Steve woke up slowly, mouth tasting like cotton. His body ached; it felt like one large bruise spread out to every inch of his skin, but there wasn't any particularly sharp pain coming from his leg or his side, so he figured that was a good sign.
He kept his eyes closed, breathing evenly as he slowly tried to get his bearings; he wanted to make sure he knew where he was and what level of danger he was in.
He didn't know if Tony, Clint, and Sam had even been real or delusions from his gunshot wounds. He could feel that he was lying on something soft, likely a hospital bed, but that only meant that he was being cared for, whether it was by HYDRA or SHIELD remained to be seen.
There was a faint sound of a door clicking open and someone shuffling in. "He's still asleep?" a male voice said, and Steve's pulse jumped when he realized the voice was talking to someone already in the room, but he hadn't even noticed another presence in with him.
"No, he's awake," the woman's voice was smooth and low, and relief immediately poured through Steve at the sound of it.
No wonder he hadn't felt anyone else in the room; Natasha had always been able to mask her presence, making it almost impossible to tell where she was at any given time.
Steve cracked his eyes open, wincing at the light streaming from the windows. After blinking away tears that sprang to his eyes from the brightness, Steve turned his head slightly, trying to look around. The room was sterile and bright, but larger than a normal hospital room, and except for Natasha and the doctor, he was alone.
He let his head loll to the side so he could eye Natasha, who was curled like a cat on a large plush chair, dressed in black leggings and a dark red top. Clearly, some time had passed since their escape, but Steve didn't know how much.
"Where's...?" he croaked, throat bobbing. He grimaced at the lack of moisture, hand vaguely trying to go to his neck as if touching it would somehow help.
"Barnes is in another room. He insisted that he was fine, but the doctors wanted to make sure," Natasha answered easily.
Steve nodded. That was good; Bucky would heal quickly with or without help from the doctors, but there were bruises and fractures from their time with HYDRA that needed attention, and more than that, the mental scars were sufficient and wouldn't heal quickly.
Steve's eyes drifted to the ceiling. He wished that he could have protected Bucky from all of it; that he could have been the protector for once, the role that Bucky had always played when they were growing up, but the pain from HYDRA had started long before Steve could have done anything.
HYDRA had their claws in him before Steve was even in Europe during the war, and the serum hadn't been pumping through his veins until Bucky was long gone, fighting for the Allies, and too far away for Steve to do anything. He never had any chance of stopping this from happening.
"Steve?" Natasha's voice was soft, and when Steve focused back on her, he noticed that the doctor had quietly left the room and that Steve had silent tears running down his face, soaking into the pillow on either side of his head.
"Shit," he mumbled and lifted a hand that was stuck full of an IV to scrub at his face roughly. "I'm sorry."
Natasha shook her head. "You don't have to apologize."
"It's stupid," Steve said.
"No, it is," Steve insisted with a thick laugh. "I'm crying because...well, I want to protect Bucky, and I know that I can't change anything that happened to him in the past, and it's the present that's important, but—look at what happened. I finally find him, and the first thing that happens is HYDRA swoops in and takes us both. There's no telling what his recapture did to his mental state. Not that I knew what was going on up there to start with—"
"Steve," Natasha interjected, stopping his outburst. She straightened her legs, putting them to the floor so that she could lean forward, green eyes dark and serious. "None of this is your fault."
Steve flapped a hand at her. "I know that."
"It doesn't seem like you do."
Steve wanted to argue, but he could feel a sob crawling its way up his throat; he tried to swallow it down, but it refused to go back and it kept bubbling up.
He sat up in the bed in a quick rush, burying his face into his hands before he let the sob out.
It was muffled, but he knew that it was still noticeable through his fingers. He tried to hold back the tears that followed, but then he decided to hell with it and just ignored Natasha while he cried.
It wasn't difficult to figure out why he was crying. It had all been too much; these last few days, months, years. First with Bucky dying, and then with Bucky alive, but good as dead, and now...now Bucky was back and Steve could finally allow himself to feel that and everything from before he woke up in the ice. The grief for who Bucky had been, and now was, curled tightly around his throat, reminding him that while Bucky was back, he had still lost a part of his friend that he was never going to get back.
Steve roughly shoved that thought aside because no matter what his best friend—his brother was back.
He knew that his tears weren't just because of Bucky, but also because he would never truly have a place in this time, and that he had left more than just his friends and family behind in the 40's. It seemed like now, in the future, his whole identity revolved around being Captain America and that was all anyone cared about, but back in his time, during the 40's, he had been more than just a guy with a shield.
