Bucky sets your Café Americano down on the small table and sits across from you. The buzz of the coffee shop is louder than you’re used to, since you’re usually here before sunrise. It doesn’t seem to bother Bucky at all.

“Thanks for stepping out of the office to talk to me.” He stares at his twiddling thumbs. “I know how busy you are now.”

You shrug. “It’s getting stuffy anyway.”

He tilts his head, expression turning serious. “What happened to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You used to love this job.” A ghost of a smile plays at his lips. “You were always exhausted, but not like this.”

You shake your head. “I did everything I could. And I couldn’t-” You shake your head again, looking up. “What’s new with you? It’s been a while.”

“Sam keeps trying to get me out. Meet some girls.” He takes a drink from his cup and scrunches his nose.

“Did they do it wrong?” You taste yours. “Mine’s alright.”

“I have no idea.” He slides his cup across the table.

You take a taste and furrow your brow. “Have you ever had a Café Americano before?”

“The only thing I recognized on the menu was hot chocolate.” He looks up from his hands. “And I was not about to order that, so I just got what you did.”

“Buck,” you lock eyes with him, “do you even like coffee?”

His cheeks turn pink. “Not particularly.”

“Then why did you invite me here?” you laugh.

“Sam said that’s what you do when you want to talk with someone.” Bucky shrugs.

“Well, from now on, if you really want to talk to me, ask if you can help with paperwork,” you chuckle.

His eyes gleam, “Deal.”

“So, what do you like?” You search his eyes waiting for an answer. “Tea? Something fruity?” You can see the confliction on his face and giggle. “Buck, do you want hot chocolate?”

His silence is the only confirmation you need. You stand and turn toward the counter.

“No, don’t.” He watches you turn back, looking confused. “I don’t…want you to…” He lets the sentence hang, averting his eyes again.

“Give me your wallet then,” you laughing, reaching your arm out. As he reaches into his pocket, you add, “It’s perfectly acceptable for women to pay, now. But I’m broke as hell until new funding comes in, so I’ll take it.”

He beams, handing off his wallet.

After several minutes, you return. You pass Bucky his drink, letting his fingers brush against yours, and you smile. “Has Sam not talked to you about getting a credit card?”

“I don’t like it.” He shakes his head. “Last time we bought on credit, I had to walk my sisters to the bread line every day.”

You let out an amused laugh. “Fair enough.”

He takes a sip, pinching his eyebrows together. “God, that’s good.”

“I adulted it up a little for you.” Your giggle makes him smile. “White chocolate lavender.”

He takes another long gulp. “This is my new favorite place.”

“You’ve never been here before?” You raise an eyebrow as you lift your cup.

“The only places I’ve really been were with you.” He shrugs, breaking your heart.

“What do you do every day?”

“Mostly play chess with Steve.” Noticing your reaction, he clears his throat. “No, it’s fun. It’s like when we were kids. He couldn’t keep up with the other boys. Wasn’t a real good runner, you know? So, he taught me to play.”

He smiles, and you believe him, but something is off. When he first got back, Steve was everything. Just being in the same room was enough to make him happy. He followed Steve like a lost puppy, and that was enough. But it’s different now. You can see it in his eyes. Steve’s still his closest friend, always will be, but he’s not enough anymore. Bucky wants more.

“What do you want, Buck?” Your voice is softer than you’ve ever heard it. “What are we doing here, really?”

He takes a deep breath. “I want to work at the Center. Sam says you’re struggling to operate with so few volunteers.”

“Bucky,” your head drops.

“I want to help.” He wraps his hands around his cup. “I’m doing counseling.”

Your eyes snap up to his. “What?”

“Well, sort of.” He taps his fingers against his cup. “Me and Sam, we talk- really talk- twice a week. There’s this bar he likes and-”

“Bucky,” your heart drops, “that’s not the same.”

“I know.” His change in tone digs at your soul. “I just hoped it’d be enough to start.”

“Sam’s not certified. I can’t sign off on that.”

He nods, looking down at his drink. “I understand.”

“But I am.” You watch his eyes light up. “In trauma counseling, actually.”

“Then I could volunteer?”

You nod. “Tell Sam to get a new wingman. My office, twice a week.”

 

***

 

“You don’t see a problem with it?” Jack props his feet on your desk.

You lean back, stretching, and give him a pointed glare. “No, I don’t.”

He winks at you, adjusting his feet. “You’re counseling him and working with me. How is that okay?”

“It’s not like I’m asking you to sit in on the sessions.” You hunch back over the coffee table, reading a report. “He doesn’t even know you work here.”

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?” you ask absently, focused on your files.

“You were friends with Tony and Barnes and me. How can you balance that?”

“You’re all people. And just because your stories intersect, doesn’t make one of you the villain.” You make a note in the margins. “What he says doesn’t change what I know about you.”

“But,” Jack sets his feet flat on the floor, “what if it does?”

You take a deep breath, studying his hunched figure. “You were both victims, Jack. Not just him. Psychological manipulation is subtle. It wouldn’t work if you could see it coming.”

“He didn’t deserve it.” Jack picks at his fingernails. “The things Brock came up with. They were-”

“Jack,” by the time he looks up, you’re laying a hand on his thigh, “I can’t be your counselor. But I can get you set up with someone.”

“No.” He pats your hand and sits up straight. “Been there. Done that. Got the coin to prove it.” He smiles. “I’m good now.”

“Good.” You squeeze his leg before letting go. “You don’t have to stay. I’ll probably be here all night.”

“No way, sweetheart.” He leans back in your swivel chair and props his feet back up. “Last time I did that, you got shot.”

You snicker as you walk back to the couch. “Just get out before eight.”

“Yep.” He tips his head back to rest against the wall and closes his eyes. “Don’t go anywhere near Barnes.”

Absorbed in your reports, you don’t notice Jack walk up behind you. He grabs your shoulders, pressing his thumbs into your muscles.

You yelp, pulling away. “I reopened that.”

“Of course, you did.” He focuses on your right side instead. “Do you want me to help you clean up again?”

“Jack,” you smirk over your shoulder, “I told you. One time only.”

“Yeah, alright.” He taps your shoulders and returns to his self-appointed post at your desk. Within minutes, he’s snoring quietly.

 

***

 

Bucky’s heart races. The hair on his neck prickles, and he can hear footsteps coming down the hall. Zola will be here soon. His eyes aren’t giving him the right information, so he squeezes them shut, focusing on other senses. It smells sterile, like alcohol, and it’s cold.

“Bucky,” your soft voice catches his attention, “you’re safe here. Look at me.”

He slowly opens his eyes, realizing they had been right all along. There you are, sitting calmly in your chair. Certainly you wouldn’t lie to him. It doesn’t matter what his mind tells him or what he hears, if you’re calm, it must be safe. He focuses on you.

“We don’t have to talk about it anymore.” You tuck a strand of hair behind your ear. “What do you want to talk about?”

 

***

 

“No.” Bucky’s rough voice is flat.

You sigh, pinching the bridge of your nose. “Bucky, you need to talk about the Winter Soldier.”

He glares at you silently.

“We can start with something easy.” You rest your elbows on your knees, leaning closer to him. “How did you address them?”

“I didn’t,” he snaps. “I was a tool.”

“That’s a good start. What did they call you?”

He takes a short breath. “I don’t know.”

“Okay,” you nod, “where did they keep you?”

“I don’t know.” This time it’s a growl.

“Alright, then,” you pause, tapping your pen against your thumb, “tell me something you do know.”

He narrows his eyes, nostrils flaring. “No.”

 

***

 

Bucky paces your office, raking his hands through his hair. “I don’t remember.”

You sit still, eyes trained on his tense form. “It’s okay.”

He rolls his shoulders, letting out a low growl. “No, it’s not. I need to remember.”

“Why?”

“I can do better,” he barks. His breathing picks up, and he rubs a hand across his forehead. “It’s in there. I know it.”

You watch silently, giving him time to think. He tugs at his hair and clenches his fists. His muscles tensing further with every step.

“I can remember,” he whispers to himself.

“Buck, you don’t have to.”

He ignores you, drawing into himself.

You stand slowly and wait for him to turn back to you. “Buck, it’s okay.” You reach a hand out to stop his pacing. “This is normal.”

He lets out a bitter laugh. “I guess that’s why I need counseling, right?” He shoves you away and continues pacing. “Because I’m so fucking normal.”

You hurry back to his side. “Enough. You’re doing great. It’s-”

“Just shut up.” He turns on you, grabbing your arms. “I am not a pet. I don’t need your approval.”

“Buck,” your voice is barely a whisper.

“I need to remember.” His lips curl back in a snarl, nostrils flaring. His eyes are wide. He tightens his grip and tosses you away. “We’re done here.”

You stumble back, taking shaky breaths, and watch him leave.

 

***

 

“You do understand how unethical that is?”

“Yes, Stephen, I’m aware.” You look across your desk. “In the future, if you’re going to lecture me, could you at least shut the door?”

“I’m just saying,” Strange eases the door closed, “you’re deeply involved with him.”

“Not anymore. Besides, it’s nothing official. We just talk.”

“Whatever. It’s unethical.”

“Yeah, well, he needs to talk to someone.” You look back at your work. “And he won’t open up to anyone else.”

“How well did that line of reasoning work out in Sokovia?”

You freeze. “I should keep Atlanta open, right? With the CDC and everything out there.”

Strange sighs, “Yes, that would be helpful from a medical standpoint.”

You nod and flip your folder closed.

“That was low,” he concedes. “I just hope you understand the risk you’re taking. Again.”

“I’m well aware.” You open another folder.

“If someone finds out you used to sleep with him-”

“I didn’t.” You snap the folder shut and lean back in your chair.

He pinches his eyebrows together. “You were together for months.”

You nod. “Any other questions.”

“It’s still unethical.”

“I’ll take that as a no, then.” You smirk, “Thanks for dropping in.”

“Save it.” He shoots you a glare. “We both know that’s not why I’m here.”

“Oh?” You raise your eyebrows, eyes locked on him. “Enlighten me.”

“You mean to tell me these closures don’t have you on edge?”

“Nothing I can’t handle on my own.”

Strange stops short before he can get a response out, leaving his mouth hanging open. “Then, I think we should get to work on good.”

“Doctor Strange,” you smirk up at him, still seated, “you’re not suggesting I take advantage of one of my volunteers, are you?”

He crosses the room, spreading his palms on your desk. “Clearly you have no qualms of ethicality.”

You lean across your desk, resting your forearms in the center. “When the risk is worth the reward.”

“Oh,” his eyes glint, “I’ll make it worth it.”

 

***

 

Bucky walks into the rehabilitation center, bouncing on his toes. Your sessions together are his favorite part of the week. For the first time ever, he feels like he’s making progress. There’s still plenty he can’t remember, but he’s learning to cope with what he can.

“Hey, Sam.” Bucky jogs across the open multiuse room. “You seen Y/N?”

Sam shakes his head, making his way over. “Probably means she’s still in her office.” Wilson grabs Bucky’s hand and pulls him into a one-armed hug. “You’re early.”

Bucky smiles, his cheeks tinged pink. “Better than late.”

“Buck,” Sam’s smile fades, “she’s your counselor now.”

“Yeah, I know.” Bucky slides his hands into his pockets. “She told me.”

“Come out with me tonight, man.” Wilson grins. “You’ll make me look younger.”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead out with you.” Bucky shakes his head, turning toward a hallway.

As he nears your office at the end of the hall, he hears muffled voices. You must be in a meeting. He slows his pace, dampening the sound of his footsteps. He doesn’t want to interrupt; he’ll just wait outside your door.

“Fuck.” A throaty growl comes out of your office.

Bucky cocks his head. It was so quiet, he’s not entirely sure he heard it at all. Looking around, he finds no one else to confirm it. Not that anyone else would’ve been able to hear it anyway.

“Don’t,” your breathy voice is unmistakable, “stop.”

Bucky freezes mid-step, anger boiling up in his chest. This is definitely not a meeting. He spins on his heel and rushes back up the hall, heat racing up his neck. Scanning the common room, he finds Wilson setting up for a group counseling session.

“You still want to grab a beer tonight?”

Sam turns around, eyes narrowed. “What changed your mind?”

“Nothing.” Bucky shakes his head, but Sam isn’t buying it. Bucky drops his shoulders. “She’s seeing someone else.”

Sam’s back stiffens as he sets out another chair. “How do you know that?”

“Because she’s seeing him right now,” Bucky scoffs.

“Shit.” Sam’s gaze snaps to the front door. “I didn’t even see him come in.”

Bucky’s eyes go wide. “You knew?”

Sam rubs the back of his neck. “I tried to keep you out of it, man.”

“How long?” Bucky digs at the cement floor with the toe of his boot.

“I don’t know, she keeps it quiet.” He shrugs. “Few weeks?”

A snarl escapes Bucky’s mouth. “The whole goddamn time?”

Sam looks up from the chair he’s unfolding. “Basically, yeah.”

“Who is it?” A fire flickers behind Bucky’s eyes.

“Easy,” Sam lets out a chuckle. “Why don’t we go talk?”

Bucky clenches his jaw, watching Sam look for an empty room. Wilson’s right. Bucky has no claim to you. He can’t pinpoint why he’s angry. He just is. And that’s infuriating.

He follows Sam into a conference room. Sam closes the door and faces Bucky. “It’s Strange.”

Bucky scoffs, “You don’t have to tell me.”

“No,” Sam takes a deep breath, “she’s with Strange.”

“Oh, come on!” Bucky throws his hands in the air. “That guy? He’s a total douchebag.”

“He’s not that bad.” Sam crosses his arms, leaning into the wall.

“He’s an arrogant asshole who thinks everyone owes him something because he’s some fancy pants doctor.”

“He’s a neurosurgeon. And he spends a lot of time working in the clinic here.”

Bucky barks out a laugh and yells, “She’s so concerned with ethics, but she’ll fuck anyone who works for her. In her goddamn office, at that.”

“Hey, now.” Sam gives Bucky a harsh glare.

“You know she dumped me because I wouldn’t bang her.”

“Huh.” Sam raises his eyebrows. “Sometimes I forget you’re Catholic. Good on you.”

Bucky looks at Wilson like he’s crazy. “It’s not- Doesn’t matter anyway.”

“Why not then? She’s plenty-”

“I’ll bet she screwed Stark, too.”

“That’s not fair.” Sam shakes his head, standing up straight.

“No, we all know how Stark was before Pepper.” Bucky continues, “She started working here way before that.”

“Stop before you embarrass yourself.”

“He probably made her a deal.” Bucky gives a dark smirk. “He hives her a job, she gives him a bl-”

“Enough. Barnes.” Sam’s voice booms across the room. His face is stone. “Go home. Pull your shit together.”

Bucky storms across the room and throws the door open. He shoves past an intern in the hall, causing the small redhead to throw him the bird, and hurries out the front door. He doesn’t want to be here any longer than he has to be.

Bucky speeds to the Avengers compound and finds Steve making dinner in his private kitchen. The aroma hits him like a truck, immediately driving out his anger. He takes a deep inhale and smiles, pulling out a chair at the bar.

“Stevie, are you making pizza?”

Steve takes one last look through the oven window and turns around, “Brooklyn style, of course.”

“Smells like home.” He leans back in his seat. “Just like your mom made on days you had to miss school.”

Steve beams across the counter. “Got a little practice in while I was gone. It was the kids’ favorite.”

Bucky takes an apple from the bowl on the counter and inspects the skin. “How come you don’t talk about them?”

“Some things belong to me, Buck,” Steve smirks. “I thought you had a counseling session today.”

Bucky stiffens. “I’m done with that.”

“Huh.” Steve cocks his head to the side as he leans against the counter. “Y/N said you were making progress, but she didn’t mention decreasing your sessions.”

“She can’t talk to you about all that stuff.” Bucky takes a bite of the apple. “Patient confidentiality and all.”

Steve nods slowly. “What really happened?”

Bucky takes another bite of the apple, staring at Steve.

“Buck,” Steve sighs, “I’m retired. I got nowhere to be.”

They sit in silence until Bucky finishes his apple. Every bite is painfully slow. He takes his time, scrutinizing the flavors before swallowing.

When he stands to throw the core away, he takes a deep breath. “She’s screwing Strange.”

“And that upsets you because?”

“It’s unprofessional. He works for her.”

Steve purses his lips to the side and raises an eyebrow. Bucky can imagine that’s the exact expression his kids got when they tried to explain why they were sneaking in so late.

“Why him?” Bucky drops back into his chair. “I mean, of everyone out there, she picked him.”

“What’s wrong with him?” Steve folds his arms over his chest. “You don’t even know him.”

“They’re all the same, doctors.” Bucky waves a hand in the air before dragging it through his hair. “Think they’re special. Expect everything to be handed to them just because of who they are.”

“Well, not everyone grew up in the Depression.” Steve opens the refrigerator to retrieve a bowl of salad. “Doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate things.”

“Oh, please,” Bucky scoffs. “That guy hasn’t had to work for a thing in years.”

Steve sets the salad on the counter and turns to the oven. “You know, Buck-”

“Can we not, Steve? Please.”

Setting the pizza on top of the stove, Steve smirks. “Let’s eat then.”

When they finish eating, Bucky volunteers to do the dishes. Steve heads into the living room when a knock on the door turns him around.

“Steve, hey.” Bucky can hear clearly from the kitchen. You’re out of breath. “Have you seen Bucky? He didn’t show up for his session today, and he’s not answering my calls.”

Bucky holds his breath.

“Why don’t you come in, Y/N?” Steve answers loudly. As if Bucky couldn’t hear through walls.

“Our last session didn’t end well. He wasn’t- he kind of-” Feet shuffle down the hall. “I’m just worried about him.”

“Don’t be, kitten,” Bucky sneers, stepping out of the kitchen. “I’m just fine.”

“Buck?” You blink and glance at Steve, flustered. “Why didn’t you come to your appointment today? I’ve been calling you for an hour.”

“Oh, I was there.” He grimaces. “And from the sound of it, you were almost there.”

“What the hell are you talking about? I haven’t been able to leave my office all day. I cancelled three meetings just to come find you.”

“Oh, I guess Strange had to come to you today?” Bucky stalks back to the kitchen. “Don’t change your schedule on my account, doll.”

Heat flashes over your face, and you can only imagine the fire engine red that must be covering your cheeks. You grit your teeth to cover the embarrassment in your voice. “You could have just texted me.”

“I didn’t want to ruin your fun.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“What do you see in him anyway? All he does is boss people around.”

You smirk, “Some women like being given orders, Barnes.”

Bucky’s face flushes. “Didn’t sound like anything to write home about, to me.”

“What the hell, Barnes? Were you eavesdropping on us?” The heat under your skin turns to rage.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” he barks. “I certainly wasn’t trying to hear that.”

“Right, I forgot.” You roll your eyes. “You have an aversion to sex.”

Steve pinches his eyebrows together. “Since-”

“Maybe it was just you.” Bucky’s lips twitch up into a faint smile.

Your expression tightens, every muscle in your face tensing with fury. You clench your jaw in an unsuccessful attempt to keep your lips from pulling back into a snarl. “You know what, Barnes?” you growl, voice low. “No one asked you to jump me after that movie. If you weren’t interested, you should’ve kept your tongue to yourself.” You turn to leave.

“Don’t walk away from me,” he snarls, grabbing your elbow.

As he spins you back around, you instinctively throw your hand across his face. The smack splits through Steve’s quarters. You stand frozen, watching Bucky reach up to his cheek. Steve darts out of his seat, braced to jump between you and Bucky.

“Get out.” Bucky’s voice is rough and strained.

Normally, you would argue. Remind him that he has no right to kick you out of Steve’s apartment. This is not normal. Judging by the lightning flash in his eyes, you’re pretty sure whatever is left of the Winter Soldier just came out to play.

You hurry out the door, hating yourself for leaving Steve behind. But at least he can hold his own if you’re not around.

As soon as the door shuts, Bucky slams his fist into the countertop, crushing the quartz surface.

“What the hell was that?” Steve roars.

Bucky takes a few ragged breaths and shoves past Steve.

Chapter Text

You take Stephen’s hand and step out of his Mercedes Coupé, your silver evening gown flowing to the ground as you stand. You take a step, exposing your leg through the thigh high slit. The high collar halter top closes tightly around your neck and leaves your shoulders exposed.

“Thank you for the invite.” Your freshly whitened teeth gleam against your contrasting deep red lipstick. “Stark made me buy so many gowns. I need an excuse to wear them again.”

He passes his keys to the valet and leads you through the entrance with a hand on your bare back. “It’s the least I could do after your encounter with Barnes.”

“Please,” you wave his comment off, “That’s not your fault.”

“Well, then let me say, you look exquisite.” He raises your hand over your head, ushering you into a quick spin.

When you complete your circle, you see his eyes scanning your body, and ache from your heels disappears. He admires everything from your elegant French twist to the red polish glistening on your toes.

A smile creeps across your face. “I do have to admit, these earrings are awful.” You tug at the gaudy array of jewels hanging at your jaw.

“I like them.” He slides his finger behind one and lets it drop. “But I’ll do everything I can to get you out of them sooner than later. Promise.”

“I may just take you up on that.” You look over his tuxedo and smirk.

“Where should we begin?” He turns his attention to the room.

“Our best prospect.” You scan the ornately decorated ballroom. “Someone who has money to spare and lost someone to Thanos.”

Strange mulls over the request and takes you by the chin, turning your head to the far corner. “Orthopedic surgeon. Daughter got dusted, wife committed suicide after.”

You nod, following his lead. “That's actually very common.”

“I already donate. Lay off it.” He rolls his eyes, then leans into your ear. “Let me introduce you. They'll ask about the relief effort. Don't ask for money, ask for time to discuss it further later.”

“Has anyone ever told you you’re bossy?”

He glares at you. “I know how these people think.” He reaches a hand out, broad grin jumping across his features. “Artie, how have you been?”

Strange shakes his hand and laughs at a joke you don’t understand. He wraps an arm around your back, motioning at you with his free hand. “My date, Y/N. She runs the Stark Foundation.”

You let out a laugh. “I don’t know about ‘run,’ but we’re above water at least.”

Artie raises his eyebrows, impressed. “That's a big job for such a little lady.”

Strange pinches your side, and you smile. “Well, I have help, of course. But with our loss of funding, we have to rely heavily on volunteers.”

By the end of the conversation, Artie has invited a plastic surgeon to join the conversation, and you have set a date to follow up with each of them. Strange leads you across the room, grabbing two champagne glasses from a tray, and continues introducing you to prospective donors, and you continue making lunch dates. The evening turns out to be far more productive than you anticipated.

You find yourself begrudgingly joining Stephen in a polite chuckle here and there. Doctors always think they're so entertaining. You find yourself cheering silently when dinner is served. You can only stomach so many stories about golf and tennis.

Strange shows you to your table and pulls out your chair. As you sit, you catch a familiar pair of steel grey eyes that go cold when they meet yours. You break the gaze and look up at Stephen.

“Would you get me a drink?”

He passes you the elaborately folded napkin on top of your plate. “What do you want?”

“Something strong.” You don’t let yourself glance back in Bucky’s direction, but Strange seems to notice anyway.

“What in God’s name is he doing here?”

You shrug. “He must have a date.”

Strange surveys the table. “Fake redhead, gaudy red dress to his left. She used to be an Army surgeon, works in trauma now. Must know Wilson.”

“How do you know it’s fake?” you snicker, disguising your glance at Bucky as a judgmental glare in her direction. You tear your eyes away from his perfectly fitted tux when Strange answers.

“She didn’t always have money to have it done well.” He smirks and looks back at you. “You said you wanted a drink?”

You grin. Catching movement in your periphery, you notice Bucky snake his arm around Red’s waist. “A strong one.” Your breath hitches and you tell yourself it’s because of his audacity, not the way his hair is swept back neatly, tucked behind is ears.

When Strange returns, he sits beside you and leans over, passing you your drink. “Don’t let it get to you. She only likes him because he’s tall, dark, and brooding.”

“Oh,” you take a sip, “know that from experience?”

“Don’t ask questions you don’t the answer to.” Strange smirks, lifting his own glass.

The dinner program drags on with expected monotony. Your only entertainment is Bucky’s increasingly obvious pawing at his date. When you hide a yawn behind your napkin, you remember Stephen’s warning about the tedium of these events.

Your silver clutch buzzes in your lap, and you slip your phone out. You smile when you see Strange’s name on the screen.

Told you.

You roll your eyes at him. I run a nonprofit. I’ve seen worse

Yeah, they’re your meetings.

You look up from your phone grinning and shaking your head. Your smile drops when you catch Bucky’s hand on Red's thigh, his thumb brushing soft circles over her dress. His other arm stretches behind her shoulders, his fingers twirling a stray strand of hair at the base of her neck.

You slide your chair out quietly and make your way to the bathroom. That was more physical contact than he gave you in six months. He was gentle with her, his touch so intimate. Apparently, it was just you.

You close the door behind you and slip your shoes off. The floor is freezing and probably crawling with diseases, but your feet hurt too much to care. You take your earrings out and drop them into your clutch, noticing a small vial. Realizing how tired you are, you’re glad you decided to bring it.

Taking the vial and needle from your handbag, you prepare the injection and lift yourself onto the counter next to the sink. You hike your dress up so you can see your entire left leg through the slit. You tap the vein along your thigh, hoping for a better view.

You know you shouldn’t use this vein. It hasn’t healed yet. But if you use your arms, someone will notice. You flinch as you press the needle into your flesh alongside the other thin bruises. The familiar sensations buzz under your skin.

You smirk. It used to hurt.

You wipe the small drop of blood off your leg, gather your things, and put your earrings back in. You wash your hands and open the door. You close your eyes and swallow hard, stepping forward.

“James, if you don’t mind.” Your voice breaks Bucky away from his date. He wipes a hand over his lips and steps to the side, opening the hallway for you to pass.

Your left leg trembles under your full weight, but neither of them seem to notice. Whether he knew you were in there or not doesn’t matter. You had waited months for a kiss like that.

“First date?” If she answered, you don’t notice. “Yeah, he’s good at this part.”

He won’t leave her standing there wondering what the hell just happened. You can tell by the way his hand lingers on her hip as you pass.

You nod, continuing on your way to the front door. You take your phone from your bag, now visibly limping.

Don’t feel good. Take me home.

When you hear footsteps behind you, you steady your voice. “What do you want?”

“Look, the other day-”

You turn around, balancing your weight carefully.

“Are you alright?” Bucky reaches out to steady you, but you back away.

“I’m fine. Just go back to your date.”

His forehead wrinkles. “You’re bleeding.”

“Just a scratch.” You look down and wipe the thin drip of blood barely peeking out from under your dress. “Go.”

As he protests, Strange enters the lobby, ballroom doors clicking behind him. “I think you should go.”

Bucky licks his top lip and nods, turning away.

You watch him walk back to the woman in red and offer his arm. Before you can see if he takes her back to the ballroom, you turn to Strange and take his arm. You lean into him with every step.

He pauses, glancing down at you. “You really aren’t feeling well, are you?”

“My leg is just a little tingly. I’m fine.” You stand up straight, holding your own weight again.

Taking a look at your leg, he remarks, “You’re bleeding.”

“Yes, I know.” You wipe at your leg again. “It’s fine.”

He narrows his eyes. “You just shot up, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, so?”

“And now your leg is numb?”

“Not completely, no.”

“Just-” He looks around and lets out a huff. “Let’s get to the car so I can look at it.”

He walks you to a bench along the wall and passes you his handkerchief. After you take it and press it against the puncture in your leg, he leaves for the valet stand.

When the car arrives, he returns to help you out. You climb into the coupé, and he drives right back into the parking deck, ignoring the looks from employees. He parks in the first space and jumps out of the car, instructing you to move your seat back.

You slide your seat as far as it will go and recline the back, resting your head against the leather. He kneels in the floorboard and opens the slit of your dress, hitching it up to your hips. You flinch when his fingers press against your inner thigh.

“Yeah, I thought so,” he sighs. “You collapsed your vein.”

“What does that mean?” you groan.

He shrugs, examining the track marks more closely. “Your circulation is impaired. Your feet might be cold for a while.”

“Good thing I’m not getting married anytime soon.” You smirk down at him.

As he chuckles, movement outside the window draws your attention. Strange presses on your vein again as Bucky and his date pass. You hiss and drop your head back, laughing your way through the pain that shoots down your leg.

Strange glances up. “It should be fine if you let it heal.” He pats your leg and eases his way out of the car.

You catch Bucky’s glare as Strange walks around the back of the car. Bucky looks to his date and mock whispers, “Unbelievable,” as they round the corner.

“You know,” you look at Stephen as he slides back behind the wheel, “my mom always said kisses help you heal.”

He grins as he backs out. “I’m not one to test experimental treatments, but this one sounds worth the risk.”

“Good, because I have a few other experiments in mind.”

“What the fuck was Barnes thinking?” He throws a sideways glance at you.

“Doesn’t matter now.” You roll your eyes and sit in silence.

Strange pulls into the garage at your apartment and picks a space near the elevator. Before opening the door, he turns to you. “You need to be more careful. You could easily get a blood clot or worse.”

You prepare to give a lecture about your relationship, but, predicting your reaction, he interrupts your thoughts.

“Friends with benefits are still friends.”

You smile at him, biting your lip and lean across the middle console. Curling your fingers in his hair, you pull him into you, moaning when he nips your bottom lip.

“I believe,” you slide your hands under his coat and look at him through your eyelashes, “you have an injury to tend, Doctor.”

“Then give me room to work.” He pushes you away and climbs over the console, once again kneeling on the floorboard.

He slides his hands up your legs, pulling your gown out of the way. The delicate caress sends shivers up your body. You catch yourself wondering if Bucky had ever been this gentle in his life. Probably, Steve makes it sound like he bad quite a way with women.

You draw yourself back to the moment, comparing this to Sokovia. Stephen’s tenderness outside of an exam room always surprises you. He presses a kiss on top of your most prominent bruise, causing an involuntary buck of your hips. You both chuckle as you bite down on your lip.

“Easy, dear.” His eyes shine darker than you’ve ever seen them. “I’m not a trauma surgeon. Quality of work is more important than speed.”

You groan, dropping your head against the seat. “Fuck.”

You’ve been traveling the country for weeks, visiting rehabilitation centers and meeting with regional leadership. He knows this is killing you. Your desperate pleas and begging only seems to encourage him.

Despite his thin frame, once in your apartment, he lifts you with ease and carries you to the bedroom. When he lays you on the bed, you snicker as he gently removes your earrings. A man of his word. He pushes you flat against the bed and narrates a map of your nervous system as he traces his fingers along your body. Again, he focuses his attention on quality. Taking it slow. So slow. Skimming over the most sensitive parts of your body.

It feels like hours before he gets your dress off. You shove him onto his back, pushing the coat off his shoulders, and climb on top of him, panting.

“Next road trip, you’re coming with me.”

“And what’s in it for me?” He glides his hands up your bare sides, making your back arch and your legs wobble.

“I guess,” your eyes glint when your tongue darts over your lips, “I’ll have to show you.”

You smirk, ready to take your time and focus on quality.

Chapter Text

A week later, you’re boarding a flight to Atlanta. Jack lifts your carryon into the overhead bin and slides into the aisle seat.

“I still don’t understand why Strange is coming.”

You suppress a grin but allow yourself a chuckle. “We’re visiting the CDC. I need an interpreter.”

“Okay.” He nods. “Why are we visiting the CDC?”

“Because I need to know about new diseases that cropped up in the last six years and how to distribute vaccines to the people who weren’t around to get them.”

“Fine,” he grumbles. “But if you catch the measles, I quit.”

You shake your head, smiling. “Don’t you have my immunization records somewhere?”

“You get the point.” He leans his head back and closes his eyes.

Your stay in Atlanta is uneventful. Jack puts up a fight about separate rooms but relents when you offer to let him double up with Strange. You do leave Atlanta with a mysterious rash that plagues you for the remainder of your southeastern tour. Stephen insists that it’s benign, but it itches for two weeks. Jack makes you wear gloves after you make yourself bleed.

Raleigh is a challenge. You closed the centers in Winston-Salem and Charlotte, and no one was happy about it. Jack stays on edge the entire two and a half days you’re there. You’re just glad Strange is around for stress relief.

The rest of your visits pass without incident. By the end of the three-week adventure, everyone is exhausted. After retrieving your checked bags, you wave goodbye to Strange. Jack insists on driving you to your apartment. Since Sokovia, he hates it when you travel unescorted, even in New York. When you get inside, you call your favorite sports bar to order takeout and jump in the shower.

Unlike usual, you don’t rush your shower. You let the heat wash over you and calm your racing heart. Your muscles unwind before you even realize they were tensed. With a clear head, you pull on jeans and a shirt and head to the bus stop.

You walk in and groan. Of course, it’s packed. It’s Saturday night. You glance at the bar. You could go for a beer while you wait.

You look away quickly, taking a seat in the pick-up area. Bucky’s on another date. How does this keep happening? You don’t even go out that much.

How could he bring her here? This was your favorite place. The two of you came here all the time. The only places I’ve really been were with you. Bucky’s voice echoes in your head. Your heart drops, guilt washing over you for your anger. He doesn’t know anywhere else to go.

You take out your phone. Maybe he won’t notice you. But you’re a woman alone in a sports bar at ten o’clock on Saturday night, everyone notices you. That doesn’t mean you have to acknowledge it. You ignore the pickup lines and offers for a ride home. More guilt floods through you when you catch yourself hoping the comments are tearing Bucky up inside. He deserves to date, find a girl, be happy. He deserves a shot at normal. You just wish he would’ve let you be that chance.

The young, dark-haired hostess calls your name, and you stand, tucking your phone in your purse. Bucky’s date shoves past you and out the door. Your eyes dart to her empty seat. Everyone seated at the bar stares at Bucky, now dripping wet. Red splashes stain his white dress shirt, and an empty wine glass sits in front of the open seat.

You let out a heavy breath, pay for your food and make your way to the bar. Bucky, apparently in shock, wipes a hand down his face. Setting your to-go boxes in the seat, you take a napkin from the counter and help Bucky clean his face.

“That was embarrassing,” you say quietly.

He smirks and opens his eyes. “Yeah, it was.”

“I can fix that, if you want.” Your voice is soft. You don’t want to press. “It might make you uncomfortable.”

“I’m already uncomfortable.” He watches you dab at his shirt.

You look up at him and smile softly. Leaning onto your toes, you press a quick kiss against his lips.

“Are you up for a midnight snack?” You motion to your takeout.

A faint smile flickers on his face before he locks his jaw. “No, I should go home. Change.”

“Come on, Buck. Just small talk, promise.” You cross your heart. When he doesn’t answer, you lean in. “Look, I haven’t been home in three weeks, and I forgot to pick up my birth control refill before we left. So, unless you have condoms, you’re off the hook tonight.”

He chuckles and dips his head. “Only because I’m starving.”

He takes a final swig of his drink and slides off the stool, dropping a wad of cash on the bar. He takes your bag of carryout boxes and holds out his elbow.

You grin and whisper, “Now the only thing anyone will remember is who you left with.”

He shakes his head and waves toward the door. “Lead the way, kitten.”

You follow him to his car and direct him back to your apartment.

“So, tell me about this bitch.” You turn sideways in the passenger seat.

“Excuse me?” He raises his eyebrows, turning to you briefly.

“What happened?”

“No, she’s nice,” he chuckles. “I deserved it.”

“Oh, please,” you snort. “What could you, Bucky Barnes, have done?”

“Really,” he smiles, “I brought her to- you know what, doesn’t matter. You’re not entitled to information about my dates.”

“Oh okay.” Your voice falls, and you look at your hands. “So, anything new?” Apparently he really has moved on.

He shrugs, “Not really.”

“How’s Sam?”

“Fine, I guess. We don’t go out as much.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re branching out.”

He grunts in agreement, nodding. You turn back to your hands. This was a bad idea. You shouldn’t have invited him over, you just felt so bad for him back there. Apparently, you had no reason to. He seems to be doing fine on his own.

You drag the side of your cheek between your teeth. Maybe you only felt bad because you hoped he was having trouble moving on too.

“Left here?”

You look out into the parking garage. “Yeah, up to level three.” You pinch your eyebrows together and twitch your lips sideways. “Buck, have you never been to my apartment?”

He shakes his head, carefully navigating the tight turns. “Only a few times.”

“How is that possible? We dated for over six months.”

“You worked a lot, and I tried really hard to stay away from your place.”

You stare at him, frozen by this revelation. “Why?”

“You know damn well why.”

You close your eyes and swallow hard. “I guess I just don’t understand.”

“I never asked you to.” He pulls into a space and shifts to park.

You shake your head as he cuts the ignition. “No, I guess you didn’t.”

Neither of you speak in the elevator, letting the smell of buffalo sauce fill the silence. Your grumbling stomach is the only sound as you walk down your hall.

You take out your keys and look at Bucky. “I want to understand.” You need to.

“You can’t.” His voice is hollow. Broken.

Seeing the set of his jaw, you nod and lead him through your door. “Let’s eat, then. You want to watch something?”

“Sure.” This isn’t what he remembers. It’s cold and empty. The only indication anyone even lives here is the trail of clothes leading to your room. He looks at you and smiles, watching you unpack the Styrofoam boxes.

“I can make some onion rings and chicken fingers or something if this isn’t enough.”

He has a hunch that you’re not the best cook. “I’ll get the TV set up.” The one time you offered to cook for him, it got pushed off for a last-minute conference call with the Security Council.

He snatches the remote from the coffee table and mashes the power button. When nothing happens, he tries again. Nothing. He shakes the remote and pops the back off with a huff.

“Do you have batteries?”

You look up, licking sauce off your fingers. “No, actually I took them from the remote to-” You stop short and clear your throat. “No, I don’t.”

Bucky smirks to himself, walking to the TV. Technology may have changed in the last hundred years, but people will always be the same.

“Oh, Buck,” you open your fridge and pull out two bottles of beer, “that TV doesn’t work. We’ll have to go to my room.”

His eyebrows knit together, and he drops his hand from the power button. “You never got it fixed?”

He remembers one night while you were still together. You’d made him watch Silver Linings Playbook while lying in bed with you. It was the last time he came over before you broke up.

“Been a little busy, dear.” You shoot a glance at Bucky, hoping he didn’t read into that.

He nods and walks back to the kitchen, sitting at the bar. “So, does that doctor ever come over?”

You set a plate of wings and fried pickles in front of him and lean over your own plate, picking out a wing. “Yes.” You lean your forearms on the counter and take a bite.

He glances toward your bedroom door. “You Netflix and chill?”

“Sure.” You chase your bite with a drink. “Without the Netflix.”

“Oh.”

“We don’t need pretenses,” you sigh. “If he’s in my apartment, we both know why.”

He nods quietly and picks over his plate.

“What’s wrong?” you chuckle. “You expect me to tell you to take your question and shove it?”

He smiles at his plate. “Kind of.”

“We really don’t want it getting out, but you know already.” You shrug. “I’m not going to hide it from you.”

“I kind of wish you would,” he mumbles before polishing off a buffalo wing.

You watch silently as he wolfs down his food, barely touching your own. It always breaks your heart to see him eat like he doesn’t when he’ll see food again. Even after all these years. You wonder if he’s been going grocery shopping without you, if anyone makes sure he always has food in his cabinets. Sam probably assumes Bucky goes on his own, but crowded places still make him uneasy. You could tell by the way he’d been scanning the room at the bar.

You scoot your plate across the counter when he finishes. He glances at your plate and eyes you suspiciously. You nod and take his plate, dropping it in the sink. You’ll have some cereal later.

“There’s this great new app, I heard about.” You take your phone out and scroll through your homepages. “I can order groceries and have them delivered to my apartment. I just pick the time and meet them downstairs after work.”

You pass him your phone and let him navigate through the app. “Go ahead, I’m out of popcorn. Can’t have movie night without popcorn.”

“It’ll be at least an hour.” He passes your phone back. “I need to get home.”

You lock your screen and slide it back into your pocket. “I thought you were staying a while.”

“I shouldn’t.” He turns back to his food.

You remember going through his wallet at the coffee shop. “It’s great, too, because I can load Sam’s credit card information and have food delivered to his place if we’re having a party.” Of course, you don’t have Sam’s information, but he gets the point.

“I’m sorry.” His face falls, vintage manners creeping up on him. “I could stay for another beer, maybe an episode of one of your ghost hunting shows.”

“I would like that.” You grab another beer from the fridge and follow him to your bedroom.

This turns out to be a terrible idea. You pick a show you used to watch with Bucky all the time. It was usually extremely hokey and easy to make fun of. Unfortunately, this episode is not. You find yourself buried in Bucky’s chest with chills running up your arms halfway through.

“I don’t like it,” you whine into his shirt.

His chuckle reverberates against your face. “I got you, kitten.”

“I hate kids.”

“Don’t remember that coming up when we were dating.” He squeezes your arm lightly.

“With their haunting voices and evil laughter and creepy little hands.” You peek out to look at the television, quickly hiding your eyes again.

“I’ll have to remember that at Halloween.”

You flash back to Sam’s pranks last year. “Don’t you dare, Barnes.” You swat his shoulder, glaring at him.

“Or what?” He raises an eyebrow at you, inviting your threat.

You huff out a breath and shove his chest. “I’ll cut your hair in your sleep.”

He barks out a laugh. “I strongly recommend against sneaking up on me while I’m asleep.”

You drop your gaze, grateful that he pointed out the flaw in your plan. Although, Steve or Sam probably would have stopped you before you made that mistake. Avoiding Bucky’s eyes, you realize you crawled into his lap at some point. Your cheeks flush, and you slide off without looking up.

“You alright now?” He keeps an arm wrapped around your back.

You nod. “Sorry. I don’t even know…” You look up to meet his eyes, but they’re focused on your lips. You part them, involuntarily.

Neither of you move. You took the chance last time and found out nothing had changed. You won’t do it again.

“Don’t be.” His voice is hushed. “It’s alright.”

His eyes flick up to yours, and he looks away. You bite your lip, watching the credits roll by on the screen. When you turn back, he’s watching you again. He reaches his hand up to your cheek slowly.

A new episode about the RMS Queen Mary starts. Bucky’s eyes dart to the TV.

“Turn it off,” he orders, lifting a hand to his head.

You freeze in confusion before shuffling around for the remote.

“Off,” he barks, louder.

“Where’d you put the remote?” You toss your pillows to the side.

He presses the other hand to his head, groaning. “I don’t know.”

You throw your blanket back and the remote clatters to the floor. Bucky snatches it up and the screen goes black in the middle of the host’s explanation of the ship’s role in World War Two.

You stare at the TV, jumping when the remote smacks against the floor. Bucky’s hand hangs open at his side, his expression blank.

“Bucky,” you move toward him slowly, keeping your voice low, “you knew that ship.”

“I was in England for a while.” His voice is hollow. You’re not even sure he knows he’s talking. “Remember when they converted it to a military ship.”

Given his reaction, you’re fairly certain this was a detail he hadn’t remembered until now. “Did you know anyone who traveled on it?”

“We always gave them a hard time about getting to take a luxury cruise.”

“I- I’m sorry. Buck, I didn’t know it was next,” you stammer. “I couldn’t find the remote. I’m sorry.”

He blinks hard and bends to pick up the remote. “I should go.” He lays the remote in your hand and walks past you. He grabs his coat from the kitchen counter, tells you goodbye and leaves.

You stare at the door and wonder if you should go after him. By the time you walk yourself back through the situation, you decide it’s too late. He’s probably gone.

Chapter Text

“I don’t know what to do.” Bucky sits across from Steve on the patio at the Avengers compound.

Steve sets his coffee mug on a small table after a long drink. “Because she cuddled with you during a scary movie?”

“Alright, punk. Don’t think I won’t hit an old man.” Bucky points a warning finger at Steve. “About the whole thing.”

“You didn’t seem to have a problem figuring it out with the rest of your dates.”

“It’s different.” Bucky looks over the neatly manicured lawn at nothing in particular. “She’s different.”

“How?”

“Those women are just adrenaline junkies. I’m something dangerous, and that’s exciting.” Bucky smiles to himself. “But not with her. She’s not looking for the thrill of being with a super-soldier.”

Steve smiles and looks into his coffee. He gives the mug a swirl and looks back up. “What exactly are you conflicted over? Do you like her?”

“What is this, middle school?” Bucky rolls his eyes.

“Fine.” Steve crosses his arms and leans back, locking eyes with Bucky. “Do you want her?”

“What kind of question is that?” Bucky laughs. “Have you seen her?”

“I have.” Steve grins, lifting his mug to his lips. “So what’s the- wait, have you been with anyone since the war?”

“Yes.” Bucky rolls his eyes and grits his teeth. “I have. Steve.”

“Then, what’s the problem?”

“I can’t, “Bucky takes a breath.

“Oh. Uh, Buck,” Steve shifts in his seat, stirring his coffee again, “I think this is a conversation you should have with a doctor.”

Bucky's head snaps up, eyes on fire. “Would you shut up and listen to me.”

Steve raises his hands in surrender before picking his coffee back up.

Bucky takes a deep breath, running a hand through his hair. “I’ve done a lot of shit. Hurt a lot of people.” He picks at his thumb nail before looking back to Steve. “I can’t hurt her, Steve. She’s the only thing that makes me want to be better. I can’t…”

“Buck,” Steve lays a hand softly on the table, “you’re not the Winter Soldier.”

“Stop saying that,” Bucky growls, earning a warning look from Steve. “I mean, I get it. You want me to be Bucky Barnes from Brooklyn, who grew up running the streets with you. But I’m not.”

“I know that.” Steve nods and smiles softly. “But it doesn’t mean you’re - what they made you.”

Bucky pinches the bridge of his nose. “He’s still in my head. I can’t get rid of him, and I can’t always control it.”

Steve pulls his eyebrows together and sets his mug down heavily. Concern spreads across his face. “Shuri said she fixed all that.”

Bucky drags a hand down his face and looks over the courtyard. “She disabled the words. I make my own calls, but…” He lets the sentence hang, watching a pair of birds flit through the grass. “But the personality's still there. The temperament, the kill or be killed mentality.”

Heavy silence hangs between them, so Bucky continues. “All it takes is a stray memory or a little anger, and I’m struggling to hold him back.”

“You’re scared,” Steve observes.

“Of fucking course, I am.” Bucky drops his head into his hands. “I could kill her with one hand.”

“She likes you too.” Steve’s voice draws Bucky’s attention. “I don’t know if she wants you,” he smirks.

“She does.” Bucky grins. “She’s made that very clear.”

The corner of Steve’s lips twitch up. “You want my advice?”

Bucky looks around dramatically. “What do you think I’ve been doing here for the last half hour?”

“It sounds like she’s been clear about what she wants from you.” Steve takes a long breath, gazing over the lawn. “You should figure out what you need from her before you try again.”

“Easy to say,” Bucky snorts.

“Look, she’ll give you another chance if you ask her, but if you fuck it up a third time, you won’t get a fourth.” Steve stands to walk inside. “And that’ll be really awkward for you, because she’s still my friend.”

Bucky laughs and follows Steve inside. He has some errands to run.

 

***

 

You look at Jack open-mouthed, eyes wide. “What the fuck?”

“I’m just saying,” Jack chuckles, “he was in and out for seventy years. If he was never awake long enough to do anything…and God only knows what they pumped into him in all that time.”

“I really don’t want to have this conversation.” You shake your head. “I was just venting. I’m confused is all.”

“And I’m telling you, if he’s got seven decades of some kind of libido suppressants in his system, that may be your problem.”

You chew thoughtfully on the inside of your cheek and take your phone out. “It’s quarter til, you need to leave.” You send your message and glance up at Jack.

“Fine,” he sighs. “What time should I be back?”

You open the calendar on your computer. “My last meeting is at five, and I’ll no doubt have paperwork after. You can get me at seven.”

He nods and ducks out of your office. Your phone rings before you can look back to your computer.

“What the hell are you asking me?”

You chuckle, “A text would have done, Stephen.”

“No, I really don’t think it would have.”

“Is it possible?”

He groans, “Yes, theoretically. But we don’t have much research on the effects of seven decades of cryo.”

“Thank you.”

“Is he... is he asking?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” you smirk into the phone and hang up.

No sooner than you hang up, there’s a knock on your door. You groan and take a deep breath. You just can’t catch a break.

“Yeah?”

Bucky pokes his head in. “You have a minute?”

A grin spreads over your face. Maybe this is exactly the break you needed. “Of course.” You wave to the chair in front of your desk.

He shakes his head. “I won’t be long.”

“Okay?” You fold your hands together and lean forward.

“Do you have any-” He hesitates. “Could you help me find a therapist?”

You give him a blank stare before processing his request. “Yeah, yes. Of course.”

He wrinkles his forehead. “What’s happening?”

Your smile fades briefly. “What do you mean?”

“Your face.”

You try to hide your grin.

“It’s all twitchy.”

“Nothing.” You stifle a snicker. “I’m just really proud of you.”

“Well, stop.” He glares at you playfully.

You let a grin erupt across your face. “Oh, not a chance.”

“Did you just tell me no?” He raises an eyebrow.

You curl your fingers into a fist, digging crescents into your palm. You swallow hard. “I need to make a few calls. I’ll have some names for you by the end of the day.” Fuck.

“Yeah,” he looks down and tucks a strand of hair behind his ear.

Heat rushes up your chest. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He smiles, crinkling the corners of his eyes. “Of course.”

You grit your teeth to keep from biting your lip. “I don’t want to kick you out, Buck, but I-”

“Right. You’re busy. I know.” He smiles again before heading out the door.

You drop your head onto your desk, squirming in your chair. “Fuck.”

Groaning, you call Clint.

“Are you alright?” Clint asks, and you can practically feel his concern through the phone, “You sound a little hoarse.”

“I’m fine,” you laugh. “Just need a cold shower or something.”

“I’m not sure where this phone call is going, but I don’t think Laura would like it.”

“Oh, shut up. I called to ask about therapists.”

“Don’t you have a whole book of them?”

“Bucky asked me for a referral.”

He muffles his deep laughter on the other end. “That explains the cold shower.”

You roll your eyes, allowing him a moment to laugh. “You worked on the psych side after everyone came back. I want your opinion.”

“I think you need a cold shower.”

You mock laugh at him. “Really, Clint. This is a delicate situation. I need someone I can trust. He can trust.”

“Yeah, that is a bit of a tough one.” He takes a deep breath.

“If I send him to the wrong guy, he could close himself off for another year.” You drag a hand up your face and through your hair. “Is Wanda seeing anyone?”

“Seeing, sure.” The disappointment is evident in his tone. “Talking, not so much.”

“Yeah, just keep trying. It takes time.”

After several more minutes of conversation about Wanda, you return to the discussion of therapists. Clint isn’t as worried about it as you are. You finally come up with three names that Clint agrees would be Bucky’s best chance at recovery.

You text Bucky the names and office phone numbers for all three, along with a brief description of each. You get no response. Much to your dismay, you don’t hear from him for three more weeks.

During which, you don’t spend much time at home, and only sleep a few nights in your bed. The only days you even see Strange are when you meet with potential donors from the hospital gala. Those are the good days. The bad days consist of complaints from senators whose districts lost their rehab centers and meetings about maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs. Report after report, email after email brings more bad news.

When Bucky finally walks into your office, it’s a welcome surprise.

“Need help with paperwork?” He grins, stepping through the door.

You giggle, “Always.” You dig through your bottom drawer and make a pile of folders on your desk.

He takes the seat in front of your desk and looks through the top folder. “More funding proposals?”

“Money doesn’t fall from the sky, Buck.”

He nods and looks over the form, filling information as he goes. “Justification?”

You search your desk, flipping open several folders, before finding the right one. “You can use this as a template.”

“Thanks.”

You work in silence, not noticing the time that passes. You have too many emails to filter through to pay attention to things as trifling as time. It’s not until Bucky’s stomach grumbles that you even look up.

“Sorry.” He rubs a hand over his abdomen.

“It’s fine, Buck,” you snicker, returning to your email. “I’m more than capable of ignoring you.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

The lilt of his voice leaves something hanging in the air between you. Sensing his unease, you look back expectantly. He rubs his bionic hand over the back of his neck, looking over his shoulder. His wheels are turning, you can tell by the way his tongue darts across his bottom lip.

When he turns back, he blushes at your attentiveness. Your face flushes, certain the hunger in your eyes has revealed your thoughts about his tongue.

“It’s almost eight,” he croaks, voice cracking in his raw throat.

Your face pales. “What?” You scramble for your phone and open your message thread with Jack.

DO NOT COME IN

“Hey, you alright?” Bucky’s eyes flicker with concern.

yeah pep told me.

You let out a breath. “Yeah, just some bad weather in the Midwest.” You turn your phone face down and focus on Bucky. “The Center Coordinators were supposed to check in. I got a little worried when I realized the time.”

“Oh. Glad things are alright.” He rubs his neck again. “My therapist wants me to take more risks. You know, trust people.”

You smile softly. “That’s good advice.”

He nods absently, eyes set on the center of your desk. “Do you want to get dinner?”

You look down at the pen in your hand, tapping it against your fingers.

“Just wings or something back at your place.” Words spill out of his mouth. “Like last time.”

You let out a breath. Like last time. At least he’s being upfront. “Yeah, that’d be nice.” You close out your email and pull your purse from under your desk.

He grins and escorts you out with a hand at your back. As you emerge into the open entry room, you hear Pepper discussing statistics for the clinic.

“Oh, Y/N,” Pepper waves you over, “come introduce yourself.”

You smile and pat Bucky’s arm. “Would you call in the order and pick me up out front?”

He ducks his head and makes his exit.

You approach the group and offer a polite wave instead of shaking every hand.

“A few of Stark Industries’ shareholders wanted to know more about our the Foundation. I hope I didn’t intrude.” Pepper’s smile is tired, and her eyes glitter with annoyance.

“Not at all. Though I’ve been here since six this morning, so if there are no objections I’ll let Miss Potts finish your tour.”

A chuckle makes it’s way around the semi-circle, and you nod your appreciation to the group. You turn to hug Pepper, whispering, “Thank you.”

“You’re lucky I was here.”

With a light squeeze, you release Pepper and reach into your purse for a stack of business cards. “Please, feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions.”

On your way out, you text Jack. Leaving with Barnes. Enjoy your night.

Bucky waits out front as requested. You climb in and look back at your phone before buckling in.

you too

You roll your eyes silently and turn to Bucky. “So, how’s therapy going? Sounds like you found someone you like.”

“Yeah, Doctor Burr. He’s-” He pauses, leaning an elbow on the center console. “I think he’ll be good for me.”

Your chest tightens at the proximity. You’ve always been amazed by the superhuman body heat he and Steve give off. The metabolism, the alcohol resistance, the muscles were all expected. The heat was a total surprise, and one you’re quite certain only a few people are aware of.

You match his posture, closing the distance between you, arms brushing against each other. “That’s great.”

Bucky tells you to wait in the car while he picks up the food, and returns with three bags of takeout, cracking you up. His eyes wrinkle at the sides while he defends his super-soldier appetite. You tease him the entire drive back to your apartment.

“I still don’t think we need three different flavor wings, onion rings, and fried pickles.” You set your one bag on the counter, watching Bucky heft his two and the pack of beer through the door.

“Would you quit worrying about it, kitten. It won’t go to waste.”

Rolling your eyes, you take two plates from the dishwasher. “What do you want to watch tonight?”

“I like ghosts.” He shrugs, opening the box of parmesan garlic wings.

You let him fix your plates while you set up Netflix.

“Just,” you hear his unsteady voice drift into your bedroom, “could we skip the Queen Mary one?”

“Yeah, of course.” You make your way back into the kitchen.

He empties the rest of the buffalo wings onto his plate. “I just don’t think I can-”

“Buck,” you lay a soothing hand on his shoulder, “it’s okay.”

He nods, passing you a plate. “I hope you don’t mind I didn’t split it evenly.”

You nearly choke on a fried pickle and glare at him when you recover. “I’ll hold it against you forever.”

He shakes his head, hair brushing gently over the nape of his neck. “I miss this.”

“Me too.” You take a deep breath, wondering when exactly you had lost this.

As always, Bucky finishes his dinner long before you. Taking his plate to the kitchen, he returns with a fresh beer for both of you. You sit cross-legged, hunched over the remainder of your dinner, observing Bucky’s relaxed lounging. He’s far more comfortable than last time, reclined on your bed, boots kicked off on the floor. The pile of your extra pillows props him up.

“This one wasn’t great,” you remark casually, setting your empty plate on your nightstand as the credits play.

He agrees quietly and watches you click to skip to the next episode. When you turn to look at him, he leans into you, lips crashing into yours. He parts his lips, urging yours to follow, and slides his tongue gently into your mouth.

When he pulls away, you let out a shaky breath. “You taste terrible.”

“Sorry,” he whispers, eyes locked on yours, “bad planning.”

You don’t sense a single hint of remorse in his tone. “It’s okay.”

“Can we do that again?”

“Please.” Your voice is almost a whimper.

He wraps your hair around his hand and pulls you into him, meeting you more confidently than before. You moan into his mouth, sliding your own hands up his jaw. He breaks away, but tilts his head the other direction and pulls you right back in. Your hands glide down his shoulders and across his chest. To your surprise he follows your lead, his left hand wrapped tentatively around the side of your chest.

“It’s alright,” you pant, moving his hand to rest on your boob. You’re not proud that the slightest squeeze pulls a gasp from your mouth. But, God, if you hadn’t imagined this for almost a year.

He quickly drops his hands to your hips, pushing you back. His worry filled eyes look deep into your hungry ones. “I- I’m sorry.” He drops his head.

You lean back, pulling into yourself. “You still don’t want to.”

“That’s not it.” He shakes his head, voice full.

“Then, what?”

He stares at the zigzag pattern of your comforter, seemingly counting threads. “I’m afraid.” Finally, he meets your gaze.

“Bucky, you’re not the W-”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” he growls. “As if my intentions are all that matter? I can’t trust myself, Y/N.”

He watches surprise spread over your features and continues his rant. “I can’t always stop myself. I can’t control the- the bad side, and, fuck, you make me want to be bad.”

“Buck.”

He doesn’t relent. “I can’t- I could break you in half, crush your entire ribcage in seconds. Kill you in minutes. I’ve done it before, without blinking. Without hesitation. Without- What if-”

“Oh,” you wrap your arms around him, burying your face in his neck, “Bucky.”

“If I lose control.” He strokes your back softly with one hand and combs through your hair with the other. “Kitten, I just can’t.”

“It’s okay.” You feel his lips press against your ear. “I trust you. It’s okay.”

He nuzzles through your hair before pulling away. “I’m working on it. I just- Not yet.”

You close your eyes and take a deep breath. When you open your eyes, you lay a hand softly on his jaw, rubbing your thumb along his cheek. “Okay.”

It must be even harder on him than on you. The restraint he maintains constantly must be exhausting. It’s easy to see now why he got frustrated with your advances before. Your mind flashes back to the day you slapped him in Steve’s apartment. That wasn’t fair.

His eyes swim with fear, studying you intently. “Okay?”

You nod. “Okay.” Tucking a strand of hair behind his ear, you kiss his cheek gently and slide off the bed. “You should go home.”

“That’s…it?” You can see his mind settling as his facial muscles relax. “You-”

“I’ll manage.” You smirk. “Get home. Get some rest.”

He nods silently. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”

“I have them on occasion.” You walk him to the kitchen, carrying your plate of bones.

He pauses at the door. “I’d like to do this again. Maybe go out next time?”

“Okay.” You keep your voice soft, grounding his rampant thoughts.

His lips twitch up as he leaves.

Groaning, you dump your bones in the trash and drop your plate in the sink. Your shoulders tense as you brush your teeth. He really knows how to start a fire. Before climbing into bed, you opt for a cold shower and wrap your robe around your still damp body. You lay over the covers, unmoving. Staring at the ceiling, you try to distract yourself with the popcorn pattern, but your thoughts wander, and your eyes drift to your phone on the nightstand.

Reluctantly, you dial the number. Twenty minutes later, Strange is setting you on the kitchen counter, tugging at the belt of your robe. His lips aren’t as warm as Bucky’s, but damn if his hands aren’t quick.

With you pushing down on his shoulder, he drops obediently to his knees. Your eyes flutter closed and you drop your head back, letting out a moan.

It may not be what you’d hoped for an hour ago, but it sure as hell beats what you had planned for the evening.

Chapter Text

Over the next few weeks, you rarely see Bucky outside of your dates. You rarely leave work except for dates. A virus that nearly shut the world down after The Snap has reemerged thanks to the three and a half billion people who never got immunized. It had been mostly contained within the Rehabilitation Centers. Until you began closing them and forced everyone onto the streets. And it must have mutated because now even immunized people are getting infected.

You don’t have time for much, but you’ll make time for Bucky. He needs you. His recovery is coming along remarkably well. Doctor Burr must really be something. Bucky has told you about some of his memories from before the war. His family, sisters mostly, and Steve. He talks a lot about Steve. And Steve’s mom, almost as much as he talks about his own family. He misses them; you can see the hurt deep in his eyes when he talks about them. How he didn’t get to be at their weddings or meet their families. He does wonder on occasion who walked them down the aisle, since their father died before Bucky was even drafted. The most heartbreaking revelation was when he realized his family lived their entire lives thinking he had been killed in action.

And he was happy about it.

“They never knew,” he had whispered quietly with a half-smile on his face. It’s this phrase that haunts your idle thoughts. Particularly on the long walks back to your office after unproductive meetings.

“They never knew,” you mumble turning the knob to your office.

You jiggle the knob and turn it again. It doesn’t budge, but yelling erupts from the other side. You can’t make it out exactly, but something about quarantine.

“Can you come over to the door and talk to me?” You rub your fingers gently across your brow.

More indiscernible ranting.

“Look, I want to help you.” You should really lock your door when you’re gone. “But I can’t understand you. Please, just come closer.”

A shuffling sound creeps out from under the door before a small voice answers, “I’m not going back in there.”

An image of a petite blonde jumps into your head, though you’re certain you’ve never heard this voice before. She’s young though, no older than thirty. “Where?” You pinch your eyebrows together.

