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persistence of memory

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It’s a nondescript sort of a Wednesday morning when the Winter Soldier walks into SHIELD headquarters, bold as brass, and announces his intention to surrender. As he drops to his knees, hands behind his head, and is swarmed by heavily armed agents, he does consider for a moment whether this was the best idea he’s ever had.

By the time he’s made up his mind about it, he is already in an interrogation room in a heavily reinforced subbasement, and leaving is not an option. It’s lucky, then, that he’s decided in favor of cooperation.

He shifts in his seat, eyeing the one-way mirror that fills the far wall, and wonders if there’s a way to scratch his nose that won’t look undignified. His right wrist is cuffed to the table in front of him; his left is gone with the rest of that arm, detached within half an hour of his surrender and spirited off to some lab, no doubt to be checked over thoroughly for booby traps. He can’t really blame them for it, nor for the itchy nose, but he does wish there was a solution that wouldn’t damage his mystique.

He stops worrying about his mystique, and his nose, when the door slides open and a woman walks in. She is petite, and red-haired, and he has spent the last six months trying very hard to kill her and her teammates. His resounding lack of success is due in no small part to this woman, and her frustrating ability to be two steps ahead of him at all times without giving so much as a hint away to him.

“So you’re giving up, then?” she asks, raising an eyebrow at him. He shrugs as best he can. “That doesn’t seem like your style.”

“See, that’s one of the reasons I’m giving up,” he says. “You people seem to know what my style is a lot better than I do. I’d like to know why.”

“That’s why you surrendered?” she asks, and for just the skin of a second she seems genuinely surprised. He doesn’t think he was supposed to notice; he doesn’t think he’s supposed to be able to read her even the little bit that he can. That’s another mystery that he wants solved.

“It’s one reason,” the Winter Soldier says. “Another is that my employers were growing impatient with my lack of results. I was not... enthusiastic about the prospect of facing their displeasure.”

“You didn’t want your head scrambled again,” she said. “You didn’t want to be put back on ice.”

“You know about--” he begins, and she cuts him off with an impatient wave.

“You don’t remember anything from before-- what, seven, eight months ago, yes?” He nods. “But you know things, nonetheless-- languages, battle tactics, the streets of cities you’ve never set foot in. And you don’t know how you know those things. Am I correct?”

He nods, mutely. He is beginning to suspect he never stood a chance against this woman, or her team. This is only confirmed when she continues to speak.

“You have dreams, sometimes. You can never quite remember them when you wake up. You have holes in your head, blank spots where you know the memories should be, but they’re always just beyond retrieving. You’re starting to think you might not be the person you’ve been made to think you are. Am I leaving anything out?”

He shakes his head, then reconsiders. “Well, I--” he begins, then stops. The redheaded woman only looks at him, calm and even, as though he has never held a knife to her throat.

“I got tired,” he says, eventually.

“Of what?”

“Of killing people. Not a useful trait, in an assassin,”

To his surprise, this elicits a tiny smile, no more that the upward turning of one corner of her mouth. He’s starting to get the weird sense that this woman is fond of him.

“It’s a useful trait,” she says. “In some circumstances. Trust me.”

To his greater surprise, he does.


The Winter Soldier is told that his artificial arm had been pumping drugs into his system that helped to suppress his memories, and though it is foolish of him, he feels vaguely betrayed. But it’s good news, of a kind-- without the drugs, he might begin to remember things.

Until then, he has eight months to be debriefed on. The redheaded woman comes back every day for the next week, patiently picking through the details of his former employers: their names, their resources, the reasons they wanted her dead. “You weren’t the primary mission, I’m sorry to say,” he tells her, early on. “Not that you weren’t a challenge, but you were strictly a secondary objective.”

“Who was primary, then?” she asks.

“Who else?” he asks. “The man who carries the great big target. Does the good Captain know I’m here, by the way?”

Her eyes flicker towards the one-way mirror, just barely. “He knows,” she says.


After the first week, he starts to remember his dreams. They’re jumbled, unsettling, and still hard to recall clearly, but they’re more than he’s had since his employers woke him. “It’ll get worse before it gets better,” the redheaded woman warns him. “Most of the memories you’re going to recover are not going to be very pleasant.”

“How do you know?” he asks.

“SHIELD has extensive files on your known activities,” she says. “You’ve made something of a name for yourself, over the years.”

She has not, it occurs to him, ever offered him a name of her own. He knows her code name, of course, but if she has another, she has not elected to share it.

Perhaps she is like him, and has no other. He finds the idea strangely comforting.

“So you know what I’m going to remember,” he says.

“Some of it,” she says. “There’s a great deal unaccounted for. But I know what it’s like to get your mind back, when it hasn’t been your own.”

This is new information. “How?” he asks.

“Because I’ve done it, and come out the other side,” she says. “It can be done. Remember that, when it gets bad.”


It gets bad, with alarming rapidity. His dreams go from vague portents of unease to full-blown nightmares, flashbacks to scenes of violence that send him shuddering awake, afraid to drop back into fitful sleep. There are so many, so many dead, so many people pleading for their lives, weeping bleeding twitching dying--

He jolts awake again, his thin bedsheets sweat-soaked, heart hammering. He doesn’t know what guilt feels like, exactly, but he’s beginning to get an idea.

He stumbles from the bedroom of his grey and dispiriting SHIELD quarters, that are not a cell by virtue of lacking bars and possessing a sofa. There is a sink and a small stack of plastic cups, which he forgoes in favor of sticking his entire head under the tap. He swipes water from his eyes-- all from the tap, certainly; the Winter Soldier does not weep-- and leans over the counter, trying to regain some sort of equilibrium. There had been a girl, in the dream-- a redheaded child, and he had let her live. That alone ought to have made it a better dream than the others thus far, but it had quite the opposite effect. He can feel the shape of where the memory should be, and he knows in his bones that the child in his dream would have been better off dead.


In the ordinary course of things, the routine that’s been established since his surrender, the redheaded woman would come alone to meet him in the quarters he’s not allowed to leave, to inquire as to any memories he may have recovered. Today, though, she comes with a squadron of agents, and shackles. “Sorry,” she says, not looking sorry at all. “You know how the higher-ups can be.”

He does, and submits to shackling with as much good humor as he can muster. It isn’t much. He hasn’t slept properly in days, and his head is swimming with half-formed and deeply disturbing memories. They march him through the halls of SHIELD, and heads turn as he passes. The redheaded woman stops, briefly, to confer with a tall blond man who looks particularly stricken at the sight of the Winter Soldier’s passage. “Who was that?” he asks as she rejoins him.

“You don’t recognize him?” she asks.

He shakes his head. One of those blank spots in his brain is calling attention to itself, the more he thinks about the blond man, but he can’t tell for the life of him what goes in it.

“Picture him with a great big target on his back,” she says, and he musters half a grin.

“Ah. The good Captain. Tell him no hard feelings about that business in Central Park the other month, huh?”

