A/N: Well, hello there! This chapter is another long one and there's not much to say because it's pretty much all laid out there. I loved writing it and I think it's another big turning point for our lovebirds for more than one reason. I hope you all like it because I'm definitely nervous about it.

In other news – thank you SO much for all of the love! Your reviews make my day and lately I've been in need because work has been pretty rough. Extra thanks to my beta-extraordinaire Stencil Your Heart who at this point might know Sadie better than I know her myself.

The usual language warning applies and that M rating is also definitely in effect for this chapter.

Disclaimer – I don't own Cap or Marvel. If I did I'd probably just forgo the impending heartbreak of Infinity War and have an entire move of Cap/Bucky/Sam bromance.

Chapter 29: Compromises and Comfort

Of the many buildings still standing in Antwerp, a municipal building with a tall clock tower took up a corner lot a couple of blocks away from the SSR headquarters. Made of sturdy brick and stone, the clock tower survived entirely unscathed through the intense fighting that saw bombers and tanks. Even the mechanisms remained well-tuned and at the precise stroke of midnight, the bells behind the large clock face rang out, signifying the start of a new day and that all was well.

Sadie's mother called midnight the witching hour. When she was a girl her mother delighted in spinning nasty little tales about how witches came out at midnight to brew their potions and work spells that would make the hair on Sadie's head stand on end. She would peer fearfully into the darkness and imagine she could see shadows moving between the trees, witches and their black cats heading into the deep to do wicked things. As a child it was a wondrous, cautionary tale about straying far from home but the older Sadie got, the more those cautionary tales turned into outright lectures and the wonder of the magic wore off. Instead of witches dancing beneath the full moon, Sadie was instructed to avoid the witching hour lest she garner a reputation. Self-respecting girls were home well before midnight and young married women would never dream of being caught out at such an hour.

Those lectures fell into a series of talks Sadie received over the years. Even then Sadie noticed the contradictory statements that created an almost impossible standard to achieve. She wasn't supposed to fall in love too fast, but making a man wait for her was wrong too. The goal was to find a husband but she wasn't supposed to limit her options too soon. Be open to physical affection but never go too far. Men could have partners before marriage but god forbid she did. The list went on and on, all with the sole goal of protecting her virginity until her wedding night and transforming her into the kind of wife that any man would give his eyeteeth to have.

For Sadie, the dangers of disease and an unwanted pregnancy were enough to ward her away from the act altogether. There had been suitors, men who promised her the world and swore she hung the moon and stars. Sadie indulged in innocent dalliances, dates and front-porch kisses that left her red-cheeked but never burning. Even her most serious pursuer left a lot to be desired, despite his dogged attempts to win her over. Then the war started and Sadie resigned herself to waiting.

But as the bells continued to ring, she settled deeper into her pillow set up against the wrought iron footboard of her bed and hid her smile behind the hand supporting her chin. On the other side of the bed, Bucky gestured animatedly while he spun her a story about his sister's big mouth getting the better of the both of them. The witching hour came but for all of Sadie's supposedly bad behavior, she hadn't turned into a toad. In fact, as she stretched her long legs she relished the pleasant ache in her muscles and savored even more the fact that she wasn't the least bit sorry for what she'd done. Bucky paused and she slightly raised one of her eyebrows, already knowing where the story was headed.

"What happened next?" She asked, chin still propped in her hand. From where she lay she had a perfect, unobstructed view of her partner and she unabashedly soaked up the best sight she'd seen all war. If Bucky caught her staring at him as though he were a three-layer chocolate cake, he certainly didn't care. Instead he grinned and rolled his eyes up towards the ceiling.

"Next thing I know, Rebecca marches right up to the guy and tells him that she warned him to keep his trap shut and his hands to himself. Before I could even stop her she cocked her fist back and wham! Sucker punched the guy right in the mouth."

Sadie collapsed, turning her face into her pillow to muffle her laugh, imagining tiny Rebecca Barnes dropping some guy to the ground. She raised her head, sending a spray of curls over her face. "I bet that went over really well."

"My mom almost had a heart attack when we got home and I had a black eye," ruminated Bucky with a scowl she could barely see through her hair. "When I asked Rebecca where learned how to hit someone you want to guess who she said?"

"Steve?"

"Steve," Bucky confirmed through his funny grimace of long-suffering. "I go my whole life trying to keep my sister out of fights and I leave her alone with Steve for five minutes and he teaches her how to punch a guy better than he ever could."

Sadie swept her long fingers through her hair, unsettling the sheet and blanket she'd pulled up high over her chest. Her pale, still-swollen lips drew into a smile. "It's funny to hear you talk about Steve before the serum. I've seen his personnel picture and I still can't believe he used to be that small."

When she spoke, she tugged the blanket back over her chest before it slipped too low and exposed her naked chest to the cool air. Bucky's open disappointment came as a compliment. He freely let his gaze wander down the exposed line of her neck to her collar, retracing the paths his mouth travelled earlier that night. Nerve endings just beneath the surface of Sadie's skin twitched and tingled at even the thought of his rough fingers slipping down the valley between her breasts or his teeth grazing her collar bone. She shifted her legs to bring them closer together in response to the fresh wanting that swelled up in her lower stomach.

Bucky's eagle eyes caught her and he only made things worse when he bit his lower lip. What was he thinking about, she wondered. Sadie almost worked up the gumption to ask but ruled against it. She wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet just a little bit longer.

"He's not that much different to be honest," Bucky leapt back to their conversation, just as determined as she was to keep his desire at bay. "He's still a moron who can't walk away from a fight or talk to a woman, but it's nice knowing he's not going to get sick again like he did when we were kids. Although I could do without all the 'I told you so's' he still likes to rub in my face."

"Like what?"

Bucky didn't quite meet her eyes. He twisted a corner of the sheet between his fingers. "Like you," he admitted. When Sadie didn't immediately answer he took it as a sign to explain. "Did I ever tell you that a couple nights before we met, Steve told me that sooner or later I was gonna meet a woman I couldn't charm and I'd end up falling head over heels for her?" Sadie shook her head. He lifted one corner of his mouth into a lopsided smile. "I told him he was full of it and two days later I met you."

The memory of their meeting stood out clearly to Sadie, as did her distaste for his antics. There were so many stories she filed away to tell later, but that first meeting was one of her favorites. "I didn't think I'd see you again. It's funny how the world works, isn't it?"

"Sort of like we were meant to keep running into each other."