But he couldn't think like because no matter what he did, he was never getting back to that time, but what he did have now was Bucky.
And because of that, Steve was finally home.
A soft hand touched his shoulder and Steve leaned into the touch, letting the warmth from Natasha's skin sink into him.
Abruptly, he stopped crying, the tears stopping like a faucet that had been turned off. He scrubbed at his face, knowing that it wouldn't do much to make the splotchy redness disappear, and then looked up at Natasha, who was now standing at his side.
Feeling a bit embarrassed, Steve offered her a sideways shrug.
"He's back, Steve," Natasha said softly, "and he's not going anywhere." She paused, head cocking to the side. "If he does, I'll drag his ass home for you."
A smile cracked Steve's lips.
"It's okay to be upset over what happened to both of you," Natasha said after a long beat of silence. She stepped back from Steve, letting her hand drop off his shoulder. "But time will help heal what happened."
Steve nodded; he knew that, he also knew that Bucky wasn't the only one that had more than just physical wounds brewing under the surface of his skin. Clearly, Steve was struggling more than he thought.
He leaned back against his pillows, settling deeper into the mattress. He eyed Natasha and then said, tiredly, "Fuck HYDRA."
A surprised laugh escaped Natasha's lips, both hands going up to her mouth, and she eyed Steve with a proud sort of wonder.
"Steve," she said, grin staying firmly on her mouth, "I don't think I've ever liked you more than I do right now."
A trickle of warmth settled on Steve's skin, spreading from his chest down to each of his limps, and he gave Natasha a small smile.
He wasn't exactly okay, but he knew that he would be.
Tony was walking briskly down the medical hall in his Tower, feet thumping loudly with purpose.
It had been a few days since they had gotten Steve and Barnes back, and at first Tony hadn't wanted to interfere with Steve's recovery, but after he got a good report back from Natasha and the doctor, Tony still didn't go to see his teammate.
Was he a coward? No.
Was he a little scared of Steve? Yes.
Did he need to suck it up and go see Steve? Also yes.
It was just that the last time he had even talked to Steve, he had suggested that they hand Barnes over to HYDRA and then after, when they were rescuing the two men, Tony had seen Steve lying motionless in the dirt with blood spilling into a pool around him. It wasn't a sight that Tony had ever associated with Steve. Steve was the strong one—the super soldier—always fighting and never giving up.
Tony wanted to scrub that image of Steve in the dirt from his mind until it was nothing more than a vague memory.
Tony's footsteps slowed as he neared one of the many rooms that lined the medical hall; it wasn't Steve's room, but he could hear two familiar voices wafting out of the open door.
"Fuck off, you're cheating! Again!" Clint's voice was easy to place, but the soft reply took Tony a second to recognize.
"You're just sore because you're used to being the fastest one in the room." There was a slight pause. "You better get used to losing, Barton."
Tony's eyes widened and his feet almost froze to the tiled floor; he hadn't ever heard Barnes speak so easily before. But then, Tony knew that he hadn't given Barnes a reason to do so.
He didn't want to be caught eavesdropping, so Tony quickened his pace and passed the open door without looking inside, although his curiosity was begging him to just look.
Both voices paused as he passed and, out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of two figures hunched over the something spread out in front of them on the small coffee table that Tony (well, Pepper, really) had put in each room on the medical level. To make it look homier, Pepper had said.
He didn't dare stop, and when he left Barnes' room several yards behind him, Tony breathed a little easier.
He didn't know what to say to Barnes, anything that came to mind, died a swift death before they even made it to his mouth. It was difficult to wrap his head around Barnes; they had fought HYDRA together to save Steve, and Tony knew that he couldn't blame Barnes for the Winter Soldier—not completely. It was clear that Barnes had suffered decades of torture, almost penance in Tony's eyes for the lives he had taken, and it was more than enough suffering for one man to endure.
But it didn't erase the fact that Tony had spent his young adult years without parents, and without their guidance had almost lost his life and his company to a man he thought he could trust.
Obviously, that couldn't be blamed completely on Barnes, but the anger and hurt that had come from it, he did blame Barnes for—unjustly, of course.
Tony didn't think he would ever fully forgive Barnes for what had happened, but he didn't want Barnes dead anymore, so he counted that as a win. Or a first step. Or partial forgiveness. Whatever, it was something.
Lost in thoughts about blame, anger, and forgiveness, Tony belatedly realized that he was standing just outside Steve's room.