“I’ll pass it on,” she says.

They come to a lab, and the Soldier is ushered in. There’s a mechanical arm resting on a stand, and a handful of people in lab coats. He does a double take. “That’s-- not my arm,” he says.

“It’s a new one,” the redheaded woman says. “Compliments of Mr. Stark. Guaranteed to have no psychotropic effects whatsoever.”

He’s a little suspicious, but an arm is an arm. It locks smoothly with the socket in his shoulder, and after a few minutes he finds that he can rotate the wrist, touch fingertips to thumbs, make a fist and bend his elbow.

“Feels a little sticky, though,” he says. “Maybe I was just used to the old one.”

“We’re still calibrating,” a lab coat informs him, and he is dismayed when they take the arm away again.

“You’ll get it back,” the redheaded woman tell him. “It might be better if you don’t have it for the next month or so, though. Once you really start recovering memories, it won’t be pleasant, and we don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

He is aware that he must look comically dismayed. “It gets worse than this?”

“Oh yes,” she says. “Much. But it gets better, after.”


She is gone for two weeks-- on a mission, they tell him. They offer to have another agent debrief him, they offer him therapists to talk to, they offer him medication to help him sleep. He turns them down, and waits.

When she returns, it is to a man whose remaining hand trembles, just a little, when he points at her accusingly. He is unshaven, unshowered; his eyes are shadow-ringed. “There was a man,” he says, and falters.

She says nothing, and waits for him to find the words. “There was a man,” he begins again, “in-- Vienna, I think. He sold nuts, from a cart. They came in little bags, and I-- I bought a bag. For you.”

She watches him, her gaze level and even and knowing. There is affection in it, too, and how did he never notice that before? “What do you remember?” she asks.

“I threw them to you. The nuts. You caught them in your mouth, and you laughed. I ate some, too. They were rolled in sugar, and they got my hands sticky. And then we went and killed six people.”

She nods. “We did.”

“You knew me, before.”

Another nod. “I did.”

“Why not just tell me, then?” He doesn’t understand. The blank spots are filling up faster than he wants them to; last night, he dreamed of lying for hours on a tree branch, patient as a stone, until his target came into view. He dreamed of men clapping him on the back, offering him a swig of whiskey in thanks for making the shot. He thinks he had a name, in that dream, but he hasn’t found it yet.

“You needed to remember on your own,” the redheaded woman tells him. Natalia, he thinks, suddenly, and his hand stills itself, flat on the table. Her name is Natalia, and she is still speaking, and he forces himself to follow what she is saying. “If I told you, it wouldn’t be your own memory. You don’t need hearsay from me or-- anyone else. You need to sort out the contents of your own head, without anyone leading you on.”

He bows his head. “I get that. I do,” he says. “But you could have said something, Natalia.”

“It’s hard to know the right thing to say,” she tells him. “I could have told you that story, about Vienna, but it wouldn’t have meant anything to you. Now it does. Now you remember how you felt when you were there, the person you were then. Or some of it, at any rate.”

She reaches out to cover his hand with her own. It’s the first time she’s touched him since-- well, he supposes the incident with the knife counts, in Central Park. This is gentler, at least.

“You’re going to be okay,” she tells him.


They have to sedate him, in the end, though he fights it as best he can. He hasn’t slept properly in weeks, nor eaten much that he’d been able to keep down, and some spark of his former self feels a little ashamed at succumbing so easily. His sleep is dream-troubled, uneasy even through the drugs, and he is dimly aware of people moving around him, of hushed arguments at the foot of his bed.

When he drifts back to wakefulness, there are very few blank spots left in his head. He wishes, a little, that there were more. But now he has a childhood, a youth, a few good memories to leaven all the bad, and he feels, for the first time in a long time, like he might be a real person again someday.

There is a small sofa pushed up against one wall of his room in the SHIELD infirmary, and there are two people on it. Steve-- god, Steve-- is sitting with his head bowed, studying his hands; Natalia is curled like a cat next to him, her head on his shoulder, eyes closed. When the Winter Soldier makes a small, involuntary noise, Steve glances up, and his eyes widen. “Bucky,” he says.

Oh. That’s his name, isn’t it? He has one, after all. “Sorry I tried to kill you,” Bucky says, slurring the words a little. He thinks he’s still pretty heavily sedated. He suspects that when he’s not, he’s going to feel a hell of a lot worse about trying to kill Steve.

But Steve manages to laugh, though it comes out sounding as much like a sob. “No hard feelings,” he says. “I promise. Too glad to have you back.”

“A lot more stuff makes sense, now I remember you,” Bucky says. “If someone had asked me who the President was, a week or so ago, I woulda said Roosevelt, and I’m pretty sure that’s not right.”

“Not quite,” Steve says. “I met the new one, though. Seems like a pretty good guy.”

“Why didn’t you come see me?” Bucky asks abruptly. It seems important that he know.

Steve looks away. “You didn’t know me from Adam, except as a target,” he said. “I wanted to-- God, I wanted to-- but we didn’t know if it would screw up your recovery, or trigger programming, or what-all. Natasha said she’d call me in the minute you looked to remember me, and you started asking for me when it got real bad, a few days ago. So here I am.”

He doesn’t remember that, which is unsettling, but he thinks it’s just his brain being its scrambled self and not anything nefarious. “You’re staying, right?” he asks. “Only I think I’m gonna fall asleep again soon.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Steve says. “Trust me.”

He does, of course.


Bucky sets foot outside SHIELD headquarters for the first time in four months, with Steve and Natalia flanking him, and for a moment he wants to turn around and go back inside. But he doesn’t actually have to brave the crowds or navigate the thronged streets. He just has to cross the space between the doors and the waiting car, and he can probably manage that.

Steve puts a hand on his shoulder, and he realizes that he’s been standing in the doorway for a little too long. He flexes his left wrist, taps his metal thumb against each fingertip in turn-- it’s a habit he’s picked up, since he got the new arm-- and takes the first step forward.

In the car, Bucky looks out the window at how different the city is, how much it’s changed from his memories. “That tower of Stark’s is ugly as sin,” he mutters, and Steve laughs.

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” Steve says, but Natalia-- Natasha, now-- smiles, that funny, strangely honest smile he doesn’t remember at all. It’s something new, something particular to the person she’s become. He likes it, he thinks.

“No, do,” she says. “Someone ought to.”

He’s only met the man long enough to do the last fitting on his arm, so far. He thinks if he’d known Howard better, he’d like Tony less, but as things stand he supposes they’ll get along fine. He means to be as gracious a houseguest as he can, at any rate.

At the Tower, they walk to the elevator, and Bucky jumps about a foot when a voice from nowhere welcomes them. Steve stills him with a hand on his arm. “Hey, JARVIS,” he says. “Sorry, Buck, I forgot. Tony’s got an AI that runs the tower. You’ll like him, he’s pretty much got Falsworth’s sense of humor.”

