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your company is bittersweet (but I'll come home anyway)

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It is the summer of 1939, and Stella Grace Barnes is pregnant.

 

Their routine changes drastically. Bucky comes home early more often, instead of drinking late into the night with his friends from the docks. Stella no longer gets into fights that Bucky has to drag her out of. When she catches a bad cold she doesn’t deny it and really does stay home, because “ya got two people to protect now, Stella,” to which she’d responded, “and Bucky Barnes makes three.”

 

She still tries to find part-time jobs, since babies are expensive and Bucky is only a dock worker. But in between she redecorates the dingy apartment, and they finally fix the dripping faucet. Stella pins her sketches on the empty brown walls, but keeps the ones of her future child in the sketchbook. They’d have her rich golden hair, Bucky’s grey-blue eyes that could take on the colours of the world.

 

Sometimes, although the child may not be able to hear, Bucky talks to them, saying how excited he is, and Stella hums an old lullaby to which there are no words. Bucky tells her that in a few years, he’ll save up enough money to buy a real house with real windows to raise their children. Their domestic life is sickeningly sweet, and they couldn’t ask for anything more.

 

It doesn’t stay that way.

 

Soon it is the fall of 1939, and Stella Grace Barnes has taken the life of a child who never lived.

 

Bucky’s whispers of “ It’s not your fault ” and “ you have nothing to be sorry for ” do not reach her deadened heart. They both know that he’d wanted it so badly, but only he knows that he could never blame her.

 

Their routine changes drastically. Bucky drinks late into the night with his friends from the docks, instead of coming home early. He consoles her when he can, but she hasn’t said a word since the miscarriage, so he tries to give her space and time to grieve. Stella gets into more fights that Bucky has to drag her out of. She doesn’t say anything as he patches her up, and the touches of his hands on her skin are not intimate without their connection.

 

She still tries to find part-time jobs, since she is useless otherwise(she brushes off lies of “no, Stella, you’re everything to me”). The sketches of the child they could have had, the innocent laughter of a life that never was, all thrown away.

 

It is a few weeks before she talks to him. He comes home past midnight although his shift ended hours before, and she asks in a rough voice that has not been used in a long time, why he doesn’t just leave. His eyes widen.

 

“What? No, no - I could never leave ya, Stella,” he assures, stroking her hair.

 

“You always come back so late,” she sobs into his shoulder, tears spilling from reddened eyes. “I know you don’t want to see me anymore.”

 

“Shit - I’m so sorry, Stella,” he manages to get out, trying and failing for a steady, soothing voice, “I thought you wanted space from me.”

 

“You stupid bastard!” she yells as she pulls away from his chest, ragged sobs wracking her body with hitched breathing. “I’ll always want ya around, I’m sorry for being selfish, please don’t leave,” she cries.

 

“Never. I’ll never leave you, no matter what ya do. Ya didn’t do nothin’ wrong.” Bucky mumbles as he embraces her again.

 

The tears flow and her breathing comes out ragged for a long time.

 

“Did you mean it?” she asks heartbreakingly quiet after she stops. “You’d stay with an ugly back-talking gal with more diseases she can remember, can’t even give you a child?”

 

“None of that is your fault. I fell in love with a stubborn girl with a beautiful, kind soul whom I can never deserve, not in a thousand lifetimes.” There is a sharp intake of breath. “Your body will never stop me from staying with ya.”

 

“‘Til the end of the line?”

 

“‘Til the end of the line.”

 

Their domestic life is not perfect, but it never was, and they will always be happy in each other’s arms.

 

It doesn’t stay that way, because Pearl Harbor is attacked.

 

----

 

“Don’t do anything stupid until I get back,” he’d said before he left. But he’d said that to Stella Grace Barnes, not Steven Grant Rogers, her alter ego that just might get her into the army.

 

Unfortunately her short hair, thin lips and nearly absent breasts were not good enough of a disguise. Fortunately Dr. Erskine was still willing to give her a chance.

 

“There is a near certainty that this process will make you infertile,” the white-haired man tells her on the night before she is to receive the serum. “You can still back out.”

 

She thinks back to the sketches of a child who never lived, thrown away in grief. The word “Mommy” laughed out from between lips that never even formed in her barren womb.

