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Yep, Sure Am Speechless, But I Picked You This Bouquet

Chapter Text

I parked at the Avengers compound and cut the engine. I took a few deep breaths as I tried to ready myself for walking back into the life I had put on hold. When my mom had called to tell me she was sick, cancer, I had packed up and left right away. Everyone understood, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was abandoning the cause. I didn’t think I would be gone so long.

When my powers failed to heal my mom… when I failed to do what I do best… well… let’s just say I had been gone longer than expected. A month or two had turned into over a year. I had still heard from Steve frequently. Tony called to check in, and get my vote on adding new members to the team, and other work things. Really, I think he was worried. I still hadn’t met Pietro or Wanda, but Wanda and I had Skyped a couple times, Pietro waving from the background, dashing around like he does. So, I wasn’t totally behind, but I still felt like I had a lot of catching up to do. An overwhelming amount.

This place was way different than the tower. Tony had assured me that I still shared a floor with Steve after the move. Each level of the residence area had three suites with a common area. Tony still insisted on the separate kitchen/dining/recreation group area, so the team would be encouraged to bond. Steve and I landed the coveted (by me) one floor away from the group area, guaranteeing me faster access to coffee.

 

Waiting for the elevator with my bag, I was happily surprised when Tony arrived with it. He grinned at my surprise as he stepped off the elevator and pulled me into a hug.

“Ellie! Missed you girl. I’d ask how you are, but, well… I’m glad to have you back.”

“I missed you, too, Tony. Let me settle in a bit, then we can catch up?” I asked.

He nodded, then looked at me… his patented ‘how do I say this’ look.

“Just spill it, Tony. You know I’m one of the few people that don’t mind the uncensored you.”

Tony sighed and nodded. “Okay, so I know you were planning on continuing to share your level with Steve, but I thought maybe you might want your own space… I can give you a level all to yourself, the other two suites empty, at least for now. It’d be nice, right? All for you!”

“Tony,” you started, raising an eyebrow. “Did you really give away my place to someone else? Seriously? Your ‘common kitchen only’ rule is bad enough, but you gave away my space before I even get to stay in it?”

“No! No, no, no. It’s just, well… you voted yes on Fucky, er, Bucky… and of course he was most comfortable staying with Cap… but I didn’t give him your room! He’s in the third room on your level with Steve. I didn’t think you’d want to stay there, with F-Bucky there. We were able to erase the trigger phrase from Bucky’s mind, but you know I’m still unsure of his… stability,” Tony finished, looking at me imploringly.

“I get why you’re worried, Tony, really I do. But I don’t want a new be on a new level. I have had enough change for a while. I want to stay near Steve. I know my power isn’t defensive, but it doesn’t need to be. I told you before, I trust Steve. He saved me. I could’ve been like Sgt. Barnes. Hydra found out I wasn’t ‘just’ a nurse. They could’ve…” I shivered at the thought. “The point is, if Steve or Sgt. Barnes are uncomfortable with me in my room on their floor, then I’ll move to your quarantine floor… otherwise, can I just stay in my real room? Please? It’s the closest floor to the kitchen, and thus, the coffee. Do you really want to be responsible for delaying my caffeine?”

Tony chuckled, shaking his head. “Okay Ellie Bellie. You can stay put… for now. Get settled. I’ll let everyone know you’re here. Nat, Cap, and Robo-arm are returning from a mission, they should be back soon, but haven’t arrived yet. Clint is home with his family, and Bruce is still in hiding, Rhodey still won’t agree to stay here, and Thor is… somewhere,” Tony shrugged. “So everyone only really consists of Wilson, Wanda, Vision, and Pietro. So, I guess the only person you actually know is, well, Wilson. I’m sure he will be happy to see you, and you’ll get to meet some new faces, so… yay,” Tony finished, hitting the button to call the elevator.

I kissed Tony’s cheek. “Thank you. Really.”

“Of course. And as you know, Jarvis has been replaced. F.R.I.D.A.Y. has already been set to recognize your commands. Just ask her if you need anything.”

“You had to make her female, huh? Just needed a female to serve you?” I replied, winking.

Tony smirked and let me off the elevator at my floor. “Later, Ellie.”

 

After unpacking my bag, I threw myself across the bed. The couple small boxes I had in the car could wait for a bit. It was a long drive and I felt worn out. Not an unusual feeling for me at this point. I had been sleeping a little more since my mom lost her battle almost three months ago, but it was still restless. I’d have terrible nightmares, or I would wake up thinking I needed to give her meds, or change her… but instead I was reminded that I was alone. Really alone.

Sleep washed over me before I realized it was happening.

Chapter Text

Bucky stepped off the quinjet ready to go relax a while before dinner. The mission had gone okay, but his left shoulder ached, and he had some bruising on his face. The busted lip was the worst though, the sting was distracting. Steve said he was going to check in with Tony. Steve was favoring his ribs on the right… Bucky wondered if he would stop in at medical before heading back to their floor.

Bucky walked off the elevator and started clearing the level. Steve always said it was overkill, but Bucky couldn’t help but make sure there was no threat. He started with the open living space, then checked Steve’s suite. Next he headed to the empty suite. Steve had mentioned Elizabeth to him, but Bucky knew she was gone indefinitely. He stepped into her suite and cleared the sitting area, moving to clear the bedroom and attached bath. Bucky froze when he saw the bed was occupied. His whole body tensed for a fight. Then he really looked at her.

She was curled into a tight ball on her side on top of the covers. Her long dark hair was a mess around her. She was still fully dressed in a hoodie, jeans, and boots. She couldn’t be comfortable like that. Bucky shook the thought away, turning to leave her to her sleep. He paused in closing the door to look at her again. He wanted to cover her up, make her more comfortable somehow. He jolted at the thought and closed the door without looking at her again.

 

Steve was in the common area when he reentered from the no longer unoccupied suite.

“Crap, Buck. I forgot about you clearing the floor. Did you scare Ella? Is she okay?”

“She didn’t see me… she’s… asleep.”

Steve released a breath, cringing a little his hand hovering on his right side. “Good, good. She got back earlier today. Tony said that he tried to convince her to take another suite. Give, you… us, some space. She refused, saying she’d only move if we wanted her to. Not because Tony is feeling… protective.”

Bucky nodded. “I’m not surprised Stark is still wary of me. He has every right to be. Did you stop by medical?”

Steve shook his head. “When I heard Ella was home, I wanted to make sure introductions went well first.”

Bucky nodded again, and then startled when he heard a new voice.

*********

“And why do you need medical this time, Steve?” I asked, entering the common area with a smile. I felt Sgt. Barnes’ eyes on me and turned my smile to him. He was looking at me curiously. I got the feeling not many people were able to sneak up on him, even if he was distracted.

“Ella!” Steve wrapped me in a hug, but I didn’t miss his cringe.

“Show me. Now. Don’t make me use my loud voice.”

Steve sighed, and I heard Sgt. Barnes chuckle… it was a good sound. Rich and warm. Perfect, if a little rusty. I turned to smile at him again, and saw the surprise on his face at his reaction. He settled himself and hesitantly returned my smile.

Steve lifted his shirt gingerly, and showed me his side. There was bruising and it looked like there could be damage to his ribs, bruising if not breaks.

“Okay, you know the drill… It might sting a bit if there are any breaks. Do you want to sit down?” I asked Steve as I gently put my hands on his side.

Steve shook his head, and Sgt. Barnes took a step towards us. “Steve, what’s going on?”

Steve looked up. “It’s okay, Bucky. Ella is going to help me… she’s… special.”

“I know you said she was a nurse, but…”

“I am a nurse,” I cut in. “But, I also have a bit… extra. You’re welcome to watch, Sgt. Barnes, but I really need to concentrate.”

Sgt. Barnes nodded, but remained silent.

I pressed gently on the bruised area and felt the warmth start in my hands. I could tell the damage was worse than it seemed. I took a breath. “Steve, this might hurt a bit. There is a puncture to your lung, and four broken ribs. I’ll be as gentle as I can, but it won’t be pleasant.”

“No, Ella, That’s too much of a drain…” Steve stopped with a gasp. Sgt. Barnes moved quickly to his side and helped support him. I focused on knitting the bone together and healing the lung tissue. There were spots in my vision. I hadn’t been eating like I should be if I was going to be doing major healing. Shit. I took another deep breath and kept my focus. The bruise began to disappear and I felt the bones strengthen and the lung heal.

“Done,” I whispered. My vision finally faded and I felt myself falling.

Chapter Text

“Shit!” Bucky jumped toward Elizabeth as he saw her start to fall. He caught her just before her head hit the floor. Steve looked startled, but shook himself out of it and guided Bucky, Elizabeth in his arms, toward the couch. Bucky laid her down, and sat in the chair next to her.

“She’ll be okay, Buck. Ella just expended too much energy. She needs to keep on top of her food intake if she is healing regularly. She should come around soon, and some juice will help a bit. A big meal will fix it all together. She made sure we all knew how to help if she ever overexerted. It’s rare, but it does happen. Usually she eats enough to balance out the energy loss. Do you want to get her some juice from the kitchen level?”

Bucky shook his head and scooted his chair closer to Elizabeth. “Can you get it, Steve? Please?” Bucky didn’t take his eyes off her as he asked, so he missed Steve’s raised eyebrows.

“Sure… sure Buck. Let F.R.I.D.A.Y. know if you need anything before I get back. Don’t worry, I’ll be fast,” Steve said as he headed toward the door. He looked back at Buck and Ella once before he pushed the button and got on the elevator.

 

Bucky watched the steady rise and fall of Elizabeth’s chest. He didn’t know why he didn’t want to go get the juice. He wanted to help, of course he did. He and Elizabeth hadn’t even been properly introduced yet. He just… couldn’t leave her. He sat forward as he saw her eyes start to flutter open.

“You’re okay, ma’am. Steve went to get juice. He’s fine. You’re on the couch in the common room. I’m… I’m Bucky.”

Elizabeth chuckled lightly as she opened her eyes fully. Bucky felt his chest tighten at the sound. He realized he really wanted to hear her say his name. This confused him more.

“I know who you are, Sgt. Barnes. And thank you. I’m Elizabeth. You’re welcome to call me that, or, let’s see if I can list them all…” she laughed softly. “You can also call me Ellie, Ella, or Elle. Then there are Lizzie, Liz, and Izzie. Beth and Bess are less common, but I still get them sometimes. So, basically, you can call me anything you’d like. Just not ma’am, please. I’ve already been through that once with Steve. I definitely don’t feel like a ma’am.” Elizabeth grinned at him as she finished.

Bucky felt himself chuckle. “That’s a lot of names for one person, doll.”

“Ooh! Doll? I think I like that one best of all, Sgt. Barnes,” Elizabeth gave him a warm smile. Bucky’s chest tightened again, and he felt warmth spread through it. He did like his title on her lips. But it was probably too formal for every day. And definitely too distracting.

“It’s Bucky. Or James, if you need another name. No one calls me that though. Stark has some colorful nicknames for me, as well, but they can get rather… inappropriate. Sgt. Barnes is nice and all, but it’s a bit formal, isn’t it… doll?”

Elizabeth smiled and Bucky thought he saw a blush on her cheeks. Damn that was… she was… fucking beautiful. Fuck. Bucky tried to bring his thoughts back on track as she spoke again.

“Bucky. I can do that. But I can’t promise it’ll be the only thing I call you.” She winked. She fucking winked at him! Bucky’s thoughts raced. Was she flirting? What should he do? Did she hit her head after all? Steve chose that moment to step off the elevator.

 

“Ella, you’re awake. Good, that’s good. I brought you some juice. You feeling okay? You have to take better care of yourself.”

“Steve, take a breath. I’m okay. Bucky has been keeping me good company. I haven’t needed to eat enough for an army in quite a while now. It’s bound to take me a little while to adjust. Relax. I’m glad to see you’re okay. And thank you for the juice.”

“Okay, and, yeah… I’m feeling much better, thanks to you,” Steve said as he nodded, letting it go for now. Bucky could tell that wasn’t the end of the discussion. And it shouldn’t be. Steve was right. Elizabeth, Ella… she had to take better care of herself.

“Ella?” Bucky said, trying out the name. He liked it. “Do you want to go to the kitchen? Dinner should be starting soon.”

“Yes,” Steve added. “Tony is getting everyone together tonight, for an actual meal, not just snacking and socializing.”

 

Ella nodded, finishing her juice. “Sure, let me see if I can,” and she started to stand. Both Bucky and Steve stood to make sure she was steady on her feet before letting her walk on her own. Bucky realized she was a bit taller than he thought. He still dwarfed her, but he could easily kiss her without hunching over too far. Wait. Kiss her? Bucky tried to focus on something else. He started listing the parts of his favorite sidearm to himself, in order of assembly.

*********

Steve watched as Ella made her way to the elevator. He moved to follow, noticing Bucky still hovered close by. Steve smiled to himself. Bucky had always had a thing for nurses back in the old days. Steve had wondered if it might spark anything, Ella coming back. She seemed to put everyone at ease, and Bucky could definitely use that. And Buck already seemed… attached? It was good. Steve was excited to watch them interact more. And he couldn’t wait until Nat saw them together. He just hoped it took Tony a while to catch on, if there was something there. Steve smiled again as the elevator traveled the one floor to the kitchen and rec area.

Chapter Text

The group room was buzzing with activity when I got there. I smiled to myself, noticing how Bucky and Steve stayed close in case I had another spell. I got hugs from everyone except Vision, who welcomed me cordially before floating back towards the lounge area.

Natasha gave me a quick, efficient squeeze before putting space between us, her usual. I had gotten her used to hugs, being a tactile person, but she still kept them short and sweet.

Pietro started off with a handshake, but I pulled him into a hug. He laughed and then ended it quickly, looking behind me all the while. I turned and saw Bucky and Steve both glaring at him. I shook my head at them, and turned to Wanda.

Wanda held on and whispered words of comfort to me, I squeezed her back tightly, trying not to tear up. I could feel her power reaching out to me, gently mingling with the edge of my own. She rubbed my shoulders lightly, and smiled at me before looking curiously between Bucky and I. Tony grabbed me for another hug before I could process her look.