It felt like it was too soon and he wasn't ready yet. He grimaced at the closed door, fingers tapping at his thighs in a restless dance. He knew that Steve was awake; Natasha said he had been coherent when she had last seen him and was already healing. She had told him all this when she had dropped into Tony's locked workshop in the middle of the night. Her short report on Steve's health had been followed by a pointed look before she disappeared back the way she had come.
Before he could lose his nerve, Tony took a step forward and rapped his knuckles against the wood, and without waiting for an answer, he shoved open the door.
"Rogers! It's your resident—" He didn't finished his sentence as he caught sight of Steve.
"Hey Tony," Steve said as Tony swallowed the rest of his smartass comment. Steve was standing near the bed, dressed in comfortable jeans and t-shirt, cleaner and healthier than the last time Tony had seen him, and to Tony's absolute lack of surprise, Steve was neatly making his bed, apparently done with being bedridden in a hospital, even a private hospital in Avengers Tower.
Steve let the edge of the blanket he was holding drop and gave Tony a grin, more relaxed than Tony had ever seen him.
Tony narrowed his eyes at Steve and then strode further into the room. "Did the docs give you some drugs, Steve? Are you on drugs?" He poked Steve's shoulder, taking his life in his own hands, considering that he didn't think that he and Steve were okay yet.
Steve frowned at Tony's finger and shrugged it off. "What? No. I'm fine. I don't need any morphine—,"
"That's definitely not the type of drugs that I mean," Tony said with a fake laugh. He gave Steve a knowing wink, and suddenly wished that he could turn off his smartass personality; he hadn't come to irritate Steve, he had come to apologize.
Steve's frown deepened and exasperation clouded his features, a more familiar look that, surprisingly, helped Tony relax a bit.
He loosely crossed his arms over his chest and eyed Steve and then shifted to look at the made bed. "Are you leaving my humble residence so soon?"
Steve glanced around the bare room and offered a short shrug. "I'm not sure that it's a good idea to stay much longer."
Ouch. That stung.
Tony blinked rapidly and nodded. "You're probably right."
Steve gave him a long look, concern suddenly flickering behind his eyes. "Tony...you're not going to—"
"No, Rogers, I'm not going to kill your pal," Tony interrupted, rolling his eyes. He tried to keep his voice light, but he wasn't sure that he managed.
Steve didn't get defensive at Tony's tone, but he did take a small step back, crossing his arms over his chest. "Good."
Silence fell over them for a beat too long, and Tony winced. He heaved a sigh and then said, "Look, Steve, I came here to apologize."
Steve opened his mouth, maybe to stop Tony, or maybe to wave away the words, but Tony didn't give him a chance to do anything and hurried on.
"Not just for letting HYDRA sweep in and take your friend, but also for not being able to do anything when they took you too. And I know that I can't blame Barnes forever, and I'm really trying to forgive him, I am, but even if I do blame him, I don't want him dead. Not anymore, not after what HYDRA did to him—and you." More words, more apologizes and reasons for his actions pushed at his mouth, threatening to pour out, but Tony couldn't figure out a way to put it all into coherent sentences. It was a bit ironic that for once, he, the great Tony Stark, couldn't speak.
Steve didn't move closer, and Tony's hands tensed into fists; afraid of what Steve might do to him, but Steve was shaking his head. He uncrossed his arms; the movement made him look less angry.
"Tony, stop." He raised his hands as if he could physically could stop Tony from speaking. "I don't blame you for what happened."
Tony's eyes narrowed and he huffed out a disbelieving laugh.
"I don't," Steve repeated with force. "Maybe I should, but I don't. How can I? You lost your parents. I know what that's like. My folks died and...Well, if it wasn't for Bucky, I don't know what I would have done." Steve paused, mouth working for a moment. "I'm not trying to compare our tragedies or anything like that. But when I lost Bucky, I lost a part of myself too." Steve's throat bobbed as he swallowed roughly.
Tony shook his head. "Why are you telling me this?" It was hard to believe that Steve was that good of a man. "How can you forgive me? Just like that?"
"What happened to me is nothing that happened to Bucky." Steve paused. He frowned. "Not just that, Tony, but I didn't tell you what happened to your parents when I suspected the truth. And you've forgiven me."
Tony chewed on his tongue; he hadn't thought about Steve's betrayal in a long time. It was so far in the past now, and more important matters had pressed their way to the surface, taking the place of Tony's anger.
When Tony didn't say anything, Steve spoke again, "I don't know what all of this means for us and the team, Tony, but here's what I do know: I'm leaving now, but I'm not going to be gone forever. I'm not abandoning you or the Avengers." He paused. "If you need me, no matter what, I'll be there."