 

“Doesn’t matter. My body’s too weak to have a child anyway,” she tells him softly. “‘Sides, I’m gonna help a lot more than poppin’ out a baby, right?” He smiles.

 

“Yes you will.”

 

Stella proves him right, very right. Hydra bases topple like dominoes, if dominoes fell in fiery explosions as the Howling Commandos drove away from them on motorcycles. She hopes he can see the results of his hard work from up in Heaven. While she has to pretend to be a man(because they are still doing propaganda), she doesn’t mind being a symbol if she knows she is real, and can fight for her country.

 

The short-haired blond woman bemoans the fact that despite her infertility, she still has to suffer periods as she burns through hormone blockers too quickly. Peggy is sympathetic, as she always is. She’s close to the Howling Commandos, but there are some things one simply cannot talk about with a man. Not that Stella and Peggy talked only about ‘women’s issues’, of course.

 

On the night after his rescue from Azzano, Bucky becomes angry that she did this to herself, but assures that he doesn’t care about her infertility. He loves her soul, not her body. Bucky doesn’t have to use protection that night when they make love, which is more convenient. She has real, full breasts now, and she doesn’t have to tiptoe to reach his lips. Bucky doesn’t have to worry about breaking her when they fuck every night.

 

He always makes sure to remind her that he loves her just the same as he did before, although a childish part of him is ruffled by the fact that she is much stronger than him.

 

But she’s not worried about herself, she’s worried about Bucky. His soft grey-blue eyes have become ice blue, and he gives only vague descriptions of the torture in the Hydra base. He insists that he’s fine, that he’s recovered. She knows it’s bullshit, but saving the world is a bigger priority. Exploding buildings and Nazis seem to help him recover anyway.

 

When her periods stop for a couple of months, Stella assumes that the serum made them irregular, and takes it as a blessing. There are more important things to think about.

 

Like Bucky slipping from the railing, her wanting so badly to follow but knowing she couldn’t until all the Hydra bases were nothing but ash.

 

People can do many things in the name of vengeance, but try as they might, they cannot live with themselves on hatred and loss alone. This is what Captain America, a woman so young but worn by hardship is left with, as Schmidt is vaporised and her duty is fulfilled but for one thing.

 

They know Stella won’t make it for the girl’s night out with Peggy that they plan as she brings the plane into the ice. But if Heaven is the perfectly happy place she’d made it out to be, maybe she’d be with Bucky again in their shitty apartment they called home.

 

----

 

It is the summer of 1945, they tell her. It is a lie.

 

It is the winter of 2011, and everyone she knows is dead, or close to it.

 

She thinks — she knows there can be nothing left for her.

 

After she runs out from the SHIELD building, they get another agent, Maria Hill, to break the other news to her, because apparently Nick Fury has other, better things to handle. Stella idly wonders if Agent Hill had been born in a cold winter like this, with her stoic demeanor and emotionless expression. She then remembers that Peggy had seemed cold before she punched Hodge in the face, and reserves her judgement.

 

Dr. Erskine was wrong, apparently, because Stella Grace Barnes has been pregnant for over 60 years with a dead man’s child, in her second trimester. The serum hides her pregnancy well due to stronger stomach muscles, and her abdomen will only start expanding noticeably in a month.

 

“How are you feeling right now?” Maria asks, cautious as this is a woman who has burned down Hydra bases and people alike. The woman out of time takes in a deep breath, and breathes out again.

 

“Fuck.”

 

There is a moment of silence.

 

“Agreed.”

 

Agent Hill is the one who eases Stella into the world in the first two months, and is also assigned to protect her. Pregnant women are slower targets, and a child with the super-soldier serum in their DNA could be a useful weapon for terrorists. “Let them try,” Maria challenges as she places another gun in her holster.

 

Stella does some research. After the war, Peggy Carter revealed to the world that Captain America was a woman, causing an uproar that faded into a better, less discriminatory society. She visits the ex-director in the nursing home, the young fiery Agent Carter shining through her aged body. “I may be old,” Peggy rasps, “but you can bet your patriotic arse that I’m gonna stick around long enough to see your little bastard when it’s born.”