“I’m honored to hear that, Captain,” the voice says. By the time the elevator doors slide open again, Bucky has just about retrieved the memory of who Falsworth is.

“We’ve all three got rooms on this floor,” Natasha says, stepping out into what seems to Bucky a lavishly-appointed living room, with a fancy galley kitchen along one wall. “Steve’s there, on the left; I’m at the near end of the hall, and this,” she adds, swinging open a door, “is you.”

He whistles low, because this is one hell of a lot swanker than anyplace he can ever remember sleeping. “I think I approve of your choice of friends, you two,” he says.

They exchange an amused look. “You get used to it,” Steve says. “Mostly. I still keep thinking I’m gonna use up all the hot water, but I haven’t managed it yet.”

“No kiddin’?” Bucky says. “Well, I know where I’ll be for the next hour, in that case. SHIELD has shitty water pressure.”


His first night he’s woken by nightmares two, three times, and not knowing where he is on waking doesn’t help. He prowls the living room and kitchen for a while, pacing as silently as he can-- which is pretty silent-- until JARVIS discreetly asks him if he can help. Getting a rundown of the Tower’s security precautions eases his nerves, at least. He goes back to bed, and manages to keep quiet enough that neither Steve nor Nastasha hear him-- or, if they do, they have the courtesy to say nothing about it.

He spends his days at the Tower reading books from the shelves Steve’s filled-- there are sequels to The Hobbit, how about that-- and working out, trying to regain the muscle mass he lost in his time at SHIELD. It took some convincing before he’d agree to it, but every other day a therapist comes from SHIELD, and about half as often he actually says what he’s thinking to them.

“What you’re dealing with isn’t exactly in the DSM,” one of them tells him. “Honestly, you’re doing a lot better than anyone could have predicted.”

He doesn’t think he’s doing too badly, either. His memories, for all that they’ve been recovered, still feel a little remote, a little blunted-- most of it feels like it happened to someone else. It’s not so immediate as it was when he was at his worst, when he couldn’t push himself back from the flood of horrifying images. He doesn’t know if that’s a good thing, if he’s supposed to feel this way, but he’ll take it over the wreck he’d been a few weeks ago.

He still dreams, though, in the kind of vivid Technicolor that he’d just as soon not have in his head. Most of it’s the bad stuff-- the people he killed, the things that were done to him by Department X-- but not all of it. He dreams about playing stickball in the street, racing another boy to first base and watching Steve step up to the makeshift plate, skinny as a rail but already with steel in his gaze. He doesn’t know why he wakes up from that one shaking harder than he does for the bad dreams.

So he’s carrying on. He’s doing okay. Steve and Natasha are, he can see, starting to relax, to look at him without as much worry in their faces. He still hasn’t left the Tower alone, without one of them guard-dogging, but he’s not all that sure he wants to yet.

One day he’s in his room reading and hears the elevator doors open. That’s usual; Steve usually arrives with Natasha around now. But there are more voices than just the two of them, so he puts the book down and makes his way cautiously down the hall.

There are half-a-dozen people in the living room. Stark he knows, and he and Barton had a few encounters when he was still the Soldier, mostly through their respective scopes. But Banner he’s never met in person, nor Thor, and the two women are strangers.

“Hey, Bucky,” Steve says, and Bucky tries to mirror his body language, to look comfortable around these people. Natasha catches his eye, and the amused look she lets him see tells him she knows exactly what he’s doing. “We were going to get dinner, but Tony says all of us together will be-- what was it?”

“A ‘papparazzi Bat-signal,’ I think it was,” the younger woman says. “Which sounds not-fun, so we’re ordering in.”

“Hey, I’m perfectly capable of enjoying a meal with or without a side of camera flashes. I was just worrying about everyone else’s delicate sensibilities,” says Stark. “I know Thor can be shy.”

“Joke, honey,” says the other woman, putting a hand on Thor’s arm before he can say anything, and his face clears.

“I would like to have food from the land of India again,” Thor says. “Can it be delivered to us here?”

“If there’s a kind of food you can’t get delivered to Stark Tower, it probably doesn’t exist,” Tony says. “You want naan, we’ll get naan. You in, Barnes?”

Bucky doesn’t need to be a telepath to read Steve’s mind, just now. ‘Please like my friends’ is written all over his face. Bucky figures, with all Steve and Natasha have done for him, he can manage dinner.

“Sure,” he says. “Indian sounds good.” He can’t remember ever having tried it before, though that’s no guarantee that he hasn’t.

He shakes hands with Doctor Banner when Steve introduces them properly, and Thor offers him some kind of warrior’s wrist-clasp and tells him how glad he is to see shield-brothers reunited. Bucky doesn’t really have a response for that, or for the polite conversational starters he’s offered by Doctor Foster and Darcy. He knows he used to be able to make conversation like a normal person, but damned if he can retrieve the skill anymore. Mostly, he answers any questions put to him in sentence fragments, lets the chatter wash over him, and focuses on trying a little bit of all the food.

Thor and his lady friends are the last ones to leave, and after they’re gone it occurs to Bucky that Darcy might have been flirting, a little, and he’d missed it entirely. “I used to be able to tell when a girl thought I was hot stuff, didn’t I?” he asks Steve, when it’s just them and Natasha again.

He exchanges a look with Natasha that Bucky can’t read at all. “Mostly you just assumed they all did, I think,” he says, and laughs when Bucky throws a balled-up napkin at his head.


There are things he hasn’t thought much about, things he’d have known he was avoiding if he hadn’t, well, been avoiding them so hard. That gets more difficult when he starts dreaming about Natasha again.

The memory could be any of a dozen clandestine meetings, nights spent at safehouses while their superiors were looking elsewhere. He watches it like he’d watch a much-loved film, something worn smooth with repetition, and it doesn’t bother him that he feels more like an observer than the person who did those things. He still remembers her laughing, light and clear, like the carefree girl she’d never been; he remembers her hands smoothing over the knotted scar tissue radiating from the wreck of his shoulder. He remembers everything, how his heart clenched in his chest to look at her, how kissing her made him feel like sparks were coursing through him. And when he wakes, he still feels it, achingly close, all his safe distance gone.

In SHIELD custody he hadn’t had a sex drive to speak of, too preoccupied with everything else going on in his head, and too aware of the surveillance he must’ve been under. Having Natasha back again, having Steve, had been such a relief that he hadn’t had space to think of them in terms of anything but gratitude. But this memory, the closeness of it, has woken up a part of him he hadn’t been sure was still there to wake up.

He slides his good hand into his boxer shorts, and tips his head sideways, muffling himself a little in the pillow. It doesn’t take long at all, with the memory so fresh in his head, with the knowledge that Natasha is sleeping down the hall. He wonders what would happen if he knocked on her door tonight-- if she would rebuff him, or if she’d lead him to her bed. The thought of that, of Natasha as she is now, self-possessed and deadly, completely her own woman, of her wanting him still, is enough to send him over the edge. He comes with a choked-off moan, and lies there for a moment, breathing slowing, before he wipes his hand on the sheet and rolls off the bed, cleans himself up and tries to put himself back together.

