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I'll follow you into the dark

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Bucky checks the doors, the windows, and the closets before finally heading into the bedroom, satisfied for the moment that the perimeter-their perimeter has been properly secured. Steph sits on the edge of her bed that they share now because they collectively can't see the sense in Bucky going back home when she spends most of her time here anyway. Her things have moved over gradually-a gun, a knife, a curling iron, a couple of outfits-so that now her apartment sits empty of all but the essentials in the case of a sudden crisis.



“I know,” she says before Steph can open her mouth and the jerk just smiles, shrugs her shoulders that have supported the pair of them since Bucky'd woken up from damn near a lifetime of brainwashing.



“I wasn't gonna say anything.”



“And I'm the queen of England.”



Steph beckons her into bed and she goes, lets herself be pulled down into kisses and touches, “you're the queen of somethin', alright.”



“Yeah, what's that?”



“Wouldn't be polite to say in front of a lady,” she kisses her, winds a lock of Bucky's long hair around one of her fingers. Steph has always had a thing for her hair-ever since they'd been two scrawny girls banking on the generosity of strangers. The Red Room had cut it off, shorn it close to her head because their assassin had to be able to play a man-she hadn't been like Natalia, not like a Black Widow, no-but it's long enough to put in a ponytail now and it curls when it's wet. Steph presses her lips to her ear.



“Penny for your thoughts?”



“Not worth that much,” she smiles but she knows it won't be taken as a joke. As girls they'd told each other everything. They aren't girls any more.



“Well I was thinking we could go to the movies tomorrow?” she pulls away enough to look Bucky in the eye and damn if those puppy dog eyes don't get her every time, “you know, like a date?”



She knows, knows that it's okay now. And hell, back before the war no one had looked twice at two dames with their arms linked and their glad rags on just going to see a movie together but it'd been more then and it's more now. Hell, they're practically a romance novel and she knows they can hold hands and kiss and she and Natasha had done it but this is Steph. Steph is special and doesn't dress how everyone wants her to dress, Steph doesn't wear makeup or high heels unless she wants to, she doesn't laugh when she wants to sock a guy.



“Forget it, I just-”



“When'd I ever say no, stupid?”



She shrugs, one of her calloused thumbs stroking back and forth over Bucky's cheekbone, “the silence was a pretty good indicator. You don't gotta, you know that, right? I just thought it'd be-”



“Cut the crap and tell me how you really feel, jeez,” her hands slide down her front, squeezing her breasts gently and she sees her eyes close halfway. She's always been sensitive but more so after the serum-they haven't had much time to explore it though, really.



“Like you don't trust me.”



“I'm here, ain't I?”



“That's not what I mean.”



She runs her hands over her collarbone, just touching the bare skin there, “just special, alright? Don't want anyone screwin' you up.”



“There's nothing special...” Steph says, laughs at the face Bucky makes, “I'm not the same girl you grew up with, Bucky. I know what they say about me in the magazines and on the TV. I know I'm not like you or Natasha. It's okay.”



“No it ain't.”



“Same as it's always been, right? Me and you against the world.”



“Yeah, sure, and the five, six other people who'll blow a gasket in interviews if someone says anything about you,” she smirks, rolls up the hem of Steph's too small t-shirt, “you getting dressed or not?”



“More like five or six thousand,” she grins, a faint blush spreading across her cheeks, “there's a blog.”



“Yeah, I bet there is.”



“We don't have to go out, you know. It's kinda late. We could just rent something from the TV.”



“I gotta ask on bended knee for you to take me out or somethin'? Cause I can do that,” she glances down to the bared skin in reach of her fingers and, if she moves, mouth. Her tongue darts out, wetting her lips and when she returns her gaze to Steph's face she's watching with her mouth open.



Her face turns red for a whole other reason now and Bucky barely has enough time to roll off of her before she jumps to her feet, “I'll-uh-go get ready.”



Steph's idea of going out attire doesn't differ much from her staying in kind but it's better than sweats and a t-shirt (jeans and a t-shirt) so Bucky doesn't rib her like she used to. Besides, it keeps the bathroom open for her. She doesn't take long-lipstick, mascara, covers up her dark circles and brushes out her hair before slipping on jeans and a low-cut sweater but Steph smiles at her like she'd gotten dolled up like before.



Bucky doesn't know that she'll ever do that again because the ritual is still there-concealer, foundation, powder, highlights, blush, eyeliner, mascara, red lipstick that had rubbed off against Steph's bare lips and cheek-but she isn't that girl any more. Her hands fumble with old tools and there are days when she knows that a gun would feel better in her hands for all that she doesn't go get one because this is her defiance, her way of taking things back and that's always hard at first.



She remembers to cloak the arm and they head for the elevator. Few people wander the halls this late though so they don't run into any number of the well-meaning if not nosey neighbours that think Bucky doesn't hear them talking about she and Steph over their morning coffee in the courtyard.



“Just like old times, huh?” she glances at herself in the mirrored wall as they step into the elevator and Bucky smirks but doesn’t say anything.



“Better, haven't got all of those cartoons before the good stuff,” Bucky says. Steph purses her lips.



“I don't know, I kinda miss those.”



“Whatever you say.”



The elevator dings as they reach the lobby and they could call for a SHIELD car but they find Steph's bike amongst the lines of SUVs and cars instead. She hands her a blue helmet with red detailing, adjusting it when Bucky doesn't do it up tight enough for her liking then pulls her own helmet on over her short hair. Blue with little wings on the side-she hadn't been there when she'd painted them on but there's no way Steph would go and ask someone else for something like that.



“Nice helmet, Cap,” she smirks at it and through the visor she sees the top of her 'aw shucks' smile.



“Didn't know what to get you.”



She swings her leg over the bike-it looks similar to the one she'd requisitioned back in the war but not quite-and locks her arms around her waist as the engine starts with a roar, “show off.”



“You always told me if you got it, flaunt it,” Steph says and she hears the grin in her voice as they take off out of the lot. Traffic is light for once and they take the long way, past old haunts and new discoveries. The bakery where she used to buy sandwiches for them both on the way home, the alleys where Steph managed to get beat up in spite of how guys had had a 'never hit a lady' mentality back then, and the park where they'd walked through after church so Steph could draw on days it hadn't been too cold or hot all appear one by one and she isn't surprised to feel Steph's hand on hers whenever they pass by one even if it’s only for a few seconds.



Steph pays-Steph always wants to pay-but accepts Bucky's proposition that she buy the popcorn and so they don't have to have another conversation about how one of them doesn't have to 'be the man'. They walk into the theatre not touching except for Steph to steal a couple of handfuls of popcorn but the pair of them get looks and she feels her fist clenching unconsciously because hell, if no one's got any qualms about hitting her she isn't going to hold back out of some outdated idea of common decency.



“Is that Captain America?” she hears them whisper and that's all it is. Nothing about them being together, just “I love what she's done with her hair; I wish I could pull that off”. Steph practically beams at them before turning to Bucky.



“Yeah, okay, smart ass.”



They find a seat in the theatre with seats that haven't been updated in decades and Steph's hand finds hers again, “you don't gotta protect me, y'know. I'm not gonna break because of some stuff people say sometimes.”



“Do something long enough and it turns into a habit, singing Ella in the shower at 6am. Leaving cups of paint water by the bed so I almost drink it.”



“Jerk.”



~~**~~



The movie ends late and the pair of them leave arm in arm like back then and they manage to make it to the bike before Steph leans over and kisses her. “Thanks.”



“When'd you turn into such a lady on me?” Bucky asks, pulls her against her and the bike. She's warm-has always run warm since the serum-and the night has gotten colder than just a thin sweater calls for. The parking lot is mostly empty-or as empty as a parking lot in Brooklyn gets in a movie theatre so she doesn't hesitate in kissing her again, “you took me out remember? I should be the one doin' the thanking.”



She cocks her head the side, “I'm waiting.”



“Said I should, never said I would.”



“C'mon, let's get home,” she runs a hand through Bucky's hair, “before you freeze.”



“No chance of that.”



Steph laughs, pushes her shoulder, and pulls away to put on her helmet, “and you're the one who's always worrying about what people'll say.”



“Yeah well maybe hangin' around you so much is makin' you rub off on me.”



She raises an eyebrow and they get on the bike as Bucky calls her a pervert. It feels like the old days and it's good, she holds onto her and thinks of all the things she'll do to her when they get home. Steph is still warm, and she's here, not going anywhere.



They just pull into the parking when Steph's bike rumbles to a stop. The street is empty and there are only the street lights for light so she pulls off her helmet, and Steph follows suit.



“Stay put,” she says, pulls away from Bucky. Her boots-combat boots that she's loathe to take off ever-clunk against the sidewalk as she heads for the front door. The night air is still and their voices carry farther than in the daylight hours. It reminds her of one of those slasher flicks Stark had shown them all at “team bonding nights” that had made Steph hold Bucky’s hand very, very tightly in spite of how she kept insisting the ‘blood looked so fake’.



“Like hell,” Bucky doesn't hesitate in following her into the well-lit lobby, “what is it?”



“Something doesn't feel right.”



“Okay,” she says and untwists the hair tie from her wrist before tying her hair up into a ponytail. They reach the stairwell before Steph stops again.



“Buck...”



“I'm comin' with you.”



“It's probably just-”



She grabs her wrist, keeps her from going any further, “What? I ain't some kinda invalid, okay? When I was just a regular girl from Brooklyn runnin' beside you in France you didn't have a problem with it and now since I came back you been actin' like I ain't worthy of fightin' beside you.”



“That was different,” she frowns and it isn’t.



“How many times I gotta tell you you didn't fail me, huh?” before they would've fought, given each other the silent treatment or worse but now is different. She wraps her hand around the back of her neck, “you gotta trust me.”



Steph huffs out a laugh and her shoulders relax just a little, “It's not you I don't trust.”



“Coulda fooled me. C'mon, let's get outta here. I gotta thank you for the movie, right?”



“Right.”



Nothing is out of place in the apartment. At least, nothing she can see at a glance but then, it would be pretty stupid of someone to break in and make a mess if they're trying to be covert about it. Bucky checks the locks; the windows-nothing has been tampered with-not in a way the naked eye can see anyway.



“Nothin', right?” she smirks, and Steph flushes.



“It was a horror movie...”



“Captain America's afraid of ghosts, who knew?”



“You can't fight a ghost,” she frowns as she bends over to untie her boots, “crap. I forgot to pull the bike into my spot.”