Tony swung me around, lifting my feet off the ground and pulling a laugh out of me before he sat me back on my feet. “You settle in okay, Bellie?”
I rolled my eyes at the nickname and nodded. Tony glanced at Bucky and I did too, seeing his quizzical look.

“Bellie? That wasn’t on the list of names,” Bucky raised his eyebrows at me questioningly as his lips twitched.

“You know how it is, Tony and his colorful nicknames…” I said by way of explanation.

“Yeah, shut it Fuc-” Tony was cut off by my elbow in his gut.

Bucky looked on the verge of laughter again. Tony looked betrayed. I rolled my eyes at both of them. Boys.

“Okay, if you all are just about done, Ella needs to eat. She healed me and really needs to recharge,” Steve said, breaking out Captain voice.

I nod at him and mouth a thank you before moving towards the kitchen.

 

I stayed there, annoying Nat, Sam, and Wanda as they tried to put together dinner. Instead of helping, I was more focused on stuffing my face. Tony had wanted to order takeout, but Wanda insisted on something homemade for my return celebration. Tony had headed back to the lab, saying to call him when it was time to eat.

I was fine with anything food wise, as long as there was plenty of it. To say I was starving was an understatement. Steve was helping me nick food from the trio as they cooked, and kept getting glares from Nat. Sam would just roll his eyes. Wanda acted affronted, but I saw her slip him food a couple of times, so I knew it was just an act.

Once I was feeling more myself. I approached Bucky again. He looked surprised, and I thought I saw a blush creep up his cheeks. “Thank you for urging me to come eat, Bucky. I really needed it.”

He started to smile, and for the first time I noticed that the action caused him to wince. His split lip looked painful. He obviously wasn't as banged up as Steve, but he was still bruised, and his lip… it seemed like it should be illegal for those lips to be injured. I shook myself, realizing I had missed what he was saying while I was staring at his mouth. Crap.

“What was that?

Bucky almost looked like he might laugh. “I said anytime. Anything you need.”

I raised my eyebrows at that and he chuckled softly.

“Thank you Sgt. Barnes.” I said, a smirk pulling at my lips.

I watched as Bucky’s laughter stopped and he swallowed, eyes widening slightly. My gaze traveled back to his lips. “Would you…” I hesitated.

“What is it, Ella?”

“Would you let me heal you? Your lip I mean... and the bruising?”

He shook his head. “We can’t have you passing out again. It’s okay. I’m okay.”

“I can easily heal that Bucky! It’s not deep. And I really want to. Please?”

He looked skeptical.

“I need to work on rebuilding my endurance if I want to be able to heal, especially if I plan of healing anything critical. It’s like any kind of training… practice helps.” I could see that he was considering it. “What if I promise to stop if I start to feel woozy?”

Bucky looked at me for a few seconds longer before nodding. “Only… only if you promise to stop. I mean it Ella.”

It was my turn to nod. Then I hesitated again. “I’ll have to touch you… like I did when I healed Steve. I’ll try and be gentle.”

Bucky pulled in a breath and nodded again.

I raised my hands to his face, one over a bruise near his eye, the other resting lightly on his lips. I felt the warmth, and all too soon he was healed, and I was supposed to stop touching him. I hesitated longer than I should before removing my hands and looking into his eyes. He was staring at my lips.

“Bucky? You okay?”

He jumped and cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, doll, thank you. Feels much better.”

*********

Steve watched as Ella healed Bucky, and he couldn’t help grinning. He nudged Natasha, and she turned her toward the pair as well.

“Well look at that. This should make things… interesting,” Nat said, quirking her brow.

Steve nodded, his grin relaxing into a small smile.

“Stop it you two. It’s sweet. Bucky is the calmest I’ve ever seen him, and Ella’s grief ebbs when she is talking to him. Leave them be,” Wanda shushed them.

Sam looked between Nat, Steve, and Wanda, confused. “Wait, what did I miss?”

“Nothing of concern,” Wanda replied quickly before she turned to the room at large. “Dinner is ready everyone! F.R.I.D.A.Y., will you please inform Tony?”

“I’ll go find him! It’ll be more fun that way,” Pietro called before zipping away.

Steve and Bucky started setting the table, while Elizabeth went to the kitchen to help set out the food.

Chapter Text

Tony sat at the head of the table, as usual, looking over the serving dishes critically. “So are we sure we don’t want take out?”
Everyone at the table began grumbling, Natasha almost looked homicidal at the comment. I rolled my eyes. “Tony, don’t be an asshole. The food looks wonderful. Thank you Wanda, Natasha, and Sam for such an awesome meal. It’s been a while since I’ve had a spread that was this impressive.”

The conversation flowed. Wanda and I were joking back and forth. Pietro was hitting on Nat, again…. unsuccessfully, again. Steve was discussing training with Sam and Bucky. Tony had finished pouting and was discussing one of his current projects with Vision. I kept finding my gaze drawn to Bucky. He caught me looking and I felt the blush heat my cheeks as I turned back to Wanda. She smiled at me and raised her eyebrow questioningly. I was spared my answer by Natasha’s phone chirping.

She looked at me. “It’s Clint. He says welcome back. And he’s wondering when you can babysit again,” She finished with a laugh.

I laughed and told her to tell him anytime, missions permitting.

“I’m still offended that you both knew about the secret family and I didn’t!” Tony cut in. “I mean, Romanoff I get. She has known Barton forever, but Ellie, I’ve known him longer than you, how come you get to know and I don’t?”

“Well Tony, maybe if you could be trusted as a babysitter, you would’ve known,” I replied.

He rolled his eyes in response before giving me a smile and a wink. I grinned in return and sipped some more fizzy water. When I turned back toward my plate I saw Wanda was still looking at me.

“What is it, Wanda?” I asked quietly.

She raised an eyebrow. “You like him.” It wasn’t a question.

“Tony?”

“No. You know to who I am referring. Would you like me to say it out loud?”

I shook my head quickly and she smirked. “I can feel it. So strong already? I think it’s good… but being safe is also good. Protect your heart.”

I sat stunned for a minute before nodding. She smiled and squeezed my hand. I glanced toward Bucky again and he was watching us curiously. I looked away quickly.

 

Nat was still showing me recent pictures of Clint’s kids when people started clearing out. Dessert had been good, but it was long since finished. Sam left after he and Steve made plans for the next day. Tony and Vision headed toward the lab. Pietro said he was going out before zipping off. Wanda squeezed my hand once more before taking her leave. Steve and Bucky were near the bar, and I was on the couch with Nat and her phone, flipping through the pictures and talking about the kids. I missed them.

Nat’s phone buzzed again and I saw Bruce’s name before she quickly cleared the screen. She excused herself, leaving me on the couch, confused. I thought we were unaware of Bruce’s location. Maybe I had misread? Hmm.

I stood and stretched, glancing at Steve and Bucky. I wanted to go talk to them, learn more about Bucky. Visit with Steve. But I needed to be smart. “I’m heading up to bed. Goodnight!” I said, smiling at each of the in turn.

Steve smiled back. “Goodnight Ella. Get some sleep. Training tomorrow. You and me, 0800.”

I groaned. “Steve I just got here. And eight is so early.”

“It’s because you just got here that it isn’t 0600. Be thankful,” he raised an eyebrow.

“Very thankful. I’ll be more thankful if I get coffee beforehand.”

Steve shook his head in exasperation and waved another goodnight. Bucky was looking at me curiously before moving toward me. He stopped just over a foot away. “Goodnight, doll. You need someone to walk you up?”

I beamed at him. “No, thank you though. Goodnight.” I reached to hug him and he froze. “I was just going to hug you…” I pulled back. “I won’t if you aren’t comfortable.” I had barely finished speaking when he put his arms around me. He squeezed just this side of too tight, and buried his face in my neck. “Sleep well Elizabeth,” he murmured. “You know where to find me if you need me.”

I nodded as he pulled back, both surprise and happy that he had hugged me. I looked toward Steve, who had a huge grin on his face and looked like he was going to start bouncing.

“Don’t hurt yourself, Steve,” I smirk at him. “Goodnight James.” I added more quietly. Bucky’s eyes heated when I called him James. I quickly headed to the elevator, before I let that look draw me in. I waved one more goodnight as the doors closed around me. Bucky was still staring, and lifted his chin in response. Steve just continued grinning. I fell back against the wall of the elevator and took a deep breath. Fuck. I was so screwed. And not in the good way either. I was this close to falling for Bucky, and I had only just met him. I wasn’t that girl!

Sure, there had been relationships… some more meaningful than others. But (if it wasn’t a onetime deal) it was always a slow progression. Always. This was warp speed Mr. Sulu. Sure, nothing had happened, yet… but damn if the air didn’t feel thick with the possibility. I sighed, trudging to my room and toeing off my boots. I pulled my bra out from my shirt (magic!) and slipped my jeans off before face-planting in the bed. For the second time that day I fell asleep without realizing it.

Chapter Text

It started how it always started. Mom grabbing on to my hand and begging me to kill her. She didn’t want to be trapped in her body anymore. She didn’t want to continue to waste away. And again I had to tell her that I couldn’t help her. Again I was wishing in vain that she lived in a ‘dying with dignity’ state. Unlike real life, as soon as I refuse her pleas, her deterioration speeds up in front of my eyes. I watch as she’s trapped in a skeletal body, unable to fully close her eyes or mouth. Unable to drink or eat. Or speak. Her eyes pleading with me...
I startled awake quietly, tears streaming down my face. At least I didn’t wake up screaming this time. I sighed, pulling on a hoodie and yoga pants and wiping my face with my sleeves. I headed to the kitchen… three in the morning seemed the perfect time to eat my feelings.

I was flipping my grilled cheese when I heard someone enter the kitchen. I turned and lifted my chin. “Mornin’. Hungry? I’m making bacon grilled cheese if you would like one.”

Bucky looked thoroughly surprised to find someone else in the kitchen at this hour. He hesitated, then nodded. “Thanks.”

He sat at the island while I placed the first sandwich on a plate, slicing it in half, then setting the plate in front of him. “Drink?”

Bucky furrowed his brow and hesitated for a moment. “Water? Thanks,” he replied as he pulled the sandwich toward him. “This looks delicious. Thank you for sharing.”

“You’re welcome,” I replied, setting his water next to his sandwich before returning to the stove to assemble another sandwich. “So, I know why I’m up in the middle of the night for comfort food… what has you up at this hour? If you don’t mind me asking.”

Bucky just looked at me. It lasted long enough that I was sure he wouldn’t respond at all. As I turned away from him to flip my sandwich I heard him sigh.

“I just… couldn’t sleep. Happens sometimes,” he mumbled.

I nodded. “Yeah. I get that.”

“How about you?” Bucky asked, seeming eager to shift my attention off of his sleeping habits. “Why the need to cook at this hour?”

“Nightmare,” I said, shrugging. I slid my sandwich onto my plate and sliced it. “Usually can’t sleep after. Food seemed like a good distraction,” I added. I set my water and sandwich down on the island across from Bucky and slid onto the stool. Bucky had frozen with his sandwich halfway to his mouth, which was open. He stared at me for another moment before shaking himself. He continued eating as I started in on my sandwich.

“Sorry Ella,” he said softly. “Is there… can I… do you want to talk about it?”

I smiled at him and shook my head. “No, not right now. Thanks for the offer, though. And the company. I’m… not used to that anymore. I forgot how nice it could be just to share a space with someone. Or a sandwich,” I added, winking at him.

He smiled before finishing his last bite of sandwich and sipping his water. I watched him swallow, fascinated by his jaw, his throat… his everything. I never noticed how distracting watching someone drink could be. I was still staring, ignoring my food, when he set his water back on the table. He caught me gazing at him and raised an eyebrow at me, a faint smirk on his lips.

My eyes widened and I shook myself, turning my attention back to my food. I didn’t miss his light chuckle, though.

“That was a very good grilled cheese, Ella. I appreciate you sharing with me. Definitely made it worth being up at this hour.”

“You’re welcome, Bucky. Feel free to join me for a midnight snack anytime,” I replied, smiling at him. “Are you going to try and get some sleep, or...?”

“No, I would much rather keep you company. While you eat I mean. Are you going to try and sleep more?”

I glanced at the clock. It was already after four. I could use a few more hours, but I really didn’t think I would sleep in my room… alone. “I think I’ll just veg on the couch and put on a movie or something. If I doze a while, all the better.”

Bucky nodded. “Well I guess I should head to bed then? Let you try and rest.”

“Or… you could join me if you want," I offered, finishing my sandwich. "You don’t have to, but I wouldn’t mind the company.”

Bucky smiled and nodded. “I like that idea much better.”

Instead of sitting in one of the chairs, or on the love seat, Bucky sat on the couch. He leaned against one side while I started to settled in on the other end. At the last minute I changed my mind, tossing my pillows toward him and leaning up against his side. He stiffened for a moment before relaxing and placing his arm along the back of the couch above me. I grinned up at him, seeing him smirk before we both turned back toward the movie. It was a favorite of mine that I watched frequently. And of course I was asleep before we even got to see the Dread Pirate Roberts.

*********

Bucky watched Ella’s eye slip shut and her breathing even out. He sighed. Good, he had hoped she would get more sleep. He wanted to comfort her, but didn’t even know where to start. Having her close seemed to help. Well, it helped him at least. He felt more calm in her presence… the closer the better. Bucky couldn’t help but think that Steve might be able to help him figure out what to do for Ella, but he didn’t want to ask Steve. He wanted to be able to take care of Ella himself, without help.

Bucky gently lifted his arm from the back of the couch and wrapped it around her. Ella snuggled into him further, and he heard her sigh. He smiled before returning his attention to the movie. The masked man was at the top of the cliff now, and was engaged in a sword fight. Bucky relaxed against the back of the couch, watching the duel. The rhythm of the fight was relaxing, and he fell asleep before it was over.

Chapter Text

Steve stepped off the elevator and froze. He stood there, his eyes wide and his jaw slack as Sam kept walking toward the kitchen. After a few steps Sam noticed Steve wasn’t following him and he turned back to look at him.