In the morning he feels a little abashed, looking at her, starts to suspect it’s a ludicrous fantasy that she might still want him in that way. She cares-- she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t-- but she’s had years to make her peace with his memory, to put whatever she once felt to rest.

“You okay, Bucky?” Steve asks.

He realizes he’s been staring at Natasha while she makes coffee for longer than he should have been, and looks away. Steve is watching him, a little concerned, a little-- is that amusement? He knows perfectly well what it looks like when Bucky’s gone over a dame; is he seeing it now?

But he doesn’t say anything, thankfully, and the moment passes.

It doesn’t go away, though. It even gets worse, because it’s only a few nights later that he’s trying not to think about Natasha while jerking off, and he ends up thinking about Steve instead. It reels out in his head, a movie he can almost feel like he lived through. They hadn’t talked about it back then, back in the old days, but before the war they’d shared a bed more nights than they hadn’t, and it hadn’t always been about keeping Steve from shivering in their unheated apartment.

And there had been that time, too, that first night on the long march back from the Hydra factory, when Steve had curled around him in their makeshift bivouac and let him shake to pieces. Bucky’d stepped back after that, let Agent Carter take her best shot, but now he takes the memory out and turns it over, holds it up to the light: the way Steve’s hands had been big and warm and steady, how he’d pressed his mouth to Bucky’s gracelessly, like he hadn’t got the hang of kissing yet since his transformation.

Bucky supposes Steve hadn’t, back then, and it occurs to him to wonder if he has yet. He wonders, too, if the way Natasha is carelessly, casually tactile with Steve means anything, if they’ve done more than curl up next to each other on the couch. Something burns in his gut, down his spine, and he honestly can’t tell if it’s jealousy or arousal. Maybe it’s both. He doesn’t mind it, either way: feeling anything at all is better than the alternative.

He starts having dreams that aren’t flashbacks, and calls it progress. He’s not sure he’s happy about it, though, because the dreams about what actually happened are confusing enough without adding in the ones his brain makes up from whole cloth. Now he’s got to contend with surreal bullshit mixed in with his horrorshow memories; he’d gotten down to waking only once in the night, and sometimes even sleeping right through, but with this new development he starts being jolted out of sleep two, three, four times again. It’s goddamn frustrating.

There’s a night, though-- there’s a night where it all just gets to be too much. He wakes for the third time from half-remembered nightmares, and lies there for a minute, staring at the ceiling, before he gets up and shuffles down towards the kitchen. He has to pass Natasha’s room, on the way, and there’s a light on, shining through the crack under her door.

For a minute, all he wants is for Natasha to make him tea and pretend she doesn’t notice that he’s smelling her hair. His traitorous body is knocking on her door before he has time to reconsider. He hears footsteps, and the door swings open.

“Bucky?” It’s Steve that Bucky’s blinking at in sleepy surprise, Steve in pajama pants and no shirt. Did he get turned around in the dark, and knock on the wrong door? “Is everything okay?”

And now he can see past Steve, into the room. Natasha’s sitting on the end of the bed, wearing an oversized t-shirt that might just be Steve’s. “James, are you all right?”

He swipes a hand over his face, and tries to think straight. “Sorry. Sorry, I just-- never mind. You should get back to-- whatever you were doing.” It hurts a little, is the surprising thing. He didn’t think he had anything left that could feel such a pinprick as that.

“Hey,” says Steve, and catches his arm when Bucky tries to turn away. “Hey. You’re welcome to join us, you know. If you can’t sleep.”

Maybe he’s still not all the way awake. Maybe he heard that offer wrong. “Join you doing what, exactly?”

“Ken Burns,” Steve says, his expression innocent as a choirboy’s. “Eighteen hours of baseball documentary. You missed some, but it was mostly the bits you were around for the first time.”

“Oh,” says Bucky. “Right.”

“Why,” Steve asks, “what did you think we were doing?”

And now he sees a glint in Steve’s eye, one that Bucky recognizes perfectly well. The rat bastard knows exactly what Bucky thought they were doing, and he wants to make Bucky say it.

Well, he’s not gonna stand for that. Bucky surges forward, taking Steve by surprise, and he’s got Steve pressed up against the doorframe, kissing him senseless before Steve can react.

When Steve does catch up, it’s to deepen the kiss and pull Bucky in closer, threading a hand through his hair. He bites at Bucky’s mouth, and yeah, someone’s taught him how to do this since the last time. He has a feeling he knows who it is; he recognizes her handiwork.

When they come up for air, Steve doesn’t let go. “Okay,” he admits, “maybe we weren’t just watching baseball.”

“Punk,” Bucky manages, a little weakly, because Natasha has gotten up from the bed and is walking towards them. Or maybe ‘stalking’ is a better word, because she looks predatory as hell.

She kisses just the same, is the thing. A distant part of him points out that this is Natasha, that she kisses precisely the way she wants to, and she’s making a decision to be the way she was, for him. That doesn’t make him want her any less; pretty much the opposite, in fact.

When they break the kiss, he makes a protesting noise, until Steve settles a hand on his hip and Natasha scritches at his scalp. Their touches are reassuring, steadying. “What do you want to do?” she asks him.

“Jesus,” he says. “Everything. I don’t know.” He’d been trying so hard not to consider this possibility, and now it’s happening. He’s overcome, a little, not used to feeling so much all at once. And even with all that, there’s a part of him that’s not quite present, that’s a half-step back from the proceedings. But he’ll take what he can get.

“Okay,” she tells him, leaning up to drop a kiss on his jaw.

“We’ll take it slow,” Steve says, resting his chin on Bucky’s shoulder for a moment.

She leads him back towards the bed, and Steve follows them, keeping his hands on Bucky all the while.

They stretch out on the bed and trade kisses for a while, hands wandering to wherever there’s bare skin to press against. They both kiss him carefully, with plenty of heat but without as much intent as he’s realizing he’d like, and neither seems inclined to take things any further unless he makes the first move.

And that’s fine, that’s about all he can handle at first. But Steve’s hands on his hips, Nat’s mouth on his throat, they’re reminding him that he can want things again, that there are things he does, in fact, want. Things he’d only just dared to picture, in the privacy of his own head.

“I, uh,” Bucky starts, not sure if he can articulate what he’d like to ask them for. If he’s brave enough. “I, I want--”

He breaks off to stifle the sound he’d make otherwise. Natasha’s lying half on top of him, her legs tangled with his, and the way she’s shifted has her thigh pressing against him. She’s as good a mind-reader as she ever was, apparently, or maybe it’s just the way his hips hitch, because she smiles-- that too-honest, unfamiliar smile-- and gets a hand between them to stroke his cock. Even through his shorts it’s enough to make him bite back a moan, because this is something he didn’t get to have for so goddamned long. Having Steve pressed up against his other side, stealing kisses every chance he gets-- having Natasha touching him-- knowing who he is, and that he chose this, and they chose him-- it’s overwhelming in the best possible way.