“I'll get it. Don't wanna see you hidin' under the covers when I get back, neither.”



“Anyone ever tell you you should be a comedian?”



“Not lately,” she walks out the door backwards and Steph tosses her the keys, “see you in 5.”



“No joyrides!”



“Who, me?” she calls back from down the hall and they'll hear about it from the neighbours in the morning but she can't bring herself to care. Her shoes-not quite high heels but close-click against the floor and her fingers itch to get a grip on that bike. Steph hadn't been a huge fan of letting anyone near it back in the war either except maybe Stark and now she's even worse-Bucky tells anyone who asks that she's number three after the shield and the bike on Steph's list of loves.



She carefully sits astride it and it feels like those times Steph has thrown her the shield and she grins in spite of herself. If she just asked Steph would give her the damn moon but she's never asked for this and god, maybe she ought have sooner.



“You and me are gonna be real good friends,” she says as she pulls into the parking spot and returns the helmets to the side pouches.



“Not as great as you may have hoped, Soldier.”



Her blood freezes for a moment-memories and sensations rushing back at the sound of his voice, “coulda sworn you were dead.”



“We both were, is it not funny how life surprises you?”



She doesn't give him any more time to speak before lunging. Her shoes do little to hinder her even on the uneven pavement because this man needs to go down and her hands reach for him half a second too late.



“But it is not you I have come for, Soldier,” Lukin looks upwards.



Bucky grabs him, her fist connecting with the back of his head hard enough that pain explodes from the knuckles of her right hand. “I ain't your soldier.”



He says something in Russian-nonsense-and there's a flash but her head swims like she'd been the one who got a punch to the skull. The ground goes unsteady beneath her and she shakes her head, trying to clear it even as he walks away, seemingly having dismissed her as a threat. Her fingers grasp the edge of her Avenger's communicator card and it takes most of what she has left to rasp out “Avengers, Assemble” as she struggles to maintain her footing. Bucky kicks off her shoes and it helps enough that she manages to stumble towards the door.



“STEPH!” it sounds far away though it tears out of her throat like the boys overseas had called for medics-loud, desperate, and most often, completely useless. The entire neighbourhood ought to be awake by now but no one comes. There's only the sound of her breathing and the slap of her feet against the ground.



He won't get her he won't because Steph is special Steph could use Lukin as a basketball if she wanted. He won't get her. He won't he won't. She doesn't feel it when she hits the ground but her head cracks against the tile of the foyer.



“Jesus. Widow, we got a situation. We need a medic down here ASAP,” she hears Stark say and all she can do is hear him.



She doesn't know how long it goes on for but she hears Natasha-she can always tell her apart from the others-approaching and feels her hands on her. “Can you stand?”



Yes,” she says and her vision is a mass of darkish shapes and smudges but she gets to her feet anyway. “I've had worse.”



However much her legs shake they still hold her as Natasha leads her somewhere. The inside of an ambulance. “Where is Steph?”



He took her,” Natasha says and holds her still before she even starts to move, “not yet.”



I'm going after him. He'll-” and now she does struggle because Lukin wants Steph, he's after Steph and she doesn't know why. She has to know why.



Not yet.”



You can't stop me, Natalia.”



I can for now. You were seizing, there was an EMP. We don't know what he has done to you.”



Does it matter?” she shoves her hands away and Natasha pushes her back down, hard.



It matters to me. It matters to Steph.”



“She's right,” Stark says, “not that I was listening in but I was. He had another one-knocked out the suit long enough for him to get away.”



Her vision comes back to her now-slowly and Stark's face is a picture of kicked puppy. “What are we doing to get her back?”



“Well she still has her Avengers card on her so we can track her.”



“But?”



“But he's taking her to Madripoor. Going in there as the Avengers would get us killed,” Natasha finishes for him. She sits perched on the edge of the stretcher while Stark and his suit stand outside of the SHIELD medivan. There are medics but she puts them to the back of her mind for this particular moment, “Madripoor doesn't extradite criminals.”



“Then let me go.”



“Normally I'm all for sticking it to the man but-and it pains me to admit this-Natasha has a point. We can't just go running in there right away.”



“So we're just doin' what? Waiting for Captain America's body to be shipped back to us in pieces?”



“None of us wants to sit around waiting for orders, Barnes-”



“Then why are we?” Natasha stops her from sitting up again and she wants to scream at her but doesn't. She doesn’t deserve it and the Red Room had trained her better than to show anything more than a hint of emotion-Steph has been working it out of her both intentionally and not.



“Because...actually she's right, why are we?” Stark makes a show of flipping down his faceplate and Natasha glares, “I mean, this is Cap we're talking about and we're just waiting for something to happen? Okay, I’m officially changing my opinion on this.”



“You are not a strike team, Stark.”



“But we are, Natasha.”



I am.”



“You ain't leavin' me behind, I can still-”



What he did before we should assume he has the means to do again. You're compromised. I can't have you with me,” her hands are abruptly smoothing back her hair, her face soft and she knows what she's doing but it still calms her anyway, seeing her like this.



If it were me you would already be on a plane.”



That isn't fair, Jean.”



Is any of it?”



It never is with people like us, you know that,” Natasha gets to her feet, “I'll talk to Fury when we get to HQ. You need to be looked at. Stark, I need that tracking information.”



~~**~~



“You know I can't let you go. You're compromised,” Fury says, cigar between his lips, as though it's ever mattered before, as if Bucky hasn't run missions when she didn't know the demons in her head from the ones in front of her.



“What's your point, Nick?” she taps the fingers of her good hand on the arm of the chair to keep them occupied. He looks like he knows that her being quiet, calm even about this has an expiration date and he continues.



“You ain't on the strike team, Barnes, that's it.”



“Who are you sending? 'Cause from where I stand I look like the best person for the job.”



Nick has never prized passive aggression and so she doesn't put up any of the pretences. He lets her act how she wants-it's been one of the few things that keeps her sane in this future where telling a paparazzo to go away can lead to months of bad press for the team-except for now. He leans forward to butt the cigar out in the ashtray, “Romanoff.”



“I trained her. We know each other's-”



“The answer's no, kid.”



It's only respect that makes her bite her tongue to keep the words she wants to say from spilling out and Fury jerks his head, “head down to medical, you look like shit.”



“Sir.”



If he knows that she won't be going to medical he doesn't say anything when she turns on her heel and stalks out the door. She'll find Natasha first then talk to Stark about getting her arm fixed before they're wheels up. Like it or not it takes time to brief operatives and their leads amount to zilch if they can't follow up quick enough. They need her on this mission; busted up arm or not.



As she heads down the hall people stay out of the way and by the time she reaches the briefing rooms Natasha is waiting for her outside the door, suited up. “Jeanette.”



“I'm coming with you.”



“You're compromised,” she says, starts walking because this is just a conversation on repeat and she hates those.



Back then, weren't we both? Working together, running missions...Neither of us was who we were and we got through it,” she follows, switching to Russian though she knows that it hardly matters amongst people who can speak Russian and more. She’s erratic and she knows it but this is Steph. Steph who had gone through hell just to get her back, Steph who still puts up with her waking up screaming some nights and how long she takes in the bathroom before they go out with just a light ribbing. Steph is too good of a person for this to happen to and god only knew what Lukin would do to her.



That was different. It wasn't like this.”



“Please,” she goes to reach with her left hand but it doesn't move, she switches to her right and Natasha stops. They stand in a more remote hallway now and she'd been leading her here, it hadn't been difficult to see that, “you know he’s not like the other people we’ve taken down, Natalia.”



What they did to you, they will do again,” she gestures to her limp arm, “They will rip everything out of you, use you against her.”



You know what this feels like.”



It's why I'm leaving you behind.”



Her expression softens, her hand comes up to rest on her shoulder, squeezes, “I'll be back within 48 hours. Until then you and Stark can come up with some creative ways to deal with Lukin when I bring him in.”



“Already have a few,” Bucky mutters, breathes out, “be safe, Natalia.



“48 hours,” she says before stepping away. She remembers how they would touch, kiss before missions if they could steal the time but now is not then and her lips aren't Steph's, her hands aren't Steph's hands.



Bucky strides quickly to where she knows Stark will be, tinkering with his armour after the blast had knocked it, albeit briefly, offline too. Her feet lead her to the makeshift workshop Stark had set up in SHIELD HQ after the first few times that his armour had needed repairs quickly. He doesn't keep anything of value here-Bucky privately thinks that he'd never had a better idea-but her arm isn't as sophisticated as the Iron Man armour though it's close. Predictably, Stark is bent over the helmet of his armour in a grease stained dress shirt.



“Nice shirt.”



“Nice arm,” he fires back without looking up. Bucky hovers a minute or two, waiting for him to ask what she wants except that he doesn't and so she steps into his field of vision.



“I'm going after Lukin.”



“Now?”



“There a better time?” she takes in the mess of parts strewn about, “he took Steph. We've only got-”



“About 24 hours, 48 at the most before things escalate, right,” he finally abandons whatever he'd been working on to look her in the eye, “not that I don't appreciate the whole going against orders thing but unless you're planning on...I don't know, bludgeoning Lukin to death you'll need to go in for a tune up.”



“That's why I'm here.”



“Look-”



She stares, hoping that it will be enough to scare him into the truth, “Don't feed me any bullshit, Stark.”



“I can do it,” he sighs, “Cap'll kill me. But I can do it.”



“Between her and me you have a higher chance of survival with her.”



“Point made. You hate me.”



She doesn't say anything because if Stark wants to believe that he can but she also doesn't have time to cradle his delicate ego in her arms and tell him he's special because Steph is out there in Lukin's hands. She doesn't have the right words to explain to him the things he will do to her if they don't get there in time but the fact that he starts going through drawers in search of what he needs says enough.



The panel to detach the arm is on her back, flush with the rest of the limb and she unzips her suit to give him access to it. Her modesty had long since been trained out her so she doesn't bother covering herself. It makes Stark's eyes about bulge out of his head but only for a second. He figures out the panel easy enough and her left side has been dark since the modified EMP had knocked it offline so she doesn't even feel it when he does whatever it is that makes him mutter “shit” under breath.



“It's totally fried.”



“So then fix it.”



“Not that easy. It needs to be rebuilt from the bottom up. I can do it but-”



“How long?”



“Twelve hours and that's just an estimate considering I've never actually worked on something like...” she sees him wave his hand, “this before.”