The hot water was pouring down Bucky's skin. It was as hot as the faucet could go, and even then, it didn't feel hot enough.
It had been three months since HYDRA had captured him, and months since he had been in cryo, but Bucky couldn't seem to shake the feeling of ice. It clung to his bones and spread through his veins until he was shivering with the feeling of it.
Deep down he knew it wasn't the actual cold that was hovering inside him; he knew that it was going to take a lot more than a couple of months reprieve from cryo and some hot water to scrub the Winter Soldier away.
He might never be completely gone. That thought was hard to swallow; he had come to terms with the idea that he and the Winter Soldier were one and the same, but that didn't mean he had to like it.
A sudden pounding at the bathroom door startled Bucky and he jerked away from the stream of water. He brushed his wet hair out of his face with his flesh hand; no one else was supposed to be here.
His heart picked up its pace, beating wildly against his ribs, until he remembered that HYDRA wouldn't knock. His fear turned into annoyance and he glared through the glass shower door, waiting for the offending knocker to identify themselves.
"You're using up all the hot water!" Clint's voice hollered through the wood. "Hurry it up, Barnes!"
Of course it was Clint. Who else would it be?
Bucky narrowed his eyes and thought about shouting something back about Clint not even living here and if he didn't shut the hell up, Bucky was going to come out and strangle him with one hand.
But Bucky didn't, and instead shut the water off.
When he was mostly presentable, Bucky wandered out of the bathroom with his hair still wet and dripping, making damp patches on his dark shirt. He moved through Steve's Washington D.C. apartment while he absently combed through his hair with his flesh hand.
He tried not to look too closely at the items that Steve had lining his shelves or the pictures that hung on the walls with thick black frames. Most of it were things people could find in an antique store, but Steve said the old record player and prints of World War II propaganda posters made him think of home.
Bucky suspected that either someone else had decorated the apartment, or Steve really did just like how it all looked scattered across the living space.
But memories of Bucky's past with Steve during the Depression and the war were coming back in leaps and bounds, and seeing things from that past kept knocking Bucky off his feet for minutes at a time as the memory took control of him.
He preferred not to be incapacitated when Clint was over, so he kept his eyes straight ahead until he entered the kitchen. He paused just at the edge of the tiled floor, eyeing his friend, who had made himself at home, despite the fact that he did not live there.
Music was blaring from a speaker on the counter that Bucky vaguely recognized, but only because Clint had made it his mission to introduce Bucky to "all the classics," and this was one that Clint played the most.
Bucky shifted, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched Clint bop around the kitchen, pulling things out of cupboards, seemingly at random. He was making a small pile on the granite countertop, and Bucky wondered if it was worth asking Clint what he was doing, knowing that the answer probably would turn into a demonstration that needed "volunteers from the audience."
He heaved a sigh and shuffled closer to the counter, pulling out one of the round stools and settling himself on it. He tucked his feet into the rungs of the wooden stool and shifted until he was comfortable.
"How did you get in here?" Bucky asked when the music paused to switch to a new song.
Instead of answering, Clint danced over to the speaker and fiddled with it until the music dropped drastically. Quiet enough that Bucky could actually hear his thoughts again.
Clint spun around to face Bucky, a wild grin on his lips. He raked a hand through his blonde hair, making it stick up in different spots.
"What? No, 'hello, Clint, my only friend. Nice to see you again after a month of absence.'" He paused and then added, "Don't bother telling me Steve is your friend—clearly he's family, so it doesn't count."
Bucky rolled his eyes at Clint, but didn't disagree.
"Speaking of the Man with a Plan," Clint continued, placing a hand on his hip and looking around, "where is he?"
"Out," Bucky answered, leaning an elbow onto the cool counter. "Stop changing the subject. How'd you get in?"
Clint shrugged. "Through the window." He gestured vaguely over Bucky's shoulder.
Bucky's eyes narrowed and he twisted around, carefully looking at the windows closest to them.
"Don't worry, I enabled the alarm again after I came through," Clint said, bringing Bucky's attention back to him.
Bucky stared at Clint, blinking slowly.
Clint stared back, shifting from foot to foot. He shook his head, breaking eye contact with Bucky. "So listen, I really just wanted to stop by and see how you're doing." His voice had dropped its cheerful lilt and had taken a serious tone.
Bucky considered the question, eyes dropping down to his hands that had twisted together, metal and flesh blending into one. How was he doing?