“What is it?” Sam asked, following Steve’s gaze. “Oh… OH… shit. Well… huh. That isn’t something you see every day.”

Steve glanced at Sam muttering “language” before looking back at the couch, where Bucky was snoring softly, a sleeping Ella curled into his side. A smile pulled at Steve’s lips, but it took another minute before he could reply fully. “Well, I guess that’s why they weren’t in their rooms. I… I really don’t want to wake them. I know I already scheduled training later than usual, but…” Steve hesitated as he saw Ella start to stir.

*********

I woke slowly, hearing murmuring. Was someone in my room? Oh, I wasn’t in my room. And I had a pillow. A warm, breathing, Bucky shaped pillow. Nice. Much better than any other pillow. I also had an arm wrapped around me, all warm and cozy. As I snuggled deeper into his side, I felt and heard him chuckle. Oooh. Feeling it was way nicer than just hearing it. The combination was sinful. Yum.

“Not ready to wake up yet, Ella?” Bucky asked, his voice rough with sleep. Mmmm. More yum, that voice.

“Nope. Not when I have such a comfy pillow. Why, are you ready to wake up?”

He chuckled again and gave me a squeeze. “No, not at all. But I think Steve is wanting to start with training soon, right Steve?” Bucky said, nodding toward where Sam and Steve were standing, still staring.

I turned toward Steve and watched him blush. “Uh, yeah. I was going to make a protein shake first, if anyone would like one?” Steve asked. Sam chuckled at Steve, shaking his head while he headed into the kitchen.

“Unless it’s caffeinated and made out of coffee, I think I’ll pass,” I responded. I reluctantly sat up, and Bucky smiled shyly at me as he straightened and prepared to stand.

“Thank you, Ella. I haven’t slept that well since… well, in as long as I can remember,” he said softly, making sure the guys didn’t overhear as they puttered in the kitchen.

“Same here. You make a good cuddle buddy. It was nice feeling you against me.” I watched his cheeks pink slightly, and felt warmth in my own. “I mean… well, no, I mean what I said… it just sounded less… naughty in my head.”

Bucky ran his fingertips along my cheek. “I know,” he murmured, before heading toward the kitchen. “I think I will take a shake, Steve.”

I joined the boys in the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee before turning to watch Steve blend the shakes. “You really should try one of these, Ella. It would help boost your energy, help keep the healing from draining you.”

I groaned at Steve, watching him pour the offending looking mix into cups and passing them to Sam and Bucky before pouring his own. “I guess I’ll try a sip,” I conceded. Steve smiled and started to pass me his glass, but Bucky handed me his before Steve could finish the motion.

“Here, doll. Try a sip of mine, and if you like it I’ll make myself another… or get Steve to make another for me,” Bucky said, giving Steve a mischievous smile.

Steve laughed softly as I took a small sip. It… wasn’t as bad as I expected. I took another sip. Hmm. “I still prefer coffee… but this is pretty okay, Steve.”

“Pretty okay? High praise, Elle,” Sam laughed.

Steve shook his head. “Well, should I make Buck another, Ella? Is it that ‘okay’?” he said with a smile.

I nodded, looking toward Bucky. “As long as you don’t mind?”

“Course not, doll. My pleasure.”

I drank more shake to distract myself from thinking about Bucky’s pleasure… unable to look at any of the guys until I got my thoughts under control. “So what’s the plan for training today Steve?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

Steve handed Bucky another shake and turned toward me. “I was thinking we would just go through the basics again, see where you are and what you remember. And, of course, you’ll need to start running again. Cardio is important. Did you stay active while you were… on leave? Are you still doing yoga?”

Bucky raised his eyebrows at ‘yoga’, but didn’t comment. Sam just snickered. “Yeah. And I’ve been running a bit, though not as frequently. And I had a punching bag, so I made use of that… a lot.”

Steve nodded, eyebrows raised. “That’s better than I expected. It shouldn’t be too tough to get you back to where you were. Or better, even.”

I nodded pouring a cup of coffee and offering the pot around. I got head shakes in return and shrugged. “Cool, more for me… or… where’s Nat? She’s always up to share a pot of coffee. I know Tony keeps a Keurig in the lab, so he’s covered.”

As if on cue I hear a grumble. “Do I smell coffee? Please god let me be smelling coffee,” Nat said, coming into the kitchen. I poured her a cup, adding some cream, and handed to her. “Bless you, Elle. Missed your coffee."

I smiled at her. “I know. I’m the coffee queen. You sleep okay?”

“Yeah, just not as long as I would have liked. You?”

I blushed as Steve chuckled, Sam joining in and then adding “Oh, she slept well, alright.”

Bucky glowered at Sam before shooting me a small smile. I smiled back before turning to Nat. “I… woke up really early, so I came to get a snack. Bucky was up, too… so we started watching a movie, and ended up falling asleep on the couch,” I explained quickly.

Natasha quirked an eyebrow at me, knowing there was more to it than that. “Okay, well I have some things I need to get done… do you mind?” she replied, lifting her empty mug toward me. I made her another cup and she thanked me again before getting on the elevator.

“We should get to the training room, Ella,” Steve said as the elevator doors slid shut. “Buck and Sam will join us in a bit, right?” he asked, turning to them. They nodded.

“Okay, but can I bring a coffee with me?” I asked, giving Steve puppy dog eyes.

Steve rolled his eyes, but nodded, heading toward the elevator.

Coffee in hand I started to follow him, waving at Sam and Bucky. “See you guys in a bit,” I called. Sam gave me a chin lift.

“Sure thing, doll,” Bucky replied, smiling.

I smiled back, watching him until the elevator doors closed. Steve chuckled and I turned toward him. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing. Just glad you’re back, Ella,” Steve said, looking way too pleased with himself. The elevator dinged, stealing my reply.

Chapter Text

I looked up at Steve from the mat and groaned. He chuckled and offered me a hand up. As I stood I noticed Bucky and Sam were standing at the edge of the mat, arms crossed. Sam looked amused, Bucky looked… pissed? Um, what?

“Hey guys! Just in time to see me get my ass handed to me… again!” I said, grinning as I bowed slightly. “I excel at keeping the mat company. Apparently the list ends there.”

“Ella, you specifically asked me not to go easy on you. I was going to start off at bit slower, and you complained about not treating you ‘like a girl’… I can hold back a bit…” Steve offered for what felt like the hundredth time. I squinted my eyes at him in response.

“Wanna switch it up a bit, Elle?” Sam asked, stepping onto the mat. I nodded, and Steve stepped back as Sam and I began slowly circling each other. After each of us jabbing and dodging a few times, I finally landed a hit. As I started to dodge away Sam landed one as well… only instead of hitting his target, he hit me right in the boob.

“Fuck!” I hissed, stepping back further, cradling my chest. “What the fuck? Ow, ow, fucking ow! So not fair, Sam!”

“Holy shit!” Sam exclaimed. “I am so sorry Elle! I swear I wasn’t aiming for…”

“Ow, fuck, ow. I know Sam, I know. It’s… well it’s not okay, because fuckshithelldamnshitfuckshitfuck that hurt, but I know you didn’t mean to,” I said as I plopped down on the mat, still cradling my poor boob. I looked at Steve, who seemed determined to look anywhere but at me as he tried not to laugh. Ass. Bucky was glancing between Sam and I, looking shocked. The look on his face almost made me laugh.

“Do you want me to get you some ice?” Steve asked, his voice shaking with amusement.

I glared at him. “No. I’ll be fine. And you’re an ass for finding my misery amusing. And after I was so careful not to hit you in the gnards earlier, too.”

Steve managed to look apologetic. I still glared at him as he walked over to Bucky. “You okay swapping out with Sam, Buck? I don’t think it would be… advisable, for him to spar with Ella anymore today.”

Sam shook his head, backing off the mat. “Nope, no. nuh-uh. I think we’re done. Yeah, done sounds good. I’m gonna go do some laps…sorry again, Elle!” Sam said before waving at us and jogging off toward the indoor track.

I waved at him before turning back toward Steve and Bucky. They were whispering to each other heatedly. “Anything y’all would like to share, guys?” They both looked at me wide eyed.

“Uh, are you still up for training Ella? With Buck, or myself, I mean. We can stop the sparring for today if you want, and you can do weights or cardio.” Steve said, looking uncomfortable.

“Don’t be silly,” I said, standing. I stretched, still feeling a bit sore (crap, I would probably have a bruise, lovely) and started walking toward the two super soldiers. “I’m fine. See? I know fighting won’t be my focus, but when I’m out in the field I need to be able to defend myself. And if memory serves, bad guys don’t give time-outs.” I stopped in front of Bucky and looked up at him. “So, you okay to spar with me a bit?”

Bucky hesitated, looking at me. His gaze lowered toward my chest, before quickly returning to my face. My lips twitched. “I’m fine, James, really.” I brushed the back of his left hand with the tips of my fingers. The metal felt cool against my skin. “Please?”

Bucky looked at Steve, before looking back at me and nodding. “Okay… but only if we start slow. I… I really don’t want to hurt you.”

I smiled at him, stepping closer. I grabbed his left hand with my right and held it as I looked into his eyes. “Thank you, James.” He tensed, then slowly relaxed.

Steve cleared his throat, and I stepped back and glanced at him. He was fighting a smile. Jerk. “Okay, well, I’ll watch and give you tips as you go, but I think Buck is right, starting slow and easy is the best idea at this point.”

I nodded and moved back to the center of the mat, looking back at Bucky expectantly. Bucky sighed and followed me, stopping about three feet away from me. He looked back at Steve, who nodded, before returning his attention to me. “You are going to be smaller than most of the threats you face. Your goal should be to incapacitate them and escape or find help. Quickly. Inflict as much pain as possible.”

“Lovely. Well, how exactly do I practice that? I don’t want to hurt you, either,” I replied, slightly shocked by Bucky’s speech. I watched as he smirked and shook his head. He looked almost cocky.

“You don’t have to worry about hurting me, doll. Not going to happen,” he said, his smirk growing into a grin.

Yup, definitely cocky. A new side of Bucky. Arrogant, but if I was being honest with myself, it was kinda hot. “So let me get this straight… you want me to *try* and hurt you?” Bucky nodded, and I looked at Steve. “Seriously?”

“It’s alright, Ella. If you do manage to hurt him, he’ll be okay. And you can always heal him if he needs it, right?” Steve said calmly. I got the feeling he was trying to placate me.

“Fine. Whatever y’all say. You’re the super soldiers after all,” I shrugged.

Bucky waited until I got into a defensive position. I watched as he took a deep breath, then he attacked. Holy shit! He was fast. I was barely able to dodge out of the way in time. Less than a minute later I was pinned, Bucky hovering over me, my arms held tight against the mat.

Wow. Holy, holy, fuck, fuck, fuck! Not only was he fast, but goddamn, I had to take a deep breath to try and keep my thoughts out of the gutter. I failed. Fuck. I was supposed to want to prevent him from doing this? Ha! Yeah, right! I squirmed a bit, and had to suppress a moan. He was heavy. I looked up and saw his eyes burning. Was it possible that I wasn’t the only one enjoying this position a little too much? Hmm. Focus Ella. I forced myself to try and break his hold. It didn’t work, he was simply too strong.

Bucky smirked at me. “Giving up so easily? Might as well. You won’t be able to get up unless I let you. And I’ll only do that if you ask nicely.”

Okay, bossy Bucky was hot. He would definitely be starring in my fantasies for the foreseeable future. But he was also straight up challenging me. I usually wasn’t competitive, but I HATED people telling me I couldn’t do something. It had irked me ever since I was a little girl. I renewed my efforts to break his hold, rolling my hips to try and flip him, using my legs to leverage us over. Nothing worked. I grunted in frustration, making Bucky chuckle.

“Ella, you might want to give in, he can do this for hours,” Steve said, amusement in his tone. “I don’t think I’ve seen anyone successfully escape when he has them pinned.”

I growled in response, his words fueling my need to prove that I could do this. Bucky grinned. “Did you just growl? That is really fuckin’ adorable, doll.”

“Care to make a wager, guys? I’m hearing a lot of talk, is that all y’all are? Talk?” I said, sounding more confident than I really felt.

Bucky raised his eyebrows and looked toward Steve. Steve grinned. “Okay, if you have to give in, you will cook us dinner, including dessert, at least once a week for a month… want to add anything, Buck?”

Bucky’s brow furrowed. He looked deep in thought for a minute before he grinned widely. I couldn’t help but hope it’d be dirty. “And, you have to give me yoga lessons… and Steve, too, if he wants.”

Steve looked confused, but nodded. “And, in the extremely unlikely event that you win, Ella?”

I thought about it. I had suggested the wager, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything to ask for that wasn’t dirty. “Okay. I want a silks and a hammock, for aerial yoga, set up for me down here. And foot rubs on demand for a year. Oh, oh, oh! And homemade ice cream and least once a week.”

“Aerial yoga, huh? I have no idea what that even is,” Steve seemed to be thinking it over. “Ice cream once a week for how long?”

“A year,” I replied, smirking.

Steve hesitated. Bucky chuckled. “Come on, Steve, it’s not like she’ll win.”

Steve nodded. “You’re right. Okay, Ella, agreed. I think we should set a time limit for your attempt, though. How about thirty minutes, tops?”

I nodded. “Fine by me, unless it’s too uncomfortable for you, Bucky…” I said, rolling my hips again. He groaned lightly and shook his head.

“Thirty minutes is fine, Ella. Almost too easy. It’ll give me time to think of what you’re going to be cooking for us.”

I growled again, and he grinned. “Fuckin’ cute.”

Fifteen minutes passed before I had any idea of how to escape the hold. I had continued to try, switching it up a bit to try and catch Bucky off guard. Nothing worked. Steve was sitting on a bench looking through some files. Bucky was planning his meals, sometimes out loud to taunt me. But I had thought of a plan… finally. I was unsure I wanted to do it, though. I mean, I wanted to do it, but I would prefer to do it under different circumstances. Crap.
Ten more minutes passed. “Almost there, Buck!” Steve called out, smugly. Bucky smirked down at me. I made my decision then and there. Fuck it. I was winning this damn bet.