“You've got a human sized armour and you can't even figure out an arm,” she hisses and she's well aware she's being unfair, that Stark is her best shot but Steph is the good one. Steph is the one who deals with him diplomatically when she can and Steph is the one trapped god knew where with a man hell bent on bringing the world to its knees before him.



“An arm created in what, the 50s by Soviet scientists? The armour isn't attached to me, Barnes, I get into the armour, it's not connected to my nerves.”



“Make it functional, Stark. I need to be able to pull a trigger, not play a fucking symphony.”



“You're rude, you know?” he smirks, “beats Cap's grandma face.”



“Believe me, you'll wish for it.”



“So suit up, I've got better equipment at the tower.”



She pulls the shiny material back over her shoulders, zips it up and they go. Stark inputs a password in the keypad by the door and the door shuts behind them with a whoosh.



“Anyone other than me gets in there and the whole thing goes up in flames.”



“Smart.”



“Compliments? And here I thought we were past the groveling stage,” he leads Bucky to the bottom floor of HQ where a car waits outside. It's black, inconspicuous amongst the lines of other black cars constantly scattered around the streets around the building but she can still spot Stark's choice easily in spite of the similarities. Not a company car, it's personal, a way to stand out from all the others, a clear statement to Fury.



“When my father died I was angry. Got kicked around a lot and hell, all he wanted was a little lady like my sister but I wasn't her, couldn't be and they transferred us to different places. Lost track of her after the third one. No one wanted a problem kid. I met Steph there gettin' beat up on by a bunch of kids twice her size. She's fought for me since day one, Stark.”



“Unexpected, but okay.”



“I'm not telling you this because I want you to pity me, Stark,” she pulls her bum arm onto her lap, “I'm telling you because I need you to understand how fast you gotta work.”



“As hot as the alpha female thing is, you get that she's my friend too or...”



“I get it.”



~~**~~



Stark's at home lab is larger than his set up at SHIELD and she spots plenty of parts strewn about on counter tops and tables so that she wouldn't have any idea what they did even if she tried to figure it out. She takes note of the way out, of all the exits and entrances as they pass them but doesn't anticipate needing to do anything with the information. Of course, she never does.



“Take a seat, I'll get JARVIS to run a diagnostic.”



“JARVIS?”



“AI helper. JARVIS, you ready for some work?”



“My work is never done, naturally, sir,” comes a voice from the ceiling and Bucky restrains herself from reacting in spite of how it startles her.



“JARVIS, Jeanette Buchanan Barnes.”



“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Ms. Barnes.”



“Sure, you too,” she replies to the speaker and Stark grins.



“JARVIS, run a diagnostic on our guest's arm, I need a full picture of what I'm working with here.”



“Running now, sir.”



“You program it to have a British accent?” she finds a chair and sits, her arm still hanging uselessly at her side. The room isn't cold but it isn't warm either so when she peels her uniform off she shivers. She's been colder but all of this has her more shaken than she'd like to admit. Steph is the special one, Steph is the one with the serum-this isn't supposed to happen to her. Stark, to his credit, doesn't mention it and thus far hasn't tried to dissuade her from going after Natasha.



“He's kind of a...tribute...thing to the guy who helped raise me.”



“Figures you had a butler.”



“Not looked on kindly nowadays, had to switch to an AI.”



“He answer the door for you? Call you Master Anthony?”



“Funny. No. Not-I mean, he does but no,” Stark gets her to turn in the chair, her front pressed against the back of it, “let's get a better look at this.”



She can't feel Stark poking around behind her but occasionally he moves to her side and she waits for him to do whatever it is he's doing. She's never had much in the way of knowledge of how the arm's guts work-she knows she can control it remotely and can estimate the amount she can lift or support with it but other than basic care her knowledge is laughably limited. Of course, it's rare that anything happens to it because it's made of stronger stuff than flesh and bone.



“It knocked out the armour for a few seconds, what was it?”



“EMP blast. Strongest one I've ever seen,” Stark says around the small screwdrivers between his lips, “the armour has shielding in place-probably more than the arm, s'why, this.”



“You can fix it though.”



“Frankly, I'm offended you need to ask. I mean, you're here, I'm here, JARVIS is figuring out my best route right now.”



“Like I said, Stark, I don't care what you have to do to get it done or what the functionality is like-”



“As long as you can pull a trigger, I got it. Has anyone ever told you that you're worse than Cap for that?”



She doesn't say anything-Steph has told her that a few times, but not lately.



“I'm stripping this down. Not planning on passing out on me, right?”



“It's metal and circuits, Stark. No difference from watching Steph put her iPod back together,” she wants to glare but finds she doesn't have the energy. Her adrenaline is quickly leaving her now that present danger has passed and she's sitting down.



“She uses an iPod? Traitor.”



“Said yours were too small, she's afraid to break it,” her eyelids are drooping, her voice slurring words and she needs to stay awake, she has to, except that she can't.



“You're actually passing out on me, that's actually a thing that's happening. JARVIS, let's move this over to somewhere more comfortable,” he helps her to her feet-she finds she needs his hand carefully placed around her waist-and leads her to a cot in the corner.



“Wake me up in twenty minutes.”



“How about when I'm done?” he lifts her arm onto his lap, “okay, fine, twenty minutes.”



Her nap lasts longer than twenty minutes but when she wakes she holds back from tearing Stark a new one-she'll be better rested for all that Natasha will have more of a lead on her. Her arm still doesn't respond to her commands however the inside of it is still exposed-it's almost surreal seeing it like this because she keeps it uncloaked when she's at home or working but it's been a part of her body so long it feels the same as a real arm. She stares at it, trying to comprehend the system of wires and getting only more confused.



Stark finally looks up at her when she shifts, “I tried to wake you up but you tried to punch me. It needs to come off.”



“Why?”



“Have you ever tried to do something to your own body that you probably shouldn't?”



“Me and Steph pierced our ears when we were 13.”



“Okay, you're officially a badass. Imagine trying to do that except that if you pierce the wrong spot even a little bit your entire ear will fall off and probably cause, you know, irreparable damage to your brain. And the ear isn't actually on your head it's actually on the-you know what? It's just easier, that's all. I can do it like this but you said you want it fast-this is fastest.”



“Fine.”



Taking off the arm isn't difficult, but she doesn't particularly enjoy it either. It doesn't ache anymore where her old arm used to be, it just makes her unbalanced until she acclimates to the lack of weight on one side. It makes her vulnerable. She glances to the exits then goes through the motions of removing the limb.



“So is anyone planning on telling me what happened? I feel like I'm out of the loop here, I'm definitely the last person to know,” he moves to one of the tables and lays the arm down there amongst his tools.



“Steph said something felt weird but the apartment was...it was fine,” she takes a breath-all she needs is to look weak in front of Stark, “there was no one in it. I went outside to park the bike and he was just there. He said something to me and I woke up in an ambulance. He said it wasn't me he was after.”



“So Cap was his play all along.”



“Yeah. He wants the serum. Karpov wanted it too and now they've got Steph.”



“No one's been able to successfully replicate the serum though, even if they have Cap there's no saying that any samples they take will give them the information they need. Why does he think he's any different?”



“I don't know. Something's changed,” she gets to her feet and starts pacing. It helps her regain her equilibrium but it's also a nervous habit she picked up from Steph. The shoes SHIELD had loaned her don't feel quite right on her feet but she wants to be here when Stark finishes working and so she doesn't go back to the apartment to grab her own.



“Have you ever been to Madripoor?”



“I killed someone there once,” she goes for flippant because it’s easier than sloughing through the pool of memories that are hers but feel like someone else’s. She’d assassinated someone there but she doesn’t remember much else about it-SHIELD doctors said she probably wouldn’t remember every detail for all that it feels like she ought to.



“Ok.”



“You asked.”



“Fair enough.”



“Have you?” she stops to peer over his shoulder. It looks like a mass of circuits to her but Stark seems to know what he's doing.



“Once or twice with Steph. Covert mission stuff before you stopped being a Soviet assassin.”



Then, after Bucky doesn't say anything, “nothing happened. I was already dating Pepper.”



“Those Young Avenger kids,” she says and Stark drags his eyes away from the arm to raise his eyebrows, “that's what changed.”



“Right, the diet coke version of us. Eli the Patriot who-son of a bitch.”



“Blood transfusion.”



“Shit. Try this on,” he shoves the arm at her and she latches it onto her body without a second thought, “I'll have to replace the connectors in the shoulder but it's not going to explode.”



“It feels fine,” she glances at it, still torn to hell and she can't move it but within ten minutes Stark has gotten it all attached and functional.



“I can't fix the cloaking right now so you'll have to go all Terminator on their asses but you could fire a gun and play a fucking symphony.”



She smirks, “I prefer it off while I'm working anyway.”



“Get what you need, we're wheels up in ten.”



“You can't-”



“I get it, we're not 'we grew up in an orphanage being hot together' but she's an Avenger and more than that, she's my friend and the entire world would want me dead if I didn't,” Stark darts off before she can say anything else.



Steph has a room here and in it is a stock of weapons Bucky had left there 'just in case'. She goes there now and grabs a change of clothes too. When she steps inside she's hit by how it smells like her and it's only been 8 hours but it feels like more knowing that she's gone and she takes longer than 10 minutes to gather her equipment. Stark doesn't mention it as they head for the roof where his helicopter though.



“We'll transfer at LaGuardia and then take a direct flight to Madripoor.”



“And what are we planning on doing about Fury?”



“Easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” he says and she doesn't recognize the pilot but he greets Tony amicably enough.



“Fair enough.”



The helicopter is like all the others she's been on and it's only the jet that they get on that she sees Stark's touches. It's in the carpet, the seats, the fixtures how rich he actually is and Bucky wants to be annoyed but it keeps getting pushed aside by how she's got to find Steph.



“I know, okay. I got it when I was young and stupid. It used to have a stripper pole.”



“I didn't say anything,” she prowls for a while before settling into a seat-Stark lets out the breath he'd apparently been holding while she'd been patrolling.



“No but you have this face-you both do. It's the 'rich asshole' face. Steph made it all the time when we did anything outside of the Avengers, there's a face.”



“Yeah, well.”



“So you and Steph...”



“What about us?” she gets on the defensive immediately because she's heard her fair share of 'hot lesbians' comments and the internet never tires of talking about them either. Stark certainly hadn't helped her opinion of him the last time they'd spoken either-Steph had always said he didn't know the meaning of 'private' but he hadn't had to ask about their relationship in the middle of a post-New York saving meal either.