Sadie nodded and bit back a soft sigh. Suddenly the distance between them seemed to be too much. She could feel the atmosphere in the room shift, heading for a long overdue conversation. Bucky regarded her carefully, trying to gauge her mood while he toed the line. There were questions resting on the tip of his tongue, begging to be asked and Sadie wondered what was holding him back.

"I'm glad of it. I can't imagine going through this war without you."

"What about when we go home?" Bucky asked, taking the bait she set up for him. "Do you think we'll be happy together after we get out and there's no more war?"

Sadie pushed herself to sit up, holding the sheet and blanket against her chest. "Is that what you really want? To leave the army?"

The old mattress creaked when Bucky followed her example and sat up. The blanket pooled low around his waist. He leaned forward to reach for her. Sadie followed his lead and came to him, bringing her knees to either side of his body. She settled on his lap, ducking her head to hide her pleased expression when he reached around her to wrap the blanket about her exposed back, cutting it off from the chill in the air. Sadie loosely draped her arms around his shoulders. Their closeness made the topic of their future feel less daunting.

"I've been doing a lot of thinking about it and about the choice you gave me in Paris. I'd already made up my mind before I even knew you were trapped and I realized there was no living without you. And I need to know if you're open to a third choice because losing you isn't an option but Sade, I can't just let that bastard go either."

Out of nervous habit, Sadie reached for her necklace only to remember she wasn't wearing it. The chain hung with her dog tags, out of reach and even though she actually was naked, she felt even more exposed without her little talismans. Fighting down her nerves she instead rest a hand against his collar and rubbed her thumb over his warm skin.

"What do you have in mind?"

Cool fingers tipped her chin up, forcing Sadie to drown in his blue eyes. "I've been thinking about what I can and can't live without. I can live with that man rotting in a jail cell but I can't live without you. So that's what I want to do. I want to catch him and throw him in a jail cell and after that's done and the war's over, we'll leave the army and start a real life together."

Bucky rendered her speechless. All Sadie could do was pepper his lips with a series of kisses until he was laughing and holding her back so he could get another word in edgewise.

"I'm gonna take that as yes, you're on board with that plan."

"It's perfect," she promised. But her brows snapped together when a new thought occurred to her. "You're not going to expect me to give up nursing to be your pretty stay at home wife, are you?"

Bucky snorted in laughter and shook his head. "Hell no. You'd be miserable if you weren't up to your elbows in work. Although if you ever felt like cooking dinner wearing nothing but an apron I'm not opposed."

"You're the worst," she mumbled, smacking his shoulder to his amusement.

"But you love me," he persisted. Sadie sighed dramatically and the corners of his eyes crinkled when he smiled.

"Someone has to, I suppose." Bucky chuckled but leaned into her touch when she pushed her fingers through his hair. When she raised her arms, the blanket slipped off her chest and fell to her waist. Fresh heat transferred from his skin to hers, fanning the flames she hoped would never die out. Bucky traced formless patterns on her bare back, sweeping up to the top of her neck only to wind his way down her spine. Sadie wondered if his touch would always elicit such a wonderful reaction. Closing her eyes, she drank in the anticipation that began to build up between them.

Sadie understood all the lecturing now. She understood the warnings and the delicate language used to describe sex. Words like satisfaction and passion never entered her mind until she met Bucky. But her muscles ached in the best way possible and an almost unbearable need welled up within her, building in pressure between her legs as he lowered his lips to her neck and rocked his hips upwards into her. She'd already felt Bucky's hands worship her bare skin and the rush of heady emotion when he moved inside of her for the first time but she was hungry for more. The words he'd whispered in her ear were downright scandalous and Sadie lapped them up in the heat of the moment while he taught her how to move with him, setting a pace that eventually set them both off like fireworks on the Fourth of July. She now knew the reason she'd been cautioned against jumping the gun because now that she had, she never wanted to stop.

"We can have any life we want, Sade," he promised, leaning her back in his arms so he could leave a trail of open-mouthed kisses down her breastbone. "And we're gonna be so happy, wait and see."

"I think we're off to a pretty damn good start, buck sergeant."

He chuckled against her chest, raising his hands up the sides of her ribcage until his thumbs pushed into the soft flesh of her breasts. Bucky's slightly chapped lips dragged along her skin, piquing new nerves and setting loose an unholy ache between her legs. Sadie became complicit in his grasp, following his lead as he shifted her into one arm, hand planted firmly between her shoulder blades. The muscles in his arms started to quiver, but if he noticed the effort he ignored it in favor if brushing the tip of his nose past the dusty rose peak of her breast. She squirmed in his hold and he very nearly dropped her in surprise.

"Steady," he counseled through his low laugh. "I really don't want to drop you. Talk about an embarrassing way for the night to go."

Sadie let her head fall back and smiled up at the ceiling. "I would never judge you."

"Liar." She could hear the open affection in his voice. "I remember the way you looked at me when we met."

"In my defense, you were a jerk when we met."

Bucky laughed before gently biting against the soft swell of her breast. A gasp popped out of her swollen lips and her hips jerked forward in response, right against where he was pressed against her thigh. "Well, however I was then I definitely did something right to get here," he muttered before he curved a palm beneath her breast, sweeping his thumb up over the taut peak.

"Bucky," his name left her on an exhale.

Bucky didn't answer her. Sadie raised her head back up in time to watch him squeeze her breast and lower his lips onto her, toying with her using his teeth and tongue. Sadie rocked against him, blindly reaching forward to plunge her fingers into his hair, gripping tight lest she lose her balance and fall backward.

Beneath them the old mattress springs started to whine. Sadie clawed at the blankets that still bunched up between their bodies, getting rid of any and all barriers separating them. They slid to the floor which allowed Bucky to reach behind her and grasp her backside, pulling her higher onto him. Her cry filled the room when he started to suck on the tip of her breast, forcing him to tear his mouth off of her.

"I love the sounds you make," he admitted, panting for air. "But—"

"Thin walls," she finished the thought for him, coming back into her own head.

"Believe me," he replied in a deadpan voice, guiding her back upright. Her forehead came to rest against his, already glistening with fresh sweat that dampened the roots of his hair. "One day, when we're really alone, when there's nobody around for miles, I'm gonna find out how loud you really are after I put you up against a wall and-" he bit his lower lip, stopping himself.

Sadie could only assume that Bucky was holding back for her benefit. That simply wouldn't do. She was inexperience, but not sheltered. To prove her point, she twined a hand around the back of his neck and kissed him deep. He tasted faintly of whiskey and she inhaled the fresh tang of sweat mixed with his aftershave. Sadie grazed her teeth along his lower lip when she released him, prompting him to finish his thought while her lips were still touching his. "And you'll what?"