“The clinic. They wouldn’t let me leave.”

This just keeps getting better. “Why were you in the clinic?”

“I just needed a refill on my meds. They wouldn’t let me leave.” Words flood out of her mouth between gasps. “I’m not sick. I’m really not.”

“Okay, honey.” Fucking fantastic. “Take a deep breath. Who did you see? I can bring him over here to confirm that. Maybe we can get you home.”

“I’m in a rehab program. They won’t let me back in the dorms if they find out I was exposed.” You can hear the desperation in her voice. “It’s not like this place. It’s a- a drug program. I just needed my prescription filled. I’m not sick.”

“Okay, okay.” You rest your head against the door, squeezing your eyes shut. “I’m going to go over to the clinic and see if I can find your doctor. If he can confirm what you’re saying, we’ll get you a note so you can go back to your program, but I need you to stay here. Okay?”

When she agrees, you make your way across the Center to the clinic, but you’re stopped outside the door by a nurse. “I’m sorry, but we’re not allowing visitors at this time.”

“I’m not a visitor,” you bite. “I run the damn place. Let me in.”

“Ma’am, I know that.” She plants her feet. “I can’t let you in.”

You narrow your eyes at her. “What the hell ar-”

You glance through the window of the door behind her and see Stephen exiting an exam room. In full HAZMAT gear.

“Fuck.”

She spins around and drops her shoulders, realizing the secret’s out. “Yeah.”

“What’s the situation?”

She takes a deep breath. “We had two positive tests. A couple that’s been staying here for a few months that just got back from a visit with their son.”

“But everyone in there’s been exposed,” you groan.

“Potentially, yes.” She nods solemnly. “We don’t exactly have isolation facilities.”

“Then, can you please explain to me why there’s a young lady locked in my office panicking about being exposed to the virus?”

“No one’s being held,” she sighs. “We don’t have the resources. If they didn’t test positive, they can leave.”

You nod, knowing your dorms are at capacity. “She said they wouldn’t let her leave.”

“We locked down for an hour so to figure things out, but as far as I know, everyone’s been released.” The nurse shrugs. “What kind of meds is she on?”

You shake your head, letting out a breath. “I don’t know. She wouldn’t even tell me who her doctor is.”

“Doesn’t really matter, I suppose.” The nurse waves a hand inn the air. “We need to get her out.”

“Do you have any ideas?” you scoff. “Because I’m fresh out.”

She scans the room over your shoulder, eyes brightening. “Actually, I do.”

Turning around, you see Bucky walking over. “No.”

“Hey, Buck,” she continues anyway. “We have a mission for you.”

Fuck her and her pouty little smirk. Bucky’s not ready for missions. God only knows how he’ll react to some psycho self-hostage situation. What if she gets violent? “No, we don’t.”

He looks between you, wrinkles forming between his eyebrows. “So…?”

“We don’t,” you say over her “We do.”

You cock your head at the nurse, glaring.

She rolls her eyes at you. “We need you to break down a door.”

Bucky glances at you. “I can do that. Easy.”

You let out a breath, working your jaw. “Someone has locked herself in my office. We have good reason to believe she’s not fully stable, mentally.”

“She’s not going to hurt me,” Bucky chuckles.

You motion across the room toward your office. “Let’s go then, I suppose.” As he walks away, you turn back to the nurse gritting your teeth. “If we weren’t so desperate for help, you’d be fired. Do not openly oppose me again, or I may find our need for order outweighs our need for labor.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she grins.

By the time you reach your office, Bucky has already kicked the door in. You eye the door frame on the ground with a groan. Your gaze darts across the room where Bucky is crouch, reaching a hand toward the corner. A small lady curls herself into the wall. Mid-twenties, raven black pixie cut. You were close.

“Come on, doll,” he says. “Let me help you up.”

You watch, softening at his tenderness. He’s good at this. Maybe in another life, he’d have worked in mental health. You’re not even surprised by the time he manages to walk her out of your office by her own choosing. You watch him guide her across the open space to the main entrance, and meanders back to the nurse guarding the clinic entrance.

Your lips twitch into a snarl as he tucks his hair behind his ears and smiles at her. You take a deep breath and turn back down the hall to your office. He has every right to see other women. You’re not together. He doesn’t owe you anything.

When he returns to your office, he finds you surveying the damage.

“I can help replace that,” he says apologetically.

You shrug, tossing a piece of your door into back into the debris. “No need. I’ll have our maintenance team work on it.”

He kicks through the pile and apologizes.

You brush it off, assuring him he did the right thing. “Do you want to grab drinks tonight? I have a dinner meeting, but-”

“Can’t.”

So, he is seeing other women. You shove the jealousy away. You have no right to that. He may not even have a date tonight. Maybe he’s meeting Sam.

He looks up from his boot and quirks a smile at you. “We’re still on for Sunday, right?”

“Of course.” You smirk back at him and usher him back out of your office. You have entirely too much to finish before Sunday.

He greets you with a single rose and goofy grin. Bucky takes your hand and leads you to his car, grinning silently. The clack of your low heels echoes through the parking deck. Your figure-hugging dress flares out and swishes above your knees as you walk. Bucky opens your door, and you watch him stroll around the front of the car. His grey tweed coat pulls tight across his shoulders as his arms swing. Before he climbs in, he throws both your coats in the back seat.

“Alright, international man of mystery,” you tease, “why am I all dressed up so late at night?”

“I told you,” he smiles putting the keys in the ignition, “we’re doing things my way this time.”

“What does that mean?” you groan.

“Patience, kitten.” He shakes his head and lays his open hand between you.

You take it and kiss his knuckles before resting both hands in your lap. “Alright, then.”

When Bucky pulls up outside of a lounge, your mind begins running possible scenarios. He pays the valet and helps you out of the car, wrapping your coat around your shoulders. You follow him inside and to a small table in the corner. The tables are dimly lit, but the center dance floor is bright as day.

He takes your coat before you slide into the booth and lays it over the seat opposite of you. He shrugs out of his own coat and sits beside you, passing you a drink menu. You eye him cautiously as he orders drinks.

“Alright, Sergeant. I’ve been patient.” You lean back and meet his gaze. “It’s too late for dinner.”

“I told you, my way.” His playful eyes scan your face, landing on your red lips. Before answering, he presses a quick kiss against them. “An old school date. Drinks and dancing.”

Your smile falls. “Buck, I- I don’t dance.”

“But,” his voice falters, “all those Stark galas and formal events…”

“It was a good excuse not to get too close to Tony.”

Bucky’s grin returns. “That’s my girl.” He slides back out of the booth and holds his hand out. “I’ll teach you, then.”

You look him over. “Only because those pants make your ass look so good.”

“Oh, kitten,” he pulls you out of the booth and leads you to the dance floor grinning, “the pants have nothing to do with that.”

He takes your right hand in his, straightening your arm out, and wraps his left arm under your shoulder. “Keep your chest close to me.”

You watch another couple spinning elegantly. “You won’t let me look stupid, will you?” You rest your left hand on his shoulder.

“Never.” His fingers splay over your shoulder blade as he lifts his arm, raising your elbow properly. You can feel the rise and fall of his chest with every breath.

“Now,” He tightens his grip on your hand, cool metal pressing firmly into your skin. “When you feel me press closer,” he leans his chest into yours, “step back with your right. Stay on the ball of your foot.”

You take a step back, his left leg matching your movement. He guides you through the rest of the steps, explaining your cues. Left step, close, left foot forward, right step, close, right foot back. Soon, you’re moving smoothly in a box pattern.

You bite your lip to hide a smile, but he smiles back anyway.

“Now, just turn with me.”

You let the slight twists of his body and the pressure of his chest on yours guide you in left turns around the dance floor.

“We’re going to change it up a little.” Left foot forward. “This time, step forward with your right.”

You feel him pull away and follow his instructions. Right foot forward, left step, close. But when you step forward with your left foot, your knees collide and your toes land on his.

You let out an involuntary gasp and begin apologizing. He pulls you quickly to the side and out of the way of another couple.

“Baby, it’s okay,” he chuckles. “I’m pretty sturdy.”

“I thought I was doing good.” You drop your head, fiddling with your fingers.

He tips your chin up. “You are. Come on, let’s try again.”

He brings you back toward the center and presses his hand firmly against your back. “Let’s practice the reverse step. Right foot forward, left foot back.”

You nod apprehensively. Less confident than before, you watch your feet stumble over his.

“Look at me,” he commands softly. “You’re only going to trip yourself.”

You smile as you look up, cheeks quickly turning pink. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re doing great. Just relax.”

After a few more boxes, you begin to feel his cues more clearly. When he leads you into a right turn, your feet follow smoothly.

His eyes search yours. “Get ready to switch again.”

You shake your head. “I just got this.”

“Exactly, time to put it all together.”

“No.”

“Yes,” he chuckles.

“Bucky,” you whine, “I’ll mess up again.”

“It’s okay.”

“No.” You press against him, resisting the change in steps.

“Stop leading me,” he says, face soft.

“No.” Again, your feet crash together, stopping your movement suddenly. “I’d like the drink part now.”

He follows you reluctantly back to your table. “You were doing great.”

“Don’t patronize me.” You take a long drink of your martini.

“I’m not.” He runs his finger around the rim of his lowball glass. “Have you ever waltzed before?”

Your shoulders stiffen. “Not formally, no.”

“Then, maybe,” he takes a drink, “you should leave the judgment to someone who has.”

You say nothing, finishing off your drink. “Can I get another?”

He motions to the waiter and takes you by the chin. “We can’t both lead. You have to trust me.”

You nod, stirring the last sip of gin in your glass. Using your teeth, you pull an olive off its spear and grin. “Will you let me try again?”

“Of course, kitten.” As you shuffle to slide out, he lays a hand on your arm. “We’ll have to wait for another waltz song.”

You settle back in your seat, accepting your drink when the waiter brings it. “How did you find this place?”

“I’ve known about it for a while.” He shrugs. “FRIDAY found it for me.”

“Okay.” You take a small sip. “Why?”

“Not many places for ballroom dancing around.” Blood rushes to his face, and he looks away. “I guess I was just…homesick.”

Your heart simultaneously warms and breaks at his admission. He really trusts you. “So, this is how Bucky Barnes showed a girl a good time?”

He leans back, setting his glass down. “Mostly. It was more swing when I was your age.”

You stifle a laugh, barely managing to keep your martini in your mouth. “You were frozen at my age.”

“I’m sure it still applies.” The corners of his eyes crinkles as he looks down, and his face flushes. “But there’s only one swing club in New York, and it has nothing to do with dancing.”

This time, you spray your drink across the table, clamping your hand over your mouth. “Yes, I know the one,” you cough.

“Oh, really?” His eyes widen. “Care to elaborate?”

“Not a chance, Barnes.” You wipe down the table with the napkin under your glass. “Not a ch-”

He tilts his head. A smirk tugs at his lips. He finishes his drink and slides out of the booth. “This’ll do.”

He leads you to the center of the floor. He glides easily around the floor, guiding you gently, holding you close. You can feel his muscles flexing, adjusting to prepare for his movements. You both spin gracefully across the floor, turning both directions. When you get comfortable with the steps and let your thoughts wander over his sweeping figure, he changes the pattern and reminds you to let him lead.

“Just relax and follow me.” His eyes scan the floor, and he skillfully navigates you around other couples.

“Does Steve know how to waltz?”

“He knows the steps, sure.” Bucky scans the floor before winking at you. “Keep the rhythm. One, two, three.” He drops his hand from your back and raises your right arm, continuing his count.

You spin under his arm and fall easily back into his firm embrace.

“But it’s not about the rules, it’s about bending them.” He leads you back into the basic steps. “It’s an art, and art takes practice.”

You nod. “And Steve didn’t get much practice.”

“Maybe now, I don’t know.”

With every step, you grow more confident. Following his lead gets easier with each turn. After three more songs, you feel like an expert at the basic box step. Bucky catches you glance at the table and lets a laugh rumble through his chest.

“Need a break?”

You nod and follow him back to the table. You gulp down the last of your drink, ordering another and a glass of water.

“Before my muscles get too comfortable, I’m going to run to the restroom.” You pat Bucky’s leg.

He moves to let you out and tells you to return quickly. Though, when you do, you find your table empty. You turn, scanning the room, and find Bucky on the dance floor. You sit down slowly and pick up your martini. The water can wait.

You can’t take your eyes off him, spinning the strong, blonde around the floor. It doesn’t look anything like what you’ve been working on all night. You can’t even say for certain it’s a waltz; Bucky probably knows other styles. She spins under his arm and out to the side, always returning to her place, pressed tight to his chest. They move quickly, turning and twisting. He guides her around his back, every move elegant and showy. He ends with a dip and pulls her back to her feet, tucking his hair behind his ear.

Anger floods from deep in your chest as he approaches, grinning wide. “Looks like you had fun.”

“She’s good,” he confirms, sitting next to you.

“You know, when you told me you deserved that drink in your face,” you answer curtly, “I couldn’t imagine how you, Mister Chivalry, could possibly have earned it.”

“What?” His forehead wrinkles as he twists to face you. “She’s a friend. She asked for a dance.”

“A friend. Got it.” You push your empty glass away. “I want to go home.”

“What?” His face goes slack, eyebrows sinking.

You grit your teeth. “I know we’re not exclusive, but we’re on a goddamn date.”

“I came here a few times on my own to check it out.” He shakes his head before looking back in your eyes. “I danced with a few girls. She’s one of them. She’s nice.”

“Then ask her out,” you growl. “This is the closest thing to sex you’re capable of right now. I just thought-”

“You’re actually having sex with someone else.” The tiniest hint of anger flickers across his face. “So, forgive me for stealing a dance.”

You take a deep, steady breath. You didn’t hide your ongoing relationship with Strange from him, but you weren’t certain he knew either. “At least I wait for you to leave.”

“You’re a saint.” He finishes his drink quickly, slamming his glass on the table. “I have, by the way. Asked her out. She’s fun.”

“Sorry I slowed you down all night.”

His eyes flit up to yours. “Kitten, that’s not what I meant.”

“No,” you twist your fingers together, “you two moved beautifully. I can barely stay on my feet out there.”

“I guess,” he stands and extends his hand toward you, “I’ll just have to hold you closer.”

“Bucky,” you shake your head, “I really just want to go home.”

His back stiffens. “Should I just take you to his place? Save him the trip.”

You sigh, dropping your head, and bring your hands to your face. “It’s just dancing in circles with you. We never get anywhere.”

His face falls, and, for a moment, you swear his eyes mist over. “Just one more dance. Please.”

“Okay.” You take his hand and follow him back to the floor. “Haven’t heard this song in a while.”

I can’t back down. I’ve been losing so much time.

“I don’t think I ever have.” He nods to someone behind you, but when you make a turn, no one is there.

You look down, avoiding his broken expression.

“Look at me,” he reminds. “We have to connect if you’re going to follow.”

Your eyes meet his, soft and focused.

“I’m sorry. Really. I didn’t think it would matter.”

“Is that something you would have done in forty-five?”

“No,” he whispers, breathless. “But I wouldn’t have picked a girl up knowing someone else was taking her to bed either.”

You swallow past the tightness in your throat . “Am I doing alright?”

“Perfect.” He smiles down at you, resting his forehead on yours. “Do you trust me?”

You nod.

“Follow my lead.” He counts out the beat again and drops his hand from your back and spins you under his arm, stopping you halfway with a hand at your waist. With your back to his chest, he kisses your temple and whispers, “I don’t understand the rules anymore.”

When he counts again, you prepare for a new move. He drops both hands and opens an arm to the side, ushering you across his chest with the other. Your back lands against his outstretched arm, and judging by his smirk, harder than you were supposed to. He immediately circles to face you again and repeats the move, passing you delicately from one arm to the other.

“I don’t have to pick you up. You’re allowed to pay. We can see other people, just not if we’re together. I’m trying here.”

Your four drinks don’t mix well with the spinning. “Stop.” You stumble over your feet and fall against him.

“I got you.”

The warmth and security of his support drives the blush from your face. You giggle at the timing of the music.

Nothing to do, nothing to prove.

He drops your hand and slides his left arm to your waist. “Hold on.”

Before you can process his instruction, you feel metal curl around your leg. You yelp as he lifts you off the floor.

“Bend your knees.” His breathy laugh tickles your ear. He sets you back down and does a few more easy turns. “Do you want to try that again?”

“No.” You lay your head on his collarbone, steadying your spinning head.

“Okay, but we have to have a grand finale.” Your alarm earns another chuckle. “Do you trust me?”

You blink slowly, realizing you’re the only couple on the floor. “With my life.”

He grins, leading you through another spin and back into the box step. “You have nothing to be jealous of, kitten.”

I can’t take my eyes off of you.

He drops both hands to your hips. “Grab my shoulders. I’m not going to drop you.”

“What?” Panic flashes through your eyes.

He lifts you off the ground again, almost over his head. You kick one foot up with another yelp. He beams up at you, eyes crinkling with laughter.

After another spin, he drops you, turning your hips. You inhale sharply, squeezing your eyes shut. His strong arms under your back and knees stop you from hitting the floor.

You open your eyes to see him still laughing at you. “I got you.”

You let out a shaky breath and lay your hand on the side of his face, pulling yourself up to meet his lips. As the music fades, you let him go. He sets you down gently and pulls you tight against him.

“I love you.” He whispers, barely audible. “No one else.”

Your eyes clear, suddenly aware of everything around you. You hurry back to your table, taking shaky breaths. Fuck.

You swallow gulps of water and throw your coat on. Bucky approaches slowly as you struggle with it.

He holds the collar open, allowing you to slip your arms in easily. “I’m not going to pretend that felt great.”

“I’m sorry” is all you manage to choke out before your throat closes entirely.

He drapes his own coat over his bionic arm. “I guess I’ll get you home then.”

You wait for the car in silence, eyes burning. You pull your coat tight around you, drawing into yourself.

You settle into your seat, and Bucky looks at you. “Can I please just take you one more place? You don’t even have to get out of the car.”

You nod and focus on steadying yourself as Bucky pulls away from the lounge. “I’m sorry. I just- I don’t-”

“It’s okay.” He holds his hand out and waits for you to take it. “Different cultures.”

“Bucky-” You watch as the streetlights turn to trees.

“I don’t want you to lie to me. It’s okay.”

“Are you taking me to the training facility?”

“Not quite.”

The pavement turns to gravel, and security cameras dot the strip of road.

“Bucky, I’ve been here a million times. This is the access road to the living quarters at the compound.”

“Yeah, but that’s not where we’re going.”

You stare out the windshield skeptically. There’s nowhere else to go here. Tony bought the surrounding land for miles in every direction. As the building comes into view, Bucky veers off the road and drives carefully through the grass. He navigates carefully around a few trees and parks in a small clearing overlooking the Hudson.

The moon reflects off the surface, turning each small wave crest white. When he cuts the engine, you can hear the rush of water. Fireflies spark occasionally in every direction. The soft hoot of owls is the only other sound.

“It’s beautiful,” you breathe.

“I don’t want you to see him anymore.”

Your gaze snaps to Bucky. “Buck, you can’t be angry. We’ve never talked about us. You could see other women. We never decid-”

“I’m not angry. With you, at least,” he answers softly. “I hate the thought of you with anyone else. Knowing every time I leave, someone else is coming over.”

“I’m sure it upsets you, but that’s not fair.” You let your eyes fall closed. “If you were an option, I’d drop him in a heartbeat, and he’d understand.”

“I’ve wanted to say something for a while now. After the scene tonight, I guess this is a good time.” He takes a deep breath. “I can’t keep doing this.”

You tear your eyes away before tears can spill over. “Bucky, you can’t ask me that.”

“I know I put you in this position, and I know-” He clears his throat and pauses. “I hate myself for it. But if you can’t go without him, without- I don’t think we can…”

“Buck, please don’t.” You search his eyes.

He locks his jaw. “I can’t stand seeing him leave your office.” He clenches a hand into a fist. “It takes everything in me not to strangle him on the spot.”

“That’s,” you take a deep inhale, “violent.”

“Yeah, well.” He snorts, running his tongue across his teeth. “He’s fucking my girl. It’s personal.”

“Is that what I am?” You quirk up an eyebrow. “Your girl?”

You can see his face redden before he turns away. “I’d like you to be.”

You watch the river, captivated by a stone in the middle. It stands steady despite the torrent, unmoved by the constant pounding. Water crashes into it and peels to either side, flowing on, only mildly inconvenienced.

“I want to spend the night with you.”

“That’s not-” He runs his hands through his hair. “I didn’t mean-”

You lock eyes with him. “You’re asking a lot of me. I think I deserve a request in return.”

“I can’t. Not yet.”

“If I’m going back to abstinence, I need something from you.” You take his hand. “I need to see you trying. I can sleep on the couch.”

“No.”

“Bucky,” you choke.

He smirks. “My momma raised a gentleman. You’re not sleeping on the couch.”

You giggle. “I won’t argue then.”

“Now,” he leans toward you, “I said we’re doing things my way. So, what do you say?” His eyes dart to the backseat.

“Sergeant Barnes,” you plaster a shocked look over your face, “if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were after my virtue.”

He rolls his eyes. “If I didn’t know better, I might think you have some.”

“So much for a gentleman.” You smack his chest.

“Oh, please.” He grabs you by the wrist and presses his lips to your pulse point. “Now, are you going to go necking with me or not?”

“Dear, God, you are so old.” You slam your door and slide into the backseat beside him.

“Nobody asked for a commentary, sweetheart.”

You bite your lip, moaning.

“Nuh uh, kitten.” He wraps his hand under your chin, squeezing gently, and brushes his lips against your ear. “That lip is mine to bite.”

“Jesus Christ.” You lean to close the distance, but he holds you back.

“Didn’t you learn anything tonight?” You notice a life in his eyes that you haven’t seen before. “Let me lead.”

This is his comfort zone. The whole night was setting him up for this. He pulls you close, locking your lips together, and spreads his hands over your back. For a moment, you’re thrown through time. You’re parked in “lover’s lane,” Bucky in his uniform, windows fogged up, necking in the back of the Barnes’ family Ford.

He pushes you back, against the window. Hooking his hand under your knee, he hitches your leg up to his waist. The cold metal against your burning flesh makes you gasp, leaving Bucky smiling against your lips. He makes his way down your neck, leaving at least one bruise in his wake.

You rake your hands through his hair, tugging gently at the roots, hoping he’ll return to your mouth. When he does, you sigh into his mouth, eyes fluttering closed. You scratch through his beard and tangle your hands in his hair, his warm breath on your cheek driving you mad. Your skin tingles where he touches your leg.

“Bucky,” you whimper, helpless to stop the jolt of your hips when his hand dips under your dress.

He rolls his shoulders back, growling, “Do you have any idea what that does to me?”

He brushes his lips over the cutout in your dress, his fingers following closely, tracing your cleavage. “This dress would have gotten you into so much trouble in my day.”

Your chest heaves, pressing against Bucky’s with every breath, the incidental contact sends shivers straight to your core. You arch up into him, desperate for more.

He skims a knuckle along your jaw and down your neck. “Patience, kitten.”

“I need you,” you pant, body shaking.

He releases your leg, planting a hand on your hip. “You’re making this very difficult for me.”

You smirk at him and open your mouth.

“If you say it, I’m not touching you anymore tonight.”

You slam your mouth shut with an audible pop. He slides his hands around to the zipper of your dress, keeping the slightest pressure on your sides. After he pushes your sleeves down your arms, he leaves kisses along your collarbone.

Your fingers scrape against his scalp, urging him lower. He indulges you briefly, grazing his lips along the edge of your bra. You melt under his touch, whining when he pulls away.

Scooping both your wrists into his metal hand, he pins them over your head. The chill of the glass against your arms sends you reeling. If he keeps it up, he’s going to have to throw you out of the car to keep you off him.

“Stop leading me.” His voice is rough, and you can barely make out his cool blue irises past his pupils.

“Can’t help it.” You bite back a moan as he nips at the hinge of your jaw. “You’re driving me crazy.”

His hum reverberates through your chest, and his hand tightens around your wrists. “You want more, kitten?”

A squeak escapes your mouth as you nod eagerly.

“I need words, sweetheart.”

You steady your trembling voice. “Please, give me more.” You swallow hard, locking onto his wild eyes. “Sergeant.”

An animalistic growl tears between his teeth, and the window shatters above your head. An instinctive squeal pierces the air, but when you open your eyes, you’re in his lap with his arms curled around you.

“I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” He strokes your hair softly, holding you firmly against himself. “I’m so sorry, kitten.”

Your face stings and your hands burn. You find yourself cradling a wrist to your chest. You try to rewind your brain. The window exploded and your arms fell- no. Your wrists were shoved through the window.

You take a deep breath, your wrist aching with the pressure against his chest. “You’re hurting me.”

His arms drop to his sides. “I’m sorry.”

You pull away timidly, confirming your suspicion with a glance to the window. One, large hole, not completely shattered.

You look over your bloodied hands. “We should go inside.”

“Yeah, you can clean up in the med bay.” He wipes at a drop of blood on your cheek and drops his hand away.

“I think I’ll need your help.” You wait for him to open the door and help you out of the car.

He opens the passenger door. “I’ll call for Sam when we get there.” He shuts your door and sits behind the wheel.

“Why can’t you help me?”

He keeps his eyes in front of him, steering back to the gravel drive. “I’ll hurt you again.”

You rub your wrist. The relief of pressure didn’t help. If anything, it only feels worse. You squeeze your wrist and groan. “I want your help.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t want to hurt you worse.”

“You won’t.” You watch his hands tighten around the wheel.

“You can’t be sure.” As he parks in the garage, he yells for FRIDAY. “Wake up Sam and ask him to meet us in the med bay.”

“FRIDAY, disregard. Sergeant Barnes is more than capable of handling this.”

He glares at you, but doesn’t argue. You follow him to the elevator, trying your best not to drip blood on the floor. When the doors ding open, Bucky walks into the clinic, lights flickering to life as he moves.

“FRIDAY, she got her hands shoved through glass. What do you recommend.”

You trail through the hall and into the first exam room.

“Thorough cleaning of the wounds and x-rays of the area are recommended before bandaging, Sergeant Barnes.” The thick accent of the AI responds.

“Bucky, I don’t need-”

He takes your forearm delicately. “It’s already swollen. Yes, you do.”

You listen as FRIDAY walks Bucky through taking an x-ray and bracing your wrist. Watching Bucky work on cleaning the glass from your hands, you realize you should have let Sam help. Bucky mumbles to himself, constantly beating himself up over what he did to you.

“I just need to find some bandages.” He looks up, laying your hands on your thighs.

You nod, staring at your hands. When he returns, he wraps gauze and bandages around each hand and up your forearms. As he starts wiping the blood from your face, your chest tightens. He rubs the blood away gently and cleans the small cuts over your face.

You push away the fatigue in your muscles and fog in your brain. Everything finally seemed to be slowing down to a normal pace. “We can stay here, tonight. I’m supposed to meet with Bruce in the morning anyway.”

He pinches his eyebrows together and turns to the sink to wash his hands.

“FRIDAY, is my r- the guest room still set up?”

“Yes, Miss Independent. It hasn’t been cha-”

“FRIDAY, we talked about this.” You rub a hand down your face, wincing.

“Yes, unfortunately Mister Stark set strict protocols for addressing guests. Would you like me to run through the library of names he put together for you. The first setting is from when you met.”

“No.” your head snaps up. “Oh, God, no. Can you just not call me anything?”

A short silence. “It appears my protocols will allow that.”

Bucky follows you to the elevator and back to the main floor. As you pass through the kitchen, he takes his coat from the counter.

“Do you want a snack?”

You grin and nod, hoisting yourself onto the counter. “Pizza.”

You close your eyes, listening to him rummage through the freezer. The oven beeps, and he tears open a cardboard box. The crushing feeling in your chest returns, and your throat closes. The oven door opens and shuts. Blood pounds through your head.

“Kitten, what’s wrong?” Bucky’s cool thumb presses into your cheek.

You shake your head. “Nothing.”

His other hand cups your face, dragging a warm thumb over your cheekbone. “Baby, you’re crying.”

“Guess I’m just a little shaken.” You hate your voice for sounding so fragile.

“I’m so sorry.” He hovers in front of you. The tears come too quickly for him to wipe them away. “After the pizza’s done, I’ll head home.”

You wrap your arms around his waist and hold him close. “No, you promised.”

“Not tonight. You need to rest.” He combs through your hair. “I shouldn’t be near you.”

“You hurt me.” You know it’s low, but you also know it’ll work. “You should stay and fix your mistake.”

“I- I tried.” He hangs his head, rubbing your arms. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t.” You drape your arms around his neck and drop your head to his. “I trust you.”

“You shouldn’t,” he whispers, tracing a finger over your cheek.

“Oh, you tell me that after you throw me over your head?”

He lets out a wet laugh, cheeks turning pink. “I guess that’s fair.”

When the timer goes off, you lock your ankles around his hips. “How do I know you’re not running off?”

“You heard the timer! I’m just taking the pizza out.”

You narrow your eyes at him. “Not letting you go until I know you’re staying.”

He beams down at you, taking your head in his hands. “Kitten, I will do whatever you want.” He kisses your nose and easily untangles your legs.

Chapter Text

You turn the unlabeled vial over in your hands. “New and improved, huh?”

Bruce stands on the other side of the exam room. “Strange said he was worried about it damaging your veins. Makes sense.”

“I guess.” You nod. “Looks the same.”

“It is, mostly.” Bruce takes his glasses off to clean them. “I want to lower your dosage, too.”

You look up, raising an eyebrow. “Is it stronger?”

“No, actually,” he rubs the back of his neck, “I had to dilute it a little to thin it out.”

“Bruce, you can’t do that,” you screech. “It’s hardly enough as it is. You should be upping it.”

“We’re worried about you.”

“Who’s we?” You roll your eyes. “You and Stephen? You’re always worried.”

“And he’s usually right.” Bruce crosses his arms and leans against the counter, jumping back up when a crack echoes through the small room. “We don’t know what this stuff is doing to you.”

“Then why give it to me in the first place.” Your glare is unrelenting.

I wouldn’t have,” he groans. “But here we are.”

“You disapprove, and you think Tony makes terrible decisions.” You roll your eyes. “It’s a little hypocritical, you know.”

“I’m done with this discussion.” He rubs a hand across his forehead. “This is the best we’ve got, unless you’re hiding a vita-chamber somewhere.”

“Fine,” you wrap your fingers around the vial and take the box of three others, “but I’m upping my dose.”

“If someone finds out you’re doing this, your career is over,” Bruce warns. “Strange’s too.”

“He could lose his license.” You take a deep breath. “Well, I’m at least keeping the same dosage. Deal?”

He tosses his hands out at his sides. “I guess I can’t really stop you.”

You grin, tossing the vials into your purse. “I need new needles too.”

“At least you’re changing them.” He reaches into a cabinet and pulls out a box of needles.

You stuff the box into your purse and head for the elevator.

 

***

 

“Does it look like I took your razor?” Bucky rubs a hand along his chin.

“Steve!” Sam bellows from the living room. “This bastard hid my trimmer.”

Steve trudges down the hall wrapped in his robe, coffee in hand, groaning to himself. “I miss Peg.” He rounds the corner and eyes them both. “How can you possibly have something to argue about? It’s barely nine.”

“Sam thinks I have his fancy razor or something.” Bucky doesn’t look up from his cereal.

Steve pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why would he have your clipper set?”

“What?” Sam’s mouth drops open and he throws his hands up. “Because he takes all my shit.”

“Fuck off.” Bucky glares at him. “You probably lost it.”

“I don’t lose things,” Sam growls.

“You didn’t lose the shield right after Steve left?”

“No, you hid it from me.” Sam grits his teeth.

Bucky smirks. “Big words with no proof.”

The arguing continues while Steve pours another cup of coffee and makes himself toast, rubbing his temples all the while. By the time he finishes a slice of toast, Sam and Bucky have progressed to arguing about secretly rearranging furniture.

“Stop it,” Steve says calmly. It always worked for Peggy.

Sam and Bucky groan, both rolling their eyes. “Steve, you don’t understand…he’s a pain in the ass…a liar…fuck you…my stuff…”

“I don’t care. Shut up.” Steve takes a drink of coffee. “Sam, take care of your stuff. Bucky, leave him alone.”

They begin to protest, but Steve silences them with a glare. “I don’t care. You’re grown men for God’s sake.”

Sam narrows his eyes at Bucky. “Don’t touch my shit.”

“Don’t leave it sitting around.”

“I’m warning you, Barnes.” Sam shoves a finger in Bucky’s direction.

“Bite me.” When the elevator doors swoosh open, Bucky breaks into a smile. “Kitten.”

You walk over, holding up your newly-cast wrist. “Good as new.”

Bucky’s smile falls as you sidle up to him. He looks up at you, mouthing, “I’m sorry.”

He stiffens when you kiss his cheek and takes your left hand, examining your cast. It’s completely different from what he remembers Steve wearing as a kid. Yours is mostly metal, the dull grey broken up by a small Iron Man logo at the wrist.

“He called it Iron Medic Equipment. Made it after Morgan broke her arm on the monkey bars, well falling off them.” You smile and turn Bucky’s stool, so you can sit on his lap. “How was the couch?”

“Surprisingly comfortable.”

Steve and Sam look up from their breakfast.

“Yeah,” you take a bite of Bucky’s cereal and continue with your mouth full, “Tony slept there more than once. Invested a pretty penny in it.”

“Wait,” Sam looks between you and Bucky, “you spent the night together?”

Bucky wraps his arm around your waist, pulling you in close. Instead of answering, he nuzzles into your hair, nipping at your ear. “Does that bother you?”

“Not at all.” Sam looks at you. “What did he do with my trimmer?”

You raise an eyebrow at Sam. “Does it look like he has it?”

Bucky snickers and gives a curt nod.

“I have to get to work.” You comb his hair out of his face and kiss his forehead. “Can I come over tonight?”

“Whatever you want.”

As you close the door behind you, you hear Steve.

“Are you sure? Don’t let her push-”

You shake your head as you make your way to the garage to meet up with Bruce. He takes you to the Rehab Center where you spend the day in your office finishing paperwork. For the first time in years, you leave your office at closing time. Jack takes you home, and Bucky picks you up after your shower.

“What’s all that?” He takes the bag from your shoulder while you lock your apartment.

“I’m spending the night.”

He eyes the bag and looks at you. “And you need all this?”

You roll your eyes. “Yes, Buck. I do.”

“Women,” he groans.

You shove his shoulder and take his hand, smiling at the temperature difference of the Vibranium. He bristles at the touch, lacing his fingers through yours stiffly.

“What’s your plan for tonight, Romeo?” You glance up just in time to catch his grin before he covers it with a suave smirk.

“Thought I’d make dinner.” He squeezes your hand. “Let you get some rest.”

You give him a blank stare. “I’m fine.”

“Great,” he winks, “fine isn’t good enough.”

You throw him a sideways glare and keep quiet. You’re not going to question the cook.

And what a cook he is. The smell of his kitchen has your mouth watering minutes after he starts cooking. You take a seat behind his bar top and watch him moving rhythmically around the kitchen. Every few minutes he chides you about getting rest, and you promise you will in a few minutes. The aromas drifting from the stove are far too enticing for you to sleep, and the man in the kitchen makes a pleasant distraction.

He slides a pan into the oven and wipes his hand on a towel, making his way around the bar. “Alright, kitten.” You yelp when he scoops you out of your seat. “You are going to rest.”

He sits on the couch and stretches out, pulling you down on top of him. You let out a pleased hum. He turns on his side and drags you back against his chest. “Go to sleep.”

He slides his flesh arm under your head, letting you use his bicep as a pillow. He drapes his other arm over your waist and across your chest. You gladly wrap your arms around his and snuggle back into his chest. He takes a long, slow breath.

“Your hair smells nice.” He nuzzles against your ear, his breath making you squirm.

“I thought you wanted me to rest,” you giggle, pulling away.

“I do.” His voice is calming. “Go to sleep.”

You close your eyes and settle against his large bicep. You push the thoughts of his rippling muscles out of your head and take deep breaths. You feel teeth tugging at your ear and roll over, glaring playfully.

“Cut it out, Barnes. I’m trying to sleep.”

He kisses your nose, rubbing his hand over your back. “I can’t help it. You’re cute.”

You lean up and press your lips to his, tracing your tongue over his cupid’s bow. “I don’t want to be cute.”

He groans, pushing you away. “I know, kitten, but I need you to settle for cute. Just for a while.”

“Nuh uh.” You lean back in, cupping your hand around the back of his head. You work his knees apart with your own, sliding your leg between his.

He moans into your mouth, digging his fingers into your back. He drags his hand down your back, Vibranium scraping lightly. You twist and tug at his hair until he releases another moan. His hand continues sliding down your back until it dips under your underwear. The cold metal forces a gasp out of your lungs. The blood rushing through your ears is deafening. You can barely hear the shrill beep of the oven timer.

Bucky leans back, but you lurch forward, recapturing his mouth.

“Dinner's going to burn,” he chuckles, tugging his bottom lip from between your teeth.

“I don’t care,” you pant, wrapping your arms around his back.

He stands easily, bringing you with him. “Well, I do.” He sets your bare feet carefully on the laminate flooring and returns to the kitchen.

“Bucky,” you whine, padding softly after him. You wrap your arms around his waist and stand on your tiptoes to reach his ear. “Come on, we were so close last night.”

He drops the pan onto the stovetop and turns around stiffly, unwrapping your arms. He holds your left hand, looking down at the cast. “Too close.”

His voice is heavy, full of sorrow. When he raises his eyes, you can see him drowning in guilt.

“I’m still not ready.”

You nod and help him fill your plates. He pours you a glass of red wine and carries the dishes to the table with ease. You eat the stuffed chicken parmesan quickly with endless compliments. You had no idea that Bucky had such culinary talent.

“Assassin, dancer, chef. Is there anything you can’t do?”

“Aside from the obvious?”

Seeing the confliction on his face, you immediately regret your question. You'll never understand what’s going through his mind. He’s trying so hard; you can see it written in every line over his brow. He may never trust himself with you. Or worse, he may never trust himself without you.

You offer to help with the dishes, but Bucky just dumps them in the sink, saying he’ll get to them tomorrow. Instead, he pours you more wine and turns on the TV.

He takes a deep breath. “Can we just lay on the couch together? I can handle that.”

You smile and nod. He leans back against the side of the couch and pulls you down on top of him. You nuzzle down into his chest and breathe in his scent, biting your lip. He smells like a rainforest. He wraps his arms around you. You can hear his heart beat faster and faster until, after several minutes, it levels out. You feel his chest rise and fall with every breath. Your eyelids get heavier by the second. The weeks of late-night conference calls and weekend meetings are catching up to you. You’re asleep in minutes.

The smell of coffee wakes you. How Bucky managed to get out from under you last night is a mystery. At least he has coffee. Sitting up on the couch, you pinch your eyebrows together, rubbing your eyes. He doesn’t like coffee.

You amble into the kitchen, still rubbing the sleep from your eyes. You open a cabinet before realizing there’s a mug sitting on the counter, right beside the coffee pot, alongside a small bottle of hazelnut creamer and the sugar shaker. He thought of everything. The fact that you don’t like hazelnut is unimportant.

You fill the mug and add a pinch of sugar. When you finish stirring, you raise the mug to your nose and take a long inhale.

“I hope it’s strong enough for you.” Bucky’s voice drifts over your shoulder, making you smile.

When you turn to face him, your breath catches. “Shit.”

You set your mug down slowly, completely unprepared for the sight. It’s not the bare muscles that surprise you; you’ve known Steve for years. It’s not the towel wrapped around his waist or even the water dripping from the tips of his hair to his shoulders.

It’s the scars.

You move toward him, staggering slightly. Without a word, you bring a hand to his chest. Focused intently on his marred flesh, you don’t notice the discomfort in his face.

You expected the thick, white tissue lining the chest piece for his arm, but you never could have imagined the rest. Some are obvious: bullet holes, stab wounds, a few burns. Others are impossible to discern. Steve doesn’t have a single scar. It doesn’t make sense.

“How did you get these?” Your fingers trace over a thin white line down the middle of his stomach. His abdominal muscles twitch with every breath. Is that a bite mark? Your eyes dart to his right shoulder, hands following.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “I just woke up, and they were there.”

“God,” you whisper, moving around to his back. You find more of the same. To your horror, several scars on his back line up with those on the front. “Some of these went all the way through.”

“I know.” His muscles tense, and he swallows hard, looking straight ahead. “I spent days studying the mirror after DC.”

Circling back around in front of him, you press your fingers into a pink, horizontal stripe above his hip. You look up to his face, noticing the distance in his eyes for the first time.

“I’m sorry,” you whisper, wrapping your arms around him. “I don’t know what to say.”

He curls his arms around your shoulders, squeezing you into him. The motors in his arm whir gently. The pressure of his hand around your bicep is almost imperceptible.

“I know you don’t get much good sleep anymore.” He peels himself away, opening the fridge. “I didn’t want to wake you.”

“What time is it?” You crane your neck trying to see the oven clock around him.

“Ten-thirty.” He takes a carton of eggs and gallon of milk out. “Breakfast?”

“I have meetings all day.” You shake your head. “You should have woken me up sooner.”

“I already called the Center and told them you were sick and wouldn't be in.”

“What?!” you screech. “No. Why would you do that?” You get more frustrated with every word. He has no right.

“God, you never stop going, do you?”

You search his cabinets for a travel mug. “Someone has to hold the world together.”

“Honey, the last people to try that ended up dead, and they had a whole team.”

“Tony always worried too much, and Steve got exactly what he wanted. Clint’s fine. Thor is…somewhere.”

“Listen, kitten,” he chuckles, “before Steve got all senile on us, he asked me to make sure you don’t work yourself to death."

“Of course he did.” You smile and shake your head. “I suppose you figured out that he asked me to watch out for you and Sam?”

“Is that why you're here?”

“No, actually, that's why I shouldn't be here. I was supposed to keep an eye on your recovery.” You kiss his cheek. “I think Steve’s okay with this, though.”

Bucky grins. “All that being said, you’re taking a day off.”

“Buck, I c-”

“You will. Now, how do you like your eggs?” He takes a bowl out from under a counter and begins cracking eggs.

You narrow your eyes. “This was a dirty trick.”

He lets out a deep laugh. “You haven't seen dirty, yet.”

“Barnes,” you groan, “I hope you’re prepared to deal with major irritability.”

“I'm prepared for whatever you give me, kitten.” He pushes the bowl aside and leans toward you. “Now. Eggs?”

You sigh, “What's your specialty?”

He grins. “I’ll make it for you one day. Scrambled okay for now?”

“Sure.” You slide off the stool. “Can I take a quick shower?”

“Shouldn’t you keep that dry?” He points to your cast while mixing seasonings into the bowl of eggs.

You tap on the screen built into the inside of the forearm, and the plates of the cast begin shifting. Titanium pieces assemble themselves around your fingers and close around your elbow.

You grin at Bucky’s mystified expression. “Waterproof.”

He waves toward the hall and returns to breakfast. “Oh, someone’s going to bring some things for you to sign.”

“Sounds good,” you throw over your shoulder, heading to the bathroom.

You scan the contents of his shower while turning to coat your body in the warm water. He has all the basics. Shampoo and conditioner are top notch, salon quality. Unscented body wash for sensitive skin. He has a frayed toothbrush in the corner, and a waterpik system hangs from the showerhead. You begin inspecting the various attachments when you hear banging on the wall adjacent to the kitchen.

Laughing to yourself, you turn your attention to actually showering. You step out, wrapping the towel around your hair, and look over his counter. Hair dryer, plugged in and laying on the corner of the counter. Beard oil, sandalwood scented. Q-tips, lots of them, and oil.

“Eggs are getting cold, babe.” Bucky calls through the door.

You take your hair down and towel it off. You pick up your blouse, glancing at Bucky’s t-shirt in the corner. As you drop your blouse, you hear a crash in the kitchen.

“Bucky!”

Your head swims with theories. Is Hydra still after him? Maybe a justice-seeking vigilante. God, it's probably some kind of assassin. You throw Bucky's shirt over your head and sprint to the kitchen, heart pounding.

“It’s okay, kitten. I won’t let him touch you.”

“Jack?” You stand dumbstruck at the sight of Bucky, now fully clothed, pinning Jack to the floor on top of what’s left of the coffee table.

“He calls you kitten?” Jack struggles to lift his head.

“Jack?” Bucky snaps, head spinning to you.

Chapter Text

“Jack?” Bucky snaps, head reeling. What the hell is Rollins doing in his apartment, and why the fuck had you just called him Jack?

“Bucky, let him go.”

“Barnes,” Jack removes his hands from Bucky's wrists and holds them up, “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I’ve heard that before,” Bucky snorts, crushing his knee further into Jack’s chest. He squeezes his eyes shut and whispers, “Jack?”

“Jack, are you alright?” You cross the room slowly, watching Bucky.

Bucky’s head jerks up. He heard right. You did call him Jack. “What, are you screwing him too?”

“What does it matter?” Jack grimaces. “You’re not doing her.”

“I’m not talking to you.” Bucky’s eyes flicker between burning rage and empty darkness.

“Bucky, get off him.” You grab Bucky’s shoulder.

He spins around, snatching your wrist away, Vibranium clanging softly against titanium. When he looks down at your cast, his face softens.

“Let him up, and we can talk,” you add softly.

He releases your wrist, bringing his hand to his head. “He’ll hurt you.”

“He won’t.”

Bucky locks eyes with you, searching for answers.

You sigh, “He’s on my security detail.”

“What?” Bucky leans back, giving Jack enough room to wiggle free. “He’s on- why?”

“Buck, I promise we’ll talk in just a minute.” You pick up the files scattered across the floor and glare at Jack. “A word, please. Outside.”

“Make yourselves at home,” Bucky snarls, rolling back onto his toes. He shoots both of you a glare before storming out.

“Buck, please don-” The door slams shut, and you spin on your heel, seething at Jack. “What. The. Hell. Is. Wrong. With. You.”

“I didn’t know this was his place.” Jack gasps, rubbing his shoulder. “Some man called and said you wouldn’t be in, and you weren’t at home. We were worried.”

You let out a controlled breath. “I’ll discuss that with him.”

“Jesus,” he breathes, rotating his shoulder slowly.

“What did you expect?” You throw the files on the kitchen counter, well aware that more than a few of those scars probably came from Jack. “The last time he saw you, you were scrambling his brain.”

“I. Didn’t. Know.”

You groan, tossing your hair over your shoulder. “Just get out. I have to find him.”

“He’s not your responsibility, Y/N,” Jack soothes.

“Fuck off.” You snatch your purse from the table next to the front door. “There’s no telling how far you just set him back.”

You jerk your phone out of your purse, closing the door behind you. “Come on,” you mumble making your way to the elevator. “Come o- Clint! Oh boy, I fucked up.”

You run Clint through the morning while you’re on the bus, and he assures you Bucky will be fine. Your walk to the training compound is long and slow. Though, the cast on your arm is lightweight, it’s still heavier than you’re used to. And over several miles, it only gets worse. Tony’s a pompous, paranoid asshole for putting the compound in the middle of nowhere, then buying up all the land around it.

You should really get a car. You could probably afford the payment. It would save Sam and Bucky a lot of trouble. Or maybe a bike. You used to drive one in college. And Steve let you drive his a little during The Snap crisis.

A crack echoes through the air, followed by another a few seconds later. You take off running toward the compound and the sound gunshots. It shouldn’t surprise you. It’s the Avengers training facility, after all. But they don’t do much training anymore.

A series of rapid-fire shots spurs you on faster. You burst through the door and into the gym. The building is quiet, no sign of a struggle. You scan the room, breathing deeply. Another crack draws you through the back door to the firing range.

“Hey,” you yell calmly.

Sam turns around, sliding his earmuffs down to his neck. “Hey.”

You lift an eyebrow at the arsenal of weapons laid out on the work bench.

“They need to be fired regularly.” He shrugs. “Keeps them in good condition.”

You nod, letting your fingers skim over the nearest pistol. You pull your hand away rubbing the residue off your fingers. “Have you seen-”

“Downstairs.” Sam jerks his head toward the door, replacing his earmuffs. “Combatives room.”

You nod your thanks and make your way to the elevator. You walk down the hall to the rhythm of a metallic thudding. You listen for voices, but hear nothing other than the repetitive, dull thump. You thought for sure if he was here, he would’ve been at Steve’s throat by now.

You turn the corner and stiffen, more concerned by your lack of concern than the knives flying across the room. You knock softly on the wall and take a step inside the room.

“Can I come in?”

A knife hits the wall target with a dull thump.

“Is your bodyguard here?” Bucky releases another knife, not looking away from his target.

“No,” you sigh. “I’m alone.”

He shrugs, advancing to retrieve his projectiles.

“Buck, things were tight after everyone disappeared.” You settle into a metal chair along the wall. “We made a lot of questionable decisions. Some better than others.”

He glances at you as he resumes his stance and begins throwing his knives again.

“Buck,” you comb a hand through your hair, “he’s done nothing but a great job. He went through an extensive criminal rehab-”

“Did you?” He sets his knife on the table next to him and looks at you.

You wait for him to finish his question, but nothing comes. “Did I what?”

“Did you fuck Rollins?”

You purse your lips. Shit. “Does it matter?”

“Yeah,” he scoffs. “It kind of fucking does.”

You let out a breath, closing your eyes. “Buck, we wer-”

“Just leave.” He turns his back, picking his knife up and launching it at the wall in one, swift movement.

“You’re being irrational.” You cross the room and lay a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s talk.”

“Don’t-” He shrugs your hand off, stepping away. “Not now.”

“Okay.” You take a deep breath. “When?”

“Tonight, next week. I don’t know.” He tosses another knife in the air and catches the handle. “Just, not now.”

You watch him flip the knife a few more times, gnawing at your bottom lip. “I’m really proud of how you han-”

“Shut. Up.” He hurls the knife at the wall. “You’re not my therapist.”

“I can still be proud of you.” You smile weakly and turn to the stairs.

You watch your feet as you climb, taking the stairs two at a time. You really fucked this one up.

“Whoa.” As you reach the top of the stairs, warm hands wrap around your arms.

“Steve! Sorry, I’m not- my head’s a little fuzzy.”

“Sam said Bucky’s down here.”

You nod. “He doesn’t want to talk to me.”

“No? Sam didn’t say what happened.”

“It was just one, big cock up,” you groan, pinching the bridge of your nose.

He smirks. “Peggy used to say that.”

“Where do you think I picked it up?”

Steve’s mouth drops open. “You knew her?”

“Briefly. She kept tabs on Tony.” You grin and step to the side, tapping Steve’s shoulder. “Jack showed up with some work for me.”

Steve takes a deep breath. “One, big cock up,” he agrees.

As Steve edges down the stairs, you call after him, “Um, Steve, you probably should tell him about…us…”

Steve pauses and rolls his head side to side before squaring his shoulders and stepping into the combatives room. You stop in the kitchen and pour a bowl of cereal. Yelling from downstairs rises through the staircase. You can’t discern any words, but it’s definitely Bucky’s voice.

Sam sits down across from you and asks what happened. You explain quickly and change the subject.

“You really think it’s best to tell him about your fling with Steve?”

You take a bite of cereal. “I’m not discussing this with you, Wilson.”

“That’s all it was, right?” He raises an eyebrow. “A fling.”

You give Sam a dull glare. “We were crushed. He was defeated. I was pissed. We were both drunk. Nothing really mattered anymore, Wilson. You weren’t there.”

“Alright, alright.” He raises his hands and dips his head. “Didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

“I think it’s important for him to hear it from one of us.” Your voice and expression are flat.

“Yeah,” he grunts.

After a long silence, you wash your bowl and take your leave. Bucky will find you when he’s ready. You just hope it’s closer to tonight than next week.

Unfortunately, your gut is spot on. A week goes by, and you hear nothing from him. Your texts are ignored, phone calls unanswered. Steve assures you that Bucky is doing better, and it won’t be much longer. You know he’s just trying to ease your guilt. You really fucked this one up.

Not that you have time to dwell on it. Your office door is replaced, but the Board decided to remove the locks from all doors in the facility. There are too many unpredictable personalities passing through to have a repeat incident. The infected couple recovers well, but not before they passed the virus around the dorms. You had to evacuate and sterilize the entire east wing of the living quarters.

The media blames the Stark Foundation for the reemergence of the virus. You spend hours on calls with congressmen and donors, explaining how you handled the outbreak. Pepper is furious with you for letting things get out of hand; you can’t blame her much. She does everything in her power to keep the Foundation afloat, and bad press is her worst enemy.

You enter your office after a guest appearance, one Pepper insisted you take, on an early morning talk show. By the time Jack dropped you off at the Center, you had rubbed the makeup off your eyes, revealing the dark circles hidden from the cameras. You drop your paper cup in the trashcan by your door, feeling like you’re drowning in coffee. Shutting the door, you trudge across the room and drop onto your couch. You kick your shoes into the pile in the corner and lay back, propping one leg on the couch.

You jump at the sound of your desk phone ringing.

“Oh, come on,” you yell, standing up. You answer as politely as you can manage, which probably isn’t great. Another reporter. You humor them, answering a few questions tactfully before forwarding them to PR. Rubbing both hands over your face, you resign yourself to staying awake for the time being. The Center will officially open soon, and the media will be up your ass anyway. You’re supposed to meet with your clinical staff at nine to prepare for a visit from the CDC. Lynn is going to come by your office at eleven to discuss upcoming interviews. You really should visit the east wing living quarters and apologize to the tenants, but that will likely have to wait for another day. Meaning never.

You take a deep breath, letting it out as a low growl. This truly is the worst job in the world. You jerk your top desk drawer open and set the vial and needle on top of your desk, titanium clanging against the lacquer. Your brace now stretches only from your wrist bone to the middle of your palm. You roll up your left sleeve, commending yourself for wearing long sleeves today.

“Let’s see what this new stuff can do.”

You tie a band around your upper arm and squeeze your fist tight, looking for a vein. After inserting the needle, you use your teeth pull the band around your arm free. Injecting the new mix, you let your eyes fall closed. It’s definitely weaker than before. You may have to up your dose if this doesn’t start working better.

“What the hell am I looking at?”

You open your eyes to Bucky swinging your door shut behind him. You open your mouth, dropping the band to the ground like a puppy that’s just been caught with a favorite shoe.

“Hey, Buck,” you squeak out of a dry throat, “what are you doing here?”

His eyes dart to the syringe in your right hand. “I was coming by to talk about Rollins, but I think I changed my mind.”

“Buck,” you jump out of your seat, dropping the syringe on your desk, “it’s not what you think.”

“No?” He glances at your arm before grabbing your wrist. Rubbing his fingers over the small bruises in the crook of your arm, he looks back up to your eyes. “Because those look like track marks to me.”

You jerk your arm away. “Please stay.”

He takes your wrist back gently and presses his thumb against the droplet of blood on your arm. “What are you on?”

“It’s not-” you take a breath, rubbing your head with your free hand, “like that.”

“You’re not using?” He raises an eyebrow, glancing out from under his brow.

“No. Well ye- no, it’s not-” You groan into your hand. “I’m not on any-”

He waits silently, eyebrows pinched together, nearly in his hairline.

“It’s-” You take a deep breath, dropping your eyes. “It’s the serum.”

His grip on your arm tightens, and his eyebrows drop into a scowl. “What serum?”

“You know damn well.” You tug at your arm, unable to free it. “How did you think I survived on three hours of sleep?”

He releases you and locks his jaw. “That’s not- why aren’t you-”

“It’s very diluted.” You sit on the couch, waving Bucky over. “Plus, without a vita-chamber or the…electrotherapy, it doesn’t take as well.”

His nostrils flare in time with his heaving chest. “Wh- why would- on purpose? You’ve seen what they did with me and Steve.”

“I trusted Tony to be smarter than that.” You shrug.

Bucky’s lips twitch when you mention Tony.

“I know you don’t like him, but he did try really hard to do the right thing.” You take Bucky’s hand in yours. “He saw my schedule after The Snap and asked Bruce to see what he could pull from Steve’s blood.”

“So, Steve knows.” He drags a hand over his jaw, scratching through his beard.

“Well,” you break away from his prying eyes, pulling your hand away, “Steve knows I’m on something.

“How does Steve not know,” Bucky grits his teeth, “if it came from his blood?”

“After SHIELD thawed him out, they took samples.” You drop your head, digging a thumb into your palm. “Tony found out when he downloaded all of SHIELD’s files. There was a ‘clerical error,’ and the samples got shipped to an ‘unknown location.’”

Bucky’s lips spread into a thin line. “He doesn’t even know you took his blood?”

“Tony kept it away from SHIELD,” you protest. “He wasn’t ever going to use it, but he knew I needed help.”

Bucky stands up and crosses the room. “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“What?” you scoff.

“I expect this from a Stark, always fucking with shit they don’t understand.” He plucks a photo of you and Tony off your desk, examining it. “Bruce can’t control his scientific curiosity. But you.” He taps the frame against his left palm with a clink before setting it back on your desk. “You should fucking know better.”

You spring to your feet, clenching your fists. “Listen, Barnes,” the carpet scratches at your bare soles as you stalk toward Bucky, “I told you, tough decisions were made.” You stand in front of him, the tops of you shoulders barely level with the bottom of his pectoral muscles. “Three billion people were wiped off the planet, another half million died in the aftermath. Don’t you dare fucking judge the only two people who dared to shove their hands in the gore and stop the bleeding.”

You press your hands into his chest. He doesn’t budge, instead wrapping a hand around each wrist, fingers closing easily, he pushes your hands away.

“Don’t touch me,” he snarls.

Your stony glare meets his steel eyes, and you almost don’t recognize the man behind them. You rip your arms away, rubbing your brace. With a few taps on the screen in your palm, the brace extends up your forearm.

“I want you off it.” He sets his jaw.

“Yeah, well,” you let a scoff out through your nose, rolling your eyes, “guess we’re both down on our luck.”

“Y/N,” he growls, “you have no idea what you’re toying with.”

“And you,” you glare at him as you circle the other side of your desk, “have no idea what it takes to do my job.”

You drop into your chair and watch his face contort with restraint. He wants to yell. But if he does, his rage may win over his reason, and a small piece of him probably wants to rip you apart right now. You wait for him to regain control, but his nostrils only flare wider.

You take a deep breath. “You need to leave.”

“You don’t get to te-”

“Before you lose it.” You meet his eyes, and your face softens. “Go home. Go to Steve’s. Go for a walk. I don’t care, but you can’t stay here like this.”

He nods, seeming to come back to himself. “Will you come over tomorrow night, then? So, we can talk.”

Chapter Text

You settle into Bucky’s couch, eyes itching from scanning screens for eight hours. If you hadn’t promised him you’d come over tonight, you probably would have slept in your office. Again.

“About Rollins.” Bucky sits on the opposite end of the sofa, setting a glass of wine on the coffee table in front of you.

“You weren’t there.” You take a sip of wine. “He was bad. We had only just gotten the Foundation off the ground. I was still working in counseling.”

“Steve told me.” He gives a curt nod. “Rumlow really fucked him up back in their Army days. Took a long time to straighten his brain back out.”

You let out an amused hum. “I never knew Steve looked into it.”

“You thought he would let Rollins be alone with you without looking into him?” Bucky grins.

You look into your wine before mumbling, “I didn’t know he kept tabs on me.”

“He’s tediously protective,” he agrees. “But that’s not what this is about. I’ve had time to think.”

“Did he tell you about,” heat floods your cheeks, and you swallow hard, “after Thanos?”

The tightening of Bucky’s jaw is confirmation enough. “This isn’t about what you did with Steve.”

“We were drunk,” you blurt. “Buck, I didn’t even know you. We had no way of knowing-”

“It’s fine.” He closes his eyes, breathing deep. “He’s Captain America. Without Peg around, it was bound to happen.”

“It wasn’t that, Buck. It was-”

“Stop talking.” He grits his teeth. “Please.” He takes a deep breath and searches your eyes. “I’m trying really hard to not care.”

“A mistake,” you let out a shaky breath.

He smirks before continuing. “I just don’t understand.” His eyes dart around the room. “Rollins. And you. Together.”

“Buck, we were over.” You shake your head. “For good, I thought.”

“But, Rollins?” He draws his bottom lip between his teeth. “It doesn’t- I mean, Rollins?”

“There was never a ‘me and Jack.’ It was one time.”

That seems to ease his mind.

“In Sokovia.”

He goes completely still. You should’ve stopped while you were ahead, or at least not so far behind.

“That’s why you didn’t want me going,” he forces words between his teeth. “Nothing like an ex to ruin a vacation fling.”

“No,” you bring a hand to your head, “Buck, stop. I didn’t want you to go because I didn’t think you were ready.” You take his face in your hands, locking onto his eyes. “If this were six months ago, and a bullet came through that window, tell me you’d be in control. You would’ve been good.”

He studies your face before pulling away. “But why?”

You huff out a laugh. “He’s done nothing but help me for the last five years.” You pluck your glass up from the table, leaning back into the crook of the couch. “I thought you and I were done. I’d just been shot, and nearly shot a second time at the hotel. He saved my life twice. I was shaken and tired and dirty. And I- He helped me clean off the blood and get away from the team. I just- I- I don’t know, Buck. I just did.”

After several long breaths, he leaves you on the couch to get himself a beer. A fizz hisses across the room before he takes a loud gulp. “I don’t trust him.” He makes his way back to you, perching stiffly on the edge of the couch. “I don’t think I ever can.”

“I’m not asking you to.” You slide closer to him and rest a hand on his knee.

“I’d prefer you fire him entirely.”

“That’s-”

“I know. I’m all out of favors.” He smiles at you. “I don’t want him in my house. I don’t want him at the compound. I’d rather he not drive you home at night. If you need a ride, I can get you.” He curls a lip into a mock snarl. “Or Sam. Just not Rollins.”

You nod, mulling over his requests. “I think I can arrange all that. Anything else?”

“I, uh,” he looks at the bottle in his hands, “I’d like to sleep in my bed tonight.”