She and Steph's run ins with the paparazzi are a scabbed over wound and someone's always gotta pick at it eventually. Someday they'll put two and two together and she doesn't know where she'll have a place then because sure she's a woman with long hair who wears makeup and high heels-not a threat- but she's also killed children, politicians, innocent people with her own hands. They'll ask for her to resign from the Avengers and Steph will give a speech but it won't make a difference.



“Can I just say...not actually that terrible of a person. That one time-”



“When you propositioned Steph or the other time when you-”



“-aside where Pepper actually threatened me with bodily injury if I ever did something like that again. Also, wasn't even serious.”



Bucky narrows her eyes and he shrugs, “you bought her a bathrobe.”



“A totally platonic bathrobe.”



“I don't hate you, Stark,” she says finally and means it. She and Steph have put up with too much garbage from people who aren't constantly in their lives and if Steph can forgive him for the times he'd been an ass then she can at least try. She'll need more than just Natalia and Steph on her side when the time comes and Stark had fixed her arm no questions asked-he deserves a little bit of leeway, at least for now.



“But you don't like me either.”



“I don't know you. What does it matter?” she glances to the exit and wonders if she could jump from here and swim to Madripoor.



“Cap is my friend and she has...occasionally...suggested that we go on double dates to fix the whole...not knowing thing.”



“She hasn't told me anything about that.”



“That kind of you know, has to be precluded by you not hating me.”



“I told you, I don't hate you,” she crosses her arms over her chest, “as long as you keep your comments to yourself.”



“Consider any future comments completely not vocalized.”



She sticks out her hand, smiles even, “friends then.”



He shakes it and they don't say anything more until they reach Madripoor where they change into clothing that Stark-for whatever reason-has aboard his plane. The place is a mess of people and criminal activity but the constant buzz of activity keeps her from focusing too much on how Steph is somewhere here with Lukin doing god knew what to her. Someone bumps into her as they head for one of the skyscraper hotels and she grabs their wrist immediately, “wallet.”



He swears, tries to pull away, then just gives in and drops her wallet into her open palm with a sigh.



“They don't teach that back home,” Stark mutters in her ear and she shrugs.



“They do if you know who to ask.”



“I booked us a hotel for two nights,” he tells her as they near the front desk and he's shaved off his facial hair for the operation and gotten them both fake identities so when he goes to check-in no one bats an eyelash. Her arm is covered by a jacket and a pair of colour contacts throws off suspicion of her. It's mind numbingly simple but then she doubts that anyone in Madripoor cares that the Winter Soldier is back-if they do they'll have to get in line.



Their room is opulent in a way that only the very rich can manage and yet if they were to travel to the other side of the city the accommodations would be less than comfortable. The place sets her teeth on edge-it's the Depression personified and for every person throwing their wealth around there's five others starving in Lowtown. She resists the urge to tear off her dress, the necklace, the shoes that all cost more than her rent and instead takes note of the windows-not bulletproof but they're on the 30th floor, the locks-easily breakable if someone knew how to do it but not by common crooks, and the bathrooms-cameras in the shower that she doesn't bother covering up at the moment. There are bugs in the lamp and by the window that she nods to.



“Why don't we do a little bit of shopping, darling? I know how much you love it,” Stark says and she smiles for any other cameras.



“You know me too well.”



With a bit of money and smiles it's not difficult to find the places where more of the shady deals go down-they play the fool and the doorman of the “auction house” lets them pass through the heavy doors into the even more extravagantly decorated interior of the building. People are packed in feet thick and she isn't surprised to see faces that she recognizes in the crowd-hell, she half expects to see Doom lurking about somewhere but he's probably more of a proxy guy anyway. A fleet of scantily clad women browse the floor handing out booze in fancy glasses and she watches them go, observing their path for all that Stark raises his eyebrows at her like she's checking them all out.



“I'll follow one of them to the back room to see if I can get an idea of where they're keeping her. You keep an eye out,” he whispers in her ear and she wants to object but has to admit that a man tailing a woman would be less noteworthy than another woman. Besides, this kind of setting is her forte if she even has one.



She flirts with businessmen who tell her all sorts of “things” they've bought here and she fights back the bile in her throat when one of them lets her in on the secret of the girl he'd purchased. She says that she must have been thrilled to be bought by someone so important, laughs when he says that she isn't like the other women who get offended at such talk. When he thinks she's had too much to drink-three glasses of champagne-he puts his hand on her waist then lower and this isn't her job, this isn't what she does but she lets him anyway and thinks of all the ways she could humiliate him.



He squeezes tight enough for her to jump and he laughs-she echoes it, playfully swats him on the arm while his friends-brunet with glasses on vacation from France, brunet without the glasses on business from America, and blond from Sussex-all egg him on. She opens her mouth to say something when one of the women carrying drinks crashes into her from behind, spilling champagne down the back of her jacket.



“I am sorry, forgive me ma'am I am sorry!” the girl stammers, without meeting her eyes.



She doesn't bend down to help pick up the glasses that probably cost most the same amount as one of Stark's phones and frowns, snaps, “idiot, this cost more than you make in a night!”



“Please-I did not mean it I-I will help you wash it, yes?”



“You know what? You better,” she rolls her eyes at the men, “be back soon, handsome.”



She hears them talking about how much of a firecracker she is and their jokes about how he'll have his hands full with her as though he hadn't already gotten one already. She stomps towards the bathroom with the girl in tow, following meekly behind her.



The bathroom has two way mirrors, she doesn't have to check to know, and so she makes sure to keep her head down so they can't read her lips.



“What are you doing here?” Natasha says so quietly even Bucky can barely hear her, “I really did not mean it, ma'am. I tripped, there was-”



“You think I care about that shit? What are you going to do for me to fix this?” she shoves her-more like guides her-towards the wall, “I couldn't just stay home, you know that.”



“Pl-Please ma'am you are just angry, please try to control yourself.”



“Control myself? How am I supposed to control myself?” she gestures to the toilets, “get some toilet paper to clean this mess up.”



Natasha disappears for a moment while Bucky taps her foot against the tile floor, “and don't think I didn't see you flirting with my husband, either.”



“Please ma'am, I-...I told him no, he ambushed me in the VIP room, asked me to...please believe me,” Natasha pats at the spill across Bucky's back and if she didn't know better she would have believed the tears were real.



“Well you know what? The next time you're 'not' doing anything with him why don't you tell him that when he gets back to the Mirage that he'll be lucky if all of his crap hasn't been thrown from the 30th floor!”



Natasha says nothing, just sobs and continues drying off the jacket. She's rolls her eyes again, crosses her arms to keep herself from holding her instead. It's not as though she hasn't seen her cry for a mark before but even years later it still wrenches her heart in her chest.



“You know what? Forget it. I'll be reporting you to your manager,” she pulls away and strides into the stall, “you can go now.”



Inside she retrieves the message from Natasha written on toilet paper- “target confirmed to be on premises on seventh floor under heavy guard. Tin man headed there now. Will catch up after twenty minutes.”



She crumples it and tosses it into the toilet before flushing and walking back out into the hallway. Rather than heading back towards the main event she veers to the left, down the dimly lit hallway towards the stairwell. Elevators aren't secure enough and there's probably a lock on the 7th floor. There will be guards but those have never presented much of a problem for her. Her shoes are a nuisance and she takes them off so that she's only in stocking feet yet again, moving quietly up the six flights of stairs that lie between her and Steph. There are scenarios running through her head of all the things she will do to Lukin if there's so much as a tiny cut on Steph, most of them too terrible to give a voice to.



The two goons guarding the door on the other side don't see her coming and she dispatches them quickly before pulling them away into the stairwell.



A glance tells her that there are no guards on this portion of the floor which means that Steph isn't being held here-she doesn't know how the hell they're managing it all but doesn't bother with wondering at the moment. Bucky peers around the corner and finds nothing but more empty corridors. They all look the same and years ago she might have been frustrated but not now-now she keeps a mental map almost as well as Steph does.



She passes through another checkpoint-empty-then hears the sound of footsteps coming down the hall and in earlier years her heart might have beat faster but this is expected now. It takes half a second for her to make a decision.



The next door she opens slowly, carefully waiting for any signs of people inside. She hears quiet talking, pauses then continues when it goes silent.



“That's not-” the nervous titter starts up again and they're all people wearing expensive jewelry and clothing even though they're tied to chairs or each other in the mostly dark room. Kidnapping, then. She shouldn't be surprised even if it seems so small time for a place that had so much more going on behind the scenes.



“Shh.”



“Who are you?” one of the men speaks up-he can't be older than 23 and he's sporting a bruise on his cheek that looks fresh.



“A friend. You want out of here?”



“They said-” he stops, glances around to the others, “of course we want out!”



It takes her all of ten minutes to untie them all but it's enough for her to realize she's been had. A kick sends her flying but doesn't knock her out. Her head buzzes familiarly-this feeling is something she knows all too well and gets to her feet, tears a slit up the side of her stupid, too expensive dress and shrugs off her jacket.



“Cut off one head...two more shall take its place,” the man snarls, reaches for a chair. She fills in the 'hail hydra' part for herself.



She sidesteps his swing and brings him down with an elbow to the back of the neck. He hadn't been kidding though. The rest of the group rushes her immediately and her hands are full in every sense of the word a moment later.



One of them manages to land a punch that makes her ears ring and she retaliates in kind, leaving them a lump on the floor. She needs to find Stark and even more than that she needs to find Steph. Her stamina has always been good but more so when she has a purpose-it pushes her past her limit and she kicks, knees, punches, bites her way through the pack until she's drenched in sweat but her blood is pumping, her breathing is optimal for what she's doing, and these are all things she's been trained to do short of killing them even if they deserve it. She turns on her heel at the sound of clapping from the doorway.



“Impressive, Soldier.”



“Where is she?” she doesn't advance yet. She can't see what he has on him, doesn't know if he has anymore nonsense that will force her to the ground but her brain has already found his weak spots, has come up with exactly how to kill him slowly and painfully.



“I hope you didn't think I would be keeping the Captain here.”



“Shoulda known a son of a bitch like you would have some kind of big plan.”



“Now, now, Soldier-”



“I ain't your Soldier,” she snaps and he smiles. He wants to get a rise out of her and it's working-it's never been difficult for anyone though.



