They need to take Grant to the dentist. They both know it; they've been side-stepping it for a few days, since Pepper mentioned it in passing. Bucky spent a lot of time in the dentist's chair during the war, when they were trying to fix up soldiers' teeth, but he doesn't remember much besides the feeling of two gold teeth in the back of his mouth. Those, of course, disappeared when he became the Winter Soldier; he has no idea if Zola's version of the serum made him somehow regrow the teeth or if the normal-looking teeth he now sports aren't actually teeth. He chooses not to think about the other option, that the teeth are real teeth but not his real teeth.
Steve had been a good brusher as a child, thanks to his nurse mother, and probably got extra-strong enamel with the serum. When he first woke up and found out about regular dental visits (“Every six months?” He'd asked Pepper, aghast), he'd dutifully scheduled a check-up. The hygienist had almost fainted when he said his last dental visit had been in 1944.
But with everything that's happened with Grant, they've been putting off the dentist. Finally, Bucky reads a scathing post on a mommy-blog about tooth decay in children and they schedule an appointment. The problem is, they don't know any dentists. They'll have to take Grant to some office, to some stranger, like regular people.
Bucky seems personally offended by this.
“Stark's a billionaire and he doesn't have a dentist in the Tower?” He asks on the subway. One day a week, Bucky forces himself to take the train. He usually holds onto a rail with white knuckles, but he's getting better with Grant there to focus on.
“It'll be good,” Steve says, wincing as Grant presses his face against the grimy window. He studiously tries not to think about how many other people's mouths have touched that window. “He can be normal for once.”
Steve should have known better.
The waiting room isn't terrible; there's a corner full of toys for the kids to play with while their parents fill out what feels like an entire ream of paperwork. Grant sits at the edge and watches the other kids playing, but he doesn't join in no matter how many encouraging nods Steve and Bucky give him. He's getting so much better at interacting with people, but this is a new place and these aren't his regular daycare friends he's gotten used to. They have to wait for what feels like forever, and then a woman in scrubs opens the door to the back and calls,
“Grant Barnes-Rogers.” Steve and Bucky grin at each other for a second over the hyphenated name.
“Ready, kid?” Bucky asks. Grant gets even more shy and scared and wants to be carried, and he won't respond to the hygienist's attempts at small talk with him. It doesn't take long to get to the room, and the woman gestures them in and says,
“Have a seat in the chair.”
And that's when Bucky loses it.
He's got Grant in his arms and the first sign of trouble is the way his entire body stills, going from loose and relaxed to coiled and on alert. Every single movement freezes and it's not something Steve can miss.
“Buck?” He asks cautiously, holding up a hand so the hygienist will stay outside the room.
Bucky's eyes dart over to Steve but he doesn't move any other muscle. Steve curses himself. He should have known. There's a goddamn chair right in front of them, a chair that reclines and has equipment facing it, a chair that doesn't have restraints but still looks all too similar to the chair that Bucky can only associate with pain and erased memories.
“Stevie.” Bucky's voice is urgent. “We been made somehow, I guess. Take the kid and go. You know where the go bags are; don't go back to the Tower.”
“Bucky.” Steve wants so badly to touch him but he doesn't think it's a good idea. “It's not HYDRA. It's a dentist.”
“Papa?” Grant asks hesitantly.
“Go to Daddy.” Bucky kisses Grant's hair and starts handing him to Steve. “Steve, go.”
“Buck.” Steve takes Grant but stands firm in the doorway. “No one's going to hurt you.”
“They're here for the kid,” Bucky hisses. “I'm not letting that happen.”
“They're not going to hurt Grant,” Steve promises, feeling helpless. He's glad Bucky hadn't just gone straight into Winter Soldier mode and started trying to kill people; he'd have to stop him if that were the case, and he's not sure who'd be more traumatized, himself or Grant.
“Tony did background checks on this whole office, remember?” Steve continued, voice pitched low and soothing. “And then you checked. You ran surveillance for two days.”
Bucky's starting to breathe faster, a sign that he's confused between what he thinks he knows and what he's seeing. Steve warily puts a hand on Bucky's shoulder and can feel every muscle tight and tense beneath his hand.
“I ran surveillance,” Bucky mumbles.
“You did. You didn't find anything wrong.”
“I didn't find anything,” Bucky repeats. He sounds faraway, but Steve recognizes that he's coming back. He finally moves—turns his head, just enough to see Steve standing there holding Grant—and lets out a long, slow breath. He covers his face with his hands.
“Okay?” Steve asks. Bucky shakes his head, tugging at his hair a little.