It had been three months since he and Steve had escaped from HYDRA and they had both recovered from their physical wounds, but he knew that Steve had nightmares some nights, and Bucky didn't think a single night passed when he didn't wake up in a cold sweat. What had happened to them had been brief enough, but it was thoughts of before, when Bucky had been completely ensnared by HYDRA, that haunted them.
He knew that Steve still blamed himself for a lot of what had happened, and it didn't matter how many times Bucky told him that it wasn't his fault, Steve couldn't seem to shake those lingering feelings of guilt.
As for Bucky, he knew that he was getting better; it helped that he and Steve weren't lying low and recovering like Steve had told the Avengers. It wasn't exactly a lie, they were recovering, but in a more violent way than was implied.
Each HYDRA base that Bucky remembered and helped destroy seemed to mend a little bit more of himself. Obviously, this wasn't the greatest coping method for either of them, but it was also important to stomp out the rest of HYDRA before they gained the courage to come back.
"I'm okay," Bucky finally said. He looked up from his hands to Clint's skeptical face.
"That was a mighty long pause there, buddy. Sounds like a lie to me."
Bucky rolled his eyes; a habit that he always seemed to develop around Clint.
"I'm fine, Clint." He paused and then sighed. "I'm getting better."
Clint accepted that answer with a nod. "Good."
Bucky waited, expecting Clint to pry further, but he didn't. He turned and went to the pile of measuring cups and flour and other unidentifiable items that he had been getting out.
"How do you feel about cupcakes?" he asked as he began to pull bowls out of cabinets. He set them next to the pile and then turned back to find something else.
Bucky didn't answer, instead he watched, with his head cocked to the side, as Clint opened cabinet after cabinet, clearly looking for something in particular.
"Uh, sorry, not cupcakes. You heathens don't have any pans for that," Clint said, from where he was crouched behind the counter. "How about cookies?"
His head appeared at the edge of the counter like a gopher popping out of the ground. He waited expectantly, eyebrows high.
Bucky let a small huff of laughter. "Cookies are good."
"Excellent!" Clint said, and then disappeared again.
An undetermined amount of time later, peanut butter cookies were baking in the oven, and Bucky and Clint were somehow covered in spots of flour and peanut butter.
So when someone knocked at the door, Bucky glared at Clint, who raised his hands.
"This isn't my fault! I told you we needed aprons."
Bucky growled and Clint took a step back, but was wagging a finger like some damn mother scolding her child. He clearly wasn't as frightened as he should be.
"Listen, man, you can growl at me all you want, but it's not going to open the door for you and its definitely not going to clean you up." Clint frowned. "Wait, should you even be opening the door...?"
"I'm not four years old," Bucky said with a snort. "I can open the door to strangers if I want to, Barton." He attempted to wipe some flour off his arm, but it didn't seem to do much good.
"Yeah, you're 100 something and a known assassin," Clint called as Bucky started walking towards the front door. "You go ahead and do what you want."
Bucky hid a smile, feeling Clint's own grin pointed at his retreating back. Somehow, in the middle of beating the eggs together and Clint yelling at him not to add the butter yet, Bucky had felt himself relax.
It had been too long since it had been just him and Clint, and even then, back in the basement of Fury's compound, there had been a glass cage surrounding Bucky and always the lingering weight of knowing that HYDRA coming for him.
Now, that weight had been lifted, not just because he was with Steve and the two of them were working together to slowly help Fury dismantle the remaining HYDRA bases in the U.S. and even a few in Europe, but also because Bucky finally felt like he belonged somewhere. He wasn't just a nameless weapon to be used and then shelved until they were ready for him. Now, he was valued, and even had friends (okay, maybe just one, but Clint was more than enough for Bucky).
These thoughts swirled inside Bucky's head, and he almost forgot that his black shirt was spotted with flour and peanut butter was smeared on his neck, dangerously close to his loose hair, but then he answered the door and it all came rushing back.
Bucky blinked rapidly at the face that greeted him outside Steve's apartment, one hand still gripping the door while the other unconsciously patted at his pants as if that would somehow help make the flour disappear.
"Uh," Tony Stark said, mouth hanging open as his eyes raked Bucky up and down.
Bucky forced himself to relax, and quirked his mouth into something that resembled a grin. "I thought you were intelligent."
Stark's mouth snapped shut and a frown appeared. "You got mouthy."
Bucky shrugged, swiping a hand casually at his face, he was pretty sure there was something on it, but he didn't know if he managed to clean it up or just made it worse. Didn't matter; it was worth it to see the look on Stark's face. "I've always been. It just got beat outta me for a while."