*********

Bucky closed his eyes and took a slow and steady breath as he felt Ella roll her hips again. Fuck, this bet was gonna fuckin’ kill him. Having her under him was difficult enough, but with her little growls, and the way she kept rolling her hips… fuck. He honestly wasn’t sure what he’d be doing right now if Steve wasn’t sitting nearby. Actually, he had a couple really fuckin’ good ideas. Almost there. He could do this. Then a nice private shower, and some tension release. He had plenty of material for it, now. Fuck.

Ella sighed and he looked down at her. She smiled up softly at him, and it almost made him come apart. “I really want to win, Bucky,” she whispered to him, her voice deep and breathy. “But I need you to know, that isn’t why.”

“Why wha…” Bucky didn’t get the chance to finish. Ella pressed her lips against his and he froze. Her tongue passed over his lips and he responded with a sigh, deepening the kiss. Fuck. She felt better than he imagined. So much. Home. She felt like...

And in the midst of his distraction he felt her flip him over. He didn’t have his wits together enough to even attempt to stop her. She gave him one last sweet peck before hopping off of him and cheering. Fuck. He was in so much fucking trouble. He was in deep.

“I win!” Ella called out. “I win, I win, I win!” She chanted, dancing around. God she was fucking cute. Steve looked up from his file, confused.

“What?! What happened? Buck?”

“Sorry, Steve. I did my best,” Bucky offered, standing. He was glad Steve had missed the kiss. He might accuse Ella of cheating. And Bucky couldn’t help thinking that she only kissed him to win, but then he remembered what she said right before it happened. That isn’t why. So, did she want to kiss him? Would she want to kiss him again? Fuck, Bucky wanted that. Bad. But he figured he shouldn’t get his hopes up. Ella was too good for him, anyway. Too clean, too pure. He shouldn’t want her. He wasn’t good enough to want her. Not by half.

Bucky smiled in spite of himself as Ella continued to dance around happily, rambling about all the flavors of ice cream she’d want. When she calmed down some she walked over to Bucky, stopping close. She spoke low, too low for Steve to overhear her. “I can still teach you yoga. Ya know… if you want…” She smiled at him, a light blush on her cheeks.

Bucky quirked his lips in response. “I’d like that, doll. Thank you.”

“Anytime, anything,” Ella smiled. She lifted her hand toward Bucky’s face, stopping short when Natasha walked in.

“Guys, we have a mission. Grab your gear, we’re all meeting on the jet in ten,” Natasha said. “You, too, Ella. You ready?”

Ella nodded. Natasha went over to talk to Steve and Ella turned back to me. “So, I guess we need to go get our stuff?”

“Yeah. Why don’t you head up, I’ll be up in a minute, just want to wait for Steve, and check in.”

“Okay, see you in a few,” Ella replied, squeezing his hand lightly before heading to the elevator.

*********

I stepped on the elevator and hit the button for our floor. Fuck. My feelings for Bucky were so *not* in control. Not even a little. I wasn’t sure protecting my heart was an option anymore. And honestly, I didn’t think I wanted to. I wanted Bucky. I sighed as I stepped off the elevator. I had gear to grab and a mission to focus on. I shoved my feelings into a box and got my head in the game. Time to be big damn heroes.

Chapter Text

I sat on the quinjet, listening to the comms and eating a candy bar. I had choked down two energy bars, and this was my treat for suffering through it. I figured it was best to prepare for any injuries. So far everything had gone smoothly, but I knew that could change in a heartbeat. I listened closely to the noises of the team breaching the facility.

When we boarded the quinjet, Natasha had filled us in. It wasn’t the full team, but we were still going in with more people than she and Steve thought we would need… just in case. Joining me on the jet were Steve, Nat, Bucky, and Sam. The twins, Vision, and Tony were staying back at base, but were aware of the mission, in case the shit really hit the fan, and we needed backup. Sam had barely looked at me the whole flight… and made sure to keep his distance. I found this extremely amusing. He must think I’m planning revenge. Silly.

The mission was complicated in its simplicity. It was a rescue mission for two former SHIELD operatives that had been captured while causing a Hydra sect an amusing amount of trouble. Their old team had yet to be notified, and Hill was hoping we would be successful with our extraction before they needed to be. It could apparently get extremely complicated if the team insisted on trying to rescue the pair themselves. And I was sure they would. You take care of your team. A team, a good one, is like a family. You don’t leave them to rot with Hydra, and you don’t trust anyone to do the job as well as you can.

I checked my supplies again, trying to keep myself busy. I certainly wasn’t trained to go in with the team, but hanging back in the jet could be torturous. Listening to the breach of the base, the fighting. I wanted to keep my family safe, not hide in the jet. But this is where I was the most useful. I sighed. Nat broke into my thoughts, letting us know they had reached the prisoner holding area. I knew that Bucky and Steve were with her, and Sam was geared up and keeping their exit route clear.

“We have them. Base, you should have another power bar… or two. Falcon, are we clear for extraction. Only one asset walking… with help. We might need backup,” Natasha said, sounding mildly concerned.

“You’re clear,” Falcon replied quickly. “Need me to come in, or meet you at the exit?”

“Exit unless things get interesting,” Nat said curtly. You could hear a man cursing in the background, his voice heavily accented. Asset number two? Probably. “Base, ready the jet.”

“Copy,” I replied around a bite of my suggested energy bar. Ugh yuck. Maybe I’d have time for at least a mini snickers or something, to get the taste out of my mouth. I hurried to the front of the jet, going through the sequence Clint had taught me until I knew it backwards and forwards. I was almost surprised it came back so easily. Like riding a bike. Once the jet was prepped I shoved a mini snickers bar in my mouth and headed toward my supplies and getting them ready. Then I walked to the rear door to wait.

I heard more fighting over the comms. Sam had entered the base when the rest of the team started fighting. He let us know he was coming up behind the targets. It didn’t take long until the comms were quiet. Nat said they were clear of the building and heading to the jet. I opened the back and it wasn’t long before I saw them in the distance. Steve was helping the male asset hobble toward the jet. Bucky was carrying (awkwardly) the female asset. Sam was leading them, with Nat bringing up the rear. I stepped out to meet them, starting to assess the male. He definitely had a dislocated shoulder, as well as a few fractures. His right ankle and left knee were both swollen. That was as far as I got.

“Don’t concern yourself with me! Help Bobbi!” He snapped, quickly waving me away with his less damaged arm. We stepped onto the jet, and I turned to Bobbi, Bucky set her down gently before stepping back. He looked okay, a little beaten up. My team seemed to have fared well, overall. Bobbi, however, was unconscious. She had various cuts and bruises. Her shirt was stuck to her abdomen with blood, and I moved it aside. Shit. Her whole abdomen was a large bruise... and I saw a large slice as well as multiple punctures. Fuck. They had really worked her over.

I reached out with my power… feeling my hands warm on her sides. It was worse than it looked. Much worse. Internal bleeding and major concussion worse. Fuck. I started pressing my power into her, focusing on the most serious damage. “Can one of you…” I took a breath. “My bag, emergency fuel. Shakes… bars… anything.”

The male, Hunter I heard them calling him, was yelling at me asking what was going on. I didn’t break focus. I heard Steve talking calmly to him, explaining I figured. Then Bucky moved into my vision, opening another damn bar and holding it up to my mouth, I smiled at him and mouthed my thanks before taking a bite. He gave me a sip of the thick meal replacement shake to wash it down. It was a poor imitation of chocolate.

I got the swelling in Bobbi’s brain healed and fixed a minor bleed there before pulling my power back to her abdominal wounds. All the while Bucky was focused on giving me bites and sips, watching me closely. He was worried, I realized. About me. I suppressed the smile that inspired. Bobbi needed my focus. Hunter was sitting close by. I felt his eyes on me. At least he was quiet, outwardly calm. I knew it was just external. Bucky had started feeding me a third bar (my seventh total) when Bobbi opened her eyes.

“I’m Elizabeth… Ella. I’m healing you up as best I can, please try and be still for now, I’m not quite finished. It won’t hurt you to move, but it will drain me, and I still plan on healing Hunter when you’re better. I might not be able to if I lose more energy than necessary.”

“Hunter? You’re here?” Bobbi said, keeping still even though I could tell she wanted to look for him.

“Right here, Bobbi. You feelin’ better? Had me worried, you did. Couldn’t wake you…”

“I’m okay, Hunter. A bit confused how… Elizabeth? is *healing* me. But other than that, and holding myself still, I feel alright.”

“Hill sent the freaking Avengers after us. Didn’t know we merited the elite treatment. Figured Coul-… Hill might send some SHIELD agents, but not the big guns,” Hunter replied.

“That’s… nice,” Bobbi looked at me and mouthed ‘thank you’. I nodded and finished my second meal replacement shake, Bucky holding it so I could easily reach the straw.

“Almost done, Bobbi,” I whispered, trying not to pant. Bucky’s brow furrowed. He stood and grabbed another shake out of my bag, grabbing another couple bars as well.

“You okay, Ella? You need to take a break?” Steve asked, seeming to voice Bucky’s concern.

“I’m five by five, as long as Bucky doesn’t mind continuing his awesome work feeding me,” I said, trying to sound sure of myself. I really needed a feast. And a nap.

“Of course, doll,” Bucky said softly, sitting next to me again, and offering another bite of bar. “Just don’t overdo it.” I smiled at him, then focused back on Bobbi. I checked her over again to be sure, but all that was left was superficial wounds. I pushed one last burst of power into her, healing them all completely. I didn’t want to leave any injuries, considering how badly she had been hurt. I took a deep breath and pulled my hands away from her.

“Okay, Bobbi, you’re fully healed. Just be gentle with yourself, I healed the injuries, but you’ll still need to conserve your energy until you can get a good meal and some uninterrupted sleep.”

I took the rest of the bar from Bucky, finishing it and sipping the shake. I slowly turned to Hunter. He was staring at Bobbi as she sat up gingerly, his relief almost palpable. “Thank god, Bobbi.”

“Ella, actually. Not a deity. I do know one, however. And you’re up next. Ready?” I asked moving to sit next to him.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Hunter asked, looking at me warily.

“I’m going to heal you. You literally *just* watched me heal Bobbi. It’s your turn.”

“No, I get that,” he said looking to Bobbi, then back at me. “But you look like you’re about to fall over. I’m okay to wait… or even heal up at the normal speed if need be. You’ve done all I could’ve asked for already.”

Bucky looked at Hunter gratefully, and nodded. “Ella, maybe you should wait for a proper meal? It won’t be too long before we’re back at base. And you’ve already finished over half your provisions.”

I hesitated. “Let me at least use enough power to check your injuries, make sure I didn’t miss anything big in my visual assessment. Then, if there isn’t anything that can’t wait, I’ll rest and eat before round two. Deal?”

Bucky nodded, a small smile on his face. Hunter shrugged, then winced. I gently placed my hands on his arms and let my power flow out. I could feel the extra effort I was having to use. I was definitely getting close to my current max. Dislocated shoulder, several broken ribs, well aligned and stable, multiple fractures in both upper and lower extremities. The knee injury was worrisome, but not as much at the right ankle. The damage could be permanent if I didn’t heal it soon. Splinting could help, but I couldn’t guarantee it would heal properly if I didn’t heal it now. Well, at least I brought way more provisions than I thought I would need.

“Okay, I have to start healing at least some of this to prevent permanent injury. Steve, can you brace him while Bucky pops his shoulder back into place? It’ll make it easier to heal that way.” I said, unwrapping another bar. I ate and drank quickly while they set his shoulder. Hunter didn’t make a peep, which I found impressive. Setting a shoulder was quite painful. Bucky returned to his spot next to me while I started healing Hunter.

I focused on his ankle first. It didn’t take as much energy as I had expected. I moved on to his ribs, healing them to prevent any possible displacement. I still felt okay, considering Bucky’s constant offerings. I healed his knee next, and moved on to his low extremity fractures. I had his lower body totally healed when I finished my shake, Bucky opening another. “Only one more after this, doll. And only a few more bars,” he warned.

“Okay, handsome. Thank you. Just a bit more,” I replied, giving him a smile. He returned it with a wink and I blushed. Okay, time to focus. I turned back to Hunter to see him looking between Bucky and I curiously. He opened his mouth to say something but I got there first. “Hunter, I’ve healed your lower extremities, and your ribs. I’m going to continue, healing the worst stuff first, until I start to feel drained. Sound okay to you?”

Hunter hesitated, moving his feet and legs gently, before nodding. I continued healing him, almost on autopilot, until I felt my power stutter. I focused quickly and realized it had stopped because he was healed. Completely. Oops. I removed my hands and stretched a bit. I felt okay. I turned to Bucky and smiled, taking the nearly empty shake from him and finishing it. “Thank you, James,” I whispered, looking into his eyes. He nodded and I turned back toward Hunter. “All done. You’re totally healed. Same warnings apply, though. Take it easy until you get some good sleep and a decent meal.”

“Wait, totally healed?” he asked, moving carefully before grinning. “Damn, thanks Elle. That’s… wow. Can I…?” he gestured to where Bobbi was sitting, watching us with a smile on her face.

“Sure, just slow and steady,” I replied with a small smile. “How long til we’re back at base?” I called up toward Nat in the cockpit.

“Less than an hour,” she called back. “You okay back there?”

“I’m good. Thinking it’s nap time, though,” I explained, settling into a seat and trying to get comfortable. Bucky sat next to me, gently pulling my head to his shoulder. I snuggled in and sighed contentedly. Bucky chuckled lightly. I looked around the jet, Bobbi and Hunter were talking quietly. Steve was near the front, checking in with Nat. Sam was asleep, his head resting on his jacket. I sighed again and let my eyes drift shut. I breathed in Bucky’s delicious scent, feeling all my muscles relax. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was Bucky lightly kissing the top of my head.

Chapter Text

Thankfully, Pietro arrived with the pizzas just before the quinjet touched down, and it was waiting for us when we got off of the elevator. Everyone exchanged greetings as I headed straight for the pizza. I was starting on my third slice when Bobbi walked up to me. “Ella, thank you again. That power you have… it’s pretty amazing.”