“Buck, that’s fine,” you giggle. “I told you, I’d sl-”

“With you.”

“Oh,” you breathe out. “Are you-”

“Sleep,” he states, locking eyes with you.

“Okay.” Your lips twitch at the corners.

He smiles, crinkling the corners of his eyes, and looks away. “Stop doing that.”

You grin, launching up to your knees and throwing your arms around his neck. “But I’m proud of you.”

“Then, I think,” he stands and turns around, not breaking your grip, “you should be prepared to be amazed.”

He wraps his arms around your waist, the condensation on his beer seeping through your thin blouse and leans down to meet your lips. His other hand palms your ass and presses your hips to his. Your gasp has him grinning against the crook of your neck. He nips at your collarbone and chuckles.

“I told you.”

A whimper slips between your lips, making him grin wider. His hand makes its way up your hips and under your shirt. Your head drops back as his cool fingers dance up your spine.

“God, Buck.” You smirk. “Color me impressed.”

He takes the opportunity to drag his teeth across your neck, growl reverberating over your skin. He curls his thumb and index finger around the neck of his beer bottle and skims his remaining three fingers over the small of your back. He groans as you press yourself into him. He pinches the hem of your shirt between his fingers and pulls it over your head. Your red, plunging bra has him frozen in place. If you’d guessed his plan for the night, you would have chosen something lacey and more bombshell.

You brush your lips up his neck, breathing in his pheromones, hips still pressed tight to his. “Looks like everything does still work.”

“Of course, ki- wait,” he pulls back to look down at you, “what?”

“We just thought,” you pant, kissing down the other side of his neck.

“We?” His eyebrows sink as he pulls them together.

“There,” you run your hands through his hair, studying his face, “was talk.”

He purses his lips, chest heaving. His eyes never leave your body. “Then, I guess, you’ll have to start new talk.”

He slides his arm under your butt and scoops you off the couch. Setting his bottle on a side table by the recliner, he carries you into the kitchen with one arm. You wrap your legs around his waist as he sets you on the counter next to the wine.

“I’ll say anything you want,” you gulp as he leans away from you.

“Oh, I know you will, kitten.” He tips your chin up, his metal hand sending chills over your electrified skin.

The glint in his eyes sends jolts down your spine. It’s a good thing you moved from the couch or your knees would be buckling underneath you right now. He traces a finger across your clavicle to the dip in the center where he draws a line down the center of your chest.

Your heart stutters under your ribs. Your fingers curl around the edge of the counter. When he runs a thumb along the edges of each bra cup, you bite back a moan.

“You’ll do anything I ask right now.” He leans in, nuzzling at your ear. “Won’t you?”

You drag your trembling lip between your teeth, holding back another whimper. “Buck,” you exhale, wrapping your arms around his neck.

You arch into him, pulling at his hair. His teeth scrape over your jaw, fingers drag down your back. Your lips find his, desperately pressing closer. His tongue invades your mouth as your hands trail down his back and up his sides. His hands roam every inch of your exposed skin, occasionally dipping under waistband of your skirt. He nips at you bottom lip, wrapping your hair around his fingers, and pulls your head to the side. His lips slide along your neck, sucking at your skin until it turns deep red.

You close your legs around his waist, pushing his hips into the counter. He drops a hand to your lower back and pulls your hips to his. Your hands clench around his biceps. The Vibranium doesn’t give under your fingers, and the brace on your left hand prevents you from getting a good grip on his right arm, but he lets out a moan anyway. When your core tightens, you can’t help grinding your hips into him. His hands close around your shaking thighs, pushing you back. He rolls his head and rotates his shoulders, groaning quietly.

He drops his forehead to yours, breathing hard. “Kitten, I-”

A solid knock cuts him off.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” you shout, slamming an open hand into Bucky’s chest.

He smirks and gives you a quick kiss. “I’ll be right back.” He holds a finger to his lips and winks at you before opening the door.

Sam’s greeting grates on your frayed nerves. Bucky’s level voice and smooth composure baffle you. Like he isn’t bothered in the slightest. By the time Sam gets around to asking about a camp stove Bucky had said he could borrow, you were over the visit.

Listening to Bucky chat Sam up about how finicky the stove can be, you pull it from the hall closet and storm back into the kitchen. When Bucky turns to retrieve the stove, he nearly knocks you over. You push Bucky out of the way and shove the stove into Sam’s chest.

He splutters out his appreciation, raising an eyebrow at Bucky around the door. Whether he’s surprised by your bra or the early stage bruises, you don’t care. You eye him, standing in the doorway.

“Goodbye, Wilson.” You push him back with hand on his chest and slam the door shut. You turn around, leaning against the door. Your breath hitches, and you can feel your legs giving out.

“What do you want to watch tonight?” Bucky asks, placing a bag of popcorn on the microwave.

You smirk, strutting up to him and tugging at his collar. “You taking these,” you let your hand trail down to his waistband, “off.”

He lets out a nervous chuckle, taking a step back. “I’m sorry, kitten.”

“Then, it doesn’t matter to me.” You take your wine glass from the living room and chug it on your way back into the kitchen. “Fucking Wilson.” You slam your glass down and uncork the bottle.

Bucky raises an eyebrow and points a finger at you. “You better not be.”

You glare at him sideways and fill your glass to the brim. “That’d be funnier if I was fucking someone.”

He takes a breath. “No sex jokes. Got it.”

“No sex,” you take a long drink, “no jokes.”

“You weren’t kidding about irritable,” he mumbles, pouring the popcorn in a bowl. “How about true crime tonight?”

“Yeah, sure.” Taking your wine, you follow him back to the couch. “Jet me change first.” You come back out in nothing but a t-shirt and panties. He takes a long look at your legs before playing the show he picked out.

You wake up not quite sure where you are, but you’re fairly certain it’s not where you fell asleep. You squint as you look around the darkness. This isn’t your room; the bed is too small. As the fog in your head clears, you remember falling asleep on the couch. With Bucky. You feel around the bed, despite already being certain you’re alone. You slide off the bed, tugging your large t-shirt down over your bare legs, and feel your way to the door. He must have changed his mind about sleeping together.

Expecting to find a dark apartment, you puzzle over the faint light blanketing the living room. No Bucky. You turn to find light streaming out of the open bathroom door. You make your way down the hall, dragging a hand along the wall. When you reach the doorway, you find Bucky leaning over the sink, studying himself in the mirror. A handheld trimmer teeters on the corner of the counter, cord stretched across the sink.

When he meets your eyes in the mirror, he turns slowly to face you, dropping his eyes to the floor. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“What’s wrong?” You study his body. The scars no longer startle you, though you’re still curious.

This isn’t normal. He’s not standing tall with his shoulders back and chest stuck out. His face is missing his usual quirky grin and animated eyebrows. Instead, he sinks into himself, arms curled tightly across his chest, teeth worrying at his lower lip, leg bouncing at the speed of sound. Eyes on the ground. Eyes always on the ground. He shakes his head absently.

“Bad dream.” His voice is distant.

It couldn’t have been too bad if you didn’t wake up. You step forward, tipping his chin up to look in his eyes. “What’s going on?”

He turns his head away, looking back to the ground, before turning to face the mirror. “I want it gone,” he whispers to himself.

You close your eyes softly, pinching your eyebrows together and cocking your head. “I don’t understand.”

“I don’t want to be,” he runs a hand through his hair, “what they made me.”

You take another step in, standing behind him, and run a hand through his hair. You rub your hands over the back of his shoulders and slide one down his arm, slipping a hair tie off his wrist. Without a word, you tap on his other shoulder, and he drops to the floor, folding one leg over the other. You pull open two drawers before finding his hairbrush and working it through his dark, tangled locks. You rake your fingers through his hair, scratching at his scalp, and gather it into a short ponytail at the back of his head. Looking over the counter and through his drawers again, you find a pair of scissors. With a deep breath, you wrap your hand around the hair tie and cut as close to his head as you can get, jagged ends falling back into place. You pass the three-inch ponytail over his shoulder, reaching for the clippers on the counter.

He takes the clump of hair and turns it over in his hands before tossing it aside. You sort through the assortment of guards in front of you, flashing back to the ROTC cadet you dated in undergrad. He always swore you’d thank him one day for being so particular about his hair. Until this exact moment, he’d only ever been a pain in your ass. You select a five guard to start the back and sides, knowing you’ll probably fade to a four at the bottom. You know he doesn’t want to look like the Winter Soldier anymore, but he probably doesn’t want to be Sergeant Barnes of the Howling Commandos either. He needs to be someone new.

You continue working in silence. Bucky remains stock still the entire time, allowing you to tilt and twist his head as you go. His thick mane falls in chunks to the floor around him. It takes almost an hour to get a fade you’re happy with and begin trimming the top. After every few passes with the clippers, you use your hands to tussle through his hair, shaking him free of any stray hairs. His skin prickles when you blow at his neck, trying to clean up your mess.

Twenty more minutes go by, and Bucky eases to his feet without your help. Hair flits to the thoroughly coated floor as he shakes his shoulders. He runs his shaking hands through his hair, sending up another dark flurry around him. He leans over the sink, elbows buckling under his weight. He lets out an unsteady breath, shoulders relaxing for the first time all night. Settling onto the edge of the tub, he drops his head into his hands, clenching fistfuls of hair.

You follow, standing between his legs. Looking down at his scarred back hunched over himself, your heart breaks. You gently take him by the wrists and pull his hands away from his hair, replacing them with your own. You comb softly through it, getting used to the new length. Your fingers glide softly over his scalp and down his neck, across his shoulders, over his arms. Anywhere you can reach that might soothe his broken mind.

Slowly, he wraps his arms around your ribs, easily enclosing your small frame in his hulking figure. He turns his head, resting the side of his face against your stomach and holds you close. You continue tussling his hair and tracing his muscles, not daring to make a sound. When he pulls you down into his lap, you struggle to suppress a yelp. He tucks your head under his chin and tightens his grip around you. You wait silently, nestled against his broad chest. He takes long, steady breaths, readjusting his grip on you occasionally. He presses his lips into the top of your head, not a kiss. Just quiet. He breathes you in, closing his eyes, and relaxes his body.

“I’m going to rinse off in the shower. Why don’t you go back to bed? I’ll be there soon.”

You lean back, laying a hand along his jaw, and study his eyes. You scan his face, checking for any sign of distress. Deciphering only a hint of unease, you nod and leave him with a kiss on the cheek. The amount of time it takes him to return is not what you would call soon. You suspect he’s stalling in hopes you’ll fall asleep.

Not likely. You gnaw at your bottom lip, turning over in his bed. When the taste of metal invades your mouth, you bring a hand to your face, biting at your thumbnail. He should be done by now. It doesn’t take twenty minutes to rinse off.

When the door creaks open, you turn onto your side, waiting for him to reach you. You can’t see anything in this darkness, but you feel the bed dip when he sits down. You wait for him to lay down with you, but he doesn’t move. You crawl the short distance across the bed and kneel behind him. Sliding a hand up his back, your fingers trace his scars based solely on the texture difference.

“Do you feel better?” Your thumb glides over a rough, thickened patch of skin near his spine. You bend, pressing your lips into the spot between his shoulders.

He resists the bristling in his spine, looking over his shoulder. “A little, yeah.”

You rest your chin on his shoulder, slipping your arms around his chest. Your close enough to feel his smile against your cheekbone. You kiss the corner of his lips and pull him down to the mattress. A laugh rolls from his chest as he stretches out on his back, pulling you into his side. You let your fingers dance across his chest, brushing your nose through his beard. His hand splays over your shoulder, thumb stroking small circles over your shirt.

“Buck?”

His lips press into your forehead, humming.

“Are those Sam’s clippers?”

His lips peel back in a grin, and he turns on his side to face you. “I’ve told you I love you, right?”

You lean forward, missing his lips and kissing his chin. “We’re keeping it.”

“I like the sound of that,” he smiles.

You roll over, wedging your back against his chest. He slides an arm under your pillow and drapes the other over your waist. His hand spreads protectively over your stomach until you take his wrist, clutching his arm to your chest. You feel his whole body tense behind you.

“You don’t like when I touch your left hand,” you observe, entwining your fingers with his.

He relaxes his hand and lets you toy with his fingers. “It’s a weapon,” he sighs.

“It’s you.” Your fingers tap lightly at his wrist joint.

He clenches his fist, tugging his arm away, but you pull him back. “It was made for destruction.”

“It was made for you.” You release his arm and turn to face him. “Just because they did it, doesn’t make it awful. They saved your life.”

“That’s fucking horseshit,” he growls. “They took my life. Stole everything. My whole fucking life.”

You huff, “That’s not what I meant.”

“Should I thank them? Maybe send some flowers.” His muscles tense, and he moves away. “Do I owe them my life, now? Huh?”

“No, that’s-”

“My first born?” he scoffs. “They didn’t save shit.”

“James,” you raise your voice, meeting his eyes. “Stop.”

A corner of his mouth quirks up. “No one’s called me that in a long time.”

“Do you like it?”

He lays down on his back, tucking his arms behind his head. “I don’t know.”

You curl your elbow under your head, biting at the inside of your cheek. His wheels are turning. You can tell by the way he works his jaw.

“I guess I’m the last Barnes.” He whispers. “The end of the line.”

“Buck,” you sigh. “James.”

He takes a deep breath, smirking again. “Do you like it?”

“I don’t know,” you chuckle. “It feels weird.”

“Well,” he wraps his arm under your waist and pulls you into him, “we can figure it out tomorrow.”

Catching another whiff of pheromones, you take a deep inhale. Somehow, he feels safe. Everything that has ever haunted you melts away.

Chapter Text

You wake with a sharp inhale and Bucky hovering at the edge of your queen bed. He holds a hand between you and himself, his face tense. He bends over you, muscles tight.

“You scared me,” you gasp, rolling over to face him.

“It sounded like you were having a nightmare.” He studies your face, chest heaving. “I didn’t want to end up on the wrong end of it.”

You furrow your brow, looking away. “I don’t even remember what I was dreaming about.” You smile up at him, running your hands through his hair. You’ve had a week to get used to it, and it’s starting to grow on you.

“You like it?” He grins, eyes sparkling.

You can’t stop the grin spreading on your own face. “It’s more you.”

“I think so too.” He stretches out on his side, tucking his elbow under his head.

“But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed at losing the opportunity to pull that long hair of yours.” You bite your lip. “Show you where to go. Tangle my fingers in-”

“Alright already.” He groans, pulling away from your ravenous smile. “I get it. Just- let’s not talk about it anymore.”

“We can’t even talk about sex?” you ask, crossing your arms and pulling away.

He shakes his head. “Hearing you talk like that makes me crazy.”

“Maybe I want crazy.”

He sighs, “Maybe one day, I can give it to you.”

Your lips twitch to the side as you nod. “Why do you look like that?” You motion to his damp, long sleeve compression shirt and grey joggers, wiping sweat from his flushed face with your other hand.

“I just got back from a run,” he answers, backing out of the door.

“How long have you been up?” you call after him, sitting up and rubbing your eyes.

“Couple hours.” He shrugs, turning back into your room with a glass of water. “You looked exhausted. I didn’t want to wake you.”

“I should probably start running again.” You rub your hands over your face and smooth out your hair. “Wake me up next time.”

Bucky combs through his hair and rubs his hand down his neck. “Kitten, I don’t think I’m a good running partner for you.”

“Afraid I’ll beat you?” you bite the tip of your tongue, unable to keep a straight face.

“You caught me.” His eyes glitter back with amusement. “Tell you what, I’ll pick you up before my cool down lap next time.”

You nod, sitting up on your knees to dab at his face again.

He pulls your hand away, scanning your face, and tightens his lips. “I want to talk about the serum.”

“Buck,” you flop onto your back, with an exasperated groan, “there’s nothing to talk about.”

He takes a seat on the bed, hovering over you. He supports himself with his left arm and runs his warm hand up your thigh. Your breath hitches when his thumb brushes over your hip. He lifts your shirt, exposing the bruises along the veins in both your thighs, and sits back.

“That’s a lot of track marks to be nothing.”

You sneer at him rolling out of bed. “Stephen is keeping an eye on them.”

Bucky springs up, sitting on the bed. “Strange knew?”

“Of course, he did.” You snort. “Bruce hasn't practiced medicine in years. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

Bucky squints his eyes shut. “I don’t understand why he would help.”

“Who? Strange?” You take a step back, chuckling. “I was already using it when he got back. He just didn’t want me to die.”

“Would certainly put a damper on his sex life,” Bucky grumbles.

You roll your eyes. “We didn’t always sleep together, you know.”

“Oh, good. It was just for me then.” He shakes his head. “This isn’t the point.”

“What a shame,” you mock. “This was so much fun.”

He glares at you. “This was a distraction, and I’m not falling for it.”

“The serum is not up for discussion.” You cross your arms and raise an eyebrow.

“It’s an addiction,” he pleads. “I saw it all the time during the war. You have no idea what men would trade for a couple narcotics. They’d give anything to go numb for a while.”

“You think you know everything, don’t you?” you snarl. “I’m not numbing shit; it keeps me awake. Allows me to do my job.”

“Look, I get it. You probably have the most stressful job on the planet,” he sighs. “But there are healthier ways to deal with it. Like taking time off. Let people help you.”

“I had help.” You glare at him. “You asked me to stop seeing him.”

Bucky’s face goes stony. The peaks of his lip twitch back, briefly revealing his canine teeth.

“Look,” your voice turns soft, soothing him back down, “I’m doing everything right. I clean my equipment, change needles regularly, rotate injection sites, use high gauge needles, take care of my injection sites. Stephen made me memorize all the nerves near my injection sites and taught me what to do if I hit an artery. It’s apply pressure and call him, by the way.”

“And what if you overdose? What’ll this shit do to you?”

“Bruce, Stephen and I agreed to a maximum weekly dosage,” you sigh. “It gives me the freedom to use when I need it but keeps me a long way from an OD.”

He leans against your headboard, breathing heavy. “You’re playing with fire.”

“It’s not an addiction.” You walk into the kitchen and start a pot of coffee.

“Prove it.”

When you look up, Bucky leans against the doorway to your bedroom. “And how do I do that?”

“Give me the serum.” He meets you in the kitchen, setting his glass on the counter. “If you can go without it for two weeks, I’ll give it back. You win.”

You let out a huff, tossing your arms out. “Fine.”

“Huh.” He crosses his arms, running his tongue over his teeth. “I thought that’d be harder.”

“Not addicted, Buck.” You grin over your shoulder. “It’s in my bag.”

Bucky turns to your breakfast table with a nod and rifles through your purse. You chuckle to yourself. You don’t have to prove anything, but if it’ll make him feel better, you’re willing to let him have it. He returns with two vials, one nearly empty.

“There’s two more in my bathroom,” you huff. You might as well play the game. All or nothing.

He ducks back into your bedroom without a word. You follow him and pull a dress from your closet.

Hearing him shuffle through your cabinets, you laugh, “Top left drawer.”

He emerges with two more, full bottles, grinning as you pull the dress over your head. “This is it?”

You nod, sliding a blazer on. “Happy?”

“Not really.” He follows you back to the kitchen. “But I feel better.”

You pour coffee into a travel mug and stir in cream and sugar. “I need to pick up some paperwork from Steve today. Can you drive me?”

“Can we stop at that coffee shop?” he grins like a child asking for candy before dinner.

“How can I say no to that face?”

After stopping for Bucky’s hot chocolate, he drives you to the compound. Sam sits at the counter in the communal kitchen, eating waffles. He smiles and waves as you enter.

“Go to hell, Wilson.”

“Jesus, Sam.” Steve emerges from the hall bathroom. “What’d you do now?”

“You’re still mad about the other night?” Sam shovels a heaping forkful into his mouth.

“Not at all,” you grin and rub a hand over your hair. “Looking a little shaggy, though. Don’t you think?”

He narrows his eyes as Bucky walks through the door. “Fuck off.”

“I’m too old for this shit,” Steve groans sitting at the table and opening his book.

“Who the fuck visits someone at nine-thirty at night?” you shout, louder than you intended.

Sam takes a long drink of water. “Who the fuck answers the door half naked?”

Steve peers over his book, eyeing Bucky. Bucky shrugs, looking at the ground with a smile.

“Don’t pin this on me.” You slam your hand on the counter. “All you needed was a goddamn camp stove. You could have picked it up and left.”

“That’s enough,” Steve states over you and Sam. “I’m tired.”

You take a deep breath, turning to Steve. “Are you done with my files?”

Steve stands. “Yeah, I’ll go get them.”

As you wait, Sam finishes his breakfast and washes his dishes in the sink. “I have a group session at the Center at nine. You want a ride?”

You glance at Bucky. You know he’s been wanting to talk with Steve. “Yeah, fine.”

Sam nods. “Just let me brush my teeth.”

When he returns, he leads you to the garage. You climb into the passenger side of his silver sedan and buckle in with a half-smile.

“You should just buy new clippers.”

“Petty ass bitch.” He rolls his eyes pulling out of the garage. “So sorry I interrupted your little foray with some small talk.”

“You didn’t interrupt,” you growl. “You ended it.”

Sam’s eyes widen as he bursts into laughter. “So, that’s the problem.” He takes a few deep breaths. “It’s not me. You just need to get laid.”

“I’m fucking trying,” you grit your teeth.

He chuckles. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

The first week passes relatively smoothly. You begin feeling the drag, but it’s nothing you can’t handle. However, when an elderly woman is robbed at gunpoint in front of the Center, one of your security guards takes it upon himself to play the hero, fatally wounding the attacker. Your week goes to shit real quick. You, Happy, and Pepper get dragged through every conference room in Stark Industries. Talk shows, podcasts, and news stations ring your phone off the hook scheduling interviews. Lynn threatens to resign if Pepper can’t quash the blowback. Security falls under Stark Industries. The Foundation should have no part in it. Pepper threatens to cut all funding to the Center if you can’t prove it’s providing more help than harm to the community. Happy wants your opinion of the security guard: his past with the Foundation, his judgment, his competence.

By day ten, you’ve had enough. After your last meeting, you filter through emails in the office while Sam finishes his evening group session. You ride with him back to the compound, both of you silent. You like this new routine more than you thought you would. It gives you time to vent to Sam about your day and, on occasion, about Bucky. You understand why all his group members like him so much, and he doesn’t even bring you doughnuts. Bucky seems to do much better on days he gets to spend time with Steve before you and Sam get back to the compound. And Steve is an even better chef than Bucky, so dinner is always great.

You trudge through the common space and find Bucky outside with Steve.

“I need you for a minute.” You poke your head out the door, looking at Bucky.

His eyebrows pull together seeing your bloodshot eyes and dark circles. “Is everythi-”

You flinch at the sound of the door shutting and wait for him inside. When he opens the door, he asks about you again, but you turn and lead him to your old room. You drag yourself down the hall, muscles stiff and limbs heavy. He shuts the door softly behind him.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

You pinch the bridge of your nose, eyes stinging with every blink. “Where’s the serum?”

His face tightens. “At my apartment.”

“I need it.” You rub your hands over your face, bringing feeling back to your cheeks.

“That’s not the deal.”

“I don’t care about the deal. I need to do my job.” Your voice borders on a growl. “I was willing to humor you, but I’m done playing. I can’t work like this.”

“You need to take time off.” His soothing voice grates on your nerves.

“Look at me.” You let out a weak laugh, head swimming. “Buck, my skin is crawling. I can’t think straight.”

“Yeah, you’re having withdrawals.”

“I’m exhausted,” you counter through your clenched jaw. “My days start with a six o’clock talk show and end recoding podcast appearances until eleven.”

“I’m not saying you don’t need a break.” He leans against the wall folding his arms over his chest. “I’m saying you’re not getting the serum.”

“I don’t have time for this.” You roll your shoulders back and march to the door.

As you turn the handle, he grabs your wrist and pulls you back. “Where are you going?”

You spin around, yanking yourself away. “To get the serum so I can meet with the next set of podcast hosts.”

“I’m not taking you anywhere.”

“Then don’t,” you snap pushing past him.

He rushes after you, sliding through the elevator doors just in time. You wait silently as the elevator descends to the med bay. Bucky’s eyes grow wider with each floor. When the doors open, you stalk down the hall, Bucky on your heels. You turn into the medication supply room and pick through bottles, boxes, and bags. You pull a drawer of unlabeled vials from a shelf and bring them to a workstation in the hall.

“FRIDAY, is this Doctor Banner’s new serum?”

“Don’t answer that.” Bucky commands, wedging himself between you and the workstation.

You roll your eyes. “FRIDAY.”

You stare each other down until FRIDAY’s reply echoes around you. “It is; however, after reviewing your history, I strongly encourage you to follow Sergeant Barnes’ suggestions.”

Bucky cocks his head at you, clenching his fists. “What ‘history,’ FRIDAY?”

“I found related footage in JARVIS’s archives,” she answers in her monotone accent.

“What the fuck, FRIDAY?” you yell at the ceiling. “It’s not your job to check up on me.”

“Mister Stark programmed me to be watchful of all his closest friends.”

Bucky bounds down the hall until he finds a room with a television. “FRIDAY, put it on the monitor.”

You trail in behind, seeing the TV light up with an image of Tony’s home office in Malibu. “Shit.”

Bucky throws a glance at you over his shoulder, returning his eyes to the video. The footage is from an old security camera, even for Stark tech; the quality is grainy. It was positioned in the corner of the room, facing the door. The angle isn’t great. Unfortunately, his desk is in clear view.

“FRIDAY, how old is this footage?” You spent a lot of time in that office during your college internship.

You stumble through the door, giggling like a schoolgirl Tony right after you. Struggling to stand up straight. Thankfully, you weren’t falling all over him.

“It’s timestamped May 31, 2003.”

“Fucking shit.” Tony’s thirty-third birthday party.

Tony walks to his desk, swaying as he goes, and searches through his drawers. To your relief, the only audio is an occasional laugh and the scraping of Tony’s chair. You can hear Bucky’s breathing deepen when Tony produces a small bag of white powder. He hands you a bill from his wallet, and you roll it with ease. Predictably, Tony scrapes out two lines and ushers you around to his side of the desk.

“FRIDAY, enough.” As you watch yourself bend toward the desk, the image freezes. “I was barely nineteen. It was a party.”

FRIDAY’s voice echoes from the walls. “Would you like me to play the next clip?”

“How many are there?” Bucky turns, locking eyes with you.

FRIDAY begins to answer, but you cut her off. “Just go away.” You wait for a confirmation, but none comes, so you turn back to Bucky. “A lot. Probably.”

“If he weren’t dead, I’d fucking kill him.” Bucky’s eyes flash.

“Buck, I was in college.” You take a few tentative steps toward him. “I did summer internships with Stark Industries. He was a party boy. We got caught up.”

“He drugged you.”

You stiffen. “I made my own choices.”

“He got you hooked.”

“I wasn’t addicted to any of that, either.” You smile softly, shaking your head. “When I went back to school, I didn’t touch a thing. It was only with Tony at parties”

“What exactly is ‘any of that?’” he sighs.

“Party drugs.” You shrug. “Cocaine, ketamine, ecstasy, pot, maybe LSD. I don’t remember exactly.”

“Jesus Christ.” He backs away as you advance. “Some of that shit wasn’t even around before.”

“The point is,” you take a deep breath, “I could control myself then, and I can control myself now.”

“Can you?” He raises an eyebrow. Wrinkles spread over his forehead as he furrows his brow together. His eyes burn with a different intensity than before. The rage is gone. Just like that.

“I didn’t weasel around behind your back and sneak a hit.” You step toward him and rub your thumb over his cheek. “I didn’t lie or hide from you. I asked straight out. I was forward and up front with you. Junkies don’t do that.”

He takes several deep breaths, nostrils flaring. When his eyes fall closed, he lays a hand over yours and pulls it away from his face. Turning to kiss the inside of your wrist, he chuckles, “I guess you would know.”

“Yeah.” You let a smile tug at your lips. “You have to trust me too.”

He nods, waving toward the door. “Will you at least show me how you do it?”

“If you want, but there’s not much to it.” You lead him down the hall, taking one of the vials you left at the workstation and head into an exam room.

“How long did it take you to learn this?”

You giggle while you wash your hands, “Tony did it for me for months.”

You take a syringe and tie from the cabinet above the sink and sit on a stool in the middle of the room. Bucky brings you the vial and watches you tip it upside down and fill the syringe, squirting some back into the bottle.

“No air bubbles,” he muses.

You nod, tying the tourniquet around your bicep. He recognizes the slip knot immediately. You press against the crook of your arm, searching for your vein.

“What happens if you miss?” He reaches for his right forearm, rubbing it gently.

You smirk. “It goes into the tissue. Swells up. Hurts like hell.”

“I-” He squeezes his eyes shut, pressing a thumb into the crook of his own arm. “I think I know that.”

You study his pinched expression and rub his shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re here now. With me.”

His eyes open slowly, full of memories. “Keep going.”

You walk him through the rest of the process, pulling the cap off the needle with your teeth. He winces when you push the needle into your skin, showing him the deep red blood in the syringe before plunging the mix into your vein.

“I still don’t understand why you would want the serum.” He shakes his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t.”

You drop the needle into the sharps container on the wall. “I have a very stressful life. It helps.”

“So would a vacation,” he mumbles.

“So would sex.” You force a laugh through your nose and pat his arm. “Maybe one day, Sergeant Barnes.”

His shoulder tenses under your hand. “I don’t think I like being called Sergeant anymore.”

Your lips twitch with the ghost of a smile. “Hey, FRIDAY, what’s in your library besides Sergeant Barnes?”

“Winter Soldier,”

Her first suggestion has Bucky tensing for a fight.

“No. FRIDAY, skip anything with Winter, Soldier, or Sergeant.”

After a short pause, FRIDAY answers, “I’m afraid that only leaves two.”

Bucky nods, “They are?”

“Bucky and Manchurian Candidate.”

“I don’t understand.” Bucky’s brow pulls together, wrinkling his forehead. He squeezes his eyes shut before he studies the ground. “I don’t think I’ve ever even been to Manchuria.”

The Manchurian Candidate is-” FRIDAY’s matter-of-fact tone cuts through the room.

“Thanks, FRIDAY, I got it,” you snicker. “Well, first, it’s not really called Manchuria anymore. Second, The Manchurian Candidate is an old book turned movie about a brainwashed assassin.”

“Oh,” his eyes return to the floor. “I guess I’ll stick with Bucky, then.”

“That’s just how Tony was. Never called anybody by their actual name. Except Pepper.” You know you’re rambling, but you can’t seem to stop it. “Called Steve Capsicle or Spangles. Thor was Point Break. Banner was Big Guy or Green Rage Monster or anything green and big, really. That’s ju-”

“What did he call you?” Bucky raises his eyes to meet yours.

“A lot.” You clear your throat. “Let’s just stick with Miss Independent.”

“Oh.” Bucky looks away, sinking into the wall.

“Tony was an ass.” You turn his head back to you. “But he tried really hard to be a good person.”

Bucky nods, turning away. He folds his arms across his chest, working his jaw. When he finally looks up, his eyes are dull and tired. “Do you think he ever would have,” he shrugs, “forgiven me?”

Your mouth drops open for a split second before you plaster a grin on your face. “Definitely.” The lie slides off your tongue with ease. You just hope he’s no longer the human polygraph Nat claimed the Winter Soldier was.

Chapter Text

Steve throws his head back; deep laughter rumbles out of his chest, echoing off his kitchen walls. He wraps an arm over his stomach, clutching at his sides.

“You done?” Bucky stares with a flat expression, eyes dull and mouth tight. “I didn’t act like this when you came to me for advice.”

“I’m sorry,” Steve gasps, attempting to control his reaction. “I just never thought-” His sentence is cut off by choked snickering.

“Yeah, I’m not proud of it either,” Bucky grumbles.

“Alright, alright.” Steve takes a deep breath with a straight face and settles on the barstool next to Bucky. “What do you want to know?”

“I don’t know.” Bucky shrugs, looking at his hands.

Steve settles into his seat. “Buck, I had this conversation with my fifteen-year-old daughter. You’re not going to embarrass me.”

“You gave her the talk?” Bucky raises an eyebrow.

“No.” Steve shakes his head. “Peggy gave her the talk. She asked me for advice, God only knows why.”

Bucky smirks. He can picture Steve squirming in his skin trying to explain hand jobs to his teenager. “I guess I just need to know if there’s anything new?”

“I don’t know about new,” Steve ponders. “Just less taboo.”

“Not kinks, Steve,” Bucky groans. “I still know how to fuck.”

“Okay,” Steve pinches his eyebrows together. “Then, did you have something specific in mind?”

He shrugs again. “Wait, does she have a kink?”

Steve smirks, “Everyone has a kink, Buck.”

“What was-”

“Don’t.” Steve’s face turns to stone. “My wife is off limits.”

“Fine,” Bucky huffs. “What’s Y/N’s?”

“I don’t know.” Steve chuckles, “She has a preference for older men. You got that covered.”

Bucky grimaces. “As much as I don’t want to think about this, Steve, you were with her.”

“Once.” Steve says. “Not really enough time to get comfortable.”

“So, no kinks the first time.” Bucky sighs, sinking into his chair. He drags his hands through his hair. “I remember it being more complicated than it was in Romania. More subtleties and- I don’t know.”

Steve chuckles at the way he picks through his words. This is not the Bucky Barnes he remembers. “She’s very vocal. Just do what you’re told.”

“I don’t want to just do what I’m told.” Bucky rubs the back of his neck. “I want to know what to do.”

“Yeah,” Steve snorts, “don’t we all. What was it you told me back in forty-three?”

Bucky looks up with a lopsided smirk. “It’s impossible to know what a woman’s thinking. Let her tell you what she wants.”

“That advice kept Peggy very happy for decades,” Steve smirks. “Just listen to her.”

“I thought your wife was off the table,” Bucky jokes.

“I can say whatever the fuck I want about my wife. You,” Steve shoves a finger at Bucky, “keep her out of your dirty fantasies.”

Faces Bucky doesn’t recognize flash through his brain. Young women, high school aged, all different hair and eye colors. All pretty. Faces pulled completely out of context, he feels nothing but a pit in his stomach. He should know these girls, feel something for them.

“Buck?” Steve taps the counter in front of Bucky.

Bucky brings a hand to his head, blinking hard. “Yeah? Sorry.”

“What’s really going on here?”

“Just nervous.” Bucky shakes his head. “I don’t know. What if she wants something I don’t have?”

Steve nearly chokes on his own tongue. “There’s only one thing she wants from you, and I can guarantee you have it,” he cackles between gasps.

“No, I mean- I’ve got handcuffs somewhere and rope. Maybe a couple candles.” He racks his brain. “I don’t know. I think I still have my Army uniform, but it definitely doesn’t fit.”

“Buck,” Steve nods thoughtfully, “you’ve put the poor girl through the ringer. If there’s something she likes, she already has it.”

“Yeah,” Bucky chews on his bottom lip. “You’re probably right.”

“You’re really serious about this, aren’t you?” Steve leans toward him.

“I don’t know,” Bucky sighs. “I guess, but every time I think about it, I get these flashbacks, and- I don’t know. What if I fuck it up?”

“What are you afraid of? Saying the wrong name?”

“God! I wasn’t.” Bucky runs his hands through his hair. “I can’t remember any of their names, Steve. Fuck! What if I do?” His hands drag over his face, pulling his skin tight. “Right in the middle- Shit!”

“You’ll be alright, Buck.” Steve chuckles. “Names never bothered you before.”

“It never mattered before.” Bucky grumbles.

“Okay, so what is the problem?” Steve pries. “Endurance?”

Bucky glares daggers through Steve.

“What? It’s been a while. Years!” Steve’s voice raises an octave as he backtracks. “I’m just saying-”

“Fuck,” Bucky whispers to himself, dropping his head. “Once again, I wasn’t. I’m going to have a panic attack over fucking sex.”

“I’m just going to wait for you to figure out what you’re worried about.” Steve makes his way into the kitchen and fills a glass with water.

“It’s going to kill me. Not a bullet, not fucking Hydra. A goddamn heart attack,” he mumbles under his breath, raking his hands through his hair. He raises the pitch of his voice to sound more feminine. “I don’t know, Officer. We hadn’t even started yet.”

“Buck?” Steve watches him with raised eyebrows and a pained expression on his face.

You walk through Steve’s door, saving Bucky from further interrogation. “What’s for dinner, Steve?”

“We’re going out, kitten.” Bucky grabs his jacket from the back of his chair and wraps an arm around your waist. “Come on. I don’t want to miss our reservations.”

“Oh.” You raise your eyebrows at Steve and look Bucky over. “No tux tonight?” You pout at his double-breasted vest and tie.

“Do you want to go or not?” He rolls his eyes, ushering you out the door.

You look down at your slim fit, sleeveless dress with a high neckline and ruching on one side of your waist. You finger your gold statement necklace and slide into the passenger seat. “It’s a good thing I was meeting with half of congress today.”

“You look great. Just lose the blazer, and it’ll be perfect.”

You kiss his cheek as he shifts into drive. “So, where are we going?”

He smirks and lays a hand on your knee.

“You know, for someone who hates surprises, you certainly like to keep secrets,” you tease.

His smirk spreads into a grin. “I like to keep you on your toes.”

Convinced you won’t get an answer, you settle into the silence of the drive. Bucky’s hand bleeds warmth through your skirt, relaxing you into your seat. You thread your fingers through his and lean your head back, eyes falling closed. You’re fairly certain the reason Bucky doesn’t play the radio in the car is because he hopes the silence will put you to sleep. He’s generally right.

He shakes you gently before pulling up to the valet stand. You rub your eyes, looking at the steakhouse out your window. You think back over the last year, trying to remember a time you’ve ever seen him eat a steak.

“Homesick again?” you ask as he opens your door.

He leads you through the front door and into the well-lit lobby. After giving the hostess his name, he returns to your side. “Honey, I was thirteen when the depression hit. We ran straight into rationing for the war after that. I didn’t get steak at home.”

The hostess calls your name before you can dig yourself deeper. She shows you to your table, the light dimming the further you go. She offers to take Bucky’s coat, but he declines. You shake your head at his skepticism, but you can’t fault him for it.

You take in the room around you. The dark wood slats cover the walls floor to ceiling. The elegant chandeliers don’t stand a chance at lighting the whole dining area. Each table is lit by a single candle mounted on the wall and decorated with an elaborate floral centerpiece. The backs of the dark wood booths reach nearly to the ceiling, and a curtain at the end of the booth makes each table private dining.

“Steak was too expensive.” He turns to face you. “Even for my family.”

“Then, dinner should be on me tonight.” You grin

“Not going to happen, kitten,” he says, lifting his menu. “We’ve talked about this.”

“Buck, you don’t even have a job,” you sigh. “You can’t keep taking me out.”

“Don’t worry about me. Martini?”

You hum, tracing shapes over his thigh. “I think I’d rather get between the sheets.”

“Now, that’s something I understand.” Bucky smiles softly. “It was my dad’s favorite drink.”

“Well,” you lick your lips and fall back into the booth, “martini it is, then.”

He leans in, kissing behind your ear. “I will get you between the sheets as soon as I can.”

His deep, gravelly voice makes you whimper. Which makes him laugh. He orders the porterhouse, in spite of your raised eyebrows – or, maybe because of them – with a fully loaded baked potato, two orders of broccoli, and roasted Brussels sprouts. You order the sirloin with a wedge salad, despite Bucky's eye rolling. Surprisingly, you both enjoy a roasted cauliflower head for an appetizer, at the waiter’s recommendation, and it’s one of the only parts of the meal you agree on. When the waiter sets the Brussels sprouts down, it takes all your self control not to gag.

“I hope you don’t intend on kissing me tonight,” you choke out, holding your breath.

He meets your eyes and pops a sprout in his mouth.

“Ass.”

He eats another, exaggerating his enjoyment of the dish.

You sneak your fork over to his plate. He jabs his own fork at yours, coughing on his mouthful. “Get out of here.”

“If they’re so good, I think I should try one.” You twist your wrist and stretch your fork as far as you can.

He grunts his disagreement. “These are mine.”

You continue your assault on his plate, as he struggles to fight you off and finish his meal. “Come on, soldier.

Your taunting is met with a defensive growl. His guard intensifies along with the expression on his face. When you finally breach his defenses and stab a sprout, he drops his head back with a groan. You grin as you pull the fork out of your mouth, scraping it between your teeth. He narrows his eyes at your smug smile, chomping on his Brussels sprout. He pokes at the broccoli in front of him, rolling his eyes at your extravagant display.

“Are you sure you were the Winter Soldier?” you tease. “Can’t even defend your own dinner from some little CEO.”

He turns silently and pulls the curtain to your booth closed.

You let out a quiet snicker. “Oh, is this the part where you put a bullet in me?”

Before you can blink, he has you pinned to the wall with an arm behind your back. He leans forward, pressing his chest into your back, and scrapes his teeth against your ear. Need knots in your belly, tugging at your self control.

“No, not here,” he whispers, breath tickling your jaw. “I would be much more discreet. Table knife, untraceable. In my left hand, of course, to hide prints.”

Cool steel grazes your underarm before you feel dull pressure in the side of your chest, directly under your breast. Bucky leans into your other ear.

“Slide the blade between these two ribs.” Stitches pop one after another. “Puncture your lung, preventing you from screaming. I slip out quietly. You drown in your own blood. No one finds you for at least an hour.”

Just as the tip of the blade skims your bare skin, he pulls it away.

“James Barnes,” you pant, resting your forehead against the wall, “you had better have one hell of a necking session in mind tonight.”

His chuckle reverberates through your back as he settles back into his seat. “Kitten, you can jump into my backseat whenever you want.”

“I’d like to jump a whole lot more than your backseat,” you quirk an eyebrow at him as you turn back to the table.

The seclusion of the booth now stifling, Bucky opens the curtain halfway. He watches you settle yourself, concern pulling at his features. You rub your wrist delicately and return to your meal. He finishes half is hulking steak in the time it takes you to eat your salad.

“I didn’t-” He swallows the bite dry. “Did I hurt you?”

“No.” You drop your wrist, heat rushing over your cheeks. “No, Buck. It’s just kind of achy still. I promise.”

“I’ll be more careful.” He nods, taking another bite.

“Only for now?” you ask under a shaky breath.

His lips twitch, but he suppresses the smirk. “As long as I can.”

After refreshing your drinks, the waiter brings the check. With Bucky, there are never leftovers to worry with. You slip a finger into the new hole in the side of your dress with a huff. Your eyes widen as Bucky takes out his wallet and pays the full bill in cash. Before sliding out of the booth, he lays a heated kiss on your lips. Taking your hand, he helps you out of the booth and leads you through the restaurant.

“Why do you call me Bucky?”

Your steps falter as you decide between laughing and making a smartass comment. “Because that’s your name.”

He throws you a sideways glare. “Well, your name’s not kitten.”

“I see.” You nod slowly. “What do you want me call you?”

“Shouldn’t you pick?” he shrugs, passing his ticket to the valet.

“Alright.” You purse your lips and rub your chin. “Baby is too generic. Cutie? Cupcake? Hot lips?” You break into a grin.

“You’re ridiculous,” he groans. “What else?”

“Fine,” you sigh, slumping your shoulders dramatically. “How about muscles?”

He raises an eyebrow and walks around the front of the car.

You slide into the passenger seat. “I’ll take that as a no.” You draw your bottom lip between your teeth. “Tiger?”

He hums to himself. “And you’re my kitten?”

The realization makes you snicker, pinching your tongue between your teeth. “Maybe not.”

“What else, then?”

“Heartbreaker? Stud? Captain? Superman?”

Bucky’s lips pull back into a wicked a grin. “Oh, I like Captain.”

“Steve might have some objections,” you snort.

“Sweetheart, that’s kind of the point.”

You let out a low whistle. “So, is Steve going to hear it?”

Bucky runs his tongue over his teeth without a word.

“I’m not calling you Captain in normal conversation.”

He sighs. “Fine, Bucky is fine then.”

He keeps his eyes on the road with one hand on the wheel and one on your leg. His grip on your thigh tightens steadily as you approach you approach your apartment. You glance down, taking his hand.

“Buck, I don’t like you carrying that much cash.”

He chuckles, “Kitten, I think I can handle a common street thug.”

“But,” you take a deep breath, “can you handle it?”

He searches your eyes, working his jaw.

“I can’t lose you.” You reach out, steadying his face. “Not over something so stupid.”

He takes your hand from his face, looking to you, and kisses the inside of your wrist. Without another word, he steps out of the car and walks around to open your door. You follow him inside, watching his vest stretch between his shoulder blades as he pulls you along.

“Are you staying over tonight?” you ask, unlocking the door.

“I could be convinced.” Bucky locks the door behind you as your heels click across the kitchen. “I am getting a little dozy.”

He pulls glasses from your cabinet, setting them on the counter with a clink. Taking the moscato from your fridge, he fills both glasses. The wine swirls in each glass as he spins gracefully toward the bedroom.

“Jesus Christ.” He slams the glasses back on the counter, nearly dropping them. “Is- is that my shirt?”

You look over your exposed cleavage and down your bare legs, toying with a button on the grey linen shirt. “I thought it seemed a bit big.”

“Oh, kitten, this isn’t fair.” He leans into the counter and looks at the floor, tongue darting across his lips.

You tug the sleeves down at your wrists and slink across the room. “I’m done playing by the rules.” Digging your fingers into his collar, you smirk. “Captain.”

His head snaps up, eyes burning with desire. His hands fly to your hips, pushing you back across the room. Your back slams into the wall, the impact driving the breath from your lungs. He swallows your gasp. His lips electrify your skin.

“You ruined my dress,” you pant between kisses. “I intend to ruin your shirt.”

“Where did you get it?” His nose skims your jaw.

You gulp down your moan, arching your back off the wall. “Found it.”

A warm laugh puffs over your neck. “In my apartment?”

“I don’t- fuck.” Your fingers find his hair easily, pulling hard when his hands find the thin lace covering your ass. “Recall.”

“Course not.” His bionic hand slides down your thigh while the warmth of his flesh hand creeps under his shirt.

You hook your leg around his body the moment he lifts your knee. You roll your hips toward him, pulling him closer with the leg around his back. Knocking him off balance, he catches himself with his metal hand on the wall by your head. Your half-closed eyes drift to his wrist. Your hand leaves his hair, wrapping around his forearm.

You close your teeth lightly around his wrist. “Can you feel that?”

“Yes, kitten.” His husky voice is barely a whisper, but the roll of his shoulders is the only answer you need.

As you bite again, slowly increasing the pressure, his lips pull away from your neck.

“No,” you whine clutching at his short hair. “Buck, please don’t stop.” He steps back, despite your leg tightening around his waist. “Please, don’t- please.”

“I need to tell you something,” he breathes.

The heat pooled in your core, races through your body at the loss of contact. “Can’t it wait?” Your chest heaves.

“No, it-”

“Buck, please.” You fall forward into his chest, spreading your hands over his chest and fumbling with his vest buttons. “Captain.”

“No.” He wraps his hands around your wrists, pinning them to your sides. “It mi- You might change your mind.”

Chapter Text

You sit on the couch, hunched over your knees, running your hands through your hair. “I don’t understand. What do you mean Nat didn’t have a say in it?”

“I was stronger than her in every way.” He paces the living room, eyes glued to his path. “Hell, I helped train her.”

“No, that doesn’t make sense.” You press the heels of your hands into your eyes. “She was a fair match for you. I’ve seen the footage.”

“Sure, when I’m outnumbered six to one,” he scoffs. “Look, Y/N, that’s not the point. She wasn’t the only one. These faces just keep coming back.”

“No, it’s not-” You let out a low groan, pinching the bridge of your nose. Nat never said anything. “When were you even awake long enough?”

“The Red Room,” he gulps. “They’d pull me out of stasis for crowd control if the girls got out of hand or for VIP visits or to help train or-” He takes a deep breath. “They’d keep me awake as long as I behaved.”

You study his posture and take a deep breath, steeling yourself. “What does that mean?” You’ve never seen him so shaken.

He sinks into the cattycorner armchair across from you. “Sometimes I trained them, sometimes I was just a tool in their training, a sparring partner or-” He takes a shaky breath. “They liked to use me for the seduction training because I could rough them up. I was only interested in myself. Really pushed their- skills.”

“Buck,” you cross the room and kneel in front of his chair, tilting his chin up, “those were orders, just like any other mission. You didn’t have a choice.”

He shakes his head, pushing you away. “Sometimes.”

“I don’t understand,” you beg. Your hands brush his knees to soothe him. “What does that mean?”

“There were no rules for instructors. When we needed something, we took it.” He drags a hand down his face, swatting yours away. “Sometimes it was an order. Sometimes it was being awake long enough for fifty years of testosterone to catch up with me. If the girls couldn’t stop us…”

“No, Bucky.” You take his face in your hands, locking eyes with him. “That wasn’t you.”

“It was though.” For the first time during the whole conversation, he doesn’t avoid your gaze. The pain and guilt in his eyes hits you straight in the gut. “I did it. I dragged them into empty rooms. It was my hands pinning them to the wall. It’s in my head. I can’t get it out. I can’t get away. I did it. I ra-”

“James.” You curl your fingers over the back of his neck and lean your forehead against his. “You weren’t you.”

“But I did it,” he whispers.

“You couldn’t stop it any more than anything else you did.”

“They were teenagers,” he chokes out.

You spread your fingers over his neck willing him to stay as he pulls back. He drags his hand over his mouth and across his beard. His eyes fall closed as he looks away and sniffs harshly. Your chest clenches tighter with each of your rejected attempts at comfort. As his shoulders begin to shudder, his resistance weakens, and you can finally pull him to you. He slides off the chair with little objection and slumps into your arms. You comb through his hair, letting your fingers scrape down his neck. His body slowly falls still under the warmth in your touch.

“It’s not your fault,” you whisper. You let your lips brush his ear and nuzzle your cheek into the crook of his neck.

He wraps his arms around you hesitantly, rubbing your back. His touch is tentative. His fingers graze your arm, unsure of himself. “How can you even look at me?”

“They backed you into a corner.” You hold him until he pulls away. “No one would expect you to behave like a person when they made you an animal.”

“There was no emotion in it.” He drags a hand over his face. “I didn’t feel anything. For any of them.”

You resist the urge to scoff and settle for rolling your eyes. He can’t help that he reached sexual maturity in a different time. “That doesn’t matter.” You stop yourself from adding “anymore.”

After drawing a shaky breath, he leans back against the leg of the chair. “What if I never get past it?”

“We’ll work it out,” you assure with a hand on his knee. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“How do you do that?” he laughs. “Have faith in the worst of humanity.”

A smile flitters across your lips. You know everything down to his boot size a hundred years ago, and he doesn’t know even know your parents’ name. “I had a real shitty childhood.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I grew up in foster care,” you sigh. “I went through a lot of families, very few actually cared. The ones that did couldn’t keep me long. Rules were strict. Most of them stole my stuff and used the money I brought in to pay for manicures or toys for their own kids. If I was lucky, I’d get a bed.”

“If you weren’t?” He folds a leg under himself and wraps an arm around his knee.

Your stomach tightens with hunger pains. Your cheek stings from a fresh smack across the face. Images of dark closets and hot stoves flash through your mind. Screams of foster parents deafen your ears. Your head reels with long forgotten memories.

“Excessive punishment, no hot water, alienation from the real family, cigarette burns, broken bones, concussions, starvation.” Your lips twitch as your eyes fall to the floor. “Suicide attempts.”

“You walked in on suicide attempts, and no one moved you?”

“I made suicide attempts, and no one moved me.”

His mouth falls open and his eyes widen.

You hold your arm out, pointing at a barely noticeable scar up your forearm. It had been fading since you started taking the serum. “The only time that family ever took me to a doctor.”

He traces his fingers over the area, eyes fixed on the thin line until the realization hits him. He snatches up your other arm and finds the matching scar. As he examines your legs, you close your eyes, memories flying by faster than you can think.

Ten years old, searching your first foster mom’s purse for lunch money. Footfalls on the stairs alert you to her approach, you take the only thing you can find and skid into the kitchen. She yells at you for going through the pantry, but if she found you with her purse, you’d be sleeping in the back yard. When she leaves, you slide the small baggy of pills out of your pocket. She doesn’t eat much; they must be appetite suppressants. You take one and dig your backpack out of the front closet. You wake to screaming about missing school and sleeping the day away. You can’t remember anything. Your chest tightens as your foster dad roars about lying. You sleep at the table writing “I will not skip school” until your fingers bleed.

You gasp, jerking away from the hand on your face.

“It’s okay.” Bucky’s blurry face comes into view. “You’re here now, with me.”

You drag your hands down your face, clearing the tears from your eyes. “It was a long time ago.”

“You were a kid.”

“I was a pet,” you snap. “Who provided an income.”

He holds his hands up in surrender. “I don’t understand how any of that made you into a better person.”

“Right.” You clear your throat. “My senior year in high school, I was placed into a sanctuary home- where they put kids who can’t be placed anywhere else. It’s just a group home with a nicer name.” You scan his face for signs of confusion and continue. “Life was tough there. Between the twelve of us staying there, we didn’t get home from appointments until after seven. We were only allowed to use the one upstairs shower. Dinner was whatever you could scrounge up, and finishing homework was a luxury. Most of us were good kids, just couldn’t keep up.”

He nods, taking your hand and interlocking your fingers. “I take it they didn’t all grow up to run multi-billion-dollar, international relief foundations.”

“Most of them are dead, gangs or drugs. Some in jail. Others are surviving, and a rare few managed to scrape together decent lives.”

He draws his bottom lip between his teeth, the corner of his mouth quirking up.

“When life gives you shit, there’s not much you can do with it. I try not to hold that against people.” You shrug and snort, “My parentage helps too.”

Bucky’s eyebrows draw together, and he leans forward into a cross legged position. “You lost me again.”

“Well, at least I’ve managed to keep that out of the media. My parents were the kindest people I met my entire life until I got to Stark Industries.” You take a deep breath. “They’re also the most infamous killer couple on the East coast.”

“Well, shit.” He falls back against the chair.

You smirk. “The only people who ever really loved me also did unspeakably horrible things.”

“I guess I owe them a thank-you.” His eyes crinkle with his grin.

You smile and lean into his shoulder. “It’s not the same.”

He pulls your back against his chest and rests his chin on your shoulder. You stretch your legs out in front of you, chills running up your bare thighs. His arms slide around your waist.

“Could you ever be with me if you didn’t know those terrible people as people?”

You nestle into him while he presses his lips into your cheek. “I guess I don’t know.”

He lets the silence hang briefly. “We must be the most fucked up couple in history.”

“I don’t think my fucked up is quite the same as your fucked up.”

His chuckle rumbles through your body. “It’s pretty close, at least.”

“You know, one of my foster moms slept with every boyfriend I had.” You lean to the side to look up at him.

“Alright, you’re pulling ahead.” He opens his hand, letting you trace along his palm.

“She was a single mom, horny as fuck. She liked to rub it in that I wasn’t allowed to have sex. And-”

Bucky drops your hand, bending to look in your eyes. “At what age?”

“Sixteen. Foster system rules, technically I couldn’t consent until eighteen,” you sigh, rolling your eyes. “She wouldn’t try to hide it. Just told me that she’d take care of them for me.”

“Holy fuck.” He shakes his head, huffing out a breath. “You win. That takes the cake.”

You let out a dry laugh. “I don’t know. Brainwashing is pretty rough.”

“I don’t know, kitten.” He rubs your arms. “No sex in high school? You missed out on a lot.”

“Who says I missed out?” You stand and face him, cocking your head. “I just had to get better at sneaking.”

You pull him to his feet and kiss his lips gently. You glance at the wine on the counter and make your way to the glasses. After taking a sip, you feel Bucky press against your back. His arms wrap around you again, and he noses into your neck, beard scratching at your skin.

You melt into him, your legs trembling at his softness. His breath sends shivers down your spine and heat to your core. His hands tighten, bringing your hips to his. Your head drops onto his shoulder, exposing your neck. His nose brushes across your ear on his way down. You snake your hand around to the back of his head, scraping at his scalp. The pressure of his mouth on your skin draws soft moans out of your throat.

“I love you” falls quietly from your mouth before you notice.

He blows a long, warm breath across your skin before he pulls back. “I need to go.”

Your hands drop to cover his. You turn your head into his neck, breathing in his musk. “Please stay.”

His muscles loosen, softening around you. “Baby.”

“Please, I’ll be good,” you mumble into his neck. “I’ll even put pants on.”

He takes a step back, twisting your hips to turn you around. “Oh, not on my account.” His hands slide down the backs of your thighs and lift you onto the edge of the counter.

You bite your bottom lip, smiling so wide your eyes squint closed. When you look back at him, your expression falls. “I had access to every vice imaginable. Every single day for years, I made the decision not to quit and be the dropout druggie everyone expected.” Your eyes glisten, searching his. “I got where I am through nearly inhuman amounts of self-control and motivation.”

His eyes soften. “Kitten, I never thought that.”

“I’m not addicted to anything. I got close with Tony. That’s why I quit.” You lean your forehead against his chin. “I won’t let it happen. I’ve worked too hard.”

He nods and whispers, “I get it now.”

You lean back and take a breath. “I had my last name changed when I went into the system. Nobody knows about my parents.” Your eyes drop to your wringing hands.

“Secret’s safe.” He tips your chin up. “I love you too.”

The corners of your lips twitch, wanting to smile. He bends over you and brushes your hair back. You inch up to meet his lips and part them softly.

His tongue traces your lips. “Let’s go to bed,” he breathes into your mouth.

You smile against his lips and nod. His hands scoop under you, and you wrap your legs around his waist. You rake your nails over his scalp. His satisfied hum vibrates across your lips as he crosses the living room with ease. When he reaches your room, he sits on the edge of the bed and sneaks his tongue into your mouth. You rise to your knees, hovering over him. His hands keep your hips tucked to his stomach as he stretches up to keep contact with you.

“You know,” he lowers his chin, “this is my favorite shirt.”

You gasp and throw your head back as Bucky’s teeth scrape from your cleavage to collarbone. When he plants a kiss in the hollow of your neck, he leaves a trail of kisses back down your chest. His hands travel up your sides, settling at your bra. With another gasp, you wrap your hands around his face and pull him away from your body.

“If you want me to be good, you got to stop.”

He grins and squeezes your breasts together, burying his face between them. “Okay, we can go to bed now.”

“That’s not fair,” you screech as he falls back, pulling you with him. “Barnes!”

He lays on his side, facing you. “I haven’t done that in a very long time.”

Looking at his goofy grin, you can’t stay upset. This is how he must have looked in high school, when he finally got that special girl to “make out point.”

“You get one.” Your eyes turn dark. “Next time you do that, I’m ripping your clothes off.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” He turns onto his back and wraps an arm under you. “Good night, kitten.”

You wake, head swimming in childhood traumas. The night had not been a good one. You take a long, steamy shower, lost in memories of your closest friends. High school stands out; that’s where your lives started parting. The smartest kids worked their asses off for good grades. The jocks, though few thanks to the extensive paperwork required for permission, practiced day in and out in hopes of earning a scholarship. The ones who couldn’t keep up fell into drugs or petty crime.

Then, there was Jane. Her parents were also in prison, and you bonded quickly. The two of you made plans to attend college together and make something of yourselves, kept each other on track. She filed all the paperwork for permission to get a job junior year and saved every penny for a prom dress. She’d dated the same boy for two years, made every effort to stay in the same district for all high school. When prom night finally came, you helped her do her hair and makeup. You spent hours making it look perfect; she was going to go all the way with this boy.

You turn off the water letting the heat drain off your skin as you towel off. You pull on your short, silk robe and open the door to let the bathroom air out.

Jane came home late that night, and more than a little tipsy. You stayed up, wanting to know everything. So did your foster father. You could hear him in the kitchen waiting, mumbling into the phone with his wife who had taken a weekend retreat with work. Calling her names and promising to send her back.

You brush your teeth and rinse your face.

You can still hear the whimpering through the walls. The scarping of furniture over the dining room floor. The dull thud of her body being shoved into the wall adjoining your bedroom. The muffled snarl of his lesson about what happens to girls who drink too much. You wanted to help her, to stop him. But if you left your room, you wouldn’t eat for days, and you were already so hungry. Her screams were muffled, no doubt by his meaty hands. He wouldn’t stop. You couldn’t help. You were both sent away two weeks later after you brought her to the hospital for a heroin overdose. She works at a strip joint on the edge of town, now.

It could have been you.

You lean over the counter, looking into the sink. You take a deep, shaky breath, closing your eyes. If you’d had a prom date, it would have been you. Hands grab your hips, and lips land on your neck. Your eyes fly open as you suck in a gasp of air. Your elbow collides with a jaw, and you spin, thrusting your knee into your attacker’s groin. By the time you process the face in front of you, it’s too late.

“Fuck-” Bucky stumbles back, doubled over, “-ing. Shit.”

You rush forward, apologizing profusely. He waves you back, setting a hand on the toilet. He eases himself into a crouch, an arm still wrapped around himself. Breathing deep, he lets out choked groans.

“I’m so sorry.” Your apologies come out muffled by your hands over your mouth. “I didn’t- You weren’t here- I thought- God, I’m so sorry.”

“Just, stop,” he grumbles, straightening up slowly. He takes several long, deep breaths and wipes at his bloodied lip. “Well, I feel better about you being alone with Rollins now.”

Eyes still wide, you study him for signs of injury. “What were you thinking?”

“Just finished my run,” he pants, wincing slightly, “I was going to join you in the shower.”

You swallow hard, muscles going rigid. Your eyes search his, back stiffening. The coil in your stomach tightens as his words replay in your head. Shower. Together.

Chapter Text

Your heart pounds under your heaving chest at the implication. “Why?”

“I wanted to surprise you.” His cheeks flush as he looks at his feet.

“Well, I’m surprised.”

He nods with a flickering smile and gives you a chaste kiss. Continuing past you, he turns on the shower. You watch him undress awkwardly and wonder if he’s still a little sore. Clearly, you misunderstood his intentions. You return to your room, letting him shower in peace. Turning on the TV, you head to the kitchen to make coffee. You haven’t had a lazy Sunday in almost seven years, and it couldn’t feel better.

