Author's Notes:

I normally don't put an A/N at the beginning of a piece, but I feel the need to clarify a few things—I swear it's not because I like hearing myself talk.

This is my first foray into the Captain America fandom, though I've been a fan for a long time. My headcanon of things is a weird mash up of the MCU and the comic 'verse, and this kind of reflects that, so I apologize if there are any glaring inconsistencies. Feel free to point them out :) Technically this is post-CW, and takes place around the time of the individual Winter Soldier comic arc. If any of you have read that collection, you'll recognize a few things, I'm sure. Like, Bucky's personality is a little closer to the way he is in that comic than we know him to be in the movies right now. I couldn't find a solid number on how long after the Captain America: Winter Soldier arc that the individual WS-arc occurs, so if you know, feel free to let me know.

Okay, enough of that. Hope you guys enjoy!

Edit 5/12/16: The release of Civil War has rendered a few items in this story as either out of place in the timeline, or no longer applicable. I don't particularly want to rewrite the story, but if you notice them, just know that's why :)


March.

A month of inconsistent weather patterns that constantly fluctuated, and left people uncertain as to whether you needed an umbrella or a pair of shorts. It was the start of a season filled with permanent rain showers and budding flower blossoms; a time where the bleak, never-ending gloom of winter finally abated, and everyone let out a collective sigh of relief.

It's also the month he was born—and he wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad thing anymore.

Despite how hard he tried to push his brain to remember, there were still gaps in his memories. Some things he could remember like they happened just yesterday, like visiting Coney Island with Steve before the war. It's strange, because that day is so seemingly unimportant in the overall scheme of things. They had been nothing more than two close friends—the best of friends—in a happier time, having some fun without the pressure of real responsibilities or real fears.

Why could he remember things like that—things that didn't seem to matter so much—and yet he couldn't remember the things he desperately wanted to? Needed to? Things like the first time he met Natasha, back in the Red Room; things like how many deaths he was responsible for. Or answers to the questions that continued to keep him up at night, despite her best efforts at wearing him out so that he didn't have the chance to dream.

It didn't matter either way. His nightmares haunted him whether he was awake or asleep. Their constant presence was his only penance, his only way to seek forgiveness for the wrongs he'd committed. He knew, though, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there was no way to make them right. If there were, he'd be one terrible assassin, and sadly, he was excellent at what he did.

Below him, the buildings of New York City twinkled in the twilight hour. It was a different city than he remembered—hell, everything was different than what he remembered. Even back then, the city had been organic. It constantly grew and evolved, and even if he'd had the chance to return home from the war, it still wouldn't have been the same city he'd left behind.

Time and experience were funny things in that sense.

He lifted the cigarette that rested between his fingers to his lips and took a long drag, glancing up at the darkening sky above him. On his left, over the harbor, the sky was on fire. Shades of magenta, burnt orange, and fading rays of gold tinged the undersides of the clouds, and the sun was beginning its descent below the horizon. To his right, immediately over the city, the sky faded from periwinkle to navy, littered with the tiny, glittering pinpricks of stars.

If he knew how to work this godforsaken "smart phone" that Tony had given him, he might've taken a picture—it was that beautiful.

Behind him, the whisper of a glass door sliding open caught his attention. Anyone else, any normal person, wouldn't have been able to hear it. But then again, he wasn't normal, was he?

A sultry, rich voice called out to him, pulling him into the depths of her embrace before she'd even so much as touched him. She'd always had that influence on him, even from the moment they'd first met all those years ago. She had that effect on nearly everyone.

"You know those things will kill you, right?"

He scoffed and took one last drag before flicking it over the railing. As the dying embers fell out of sight to the ground, stories below, he finally faced Natasha. "They'd kill a normal guy, sure. Me and Steve? Not so much."

"Touché." She sidled up to him and leaned back against the railing so that they were both facing the sliding glass doors. "What kind of guy skips out on his own birthday party, huh?"

He leaned against the railing as well, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket as he offered a shrug. "I just needed some fresh air."

Steve had pulled him aside right when he'd arrived and asked him if they could talk for a bit, once everyone else had gone home. He doubted that it was anything serious, but even after all these years, he still felt slightly uncomfortable being alone with Steve. Mostly because he could see in his friend's eyes that no matter what he did, he'd still be on his side. The same was true for him as well, but sometimes the disparity between the man he now was and the man his friend remembered him to be, cast a morbid shadow over his thoughts. He'd needed a moment alone to sort through things before dealing with it all tonight.