 

Agent Hill is the one who suggests that social media might help the public see her as a real person, and not just a symbol of fighting the patriarchy, though she is welcome to be that as well. She runs a tumblr blog, posting her sketches and snippets of her life, her pregnancy and her apparently hilarious misunderstanding of pop culture. Eventually, she gets used to the taste and texture of the new Cavendish bananas, but still refuses to call them anything other than ‘evil yellow impostors’. It becomes something known as a meme, and people take pictures of bananas or any yellow thing, captioning them with ‘evil yellow impostors’.

 

Maria Hill is the one who gets her an apartment in DC after it is deemed safe for her to leave, who ensures that nobody, not even the Director of SHIELD, is going to send Stella on missions unless she wants to help. She still has to go to the Triskelion every week for a status update, although she’s sure her apartment has more bugs than her Brooklyn one did, so she meets the busy over-worked Maria just as often.

 

Maria Hill is the one who holds her hand as she gives birth to a beautiful baby boy with her rich golden hair and Bucky’s grey-blue eyes that could take on the colors of the world. The brunette only smiles a little when she becomes godmother, but Stella knows that despite her professional behaviour her heart is just as warm as anyone else’s.

 

They name him Aidan Hill Barnes.

 

(Peggy jokes that if Bucky had married her, the baby could’ve been Aidan Barnes-Carter with convenient initials, and Stella fakes extreme jealousy.)

 

Agent Hill applies for leave to help Stella with baby stuff. It’s stressful and she doesn’t know how to handle a baby and oh god she hasn’t baby-proofed anything and -

 

“You have a fucking child to protect. Don’t you dare break down on me.” Maria tells her angrily. She’s not very empathetic, but her rationality helps more than emotions would.

 

Soon everything settles down, and Maria can no longer stay. She is the Deputy Director of SHIELD, after all, but they remain friends.

 

Stella could live with her child comfortably for a hundred years on her army back pay, but decides not to. She wants to fight for the world, just as she did before, and she doesn’t have to pretend to be a man. However, she does have to pretend to like the hideous form-fitting catsuit Agent Coulson designs for her based on her comics, since he was apparently her biggest fan. After this mission she decides she will create her own outfit.

 

The Avengers are quickly thrown together, and she doesn’t quite know what to think of them. Natasha is unreadable, for now, but Stella knows that behind each professional badass secret agent there is a person. She eventually finds that in her. Bruce is quirky and slightly awkward, and Stella hopes that her attempts to befriend him are not intimidating. The attempts work, in the end. Thor is...peculiar, but he becomes a friend nonetheless, albeit one that is annoyingly chivalrous. Clint is immature but endearing, and he earns the nickname Clit Farton from her. He acts scandalised, because he can’t think of a good comeback.

 

Tony Stank is an asshole; this much is obvious. She tells him that everything he does is for himself, that he will never be anything remotely good and the only reason he isn’t a villain is because of the people around him. He tells her that everything special about her came from a bottle, and her child doesn’t deserve to grow up with such an irresponsible uncaring mother. Tony is forced to put on the Iron Man suit sporting a Stella’s fist-shaped bruise on his ugly face.

 

Phil Coulson is killed, and they must swallow their pride and fight together.

 

Later, she realises that his insults and rashness are a defense mechanism. He proves her words wrong as he flies through the portal with the bomb; she doesn’t need to do the same and prove herself to him.

 

The Avengers part as friends — friends plus Tony , she tells them, earning her a snarky insult she does not care to remember. It took a bit longer, but Stella decides Tony is her friend as well.

 

She and Maria realise that they fought a supernaturally strong guy who wanted to take over the world using the power of the Tesseract, who was defeated as a stubborn self-righteous hero fell from the sky but miraculously survived.

 

Maria notes that she couldn’t tell if it was 2012 or 1944.

 

If she was found later, or hadn’t had Maria, maybe Stella wouldn’t be able to tell either. But she is grateful that she’d had time to adjust, and she has a new purpose with Maria, the close friends she has in the Avengers, and Aidan, the light of her life. When Aidan starts sleeping through the night, Stella becomes a SHIELD agent.

 

After all, single working mothers are quite normal in the 21st century.

 

----

 

“Don’t you dare!” the furiously huffing man warns.

 

“On your right,” Stella laughs as she passes him easily.