You climb back onto your bed, listening to the coffee percolate, and scroll through your recently watched list. When you hear the water turn off, you peek into the bathroom. Steam fills your nose and clogs your throat.

“You want to watch something?” you cough.

The shower door slides open, and Bucky snakes an arm out to grab a towel from the shelf. “Whatever you want, kitten.”

You shut the door and return to your bed, sorting through your options. You barely glance at Bucky when he opens the door.

“I want to make you happy.” He leans against the doorway, towel wrapped at his hips.

Your tongue darts over your lips, and you swing your feet to the floor. You take a deep breath, closing your eyes. It always ends the same. “What does that mean?” you plead, running a hand through your hair. “You keep saying it, and I don’t understand anymore.”

Walking toward you, he meets your eyes. “Do you still want me?”

Your breathing picks up as you stand to meet him. Heat races through your chest to your face. You nod, unable to speak past your dry throat. You groan internally at your nervousness; it’s high school all over again. Cupping his head in your hands, you lean in to kiss him, your question of what to watch long forgotten. Slowly, you turn around, guiding him to the bed. With slight pressure on his shoulders, you nudge him to sit on the edge.

He pulls away, whispering, “Are you sure?”

You kneel on the bed, swinging a leg over his lap. You run your hands through his hair, staring down at him. “Do I really need to answer that?”

His hands hold your hips, preventing you from closing the distance between your bodies. “Please.” His eyes soften as they search yours.

“Yes, James Barnes,” you sigh with a smile. His insistence on your verbal consent is endearing. Though with his past, you can’t blame him. “I want you. In every way.”

“Can we go slow?” He grins while he looks over your barely covered body. Worried is the more accurate word for his unease.

You tilt his head up with a finger under his chin and kiss him softly. “Do you trust me?”

Silk gathers under his fingers as he presses them tighter into your hips. You lay your hands over his to steady the trembling. He lets out a shaky breath, turning away.

“That’s not-”

“Do you trust me?” You lay your hands on each side of his face, bringing his wide eyes back to you. A mysterious tug at your heart reminds you of your first kiss in eighth grade.

He licks his lips before locking his jaw. Swallowing hard, he breathes out an answer. “With everything I have.” All he knows is he can’t lose you.

Your smile lands on his stiff mouth, leaving a kiss and pulling back. Taking his wrists, you slide his hands up the backs of your thighs and under your robe. If you weren’t already used to it, the stark temperature difference on your skin might make your head spin. You focus your mind on the task at hand; there will be time to revel in that later. This moment is about letting him let go, and, judging by his tense expression, he’s not there yet. You lean into his bare chest, kissing him gently. His skin burns from the shower. The heat bleeds through your robe and washes over your body.

You part your lips, and Bucky’s follow as he tightens his grip on your ass. You ease your tongue into his mouth, barely tapping his, and pull away, hoping it made his lips tingle too. His breathing hitches, and his tongue swipes at yours, flesh hand skimming the silk at your side. He grabs a fistful of your hair and tilts your head back, attacking your neck. You arch into him, gasping. Your skin aches between his teeth, the pressure coiling in your core. His ravaging touch seems contradictory to everything you’ve known about him. Gathering your thoughts, you push his face back.

“Slow, remember?” You return to his lips with a closed-mouth kiss.

As he opens his mouth, you spread your hands over his chest and push him to the bed. His arms wrap around your back as he eases down. Even through your thin robe, you can feel his abs contract effortlessly, a result more from decades of physically demanding tasks than the serum itself. He tugs at the belt around your waist and slides his hands into your open robe. Your muscles shudder under the simultaneous heat and cool of his hands moving up your sides. You plant your hands on either side of his head and bite your lip, soaking in the disorienting sensations. How he ever got by with women before the war is a mystery to you. Though, at least he was able to be lost in the moment with them. And the uniform certainly couldn’t have hurt. Settling yourself over his hips, you brush your lips up his neck and trace your fingers over his stomach. You outline his scars delicately, leaving each with a kiss. Each one draws a louder moan until you reach the one above his hip that you know is part of a pair. You rub your nose against it and scrape your teeth over his skin. He flinches back, with a pained groan. Your spine stiffens as you search his face.

“It’s okay,” he whispers, watching his hands trail up your stomach. “It just- It’s sensitive.”

You nod. “Is that the only one?”

He stills, pulling his eyebrows together. “I don’t know.” He props himself up on his elbows, watching your chest rise and fall. “No one’s ever touched them so gently.”

Your chest tightens, and you stretch out his arm, skimming your fingers along the flesh. When you encounter a scar, you skirt around it and kiss it softly. His shoulders are next, before you slide off the bed and study his legs. When you stand, you hold out your hand, pulling him up to sit on the edge of the bed again. Trailing a hand over his shoulder, you crawl behind him. The flesh on his back is tougher, thickened by never-ending scar tissue. His muscles tremble at your touch. He drops his head with a deep breath.

“Did they hurt?” You kiss a long, thin scar at his shoulder. It healed exceptionally well, not an accident.

His voice shakes. “I don’t remember.”

The pads of your fingers glide over a thick jagged scar at his side. You watch his reaction closely and take care not to use your nails. You swallow hard, eyes misting over. There must be a hundred various size scars across his back. Most of them, you guess, are from acting as a human shield. You run your hands across his shoulders, massaging gently.

He curls a leg onto the mattress and turns sideways. “Can you please get back in front of me?”

“No.”

He twists around to look at you, rumpling the towel. “Kitten, pl-”

You lay a finger on his lips, slinking in front of him while your hands slide down his stomach. Your fingers curl around the soft cotton pulling it aside and pushing him to the mattress as you straddle him again. “But I will gladly get on top of you.”

His hands wrap around your thighs and settle your hips on his stomach, your robe tickling at his sides. A Vibranium finger along your spine sends shivers through the tips of your toes. Your elbows buckle, and Bucky jumps on the opportunity to massage your breasts. He’s always gentle with you, almost timid. Your skin prickles as desire floods your body. You drop your head, hair shrouding both your faces. Your shoulder blades pinch together as you bend into his hands.

He arches an eyebrow at you, squeezing your breasts together. Your eyes flutter open just as he buries his face in your cleavage. Your mouth falls open, strangled noises escaping, as he scrapes his teeth and tongue over your skin, beard scratching at the delicate area. When his mouth closes around your nipple, you grind your hips down, craving more. This is not a pace you’re used to. His cock nudging at your ass, grazing your robe and lower back, with every gasping breath sends tingles up your spine. You inch down his torso until you can feel his steady pulsing against you.

A black and white image from your high school textbook flashes through your mind. Inappropriate comments and jokes between your friends dance around your head. Who would have guessed that you’d actually end up with Sergeant James Barnes of the 107th in your bed?

Bucky’s eyes snap open. His hands on your backside keep you from sinking further. “Fucking Steve,” he mumbles through gritted teeth.

“I’m sorry?” you tilt your head sideways, pulling your eyebrows together.

He shakes his head clear of his lingering conversation with Steve. “Just- Not yet.” His bionic hand glides over your curves coming to rest on your face, the other sliding to the front of your hips. “Not until you’re closer.”

You break into a giggling grin, until his touch pulls a moan from deep in your chest. His fingers between your legs overwhelm your senses. The world fades around you, sounds going distant. Your brain short-circuits, and your shaking muscles go limp. You collapse on top of him, panting. “I’m about as close as I can get.”

You slide your hips to meet his, gasping as he fills you. “Oh. Fuck.” Heat pools in your belly, and your core clenches tighter.

“Yeah,” Bucky groans, arching his back and clawing at your thighs. “That.” His grip tightens, urging you to move.

Your muscles ache under his fingers. “Give me a minute.”

You spread your hands over his chest, looking into his normally guarded eyes, pupils blown so wide you could probably see his soul if you stared long enough. You must be losing it because you actually want to give it a try. You lean in and brush your lips delicately over his. Pausing there, you let your eyes fall closed, sharing his breath. You lose yourself in the darkness behind your eyelids, the gentle caress of his skin meeting yours the only thing keeping you grounded.

“Please.” He grinds his hips against yours, pulling you from the trance.

You throw your head back with a needy cry, melting against him. His musky scent fills your lungs. You can feel the pulse in his neck against your cheek and hear his heart pounding in his chest. You swallow hard as you push yourself back up and press your hips down, hitting your sweet spot with every move. You smirk to yourself, brooding over the memory of his service photo. The uniform definitely didn’t hurt.

His moan makes your legs tremble. Biting back your own pleasure, you continue rocking your hips in time with his groans, and the coil in your belly tightens. Your feeble attempts at self-control fail, and, with a sharp inhale, cries stream from your mouth. You pick up your pace, building until the knot in your stomach bursts. Shudders wrack through your muscles until you fall into Bucky’s chest. A choked whine escapes his lips at your walls fluttering around him. The heat from his shower gone, you’re warmed gently by his usual body heat. Your heart thrums languidly as his chest heaves under you. You try to pull your whirling thoughts together, but the feel of his skin on yours electrifies your nerves. You turn and twist your head, letting your nose trail up and down his cheek. You are going mad. Even the smallest loss of contact leaves a gaping hole in your chest.

He wraps an arm around your waist and flips you both. Hovering over you, his eyes are darker than before, blazing wild with animal instinct. With the intimacy of the moment gone, your head clears, and your heartrate skyrockets. His bionic hand holds him up while the other roams your body, exploring every inch. He nudges silk out of his way as he goes, leaving you lying in a puddle of midnight blue. His nostrils flare catching whiffs of your, no doubt, raging pheromones. He brushes his lips along your neck breathing deep. Chills follow his path, your exceptionally sensitive skin reacting to the coolness of his inhale followed by his warm, steady exhale. He lifts your knee and lines himself up. Kissing along your neck, he thrusts his hips into yours. You whimper at the renewed tension in your core, and his kisses turn to nips. You latch your legs around his waist, clawing at his back, desperately urging him deeper. This is a tempo you know well.

You cup his face, running a thumb over his lips. A shudder ripples down his back, and he tosses his head back with a growl. Leaning back down, he nuzzles into your neck, nipping gently. Your back arches off the bed, brushing your breasts against his chest. Your head is so hazy, even you’re not sure if you say “fuck” or “Buck,” but he doesn’t seem to mind either way. He growls in approval, sucking at a small spot on your neck until you release a moan. That’s definitely going to leave a mark. Your hands wrap around his biceps, amazed at the power in them. He could just as easily crush your bones as quench the desire in your belly. Your legs begin to tremble, and the needy sounds falling from your quivering lips only drive him on.

“God,” you pant, grasping at your sheets. “Don’t stop.”

His fingers dig into your flesh leaving your muscles sore. Nips turn to bites as you buck your hips to meet his. He sinks his teeth into the crook of your neck, as he thrusts harder. You fight the throbbing in your neck, focused on the burning in your core. His ragged breathing turns to guttural rumbling in his chest. His grip tightens around your thigh, an ache radiating from under his hand. He tilts his head to the side, neck tense and eyes closed.

“You’re hurting me,” you groan and tap his chest lightly.

His hand clenches harder, fingertips crushing your muscle, lifting your knee higher. He leans into you, his chest wedging you against the mattress. He nips at his own bite mark, pulling a high-pitched yelp from you. You wriggle your arms from between your bodies and take his head in your hands. His sounds and your desperation throw you back to senior year, in that cherry red corvette with the jackass who promised to help you pay for college.

“Bucky,” you gasp, unable to pull in a full breath, “you’re hurting me.”

The fire raging behind his eyes doesn’t flicker. You gulp, squeezing your eyes shut. Fuck.

The weight on your chest eases, and cool air licks at your breasts. You can’t suppress a shiver, and just hope it doesn’t set him off. Your eyes flick open, studying his flexed muscles. He grits his teeth, locking his jaw, and pinches his shoulders together with a feral snarl. He tosses his head back with a restrained roar and releases your thigh. You let out a breath, massaging your own leg softly. He hovers over you, muscles tight and trembling.

“It’s okay,” you whisper, laying your free hand on his shoulder. You push him back gently. “Let me back on top.”

He lets you guide him back to lean against the headboard and shuts his eyes as you straddle him once more. “I scared you.”

“A little.” You nod reluctantly and brush your thumbs over his cheekbones. “And only for a moment.”

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers, resting his forehead on your shoulder.

You kiss along his jaw to his ear. “I shouldn’t have let you get that far.”

“You couldn’t have stopped me.” He wraps his arms around your back and takes a calming breath, your scent flooding his senses.

“It sure seems like I can,” you smile. “It seems like you can.”

“I still hurt you.”

“It’s okay. I like it a little rough.” You nestle your cheek into his hair. “Please try again?”

He whispers an agreement, already halfway gone from your soothing voice alone. Your acceptance never ceases to amaze him. He nearly broke your leg, and you’re concerned with letting him finish. He kisses your shoulder before straightening up to look in your eyes and nods.

Your hands find his hair, and he rakes his fingers down your back as you lean back in to kiss him. One of his hands lands on your hips, the other continues brushing along your spine. His gaze follows your hands as they spread across his chest and slide down his torso. Every move is measured and methodical. You can’t let him lose it again. He moans and tightens his grip on your hip, meeting your eyes. This is the part where you say something, give an order, make a joke. Anything to break the connection. But nothing comes. You just stare, searching for pieces of him even he’s certain are lost.

You guide his hands to your breasts, biting your lip, and let out a breath as his beard scratches at your chafed skin. You sink onto him slowly, tilting your head to the side and offering your neck. His groan blows heat across your chest sending tingles down your body. He kisses along your collar bone, making his way to your neck. He stops at your shoulder, tracing his fingers over the bite. Any further up and you could be dead. You glance down, noticing the blood on his fingers. Moving his face to the other side of your neck, you allow yourself to wince at the twinge left behind.

“You can deal with that when I’m done with you.” Your voice is strong and commanding, the one you use when meeting with world leaders. But unlike the cool, calculating demeanor you have at work, now your eyes blaze wild and a devious grin spreads across your face. You peel off your robe, watching Bucky’s tongue dart over his lips.

With free access to every inch of your body, his hands slide along your curves. The heat from his right hand goes straight to the tangle of need in your core, while the contrasting cool touch on your right side leaves a dizzying thrill in your bones. Your desire builds, and the smooth circles of your hips quickly deteriorate into frenzied lurching. Watching you come undone pushes Bucky over the edge. With your hands scraping down his shoulders, he cradles your face against his neck and slides his other hand over the small of your back. Pressing your bodies together, he drives his hips into yours. You bite his neck as your trembling legs give out and you collapse into him. He ignores your quivering muscles and continues rocking your hips together, sending aftershocks through your exhausted body. Your whimpers fill his ears, your core tightening again. He peppers your neck and shoulders with kisses, relishing the way he makes you squirm. He arches against you, growling into your hair, and clutches a fistful of your knotted waves. Your limbs weave in and out of each other, knotting you together tighter than the coil in your belly. Your nails rake down his back, and his fingertips dig into your silky skin urging your bodies closer until the heat inside you explodes, sending you reeling through time. Everything before this moment seems meaningless. Nothing matters but here and now, with him.

Afraid of dropping you, he tightens his grip. Panting heavily, he slows his movements, the two of you unraveling together. Gradually settling back in the present, your bedroom comes back into view. A visceral aroma floods your nose and filters into your brain. His damp, sticky chest swells lazily against yours with every breath. With one last buck of his hips, he rolls you gently onto the bed.

You let your head fall to the side watching him settle next to you. “I haven’t done that in a while.” Your lips twitch into a faint smile when he looks at you.

“Please,” he snorts, “I know better than that.”

You wiggle up next to him, nestling neatly against his chest. “No, it’s dif-”

“Oh, fuck,” he shouts, pushing you back. “You did get back on your birth control, right?”

Your face goes blank.

He jumps out of bed as curses fall from his open mouth. “We have to go to the drug store. Get that Plan- whatever, the pill thing. Fuck, I can’t-”

“Don’t worry, Mister Barnes,” you can’t stop the giggle bubbling in your chest from bursting out. “We won’t break your mother’s heart just yet.”

He studies your face, his own features relaxing slowly. “That’s not fucking funny.”

“I thought it was,” you snicker, rolling onto your back.

“Next set of stairs we find,” he mumbles. “Not fucking funny.”

You roll your eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

He leans over you, swallowing hard, and whispers, “Can we do that again?”

You chuckle, eyes fluttering closed. “Please.”

He grins back. “Just give me a minute.”

Despite the wrinkles at the corners, his eyes glitter with youthful innocence. For a fleeting moment, your dark pasts are forgotten. The world isn’t falling to pieces. Time stands still, and you’re alone, just the two of you.

“Yeah, sure.” You break into a full laugh. “Maybe a nap, first?”

“That would be nice,” he yawns as he straightens.

You turn onto your side, watching Bucky enter the bathroom. The throbbing in your neck spreads to your shoulder and down your arm. You roll onto your back, easing the ache in your muscles, as your sink turns on. He must be cleaning up. Slowly, you lift a hand to your neck. The lingering strain on your muscles makes your limbs feel twice as heavy as usual. Despite feeling the wound as gently as possible, you still flinch away at the lightest touch.

“First,” Bucky walks back in, washcloth in hand, “I need to take care of that.”

You groan as he lifts you up, swaying when he lets you go. You close your eyes and focus on not falling over as you sit still. The warmth of the washcloth almost takes the sting out of the cleaning. After wiping away the blood, he examines the bite. You smile when you open your eyes to see him so close. Dropping your head, you press your lips to his throat, giggling at the vibration of his hum. Tossing the rag into the bathroom, he pulls your back against his chest.

“It’s pretty deep,” he sighs, nuzzling at your ear. “I’m sorry.”

You turn to look at him, kissing the corner of his lips. “I’ll be alright.”

“I-” The back of Bucky’s hand skims up your sore thigh. “I hurt you.”

You giggle, drawing your finger up his metal arm. “I’m pretty sure I hurt you earlier.”

He smiles, taking your hand to kiss your knuckles. “Kitten, you shouldn’t have t-” He rests his head on your shoulder. “I shouldn’t-”

You brush your lips up his cheek, breathing softly, and break into a grin. “You made me very happy.”

“Yeah?” He tightens his arms around your waist, burying his face in your hair. “Well, at least I can still do something right.”

Very right,” you chuckle.

He nips gently at the back of your neck, giving you chills. “Maybe, if you’re good, I’ll do it again.” The sheen of sweat over your skin doesn’t deter him. He savors the hint of saltiness in every kiss, knowing he’s the reason your skin tastes like the ocean.

You lean to the side and narrow your eyes at him. “You got bold fast.”

“I have a very compelling reason to improve myself,” he whispers, tucking a strand of hair behind your ear.

“Oh?” You raise an eyebrow. “And what’s that?”

He smirks, “You trying to get smart with me, kitten??”

“And if I am?”

His eyes glint as he kneels on the bed, turning you around. “Sweetheart, that’s a lesson you won’t forget.”

You squeal when he squeezes your ass. “Bucky, no. I can barely move.”

“Then I’ll carry you.” He slides off the bed pulling you with him, careful not to put pressure on your aching thigh. “And I’m pretty sure we talked about ‘Bucky.’”

You wrap your legs around his waist as he wedges you against the wall. He skims his lips delicately over the bite mark and kisses up your neck.

You crane your neck back, leaning your head against the wall. “You’d better make it quick, Captain.”

He grins against your ear and whispers, “There’s a good girl.” He pulls your hips toward him with a crooked smirk.

“Fuck, are you- already?” You moan, clawing your nails down his back, panting, “I’m going to have to start doing cardio.”

He laughs, teeth tugging at your ear lobe. “Can’t keep up with me?”

“Don’t challenge me, Barnes,” you growl.

He gives you a playful snarl and presses against you, driving your hips back to the wall. “Last warning, kitten.”

“Fu-” you breathe out, already losing yourself, -ck.

Chapter Text

You look in the full-length mirror in Bucky’s closet, skimming your fingers over the deep purple blotches covering your skin. Despite two weeks of healing and ice, the handprint on your thigh is only just yellowing. You press it tentatively, wincing away. The door behind you creaks open as you lean toward the mirror, examining the bite at your neck.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky whispers, eyes dropping to the floor.

You turn around smiling. “It’s closing nicely. I’ll be fine.”

“Still.” He lays his hands on your hips. “I’m sorry.”

You wrap your arms around his neck and lean into your tiptoes to give him a kiss. “It’s okay.”

“Do you know which one’s my favorite?” He pulls back, quirking an eyebrow up. Laughing at your confusion, he slides a hand down your backside and pinches a circular bruise.

You let out a squeal, flinching away from his hand. “You mean where you bit my ass?”

He grins down at you. “That’s the one.”

“Bite you in the ass,” you mumble backing away. “See how you like it.”

“Kitten, you can’t catch my ass,” he snickers.

“We’ll see about that.” You slide your hands down his waist to his hips.

He smiles, snatching your wrists away. He pins them both in his left hand and snakes his right to your backside again. “Not going to happen.”

He kisses your nose before turning back to his bedroom.

“You’re doing better, darling.” You follow him, picking up your blouse from the day before. “I can almost stop wearing a scarf to work.”

He chuckles, the back of a finger skating over his bite mark. “I’m-”

“Don’t apologize, Buck. Please.” You take his hand, kissing his knuckles, and rest it on your hip. “Not again. You’re doing better.”

“Maybe,” he looks down at his clenched, bionic fist, chewing on his bottom lip, “maybe you should go see Strange.”

“Wha-” you pinch your eyebrows together and tip his chin up. “Buck, why?”

He shrugs and scoots back, pulling you onto the bed with him. “Make sure you’re okay.”

“Buck, be honest with me.” You smirk into his chest. “Is that the real reason? Or is this some kind of bizarre territorial thing?”

“Kitten, you could barely put weight on that leg, much less walk a week ago.”

“So,” you lean back, running your tongue over your teeth, “you want me to tell Stephen I couldn’t walk for a week after we fucked? And it’s not a territorial thing?”

A frown creases his forehead. “It may have crossed my mind,” he purses his lips playfully, “that it may cast me in a rather impressive light.”

“Well, I’m not doing it.” You smack his chest and roll off the bed, searching for the rest of your clothes.

“Come on, kitten,” he teases. “For me? Show hi-”

“He doesn’t care who I sleep with, Buck.” You tug your skirt over your hips and zip the back. “He never did.”

He shakes his head, sitting up. “I don’t think I’ll ever get that.”

You sit on the bed and slide your shoes onto your feet. “You never had a one-night stand?”

“No, I get that,” he laughs. “But you two were together.”

“We weren’t.” You stand up, smoothing your skirt down. “I need to go home and change before work.”

“Alright.” He stands up and pulls on a pair of sweats. “So, you were with me, just not having sex with me. And you weren’t with him, just having sex with him.”

“Exactly.” You usher him out the door as he yanks his shirt over this head “Play to your strengths.”

Bucky tenses as you walk toward the elevator. “And what were his strengths?”

You smirk as the doors rumble open. “He has incredible focus. Very task oriented.”

“I can focus,” he whines, following you onto the elevator. “I just thought you liked multi-tasking better.”

You turn to him, walking him back into the corner. “I love everything you do.” You stand on your tiptoes, and he bends down to meet your lips. Dodging his advance, you press your cheek to his, whispering into his ear. “Especially that one thing with your-”

His knees buckle, and he lets out a growl as he pushes you back. “Kitten, you’re going to get me evicted if you keep that up.”

“Oh?” you purr. “And how’s that?”

“Because my landlord will not appreciate the way this elevator looks when I’m done with you.”

The hunger in his eyes makes you melt. You whimper, pressing yourself against him. Your lips smash into his, all your passion pouring into him.

“Fuck work,” he whispers, groping at your ass. “Stay with me.”

You groan into his mouth before pulling away. You lean your forehead against his chest, panting. “I can’t. I have too much to do.”

“Am I on that list?”

His innocent expression makes you giggle. “Yes, my dear. Somewhere between ‘restore world order’ and ‘pickup milk.’”

“Well, that’s a pretty wide range.” His shoulders drop as the doors open.

You walk with him to the car, shaking your head when a young woman practically drags her daughter to the other side of the hallway when she sees you coming. They wait, the mother staring as you pass. Her daughter tries to wriggle her wrists free of her mother's hands. Bucky shrugs as you leave them behind.

“It’s the arm.” He drops your hand, tucking his in his pocket. “Puts some people off.”

You loop your arm through his and continue in silence. Something was off about it, and it’s been happening more and more. It started with dirty glares from strangers on the street and slowly grew more obvious. Or maybe you just started noticing because your head isn’t swimming in lustful fantasies anymore.

He doesn’t take your hand again until you’re safe in the privacy of his car. He doesn’t seem to think anything of the behavior, though. You try and put the encounter of your mind. Certainly, he would notice if things had changed. He’s a highly trained assassin, and you’re a non-profit Director. But still, you can’t seem to focus on anything else.

“What’s going on in there, kitten?” He taps your temple gently.

You sigh, shaking your head. “Worrying about nothing, probably.”

He chuckles and parks in his usual spot at your apartment. “Your strength.”

“You know me too well,” you groan, pulling yourself from the car. “Careful, you may not like what you find.”

His deep laugh echoes through the garage, only silenced by the stairwell door closing behind you. “That’s rich talking to me.” Slinging an arm around your shoulders, he kisses the top of your head. “I’m certain you’re not hiding anything I can’t handle.”

“You think I’m just this innocent, little goody two shoes, don’t you?”

“Only until Tony got his dirty hands on you.” Bucky shoves open the door to your floor.

You stare after him, eyes distant. “You really shouldn’t put everything on Tony.” Your voice goes flat as you blink hard, clearing the past away.

He pulls you in by the waist. “Come on, kitten. You know he was no good for you.”

“Just stop.” You push him away, digging for your keys. “We disagree when it comes to Tony. I can accept that, but I won’t let you talk shit about him because you don’t like his money.”

“Wh- I-” His hand shoots out, holding the door open as he stands frozen in the hall. “I di-”

“I have to get ready. You need to go.” You lay a hand on his chest, keeping him out of your apartment. “Jack’s going to pick me up.”

Bucky’s shoulder blades squeeze together as he lifts his chin slowly. “You promised.”

“He insisted.” Your tone is definitive. “He saw the bruises on my arms. He’s worried.”

Bucky works his jaw before offering a stiff nod. “I’ll see you Friday night then.”

You barely have time to throw on fresh clothes before Jack knocks on your door. You grab a protein bar and your blazer before following him to the lobby entrance. Your morning drags by with predictable tedium. Meetings here, senators there, Pepper popping in with shareholders. By lunch, you’re starved and exhausted, irritable from both. The knock on your office door breaks your focus on email and sends your blood pressure through the roof.

“What?” you growl, returning your attention to your computer.

The door swings open and Bucky waltzes in. “Nice to see you too.”

You sneak a glance at your calendar to confirm that the two of you had no plans until the weekend. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re right about Tony.” He sighs, shutting your door back. “You were friends, and I’m sorry.”

You nod, eyeing the duffle bag in his hand. “Doesn’t really answer my question though.”

“Well,” he sets the bag on your desk, pulling you to your feet, “I figured you’re somewhere between restoring world order and picking up milk.”

You let out a snicker, catching a glimpse of your favorite pencil dress as you unzip his duffle. “Bucky, that’s not-”

His voice goes husky as he backs you into a corner. “So, how about you let me apologize by helping you out of these?”

“That sounds,” you guide his hands up your sides, “fun.” Your eyes fall closed as he unbuttons your blouse with one hand and brushes your hair back with the other.

He bends down and nibbles at your ear while you dip your hands into his waistband. “You smell like me.”

“Didn’t have time for a shower,” you breathe.

He smirks against your neck. “I fucking love it.”

“Sergeant Barnes is territorial.” A smirk tugs at your lips. His hint of rainforest is the most delightful smell you can imagine. “Left that out of the history books.”

“You can publish a paper,” he growls nipping the hinge of your jaw.

When you lean up to kiss him, he steps away.

“Well,” you straighten up and shrug your shirt off, squeezing past him, “guess I’m on my own now.”

He spins around, snatching you by the arm and pinning you to the wall. The air falls out of your lungs with gasp, your shirt falling from your hand.

“Not on my watch.” He flips open a pocketknife and twirls it in his hand. He delicately drags the tip of the knife from your collar bone to your bellybutton, not breaking the skin. His eyes follow the trail of goosebumps left by the steel. He cocks his head to the side, smirking to himself. Looking back to your face, he tucks a finger under your chin and lifts your head to meet his gaze. “I don’t know how much self control I have left after last night.”

“Buck,” you lay a hand on the side of his face, shoulders falling, “we don’t have to.”

He swallows hard, and his voice turns raw. “If you want me to take care of you, I need you to finish quickly.”

Your head drops forward, hitting the crook of his shoulder. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” You can’t think straight enough to object to the one-sided offer.

His eyes go dark as he drops the knife to your skirt. He pulls the waistband away from your skin and slips the blade under the fabric. You clench your jaw and close your eyes when you feel a plastic button drop to your thigh and hear the quiet click as it hits the floor. The sound of threads ripping fills the silence as he drops deliberately to his knees. Your heart races so fast you can barely breathe, much less make a noise. As his blade makes its way down, you tip your head back with a sigh. When your skirt falls to the floor, he glances up to your half-lidded eyes.

“You’re so quiet.”

His breath under your belly button elicits a quiet whimper. “I’m at work.”

He chuckles, brushing his lips over your pelvic area, toying with your navy, lace underwear. If your head weren’t swimming, you’d let out a sigh of relief that you let yourself splurge on these last weekend.

“How attached are you to these?” He brushes his nose over the lace, grinning to himself.

You glance down. The sight of his face between your legs sends heat racing through your whole body. “You’d better not rip them unless you’re using your teeth,” you smirk, combing your fingers through his hair.

He sets the knife on the floor and slides it away in case he loses himself. Planting a kiss on your hip bone, he whispers, “Now, there’s an idea I hadn’t thought of.” Not that he needs a knife to hurt you; it’d just be a quicker death.

His teeth scraping at the fabric has you squirming. The coil in your stomach tightens, and you know you won’t have a choice but to keep your promise to him.

“Maybe next time.” Looping his fingers under the waistband, he drops them to the ground in one move, hooking your knee over his shoulder.

In mere minutes, Bucky’s grip on your hips is the only thing holding you up. Not long after that, you come undone, sliding down the wall a sticky mess. Bucky eases you to the carpet and runs a hand over his beard.

“Focused enough?” he pants, resting against the wall beside you.

A grin ripples over your face as you lean into him. He wraps an arm you, sending tingles up your skin. You barely manage an approving hum before your spinning head drops to his shoulder.

“I’ll assume that’s a yes,” he chuckles, kissing your hair. “You going to be okay, kitten?”

You twist your neck looking up at him with unfocused eyes and lay your thumb on his lips. “I have a conference in an hour. Take a nap with me?”

His free arm snakes under your legs before he stands. “Love to,” he whispers carrying you to the couch. “My alarm or yours?”

Your smile returns as you stretch out on top of him. “Yours please.”

“You tired, baby?” His lips skim over your hair, his voice low and soft.

You nestle into his chest, giggling. “Someone kept me up all night.”

“Now, what kind of a selfish bastard would do that?” he soothes, running his fingers through your waves.

“Definitely not selfish.” Your eyes fall closed as your smirk fades. “Very not…self…”

His quiet laughter reverberates through his chest. He sets the alarm on his phone, settling into your couch. He lets his eyes fall closed and breathes in the smell of your lemongrass conditioner. His last thought before drifting off is that you probably stole that from him.

He wakes with a start and the image of a stumpy scientist in his brain. Closing his eyes, he takes a deep breath and clenches his muscles. He doesn’t realize his arm is still around your neck until you let out a tired groan. He stretches out his arm and checks his phone quickly. Nudging you softly, he kisses your temple.

“Time to get up, kitten.” He lifts your hand and kisses your fingers.

You grunt and bury your face in his chest as his alarm sounds.

“Come on, baby.” He wriggles, jostling you awake. “You get refreshed or whatever. I’ll run out and grab you a coffee.”

You roll off him with another grunt and stretch out your stiff limbs. “Alright. Deal.”

With one more kiss, he leaves you to get ready for your meeting. The walk to the corner isn’t short, but he makes it quick. The coffee shop is crowded, bustling with activity. The noise falls to a dull hum upon his entrance. Several pairs of eyes follow his uneasy advance to the counter. He deciphers whispers from a couple in the back corner, studying a laptop.

“Tell me that’s not him,” the young woman with the eyebrow stud asks. Her friend with the blonde pixie cut glances at the screen and to Bucky.

Bucky’s breathing deepens as his eyes dart around the room. He lets his eyes fall closed, assuring himself he’s only on edge because of the nightmare. Swallowing hard, he blocks out the overheard comment about a cage. They’re probably talking about the zoo or a pet.

As he approaches the counter, the barista’s eyes widen. “Look, I don’t want any trouble,” he greets, voice shaking.

Bucky’s eyes narrow. “I just want a coffee.” His nostrils flare, picking up a scent he recognizes but can’t remember. “And a hot chocolate.”

“Can you be any more specific, please?” Wide-eyes stammers.

Bucky relays his order, chuckling at the nametag. Sam. Waiting for his change, Bucky surveys the room again. More glares and whispering. He lays a hand on the counter and closes his eyes. It’s paranoia. Doctor Burr warned him it would happen eventually.

Attempting a grounding technique Doctor Burr taught him, Bucky takes a deep breath, focusing on the smells. Bleach, bagels, coffee, and – something. That scent he can’t place, but he knows it, and it makes the hair on his neck prickle. It keeps getting stronger, tugging at the back of his head, pounding at a wall he hasn’t been able to breach. His heart hammers against his sternum. It won’t go away.

His name ringing over the blood rushing through his ears grabs his attention. He forces air into his lungs and takes his two cups from a different barista. He turns around, scanning the tables as he crosses the dining area. More eyes, more whispers, more – Bucky’s eyes widen. Fear. Memories leak through the crack in his mental wall, each one dripping in that scent.

He has to get out.

People can’t smell fear; it’s too subtle. You were right. They made him an animal. His survival for so long depended on finding weakness; fear was always the strongest, most common. Spurred on with every breath, his senses sharpen for a hunt. Whispers from across the street become clear as day. He struggles against his instincts, fighting to control his thoughts. He scans his surroundings methodically, picking out faces, planning escape routes, locating places to take cover. They’re coming for him. It was inevitable.

His skin buzzes, apprehension settling in his gut as he mumbles, “It’s not real.” He turns his attention to the heat of the cup in his right hand.

When the taste of metal creeps onto his tongue, he locks his jaw. Just one more block. Traffic picks up, adding horns and engines to the chaotic mix of his brain. They’re here. Someone somewhere is going to take him in.

“Bucky?” You study his dazed expression with concern. “What’s wrong?”

He makes his way across your office, not entirely sure when he even got back to The Center. “I just need a minute.” He sets the drinks down and leans heavily against your desk. “I just- there’s too much-”

You glance at the reminder for your conference flashing on your computer. “You’re alright,” you answer calmly. You change your attendance status to “no” and quickly add a note. Will explain later.

“I can’t- hear straight.” He drives the heels of his hands into his forehead. “I can’t- Your meeting.”

“It’s okay.” You walk around your desk and take his hand. “This is normal.”

“Stop saying that,” he growls. “None of this is normal. I am fucked up.”

“You’re fighting a flashback,” you state. “I used to get them. Sam, too. Steve-”

Bucky cracks an eye open. “Steve?”

You let out a breath. “Yes, Steve.” You lay his hand on your face and lock eyes with him. “He went under at war and woke up with nothing left to fight for.”

He draws his thumb over your cheek and closes his eyes, chest still heaving.

“Focus on me,” you whisper. “This isn’t a punishment for whatever it is you think you’re responsible for. This. Is. Normal. You’re recovering.”

He slides his hand into your hair, lowering his forehead to yours. He swallows hard. “It doesn’t feel like it.”

“It won’t always.” You run your fingers through his hair. “It takes time.”

He pinches your hair between his fingers, focusing on the texture. His heart races. The room spins. He takes a deep breath. “They’ll find me.”

“Bucky, no one’s looking.”

Movement in your doorway catches your eye. You glance over Bucky’s shoulder and sneer at Jack. He shrugs and motions to Bucky, eyebrows furrowed. You wave him away with a glare.

“How can you know that? Everyone’s watching me.”

“Okay,” you nod. “You don’t like being watched. We already figured out a trigger.”

“No, that’s not- Nothing will stop them.” He drags his hands through his hair, chest closing. “They will find me. Take me back.”

“James,” you take his hand back and massage it softly, “you’re safe now.”

“They’ll go through you if they have to.” Images of faces flash behind his eyelids, the life draining slowly from their skin. They weren’t even his targets. They were just in the way.

“Look at me.” Your voice is firm, but soothing. “They’re gone. It’s over. You’re safe.”

He groans, sinking to the floor, “I can’t do this.”

You slide to the ground beside him. “You’re doing fine.”

“I’m barely holding it together.”

“You should have seen Steve.” You smile. “He was a mess.”

Bucky chuckles to himself. “You’re relentless.”

“You’re doing fine.” You wait for his breathing to even out and the vein in his neck to disappear. “How about we go home? Take it easy today.”

“You’re busy.” He shakes his head and gulps.

“Pepper can handle it.” You hurry back around to your computer, send a few emails and shut it down. “I have a laptop equipped with a FRIDAY interface if she gets desperate.”

“Kitten, I can’t put you through this.”

“You wanted to go steady.” Your lips twitch at your own choice of words. “You don’t get to push me away now.”

He sighs, relaxing his shoulders. “I keep waiting for you to realize who I am and leave me.”

“I know who you are, and I’m not going anywhere.” You offer a hand to pull him up.

He rises to his feet, swaying slightly. “One day you will.”

“Not today, soldier.” You press a kiss to his lips and lead him to the garage.

When you enter the elevator, you reach for the buttons and stop short, glancing at Bucky.

“Three,” he chuckles. “Earlier, did you say go home?”

A blush dusts your cheeks as the doors close. “I suppose. Why?”

“Is that my place or yours?” he smiles.

“I think yours would be better, considering.”

He nods, looking down to his hands. “So, is that home?”

“Buck,” you close your eyes softly with a deep breath, “I’m really not ready for this conversation.” You follow him back to the car only moderately embarrassed. “Are you okay to drive?”

He nods slowly. “I think I’m solid.”

You find yourself drifting off in the car. You hadn’t realized exactly how late you stayed up last night. A smirk creeps onto your lips, and you suppress a chuckle.

“What?” Bucky glances at you. “Come on. What’s so funny?”

You shake your head. “Just remembering how you kept me up all night.”

“I hope that wasn’t funny.” He raises an eyebrow at you.

You hum, eyes falling closed. “Just makes me happy.”

“Good.” He lays his hand on your knee and jostles it lightly. “How about a nap when we get h- to my place?”

“Are you tired?” You can’t stop your yawn.

He drops your hand and reaches up to cup your face. “We’ll lay on the couch so I can watch my show.”

“That sounds good.” You straighten up as Bucky parks and lean heavily against him on the walk inside.

His left arm drapes around your waist, grabbing your hip firmly. His chest is firm against your side as you stumble down his hallway. He opens the door and kisses your head, ushering you inside. You settle on the couch, listening to locks click behind you. A minute later, Bucky is lifting your shoulders to sit down. You readjust, laying your head in his lap and watch the TV through bleary eyes.

You’re jostled awake to loud scraping. You roll off the couch, breathing heavily. “What the hell?”

Bucky cackles, leaning over the back of the couch. “I really was trying not to wake you.”

Every piece of furniture has been pushed to the edge of the room. You look around, blinking your confusion away. “What? What are you doing?”

“I told you, kitten.” Now in front of you, Bucky lowers a hand to help you up. “I’m going to teach you swing.”

“Wh-” Your head spins back to your date at the lounge. “Here?”

“No one swings anym- No one swing dances anymore.” His eyes crinkle as he corrects himself. “Took me and Steve a few weeks to track some of these down.”

Bucky drops a record onto his small record player and holds up the album cover. You take it from him with a snort.

“The Andrews Sisters?”

He licks his lips and quirks up an eyebrow. “Oh, yeah.”

“We listened to them in my American History class once,” you snicker, leaning into him.

“Yes, I’m old,” he groans, wrapping his arms around you.

“I like vintage.” You kiss the dimple in his chin, realizing he trimmed his beard while you were asleep. “What happened here?”

“Getting itchy.” He drops the needle and leads you to the center of the room.

“The stubbled look is good on you,” you chirp, scratching along his jaw.

He pulls your hand away. “Do you know how to triple step?”

“Ah, yes, of course.” You roll your eyes. “The classic trip.”

“Nobody call- never mind.” He shakes his head. “Swing is easy. You can do just about whatever you want, just don’t stop moving. Except for the quick stop.”

He steps back, tapping his toes to the side and behind him., then nods to you. You do your best to imitate him, but he only laughs.

“I liked waltzing better,” you mumble, crossing your arms.

He takes your hand and pulls you across the room slowly, letting you mirror his steps. “This is more fun. Promise.”

It only takes one song for you to pick up the rhythm and nail down the toe tapping. Soon after, you tackle the triple step. Bucky spends the next ten minutes leading you around the room, laughing at your awkward movements.

“Swing your hips, kitten.”

“I can’t,” you groan. “There’s too much going on.”

He drops your hand, spinning you out. “Just be loose.”

“Buck,” you spin back to him, “my life is rigid.”

He shows you how to do a rock step and changes the record. “Exactly. You need to let go.”

You growl at your stumbling feet.

“Come on, kitten. I know you know how to move those hips.” He pulls his bottom lip between his teeth, almost purring at you.

You smirk, stepping toward him. His steps falter as you press against him. You lean up, kissing under his jaw.

“Are you trying to get out of dancing?”

You kiss the other side of his jaw. “Why would you think that?”

“Because I know you.” He rolls his head to the side, allowing you to trail down his neck. “You don’t like it.”

“I’m not getting out of anything,” you hum. “Show me one more time?”

“No, it’s alright.” He smiles fades easily. “It’s dated. I should probably catch up to the times.”

“Speaking of catching up.” Your eyes glint as your hands slide down his torso. “I have a favor to return.”

He inhales sharply as you tug at his belt. His knees give slightly, and he licks his lips as he straightens back up. “Kitten, you don’t owe m-”

“Are you rejecting me?” you hum, unbuttoning his pants.

“Fuck no,” he chuckles, leaning his head down. He rubs his hands up your arms, squeezing gently. “I don’t want you feeling like you have to do something.”

You slide his zipper down and close the distance between your bodies, slipping your hand into his boxers. Your lips graze the bottom of his jaw as you whisper, “There’s only one thing I’m feeling right now, and it’s not obligated.”

“Shit,” he breathes, head dropping back.

Your free hand sneaks under his shirt and traces over his stomach. When you reach for the hem, he quickly yanks his shirt off and runs his hands down your arms. You kiss his chin and cheek, followed by the hinge of his jaw. A whine falls between his lips as you drag your teeth down his neck. When you lay a kiss on his collar bone, he pushes you back and studies your face.

“Are you sure?”

You scoff, nudging his jeans off his hips. “I don’t see a gun to my head, Captain.”

The corner of his mouth twitches. His hands wrap around your hips as he steps out of his jeans. Taking your face in his hands, he bends down, your lips colliding. He wastes no time, dipping his tongue between your lips at first contact. His teeth scrape your lips, his mouth stealing your breath. When his hands fall to your waist, he pulls away and tosses you over his shoulder.

You squeal, offering him a small fight. “What are you doing?” You can feel the rise and fall of his chest under your thighs.

He slams a fist into the bedroom door, swinging it open. “I have fantasies too, kitten.” He opens the closet door and drops you on the bed. “And we’re going to need a mirror.”

You run your tongue over your teeth, scanning the full-length mirror. When he turns back to you, you curl your hands in his hair and slam your lips into his. You pull him toward the bed, never leaving his lips.

He pushes you away, shaking his head. “Oh, kitten, you’re not in charge.”

You glance down to his left hand, fingers tapping on your hip. “What do you have in mind?”

“So bossy. What am I going to do with you?” He drags a Vibranium finger up your side and tucks it under your chin. “On your knees.”

You bite your lip and slink off the bed, keeping eye contact. His abs twitch under your fingers as you grab the waistband of his boxers, you push them down his legs as you crouch to the ground. He moans, leaning his back into the wall. Your eyes sweep down his tight chest, and you brush your nose under his belly button, watching chills follow your breath. When you leave a kiss on his hip, he grabs a fistful of hair, tilting your head back. He meets your eyes with a smile, but quickly wipes it away, eyes darting to the mirror behind you.

His voice drops to a low, husky growl. “You’re so beautiful down there.”

“Would you let me get started?” you huff, eyes sparkling.

He lets out a groan, pretending it’s frustration, not your fingers running up his thigh. “I’m definitely going to have to break out the cuffs tonight.”

Your quiet whimper brings his grin back. He hadn’t been taking anything slow since that first time, but he still hesitated in restraining you. The idea of you not having a chance to fight back worried him. You’d brought up trying different things, and he only assured you that he’d let you know when he trusted himself enough to try out some kinks. His resolve must be weakening. You let out another whine as you feel the knot forming in your core.

Chapter Text

You look over your dresser uneasily, the skintight, leather corset pinching at your sides. At least this little outfit Bucky bought you came with a skirt, albeit a very small one, but your most sensitive parts are safe. You have to laugh at yourself, standing at the foot of your bed in thigh high, leather boots, arms crossed tightly, and Bucky strapped down to every anchor point you could find on your bed. You are not a dominant.

“What’s so funny, kitten?”

Your eyes dart up Bucky’s torso, drinking in every ripple of every taut muscle. “I didn’t say you could talk.” You raise an eyebrow, strutting to the side of the bed. “What are we going to do about that?”

You glance back at the gear laid out on your dresser not entirely comfortable with how everything works. You weren’t just making a show when you told him you liked Strange giving the orders. It’s the one area of your life that you don’t have to make the calls in. Someone else does the planning. You just do what you’re told and reap the benefits.

You’d always enjoyed light BDSM, mostly bondage and sensory deprivation. You have exactly one, very plain riding crop, and you do not like it. But being bound and blindfolded was a chance to hand over the reins and relax. You’d used all your binding on him already, but you have a few blindfolds to choose from. You weren’t big on gags, but you had a few muzzle-type masks, candles, some feathered toys and other tools of various textures. Subbing was always your reprieve. You hadn’t dommed since early in college, but here you are. Topping Bucky fucking Barnes.

You grab Bucky by the chin, squeezing his jaw. “Are you going to keep your mouth shut?”

“Not likely,” he grins.

You give his jaw a firm tap and take a mask from the dresser. He nips at your fingers as you adjust the mouthpiece. “You’re not a very good sub,” you grumble.

Before he can answer, you tighten the strap under his jaw, locking his mouth shut. You smirk at his wounded expression and light a candle before climbing on the bed. His eyes widen as you straddle him and glide your fingertips over his bare skin. The bindings strain and your bedposts groan, but the restraints hold. You grin at the success, increasing the pressure of your touch. Your nails scrape down his sides as your warm lips trace up his stomach.

You kiss the hinge of his jaw, and he groans. When you nibble on his earlobe, he tosses his head. Chuckling, you take the candle from your nightstand and drip the melting wax carefully on your wrist. Despite the number of restraints tying each limb down, Bucky can still wriggle enough to be dangerous with a flame. You pin his wrist firmly to the mattress and pour a single drop of wax onto the inside of his forearm. He gives you a small nod, and you bring the candle over his chest.

You tilt it slightly, dripping a small dot onto his collarbone and another on his sternum. He arches off the mattress with a hiss. One above his bellybutton and one just below. Starting back at his chest, you leave drops across his pecs, over his abs, and on his hips, looking back to his face after each one. When you’re confident he can handle it, you begin connecting the dots. When his flesh is nearly covered in wax, you blow out the candle, dipping your finger into the wax. You trace it down the inside of his flesh arm, feeling the wax cake off as you go. You repeat the process until the puddle on top of the candle is gone, drawing the last, mostly cooled wax across his cheekbone.

His breathing quickens as you lean forward to replace the candle on the nightstand. You make sure to let the leather corset brush against his face. He growls, tilting his head to brush his face across your cleavage. You straighten your back, muscles stiffening. Tipping your chin up, you look down your nose, gripping his jaw. His chest swells with a deep breath, lifting you with it.

“Don’t make me strap your head down.” You toss his chin to the side.

You dig your nails under his jaw and scrape down his neck until you reach the hollow of his neck. A corner of you mouth twitches up, revealing your teeth. You haven’t done this in a very long time. Pulling your bottom lip between your teeth, you wrap your hand around his throat. His chest shakes under you as he draws in a shaky breath. Your grip tightens until you can feel his pulse under your fingertips. You lean into the heel of your hand, restricting his breath.

The room swirls, and you squeeze your eyes shut, hearing leather and nylon snapping. Your back slams against something solid, leaving you gasping for air. When you open your eyes, the ceiling twists a few times before your vision steadies. When you reach for your head, your elbow brushes a piece of leather. You turn your head scowling and lift your broken face mask off the floor.

Bucky rolls over, snatching the last cuff from his wrist, and leans over the edge of the bed. “Don’t do that again,” he pants.

“Yeah,” you nod. “Figured that out on my own.”

He slides off the bed and pulls you off the floor. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I should have seen that coming.” You rub your back and lean against his side. “I really did like that mask though.” You nudge the heap of leather with your toe.

He looks over your shoulder, surveying the tangle of frayed ends and worn leather. “I’ll replace those.”

You turn and take in the scene with a heavy breath. Every single restraint you own is shredded or snapped. “You’re the worst sub ever,” you mumble, trudging to the kitchen.

He follows you, head dipped low. “I’m sorry. I thought-”

“What?” You raise an eyebrow at him. “You thought you wouldn’t tear my bed to pieces? I would hope so.”

“I thought I’d like it,” he whispers, rubbing the back of his neck. “I think I used to. I mean, I remember liking girls who knew what they wanted and took it. That’s why I always had a thing for Carter.”

Your smile falters briefly. “Whatever you did in 1945, I don’t think it was this,” you snicker.

He raises an eyebrow. “You’d be surprised.”

“So, tell me.” Your eyes light up as you take a bag of vegetables from your freezer. “What was Sergeant Barnes into? Whips or chains?” You smirk, biting the tip of your tongue.

“No, I don’t think-” He takes the veggies from your hand and holds them firmly against your back, pulling you against his chest. “It was real stigmatized then. Sinful, immoral. Nobody was real open about it.”

“Right,” you sigh, relaxing against his firm chest. “Well, Bucky Barnes may have been a sub, but you are not.”

“I just wanted something to be the same.” He bends down, pressing his cheek into your hair. “I’m sorry.”

You chuckle against his skin. “It’s okay. I don’t really like to dom.”

“You didn’t have to,” he whispers. “I don’t want to make you do things you don’t like.”

“And I want you to try things you might,” you assure.

His eyes go dark as he looks down at you. “Well, I have some other ideas.”

You let out a pained chuckle, tossing the veggies back in the freezer. “I think I’m tapping out for today.”

“I guess I can’t really blame you.” He kisses your forehead, disappointment written plainly over his face.

When he lets you go, you pull open your silverware drawer and take out a butter knife. “Come here, let me clean you up.”

He steps toward you picking at the dried wax on his abs. You drag a trashcan between you and press the edge of the knife into his skin. His face tightens as he peels pieces off the tender skin under his bellybutton. You work silently, scraping the wax coating away little by little. Flakes flutter into the trashcan and onto the floor, speckling your black leather boots. You work your way down his chest until you meet his hands in the middle, and you move to his arm.

He watches you work, heart warming at the way your teeth work your bottom lip while you focus. “That was a good idea.”

You hum and raise your eyebrows, eyes darting to his and hands freezing. He eyes the knife, and you nod, returning to your work. You scrape the last of the wax from his arm and massage it gently before peeling the thin strip from his face.

“Tricks of the trade.” You smirk and brush a finger over the spot on his cheek. “How do you feel? Do you want some ice or anything?” You glance through the door to your devastated bedroom. “Maybe some herbal tea?”

He pulls his eyebrows together, smirk tugging at his mouth. “And how did you learn these tricks, huh?”

“You could say I apprenticed under some greats,” you chuckle, running your fingers carefully over his red skin, examining the lightly abused areas. “How do you feel?”

“I guess that’s one word for it.” He smiles at you, abs tensing under the softness in your caress. “And here I thought I was the resident expert on pain and punishment.”

“Buck, that’s not what it’s about.” You take a deep breath, straightening up, and take his face in your hands. “Do you need anything? Ice? Tea? Cuddles on the couch?”

“No, I-” He narrows his eyes at the tension in your face, pushing your hands away. “I’m fine. What’s with you?”

“Thank you,” you huff. “It’s my job to make sure you’re okay.”

“Kitten, you can’t hurt me.” He pulls you against his chest.

“No, Buck, I-” you shake your head, leaning back, “I topped. It comes with responsibility.”

“Wait,” he furrows his brow, “the other day, I- I’m sorry. Steve didn’t mention-”

“Hey, it’s alright.” You lay your hand on his check, laughing to yourself. “You just gave me some orders.”

“But I was supposed to check,” he whispers.

“Well, technically, yes,” you sigh and pinch the bridge of your nose. “But it’s no big deal. You just didn’t come out of it so well.”

“What else did I do wrong?” He releases you, leaning against your counter.

You shake your head. “What?”

“You said it’s like a trade.” He raises his eyebrows at you and crosses his arms. “That means there’s got to be some kind of general consensus, common rules or something.”

“Alright.” You open your fridge and take out the moscato. “What did Steve tell you?”

“Just some things that have changed over the century.” He takes a deep breath and runs his hands over his face. “The pain and pleasure thing is more common now. Gave it an acronym. S&M?”

“Well, that’s part of it,” you begin. “Not the part I really play in anymore. The BDS is more…agreeable with my schedule.”

Bucky’s still furrowed brow prompts a groan. Steve really screwed the pooch on this one. You take your glass of wine and lead him to the couch.

“Bondage and discipline, dominance and submission.” You wait for the light to go off behind his eyes.

“I think that’s more what I remember.” He nods. “And that’s what we’ve been doing?”

“Yes, you’re a very natural Dom.” You take a long drink of wine and study his restless behavior. “Something on your mind?”

“What, um-” He stares absently at his hands, fidgeting with his fingers. “Where would knives fit in?”

“S&M,” you answer matter-of-factly. “Definitely.”

His head bobs slowly, almost a nod. “And you don’t like that.”

“That’s not what I said.”

His head snaps up, eyes catching your quick smirk. “I want to try.”

“There’s a lot of planning first.” You raise an eyebrow at him over the rim of your wine glass.

His lost eyes search yours. “Like what?”

“Oh, fuck Steve,” you mutter. “A lot, actually. Limits, rules, safe words, drops, aftercare.”

You continue your rant about dynamics and reading and practice and equipment. His eyes widen with every word, nodding along. He absorbs every word and processes the information silently when you finish. Gathering his thoughts, he takes a deep breath.

“Let’s order wings and talk about it.”

It takes Bucky all night to convince you he can handle full sessions. You agree to move slowly across the spectrum. “Very slowly. Creeping, really” were your exact words, and any type of edge play is strictly off the table for now. After two weeks of discussion, you come to an agreement your both comfortable with. It’s another two weeks before you’re prepared to have a session. You do have to admit that your new play time gives you a much-needed break from your chaotic life. You sleep ten times better afterward, too.

With a cleared head, your days are far more productive. Internal meetings are shorter. Conference calls are more organized. Media appearances are far less taxing and, on occasion, even pleasant. You’ve spent the last two days cleaning out your inbox, and you’re finally down to a manageable level of meaningless chatter. With a long sigh, you send a calendar invite for a brainstorming session on maximizing efficiencies.

“Hey, kitten.” Bucky pokes his head through your door. “How do you feel?”

You smile softly at him as he crosses your office. You haven’t seen him since your session two days ago, but you’d been expecting him to check in with you soon. “Sore,” you chuckle.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, dropping his eyes to the floor. “Was I too rough?”

“I know how to safe word, Buck,” you say, leaning back in your chair. “I have enough experience to know my limits.”

“I’m just worried.” He nods, meeting your gaze.

“I’m forty and haven’t been tied up like that in fifteen years. It’s not your fault.” Your reassurance puts him at ease. “I propose an addendum to our agreement.”

“Wha-” His smile falls as he studies your face with concern. “Did I do something wrong?”

“All future sessions should take place at the compound so I can take a warm bath,” you groan and stretch your arms over your head.

Bucky lets out a breath, shoulders relaxing. “Whatever you want, kitten.”

“I want dinner.” You stand and take your coat from the back of your chair.

“Well, that much I can handle.” Grinning at you, Bucky opens your door and motions for you to exit first. “How does seafood sound?”

“Fantastic.” You lead Bucky down the hall, splitting away from him at the end. “I just need to take care of one thing.”

Bucky watches you walk across the room toward the clinic. He begins following you but stops short when he sees Rollins at the entrance. Heat races up his neck, anger bubbling in his chest. He clenches his jaw, sucking air in through his nose. You wave toward Bucky, and Jack glances across to him. With a twitch of his lips, Bucky gives a Rollins a stiff nod. As you make your way back, Bucky crosses to the front door and offers you his arm.

As Bucky pulls out of the garage, you take your hair out of its bun. “How do you feel?”

“Really good.” He draws his bottom lip between his teeth. “Not going to lie, though. Buying all the gear was an…adventure.”

You let out a snort. “Still got the forties values, huh?”

A pink flush speckles his cheeks. “I don’t think Steve is ever going to go shopping with me again.”

“Did you tell him where you were going?” you stifle your laughter.

“Fuck no.” His blush deepens.

Cackles slip between your tightly closed lips. “You’re terrible.”

A grin spreads over his face as laughter rumbles from his chest. He glances at you waiting on a red light to change and his eyes soften. As he reaches for your hand, he remembers the gear from your closet, and the car goes quiet. “Did Strange ever…with you?”

You glance at him, noticing the green light in your periphery. “After everything we did the other night, you’re getting shy on me?”

The redness spreads down his neck as he shakes his head. “I guess I just don’t like to think about you with anyone else.”

“Not quite like that.”

“I like having something special with you.” He lets out a deep breath, and smiles at the road. “When I surprised you at work a few weeks ago,” he trails off. “He used to do that too?”

“It was never really a surprise,” you muse. “But he visited me frequently.”

He huffs out a breath. “Was I – Was it better?”

You roll your eyes. “Only you and Steve could get a superhuman serum that makes you physically perfect and still be insecure.”

“So, I should take your humor as a good sign?” He throws a sideways glance at you.

“Yes, James,” you sigh with a smile.

“Wait, did Steve-”

“Bucky, stop,” you scold, raising your eyebrows.

He redistributes his weight in his seat, circling the block for a parking spot. When he finally finds a spot, he kills the engine and turns to you. “I love you.”

Your eyes sparkle and you raise your hand to brush a thumb over his cheekbone. You lean in, leaving a long kiss on his lips. “You ready for dinner?”

“Kitten, I’m starving.” He hops out of the car and jogs around to open your door.

When you walk through the door, the din of the restaurant falls silent. The host’s eyes go wide, and the wait staff freezes one by one, mutters spreading between them. You feel Bucky go rigid beside you and squeeze his hand. When he doesn’t respond, you glance at him. His face is tight, jaw locked, eyes focused. His pupils are needle pricks in his steel irises. You take his chin, turning his head gently.

The manager approaches as Bucky studies your face. “I’m sorry. Unfortunately, we’re short staffed this evening and can’t accommodate any additional guests at this time.”

Bucky squeezes his eyes shut, gritting his teeth. “Why?”

“Bucky, they’re short staffed,” you explain calmly and turn to the manager. “We’ll just order to-go.”

Bucky turns on the manager. “How do you know me?”

His fake grin falters as he takes a half step backward. “Sir, this isn-”

“Buck, they don’t know you.” Even you have a hard time believing that after the reaction when you walked in. “We’re safe.”

“No, they’re here.” He presses a trembling hand against his forehead. “They found me.”

Before you can answer, he spins on his heel and bursts out the doors. You chase him down the street, struggling to keep up. Your only advantage is that he has already cleared your path of passersby. You hop over dropped belongings, eyes glued to his back. His head shoots back and forth, eyes scanning his surroundings. His shoulder blades pull together, bowing for a fight. You pant, calling his name and slowly gaining on him.

In less than two blocks, you manage to catch him, grabbing him by an elbow. He spins on you, nostrils flared, and drags you into an alley. Your back slams into the brick wall, sending bursts of color across your vision. His hands tighten around your arms as he leans down toward your face. You can see the struggle in his eyes and try to steady your own breathing.

You push against his chest, stoking the fire behind his eyes. His bionic fist crashes into the brick next to your head. “Bucky, please.” Your voice cracks despite your best efforts.

His eyes clear momentarily, and he takes a step back. Dragging his hands through his hair, he crouches to the ground. “I don’t – I can’t – I don’t know what’s real anymore.”

You walk up to him slowly, kneeling in front of him. “I’m real. Look at me.”

“They’ll hurt you.” He lets out shaky breaths. “You have to get away.”

You shake your head and pick up his hand. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“They’ll do anything to get me back.” He jerks his hand away, voice unsteady. “They’ll take you and use you.”

“No one is coming for you, Buck.” You lay your hand over his jaw and smile at his fluttering eyes. “You’re safe.”

“You’re not.” He pushes you away. “Not with me. They’ll get us both and make me hurt you. Kill you slowly.”

“Take a deep breath and look around.” You raise your arms to the side. “If someone were after you, don’t you think they’d be here by now?”

His dart side to side, looking at the ground. You can see his brain working, pulling pieces together. Rebuilding his mind. “Yes.”

“Look at me.” You tip his chin up. “I’m real, and you’re safe.”