"You've been gone for nearly a half an hour," Natasha noted, staring at him with shrewd, knowing eyes. Her vibrant red hair flowed down her back in waves, but an errant strand curled over her shoulder, resting on her chest. He wanted to reach out and twine it around his finger.

Instead, he hummed in response, not really agreeing or disagreeing to her statement either way. Then, a dry chuckle left him, and he leaned over to nudge her arm. "Is that why you came out here? Missed me?"

"Please, Barnes. I can survive a half hour without you. In fact, the silence is kind of nice," she quipped with a tiny smile, before pushing off the railing and ambling towards the door with her hips swaying back and forth.

Any other woman and he might've thought they were doing it on purpose, trying to get him to fall into bed with them. With Natasha, he knew it just came that naturally to her. She exuded pure grace at all times, and he often found himself wondering how it was possible for her to be so incredibly sexy without even trying.

He also knew she was teasing him in more ways than one.

Bucky Barnes was not exactly a verbose man. He said what needed to be said to get the point across, and that was it. There was no point in rambling on for hours about unnecessary things, and he suspected that was a big part of why Tony got on his nerves so much. Seventy-five percent of the things that came out of the genius' mouth were unnecessary, and the other twenty-five might be important, forcing you to sift through the barrage of verbal garbage to find the hidden gems.

It annoyed him to no end, and according to Steve, Howard hadn't been much better.

But he didn't particularly want to think about Howard Stark.

That point aside, Natasha telling him she enjoyed the silence was equivalent to her letting him know she liked him just the way he was. He didn't think he'd ever tire of her backhanded compliments, or the way she accepted him without question; she was one of the few people in the world who truly understood the demons he struggled with.

She slid open the door and glanced back over her shoulder at him, causing the interior lights to form a halo around her silhouette. "Are you coming inside or what? I hear there's cake."

At her insistence, he pushed off of the railing and headed towards her. "You won't stop nagging me until I do, so I guess I'm gonna have to."

Once he stood just in front of her, a wry smile teased at the corner of her full lips. She leaned up on her toes and planted a chaste kiss on his cheek. "'Nagging'—that's cute. You make me sound like a little housewife."

"I feel bad for the burglar who ever tries to steal our TV," he replied, matching her grin.

"Me too."


I'm going to kill Tony.

Party streamers lined the ceiling in a scalloped pattern, coloring the room shades of black and red. It was a rather morbid color scheme for a birthday party, but according to Tony, he was just "matching the theme to the man of the hour". The contrast between the tacky party decorations and the sleek, modern lines of Tony's upscale Manhattan dwelling was almost comical.

The cake wasn't any better—considering Stark had gone out of his way to find numerical candles that read "103"—but at least it was his favorite flavor. There was just something comforting about chocolate cake, and he figured it that had to be Natasha or Steve's doing. If he had to wager a guess, it was probably Steve. Ensuring his best friend's birthday cake was his favorite flavor seemed like something the little punk would do.

Well, he wasn't exactly little anymore, but that was beside the point.

When he and Natasha had walked back in from the balcony, everyone had set off those horrendously annoying confetti shooters, showering them in multi-colored, glittery bits of paper. Considering a good portion of the Avengers were present, it made for a lot of confetti. Natasha had glanced sidelong at him to see how he'd reacted, an amused smile teasing at her lips. Just so that he wouldn't give her the satisfaction, he'd attempted to laugh and half-heartedly waved at everyone. The second she'd turned around, he'd brushed confetti off his shoulder with an irritated grunt.

Much to his great irritation, when he looked back up, Tony was watching him with an all-knowing twinkle in his eye.

Thankfully, the rest of the party went by relatively fast. After the cake had been devoured, mostly by Clint, Steve insisted it was time for presents. His friend ushered everyone into the living space, and sat Bucky down in the center of the room on a plush leather ottoman.

He felt exceedingly awkward being the center of attention. Before the war, he would've had no qualms about having all eyes on him. In fact, he would've thrived on it. But his time as the Winter Soldier had made him too comfortable in the shadows, too used to being forever unseen.

A ghost in the corner.

Again, he shifted on the ottoman, running his palms up and down his thighs in an attempt to get a grip on himself. Natasha laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed for a second, before drifting over to plop down on the couch next to Clint.