“Oh but you are. A simple word and I could have you collared again, you know that. I've let you play your silly hero game and it has paid off for me. You lead me right to you both.”



“Where are you keeping Captain America? I'm not gonna to ask again.”



He takes a step and she holds her ground-he's bluffing but it could turn ugly quickly. “You think you have control, Soldier, but you are much more fragile than you believe.”



“You think you tellin' me that's gonna make me fall on the floor at your feet cryin' like a little girl?” she takes a step towards him, calls his bluff. It's always been her problem-ever since her dad had died and left her a girl itching for a fight-her temper, and the Red Room had mostly beaten it out of her because emotional spies are dead spies but she feels it settling over her again like a familiar blanket.



“One word is all it takes.”



“One shot is all it'll take to get rid of you. You ain't special, neither of us are.”



“But you won't do that, not while you still need me.”



“Yeah, you're right. I won't but I don't need you. See I got something you don't. They're called friends.”



Stark's suitcase falls with a loud clunk behind her and it takes all of 10 seconds for him to get suited up. It's impressive, seeing all of the pieces lock in place but she doesn't spend time watching him. She doesn’t know if infiltrating the group had been his idea or Natalia’s but it doesn’t much matter-their recon had been wrong or at the very least a couple of hours old; they’ll be playing this by ear after all.



“Hey honey, miss me?” she hears Stark's smirk through the armour's voice filter.



“Couldn’t have warned me before it was all a setup?”



“I thought you knew that’s a spy thing. Okay, let's wrap this up. From where I stand, whatever your name is, you can either give up or you can fight and then give up. House's choice.”



“If you think this is the way to find your leader you are mistaken.”



“Yeah, see, here's the thing. Tracking devices,” he amends because she has no doubt that the Avengers card had been a plant here while they screwed around with Steph’s blood, “better tracking devices. We've already got a team heading for Cap right now,” Stark blasts him into a wall and it should be enough except that Lukin pulls himself out of the human sized dent in the drywall and smiles.



“You are already too late. He was a smart man, but a weak one. I had to have him taken care of, my body restored,” Lukin's voice changes to something crueler, “sometimes you need to cut off a head yourself so the superior can rise. I will usher in a new era for this world, one world under me. And as for the Captain, I will have no use for her.”



“Okay, I'm lost.”



“Gotta say, this is a better look for you. Can't really pull of red,” she fixes her eyes on Lukin, no, Red Skull and attacks. Her fist swishes through air and pain explodes at the back of her skull-this isn't Steph who in spite of her best efforts not to still pulls her punches.



Bucky blinks away the haze in her eyes, smirks, “that all you got? My grandma punches harder than you.”



His next hit misses by a hair. She retaliates quickly, her left fist smashing into his stomach with enough force that even Schmidt ought to have been gasping for breath but he moves to sweep her legs out from under her. She doesn't allow him the satisfaction.



The move is Natasha's signature, but she'd taught her it and so she doesn't waste time switching styles, throwing him to the ground with just momentum and her legs. It's not a finisher but it takes Skull to the floor. Bucky's always had an advantage on the mat.



Her hands wrap around his throat, squeeze but she wraps too much focus up on it. He twists a handful of her hair in his hand, flings her away and is on his feet at a run.



“Get after him, Stark!” she yells, pushes herself to her feet because letting him get to the second location can't happen. Steph is there and Stark is here but Stark won't say a word, she knows he won't if she crushes Lukin's windpipe.



“Getting after him.”



It takes her only a few seconds to catch up and yet Skull has already engaged Stark, sicked more of his HYDRA goons on him.



“Get him, I'll,” Stark starts, tackles his way through the crowd, “take care of these guys.”



“Be careful.”



“Careful is my middle name,” he blasts more of the black clad men struggling to tear the armour from his body.



She shakes her head, doesn't answer because Skull is halfway down the maze of corridors to the elevator and this, this is familiar for all that it hadn't been her he'd been running from last time. There's also a marked absence of flames which she can't help but be grateful for.



Skull pulls a weapon from his coat and she hasn't had so much sense knocked out of her that she thinks that she'll survive a shot from it. He pulls the trigger, firing a shot of green, not blue this time. The stuff may not have the same punch as HYDRA's other weapons but the wall where the ball hits starts dissolving immediately as if being broken down by some kind of acid. He fires again and the shot brings down a chunk of ceiling big enough to break a few bones-to say the least-in the spot where she'd been a second before.



He reaches the elevator before she does. She hears the ding of the doors opening and has to jump out of the way from a spread shot from his weapon. The carpet burns against her forearm but the sound of the doors sliding shut takes precedence.



Bucky is no super soldier, has no powers but the arm is more than good enough to crane the doors open with. She doesn't know which is louder, the sound of her pulse in her ears, the whining of the arm or screeching of the doors as she wrenches them open-she does know that the only way to go is up.



One drop and it's over. She and Steph had dealt with worse.



Bucky finds the ladder and starts up it. One arm and leg in front of the other. She can't let him get to Steph, not again, because she doesn't know what he's already done, what she'll find there and she has to get there before him. She has to stop his and Lukin's history from continuing, it's her responsibility to keep Steph's hand clean, it's her job and no one else's. If she’d only found him before, after the cube, after waking up this would never have happened but he’d been so far underground even she couldn’t reach him. She has to make it right. She has to fix her mistake.



She expects there to be some sort of ambush on the roof but all she gets is a helicopter taking off and it doesn't take any deliberation for her to chase it off the edge of the building, feet pounding against pavement and then open air.



For the moment before her left hand grasps the landing gear she's hanging in the air and it feels like falling into ice and cold but she pushes it away. Her weight is enough to alert him to her presence and Skull has his gun pointed at her in a second.



The first shot forces her to switch hands.



The second grazes her shoulder and she feels the skin burning and bubbling as it is eaten away. She doesn't scream, doesn't allow herself and she doesn't let go. One drop and it's over.



Her heart stutters for a second when she drops, hooks her foot through the bar and leaps to the other side. Skull reacts quickly to stop her but not quick enough to keep her from boarding the helicopter. There's enough space for them and the two other passengers-more goons, of course.



Bucky grabs one of them, uses him as a human shield before smashing his head against the bench he'd sprung from.



“You are more skilled than when you were Captain America's bitch,” Skull sneers and the helicopter tilts so drastically that she has to grab onto the mouth of the doorway, hanging in the air until she slams into the side-Skull’s underling is not so lucky, “but not skilled enough no matter what Lukin has to say about it. If you cannot be used as a pawn against the Captain I have no use for you.”



She doesn't close her eyes when he fires. Her father had taught her better than to cower in the face of danger even if he later expressed wishing he hadn't. Her first memory of her father is him sitting her down and explaining that their mother wouldn't be coming home again. She'd known of course, she'd known what death was. He'd dressed her in her Sunday best, gotten her to braid Becca's hair with pink ribbons-their mother's favourite-and Bucky had stood beside him with her sister's hand clasped in hers as they lowered their mother into the ground. It hadn't been long after then that her father had been KIA and for all that she'd sworn, kicked, punched at them they'd sent Becca away to live with a family. Bucky'd been too old, too unladylike with her habit of spitting and swearing at anyone who made her angry enough to do so and so they'd sent her to a state orphanage.



It doesn't hurt for the metal to peel away. It doesn't send any pain signals to her brain but she's falling. She's falling again and it doesn't scare her to fall-she's done it too many times now for it to scare her any more-it just makes her think of Steph screaming her name and having it snatched away by the wind, of knowing that she would die. It’s not the falling that scares her; it’s the certainty with which she knows that she will not get so lucky this time.



She'd met Stephanie Rogers the first day at the orphanage. She'd been a shrimp then, just a blonde mop of hair and bony arms against a group of girls twice her size kicking her while she'd been down. No one ever admitted it, no one still ever admits it, how cruel girls could be. Bucky had been enough to scare them off and she could never say she hadn't been a sight-already taller than half the girls in any of her classes at school and with the attitude to match-but it'd still struck her how easily they'd run off. Cowards, she remembers thinking of them as she'd helped Steph to her feet. Her eyes were blue, bluer than normal because of how red everything else was from holding back tears. They'd put gum in her hair, hit her with chalk erasers from the rec room, and hit her with a stick they'd left behind.



“I'm alright,” Steph had said. It was probably then, while she'd been covered in chalk and dirt, tears and snot that she'd fallen in love.



Stark catching her feels like hitting a truck.



“Normally I don't take drop-in appointments but I made an exception.”



“Get me back up there.”



“Change of plans, we're beating him there. Hold on.”



It's not that she's never flown before. She's flown plenty of times but this is different, this makes her stomach lurch and if she weren't thinking of how important it was that they get to Steph first she'd be smiling or puking. She can see why Stark wears the armour everywhere, can see why the Falcon jumps from buildings and just glides with the birds. It doesn’t mean she’ll want to fall from helicopters without a parachute thing again anytime soon but she can at least appreciate why not needing one would be freeing as long as she doesn’t think of what happens if the armour fails.



“Any chance of gettin' one of these things, takin' it for a joy ride?”



“I would laugh but no, not even a chance.”



“Worth a shot.”



“Widow's got the place secure. She's also got a present for you. Her words, not mine-I'm not even asking.”



It's probably pants. Thank God. She's freezing anything that hasn't already been warmed by bruises off and being this high and going this fast does nothing to help it either. When they land in the warehouse it's with a hail of roof and dirt but the place is swarming with SHIELD agents. Fury isn't there but he doesn't have to be-he'll be there when they get back, likely with some sort of disciplinary action.



The place is setup like one of the places girls had gone to back in she and Steph’s day when they’d had a “problem” they needed to take care of and she scans the place quickly for any threats hidden among the shipping crates and containers but finds only black jumpsuits.



She steps out of Stark's hands the minute they touch ground and Natasha hands her a pair of SHIELD issue slacks. Bucky doesn't hear a word she says because Steph is there, just standing there wrapped in a blanket and trying to shoo away well-meaning medics.



Their eyes meet and don't stop meeting as Bucky walks over without putting on her pants. It's been 37 hours and the knot in her chest uncoils when she smashes their lips together. Her hands go to her face, she has to feel her skin, make sure it's real and it's not a dream. It isn't. It isn't and she pulls away to press their foreheads together, her voice coming out jagged, “he hurt you? He touch you, Steph I'll-”



“Hey,” she says slowly, calm like they'd practised on Fourth of July when the fireworks had turned into enemy mortars, “I'm okay. You came and got me.”



