As a child, you were told it was a gift; placed upon a pedestal above the quaint suffering of a rural town and removed of your innocence for the good of strangers. You’d been made to be revered – honored – for the touch that could mend the broken.
It began with a cut upon your father’s finger – a slip of a kitchen knife that had left a small bead of blood in its wake. Curious eyes glanced up at your father as he hissed at the sting of it and you’d reach forward to place your infant hand upon the cut, a grip so mall it barely wrapped around his finger. He stilled as a soft glow began to emit from your palm. When you removed your hand and began to cry, your father was stunned to find his skin perfectly intact – no trace of a scar in its place.
They told you it was a gift, celebrated you as if you were a blessing from Heaven itself. But they were cruel in their rejoice, selfish in their praise. They had not considered your gift was not a gift at all – but a sacrifice.
Like energy, pain could not be destroyed— but it could be absorbed. It could be transferred. Your father’s cut had not simply disappeared, but instead manifested on the finger of an infant for a few short moments before it faded into your skin; laid to rest amongst a sea of foreign injuries that did not belong to you.
“Look sharp, kid! We’ve got incoming,” Banner’s voice startled you from your thoughts as he stood at the doorway to your lab. Arms folded over his chest, an amused smirk upon his face, he must have caught sight of the quinjet landing in the hanger from the windows overlooking the loading dock.
You nodded, setting down the drill beside the stun absorption pad you were engineering for Stark’s newest suit. You didn’t have to wonder long who was on the latest mission and currently on their way to your office, because a familiar bickering began to carry down the hall and into the lab, forcing a smile onto your face.
For a mechanical engineer, you saw more of the Avengers post-mission than the med wing did these days. You’d been hired for your multiple PhDs and borderline genius IQ, but once you’d rushed across the room to spare Stark from a rather unpleasant laceration on his palm from an experiment gone haywire, your lab had quickly become a rotating door of injured Avengers.
Sure enough, Barnes and Wilson stumbled their way into the lab, Sam draped over Bucky’s shoulder, barely able to put any pressure on his left leg. While Sam tossed you his charismatic grin and those big, round, puppy dog eyes, Bucky favored to dispose of his partner on the lab table with an aggravated grunt.
“What do we have today?” you smirked, rolling up the sleeves of your coat as Bruce shook his head in amusement.
“Broken ankle, I think,” Sam replied, gesturing to the mess of bandages and improvised splint.
You nodded as you stepped closer, examining the injury before you brushed a hand over the swollen joint. Sam whined at the contact, the pain clearly breaking through the lighthearted grin upon his face though he tried to suppress it. His hand curled into a fist.
“You know I’m not a medical doctor, but I’d have to agree,” you nodded, planting your hands on your hips.
“You could just get the x-rays and go through PT like a normal person,” Bucky grumbled off in his corner of the room, narrowing his eyes in warning upon his partner. “She’s not here as your personal healer, Wilson.”
Bucky was always hesitant of your powers. He never said why, but you wondered most days if he was still seeking penance for the evils he’d committed under Hydra, if maybe he felt as though giving you his pain absolved him in a way he was not worthy of.
Or perhaps it was a degradation of his pride. Men often found strength in their ability to withstand pain. Though, it seemed to bother him when the others would come to you for injuries like this, too, almost as if he worried they were taking advantage of you.
He was a good man; certainly, more concerned with your consent in healing his friends than your parents and the town who spent your childhood exploiting you ever were.
“I don’t mind, Bucky,” you told him, smiling encouragingly back at him until he started to relax his shoulders and uncrossed his arms, softening under your gaze. “If it means less time on the bench and more time out there saving lives and having your back, I don’t mind at all.”
“Yeah, Barnes, who’s going to watch your back if I’m held up in a cast?” Sam teased, chuckling under his breath until Bucky stepped forward and not so subtly bumped his hip to the side of the lab table. The sudden disruption of the table moved his ankle just enough to instantly wipe the grin from Sam’s face.
“Try to relax for me, Sam,” you eased, stepping forward as you started to remove your gloves. You leaned over the edge of the table, slowly removing the splint and the bandage surrounding the swollen muscle. You handed it off to Bucky as you examined the dark purple and blue discoloration on his ankle.
He hissed as you laid your palms on his leg, clenching down on his jaw.
You closed your eyes, concentrating as you felt for the break beneath the surface. A crack splintered through the bone, the surrounding tissue swollen and aching.
A gentle glow began to emit from your palms, a warmth that spread from your hands and directly onto Sam’s skin, through the muscle, and deep into the bone. You could feel the subtle fragments as they began to mend, the swell in his joint as it shrank, the slight movements as he regained feeling.
Exhaling a tense breath, you shifted your stance onto your right leg as the pressure started to build in your ankle. It wouldn’t last long, just a few minutes in comparison to the weeks of treatment and months of physical therapy Sam would have endured – an easy trade for a man who spend his days so selflessly on the line in the service of strangers.
You could sense Bucky watching you and you were careful not to let the pain show on your face. There was a privilege in healing the Avengers like this. It gave your life meaning beyond the injuries of your hometown; of careless teenagers falling off skateboards or angry men in bars who took an argument a drink too far. You’d happily take on a few moments of pain in service of heroes.
Not that you’d let them know.
“You should be good now.” You held your hands up, the soft glow fading away from your palms as you tucked your hands into your pockets. Careful of the momentary break in your ankle, you took a cautious step away from the table to lean on the chair at your desk. No one noticed the wince in your expression as you put the slightest pressure on the fresh injury.
“I will never get tired of that.” Sam looked down at the foot in awe, rolling at the ankle and amazed to find the swelling and bruising disappeared completely. He jumped down from the table, bounding on his feet just to test out the freedom in his mobility.
“Alright, Wilson. Enough,” Bucky rolled his eyes. “You’re going to hurt yourself again and Y/n’s not going to be so generous next time.”