It was a brief moment of reassurance, but it did the trick.

Steve got him a stack of vinyl records, comprised of various genres from the '30s and '40s, which he genuinely appreciated. He missed the music of their time: the lilting big band beats, the crooning voices of jazz singers. Music nowadays had too many hard beats and fast talking. Add that to the never-ending list of things that drove him crazy about the modern era.

Tony, probably thinking he was being hilarious, bought him a cane, which was promptly tossed into the corner. Bucky resisted the urge to punch the guy for being a completely insensitive prick, all the time, but Pepper took care of things with a well-placed glare. Seeing Tony look thoroughly reprimanded sent waves of satisfaction rolling through him.

Clint purchased him something small, but still surprisingly personal. It was a shadow box that contained his dog tags from the war, as well as the medal he'd earned posthumously. Both items rested on a traditionally-folded American flag, and the entire gift was no larger than a foot wide. Natasha had to have helped Clint, considering Bucky always kept his tags and the medal in the drawer of his nightstand.

Looking at the medal always left him feeling guilty. He didn't deserve a medal for all of the atrocities he'd committed. Steve tried to convince him that he could think of no better recipient, but he knew his friend was thinking of the Bucky he had been, not the man he was now. He couldn't stand to look at either relic most days, because they pulled far too many memories to the surface. There were enough of those plaguing him as it was.

A quick nod in Clint's direction was his form of thanks, and he set the gifts on the floor. When he glanced at Natasha, she mouthed, "Later," before winking ever-so subtly.

With that, the party was over. As everyone started piling on to the elevator, Pepper surprised him by pulling him in for a hug. She slipped an envelope into his pocket and whispered into his ear, "Tony's a jerk sometimes, but he means well. This is your real gift, and I fully expect you two to enjoy it, okay?"

He pulled back, confusion marring his features. She patted him affectionately on the shoulder—of his metal arm, no less—and followed Tony into the elevator. After one last gentle smile from her, and a dramatic wave from Tony, the doors slid shut.

A couple of seconds passed before he finally pulled the envelope out of his pocket. It wasn't sealed, the flap was just tucked in, so he quickly opened it and pulled out two plane tickets.

Natasha walked up behind him and rested her cheek on his arm. "What are those?"

"Pepper and Tony's real gift, apparently."

"Hm. Where exactly is it that we're going?"

He flipped the tickets over and then back, before inspecting them a little closer. "I don't think these are even real tickets. I think Pepper's just trying to say we can take their jet wherever we want to go."

"That's sweet of them."

"Well, it's not like I'll clear airport security," he joked, looking down at her with a small, lopsided grin.

"True," she replied with a matching grin of her own. After taking his hands in hers, she said in a low, seductive voice, "How 'bout we go home so I can give you my present?"

His grin widened, and he leaned down to press his lips against hers. Her arm snaked around his neck to pull him closer, and she deepened the kiss, eliciting a tortured moan from him. It was born from both pleasure and frustration. He pulled away and said, "I have to go talk to Steve for a second."

"Are you serious, Barnes?"

"I'll be quick, I promise. I'll meet you there, okay?"

She slowly backed away and pressed the button for the elevator, holding his gaze the entire time. As it rose and approached their floor, she started unzipping her leather jacket, revealing first her collarbones, then the creamy tops of her breasts. With a flirty smile, she asked, "You sure you don't wanna leave now, soldier?"

A low groan left him. "Seriously, Nat?"

A ding announced the elevator's arrival and she backpedaled into it, resuming her tantalizing game of revealing just enough skin to drive him crazy. After a brief pause to press a button, she pulled the zipper down just far enough for him to see that she was wearing nothing underneath but a lacy black bra. When his eyes darted down to the enticing sight, she waved her fingers at him and, in Russian, murmured, "See you in a bit, James."

His eyes flitted up to hers just as the elevator doors slid shut. She rarely ever called him by his first name, usually opting for "Barnes" instead. He could count on one hand how often she'd actually called him "Bucky", and even less than that, "James". It drove him crazy every time she did, but in the best kind of way.

He let out a long sigh as he braced his hands on his hips and muttered, "Damn you, Steve."

Once he had his desire under control, he turned around and walked back into the kitchen. Steve was waiting for him at the counter, resting his arms on the surface as he cradled a beer in his hand.