Bucky didn't get a chance to see the horrified look flash across Stark's face because a memory chose that moment to knock into him.
"Show some respect!" the voice snarled.
Bucky sneered back, spitting blood out of his mouth. It hit the stone floor wetly and the soldiers in the room all glanced at it, but Bucky was too busy feeling his teeth with his tongue to pay attention to them.
It felt like some of his teeth might be loose, but it couldn't be helped; he wasn't giving these bastards anything. Didn't matter what they tried to do to him, or what they took from him.
Unbidden his eyes wondered down to where his arm was supposed to be and he swallowed quickly, wincing at the taste of blood as it oozed down his throat; he wasn't going to keep thinking about that. The arm was gone and it wasn't coming back; he didn't have time to get all weepy over it. He needed to stay strong until Steve and the rest of the team came for him, and Bucky had no doubt in his mind that they would.
A quiet voice in his head reminded him that he had fallen off a train; Steve had to think that he was dead because no one should have survived that fall. No one normal anyway.
Fucking Zola must have done something to him—
A fist struck his face, sending his head snapping back. It slammed against the wall they had him chained to, causing him to see stars for a brief second.
"No one is coming for you, Soldat—,"
Bucky straightened his head and frowned at the speaker, confused. "I don't speak Russian, you dumb prick. How many times do I have to—?"
"Soldier," a new voice answered shortly. This one sounded American and Bucky rounded on him, surprise making him jerk against the cuff around his remaining wrist. His bruised skin protested the movement, but Bucky was too busy gaping at the newcomer, who was definitely an American.
"It means 'soldier'," the same voice continued. "And trust me, you'll be speaking Russian sooner than you think."
Bucky swallowed down the betrayal that was rising at the thought of an American helping these people, and shot the man a bloody grin. "Not likely."
The man shook his head as if bored with this conversation already. "You think that your friends will come for you. Captain America himself, right?"
Bucky didn't say anything.
"Well, they're not coming. You're alone down here, and if you don't shut your fucking mouth and get with the program, you're going to wish that you had died on that mountain."
Silence fell over them for a long beat while Bucky glared at the huddle of soldiers in the damp room. Helplessness and despair were quickly spreading through him and he didn't know if he could stop it; he didn't know if he could hold on to the sliver of hope that he had been carrying for so long, it was getting too small to grip.
But he remembered Steve and knew that his friend could achieve the impossible, so he straightened his spine and sent a shit eating grin across the room.
"Nah, pal, you don't know Stev—Rogers. He'll come." He paused. "In the meantime, fuck you," he jerked his chin at one soldier, moving on to the next with the each one of his words, "and fuck you, and fuck you, and especially fuck you, traitor."
The American didn't look impressed, but he didn't look bored anymore either. Bucky figured that was probably not a good thing, but he steeled himself for what was coming next and clung to his hope with everything he had.
"—Barnes?! What the hell!"
"Don't touch him, Stark."
It was Clint's voice that brought Bucky back. His awareness of his surroundings was sudden and it only took a second to realize that he was splintering Steve's front door with his metal hand.
His breath was coming in short gasps and he could feel Stark hovering just outside in the hall and Clint somewhere behind him. Neither of them were trying to touch him, which was a good thing; Bucky was pretty sure he would have killed them if they had tried.
The dull pain that came with the memories of his past hurt, but it served as a reminder that he was human and, more importantly, alive.
Bucky held onto that thought and carefully unclenched his hand, wincing at the state of the door. He was going to have to repair that, preferably before Steve got home, but it probably wouldn't happen; Steve was supposed to be back soon.
"Bucky...?" Clint's voice came again, softer this time.
Bucky swallowed roughly, throat dry. He pushed away from the door, almost staggering into Clint, who he felt reach out to steady him. He removed his hands just as quickly though, making sure Bucky had all the space he needed.
"I'm good," Bucky finally said, voice hoarse as it scrapped its way out of his throat. He used both hands to smooth his hair away from his face; the movement helped calm him. He took a shuddering breath and then lifted his eyes to look at Clint first.
Clint, even covered in flour, looked like he was ready to fight whoever Bucky needed in a second's notice.
"It was a rough one," Bucky admitted quietly.
Clint's throat bobbed as he swallowed and he shifted, trying to look more casual. "I haven't seen one like that before."
"Um...," Stark's voice broke into their soft conversation, "I've never seen that before. What the hell was that? You're not going to...I don't know, kill us or something?"