Not for nothing was he the Winter Soldier, though. For that matter, not for nothing was he Sergeant Barnes. There’s a part of him that sees how careful they’re both being with him, and it makes him want to bare his teeth and raise the stakes. See how far he can push. He’s not fragile; broken, sure, but the reassembled pieces seem to be holding. And if some of him is still a half-step back, well-- the rest of him knows what he wants.

He nips at the hinge of Steve’s jaw, and trails a hand southerly over his stomach, making Steve’s muscles jump a little at the touch. Steve sucks in a breath and goes still when Bucky hooks his fingers in the elastic of Steve’s pajama pants and tugs. Nat, on his other side, makes an inquiring noise.

“Been thinking,” Bucky says, his voice rougher than he means it to be. “About the two of you.”

“That much was obvious,” Nat says. Bucky feels Steve’s mouth curve into a smile, where it’s pressed against his collarbone.

“I mean, you two together,” Bucky amends. “Want to see what I missed.”

“You mean, without participating?” Nat asks. He nods.

“I thought the point was that we’re in this together,” Steve says. “All three of us, and all of it. For as long as you’ll have us.”

And isn’t that Steve-- he wouldn’t take Bucky to bed at all unless he meant it for keeps. Bucky can’t find it in himself to object, and he supposes that’s part of the appeal for Natasha, too. It occurs to him that they must have talked about this-- about him. Planned for it, maybe. Hoped for it, he dares to imagine.

But he still wants what he wants, and he doesn’t think they’re going to refuse him. “I want to do a lot of things,” he says. “I said everything, and I meant it. But first, I want to see you two.”

Steve raises his head to meet Nat’s eyes, and they exchange a look that Bucky can’t interpret. “Not exactly a hardship, that,” Steve finally says, and Nat laughs.

“Flatterer,” she accuses. “Get over here.”

Steve takes the opportunity to drape his weight over Bucky on his way to Nat, and Bucky doesn’t even tense up much at being pinned. He wriggles a little instead, pressing his hips up into Steve’s, and Steve drops a fleeting kiss on his mouth before he lets Bucky slide over on the bed. He skins out of his pajama pants in one swift motion, as Nat pulls her t-shirt over her head. In no time at all they’re tangled up in one another, kissing intently, Nat half in Steve’s lap, his fingers working between her legs.

She pushes him back on the pillows and he goes as if she’d put muscle into it, landing with a bounce. Steve’s hands go up automatically to cradle Nat’s hips as she swings a leg over him. The sight of them, easy with each other, golden in the lamplight, makes Bucky’s mouth go dry.

There isn’t much more preamble. “Top drawer of the nightstand,” Nat says, and it takes a moment for Bucky to realize she means him. He scrabbles a condom out of the handful in the drawer. She gives him her old, sly, heavy-lidded smile as she opens it and rolls it onto Steve, showing off a little, drawing a wholly undignified noise out of him and Steve both. She kneels up, and sinks down onto Steve’s cock. Steve makes another noise, a choked-off moan, that makes Nat grin.

They start slow, rolling their hips in counterpoint, Steve’s heels planted in the mattress so he can get some leverage. Bucky can see they’ve done this before, that they know how to move and where to touch, but the thought of them together without him doesn’t sting anymore. Quite the opposite, in fact. He bites his lip and shucks his boxer shorts; he’s hard and aching, now, and he needs to do something about it.

He manages a few rough strokes before Steve reaches out to still his hand. “Hold off-- ah! Just wait, okay? Just wait a little while.” Steve tips his head back, then, distracted, and his eyes flutter closed at the way Natasha’s grinding down on him, riding him faster now. She leans forward and plants her hands on Steve’s chest, letting her hair fall down around her face, her expression intent. She’s starting to sweat, a little-- both of them are.

Watching them move together is the best kind of torment. Bucky can’t look at them enough, can’t spend enough time drinking in the details. He wants to touch them, want to run a hand down the crease of Steve’s hip, trail his mouth over the swell of Natasha’s breasts. He wants to touch himself. He feels lit up, present in his body in a way he can’t remember being in a long time. Whatever Steve’s planning, it had better be good.

Steve fumbles a hand between himself and Natasha, reaching down to where they’re joined, and Bucky can’t just watch anymore. He swats Steve’s hand out of the way, takes his place there to find Natasha’s clit and watch her arch and shudder in response. Steve reels Bucky in with his free hand, instead, leaning up to kiss him as best he can, panting into his mouth. Bucky falters, a little, until Natasha clamps her hand around his wrist and hisses “Don’t stop, don’t you dare--” and, when he swipes his fingers just so, wrenches a yell out of her and a gasp out of Steve.

They’re beautiful like this, Bucky has time to think, and the thought sneaks in: too good for the likes of him. But Nat doesn’t let go of his wrist until she comes down, and Steve’s still breathing raggedly in his ear. Nat tugs at him, and he sits up so she can pull him in closer and kiss him thoroughly, slow and satisfied.

“That what you wanted?” she murmurs in his ear.

“And then some, yeah,” he admits. He makes to pull away, but their hands on him keep him in place.

“Hey,” says Steve. “The show ain’t over. Lie back a minute.”

“You didn’t think we’d leave you hanging, did you?” Natasha asks.

“The thought--” had occurred, Bucky starts to say, but he doesn’t get to finish before she’s pressing him down into the pillows, her tongue in his mouth. Her hands smooth over his shoulders, down his chest, sparking memories as they go. For once, they’re good ones.

He can hear Steve moving, hears a rustle that must be him getting rid of the condom, and he can feel his weight shifting on the mattress and settling between Bucky’s legs. But he doesn’t know what Steve’s got planned until he feels a careful hand trailing down his side to his hipbone. Steve anchors Bucky’s other hip with his free hand, and Nat lets him up long enough to see Steve leaning down to mouth at his inner thigh. The noise Bucky makes, then, isn’t terribly dignified.

The noise Bucky makes when Steve wraps a hand around his cock is even less dignified. When Steve closes his mouth around him, hot and slick, he’d levitate off the bed entirely if it weren’t for Nat’s weight keeping him still. As it is, he moans into her kisses, increasingly ragged as Steve works him with his hands and his mouth, letting him hitch his hips just enough, doing things with his tongue that Bucky’s pretty sure weren’t legal the last time the two of them were in a real bed together.

It’s so, so good, almost too much to handle-- having both Steve and Nat’s full attention, he knows, is a formidable thing, and they both seem determined to drive him around the bend. Nat bites at him, her sharp nails digging into his chest just enough to light him up, and Steve doesn’t seem to need to come up for air. Bucky breaks off the kiss long enough to pant and gasp into the hollow of Nat’s throat. “Ah, god! Steve, ‘m gonna--”

Steve doesn’t pull off. He takes Bucky’s cock deeper, if anything, and swipes his tongue up the shaft in a way that makes Bucky see stars. His vision whites out a little as he comes, the whole world receding, until there’s nothing at all but the three of them in the bed.