“I was so close, Steph, I was so close and-”



“Shh, s'okay. C'mere, stupid, you're freezing,” she pulls her closer, into the cocoon and she's warm. She's always warm. It eases the chattering of her teeth a bit and she should be the one holding her, telling her it'll all be okay but Steph is stronger than her. “Can I get another blanket? Jeez, Buck, you oughta put on some clothes.”



“He's still comin' for you, y'know. We beat him here but...” it’s not over yet. She scans her for injuries and her eyes land on cuts, bruises, and that’s only the things she can see-but Bucky doesn’t linger too long on them, just takes stock for now or else Steph will start getting all tough about it.



“I know, he said he’d be back. I was in the middle of bustin’ out when Natasha got here.”



“Our intel was kinda turned around. I woulda come got you myself but…”



She runs a thumb over Bucky’s cheek, “give someone else a chance at savin’ my sorry butt, huh?”



“He do anything else? Wouldn’t be selling the blood, not like Lukin.”



“He didn’t touch me, Buck,” her voice is low enough that no one else can hear her and they shouldn’t be so obvious about their affection but she can’t bring herself to care. Not when they could have missed their window and showed up to a different scene, “really. He was too focused on getting my blood into him. You trust me?”



“It ain’t you I don’t trust.”



“That sounds familiar.”



They hand Steph another blanket and then the shooting starts. Skull's helicopter fires a mortar, not fireworks and the warehouse explodes into flames around them. Between two breaths they jump to safety, taking shelter behind one of shipping crates. She wishes again that there were time to put on pants but she’s fought in less.



“Forgot to mention, I have a present for you too, courtesy of me flying back to the hotel, you’re welcome,” Stark throws her her gun from a storage compartment in the armour's back-the grip is familiar and the routine comes back to her. Check safety, check slide, check mag. She shoves it into the holster on her thigh and they move again.



“Any chance either of you thought to bring the shield?”



“Clearly you've never had to navigate Madripoor's customs system, Cap,” Stark says, jets towards the attacking vehicle.



“But you brought-“



“We can share. Just like old times,” Bucky waves her gun and slides behind an overturned desk. People scream out orders or in pain and she sees Steph go away and Captain America take her place.



“We need to evacuate the injured. Bucky-”



“I'm goin' with you.”



“Okay. You see Widow?”



“Yeah. Your ten o'clock. Goin' in, Cap. Be back in 5.”



The helicopter circles, firing more fire and explosive on them and she manages to outrun them both to get to Natasha who has two downed agents on either side of her. Bucky takes one, transferring him over to her shoulder, “Evac is highest priority. Me and Cap are going after Skull.”



You better hope there's anything left of him once Stark is done.”



It isn't Stark he should worry about.”



Be careful.”



I always am,” she drops the guy off in a zone safe from the smoke and flames, then runs back inside. She hears Natasha yell “no you aren't” and grins.



Steph has already moved to the staircase that will give them access to the roof and she sprints to get to her in time before she jumps up. “Gimme a boost.”



“This isn't your fight, Bucky.”



“What's yours is mine, ain't it? I ain't lettin' you go alone, Steph. Not again.”



She shakes her head but bends, pushes Bucky onto the half collapsed roof. It takes her all of a second to follow her up and about that long for Skull to notice he has targets. He fires on them without hesitation-she can almost feel Steph's 'I wish I had my shield' in the air but they make do without it. They've done it before and Skull is too focused on his vendetta against Steph to notice Bucky running or just doesn't care.



“Bucky, no!”



The timbre of her voice is so familiar and the jumping onto flying things is getting old but she doesn't fail this time. She doesn't bother trying to save the pilot-he has only a Hail Hydra as his response to her gun in his face-and it's only luck that pitches the copter enough that Schmidt can't get a hold on his weapon well enough to shoot her with it. They're going into a spin and this is Steph's fight and she knows it but she thinks she didn't notice the wounds, how pale she was, how she's breathing heavy when it wouldn't have winded her before. And this is Lukin, too, it's her fight too.



When they collide with the ground she's up before Schmidt, Lukin, whatever he went as right now. She could shoot him, she could make it quick but she doesn't want that, she wants to show him what he did, wants him to think of Frankenstein’s monster coming back to kill its creator. Her hands tighten around his throat and she feels his pulse under her flesh fingers. Her left hand tries to grip but it's too damaged, so she squeezes tighter to compensate. She stares him in the face, watches it turn red as though Schmidt is manifesting himself and she hears herself talking, snarling at him in Russian like the monster that she is. He smiles at her like he knows and doesn’t struggle. He doesn’t have to.



“Stand down, Bucky,” she hears Steph say, “You’re better than this. You're better than him.”



“No I'm not,” she digs fingernails in, “no I'm not.”



“You're Jeanette Barnes and we met in an orphanage in Brooklyn. You saved me. You were my hero, you're still my hero, Buck. Even after the serum, after everything I still look at you and see that girl who picked me up off the ground. I still see you, Bucky.”



She doesn't know how she can. She isn't the girl from back then, she isn't a good person. Her fingers tighten again and she can take care of this, she can make sure he doesn’t come back; she can do this at least.



“You said you trusted me, Buck. You gotta trust me now-stand down. Let him go, this isn’t your job. You don’t gotta do this for me.”



The second she loosens her grip Steph has Schmidt pinned. She sees the agents surrounding them ease their fingers off the triggers of their guns and they have Schmidt tied up and sedated in half a minute. Everything around them burns. There are sirens in her ears and Steph's voice calling her a jerk.



“Punk,” she hears herself saying back, on autopilot.



“I've got you, okay? I'm gonna pick you up, alright?”



“I can walk,” she feels herself wobble though and her feet are a mess considering she hasn’t had shoes on since the auction house.



“Maybe I don't want you to. You crashed a helicopter, Buck, you need to get checked out,” Steph picks her up anyway and it's embarrassing but she doesn't struggle. Maybe if she’d been born a boy she might have, might have spent more of her time telling Steph she loved her more than how she’d find a fella someday. But she wasn’t and so she lets her carry her-it doesn’t feel like flying or falling which is good because she’s had enough of that too.



“He hurt you.”



“I heal fast.”



“Not the point.”



“I know. But you don’t. What’d he do to you?” her eyes light on the shoulder wound, the busted up hand then her face because Bucky has the gift of understating her injuries; they both do, but only one of them heals them in a couple of days.



“Had a gun. Some kinda modified weapon. Shot acid or somethin’.”



“Does it hurt?” she’s got the crease between her brows that makes her look ten years older and Bucky reaches up to smooth it out with the pad of her thumb.



“Nah. Could be worse. Gonna get wrinkles.”



Steph smiles, sets her down on top of a crate untouched by smoke and ashes where SHIELD has set up a temporary triage. They’ll be out of the country in an hour or less now that they’ve got what they’d come for but Bucky still doesn’t think that her legs will hold for that long without any present danger pushing her to act.



“I better be careful then, gal like you’ll leave me for someone younger.”



“Whaddya mean a gal like me?” she shoves her and now is neither the time nor the place to goof off so Steph doesn’t shove back, just sticks one hand in her pocket, the rests between Bucky’s shoulder blades like an anchor. Her shirt is torn in a couple of places and her arms are a mess of bruises and cuts, a few spots of blood where Schmidt had taken the blood from.



“You know,” she leans closer for a second to whisper, “a total jerk.”



~~**~~



The plane ride back is 12 hours even by SHIELD transport and it isn’t a surprise for her to open her eyes to everyone else with closed ones. Steph has her face pressed into Bucky’s shoulder and the other agents all sprawl out in their respective seats. Natasha is on her other side, arms crossed but awake.



“Fury is having a coronary.”



“Figured he would be.”



“You shouldn’t have come, Jean,” she says, “not that that would ever stop you from doing it again.”



“She would have done it for me. She’s done a lot because of me; only fair I return the favour.”



“How is the arm?” Natasha glances at its fingerless hand then past it.



“Don’t know how long it’ll take to get fixed. The other one’ll hurt like a bitch later, all in a day’s work.”



She smiles, “only in ours.”



“Like you’d have it any other way.”



She and Natasha have history and it’s times like this when everything is quiet and they’re coming back after a mission that it’s hard to put it aside. But they’d had their time and parted on amicable terms and she has Steph. She wants to joke about how it’s a difficult life she’d led so far, having to choose between two equally beautiful people who loved her with the same intensity as she loved them but it doesn’t feel right so she smirks to herself instead-Natasha doesn’t ask and they don’t speak again.



Fury, predictably, doesn’t wait for her to get off the tarmac before he’s reaming her for being so god damn irresponsible. She wants to ask him if he’d ever glanced at her file, or the files of she and Steph’s old missions because her ‘insubordination’ is hardly a new addition to her personality. She gets what needs to get done, done; that’s always been her job. Doing the dirty work so Captain America-or as they’d called her before, Lady Liberty (Steph had hated the name, said it stepped on too many toes)-didn’t have to get her hands dirty. Plausible deniability had been the name of the game back then and not much has changed, either. She watches them cart off a sedated Lukin or Schmidt while Steph does the jaw thing that means whomever she’s got her eyes on is in Big Trouble.



“With all due respect, Sir, this can wait until Agent Barnes gets medical attention.”



Fury frowns at her but lets them go anyway. He comes back when there are more permanent bandages on her shoulder and SHIELD medical has given her painkillers that she won’t take because they’ll knock her out and Steph is out of the room being fed through tubes that make Bucky woozy just to look at.



“How long am I gonna be cleaning latrines, Sir?” she rolls her shoulder back, winces because she’d been right; now it does hurt like hell.



“We already got staff for that, Barnes, and shit, I wouldn’t trust you not to run off from doing that too.”



“She would’ve done the same for me.”



“Yeah, that’s ‘cause you two are cut from the same damn idiot cloth. You’re grounded from the Avengers until further notice, Barnes.”



She takes a breath, nods. She hadn’t been expecting anything different and it’ll give her some time to get all of her things in order, cancel the rental agreement on her apartment before the landlord charges her for another month. She’s been living with Steph anyway and she’ll need her for the next couple weeks. Bucky doesn’t know what she’ll do after that.



“I’ve got a mission for you in two weeks.”



“Sir?” she keeps the confusion mostly off of her face but not well enough that he doesn’t smirk.



“I ever say you were grounded from SHIELD?”