“I’m glad I could help,” I replied after swallowing. “I’m sorry you had to go through that. I know… I know how hard it can be. Not just physically.”

Bobbi nodded, eating her own slice, pepperoni. “Yeah, unfortunately this isn’t the first time. Hopefully it’ll be the last, but in this line of work… you know how it goes. It sounds like you know from experience. I thought you weren’t in the field?”

Bucky set a bottle of water in front of me before I answered. I looked at him and smiled. He was looking at me curiously. “Thank you, Bucky,” I said, trying to open the bottle. After I failed the third time, Bucky chuckled and took it from me, cracking the seal before handing it back. “Thank you,” I said again, blushing.

“Anytime, doll,” he said as he filled his plate with pizza. He winked at me before finding a seat nearby. I finally returned my attention to Bobbi.

“Not a field agent, no. It’s a… long story,” I replied, looking at her.

“Okay, what about the story with you and Bucky? Want to fill me in on that one?” she spoke lowly, smirking at me slightly. I felt the blush heat my cheeks again.

“Um, well…” I started quietly, glancing toward Bucky to make sure he wasn’t looking.

“She likes him,” Wanda answered for me in a mock whisper, smiling.

“Wanda!” I shushed. She and Bobbi laughed. “Not so loud…” I looked toward Bucky again, but he was talking to Steve and Hunter and didn’t seem to notice our conversation. “Let’s move over to the booth in the corner…”

After we were all settled, Bobbi picked the conversation up again. “So you like him. Have you acted on it?”

“She hasn’t,” Wanda replied, answering for me again.

“Hey! Sitting right here,” I grumped. “I just got back. I haven’t really settled in. I don’t want to rush him. Or me. Plus, I doubt he’s interested.” They both laughed again. “No. Really. A bit of flirting is one thing. It doesn’t mean he’s interested.”

“I could…” Wanda started but I cut her off.

“No! Sorry, but no… Bucky has had too many people in his head. His thoughts deserve to be his own until *he* decides otherwise. Really. And I thought you told me to protect my heart?”

Wanda shrugged. “He… well. Let us just say I may have been wrong about that.” She turned to Bobbi. “So you and Hunter. What’s the story there?”

It was Bobbi’s turn to blush as she started her own story. Lots of ‘aw’s and ‘men can be dumb’ later, she looked toward him, Wanda and I turning to look as well. He was telling a story, arms waving. Steve was laughing and Bucky was smiling. Sam, who had joined them, was almost bent double he was laughing so hard. “We found our way back to each other. And now that we’re free agents, so to speak, we don’t have any secrets from each other. I wouldn’t want it any other way.” Wanda and I ‘aw’ed again. My gaze moved back to Bucky.

He was still smiling. Damn he was beautiful. I loved his smile. It was a rare thing, but damn was it perfect. His eyes found mine, and I realized I was staring. Crap. I smiled at him and felt the blush heat my cheeks. I don’t think I had blushed this much in… ever. His smile grew and he cocked his eyebrow at me. Then he looked at my plate and frowned. Oookay. I zoned back in to the conversation and Wanda was talking about Vision.

“I’m not sure what I would call it. I like being around him. That seems to be enough. For now, at least.” Bobbi smiled at Wanda, and I looked between them. Wanda and Vision. I could see it. Now I really wanted to see them interact.

My thoughts were interrupted by a plate being plunked in front of me. I looked up and met Bucky’s stare. “What…”

“You only ate three slices. After all that healing, I think you probably need a bit more. Yeah?”

I nodded at him and lifted a slice. He smiled and headed back over to Steve and the guys. I stared at the pizza, then at Bucky, who was shaking his head at Steve. Laugher erupted around me and I turned toward Wanda and Bobbi.

“No, Ella, he doesn’t like you at all,” Bobbi said through her laughter. Wanda started laughing harder. I glared at both of them.

“He’s just… he had to take care of me while I healed you and Hunter. Apparently he’s taking that job very seriously… that’s all,” I said. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it was more. I knew it was for me.

“Sure it is, Ella,” Wanda said. She smiled at me again, her gaze going distant. “Just don’t… don’t fight it too hard.”

*********

Bucky was surprised to have caught her staring. And even more surprised that she didn’t look away when he did catch her. The blush that stained her cheeks was very fetching. And her smile… it wrecked him. He wasn’t made for such feelings. Not anymore. Her plate caught his notice. Her empty plate. Damn.

After mumbling that he would be back, Bucky grabbed another paper plate and placed a few different slices of pizza on it. He carried it over, setting it in front of Ella. She seemed startled. He didn’t want to scare her, but she needed to eat. She did more healing than she probably should have. She needed to regain her energy. When Bucky saw she was going to take his suggestion, and eat, he made his way back to the guys.

Steve was the only one who showed any sign that he noticed Bucky’s absence. Steve leaned toward him, smirking. “You say she’s a friend, but pal, you don’t bring *me* pizza.”

Bucky shook his head at Steve. “Shut up, jerk.” Steve chuckled. “And you know as well as I do that she needs to eat, Steve,” Bucky continued, concern coloring his words.

Steve sobered. “Yeah. If you didn’t bring her more food, I probably would have. But are you sure you only think of Ella as a friend? You two seem pretty close already. I thought…”

“She’s too good for any of those thoughts, Steve. It doesn’t do to talk about it. Pointless. She’s good and I’m… well… I don’t even know what I am anymore. I like being around her. That’s enough for me, being her friend. It’ll have to be.”

Steve looked like he wanted to reply, but he stayed silent.

Chapter Text

Bobbi and Hunter left the next day, off on their next adventure. Bobbi had promised to keep in touch, and visit next time they were in the area. My days since had become fairly routine. I spent my time training with Steve or Nat (sadly, not Bucky again), running with Sam (who was thankful to have a non-super solider running partner), bugging Tony while he puttered in the lab, cooking with Wanda, and trying to beat Pietro at Texas Hold’em (he always won – I was convinced his speed helped him cheat, but I couldn’t prove it). And then, of course, I had the occasional awkward encounter with Bucky. I had a feeling he was avoiding me, but again, I had no proof. At first I was disappointed… and that was still there, of course, but now I was getting annoyed.

Instead of confronting this annoyance directly, like I should’ve, it started bleeding out into other areas. I trained harder, which was good. I did yoga to try and calm my grumbly demeanor, but it turned into angry yoga, not calm at all. It was hella fun though. Especially with my new aerial yoga setup, which was the only part of the bet to be fulfilled so far. And angry aerial yoga? Should totally be a thing. I created a playlist for it and everything. I had been baking more, but there was lots of alcohol included in the recipes. I was keeping myself busy, but at least I was doing it in a healthy way. Mostly.

Nat seemed to notice something was up. I kept asking about possible missions when we sparred. I was looking for distraction. She hadn’t mentioned her suspicions, though. It wasn’t like her to pry. No, Nat would just quirk an eyebrow and shake her head at me. Then she would continue kicking my ass. I was of the mind that everyone should get their ass kicked by Nat at least once. The happy mix of awe, and dirty thoughts that come after, fuck. It would be a feast for any shrink. Seriously. Nat rocked. And her ass kicking was a thing of beauty.

Wanda *knew* something was going on. She would look between Bucky and I (on the rare occasion we were in the same place - before he ran) and frown. She hadn’t brought it up to me, *yet*. I knew it was coming though. She seemed just as annoyed at me as she was at Bucky. When we would cook together she would mutter at me in Russian for a bit before we would fall into our usual comfortable pattern. Vision had taken to watching us when we cooked. He seemed amused by her grumbling, and of course *he* understood it. They were spending more time together and it was adorable. They were awkward, he more than her, but it was really cute. She had started blushing a bit when he entered a room, or even when he was mentioned. I had more fun with this than I should have. This caused Wanda to glare at me, which would in turn make me giggle.

Steve… well, Steve was obvious about his disapproval. He would give me his patented ‘Captain America is displeased with you’ stare, and huff a bit when he was training me. I’m sure he *thought* he was being subtle. He was not. At all. The first couple days Bucky avoided me, Steve started out concerned, asking if everything was okay. Asking if something happened. He just seemed protective, and a bit confused as to who he should be protecting. Then after a couple more days he started trying to meddle. He’d encourage me to seek Bucky out and talk to him. When this didn’t work he started ‘the stare’ and huffing, giving me extra laps, and generally being a pain in the ass. But it was Steve, so it was bearable and kinda cute. In that bratty kid way.

Tony, well, Tony was himself. He was cheerful that I was hanging out in the lab with him more often, joyfully calling me a pain in his ass. He wondered aloud a few times what had “Fucky’s pretty pink panties in a twist”, but when I was unable to provide a suitable answer, he stopped asking. Tony seemed pleased with the distance Bucky was keeping between us though, which irked me. But Tony was like the annoying older brother I never had, and he irked me often. He took great pleasure in finding new ways to vex me.

I was heading to visit Tony in his lab when I had my next awkward Bucky encounter. I was leaving the kitchen, a container of car-bomb cupcakes I was bringing Tony in hand, when I walked right into him. He steadied me, and before I had a chance to speak, he mumbled an apology and hurried off in the other direction. I stood there frozen for a minute. What the actual fuck? Was I a magnet turned wrong so I repelled him? Hehe… magnet… metal arm… I giggled at myself despite the situation. Maybe I should order some fun magnets. My rambling thoughts were halted by an alarm, and F.R.I.D.A.Y. instructing everyone to remain calm, there was a fire in the lab. I dropped the cupcakes on the counter and ran.

*********

Bucky was trying to escape Steve. He had fled the training area as soon as he saw Steve. He felt kind of bad about it, and he really didn’t want to be avoiding TWO people, especially when they were people he actually liked, but Steve was frustrating him. He wouldn’t quit asking about Ella, and what was going on, and why wouldn’t Bucky talk to her, and blah, blah, blah. It was never-ending. Did he really think Bucky *wanted* to avoid her? Fuck, he wanted to be around her all the time. But Bucky was *trying* to be good. To keep his distance, to protect her from him. At least, keep his distance when she was paying attention. He wasn’t spying on her, really. He just… liked to watch her. Not in a creepy way or anything. It just made him feel calm, and… happy? And it helped that he found her really fucking funny. Usually when she wasn’t trying to be.

Watching her play cards with Pietro was thoroughly amusing. He, of course, was cheating. And she kept watching him with her eyes squinted, suspicious, but she was unable to see that he was switching out his cards. Bucky was tempted to tell her, but it was too much fun to see her try and catch him, then pout when she couldn’t. When she lost her fifth hand in a row she actually stuck her tongue out at Pietro. Bucky had chuckled, and she had looked toward him and smiled. A smile that fell quickly when he realized he needed to put distance between them, and got up to leave.

Then, a couple nights ago Bucky had been heading into the kitchen. It was late, almost three? And he was surprised to hear music playing and the sounds of pans, and… singing? He peaked around the corner and saw her. Elizabeth was dancing around the kitchen, putting some kind of batter into pans, singing along with the music. The kitchen was a mess, and she had flour and batter all over her. She turned and took a large gulp of the open bottle of wine next to her before placing the pan in the oven. She was singing about the devil’s backbone? He listened a bit and decided to try and find the song later. Damn, Ella was definitely enjoying the wine. Bucky watched as she drank more, a little spilling down her chin, causing her to giggle. Fuck. Him. He felt that giggle on his skin like a touch. He made himself head back to his room. A shower sounded like a good idea.

The ‘cherry merlot brownies’ she left out for everyone the next day were amazing. Bucky ate more than his fair share, and had growled at Pietro when he beat Bucky to the last one.

That hadn’t been the only day she made him feel the need to… shower. Just the other day Bucky was going in to train, and noticed that she was using the equipment Steve had helped him acquire. He didn’t understand the draw of hanging from things in the while trying to contort yourself. Then he saw her do it. Damn she was flexible. Somehow, he had imagined it being more slow and… gentle. Instead it changed tempo from slow, to fast, and back again. And it seemed almost… violent? But still so graceful. He was drawn to her. Her movements were hypnotizing. And seductive. Fuck.

Bucky got closer, careful to remain out of site, and he realized the changes in speed were correlated to the music she was listening to. It wasn’t the crap he expected, like the stuff Sam had put on a ‘calming’ playlist for him as a joke. Sam had said people listened to it when they did yoga. This was nothing like that. This was actually good music. Music you’d listen to if you weren’t doing yoga. Heavy beats… dark… hell, even the music was seductive. Bucky didn’t remember music being seductive… at least not like this. He wondered if Ella would make him a playlist, until he remembered he was avoiding her.

Bucky was lost in his thoughts as he walked into the kitchen, and he felt someone walk right into him. Ella. He steadied her, reveling in the feel of her close to him, before stepping back with an apology, and walking away as quickly as he could. Shit. He didn’t want to let her go. Ever. Having her close… he forgot what it felt like to be that close to her. When it came to Ella, the closer the better. But he couldn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to her. He was broken. She deserved…

Bucky was startled out of his thoughts by the alarm. A fire in the lab. Fuck. He took off running.

Chapter Text

I skidded to a halt at the entrance to the lab. Tony was sitting on a table against the wall, holding a cloth to his temple. Steve was wielding an extinguisher, looking for any flames that may reignite. Natasha glanced up from the back-up computer console, hopefully resetting the system and canceling the alarms. I could still hear them blaring and was trying my best to tune them out. Pietro ran in just as the alarms went silent. I sighed in relief, turning my attention to him just as he handed Tony a bottle of scotch. Son of a…

“Tony, a first aid kit might have been more appropriate than scotch,” Nat muttered, speaking my thoughts. Pietro shrugged at her before running off again. She gestured to the charred lab. “What the hell happened in here anyway?”

“It was just a… miscalculation. That led to a small explosion,” he replied quickly. “No big deal.”

“No big deal?! No big…” Steve bit out.

“Hold up,” I said, raising my hands between them. “No more discussion until I check Tony over. Then y’all can bicker all you want. Not like it’s the first explosion, and I doubt it will be the last… but the arguing can wait.”

Steve grumbled, crossing his arms as he leaned against the desk to wait. Tony lifted one hand toward me and started to stand. “Ellie, I’m fine. No need to waste your energy. Really. Tiptop,” he said, forcing a smile.