 

She talks to Sam Wilson, a war veteran like her. Surprisingly, he doesn’t ask about Aidan like most interviewers do. He’s two years old now, and Stella has mostly managed to hide him from the paparazzi. He deserves a normal childhood, which he’d had so far. His first word was “Mama”, and all her friends had been disappointed that it hadn’t been “Murica, Fuck Yeah.” They promised to get him to say that eventually.

 

Stella decides that Sam Wilson is a good friend outside of work, which she has precious few of(two, as of now). Natasha, however, decides that Sam might be something more if she gave it a chance, to which she responds by jumping out of the quinjet into the water by the Lemurian Star.

 

When Natasha reveals that she had another mission, and Nick Fury introduces Project Insight, Stella wonders what she is still fighting for. Working for SHIELD no longer helps the world, it seems. Maria tries to convince her otherwise, but she’s always been too loyal to SHIELD. Sometimes you need to trust yourself.

 

When Nick Fury is shot inside her apartment with Aidan inside it, she does not need to wonder why she fights. Aidan is the only thing left of Bucky Barnes, and so she must protect him as best as she can, both from SHIELD and the man with the metal arm that glinted menacingly in the moonlight.

As best she can turns out to be pretty horrible, as he is left in daycare while she crashes through the window of the Triskelion, the vibranium shield breaking her fall. Natasha tells her about the Winter Soldier, and she decides to trust her again, though not completely. Stella borrows a phone from a civilian and calls a trustworthy part-time babysitter she knows called Peter Parker. She asks her to take care of Aidan while she is on a ‘spontaneous unplanned business trip’. Peter understands; this has happened many times before when she had SHIELD missions.

 

Stella responds to Zola’s taunt that her life was a zero sum with silence, because she knows it is not true. She thinks of Aidan and prays that he is safe from Hydra, and that she will be alive after this to come back to him after the explosion that destroys Camp Lehigh.

 

Sam Wilson lets them into his house, because he’s the only person they can go to who isn’t trying to kill them. As he takes the photo of Riley from her fingers, his eyes linger on it for a bit too long for someone who lost a friend, and Stella realises they may have more in common than they thought.

 

Sam Wilson also turns out to have greater aerial maneuverability than a normal pilot, another way of saying he has metal wings. The government calls him the Falcon. Stella knows there is a pun in there, but she can’t figure it out yet.

 

The fight with the Winter Soldier is rapid, sharp blows and powerful kicks that incapacitate neither. Eventually, she manages to flip him over, and he falls to the ground, getting up quickly.

 

His mask falls off.

 

She is hallucinating, she must be. The face she had studied so intimately as they kissed on their wedding day, in passionate moments as they caressed each other’s skin, the face she had known for 20 years was before her.

 

“Bucky?”

 

The Winter Soldier steps forward. “Who the hell is Bucky?”

 

The distraction and shock gets them arrested, although it doesn’t matter because Deus Ex Maria Hill is there to save them.

 

Nick Fury is alive, and Stella wonders why so many people are faux-dying. Their first conversation turns harsh, because he is reluctant to let go of SHIELD but they all know that he has to.

 

The first two helicarriers are disabled easily, but Sam is taken down and Stella is forced to fight her husband alone on the third. As the bullets rip through her stomach, it feels more like they are ripping through her heart instead.

 

She asks Maria to take down the helicarriers, and she cannot tell if it is 2014, with Maria’s voice coming through the comms, or 1944 with Peggy’s. Maria promises to take care of Aidan, voice trembling ever so slightly. But Stella hasn’t completely given up, because Bucky is still here.

 

As he mercilessly punches her, she notes that Bucky’s presence has considerably decreased her chance of survival. “I’m with you ‘til the end of the line,” she tells him. The words were exchanged in the hardest and happiest of times, when her mother died and as their wedding vows, said with innocence and with understanding.

 

She sees a flash of recognition and horror, but it may be wishful thinking. She doesn’t get the chance to find out before she falls. There is no ice to preserve her this time.

 

But there is Bucky.

 

There is Bucky, and she survives because of the warmth of the sun as he drags her onto the banks, not the cold of the Arctic.

 

The man with the metal arm stares at the breathing body. He knows her, he must. But he does not know himself. Is he the Winter Soldier? Is he Bucky? Perhaps he is neither.

