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Old Lullabies

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Bucky comes and goes as he pleases, and Steve doesn't say anything about it because he’s too afraid of doing something to make Bucky leave forever. His departures become less frequent, though, and on Thursday he even tells them he is going to leave.

"I’m going. I’ll come back."

"O-okay," Sam says, making the face that he makes when Bucky has done something completely incredibly unexpected but it mustn't be pointed out.

"Call me if you need anything," Steve says, and Bucky nods, hoisting the duffle bag higher on his shoulder and walking out Sam's front door.

Sam stares at the door, then at Steve. “That was five whole words, Steve.”

Steve nods blankly.

Five. Words.

"That’s definitely five more words than I was expecting to hear from him tonight."

"He’s on the up-and-up. Who knows, maybe he’ll come back with some Starbucks."

Bucky does not come back with Starbucks.

**

They don’t know when Bucky comes back, because it’s in the middle of the night and all the doors and windows are secured. (Steve left the door unlocked for him the first time he left, then two days later watched as Bucky came in through the window, so. No point.) They only know he’s back because at five in the morning, there is a soft whimpering sound, and then another, and then that is definitely a baby crying.

"Steve," Sam hisses, kneeling by the couch and shaking Steve’s arm roughly. "Steve. Steve. Jesus Christ, man, Steve.”

Steve swats blearily at his hand and sits up, looking around and listening for the threat. Nothing. A baby is crying somewhere, but that’s - wait -

"Is that coming from the guest room?"

Yes, Steve.”

Steve gets up, crossing the living room in bare feet and stopping a moment in the hallway to listen. The serum means he can hear other things, quieter things - the shuffling of fabric, the quiet sound of someone humming a tune under their breath. Bucky.

Bucky’s never brought so much as a food wrapper back to the house. Steve has no idea how this happened.

He steps forward, knocking very quietly before opening the door. He knows Sam is right behind him, and despite Bucky’s on-the-fence feelings about Sam, Bucky does not even look up to look at either of them. He is seated on the floor with crossed legs, holding up an infant in a grey onesie that desperately needs to be washed.

"Hi, Bucky," Sam says, and Bucky still does not look up. He is still humming, studying the child’s face, taking in the details of the crumpled anguish and despair. Bucky chews his lip, pauses, and then lays the child delicately against his right shoulder, supporting it with his metal arm. The child fusses but begins to quiet down.

"Bucky," Steve tries, because this cannot be put off, not like so many other odd behaviors, because that baby belongs to someone, “where did you get that?”

"Him." Bucky sits up a little straighter, readjusting his grip on the baby and craning his head around to see if the child’s expression has changed. It looks wary, but far less distressed. He looks wary, Steve should say.

"Okay, he." Sam takes a cautious step into the room, waits to see if Bucky doesn’t like it, and then takes another one. "Where did you get him?"

"U Street." Bucky slowly gets to his knees, then to his feet, moving smoothly and keeping his eyes on the tiny - it - it can’t be a year old. Steve is baffled.

"Why did you take him, Bucky?"

"The trash truck was coming."

Steve tries to recreate this in his mind. “The child was in the street?” In a stroller, perhaps?

Bucky shakes his head, walking to his bed and laying the baby down very, very gently. He stares at it a moment. It wibbles as if considering another outburst, but decides against it. Bucky pulls his pillow down from the headboard and lays it between the baby and the edge of the bed.

"Dumpster," Bucky says finally, and walks past Sam and Steve to go to the linen closet.

"You found a baby in a dumpster?" Steve tries to keep his tone as even as possible, but he can’t. Bucky, meanwhile, looks fine. So often he looks completely vacant, or like someone biting back the expression of pain from a fresh wound. Right now, he doesn’t look vacant, exactly. He looks … preoccupied.

"He was crying, and then he stopped. I dug him out. He was under too many things. He started breathing again. I waited, for." Bucky frowns, not knowing how to finish the sentence. For the parents to come? For someone to tell him what to do? "I waited. Then it was morning. The trash truck was coming. So I got out and took him with me."

Bucky pulls out two clean pillowcases, a washcloth, a towel. He brings them back to the bed and looks at the baby again.

"He needs a bath."

**

Sam reports that the he called Child Services and got an automated message about the administration building currently being out of service due to a large freaking chunk of SHIELD debris having fallen through two floors. The voicemail inbox is full.

Steve watches Bucky wash his hands up to the forearm, then fill the sink with warm water and get a small glass from the cupboard. He does this with one hand, because the metal one is currently holding the baby to his shoulder.

"He just…" Sam looks at Bucky, clearly trying to connect the man who couldn’t speak or hardly eat to the man he’s looking at now.

"He had two baby sisters," Steve murmurs, remembering. "I mean, he knows what to do with kids. Knew. Still knows.”

"We gotta watch him, man."

"Oh, obviously."

**

They do. The baby gets a bath, which he seems delighted with, and when that’s done he’s gently toweled off and put back in his onesie. (Bucky washed it by hand, but most of the stains did not come out.)

The baby makes a cooing noise as he’s buttoned back up. Bucky holds him up at arms length, studying him carefully, before pulling him in and cradling him against his shoulder.

"You should buy diapers," Bucky informs Sam flatly, and goes back to his room.