Bucky's voice was delightfully strangled. "Fuck you till you can't walk."

A shiver traversed Sadie's spine that coincided with the flush that swirled into her cheeks. The little things he said over time often reminded her of how innocent she really was. Even now, naked and straddling his lap, she had the capacity to blush not only at the notion of Bucky doing such a thing, but that she knew she would thoroughly enjoy it. But for all of her newness, certain things hadn't changed. Whenever Bucky had a smart comment she always had one in return. "Just so long as you buy me dinner first."

Bucky made a funny noise caught somewhere between a laugh and a cough that convulsed his chest. "Only you," he muttered lovingly when he recovered. "You're the only woman I've ever met who keeps me on my toes like this. I love that I never know what you're going to do or say next. You have no idea what you do to me, do you?"

"That's what I'm trying to figure out." Sadie bit back the obvious comment that she had a pretty good idea, given she could feel him against her inner thigh, but she relented. Instead of giving him the cheap answer she, tilted her head to the side and examined his expression when she spread her legs wider apart and dropped herself low against him. The humor coloring Bucky's face disappeared in an instant, replaced by concentration - or was it pleasure? She rocked against him again and swore she saw a flash of pain, as though being so close to her was agonizing.

One of his strong hands twisted into the hair at the nape of her neck. Sadie's main focus, however, came to his other hand sitting at her lower back, actively pushing her forward and setting a rhythm that hit all of the right notes.

"Everything is so new to you," he grunted, the strain in his voice inadvertently revealing how much he was restraining himself. "I love that it's all with me."

Bucky wasn't wrong that everything was new to Sadie. The sounds that came from her throat were as foreign as the notion that Bucky could turn her on just by grazing her earlobe with his teeth or even looking at her the right way. She couldn't understand how both friction and the glide of her sweat-slicked skin on his felt so heavenly. Why did she have the almost uncontrollable urge to leave scratches down his back or to bite the spot on his neck just below the angle of his jaw? They'd gone months and Sadie never once considered how nice Bucky's stubble felt dragging down her stomach. Why did she suddenly appreciate his teeth now that she'd felt him playfully bite the underside of her breast - or his biceps, which she gripped onto for support when he finally moved inside of her for the first time?

As if he could read her mind, Bucky smoothed her hair from her face. "Feel free, I'm yours to explore. But be warned," he secured her against him and in a swift motion came over her, pinning her down to the mattress. "It's only fair I can too."

Sadie started to ask what he meant but her throat dried out when he kneeled between her legs. She loved the way he towered above her, appearing at once imposing and utterly perfect. Bucky mastered a certain expression of hunger, his dark eyes hooded and predatory, catching her smallest movements and looking for a moment of vulnerability that he could pounce on. He grazed an open, callused palm down the length of her shin before grasping it. Sadie shifted, her chest rising up as Bucky watched her, calculating her reactions to everything he did. His eyes followed the bob of her throat when she swallowed as he raised her leg up, bringing her heel to rest against his shoulder. The straight line of her shin and her smooth, pale skin contrasted with the dark hair that dusted his chest and the defined muscles that slid and contracted when he moved. Bucky kept one eye on her, turning his mouth to the inside of her ankle and began to kiss his way down her leg. The way his palm curved over her calf was downright sinful, reminding Sadie of the way he touched other places of her body.

"Feels good, doesn't it," he mused, his blue eyes unwavering. Sadie involuntarily tipped her chin back, plunging her fingers into her wild, tangled curls.

Sadie wanted to tell him to shut up and that she wasn't going to dignify him with an answer, but she couldn't. She loved hearing his cocky tone too much. Bucky worked his way down to her knee and released her leg, taking up the other. Sadie let her eyes fall shut, focusing on the feel of his open-mouthed kisses that drifted lower and lower. The tip of his nose skimmed along her inner thigh and a sheen of sweat broke out over her body, timed right with the anticipation that clenched down on her stomach when his fingers danced ahead of his lips.

A faint cry fell from her lips with he swept the tip of his index finger over her. Bucky said nothing, but the appreciative growl against her leg was enough. Sadie exhaled sharply and her lungs struggled to draw in more air, unable to keep up with her absolutely pounding heart. And then he lightly bit the inside of her thigh.

"Perfect," he muttered, more to himself than her. Sadie's back arched. It was unfathomable to her that another person's touch could feel this incredible.

"You're a horrible person," she rasped.

"Oh sweetheart, you have no idea," he teased, stroking her again before dipping a finger in. He made a point of meeting her eyes when he raised his finger to his lips. Sadie almost fell apart just watching him. "If I'd known when we met that you tasted this good? I wouldn't have wasted so much time."

"And they say romance is dead," she joked, kicking at his shoulder.

Bucky rewarded her cheek with a wolfish grin before returning to his mission. He assaulted her stomach and hips with wet kisses, purposely teasing her with his fingers until she was on the verge of begging. But when he settled himself between her legs, the first touch of his mouth on her set her off, producing a sensory overload that overwhelmed her body. She jerked away hard in response and cracked the top of her head on one of the wrought iron posts of the footboard.

"Holy shit, are you okay?"

In a flash, Bucky pulled her up into his lap. One of Sadie's hands covered the throbbing top of her head but the tears Bucky likely feared weren't present. Instead, when he shoved away the mess of her curls she was laughing so hard her stomach hurt. "Leave it to me," she gasped through bouts of laughter, "to mess it up at the worst possible moment."

As soon as Bucky was satisfied that Sadie wasn't gravely injured, his laughter mingled with hers. "Reminds of me of something I heard once: If you're not laughing you're doing it wrong."

Sadie kissed him through her laughter, but soon that died out. They became a tangle of fingers and limbs, replacing mirth with passion and letting the moment carry them both away. Bucky shifted her and Sadie gladly relinquished control back to him, allowing him to recline her back in the pillows and move on top of her. The places where their bodies met slipped and Sadie pulled him down onto her, ravenous to feel more of his warm weight. The want he'd stirred up within her returned with a vengeance and she felt an emptiness that she could hardly bear. Bucky read her like an open book and took her hand, guiding it to the right place. Sadie stroked him with self-assured movements, familiar with this part of sex at the very least. Bucky balanced his weight on one hand, throwing a hand out and groping around on the bedside table until he found the condoms, interrupting her long enough to roll one on.

He lined his hips up and pressed himself right up against her. Muscles Sadie couldn't even name shuddered and clenched in anticipation. Something akin to hesitation must have registered on her face because Bucky's voice was all concern.