Sam smirked, pausing for a moment as he contemplated. “Nah, my girl will always take care of me. Won’t ya, sugar?”
It didn’t slip your notice when Bucky tensed up at the pet name. You started to laugh, the teasing smile dropping from his face as his hands curled into fists. Sam really knew how to press his buttons and it seemed, surprisingly enough, you were one of them.
“Bucky’s got a point, you know. Fancy healing powers are reserved for field injuries these days.” You were only teasing, both of them knowing you’d have healed a papercut if they’d ask. Still, Bucky smirked, taunting Sam over your shoulder as if he’d won.
You eased yourself off the chair as you started to regain feeling in your ankle, giving more pressure to the heel to find it barely noticeable. You rubbed at the joint with your right shoe to find the swelling had disappeared as well.
A few moments to spare him weeks of pain. Easy trade.
“What about you, Sergeant?”
Bucky paused, raising an eyebrow at you.
You took a step forward, glancing over him in search of injuries. Nothing more than a few cuts that his own advanced healing would take care of overnight. Still, there was one injury you’d been trying to convince him to allow you to heal in the year since you’ve known him.
“You going to let me work on your shoulder yet or are you still being a masochist?”
Sam snickered under his breath as he crossed the room to watch what Banner was doing over his shoulder. Bucky gave you that knowing smile of his, the one that pushed up into his eyes and left behind beautiful creases and lines on his face; an exhale of a laugh on his breath.
“It’s not necessary, doll. I’m fine.”
A frown tugged at your lips. “You always say that, and yet…”
“Nothing I can’t handle,” Bucky shrugged. He was watching you with those sweet eyes of his, creating a warmth that spread in your chest entirely independent of the powers in your hands.
“You shouldn’t have to handle it in the first place,” you pressed, a pain in your voice as he placed a hand on your shoulder, letting it slide down your arm. It was an intimate gesture, more contact that he had with most people, and he offered it willingly. You tried not to let the shivers show in your spine as he pulled away.
It looked as though he wanted to say more, but Steve suddenly appeared in the doorway, causing Bucky to take an abrupt step away from you. You hadn’t realized how close you’d been standing to one another.
“Debrief in five,” Steve ordered, eyeing Sam and Bucky, though paused as he saw you, offering a short smile in acknowledgement before disappearing down the hall.
“I’m not letting this go, just so you’re aware,” you teased, pointing at Bucky’s shoulder as he started to wave Sam towards the door. He smiled, keeping his back to you until Sam was clear of the room and he leaned into the open frame, one quick glance back at you.
“Wouldn’t expect anything less, doll.”
The next month saw another broken leg, a fractured clavicle, two minor lacerations, a sprained wrist, and a number of superficial cuts – all from various members of the team. Though there was always the one exception who wouldn’t accept your offer no matter how badly he was favoring his right arm.
The clavicle was certainly a challenge to get through, but the world needed Natasha Romanoff in the field, not strung up on a gurney and a brace for a handful of months. It took longer than some of the other injuries to heal, but you’d managed, even if you had to excuse yourself to the restroom as soon as you’d finished, even if you had to shove a towel into your mouth to keep from screaming as it mended itself together under your skin.
The truth was you liked being useful. You liked the stunned smiles on their faces and the appreciation in their eyes. You liked seeing them run a hand over perfectly smooth skin where an open wound had just been. It gave you a purpose.
And sure – your work on SHIELD tech was important and perhaps not all of the injuries in your hometown had been a waste of your abilities, but there was something exceptionally gratifying in mending someone who was untouchable, in healing the people who saved the world.
You’d take a dozen broken clavicles for them.
It was late after your evening shift and you’d taken to running a few laps on the indoor track around the gym. Blow off some steam, use the state-of-the-art equipment Stark spent thousands of dollars on, give your mind something to think about beside how you were going to rewire Sam’s wings to expand in a more fluid motion.
You’d just started to break into a sweat when you noticed Bucky setting up at the row of punching bags. The gym was otherwise empty as the sky favored the stars over the sun, and you started to smile as you watched Bucky shrug off his jacket and drop the bag at his feet. He rolled back his shoulders, concentrating on the bag as he readied his fists. But as the first punch hit the bag, the smile quickly fell from your face.
It echoed up into the rafters, startling you enough to still your sprint abruptly. He let out a grunt as he pummeled at the bag; left jab, right hook, kick, until it broke at the seams and split open to spill sand in heaps upon the ground. He moved on to the next one.
You clasped a hand to your mouth, looking around the gym to confirm you were in fact alone with him. He’d been on a mission as far as you were aware for the last week. You’d missed him hanging around the lab, asking questions as you worked on new advancements on the stun guns for field agents. He must have gotten back a few hours ago and something clearly went wrong.
“Bucky?” you called, voice far too soft to be heard across the gym and above the thunderous clash of his knuckles to leather. You jogged a few paces closer, wincing as he threw the entirely of his momentum into a hit that would have broken an ordinary man’s hand. “Bucky? Are you alright?”
But he didn’t hear you. You took a cautious look back at the doors, wondering if you should go find Steve, or maybe even Sam – someone who might know what happened, someone who might be able to talk him down. But you were the only one around. You cleared your throat, stepping up just behind him.
You hit the ground before you knew what had happened.
A blinding pulsing in the back of your head, the wind momentarily knocked from your lungs, you opened your eyes to find Bucky hovering over you. He held a closed fist in the air, the other digging sharply into your shoulder between his grip, pupils blown wide and dark. It took a moment before he seemed to realize who was laying under him.
“Y/n?” He blinked, confused. His stare flickered to the fist held above your head, knuckles dripping red and bloody, and he pulled away instantly, a flash of horror written over his features. “Shit– I didn’t… What are you doing here?”