“No, sir.”



“Two weeks in my office, Barnes.”



“Yes, sir.”



Fury steps by Steph who is on her way into the room with a bag in one hand and clothes over the other. Her skin tone has improved from the washed out pallor that it’d been before but she still doesn’t look totally herself. “What was that about?” she asks, glancing at Fury’s back before returning her gaze to Bucky, “brought you some clothes.”



“What, not a fan of the Ke$ha look?” she does her best impression that Steph doesn’t really get but laughs at anyway while she tosses over an outfit comprised entirely of SHIELD-wear.



“I’m a fan of my girl not catching a cold.”



“Your girl, huh? C’mere,” she beckons her over then pulls her closer by her belt loops so that she’s standing between her legs. If she looked down she’d see her underwear but Steph tries to be respectful.



“You really want to do this here?” she glances down, swallows. Tries. Sometimes she’s more successful than others, “weren’t you the one who was all shy about it before?”



“When people are around,” she breathes in her ear and feels her shiver against her, pulls her hands onto her thighs. They’re cool but not cold and Bucky widens her legs a little more when she feels them slide upwards, “you see anyone around here?”



“Bucky.”



Words telling her just how much she loves when she says her name like that-like she can’t help it, like she’s desperate to fuck her until they’re both sweaty and breathless-on her lips when the door opens.



“Comments being kept to myself,” Stark’s voice calls out as he closes the door behind him and Steph springs away like she’s half jack in the box, cheeks red.



Bucky crosses her legs, nods to him, “part of our agreement.”



“The one where I don’t say any of the things I want to say right now in exchange for her not glaring at me like she wants to stab me with sharp objects.”



“So I don’t have to hear the weekly rant anymore, huh?” Steph grins and if she’d known it’d make her that happy she’d have made her piece with Stark months ago.



“No, you should still do it, it makes me feel included. Not what I came here for. Give me old faithful and I’ll fix her up for you.”



“I dunno, I kinda like the Terminator look,” she flexes the stubs and Stark frowns.



“Okay one, you haven’t even seen Terminator and two, I’ll add a gun to one of the fingers.”



Bucky twists, frowns at how the movement pulls at her injuries until Steph steps up to her again, “can I?”



“You gotta…yeah, there you go.”



From a distance the arm looks like a hunk of junk that’s seen one too many days of hard labour but she still keeps her eyes on it anyway. It’s still a part of her now and without it there’s only an empty socket. She waits until it’s in Stark’s hands before making it move and he manages not to fumble it by a very small margin.



“Jesus. Okay. How far can you control that up to because Pepper will not be happy if there’s a robot arm running around the house?”



She shrugs, “haven’t tested it.”



“You haven’t tested it. You don’t even know how to fix it I’m not listening to you right now, I’m not hearing this.”



“You know how to fix your arm?” Bucky raises both of her eyebrows at him and she sees him tilt his head to the side in the way that means ‘okay you have a point’.



“What are they planning on doing with Lukin?” he asks instead and Steph shakes her head.



“Same as any wanted war criminal.”



“Yeah, the only difference is no one can just look the other way while someone takes care of him.”



“Bucky-“



“No, you’re just gonna let him sit there in jail until SHIELD does something about him but there ain’t gonna be anything done with him. Some people don’t deserve to live, Steph,” she snaps and doesn’t know whether she’s talking about Schmidt, Lukin, or herself. Steph doesn’t stop looking at her but she doesn’t wither under her gaze-maybe if she would if she didn’t know with certainty that if Lukin is kept alive SHIELD will have him working on weapons or serums or anything else they’ve got waiting in their R&D department that only men like him will see the merit of.



“That’s not our call to make.”



“Then whose is it? Look at what he did to you, to Erskine and everyone and you’re just gonna let him keep on living?”



It’s times like now that she feels the distance between then and now like pain. They’ve fought before about things like this but that was before when she could buy into Steph’s idealism completely, back before the war and the ice. She runs her hand through her hair and Steph follows Stark out while she changes into real clothes for the first time since she’d left America.



They’re talking when she steps out into the hallway and they pause before continuing their conversation about how long Cap will be forced onto the sidelines while she recovers. Stark says they’ll be fine without her and Bucky keeps it to herself that she’s been benched for however long Fury thinks it will take for her to get the point he’s making while they head for the elevator.



She and Steph don't talk on the way back to their apartment but she’s done her fair share of hiding and running away already so she doesn’t leave. Steph needs her now. Afterwards who knows; she can decide then.



“Do you wanna order in?” Steph asks, looking through the cupboards as though they own anything aside from instant pancake mix that doesn’t require time and effort to prepare. She ought to have known she’d want food considering she probably hasn’t eaten actual food since the movies.



“Do you wanna?”



She sighs, “you know it doesn’t gotta be all about me, you can make a decision or two sometimes.”



“It ain’t, I’m just,” Bucky hovers by the sofa and resists the urge to check the locks. It hadn’t mattered before anyway, “if you’re hungry eat somethin’ alright?”



I’m always hungry, I’m asking you,” and she’s doing the hands on hips thing that means Bucky is dangerously close to them actually having a fight rather than one of their pretend ‘you forgot to buy milk’ ones.



“Nah, I’m not.”



“Fine.”



She doesn’t order her anything and so she spends the duration of Steph’s meal assuring her that really, she’s not hungry, yes really, you kinda have a skewed vision of how much one person should eat in a day. It’s stupid and petty and by the end she does get up and check all of the locks, prowls until it’s time for bed.



“I don’t want us to go to bed angry, Buck,” she says and Bucky rolls her eyes but pulls her down for a kiss before she heads for the bathroom.



“I ain’t angry, just like I ain’t hungry,” Bucky grimaces at her face in the mirror-no wonder Steph is so adamant about her eating-she looks like shit, “okay?”



“Okay.”



She digs through the medicine cabinet for her makeup remover, “Really? We really okay?”



“I don’t know what you mean.”



“You’re doin’ the thing where you say you’re fine but you got the ‘I haven’t been to the bathroom in a week’ expression on, I can hear it,” her routine is slowed somewhat by the lack of a second hand but she still only takes ten minutes, “you want a shower?”



“I’m not doing the constipated face.”



She grins, “yeah, alright, come on, you gonna smell like Old Spice in bed or not?”



“Are you trying to do an imitation of Tony right now because I wanna know if I need to lock you out,” Steph appears at the door and leans against the jamb, arms crossed over her chest. Her lips are pursed but it’s taking a lot of effort to keep them like that, she can tell and hides her face in a towel.



“Thought you wanted us to be friends-he said you wanted us to go on double dates.”



“I mentioned it once.”



“I don’t hate him, y’know. You coulda just said somethin’.”



“I never got the time. Fighting against crab people isn’t exactly the best time to mention we ought to go on double dates,” Steph catches her by the waist and pulls her against her, “somethin’ funny?”



“Nah, just you. C’mon, ain’t an old lady like you supposed to be in bed by now?”



“It’s 10pm,” and this time she doesn’t try to hide her smile, “besides, you’re the one who’s been partying in Madripoor, not me.”



“That place pisses me off.”



Steph nods her assent as she lets her go, “Tony said there’s not much we can do about it but…”



“Yeah well Stark ain’t ever lived it, has he?”



“A lot of people haven’t, Buck. Come on, you look tired.”



The pair of them is out like a light soon after their heads hit the pillow but it doesn’t take Bucky long to wake up to the sound of Steph tossing around in bed. The apartment is dark and outside is quiet except for the shuffling of a mandatory SHIELD security detail in the hallway and the shield lies against Steph’s side of the bed as always. She sits up in bed, rubs her back to let her know that she's still there but she can't shake the feeling that she's wrong. That she's a disappointment to everything Steph stands for. She ought to find someone else for all that they’ve had the ‘no one else but you’ conversation verging on six times now.



Bucky can still feel Lukin's pulse against her hand. She imagines it slowing and she doesn't know which is stronger-the desire to feel it stop or to have Steph be proud of her. It has to be the second, she supposes, because she'd let go. She'd let go and left him to his fate with SHIELD and it should feel like a victory but it doesn't. He'll get out. The Skull, Lukin, men like them always escape given the time and the tiniest amount of leeway. She might have gone for the vodka she keeps under the bed except that the air is still and she wants to stay alert. She should’ve known not to leave, she should have fought through the pain and gotten up to the apartment and stopped him from taking her. She should have found him before, when she had the chance and no Steph to kiss her on the cheek in the morning before coffee, no Steph to stop her from doing what she’d been made for.



Steph sleeps peacefully now and SHIELD HQ isn't far from their apartment if she takes a taxi. When she slips out of bed she gets no complaints so she keeps going, and reaches the front door on silent feet. It would be doing the world a favour. But it would do her none except to bloody her hands more and that she can take, that she can endure because she's already waist deep in bodies-it's the look that would be on Steph's face that keeps her hand from twisting the doorknob open.



“Buck?” it comes from the bedroom but Steph is standing in the doorway in half a second, “can't sleep?”



“Somethin' like that.”



“Do you need to go?” she asks and hell, what kind of friend is she that she'd just leave her alone when she needs her? But she’d left before too and so she doubts it would surprise Steph if she disappeared again only this time it wouldn’t be to Natasha’s. She doesn’t know where she’d go.



“Nah, just...had a craving for Denny's is all.”



“Come on...”



She toes off her shoes and strolls back to her, smirks, “changed my mind. Got somethin' better right here.”



“Yeah, right,” Steph wraps her arms around her waist, pulls her close and tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear, “how'd I get so lucky, huh?”



“You a maple tree? Cause that's some grade a sap, Steph.”



“Like you don't like it.”



“I ever say I didn't?” she shoves her and she moves obligingly, “c'mon, said I had a craving didn't I? Mean, if you wanna.”



“You're kiddin' me, right?” her lips brush Bucky's and they crash with a squealing of springs onto the bed, “How could I pass up a chance with the most beautiful girl in this place?”



“Shaddup,” she pushes her onto her back, straddles her hips and traces the lines of her chest, her biceps with her hand, “sap.”



“Bucky.”



“Already got you goin', huh?”



“Who was it who had to stuff a hankie in her mouth last month so we wouldn't get caught in the closet?” the light from the living room lights her face enough for Bucky to see her raised eyebrows. She runs her thumb over the curve of them then traces her jawline.



“Yeah, well, you would've needed to too the way you were goin' at it.”