Bucky patted Steve on the back before sitting on the stool beside his friend. "You wanted to talk?"

Steve nodded, though he didn't say anything right away. After a couple of seconds of twirling the bottle in his hand, he mumbled, "You know, it's funny. I still can't get drunk and yet I'm sittin' here, drinkin' a beer."

He chuckled. "Some habits die hard?"

"I guess that's true, but it's not like I ever really drank a whole lot anyway."

"You've always been better than most guys, Steve," Bucky muttered, staring absentmindedly at the fridge across the way.

Steve looked up at him and inspected his face for a few seconds, before softly asking, "Do you remember more now than you did back then?"

"Stuff's always coming back to me. It happens at random moments. I kind of wish it didn't," he replied with a shrug.

"Don't you want to remember everything?"

A sigh escaped him as he ran his hand down his face. "I guess so, I don't know. I do, because I hate not remembering, but some of the things I've done, I'd rather...not have playing through my mind like a movie."

His friend nodded before dropping his gaze to the bottle in his hand again. "You know, I… When you fell off that train, I didn't know what to do. At first, it was like I lost all the will to fight. All I could think about was the fact that you were gone."

A lump formed in Bucky's throat, and he swallowed roughly, clenching his jaw at the onslaught of emotion. That was one thing he did remember—the fall. It was after the fall that was blurry. He remembered the horrified look on Steve's face, the sharp flash of fear as he tumbled through the air to the ravine below; the very brief, but incredibly acute pain he'd felt as he slammed into the ground, before the world went black.

Steve cleared his throat before continuing. "I tried to get drunk that night, and that was when I realized Erskine had been right: I'd never be able to again. Small price to pay for me, really, but...that night...I wanted to so badly. I just wanted it all to go away for one night.

"But look where we are now, you know? You're alive, you're here, sitting right next to me. I'd go through that pain again just to get you back, Buck. I'd cross enemy lines all over again if it meant I could bring you back unharmed."

Bucky looked up at Steve, unable to form words at his friend's sentimentality. When he didn't reply, Steve went on. "My point is, it hurts. I get that. Maybe not in the way Nat gets it, but I get at least a little bit of it. Recovering always hurts. But it's worth reaching the end and realizing you're better off remembering than not. You hate your memories as the Winter Soldier, but they're still a part of you.

"It's the way you've tried to atone for what you've done that makes you the good man I know you are," he finished, reaching up to grab Bucky's shoulder. "I wouldn't be in this until the end of the line if I knew that wasn't true."

Bucky let out a short, dry laugh at that and reached up to pat Steve's hand. "Thanks, pal."

"Anytime," Steve replied with a smile, before waving towards the elevator. "Now get out of here. I know I'm holding you back from your best girl."

They rose to their feet and Bucky patted Steve once more before heading back for the elevator. He'd only taken a couple of steps before he faced Steve again. "Hey...Steve?"

His friend glanced up and smiled, "What's up, Buck?"

After a moment of hesitation, he walked back over and pulled Steve in for a one-armed hug with his right arm. He squeezed tighter for a brief moment and felt Steve pat his back before he pulled away.

"I'm glad I'm back, too."


The second he walked into his Brooklyn apartment, he noticed that something was off.

Literally.

None of the lights were on, and it was oddly quiet, considering the fact that he knew Natasha had to have arrived before he did. He knew better than to call out, in case he wasn't alone. Instead, he set his keys down on the table so they wouldn't jingle, and slowly detached his Glock from the velcro strap securing it underneath the table.

Aiming down its length, he crept along the narrow hallway until it opened up into the living room. The second he was clear of the hallway, rapid footsteps from his left prompted him to turn, and he caught a flash of blazing red hair before his pistol was kicked out of his hand. His well-honed reflexes kicked in, and he twisted to the side to avoid being slammed in the head.

What the hell is she playing at?

She cartwheeled into a double-kick that would've sent him flying, had he not had the strength to catch her in mid-arc and throw her weight back in the opposite direction. As he'd expected, she landed perfectly on the balls of her feet and sprung forward again, sweeping her leg under him to knock him to the ground.

It was a good thing he knew her fighting style nearly as well as his own, because he anticipated her call and dove over her instead. Once he'd rolled to his feet, he spun around and they stood facing each other, chests heaving.