You rubbed at the back of your head, brushing over a slight bump that would certainly mend itself within a few minutes. Slowly, you sat up, careful of the sudden darkness that swept over your eyes, though something cool grabbed onto you before you could fall back against the floor.
“Hey, come lean against the wall, okay?” Bucky urged, carefully guiding you to adjust your position until you could press your back to the chill of the plastered walls. You sighed in contentment, the pain in your pain already dissipating. Bucky swallowed nervously. “Did I hurt you?”
“I don’t stay hurt for long, Buck,” you told him with a teasing smile, though he did not return it. You set a hand on his forearm, squeezing it lightly before returning it to your lap. “I’m alright. I promise. Are you?”
Bucky narrowed his eyes.
“You were beating that punching bag within an inch of its life,” you clarified, chuckling as you gestured to the exploded bag on the floor, and then to the one still hanging with sand streaming down the seams.
“Rough mission,” was all he said, his eyes downcast.
You nodded. “Do you want to talk about it?”
He shook his head.
The two of you sat in silence for a while, listening to the soft buzz of the air conditioner and the faint chirp of crickets outside the windows. You didn’t expect him to say anything. Bucky was a man of few words, but you hoped the company was enough. He didn’t make an effort to move away, not even when your thigh brushed against his.
He was trying to close his fist when you heard him hiss in pain. His right hand was coated in dried blood and fresh, open wounds on his knuckles. They’d barely started to crust over and with every attempt to close his fist, they cracked open, drawing a painful sting in their place.
“Will you let me heal your hand?”
Bucky paused, setting his hand down on his leg. “Y/n, it’s not necessary. I won’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking. I’m offering,” you countered. “Besides, it is necessary, actually. How are you going to punch the bad guys if you can’t close your fist?”
“I’ve got another,” Bucky argued back, though a smile had etched its way onto his face. He raised his left hand, making a show of it as he curled his fingers into a fist one by one. “This one’s pretty indestructible so…”
“Please, Bucky.” You turned towards him, folding your legs as you held out your left hand for him to take. “Just this once. Let me do this.”
A stormy array of ocean blue and thunderous skies stared back at you, unsure. His eyes flickered down to your hand. Always so hesitant to ask for help, always so reluctant to accept the good things when they were offered. But as he watched you, searching for signs to run, to back out, something softened.
He swallowed and slowly, placed his right hand into yours.
You smiled, adjusting your grip gently on his hand. You placed it to lay on you knee as you hovered your left hand over his knuckles. The warm glow illuminated from your palm and Bucky’s breath hitched as he must have felt the sudden rush of energy it produced.
The scars began to mend before his eyes and just as you felt the stinging prick on your own knuckles, you quickly pushed your right hand into the pocket of your jacket to hide the scars as they formed.
“That’s incredible,” Bucky exhaled, withdrawing his hand as soon as you were finished. He held it out in front of him, examining the dried blood coated around perfectly intact skin. He shook his head in disbelief. “You’re incredible.”
A rush of heat burned in your cheeks as you looked away, a smile breaking onto your lips. It was enough to distract you from the stinging in your hand tucked away in your pocket.
“Do you want to watch a movie or something?” you asked, biting on your lip nervously. “Think you could do with the company and I’d like to keep you from breaking more of these expensive punching bags.”
Bucky laughed at that, nodding. “Yeah, that sounds nice.”
He stood and offered you his hand, thinking out loud about which one of the movies on his list he wanted to try out next. You pulled your hand from your pocket and took his as he offered it to you; the knuckles already clean and healed.
“You should see it, Fitz! It’s a goddamn stroke of genius.” You held up the ventilator no bigger than the pad of your thumb up to the light, admiring your work.
“I’m sure Stark will be thrilled,” a thick Scottish accent crackled through the speaker on the com beside you. “Send me the schematics, will you?”
You pursed your lips, a smile etching through. “Think you can one-up me?”
“No never,” Fitz laughed. You could hear him tinkering in his own lab on the quinjet, the small clicks of metal and the buzz of a drill humming over the speaker. “Just want to see if I’m still head of our class or not.”
“Pretty sure we both know that title belongs to Simmons.”
There was a slight pause, then, a dreamy, “yeah, you’re right.”
A sudden knocking at the edge of the lab startled you as you spun around in your chair, nearly dropping the ventilator for Stark’s suit. Bucky stood in the doorway, clutching at his left shoulder as fingers dug into the muscle. He wore a sort of guilty look upon his face though he pushed out a smile and waved.
“Hey, Fitz, I’ll call you tomorrow, alright?” you said over your shoulder to the speaker, waited a moment for his response and ended the call. You turned back to Bucky as a smile grew upon your face. “What can I do for you, Sergeant? I didn’t miss movie night, did I?”
“No, you’re in the clear,” Bucky chuckled, though it was tense. He stepped further into the lab, relaxing a little as he noticed no one else was around. It was pretty late for you to be working, but you were so close to finishing the ventilator, and well, time easily got away from you with Fitz on the other end of the phone.
“Coming to keep me company then?” you teased. “I’m actually about done anyway, so we could set up the next movie on your—”
“No, I— um…” Bucky started, losing his nerve rather quickly. He exhaled a tense breath, eyes casting down to the floor. “I was, um, wondering if you could work on my shoulder?”
You raised an eyebrow. Even after that night in the gym, Bucky was still hesitant to your offers to heal his various injuries from the field. He’d give you that sweet smile of his, a soft pink in his cheeks, and tell you that he’d be fine on his own. You never doubted that, but it didn’t mean you couldn’t spare him just a few hours of that pain.
“The, um,” Bucky winced, gritting his teeth as he pushed his hand deeper against the tissue, “the nerve endings are acting up. Shuri said it’s to be, uh, expected given how Hydra butchered my arm all those years ago, but…”
“Come here.” You were already removing the files and paperwork from the table, gesturing for him to take a seat.