He reaches a cautious hand out and lays it on the side of your face half expecting it to fall right through. “Your real,” he breathes, knees giving out and collapsing on the ground.

He draws his hand away and drags it over his face and through his hair. His arms wrap tightly around his chest, his eyes going distant. “I almost killed you.” The hair on the back of his neck stands on end as the admission brings his thoughts to reality. “When you grabbed me. I thought this had to be a hallucination. You were one of them all along. I was so close to crushing you through that wall.”

“But you didn’t.” You sit beside him, resting a hand on his thick leg. “You couldn’t.”

He nods slowly. “I couldn’t take the risk that it had been real. I wanted to believe it was.”

“It is.” You squeeze his thigh, letting him lean against you. “I promise.”

He turns his head, nuzzling into your hair. His eyelids fall, leaving him in darkness. The sounds of the street slowly sink back into his brain. Your scent holds him firmly in the present. The warmth of your skin, steadily slowing his heart. When he opens his eyes again, the streetlights have kicked on, but the light doesn’t spread far into the alley. Swallowing hard, he looks around and leans his forehead to yours.

“Please don’t hate me.”

“You’re allowed to break down on occasion.”

He smiles at the heat of your chuckle against his cheek. “Let’s get going then. Back alleys are dangerous at night.”

“More dangerous than you?” You nudge his side after he pulls you to your feet.

Slinging an arm around you, he quirks up an eyebrow. “Keep it up, and I’m going to have to teach you a lesson when we get back.”

“You’re in no condition for anything of the sort,” you scoff. “How about we go back to your place and wind down with some soup?”

He agrees, steering you back to the car, more confidently now. These incidents are getting more common than he’s comfortable with. Doctor Burr insists there’s not much to do except work through them, but Bucky is determined to find a solution. His time on the run wasn’t entirely peaceful, and he’s not eager to relive it every day for the rest of his life. It’s just a good thing you’re around to bring him back.

You try so hard to convince him he’s safe, he’d never tell you he’s not sure you’re right. Hydra will never let him have a life.

Chapter Text

You roll over groaning and drop your phone onto your bedside table. That’s the fourth night in three weeks. Even with your meager sleep schedule, it’s starting to cut in. It’s always the same.

“I’m so sorry, kitten.”

“It’s fine.”

“I just needed to hear your voice.”

“Bucky, I’m safe. Go back to sleep.”

“I just – I love you.”

“I love you too. Now, good night.”

You’re beginning to wonder if it would just be easier to stay with him. Maybe take a drawer. At least then, he wouldn’t have to wake you up to check on you. Plus, he might sleep better if he can hold you.

As your phone falls, you notice an unopened text and pick it back up. You open the messaging app to see Stephen’s name at the top.

Need to talk. Word is getting out.

You pinch your eyebrows together and lay your phone on your nightstand. Nestling back into your bed, you make a note to talk with Stephen tomorrow and Bucky later this week.

***

“You want to move in with me?” Bucky asks with a grin.

“No.” Your answer is definitive. “No, just keep some things at your place and, maybe, spend the night more.”

“Of course.” He lifts his beer from the table. “I’ll make room when I get home.”

You can’t help but chuckle. “Not right now, Buck.”

He sighs, “But I can still clear out a drawer?”

“Yes, Buck. I still want a drawer.” Your fingers dance over his forearm. “I’ll just bring some stuff over next time I spend the night.”

He settles into the booth, passing you a chocolate mint. “Whatever you want, kitten.”

“How are you doing with Doctor Burr?”

He watches you unwrap your mint and shrugs. “Good, I guess.”

“Have you remembered anything new?” You slide out of the booth, watching him closely.

He hasn’t told you about any new memories in over a month. The last one he brought up was one of the times he broke his programming. He didn’t say much, but you had the feeling there was more to it.

He shakes his head but smiles at you. “I’m done looking for answers in my past.”

“Bucky,” you say taking his hand as you walk through the front doors into the cool night air, “you can’t just quit.”

“My future is much brighter.” He grins and plants a kiss on your forehead. “I never would have let myself have anything like this before you.”

You let out a weak chuckle. That’s not terrifying. No pressure. At all. “Bucky, I don’t think-”

“Things are going great.” He tucks his hands in his pockets and steps around you, taking the side closest to the street. “You’re moving in.”

“I’m not moving in.” You bump him with your shoulder. “It’s just a drawer.”

“For now,” he smirks. “I think once you stay a few nights, you’ll find my charm irresistible.”

“Your charm?” Your lips tug up with your hum.

“Among other things.” He waves to his car and opens the back door. “Care for a demonstration?”

You bite your lip and shut the door. “I’d rather hurry back to the compound.”

“Oh, do I have a night planned for you.”

You bite your lip to suppress a grin, but his tone makes your stomach flip. “Buck, you don’t mean-”

“Trust me, kitten. Everything will be fine.”

Your eyes race over his face, his crooked smile sending up more butterflies. “No, you’re not ready. We need to do more research and-”

“Sweetheart,” his hand rests on your knee, calming your nerves, “there is nothing I know better than knives. I will not hurt you.” With another smirk he adds, “Unless you ask real nice.”

Bucky speeds back to the compound, flying around curves. His hand rests on your lower back as you make your way to the guest quarters. Locking the door behind him, Bucky chases you through the kitchen. As you cross the doorway to the bedroom, hands close around your hips, pulling you back. He pushes you into the room and sweeps you off your feet.

You land on the bed, squealing Bucky’s name. He climbs onto the bed, hovering over you and peppers kisses over your jaw and down your neck. His growls send shivers down your spine and leave you a gasping, trembling mess. You steady yourself by tearing your nails down his back, catching on the fabric of his shirt. Bucky smirks at you and slides off the bed.

He yanks his shirt over his head and unbuckles his belt. Running his tongue over his lips, Bucky pulls his belt from the loops deliberately. “I think I owe you a little something.”

Your eyebrows pinch together as you prop yourself up on your elbows.

“Oh, you don’t remember talking back to me last week?” He makes his way to the foot of the bed. “Hands on the dresser.”

Your face flushes recalling the incident. You ease off the bed and slink across the room. You skirt around the corner of the bed and slam your hands onto the edge of the dresser top. Your hip pops out to the side, while you throw a defiant grimace over your shoulder.

Bucky leans against your back and pulls your hair to one side. “You better lose that attitude, kitten.” Hitching your dress up to your hips, he steps to the side and trails his fingers over the exposed skin of your backside. “I like these. Let’s hope they last.”

The lace tickles your ass under his palms, and you flinch away. You know better, but you don’t care.

“You’re supposed to stay still, kitten.” He squeezes one of your cheeks before a crack echoes through the room.

You drop your head and grit your teeth, a second crack stinging your flesh. You can’t remember letting anyone besides Bucky punish you to punish you. Your lips twitch up with a fourth and fifth strike. He’s your Dom.

As he lectures you for not counting, he swats you twice more. Winding up for another, he drops your skirt and turns around. When the bathroom door swings open, you spin around, eyes wide. Sam steps through the doorway wrapped in a towel, dropping his headphones from his ears. His eyes narrow at the belt hanging from Bucky’s hand.

“What the hell, Wilson?” you screech.

His eyes dart around the room, searching for something to distract himself. “There’s no tub in my room.”

“Get out,” Bucky snarls, taking a step forward.

Sam looks up with a smirk. “What you got going on here, Barnes?”

You shift your weight between legs, both being too sore to hold your weight long. “Couldn’t pull yourself away from the show?”

Your comment draws a growl from Bucky. He throws an arm out, ushering you behind him.

“Couldn’t hear shit.” He rolls his eyes and taps his headphones. “Better up your game, Barnes.”

You scoff as Sam makes his way out of the room. “Careful what you wish for, Wilson.”

“Try all you want, kitten.” Sam calls over his shoulder, replacing his headphones. “Steve, you won’t believe this.” The front door clicks shut behind him.

Bucky’s shoulders stiffen. He takes a long, deep breath before turning around to face you. His jaw is set and eyes cold. “Hands on the dresser.”

“No.” Your eyes flash as you take a step back. “No, not with you like that.”

He squeezes his eyes shut and wraps a hand around the bed post. He nods, running a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry.”

“How about we unwind with a bath, then pick this back up.” You rub your hands up his arms.

“You’ll take any excuse for a bath,” he mumbles, looking out from under his brow.

Leaning your head against his shoulder, you nod. “Doesn’t mean you couldn’t use one.”

“Normally, I would do anything that gets you naked,” he chuckles. “But, Wilson just-”

“Right.” You take his hand and lead him back to the bed. “Then let me help.”

He moans when your thumbs dig into his shoulders. Your hands pull him down, and you climb over his chest, settling at his hips. You massage his pecs and bicep until his eyes fall closed.

“When you feel better, we should make Sam eat his words.”

A lazy smile spreads over his face. “I’m starting to feel better already.”

When you enter the common living room three hours later covered in welts, with bandages wrapped around your calves, Sam glares at you. Steve smirks at the TV, not breaking his attention on the movie. Neither are surprised. Bucky takes a seat in the corner of the couch, leaving a space between himself and Wilson. You sit on the floor between his legs, resting your head on his knee. You will be sore tomorrow, but right now you can’t feel the burning in your raw flesh or the itch of the small, shallow cuts on your chest. The mild ache in your wrists and ankles is your only discomfort.

Bucky leans forward and combs through your hair. His fingers massage your scalp gently with every pass, tugging softly at the knots. Your eyes close while you purr at the warmth radiating from every touch. You can barely hold your head up, but you could sit here for hours with his hands playing in your soft waves. Soon, like always, his deft fingers twist your hair into a single braid. His hands drift to your shoulders, rubbing firm circles into your sore muscles. Before long, he pulls you up to sit next to him and wraps his arm around you.

“You learn that in girl scouts?” Sam teases.

Bucky nods, not taking his eyes off you. “Training assassins, actually.”

“Training them for what?” Sam snickers. “The runway?”

“Fuck off, Wilson?” Bucky’s hand traces down your arm as your eyelids flutter.

As the credits roll, Sam pushes himself off the couch. “What happened to you, Barnes?” He flicks Bucky’s ear on his way into the kitchen. “You’re getting soft.”

“I’m warning you, Sam.” Bucky ducks his head away and glares as Sam reenters with a fresh beer. “If you wake her, I’ll shut you up indefinitely.”

“You’d better lay off it, Sam.” Steve’s lips pull into a smile. “He’s a little overprotective. Probably only came out her because she insisted.”

“She needs to rest.” Bucky leaves a kiss on your head and props his feet on the coffee table.

“I bet,” Sam snorts, plopping onto the couch. “She looks like she just got off the battlefield.”

Steve laughs at Bucky’s sideways glare. “Sam, you really ought to quit. Peg used to get that look.”

Bucky smirks, settling into the cushions. Sam does a double take before turning back to Bucky.

“I’m the only sane one left,” Sam grumbles.

“You’re the only one missing out.” With that, Steve plays the next movie and the room falls into silence.

When the eerie theme song plays, you groan and roll over, sliding down to rest your head in Bucky’s lap. Bucky drops his hand to brush hair from your face, smiling down his chest at your expressionless face. You have far more sleepless nights than sweet dreams these days. Even in sleep, you typically have a furrow in your brow. He takes a deep breath and turns his attention back to the movie.

He can’t help but chuckle when you stretch out, kicking at Sam’s thigh. Sam’s face turns into a deeper frown with every nudge, but he doesn’t say a word. No matter how far he scoots away, you stretch out farther. By the third chainsaw murder spree, you’ve got Sam pinned to the arm of the sofa. When you kick Sam in the side, he grabs you by the ankle.

“Barnes.” He grits his teeth.

“Yeah,” Bucky grins, already standing and lifting you with him, “I got it.”

You wriggle in his arms, but don’t open your eyes.

“Sleep tight,” Sam says, eyes flicking away from the movie.

Bucky throws a grin over his shoulder. “I certainly will.”

You vaguely process the trip to the guest quarters and being laid in the bed. You snuggle into Bucky’s side before slipping back into unconsciousness.

Pressure around your throat jolts you out of a dream. Your hands tear at the metal object while your brain processes the situation through the panic. Your nails leave your flesh burning.

“Bucky,” you gasp.

A harsh whisper escapes your nearly crushed trachea. Your fingers can’t wedge their way under his hand, so you claw at his face and pound on his chest. He wakes with a snarl, pinning your hands to the mattress with his free hand. His eyes burn with rage and fear, leaning his weight into your neck. Your knees shove weakly at his stomach. His growls fade into the distance. You wiggle and flail, your brain desperate to put distance between you and Bucky. You manage to wrench a hand free and scrape your nails down his cheek.

His hand closes, and your legs get too heavy to move. Blood drips down his jaw and onto your chest. His nostrils flare, fury blazing brighter in his eyes. Your survival instincts override your last logical thought as a dark haze fills your vision. You wrap your hand around his throat, pushing him back.

With a quiet cough, he releases you. He rips your hand from his neck and pins your wrists together. You manage to get a deep breath and call for Steve before his hand cuts off your air supply again. You know Steve can’t hear you. That was stupid.

Your muscles won’t do what they’re told. Your brain can’t keep up with the situation. Sounds filter slowly through the chaos. Your vision blurs before the dark haze returns, progressing rapidly across your field of vision. Your choked cries spill out quick and short, your lungs unable to get a single breath. Your thoughts swirl, and the room follows. Your eyes strain to make out details in Bucky’s silhouetted face before falling closed. A distant crash is the last thing you hear before the emptiness drowns your brain.

The bedroom door swings open, handle crushing into the drywall. Bucky’s eyes snap to the movement, and he tosses you aside effortlessly. Sam and Steve burst through in time to see your limp body crash into the wall.

“Get her out,” Sam commands, clipping a collapsible baton to the back of his waistband.

Steve skirts the edge of the room as Sam approaches Bucky with his hands held out in front of him. Steve flinches when Bucky’s boot collides with Sam’s chest. Stumbling backward, Sam grabs the baton and slings it to the side locking it in place. With the press of a button, electricity shoots its way up the steel rod. Steve cradles you in his arms. You begin to stir as he lifts you from the floor.

Sam barely blocks Bucky’s next punch and swings the Taser baton into his side. Bucky grits his teeth, eyes widening and fear overruling every other thought.

“No,” Bucky growls, shaking his head. “I won’t-”

“Shit,” Sam says, glancing over his shoulder. “Steve?”

“Yeah,” Steve groans. “Working on it. You know I’m two hundred years old, right?”

“Just get out.” Sam swings at Bucky’s bionic arm, electrifying it. With one arm disabled, Sam wrenches Bucky’s other behind his back. “Calm down and think, Barnes.”

The second Bucky’s arm reboots, he yanks Sam off his back. “Leave me alone.”

Sam lands on his back, gasping. “We’re friends.” He rolls over, clutching his ribs. “Mostly.”

Steve freezes in the doorway, watching Bucky shove Sam around the room. Clearly outmatched, Sam takes punch after punch and waves Steve out the door.

Steve carries you out, reluctantly leaving Sam alone. You pinch the bridge of your nose as Steve sets you on the couch. He takes your face in his hands, searching your vacant eyes. You blink slowly and take deep breaths.

“Hey,” he taps your cheek, “come on. Come back.”

His smooth, steady voice drifts into your head, floating around the contented void with your thoughts. You barely process his face in front of you, much less Sam entering the kitchen behind you. Steve’s vaguely familiar scent envelopes you, flooding your senses. You lean into the palm against your cheek, eyelids falling shut. The security of his warmth leaves your thoughts swirling in blissful nothingness.

“How’d you get out?” Steve continues rubbing his thumbs over your cheeks, studying Sam briefly.

“I reappropriated some of Nat’s gear when he started sleeping here.” Sam swings the freezer door shut and holds up a small disk. “Had a feeling.”

Steve nods, recognizing the weapon immediately. Tony had adapted her Widow’s Bite to almost every shape imaginable. “Good thinking,” Steve mutters more to himself than anyone.

“She alright?” Sam limps up behind Steve.

“Mostly, I guess.” Steve removes his hand to look at Sam. “Needs a doctor, though.”

Your eyes fly open, and you bolt up. Steve’s eyes snap back to you, and his hand shoots out to steady you.

“No one,” you rub your achy throat, “can know.”

Sam raises an eyebrow, and you have to giggle at the bag of frozen peas on his jaw. “Not an option. He n-”

“Sam,” Steve holds a hand up and stares at you. “Why not?”

“Stephen told me,” you swallow hard. Your raspy voice scratches at your sore throat.

“Easy.” Steve pats your shoulder and walks to the kitchen. He returns with a glass of water and passes you his phone. “You shouldn’t be talking.”

You drink half the glass, wincing with each gulp. Your brain slowly catches up, registering the throbbing in your muscles. Your back is the worst, your neck a close second. Steve’s nudge at your apparently bruised knee brings you back to the task at hand. You tap your explanation into his notepad app and pass the phone back.

“People know,” Steve reads, “Strange said word has gotten around the clinic that Buck was the Winter Soldier. If they’ve heard, it won’t be long.” He tosses the phone on the couch with a huff.

Sam’s tongue darts over his lips. “Well, someone was bound to figure it out eventually.”

“Shit.” Steve kicks at the coffee table, knocking it back several feet.

“Steve,” you whisper, barely making a sound, “it was inevitable.”

Sam motions toward you, picking up your train of thought. “Conspiracy nuts have been circling this for years. Rumors have been going around internet watchdog groups.”

“Cerberus,” you cough, taking another drink, “Guardians of Truth, The Sentinels.”

“The Snap distracted most of them,” Sam says, nodding along with you. “It’s about time they made their way back to it.”

“Just hoped it’d take longer.” Steve paces the room, rubbing his jaw. “Give him more time to adjust.”

“Who do we know knows?” Sam looks between you and Steve. “Us, obviously. Bruce, Clint, most of Wakanda, Rhodes.”

“Pepper,” Steve adds. “I don’t think we ever told Scott. Wanda.”

“Stephen,” you choke.

Sam nods. “Strange. Wanda’s not an issue.”

You shake your head. “Stephen.”

Sam stares at you before jumping to your side. “Fuck.”

“FRIDAY,” Steve says, helping Sam pull you to your feet, “call Strange. Have him meet us in the med bay.”

You slump between the two men, barely able to keep your feet under you. Your ribs are broken, probably your right leg too. Your shoulder doesn’t feel right either, and every breath is a million needles jabbing through your throat. Your head spins, brain firing pain signals too fast to process your other senses. Your vision and feeling blur together, skin tingling with every change in scene.

“He can’t-” you gasp.

Steve squeezes your hip. “Hush. You’re going to make it worse.”

You groan as the elevator dings by each floor. When you make it to the med bay, Sam is already giving FRIDAY orders. X-rays, MRI, everything he can think of. He leaves you with Steve and rushes to the supply room.

“And store the results for Strange.”

When the scans are done, Steve helps you into a room and onto a hospital bed. Sam returns with an oxygen mask and IV equipment. You wave him off, but your resistance is weak. He slides the mask over your face and steps back.

“We’ll wait for Strange for the IV, if you want.”

You nod reluctantly, your brain clearing slowly. Your body only aches more as the minutes pass. You rub your stomach lightly and try to distract yourself from your neck.

FRIDAY’s voice grows louder, explaining your symptoms, and Strange walks in. You wince, and Steve asks FRIDAY to turn the volume down. Strange asks how you feel while he takes several samples of blood.

“Nauseous?” Strange looks you over and removes the oxygen mask. When you nod, he turns to the monitor in the room. “Let me see the MRI results.”

After studying the screen, he asks for the x-ray results and leaves the room briefly. He returns with a handful of vials and braces and looks at the IV bag Sam brought in. “Not a bad idea. Keep her out of shock.” After inserting the IV line in your arm, he gives you a dose from three different vials. “Should help with pain and nausea.”

“I can taste your voice,” you whisper.

“Great.” He flicks a light at your eyes. “Your brain’s all cross wired.”

“It’s sweet,” you snort.

As he examines you, his eyebrows pinch together and raise at the various markings on your skin. He nods to the door, ushering Steve and Sam out. “Are you okay?”

“Aside from feeling colors,” you take a slow, shaky breath, “I think so.”

“You’re covered in bruises of various healing stages.”

“Just look at my neck and back.” You lift your chin. “And leg.”

“I can make out bite marks and handprints. All signs of abuse.” He leans back in his seat and stares at you. “And someone sliced you up, rather crudely.”

You rub your neck after you giggle. “No one is hurting me without my consent.”

He nods and clears his throat. “I didn’t realize you were getting back into the hard stuff.”

You shrug and rub your temples.

“You need to be careful with him.” Strange begins going over your injuries again.

“He’s doing well.”

“This is well?” Strange straps a walking boot around your right leg. “Or is it this?” He motions to your neck.

“That was an accident.” You shake your head. “He didn’t know.”

“That’s even worse.” He leans away to look in your bloodshot eyes. “What happens when he wants to hurt someone?”

“He won’t.” You set your jaw.

Stephen tips your chin up and swabs the lacerations on your neck. “He did.”

You sit in silence while he cleans your wounds and checks your pupils again. “How long were you out?”

“I don’t remember anything.” You shake your head, collapsing into your bed.

“That’s not uncommon.” He nods thoughtfully. “I want to do an ultrasound to check for anything more than bruising in your abdomen. I can already see the broken ribs in your back.”

Your throat closes as he moves to the door and brings Sam and Steve back in. As Strange leaves to get the ultrasound, tears build in your eyes. You squeeze them shut and take a deep breath. Tears flow in warm streams down your face. Superhuman body heat settles at your side and a gentle caress dries your cheeks.

You take choked breaths, gulping air down your hoarse throat. Steve’s reassurances get lost in your jumbled brain. By the time Strange returns, you struggle to get any air at all.

“I’m going to give you a sedative. You have to calm down.” Strange replaces the oxygen mask over your nose. “Don’t talk. Don’t move.” Strange gives more orders as he prepares the ultrasound machine.

Steve clears his throat and explains what happened. “No one outside this room can know it was Bucky.”

“Nonviolence will be a tough sell if anyone sees this.” Strange agrees, focused on the monitor.

“He can’t know,” you mumble groggily.

Everyone turns to you, surprised you’re still coherent. Sam gnaws at his cheek before agreeing. “It would kill him.”

Steve turns to you. “Get some rest. We’ll come up with a cover story.”

“I don’t see anything of greater concern here.” Strange nods. “Just rest, and actually rest.

You swallow hard, breathing still labored. Steve waves the other two men into the hall. When he steps toward the door, your eyes widen. You let out a whimper, unable to manage anything more. Steve looks at you, eyebrows sinking. Your chest heaves erratically, and your hands tremble.

He rests his hand on the light switch. “We’re just going to talk in the hall. I promise I’ll come right back.”

With Steve’s word, you sink back into your pillows. Your heart slows as Steve flips off the lights and shuts the door behind him. He’s never lied to you before. As your eyelids droop, your mind wanders back to Bucky. You ask FRIDAY to replay the footage starting after Steve got you out. Your heart races as Sam and Bucky spar until Bucky pulls him into a chokehold. Sam sticks several disks to Bucky’s arm, jaw, chest, and anywhere he can reach before activating the electrical charge. They both drop to the ground, and Sam crawls away twitching. Once out of reach, he rolls onto his back, chest heaving. You struggle to speak, asking FRIDAY for the live feed of the bedroom. You drift off with the small comfort that Bucky is sleeping safely.

The next morning, Steve explains the cover story. You left in the middle of the night to handle an emergency in Romania. You’ll have to stay in the med bay for a few days so FRIDAY can monitor your status. At some point during the night, Strange hooked you up to several monitors. The screen with the familiar peaks of your heartbeat is the only one you can identify.

“FRIDAY will alert him if there’s a significant change. Otherwise he’ll check you out again on Wednesday.”

You groan, stretching. “What about my injuries?”

“You were mugged in Romania.”

“And when there’s no records of me going to Romania?” You quirk an eyebrow at Steve.

He sighs, “Let’s hope no one else asks.”

“Is he awake?” You pick at your fingernails.

“Sam explained everything about an hour ago. Buck doesn’t remember any of it.” Seeing the wrinkles between your eyebrows deepen, Steve adds, “He’s pretty upset just over what he did to Sam.”

“But he believed it?”

Steve nods, holding a sling out to you. “All things considered; it didn’t turn out too bad.”

Your stay at the compound is uneventful and exceedingly boring. Steve brought your laptop from the apartment, so you could still work. Luckily, you’d taken the time to optimize operations two weeks ago. Your time out of the office is not as detrimental as it would have been in the past. You even have time to catch up on some reading and dabble in a little sketching with Steve. Still, when Strange clears you to leave, you’re thrilled.

You call Jack to pick you up and pack your things. You confirm with Steve that Bucky isn’t coming to the compound today and hurry upstairs to shower and get a fresh set of clothes. You take a deep breath before entering your old bedroom. Blood speckles the walls and floor. From what Steve told you, the splotch in the corner is from you. You sort through the closet and change as quickly as your sling will allow before heading back to the common area.

Jack arrives as you struggle to make a sandwich. You tell him you were mugged, leaving out the part about Romania. He gives you a quick once over, despite your assurance that Strange cleared you. After finishing your sandwich, you lead Jack to the med bay to retrieve your things.

“Every time I leave you alone, you get into trouble,” Jack grumbles.

“Usually it’s the fun kind, though,” you grin, lifting your backpack. “This time, it hurts to talk.”

Jack picks up your walking boot from the foot of the bed and turns to face you. “What was the extent of your injuries?”

You wave to your neck, explaining that nothing was broken. You walk into the bathroom as you list your other injuries and study yourself. You were so excited to get home that you hadn’t even looked in a mirror. The deep brownish purple handprint around your throat leaves nothing to the imagination. The scrapes and scratches from your own hands only add to the gore. Clusters of pinpoint, purple dots cover both eyelids and around your nose. A burst blood vessel in one eye leaves it blood red. The split in your bottom lip is half closed.

You lift your shirt, examining the large bruises that outline your ribs. It’s no mystery why every breath is a struggle. Your fingers run over the cuts, scrapes, and bruises around your torso. You’re not even sure how most of them got there. The rings around your wrists, you remember. You can still feel his fingers digging into your flesh.

Your name echoing up the hall yanks you out of your head. “Bucky,” you gasp, spinning out of the bathroom.

Jack backs up, seeing your wide eyes. “Hey, I’ll stand down as long as he does.”

“Just,” you take a deep breath, “don’t go anywhere.”

He shakes his head, furrowing his brow. “Okay.”

“Y/N,” Bucky calls again, closer now. “Are you alright?”

“How did you know I was here?” You step into the hall, heart racing.

“FRIDAY told m- Jesus Christ.” He stops short when he sees your condition. “Wh- Baby, what happened?”

“I was,” you take a breath, stepping back into the room, “mug-”

“I thought you went to Romania.” He hurries down the hall.

“I just got back this morning.” You cross the room and take another breath.

When Bucky steps into the room, his back stiffens. “What the fuck did you do to her?”

Jack’s hand drops instinctively to his sidearm. “Nothing, she was mugged.”

“You told him you were back before me?” Bucky looks to you, betrayal burning in his expression.

“Buck, I-” You press your palms against your forehead. “I don’t know. I have a brain injury.”

Bucky’s eyes dart to Jack and back to you. “Who did this?”

“She doesn’t know, Barnes.” Jack unlocks his holster, wrapping his fingers around the handgrip. “It was street violence.”

“That’s not a fucking mugging.” Bucky throws his hand in your direction. “I could take impressions from the prints around her neck.”

“Buck, it was.” Your eyes dart to Jack’s hip and back to Bucky, mouth going dry.

“I swear to God,” Bucky snarls as he crosses the room. “If I find out you laid a single finger-”

Bucky shoves Jack to the wall by his neck. You yelp when Jack presses the muzzle of his pistol into Bucky’s jaw.

“Jack didn’t hurt me,” you scream. “you did.”

Jack’s hand drops, his head snapping to you, and Bucky stumbles back.

You drag your free hand through your hair, and breathe out, “Fuck.”

“When Wilson-” Bucky rubs his hand over his mouth and jaw and retreats out the door.

You lunge after him, but Jack snatches your elbow. “What the hell happened?”

You jerk away. “Nothing. I need to talk to him.”

“You need to put your boot on.” Jack holsters his weapon and motions to the bed.

“Jack,” you drop to the mattress, “he’s-”

“Boot. Now.” Jack holds out your walking boot. “I’m sure he didn’t mean to do it, but he still could have killed you.”

You squeeze your eyes shut, taking the boot. “What do you want me to say?”

“If you still insist on sleeping with him,” Jack leans against the wall, watching you, “I want you to be armed.”

“Shut up, Jack.” You wobble as you stand and sprint after Bucky.

You pass Steve in the common room and explain the situation. He decides to wait back and let you handle it. You find Bucky in the living room of the guest quarters, watching the footage from the other night. Leaning into the wall, you swallow hard. Your ribs throb. Your throat burns. Your face aches. You gasp for air. Jack enters right behind you.

“Bucky, please stop-”

“What?” He drops his head into his hands. “I’m so sorry.”

“You didn’t-” You grit your teeth against the throbbing in your ankle spreads up your leg.

“Sam,” he whispers, shaking his head.

Jack helps you stand up straight, your ribs protesting every move. Nausea bubbles up in your stomach with every breath. “Sam was there. It’s alright.”

“I’m so sorry.” He makes his way toward you, apologizing repeatedly. “Kitten, I wasn’t there. I wasn’t- me. I’d never-”

Bucky reaches out to touch your face, but you jump back, grabbing Jack’s arm. Jack stands his ground, eye to eye with Bucky. Bucky doesn’t notice, his eyes locked on yours. You curse at yourself for not controlling your reaction. He would never deliberately hurt you. You’d spent days convincing Strange of that. Yet, you flinched.

The heart break in his eyes says more than he ever could. You flinched.

He pulls his hand back slowly as he turns to leave, and you follow. “Bucky,” you let his name hang in the air, hoping it will stop him.

Jack pulls you back, and you let him. You have nothing else to say. No way to reassure him. You can’t even reassure yourself.

Steve will get Bucky. He’s the only one who can help.

Chapter Text

You stare at your screen, forearms resting on your keyboard, and tap your middle finger and thumb nails together. With a long groan, you rub your hands over your face and read the same email for the third time. A knock on your door saves you from a fourth try.

“You still feeling off?” Jack asks as he steps into your office carrying a cup of coffee. “Thought this might help.”

You nod and take the cup from his hand. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I can’t focus on anything but…” your voice goes quiet as you shake your head and turn back to your computer.

“So, call him.” Jack drops into the chair across from you.

“No,” you say. “Not after that fiasco.”

He rolls his eyes. “It’s been three days.”

“He’ll call me when he’s ready.” You feign attention on your email, mind racing with thoughts of what Bucky could be doing. “Coffee helped. Thank you.”

“You two going to dance around this forever?” He rests his arms on your desk. “Or can you be a big girl?”

You glare at him, running your tongue over your teeth. “Don’t you have a perimeter to check or something?”

“Subtle,” he snarks, scraping his chair back. “Call him.”

You watch Jack leave, shooing him out. When the door clicks shut, you snap your phone up from the desk. You see no notifications on your lock screen, so you open your messages to double check. Your shoulders fall as you stare. Bucky’s name, your four texts from today, and a “miss you” gif he sent you Wednesday morning are the only things on the screen. You quickly type out another message and drop your phone with a huff, eyes misting over.

Please call. Need to talk.

You stare at your computer screen for another half hour, reading two more emails. You attend a campaign meeting, not hearing much of the fundraising strategy, and ask Jack to sit in on the end of the week staff meeting for you. After you convince Jack that it will be easy, you find Sam wrapping up a group session and ask him for a ride home. He has another session, but when he sees your condition, he offers to find someone to cover it.

You assure him you just need some sleep, and you’ll be fine on a bus. After a brief argument, you leave Sam behind and hop on the first bus to your apartment. When you get home, you drop your backpack by the door and flop onto the couch. The creak of the floorboards in the apartment above yours is the only sound. Most of your neighbors must still be at work, otherwise it would be much louder. Maybe. You’re rarely home long enough to notice. You only slept at your apartment if Bucky was there, and you made enough noise to cover anything else.

Letting out a sigh, you roll over. Your chest clenches, and you squeeze your eyes shut. Knowing the hole in your chest isn’t going anywhere, you make your way into the kitchen and start a pot of coffee. Slowly, as you predicted, the noise surrounding your apartment grows. Doors click shut. Footsteps parade in and out. Someone above you drops a dish and swears. A putrid smell wafts through your vents as one of your neighbors starts dinner.

You play through an argument with Bucky at the grocery store shortly after you got back together. He wanted you to buy an automatic air freshener, but you weren’t home enough to need it. He liked the tropical scents; said he would move to an island one day. He hated being cold, even a brisk spring morning made him uncomfortable. That’s why he loved cuddling. He told you once while he was in a half-sleep, euphoric state, but he would never admit it to anyone else.

The trill of your coffee maker drags you back. Your smile falls as you watch the last deep brown drops fall. Instead of yanking the pot out and pouring a cup right away, you decide to clear your head with a shower. Your clothes drop in a trail to your room. Your small bathroom fills with steam in no time, clogging your throat. You choke on the thick air, and your skin prickles. Slamming the handle down, you shut off the water and race out of your bathroom, stumbling across the tile floor. You hunch over the bed, gulping in fresh air. Breathing.

Your nose picks up hints of a confusing array of fresh dinners. The footsteps above you pound at your ceiling. Slamming front doors seem to surround you. Your damp skin turns clammy. Chilled water drips from your hair straight down your spine, leaving a stream of goosebumps.

You take a deep breath, forcing your eyes open. Home. You’re safe. You dry yourself off and pull Bucky’s maroon henley over your head, leaving your towel to mildew on the carpet. You took it home with you after he revealed how much he hated it. His scent is, ironically, calming. You hardly notice yourself tugging on your fleece sleeping pants and return to the kitchen in a half-dazed stupor.

Coffee sloshes over the edge of your mug, splashing onto the counter and floor. You shake a drop off your toe and carry your coffee to the island counter. The dirty dishes filling your sink taunt you for being lazy the whole week and ignoring your household cleaning. You shut them up by adding a shot of whiskey to your mug and taking a swig straight from the bottle. Your kitchen must reek of alcohol and whatever the hell your neighbors cook everyday, but you don’t notice.

You glance at your small breakfast table and sigh. The coloring book Steve gave you while you were on bedrest lays open in the middle. Your coffee spills as you trudge carelessly across the room and drop into a seat at the table. You always found the darker color schemes relaxing. Browns and blacks, deep blues and greens, a pale purple or pink here and there. You lift your coffee, looking over your array of fine tip markers.

A knock startles you, making you spill your drink on the table. “Fucking Christ.”

You jump out of your seat and snatch your book out of the puddle. You rush through the kitchen and throw the door open, grinning wide. “Oh.” Your shoulders fall as you turn around. “Hey, Sam.”

He follows you inside, chuckling. “Nice to see you too.”

“Sorry,” you mumble bringing a towel to your little table. “I thought you were-”

“Someone else?” He cracks a smile at you. “It’s alright. Someone else asked me to check on you.”

Your eyes shoot to Sam, dropping the towel. “You talked to him?”

“Yeah,” he shrugs, “I mean, I check in on him and-” He cuts himself off and looks away. “He hasn’t talked to you.”

“It’s alright.” You return to mopping up your mess with a slightly too broad smile. “Really. He’ll call me when he’s ready.”

“Y/N, he still-”

“It’s fine,” you bite. “How is he?”

Sam heaves a deep breath. “Better than expected, not great.”

You nod.

“Still doesn’t want to see anybody.” He glances at you. “I’m sorry. I didn’t thi-”

“I know,” you breathe taking the towel to the sink.

“How are you holding up?”

You glance at your coffee mug on the counter and take a long drink. “Fine.”

Sam lifts the whiskey bottle and gives it a shake. “And how much of this did it take to get that way?”

You roll your eyes and lean your back against the wall. You take a breath, considering your denial, but your lungs collapse. You slide down the wall, gasping, and rest your elbows on your knees. “I lost him.”

“What?” Sam almost laughs as he moves to your side. “How do you figure any of this is your fault?”

You drag your hands through your hair, pulling at the roots. “I should have reached out to him sooner. Called him or-”

“Hey, hey,” he sits next to you and pulls you to his side. “You did the right thing.”

“I lost him. He doesn’t want me anymore,” you sob.

“Give him time.” Sam combs hesitantly through your hair. “I’m sure he’s just scared.”

When you don’t respond, he rubs his hand up your arm. He sits on the floor with you for several long moments before jostling you. “You should come back to the compound with me. I don’t want to leave you like this.”

You shake your head. “I’m good. Really.”

He watches you pulling yourself together and frowns.

“Sam,” you sniff and wipe your cheeks, “I’ll admit I needed this, but I will be fine on my own.”

Sam studies you and sighs with a nod, “At least let me buy you dinner.”

As if on cue, your stomach grumbles, and you have no choice but to accept. You trade your sleeping pants for leggings but keep the henley. You ask Sam to take you to your favorite sports bar for wings. It’s a long shot, but maybe he’ll be there.

He’s not, and your last hope shatters. You sit in a small booth and let the ruckus of the bar wash over you. The dull buzz in the back of your brain spreads as you lull yourself into numbness. Sam’s lighthearted banter keeps you from full emotional paralysis. You even crack a few smiles over the course of dinner. When Sam drops you off at home, your spirit is recovering.

Until you wake up alone. Your day goes by much the same. You go into the office just to get out of your apartment. Sam sees you between sessions and invites you to the compound for dinner, knowing you can’t turn down Steve’s cooking. You agree reluctantly and spend much of the evening curled between Steve and Sam on the couch. After the movie, Steve asks you to stay the night. Swallowing another panic attack, you politely decline and sleep in your own apartment. Alone. Again.

Sunday plays out nearly the same. Instead of work, you spend the day with Steve. He sketches with you on the patio and teaches you dominoes. He scoffs when you offer to cook but lets you nonetheless. He does not spare you the constant teasing. In an attempt to shut him up, you drop a record on his player. Soon, you find yourself dancing clumsily through some of the swing moves Bucky taught you.

Steve doesn’t hide his surprise and drags you into the living room. “Peggy didn’t swing.”

You raise an eyebrow at Steve, and he snickers at your insinuation.

“Go easy on me.” He leads you through the basic steps. “My best years are behind me.”

The idea that you have any kind of moves that would strain him cracks you up. You manage to convince Steve to let you take off your sling and boot. Still, you can hardly keep up with him through your fit of laughter. When Sam hears you, he joins the party, but only to make fun of you. He walks through Steve’s door, beer in hand, complaining about the noise and calling you old. After indulging Steve for a few songs, you hurry back to the kitchen to finish dinner.

As Sam picks out a movie, Steve helps you clean the kitchen and begrudgingly compliments the meal.

“I can’t cook much,” you grin passing him a plate, “but stuffed peppers are the top of that list.”

“You still used the wrong knife to slice the peppers.” He kicks the cabinet shut and dries his hands.

You sneer at him sideways. “Well, I didn’t hear them complain."

“That’s because you don’t have super-senses. They were horrified.”

You roll your eyes and shake your head. “As much as I’d like to stay for more of this captivating banter, Stark Industries had a rough weekend.”

Steve chuckles. “Early morning?”

“Got to meet with Pepper before my morning starts.” You grab your jacket and smile at Steve.

He pulls you into a hug, letting you sink against him. Your arms wrap around his back, pulling him in tight.

“He’ll come around,” Steve whispers in your ear.

You nod. “You know him best.” With that, you wave at Sam and Steve takes you home.

The next morning, you meet with Pepper and prepare for your first meeting. After that, you drag yourself back to your office, pleased to find a steaming cup of coffee on your desk.

“Jack,” you grin, throwing your jacket over the couch, “you’re a lifesaver.”

He laughs, standing from your chair. “Kind of my job.”

You sit behind your desk and lay your head on the top. “Just need five minutes.”

“Long night?” Jack grins, raising an eyebrow. “Sounds like good news.”

“No,” you groan. “Now shut up.”

The couch creaks under Jack’s weight. His boots thud to the floor as he lets out a heavy sigh. “Yes ma’am.”

The burning in your eyes starts to fade as the activity in your brain slows. Your breathing slows to a steady rhythm.

“Hey, Y/N,” Jack’s voice cuts into the stillness. “I really think you’ll want to see this.”

You lift your heavy head to see Jack lumbering across the room, phone in hand. He drops his phone on your desk and circles behind you, rolling your chair to the side. With a few taps on your keyboard, he turns the monitor toward you.

Your eyes widen as you take in Bucky’s service photo next to one of the Winter Soldier on the bridge in in DC. “Shit.”

“It’s everywhere,” Jack reports. “There’s got to be two dozen pictures of him, past and present, all paired with this one.”

You scroll through the article and confirm Jack’s claim. The pictures of Bucky with long hair are the most incriminating. You shove your chair back, sending it into the wall, and dash across the room. Jack scurries after you as you snatch your jacket off the couch.

“We have to go.” You hurry down the hall, yanking your jacket on.

Jack’s long strides easily keep pace with your frantic ones. Your boot doesn’t slow you down anymore.

“Slow down.” He grabs your elbow, dragging you down.

You spin on your heel and pull away. “He’ll run. We have to go now.”

Jack nods with a deep breath and releases you. You follow him through the building. Pictures on the walls fly by, and you struggle to keep up. A double door slides open, and carpet turns to concrete. You pause at your black, Stark branded SUV.

Jack shakes his head and keeps moving. “Not in this traffic. He’s probably had a bag packed and ready since he got back.”

Your eyes bore into his leather jacket as he leads the way. Your curiosity grows with every step toward the garage entrance. Light filters into the garage, and the morning rush hour rumbles by on the street just beyond the wall. Jack stops next to a motorcycle and glances back at you.

“You good with this?”

If you weren’t focused on getting to Bucky, you’d let a grin split your face. As it is, your concern far outweighs the excitement of mounting a bike again. You nod and take the helmet Jack pulls from the backpack on his seat.

“You’re prepared.” You fix the buckle under your chin.

He chuckles, “I usually manage to bring company home with me.”

You let Jack roll his motorcycle backward out of the parking spot before you climb on behind him. Nothing about your drive is quite legal. Jack accelerates well above the speed limit straight out of the garage. He squeezes between lanes and cuts corners to avoid lights. Normally, you would protest the recklessness, but you have to get to Bucky. You squeeze your eyes shut, but the honking horns rushing through your ears makes your stomach flip. Before you know it, the bike screeches to a halt. You jump off before Jack can drop the kickstand and yell at him to stay put.

You race up the stairs to the lobby, stumbling when your boot catches a step. Throwing the door open, you rush inside and skid to a stop in front of the elevator. You throw your fist into the call button and jam it a few more times for good measure. Your heart thuds wildly in your heaving chest. The burn in your lungs makes it difficult to believe it’s barely nine in the morning. When the doors open, you nearly bulldoze over the elderly man exiting. With a quick, mumbled apology, you slide into the elevator and wait. You rock back and forth while the annoyingly chipper music buzzes around your head. When the doors open, the race is back on. You stop at the end of the hall and knock heavily on Bucky’s door.

Not so much as a shuffle drifts through the metal door.

You rap your knuckles against the door, harder this time. You hold your breath and press your ear to the door. Still, you can discern no sign of life from the other side. You try once more, banging your fist against the door. Ignoring the ache in your hand, you continue beating until the tenant of the apartment behind you opens his door to curse you out.

Apologizing profusely, you slink back toward the elevator and take your phone from your pocket, dialing Bucky’s number. You prepare for it to ring, jolting upright when it goes straight to voicemail. You swallow hard. Your tongue sticks to the roof of your suddenly dry mouth as you stare down at your screen. You watch the timer count the seconds on your phone, wanting desperately to say something to him, but not being able to make any words.

Finally, you end the call and rush back downstairs. Jack drives you to the compound, though you’re not certain the wheels were in contact with the ground most of the time. Your mind is the only thing moving faster than the motorcycle. When Jack parks outside the Avengers compound, you sprint inside without him again. You find Sam packing his briefcase at the common area dining table. He watches you panting, the lines in his forehead deepening.

“Where’s Bucky?” You lock eyes with him.

“Home?” Sam’s eyes narrow as he straightens up. “I assume.”

Chapter Text

“What the fuck do you mean ‘you don’t know?’” you screech.

Sam flinches back, despite your anger being directed at Steve.

Steve pushes you back gently. “I mean, I haven’t seen him since Wednesday.”

“It’s been almost a week, and you didn’t check in on him?” You throw your hands in the air. “So much for super-intelligence.”

“He’s been texting,” Steve growls. “We had no reason to think he wasn’t okay.”

“Idiots,” you mumble, rubbing your temples. “We have to find him.”

“Oh, sure.” Sam’s sarcasm drips with more acidity than normal. “Let’s just find the century old, Soviet assassin who managed to fly under the radar while simultaneously racking up the most kills in history.”

“This is mainstream, now.” Your eyes dart to Sam. “The public will turn on him, and he will have nowhere to go. He will panic and take the quickest route out; lives won’t be a factor. So, you strap your goddamn wings on and find him.”

Sam’s lips twitch in a snicker. “What do you want me to do? Fly a grid search across the whole city?”

You watch him with raised eyebrows. “I don’t micromanage. Just get the job done.”

“Y/N,” Steve sighs, seeing Sam’s smile fade, “he’s got nearly a week head start. He may not even be in the country anymore.”

You grit your teeth and clench your fists. “I’ll cover that. You search the streets.”

Sam shakes his head, pinching between his eyebrows. “This i-”

“You lost him,” you snarl, slamming a hand against his chest. “Fucking find him.”

Your gaze drifts between the three men. They exchange concerned glances and disperse. Sam and Steve head in opposite directions to prep their gear. Jack follows you down a hall no one uses anymore.

“He won’t make it through on his own when the public turns on him,” you toss over your shoulder as you heave open a heavy oak door.

Jack looks around the room wide-eyed. The lights from the monitor covered wall reflect in his irises. “How long has this been here?”

You drop into the high back chair at the console and begin tapping at the keyboard. The rhythmic clack of keys drowns your thoughts. Your eyes scan the monitors as Jack lingers over your shoulder. Footage from cameras across the city flies by. Parking lot security, ATMs, police dash cams, and webcams of unassuming college students eating up Stark’s free Wi-Fi hotspots at every coffee shop downtown.

A bell dings and one screen freezes. Your attention shoots to a monitor on the left side of the wall, fourth from the ceiling. Jack shuffles around the chair, pressing his hands into the desk to get a better look. You tap the lower left corner of the screen and snap back to the keyboard.

It’s a webcam in the coffee shop near The Center, and Bucky’s bionic arm glints in the sunlight. It’s barely noticeable sticking out from behind the young, dark-haired man with a gauge in his ear. But there’s enough for FRIDAY to pick up. That was Friday. You adjust your search for dates since then. After setting up the new algorithm, you turn to the desktop monitor in front of you.

With a heavy sigh, you slam back in the chair, leaning your elbow into the arm rest. “Well, he didn’t book a ticket with a credit card.” You pinch the bridge of your nose. “And I can’t find his name on any flight manifests, greyhound bus reservations, or train tickets.”

“I’m not surprised,” Jack grunts. “He doesn’t want to be found.”

A second screen freezes, this time Bucky glares daggers into the camera. “Let’s hope that isn’t really true.” You stare absently at the wall of feed, waiting for another screen to stop.

Steve ducks his head into the office to let you know they’re heading out. Jack pulls in a chair from the dining room and props his feet on the desk. The hours tick by in fast forward on every screen. There must be a million cameras in the city alone. When a video reaches the end of its feed, a new set of footage jumps onto the screen. You watch the screens for what feels like hours, dragging your hands over your face to dispel your nerves.

You nibble at your thumbnail, rocking slightly in your seat. FRIDAY’s disembodied voice nearly startles you out of your chair. “NYPD has just dispatched officers to a civil disturbance three blocks from the bus station.”

You spring to your feet, turning to Jack. “Take an SUV from the garage, nothing branded. Meet me there. Do not get out of the vehicle.”

Jack follows you back to the main room as you continue giving FRIDAY orders. “Update Steve and Sam and keep the cops away as long as you can.”

“Initiating Goose Chase Protocol.” FRIDAY answers happily.

You smirk to yourself and turn toward the hall.

“What are you doing?” Jack raises his eyebrows. “Don’t you need a ride?”

“I’ll get one. Just go.” You veer into Sam’s room and send Jack the opposite direction to the garage elevator. You strip off your boot, leaving it on Sam’s bed. Thankfully, Strange had taken your sling back yesterday. When Jack leaves, you make your way to the interior elevator.

“FRIDAY, are you familiar with the formula for Dr. Banner’s newest serum?’ You sling open the door to the medical supply closet and rummage through the medications.

“I am.”

You grin, pocketing two autoinjectors. “What would you say is the maximum nonlethal dose?”

“Most likely one milligram, but based on my risk analysis, Mr. Stark would never allow you to exceed half.”

You wiggle your eyebrows and wobble your head, considering FRIDAY’s input. “Three-quarters it is.”

You snatch an unlabeled vial from the shelf and quickly draw a dose. A growl seethes between your teeth as you crudely shoot up and toss the vial back on the shelf. Blood droplets form in the crook of your elbow, dripping to the floor in front of the sharps container.

“Alright, FRIDAY, one more thing.”

A few minutes later, wind rushes over your ears and batters your face. The howling is deafening as you take a deep breath and step off the edge of the roof. Metal clicks in your ear as the silver faceplate locks into the royal blue chin piece.

“FRIDAY, set a course,” you grin, scanning the display in your face.

A blue, pixelated circle zeroes in on an alley several blocks from the bus station. A video from the security camera on the corner shows Bucky ducking into the alley, glancing over his shoulder frantically. You swallow hard and focus your sights on that feed. The repulsors on your left push against your hand and foot, increasing thrust. You make a smooth arc, heading for the alley. Steve’s bike and an unmarked SUV approach your target from opposite directions. Sam’s wings fold into his pack as he touches down mere feet away from Bucky.

You throw an arm out behind you as concrete crunches under your landing. You jerk your head up, slowly pushing yourself out of your half-kneeling position. You take a step and the boot dematerializes from your ankle. The suit click-clacks around you, folding in on itself until it’s stored safely in the arc reactor harness strapped to your chest.

Steve stands halfway between you and Bucky, speaking softly, shield hanging at his side. Sam smashes into the dumpster in the corner, wings curled in a protective cocoon. Shouting and cigarette smoke rolls down the street from a small group of men. Jack jumps out of his car to head them off on the sidewalk. Bucky’s shoulders roll back as his defensive stance falters. He lowers his pistols when his eyes land on you, muzzles slowly sinking to knee level.

“Steve.” You wave him aside as you tuck your hands in your peacoat pockets. “Bucky, it’s me.” You move forward cautiously.

His face tightens before it goes slack. “Kitten, you have to get out of here.” His eyes dart to Sam.

“Look at me.” You smile softly. “I’m real.”

“You have to go.” He shakes his head, heaving breaths. His face contorts as you speak. “I can’t protect us both.”

“We don’t need protecting.” You move tentatively down the alley. “Look around. These are your friends.”

Bucky brings a hand to his head, rubbing the butt of his weapon against his temple. “No, they know. I’m all over the news.” He squeezes his eyes shut and turns around, revealing two daggers strapped to his back.

“Police dispatch has locked me out of their system,” FRIDAY chirps in your ear. “I’m afraid units will be arriving within ten minutes.”

You close the distance between you and Bucky, lowering your voice. “You’re safe.”

“Four men have been surveilling me for two days, highly trained, some kind of hit team.”

“Do you trust me?” You swipe your thumb up his cheekbone.

He leans his head into your hand, pressing his cheek against your palm. His eyes close softly as he brings his breathing under control. Sam struggles to his feet, shaking trash off. His wings whir as they unfurl from his pack and fold neatly across his back, showcasing the new red, white, and blue paint job.

Bucky’s head snaps up, eyes empty. “Stay down.”

He shoves you away, eyes scanning the scene. He lands on Steve’s shield and looks over his shoulder to Sam in the corner. Taking a step back, he sweeps his arm out, tucking you behind him. His arms swing up, aiming squarely at Steve and Sam. You lurch forward, grabbing Bucky’s arm, but it’s too late.

Both muzzles flash before you can move. A bullet pings off Steve’s shield, another ping immediately after lets you know Sam’s wings took the hit. It always surprises you how Steve can scrunch so sm- Two more cracks, two more pings.

You hiss while your hand flies to your face, fingers pressing into the searing hot stripe over your cheek. Your head spins, eyes following the ricocheted bullet’s path into the brick behind you. Blood pounds through your head, drowning out the ambient noise, your senses hyper-focused on the men around you. Steve eases to his feet, moving in quickly. Sam lifts off the ground, wrist bracers trained on Bucky.

Bucky spins to face you, tucking your hair quickly behind an ear, and his face softens. Your eyes dart over his shoulders, Steve approaches on Bucky’s left, Sam hovers over his right.

“We have to-” Bucky’s face tightens as electricity crackles through the air. “Run.” He staggers toward the wall, pushing you forward with one hand and clawing at his back with the other.

You stumble over your feet, trying to look at Bucky as he shoves you toward the open end of the alley. Your feet dig into the concrete, nearly stopping Bucky in his tracks. His labored breaths tickle the hairs on the back of your neck as he leans his weight against you. Grunting, he rips a disc off his back and tosses it aside. Back at full strength, he easily overpowers you. A dull thump comes from the back corner before Bucky tenses behind you. You yelp at the light shock that shoots up your arm from his fingertips.

You spin around, slipping your hand into your pocket.

“Don’t stop.” He jerks his head toward the entrance, struggling with his bionic arm.

You hold a hand out to Steve and Sam, staying their advance. Bucky’s eyebrows pinch together, his right hand slowing its movement. You press a disc into the base of his neck, yanking your hand away and sending an electric charge through his muscles.

His jaw locks, teeth grinding. “You?” he grunts. His face tightens, muscles out of his control, but his eyes widen, going dull as he crumples slowly to the ground.

“I’m so sorry,” you whisper, taking an injector from your other pocket.

You look down at him, chest clenching as you watch his soul crack open in his pupils. Reluctantly, you jam the injector into his broad deltoid. As he sinks, you pick the disc off his neck and fling it aside, helping him ease himself to the ground.

He shakes his head, jaw still locked. “It was never real.”

Before he can regain his composure, you jab your second injector into his thigh. His breathing slows as he weighs your arms down. You watch his face relax, listening to the quiet whirring of the motors in his arm. His eyelids flutter, neither opened nor closed, as he shakes his head to stay coherent.

“Steve,” you cough, dragging Bucky to his feet. When Steve pulls Bucky’s arm across his own back, you turn to Sam. “Clear out. Not a trace.”

“Yeah,” he chuckles, “I’m sure no one noticed me on the way over.”

You let out a breath, throwing Steve a grimace. The whine of sirens a few blocks away, spurs you and Steve forward. You climb into the backseat first and haul Bucky in after you. He stumbles into the SUV, offering little resistance. Steve nods, slamming the door shut, and jogs back to his bike.

Jack glances over the seat, suppressing a laugh at you buckling Bucky into a seat, and drives off. “You’re not real familiar with kidnappings, are you?”

You shoot him a glare and settle in the seat behind Jack.

“No, it’s cute,” he grins mockingly as he pulls over casually for the motorcade of patrol cars to pass. “Buckling your victim up for safety.”

You slouch, staring out the window. “He’s never going to trust me again,” you mumble, chewing absently on your thumbnail.

“He’ll understand.” Jack steers back into his lane and heads to the compound.

As if on cue, jumbled musings begin to stream from Bucky’s mouth. “I was just your mission…Can never be happy…Don’t deserve it anyway…”

Bucky’s mumbling is the only sound on your drive back. Stephen is already waiting in the med bay when you and Jack hobble in with Bucky between you. You lay Bucky on the bed and turn to Jack. As Strange looks Bucky over, you tell Jack to take the day off. You won’t be going anywhere else for a while. He passes Steve and Sam in the doorway.

“Quick thinking.” Sam tips his chin at you.

You stare blankly at Bucky, watching him squirm restlessly. “Hey,” you smile as his eyelids open steadily.

He groans, taking a deep breath. A growl tears between his teeth as his eyes focus on you. “I should’ve known they’d keep tabs on me. Never let me go.” His words come out slow and heavy as he pushes himself up to his elbows. “Might as well kill me.” His gaze turns icy. “Because the next time they put a gun in my hands, I’ll put a bullet in both our brains.”

Steve jumps in front of you, shoving Bucky against the bed. Strange shuffles through a cabinet, prepping a syringe. Sam struggles to pin Bucky’s bionic arm.

“Do whatever you want to me,” he snarls. “I won’t do it again. I won’t go back. You’ll fry my brain to mush before I ever comply again.”

You study Bucky’s form. His muscles are tense, but he’s not struggling to get free. Strange squeezes next to Steve and injects a sedative into Bucky’s arm.

“I’m ready to die this time.” He tips his chin up, head sinking into a pillow. His eyes soften, looking you over. “I have nothing left.”

You swallow the lump in your throat and turn to the door. “Let me know when you have an update?”

“Hey,” Steve agrees, brushing his knuckles against yours as you pass, “he’ll-”

You don’t wait for the reassurance. You need to get space. The white, sterile tile changes abruptly to dark, glossy vinyl. You press a button without looking up and curl your arms around your middle. A quiet ding alerts you of your arrival. Vinyl changes to hardwood interrupted by rug. The soft scent of vanilla wraps around you, driving you further into yourself. You don’t look up until you reach the door to the guest quarters.

Hawaiian Breeze with Passion Fruit assaults your nose and sends your frazzled mind reeling through time.

“Here you are.” Tony grins over his shoulder, waving you through the door. “Hawaiian Breeze with Passion Fruit, FRIDAY’s recommendation. Tried to make it less stuffy. Also added a jetted tub, figured that’s what you ladies like.”

“I appreciate it.” You smile weakly, having learned early that Tony’s over-the-top impulse buys can’t be stopped. “I’ll be out of here before you know it.”

He stops you with a hand on your shoulder. “I mean it. Stay.”

A train of robots rolls in, carrying boxes and bags from your apartment. “Thank you, Dum-E,” you giggle, watching it putter into the kitchen island before turning out the door.

“Look, this – thing hit us all hard.” Tony glances away. “We all lost people. You can’t afford rent on your own. We’re all in this together.” He does a short, animated dance before raising his eyebrows at you.

“Is that why you bought the lake house?” You smirk. “To be together?”

He lets out an embarrassed chuckle. “No, actually.” His fingernails tap absently on the counter. “Pepper’s pregnant.”

You study Tony’s face, waiting for the “got you” grin. When he coughs out another laugh, you’re the one breaking into a grin, though it doesn’t quite reach your eyes.

“Tony, that’s fantastic.” You smack his arm lightly. “You’ll be an amazing father.”

“Here’s hoping.” He holds up his crossed fingers and his smile fades. “I haven’t done so great so far.”

“Tony, there’s nothing y-”

“Yeah,” he clears his throat, “the wizard said there was only one way in fourteen million. Any of us could’ve fucked it up.”

You open your mouth, but change your mind, instead resting your hand on his.

“What about a llama?” He turns to you, wheels turning. “Neat pet, right? We’ve got all that land, though maybe an alpaca. They’re a little smaller.” His eyes clear as he meets your gaze. “Oh, we haven’t told anyone yet. So, don’t go spreading that around. Pepper would kill me if…”

You walk absently through the apartment. Bucky must have bought the damn air fresheners. He put a picture of you together on the mantle too. Tried to make this your place. He wanted to be with you. He trusted you.

Tony too. And you let them both down.

You jump at your door cracking open. Steve slides in, shutting the door back gently.

“I came to check on – your face.” He reaches up to your cheek.

“Bullet ricochet.” You turn away. “It’s just a burn. I’ll be fine.”

“I know.” His eyebrows knit together. “I saw it, but you’re fine. There’s nothing here.”

His thumb skims over your cheek as your eyes fall to the floor. Your thumb digs into your palm. “I guess there’s something we need to talk about.”

You tell Steve about the serum, explaining everything as you did to Bucky. His deepened breathing and flushing face don’t slow you down. Bucky was right. Steve should know the truth. It was his blood that made it possible.

Steve grits his teeth, arms folded tightly across his chest. His eyebrows flick up and pull together, giving you a glimpse of the old Steve. After making several laps around the kitchen, he lets out an exasperated sigh.

“Guess Tony hid more than I thought.”

Your shoulders drop. “Don’t blame Tony. I should have told you.”

“No,” Steve raises his voice. “Tony had years to tell me about the blood samples. He never did.”

You chew silently on your bottom lip.

“And you should know better, but I suspect Bucky covered that.” Steve raises his eyebrows.

You nod silently.

“Then, I guess there’s no need for me to add to this mess.” He settles on the couch, pulling you beside him. “Are you okay?”

You press the heels of your hands against your eyes and rub your face. “Yeah,” you finally gasp. “Just hate myself, but hey,” you shrug.

“He’ll come back.” Steve squeezes your knee. “And he’ll appreciate that you stopped him.”

“I just-” You nod and shake your head at the same time. “I need some time alone.”

Steve pats your leg before standing and offers you a hug. He leaves you to brood over your past mistakes in silence. Your Stark internship, Tony, Sokovia, Jack, Bucky. You made so many mistakes with Bucky. It’s a wonder he didn’t hate you already.

“FRIDAY, can you put a live feed of Bucky’s room on the TV?”

He lies nearly motionless in the hospital bed. His head turns occasionally, and his hands wiggle. That’s how you notice the restraints. “FRIDAY, turn on the audio, please.”

“It’s already on.”

The volume display flashes on the screen in confirmation. He doesn’t make a peep. No thrashing. No screaming. No protest. He lies reclined on his back, blinking slowly, resigned to his perceived fate.

You broke him.

You lay on the couch, guilt gnawing at your insides while sleep eludes you. He doesn’t budge all night. With no change in the morning, you go back to work, but not without a heated discussion about Bucky’s restraints. In the end, you and Steve agree to disagree.