“Jesus.” Bucky flops back, wrung out, and Steve lets out a satisfied hum and presses a kiss to his thigh. Natasha combs her fingers through his hair, pushing it out of his eyes, and tucks herself neatly along his side. Steve rests his head on Bucky’s stomach, his sweat-darkened hair tickling a little.

Bucky becomes aware of a low murmur of sound in the background, something he’s tuned out entirely for the last little while. He managed to lift his head off the pillow long enough to glance at the TV across the room. The camera’s panning across a still shot of a baseball line-up.

“Someone wanna turn that off?” he murmurs.

Steve shifts, and the noise stops. Bucky thinks he could lie here forever, warm and spent, the only two people he gives a damn about draped over him. Even the part of him that he usually can’t quite touch feels grounded, present in this moment. He drifts like that for a while, and when he falls asleep, he doesn’t dream.


The next few days pass in a kind of blissful haze. Bucky’s walking on air, and he doesn’t think he’s got a swelled head for thinking Steve and Natasha look lighter too. Knowing he can duck under Steve’s arm while he washes dishes at the sink and steal a kiss, or that Nat’s willing to curl herself around him on the couch to watch a movie-- it makes all the other stuff easier, somehow.

They have dinner with the rest of the team again, this time up in the penthouse, and it’s almost fun. He’s a little uneasy at first, but that’s mostly down to not knowing where JARVIS’s cameras are the way he does in his own suite, and it’s soon enough remedied.

Bucky remembers how to flirt back, now, but he doesn’t need to bother. Not that he lets that stop him. He manages to carry on a few actual conversations, this time, and he chips in extra detail when Steve is coaxed into telling a long and inglorious war story.

“Well, if you’d seen the look on Dum-Dum’s face when we told him we blew up the cache,” Steve says, “you’d think we’d canceled Christmas.”

“To be fair, we didn’t know he’d stashed all that whiskey right next to the ordnance,” Bucky points out. “If he’d told anyone, we’d’a carried it out before we set the charges.”

“Although that would have been its own set of problems,” Steve notes. “I don’t know how he was planning to get it all home.”

“In his bloodstream, most likely,” Bucky says, and Steve laughs.

In short, he’s let his guard down. Which is stupid, stupid and reckless, and he knows it, but he can’t bring himself to care. He was nothing more than a weapon for so long, and he wants to enjoy feeling human again. There’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s a week or so later that he and Steve go out for lunch. There’s a diner they both like on the Upper East Side, and it’s a nice walk on a clear day. Natasha’s busy at SHIELD, so it’s just the two of them in a booth along the wall, where there’s a good view of the exits and a twenty-page menu of food that tastes like it ought to. There’s also a homeless guy who slipped in while the hostess was seating a group, working his way around the tables with a rattling paper cup, but neither of them pay him any mind after a cursory glance. He’s favoring his left leg pretty bad, Bucky can see, and weaving a little, and not in any way a threat.

Bucky’s trying to narrow down his sandwich options, when Steve slides out of the booth. “Nature calls," he says. “Be back in a second.” Bucky just nods absently.

The homeless guy’s made it to the booth next to his. He mumbles something unintelligible to them, and one of the women sitting there tucks a dollar into his cup without making eye contact. He shuffles his way over to Bucky, holds out the cup, and says “Time for all good children to be in bed.”

The words fall into his head like ice cubes, and expand. It takes a second to register that they’re in Russian, and by the time he’s had the thought the part of his brain that did the thinking has seized up, trapped behind a wall of ice. Everything in his head has gone cold and still.

The Winter Soldier stands up, and follows the man out of the restaurant.

They walk around the corner and into an alley, where there’s an unmarked van waiting. Two men in nondescript clothing are there-- one at the wheel, one by the door. The Soldier only notes this dispassionately, with the little bit of his mind that’s not ice-bound. Somewhere, distantly, he can hear muffled shouting, and a feeling in his head like someone pounding on a locked door. He doesn’t pay it any mind.

He climbs into the van, and the man by the door pulls out a silenced pistol and shoots the homeless man twice in the head. Then he climbs in after the Soldier, and they’re moving. The Soldier sits where he’s told to sit, and doesn’t move, and doesn’t think. Absently, he flexes his left wrist, and taps his fingertips against his thumb one after the other.

It’s not a long drive, or he thinks it isn’t-- it’s hard to tell how time is passing, and he doesn’t wonder why that is. When they pull to a stop, he doesn’t move until he’s told to. He follows the man who tells him to follow him. He sits where he’s told to sit. He doesn’t flinch from the flashlight beam shone into his eye.

“Crude, but effective,” says the man with the flashlight. “We can work with this, if we work quickly.”

The Soldier doesn’t react to this, or anything else.

The man with the flashlight leaves, and so does the guard, and the door clicks shut behind them, with a second click for the lock a moment later. The Soldier has been told to sit and wait, so he sits and waits. Time passes. He doesn’t know how much.

There is still a pounding in his head, but the ice is too thick, and muffles every thought.

When the sound of gunfire echoes through the hallway, the Soldier doesn’t react. He’d been told to sit and wait. When feet thump down the corridor, he doesn’t react. When someone kicks down the door, comes bursting through in a blur of blue and white, he doesn’t react.

The man in blue and white says “Bucky! Thank god, we thought you were-- Buck?”

He looks up at the man in blue and white. His eyes are full of worry, full of things the Soldier doesn’t have words for, because they’re locked up in the ice in his head.

The pounding gets louder.

The man in blue and white says “Bucky, are you okay? Talk to me, will you?”

The ice cracks.

The Winter Soldier says “I-- I don’t--”

There’s a loud report of gunfire just outside the door, and the Soldier flinches. The man with the flashlight come in with his hands raised, a gun to his back. The woman holding the gun has red hair, and the Soldier thinks he knows her. The ice gives, a little more.

The man in blue and white says “I don’t think he recognizes me, Natasha,” and the hollow sound of his voice makes something twist in the Soldier’s chest. It shakes something loose in his head, something he still doesn’t have words for.

“He doesn’t,” spits the man with the flashlight, with savage satisfaction. “Remote wipe. Whatever you did, it undid, and there’s no counter-trigger for it--”

The redheaded woman cracks him upside the head with the butt of her gun, and he crumples. “That was probably unprofessional of me,” she says, “but screw it.” She holsters the gun. “The facility’s secure. This was a shoestring operation to start with-- last-gasp effort. They won’t get a chance to try again.”

“I want to know how the hell they tried this time,” says the man in blue and white, and the Soldier doesn’t think he’s ever seen Steve so angry.

Then he blinks, because he didn’t know that name a moment ago. It slipped in through the cracks, he thinks. There’s an awful lot of cracks, now. Someone’s pounding away on that ice, from the other side.