He lifted his hands in surrender and asked, "'Tasha...what are you doin'?"

Her lips twitched as she tried to suppress a smile, and she slowly circled around him. "Consider it foreplay. Every strike you land, I'll take off a piece of clothing."

"What is this, strip-sparring? Come on, Nat," he reprimanded, loosening his posture as he threw his hands up in the air. She wasn't even wearing much clothing to begin with: just a baggy sweater with a tank top underneath, a pair of leggings, and sans shoes and socks. In three blows, he'd have her in just her undergarments.

After quirking an eyebrow at him, she quipped, "Why, what's the matter, Sergeant? Not up for a challenge?"

Oh, is that how it's going to be? With a disbelieving chuckle, he shook his head and shrugged out of his jacket, draping it over the back of the couch. He placed his hands on his hips and said, "All right. I'll play. Three hits and I win?"

"How do you figure that?" she asked with the same teasing smile on her face as she continued to pace around the room.

"You're barely wearing anything."

"Maybe I am, maybe I'm not."

She broke eye contact and starting moving furniture out of the way. Once she was done, she faced him again and he fell into a tighter stance, holding his fists up in front of his body like he was getting ready to box. All she did was continue smiling at him, and though she had a beautiful smile, he just wanted to wipe that grin off her face.

Without any further preamble, he darted forward and feinted left, before swinging back right and jabbing her lightly in the side. It didn't even seem like she tried to dodge his blow, and he straightened again. "Nat, you have to at least try. You can't just let me win."

"Who said I was letting you win?" she asked as she peeled off her sweater. He'd been able to see her white tank top peeking out earlier, but he hadn't been able to tell that it was the only thing she had been wearing underneath her sweater.

The sight of her breasts straining against the thin material of her shirt, dusty nipples begging him for attention, made his mouth dry with want. He cleared his throat before pointedly looking at her chest, and said, "Three hits and I win, right? Two now?"

Her only response was a nod, before she started backing away from him. "You're the one who wanted to play, little spider—" he teased, switching back to Russian as he finished with, "—so where are you going?"

That damned grin returned and, slyly, she taunted, "So come and get me, soldier."

He mirrored her grin and lunged for her, only to have her twist at the last second and sprint in the opposite direction. His fingertips grazed the cotton of her tanktop, and he growled in frustration. Her airy chuckle teased him, and he rolled to gain ground on her. When he was just behind her, he reached forward and wrapped his fingers around her ankle, pulling her to the floor. Had she not been a trained spy and assassin, she would've hit the ground face-first. Because she was Natasha, all she did was roll forward and onto her feet, facing him with light in her eyes.

"That's two out of three. You're awfully motivated tonight, Barnes."

Bucky chuckled and gestured at her from head to toe. "I get a piece of clothing, Tasha."

"You choose: top or bottom."

He raised an eyebrow at her, surprised she was offering him the choice. It was a difficult decision—because honestly, either one was a win-win in his eyes—but he went with his first instinct this time around. "Bottom."

Natasha smirked at him before shimmying out of her leggings, revealing a lacy thong that matched the bra he'd gotten a sneak peek of earlier at Avengers Tower. He took one good look at her and murmured, "You little minx."

"Anything less, and I'd disappoint you," she replied, equally as seductive.

"Do we really have to keep this game going, or can we skip ahead to the main attraction?"

She waggled her finger at him, taking the opportunity to tsk at him. "You have to earn it."

From the fight and his elevated level of arousal, his heart rate was picking up, causing the gears in his arm to click and whir in anticipation. The mechanical sounds filled the otherwise silent apartment, and she bit her bottom lip as her eyes darted down to his erection. She knew exactly what she was doing to him, and as impatient as he was getting, he knew it would only make the end result that much better.

Once her eyes had snapped back up to his, she stated, "Rules have changed. Last point is won through hide and seek."

"I always win at hide and seek, you know that."

"I sure do, which means I get a handicap."

"And what might that be?"

"Thirty second head start."

Bucky crossed his arms and questioned, "That's a bit excessive, don't you think?"

"No, I think it's perfectly fair."

"Fine. Your thirty seconds start now."

With a smirk, she twirled around and raced off down the hall, giving him the perfect view of her ample behind. He shook his head with a fond smile and cocked his head to the side, listening more intently than he normally would. Natasha knew perfectly well that he had enhanced senses, but she was also equally as capable of being completely silent if she wanted to.