"Sade?"

"I—" She couldn't unstick her tongue from the bone dry roof of her mouth.

"We have time. It doesn't all have to be at once, you know?"

"It's just," she grasped either side of his face and pulled him down to her in a fierce kiss. Her bottom lip quivered when she pulled back and brushed her mouth against his when she spoke. "I need you—I just need you, Bucky."

That was all the encouragement Bucky needed. Taking care with her still-adjusting body, he moved inside of her. Sadie released a shuddering breath and rocked against him. Bucky started to move, driving his body forward and deeper inside of her. Sadie only barely remembered the room's thin walls at the last second, clapping a hand over her mouth to muffle her cries. Bucky grunted into her neck, hooking his hand over her leg and drawing it around his waist. Sadie found the rhythm easier this time, bringing her body up to meet his, matching his pace blow for blow. The pressure built up higher and higher until Sadie was certain she would literally break into a thousand pieces. Bucky counseled her in one ear, his voice ragged and raw while urging her to let go. When she did she came off the mattress, burying her face into his neck, shouting his name, digging her fingernails into him so deep that she left ten perfect, red crescent-shaped marks, claiming him for her own.

But the pressure didn't dissipate as he continued. The nerves in her body remained on high-alert, unable to interpret the haywire signals coming from her overloaded brain. Every time Bucky's body came away from hers, she ached for him and in the instant he thrust into her she could hardly stand the euphoric feeling that rushed through her. In a desperate bid to feel that release again, Sadie threw her hand up between the bars of the headboard, shoving her palm against the wall. She pushed with all of her weight, forcing herself onto Bucky. Stars shattered behind her eyes and Bucky let out a colorful curse when their hips slammed together.

"Fuck, Sade, I'm gonna—" he didn't finish his sentence. Once, twice, three more times Sadie pushed against the wall. In response Bucky dropped to an elbow and crushed her body against his. He rocked into her one more time and his muscles clenched and convulsed before he fell apart. He buried his face in the pillow to muffle his groan of satisfaction, clutching the top edge of the mattress with a death grip. While Bucky recovered, Sadie wound her arms around him, carding her fingers through his damp hair.

"Are you alright?" She asked when she realized that he was shaking.

"My heart is beating so hard right now," he rasped, still trying to catch his breath.

"Mine too," she whispered. Bucky lifted his head and he sought her lips out.

Though the kiss was hardly the first they'd shared that night, a fresh desperation colored the action. When Bucky pulled back Sadie was stunned to see his eyes were red and puffy. She shifted her body beneath his and he responded, moving off her and onto his side. Bucky drew her against him and she brushed the hair from his forehead. The look on her face asked the question she couldn't. Bucky's eyes searched out every feature of her face, committing it to memory from the freckles to her parted lips to the healing cut. "I need you too," he admitted, more vulnerable than Sadie had ever heard him. "I need you so much."

Too many realities collided at once. All of the close calls, the days and nights spent in peril and the uncertain future that lay in store for them came rushing back as a reminder of all that they'd lost and everything at stake. Sadie nodded in understanding that Bucky needed her for more than just the good times. He needed her when every minute seemed a struggle and when the darkness was encroaching on him. Bucky needed her to be alive, to be his compass when he'd lost his way, and to be his dance partner even when the music stopped playing. The wall he'd constructed separating her from that side of him came toppling down and Sadie fell freely through to the other side.

"I want this life," she vowed with everything she had. "This one here with you, wherever it takes us."

Bucky nodded solemnly and drew her hand into his, threading their fingers together. "It's yours. My life is all yours."

More promises would come later. There would be a proposal and rings and vows that sealed the deal for God and the rest of the world to see, but those would all be extra blessings. For Sadie, it was enough to hold onto her love and exchange the promises that mattered, the ones that tied them together for life. No amount of grand gestures in the world could replace that moment, intertwined with Bucky on an old bed in the middle of a half-destroyed city. Bombshells could have been falling all around them and Sadie would have never noticed. She saw nothing but the man in her arms, heard nothing but his comforting voice and felt nothing but his tender touch.

It wasn't until the sweat on her body began to cool that either of them moved. The first shiver slipped down her spine. Bucky left her long enough to clean up and when he returned it was to find her trembling while she gathered the sheet and blanket off the floor. He pulled them up for her and drew the covers high around them, cradling her close to him. The silence that enveloped them felt as comfortable and natural as Bucky's embrace. Sadie melted into him, her muscles almost jelly from the exertion. Bucky seemed to know that he'd spent her, tapping out what energy she'd regained from her ordeal because he kissed the top of her head and urged her to go to sleep; he would wake her up before he left.

Morning would come too soon and Sadie dreaded it. She wanted to exist in the afterglow forever, a place where she wouldn't have to confront her newest demons. Bucky stroked her back for a while until his arm grew heavy with exhaustion and he settled for draping it protectively over her waist. In that moment Sadie didn't care if they were in Antwerp or Brooklyn, fighting a war or not, married or not. She now belonged to him wholly and permanently. The litany of awful things that came out of the war were endless and ongoing, but Sadie couldn't help but believe that she'd willingly go through it all again for the sake of the man holding her. The war gave her Bucky Barnes and for that Sadie would be eternally grateful.

X X X

A sharp draft cut through Sadie's wool Class A jacket. She wished she'd thought to bring a coat with her to the church but that thought, along with several others, escaped her that morning. The walk there was pleasant enough, punctuated by the sun emerging from the clouds and washing over her face. She'd walked arm-in-arm with Nurse Young from the SSR hospital while Evelyn pushed Doc Holmes' wheelchair, pointedly ignoring the man's grumbling. Despite a tremendous protest on his part, no doctor on duty would disagree with the nurses and allow Doc Holmes to make the trek from his hospital bed to the church on crutches. Doctor Dunn, his replacement, wholeheartedly agreed with Sadie and Evelyn that he would likely collapse after two blocks and make a complete embarrassment of himself. So he went along with the rest of the off-duty hospital staff to attend the brief memorial service for Corporal Gutierrez.

All-in-all, Sadie thought the memorial was quite beautiful for what it was, or at least what she remembered of it. Midway through her mind lost itself down the same dark path that tempted her all week long. She raised her head to examine the exposed wood ceiling beams and flinched so hard she bumped into Evelyn. An earsplitting crack and crunch that nobody else could hear filled her ears and she swore she felt the building rattle around her, threatening to fall apart and bury her again. The priest gave a beautiful sermon about the glories of heaven and its welcoming arms, but Sadie never heard a word. Her eyes became glassy and faraway as she stared down the aisle and out of a doorway that wasn't really there. Thunder rolled through her chest. In the distance Gutierrez stood out in the dangerous open.