Bucky heaved out a whistling sigh and turned to fully face Stark, while Clint made a sound lowly in the back of his throat.
"No," Bucky said, eyeing Stark's pale face. "I'm not going to kill you." He was tempted to add, this time, just to fuck with Stark a little, but he didn't think he had any place doing that to the man whose parents had died at Bucky's hands.
"What do you even want?" Clint snapped out, voice barely contained.
Bucky's raised his eyebrows, glancing over to his friend. He didn't know that Clint had such strong feelings towards Stark.
"C'mon, Barton," Stark sighed, "I thought we were good. I thought we'd figured this shit out when you slugged me back in Montana?"
Clint shrugged. "It was a momentary thing. Not a forgiveness thing."
"Honestly," Stark said, heat starting to spread in his voice, "if anyone should still be pissed at me, it's him." He jerked his chin at Bucky, while he glared at Clint.
"I'm not pissed at you," Bucky said tiredly, and then waved a hand at Clint. "Back off, Clint. Please."
He waited until Clint unclenched his fists and stepped away, going back into the kitchen before he looked at Stark again.
"You just triggered a memory." Bucky didn't know why he was bothering to explain to Stark what had happened, but it didn't stop him from continuing, "It wasn't a good one and now...now I'm back and you need to tell me what you're doing here."
Stark mulled over that for a couple of beats, fingers tapping against the side of his thigh as he lightly frowned at Bucky; he didn't look angry. It was more like he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to do next.
"Are you looking for Steve?" Bucky asked when it didn't seem like Stark was going to answer his question.
Stark's head bobbed. "Uh, yeah. Looking for you too."
Bucky's eyebrows rose; he didn't think Stark would ever willingly seek him out. "Why?"
"Because I know Steve's story about relaxing here in D.C. is bullshit. I know the two of you have a super-secret HYDRA hunting thing going on here."
Bucky's lips thinned, but he didn't say anything; he wasn't sure where this is going, and he wasn't going to give Stark any information until he knew what Stark's endgame was.
"And," Stark continued, uncomfortable with the silence, "I just wanted to make sure you knew what you're doing."
Bucky almost snorted; from the cobbled together memories that he had managed to recall, this was exactly what he and Steve had done back during the war. And anyway, they were both super soldiers, and were more than capable of taking care of themselves.
"It hasn't been that long since...you know," Stark added, "and from what I just saw, you shouldn't be in the field at all."
Bucky's lips pulled back over his teeth into a small snarl. "Try and stop me."
"I don't think I could, even if I wanted to."
"Then what do you want?" Bucky demanded, already sick of this stiff conversation.
"I want to go with you," Stark said, the words almost tripping out of his mouth in his hurry to get them out. "I want to help. HYDRA needs to be stopped and I want to help do it."
Bucky blinked slowly at Stark; it wasn't what he had been expecting, but it did make sense. Bucky wasn't the only one that HYDRA had hurt.
He focused on Stark, who looked worried, like Bucky might refuse him.
"Tony?" Steve's voice sounded in the hall, halting any answer Bucky might have given. Steve appeared behind Stark a second later. His eyes flicked to Bucky as he asked, "What are you doing here?"
"Oh, you know, just having a friendly chat," Stark said, half-turning to look at Steve.
Steve glanced at the splintered wood of the door, a frown flashing across his face. His arms were full of groceries and he juggled them awkwardly as he paused on the threshold of his apartment.
He kept looking from Stark to Bucky, his silent question deafening.
Bucky shoulders rose in a shrug. "He's not here to kill me."
Steve relaxed minutely.
"And anyway," Bucky continued, "Clint is here." It was an unspoken statement that Clint would've had Bucky's back no matter what Stark might have tried.
"Clint?" Steve said, frowning slightly. "I thought he was in Munich. How'd—?"
"Through the window," Bucky said.
"That doesn't surprise me at all," Steve said, smiling hitching across his lips. He then apparently decided everything was as normal as it could be and sidled past Stark and Bucky, and then continued into the kitchen.
Bucky heard him greet Clint and then a quiet murmur of their voices floated back to him; they were probably talking about him, which, to be fair, was one of their mutual interests.
Bucky didn't look at Stark or wait for him to make a move. Instead, he silently padded away from the broken door and man.
In the kitchen, Clint was pulling the cookies out of the oven, cursing loudly.
"Those better not be burnt," Bucky said, circling to stand next to Steve at the counter.
"They're not! They're just...a little toastier than we wanted."
Bucky glared without heat. He could feel Steve's eyes taking in the flour and peanut butter on his skin, but he didn't ask what had happened; probably used to Bucky's strange friendship with Clint.