Jack checks in on you first thing, like always.

“How’s he holding up?” Jack sits across from you, feet propped on the desk.

“Everyone thinks he needs to be restrained.” You can’t hide the tremble in your voice.

“That’s certainly not going to bring him out of it any sooner.”

“That’s what I said.” You drag your hands over your face. “Steve says he has to be cuffed until he can remember straight.” You smirk. “He broke Stephen’s nose. I think that was a good sign he does.”

“Guess I should keep my guard up,” Jack snickers.

You sigh and tap your pen against the desk. “I can’t believe I let him go like that.”

“You did exactly the right thing.” Jack sets his feet on the floor and leans toward you. “The last thing he needed was a reminder of what he did to you.”

Your smile is unconvincing.

“He’ll come around.”

You nod and send Jack away. You spend the rest of the week catching up for the day you spent at the compound. Your early quitting times don’t help. Every day, you argue with Steve about Bucky’s restraints. Every day, Steve wins.

When you emerge into the common kitchen Saturday morning, the wind is knocked from your lungs. Bucky sits perched on a barstool, hunched over a cup of coffee.

“Sorry,” he grunts, looking out from under his eyebrows.

You nod. “Me too.”

He turns back to his cup, taking a long drink.

“You don’t like coffee,” you mumble.

“Keeps me awake.”

Steve gives you a nearly imperceptible shake of his head. You take the hint and make yourself breakfast. You take your toast and sit next to Sam, breathing in your coffee. He lays his hand on your leg under the table, not looking up from his plate.

“You good?” he whispers.

You lay your hand over his with a deep breath. “Just stay close.”

Bucky drains his mug and washes it before heading to the elevator.

“That’s all he’s said to anyone, you know.” Steve sits across from Sam. “It’s not you.”

“He trusted me.” You stare into your toast.

“That trust is what got him back.” Sam stuffs a bite of waffles into his mouth. “He knows that.”

“I used that trust to drug and kidnap him.” You snap off a corner of your peanut butter slice. “I’m sure he remembers.”

“He knows it was the right call.” Steve locks eyes with you. “He just needs to readjust.”

You take a deep breath. “Sure.”

Steve spends the next two hours in the gym with Bucky while you and Sam play cards. You had planned to go home today, but now you can’t make yourself leave. If Bucky comes around, you need to be there. And you don’t want to be alone.

After lunch, Steve breaks out his oil painting supplies and shows you a few simple tricks. You scrunch your nose at your own attempt and stick to your coloring book, keeping Steve company in the courtyard. Of course, Sam was there to tease you when Steve asked if you wanted to dance with him again. You oblige despite your embarrassment that the two-hundred-year-old man is more agile than you. He even convinces Sam to give it a go. Together, you and Sam do nothing but stumble over each other. By the time Steve starts dinner, your sides cramp from near constant laughter.

Sam sets up your new favorite show, an unpredictable documentary about a feud between some backwoods exotic animal owner and a completely nuts tiger-owning animal rights activist. You help Steve make plates and drinks, carrying them to the couch. You make a second trip for Sam’s food and set it on the coffee table in front of him, settling between the two men.

During the second episode and your third glass of wine, you lounge lazily against Sam with your feet in Steve’s lap. Bucky walks in the front door, sweat plastering hair to his forehead. The back of his shirt is soaked through, sticking to his skin, and showing the lines of his muscles. Sam pauses the show when Bucky steps into the living room, and Steve looks up from massaging your calves.

Bucky stands silently, drinking from his glass of water. “Can I-” His eyes dart to the TV, the three of you, and the floor. “Can I watch?”

“Course,” Steve chirps. “You don’t need to see the first episodes to know what’s going on.”

Bucky dips his head, taking the oversized recliner on the opposite side of the room. He shifts uneasily in his seat, watching you relaxed between his friends. Sam’s thumb brushing up and down your arm makes his nostrils flare. The sureness of Steve’s fingers pressing into your muscles makes it difficult to believe this a first-time occurrence.

Bucky curls his legs under himself and slumps into the chair, catching your eyes flit in his direction. His eyes scan the three of you on the couch, watching you meticulously. The comfortable silence between you leaves him isolated in the corner, an outsider butting in where he doesn’t belong. Your eyes flick between Bucky and the screen. His discomfort is evident, but he doesn’t leave. You can’t bring yourself to meet his gaze, and he can’t focus on the show. The two of you silently dance around each other the rest of the night. Eyes trail up and down each other, searching for any hint of an answer, and dart away at the last moment, sidestepping certain disaster.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

You pull the whitening strips off your teeth, glad Bucky is tucked safely behind the shower curtain as you spit the remaining gel out of your mouth. You gag, sticking your tongue out, and rinse your hands.

“You know that’s not how the song goes, right?” You giggle, leaning backward against the counter and drying your hands.

Bucky’s rich voice cuts short, and he clears his throat. “Well, I have a memory disorder.” A shampoo top clicks. “How long have you been in here?”

“Only since the middle of verse 2.” You lean toward the mirror, mouth falling open as you brush mascara across your lashes.

His groan morphs into a chuckle. “I guess you were bound to hear me eventually.”

The scrape of metal fills the bathroom as he slides the curtain to the side. Your eyes dart to the corner of your mirror, sneaking a glance of Bucky reaching for his towel.

“I see you,” he grins, tucking the towel around his waist. “You know, you can just ask.”

You press your lips together, spreading the color evenly. “Who has the time for that anymore?”

He snorts, nodding as you walk back to your room. “Wait.” He cocks his head to the side, eyebrows pulling together.

Jogging out after you, he pulls you back by the waist and kisses your bare shoulder. You relax against his chest, his skin heating yours, and lower your blouse to the bed. Cold water drips onto your neck from his shaggy hair. It had grown out considerably in the time you were apart, but you cut it a week ago when he surprised you in your apartment.

“That was a joke, right?”

You stand up straight, pulling your shirt over your head. “I really have to get to work.”

“Yeah, right.” He steps back. “I’m supposed to see Dr. Burr again today. Probably should get a move on.”

Bucky digs through a box for clothes and dresses quickly as you pour your coffee in a tumbler. The new stack of boxes in the corner of your living room doesn’t intrude much, the TV still doesn’t work anyway. Yet, you want them gone.

The ride to the Center is uncomfortably silent. The only conversation comes when Bucky thanks you for getting him back on Burr’s calendar. Apparently, he had been dropped as a client after three missed sessions. When you near the Center, you ask Bucky to pull around to the front. With a quick kiss goodbye, you jump out of the car and head into work.

You hold your coffee in one hand, walking briskly to a conference room in the clinic, and hold your phone in the other.

Bucky has therapy today. Maybe you can meet him to look at furniture after?

You send the text to Steve and enter your meeting. Numbers breeze right over your head. Discussion slides easily past your ears. Even when he’s not around, Bucky has claim to your focus. You check your phone to find a text from Bucky asking if you need his help for dinner.

Steve wants to take me shopping for furniture

He’s a little overeager for me to move into the compound

Stephen swats your leg under the table. You turn your phone over and make a note to send Bucky your approval of the plan later. The drone of voices drags your attention back to the meeting.

“You know that’s your fault,” Strange says, walking out the door.

You raise an eyebrow in question.

“The conference. You scheduled it months ago.”

You laugh, shoving Stephen away, and continue to your office. The quiet space almost lures you into rest, but you remember your mental note. Taking out your phone, you notice two unread texts.

The first from Bucky. I think I’ll get a puppy

The second, from Steve, is a picture of Bucky rolling around on the sidewalk with a German Shepherd.

Your heart stutters as you picture the scene. Steve took him to the furniture shop next to the pet supply store. You know exactly which one. They were probably on their way in when the dog came out, and Bucky couldn’t help himself. He only intended to scratch its ears, but it got excited and jumped on him. The kisses were too much, and Bucky lost all self control. His vibrant laughter echoes through your mind as you close out of Steve’s message and open Bucky’s.

You can’t get a dog.

You barely get through your first email when your phone buzzes.

I’m 106, you can’t tell me what to do

You roll your eyes. I don’t think the last 5 years count. Besides Sam would be pissed.

Your phone vibrates again, but you focus on your email. Happy has been sending you threat reports all week and expects you to respond to at least one or he gets antsy. The new rush of heavy donors is great for funds, but terrible for your schedule. After answering a few emails and deleting several more, you glance at Bucky’s reply, letting out a loud cackle.

That settles it then

Do not let him buy a dog. You text Steve before opening a spreadsheet from logistics.

You spend the next hour going through spreadsheets and documents about budgets, public appearances, and policies. The tedium makes your eyelids droop and you nearly miss your next meeting. Running late, you snatch your phone off the desk and hurry down the hall. Luckily, this is an internal meeting, and you’re in charge. They’ll wait. The murmuring quiets when you enter the room.

You cut the meeting short when your stomach growls. You forgot breakfast in your rush to get out of the house. You check your phone on the way to your office. Hopefully, Jack left you a snack.

I can’t make him leave

You smile at the second photo of Bucky, with a Great Dane this time, scratching its belly. Steve’s next message steals your smile.

He’s bringing you lunch

It’s not much of a heads up. You open your door to find Bucky’s feet propped on your desk. He jumps up, grinning when he meets your eyes.

“There had better not be an animal in that bag.” You glance at the duffel bag on the floor.

“I brought you an early lunch,” he chuckles, shaking his head.

You smile faintly, more exhausted than anything. “I thought you were going out with Steve.”

Bucky nods. “I remembered you didn’t have breakfast this morning. Steve didn’t mind.”

“Thank you,” you sigh.

His concern for you is sincere. You can see it in his eyes. But it doesn’t settle right.

He saunters across the room and drapes his arms around your waist, swinging the door shut. “But, if you’re not hungry yet, I have another idea.”

His breath fans over your neck as he pulls the collar of your blouse to the side. Chills race down your skin when his soft lips suck a bruise on your collarbone. You close your eyes and swallow hard, your hands resting stiffly on his shoulders. He drags you to him, closing his hands around your thighs, and lifts you off the floor.

“Buck, I have work to do.” You pat his shoulders gently.

He sets you down with a heavy sigh. “Did you just tell me no?”

The heat in your core melts the uneasiness in your stomach. You meet his eyes. “No.”

His lips curl into a devious smirk. “What am I going to do with you?”

Your teeth dig into your bottom lip. “Something with my ass in the air.”

“I think I can accommodate that,” he growls.

While you scurry back to your desk, Bucky fashions a lock by wedging your chair under your doorknob. Your heart hammers in your chest, sending heat everywhere it shouldn’t be at work. You shimmy your panties down your legs getting them tangled among your heels, moaning when his fingers find your skirt.

He lifts the fabric to your hips, groaning when he sees your bare ass. His hand wraps around your ponytail and pulls your head against his chest. Your scalp tingles under the tension, the sensation running down your spine. His lips brush up your neck while his hand skims up the inside of your thigh.

A whimper slips from your mouth, and your knees buckle, need growing deep in your belly. You spread your hands out and lean your chest down to your desk. The chill from the wood seeps through your blouse, forcing you to suppress a shiver.

“There’s a good girl,” Bucky hums, pressing against your back.

You squirm under his weight, your face resting flat against the smooth desk top. “Take me.”

His fingers dip between your legs, making them tremble. “You’re not wet enough.”

“It’s fine,” you say, canting your hips back.

“Kitten,” He takes a step back, tracing his fingers up your spine, “I don’t want to hurt to you.”

“Just fuck me.” You grind your hips against his, desperate to fill your desire.

His belt jingles behind you, before his hands find your hips again. Your chest heaves, pushing your breasts into the desk. The pressure on your sensitive skin sends your mind into a flurry. His firm chest pins you down, and his lips find the corner of yours. Spearmint invades your mouth, lingering after he withdraws his tongue. His lips leave a trail of chills down your neck and across your shoulders as his fingers work between your thighs.

You bite back your rising pleasure, whispering Bucky’s name breathlessly. As if in answer, he presses into you, pausing to check on you. Stifling a moan, you arch your back, needing more. His hands around your waist snap you back as he thrusts his hips forward. You curl your fingers around the edge of the desk, gritting your teeth against the pinching feeling.

You can handle it. The knot in your core won’t loosen on its own. You need him. Nothing else matters. Heat races into your chest, sending spasms through your lungs. You struggle to steady your breathing to ease the chafing. You’re close. If you can just focus.

Bucky pauses, tugging gently at your hair. “Are you hurt?”

“James Barnes,” you gasp, “fuck me now.”

His cock twitches inside you, forcing a needy groan from your chest. Your reaction soothes his reservations, and he pushes deeper.

“Yes,” you whine, grinding your hips in a slow circle. “Hard.”

He complies hesitantly, watching your face contort contradictorily. Your eyes squeeze shut, pushing away the burning sensation, but your tongue runs over your teeth every time he moves his hips. Your knuckles fade to white, gripping the desk with all your might. So close.

The primal scent in the air only deepens your desire. The fine hairs on your neck stand on end. Your whole body wound tight, just waiting for a release.

“Please,” You’ve never had to beg him before. Chosen to, sure, for fun. But he’s never forced you to wait until you needed to. “I need more of you.”

His thrusts become gentler, almost timid, until he pulls away altogether. “What’s wrong?” He gives you room to stand up and turn around.

“You came in here and worked me up,” you glare at him, crossing your arms, “and now, you’re backing out.”

“I’m hurting you.” His eyebrows sink, conflict rolling in his eyes.

“I’m close,” you assure, rubbing his chest. “Just finish.”

His jaw locks and unlocks as he works through his thoughts. You understand his hesitation. He came of age in a different time, when sex meant something more than serving a purpose. Or, at least, that’s what people said. In all honesty, sex has never been more than a tool serving a purpose. A means to an end. An incredibly fun means, at times, but a means, nonetheless.

“It’s okay,” your hands spread down his arms, up his back, over his shoulders.

Reproduction. Marriage consummation. Stress relief. The goal doesn’t matter. It’s always the same.

“You’re not even enjoying it.” He jerks away, brow furrowed.

Your pulse beats between your legs. “Yes, I am.”

“No,” he shakes his head with a sad smirk. “You’re tolerating it to get off.”

“Do you have a point?” You don’t mean to snap.

His mouth opens and closes, swallowing his words. “I thought when you asked me to move in-”

“I didn’t ask you to move in.” Your shoulder blades pinch together. “I said you could stay until you figure things out.”

His face goes slack, heartbreak flooding into his eyes. “Sorry,” he mutters, fastening his belt. “Most of my stuff is already at the compound. I’ll be out by the end of the week.”

Guilt courses through your veins as you watch Bucky shove your chair to the side and sulk out the door. You take a deep breath and hurry after him, shoving past Jack in the hall.

“Rhodes is here.” Jack grabs you. “Says it’s important.”

You pull away. “So is this.”

“Y/N,” Jack gives you a stern glare.

You scan the multipurpose room and find Bucky talking with Sam in the corner. “Fine,” you sigh.

Jack ushers you into a side office where Rhodey stands in the center, arms crossed. “I wish I had better news.”

“That’s always a fun way to start a conversation.” You pinch the bridge of your nose and wave him on.

“An arrest warrant has been issued.”

“Of course,” You groan. “What charges?”

“Just about all of them,” Rhodey laughs. “Treason and conspiracy, terrorism, insurrection, collaboration with enemies of the state, murder – several counts, obviously. I expect various war crimes to be added during the court martial.”

“What?” Your face tenses, eyebrows pulling together. “No, he’s retired. They can’t court martial him.”

“Yeah, they can.” Jack closes his eyes with a heavy sigh. “Steve too, if they wanted. They’re still veterans.”

“My contact says they have warrant for the compound,” Rhodey continues matter-of-factly. “Steve’s going to hold them as long as he can.”

“What about my place?” You glance between the two men.

“Not yet, but that will probably be next.” Rhodey paces across the room. “They already know his lease wasn’t renewed last week.”

“Jesus,” Jack breathes. “How long has this been coming?”

Your eyes dart to Jack and back. “I thought they dropped it.”

“I don’t know,” Rhodey scoffs, looking between the two of you. “What do I look like to you?”

“Tony would’ve known,” you mumble.

Rhodey tosses a hand in the hair and rests the other on his hip. “Will I ever not have to compete with that guy?”

“The odds are not in your favor,” you grin. “But I’m stuck with you, so-” You shrug instead of finishing your thought.

“You weren’t even at the service.” He gives you an exaggerated glare.

“I was a little busy.” You motion around you. “I was the only one doing what he’d actually want.”

Rhodes chuckles, his eyes lighting up. “We went out for drinks on the anniversary. He would’ve liked that.”

“Yeah,” you say, “sorry I missed it. Bucky didn’t exactly feel invited.”

“Oh, are we back to Barnes?” Jack looks at you from under his eyebrows.

“Right,” you and Rhodey answer together.

“We got to get him underground,” Rhodey jumps in. “Once the feds reach out to the media, tips will pour in.”

You rub your temples. “Where’s he going to go?”

“I can’t keep him.” Rhodey holds his hands up. “My apartment’s probably bugged out the ass.”

“I would offer my place,” Jack laughs.

“He could go back to the compound after they search it,” you say.

Rhodes and Jack both shake they’re heads, offering different versions of “They’ll keep it under surveillance.”

“My place too, then.” You lean into the wall. “He has nowhere to go.”

“They’ll come for him here, too.” Jack folds his arms over his chest.

You sigh, “I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve for that.”

“They’d better be good.” Rhodey levels his gaze at you. “With his face back on primetime news, there isn’t much they won’t do to bring him in.”

“It’ll buy us time, at least.” You push off the wall with a sigh and head out the door.

You scan the room and find Sam walking toward the door with Bucky. Your heels click rapidly as you move to head them off. Unfortunately, your urgency draws several eyes. You have to keep Bucky from leaving, witnesses or not.

“Sam,” you chirp from several feet away. Close enough not to sound desperate.

Both men turn to face you, but only one meets your eyes.

“What do you need?” Sam smiles.

“Both of you, actually.” You jog forward, meeting them at the door. “In my office.”

Sam turns to follow you, but Bucky plants his feet. “Sam can fill me in later. I need to get back to the compound to unp-”

“No.” By this time, Jack and Rhodey have made their way to you.

“Buck, I really need to talk to you now.” Your voice is soft, goading him to come back.

“I need to unpack.” He stands firm, still looking at the floor.

Rhodey does his best to convince Bucky to stay. Jack stays out of it, knowing Bucky would never listen to him. Sam picks up on your unease and joins Rhodey’s effort. Their smooth voices stammer over each other, and Bucky’s resolve only strengthens.

You step forward, coming toe to toe with Bucky. “Get the fuck in my office, Barnes.”

He locks his jaw, glaring down his nose at you. His nostrils flare before he dips his head. His feet drag over the tile as he brings up the rear of the group.

The air in your office thickens with tension when Bucky stares Jack down. Jack calmly backs into the corner, and Bucky takes a post near the door. Both men stand with arms crossed and feet spread.

Rhodey begins his speech, and Bucky’s face falls. The motors of his arm whir, plates clicking back and forth, as he opens and closes his fist. His other hand drags along his jaw, rubbing over his lips and mustache. When Rhodey mentions the court martial, Bucky’s expression turns to stone.

“Never get away,” he whispers to himself.

Sam steps forward, casting a glance at Bucky. “They can’t be serious. He didn’t know.”

“I knew.” Bucky stares through the floor.

You smirk. “Maybe don’t say that in court.”

“He didn’t have a choice,” Sam clarifies.

“Look, people are scared. They’re pissed.” Rhodey rests his hands on his hips. “They can’t let it go forever.”

“So, what do we do?” Bucky tucks his arms over his chest.

You do nothing. We have to keep you under the radar as long as we can.” You turn to Rhodey. “Thank you for the heads up. If you hear anything else-”

He nods and leaves the four of you alone.

“Jack, I need you to keep an eye out for the feds. Don’t let anyone with a badge snoop around.”

“I’ll let my guys know,” Jack says as he leaves.

Sam stands between you and Bucky while you avoid each other’s eyes. He glances between the two of you, studying your discomfort. His mouth opens and closes as he decides against broaching the subject.

“Well, this is fun,” Sam clears his throat. “I’m going to go.”

When Sam leaves, you both stand in silence. Muffled conversations drift through the walls, adding an ambient buzz to your awkward situation. The heat of his gaze burns into your skull.

“I didn’t,” you begin shakily, “mean I don’t want you around.”

“I almost killed you,” he shrugs. “I wouldn’t want me in my house either.”

“Buck, that isn-”

“You don’t even look at me anymore.” His eyes fall.

“I-” You shake your head softly, eyes closed. “What?”

He shrugs, leaning against your desk. “I thought we were good. I thought-” He cuts himself short.

“I don’t understand.” You rub your temples. “I don’t look at you?”

“Not like you used to. Not when it matters. Not when we-” He runs a hand over the back of his neck. “Not during intimate moments.”

“You’re upset because I don’t maintain eye contact while we fuck?” You struggle to contain your laugh, but only give a derisive glare. “Bucky, most men would take that as a compliment.”

“Not just sex,” he sighs, ignoring your dig. “We haven’t had a real, deep, intimate moment since that first night I came back.”

He picks at his fingers and runs his thumb over the seams in his palm. Your chest tightens, constricting your lungs. The mechanisms in his arm are quickly drowned by your raspy breaths. You walk toward him, the smell of oil overpowering his usual scent.

“I love you.” Your trembling hand presses into his cheek.

“Still?” He chokes on his own voice, full and wet. His wide eyes hold yours steady.

“Yes, James, still.” You smile. “Isn’t that enough?”

He wraps his fingers around your hand, holding it in place, but breaking the contact between your skin and his. His eyes bore into yours, seeking answers. His eyes fall closed slowly, and he turns his head into your arm. His lips press softly against your wrist, warming the skin, before he lowers your hand.

“I just thought we were passed this,” he sighs.

You gnaw at your bottom lip, taking deep breaths and looking around the room. “I’m sorry.” Between your closing throat and spasming lungs, you’re not sure if any sound came out.

The spark in his eyes tells you that it did. “No, kitten.” His fingers brush against the side of your face as he combs your loose hairs back. “It’s okay. It’s my fault anyway.”

His kiss on your forehead eases the guilt in your bones. “I-” you clear your throat to open it, “I have to get back to work.”

He nods, standing up straight. “I’ll be here.”

You take the stack of folders from your desk and leave Bucky behind. Business as usual progresses outside your office with no indication that anyone has a clue what just transpired. A knot of dread builds as you leave your office behind. He’s alone. Exposed.

Your pen taps out the passing minutes during your meeting, undoubtedly distracting everyone in the room. The veins in the presenter’s temples bulge at the half hour mark. His gritted teeth and stammering almost make you feel bad about it. When the meeting runs fifteen minutes over, you cut off the discussion and hurry back to Bucky.

When you enter the room, a quiet snore fills your ears. With a smirk, you dampen the sound of your door closing as much as possible. The wheels of your chair scrape as you sit behind your desk. Your forehead wrinkles as you scroll through your email. Your inbox is considerably cleaner than you left it, and most of your new emails have been answered. Your eyes dart to Bucky rustling on the couch, and a smile ghosts your face. With an hour before your next appointment and no paperwork to deal with, you shuffle across to Bucky’s side.

He wraps you up unconsciously, groaning softly with the effort, and tucks your head under his chin.

“You handled my email?” you whisper, nuzzling into his chest.

His chest reverberates with a sleepy hum. “Not much else to do.”

“Jack and I will bring the TV in from the day room after we close up.”

“Sounds,” he lets out a yawn, “like a plan.”

The loud buzz of your phone on the coffee table breaks your dozing. You roll over to check the message, and your heart jolts.

They’re here

You spring off the couch, shoving your swollen feet back in your stiff shoes, and rush to the front door. Jack and one of his men block the door, shoulders back and jaws locked. Jack’s fingers twitch over his sidearm. He has bad blood with most of these men.

“Gentlemen,” you force your voice to remain chipper, “is there a problem here?” You survey the group, landing on Jack.

“Yes, ma’am.” He throws his gaze to the man in front. “FBI. They want to search the grounds.”

“Of course,” you grin. “I’ll just need to look over the warrant.”

“Ma’am,” the head agent begins politely, “we believe there’s a wanted criminal inside this building, and we-”

“Oh, there is,” you state coolly. “Quite a few of them actually. This is a rehabilitation center, after all.”

He huffs out a fake chuckle. “We believe this man to be highly dangerous.”

“Well, you would be too if you woke up one day, and your wife had married another man and had two new children, your house had been replaced by a funeral home, and your kids killed in a school bus accident five years earlier.”

“That’s not-”

“Listen, Agents,” you clasp your hands together at your chest. “These people are hurt and angry, that makes them dangerous. We’re highly invested in security, and I’m comfortable saying that everyone inside feels as safe as can be expected given the circumstances.”

“This isn’t your run-of-the-mill street thief.” The agent takes a deep breath, resisting the urge to rub his temples. “The safest route for everyone is that we bring in Sergeant Barnes immediately.”

“We’ll agree to disagree in that respect.” You smile sweetly. “I have a responsibility to protect the people in this building, so unless you have a warrant-” You raise your eyebrows and pause for an answer. “You’ll have to come back another time.”

“I don’t think you understand th-”

“You have no warrant. I can’t allow into any private areas of this facility.” You step to the side and wave toward the common room. “However, I can’t stop you from exploring the public areas, if you and your team would like.”

With that, the agent in charge waves his team inside. You step across the doorway to Jack and pull him aside.

“Make sure your team knows these agents are not authorized to leave the public access rooms. I have to make a phone call.” Following the last agent, you call ahead, “Coffee maker’s in the break room to your left.”

You slide your phone from your blazer as you hurry back to your office. The door squeaks as you shimmy sideways through the crack. Bucky rolls over on the couch, pulling his jacket over his face. You creep across the room and sit at your desk.

“Hey, Pep,” your voice is one step above a whisper. “I need a favor.”

Bucky stirs, letting out the softest gasp.

“The FBI is going to put in for a search warrant.” You sigh, running a hand down your face. “Can you send some lawyers to the DA first?”

Pepper makes an exasperated sigh. “Foundation credibility?”

“Yeah, if feds come snooping around, no one will trust us.”

“I’ll hold them as long as I can.”

You set your phone down and drop your head into your hands, letting out a huff.

“This is a lot of effort just for me.” Bucky leans over the arm of the couch, eyes clear of any sleep-induced grogginess.

You look up and meet his self-conscious gaze. “Yes.”

“Is it worth it?” His eyes fall closed as he licks his lips pensively.

You take a deep breath and heave yourself out of your seat before walking across the room. You lift his head, watching his chest heave and his lips tremble almost imperceptibly. His breaths come out ragged and short, rasping through his throat.

“I didn’t order anyone to help.” Your thumb grazes over his lips, prompting his eyes to open. “Everyone involved must think it is.”

He chokes out a wet laugh, eyes closing again. “What did I do to deserve this?” His arm wraps around your side and guides to the front of the couch, resting his hands at the small of your back.

You lean into him, his face settling at your chest. That simple question is one of the most heartbreaking you’ve ever heard. His intent was to let you know he feels lucky to have you. But it only reminds you that he didn’t want any of this. He didn’t enlist to fight a battle that wasn’t his. He wasn’t afforded the luxury of being a prisoner of war. His choice was stolen from him over and over and over again. Everything he wanted, everything he dreamed of went up in flames. And now, he’s a fugitive, holed up in a back office for the foreseeable future. He accepts the punishment gladly and thinks himself lucky to have any friends at all.

He did nothing to deserve this.

“I have a few more meetings, and then I’m going to help Jack lock up.” You push him back, hands on either side of his face, and comb his falling bangs back. “What do you want for dinner?”

You wish you’d trimmed up his hair yesterday when he asked. The weekend didn’t seem so far away then. This was one of the many unexpected side effects of the serum. You understand why Hydra let his hair grow. They actually probably cut it fairly regularly. His hair grows four times faster than before, and he had thick hair then. It gets out of hand quickly, and it’s already driving him crazy. You’d had to trim it almost weekly to keep it short, but you’ve been busy since he came back to you and haven’t had much down time. He doesn’t trust anyone else to put a blade of any kind near his face.

When the buzz of activity quiets, Bucky moves the TV into your office and sets the coffee table with a flower from an arrangement he found in the cafeteria. You return with a change of clothes and toiletries for you both. You can’t help but chuckle at his makeshift date, his eyes shine through his mounting worry. He beams proudly at you as he lays out the Chinese takeout containers.

The FBI returns the next day with a warrant, and you sit down at a table in the common room, highlighting the specifics. When you’ve finished, you instruct Jack to take them to each of the locations mentioned, but not allow them to touch anything. When they’re well into their search, you return to your office to update Pepper.

You’re barely off the phone when it chimes with a text from Jack asking you to come back to the lobby. You slip through your door and make your way to the front. The group of agents stands uncomfortably still in the center of the room, surrounded by Jack’s security team.

“You need to see me?” You lock eyes with the lead agent from yesterday.

He steps forward, shoulders relaxed. “Yes, ma’am. Do you mind if we step into your office?”

“I do, actually.” You plant your feet. “Your warrant doesn’t list my office.”

“We have reasonable suspicion,” he counters.

“So, detain me.” You hold your hands out, wrists facing up, waiting to be cuffed. “But need to have probable cause to search my private quarters, and I suspect you don’t. I have a great deal of confidential information in my office. I’m sure you understand.”

“What I understand,” he growls, “is that you’ve been less than cooperative. In my experience that means you have something to hide.”

“Well, don’t we all?” You don’t let your smile fade. He may be unraveling, but you can’t afford to.

He steps forward, encroaching into your space. “I could charge you with obstruction of justice.”

“Please do.” You raise your hand between the two of you and step forward, pushing him back. “I have Stark’s personal lawyers on speed dial, so you’d better be damn sure you can articulate that probable cause to your supervisor after his ass gets chewed. Now, I’m a very busy woman, so either make the arrest or get out, Agent –” You pause, blinking at him. “I’m sorry, I never got your name.”

His jaw locks as he glances around at his men. Everyone knows he has no grounds for obstruction. You permitted him to execute the full extent of his warrant, and he has no legal grounds to compel you further. Hopefully.

“I’ll have a warrant by morning.” He waves his men to the door.

You smile as he shoves past you. “I’ll be waiting.”

When the door slams shut behind the last agent, you let out a nervous laugh. Jack grins, and his team lets out a collaborative breath.

“The boss has balls,” one of Jack’s men says, prompting a string of other comments.

You smile at the ground, letting out a breath. “Don’t let that get out, gentlemen. Might raise some eyebrows.”

Jack glares at you with a smirk. “Had me worried for a second there.”

“Do you have bail money?”

He finally cracks into laughter, joining the rest of his men, with a shake of his head. You motion for him to follow you as you step away.

“They’re probably surveilling the building. Don’t let your guard down.”

“Sweetheart,” he nudges you with his shoulder, “this isn’t my first rodeo. You go worry about the contraband in your office.”

“I wish I could.” You turn down the hall next the one for your office. “I’m slammed today.”

When you finally wrap up the day, you help Jack lock up The Center again. He takes you out to pick up the wings for you and Bucky. You’ve calmed down since the arrest warrant was issued. Or, rather, you’ve had less time to think about it. But he’s still uneasy about the threats. Bucky has set up another date, sending warmth from your head to your toes. He even had Steve, presumably, bring a bottle of wine.

You eat in semi-comfortable silence, neither touching the elephant in the room. Bucky chooses instead to ask you about the meetings and the state of the Foundation, noting your stress level seems to be improving. You get a good laugh out of the irony. Your boyfriend is being charged with treason, and you’re stress decreased.

After dinner, Bucky stretches out on the couch, and you snuggle into his side. He tells you that you don’t have to sleep here, but you assure him you don’t mind. Though it occurs to you that he doesn’t enjoy sharing a couch. If that’s the case, he doesn’t mention it. He pulls you tight against his chest and tucks your head under his chin. The warm feeling fades when you turn on the TV.

“Sexual Harassment at Stark Relief Foundation” displays in bold, white letters in a banner across the bottom of the screen. A young, redheaded man with a timid voice speaks on one half of the screen. His slender frame barely covers the background.

The blonde anchor nods along. “And you left because of this?”

“What the fuck?” Your face scrunches, as you shoot up.

“That’s correct,” he pushes his glasses up his nose. “She was very forward with me.”

You glance at Bucky from the corner of your eye. “I fired him last year when he came onto me after the interns had to stay late one night.”

“When I learned about the staffers Y/N was sleeping with, I felt obligated to come forward.” The redhead shrugs apologetically. “I should’ve said something sooner, but I- I guess I was ashamed.”

Bucky glances at you with wide eyes, his mouth hanging open.

“Fuck.” You drop your head into your hands, smoothing out your hair. “I don’t know how he even knows about me and Stephen.”

Bucky rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “I might.”

You turn your head to him slowly. “What do you mean?”

“When I found out,” he begins slowly, “I wasn’t exactly quiet about it. I’m pretty sure he overheard everything I said to Sam.”

You let out a controlled breath and pace the room. He mumbles apologies and stares at his fidgeting fingers. The clock on your wall ticks on dutifully, marking every minute of strain between you. When you return to the couch, Bucky avoids your gaze, sliding to the side so you have room to yourself. You smirk to yourself and sit across his lap, tipping his chin up.

“It’s okay.”

The corner of his mouth quirks up and he wraps his arms around you before laying out on the couch.

The next morning, Pepper pinches the bridge of her nose, looking across her desk at you. “How did this happen?”

“I fired the kid. He’s pissed.” You bite your thumbnail.

Pepper shakes her head, eyes closed and lips parted slightly. Just like when she would find Tony in bed with a new girl. “So, you didn’t sleep with anyone at The Center?”

You suck in a sharp inhale. “When you say ‘at The Center,’ do you mean inside the building or with someone who also-” You shake your head quickly. “Actually, the answer is yes either way.”

“Yes, you did or yes, you didn’t?” Pepper’s fingertips press into her temples.

“I did.”

She groans, “Anyone who works for you?”

“Not,” you choose your words carefully, “directly.”

Pepper raises an eyebrow at you. “Who?”

“Strange and Jack,” you sigh. “Pep, it was nev-”

“I have to initiate a review.” Her voice is firm, but her face is soft.

“Yeah, I know.” You nod solemnly. “I just didn’t want you to think-”

“Please,” she scoffs, “I worked for Tony for years. I don’t think anything.”

You laugh as you stand to leave, joking about seeing more of each other outside of crises.

“Y/N,” Pepper says as you reach for the door. “You understand you’ll be suspended pending the investigation?”

You nod slowly, wrinkling your forehead.

“It will take me a little while to file the paperwork,” she continues, “but if there’s something you’re hiding, it needs to be gone by lunch tomorrow.”

“Right.” You swallow hard. “Thank you.”

You retrace your steps to the elevator and through the Stark Industries lobby absent-mindedly. When you board your bus, you lift your phone to your ear.

“Clint, I’ve got a problem.”

“Yeah, I’ll say,” he snorts.

“Not that one, asshole,” you sneer before walking him through the situation. “I hate to drag you back into the criminal underground b-”

“But sometimes we have no choice.” His gruff voice is quiet. He doesn’t want Laura to know. “I’ll give Steve a call.”

“I’m sorry,” you whisper.

“Hey, it’s alright. We’ll figure it out.”

When you arrive back to The Center, the sidewalk is packed full of reporters. Jack and two of his men meet you at the bus stop and clear a path for you. Microphones jab over their shoulders and under their arms. Reporters yell over each other, hoping for any reaction.

Your day carries on as any other. Congressmen, donors, budgets, paperwork, and reporters to top it off. You assure everyone you speak with that the young former intern’s allegation of your advances are completely false.

“Of course, not.” You hear yourself say a hundred times. “He’s a child.”

When Steve shows up with lunch, your heartrate skyrockets. He and Jack exchange a sharp nod before you usher them into an empty conference room. Steve hands out the food while you check the hall and shut the door. As you all eat, Steve relays the plan. You and Jack make suggestions and adjustments as he goes. After nearly thirty minutes, the matter is settled. You take the last sandwich from Steve and head off to give Bucky the news.

Bucky jumps up when the door opens but relaxes again the moment you step inside. You pass him the sandwich and step back with a sigh, explaining your meeting with Pepper. Your mind races, a close challenger to your heartrate.

“The Interim Director is not likely to be sympathetic with your situation,” you bring your hand to your forehead. “But we have a plan.”

He widens his eyes and nods, urging you on.

“Jack will wear your coat and sneak out a back door, hopefully drawing several agents away.”

“Rollins is going to help me?” he mumbles, mouth full.

“I keep telling you he’s different.” A shake of your head puts you back on track. “You’ll wear Steve’s jacket and helmet and take his bike to Tenth Street, where you’ll meet Sam. Sam will take Steve’s clothes and drive the bike around town. By the time the FBI realizes Steve is still here, you’ll have swapped places with Sam. You take his car back to the compound and hop onto a quinjet with Clint. By the time they realize you’re not Jack, Steve, or Sam, you’ll be halfway to Wakanda.”

Bucky crunches through another bite. “What about you?”

“I have to wait out this internal review,” you sigh. “But I’ll join you as soon as possible.”

“Run away.” He swallows. “Then what? Hide out in Wakanda forever?”

“Just until Sam and Steve can figure things out.” You let out a breath. “T’challa will protect you.”

“You’re okay with that?” His eyebrows pinch together as he purses his lips.

You open and close your mouth, gulping down your initial reaction. “I’m sure Wakanda has an aide program I can work with.”

He chews his last bite slowly, rolling it around his mouth as he mulls over your plan. His eyes are distant, his expression unreadable. Again, your clock ticks by each awkward moment.

“You have about an hour before Steve comes to get you.” You kiss his cheek and stand to leave.

“No.”

The single word stops you in your tracks. You turn around to find him laying his trash on the table and standing up.

“What do you mean ‘no?’” you scoff.

“I’m tired of running.”

“Bucky,” you step toward him, “this isn’t county lockup. They’re charging you with treason.”

He drops his chin and runs his tongue over his lips. “That won’t stick.”

“No one’s interested in the truth,” you whisper harshly, your voice getting desperate. “It’s election season. This is a witch hunt.”

“I’m not going.” He levels his gaze with you.

“Bucky.” You lock your jaw to hide the trembling. Your watery eyes search his face for any subtle hint of doubt. An indication that he hasn’t made up his mind. “You can’t be serious.”

“Did you learn about Cortes in school?” He steps forward, tucking your hair behind your ear. “When he first landed in the New World.”

You nod with a sniff. “His men wouldn’t explore the land because they were afraid of the natives.”

Bucky’s eyes soften, but his voice stays strong. “He burned the ships. No choice left but forward.”

You close your eyes, tears leaking out the sides, and wrinkle your forehead. “I don’t understand.”

“I don’t want to run from my past anymore.” His eyes blaze with determination. “It’s time to burn my ships.”

You pull him into yourself, shaking your head, and bury your tear-dampened face in his chest. Shudders wrack through your body, shaking your shoulders against him. He tucks your head under his chin, his lips quivering. His arms tighten around you, pressing his wet shirt into his hot skin. His fingers trail calmly through your hair, tugging at the ends and scraping at your scalp.

“This is my choice.” His voice, though heavy, stays steady, soothing your frazzled nerves.

You push yourself away, sniffling and wiping your cheeks. “You don’t have to make me so goddamn proud all the time.”

He chuckles and paws at his face, clearing his throat. “I’m sorry, kitten.”

He takes your hand, interlacing your fingers, and leads you out the door. Your throat closes more the farther from your office you get. The world fades away as you cross the lobby. Steve approaches from the corner, Jack on his heels. Blood rushes through your ears. Your heart pounds against your ribs, hammering faster with every step.

Bucky squeezes your hand gently, drawing your attention at the front door. His eyes mist over as he pulls your face to his. His kiss is soft and desperate at the same time. His cheeks, still moist from your moment in the office, press against yours, warming them slowly. He pulls away, taking your breath with him, His hand curls behind your neck, and his thumb strokes up your cheek.

“I should probably go out there alone.” His voice shakes and his chest stutters with a strangled breath.

You push the door open, and he walks out with his hands in the air. You, Steve, and Jack follow behind, waiting on the stoop. Bucky clasps his hands behind his head as he steps onto the sidewalk. Your chest clenches with the thump of his knees on the concrete. Sam bursts through the door, nearly knocking you to your knees.

Agents swarm in, jumping out of vans and stopping traffic. Five agents circle him, rifles trained on his chest. You let out a choked squeal when one of them jams the butt of his rifle into Bucky’s back, and Steve’s hand wraps around your arm. With Bucky now lying on the ground, two agents lock a pair of thick handcuffs around his wrists and haul him to his knees. The air prickles with electricity when the agents activate the charge.

Bucky’s bionic arm locks, plates slamming together, and his other arm contracts violently, muscles tensing nearly to the point of rupture. He grits his teeth as he struggles to his feet. His chest heaves erratically, the shock making his lungs spasm with each wave. His legs shake, and he collapses under his own weight, unable to control his own muscles. A cool breeze drifts in, bringing the faint, acrid smell of electrical burns with it.

“Stop it,” you scream, unable to escape Steve’s grasp. “You’ll trigger a flashback. Turn it off.”

Tears stream down your face, warming your cheeks. Your heart pounds wildly against your ribs, drowning all other sounds in a rush. The taste of copper creeps up your throat with every scream. You’re not even sure you’re using words anymore. Steve’s fingers dig into your muscles with every movement, keeping you from rushing headfirst into certain disaster.

Two more agents emerge from a van wearing specialized, insulated suits and drag Bucky to his feet. They load him into a thick, ballistic glass container in the back of a moving van. Clicks and clunks echo out of the van as restraints close around him. His arms and legs are locked in with at least three restraints each, more on the bionic arm. One agent secures the container door with a fingerprint and PIN, triggering another electrical charge. The van’s headlights flicker with the additional power load.

The buzz of electricity is audible even from across the street. Bucky’s jaw locks, and his eyes squeeze shut as he drops his head back. Steve’s grip tightens around your arms, and you realize you’re still trying to run. Bucky bites back a growl, but it cuts through the air, echoing between buildings. The agents climb out of the van, and the backdoor slides shut with a clang, leaving Bucky alone in the dark. In pain.

Your knees wobble and your legs ache. But you want to run. You can’t think of anything else but sprinting after the convoy. If Steve didn’t have a death grip on you, you might actually try. With nowhere to go, you sink. Steve’s hands keep you from collapsing onto the pavement as the world swirls around you.

“How can they do that?” you gasp. “How can th-”

You hear voices. Steve and Sam, you know that much. Answering your question, probably. Their voices jumble together, blurring at the edges of your mind.

Bucky’s gone, and you’re not entirely certain you’ll see him again. Law enforcement doesn’t have a good history with the Winter Soldier. You wouldn’t be surprised to read “FBI Transport Involved in Accident” in the headlines later. “Winter Soldier Among Fatalities,” “Wreckage of FBI Convoy *Graphic Content Warning*,” “Sergeant Barnes: Dead in Custody.” The possibilities roll through your brain. You scrunch your eyes so hard, starbursts speckle the darkness.

Hands press into your side and back. Your feet stumble over each other as you’re guided back inside. Steve’s soft shushing is accompanied by Sam’s confident assurances that Bucky will be alright. You lower yourself into a cold folding chair. When Steve’s body heat fades, your eyes flutter open to find Jack crouching in front of you. He looks up at you, waiting for you to gather yourself.

“Let’s get you home?” He taps your shoulders and stands up straight. “Sam and Steve can pack up your office.”

You nod, eyes still distant. His words barely sink into your skin.

He leans toward Steve and Sam, whispering. You only catch bits. “…clothes, pictures…liquor in the drawer…engraved pen…”

When he turns back, you’re on your feet. With most of your senses back, you follow Jack to an SUV in the garage. During the ride to your apartment, he walks you through the process of booking an arrestee. Your stomach turns hearing what Bucky will be subjected to, no matter how mild it is compared to Hydra.

“You should be able to visit him tomorrow, though.” He shoots you a sideways glance. “I’ll take you first thing.”

You nod along, not really hearing much else. Jack insists on a twenty-four-hour detail. Bucky’s arrest will be on every news outlet by dinner, and that tends to stir up the crazies. You’re the only target left for anti-Winter-Soldier fanatics to hit.

He’ll stay the night while he sets up a rotation for his men. You don’t argue, focusing your attention instead on the passing people and trees. Some walk their dogs, some hold hands, others stare at their phones, steering themselves by pure instinct. A few joggers weave through the crowd, checking their watches and tapping their earbuds. Any other day, this little slice of life would warm your heart, make you think about making a life. Any other day, you would care about the people on the other side of the glass, where they’re going and what they’re doing.

Today, you couldn’t give a shit if you tried.

Chapter Text

You wait anxiously on the metal stool, peering through the ballistic glass. Your sneakered toes tap an irregular beat on the bare, concrete floor. A shiver runs down your back, making you pull your sleeves down over your wrists. Jack had suggested wearing long sleeves, and now you’re glad you listened.

The heavy metal door across from you opens slowly letting the small processional through. Two guards are followed by a string of prisoners in olive drab jumpsuits and scrubs. Your heart skips as the inmates file in and faces come into view one by one. The jangle of chains fills your head, your brain making up for the soundproofing in the room. When Bucky steps through the door, your heart drops.

A gash on his swollen cheek oozes pink-tinged liquid. His jaw-length hair is matted with blood. Sweat stains spread over the front of his white t-shirt, and oil smudges his left sleeve and side. His scorched jumpsuit hangs freely at his waist, draped over the chain around his hips. Despite the split in his lips, he grins wide when he sees you.

You reach your hand up to the glass as he sits across from you. He holds his hands up, showcasing his cuffed wrists with a sheepish smile. The chain attaching his hands to his waist barely affords him enough length to reach the telephone mounted on the wall next to him. He leans his body forward, reaching for the receiver. You identify a band of small, circular wounds around his wrist as burns, the flesh a charred white in the center and an irritated red on the edges. His bloodied knuckles crack open as his fingers curl around the handset on the wall.

You scramble for your phone, his chuckle filling your ear as you hold it up to your face. “Bucky, your face.”

His smile doesn’t falter. “You should see the other guys.”

“What happened?” Your eyes, brimming with unshed tears, hold his steady.

“Even criminals don’t like Nazis.” He shrugs, letting out another quiet laugh. “But I pretty much run the place now.”

“Bucky, it’s not funny,” you scold. “You could have died.”

“Relax, kitten. This is just how things work here.” He jerks his head toward the guard in the corner. “I even have my own personal guard.”

“Steve’s talking to lawyers.” You grip the cord in your free hand. “He should be sending one over today. We’ll have you out in no time.”

“Don’t worry about me,” he smiles. “I needed to do this.”

You nod absently, dropping his gaze.

“Hey,” if he were beside you, he’d be tipping your chin up to look at him, “it’s okay. I feel better than I have in decades.”

A wet laugh bubbles from your throat. “Don’t get too comfortable.”

“Look,” his smile fades, and his expression turns serious, “no matter what happens, this was my choice. I don’t regret it.”

You shake your head, chewing on your bottom lip. “You’ll be home soon.”

His eyes leave yours for the first time since sitting down, and his face turns to stone. “Couldn’t even wait for a conviction before moving in on my girl?”

You glance over your shoulder, remembering Jack’s negotiations with the warden to be allowed to accompany you. “He’s worried about me.”

Bucky’s nostrils flare with a sharp inhale. “Why?”

“No one likes a Nazi sympathizer,” you chuckle. “I was holding the feds off for days before you surrendered. It doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to do the math.”

His eyes flick to Jack and back to you. “What happened?”

“Nothing.” You let out a breath. “Yet. Jack’s not optimistic.”

“I’m so sorry.” He drops the handset from his ear and digs the heal of his free hand into his forehead.

The chain between his wrists pulls taut as he rests his cheek on the back of his hand. His groans filter through your earpiece and fill your head. You whisper soothing reassurances into the phone, but he doesn’t react. The receiver hangs limp near his jaw, picking up every hoarse breath.

Clearing his throat, he lifts the handset back to his face, still staring at the tabletop in front of him. “The last thing I wanted was to drag you into this.”

“James.”

His name rolling gently off your tongue draws his attention.

“You didn’t.” A smile ghosts over your lips. “I made my own choices.”

He forces an exhale through his nose, a glimmer returning to his eyes. “No matter what. I love you.”

“Don’t do that.” You raise your eyebrows. “You’re coming home.”

“I’m with you,” his voice drops, “until the end of the line.”

“Steve’s going to be pissed.” You reach your hand to the glass again, pressing until your fingers turn white. “I love you.”

“He can kiss my ass,” Bucky laughs. “I’ll be okay.”

You narrow your eyes, your mouth forming the question. Bucky reaches his hand up and in one, swift movement the hand cuffs snap, and the jangle of chains hitting the floor filters through your earpiece. He presses his hand to the glass, matching yours. Guards shout as Bucky backs away smirking. One guard lunges at him, driving a knee into Bucky’s back. Bucky drops to his knees obediently. His “personal guard” slaps the thick hand cuffs around his wrists and activates the electrical pulse. Bucky grits his teeth and seethes out a snarl loud enough for his abandoned handset to pick up.

Your breathing quickens as the guard drags Bucky to his feet and shoves him forward. Bucky gives you a wink before turning away and following his escorts out of the room.

You walk back to Jack on shaky legs. Despite knowing he did it on purpose, your heart still aches for Bucky. He can handle it, God knows he’s handled worse. But he shouldn’t have to. He should have a life, and a family, and a goddamn picket fence, not steel bars and cell mates. You let out an angry breath. There’s no way he has a cell mate.

Jack retrieves his pistol from the guards at the entry point, and another member of your security detail meets you outside. On the ride to your apartment, Jack walks you both through the rotating guard schedule. Shift change is at noon, eight, and four everyday. Jack will take a double shift everyday, working eight until noon. You’ll always have two men nearby, and one should constantly be within earshot, if not have eyes on you at any given point.

You call Steve to discuss Bucky’s situation. He’s retained two of Tony’s personal attorneys already. They’ll meet with Bucky after lunch and go over the arraignment hearing with him. A hearing which will take place tomorrow.

When you get home, you glare at the boxes along the wall in the living room. There’s nothing you wouldn’t give to have him back in your apartment. You open the boxes on the kitchen table and sort through the contents. The picture of you and Tony from your desk lays on top, your set of engraved pens from Tony sits underneath. With a deep breath, you find places for both on your TV stand. As you unpack, you smile at the little trinkets you’d forgotten over the years. A few challenge coins from Rhodey, a lightsaber from Steve after you showed him A New Hope, a Captain America bobblehead Tony got you after clearing Steve for duty.

Your chest clenches when you take out a small jewelry box. The lid clatters against the sides as your shaky hands lift it. A pile of ticket stubs shuffles around inside, one from every movie Bucky took you to see. You pull them out gently one by one until you reach the bottom. Your heart stops, and your throat closes. The taste of metal seeps onto your tongue, your bottom lip bleeding from where teeth dig in.

Bucky’s dog tags. No one knows you have them, not even Steve. It was the only thing they found in the search for his body back in 1945. You really have no right to them, but you couldn’t ever bring yourself to give them up.

You trace your finger over the metal oval and hook a finger through the chain. You set the box on the table and carry the tags to your room, draping them carefully over the corner of your TV. A smile flickers over your lips before you return to your breakfast nook and dump the ticket stubs back into the box.

You spend the rest of the day finding places for your belongings and the night turning restlessly in your bed. The air conditioning is too cold. The mattress is too hard. Your upstairs neighbor’s floor creaks. Jack snores like a bear; somehow, you’d missed that little detail in Sokovia. That’s not so much of mystery – you were far more exhausted, and he probably didn’t sleep much that night.

You let out a deep breath, dragging your hands down your face, and kick off your blankets. Your blood boils with frustration, a cold sweat beading over your skin. You slide out of bed, the wood floor cool against your bare feet. You wiggle your toes, relishing the chill it sends through your body. You find yourself drinking in the sound of Jack sleeping on the couch. Your apartment is too quiet without it. You have no desire to spend another night pacing your bedroom. You can’t believe your own brain.

You make your way to the closet on autopilot, swapping your tank top for a sports bra and your sweats for sleeping shorts. The air blows over your exposed skin, raising goosebumps. Your feet move without your input, your hands following their lead. You open your door, still incredulous about what’s happening.

“Jack?”

He springs to his feet, reaching for his weapon. “What is it?” His body relaxes as he surveys the room and makes visual contact with his partner in your kitchen.

“I just-” Your eyes dart to the man in the kitchen. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

Jack nods, turning to his partner. “Go make a sweep of the floor.”

Jack’s man leaves obediently. When the door shuts behind him, Jack turns back to you.

You let out a deep breath. “I can’t sleep.”

“I’m not surprised.” He narrows his eyes, watching your body language. “I’m not sure why you’re telling me.”

Your eyes drop to your bare toes. “I thought, maybe, you’d… never mind.”

“You sure it’s a good idea?” He straightens his back and rolls his shoulders.

“No,” you say point blank. “But I’m getting delirious, so what the hell.”

“Barnes will kill you,” he follows you back to your room.

“No,” you smirk. “He’ll leave me. He’ll kill you.”

“Fair enough.” He unclips his thigh holster and lays it carefully on your nightstand. “I’m going to have to send my guys home before one of them lets it slip.”

“Shut up before I change my mind.” You climb into your bed and roll over to face Jack, drawing a line up the center. “Stay on your side.”

He nods with a chuckle and reaches for the lamp as your front door clicks. “I’ll be right back.”

His holster snaps into place with a click, and he slides out your door. “Everything good?”

“Nothing unusual.” The man’s reply is muffled by your walls.

“She’s complaining about sounds near her window.”

“Oh, come on. You really think someone’s going to-”

“I don’t know what to think,” Jack growls. “I’m going to take up a post in her room to be sure.”

“Yeah, okay,” the man says. “A bed post, maybe.”

You groan as Jack slips back through the door. “Great. Now, he just thinks you’re fucking me.”

“Yeah.” Jack leaves his pistol on the nightstand and slides under the covers. “I didn’t think that one all the way through.”

The two of you lie silently on opposite sides of the bed. You chew on the inside of your cheek, your mind wandering back through time.

“Jack?” You turn over to face him in the dim light coming under your door.

He hums back, still facing the wall.

“How did Bucky get all those scars?”

He goes still. Only the sound of his breath fills the room. With a slow, deep breath, he turns over. “He had most of them before I ever got there.”

“No.” You give him an understanding smirk and lay your hand softly on the side of his face. “I mean how. The serum should have repaired them all.”

He widens his eyes and runs his tongue over his lips. “I think it had to do with cryo. When we kept him awake, his injuries would heal.”

You purse your lips to the side, chewing on the inside of your cheek. “Do you think they’ll ever go away?”

“I don’t think the serum works like that.” His lips twitch into a faint smile.

Your voice falls. “Yeah.” You roll onto your back and stare at your ceiling.

“I’m pretty sure you’re on my side.” He pushes your shoulder away from him.

“I am not,” you say. “You’re just man-spreading.”

A palm on your face and knee draped over your leg is his only response. You throw your whole body against him in a vain attempt to toss his heavy limbs off of you. You should have just shot up with the serum and stayed awake. But part of you believes Bucky would prefer this to you using again.

“Get off me.” You grit your teeth and paw at his arm. “It’s too hot for this.”

He withdraws with a laugh. “Are you going into menopause or something?”

“No, Rollins,” you snap. “I am not.”

“Then shut up and go to sleep.”

You narrow your eyes against the darkness and roll over. With no warning, you shove both feet into Jack’s back, nearly rolling him off the edge of the bed.

“Fuck.” His hand, hopefully, thuds against the nightstand.

“Shut up and go to sleep,” you say mockingly.

“I could just knock you out.”

With that, you turn your back and snuggle into your pillow. He stays on his side. You stay on yours. Bucky has nothing to complain about. Mostly.

You knew that was a lie the moment you thought it. You wake gasping for air, suffocating in fabric. Your mind races through your situation. The last thing you remember seeing is Bucky strapped into the electric chair and a hood being pulled over his head. Your hands claw at the dark fabric, nails scraping into something solid.

Something latches around your wrists. “Easy.”

Light pours in as you’re pushed away. You blink hard to let your eyes adjust, but it’s not your room that comes into view. It’s Jack. His concerned face stares down at you, your bodies only inches apart.

“You were having another nightmare.” He studies your eyes for lingering unease.

You slide backward, untangling your legs from his. “Another?”

“You didn’t get much rest last night.”

“Yeah, I can feel that.” You rub your eyes.

He stands up and reattaches his holster. “When I left to talk over the four o’clock shift change, you had a bad one. I came back, and you curled against me in tears.”

“I’m sorry.” Your face flushes. “I was dreaming about Bucky.” That was the one pleasant dream you can remember. Bucky was home.

“I know,” he snorts. “You said his name at least a hundred times.”

Your flush deepens. “We should get ready for court. Do you have a suit?”

“At home.” He groans, stretching. “I don’t plan to go into the courthouse.”

You nod and shoo him out of your way. After a quick shower, you pull on a simple skirt and blouse. Taking your coffee to-go, you, Jack, and your other guard pile into an SUV. You reach the courthouse in no time. Jack barely has the car parked when the prison transport shows up. Bucky is the last to step out.

Jack opens your door, and you sprint forward, eyes set on Bucky. You don’t realize you called for him until his head snaps toward you. A look of concern crosses his features as Jack’s hand closes around your arm. Your momentum whirls you around and slams you into Jack’s shoulder.

“That’s a good way to get tazed.” He tosses your arm aside and gives Bucky a sharp nod. “You can’t see him until he’s been released or returned to custody.”

You swallow hard and nod. It won’t be much longer now. Steve said the lawyers were confident they could get him a conditional release. He turned himself in, and there’s not a prison on land that could hold him. Unless they plan to put him on The Raft, he’s less of a flight risk free than incarcerated.

Jack walks to security and watches you cross. Once you’re beyond the metal detectors, he waves to you and turns out the door, passing Steve. Together, you and Steve find seats in the court room, near the front.

Bucky’s case is one of the first to be heard. When Bucky stands, you wrench around, scanning the court room.

“Where the hell is Sam?”

Steve pats your leg. “It’s alright.”

Your brow furrows when Bucky makes his way to the center podium alone. No one else moves to make his case. You glance around the room again.

“Where the hell is his lawyer?”

Steve shushes you as the judge opens a file. “He wouldn’t talk to them.”

“Mister Barnes?” The half bald man stares over the rim of his glasses before listing the charges. “Do you understand the charges as I’ve read them to you?”

You close your eyes, taking a deep breath, as Bucky answers affirmatively.

“How do you plead?”

Bucky runs his tongue over his lips. “Guilty, Your Honor.”

You grab Steve’s arm to keep the room from spinning, choking on the air in your own lungs. The blood drains from your face, rushing into your gut, and your stomach turns.

“I’ll put your sentencing hearing on my calendar.” The judge knocks his gavel once and pulls out another file.

Everything jumbles together, muffled in your brain. Steve nudges you into the aisle and supports your weight, leading you out of the court room. Heat floods your cheeks, and your stomach turns. You sit on a bench in the hall next to Steve, face blank. You stare at the floor, mouth slack and lips barely parted. Your shaky breaths come out short and ragged. And your stomach turns.

Before you know what’s happening, you’re doubled over a trashcan, dumping your meager breakfast. One convulsion after another rolls through until you don’t even have bile left. A hand rubs circles gently on your back and another holds your hair out of your face. Sam’s voice slowly worms its way into your head.

You turn head weakly and rest your face on the side of the trashcan. “Hey.”

“Hey, yourself.” He holds out a handful of paper towels.

You spit into the trashcan and wipe your mouth. “What a fucking idiot.”

“Don’t look at me.” Sam smirks. “I didn’t fall in love with him.”

Right on cue, the court room doors open and two guards escort Bucky out. Your stomach flips, and you lean back over the trashcan. You gag out a dry heave while Sam takes a knee beside you. He nods at Steve, and they help you to your feet.

“You want to come back to the compound?” Steve rubs your arm softly.

You nod, speechless.

“Alright,” Sam turns your face to look at him. “Jack’s going to drive you. Steve and I will be there soon.”

You close your eyes, swallowing hard. “I’m going to throw up.”

“Again?” Steve raises his eyebrows. “You can’t have anything left.”

Instead of giving an answer, you break away and run to the bathroom. Sam and Steve wait patiently in the corridor for you to return.

“I wasn’t made for this,” you groan as you sidle up to Steve.

Sam snickers, “What? Love?”

“Yes,” you smirk at Sam. “It wasn’t in my cards.”

“Well,” Steve grins as you walk out the door and waves Jack over, “Buck’s a bit of a wild card.”

Jack meets the three of you at the bottom of the steps and walks you back to the car. The ride to the compound is long and silent. You lay your head back and close your eyes, focusing on the air conditioning blowing over your face. Your stomach still hasn’t settled when you arrive. You relax in your old room and try to sleep off your anxiety.

Soon, Jack knocks on your door with a glass of ginger ale and a pack of crackers. When he turns to leave, you call him back and ask him to stay. It’s almost twelve. He’s supposed to go home and rest, but you can’t imagine being left alone with your thoughts. Jack reluctantly agrees to stay until Steve or Sam returns. He passes you the glass and crackers, watching you take a drink.

You set the glass on the nightstand and raise hand to your head. The room still tumbles on its axis occasionally. Sound bursts from the television as it flares to life, and you let out a low moan. Apologizing, Jack turns the volume down and lets you choose a show.

When your eyes flutter open again, Sam is yelling from the communal kitchen. Jack is gone, hopefully long gone. The last thing you want is to explain why he was in your bed. You trudge out to meet Sam, ginger ale in hand. Your tired eyes land on Steve slurping down a bowl of spaghetti.

“I got some plain noodles here.” Sam steps aside, revealing a pot on the stove. “If you’re up for it.”