"Luis!" She'd yelled for him until her throat was raw and her lungs nearly collapsed from lack of air.

The rest of the church couldn't see the flash and fire that swirled into being. Nobody could hear the echo of her shriek of terror. What Sadie saw then came back to her now. Corporal Luis Gutierrez flung across the lane to land at a sickening angle before smoke engulfed the wreckage of the truck. She sucked in a tight breath as if Dum Dum was immediately behind her again, jerking her backwards to safety, ignoring her wailing.

"I'm not leaving him! No!"

Sadie blinked forcefully into the nothing. She wanted to cry but her eyes were dry. At the front of the church, the priest began to pray. A framed photograph of Gutierrez stood on the altar, flanked by simple flowers. That was the only sign that the SSR was there to grieve a lost member. No casket stood at the front because there was no body in London to bury. Only after Sadie woke up in the hospital did she learn that Steve and the others buried Gutierrez near the ruins of the farmhouse. There would be no grave marker to commemorate his resting place. Just a letter sent to his grieving mother and the house call no one ever wanted to receive. Gutierrez liked to tell stories about his larger-than-life five-foot tall mother. Sadie could only imagine the grief that would drown her when she learned that her son would never come home.

Her stomach twisted itself in a knot. Sadie tried not to think about the fact that she was the last person he ever saw. She'd been the last sight for too many soldiers. She'd been one of the last things Betty ever saw. Sadie continued to stare out into the void, face slack.

A hand filled hers, giving it a squeeze hard enough to rub her tendons together. The short burst of pain jolted Sadie back into the present. At first she struggled to recognize the pale hand still holding hers, the long fingers and unfamiliar calluses. Following the wrist and forearm across Evelyn's lap, she looked up to see Doc Holmes leaning across Evelyn, grasping her tight to tether her back to the real world.

"You okay?" He mouthed. Evelyn watched the exchange with slightly parted lips.

Sadie couldn't even bring herself to nod or shake her head. Nearly a year ago to the day, in the immediate wake of Corporal Meyers' death, Sadie told Bucky she wasn't sure if she'd ever be alright again. The sentiment echoed throughout her louder than ever. Instead of coming up with some sort of affirmative or negative response, Sadie patted the top of Doc Holmes' hand. He let go but never quite took his eyes off her, and neither did Evelyn.

A few pews ahead of her, Sadie could see the Commandos sitting together. Dum Dum's shoulders remained unnaturally tight throughout and she wondered if he was struggling with the same sights she was. Steve also sat ramrod straight. He'd taken Gutierrez's loss surprisingly hard, the first man from the larger unit to die, even if Gutierrez was never a Commando the same way the others were. During one of her shifts he'd come to see her, asking for her opinion on the handwritten letter he planned to send to Gutierrez's mother. Steve's prose, while not beautiful, was heartfelt and betrayed how personally he took the loss even though he acknowledged it was an unavoidable part of war. It was too much to hope that the entire unit would get out of Europe unscathed. Ian Holmes was proof positive of that.

And then there was Bucky sitting between Steve and Howard. He seemed fidgety and unsettled. Sadie would bet every dollar of her next paycheck that he was fighting the impulse to turn around and find her in the congregation. In the week since returning to London they'd hardly seen each other, too overwhelmed by their respective duties to find the time to steal away together. Sadie felt his absence more than usual. Bucky had an uncanny ability to say a handful of words or put his arm around her and turn the whole world around. More than ever she needed that talent, as she warred with herself. Her mood changed on a dime all week long, swinging hard between almost uncontainable happiness and the echoing, empty grief brought on by Gutierrez's death itself and every loss that returned fresh to the forefront of her mind.

The priest gestured to the congregation and everyone stood for the final benediction. She and Evelyn stayed seated with Doc Holmes and Doctor Dunn while the rest of the church filtered out. Bucky caught her eyes and touched her hand when he passed, unable to stop and talk. Sadie knew that already, he had to join the rest of the Commandos for a mission briefing that would last the rest of the day. They would be forced to wait until that night when the entire unit planned to meet at the pub to drink in honor of their fallen friend. When at last the church was empty, she retrieved Doc Holmes' wheelchair and held it steady while Evelyn and Doctor Dunn helped Doc Holmes into it.

"You all go ahead, I want a couple of minutes alone."

Mercifully, her friends left without protest. Sadie waited until she was truly alone before she drifted away from the main aisle, toward a small alcove. Hard wood kneelers sat before rows of red glass votives. Many candles were already lit. She took a long match and lit it on the large white candle at the back and chose a cluster of unlit votives. The first one set forth a soft glow, burning warm through the translucent red glass.

"For Luis," she said under her breath and said a short prayer for the radioman who liked to bring extra Hershey's bars to give to little kids they met during their travels.

Sadie lit a second votive.

"For Betty." She said another prayer for her dear friend who never had a real funeral and who would never know how much she would be missed even a year later.

"For my father," she whispered and lit a third candle. Her throat closed up. The prayer leapt to the tip of her tongue but her lips wouldn't work. After almost three years she still felt the shock as though it were fresh and still hoped for letters that would never come and for advice she would never hear.

Pushing the grief away even if only for a little longer, Sadie lit a fourth candle. "For everyone else left behind. That you're never forgotten."

Too many names and faces came to her at once. The friends she'd made in the 80th and the 107th that never left Italy. The victims of HYDRA's scourge left burning in the wreckage. The thousands of men who never made it past the beaches in Normandy and the thousands more who would never return home. Sadie said a prayer for all of them, hoping with all of her heart that there were still more she could save.

When she finished, Sadie rose and stood back from the candles. There, in a little diamond shape, four votives emitted a warm glow. It was a simple gesture but Sadie took comfort in it. She watched the flames dance for a moment longer before turning to leave. Evelyn waited for her outside.

"I didn't think you should be alone," she explained.

"Doc didn't need your help getting back?" Sadie asked, surprised that Evelyn would leave Ian in Doctor Dunn's exceptional hands even for the short trip back to the hospital.

"This was more important."

Silently, Sadie thanked her lucky stars for Evelyn Lewis. The redhead linked their arms together, leading the leisurely stroll back to the SSR quarters. Sadie suspected their languid pace had a lot to do with things Evelyn had yet to say. After half a block of silence, Sadie was the first to break.