Maybe if he gave it a few swings of his own, it would shatter entirely.

But he’s been given orders, and that wasn’t one of them. Maybe the people in front of him can tell him what to do. “Steve,” he says, and that must be right, because the man’s attention is on him instantly. He takes the Soldier’s good hand, and when he says “Natasha,” she moves to his other side, to take the other one. The way they look at him-- it makes him not care about orders.

“Hey, Buck,” says Steve.

“You know us, right, James?” says Natasha.

He can hardly hear them over the pounding in his head, over the shouted-raw voice that he now recognizes as his own. It’d take one good blow, now, to let everything out that’s been locked away. One hit. And he doesn’t need anyone’s permission to do it.

He swings for the fences.

When Bucky makes a low, rough noise, something akin to a sob, and curls forward to clutch at his head, Steve and Natasha move in unison to hold him steady.

“Jesus,” he says. “That hurt.” And it did, it does, more than he would have ever expected. He feels like he’s got three of the worst hangovers of his life, all at once. Everything’s too bright, too loud; even the hands on him, for all that he wants them there, are more sensation than his brain wants to process.

“You’re going to be fine,” Natasha tells him.

“We’ve got you, okay?” Steve adds. “We’re going home.”

If there’s a debriefing, he misses it; he lets Steve and Nat shepherd him to bed and is out like a light within seconds of hitting the pillow.

He doesn't know how long he sleeps, but it's daylight when he wakes up and he has to piss like a racehorse. He still feels raw-- lights a little too bright, sounds a little too loud-- but it's not as bad as it had been. On top of that he feels clearheaded, newly present in his body, in some indefinable way. It’s a good feeling, he thinks.

When he comes out of the bathroom, he registers the sound carrying down the hall as Steve and Natasha trying to argue quietly.

“You should’ve told me,” Steve says as Bucky comes into the living room. “You should’ve--” He cuts himself off when he sees Bucky, but Bucky knows that thunderous look. He knows the set of Natasha’s jaw, too. Whatever this is, they both think they’re right, and they’re both stubborn enough not to budge.

“Don’t stop on my account,” he tells them. “I’m just getting breakfast. Or lunch, depending on what time it is.”

Steve and Nat are quiet as he rummages through the fridge. He can feel their eyes on him, knows that whatever they’re fighting about, it’s probably to do with him somehow, but he’s resolutely not getting involved until he’s eaten something and stopped feeling so much like an exposed nerve.

But they just keep on looking at him. “What? he says. “I’m fine. Wasn’t pleasant, but I’ve had worse.” He flops down on the couch with his plate, determined to stay out of whatever it is they want to talk about. He’s been doing a fine job avoiding the skin-crawling thought of how easy it was to trigger his old programming; no reason to start now. And part of him feels a little triumphant to have shaken it on his own. The worst happened, and here he is, still himself. Still standing.

“Nat,” says Steve, “if you don’t tell him, I will.”

Nat glares. “Tell me what?” Bucky asks. Apparently avoiding isn’t in the cards.

She sighs, and carefully relaxes her tensed shoulders. “Before yesterday’s-- incident,” she says, and Steve huffs at her choice of words. She shoots him another glare before continuing. “There’d been some chatter. SHIELD knew that the remnants of Department X wanted you back, but we didn’t think they had the resources-- or the nerve-- to make an attempt. I didn’t bring it up, because I didn’t think it’d be an issue.”

“You should have,” Steve says. “Something like that isn’t need-to-know, for either of us.”

“I miscalculated,” Natasha says. “They were more desperate than I expected them to be, and they took bigger risks. Paying someone off the street to learn a trigger phrase like that-- it’s not their style.”

Bucky stares at his plate, his appetite suddenly vanished, because this is what he hadn’t wanted to think about. But he needs to know. “Could it happen again?” he asks.

Steve shakes his head. “We got them all this time. Not that there was much to get.”

“No,” Bucky says. “I don’t mean that. How much programming is still in my head? If I heard another trigger phrase, would that happen to me again?”

Natasha presses her lips together, and it’s one of the rare moments when he can see her controlling her expression, instead of it happening too subtly to detect. “Doubtful. It only worked this time because they used the remote wipe, and it didn’t even stick. You came out of it on your own.”

That’s a relief, at least. That loosens up something in his chest, some knot he’d been keeping close. It isn’t the only knot, though. There’s a question he really, really doesn’t want to ask, because Nat and Steve are all the world he has, all the world he wants, and he doesn’t think he’s going to like the answer. “Did you know it was still there? That it could happen?”

“Bucky, no,” Steve says, aghast, and that makes sense. If Nat had known, she wouldn’t have wanted to put that on Steve. So he turns to look at Natasha.

In the Red Room, they taught you how to lie with a clear, honest gaze, no shadows in it at all. When Natasha looks him in the eye and says, “I hoped you’d had enough time to shake it. I wasn’t sure, but I hoped,” her eyes aren’t clear at all, and that makes Bucky want to believe it.

“You should have told me. Or at least told Steve,” he says.

“I made a judgement call,” she says. “Not the right one, as it turned out.”

“That’s not how this works, Nat,” Steve says. “If this is for keeps, there can’t be secrets like that.”

From the look on Nat’s face, she’s not sure if that’s a promise she can make.

“Hey,” Bucky says, and pushes his plate onto the coffee table. “C’mere, you two. Call a truce for a minute.”

They’re a little hesitant, still angry at each other, but they sit down on either side of him eventually. He thinks now’s probably not the best time to mention that, until he broke the trigger, he’d been-- what the hell’s the word, for when you’re not in your body all the way? Dissociating, he thinks. At least a little. Like there’d been a pane of glass between him and whatever he was doing. But it’s gone, now, and he thinks maybe the glass had been a little blurry, because he’s seeing better than he had been.

“You two need to clear the air, or this ain’t gonna work,” he says. “Maybe it was fine when you both had to worry about me all the time, but I can only take so much mother-henning. If you two can’t be square, we’re going to have to figure something out, because I’m not picking a side.”

“You-- how can you not care that she didn’t tell you?” Steve demands.

“‘Cause my instincts tell me to hold my cards close, too, Steve,” he says. “I’d rather have known, and if it had turned out worse maybe you’d be right to be upset. But I’m okay. I really am.”

It’s a little bit of a surprise, in fact; he only realizes it’s true after he says it. But he is. There’s still a lot of jagged edges in his head, some missing pieces and some shrapnel, but he feels like he’s got a center, a core, that’s as whole as it’s ever been. He’s got Nat and Steve to thank for that, in large part, because all the best pieces of that core are things they gave him, or reminded him of.

And he thinks Steve and Nat gave each other things, too, while he was gone and while he was coming back. He hopes they can get past this, enough to remember that.

Natasha’s the one who relents first. “I think-- I think I was acting on hope, instead of intel,” she says. “That was childish of me. I wanted you to feel safe,” she tells him, and looks past him to Steve. “Both of you.”