His whole left arm was slack at his side as if he could barely tolerate to move it. Shallow breaths hitched in his lungs as he leaned against the table, settling against the hard, metal surface.
“Can you take this off?” you asked, nodding to his shirt. Bucky’s cheeks flushed and you cleared your throat nervously, playing with the ends of your hair. “It’ll be more effective if I can touch the area directly.”
He removed his right hand from the muscle at his shoulder and gripped at the hem of his shirt. Slowly, he started to pull it over his head, though you could tell from the harsh exhale in his breath that it was causing him considerable pain.
“Here, let me help you.” You stepped forward and helped ease the fabric up his torso and gently guided it off his right arm, over his head, and eased it down his left. He seemed more at ease with the shirt removed, but a chill swept up his spine in the cool air of the lab.
You kept your eyes on his, determined not to let your gaze fall to the hardened muscles on his chest and stomach.
“I won’t be able to heal the scars,” you told him as you moved around to stand behind the table. “Just try to relax for me, okay? I’ll do what I can for the pain.”
Bucky nodded, his hands clenched into the lip of the table, enough to warp the surface. He could barely muster out a response.
“My hands are a little cold, so…” you muttered out nervously, rubbing your palms together in an effort to warm them.
Then, you set your hands against the mess of scar tissue surrounding his shoulder, starting at his shoulder blades as the glow illuminated bright enough to light up the corner of your lab. Bucky gasped, the first breath in a long time completely filling his lungs as he felt the relief within your touch. You could practically feel the tension melting off his shoulders.
It didn’t take long before the pain made its way to your body. Starting out slow, in numbing aches, until it was so sharp, it felt like a dozen edges of sharp blades puncturing into your shoulder. You clenched your jaw, held your breath, thankful that Bucky couldn’t see your face when you bit down on the inside of your cheek and tears sprung into your eyes.
“God, that… shit…” Bucky sighed, his grip releasing on the table. You could hear the smile in his voice, the relief, and it helped to push aside the pain as it manifested in your body.
You moved your hand up his back, sliding along the scars where his skin met metal, taking as much of his pain as you could. Bucky was exceptionally strong, able to withstand far more than you could without passing out completely. You couldn’t take it all, especially if you wanted to keep him from knowing how your gift truly worked, but you took enough.
You swallowed back the lump in your throat, preparing yourself as you moved around to face him. There was more on his chest, by his clavicle, you couldn’t reach from behind him. You’d had years of practice, learning how to keep the pain from displaying on your face. You could get through this for him.
As you stepped in front of him, keeping a steady hold on his shoulder, you could feel his eyes watching you. The glow under your palms was bright enough to illuminate the lab, but it was a gentle light, as soft as the burn of a candle or the golden rays of a sunset. Bucky watched you with a kind of awe that made your stomach twist into knots.
You guided your hand along the scar tissue on his chest, doing your best to ignore the goosebumps as they rose in your wake. Your heart was stammering, louder than the pain radiating in your shoulder, though it lessened the more you worked. The pain had nearly left him entirely as he started to take in more even breaths, relaxing his muscles as you felt them soften under your touch.
You exhaled a tense breath through your nose, concentrating on gathering as much of the pain as you could, on mending the broken nerve endings as they misfired and frayed under the torn appendage. You barely noticed as Bucky crossed his right hand over his chest and laid his hand palm against your hands.
“Thank you,” he whispered, his fingers curling around the undersides of your hands until he gently tugged them away. The glow faded until the lab was only lit by the soft light of the lamp at your desk and the reflection of the moon peering in through the window.
You met his eye, the pain still prominent in your shoulder though you forcibly softened the clench in your jaw as he looked over you. His eyes flickered down to your lips for only a second, but it was enough. Your heart skipped.
Bucky slowly released your hands, letting them fall gently against his thighs, as he leaned forward to cup the sides of your face. Fingers tangling into your hair, you stepped closer, pressed against the table between the parting of his legs.
You wondered if he could feel how fast your heart was racing, or if he could hear it, because you were certain it was going to beat straight out of your chest. The fading pain in your shoulder you’d taken for him was nothing but a forgotten memory as he pressed his forehead to yours, just waiting.
The moment his lips touched yours, you lost your breath; fireworks and butterflies, twists in your stomach and clamoring in your heart. You could feel his smile as it spread into his cheeks, your hands seeking more of him as you slid them up the sides of his bare chest. He was beautiful and perfect and so incredibly wonderful, you’d take hours of his pain, years even, if you could keep kissing him like this.
“Hey, Y/n, I thought you were already done for the—oh, sorry!”
You jolted away from Bucky, restless and a little disheveled, Bucky’s cheeks flamed red, as you turned to find Banner standing awkwardly in the doorway. His hand was shielded over his eyes, his back quickly turned to you as papers littered the floor at his feet. You started to laugh, hand clamping over your swollen lips as you looked over at Bucky.
“It’s no worry, Bruce,” you giggled, quickly skating over to the door to help him pick up the files. Bucky meanwhile shrugged his shirt back on, fixing the flyaways in his hair.
“So sorry,” he mumbled again, clearly embarrassed by his intrusion as he glanced over at Bucky apologetically. He gathered the papers into his arms. “I’ll be going now and, um, I won’t come back, okay?”
You couldn’t help but laugh as Bucky’s eyes blew wide in Banner’s quick escape.
“Still want that company?” you offered with a smile, extending your hand to him. The pain was long gone from your shoulder as he shook himself from the flush in his cheeks and nodded. He took your hand and led you down the hall to the living room. There was another movie on the list to get through.
You couldn’t remember the last time you were this happy. Your cheeks began to hurt from how often you were smiling, as if it were a permanent fixture on your features. You’d even caught yourself humming along to the radio as you dusted the surfaces in your lab the morning after Bucky had kissed you goodbye on the landing dock in front of at least a dozen agents.