When Tony entered the kitchen, no one brought up the stifling strangeness of the four of them being in the same room after what had happened in the basement three months ago.
Bucky almost wanted to pick a fight with someone, just to break the silence that enveloped them as he and Clint cleaned up their mess and Steve called for takeout while Stark watched.
But he didn't. He knew better than to do that, not when he and Stark seemed to have reached some sort of shaky peace.
The food arrived and the silence continued to choke Bucky as they quietly ate their rice and chicken. Clint attempted a few jokes that fell flat until he shut up and just sent weirded out looks across the table to Bucky.
Just when Bucky thought he was going to explode, Stark spoke up.
"So, Barnes and I were talking about your therapy these last few months."
Steve's fork froze halfway up his mouth. "Excuse me?"
Stark waved a hand. "I know all about it." He looked at Clint, almost apprehensively. "Steve and Barnes are—"
"Yeah, I know," Clint cut in. He pushed his empty plate away and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest. "Why do you think I was in Munich?"
"You were in Munich?"
Clint rolled his eyes. "Yeah, scouting the place out for those two to come busting in and burn the base down. Did you think that Steve and Bucky were single handedly taking on HYDRA...and winning?"
Stark glared. "It crossed my mind."
Bucky shrugged. "We probably could do it, but this way is easier."
Stark's head swiveled from Clint to Bucky before he finally settled on Steve. "Why'd you lie to us?"
Steve carefully set his fork down. His mouth worked before he finally said, "I didn't want to burden anyone with this mess. It started with me during the 40's, and, more than anything else, this war is mine and Bucky's."
"It's mine too," Stark snapped.
Bucky eyed him, arms going rigid at the rise in volume.
"You should have told me," Stark said, struggling to keep his emotions in check. "I want to help, and I'm sick of you keeping things from me."
Steve flinched like he had been struck, and Bucky half-pushed his chair out so he could get at Stark, but stopped when Steve sent him a quick glance.
"You don't get to decide who gets to bring down these bastards, Steve," Stark said. "This isn't just your fight."
Bucky silently agreed. At least with the last sentence.
Heavy silence fell over them again while they waited for Steve to say something.
He shifted in his seat, eyes going to Bucky. The unspoken question was there and Bucky gave him a nod. Steve nodded back and then turned his attention to Stark.
Stark blinked in surprise; possibly at the easy agreement.
"We're going to Munich tomorrow," Steve said. "You've got yourself a seat on the jet." His eyes flicked to Clint. "You too, Clint."
"We've fought on our own for long enough," Bucky said, speaking up for the first time. He could feel their eyes on him, but he only focused on Steve. "HYDRA may have many heads and all that bullshit, but we've got each other. Family. And we're always stronger together."
He didn't really mean to include Stark in his words, but his eyes settled on the other man without meaning to.
Stark blinked back in surprise, and Bucky could see something clicking into place in Stark's eyes. He didn't know what it was, forgiveness or acceptance maybe, but whatever it was, Bucky suddenly knew that Stark would have his six.
Maybe he wouldn't be Stark for long. Maybe he would be Tony soon enough.
Just like that the awkwardness broke and Clint started a story about how he got lost in Oslo without any shoes.
Bucky only listened with half an ear, thinking over what his life had become.
This small band, missing Sam and the red head, wasn't the Howling Commandos and Bucky sure as hell wasn't back in 1940, but he hadn't felt like he was back home since this moment.
He had Clint and Howard Stark's son, who were willing to fight alongside him to bring down HYDRA, and more importantly, he had Steve back.
Steve was...well, Steve was his home.
A/N: Aaaand we're done.
In this (final) chapter, I really wanted to show the fallout of what had happened to all of them, and to have them realize and accept that they may have gotten out of this mess, but it doesn't exactly end there. There's always going to be a struggle of just living and the important thing is to have the right people surrounding you. Don't know if my point got across, but what the hell.
Also, I want to take the time to thank every single one of you guys for reading and giving me encouragement to continue and finish this fic. It's been a different experience for me and I really hope that you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Lastly, I've kinda got a vague idea of writing a more light-hearted fic about Clint becoming a substitute teacher for Peter Parker. It would sorta be in this fic's universe, but probably not because Civil War didn't happen in this AU. Obviously, I haven't fleshed anything out, but I guess I'm wondering if this is something that people would be interested in? Let me know! Or not. It's cool.
Alright. I'm done rambling.
Again. THANK YOU for reading!