“Anthony Edward Stark! You *will* sit still and let me heal your stubborn ass. This is not up for discussion. Sit! Now!”

I heard Nat snicker, muttering to Steve about Tony getting my loud voice. Steve smirked in return. I shook my head at them and turned back to Tony. He sat down with a sigh. “Fine. Fine. But it isn’t my ass that needs healing,” he said with a pout.

I rolled my eyes and bit my lip to keep from replying. It would only encourage him. Instead, I placed one hand on his injured temple, and the other on his side. I let my power flow slowly, seeking out damage. He was right. It was all minor. Scrapes and bruises. Not even a concussion. I healed it all quickly, ignoring the voice in my head telling me to leave it and let him live with the discomfort. As I removed my hands Tony thanked me quietly and I smiled at him. I turned to Steve, who was staring at the doorway. I followed his gaze… Bucky. A very angry looking Bucky. Glaring at me. I stepped back from Tony and watched as Bucky’s jaw clenched. Uhh…

Before I could speak, Bucky stormed off. Well, that was normal at least. Bucky running from me. At least that was the norm lately. I turned to Steve who was looking at me. “You’re welcome to continue your lecture. Excuse me…” I said, hurrying toward the door. I heard Steve muttering that is was about time. Tony had only gotten a surprised ‘hey!’ out before I made it into the hall. I got to the stairwell and hesitated.

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Where is Bucky?”

“Sgt. Barnes has just entered the training area. It seems he is going to use the sparring dummies.”

“Thank you!” I said, entering the stairwell.

*********

When Bucky entered the lab he scanned the area. The fire was out. Everyone was safe. The lab was a mess, but that was not unexpected. He noticed Steve and Natasha, but when he saw Ella, everything else faded. And he froze. She was standing between Tony’s legs, her hand on his face, the other holding his side. Tony was looking into her eyes. Bucky felt his fists clench. He braced himself against the doorframe to keep from throttling Tony. Bucky heard Tony say thank you, and watched her turn to Steve. Then Ella’s eyes found his. She stepped back from Tony, and Bucky had to force himself not to rush to her. To touch her. Claim her. Fuck. Not okay. Bucky turned quickly and ran. He didn’t stop until he got to the training dummies. He *really* needed to hit something. He had only landed a few punches before he heard someone approach.

“What the actual fuck, Bucky?” Ella hissed. He turned to look at her. She was breathing heavily and her cheeks were flushed. She looked pissed. Not his intention, but if it would make her stay away from him, so be it. He just looked at her, trying to keep his face void of any emotion.

“So you aren’t even going to talk to me now?!” She stepped toward him. “Seriously? What on earth did I do to deserve that, Bucky?! And what the fuck was that back there?” She continued, arm waving behind her. “I’m not allowed to heal Tony now?”

Oh. Well, shit. He should’ve realized that. He just saw them close and… got jealous? That seemed about right. Fuck. And now Ella was pissed. And, fuck him, it made her even more attractive. It didn’t seem possible. She stepped closer and lightly smacked his arm. His left arm. He saw a slight wince before she started speaking again.

“Are you even paying attention to me? Am I not even worth *that* much, *Sgt. Barnes*?...” Whatever Ella planned on saying next was cut off. Bucky’s control had snapped when she called him ‘Sgt. Barnes’. He didn’t think, just acted. He grabbed her, pulling her tight against him, and pressed his mouth to hers. He felt her tense, then relax with a sigh. Fuck him. That fucking sigh. He kissed her harder, biting her lip lightly when she didn’t open for him. She moaned, pressing against him, and he took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. He felt her arms wrap around his neck, and she pulled herself up toward him, kissing him back just as deeply.

Bucky pulled back slightly, hearing Ella whimper in response. Bucky grabbed her ass, lifting her. She gave him another moan and wrapped her legs around him. He walked her back until he could set her on the counter, using it to press closer to her. Bucky ran his hands into her hair, reveling in the silkiness of it. He fisted one hand and pulled, using her hair to tilt her head back, and forcing her to meet his eyes. The other hand grabbed her hip, holding her against him. Ella smiled at him, her gaze soft.

He groaned. Fuck. What had he done, now? Exactly what he had been dying to do, of course. Exactly what he knew he shouldn’t be doing. He pulled back from her and watched as her smile fell. Shit. “I’m sorry, Ella. That was a mistake, I shouldn’t have…”

Ella stiffened. “Shouldn’t have what, Bucky? Done exactly what I’ve been wanting? What I’ve been wishing you would do? What I was sure I couldn’t have, because I *knew* you didn’t think of me that way?”

Bucky didn’t respond, he just looked down, not meeting her eyes. He didn’t want to hurt her. That was exactly why this couldn’t happen. Surely she would understand that. She had to. This was how it had to be. He looked up when he heard her sniff. No. No. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Tears. She had tears running down her cheeks. Bucky felt his chest constrict. Fuck. He was lifting a hand to touch her when she spoke, her voice wavering.

“You… you know what? You’re right. You shouldn’t have kissed me… not when you obviously have no interest in…” Ella shook her head. She stood refusing to look at him. “Let’s just pretend none of this ever happened,” she whispered. Her eyes jumped to his for a second before looking away quickly. “’kay,” she said, and Bucky watched her as she walked away. And, fuck him, he didn’t stop her.

Chapter Text

I pulled a pillow over my head, trying to ignore the sun streaming through the windows and the obnoxious birds chirping. I needed more sleep. Then I smelled it. Coffee. I rolled off of the bed and tugged on my jeans, pulling my hair up as I headed toward the temping aroma. I could hear Nathanial giggling before I even made it all the way down stairs. I turned the corner into the kitchen and paused. Nathanial was in his highchair, tossing oatmeal on to the floor and laughing. Clint was pouring coffee while Laura tried to get Nathanial to eat a bite for every bite he launched. I could see Cooper and Lila through the window, assembling a kite, obviously having finished their breakfast. Clint turned and saw me. “Mornin’ sleepyhead.”

I signed good morning and shuffled toward the coffee pot. He chuckled and poured me a cup, pushing it toward me. “I should remember you don’t like to be verbal before coffee.” He set a cup in front of Laura, away from Nathanial’s reach, and then sipped his own. Laura turned with a smile.

“Good morning, Elle. You sleep okay? We didn’t wake you, did we? Nathanial is a morning person, and tends to get a bit loud.”

I took a sip of coffee and shook my head. “No, Nathanial is perfect, it was the da-gorram birds. And the sun. But I don’t mind being up. Coffee and breakfast with Nathanial, what more could a girl want?”

Clint chuckled and rinsed his mug, setting it next to the sink. “Well, I have to start on chores. You ladies have fun.” He bent and kissed Laura quickly and gave me a nod as he headed outside. Laura waited a minute before turning to me again.

“So, you got in late last night and we didn’t really have a chance to talk. Are you okay? I haven’t seen you since… well, since the funeral. Not that I don’t love that you decided to visit, it’s always good to see you, and the kids missed you. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to spend some time with you before school starts back up in a few weeks. It just seems like… something is up.”

I sighed and refilled my coffee, topping Laura’s off before I sat down across from her. “I did want to see you guys. And the kids, of course. But… I needed to get away from the compound for a bit.”

“Didn’t you just get back? Did something happen? Are you not ready to be back on the team?”

“No. It isn’t that… I just… I think,” I sighed. “I fell for someone I shouldn’t have.”

Laura’s eyes widened and she gaped at me. Nathanial shrieked, shaking her out of it, and she fed him another bite before turning back to me. “At… at the compound? It’s not Wanda is it? No… she and Vision... Hmm. It isn’t Pietro, right? Clint says he…”

“No, it isn’t Pietro. It’s…” I took a deep breath and braced. “It’s… it’s Bucky.”

Laura looked confused for a minute then stiffened. “Wait. Bucky as in the Winter Solider, Bucky? Elle, he’s…”

“He’s a good man,” I said firmly. “That, the Winter Solider stuff, it wasn’t him. *He* didn’t make those choices. And even though he wasn’t in control, now that he has a choice he’s trying to make amends. Bucky is a good man. One of the best men I know, and that is saying something. And Laura, we both know if Steve hadn’t saved me from them, I could’ve…”

“I know,” she winced. “I know how bad it could’ve been. But, Elle, you’ve been through so much. And he surpasses even you in the baggage department. Are you sure…”

“*I* am sure. But that doesn’t really matter at this point. He doesn’t feel the same way. That is why I needed to get away for a few days. To let that sink in, seal it up tight, and go back fresh.”

“I’m sorry, Elle. Really. You deserve to be happy. And if he doesn’t see how amazing you are, then fu-forget him. He doesn’t know what he’s missing. And you know you’re welcome to stay as long as you need to. Clint doesn’t say it, but he misses the team. It’ll be good for him to get to catch up with you,” she wiped off Nathanial’s hands and face, and lifted him out of the highchair, setting him gently on his feet.

“Thanks, Laur. Really,” I said, watching Nathanial toddle over to me. Damn he had grown. He had just started walking, with help, when they came for the funeral. Now he seemed steady on his feet. No wonder Clint retired. It was easy to miss too much, being away all the time. Nathanial raised his arms at me.

“Up, Lala! Up!”

I grinned and lifted him into my lap. When I first met the kids, before Nathanial made an appearance, they had misheard Clint and thought he had called me Lala, not Ella. And it stuck. So now Clint’s kids (and only his kids, Clint learned the hard way) called me Lala. I bounced Nate lightly in my lap while Laura cleaned up his breakfast mess. She checked that I was okay watching him for a bit, before taking the opportunity to catch up on laundry.

Nathanial and I moved to the rug in the living room, playing with blocks until he started to get sleepy - aka fussy. I sat in Clint’s big recliner and pulled him into my lap. I rocked him, singing softly. Kids never complained about my singing voice. Well, not when they were still in diapers anyway. His breathing evened out and he drifted off to sleep, his little fist gripped tight around the collar of my shirt. I let my eyes droop as I kept rocking, my singing faded to humming as I dozed.

It seemed like it had only been a few minutes when I felt Nathanial start to stir, but a glance at the clock showed it had been well over an hour. Wow. Nice nap. No dreams. I looked around and saw that Laura was on the couch across from us folding clothes. She smiled when she saw I was awake. I smiled back, and mouthed ‘hi’, trying not to disturb Nate. The front door slammed open and Cooper and Lila came in, followed by Clint. Nathanial’s head popped up, and he grinned, wide awake.

“Crap. Sorry guys,” Clint said, closing the door. “I knew it was getting close to lunch time, and I wanted to leave plenty of time to wash up. I didn’t know naptime was still happening or we would’ve practiced our soft entrance.”

Laura shook her head. “It’s okay, he was starting to stir a bit anyway. He actually made it over an hour today. I’m impressed. And Elle got a bit of a nap, too,” she finished with a wink.

I smiled and shrugged. “His fault. He made me all cozy. Best nap I’ve had since…” I winced, thinking of my nap on the couch with Bucky. “Well, it was a good nap, anyway. Did y’all get the kite put together?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Yeah, you should come fly it with us after lunch, Lala. It’s so cool,” Lila said as she came to lean on the arm of the recliner.

“And it makes awesome target practice!” Cooper added, grinning. Laura groaned. I laughed and looked at Clint, who was turning a bit red and looking anywhere but at his wife. Busted!

“That does sound fun,” I said setting a squirming Nathanial on the floor so he could toddle to Clint. “So what did you guys want for lunch?”

“Can we have grilled cheese and soup?” Lila asked leaning into me and batting her eyelashes. I laughed and nodded.

“Yes, and I’m telling Aunt Nat that you are using the tricks she taught you,” I said, tickling her side and making her giggle.

“Alright, well if Ella is making us lunch, we should wash up, yeah?” Clint said, picking up Nathanial and herding the kids into the hall.

“You spoil them almost as bad as Nat does, Elle. But I won’t complain, because it means I don’t have to make lunch *and* I get to eat one of your yummy grilled cheese sandwiches,” Laura said, standing and lifting the basket of freshly folded laundry.

“Anytime, Laura. You know that. And I am nowhere near as bad as Nat,” I replied as I headed to the kitchen.

*********

“So you haven’t heard from her at all? Are you sure?” Bucky asked watching Steve closely for any sign he was lying.

“No, Bucky. I really haven’t heard from Ella. And, before you ask, I don’t know where she is. She just told Tony and I that she was taking a little time, and to let Nat know if we need her for a mission. That is all I know. Why, did something happen between the two of you?”

Bucky shook his head. “Not really. Maybe. I don’t know. I just… I need to talk to her.” Five days. It had been five days since Ella had found him in the training area. Five days since they had kissed. Five days since he… “I just really need to get in touch with her, Steve. It’s important.”

Steve sighed, assessing him warily. “Okay. Fine. Talk to Nat. If anyone can help you get in touch with Ella, it’s Nat.”

“I was afraid you would say that. Okay, I guess I’ll go try and talk to Nat.”

Steve winced slightly. “I think she’s at the shooting range, if it helps. Good luck.”

“That *really* doesn’t help. At all. But thanks, Steve.”

“Anything, Buck. You know that.”

 

Bucky hesitated before he entered the shooting range. He didn’t want to have to ask Nat about this *at all* - but certainly not when she was readily armed. But then again, Nat was always readily armed. He sighed and pulled the first of the sound-reducing doors open. He grabbed some earmuffs off of the shelf and put them on. They always felt strange, but helped with the increased noise of the indoor range. Bucky braced himself and opened the second door, entering the range. He heard the buzzer sound and saw the yellow light blinking, notifying any shooters of the arrival.

Nat was at the booth at the far end of the range. When she emptied her clip, all center mass shots, a perfect grouping, she clicked on the safety and set the weapon down before turning to Bucky and pulling out her ear-plugs. She crossed her arms and quirked an eyebrow, waiting.

Bucky sat on the bench across from her and looked at her target… trying to figure out how to ask what he need to ask. He had opened his mouth to start a few times when she spoke. “I’m not telling you where she is, so don’t even ask. She was explicit, Elle doesn’t want anyone to know where she is right now.”