He’d been away on a mission for the last few days, but he called when he could. You’d spend whatever spare minutes he could get on the satellite phone with him, distracting him from whatever was going on in his end of the world with talk about your latest project with Stark or old stories from the academy with Fitz or what the next movie on the list was going to be.
He wasn’t a man of many words, but you liked knowing he was on the other end of the line. You could picture his smile perfectly in your mind, the way he chewed on his lower lip, how his eyes fell downcast to the floor by your shoes, the flush of pink in his cheeks. It was enough.
“So, things are really heating up with you and Barnes,” Natasha commented as she sipped the top of her steaming coffee before it could spill over the edge. You shrugged, though it was hard to contain your smile. Natasha grinned. “I think it’s good for him. You, too. Don’t know the last time I’ve seen him this happy. He seems more relaxed. Like maybe he’s not carrying the whole world on his shoulders anymore.”
“Helps when he’s not in excruciating pain on a daily basis,” you added, tapping at your left shoulder. He’d let you work on it a few times since that first night. It always took some convincing, but the pain was never as bad as it was that evening. You could take it. You’d do it a thousand times for him without question.
Natasha nodded, a pleased look upon her face. She parted her lips to say more, but a sudden commotion at the end of the hall stole the words from her tongue. You set your coffee down on the counter, peering out around the tables to find agents jumping out of the way of an oncoming train.
“Y/n!” Bucky shouted, voice breaking in the effort as he sprinted down the hall and slammed into an unsuspecting agent. Papers flew into the air as he sprinted towards your room. “Y/n!”
“Bucky?” you called stepping out into the hallway where he could see you.
He skidded to an abrupt stop, his hair flying over his shoulder as he turned in your direction.
“Y/n! Thank God.”
It wasn’t until Bucky stood in front of you that you realized he was covered in blood; soaking into his hair, caked under his finger nails, drenched into his suit, and stained to his skin. Your eyes widened, breath all but leaving your lungs, as your hands clutched against his jacket. He tried to pull you back towards the stairs, but you couldn’t budge, not with that much blood all over him.
“What– What happened? Are you hurt?” You started seeking out exposed skin an effort to draw away any pain you could, even if you couldn’t see any exposed wounds.
Bucky’s hand slid over yours, pulling it away. He softened, though you could still see the frantic rise and fall of his chest.
“It’s not my blood. It’s Steve’s.”
Your stomach sank; relief mixed into an ugly shade of guilt and grief. Natasha was already sprinting down to the med bay, coffee mug cracked and spilled upon the tile floors. Her footsteps echoed through the hallway, the sudden clanging of the double doors startling you from your daze.
“Please, I—I need you,” Bucky begged, his voice shaking. Tears were burning in his eyes. You’d never seen him this afraid; this shaken and helpless. “It’s not good, Y/n. He’s– He’s–”
“Okay.” You pressed a hand to his cheek, brushing your thumb sweetly across his face and smeared the tears as they cleaned the dried blood away. You didn’t need to hear anymore. All you wanted was to take his pain, even if your gift couldn’t touch it as it nestled deep into his heart.
By the time you reached the med bay, a storm of chaos had already barreled through. Lab equipment was knocked over on its side. Dozens of agents frantically running around, shouting orders at one other. Papers and schematics lined the floor with imprinted of boots damaging the print. But it was the trail of blood that drew your attention.
Droplets trailing from the loading bay of the jet to down the med wing to the surgical room. Dark red and oozing. Taunting. Far too much for any ordinary man to have lost. You tried to stifle the gasp as it hitched in your breath the moment you saw him.
Steve was strung up on a gurney, suit cut down the middle and flayed open, exposing his chest and the three bullet holes expelling pints of blood. The hands of several agents were pressing down onto him, trying to keep pressure on the wounds, deep red slipping out from between their fingers. The look on their faces said enough – he wasn’t going to make it.
“Where’s Helen?” you gaped, staring at Steve.
“Ten minutes out.” Tony stumbled into the room as he rounded the corner, holding a stat phone in his hand. “She’s in the chopper.”
“He can’t wait ten minutes.” Bucky gripped tight to you hand and you could feel the tension radiating in his muscles. You wanted to take it for him but he pulled his hand before you could, turning to face you. “You’re all we have. Y/n, please. I can’t lose him.”
Bucky had never once asked you to heal someone like this. He could barely muster the will to ask you to heal his own wounds, to ease the constant stream of pain in his shoulder, and the open wounds on his hand. But with Steve’s life in the balance, he didn’t have room to be hesitant anymore. He couldn’t risk his best friend’s life.
But he didn’t know it would risk yours in the process.
You swallowed, glancing back nervously at Steve. “I’ve never healed anything this bad before, Buck. I don’t know if I can–” survive this.
Could your body heal fast enough to take on his injuries? Could you do them one by one? Would he live long enough to even try? Would either of you?
“Y/n, please. He’ll die without you,” Bucky begged, his voice wavering. Tears reflected in his eyes; gentle pale blue obstructed by a swarm of fear and guilt and desperation, a redness straining into the surrounding white until his cheeks were wet. The dried blood cleared in streaks as they traveled down to his jawline.
You watched him as he bit down onto his lip, shielding his face from the others as he waited. The frantic beeping of the monitor strapped to Steve’s chest was growing frantic, irregular, and you knew there wasn’t much time left.
The worst you’d ever attempted to heal before had been the stabbing of a stranger. You’d found her clutching stomach in an abandoned alleyway in Queens, contents of her purse spilled to the pavement, jewelry torn from her neck. You’d knelt down beside her and took her pain without so much as a second thought.
As her wound began to close, your skin split open, blood soaked into your shirt, your vision grew dark and hazy, until it was nothing at all.