And that’s enough for Steve to soften a little. “I’d rather fight next to you than be kept safe,” he says. “I think you’ve figured that out by now.”

“It comes up in your psych profile about twice a page,” Nat says, “So yes. I know. Apparently I have chivalrous instincts I wasn’t aware of.”

“People get that way around me,” Steve says, elbowing Bucky a little. He elbows back, snickering. “Wish I knew why.”

“It’s the face you make when you’re upset,” Bucky says. “Always made me want to kiss it better.”

“Yeah?” Steve says, and that’s enough of an excuse for Bucky. Kissing Steve feels more electric than it has lately, somehow-- Steve’s mouth is hotter on his, and Steve’s hands creeping under the hem of his t-shirt send up sparks the way he remembers they did in the old days.

And then Natasha’s hands are on his shoulders, and she’s leaning in to nip at his ear. He makes a startled noise into Steve’s mouth-- Nat bites hard-- and Steve breaks the kiss long enough to distract Natasha, kissing her intently over Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky drops a kiss on Natasha’s cheek while they’re at it, and she hums in response.

“Hey,” Bucky says in her ear, “I got an idea.”

In the bedroom, Steve holds Nat steady in his lap, her head tipped back against his chest, his hands on her hips. She shudders a little when Bucky leans in to bite at her inner thigh, and taps at his shoulder with her heel.

“It’s not polite to keep a lady waiting,” she says, already breathing a little uneven.

“You ain’t a lady,” Bucky says, smirking up at her. He can feel Steve’s chuckle echo through her, along with her own laugh.

She’s right, though, so he gets down to business, working two slicked-up fingers inside her, putting his mouth on her. It’s been a while, and takes a minute to find the right rhythm, to press the flat of his tongue against her clit while he crooks his fingers just so. When he gets it right, she arches against him, straining up against Steve’s hands, her heel digging into the back of his shoulder.

He does it again, pressing in with tongue and fingers, sucking a little on the spot the he knows will make her crazy. And it does, it makes her cry out and writhe against Steve, makes her say his name between shuddering breaths. She’s got one hand tangled with Steve’s on her hip, and the other in his hair, tugging just enough to feel good.

Bucky knows she’s close, that it’d only take a little more to put her over, but he kind of wants to draw things out some. He doesn’t stop the slow thrust of his fingers inside her, but he does pull back to catch his breath for a moment, to look up the length of Natasha’s body to where Steve is kissing her throat. They’re gorgeous, the both of them, and they’re his, this both of them, and he’s theirs, body and whatever’s left of his soul.

Maybe drawing things out is overrated. He leans in to lick at Nat’s clit again, faster this time, angling his wrist so he can fuck her harder with his fingers. She’s taut as a wire under him, for a long moment, and then she clenches around his fingers and skitters her heel down his back and gives his hair one last convulsive pull.

Bucky presses a kiss to her thigh and props himself up on his elbows. Nat’s eyes are closed, her breathing starting to slow, and she wriggles against Steve in one long satisfied stretch. “Mm,” she says, and blinks her eyes open to look down at him. “You have good ideas,” she tells him.

He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “Known for it,” he agrees, his voice a little rough. He’s hard as a rock, now, aching for whatever comes next. “Ask Steve, he’ll tell you.”

Steve has some ideas of his own. Since they involve Bucky facedown on the bed, grinding his hips down into the sheets and arching up against Steve’s fingers as he works Bucky open, he’s willing to concede that Steve’s ideas aren’t bad either.

He wants more, though. “Jesus,” he manages to say. “Fuck. Steve, you gotta-- c’mon, already--”

“Yeah?” Steve says. “You sure?”

“Yes,” Bucky hisses, and gets his knees under himself, pushing up on his arms. When Steve’s cock presses into him, Bucky lets his head hang down, focusing on pushing back against Steve until he’s all the way in.

Steve pulls back a little, enough to get leverage for a thrust, and Bucky makes a choked-off noise. “Do that again,” he says, and Steve obliges. Bucky feels like every nerve in his body is lighting up.

Natasha, sprawled next to them on the bed, reaches out suddenly to push his hair out of his eyes. It’s unexpectedly tender; he grins foolishly at her, and she at him. Then her expression goes calculating, and she sits up. “Steve,” she says, and then murmurs something in his ear that Bucky can’t quite catch, too distracted and too blissed-out.

“Oh,” Steve says, “yeah, okay.” He slings an arm around Bucky’s chest and pulls, so Bucky lurches upright with his back against Steve’s chest. It changes the angle, pushes Steve deeper in a way that makes Bucky swear and arch. Steve thrusts up into him a couple of times like that, and it’s almost unbearably good; Bucky thinks he might come without anyone even touching his cock.

But Natasha’s got ideas, too. Bucky opens his eyes when she puts her hands on her shoulders, and she grins at him, almost the grin he remembers from when they were both pretending not to care about getting caught. This one’s freer, without any shadows in it, and it’s followed up with a deep, searing kiss.

The Nat climbs astride him, and Bucky figures out what she’s got in mind about half a second before she rolls a condom onto his cock. She guides him into her body and grinds down, and he grinds down on Steve, and it’d be too much if it wasn’t everything he wanted. Steve’s strong enough to move both of them with each hitch of his hips, and Nat’s got her arms twined around his neck and her head thrown back, and he’s making a game attempt to mouth at Nat’s breasts but mainly he’s just trying to hang on.

Most of him’s preoccupied with feeling, with the fireworks going off in his body, but the little bit of thinking he’s got left can tell that Steve’s getting close. When Steve comes, he pushes in deep and pants in Bucky’s ear, his arm going tighter around Bucky’s chest. Nat chooses that moment to clench around him, and that’s all it takes-- he comes with a low moan and a stutter of his hips. The world doesn’t go away, this time-- but then, his world isn’t all that broad to begin with. He doesn’t need more world than Steve and Nat, right now.

They slow down, the three of them, stop moving and just hang on to each other for a moment. The Nat climbs off his lap, and Bucky falls forward off of Steve, flopping facedown on the bed with a satisfied sigh. “Whew,” he manages. “That was-- whew.”

In a minute, he’ll get up, and clean up, and the three of them will arrange themselves in a sleepy, sated pile. Maybe Steve and Nat will fool around a little more-- Steve’s probably got another round in him, even if Bucky’s wrung out. Maybe he’ll watch them, and maybe he’ll kiss them by turns while they fuck.

He thinks, for a moment, about the man who walked into SHIELD HQ, months ago, with an echoing emptiness in his head. It’s strange and uncomfortable to remember-- the blankness, the lack of anything he could define himself by, anything but the orders he’d been given. Even then, though, he’d wanted something more than orders. Even then, he’d wanted to be something other than the Soldier.

He doesn’t feel empty, anymore, in his head or in his heart. He knows who he is. He knows what he wants. His world is small, for now, but it can only expand from here.

He’s awake, now. No more ice.