“I understand,” Bucky said, looking at Nat. “I just really need to talk to her. I don’t need to know where she is, and I know you wouldn’t tell me if I did. Can you help me get in touch with her, so that we can talk? Please?”

Nat looked at him, assessing him. He waited, trying to be patient. It took her so long to speak that her voice startled him. “Okay. You need to talk to Elle? Write her. Write her a letter and I’ll make sure she gets it. I can’t promise she’ll respond, or that she’ll even read it. I can promise I’ll make sure she receives it.”

Bucky thought over offer, then nodded. “I know you don’t have to help me. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, but honestly? I’m doing this more for Elle than I am for you,” Nat said with a small smile. “Just make sure you know what you want to say, and that you mean it. Elle may seem tough, and she is in many ways, but she feels too much. You have to protect her heart, because once she cares about someone? She won’t protect it from them. And Bucky?” She waited for his attention before continuing. “She cares about you. A lot.”

Bucky’s eyes widened. He swallowed before nodding. “I will. I… I care about her, too. A lot.”

Chapter Text

Bucky sighed and ran his hands through his hair again. Writing this letter was harder than he expected it to be. He’d started and scrapped it so many times, he was unsure he could write Ella at all. But he needed to. Steve saw him on the couch hunched over the pad of paper. “Bucky… I can guess what you’re doing, or trying to do. I’m not going to pester you about it, but my advice? Keep it simple. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be true, yeah?”

Bucky looked at him. “Yeah, Steve. Thanks. I just… I want to get it right.”

“It will be right, Buck. As long as you’re completely honest,” Steve said. Bucky nodded. Steve smiled at him before heading for the door, wanting to give Bucky some privacy. Bucky had started writing before the door shut.

*********

Cooper reached out from under my truck, and I handed him the new oil filter. Lila was sitting on the blanket I had laid out next to the truck, playing with a ratchet. She wasn’t as hands-on as Cooper, but still seemed interested in learning basic auto maintenance. Once Cooper attached the filter, Lila hopped up to help me pour in the new oil. She held the funnel while I poured, then she put the oil cap back on. We were wiping our hands clean when Clint walked up, Nathaniel on his hip.

“Wow, looks like you guys have had some fun,” Clint said, wiping some grease from Cooper’s nose. “All finished?”

“Yeah, Lala doesn’t need brake pads yet,” Cooper replied. “She said when she does, I can replace them myself!”

Clint looked at me and smiled. “That’s really awesome, Cooper. She must trust you a whole bunch. Hey, why don’t you and Lila go wash up? Mom is making you guys a snack.” The two older kids took off for the house. Clint watched them run then turned to me. “So, Elle…”

“So, Clint…”

“I just got back from town, and you had something in our box at the post office. Nat told me it would be coming… and I’m not sure I should give it to you. Nat says I should, and if I don’t that you’ll be pissed when you find out… and I really don’t want the two of you angry with me. You can both kick my ass… and I don’t want to imagine what you could do teamed up…”

“You about done rambling? I know you’re trying to stall. What do you have for me?”

Clint hesitated. “A letter.”

“Okay. That seems innocuous enough.”

“It’s from Barnes.”

I froze. “Bucky?”

“Yeah. And seeing your face right now? Confirms that I was right to want to keep this from you.”

“Give it to me, Clint,” I said, looking him in the eyes.

He bounced Nate softly. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Don’t use Nate as cover,” I said, exasperated. “His cuteness is distracting, but I still want my letter.”

“He hurt you. I can tell, Elizabeth. That alone has my hands twitching for my bow. I don’t want to hand you something that might cause you more pain.”

“Clint,” I said softly. “I appreciate you being protective, but not reading it will probably be worse. I’m not good at the waiting, the not knowing… purgatory is worse to me than the hell of knowing.”

I held out my hand. Clint looked at it, then at me, and took it from his back pocket and handed it to me. He bounced Nate a bit higher on his hip. “We’ll head back up to the house, give you some time. If you need anything… well, you know where we are.”

“Thank you, Clint. See you in a bit Nate,” I said, tickling his side. Nate giggled and waved bye-bye. When they reached the porch I walked to the back of my truck and let down the tailgate. I hopped onto it and looked at the letter in my hands. The writing looked like Nat’s. I opened the envelope. There was a note and a smaller envelope inside. The note was from Nat.

Elle,
Bucky was asking about you and seemed desperate to get in touch with you. I know you didn’t want me to tell anyone where you were, so I told him to write you. He handed me an envelope this morning and I’m sending it on to Clint’s. I really think you should read it, but it is up to you now. Miss you around here. The coffee is not the same without you.
-Nat

I smiled as I refolded the note. I missed the compound, and the makeshift family I had found there. It was great to spend time with Clint and his family, but I wanted to let them settle back into their lives. I sighed and looked at the unopened envelope. It had ‘Elizabeth’ written in rough cursive on the front. I took a deep breath and opened it.

Ella,
I hope this finds you well. Nat was adamant about not sharing your location. She said if I wrote you it would reach you. There is a lot that I would like to say, but I don’t really know how. I miss you. That should be first, I think. I miss you an awful lot, doll. Maybe the apology should come first? I’m so very sorry. I’m sorry I was an ass and avoided you like I did, at least while you were paying attention. I was just scared to let you get close to me. It isn’t you I don’t trust, it’s me. And the kissing… I don’t think I’ve ever been so… is there something more than happy? Softer but stronger? I don’t know. I’m not good with feeling things anymore. Maybe I never was. But I can be honest with you. I miss you. I want to see you. And I’m sorry for hurting you, doll. That was the last thing I wanted. I only wanted to protect you. From me. I realize now that I shouldn’t have made that choice for you. I hope that you are doing well. I look forward to hearing from you, or seeing you, when you’re ready.
Yours,
Bucky

I reread the letter three times in a row before pressing it to my lips. I folded it back into the envelope and stood. I swiped at the tears that had run unnoticed down my cheeks while I was reading. Laura was right, we both had baggage. A lot of it. But I wanted to try anyway. If Bucky was willing to try, I was as well. He took the initiative to write me. He was honest with me. The least I could do is be honest with him.

I cradled his letter to my chest. The sun was getting low in the sky. I knew I should probably sleep before I started my drive… but I wasn’t going to. I would pack, eat dinner with the kids, and visit a bit. Then I would head out. I’d need coffee. Lots of coffee. I wondered if Clint would let me borrow his thermos.

Chapter Text

There was a knock on the door as I finished zipping my bag shut and tossed it on the bed. I opened the door to find Clint, again holding Nathaniel on his hip, with a phone in his other hand. His face looked grim. “What’s up, Clint? I was just about to head down for dinner… promise.”

“Nat just called. They need you on a mission. She and the others will be here on the jet within the hour. She said it’s her and the twins. The others were already out on a mission… they left yesterday. So even with you she’s not sure there will be enough of you guys.”

My hands start flying… cursing. Nate isn’t old enough yet to copy the gestures so I don’t feel too guilty about it. And my hands continue to sign as I talk, emphasizing my words. “No. No, Clint, don’t you dare even think it. You are not coming with us. No way. I won’t allow it. Neither will Nat. We’ll be fine. You’re staying with your family. Retired. You’re retired.”

Clint waited until I finished. He quickly signed ‘ok’ before adding “but I don’t have to like it.” I followed him back downstairs. I ate quickly, the mood at the table dour. There were many hugs as I said goodbye to the kids and Laura. Nate gave me a sloppy kiss on my cheek. Clint squeezed me tightly and whispered in my ear. “Thank you, Elle. Please be safe.”

I nodded at him as I pulled back, giving him a small smile. With one last goodbye I walked toward the field where the jet had just touched down, my bag over my shoulder. I waved to the Barton clan, who had assembled on the porch to see me off, and I stepped onto the jet.

Natasha was up front with Wanda, teaching her the controls, reminding me of my many lessons with Clint. Pietro was pacing slow enough that I could see him. It looked more like powerwalking than normal pacing, but at least he was visible. I dropped my bag on a seat and headed toward the front. I sat in the jump seat behind the cockpit and leaned forward.

“Hi y’all. Missed you. It’s good to see you, but I wish it was under different circumstances. What’s the mission?”

“I’m a bit shocked you convinced Clint to stay put,” Natasha said by way of greeting. “Oh, and good to see you, too,” she added as an afterthought.

“He wasn’t happy about it, but I used my loud voice, and he conceded. Clint may not like being sidelined, but he’s at home with his family so he’ll be okay.”

“I missed your presence, Ella,” Wanda said, squeezing my hand lightly. I gave her a squeeze in return.

“So what are we doing?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t another rescue mission.

“We got word of a new suspected Hydra base,” Nat started. “It should just be recon. If the intel is confirmed, we should try to take the base out if we can. If we can’t handle it ourselves, we’ll observe it and wait for reinforcements. I should also probably tell you this *might* be a trap. We got the same type of intel yesterday, and the location was on the opposite side of the world from our destination. I’ve been in contact with Cap’s team, nothing hinky yet, but I - *we*, think it’s suspicious that we’re being called away - as far away as possible from their current location. Vision is staying at home base, that way he can quickly get to either team if needed.”

“A trap, huh. That gives me the warm and fuzzies. Okay, well at least we can be extra cautious. I brought coffee. Clint loaned me his thermos. Y’all want a cup?” I got nods from Nat and Wanda, and turned to Pietro. “You want coffee?”

“Please,” he said, pausing his power-pacing.

I poured coffee into paper cups and handed them out. We were silent as we drank. Pietro was the only one showing obvious nerves, but I could see Nat’s tension, and Wanda’s magic was flickering without her realizing it. “Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

Wanda looked at Natasha, who gave a minute shake of her head, before turning to me. “The Hydra base the other team went in search of… the intelligence included information that a disciple of Dr. List’s was there. Steve said that you were familiar with him,” Wanda hesitated again. “His name is Dr. Pyre…”

I froze. I felt all of the color drain from my face. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuckity, fuck. I swallowed. “Yeah. Yeah, I know him. He’s the one that had me taken from my home. He *suspected* that I could be ‘special’ and wanted to see if his theory was correct. He finally began to believe I was ‘normal’ after… well… after he - let’s say ‘tested’ me. Extensively. Thankfully I was able to endure the tests. And I had enough control over my power to make myself heal at a regular rate, instead of at my usual speed. Luckily Steve found me before Pyre discovered my powers, or gave up and disposed of me. Steve got me out of there while Nat and Clint placed some explosives to destroy the base. I thought Pyre died when the team detonated the charges,” I closed my eyes, hugging myself lightly. “I guess not.”

Nat’s jaw was clenching over and over. She saw how I looked when Steve brought me out. I think that was why she warmed to me more quickly than expected. I looked at Wanda, whose magic was dancing angrily between her hands. Pietro had resumed pacing, this time he was a blur. I put a hand on Wanda’s, making her look up. “I’m okay, Wanda.” She arched an eyebrow.

“We all need to calm down a bit,” I said, standing. “More coffee? I think we have just enough for another round.”

Nat shook her head, but smirked and said “Sure.” Wanda smiled and handed me her cup. Pietro stopped pacing and watched me walk to my bag and grab the thermos. He walked over and squeezed my shoulder.

“Another cup would be lovely. Thank you.”

I nodded and filled his cup, before bringing the girls their cups. As I sipped my coffee a thought occurred to me. “Did Steve share any of my history with Pyre with the other team?”

Nat cut her eyes to me and they widened slightly. “No. Tony knows, because he was there. Sam knows only what you told him, but as far as I know, he doesn’t know this is *the* doctor. Bucky doesn’t know any of it... unless you told him.”

I shook my head. “Not anything detailed or specific, no. Not yet.” I went back to my bag, pulling out a thin hoodie, and pulling it on. When I went back up front Wanda looked at me.

“Cold?”

“Not really… Pyre, the ‘tests’ he did… it should have scarred me. My power prevented it. Hell, I’m lucky my power lets me get tattoos. The point is, if he is out there somewhere, I don’t want him to draw conclusions from my lack of scars. So, for this mission at least, long sleeves all the way.”

Nat shifted, her jaw clenching again. I expected her to insist I stay in the jet. Instead, after a minute, she turned to me with a small smirk. “So, Clint said you got the letter today.”

I winced. Crap. “Yep.”

“What letter?” Wanda asked, turning in her seat to look at me.

“Bucky wrote Elle a letter. Had me send it to her, since I wouldn’t share where she was.”

“Ooh! What did it say?” Wanda asked, excited.

I glared at Nat. “He just… apologized for avoiding me. Said I should come home.”

“That’s,” Wanda sighed. “Sweet, but disappointing. He should’ve written you a love letter.”

Nat laughed. “I think for Barnes, what he’s been through, that is a love letter, Wanda.”

I looked between them, my eyes narrowed and arms crossed. “It was a perfectly nice letter. Y’all leave Bucky alone.”

Pietro was just looking between us all. Finally, he shook his head and resumed pacing… this time at a more sedate speed.

The jet’s comms started beeping and Nat answered. Cap’s face popped up. “I just wanted to check in with you. I figured you’d have picked up Ella by now,” Steve said. I leaned forward and waved. He smiled. “You holding up okay, Ella?”

“Yeah. It was a surprise, of course, but I’m okay at the moment. How are y’all doing?”

“Still no movement at the base. I have a bad feeling about all this.”

Nat nodded. “I do, too. Something isn’t right. I don’t like it at all.”

Steve frowned. “Keep your guard up. Be careful. I’ll check in with you again soon,” Steve finished, giving us a chin lift before cutting the call.

“Lovely,” I said. “Two of the only people whose gut instincts I trust, and they both think this is bad news.” I sighed.

Nat chuckled lightly. “Yes, but we’re going to listen to our guts, and not do anything stupid. We’ll be okay Elle.”

*********

Steve turned to Bucky after he cut the transmission. Bucky was still staring at the screen. She was there. He saw her for a second. She didn’t see him, but he saw her and she was okay. Bucky sighed. He really didn’t like being this far away from her. Steve and the others seemed increasingly worried about her since yesterday.