The last thing you remembered of that night was the horror in the woman’s eye as she scrambled away from you and ran back to the safety of the open streets. You woke in a pool of your own blood hours later – longer than it had ever taken to heal before.
A scar remained on your stomach from that night. The only one on your body. A warning.
Test the limits of your gift again and learn why it’s called a sacrifice.
But as you looked back at Bucky, at a man who never dared to ask you for anything until it was unbearable, who wore his own scars and healed his own injuries in fear of exploiting your gift, who was impossibly gentle for the evil he was surrounded in for decades – you couldn’t find it in yourself to say no. You didn’t want to.
Bucky must have noticed the change in your expression because his shoulders softened immediately, a heavy sigh sinking through his body. He pushed forward and pressed a quick kiss to your lips; short, chaste, and still—filled with a world of emotion, of gratitude, of relief. It gave you the courage to do what needed to be done.
Tony began to shout for the room to clear the moment you approached the table. You stared down at Steve, whose skin had grown nearly translucent, the monitor above displaying his heart beat as it evened out to a nearly thin line. He was fading fast. You wouldn’t have much time.
Everything around you became muted, distorted, as you channeled your focus; the huddled whispers of the agents hovering over Steve with their hands pressed to open wounds sounded as if they were miles away.
Bucky stood at your side, watching anxiously though he tried his best to remain stoic and unaffected, though you knew he was splintering apart at the seams. Natasha and Sam were huddled in the far corner, talking quietly amongst themselves as they tried to put the pieces together as to what happened out in the field. Tony was shooing away stay agents with the threat of force, while Banner did his best to remotely disengage the power on Tony’s glove.
None of it registered. Not beyond the flow of blood coating Steve’s chest and dripping onto the floor, your shoes stepping into the pool below. It was a miracle he was still alive at all. The serum was the only thing tying him to this Earth.
You stretched out your hands, hovering over his chest and the agents quickly dispersed. You didn’t dare steal a glance in Bucky’s direction as the glow began to emit under your palms, afraid he might see the goodbye in your eyes or the apology for what he was about to witness. There wasn’t time.
The pain was sudden. Sharp. Like you’d felt the bullets rip straight through you as if you stood on the battlefield in Steve’s place. You cried out at the impact of it, nearly thrown from your stance as you clutched into Steve’s body.
Bucky jolted beside you, startled as you cried out again, desperate to choke down the screams before they passed your lips. He stared at you, wide eyed, as you clenched your jaw.
“Y/n? Are you—”
Another scream tore through you and Bucky visibly flinched. You didn’t have the energy to hide the pain from him, not with three bullets tearing through you. You had to save Steve; put the full force of your power into healing his wounds before they consumed him whole. Damn the consequences. Damn the sacrifice of your gift.
Your body was always meant to be the host of broken bones and bullet wounds and bruises. Made to be broken and mended. A host to others. A graveyard of injuries that did not belong to you.
It was what your parents had told you from the time you were a child; that you were a gift to others, that you were a vessel to better the world. But it came at a price; one, it seemed, you’d soon enough pay.
Your legs began to shake as a wave of darkness cast over your vision, tunneling, consuming the space around you. You could only vaguely make out Bucky’s voice calling your name, his tone laced confusion and concern, but you blocked it out. Daring to look in his direction now would only hinder your resolve and you needed to save Steve’s life.
Concentrating your power, a scream ripped through your lungs as the glow illuminated the entire room, enough that Bucky was forced to shield his eyes.
The wounds were taking hold on your body. One at your stomach. Another along your ribs. The third, just above your chest. Exit wounds opening on your back. You could feel the drip of blood as it slid down your skin; thick and unrelenting.
You were growing light headed as the pain started to dissipate. But the wounds were still fresh on your body, still open and bleeding; the pain shouldn’t have faded so quickly.
The steady beep of the monitor indicated that Steve was stabilizing, the flesh had nearly closed, and you barely registered Helen’s voice as she rushed into the room, ordering her team to take over.
“Hey, hey, you did it, sweetheart. You did good,” Bucky exhaled. He had the most beautiful smile on his face; filled with a sense of pride an awe, stunning and handsome beyond belief, even with traces of concern still evident in his eyes.
But you were stone. A statue. You couldn’t move without fear of collapsing completely.
“He’s stable now, Y/n,” Bucky eased, trying to pull you gently away from the table. “Come here, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”
Bucky hand set against your stomach when you didn’t follow and he froze; the sticky wet residue of fresh blood on his hand. He stared down at his palm in horror as the blood began to seep through your shirt in three distinct spots, all perfectly aligning with the ones on Steve’s chest.
Bucky darted forward, pushing up your shirt to find the wounds he’d seen healed on his best friend moments ago littered over your stomach. His mouth went dry, throat lined with sandpaper, rocks shoved down into his lungs. His hand trembled as it reached out and touched the bullet wound on your ribs. His breath hitched as he felt the warmth of blood and the tear of flesh in your skin.
He couldn’t breathe.
“Is Steve alive?” Your voice was barely a whisper and you wondered if Bucky could even hear you at all. His eyes were glossed over in fresh tears, lips parted in shock as he stared back at you. You could hardly keep your eyes open.
Before he could respond, your legs gave way and you stumbled back out of Bucky’s hold. Your vision was closing in, a dark cloud of black swarming around you as your foot caught on the edge of toppled lab equipment. You were in Bucky’s arms again before you made it to the floor.
You didn’t hear him screaming for help, didn’t hear the shattering crack in his voice, or the crash of equipment behind you as Simmons raced into the room. You didn’t feel his hands as they desperately pressed onto the open wounds, or the heat of his breath as he begged you to ‘stay with me, sweetheart’. But you felt the warmth of his embrace.
It was comforting as the darkness pulled you under.
A heaviness draped over you. Soothing. Pressing you into the soft cushion below. A repetitive chime rang above; even in tone, consistent. It drew you back from the kind embrace of shadows, calling you toward a flicker of light.