 

Her friends will come for her soon. He can find himself later, he thinks as he walks away, dripping water and blood.

 

Stella wakes up with ribs and bullet wounds aching on the hospital bed, hooked up to multiple tubes.

 

“On your right,” she manages to get out.

 

“I can run faster than you right now,” Sam retorts.

 

“I bet you Fal can’t ,” she finally thinks of a pun, grinning widely despite the ache in her jaw.

 

When she recovers fully, Peter is there to hand Aidan back to her. She wishes she could promise him she’d never leave again as she holds him in her arms, but she can’t. It’s a lie. Maybe after she finds Bucky, or what’s left of him.

 

Oh god, what had they done to him? It was sickening, the merciless unending torture he’d endured as they molded the man she loved into someone who didn’t know his own name. The one time she was supposed to protect him instead of the other way around, and she failed. Maybe if she had reached further, or hadn’t crashed the plane and had looked for him…

 

She will burn what’s left of Hydra as she did before, only now she isn’t only fuelled by vengeance, but hope as well.

 

Natasha disappears after handling the public uproar over the SHIELD data dump, and Stella wishes her luck. Fury goes into hiding as well; it is easy for him since they just attended his funeral. Maria goes to work at Stark Industries, and reminds her to think about what she wants to protect. Later, Stella will realise her misinterpretation of this.

 

Sam, who has lost his other half as well, stays with her to find Bucky.

“When do we start?” he asks.

 

“How about now?”

 

----

 

“Well this has been a total fuckup,” Stella grumbles as she arrives in New York with Sam on the quinjet, funded by Stark Industries on the condition that she greets the billionaire as Lord Tony. Their last lead was a red herring, leading them only to a note that said ‘Stop looking.’ It was all the more frustrating due to the amount of nights spent chasing it, and all the leftover Hydra bases they’d scoured.

 

With nothing left in DC, Stella had moved to a somewhat nicer apartment in Manhattan, close to Avengers Tower but not in Avengers Tower because God knows how many ways Tony Stark might hurt her child. Sam was temporarily rooming with her until they found Bucky, because he still had a pretty nice house that he wasn’t willing to leave forever.

 

They know the note was from Bucky. They know he is Bucky and not the Winter Soldier, his handwriting hasn’t changed and his style of writing in the short notes he leaves is concise, but not cold. In recent months, he’s been regaining his sense of humour too; one tracker they’d managed to attach to him before he slipped away had led them to a buoy far offshore. Bucky was conspicuously absent from it, leaving the words “Made you look” on the buoy.

 

“Stop looking”. As if she would.

 

The problem is that she probably should stop looking. She’s still an Avenger, and Aidan can’t stay with Peter so often. He’s beginning to read now, and Stella doesn’t want to miss any more of his life.

 

But she can’t let go. She’s always been too stubborn.

 

Her phone rings, bringing them both into a fighting stance. They sigh as they realise how tired they are. Stella pulls out her phone.

 

“Hello?” she asks weakly.

 

“H-Hi, Mrs Barnes?” Peter Parker’s voice comes out in unsteady breaths. Stella’s eyes widen as she registers the sounds of sirens.

 

“What happened?” she breaths out.

 

“I-I’m so sorry, the man with the metal hand, he came to my apartment and attacked us. Aunt May’s okay but - “

 

Stella’s world stops, like it did when she lost her child, saw him fall into the mountains, heard that she had carried another life with her through the ice.

 

“He took Aidan.”

 

The phone drops from her hand and she runs.

 

----

 

James — he finds it convenient to call himself this — is perched on the open windowsill, gazing at the sleeping toddler. He wears soft navy blue clothes now, a compromise between being human and being invisible. The gentle wind from outside ruffles his long brown hair softly, like a skinny blond girl once did.

 

Peter Parker, 15. Superhero identity Spiderman. Superhuman speed, strength, agility and balance, able to grip onto vertical surfaces, shoots substance of extremely high tensile strength from a device on wrists. May surrender if civilians are held hostage. Do not engage in current state.

 

He shakes his head. No, he is human now. A weapon would not survive on its own without maintenance for nine months. A weapon cannot love. Hydra will not take him, use him again. Over the previous months, he’s been learning about James Buchanan Barnes, the man he was and the man he isn’t. He loved Stella, and he does too. But he’s not the man she used to know, and she deserves to rest easy.