“Daddy?” Grant whispers in Steve's ear. He hasn't seen many of Bucky's flashbacks and so far, luckily (Steve wants to knock on wood), he hasn't seen any violent ones.
“It's okay,” Steve promises him. “Papa just needs to take a deep breath.”
“I'm sorry,” Bucky murmurs, running a hand through his hair. At least he's not pulling it anymore.
“Buck, you don't need to be sorry,” Steve says firmly. Bucky finally looks at Grant.
“Hey, kid.” He smiles, a half-smile that's twisted with bitterness, and Grant stares back solemnly.
“Did you have a nightmare?” He asks worriedly. Bucky sighs a little.
“Yeah, guess I did.”
“Do you need a hug?” It's what they always ask him when he wakes up in the middle of the night. That gets a real smile out of Bucky, though it's still small. He holds out his arms and Grant wraps an arm around his neck, keeping one around Steve, too, so they're in a semi-circle group hug.
“Thanks, kid,” Bucky says, voice muffled from where he's resting his face against the side of Grant's head.
“Mr. Barnes-Rogers?” The hygienist sounds supremely freaked out and no one can really blame her.
“Uh.” Steve pulls away so he can turn around, rubbing the back of his neck. “It's—we're fine. Grant's ready.” He looks back at Bucky and Grant. “Right?” Bucky nods and Grant looks between them a few times.
“Not gonna hurt me?” He clarifies.
“Well, it might hurt a little.” Steve can't lie; the dentist used those pointy things on his gums and he'd been ready to cry about it as a scientifically-enhanced grown man. “But we're not going to let anyone do anything bad to you.”
Grant takes a minute to think this over, then nods hesitantly. He slides down from Bucky's arms and climbs up into the chair. Bucky's muscles shiver a little, like he's going to reach out and pull Grant away, but he stops himself. The hygienist gives Steve a questioning look and he nods, smiling brightly. She raises an eyebrow slightly but goes in to get to work. Steve steps up to Bucky's side and leans their shoulders together.
The woman gives Grant a pair of sunglasses and lowers the chair so he's lying back. Distress is practically radiating off Bucky, but he's trying to hold it together so he doesn't freak Grant out more. When she starts poking around in Grant's mouth, a tray of instruments at her side, Bucky makes a strangled little noise. Steve can't take it anymore.
“Go sit in the waiting room,” he says quietly. Bucky takes a deep breath in and holds it, shakes his head.
“'m fine,” he insists. “I can handle it.”
She's still poking around and must hit a sensitive spot because Grant whimpers a little and Bucky takes half a step forward. He stops and runs a trembling hand through his hair.
“Buck.” Steve gets a hand on Bucky's shoulder and squeezes. “There's nothing wrong with sitting in the waiting room. Okay? This isn't good for you.”
“I can't—Steve, I gotta...” Bucky's breathing hard, eyes wide and scared.
“Go wait outside,” Steve practically growls. Seeing Bucky like this over something as innocuous as a dentist's office is like a punch to Steve's stomach.
Bucky shakes his head again, but he bites his lip so Steve knows he's trying to figure out how to explain himself. “It'll be worse if I don't watch,” he says softly. “I need to make sure nothing happens to him.”
Steve's ready to accept this until the hygienist finishes what she's doing and says, “Okay, he's prepped. I'll go get the dentist.” Bucky's face drains of all color and his lip is starting to curl into a snarl.
“Bucky,” Steve murmurs. Bucky shudders and stays back. “I'll be in here with Grant. You know I won't let anything happen to him. But you need to get out of here. You can't watch this.”
Bucky's breath is coming out jittery as the dentist strides in, and he puts a mask over his face and Bucky makes a small whining sound and clings to Steve's arm.
“Okay,” he finally says. “I gotta—I have to go out there.” He's breathing raggedly and Steve asks the dentist to wait a second. Bucky makes his way, haltingly, to the chair and Grant waves at him.
“Hey, kid.” Bucky's trying hard to keep his voice steady. “I'm going to wait outside, okay?”
“Is Daddy staying?” Grant asks, lower lip trembling slightly.
“I'm staying,” Steve confirms. “Papa's going to go back out and do...grownup stuff. Paperwork.”
Grant examines Bucky's pale, sweaty face and narrows his eyes a little. “Because your nightmare?” He asks, too shrewd for his age.
“Yeah,” Bucky admits softly. “This chair is like my nightmare.”
Grant nods seriously and reaches a hand out to poke Bucky's arm. “It's okay,” he promises. “I can be brave.”