"I keep thinking about the reception after my father's funeral. After I'd spoken to pretty much everyone in the whole of Arkansas, I had to get out of the house. My feet were killing me in the new shoes my mother made me wear and Betty found me sitting on the back porch. Turns out she'd swiped a bottle of my father's favorite bourbon when nobody was looking."

Evelyn grinned. "I know," she admitted. "I distracted your mother while Betty went looking for you. She thought the best remedy was to get you rip roaring drunk."

"She tried her hardest, God bless her heart," Sadie exclaimed through a short laugh. "While we were sitting together she told me that it was okay to let it hurt like hell. Because one day I'd wake up and I wouldn't hurt as badly and it would go on that way until the memories were bittersweet and I could see a future where it didn't hurt anymore."

"Was she right?"

Sadie squinted into the watery afternoon. "It was the best advice she ever gave me."

"I hate that she never had a funeral," admitted Evelyn in a low voice.

"So do I."

"How are you really doing?" Evelyn asked after a while, finally getting around to the heart of the matter. "It's been a pretty wild couple of weeks."

Sadie knew that Evelyn was referring to so many things. They'd talked sparingly about the cave-in and even less about the what-ifs that both women considered. Evelyn was certainly also referring to the good things in Sadie's life, to finally reconciling with Bucky and giving herself over to the stupefying love that nearly knocked her over every time he so much as looked at her. Outside of Bucky, Evelyn alone took one look at her friend and knew exactly what happened and read between the lines every time Sadie smiled to herself for no apparent reason.

"I honestly don't know. One minute I'm miserable and terrified and the next all I can think about is-" her voice dropped off.

"Dragging your handsome sergeant back to bed for another go-round?" Evelyn suggested, dropping her last shred of pretense.

"Pretty much," Sadie admitted, keeping her face resolutely forward.

Sadie heard the obnoxious smile in Evelyn's tone. "Well done. I'd assumed but I knew you'd rather face a firing squad than admit it outright."

Both women chuckled, acknowledging the absolute truth of her statement. "It's not really something one should go around touting to the world."

"Surely you don't regret it?"

Regret? Sadie drummed up the memory of Bucky waking her the next morning by pressing soft kisses to the top of her shoulder. His voice was wonderfully gravelly when he lamented leaving her after such a perfect night. She could picture him leaving her room and stopping at the end of the hallway to turn back and kiss her breathless one final time before disappearing to his room before anyone came looking for him. Regret never once entered her mind.

"Not in the least," she replied.

Evelyn giggled and spent the rest of the walk trying to bait Sadie into answering more questions to no avail. They wandered up to their quarters where Evelyn changed out of her Class As and into a civilian dress. She was bound for the hospital, one of the last places Sadie really wanted to be.

"Sadie?"

"Hmm?" Evelyn was sitting at the vanity, staring at Sadie's reflection in the mirror.

"Were you scared?"

Sadie's mind went back to the deafening booms, to the darkness, and the uncertainty. The inside of her elbow itched where she'd drawn her blood. Her heart tripped over a beat the same way Ian's had over and over. The confession came to her as easily as the tears that sprang up into her lower eyelids. "I was terrified."

Evelyn crossed the room and hugged Sadie close, letting loose her own teary flood. It was a long time before either woman let go.

X X X

A semi-permanent haze of smoke lingered in the front room of Castle Rock Pub. The varied assortment of patrons carried about their evenings with their beers and cigarettes, puffing away while discussing the latest news. The bartender poured drinks while he kept a close watch on a knot of non-regular GI's making a racket in one of the corner booths. The round tables at the front held the usual crowd of middle-aged men, married couples on a rare night out and some of the SSR staff who liked the quieter atmosphere of the front of the pub.

Through a set of glass doors to the back room, the smoke cleared but the noise level rose considerably. The back room at Castle Rock was a veritable who's who of the SSR from the famed Howling Commandos to the even more famous Howard Stark to the beautiful young women who staffed the bunker. The second bar in the back, though smaller than the front, was well stocked and constantly flowing to accommodate the demand. Only a handful of people smoked in the back room, including Howard Stark who chomped away at a fat cigar. He stood near a dartboard affixed to the wall and clapped his partner on both shoulders, giving him a friendly shake.

"Alright Buck, stay focused. All you need is a ten and those sorry sacks buy the next two rounds."

Bucky swallowed the impulse to point out that Howard was rich enough to buy the whole pub. The man already bought more than one round for the whole of the SSR that evening and besides, Morita and Doctor Dunn were the ones to make the bet. Morita seemed to think that giving Bucky a subpar partner would make a difference in the score, which worked well enough until it didn't. While Howard was absolutely rotten at throwing darts, he took the tasks of trash talk and morale very seriously but more importantly, Morita and Doctor Dunn weren't good enough together to match Bucky's aim. He gently shook away Howard's hands and took a sip of his beer, lining up his shot.

Out of the corner a flash of royal blue caught his eye. His eyes followed the pop of color to make out a royal blue dress that fit the owner to perfection. Bucky's throat dried up. He wondered if Sadie had any clue what she was doing to him wearing that blue dress as she drifted to the other side of the room to join her friends from the hospital. When she sat down she smoothed the skirt over her thighs and his knees gave just a little. There wasn't much that Bucky wouldn't have given to take her by the hand and drag her into the nearest dark corner available so he could lift her up and wrap those perfect legs around his waist.

A firm hand grasped his chin and forcefully turned his head back towards the wall. "The dart board is this way."

Bucky blinked stupidly at the dart board and then glanced at Howard who hovered somewhere between laughter and outright judgement. "Yeah, yeah sorry."

"Just throw the fucking dart, Barnes. Then you can go back to staring at your girl like a lovesick puppy."

Morita's taunt helped Bucky rather than hurt him. He prided himself on his expert marksmanship and that applied to every projectile he touched, whether it was his rifle or the dart in his hand. Bucky recalibrated his aim and before he threw he tipped his head back to Howard with a cocky grin stretched across his face.

"Hey, Stark. Are you thinking scotch? Because that's what I'm thinking."

Howard grinned. "Better start counting your pennies, boys."

Bucky threw his dart in a single, smooth motion and watched with satisfaction as the tip buried itself in the ten spot. He shook the hand that Howard offered, both men congratulating each other on their hard-earned victory. Howard set to work badgering Morita and Doctor Dunn to fetch the first of their two rounds but Bucky barely listened. He returned his glance to the table where Sadie still sat with her friends, grinning broadly while Evelyn wove a particularly animated tale.