 

James isn’t becoming human because of Stella. At least he doesn’t think so. He tries again.

 

Peter Parker, 15. Protects civilians when the law cannot. Has an aunt, May Parker, who loves him more than anything else in the world. He has a crush on Gwen Stacy from his school but is too shy to do anything about it, the stupid shit. Babysits Stella’s child, his child, part-time when she searches for a Bucky that no longer exists.

 

James lets out a silent breath he hadn’t known he was holding.

 

There is a wisp of blond hair that settles in the middle of Aidan’s forehead, out of place. The memories flash into his head, like a movie but so much more intimate. Stroking Stella’s hair to calm his little spitfire down. He can’t do that to her now. He’s unstable, and if he let her find him she’d never let him go. He would hurt her eventually, even if he doesn’t want to.

 

But maybe he’d allow himself this.

 

Just one touch.

 

It’s been so long since he’d had that.

 

He reaches out his flesh hand to Aidan’s forehead —

 

— just as the door of the guest room slams open and Peter Parker runs towards him —

 

James leaps from the windowsill over Aidan’s bed, slamming into the teenager with the force of a truck. Most 15-year olds would get a concussion, but this is a superhero and he is merely knocked to the ground. Bucky tries to get him into a sleeper hold, but fails. Peter slips away easily and throws him into the wall, sticking his metal arm to the wall with his artificial webs. Peter casts a momentary glance at the glint of his left hand.

 

A middle-aged woman bursts into the room. “Peter! What’s happening in here?” she shouts.

 

“Wait! Don’t come in!” Peter shifts his attention, and that’s all the time James needs to wrench out of the hold he’s in with his superhuman strength.

 

Unexpectedly, the webs are stronger than the wall and it gives way with a crumbling noise, dust and debris flying everywhere. Furniture flies across the room propelled by the wall, a bedside table slamming Peter into the opposite wall with a dull thud . Aidan is wailing, Aunt May is screaming, and Peter is groaning in pain.

 

It gives James enough time to snatch the toddler from his bed and use the man-sized chunk of wall, still attached to his arm, to smash into the wall and jump ten stories below onto the pavement, whatever is left of the concrete on his arm shattering. He ducks into an alley and soothes Aidan until he stops crying, then slips away into the night.

 

Peter stares through the gaping hole leading to the street that the kidnapper made in shock. He can no longer hear Aidan’s cries, and he hopes that it’s because he’s far away, not because he’s dead.

 

Aunt May, still shaken, comes back into the destroyed guest room. “I just called the police,” she said, slightly angry, “and now you are going to tell me exactly what happened, and how a 15-year old boy was able to restrain a superhuman .”

 

Well, it’s time she knew, anyway.

 

----

 

The police eventually find Aidan, sleeping peacefully in Stella’s New York apartment near the Tower. Everything seemed normal where he slept, except for one note left by his side.

 

“You got two people to protect now, Stella,” it says in scratchy handwriting. “Protect yourselves from me.”

 

The woman who has burned buildings and people alike holds the soft piece of paper delicately within her calloused hand and slumps to her knees.

 

Sam has to hold her for a long time as sobs wrack her body. It occurs to her that it is the first time she has been held so close since before their fall. It makes him angry and sad, to know how well Bucky has manipulated her into giving up.

 

He doesn’t quite know what he will see when she looks up again, drained of her will and stubbornness.

 

“I - I can’t , Sam. I can’t keep doing this to Aidan,” she gets out brokenly.

 

“I know.” All his time working at the VA, and Sam has never felt more helpless. Stella has always been so fierce, so determined. But love broke her in a way nothing else ever could, and her facade has been stripped away to reveal a delicate girl who needs help .

 

“What do I do now?” she wonders, tears drying on her pale cheeks.

 

He doesn’t quite know.

 

“We protect you, and you protect Aidan,” he replies simply. “And if we’re lucky, he will come back to you. But you can’t make him your entire life, not anymore.”

 

She nods tiredly and falls asleep in his lap.

 

Sam hopes that she is finally sleeping well for the first time since she thawed.

 

----

 

It is the spring of 2015. The Avengers, Sam, Maria and Peter have been her friends these past couple of months, helping her heal. It seems to work.