“I missed you,” she says and Steph is always earnest about stuff like that but it's the look on her face that makes her look like a dope. Bucky can't resist kissing her until they're both breathless and their hands are everywhere when she looks like that.



“I ain't goin' anywhere.”



She hums her agreement, “wanna screw with some of the agents outside?”



“If it means you screw me, sure,” she says and it ought to make her wary but they can't see them and so it doesn't feel like they're exposed to prying eyes. They're home and Steph's here and she's not about to say no just because there are a bunch of people outside their apartment-rooms away even.



“I-Bucky,” the lights are off but she can see her face go red in her mind’s eye. Her voice is quiet when she says, “was hoping you’d…y’know.”



“Yeah? What you want, huh?” her balance is off when she leans over to the bedside table for a condom but Steph’s hands on her hips steady her, “where’d you…”



“You put them in the sock drawer, remember?”



“Why the hell…” she rumbles and pushes herself off the bed. Their collection isn’t small, but it’s small enough to fit amongst their socks and her bras and she grimaces when she stubs her toe against one of Steph’s paint cans, “turn on the light, would ya?”



The easel and coat set up by the window spook her for half a second-Steph laughs, apologizes for once about leaving her stuff lying around while Bucky mutters “yeah, yeah” under her breath. “Alright we got for your pleasure, this big purple one, this smaller black one, or this sparkly blue one Stark thought he was bein’ funny when he gave us it for your birthday.”



“He said he was sorry, y’know, about that.”



“You don’t gotta defend him. We’re square.”



“If it makes you feel any better he gave Bruce a big green one for Christmas.”



“He obsessed with dildos or somethin’? Christ. C’mon, time’s a wastin’,” she pulls off her pants since she’s up and stands their choices up on the dresser while she digs through the drawer for the harness, “you seen the-“



“Second drawer.”



“Why’s it in the second drawer?”



“You put it there, how the hell do I know?” she’s grinning now and Bucky throws a ball of socks at her.



“Shaddup.”



She adjusts it so that it’ll fit her hips rather than Steph’s and sweeps her arm along the row of the toys, “you gonna choose or what?”



“Surprise me.”



“You can make a decision sometimes,” she says and Steph chucks the socks back at her, “asshole. C’mon, turn off the lights if you wanna be surprised.”



“I could always cover my eyes.”



“Now you’re just tryin’ to be difficult, ain’t you?”



“Maybe.”



“Gonna be sorry.”



“Doubt it,” Steph says, puts one of her long fingered hands over her eyes, “I’m waitin’.”



She goes with the black because Steph is not Bucky and the blue one exists merely as a novelty item they’ve never actually used and slots it into the harness before stepping into it. The straps bite into her skin a little but it’s good and she climbs back onto the bed, “you’re wearin’ too many clothes.”



Bucky could get her out of them one handed but it pisses her off so Steph switches places with her and yanks her shirt over her head. Her body is mottled with more bruises but they’ve already started to fade and the medics had x-rayed her for further injuries before sending them home and found none. It seems so unreal that Skull had only smacked her around a bit but maybe those wounds have already healed. She doesn’t ask and Steph pulls off her pants and underwear too.



“I could…” she gets on her knees and Bucky sputters.



“You don’t gotta, Steph, I do it cause I like it, doesn’t mean you have to.”



“Maybe I wanna try it, or is that off limits too?”



She rolls her eyes because she’s trying to make a point but Steph has never shown an interest in men except for fighting with them never mind their dicks. Before her there’d been only Peggy and a string of guys Bucky’d set her up with in the hopes that she’d go off with them for a night and take away the hope that having her come home alone brought. “I just don’t want you to choke, alright and…”



“A piece of plastic’s not a guy’s dick, Bucky.”



“Yeah, you ain’t gotta listen to them gruntin’ and sweatin’ for one.”



“If I don’t like it I’ll stop so you can cut the worried girlfriend act.”



“Yeah, alright,” she opens her legs a little more and Steph looks up at her, “go on, then. Don’t try and put it all in your mouth at once.”



She bursts into laughter, rests her forehead on her thigh, “god, Buck, I’ve eaten rocket pops before y’know.”



“It ain’t the same, I’m tryin’ to help you out, punk, could at least try and be grateful.”



“Okay, okay, thank you, Ms. Barnes.”



Her lips close around the head of the thing and Bucky isn’t picky-giving head is giving head- and looking at her like that she doesn’t know now if she likes giving it or getting it more. She doesn’t choke as she takes more into her mouth and she ought to have offered to wash it off or put some kind of flavoured lube on it but Steph groans like she likes it.



She pushes her hand through her hair and she sees the tension from her shoulders ease, “like it?”



Steph pulls off, looks up at her with red lips and breathes out a quiet, “yeah.”



“You wanna get the condom or stay here a bit?”



“M’good either way.”



“Get back to it then,” she brushes her hair back and doesn’t move. Steph isn’t Bucky for all that she’s willing to indulge her sometimes when she doesn’t think she’ll hurt her but god she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to have her between her knees and not touching her actual skin at all.



Not very long, it turns out. It’s Steph making sound that finally does her in and she pushes her back, “I gotta-get up here.”



“Kay,” she says and she’s smiling like it’d all been part of an elaborately laid out plan. Bucky feels hot damn near everywhere so it must’ve been.



She can’t feel it when the dildo sinks into Steph but it still wrenches a noise from her throat. “Christ, you’re gonna kill me one day, y’know.”



She whimpers out something that sounds like Bucky’s name and god the serum is great stuff. She doesn’t want to know the hows or whys of it but it makes her make sounds like that so she’s not about to examine anything.



It takes some manoeuvring but she manages to get her onto her back and from there it’s easier to thrust and bend over to kiss her through moans. “Wish I had my other hand,” she pants and she’s not even tired but Steph makes her feel like she can’t breathe.



“This is good,” she says when Bucky pulls away and presses her forehead to her shoulder, “do you need to rest?”



She pushes into her harder to prove a point and they ought to be quieter but Steph never quite has it in her now that they don’t have to be and yells loud enough that she hears a knock on the door. “Jesus, you wanna wake up more neighbours, huh?”



“Your fault.”

“You’re scarin’ our security detail,” she pulls out, smirks and buries her face in her hair, “wanna do it again?”



“What do you think?”



She doesn’t expect her to come like this-most of the time neither of them can- but all it takes is a few more thrusts and Steph is arching, mouth open and eyes squeezed shut before slumping back to the bed with a sigh, “that’s a first.”



“Make it sound like I’ve never made you come before.”



“Maybe I was fakin’ it all those other times,” she says and pulls Bucky to her to press their lips together. It calms her breathing somehow, just feeling her against her, feeling her lips against hers and she doesn’t even need to come in spite of how her face is hot and every movement of her hips sends a jolt between her legs. This is good enough.



“Thought you didn’t read Cosmo, huh?”



“I don’t get it.”



“Nothin’,” Bucky grins and kisses her until the confusion eases from her face and the knocking at the door has stopped but the phone is ringing in the front room, “I’m gonna go get that so we don’t have SHIELD breathin’ down our necks, need anything?”



“Nah.”



The explanation takes about four words and leaves the guy on the other end stammering an apology she doesn’t listen to the duration of before hanging up. When she gets back to the bedroom Steph is splayed out across the bed asleep. She’ll regret it later when she’s gotta clean it but Bucky lets the harness drop to the floor and climbs back into bed beside her. It’s warm and her hand rests against Steph’s chest so she can feel her heart in her chest because she could have lost her in spite of how they’re acting like it’s a non-issue.



“I could,” Steph starts, and Bucky sincerely doubts she could do anything that isn’t sleep so she covers her mouth with her hand.



“Can wait until later.”



“Okay,” she says through Bucky’s hand and she takes it away to press it against her chest again. She hooks a leg over hers and it could be too much but Steph doesn’t complain.



“Night.”



“Love you, you know.”



“Like I could forget,” she whispers against her neck because once they get going Steph’ll be up for another couple of hours and she’s sure that SHIELD will want to talk more tomorrow which is hard enough on a full night’s sleep on a regular night.



“And?”



“Love you too, attention whore, go to sleep.”



~~**~~



“Was it wrong of me to stop you from killing him?” Steph asks with her charcoal poised in front of the paper she's got set up in the kitchen. Bucky sets her cup down, ignoring the coffee in the pot for now. It’s been a week and her wounds are healed-Bucky isn’t so lucky-and she’s been hoping they wouldn’t have this conversation because a look is all Steph needs to read her mind most days and today isn’t one of the days she wants that to happen.



“Don't think you got it in you to do somethin' wrong, Steph.”



“That's not what I mean. For you. Did I...” she sighs, slots the stick of charcoal into the ledge of the easel.



“Letting me kill him would've been wrong. You got morals. Avengers don't kill?”



“I could have-”



“What, Steph? Looked the other way?” she wants to snap at her but doesn't, she’s still got curlers in her hair and half her face on. Fighting with Steph never gets a win for her anyway, “You did the right thing.”



“For you or for myself?”



“There a difference?” her footfalls are silent across the floorboards but Steph doesn't startle when she places her hand on her shoulders, “Couldn't ask for a better moral compass than you.”



“I don't want to take away something you need to do, Buck,” she twists around, her eyes catching Bucky's and hell she's beautiful when she's got charcoal smudged across her cheek and her hair, still cut short, is sticking up on one side from where she ran her hand through it.



“Only thing I gotta do is drink some coffee and get ready. Pepper'll make sure Tony's on time so we oughta be too,” she presses their lips together just long enough for Steph to follow her mouth when she pulls away and that's beautiful too.



“You're a tease.”



“You ain't got no room to talk. You think I don't notice you changing exactly the same time I come into the gym you got it wrong, girl.”



Steph's face flushes-always does even when she's the one saying something like that- and she smiles, “payback for all those times in France.”



“Yeah? Better watch out, I still got some tricks up my sleeve.”



She pulls off her shirt and pants, leaves them like a trail of breadcrumbs to the bathroom, calls back, “could use some help gettin' ready on account of how Stark ain't givin' my arm back until we see him.”



“Tease.”



“What, feelin' the heat, Cap?”



“Shut up, I'm coming already.”



She hears the scraping of a chair and then Steph's footfalls. She slips off the rest of her clothing, “already? Ain't even touched you yet.”



“Jerk,” she says and pulls the door shut behind them out of habit.



“Punk,” Bucky breathes against her lips.