At the moment, Sadie's smile alone was enough to test the limits of his patience. More than once during the evening, Bucky caught himself glancing at the clock to see how much time had passed and how much longer he would have to wait to whisk Sadie back to his room. There he could lock the door and make love to her until exhaustion took them or hunger drove them up for air, whichever came first.

The first twitch of wanting rose up within him. Bucky was quick to wrestle it down. Now was not the time or the place for that, nor was this night particularly appropriate when it came down to it. Despite the fairly cheerful mood of everyone at the pub, the truth remained that they were all there to share a drink in Gutierrez's honor. And thinking about sitting next to Sadie so he could undo her garter straps beneath the table was about as far from center as he could think of for this particular night. Bucky swallowed hard and tried to tear his eyes away from Sadie, but was doomed the second she raised her gaze to find him. She glanced up at him through her long eyelashes and when her red lips parted softly, his mind only tumbled deeper into the gutter. What wouldn't he give to feel her lips on his body? As if she could actually read his mind, Sadie raised an eyebrow, silently asking him if he was going to make it.

The answer to her unspoken question was highly debatable.

"Good God, Bucky. I know Nurse Reid is beautiful but you don't gotta stare at her like she's a slice of apple pie."

Howard sounded thoroughly amused by the whole thing. By Bucky's own estimation he was more than entitled to stare at Sadie however he wanted, but Howard still made a salient point that maybe toning it down was a good idea. Sadie, who had long since broken their gaze to answer one of her beckoning friends, carried on completely obliviously and Bucky followed her example. Howard held out a drink to him.

"Thanks." Bucky scanned the pub and latched onto a new thought to divert him from Sadie. "Where's Steve?"

Howard scowled. He pointed through the glass doors to the front of the pub. "Brooding, wasting his youth and good looks, mooning over Agent Carter instead of marching in here and kissing some fun into that woman. Take your pick."

Bucky snorted in laugher. "I'm going to go make Steve get off his ass." Draining the last of his beer, he left the glass on the high top table closest to him and took his scotch. Howard waved him off, already eyeing a couple of pretty girls. "Good luck with the locals."

Bucky passed through the crowd to the front of the pub. Steve raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement when Bucky pulled out the stool next to his and sat down. He turned over a steel tag in his fingers. Well, Howard had been wrong about one thing; Steve certainly wasn't pining for Peggy Carter at the moment, if Gutierrez's dog tags were anything to go off.

Not for the first time that week, Bucky noted the unusual pallor of Steve's face. The hazy golden glow in the pub didn't do him any additional favors either. Dark circles bruised the undersides of his eyes and he'd been eerily quiet all week long. Bucky didn't have to look far to discern that Steve wasn't sleeping and the reason why all boiled down to the tag in his hand. Corporal Gutierrez's shadow lingered over the whole of the Commandos all week long, as did Doc Holmes' official replacement on the aide team. Steve took the death particularly hard, as it was the first under his command.

They hadn't spoken much after the service, going straight to the bunker for a mission briefing that took all afternoon. Bucky leaned back in his seat, resting an elbow on the back. When Steve didn't immediately speak, Bucky took it as a sign to break the ice himself.

"So, back to Italy, huh?"

"Yeah," Steve sounded distracted and faraway. The topic of their upcoming mission should have brought Steve around. He obsessed over the job and their newest mission was no different. One of the last HYDRA factories left on the map, the complex sat in an alcove along Lake Orta in northwestern Italy.

"Can't say I missed it," he mused, thinking back to his rude introduction to the mainland in Salerno and every miserable event that happened thereafter.

The hint of a wry smile touched Steve's mouth. "At least the factory is away from most of the heavy fighting. We won't have to worry about the front advance or bombings."

That was a large blessing in Bucky's book. Not having to worry about those particular unpleasantries made missions infinitely easier. All week Bucky had been struggling with the idea of Sadie returning to the field with a new doctor at the lead of the aide team, all while the threat of attack loomed in the background. Knowing that no more V-2 missiles would fall on top of her head quelled some of his anxiety.

"Good, that means we can get in and out faster too. And it's just one less place for Schmidt and Zola to run and hide in."

"You're taking it well," observed Steve of Bucky's newfound cavalier attitude towards Arnim Zola.

"It's not easy," he stated. The anger still remained, simmering beneath the surface but Bucky made Sadie a promise he intended to keep. So when Peggy made it abundantly clear that the SSR's intelligence showed that Zola wasn't anywhere near the factory in Italy, Bucky cracked a joke and left it at that. A large part of Bucky certainly still wanted Zola dead but the drive wasn't as strong as before. There were better things to do with his life than shoot the man. "But things are better."

Steve took a long draw from his drink. "I noticed. Honestly I'm just glad you're back in Sadie's good graces again even if I don't want to know what you did to get there."

Buried between the lines of his statement was the confirmation that knew perfectly well what Bucky had done. But neither of them were going to say it and Bucky sure as hell was going to avoid the lecture if he could help it. "I did what you suggested," he replied breezily before draining half his scotch in one go. "I groveled, apologized, and we came to a compromise."

"You're a terrible liar," grumbled Steve. Something akin to the old Steve reared his ugly head, taking on the jealous tone Steve tried his hardest not to use when it came to the parts of Bucky's life where he outdid his friend. Bucky pointedly ignored the sour connotation.

"Look, I'm happy to let you live in ignorance. All you have to do is not ask questions you don't want answers to."

That was as much of an answer as Bucky was willing to give Steve, but he got the message loud and clear. His frown deepened, reaching up to his eyes and wrinkling his forehead. "That's a damn fine way to ruin a woman's reputation, you know," Steve snapped, his mood continuing to plummet. "I would have thought that with—"

Bucky set his glass down hard. "Are we really gonna do this? You don't really think I'd do anything to—" he pinched the bridge of his nose to head off his frustration. "We're not kids. And frankly neither of us need you stepping in and acting like my mother or worse - hers."

The mere insinuation that Steve was mothering Bucky did the trick. Steve retreated from his moral high ground. "You know what? You're right. I think we're all better off if I continue to think of your girlfriend as a co-worker and a friend."

Bucky drained his scotch. "I think that's a damn fine plan, Rogers. Now how about you go back in there and raise a glass in Gutierrez's honor? Everyone's been asking for you."

Steve blew out a long sigh. He turned over the dog tag again. "I was actually gonna head out. I've still got some intel reports to read."

Bucky rolled his eyes. "The reports aren't going anywhere. You should really go in there for a while."

"Why don't you lead the toast? You're good at that sort of thing."