Pressure squeezed at your hand. Cold and warm at once. Solid and soft.
You listened for the chime; allowed it to guide you as the rest of your senses awakened.
The chatter of voices in the distant too muffled to distinguish. The distinct smell sterilizing alcohol that burned in your nose. The heat of a thick blanket tucked around your legs. The chill of a breeze streaming from the humming vent above. Scratchy bed sheets and laundry fresh clothes a few sizes too big for your frame.
You groaned, trying to adjust to the influx of light as you opened your eyes. It was a room you recognized. White. Clean. Far too bright. You’d been within the walls dozens of times before, but never laid upon the bed. It was a strange view.
Glancing down, you found yourself dressed in a dark grey t-shirt that didn’t belong to you. The logo was faded on the chest but it was still recognizable. Vintage. An eagle at the center of a circle, it’s wings remarkably similar to the symbol of the Howling Commandos. Around the edge: Strategic Scientific Reserve. You’d seen Bucky wear it until the hem frayed. Sure enough, as you reached for the bottom of the shirt, you found the split seams.
A slight squeeze on your hand again drew your attention to your right. There, you found Bucky hunched over the side of the bed; both hands encasing yours, his forehead rested on the very edge of the mattress.
A smile tugged at your lips until it started to ache. Unused muscles, must be. You wondered how long you’d been out this time. Must have been longer than a few hours. Bucky’s back would need your attention after the way he’s been sleeping.
“Bucky,” you tried to call, but found your voice was nothing more than a breath of air. You winced, testing it again. “Bucky?”
He only hummed in response. The sweet vibrations nestled against your arm. It took him a minute as he lifted his head, stretched out his upper back, matted hair fallen down into his face, before he caught your eye; glancing around the room, checking the door, the heart monitor above, like it had become routine, until he realized you were watching him.
He froze, eyes wide. “Y/n?”
You nodded sleepily, pushing out a smile. “What’d I miss?”
Bucky didn’t laugh. His hands were still gripped tight to yours, squeezing at them as if he were checking to make sure you were real.
Your smile began to fall the longer he stared at you. “How long was I out? Is Steve okay?”
Bucky cleared his throat, nodding, though it seemed strained. “Y-yeah, Steve’s fine. Doc said he’d make a full recovery thanks to you.”
“That’s good,” you replied, but Bucky couldn’t so much as force a smile. He couldn’t seem to look at you, his hands playing with the lines in your palms. It was then you started to notice the dark circles under his eyes, the wrinkles in days old clothing, the hallowed look upon his face. Your stomach sank. “How long was I out?”
Bucky’s paused for a moment, his movements stilling as he traced your lifeline. He sighed, resuming again. “Six days.”
A silence swept over the room. You’d never been under that long before. Frankly, you were a little surprised you woke up at all given the extent of Steve’s injuries. Your fingers dipped under the hem of Bucky’s old t-shirt and grazed over the bullet wound on your ribs, feeling for the raised edges of a fresh scar. It didn’t heal, as you suspected the others hadn’t; laid to rest next to the knife wound from the woman in the alley. Injuries you were never meant to survive.
“Were you ever going to tell us?”
You looked up, startled by Bucky’s voice as it wavered. He brushed at his eyes; red and glossy.
“Were you ever going to tell me?”
“No,” you admitted and Bucky’s shoulders slumped. He sank back further into his chair and you could read the disappointment on his face. You gritted your teeth, preparing to deliver the same speech you’d been telling yourself for years. “My body could handle it, Buck. It was only a few minutes of pain to trade for weeks or months of your own. It kept you in the field and off the bench. The world needs you guys. It was worth it for me. I could handle it.”
“Until you couldn’t!” Bucky snapped, startling you as he tugged his hand from your grasp and began to pace around the room. His fingers raked into his hair, gripping at unwashed strands. “You almost died, Y/n! You almost died because I fucking begged you to use your powers to save Steve and I—Jesus, Y/n — if I had known what it does to you, I never would have asked you to do that!”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” you replied gently, wanting nothing more than to ease him. Bucky shook his head, unwilling to accept your answer. “Bucky, if you knew that healing a papercut hurt me, you wouldn’t let me do that either.”
He paused; arms folded over his chest though he wouldn’t look at you. “No, I wouldn’t.”
You softened, sitting up in the bed, though a dull pain rushed made it rather difficult, leaving you to clutch at your stomach. It ached as you moved, an unfamiliar feeling, and the tension quickly faded from Bucky’s shoulders when he heard you whine.
You pushed through the pain in your stomach, holding up a hand as Bucky started to step forward to help you. It would fade. It always does. You’d heal and move on, until the next injury came through. It was routine. It was your life.
So, you told him as much.
“I’d do it again.”
Bucky frowned. He looked like he wanted to just lay on the bed beside you, curl up against your chest and sleep. He was exhausted. And still—he couldn’t let it go.
“You almost died—”
You shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
“A sacrifice?” Bucky’s face contorting in horror. “Are you insane? You’re not a sacrifice, Y/n!”
You nodded, determined; the words of your parents, the village elders, ringing in your ears. “That what this gift is, Bucky! I can’t actually heal anyone other than myself, but I can transfer the injuries and the pain to my body. That I can heal. It’s what I was born for! It’s my purpose. I was made to be a sacrifice.”
“Not for me!” Bucky held his ground, voice firmer than you’d ever heard it. “Nothing is worth that to me! Do you understand that? I won’t trade your life for anyone’s, not even Steve’s, and I sure as hell don’t care how many bones I break or how bad the nerves in my shoulder misfire. I won’t put that on you again. The team won’t either.”
You clenched your jaw, heart starting race. No one had ever challenged you on this before. No one had ever questioned whether your gift should be used at all. No one ever seemed to care of the effect it had on your body, never thinking to look past the extraordinary abilities to the mutilation under the surface.