Which meant that, for once, he was presented with a challenge.

Once her thirty-second head start was up, he headed down the hall toward the other half of the apartment. There was only the laundry room—which proved unfruitful, considering there was nowhere to actually hide—the bathroom, and the bedroom on this half of the unit, so he figured he'd start with the bathroom.

He stepped inside, his boots scuffing on the tile ever so slightly. "Oh, Natasha…" He trailed off, slipping his hand behind the shower curtain to pull it aside. When she was nowhere to be seen, he let it drop and turned around, heading back out into the hall.

After a moment of thought, he traipsed into the bedroom and glanced around, looking for a telltale sign of her location. The bedroom was completely quiet, and the only movement was the fluttering of the curtains; she'd opened the balcony door.

Wondering if she'd really make it that easy for him, he meandered over to the door and peered out onto the balcony. Still, there was no sign of her. He turned, intending on returning to the bedroom when the slightest vibration resonated through the metal of the balcony, alerting him to someone's presence behind him.

Before he could look, small, delicate hands covered his eyes, and Natasha whispered in his ear, "Looks like I've got you."

"I thought the point of this game was for you to be the prey?" he murmured as she nipped the top of his ear with her teeth.

"Ah, but you had the advantage. I had to tip the scales in my favor." He felt her move around him, and eventually, her hands fell away from his face. She stood before him in nothing but that practically sheer tank top, and that itty-bitty thong. "Like what you see?"

He met her gaze. "I always do, you know that."

"I do know that," she whispered, stepping forward to reach up and slide her hands under his shirt.

When her fingertips grazed his nipples, he sucked in a breath. With a coy expression on her face, she curled her fingers ever so slightly, and dragged her nails back down his abdomen. He clenched his jaw in an attempt to hide how much it affected him, but his breath still shook as he exhaled.

"Are you forfeiting, Barnes?" she asked with a knowing smirk as she hooked her fingers under his waistband and pulled him back into the bedroom. Her fingers grazed along his skin, pulling goosebumps to the surface and causing the hair on his arms to stand on end.

"I never forfeit, Nat."

"Mmhm."

In a single, swift motion, she pushed his shirt up and over his head. He reached up and circled her waist with his hands underneath her tank top, running his palms up and down her sides. When she shivered in response, he answered with a smirk of his own; the roughness of the calluses on his palms against her soft skin always made her tremble.

Her fingers continued to wander, and the second they brushed against his length through the fabric of his jeans, he couldn't continue their little game any longer. Conscious of the amount of strength he was applying, he grabbed her arms and spun her around before pushing her back against the wall. He knew she'd gasp the second she made contact, and he leaned down and captured her lips in a kiss that stole her breath, and caused all of his senses to go haywire. It wasn't long before he lost all conscious thought and could only focus on the way she tasted, like the sweetest, most exotic forbidden fruit.

She'd driven him past the point of no return, and that was just where she liked him. For every push he gave, she pulled just as hard. Sex for them was always rough, always raw. That was all they both knew, and he wouldn't have it any other way, because she never ceased to amaze him.

They tumbled onto the bedsheets, and he pulled her tank top off before tossing it carelessly to the ground. With a playful smile on her face, she traced her foot up his thigh and wrapped her legs around his waist, pulling him in closer. He planted a soft kiss on her calf before clambering off the bed, hurrying as he pulled off his shoes, and yanked his jeans and underwear off before kicking them aside. Without wasting a single second, he was back on the bed.

Again, she twined her legs around him, but this time, with a surprising amount of force, she flipped him over and straddled him.

"Always have to be in control, don't you?" he murmured.

She bit her bottom lip—something she knew drove him crazy with lust—and whispered, "Of course. Happy birthday, James," and without further preamble, she lowered herself onto him.

Like every time before this that they'd erased the lines that separated them, every move she made unraveled all the threads that came together to make him whole.

With Natasha, there were always complications. That's just who she was. But when it came to this, to them as one, there was nothing else but her breathless moans, his strained grunts; nothing but the two of them moving together in a timeless dance that meant so much more than the physical.

It was the only time he let everything go and concentrated on nothing more than the moment—on her.

When she finally cried out in ecstasy, it reverberated around the room, through his entire being. She bit the juncture between his neck and his shoulder in an attempt to mute her cry, and not long after, he joined her in the closest place either of them would ever be to heaven.