Bucky's going to break down if he doesn't leave that second. He bends down and kisses Grant's forehead, rasping his stubble against Grant's baby-smooth skin enough to make Grant shriek and giggle. Steve follows him into the hall and gives his hand a squeeze.
“It's okay,” he says before Bucky can apologize. “I should've known better.”
Bucky wants to protest that he should be better, but it's not a discussion to be had here. He goes out to the waiting room and sits with his head in his hands and hears the secretaries whispering about him. When Steve and Grant come out, he's stopped shaking and is sitting upright. Grant runs out and throws himself against Bucky's knees.
“How'd it go, kid?” Bucky's voice is strong and Steve beams at him.
“I don't have any catties,” Grant reports. “And I got a new toothbrush but I like the one at home.”
“You can use both,” Bucky says, standing up and taking Grant with him. Steve lets his hand fall to the small of Bucky's back as they leave the office. Steve doesn't even say anything as he completely bypasses the subway station. Bucky shoots him a glance and Steve shrugs.
“Nice day,” he says nonchalantly. “Not too far to walk.”
Bucky smiles softly at him. Steve knows the train would be a disaster after what happened in the office, but Bucky appreciates that he isn't going to make a big deal of it.
“Yeah, 'cause you're not carrying the kid,” Bucky grouses.
“Buck, you have a metal arm.” Steve rolls his eyes. “It doesn't even get tired.”
“Hey, pal, my metal arm is attached to my body with screws,” Bucky reminds him. “Heavy objects could pull those screws right out.”
Steve laughs out loud at that. A year and a half ago, when he first got Bucky back, he would've been terrified at that prospect (actually had been terrified, and refused to let Bucky carry anything in case it was hurting him), but he knows better by now. “Oh, yeah, because Tony would make screws that could come out like that. And a twenty-four pound toddler's enough to do that.”
“You never know,” Bucky shoots back, fake-solemn. He looks at Grant. “What do you think? Are you big enough to pull my whole arm off?”
Grant looks horrified. “Your arm will fall off?” He gasps.
“Maybe,” Bucky teases. “If you're big enough.”
“No! I'm just tiny!”
Steve and Bucky laugh, because he is tiny. “Don't worry, my arm won't fall off,” Bucky reassures him when it's apparent Grant is actually worried. “It wouldn't even fall off if I carried him.” He nods toward Steve.
“Whoa.” Grant's eyebrows shoot up to his hairline. “But Daddy's so heavy.”
“Hey,” Steve complains mildly. "First Sam, now you. A guy just can't get respect around here."
“That's how strong I am,” Bucky says.
“I could pick you both up,” Steve cuts in. “Right now. Want me to? I could lift that car.”
Bucky laughs, so Grant does, too, even though he doesn't completely understand what's going on. “You just want to show off,” Bucky accuses teasingly.
“Sounds like my honor's at stake here.”
“Oh, you know how I feel about your honor...”
“Buck.” Steve narrows his eyes, fake-warning, and shoots a look at Grant. Bucky wiggles his eyebrows lecherously and Steve can't keep a straight face.
When they get home, Grant takes his bag off Steve's arm and runs into the bathroom to brush his teeth, saying he doesn't want his teeth to fall out (“Ah, hell,” Bucky grimaces. “What do you think's gonna happen when he finds out about baby teeth?”)
Bucky collapses onto the couch with a sigh. He's been holding it together the whole way home, but he feels exhausted after the flood of flashbacks and anxiety and the effort of pulling himself back. It happens less often these days, thanks to time and a healthy helping of regularly scheduled intense therapy sessions.
Steve runs his fingers through Bucky's hair from behind the couch. “Tough day,” he says. Bucky grunts in response, tilting his head to give Steve better access to his scalp. They can hear Grant singing the ABCs while he brushes his teeth, probably spitting toothpaste all over the mirror. Steve's fingers stop their journey at elemenopee and Bucky whines a little in protest. Steve laughs and bends down to kiss Bucky's hair.
“We got through it, Buck.” Steve rests his cheek against the top of Bucky's head. T-U-V.
“Still gonna be more tough days,” Bucky says softly.
“Mm.” Steve wraps his arms around Bucky's neck and if it weren't Steve Bucky would start plotting escape routes. “Fine by me.”
Bucky grins and, because he's a sap, bends his neck a little to kiss Steve's arm. Steve laughs at him and kisses his hair again.
Next time won't you sing with meeeeee. Grant holds out the last note and then cracks up laughing at himself, which makes Steve and Bucky crack up laughing, too. Bucky tilts his head back far enough to dislodge Steve and get an upside-down kiss on the lips. Maybe Bucky doesn't mind tough days too much either.