No one until Bucky.
You curled your hands into the thin sheets at your waist. “Bucky, don’t be ridiculous. I’m saving you all from weeks of unnecessary healing. I can handle the pain. It’s an easy trade for—”
Bucky’s fist met the wall. “You’re worth more than just a vessel for our pain, Y/n!”
“What the hell is going on in here!?” Helen Cho rushed into the room, eyes darting between Bucky standing by the corner of the room, shaking out his hand, and you as you laid in the bed at the center, the heart monitor above pulsing far too quickly.
Bucky seemed to notice the frantic beeping of the monitor and the anger quickly drained from his face.
Helen glared at him as she stepped closer to you, beginning to check your vitals. “You should leave,” she shot over her shoulder. Your stomach twisted to knots as Bucky nodded defeatedly and walked to the door.
“No, don’t–” you called, voice small, nervous. He paused in the frame, glancing back at you with a raised eyebrow. “Please, Bucky. Stay.”
Helen set a hand on your shoulder as if to ask if you were sure. You nodded.
“You may be able to heal yourself, but you’re still recovering,” Helen advised, tapping on the IV drip. “Take it easy, alright?”
Bucky remained stoic by the door after Helen left. He didn’t say anything for a while, his eyes focused on the tile floors at his feet, waiting until the heart monitor chimed in even, steady counts.
“Will you sit down? You’re making me nervous,” you chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. It got him to look at you, at least. While he couldn’t muster a smile, it was clear he was drained of the anger that had quickly taken hold of his body; anger that was never once reserved for you, but for the voices in your head that deemed you unworthy of more than a body to be used by others.
Bucky sank into the chair at your bedside.
“When’s the last time you slept, Buck?”
He stayed silent. It was enough of an answer. You didn’t dare ask the last time he left this room, not with the shiny reflection at his roots and the red strained in his eyes. Six days at your bedside, hunched over on a cold, unforgiving chair, clutching your hand. It ached deep into your bones.
“I mean what I said,” Bucky mumbled, slowly brining himself to meet your eye. He reached out for your hand, letting the comforting chill of solid metal lay below as the warmth of flesh and muscle laid on top. He brought your fingertips to his lips and gently kissed at your knuckles.
You sighed at the feeling. “Bucky, I…”
“You’re more important to us than your abilities,” he pressed, a sincerity behind his words and laced delicately into sweet shades of blue. “You do a lot of good to keep us safe with the tech you’ve been building and the adjustments to the suits. You’re incredible at what you do, Y/n. Your worth isn’t based on how many injuries you can heal or how much pain you can handle. We care about you. I care about you. Isn’t that enough?”
You didn’t know.
You’d never known anyone to prioritize you over your gift. You parents had exploited it from the moment it was discovered your ability; showing you off, treating you as an idol to be worships and adorned. They put their child through broken bones and lacerations and asthma attacks. They sat back and watched as you healed strangers of arthritis and sprained ankles and migraines. Their child cried as they collected their winnings.
Were you afraid it would happen again? Is that why you kept it from the team? From Bucky? You’d convinced yourself it was noble to silently suffer in their place, but you started to wonder if it amounted to little more than your parent’s words whispered into your ear: your ability is a gift to the world, a sacrifice unto yourself.
“Would you ask any of us to suffer in your place?” Bucky questioned, drawing you from the mess inside your head with the gentle vibration in his voice.
“I just want to help you…” you murmured, tears slipping past your cheeks.
Bucky reached forward and brushed the tears as they fell, sliding his hand against your cheek and nestling against your hair. You leaned into the touch.
“So, we find a middle ground, okay?” Bucky offered, smiling enough to push into his cheeks, though his eyes were still heavy. “No trivial injuries. No life-threatening injuries. We take the stuff in-between case by case.”
“Your shoulder,” you added, determined. Buck started to shake his head but you pressed harder. “Five minutes of pain to spare months of yours, Bucky. No lasting damage. Don’t argue with me on this one.”
It brought the smile back to Bucky’s eyes as he eventually nodded. You knew he had no real authority to decide what injuries you could and couldn’t heal, but you’d never had anyone who dared to put you first. You trusted him to do that; you trusted him more than yourself, anyway.
“We decide the rest together,” you told him. “I get the final say but… I need you to tell me if I’m pushing it too much, but I won’t be too cautious, either. No discriminating against Sam.”
“No promises,” Bucky chuckled, playing with the ends of your hair dreamily. “The other stuff I can deal with.”
“Okay,” you exhaled, relief sweeping through your body.
“Think I’ll be lucky if anyone on the team even lets me touch them for a few months after this ordeal, though, huh?” You laughed and though it ached in your stomach, it was considerably less than it was moments earlier. You didn’t mind the dull pain. It was familiar, almost a comfort. Steve was alive because of it.
“Yeah, can’t say anyone was thrilled to find out how your powers actually worked,” Bucky chuckled. “But they’re happy you’re alright. I’m sure Steve will be, too. He was pissed when he woke up and learned what you did.”
You clenched your jaw. “Never good to be on Cap’s bad side…”
“No, it’s not,” Bucky agreed, wide smile pressed to the back of your hand, his lips touching over exposed skin. “He doesn’t like when anyone else pulls a self-sacrificial move. It’s kinda his thing. Diving into the Atlantic and all. We don’t really need two of you running around…”
“Alright, alright,” you laughed, swatting Bucky away. Your cheeks hurt from smiling, the pain in your stomach long forgotten, or maybe it had finally healed. You supposed it didn’t matter.
They were scars that would never heal. Like the knife wound. Like mesh of hardened tissue around Bucky’s shoulder, stretching out onto his chest and back. Reminders of when you were too both close to the edge, to the brink of darkness. Reasons to push back towards the light.