"Because I'm not their leader," Bucky said matter-of-factly. "Those guys in there don't just want you to lead them into battle, they want you to pick up the morale. We're all sitting here pretending like that last mission wasn't a shitshow but it was. And we need you to pick us back up."

Bucky signaled for the bartender, looking for one more drink to round out his night. Steve continued to examine Gutierrez's tag, waging a private war with his guilt. "What am I supposed to say? Sorry that a good man is dead? Or that Doc Holmes is down and out? I can't even look Dum Dum and Sadie in the eye, Bucky."

"For what? Something you couldn't control? They don't blame you; you're the only one who does. Don't be sorry, Steve. You being sorry does zip for everyone in there. You showing up and toasting to Luis and swapping stories we've all heard a hundred times? That's what matters."

Steve pursed his lips together. He leaned back in his bar stool and looked through the open doorway where he could see Dum Dum slapping Falsworth on the back, laughing around his cigar. A sling still held his elbow in place, but it would be gone by the time they went to Italy. Bucky could see the wheels turning behind Steve's eyes, going over the details ad nauseum.

"I just don't want to fail them."

"Then get off your ass and join them," Bucky counseled.

Steve remained dubious of the plan even as he got off his barstool, but he took Bucky's advice. As soon as he entered the backroom Falsworth and Dum Dum embraced his presence, pulling him into a conversation that would lead to many more. Satisfied that Bucky averted another small crisis, he started to work to get the bartender's attention again.

A hand touched his shoulder, accompanied by his favorite voice in the world. "First darts and then Captain America himself, you're just fixing everyone's problems tonight, aren't you?"

Sadie pushed Steve's chair aside to stand next to him. Bucky slid to the very edge of his barstool. "Looks that way. You got any problems? 'Cause apparently I'm on a roll tonight."

The arrival of Sadie also magically conjured up the bartender, who was now more than happy to fix two drinks. While they waited, she rested her elbow on the bar top and her chin in her hand.

"Aside from trouble sleeping? I'm right as rain, buck sergeant."

The golden opportunity Sadie presented him was just too much. She'd opened a door that begged him to walk right through and Bucky just couldn't help himself. "If you're having trouble sleeping you should stay with me. I'll help you get to sleep."

Bucky's grin widened when she coughed. "That's a terrible line!" She exclaimed through her shocked laughter. "Honestly buck sergeant, that was awful."

"Yeah, but did it work?"

The Sadie Reid he met at the NYPOE would have rolled her eyes and sent him packing. But his Sadie raised an eyebrow and deployed her own weapons, one hundred percent aware of what she was doing when she took her time sipping her drink. Bucky's mouth went dry as he watched the rim of her glass press into her full bottom lip. His fingers literally twitched, begging to smack the glass away so he could take its place.

"I dunno, why don't you ask me and find out?"

Bucky could have flirted with her all night like this and died a happy man. When he leaned down so she could hear him he kept his lips dangerously close to her ear but not touching. "Will you stay with me tonight?"

"Only if you behave yourself," she warned. The evil grin that tugged at his lips was uncontrollable. Bucky had no idea that one single creature could make him this happy but there he was, practically bursting at the seams.

"Now, where's the fun in that?" He wondered before nipping the edge of her ear. The shiver that slipped down Sadie's spine was so strong that he felt it. But when he moved to look down into her face he saw a different story. A shadow touched her eyes, stretching into the circles beneath them. He thought about what he'd said to Steve, that everyone was pretending nothing bad happened in Belgium. But Sadie couldn't pretend because she'd actually lived it. Having a full week to let the reality sink in took its toll on her. Bucky's mood shifted gears from playful to earnest, remembering what Steve said about Sadie pushing off her needs for his. Not tonight, he told himself. Not for as long as she needed him. "In all seriousness, Sade. Maybe you'll sleep better if you're not alone."

She pressed her cheek to his shoulder and to his surprise, wound an arm around his waist. A new degree of intimacy drew her into him. Bucky felt it in the way she turned her body towards his and widened her fingers over his side. Her touch felt strangely and wonderfully possessive, a sign to the world that he firmly belonged solely to her. Nobody had ever touched him the way she did and certainly no woman had ever sought comfort from him the way she did.

"I've been having awful nightmares," she murmured so only he could hear her. "I don't want to wake you."

Bucky left his scotch on the bar in exchange for cradling her head against his shoulder. "I have them too," he admitted, brushing his thumb lovingly past her cheek. "Maybe we can hold them off together."

"And if not?"

"Then I'll be right there to take care of you."

She lifted her eyes to his, swirling with astonishment and a dozen different emotions that Bucky couldn't even begin to untangle. Her lips parted once to reply but no words came to her. But that was Sadie, he reasoned as she traded more words for rising to the tips of her toes so she could kiss him full on the mouth instead. Gushing wasn't exactly her style; she knew how to make a thousand promises just by touching the side of his face and softening her mouth against his so he could take the lead. Bucky couldn't really remember his life before the war but that didn't matter much to him. His life began in earnest when she called his name at the NYPOE and refused to tell him where she was from. Sadie upended his world with the force of a hurricane, leaving his preconceived notions of love, romance, and devotion in tatters. Bucky swerved hard into the gale force winds, happily letting her reshape what it meant to give himself to another person.

When they parted she naturally moved back into her preferred spot at his shoulder. Contentment rolled off her in waves, crashing into his chest and filling him up. Bucky rested his chin on top of her head and for a wonderful minute the pub and everyone in it disappeared.

Howard shattered their reverie to drag them to the back where Steve led them in several toasts, first to Gutierrez and then to Doc Holmes, Dum Dum, and Sadie. The woman in question stayed at Bucky's side for the rest of the evening and held his hand when he led her back to his room. She fell asleep in his arms a while later. True to her word the nightmares came and true to his, Bucky soothed her until the bad images disappeared and she settled back into him. In the morning Bucky woke to a shaft of watery sunlight working around the shade in his room to fall across her peaceful face and naked shoulders. He lay next to her for a long while, twisting his finger in one of her curls and wondering what his life would have been like if they'd never met.

The only problem was, no matter how Bucky looked at the situation, he just knew that he'd been destined to meet Sadie Reid all along. There was no doubt in his mind that they were meant to find each other and they were meant to fall in love. All that was left now was to make it official and Bucky planned to do that as soon as humanly possible.

A/N: Next chapter finds the Commandos on a sort of mini-mission while in Italy and Sadie dealing with a trying patient. Expect a little more humor than normal and some fluff!

Liked it? Loved it? Want me to start finally divulging more information about the sequel? I'd love to hear any and all thoughts! Much love – Kappa.