You drop onto the stool next to Steve nodding at Sam. When Sam sets the bowl in front of you, your head drops. “What are we going to do?”

“I talked to Bucky back at the prison.” Steve swipes a towel over his mouth.

Sam snorts, “Talked? You ripped him a new one.”

“He asked about you.” Steve lays his hand on top of yours. “I told him how bad he’d upset you.”

“Any other day, that might bother me.” You poke and prod at the buttered spaghetti.

“He refused a lawyer yesterday, but he promised to talk with them today.”

“Yeah.” Sam tosses a glance over his shoulder, dropping a lump of noodles onto his plate. “After you threatened to file for his mental incompetence.”

Steve’s lips twitch up. “They’re going to file a plea change.”

“Oh my God,” you let out a long breath. “He can do that?”

“If the judge will allow it.” Steve nods. “My lawyers think they can swing it.”

Your gaze snaps to Sam for confirmation.

“We’ll know for sure in a couple days.” Sam slops sauce onto his plate and carries it to the couch. “How about you stay for a movie?”

“Yeah,” you take a large bite, “yeah, that would be good.”

You settle next to Sam and throw him a grimace when he turns on the TV.

Steve coughs up his bite, sitting on your other side. “Come on, Y/N. The Manchurian Candidate is a good movie.”

You stay for the entire movie and dinner after. When Jack arrives at eight, he takes you back to your apartment. Again, you drag him to your bed to ease the disquiet. This time, you wake wrapped in his arms, his chest pressed snugly against your back. He explains your nightmares, and you vaguely remember waking the night before. With no word from Steve or Sam, you busy yourself at home.

You follow the same routine that night and the next day. The day after, you get a text from Sam while you eat breakfast. He doesn’t offer any answers, only asks you to come by. Before the shift change at noon, Jack brings you back to the compound.

Steve and Sam stand hunched over the dining table, pouring over files and photos. The entire tabletop is covered in scattered papers, folders, and reports. You close your eyes and take a deliberate breath. It can’t be good.

Steve waves you in. “My attorneys spoke with the judge this morning.”

Your eyes drift to Sam who’s tapping his knuckles against the oak table. “And?”

“He gave us a week to come up with new, significant evidence, otherwise he won’t grant the plea change.” Steve drags a hand through his hair and tosses a stack of papers back on the table. “This is every file SHIELD had on the Winter Soldier.”

“But none of this is new.” You run your fingers over a picture of Bucky in Romania.

Sam shrugs. “You never know.”

The three of you spend the hours sorting through potential evidence, turning up nothing but peanuts. Steve takes a break to make lunch while you and Sam continue your analysis.

“I can call some of my contacts in Siberia.” You straighten up. “Maybe someone had a run-in.”

Sam narrows his eyes. “How will that help?”

“I don’t know, Wilson.” You throw a heap of photographs onto the table. “Do you have anything better?”

“We shouldn’t count anything out.” Steve calls from the kitchen. “Will they talk to you?”

You open your mouth to confirm, but leave it hanging open before closing it again. You toss your hands by your sides with a huff. “I don’t know.”

A heavy silence hangs in the air. Steve finishes lunch and makes three plates, setting them on the island in the kitchen.

“We have nothing.” You throw a pen at the wall.

Sam sighs. “We’ll figure something out.”

“How?” You raise your eyebrows and contort your face. “I’m in the middle of a national sex scandal. Steve’s a war criminal, and no one likes you.”

“He’s right.” Steve rubs your slumping shoulders. “We will.”

“Steve, I can’t keep doing this.” Your voice cracks. “I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I-”

“I may have something that helps.” FRIDAY interrupts.

The three of you wait, eyes on the ceiling.

“You going to finish that thought?” Sam yells.

The TV in the living room flashes on. “I was instructed to release this video to Bucky’s attorneys. Since he never retained one, I’ve been holding it securely in my servers.”

“Well, play the damn thing.” Steve stalks to the couch.

Tony’s face fills the screen. The camera tilts up and down, back and forth before Tony steps back and leans against his desk. He crosses his arms and combs a hand over his beard, clearing his throat.

Chapter Text

You crunch on a bite of cereal and scroll through the news on your phone. It had been two days since the lawyers submitted Tony’s video to the judge, and still nothing. He should have made a decision by now. Your throat constricts as you realize he may have.

A knock on your door makes you drop your phone into your bowl. Jack chuckles at your surprise as he stands to answer. You fish your phone out by the corner and carry it to the sink, snarking back at Jack’s snickers.

“Hey, kitten.”

Your phone clatters into the sink as you spin around. “What are you- When did-” You stutter out partial thoughts as your mind races, and you throw your arms around Bucky’s neck.

He smiles into the kiss you leave on his lips. “Found out last night. I wanted to surprise you.”

“I was so worried.” You pepper kisses over his jaw and across his cheeks. “I missed you. God, I missed you.”

His laugh rumbles against your lips a you trail kisses down one side of his neck and up the other. “I’ll handle that later.” He pushes you back and locks eyes with you. “First, I need to apologize.”

Your eyebrows pinch together as you study his serious expression.

“Steve said you’d been sick pretty much constantly after I entered my plea.”

Your face tightens, and you launch a closed fist at his jaw, which he expertly dodges. “You fucking dumbass.”

He grabs your wrists as you pound against his chest.

“What the hell were you thinking?” you continue shouting. “After everything I told you about people being afraid of you. Wanting you dead. Taking any opportunity they can get. You go and just hand it to them.”

“I am guilty,” he says calmly. “There’s no changing that.”

The peaks of your lips twitch up in a suppressed snarl. “Don’t even start on that, Barnes. You know damn well-”

“Barnes,” Jack cuts in, “if you’re going to stay, I think I’ll head back to The Center.”

Bucky’s eyes dart to Jack. A flash of anger dissipates as he squeezes your hand. “Thank you.”

Jack nods to Bucky and glances at you. “I’ll keep a man posted outside your door.” With that, he walks out the door, leaving you and Bucky in silence.

“I did it all,” he chokes. “I should be held responsible.”

You bring your hand to his cheek, popping his face lightly. “That is not your decision to make.”

“It’s not fair.”

“No, it wasn’t.” You search his eyes. “No one gave you the option to back out. No one asked what you wanted.”

He shakes his head. “That’s not what I meant.”

“You did it, yes. Under circumstances beyond your control.” You lean against the counter. “You deserve a trial by jury. They’ll decide how guilty you are.”

“Why should I get a break?” He curls his hands around your hips, resting his head against yours.

“Because you, James Barnes,” you stroke his cheek with the back of your hand, “are neither judge nor jury.”

He closes his eyes with a scoff. “Just executioner, then?”

“Not anymore,” you whisper, pulling his face to yours.

You look him over, epiphany flashing across your face. “They let you go until the trial?”

“Sort of.” He gives you a sheepish smirk, tugging at the leg of his jeans. “I can’t leave town.”

You crouch down, running your fingers over the ankle monitor. “I don’t intend to go anywhere for quite some time.” When you stand back up, you plant a kiss on his lips.

“I missed you too.” He breathes against your skin, pulling you close.

You wrap your legs around his waist when he lifts you off the floor. “I can tell.”

His laugh blows warm air across your neck as he carries you into your bedroom. You gasp when he throws you onto the bed. Everything except Bucky blurs around you, his demeanor primal. He grabs his shirt behind his neck and yanks it over his head, tossing to the side, every movement deliberate. His eyes burn like a lion stalking its prey. He climbs onto the bed, and you throw your head back, offering your neck. His lips trace over your throat and up your jaw as he buries his face in your hair with a deep inhale.

“What the fuck?” He jumps back, standing at the edge of the bed.

You prop yourself up, staring at him with wide eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“Rollins has been here.” His nostrils flare with every breath, kindling the fire in his eyes.

“Yes,” you start slowly, “he’s had me on a twenty-four-hour detail.”

His eye clench shut as the smell prompts more flashbacks. The scent hit him like a freight train, tossing him through decades of shattered memories. “They could wipe my brain every day for the rest of my life, and I’d still remember the smell of my handlers.”

“James.” You reach for his face, but he swats your hand away, eyes flying open.

“I was willing to accept his scent in the rest of your apartment, but it’s on your bed,” he growls. “In your goddamn hair.”

You comb your fingers through your hair. You knew you should have washed it this morning. You slide off the bed and stand to face him. “I’ve been sleeping with him.”

“I fucking knew he couldn’t be trusted.”

“I do mean sleep, Buck.” You take his face between your hands. “I wouldn’t-”

“Why?” he bites, jerking your hands away.

You shake your head. It should be obvious. “I couldn’t sleep. Even with him there, I still had awful nightmares.”

His shoulders slump, anger vanishing. “Because of me.”

“They only got worse after your arraignment.” You nod. “I didn’t think you’d want me to use the serum again.”

His jaw tightens. “I honestly don’t know which I’d prefer.”

“Well,” you gulp, “it’s already done.”

He nods silently, watching the floor. “I’m not doing anything with that stench on your sheets.”

“Fine,” you huff. “Will you at least help me strip them?”

He catches the pillow you launch at him and tears it out of the case with a pointed glare. “Might as well take your clothes too.” He drops the sheets into your laundry basket and hefts everything under his arm.

“Yes, mom.” You roll your eyes and grab a roll of quarters from your nightstand.

He follows you to the elevator, letting your security guard know where you’ll be. You press the button for the next floor down and lean back against the wall. Bucky presses a quick kiss to your lips before the doors open again.

You lead the way to the laundry room and select two washing machines. You take the sheets out of the top, and Bucky begins sorting your clothes. A warm smile spreads over your face as you pour soap into the drum. You close your washer and lift your basket, dumping all your clothes into Bucky’s washer.

“I don’t know anyone who sorts their laundry anymore.” You smirk.

“How is my laundry technique outdated?” He shakes his head, rubbing his temples. “Everything moves so fast now. I can barely keep up.”

“I think time is exactly the reason no one sorts laundry anymore.” You shrug. “No one has it.”

“Why is everyone in such a hurry?” He stares through the glass top, watching the colors of your clothes swirl together. “Always moving, always looking for more.”

You sigh. “Well, maybe you can teach us a thing or two.”

“You know, I used to help a few of the show girls with their costumes.” He corners you against the machine.

“Well, it’s only fair.” You quirk up an eyebrow. “You were probably the one to get them dirty.”

His grin stretches from ear to ear. “They must have had a real problem with people stealing clothes, though.”

Your eyebrows knit together as you try to discern the meaning of his tale.

“I would always find one of them sitting on top of the machines.”

He lifts you by your thighs and sets you on the washer. Your head drops back when his hand slides into your waistband.

“Seemed silly to me.” He leans forward, his breath warm against your cheek. “Waiting around all that time when no one else was in there anyway.”

You drape your arms around his neck, resting your head on his shoulder. Your shuddering gasps and the tumbling washing machines are the only sounds in the room.

“They really seemed to enjoy it though.”

He pulls away, leaving you whimpering, and glances around the room. A dryer in the corner has a sign reading “Under maintenance. Do not use.” Bucky grins at you as he turns around and delicately removes the sign. His running shoes don’t make a sound against the tile as he crosses the room. He opens the door with a creak and smooths the tape against the window. As he shuts the door, he flips the light switch, leaving you both in shadows.

“You won’t be happy until I’m evicted, will you?” You pant when he tugs at the buttons on your jeans.

He drops to a knee, sliding your pants down your legs. “Just be quiet.”

“What if there’s-”

“Kitten, don’t you think I know the location and scope of every camera in this building?” He nips at the inside of your thigh, drawing a yelp. “Just be quiet.”

“Okay,” you breathe out, leaning back against the cold metal. “Fuck. Okay.”

When the laundry is done, Bucky carries you and the basket back to your apartment. You giggle the whole way back, your skin still buzzing. When you reach your doorway, you wriggle out of his arms.

“I’m good, now.”

He raises an eyebrow at you. “You got your legs back under you?”

“That,” you tap your finger on his nose, “was not my fault.”

“I will take full credit.” His smirk spreads as he follows you to your room.

Together, you make your bed. You dump the clean clothes in the middle, while he puts a show on the TV.

“You have my tags?” He takes the metal disks in his hand, skimming his thumb over the imprinted text.

You glance up from your mountain of shirts. “Yeah, they were in your file. You can have them back.”

“I don’t need them anymore.” He makes his way back to the bed and nuzzles behind your ear. “I’m glad you have them.”

He turns on a ghost hunting show and drops on the bed next to you. The two of you sit together, folding and putting away clothes for the next hour. When you curl under the blankets for bed, he drags you across the mattress and tucks you into his chest. Rainforest swirls into your nose with every deep breath. His lips skim back and forth over the back of your head, leaving light kisses here and there.

Despite his presence, you still don’t sleep well. Visions of Bucky subjected to various methods of execution sprint through your brain all night. His arms tighten around you every time you wake up gasping for air. In the morning, you find him making breakfast with a smile on his face.

“Buck,” you clear your throat, tiptoeing into the kitchen in his t-shirt, “are you sure you don’t want me to cook?”

“No, kitten.” He beams over his shoulder. “I promised I’d make you my specialty one day.”

“Okay.” You give him an uneasy grin. “I’m not really an oatmeal person, though.”

“Me neither.”

You wrinkle your forehead at the pot of boiling water on the stove and take a deep breath. This may have been a bad idea. He had spent the better portion of his life in the Army or a prison. His specialty is probably breakfast slosh.

“Oh God,” you drop your head into your hands with a squeak.

Bucky’s hand on your arm brings your eyes back up. “What’s wrong?”

“You’re just making me nervous.” You peek through your fingers.

His bold laugh fills your apartment, bouncing off every cabinet in the kitchen. You slide off your stool, deciding to take your mind off breakfast with a shower. You add ridiculous sense of smell to your list of unexpected side effects and give yourself a few extra minutes in the shower. You definitely do not want Steve to smell what happened last night.

When you walk out of the bathroom, your mind settles. The kitchen smells delicious. Whatever he made turned out well. You step out of the hall to find your place set with a deep blue rose and a –

“Mimosa?”

He shirks into his shoulders. “I figured you’ve had a rough go of it lately.”

“We both have.” You grin, taking the seat Bucky pulls out for you. “Always the gentleman.”

He kisses your cheek and sits beside you. “I hope you like eggs benedict.”

“I’ve actually never had it.” You take a bite and let out a loud moan. “You’re amazing.”

“So, you said.” He smirks into his plate. “Repeatedly.”

You smile, nudging his foot under the table. “How does a man on the run learn to cook anyway?”

“I didn’t have much. A studio apartment with a mattress on the floor and a kitchen I barely fit in.” He chews his bite slowly. “But I did have access to fresh produce and local farms.”

Your lips quirk into a faint smile picturing Bucky in Romania. Trying his best to rebuild his life and make a home, no matter the odds stacked against him. You envision him starting a few fires before sinking into a comfortable rhythm in the kitchen. Looking back, cooking does seem calming for him, therapeutic even.

“Do you mind if we go to the compound today?” He takes a drink from his glass. “I owe Steve a thank you.”

Three hours and another long, steamy shower later, you head to the compound. Bucky spends half the day with Steve, mostly in the courtyard. When Sam returns from his sessions at The Center after dinner, he and Bucky go to the gym for a workout.

You sit across from Steve at the dining table in his quarters. Steve swirls whiskey around in his glass and glances up at you. “You know he wants to marry you?”

“What?” You spray wine across the table, coughing. “What did you-? You told him no, right?”

“I told him you’re not really the marrying kind.” Steve nods. “But I don’t think it really stuck.”

You scrape your fingers through your hair. “Steve, I’m not-”

“You know, he asked me to bail on that movie.”

“Wha-?” Your eyelids flutter as you try to follow the conversation.

“He saw you around.” Steve nods. “Couldn’t imagine someone like you ever wanting anything to do with someone like him.”

“But,” you take a long breath, “where would he get the idea to get married?”

“He’s still catching up. You know?” He shakes his head. “That’s just what we did.”

“If I say no, it’ll kill him,” you whisper.

“Yeah.” He draws his hand across his brow. “I think that’s what he’s talking to Sam about now.”

“No,” you whine, dropping your head. “Steve.”

“I know.” He pats your hand. “I’ll stall as long as I can.”

When FRIDAY tells you Sam and Bucky have finished their sparring, you and Steve return to the common area. Sam stands in the kitchen, gulping down water. Bucky teases him from the living room, holding a bottle of water in one hand and the remote in the other. Sam gives you a shit-eating grin and wink as you emerge.

You shoot him the bird and continue to Bucky’s side. Bucky lays a kiss on your temple and pulls you against his sweaty side. His body radiates heat, cooling itself unnaturally quickly.

“You need a shower.” You scrunch your nose at him, picking at his soaked shirt.

“I need a beer.” He chuckles, turning on the news. “Sam?”

Sam drags the back of his hand across his mouth and brings in two bottles of beer. He passes one to Bucky, grumbling about super-soldiers.

“I’m just a guy, you know,” he shouts.

Steve and Bucky are silent, eyes locked on the TV. Sam follows their gaze, turning his attention to the screen, and taps your elbow silently. His mouth hangs open, and when you look up, you understand why.

You stare at the TV, frozen in place. Not even a breath breaks the silence in the room. The lighting is dim, and the quality grainy, making it obvious that the picture had been taken from quite a distance. It doesn’t matter. The photo on the screen leaves very little room for interpretation. You and Tony in bed in his New York penthouse, half naked, arms and legs a tangled mess, your makeup even messier. Just like in all those detective dramas.

“Wow.” The blonde newscaster scoffs. “It looks like this behavior has been going on a lot longer than any of us imagined.”

“According to our anonymous source this picture was taken two decades ago,” the dark-haired male anchor chimes in. “I estimate that’s about the time Y/N started working at Stark Industries.”

The woman nods at the desk and looks into the camera. “Here’s another image from the same source. Once again, parents, in case you missed the warning earlier, these photos are quite graphic. If any kids are still awake, now is the time to send them to bed.”

Another image of a more compromising position jumps onto the screen, making Sam choke on his beer. Steve coughs up his whiskey, and Bucky glares at the TV.

“Boy,” you chuckle nervously, face on fire, “that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, does it?”

Bucky drops onto the couch with a scoff. “Is there anyone you haven’t slept with?”

“Sam.” You shrug as Sam raises his hand.

“It was really rhetorical, but thank God for that, at least.” Bucky shakes his head with dry laughter. “Tony.”

“Oh, come on.” You sit next to Bucky, resting your hand on his thigh.

“Everything I hated about Strange was ten times worse in Tony. Never worked for a goddamn thing, probably not even you,” he snarls. “What did he offer you?”

“Nothing.” Your face turns to stone. “Why do you hate him?”

“You said you weren’t interested in Stark.” He throws your hand away. “Have you told me the truth about anything?”

Your lips twitch with restraint. “I’ve never had an interest in Tony.”

“Then wh-” Bucky’s face goes blank before his mouth curls into a grimace. “That’s it. You fucked your way right into Stark Industries, didn’t you?”

You grit your teeth, standing from the couch. “Fuck you, Barnes.”

“That is your default, isn’t it?”

Insults fly faster than either of you can hear them. Steve and Sam break into the argument, assuring you and Bucky that the other doesn’t mean anything they’re saying. Sam steps between you and Bucky, hoping that breaking the visual contact will end the fight. Steve yells over all of you.

“Please,” you snort. “How many girls did you bed with the promise that they’d meet Captain America?”

“That was different,” he growls, stepping around Sam.

You skirt around Sam, keeping him between you and Bucky. You haven’t seen him this heated since that day you slapped him. “Why? Because you’re a man?”

“Because I wasn’t using it to get ahead. You’re just as bad as them,” Bucky growls. “You and Strange were perfect together. At least then, you were doing th-”

Steve slams a hand on a side table. “Buck, enough!”

“You came from the wealthiest Irish family in Brooklyn,” you scream. “If you hadn’t been drafted, you wouldn’t have worked a day in your life.”

“You haven’t told me the truth once since we’ve met.” Bucky huffs a breath out, nostrils flaring. “You probably fucked everyone on the way to Director.”

“Not everyone had parents to tuck them in at night or pay their tuition.” You nudge past Steve, standing toe to toe with Bucky. “I had nothing. Not a single fucking thing to call my own. So, don’t you dare lecture me about honest, hard work, you pompous prick.”

Steve drags you back by your elbow. “Quit it. Before one of you says something you really regret.”

Sam shoves his forearms into Bucky’s chest, knocking him back a step.

“You’re just everyone’s little slut, aren’t you?” Bucky snarls. “Fucking anyone who can give you a leg up.”

“Like that,” Steve sighs, releasing your arm. He pinches the bridge of his nose, watching you storm across the room.

“What did I have to offer you, huh?” Bucky swats Sam aside, meeting you in the middle. “A challenge?”

“Self-centered,” you bite, “stubborn.”

“A project? Shining success story?”

“Insensitive, bitter, loud.”

“Rebuilding the man inside the Winter Soldier?”

“Pretentious, cynical, destructive.”

“Anything to save your precious Foundation.”

“Close-minded, arrogant bastard.”

“I was gone for a week and found you curled up in my best friend’s lap.” He levels his gaze at you. “Needy bitch.”

“Sam was here.” You stop in front of Bucky, slamming your fists into his chest. “You left me, you asshole.”

“Guess your plan didn’t work out for you, then.” He glares down at you. “Sorry I ruined your fundrai-”

“You fucking left me,” you shriek, forcing tears to the back of your throat. “I needed you, and you fucking left me.”

Shock flickers across his face before the news anchor draws everyone’s attention.

“Who really is the woman running the largest relief foundation on Earth? And how does the infamous Hindley couple play into the story?” The young, pretty blonde flashes her perfect teeth at the camera. “You won’t believe the answers. When we come back.”

“Holy shit.” Sam’s jaw drops. “As in-”

Your face blanches, nostrils flaring. Your chest heaves with every labored breath. You gulp for air, staring into the wall. You barely manage to stumble back to the couch before collapsing. They know.

Bucky’s anger dissolves in an instant. “It’s alright, kitten.” He sits beside you, rubbing your thigh. “We’ll handle it together.”

“That’s not it. I-” You shake your head and massage a thumb into your palm, swallowing hard. “I used my real name to hide some things. Now that they have that, it won’t take them long to find everything else.”

Bucky gapes at you before running his fingers through his hair. “Would it kill you to tell me the truth before I find it out?” When he looks up at you, his eyes well with tears. “Just one goddamn time.”

Chapter Text

“Please,” you beg, sounding needier than you intend, but far less desperate than you feel.

Your manager shakes his head, giving you a sympathetic look. “I can’t afford to push you into overtime.”

“If I miss another payment, they’re going to drop my classes.” You can’t stop the choked gasp at the end of your statement. You don’t tell him you already missed a rent payment.

He takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I have bills too.”

You nod, gritting your teeth. You’ll find another way. You always have.

“I sat table twelve while you were in the back.” The hostess pats your elbow as you pass the stand. “Grace took a drink order for you.”

You smile softly and thank her, barely keeping your voice level. “This is the last one for me today.”

She nods and marks off your tables as you turn away.

You take a deep breath, making your way across the dining area. Two men sit at table twelve. The one facing you is husky with thick, dark hair and a kind face. The only thing you can see of the other man is the back of his head. Brown, messy hair.

You approach the table with your notepad up and smile. “Hey, my name’s Y/N. I’ll be taking care of you tonight. Is-”

“Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep, sweetheart.” The thinner man sets his menu down.

You glance up from your notepad, obligatory chuckle on your lips. “Holy Stark,” you gasp, stumbling back half a step.

“I like the sound of that.” Tony smirks at you, then at the other man. “What do you think, Happy? Could I be sainted?”

“No,” Happy says flatly before turning to you. “Could we have just a couple more minutes.”

You grin and leave to tend to your other tables. Tony Stark is sitting at your table on the very same day you got your final notice on your tuition payment. It has to be fate. Your wheels start turning. You step behind the kitchen door and hitch your skirt up an inch.

You return to Tony’s table after several minutes. “You two gentlemen ready yet?”

Happy snorts. “Gentleman.”

“If I say yes, do I still get to watch you leave?”

You run your tongue over your lips, tapping your pen against your notepad. “Well, I do have to go put your order in.”

You copy down their orders and walk away, exaggerating the swing in your hips. You spend the next hour shamelessly flirting up a storm. His hand skims over yours when you bring plates or refills, and there are quite a few refills. You undo a button and lean over just a little too far when reaching across the table. When they finish eating, you leave a cute note with a heart at the bottom of their check.

Tony removes his sunglasses for the first time, revealing his bloodshot eyes. “I’m in town for a few days. Maybe you can show me where to get a good burger.”

“You’re here twice a month,” Happy groans. “And she could be your daughter.”

Tony tosses a fry into his mouth watching you. “What’s your mom’s name?”

“Like you’d remember anyway?” You raise an eyebrow. “I’m not.”

“See, she’s not.” Tony grins at Happy.

“I’d be a hell of a lot better off if I was,” you mumble.

Tony points a finger at you, still staring at Happy. “That, right there. You know what that is? Appreciation.” He returns his attention to you. “I like your spunk. Crash a party with me?”

You’re getting in way over your head. You were just angling for a good tip. “Does anyone ever turn you down?”

“Once, but it doesn’t count. She was winning a bet.” He pops another fry into his mouth. “She said yes later.”

“Well, I’d hate to ruin your record,” you smirk, “but I doubt anything in my wardrobe is appropriate for your parties.”

Tony gives a disappointed click of his tongue. “Maybe next time.”

When the two men leave, you retrieve the bill and nearly collapse when you open the book. Three, crisp hundred-dollar bills sit in the pocket. You clasp your hand over your mouth as you slide down the wall in the kitchen.

You clock out and miss your bus by seconds. The walk back to your apartment takes almost an hour. You barely have the front door half open when your roommate drags you through.

“Oh my God. You missed him,” she squeals. “He was- Tony Stark was here.”

You glance over her shoulder at a rack of clothes in the living room.

“Well, not Tony, but someone who works for hi- with him.”

“Becca,” you grab her by the shoulders to dampen the jittering, “calm down. What happened?”

“This man brought these dresses for you. He said Tony didn’t want such a minor detail to stop you.” She pauses for a breath. “How do you know Tony freaking Stark? Why didn’t you tell me?”

You stumble to the clothing rack and find a notecard pinned to the first dress. Take your pick. Happy will pick you up at 9 if you want to go.

Your hands shake as you sort through the cocktail dresses and evening gowns. Your entire closet probably doesn’t add up to the cost of one of these. They span the color palette, from deep blues and hunter greens to hot pinks and sunshine yellows. The materials are just as diverse, silk, chiffon, sequins.

You certainly can’t turn him down now. You eliminate the gowns first. It didn’t sound like an overly formal event. Next, you pull out the bright colors. The last thing you want is to stand out. In the end, you select a fitted, crimson dress that comes midway down your thigh.

On the hanger you find a bag of preselected accessories. Becca pulls your hair into an elegant side braid that showcases the keyhole back of your dress. When your makeup is done, you put on the gaudy earrings and small, gold necklace. The bangles jingle at your wrists as you slip on the gold heels you picked out from the smaller selection of shoes.

Taking your black leather clutch from your closet, you turn a circle for Becca. “How do I look?”

She grins ear to ear. “Perfect.”

As she pins a strand of hair back into place, a knock on the door signals your ride. You cross your fingers dramatically and head out to meet Happy.

“Alright,” Tony’s teeth flash in the moonlight, “what’s your story?”

You take a breath of the crisp, night air, looking over the skyline. From the rooftop terrace, you marvel over the lights glittering across the city. “Where to start?”

“The beginning’s usually good.” Tony raises his glass to his lips.

You let out a snort. “The beginning is decidedly not good.”

“Welcome to the club.” He taps his glass to yours. “Long story, short then.”

You swallow the last of your martini and hold out your glass. “That’s going to require another.”

Tony waves down a waiter and pulls you to a couch in a more secluded corner of the patio. “Take your time.” He leans back, crossing his legs, and watches you.

When your drink arrives, you take a long drag. “I used to live with my boyfriend. He was helping me pay for school.”

“High school sweethearts?” Tony glances over his glass.

“Sweethearts makes it sound more romantic than it was, but yeah.” You smirk.

Tony shrugs. “What went wrong?”

“It wasn’t a healthy relationship by any means,” you sigh. “But I needed him.”

“Desperate times,” he dips his head before tapping the bottom of your glass to remind you of your drink.

“We went to a party.” You swirl your glass and shake your head. “I met this guy, and-”

“Your world changed forever?” Tony bats his eyelashes at you. “He convinced you to leave your boyfriend, and-”

“Oh God, no. But he convinced me that I deserved better,” you snicker and bite your lip. “And he was so much better.”

“So, you dumped your boyfriend.” He nods along,

“He dumped me,” you correct with another sip.

Tony purses his lips. “I think I missed something.”

“Well, I cheated on him. No two ways about that.” You take a long drink. “I tried to convince him it meant nothing. Begged him to let me stay. But he wouldn’t hear any of it.”

“Fair enough.” He shrugs and sets his glass on a passing tray. “You’re taking it pretty well.”

You hold the gin in your mouth, letting the burn chase away your anxiety. “I made my bed.”

“Seems like you made it well, at least.”

“A friend let me move in. I only pay a fraction of the rent.” You finish your drink. “Pay from my lunch shift today will cover my next tuition payment.”

“And the next?” He raises his eyebrows.

You smirk at your empty glass and wave a waiter over. “I’ll figure it out. I always do.”

Tony tips his chin to the waiter, signaling him to bring another. “What are you studying?”

“Sociology.” You close your eyes with a huff and continue sarcastically, “Real high demand, I know.”

“I’m in the market for a personal assistant,” he chuckles.

You humor him with a laugh. “I’d prefer to finish school and take my chances.”

Tony gives a mock wounded expression. “Well, I have what’s supposed to be a very promising interview tomorrow anyway. Hot, little redhead.” He runs his hand over his beard. “Actually, the philanthropic arm of Stark Industries is doing some interesting studies.”

“Really?” Your eyes light up. “About what?”

“Not my world.” He shrugs. “I’m just a mechanic.”

Your shoulders fall, and you let out a dejected sigh.

“I assume,” he adds nonchalantly, “they’ll need a very capable intern come summer. Paid, of course. Room and board, too.”

You take deep breaths in an unsuccessful attempt to hide your enthusiasm. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. An internship at Stark Industries would practically guarantee you the job of your choice after graduation. There’s nothing left to consider.

The waiter returns, passing you a fresh martini. A breeze rolls across your bare skin, giving you the perfect excuse to slide closer to Tony. You let the shiver run down your spine and set your hand on his leg.

“Listen, Mister Stark,” you lean toward him. “I know your reputation. You know my situation. I think we can work something out.”

A smile tugs at his lips. “You look cold. Maybe we should continue this discussion somewhere a little warmer.”

You throw back your drink as he stands and take his arm. He snakes his hand around your back, fingers dancing over your bare skin. It’s not the first time you’ve done this, but it’s the first time it doesn’t feel dirty. For everything the media says about Tony, none of it seems right. He doesn’t behave like the horny creeps you’re used to, and you’ve certainly met your share. He seems to genuinely care. More importantly, if all goes to plan, you’ll never have to do this again.

Three weeks later, you find yourself pacing anxiously across your bathroom floor. Your eyes stay glued to your watch, the numbers ticking up impossibly slowly. When it reaches five minutes, you rush to the sink.

“Fuck.”

Two pink lines glare sharply back at you. You slide down the front of the cabinet, dropping your head back. The room spins as your lungs collapse. You have to tell him.

The Stark Expo is in a couple months. Someone has to be preparing for it, and that someone can reach Tony. You stand in the hallway, staring at the door. You cannot believe you’re back at Stark’s penthouse. Your knock is so timid, you can’t be sure anyone inside actually heard. If anyone even is inside.

Your nerves are soon abated, if only slightly, by the opening of the door. A spry, old man greets you with a chipper, English accent.

You focus on his shoulder, unable to meet his eyes. “Is Tony here?”

“I’m afraid not,” the man lets out an exasperated sigh. “Now, I hate to be rude, but you’ll have to be on your way.”

“No,” you squeak. “Can you call him or- or something?”

He shakes his head. “I’m afraid Master Stark doesn’t much care for trifling phone calls.”

“I can’t leave.” You close your eyes softly, tears coating your lashes.

He pulls his eyebrows together and purses his lips. “And why not?”

“I just- I need to talk to Tony.” You take a deep breath, a hand dropping to your churning stomach. “Please.”

“Oh.” And his face softens with a more understanding look, “Oh. Wait just a moment.”

He waves you into the parlor and motions to a plush couch under the window. Before leaving he offers you a cup of tea, but you decline. You just want to get this over with. You sit for what feels like an hour, listening only to your heart pound against your sternum. By the time the door opens again, you’re ready to throw up.

“To-” You stand, face scrunching in confusion. “I’m sorry. I thought Tony was coming.”

The tall, bald man looms in the doorway. “Unfortunately, Mister Stark is out of the country on business.” He shuts the door behind himself gently.

You drop back onto the couch, covering your face with your hands. “When will he be back?”

“Obadiah Stane, I’m one of Tony’s closest friends.” He strides across the room and sits in an armchair across from you. “I handle his more sensitive affairs.”

You lift your head slowly, mascara dripping down your cheeks, and take the handkerchief from Stane’s large hand.

“Tony’s a very busy man. There’s no need to trouble him with this.” He leans back, crossing his legs. For a moment, he reminds you of Tony, but his smile is more unsettling than warm. “I understand you’re in a bit of a financial pinch.”

You nod. There’s nothing these people don’t know.

“Probably have your eyes set on grad school?” He cocks his head to the side. “A bachelor’s in sociology won’t get you very far.”

Your tongue darts over your lips, and you nod again.

“We can settle all that right now.”

Your throat quivers, making your voice shake. “How?”

Stane leans forward, sliding a check across the table. The amount makes you choke. As you gawk at the number of zeroes, Stane slips you a business card. An abstract image of a mother and baby displays prominently in the corner with the name of a doctor and an address in Brooklyn in the center.

“Call it a security deposit.” He sits back. “A show of good faith.”

You give him a small shake of your head, barely able to breathe. “What?”

“He gives me news I like,” Stane nods toward the card between your trembling fingers, “you get a matching check in the mail. Give him my name, and it won’t cost you a thing.”

With that, Stane leaves you alone in eerie silence. Jarvis returns and, again, offers you a warm drink. You turn him down, asking to sit just a few more moments. You must have misunderstood. Tony was so understanding. He wouldn’t expect you to just – But, here you are. With this Obadiah, who didn’t even blink. And it hits you. You don’t know Tony Stark at all.

“I had no other options.” You swallow to open your throat.

Silence hangs heavily over the room, the air thick with shock.

Bucky is the first to move, standing with a shake of his head. “I don’t even know you.” He stalks out of the room without so much as a second glance.

You clench your eyes closed and let out a choked breath. “I was nineteen. I couldn’t raise a child.” You glance between the two remaining men, tears threatening to spill over. “I had no money, nowhere to live, no degree. I barely made minimum wage.”

“I’ll talk to him.” Steve draws a hand over his brow with a heavy breath. “You know, he may not be practicing anymore, but we’re still Catholic, and you did have options.”

You take a wheezing breath, sobs on the verge of breaking out. “As far as I knew, Tony wanted no part in it. What was I supposed to do? At least like this, I could make something good of it.”

“It’s really none of our business.” Sam rubs his hand over his neck. “You don’t owe us an explanation.”

You wipe at your cheeks. “Steve, please.”

“Look, I guess I get it,” Steve huffs with a pointed glare. “I mean, I don’t. But – Can’t change anything now.”

As Steve follows Bucky’s trail, the wall crumbles, and you break down into convulsive gasps. “Sam, no one told me.” You drop your face into your hands, tears pooling in your palms. “I didn’t know what it would mean to me. I didn’t- To lose-”

You unravel into uncontrollable sobs. Your breath rips through your swollen throat, rasping out of your mouth. Your teeth chatter when you gulp down your cries. Sam sits awkwardly next to you and lays a hand on your shoulder, and you find the contact disproportionately comforting.

“Steve will explain it to him,” he hushes you calmly. “He’ll come around.”

His reassurances do nothing for your roiling stomach. Your tears soon dry, leaving you gasping like a fish out of water. The only thing that can fix the gaping hole in your chest just stormed away.

“He’s never going to speak to me again.”

Sam squeezes your shoulder. “Steve will set him straight.”

“You heard him,” you yell. “I can’t fix it. I can’t change it. I ca- I can’t.”

“Give him a chance.” Sam pulls your shaking body into his side. “Barnes said the same thing about you on more than one occasion.”

You curl into Sam, blubbering like an idiot. He doesn’t point it out, just wraps his other arm around you. By the time Steve returns, you’ve cried yourself numb.

“I texted Rollins.” He clears his throat as he enters, rubbing the back of his neck. “You should probably go home.”

You nod, rubbing your face. Your lips quiver, and your eyes tighten shut to control the nonexistent tears. You take a sharp, wavering inhale.

“He just needs some time,” Steve fumbles. “He’ll come around.”

“It doesn’t matter,” you sigh. “I get it.”

“Y/N,” Steve sighs, reaching a hand toward you.

“Steve.” You set your shoulders. “It’s fine.”

Sam flips through channels while you wait for Jack to arrive. He settles on an old rom-com TV movie until you let out a whimper. Before he settles on another show, Jack texts you saying he’s waiting outside.

“What happened?”

You settle in the passenger seat with a deep breath. “Some things are going to come out soon, and they are not open for discussion.”

“Roger.” He gives a curt nod and drives you home without another word.

“I’d like to stop at a liquor store.”

You take a long shower and lock yourself in your room. Jack doesn’t sleep in your bed. You don’t sleep at all. The next night either. You spend the next day filling in page after page of your coloring book. You don’t dare leave your apartment over the week, so you spend the days working around your apartment, finishing various projects and cleaning out junk. The news plays in the background until Jack puts you out of your misery and turns it to an action movie.

It didn’t take long for the news to break. Pepper makes a statement assuring the public Stark Industries had no idea of your involvement with Tony and certainly not of any inappropriate use of funds. She states, rather emphatically, that the new information will be taken into account in the current investigation, implying heavily that you won’t be working with her again. You expected this. She must hate you.

Every passing day wears you down. Every headline and breaking story tears a new hole in what’s left of your heart. You can’t decide which stories hurt more, the ones that attack or the ones that defend you. That’s without accounting for the unusual silence of your phone. No one wants to talk to you besides the press, Bucky least of all. Sam’s invitation for a movie night is a welcome distraction. You just hope it’s a good sign.

You walk into the compound and stop short. Pepper’s the last person you expected to see – well, ever again. Sam shakes his head at her then looks at you, clearing his throat. Pepper turns around and rolls her shoulders back. She gives Sam a curt nod and goodbye before turning back to the door.

You step back, giving her space to exit, but she stops in front of you, her expression tight. “Did Tony know?”

You work your jaw and swallow hard. “I never told him, but-” you pause with a deep breath.

“Tony knew everything,” she finishes.

“He had a lot of resources,” you say letting out the breath you’d been holding.

“Yeah.” With a flip of her hair, she walks out the door.

You turn to Sam with a groan, scrubbing your hands over your face. “Booze.”

“Way ahead of you.” Sam holds up a bottle of whiskey.

You smirk, taking a glass from the cabinet and follow him to the home theater. “Where’s Steve?”

“Gym.”

He doesn’t need to say more. Steve rarely works out anymore. He’s more of a coach now.

You survey the floor-level pool of cushions, choosing the best vantage point. Sam wades through the padding and leans against a pillow at the back. Your legs wobble as you try to maintain your footing and settle next to him. He watches the amber liquid slosh into your glass and starts the movie. FRIDAY dims the lights and raises the volume without a command.

The action movie has enough violence, and Sam has enough liquor to keep your mind busy. For the first time in three days, you don’t feel the weight of the entire world on your shoulders. Two hours later, you scramble to stand up from the plush, seats. Sam cackles from his place in the corner of the in-ground sofa. Your face contorts into a sneer before your foot falls between cushions. Sam spews his drink into the air when you fall forward. You happen to be just close enough to the edge to land on the floor and just far enough that your sloshed brain doesn’t think you need to brace for the fall.

Your face hits the hardwood with a crack, tears immediately blurring your vision. You cough out a groan, blood speckling the cheery wood. If you’d had less to drink, you probably wouldn’t be able to stand up straight. Straight may be an exaggeration, but you do manage to stand up, cradling your nose.

Sam hovers nearby, apparently having escaped the death trap of comfort with no issues. He pulls your hands away and tips your chin in every direction.

“That’s definitely broken.”

After a quick trip to the med bay, and a full thirty seconds of screaming when Sam set your nose, he walks you back to the guest quarters. He leaves you with an ice pack and a full bottle of pain killers.

“I don’t need to be tucked in,” you giggle, snuggling under your blankets.

“Well, I didn’t think you needed help walking either.” He snickers, patting your head. “Get some rest.”

You stick your tongue out and turn over with a great deal of effort. Your light clicks off, and Sam shuts your bedroom door behind him. Your eyes close easily, weighted with alcohol.

A clamor in the kitchen startles you out of your doze. “Sam, go to bed.” You open the door to see a shirtless Bucky standing a few feet away.

“Another bath?” He mumbles, looking at his feet.

“Bucky.” Your heart slams into your chest. “Buck, I- I don’t- what are you-”

“I didn’t know you had a drop when I left,” he whispers, surprise in his voice.

You step back, caught off guard by his thought. “How could you think I wouldn’t? After all that.”

“You never did before.” He shrugs, face reddening.

“There was a lot to process.”

“You were right.” His toes scrape against the hardwood. “I told myself I was protecting you, but the truth is I was only protecting myself. I was so certain you could never love me, and even if you did, I didn’t deserve it.”

“Buck,” you interrupt softly from the bedroom doorway.

“I couldn’t- couldn’t live with the idea that you might leave me, so I left first.”

You take a small step forward. “James.”

“You were right beside me every single time I needed you,” he croaks. “And the one time you needed me, I took off.”

You want to tell him that it’s okay or it’s not true, but you won’t lie to him.

He chews on his bottom lip, looking up. “How do I know you weren’t messing around with Rollins?” Surprise crosses his face as he takes in the blood covering your shirt.

You shrug, holding your hands out. “You just have to trust me.”

“How am I supposed to do that?” His voice cracks.

“I have never lied to you.”

“Well, you certainly don’t tell me the truth.” He takes a deep breath, bringing his voice under control. “Would you have ever told me about the serum or Tony or Rollins or – any of it?”

“I do- I’d like to think so,” you resign. “But I guess I don’t know.”

He nods thoughtfully. “What happened to your face?” His fingers ghost over your cheekbone, skirting around your broken nose.

Your eyes flutter closed at his touch on your face. “I was drinking on shaky ground.”

The corner of his mouth quirks up. “Sam’s a terrible influence.”

“Bucky-”

“It’s okay. What happened before us is over. It’s in the past.” he whispers. “I just wish you would’ve told me.”

“I couldn’t,” you gasp.

“I guess I can’t really blame you.” He pinches the bridge of his nose. “I was so focused on myself, I didn’t notice what you needed from me.”

“I was sick to my stomach for weeks.” You gasp, words spilling out. “I didn’t- I wish I could change it. I wish more than anything things happened differently. I- I just-” You sniffle and look up. “Wait. What?”

“It’s okay.” His eyebrows pull together. His eyes search yours, concern flooding his features. “Your decision made you sick?”

You swallow hard and nod. “It was the worst mistake I’ve ever made.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” He places a feather light kiss on your lips. “And I know a little something about your worst mistakes being the subject of international discussion.”

“I- I couldn’t put her in the system.” Your lips tremble, and your voice threatens to crack. “Not that Obie would’ve let me.”

“Come here.” He pulls you into his arms and guides you back to the bed. “It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not. I can’t go back.” Your spasming lungs shake you to your core. “I can’t fix it. I didn’t know.”

“I know.” He combs his hand through your hair, pressing your cheek into his chest. “I’m with you, kitten.”

“I wasn’t ready for a baby. I didn’t think it would matter.” Tears leak down your cheeks onto Bucky’s bare chest. “But then it was over. I took a few pills, and that was it. It was just over.”

Bucky scoops you into his lap, tucking your head under his chin.

“I should’ve felt something. I mean, there were awful cramps.” You nuzzle into him, curling in on yourself. “But I should’ve felt something.”

“Maybe you weren’t-”

“I saw the heartbeat,” you choke. “Then, the next time it was gone. Obie had to have confirmation.”

Bucky’s chest shudders with his next breath. “I’m so sorry, kitten.”

He holds you quietly until your shoulders steady and your breathing quiets. When you push away, you wipe the heels of your hands across your cheeks and fall back into Bucky. His hands roam gently over your back, grounding you in his presence.

“I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without Peggy,” you sniff.

Bucky leans back, glancing down at you. “Like Carter?”

You nod against his chest. “I think Jarvis told her.”

A quiet, incredulous hum tickles your cheek.

“She was so caring and gentle,” you say, “and forgiving.”

Bucky chuckles, “She had a way.”

“She had two miscarriages between her first and second. She’d invite me over for tea and talk about it,” you continue without paying him any attention. “I didn’t have to say anything. She just talked about her family or sat and watched the squirrels in the yard.”

“I’m sorry I took off,” he says into your hair.

You lean back to look him in the eye, sitting up straight. “I probably would have if the roles were reversed.”

“Yeah, but you’re clearly hurting over this.” He lays a hand on your cheek, brushing his thumb up your face. “I shouldn’t have left you alone with all of it.”

“You had a right to be angry.”

“I should have been there.” He dips his head to rest it against yours. “I promised.”

You draw your bottom lip between your teeth, closing your eyes with the slightest smile. “Will you stay with me tonight?”

“Well,” his nose scrunches with a smile, “I’ve kind of taken this room over while we fix up my quarters.”

Your eyes narrow. “Sam.”

“He’s a pain in the ass,” Bucky agrees, sliding down to lay next to you. “But I’m glad he did it.”

You nestle your back against his chest, resting your head on his bionic arm. It’s not the most comfortable, but the quiet, mechanical buzz is strangely calming. It really is amazing. It never stops moving, sliding plates and switching circuits with every signal from his brain.

Although, technically it doesn’t take input directly from his brain. Tony explained it to you once with a little help from Strange. The receptors are wired into the muscles in his chest and back, hence the additional shoulder piece. His file noted that his shoulder joint was still intact after the fall. Stephen thinks they could have made a functioning prosthetic to fit what was left, but to achieve something so neurologically complex, they’d need large muscle groups.

It’s unbelievable what Hydra was able to design in 1945. The receptors take signals from the electrical impulses in Bucky’s muscles, triggering the appropriate motors and gears. Essentially, it functions exactly like a natural limb, just with mechanics instead of biology. As a result, it emits a near constant hum of activity, though the sound is typically muffled by the Vibranium. You can only hear it when you press your directly against the metal.

“Bucky?”

He answers with a soft hum into your hair.

You try to sound nonchalant. “Do you want kids?”

The whirring goes silent. He goes rigid against your back. Even the rise and fall of his chest pauses. “I don’t even know if I can.”

“Steve did.” He’s avoiding the question, and you won’t have it. “There’s no reason to think you can’t.”

He lets out a short groan. “Why?”

You turn over, bunching the sheets up between you. “We’ve never talked about it.”

“Do you?” He pulls you closer, a single, thin sheet separating you.

You sigh, shaking your head. “I need to know what you want. Not what I want you to want.”

Bucky’s eyes darken, and he goes quiet. “I don’t think I can be responsible for something like that.”

“Bucky-”

“I know you think I’m doing better, and I would probably make a great dad.” His eyes flutter shut. “But I can’t trust myself.”

You watch the defeat cover his face and reach out to stroke his jaw.

“Especially with a girl,” he swallows. “Not after the Red Room.”

His eyes open slowly, teardrops glistening on his lashes. You pull into him, burying your face in his chest.

“Do you?” His voice rumbles against your cheek.

“I can’t,” you answer against his skin.

He works his jaw, his chin pushing against your head softly. “You never wanted kids?”

“I did,” you say, “before. I always dreamed of having a little girl of my own, a family like the one I lost. Maybe a boy too.”

“I don’t understand.” He pushes you back to study you.

You take a deep breath. “After – everything, I couldn’t stomach the thought of being pregnant again. I couldn’t stop thinking about her.”

“It’s alright.” He strokes his thumb over your shoulder.

“Some women try for years without any luck,” you breathe. “I had a chance, and I just threw it away. How could I even deserve to try again after that?”

“That’s not how it works, kitten.” His fingers tug through your hair smoothly. “Her?”

“I never knew,” you confirm. “I guess I just always imagined.”

He nods softly, processing your story. He waits quietly, letting you work through your emotions. His strong heartbeat signals the passing moments and keeps you locked into the present. You focus on him – his warmth, his breath, his touch – to stop yourself from wallowing in the past.

“So, when you said you forgot your birth control-”

You smirk into his chest remembering that night in the sports bar. “I just wanted you to feel comfortable being alone with me.”

“You lied.” There’s not a hint of contempt in his voice.

You shrug. “I suppose.”

“Well,” he says with a glint in his eye, “if there’s nothing to worry about.”

He wiggles his hand under the blankets, tracing the tips of his fingers up your side. His lips twist into a devious smirk as his hands dip under your shirt.

“James Barnes,” you gasp with mock disapproval.

His smile falls. “When did you start wearing a bra to bed?”

You can’t help the wet laughter. “When Sam tucked me in.”

“How did you do that anyway?” He taps his finger delicately on the tip of your nose.

You wince, swatting at his hand. “I drank too much.”

“You covered that part.” His eyes sparkle as he pictures the possibilities.

“I fell,” you growl. “On my face.”

“You didn’t catch yourself because?”

“It’s complicated.”

His hand finds its way to the clasp of your bra and fumbles with the hooks. He lets out a growl, wrapping his other arm around your back.

“Come on,” he groans, sitting up.

When you reach behind you to help, he snaps the band with a snarl. “Fuck it. I’ll buy you a new one.”

“You’re in charge, Captain,” you purr.

***

Steve pours himself a mug of coffee and leaves his quarters to sit in the courtyard. As he enters the common kitchen, a thud echoes down the hall behind him. He glances over his shoulder and sets his mug on the counter across from Sam’s orange juice.

“What’s going on?”

Sam grimaces. “They kissed and made up.”

“Oh, thank God.” Steve leans into the wall.

Sam takes a bite of eggs. “Just needed a push.”

The door to the guest quarters slams and Bucky stalks down the hall.

Steve arches an eyebrow. “I thought you said they made up.”

“I’m sorry,” you plead, running after Bucky.

“I thought they did.” Sam watches your advance.

Bucky storms into the kitchen and yanks the orange juice from the counter. His eyes narrow at Steve as he pours a glass. With a pointed sip, he leans against the counter and watches you enter.

“I didn’t mean to.” You walk straight up to Bucky, seemingly oblivious of the other two men.  

He scoffs, coughing out juice. “Save it.”

“When I say captain,” you shrug, and your face reddens, “Rogers just kind of comes after that.”

“I bet he does,” Bucky snarls.

Orange juice sprays out of Sam’s nose. Steve’s chin drops to his chest, blush dusting his cheeks.

“Karma’s a bitch.” Steve’s head snaps up.

Bucky squints at Steve. “What the hell did I do to you?”

“Remember that night in the Italian Alps?” A smirk plays at Steve’s lips. “We were camped out waiting for the green light to-”

“Oh, no, Steve,” Bucky groans throwing his hand in the air. “That wasn’t the same. I didn’t-”

“You knew damn well Peg was in my tent.”

You bite your lip to stifle your laugh and glance at Sam, who makes no effort to contain his. Sam nearly falls off his stool in his fit.

“It was a bet,” Bucky huffs. “I got the rest of Dugan’s Russian vodka. And it was fucking cold out there.”

“Yeah, well, Peg was already hot enough.” Steve glares through Bucky. “Your bear impersonation interrupted the best part.”

Steve’s remark draws a snicker from Bucky. “That’s why she was so goddamn loud.”

“Yeah, she was.” Steve smirks. “I could have throttled you.”

“Don’t worry.” Bucky rubs the back of his neck. “She did. Cost half my winnings to call her off.”

You clear your throat. “So, I’m off the hook?”

“Forgiven.” Bucky kisses your forehead. “But still on the hook.”

“This,” Sam waves his fork around the kitchen, “this is why I date outside the team. Some weird shit going on with you three.”

Chapter Text

You straighten Bucky’s tie and smooth over his lapels with a deep breath.

“How do I look?” His smile shakes.

You take a ragged breath. “Ready to take on the world.”

“Just the twelve would be fine,” he smiles sheepishly. “Kitten, you got to stop worrying about me and jump in the shower.”

You swat his arm playfully, though you know he’s right. You must look a mess. Dark circles, puffy eyes, frazzled hair, dull skin. Your makeup has been working overtime. You basically live at the compound now. Between avoiding the press and helping prepare for the trial, you spent very little time at your own home in the last few months, much to Bucky’s delight. With Steve’s early morning meetings and Bucky’s late-night distractions, you’ve been burning the candle at both ends for far too long. Luckily, light is seeping into the tunnel, slow but sure.

Jury selection finished last week, and opening arguments begin today.

“First impressions are key,” he calls, tugging at his sleeves and wiping steam from the mirror.

“Oh, you’re a law expert now?”

“Not at all,” he chuckles. “Just listening to the smartest, most beautiful woman I know.”

You shut off the water and wrap a towel around yourself before sliding the curtain open. Bucky snakes his arm around your waist and pulls you against his chest. You smile against his lips, shoving him away weakly.

“You’re going to ruin your suit.” You struggle to keep your damp body away from him.

He grins, tightening his hold. “It’s worth it.”

“The jury might disagree with you.” You shove away, and he finally lets you.

He tosses your dress to you on his way out of the bathroom. “If I’m late, I’ll be in big trouble.”

“And I suppose that would be my fault.” You slip out of the bathroom, tugging your dress down.

He motions to you putting your shoes on. “You are the one who’s not ready.”

“Let’s just go,” you groan. “Your attorneys probably want to talk with you before the day starts.”

With a chuckle, he leads you to the garage, and you’re off. The drive is quiet and uneventful. The courthouse is an entirely different story. Reporters flock around the car the second you pull into the lot. You almost wish you’d come with Jack instead. Bucky won’t let anyone hurt you, but that’s the problem. There’s no telling what he might do if he feels you’re in danger.

Fortunately, his reputation is enough of a deterrent. Not a single reporter dares step within arms reach as Bucky opens your door and takes your hand. He ignores the shouting and the cameras, tucking you into his side. The flock of reporters turns to a sea of protesters as you cross the parking lot.

Police officers line the street and walkway, holding back the flood. Emboldened by the barricades, demonstrators yell taunts and scream insults, threatening you, Bucky, and anyone else in his corner.

“Buck, they don’t understand,” you whisper when his shoulders tense. “They don’t mean it.”

He tightens his hold on you. “I’m alright, kitten.”

“It’ll be over soon,” you say, for yourself as much as for him.

When you walk into the courthouse, Steve meets you at security, tapping his watch. Bucky’s laugh jostles you away from his body. You give Steve a side hug and follow the wave of his arm to a room on the side. Sam leans out the door and tips his chin toward you. The click of your heels echoes around the domed ceiling as you make your way across the open hall. The bare walls leave a chill in the air that makes your hair stand on end. Bucky eases his grip to shake Sam’s hand and returns his palm to the small of your back. You accept the comfort of his heat, even through your dress.

The lawyers waste no time jumping into the day’s schedule. The argument isn’t whether Bucky committed the crimes, but rather if he could have stopped them. It’s a case based entirely on sentiment. The prosecution will weave any story that portrays Bucky as a cold and calculating predator. The defense has to convince the jury of his humanity.

The opening arguments proceed as expected. Bucky’s eyes bore holes in the table in front of him during the prosecution’s display. His attorney elbows Bucky twice, encouraging him to sit up straight. During the first recess the lawyers go over body language with Bucky. Crossed arms and downcast gaze should be avoided as they portray guilt. Bucky only nods absently, a fraction of the information actually taking root.

Finally, Bucky waves them off and pulls you to a bench in a secluded corridor. He doesn’t make a sound, simply wraps his arms around you and rests his chin on your head. You nuzzle into him, letting his musk consume your senses. His scent is less natural than normal, swimming with an extra spray of cologne and additional swipe of deodorant. His chest stutters under your face.

“Time’s up, kitten.” He taps your hip and helps you stand.

You follow his attorney back to the court room hand in hand. The remainder of the day passes exactly as Bucky’s attorneys explained. The prosecution calls witness after witness of Hydra agents looking to commute their sentences. A few witnesses were handlers of the Winter Soldier, one spent time in the Red Room, and several had accompanied the Soldier on missions. All have the same story. The Winter Soldier was deliberate, ruthless. He never left a mission unfinished, no matter the cost. He was smart, cunning, the perfect hunter. His preference was firearms, to kill from a distance, but every one of the witnesses saw him kill with his bare hands on at least one occasion. His prey never escaped, until Steve that is.

Every round of questioning ends the same. “Was there ever a hint of remorse?”

The words vary, but the answer doesn’t change. “No.”

Bucky curls into himself with each account, receiving a prompt elbow to the ribs. You focus on the clicking of Vibranium plates instead of the testimonies. The constant movement of his bionic hand in time with the inaudible tap of his toes captures your remaining attention.

Next to you, Sam leans heavily against the back of the bench. His arm crosses tightly across his chest, pulling his jacket tight at the shoulders. You snicker at the thought of the seams bursting in the middle of the trial. Sam’s other hand combs over his goatee, his thumb resting against his lips between movements. On your other side, you wonder if Steve is even still awake. You dare not turn to check, but his even breathing makes you suspicious.

When the judge dismisses the parties for the day, Bucky’s lawyers prepare him for the next day. The prosecution will likely begin calling witnesses to the Winter Soldier’s crimes and relatives of his victims. After a brief stop in the bathroom to pull yourself together, you brave the torrent of reporters outside to return to the car. Buildings pass slowly, looming over you, trapping you in the city. Just as you begin to believe you’ll never escape the concrete jungle, trees creep by your windows, not the manicured, ornamental things on the corners. Wild, ivy-ridden, and thick with decades of growth.

You roll your window down and take a deep breath of clean air. Despite the crisp evening, your lungs expand heavily in your chest, leaving you stale and hollow. Bucky glances at you, feeling the breeze on his own arm and opens his window. Judging by the deep wrinkles in his brow, his breath of freedom leaves him just as empty.

Your eyebrows pinch together as he guides the car off the gravel drive. The corners of your lips twitch as he navigates to the spot he took you after your night of dancing.

“I don’t like it, you know?”

His voice, however quiet, catches you off guard. “What?”

“Killing from a distance.” He taps his thumbs on the steering wheel. “It was never my choice.”

You reach your hand out, palm up. “I know.”

“No, even before.” His grip tightens, fingers digging into the soft leather. “I never wanted to be a sniper. I just- I was good at it, and Cap needed good.”

You watch him closely, not saying a word.

“I understand the confusion, I guess. Most people probably assume it’s easier to distance yourself from the violence. Less guilt if you don’t have to watch the life leave someone’s eyes or feel their last breath under your hands. But it’s not”

His jaw tightens, and he readjusts his grip.

“I’d have rather been on the field fighting for my life. No time to wonder if the man in front of you has a baby on the way or a mother worried sick back home.” He lets out a ragged lungful of air. “It’s easier to wash the blood off your hands when some of it’s your own.”

You sit overlooking the river and listening to the faint hum of crickets beginning their chorus. The last rays of sunlight dance over the ripples and crests in the water, landing peacefully on the bank. Bucky hardly moves, his face blank and eyes vacant. When you step out of the car and sit on the hood, he follows slowly. His past weighs too heavily for him to move with any sense of purpose.

“Those men never even saw me,” he breathes. “Didn’t know to be scared. I could pick off one or two of his friends before they realized what happened and scrambled for cover. I never even saw their faces before I put a bullet in them.”

Bucky stares unblinking into the horizon. His eyes glimmer, half from the reflection of the stars and half from the haze of distant, painful memories. Minutes pass before he jolts himself back to reality, blinking hard.

“You ready?”

You study his still haunted expression. “In a minute.”

You scoot closer to him and wrap your arms around his, resting your head on his shoulder. He covers one of your hands with his metal one and nuzzles into your hair. His lips brush your temple, his breath warming your skin.

“You did what was needed.” You lean away, twining your fingers through his. “You kept your friends alive.”

“I know,” he breathes. “I know. But they’re still dead, and I still did it.”

You swallow the lump in your throat and stroke your thumb over his cheek before turning back to the landscape. “Don’t you think it’s kind of magical here?”

He chuckles into your ear, kissing the lobe.

“Really.” You smile sideways at him. “The way the moonlight glazes the river, and the breeze brings up the mist to settle on your face. It doesn’t feel like a fairytale to you?”

You sit in silence until he straightens up and nods toward the windshield. He slides off the hood and turns to face you, holding out a hand.

“My lady.” He grins, helping you down, and leads you to the passenger door. “Your chariot.”

You pop his chest as he opens your door. “You don’t have to be a jerk.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, princess.” He deftly avoids the smack aimed at his arm and jogs around to the driver seat. “Can we watch a movie tonight?”

When you get back to Bucky’s quarters, you throw a bag of popcorn in the microwave and take the cookie dough out of the fridge. Bucky sets up a movie and runs to the kitchen. He sweeps you off your feet and tosses you over his shoulder, hauling you back to the bedroom. You fall onto the bed with a yelp, clawing at his back as you fall.

He returns with a large bowl of popcorn, two beers, your tub of cookie dough, and two spoons. After setting everything carefully on the nightstand, he dives onto the bed, bouncing you into the air. You crash to the mattress and bounce a second time, giving him a chance to loop his arm under you and pull you onto his chest. After you settle against him, he plays the movie.