 

Sometimes, when she thinks Sam isn’t looking, she stares wistfully out the window. Hoping that Bucky is safe.

 

Sam must have developed mind-reading powers, because he always brings her out to cheer her up when she feels down. Sometimes with Natasha, or with Maria, or any of the Avengers. Sometimes to the cafe where Peter worked part-time(how much free time does he have?), sometimes to the park, or just to the street where they wander. Being outside, having fun with no purpose, is freeing.

 

(They don’t go to Brooklyn, or Coney Island. Not yet.)

 

She goes on missions, still, but always spends more time home than around the world, destroying Hydra bases and terrorist cells. Aidan is a curious, intelligent little boy, and if he is the only thing left of Bucky she can have, so be it.

 

One night she is woken by crying. It turns out to be a nightmare, memories of being kidnapped by Bucky from the apartment. He is far too young, she thinks. Her usual words of endearment don’t calm him down this time.

 

She remembers.

 

An old lullaby to which there are no words, sung a lifetime ago.

 

She makes her own words, singing softly for two people as she cradles her joy in her arms.

 

Come my child

 

Stay with me

 

I'll protect you and your dreams

 

Rest my child

 

Neath the tree

 

Like its branches reach for me

 

So let me keep you safe and warm

 

Here in my arms

 

Think of the life that we could live

 

The joy that it would give

 

Even if we're worlds apart

 

Stay in my heart

 

Someday when you've a choice to make

 

I hope you'll think of me

 

Think of me

 

Think of me

 

Stella breathes in and out, tears falling from her cheeks. She sings, to whom she does not know.

 

Maybe we'll

 

Meet again

 

And we'll have made many friends

 

But if you

 

Find you've strayed

 

I'll forgive you anyway

 

So stay determined as you grow

 

Love as you go

 

Think of the kindness that I've shared

 

And cherish those who care

 

Even when we're worlds apart

 

Stay in my heart

 

Someday you'll have a choice to make

 

I hope that you'll come home

 

Please come home

 

Just come home

 

Aidan stops trembling in her arms, but she does not. Maybe, if this is all she can have, it is enough.

 

“You sang that before,” a quiet voice comes, rough from disuse.

 

And Bucky is in the hallway, standing unsure with the body they changed and the soft grey-blue eyes that are older, but so much like they once were. She softly places Aidan down and stands up, reaching a hand slowly to meet him like he is an apparition.

 

And then they move together, melting into each other’s heat as they are pressed so tightly, never letting go. They are so close for the first time in decades , and it’s too much, too much and not enough. Aidan is crying because the man is not familiar, but Stella is crying because he is . She will always remember her home no matter how much it changes.

 

Maybe you’re not the same , she wants to tell him, but my love didn’t change one bit . She doesn’t have to tell him, because he knows now, how he’s been so goddamned stupid for the past year.

 

“Buck,” she sobs with happy tears, “you’re home .”

 

“I’ll always come home to you,” he whispers into her ear. “I love you.”

 

Maybe — maybe if Stella wants him just as much as he wants her — maybe he can be selfish enough to stay with her, and the family they made together.

 

And he does.

 

----

 

It is the summer of 2015, and they are a family again.

 

Their routine has changed drastically. Stella Grace Barnes retired from active duty, replaced by Sam Wilson, Wanda & Pietro Maximoff, James Rhodes and Vision. She still trains them, but she is done fighting.

 

Their domestic life is not perfect. Sometimes they have nightmares that wake Aidan and each other, and they fall asleep, all of them together. Sometimes Aidan asks about what they work as, where his parents’ parents are. Why Daddy wakes up screaming in another language. They will tell him, when he — when they are ready.

 

But for each trial, there are a thousand happy memories. Bucky being able to go out in the world without fear, holding his son’s tiny hand in his own. Seeing the man rebuild his life slowly, working at a bakery part-time near their apartment because he wanted something to do, to feel normal . Hearing the innocent giggle of her golden ray of sunshine. Bucky chatting with her friends, his friends. Plus Tony.

 

Life in the little home they’ve made for themselves is often bittersweet, but they have a home with each other. Bucky, Stella, Aidan and a new child still growing within her, because Stella Grace Barnes is pregnant once again.

 

They wouldn’t have this any other way.