She moved to roll off of him and he swept his left arm behind her to catch her fall, lowering her gently to the bed beside him. A shiver wracked her body, and assuming it was because of the cold metal of his arm against her flushed skin, he moved to pull away, only to have her tuck herself into his side.

To his surprise, he felt drowsy. Their version of foreplay, paired with the intensity of their sex as always, had drained him far more than he'd anticipated.

Within minutes, they were both fast asleep.


"Your work has been a gift to mankind."

...

Rivers of red running through the streets; the silver metal of his arm glinting in the sun.

His hands wrapped around a slim, pale throat.

Children's cries of terror at the sight of their mother, bleeding and broken on the ground.

The smell of fear, of pure chaos permeating the air.

Ice spreading through his veins.

The darkness sweeping him under, the feeling of hopelessness.

His fingers against the frozen glass, wanting nothing more than to be free from this.

"I need you to do it one more time."


Bucky shot upright in bed, his chest heaving and completely drenched in sweat.

Alexander Pierce's voice still echoed through his mind. No matter how much he seemed to try, he just couldn't escape his past. He likely never would.

A glance over at Natasha proved that she was still asleep, facing away from him. He watched the gentle rise and fall of her shoulders as she breathed, lost in the wonders of her own dreams. He could only hope they were more pleasant than his seemed to be every night.

With sluggish movements, he pulled his knees up and cradled them with his arms, staring off into space. After a few minutes, thoughts of his nightmare returned. He leaned his head on his forearms, letting out a deep sigh.

He wasn't sure how long he stayed like that. Eventually, the bed shifted and Natasha sat up beside him, draping her arm across his back. "James, what's wrong?" she asked in a quiet, husky voice.

He shook his head before running his hand down his face. It took him a few seconds, but eventually, he replied, "The usual."

She didn't say anything in response—there was nothing she could say. She understood better than anyone else that no matter how much he tried to run from his nightmares, the memories of his past, that it didn't matter. They'd always be with him, because like Steve had said earlier, they made him the man he was today. He still wasn't sure whether that was a good or a bad thing. It simply was.

In slow, comforting movements, Natasha caressed the hair at the nape of his neck as she placed a delicate kiss on the star of his metal arm. With overwhelming emotion in his eyes, he looked down at her, not knowing what to say of her unmitigated acceptance. With her, he never had to hide. He didn't think he'd ever find a way to put how grateful he was for her into words.

"Lay down with me, James," she whispered.

They fell back against the pillows, her fingers absentmindedly traveling through the coarse hairs on his chest. His arm was underneath her, holding her against his side. No matter how long they laid there, he knew there was no way he could fall asleep again—not after the nightmare had already run its course. There was never any falling back asleep afterwards.

He traced circles on her shoulder blade, reveling in the calm her presence brought him. They'd lain there for so long, and the room was so silent, he thought she'd fallen back asleep. As the sun began to rise, throwing shades of molten gold and soft, rosy hues across the room, he turned away from the window and faced her, surprised to find her crystal-clear eyes staring back at him. The sun's rays set her hair aglow, and he could see the few gold strands that were hidden within the vibrant, fiery red ones.

"I thought you were asleep," he croaked.

The corner of her lips twitched upwards, and quietly, she replied, "You didn't think I'd let you lay here alone, did you? Clearly, you don't know me as well as you thought you did, Barnes. If you need me, I'm here, whether you ask me to be or not."

Throat closed with emotion, Bucky attempted a chuckle. He didn't deserve anything good in his life, not after everything he'd done. Yet somehow, he'd gotten lucky enough to have Natasha at his side. By this point, he didn't believe in a higher power, but if he had, he'd be thanking them at this moment in time as he stared into her eyes that were glistening with unspoken love. They didn't say the words often to each other, but he knew that she saw the same tenderness in his own eyes, because she leaned up and pressed her lips against his in a gentle kiss.

When she pulled away, he cupped her cheek in his hand, marveling at her beauty in the early morning light.

"No, I guess I don't."


A/N:

And there it is! Happy 99th birthday to Mr. James Buchanan Barnes! [March 10, 2016]

As always, thank you to Arenoptara for beta-reading for me. I love hearing from my readers, so if you enjoyed it, don't be shy and drop a line! Of course, you're never obligated to leave a review, though. I appreciate y'all anyway.