The rest of the night passes with surprising levity. You drink a little too much and, if not for Bucky’s superhuman reflexes, you would have broken your nose again. After your spill, Bucky puts you on bedrest, insisting on bringing you anything you need. The only negotiation he’ll hear is your argument for a shower. By the time you curl up next to Bucky, you can barely keep your eyes open.

A loud thump wakes you up. You roll over, groping along the sheets for Bucky. When you find the bed empty, you bolt upright. The room is dark and still, but you can make out a small, square box perched on his nightstand. You smile to yourself as you stand. The floor creaks under your feet as you pad across the room and open the door. Wind licks at your bare legs, as you survey the patio. Bucky sits leaned against the glass door.

You tug Bucky’s henley down at your wrists and tuck your chin to your chest, walking toward the door. “Hey.”

“I’m sorry.” Bucky motions to the tipped over flowerpot next to him. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“What are you doing out here?” You glance at the mug on the table and smile at the hot chocolate.

He shrugs. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Talk to me.” You stand in front of him and lift his chin. “James, please, let me help you.”

He drags his hand through his hair and down his face. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“What happened?” You comb his hair back and brush your knuckle over his cheek.

“This.” He tosses his hands out. “It’s too much. I can’t-”

You crouch in front of him and rub his arms. “You can do this.”

“They’ve barely started,” he groans leaning back. “They haven’t even brought in the people I hurt. Tomorrow-”

“Tomorrow, I will be there.” You sit in his lap and rest your forehead on his. “Right behind you. Just like today.”

He smiles, wrapping his hand around the back of your neck. “I need you more than anything.”

“I think,” you trace a finger along the curve of his jaw, holding his gaze, “you’re stronger than any of us know.”

He takes your face between his warm hands and pulls you away. “When this is all over, I want to marry you.” His lips land gently on yours.

You gasp as he pulls away and bite your lip. “When this is all over, I just might let you.”

His eyes spark, a grin splitting his face. His mouth captures your giggle, his electric kiss sending tingles over your face. The excitement is tangible, his spirit intoxicating. You rake your fingers through his hair, swallowing his laughter. His teeth knock against yours as your lips peel back into a smile.

“This doesn’t count as a proposal.” He grins nipping at the hinge of your jaw. “I’m going to do it right.”

You squeal at his breath tickling your neck. His hands wrap around your hips, and he scrapes his teeth eagerly down your neck. His heart pounds against your chest, his lungs stuttering with laughter. You throw your head back, shrieking as Bucky unbuttons your shirt and blows air across your chest. His hands dive under your shirt, and his fingers skim over your stomach, dancing over the places that make you squirm.

You swat at his shoulders and wriggle in his grip, begging him to stop. His assault is relentless, attacking your most ticklish spots. His roaring laughter echoes off the walls of the compound.

“Shut up,” Sam shouts out his window across the courtyard. “Fuck inside for God’s sake.”

You bite your lip, eyes darting to Bucky’s face. His eyes glitter, wild with amusement, and he buries his face in your shoulder.

“What do you think, kitten?” He glances up at you. “Should we let Wilson get some sleep?”

“You need to sleep too.” You pat his cheek.

“I want to make out more.” He slides his hands under you and lifts you both from the chair. “We don’t just kiss anymore.”

You nuzzle into his neck as he carries you to the couch. He settles down with your legs slung over his lap and his hands splayed across your back, holding you close.

“Just a little. Then sleep.”

He lovingly obliges, returning to your lips. Your hands dart to his broad shoulders, and your fingers dig into his muscles. He winces when your nails scrape at the scar along his bionic arm. His arm snakes around your back, his hand spreading between your shoulder blades.

The next morning, you wake before the sunrise to go for a run with Bucky. When you return to the kitchen panting like a dog and ready to throw up, he thanks you for the warm-up lap and takes off again before you can summon the energy to smack him. You would have tried harder if the world weren’t fading at the edges. Instead, you make your way to the sink and fill a glass with water, taking a long gulp. The chill spreads down your throat and through your chest, loosening up your lungs. Your breaths come in loud, long gasps.

The longer you hover over the sink, the shakier your legs become. Soon, you’re sliding down the cabinets and resting your head back. You set you glass on the floor and close your eyes, focusing on your breathing. One measured breath comes after another, filling the room with the faint, but steady rhythm of life. The blood rushing in your ears slowly quiets to a thrum, and the songbirds take over the chorus.

When the door opens again, you squint into the rays of first morning sunlight shining around Bucky’s silhouette.

“You know, kitten,” he locks the door behind him, “the point of you running early was so you could go ahead and take a shower.”

“I can’t get up,” you mumble.

He laughs until you don’t stand to greet him. “Shit. Are you serious?”

You smirk weakly, holding out a hand. “A little.”

He bends down, wrapping his hand around your forearm, and hauls you to your unsteady feet. “Why didn’t you slow down?”

“Why didn’t you?” You cough.

He scoffs at your argument. “Alright, you’re benched.”

After a speedy shower, you and Bucky drive to the courthouse separate from Steve and Sam. The alone time is a good opportunity to set yourselves straight for the day. Plus, Bucky likes to stop at the coffee shop.

The day follows the same schedule as yesterday. Steve and Sam wait in the same conference room. Sam complains about not sleeping well, and Steve makes a comment about hyenas in the compound. The meeting with the lawyers for a summary of the day leads straight into the hearing. The prosecution begins with a few straggling Hydra agents before calling the first bystander of a Soldier attack as a witness.

Bucky’s fist tightens on top of his knee. You only pick up the hum because you’re used to falling asleep to it. He snakes his other hand behind his back discreetly, and you lean forward to take it. His palm is clammy, and his grip tight. You rub your thumb over his hand and watch his fist relax. Each testimony is harder than the last. Each witness has a more tragic story than the one before. Bucky’s hand crushes yours when the prosecution calls an elderly, Russian man to the stand. Your eyes dart up, landing on the man’s prosthetic arm. The motors in Bucky’s arm whir to life, drowning the room in a dull hum. Plates click back and forth with every breath.

The prosecutor steps forward, waving his arm dramatically. “Would you please tell the jury how you lost your arm, Mister Lenkov.”

You swallow hard. This cannot end well.

He begins his story in thickly accented, broken English. He was at the market when the Soldier appeared, strutting nonchalantly through the booths. To the rest of the world, he may have been a myth, but in Moscow, the Winter Soldier was very real. He materialized from shadows and disappeared as quickly. If you saw him, you stayed out of his way or you’d find an extra hole in your body. This time, his target was expecting him. Before the Soldier could raise his weapon, an explosion sent a produce cart across the street, The Soldier took a hit that would’ve torn any other man in half.

Bucky wraps his arm around his middle, pressing into his side. You glance at his fingers curling around his hip, and an image of the thick jagged scar on his back jumps into your head. At least he has one answer.

The soldier took cover behind the first thing he could find, which happened to be Lenkov, and continued staggering forward. Lenkov’s skin sizzled under the blistering titanium, and the Soldier’s grip tightened with every step. Lenkov winces, rubbing just above his elbow joint, as he describes the attack. Gunfire everywhere, the Soldier used Lenkov’s shoulder to steady his aim, causing permanent hearing loss in Lenkov’s right ear. He was grateful for the constant snap of shots being fired, though. It drowned out the crack of his own bones under the Soldier’s hand.

In the end, Lenkov took a bullet to his shoulder, and another grazed his cheek, lodging itself just under the Soldier’s collarbone. The blood flow in his arm had been severely restricted for too long, doctors had to amputate at the elbow. The burns never quite healed, and the scarring still resembles a hand.

Lenkov glances down at the primitive design, twisting the wrist joint and fumbling with the crude attempt at fingers. “I suppose, tailor not important job for good one.”

The immediate clench of Bucky’s fist signals you to his level of distress. Your eyes dart to Steve, but he’s already murmuring with one of the attorneys. When Steve leans back, the attorney clears his throat, standing, and requests a recess. Instead, the judge adjourns court for the day and instructs everyone to return by nine in the morning.

As soon as the door shuts behind the judge, Bucky drags you out of the courtroom, practically carrying you since your legs are too sore to move quickly. The reporters don’t slow his retreat as he exits the building, storming past protesters. When you get to the car, he flings your door open and hoists you in before running off the remaining press and climbing behind the wheel. The drive back is tense, Bucky never taking his eyes from the road. The normally comforting silence between you only thickens the air. Your chest rises heavily, lungs taking in breaths with great difficulty. You direct your attention out the window and focus on the changing scenery.

When Bucky drives off the gravel path, you know he’s taking you back to your spot.

“I just need some time.” His voice is hoarse and breathy as he throws the car in park.

You watch him pace in the headlights, not that those make a difference. The sun is still hours from setting, casting that soft, pink, pre-sunset glow over the world. Even the leaves give off a warm tone. An echoing crack snaps you back to reality just in time to see Bucky pull his fist out of a tree to the left. He lands a kick just below the new crater, sending the tree crashing to the ground. You wince at the sound and jump out of your seat, running to his side.

“How could anyone do that?” he whispers. “I didn’t – I was-”

You cup his cheek gently, stroking his overheated skin with your thumb. “It wasn’t you.”

“I remember it.” His eyes fall closed at the confession. “He’s not the only one I ever used to-”

His legs buckle, and he slumps forward. You catch him instinctively, but he holds himself steady. You’d barely slow his drop if he hadn’t. Your hands wander over his back in soothing arcs, your breath shushing quietly against his neck. His arms tighten around you, his hand finding your hair. You tuck your face to his chest and let him rest his chin on your head.

“Would you still marry me if I’m in prison?” His words are muffled, slurred by his reluctance to hear the answer.

You lean back, pressing your hands against each side of his face. “James Barnes,” you chuckle, “you are not going to prison.”

He gives you a lopsided smile, letting out a breath. “But if I do.”

“Nothing will ever change how I feel about you.” You search his eyes, feeling tears prick at your sinuses.

He draws his bottom lip between his teeth. “Is that a yes?”

Your throat tightens. “That’s a yes.” Your chest clenches, and your heart hammers at the thought.

He presses a contented kiss to your lips and skims the tip of his nose up your cheek. “That’s not me asking. It doesn’t count.”

“Of course.” With a pat on his cheek, you break away from him. “We should probably take advantage of the early dismissal. You need to rest.”

He traces a thumb under your eye. “You may fool everyone else, but I know what’s under this makeup. You need to rest.”

“Sleep and I are star-crossed lovers,” you sigh in defeat. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Then call me cupid.” He kisses each eyelid and your forehead. “I’m setting you up tonight.”

He draws you a bath and lights a few scented candles. When you enter the bathroom in nothing but your half-open, maroon, silk robe, Bucky decides to join you in the tub. He spends the next hour and a half rubbing your feet and calves, working his way up your aching legs. When he finishes with your thighs, he spins you around and massages your shoulders before pulling you into his chest. His hands glide gently over your hips, fingers skimming your soft skin.

The steam eases you into a peaceful, dozy state as the water cools. Bucky’s touch is almost enough to lull you to sleep, but he stands all too soon and brings you with him. You lean into his warmth while he yanks your towel off the rack and wraps you up. After he steps out of the tub, you dry off watching him blow dry his bionic arm. He clenches his fist and flexes in different ways to make the plates slide apart. You shake your head at him smiling and snuggle into his bed. He leaves a kiss behind your ear as he curls against your back, and you drift off impressed with the success of his effort.

Inevitably, you wake up in the middle of the night. You lay on your side, staring through the glass doors into the darkness. The soft white of the moon glistens on the dewy lawn, giving the courtyard an angelic shimmer. You heave a sigh, resigning yourself to lying awake for much of the night. The latest episode of your subconscious paranoia involved Hydra regaining control of Bucky in prison.

Sheets rustle behind you, and Bucky mumbles nonsense under his breath. Instead of getting up to brew a steaming mug of chamomile tea, you roll over and snuggle into his side. He doesn’t scoop you up and hug you tight, even groggily. His arm remains draped over his chest, twitching sporadically. You nuzzle into his neck and whisper reassurances soothingly against his skin. Nightmares are not a good time to wake him, but you give him what little comfort you can. His breath hitches, and he groans louder.

“Get it off.”

His muscles tense violently, and you spread your hand over his chest to calm him. You jerk back when your fingers push through a thick, sticky liquid. Your gasp jolts Bucky awake, and metal clangs to the ground. Cool pieces drop into your lap as Bucky rolls over and pushes you away. You command FRIDAY to turn on the lights and examine the smooth, thin metal plates.

“Bucky,” you whisper as you process what you’re holding.

When you look up at him, your mouth falls open. The flesh on his chest is shredded with blood trickling down his torso. Oil drips from his Vibranium arm, wiring and motors clearly visible through the missing plates. His chest heaves, and his face tightens as each breath stretches his raw skin. You spring out of bed and wet a washcloth in the bathroom.

“It hurts.” He grits his teeth and works his jaw.

“I bet.” You dab delicately at his wounds.

The scars in his skin run perfectly alongside the new tears in his muscle. You swallow hard, watching yourself work.

“Not that.” He shakes his head and flexes his metal arm.

You turn your attention to the damaged prosthetic. “You can feel that?”

“Not in the traditional sense,” he grunts, pressing the heels of his hands into his forehead. “It’s more like constant feedback in my head, and it – It hurts.”

Loose wires hang out of the gaps in plating, and motors whir inconsistently. As you take his wrist and extend his arm, gears turn erratically making the movement jerky. Nearly half the plates in his upper arm are missing and at least a third in the lower arm.

“Bucky, I don’t know what I’m looking at.” You rub your brow and let out a huff.

“The wires go to the pressure sensors in the plates and connect the gears and plates together.” He squeezes his eyes shut and drops his head back against the wall. “The circuitry won’t stop sending signals until the plating is reassembled.”

“FRIDAY,” you scoop the remaining pieces of metal off the floor, “you don’t happen to have schematics for Bucky’s arm, do you?”

“Unfortunately, no.” The disembodied voice fills the room. “But I’ve got several prototype plans stored in my archives.”

The news makes Bucky tense, sending the motors into a frenzy. He lets out a whimper and massages his temple, his breaths shifting to erratic heaves.

“Are any of them close to what he’s got?” You glance at the TV expecting to see plans flash onto the screen.

“If you go to the workshop, I can run a scan of the prosthetic to find out.”

You raise an eyebrow at Bucky, and he nods. “I’ll go anywhere.  Just fix it.”

You help him up and drape his arm over your back, helping him to the elevator. You descend past the med bay and stop at the bottom floor. Bucky’s feet clomp heavily on the concrete as you drag him through the garage. When you reach the workshop, he drops onto a stool near the door, moaning and clutching his shoulder.

“God, it hurts.” He rolls his shoulder and looks up at you with misty eyes. “Please fix it. I’ll do anything you want.”

Your chest constricts at his pitiful whining. “FRIDAY?”

“I need a 3D rendering.” Her voice echoes off the concrete walls, making Bucky flinch and clutch his head.

FRIDAY apologizes, dimming the lights and dropping her volume. She points you to a large machine in the corner that resembles a miniature MRI but turns out to be much quieter. As she walks you through the scanning process, Bucky’s state deteriorates.

“Please, make it stop,” he pants, eyes screwed shut. “I’ll do any – Just fix it. Please. Anything.”

The schematics flash onto the holographic screen at Tony’s workstation. “Unfortunately, the design is too intricate for me to repair.” FRIDAY begins isolating portions of the rendering and enlarging them. “But I can walk you through the process.”

You drag open the bottom drawer of Tony’s desk and pass Bucky a bottle of pain killers.

“Please don’t leave it.” His eyes fly open, wide with fear. “Don’t – not like this. Please don’t-”

You retract the bottle slowly and drop it back into the drawer, taking a deep breath. “Dum-E, bring me Tony’s tools.”

Your statement calms him, and his eyes close softly. He forces deep breaths through his lungs and out his nose. After several long moments, he begins to regain control over himself.

“I’m sorry, kitten.” He drags a hand down his face. “You needed to rest.”

“I’ll be fine. Soon as we get you fixed up.” Your eyes roam the schematics, zeroing in on the problem areas. “Now, talk to me. What’s going through your head?”

“Static.” His jaw clenches and releases. “And white noise. And – I don’t know.”

You throw him a glare and go over the tools on the tray Dum-E brings. You’ve seen most of them before. Tony liked to work while he talked, especially when he and Pepper were on a break. Your breath shakes as you pick up a screwdriver.

You turn to Bucky, running your fingers carefully over the smooth metal. He bristles at your touch, wincing again. Your hand grazes the silver, titanium chest piece before you pluck a Vibranium plate off the desk. You’d always wondered, but the moment never seemed right to ask.

“I never wanted this,” Bucky finally sighs. “I’d rather have bled out alone in that blizzard.”

“Don’t say that.” Your voice is distant. “Then I wouldn’t have you.”

He looks down at you sideways, your face barely peaking over his cheekbone. His heart skips a beat when you stick the tip of your tongue out of the corner of your mouth. It’s a complicated machine, and it’s not fair to put you in this position.

“I’m glad they were able to replace it.” His answer is nearly as empty yours. “No more Hydra shit.”

You glance back to the instructions FRIDAY put on the screen and level your voice. Now is as a good a time as any. “Why did they only replace the arm in Wakanda?”

He shrugs, and the movement jostles your hand. The tip of the screwdriver knocks into an exposed wire, and a spark jumps off the end. The tool clatters to the ground as you shake out your hand, cursing nothing in particular. You lick delicately at the red skin on the pads of your fingers.

“That’s where everything connects. Bone to metal, muscle to motors, nerves to wires.” His eyes fall closed. “I don’t know how exactly it all fits together, but it was too complicated, even for them.”

You let out an incredulous huff. Wakanda is the most advanced place on the planet, boasting some of the brightest minds in the world. Even fifty years later, they couldn’t touch the Hydra technology.

“I don’t know. Maybe they were just worried about hurting me.”

He closes his mechanical hand, slowly. You lay your palm in his with a chuckle, keeping his hand open.

“Please be still.”

His face flushes as he casts his gaze to the floor and apologizes. He sits remarkably still for the next hour, hardly even breathing. His back stays rigid, only turning when you direct him. You give yourself several minor electrical shocks that must have hurt him too, but still nothing. It’s the kind of stillness that only comes from decades of practice and punishment.

Most of the plating clicks into place without much effort. The wiring is more tricky. You have to determine which wires run to sensors and which to gears, still others connect directly to the plates. It’s like a high stakes game of Operation. One wrong move, and you’re both lit up. After enough shocks to make the hair on your arms stand on end, you lean back and instruct Bucky to test his range of movement. When he gives his quiet approval, you return to his quarters.

You know before you lie down that sleep is too much to ask for. “Did your arm take a lot of damage during missions?” You roll over to face Bucky.

“I guess.” He cracks an eye open. “Why?”

“They wouldn’t fix it.” Your hand finds his arm and trails up to his shoulder. “Would they?”

He grits his teeth and lets out a controlled breath. “Not right away.”

“How long?” You stroke your thumb over his cheek.

“Depended on the tech,” he sighs. “And the handler. Hours, days. Until they felt they had enough control. Sometimes they would just throw the tools at me and let me do the best I could.” His eyes look through you, swimming with decades of pain and every form of abuse. “But it was always good as new when I woke up again.”

Your eyebrows fall, and your chin quivers. You can’t imagine what his life felt like for so many years. You’d gotten an idea from his files, but no secondhand account could cover this. None of the reports went into the details. The trauma of his handling was untouched. Hydra documented the procedures and categorized them as successful or not and nothing more. It never discussed his medical care or daily treatment. There was no mention of each handler’s personal twist on torture or preferred methods of abuse. Paper could never capture his history.

Your heart breaks with every step down this rabbit hole. You want to comfort him. You know it’s too little, too late, but your entire being aches to make it better. Your chest tightens, and your throat closes until it pushes tears into your eyes. You lean into him, close enough to breathe in his exhale, and kiss him softly.

His lips are stiff against yours as he locks his jaw. A sharp inhale moves cool air over your cheek. Your hand on the side of his face holds him close. You pull away to ease the pressure on his mouth but let your lips brush against his. After another breath, he relaxes his jaw, parting his lips. His bionic hand slides into your hair, tugging at small pieces that catch in the seams of his knuckles. His full body melts against yours when he returns the kiss.

Tears stream over your cheeks and slip past your lips turning the kiss salty. He only pushes further into you, making it difficult to discern where you end, and he begins. Your mind races through everything you’ve learned about him, careening through every haunting reality he’s lived through. Your heart catches in your chest, and your lungs collapse.

When Bucky finally breaks the kiss, he drags his thumbs over your cheeks, clearing the damp tracks. You struggle to hold yourself together, while everything inside you falls apart. It’s amazing he feels anything anymore. You understand. His reluctance to trust anyone. His refusal to accept his past. His rejection of any form of affection. You thought you understood before, but you didn’t. You couldn’t. Your training had taught you what to expect and why his behavior was normal, but it was wrong.

He can’t let himself work through the trauma because if he opens that door it will never close. If he lets himself process the pain, it’ll never stop. He put up the walls to protect his sanity, full lifetimes of pain and terror constantly pounding on the other side of it pushing him toward the edge. You rest your forehead against his, clinging to him like you could absorb his pain. You curl your fingers into his hair, begging to share the weight.

He continues drying your tears as they come with no reassurance or comfort. He lets you cry and makes no attempt to calm you down. His soft eyes study your face as he holds you close, drinking in your hurt, watching you process everything he can’t.

The next few hours are the most restful sleep you’ve had in almost a year. Unfortunately, the sunrise brings a new day and, with it, a new rush of reporters, new jeers from protestors, and new dirty looks from witnesses. The first testimony comes from a dark-haired woman with deep shadows under her eyes and tear stains down her cheeks. It’s a perfectly sad story. She’d been married a year and was halfway through her first trimester, having particularly problematic morning sickness. Her husband had taken off work early to come home and take care of her, putting him on the bridge in DC when the Winter Soldier attacked Steve and company. She miscarried three days later – stress was the only explanation. When she began sobbing about not being allowed to see the body, you turn your attention to the jury, tuning out the rest of the trial. At the first recess, Sam explains that Jocelyn Williams’ – that was her name – husband must have been near the grenade Bucky launched at Nat. It’s the only reason they wouldn’t let her see the remains. Simple gunshot wounds are easily covered. Explosions that throw cars over bridges don’t leave much room to work.

When you return to the courtroom, you focus your attention on the jury box. Looks of varying degrees of astonishment pervade, followed almost immediately by increasing disgust. When the jury begins throwing you dirty looks, you resign to watching the floor for the remainder of the day. By the grace of God, the prosecution rests at the end of the day. The protestors are only an annoying hum at this point, and the reporters have given up on a direct quote from Bucky, choosing to turn their efforts to the attorneys.

Instead of the usual wind down with Bucky in the clearing, you opt for a long shower and meet him on the patio with a glass of wine. You sit in the chair beside him and stare over the courtyard. You have a mission.

You take a drink and hold the bitter liquid in your mouth before swallowing. “I really think you should testify tomorrow.”

“No.”

“I was hoping for a little more discussion than that,” you mumble into your glass.

His eyes don’t drift from the bats flitting over the roof. “I won’t discuss my whole life in front of strangers.”

“Buck, they need to see you.” You angle yourself to face him. “The real you. Like I do.”

“I said no.” He rolls his tight shoulders.

“They need to know-”

“I knew Howard. We spent hours testing weapons and training the other Commandos together, planning missions, sharing drinks,” he breathes. “I know this is all just a history lesson for you, distant stories from your textbook. But it’s my life. I won’t be interrogated in front of international press about how it felt to murder my friends. I just won’t.”

You swallow hard, wetting your dry throat. He’s right. You had never actually considered how he might fell about it. How deeply it had affected him and still does. After apologizing, you finish your wine and go to bed early knowing you won’t make it through the night. And you don’t. You leave Bucky to his slumber and head to the communal kitchen to make your tea. To your surprise, you find Steve and Sam talking over beers at the table. You take your mug from the microwave and sink into the chair next to Sam.

“We’re not going to win this thing, are we?” You look between Sam and Steve, neither meeting your eyes.

“It’ll be close,” Steve finally mumbles, looking up. “But maybe. The defense hasn’t even started yet.”

“And who are they going to call, Steve?” You raise your eyebrows and tilt your head to the side. “Who are our character witnesses?”

Steve opens his mouth, but you cut him off.

“Bucky won’t testify. I’m an office predator, officially now. You’re no better, still on the UN watchlist. And Sam,” you pause, rubbing your eyebrow before motioning to Sam, “Well, Sam’s black. Anyone else who knew him is dead.”

“She’s not wrong.” Sam crosses his arms, an eyebrow quirking up. “You don’t want to see my record before the military.”

“And you know the prosecution will tear us all to pieces.” You rest your chin on your fist, closing your eyes. “Probably only make things worse for him. Hanging around criminals.”

“I can’t blame Bucky,” Steve sighs. “And I didn’t intend to testify. Rollins has agreed.”

You set your mug down with a heavy thunk. “Jack?”

Steve nods slowly. “He’s one of the few people who can give a firsthand account of Buck’s treatment under Hydra.”

“And we have the video,” Sam adds.

“What video?” Bucky walks into the kitchen on silent feet.

You exchange glances with Steve and Sam. “They didn’t show you?”

He shakes his head, the wrinkles in his forehead deepening. “What video?”

You take a deep breath and call for FRIDAY. Tony appears on the TV, adjusting the camera. Bucky tenses as Tony takes a deep breath.

“There was a time I wanted Barnes dead. A long time, really, but I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’re watching this, it means two things happened. First, I died. No, no, hold the tears. There’s a different video for that.” Tony smirks briefly. “Second, the government in all its infinite wisdom decided to prosecute Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. Quite possibly the most decorated prisoner of war in American history, and you arrested him. Great work really.

“Now, for those of you who don’t watch the news or got distracted by recent events or came back from – well, whatever you were – for the last five years, at least I hope we brought you back, and this wasn’t all in vain, and hopefully I didn’t die for nothing.” Tony stops himself short, waving his hand. “Anyway, let me remind you all of my history with Sergeant Barnes.” Tony takes a deep breath and scrubs a hand over his beard. “He killed my parents. Murdered them in cold blood with his bare hands. Didn’t even blink.”

Bucky closes his eyes and ducks his head.

“Barnes singlehandedly broke up the Avengers and poached my best friend.” He lets out a sigh and rolls his eyes. “‘Singlehandedly’ might be harsh. I came in heavy with the Accords, but Steve and I, we could have worked that out. Found some middle ground, written regulations that actually – you know what, not the time.” Tony brushes it off and scuffs his toes on the carpet.

“I used to blame Barnes for that. All of it. Most of you probably do too. Blame him for a lot of things, I bet. But I was angry, so angry I couldn’t think straight. Didn’t want to, really. And Pepper always tells me I’m too stubborn for my own good. Even I can’t make me do something I don’t want. I didn’t believe her, always thought she was being dramatic, so I’d take pity on her. But then we had Morgan, and let me tell you-” He lets out a low whistle and smiles to himself.

“He didn’t ask for this, Bucky – I hope that’s alright.” Tony quirks up an eyebrow and pauses, looking into the camera. “I know we weren’t on great terms, but I’d like to think we would’ve gotten along eventually. Maybe, when we stopped tearing at each other’s throats, been friends. Maybe. I mean, Steve likes you, so you can’t be all bad. And I’d like to think, you’d forgive me for trying to kill you, because that wasn’t entirely on me. You had a little – No, sorry. Again. That wasn’t you, and I know that. You’re not the Winter Soldier. You never were.”

Tony stares at the ground, searching for words. His chest rises and falls rhythmically. His jaw locks and relaxes in time with his breathing. When he finally looks back to the camera, his eyes are clear. Focused. “As I was saying, he didn’t ask for any of this. He didn’t even volunteer to fight, but he did what he was asked because we needed him. Followed Steve around half the globe because there was a war to win. He got on that train because there was an entire world at stake. Not because he wanted to do any of it. He’s not like me. Caught up in myself. Looking for an easier way to do things, a quicker way home. It was his job, and he did it. So, if we’re looking for someone to blame, we should start in the mirror.” He shrugs. “Like it or not, we only have ourselves to blame. For starting a war no one would win and sending him into a fight we couldn’t finish. For not finding him, and when we did, not helping him. We pulled Cap out of the ice, and, if I remember right, had a national holiday. We found Sergeant Barnes and,” Tony scratches his chin and tilts his head to the side, “put a bounty on his head. Now, last I heard, they ran the same missions. It doesn’t take a genius to see the math doesn’t add up.”

Tony shuffles around behind his desk and drops a stack of notebooks on top. “And, Bucky, if you want these back, Pepper knows where they are.”

The screen blacks out, and the room falls still.

“Bucky, I swear I would have told you.” Words flood out of your mouth. “I thought you would ha-”

“Is it enough?” His eyes dart around the room, studying each of you.

No one answers. Steve shrugs with a faint smile. Sam rubs the back of his neck, and you open your mouth wordlessly. Bucky’s jaw tightens as he nods and turns back down the hall to the personal quarters. You race after him, apologizing and reassuring him.

You pull yourself flush against his chest as he falls asleep. It’s the only comfort you have for him tonight, and you won’t be sleeping anymore anyway. Only time can settle your nerves now.

Chapter Text

You burst through the courthouse doors, hanging on Bucky’s arm. Those VA psychologists really came through with their research about shell shock after World War Two and the mental health of Vietnam era POWs. Bucky didn’t want you in the room for Jack’s testimony, but you’d been told it was quite shocking. Of course, the prosecution capitalized on Jack’s disreputable history, but they couldn’t explain why he would want to lie in a way that makes himself into a monster. If anything, he would be downplaying the conditions of Bucky’s detainment. The jury was too horrified to pay any attention to the defense anyway. The talk of court martial was dropped before you even made it out of the courthouse. You understand why Tony had kept these lawyers on a hefty retainer.

Despite spending an extra half hour inside for a debriefing from the attorneys, your legs still shake under your weight. It’s been a long year. Your brain skitters through the memories: late nights preparing, countless death threats, tearful nights wrapped in Bucky’s arms. The idiot just couldn’t run. For the first time in months, you can rest.

Sam bounces down the stairs on your left side, jabbering on about something, presumably the trial. Steve claps Bucky on the shoulder, walking a step behind him. Shouts and bellows rumble ceaselessly from the crowd. Police officers advance several feet in front of you, shoving protesters away. Reporters lean over barricades, reaching microphones as far as they can stretch, shouting questions. Jack waits beside the dark SUV at the curb so you can make a quick getaway. Attorneys, jurors, and witnesses file out behind you.

Bucky grins at you, eyes shining brighter than you’ve ever seen. His walk is lighter; the weight of his past lifted from his shoulders puts a new spring in his step. You grin back at his relieved expression, his smile lines etched so deep, you’re certain they’ll never disappear. You haven’t seen him this cheery since the night he taught you to waltz, and never so calm. Peace settles over his features, as he breathes freely for the first time in decades. Hoping for a future for the first time in decades.

You take a deep breath, letting Bucky guide you to the steps as your eyes fall closed. After spending eight hours a day for the last five days stuck inside that stifling brick building, the air itself smells like freedom. The crisp breeze stings your lungs as you suck in another amazing breath. Your smile widens as Bucky’s scent hits your nose. You slam into his chest, and his lips press into yours.

“It’s over,” he whispers, barely audible.

You pull away, running your tongue over your lips. Your eyes open, focusing immediately on his wholehearted grin. His wheels are turning, and this time, you know why. The little box was missing from its usual spot on his nightstand this morning. It’s over. No more secrets, no more baggage. Just future.

You collapse as a crack cuts Bucky’s enthusiastic chuckle short. Steve, Sam, and Bucky drop not-so-gracefully to the ground, chests slamming into the concrete. The scene erupts into slow motion chaos. Security guards and police officers flood out of the courthouse, rushing in every direction. The crowd scatters, trampling each other in a mad dash. Reporters flee unceremoniously away from the steps, and cameramen back away in a hurry, cameras still pointed toward the action.

A roar of screams and sirens should accompany the mayhem, but all you hear over your breath is Bucky groaning as he turns over. You drag a breath in as he runs his fingers over a spot on his side and pinches his eyebrows together. Warmth spreads over your stomach as blood seeps through his shirt. You force the breath out, reaching for your abdomen. Bucky scans the dispersing crowd, eyes ablaze, face set in stone. A predator scanning for prey.

“Bucky,” you croak, fingers dipping into the hot, sticky puddle on your blouse. Raspy breath in.

His name gets his attention, and he scrambles over to you, stripping his jacket off. His face pales as he looks you over, his hands landing firmly beneath your ribs. Choked breath out. You thought you’d feel more pressure on your stomach.

“Look at me, James.” You lift your other hand weakly, pulling Bucky’s face toward yours. “I’m real.”

He smiles at you before returning his attention to your abdomen. His eyes run over your body in a frenzy. His words slur together as your breaths muddy his voice. You take a deep, jagged breath in.

You pull your hand away from your stomach, turning it over as you examine the deep red liquid. You’d always thought blood was thicker, like syrup. Your breath drowns out all remaining sound. The realization hits you as you gasp in more air, the hand on Bucky’s face slowly dropping. The longer you stare, the tighter your throat closes. Your heartrate climbs along with your breathing. A hand under your chin, turns your face. Bucky’s mouth moves wordlessly. Your name, maybe? He brings your hand back to his face, pressing it into his cheek.

Sam shuffles to your side, across from Bucky, ripping your shirt open. Bucky’s hands settle on either side of your face, and a dull pressure spreads through your stomach as Sam leans over you. A faint metallic smell fills the air, leaving it thick with dread. Your eyes drift between the men, and you scan your entire field of vision for Steve. He’s somewhere close; he wouldn’t run. A tap on your cheek draws your attention back to Bucky as he mouths your name again. Stay with me? Makes sense.

A pat on your thigh turns your focus. Bucky reaches across your body as Sam’s hands slide underneath you. The smell in the air leaves a hint of copper on your tongue as you gulp down another breath. The exhale comes out quickly as they turn you onto your side. Sam’s lips move too quickly for you to read, but his face is tense, eyes wide. A red haze dusts the edges of your vision as Sam presses against your back. You let out a hoarse breath, curling your legs to stabilize yourself.

“I- I can’t-” You inhale a long, wet breath. “Bucky, I can’t move m-” Your thought is cut off by a choked sob. “Why can’t I?”

Sam immediately lowers you to lay flat. You struggle to lift yourself to your elbows. Two strong, mismatched hands land on your shoulders, driving you back to the ground. Sam looks across your chest, meeting Bucky’s eyes. The cords in Bucky’s neck strain, pulling his skin tight as he yells at Sam, who busies himself back at your stomach. Bucky grits his teeth and locks his jaw before turning back to you.

“Look at me,” you plead, gasping, and watch the struggle in his eyes. “I’m real.”

He takes your face between his blood-soaked hands and leans toward you, resting his forehead on yours. Even at this distance, you can barely make out his trembling voice over the rush of blood.

“I know, kitten.”

Searing pain erupts in your abdomen, shooting across your chest and into your fingertips.

***

“I know,” Bucky yells at Sam, pressing you to the ground with one hand. “Just fucking pack it.”

Sam studies Bucky before lifting his own hand from your shoulder and grabbing strips of cloth from the pile near your head. Steve glances over you briefly before returning his attention to ripping apart his jacket. Sam’s suit jacket lays in a heap next to Steve, Bucky’s already torn into pieces.

“I’m real. Look at me,” you gasp quietly.

Bucky’s gaze snaps to you, chest tightening around his pounding heart. “I know, kitten.”

You roll your head back and let out a bloodcurdling scream as Sam reaches into the bullet wound. Tears stream down your pale cheeks, pouring from your clenched eyes. Your back arches with another cry.

“It’s no use,” Sam rocks back and presses a wad of fresh cloths against your stomach. “I can’t find the bleed.”

Bucky runs the back of his hand over your face, gently wiping the tears away. You lean into his touch, gasping for air with short breaths. You can’t speak past your hoarse throat and struggle to breathe past the lump. You turn your head and cough, thick blood spattering the concrete in front of you.

Bucky throws a glare sideways. “No one fucking moves her.”

You roll your head, eyes fluttering uncontrollably. A chorus of sirens crescendos, approaching from every direction. Bucky taps your cheek, making you squint to bring his face into focus.

“Stay with me, kitten,” he begs breathlessly. “You’re fine. I just need you to stay with us.”

“I – don’t –” you choke between breaths, “What’s – hap– Steve – Wh-”

“I need you to calm down.” He smooths down your hair. “Just focus on me.”

Bucky’s fingers trace over the burning gouge in his side as he quiets you. He should have noticed before you even hit the ground, before the round left the chamber. He thought the shooter missed. He hadn’t considered the bullet went through you first. He’s supposed to protect, not throw you into the open.

“I love you,” you breathe, lifting your heavy hand halfway to his face.

“Don’t do that.” He snatches your hand up, pulling it to his cheek. “You’re coming home.”

He’d spent enough time on the battlefield to know when men started rambling, they were really in trouble. Your pulse is barely noticeable in your wrist, and your breaths are coming too fast. You need help now. And more than he and Sam can give you.

Pounding steps yank Bucky from his spiraling thoughts. He hadn’t noticed the ambulance park at the bottom of the stairs in all the pandemonium.

“Where the hell have you been?” Bucky snarls at the approaching EMTs.

Steve tugs at Bucky’s shoulder while he and Sam back away. Bucky shrugs him off but takes a step back. He crouches near your head, taking the hand you reach out for him. The paramedics make quick work of the scene, nodding along as Sam fills them in on the few details he has.

After carefully rolling you onto a board, they carry you down the remaining steps. Bucky stares longingly after them until Steve punches his shoulder. Bucky spins around, growling, and catches a glimpse of a squad car. Two officers shove a young brunette into the back.

“Get the hell in the ambulance, you idiot.” Sam tosses his hand toward the EMTs.

Steve nods. “We’ll meet you there.”

Bucky sprints after you. With a little convincing the EMTs, he climbs into the front of the ambulance. The medics talk in the back and rummage through equipment. He squirms in his seat trying to get a view of you.

“...hypovolemic shock…”

“…neurogenic…blank stare…”

“…weak pulse…”

Most of the conversation is lost among Bucky’s scattered thoughts. Your face is paling quickly, but your chest doesn’t heave with every breath. He doesn’t have the medical knowledge to know if that’s a good sign. He should’ve seen it coming, kept you safe. Instead, he shoved you right out in front. His past will never let him go.

“Do you know her blood type?”

Bucky shakes his head, swallowing the lump in his dry throat. One EMT climbs through the door to the front while the other runs an IV for a blood transfusion and throws a blanket over you. A few moments later, the ambulance pulls back onto the street and speeds toward the hospital. The radio crackles frantically with fresh activity. The driver jerks the handset from the holster and notifies dispatch of the situation.

“GSW to the abdomen, entry and exit, likely a partial spinal cord injury, needs blood.”

Traffic parts in front of the ambulance, and the stopped cars fly past the windows. The siren whines nonstop, driving Bucky deeper into his head. The only grounding sound is your heartbeat monitor beeping slowly, however erratically.

Bucky swallows hard. “How does it look?”

“Too early to tell.” The paramedic glances at Bucky, lifting his shoulders. “I’ve seen worse get better, and I’ve seen better get worse.”

Bucky grits his teeth, nodding absently.

“Our job is to stop the bleeding.” The medic lets out a heavy sigh. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of it. But that’s what transfusions are for.”

When the beep lengthens into a flat tone, Bucky wrenches around to see through the small window. His muscles twitch as he forces himself to remain seated.

“Tension pneumothorax,” the medic yells to the driver as he pulls a needle from a drawer.

The ambulance slows, making less abrupt movements. In seconds, the medic has the needle placed between your ribs and continues working. Your heartbeat increases slowly, the peaks on the monitor hardly visible. Your eyes flutter, but don’t open. Bucky holds his breath, watching the monitor flat line again.

Plastic crinkles, and the medic places two pads on your chest and steps back. Bucky counts the seconds as he watches your slack face. The electric current in the air makes the hair on his neck prickle. His heart lurches with each of your small convulsions. His muscles tighten with each round of CPR.

When the steady beep returns, he collapses into himself. The hospital is only another two miles away. He drags his hands through his hair and holds his breath, watching the medic return to your wound. When they pull up to the ER, Bucky jumps out before the ambulance is parked. Ignoring shouts from hospital staff, he throws the back doors open, nearly ripping them off the hinges. As the paramedics roll the stretcher out, he takes your hand and follows them inside.

Your eyes open hazily, unable to focus. Bucky brushes hair out of your face and talks soothingly. You look side to side, struggling to keep your attention on him. You try to speak, but each breath is a struggle, and your eyes slip closed.

“You got to stay awake, kitten. Please.” Alcohol and bleach assault his senses as they pass through the sliding doors. “You have to come back. Stay with me, baby. You can’t go.”

A nurse slams her hand into Bucky’s chest, stopping him at another set of double doors. He could push past her. Shove her into the wall and follow you. No one could stop him. Until they do, and he gets thrown out.

“Wait,” he shouts, rushing forward.

“Sir,” the nurse grabs his arm, marveling at the prosthetic, “we don’t have ti-”

“Please.” His voice cracks as he stares at you.

She glances at your blue tinted lips, releasing a breath, and waves Bucky over.

Dashing forward, he quickly brushes your hair back and presses his lips firmly against yours. “I love you.”

You don’t open your eyes, but your lips twitch into a faint smile.

He gives the nurse a jerky nod and steps back. Running a hand over his jaw, he turns around scanning the waiting room. Steve and Sam are nowhere in sight.

When they do arrive, Sam passes Bucky his keys without a word and returns to Steve’s side. Bucky sits alone in the corner of the waiting room, snarling at any nurse who suggests he have the wound on his side looked at. They should be saving you, not trifling with him. He’ll be fine by morning. The bullet hardly took any meat out. He glances up from his hands to watch Steve and Sam talking a few feet away.

“I don’t know, Steve.” Sam faces away from Bucky, whispering behind his hand. “With that much blood-” He trails off, cocking his head to the side.

“You know, I can hear you.” Bucky’s voice is gruff and hollow as he stands. “She’ll be alright.”

Steve slaps a hand on Bucky’s shoulder and squeezes softly. “Did they say anything before we got here?”

Bucky shakes his head, turning his attention to the blank, linoleum floor. “She – she crashed twice in the ambulance.” He clears his throat to hide the crack in his voice.

Sam throws Steve a worried glance and pats Bucky’s shoulder. “It’s alright, man.”

“She’s strong.” Bucky rolls his shoulders, knocking Steve and Sam away. “She’s not just going to give up. She won’t.”

“Buck,” Steve guides Bucky back to his seat with a hand on his elbow, “just sit down. We’re going to be here a while.”

Bucky jerks his arm out of Steve’s grip, and stomps in the opposite direction. “I’m going to get a coffee.”

After he rounds the corner, his shoulders slump and his feet drag over the floor, the soles of his loafers squeaking against the well-trodden surface. His hand presses into the fresh wound in his side, sending stabs of heat up his chest. You shouldn’t be here. None of them should. The shooter didn’t have a shot at killing him anyway. He’d aimed way too low. With the serum in play, Bucky would almost have to take a direct hit to the heart or brain to be fatal. If he hadn’t pulled you in front of him, you’d all be home. He’d have a nasty bruise for a few days, and it’d be a distant memory.

The break area is empty, to Bucky’s relief. He snatches a paper cup from the counter and approaches the machine, digging into his back pocket. He looks down at his wallet and freezes. How many times had he been elbow deep in blood before? How many times had he assured himself he never would be again? He turns his hands over, studying the caked-up blood. Your caked-up blood.

He slowly closes his fists, the blood cracking along his knuckles and drifting to the floor. With a deep breath, he swallows the lump in his throat. He squints his eyes shut as the room swirls around him. This is different than any time before. No rage. No mission. No freezer to numb the guilt. Just panic. But fear makes no distinction. It tugs at the edges of his mind, opening just enough space for memories to creep in. Split knuckles from a fist fight, blood running down his blade and over his wrist, the back of his hand leaving a rusty smudge across his lips.

“Barnes?”

The vending machine snaps into focus, and Bucky’s head swivels toward the door.

“You remember me?”

Bucky nods and crouches to pick his wallet up from the floor. “From the airport.”

“Clint,” his low, gravelly voice is oddly soothing. “Steve said I could find you here.”

“Well, Steve knows everything.” Bucky rolls his eyes, turning back to the machine.

“He’s worried about you.” Clint enters the room and leans against the counter.

Bucky lets out a quiet snicker as he presses the button for an Americano. “It’s about time the tables turned.”

Clint laughs and goes silent. “How are you doing?”

“Look,” Bucky squares his shoulders as he takes the steaming cup, “you’re a good guy. I know you’re just trying to help, but I can’t do this right now. So, just don’t.”

Clint holds his hands up in defeat and takes out his own wallet. The men stand quietly, shuffling their feet and busying their hands as Clint’s coffee trickles into a cup. When he lifts the drink, they proceed slowly back down the hallway.

“She’d be worried about you too, you know.” Clint stops Bucky before they turn the corner to the waiting room. “She’s probably having nightmares about it while she’s under.”

“Clint.” Bucky narrows his eyes and sets his jaw. “I said don’t.”

“I’ve fielded more calls about you than my own children.” Clint throws his hand into Bucky’s chest, keeping him from continuing. “Since the day she met you, her biggest fear has been making a mistake that sets you back.”

Bucky glances away.

“She knew there’d be plenty of setbacks, but she always worried she’d be the reason.” Clint drops his hand, locking eyes with Bucky. “Don’t let her be right.”

Bucky winces imperceptibly and straightens his back. He adjusts his grip on the flimsy cup and rounds the corner, leaving Clint to trail behind. Clint slams into Bucky’s back as his eyes scan the corner of the waiting room.

Rhodes and Happy, he expected. You’d always been close with them. Pepper is a surprise. She had distanced herself from you the moment the news broke about your relationship with Tony. Even Bucky was surprised by that. He’d never pegged Pepper as the jealous type. Then again, he hadn’t been the jealous type either.

With a deep breath, Bucky pushes past the small crowd and takes a chair several seats away. Before anyone can question him, Clint jumps into a reminds-me-of-the-time story. It must be a good one because two minutes later the corner explodes in laughter with Steve defending himself and Rhodey denying involvement. Bucky stares blankly into the deep brown, frothy liquid. He won’t drink it. He knew that when he got it. But you would. And somehow having it makes him feel better. Like you’ll walk out any second and light up when you see it in his hand. Like all it would take to fix this mess is a simple cup of coffee.

His hand tightens around the cup. It takes all his effort not to crush it entirely, slamming it onto the side table instead and making nearly as big a mess. His outburst draws the attention of the full room as he scrambles to clean up the spill, mumbling apologies. Steve ambles over, kneeling next to Bucky, and holds out a towel. How Steve always managed to find the appropriate resources so damn fast always amazed Bucky. Although, it irritated him less in the past. He snatches the towel from Steve’s hand with begrudging thanks and mops up his mess.

“Rollins stopped by the compound and grabbed clean clothes.” Steve rests his hand on Bucky’s shoulder.

Bucky’s gaze darts back to the group. Sam shakes hands with Rollins and slings a backpack over his shoulder before heading down a hallway behind them. Bucky swallows hard and looks himself over. A single glimpse of the maroon staining on his shirt makes his head spin. Why would he put you between himself and a crowd? That was just asking for trouble.

“No,” he gulps. “I’m fine.”

“Buck,” Steve’s voice filters softly through Bucky’s jumbled thoughts, “you look like you-”

“What?” Bucky snarls. “Tried to save a life? Because you don’t.”

“I was there too.” Steve squares his shoulders. “You should change out of that.”

“I don’t need the goddamn clothes.” Bucky shoves past Steve. “I need my girl back.”

Bucky storms to the front door of the emergency room and stops. Of course, the press followed them. Why wouldn’t they? There’s nothing else worth talking about. He locks his jaw and steps through the sliding doors, taking a breath of the fresh air. He can handle it.

Questions flood into his ears from every direction before the doors even shut behind him. The reporters keep their distance, but don’t hold back on their questions. Does he know the victim? Yes. What about the shooter? Not exactly. Does he think it’s his fault? Obviously. Is he going to have a flashback? Probably.

He makes his way to a bench silently and picks at the blood under his nails, making a point to ignore the interrogation. He’d rather listen to them than be inside any longer. At least strangers are too afraid to approach him. His friends won’t leave him alone. Friends may be too strong of a word. Steve and Sam, he could call friends, but not the rest of them. Not that it matters. Everyone is only here for you anyway, even Steve and Sam. Not that he can blame them. You were amazing.

“Are,” he mutters to himself, running his hands through his hair. “You are, goddamn it.”

The doors whoosh open and Pepper steps out, looking around. When she finds Bucky, she sits beside him and pats his knee.

“I have to get back to Morgan.” She tugs at his elbow, urging him to stand with her. “I just wanted to check on you.”

Bucky clears his throat and looks up to meet her bloodshot eyes. “I’m fine.”

She pats his cheek softly and skims her thumb over his jaw, her eyes darting to the horde in the parking lot. “You should stay inside.”

Before she leaves, she pulls him into a gentle hug and kisses his cheek with impossible softness. With a final breath of clean air, Bucky turns back inside. Heat spreads through his chest and his hands shake when he lays eyes on Strange. Stephen reaches a hand toward Bucky’s shoulder preparing to offer what probably would have been a reassurance if Bucky hadn’t cut him off.

“What the hell are you doing?” He swats Strange’s hand away. “I thought you cared about her.”

“Barnes,” Strange sighs.

“You should be back there,” Bucky yells, swinging an arm toward the door labeled Authorized Personnel Only. “Helping.”

“Trust me, Barnes, you don’t want me back there. I’d only get in the way.” Stephen says calmly. “She’s got the best trauma surgeons in the state. When they’re ready for an opinion about her spinal cord, I’ll head back.”

The peaks of Bucky’s lip twitch up, and he returns to his seat with a growl. Sam, now in jeans and a fitted shirt, whispers something to Steve, and Bucky turns back to his hands. The blood has cracked along the creases in his palm and peels off along the seams in his bionic hand. He always knew his past would catch up to him and take everything.

The Winter Soldier will never be gone.

Bucky scrapes at the blood on his hands, unable to stomach looking at it anymore. The lights dim as he chips away at the crust, watching flakes fall onto the clean tile. A thick, mud red dust settles over his fingertips as he works, exposing his stained skin under the coating. His breathing slows and deepens, drowning out the surrounding noise. With a blink, the white tile turns to cold concrete and footsteps echo off the walls.

“Soldat.” A stocky man enters the room.

He doesn’t answer, only looks up, scowling behind his mask.

Metal scrapes as the man toes at the slew of weapons on the ground in front of the Soldier. “Otchet.”

“Target eliminated.” He answers in flawless Russian. “End of report.”

“Do not try me.” The man continues in Russian, grabbing a fistful of the Soldier’s hair and yanking his head up. “Where is the rest of your equipment?”

The knife could have gone unnoticed, maybe even the goggles. They get broken every other mission anyway. But he’d nearly lost the hard drive, and that is unforgivable.

“There was a complication.” He growls dully.

“A child,” the man tosses the Soldier’s head to the side, “does not constitute a complication.”

The soldier returns to scraping filth from his hands. “The child was a witness.”

He’s rewarded with a backhand across his cheek so hard his mask drops to the floor in two pieces.

“You left your equipment in the open.” The man grabs the Soldier by the jaw, squeezing until the Soldier’s teeth scrape against his cheeks. “This is not Moscow. You must be discreet.”

The Soldier silently endures a series of slaps across the face. A punch would be too respectable. An open-handed strike is both humiliating and painful. The sting spreads quickly, extending down the Soldier’s neck. His skin swells with each blow, imprinting a reminder of the mistake on his face. The marks will last long enough for the others to join in the fun.

“How does a child surprise you?”

The unmistakable click of a round being chambered is the only indication that the abuse is over. Cool metal presses against the crown of the Soldier’s head.

“Maybe you weren’t worth the investment after all.”

“Maybe not,” the Soldier whispers back.

“You left the witness alive?”

The Soldier looks out from under his brow, not daring to move his head. “Nyet.”

“Good.” With a smirk, the man lowers his weapon and pats the Soldier’s cheek. “The others will clean up your mess. Your skills are no longer required in this program, not that you’ll remember this anyway.”

Bucky grits his teeth and inhales sharply, willing himself not to break the hand nudging his shoulder.

“Mister Barnes?” A young, brunet fidgets with his hands in front of Bucky. “I’m Peter Par-”

“Jesus, kid,” Bucky breathes, dragging his hand through his hair.

“I’m sorry. I just-” He wrings his hands and bounces on the balls of his feet. “We met at the airport, and I wanted to say I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you and Mister Wilson. I just – Tony said we had to –”

“Look around you.” Bucky’s face softens. “We’re all past the airport.”

Peter glances at Clint grinning at Rhodey and smiles, turning back to Bucky. “I really – you’re like coolest – Man, we learned about you in school, and then you came back. And it was the coolest – And, you’re just – I think you’re awesome.”

“Can I give you some advice, kid?” Bucky leans back and waits for Peter’s breathless answer. “Shut up sometimes.”

Peter opens his mouth and shuts it back, pointing at Bucky.

“There you go,” Bucky grins back at him. “Now, go practice on someone else.”

As Peter leaves to talk with Happy, Sam sits next to Bucky and hands him a cup of coffee. “How you holding up?”

“Why does everyone keep touching me?” Bucky takes the cup and smirks, realizing it’s hot chocolate. “Do I look like I’m in a friendly mood?”

“Come on, man. They’re trying to be supportive.” Sam takes a drink from his own cup and grimaces. “She’s going to be alright. Like you said, she’s a fighter.”

“I really can’t, Sam. Not right now.” Bucky turns away, staring into the swirling, silky, chocolate.

Sam sets his cup on the floor. “You see the twerp from the airport?”

“You’re still holding onto that?” Bucky huffs out a shadow of a laugh. “What’s he doing here?”

“Apparently, Y/N took him on for a while after Germany. Back when she was Stark’s lead counselor.” Sam points to a woman with long, straight hair and big glasses. “That’s his aunt there, May.”

“Happy’s locked onto her like a hawk.” Bucky’s eyebrows knit together as he watches the burly security guard.

“Oh, yeah.” Sam whistles. “They had a summer fling. He says it was mutual.”

“So, she dumped him?” Dating may have changed, but breakups haven’t.

Sam nods. “Come on. Talk with us. It’ll help.”

“No, I-” Bucky shakes his head and struggles to his feet, “I think I’m going to clean up a little.”

They walk into the group together, and Sam passes him the backpack from under a chair. Bucky carries the bag by the top strap and hauls it to the bathroom. When he opens the door, one of the lights flickers, making him rub his eyes. He steps into a stall and strips off his ruined clothes, peeling his shirt away from his skin. The fabric sticks to his stomach where blood seeped through while he was holding you. Realizing his arms are still tacky, he drops his clean shirt back in the backpack.

He pulls on his joggers and steps up to the sink shirtless, tossing his dirty clothes on the counter. His reflection isn’t a sight he’s seen in quite some time. Cracked smears of deep rust coat his cheeks with clean streaks from tears he hadn’t even noticed. The normally white scars on his stomach are a glaring, brick red. His hair, styled so meticulously this morning, falls flat on his head, greasy from sweat. The only volume comes from matted blood and grime off his hands. The stains along his jaw and around his mouth mask the fact that he shaved every morning this week. His red eyes stare back at him, empty.

Dipping his head into the sink, he runs his hands through wet hair until the clumps are gone. Water drips down his face as he lifts his head, eyes squeezed shut. The droplets fall into the sink with a steady plink, and the light in the corner crackles with another flicker. The chill of the sterile building seeps into his bare skin, rooting in his bones. He takes a deep breath, letting the crisp, clean air sting his lungs. When he opens his eyes, a red haze clouds his vision. Thick, sticky globs bleed rusty stains down the sides of the sink, coating the ceramic in gore. He runs his arms absently under the faucet, watching his hands rub the dirty mixture of blood, dirt, and tissue from his skin. The tacky clots tug at the hair and irritate his skin. The sparking light bulb casts the room into an eerie reflection of his past.

Bucky’s fingers curl around the edge of the counter, knuckles going white, struggling against the scratching in his brain. Each flicker of light brings another flash of history. Pink drops from Bucky’s jaw splash onto the counter in diluted blood spatter. His eyes zero in on the filthy, red streams oozing down the drain, and he returns to cleaning his hands.

He snatches a bloody cloth from the pile and dries his face, leaving light smudges behind, before cleaning his neck. The cool fabric is softer than he remembers, but there’s no time to dwell on it now. He sets about the task of cleaning himself up, not thoroughly, just enough to be presentable. As he pulls his shirt over his head, a door slams. He takes a deep breath, staring at his tired, ruddy face in the mirror. The shirt is tighter than usual.

“Soldat.” The man’s voice is unmistakable, Ivanov.

He won’t get away with a nonverbal answer. “Da.”

“Explain yourself.” The harsh Russian rolls crisply off Ivanov’s tongue.

“Your girl wasn’t ready.” The Soldier faces Ivanov. “She compromised the mission and everyone on it.”

“Your job,” Ivanov takes a step into the Soldier’s space, “is to prevent that.”

Ivanov is, by no means, a large man. The Soldier could easily disable him in no more than three moves. But he is powerful. Injuring Ivanov would certainly result in heavy consequences. Killing any handler, or most instructors for that matter, would land him back in the freezer.

“My job is damage control.” The Soldier doesn’t budge.

Ivanov gives a curt nod. “You eliminated the others. Why did you bring her back?”

“She fought,” the Soldier growls.

“We do not salvage compromised assets.” Ivanov squares his shoulders at the Soldier’s show of aggression.

The Soldier eyes Ivanov’s fingers twitching at his sidearm and stands down, taking a step back. “I like her.”

Ivanov snorts, a glimmer jumping into his eyes as he relaxes. “Kill her when you’re done.”

The door slams shut.

“Barnes?”

Bucky’s eyes shut tighter, eyebrows pulling together. “Rollins?”

“You’ve been in here a while.” Rollins gives him an uneasy look, studying his posture.

“We’re not friends.” Bucky growls, shoving his clothes into the backpack.

“I’m not trying to be.” Rollins opens the door for Bucky. “But someone ought to remind you that you weren’t the only one responsible for keeping her safe.”

Bucky’s steps falter. “I’m the only one responsible for getting her shot.”

“I was on that bridge too.” Rollins matches Bucky’s stride. “Giving orders, if memory serves.”

Bucky stops short and squints at Rollins. “Very bold of you to remind me while you’re standing in striking distance.”

Jack lets out a chuckle. “I’ll share the blame if you will.”

Bucky’s lips twitch up, and his shoulders relax. “How do you even know it was because of DC?”

“It’s all over the news.” Rollins glances at Bucky and waves to the TV on the opposite side of the waiting room. “That Williams lady surrendered immediately.”

“The prosecution’s witness?” Bucky shakes his head. “I guess it makes sense.”

“Buck,” Steve sighs, walking up to the two men. “What took you so long?”

Rollins glances between them and steps away.

“I had a lot to clean up,” Bucky snaps and edges around Steve.

Steve grabs Bucky by the elbow and drags him back. “Would you quit running off?”

“Would you quit worrying about me?” Bucky hisses. “You are not my father, so lay off it. I am a fucking adult.”

Steve lets out a breath as Bucky rips his arm away and storms back to his seat. Steve had been giving him orders since the moment he got back from his family. Hell, before that – since the battle with Thanos. All their lives, really. It wasn’t so bad when he was a little guy. During the war, there was a chain of command. Now that he’s a senior citizen, it only feels like nagging. And disappointment.

The chair next to Bucky creaks under Steve’s weight, and Bucky lets out a groan. Steve sighs and lays his hand on Bucky’s back. Bucky’s eyes cut sideways as he leans forward and rests his elbows on his knees. The blond bastard has always been relentless. Always been good.

“Just leave me alone.” Bucky shakes him off.

Steve doesn’t move. “You know that I get it.”

“Don’t.” Bucky grits his teeth and rubs his temples. “Please don’t.”

“You remember. Peg took a bad hit, and we didn’t know if she’d make it. Or that time she went with Tenth Mountain and didn’t come back on time.” Steve leans onto his knees, matching Bucky’s posture. “I know what it’s like to-”

“What, Steve?” Bucky’s head snaps up. “Find your girl? Marry her, raise a family, watch them grow up, raise their families, make a life?”

Steve closes his eyes and opens his mouth slowly.

“Tell me you know how I feel,” Bucky yells before Steve can answer. “Please, tell me you understand. I could use a good excuse to clock somebody.”

As Bucky winds up for another reaming, a doctor enters the waiting room and calls your name. Silence swallows Bucky’s senses. The room falls away, and Bucky’s arms drop to his sides like hundred-pound weights. All that matters is the man in the white coat with a small smudge of blood over his left eyebrow. The man with steady hands and firm footing.

Everyone stares at Bucky as he crosses the room, backing away to give him space. His tongue sticks to the roof of his mouth, and he can’t form a single word. His head swarms with more activity than his brain can process, leaving it empty. His heart slams into his ribs with each step closer, his feet aching to reach the surgeon while the rest of him resists the update. The room stretches forever while the world closes around him, suspending Bucky in an infinite moment of hopeful dread.

Bucky swallows his breath, taking the last step to meet the doctor, and waits. The doctor opens his mouth, and a deafening quiet rushes through the air. The first two words are all Bucky needs. The doctor’s lips continue moving, words drowned in Bucky’s gasping breath. His lungs spasm until they stop altogether, and his knees give out. He doubles over, crouching slowly until he hits the floor. His vision darkens, forcing him to suck in a quick breath. His arms tighten around himself, his hands covering his face and digging into his hair.

The room is still as Steve takes a knee in front of Bucky, silence broken only by a stifled gasp from somewhere behind them. Bucky leans into Steve instinctively, clawing at his back, desperate to find a familiar embrace. A scrap of comfort. A whiff of home. Anything to hold onto.

Anything but “I’m sorry.”