When he’d asked Steve about it, Steve had said that it had to do with Elle’s run in with Hydra, but that it wasn’t his story to tell. Bucky understood, but it didn’t help the worry at all. Neither did her getting further and further away from him. He wondered if she got his letter before she left. Comms during a mission was definitely not the time to ask, but he couldn’t help but be curious. Originally he wasn’t planning to come on this mission, but Steve had asked him to, and he couldn’t say no. Especially not when he realized it had something to do with Ella.

Bucky and Steve walked out of the jet and headed back to the makeshift home base. He, Steve, Sam, and Tony were holed up in an abandon building not far from the base they were watching. Tony had somehow managed to get the power and plumbing to work, so it was more comfortable than it could’ve been. Bucky had never seen Tony so reserved and worried. Quiet. He had a feeling it had to do with Ella, and that concerned him.

When he and Steve entered the building Sam was napping, while Tony paced. As soon as Tony saw them, he approached Steve. “Is Ellie okay? Is she with Nat?”

Steve nodded. “Yeah, she’s with Nat and the twins. She seemed shaken, but okay. I could tell Nat wasn’t able to keep it from her like she wanted to.”

Tony shook his head. “And she calls herself a spy? Ellie must be so frightened. Maybe I should…”

“Tony, we’ve been over this. We need to stay in teams of four, just in case this is a trap. We can reevaluate if anything changes, but you know I’m right. We’re all worried about her. There isn’t anything to indicate that she’s in any more danger than usual. She’s okay. She’s strong.”

“I know. But she shouldn’t have to be, not about this,” Tony sighed. He shook his head and went back to pacing.

Bucky looked between the two, knowing he was missing some big piece to the story, and wanting to know what it was. It hurt thinking that Ella had gone through anything at the hands of Hydra, but not knowing what actually happened was worse. He knew what Hydra was capable of. The thought of Ella being subjected to their… talents… it was terrifying. Steve looked at Bucky and moved to stand beside him. He squeezed Bucky’s shoulder. “She’ll be okay, Buck,” Steve said softly. Bucky nodded and closed his eyes. He hoped like hell that Steve was right.

Chapter Text

The light coming through the window was soft, and I sighed as I curled deeper into the warmth at my side. I felt two strong arms, one warm and soft, the other cool and hard, pull me close. I sighed, reveling in the heat, the smell of him giving me comfort. I grinned into his side, squeezing him. Bucky. I tipped my chin back to look at him. “Hi.”

“Mornin’ sleepy head,” he smiled, his voice low and rumbly with sleep. He pushed my hair back and pressed his lips to my forehead. My head rested on his shoulder as he pulled me closer to him. “I always sleep so much better with you close, Ella. Thank you.”

Before I can reply I hear a noise. A scrapping. I look around the room trying to place it, but it doesn’t fit. I look to Bucky, but he’s gone. Panicked, I sit up quickly. I open my mouth to scream, but there is no sound. I feel sharp pain in my arm. I look and see nothing. The next pain is so intense that it wakes me. I open my eyes, the warm room I was sharing with Bucky gone. In its place were concrete walls and steel. This time when I screamed, the sound was deafening.

*********

Bucky paced in the small space. Steve was on the comms, waiting to connect with the other team. Tony was cursing as he cleaned a cut on Sam’s cheek. Bucky was thinking of Ella. Of the time he wasted. Bucky, of all people, should know better. Time was precious, and wasting it? He didn’t want to think of the possible punishment.

When the comms finally connected everyone paused. Nat’s voice was clear, and in no obvious distress, making everyone relax slightly. Everyone except Bucky. “Cap, what’s up? We weren’t scheduled to check in for another few hours. Hell, morning is still a couple hours away.”

“Are you all okay?”

“Pietro is monitoring the perimeter, Wanda and Elle are getting some sleep. No change from yesterday, or the day before. Are you okay? What happened?”

Steve let out a relieved breath. “Well, it seems that Hydra had it in their heads to ‘re-acquire’ Bucky. They waited for he and Sam to take watch before making their move. We can say with certainty that ‘the words’ no longer trigger Bucky though. We were able to neutralize the threat, but it was definitely planned. We hit the base, and there was nothing there. Pyre’s still a no-show. I think it was a lure to get Bucky out in the open. Thankfully the plan failed.”

“But that doesn’t explain why you were lured so far from here,” Tony cut in. “Can you have Speedy check on the girls? The twins were once Hydra’s acquisitions as well. And Ellie, almost… well, if you could just…”

“Not a problem,” Nat said, and they listened as she switched over to the local comms to call Pietro. As they waited Bucky felt helpless. He knew something was wrong. When the Hydra operative had started reciting the words he had felt panicked. When they didn’t work, his first thought was getting to Ella.

“Shit. Pietro says Wanda is okay. Elle… he hasn’t located her yet. They’re looking.”

Tony stood and moved to the controls next to Steve, getting the quinjet ready to go. Bucky noticed Sam pressing a cloth to his cheek and moved to sit in front of him, picking up where Stark left off. Sam raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment as Buck patched him up.

“They’ve searched our area. No sign of Elle. I’m going to help with another scan, and then we’ll check the base,” Natasha said, her voice hard.

“Okay, Nat. We’re heading your way. Stay safe,” Steve replied. He closed his eyes briefly as Tony brought the jet off the ground, destination already set. After taking a minute, Steve stood and moved toward Bucky.

Bucky had finished patching up Sam, and was sitting quietly, staring at his hands. Steve noticed that his right hand was tremoring slightly. He reached out and squeezed Bucky’s right shoulder. “We’ll find her, Buck.”

Bucky’s shoulders slumped and he shook his head. “I should’ve been with her. If I had been… if I had been she would be safe.”

“We all should’ve been there,” Tony replied, his firm tone belied by the hitch in his voice. “She’s strong. We’ll find her, Barnes. Ellie will be okay.”

Bucky looked at Stark, stunned at his reassurance. “Thank you,” he murmured, Tony having help ground him a bit. Tony just nodded and kept his attention on the controls.

---

It was just under eight hours before they landed, touching down not far from Nat’s quinjet. When Bucky saw Nat’s face, he knew they hadn’t found Ella in the two hours since her last check-in. Fuck. Wanda moved toward him, concern stark on her face, but she stopped short of actually touching him. She just hovered close by as Nat gave her update.

“The base was empty. It looked as though it was inhabited recently, though. There was some fresh oil on the concrete, suggesting movement by ground, but no solid evidence. We searched a five-mile area out from here, there is no sign of her. And, as I said before, there were no signs of a struggle. She just… vanished,” Natasha shook her head. “I know I saw her last approximately three hours before your call. Pietro said she and Wanda were sleeping when he checked just under two hours before your call. Whoever it was, they were quick and efficient. This had to have been the plan…”

Steve grabbed Nat’s forearm, making her pause. “This isn’t your fault, Nat. You haven’t done anything different than I would have.”

Nat nodded slowly, but seemed unconvinced. “So, what’s next?”

Steve looked at Tony, who nodded. “First, we’ll take another look at the base. Vision is monitoring the internet and surveillance systems for Ella. We got word to Fury and Hill, as well as Morse and Hunter. Everyone knows to send us any intel that might be related.”

Nat nodded. “Okay, let’s go check the base.”

*********

I had stopped screaming long ago. I had no real way to tell how long, but they had stopped and started at least three times since then. Whatever drug they had given me to subdue me, the one that let me dream of Bucky, had worn off fully not long after I woke. The pain they doled out took many forms. Knives were first, then burning, electricity, blunt force, so many ways to inflict damage. I had still managed not to heal myself. I locked my power down tight, not wanting to encourage them. I’d rather them kill me than use me. I jumped slightly as the door opened again. Pyre.

Unlike me, he had scars. Apparently he hadn’t made it out of the explosion unscathed. Good. Fucker. He had been coming to taunt and torture me alone for a while know, apparently confident I wouldn’t fight back. “Still so stubborn, little Elizabeth? Haven’t we removed that unfortunate attribute from you yet?”

The clench of my jaw was my only reply. “Well, I know you think your friends will save you, again. They won’t. Not this time. You are mine and mine alone. Hydra may have been weakened, but you will help bring us back stronger than ever. Once I tap into your power, you will ensure our survival.”

When Pyre got no reply from you, he continued. “It’s been days. You can’t really think they’ll rescue you. No, just still being stubborn. Well, I have shown you mercy up until now, but I think since you still refuse to cooperate, that must change,” he sneered. I watched as he pulled a gun out and shot me in the chest. I gasped in pain, and it turned into a gurgle as blood flooded my throat.

Chapter Text

As the blood filled my throat and began seeping from my mouth, I closed my eyes and thought of Bucky. His shy smile, the way he held me, the heat of his gaze when I called him Sgt. Barnes, and of course… his kiss. I didn't get much time with him, not nearly enough, but I was glad that he would be my last thought. I relaxed as my heartbeat started to slow. Then I felt it. My power began to uncoil and slowly repair the damage… knitting together the path the bullet had taken, repairing the lung that was drowning me in blood. I tried as hard as I could to stop it, but I wasn’t strong enough. Apparently I couldn’t choose not to heal deathblows. I let sleep pull me under as my energy was consumed by healing the wound.

---

I woke slowly, disappointed that I didn’t dream of Bucky. I felt drained, like I usually did after I healed anything critical. Healing myself was always easier, but I couldn’t remember when I last ate or drank. And I could tell I hadn’t fully healed myself… The damaged was still visible on my arms, and I could feel it on the rest of my body. Okay, I had only healed the critical while I slept. Good. But the fact that I was still breathing was enough to confirm Pyre’s suspicions. Speak of the devil…

I heard the door slide open, and braced myself for his gloating. “Well, well, well. Still with us I see? And how did you manage that? You still have all your other injuries… were you not strong enough to heal them all? Or were you just hoping I wouldn’t notice that you were missing a hole in your chest?” he laughed. He moved closer and I tensed. “Don’t want to play with me anymore? Maybe I’ll let a friend of yours try instead. He is ‘ready to comply’ after all. Would you like to see your Sgt Barnes? You were calling out for him while you slept. I must warn you, he isn’t himself… isn’t yours, not anymore… he’s our weapon, the Winter Soldier. He doesn’t remember you.”

At Pyre’s words I felt my blood catch fire. No! Not Bucky! They could do whatever they would to me, but they couldn’t have him! Not again! I felt my power flare to life. It felt… different somehow. Pyre stepped closer to me, smirking at the tears running down my face. Without thinking I reached my fingers out, curling them around his hand. The power flowed into him and it took a minute for me to realize what was happening. Then I heard him gasp, and saw one of my injuries appear on his skin. My lips curled into a hateful sneer as I forced more of my power at him, watching all of my injuries break his skin at once. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

One more push of power, and I saw my gunshot wound, the one I had healed… the one he inflicted on me, open on his chest. He gurgled blood, his eyes wide as he dropped to the floor, knocking his instrument tray over next to me. I saw his scalpel land next to my hand and reached for it without hesitation. It took a few minutes before I freed my right hand. Once it was out, I managed to get the rest of my bonds undone quickly. I sat up and looked around the room, then down at Pyre. I watched his chest, but it was still. His lifeless eyes turned up toward the ceiling. I slid off the table to stand, wobbling a bit. I started looking for a weapon.

*********

Bucky fidgeted while Steve and Sam read through the intel. He had tried to help, but he couldn’t focus on the words. A week. They took Ella a week ago. He knew too well what Hydra could do in a week. Fuck. All the intel the team had run down so far had been dead ends. Tony was working in his lab on… who knew what. Nat was meeting with contacts. There was no trace of her. None. Hill burst into the room, startling the three of you. “Cap! There was a call, there’s a message you need to hear! Now!” she said, lifting the receiver and hitting some buttons. Bucky almost collapsed in relief when he heard your voice.

“Bucky, handsome, it’s Ella. I don’t have long. I’m alive, but I need extraction. The building I’m at, it’s going to sound crazy, but I think Cap’s team… your team, was here. Those candies Sam likes? I found a wrapper on the roof. Fucking litterbug. It’s a sand colored building. There is a weird blue design painted on one side. Familiar? I’ve taken out five, plus Pyre. There are more guarding the perimeter. I’m not sure how long I have before they come in to investigate. I don’t want to risk them following me to the nearest town unless I have to. I’ll wait here as long as I can. Bring food.”

Bucky slumped in his chair. “Holy shit.”

“That’s the building! The one we were surveilling when Ella got snatched!” Sam sputtered, standing.

Steve shook his head as he stood as well, offering Bucky a hand up. “Sam, get the twins. Hill, can you ready the quinjet while I grab Stark?” Hill nodded, heading for the door. “Bucky, can you let Nat know? We’ll meet on the jet,” Steve said, following the others out.

Bucky leaned against the table, quickly updating Nat, who said she would meet them there. He swung by the kitchen to grab some provisions for Ella before heading to the hanger. He hoped Ella could hold on til they got there.

*********

I crouched behind the desk, listening for footsteps. I had managed to find a couple energy bars and had even lucked out and found a couple MREs and some bottled water. Eating would hopefully help me recharge a bit after using my powers. I still wasn’t letting them heal me fully… trying to conserve energy, but I had used them to take down two more Hydra assholes after Pyre. I was also able to take two down with the scalpel I had stolen from the room I was held in. The last one I was able to sneak up on and hit with a fire extinguisher. Killing seemed a lot more violent when I wasn’t using my powers. I tried to remind myself that it was them or me.

As I ate I wondered if Bucky had gotten my message. I had called a couple of hours ago, as soon as I realized he wasn’t here. I had searched for him. Not to mention I had *asked* one of the Hydra fuckers I used my power on. Nicely. No one else was being held here. They had tried to capture the Winter Soldier, but they failed, he escaped. Bucky was safe. Pyre had just been taunting me. Asshole. Well, he brought the outcome on himself. Don’t fuck with the people I love. Period. When I had eaten both MREs, and finished a bottle of water, I stood. Much less shaky. Good. I planned to call again, just in case my first message hadn’t been received.

I grabbed the satchel I had found that I was using to carry the pistols and ammo I had taken off the bodies I dropped. I added the water and energy bars to the bag. I hadn’t used the guns yet, worried that the noise would draw more Hydra dicks. I was glad I had them if I needed them though. My favorite, a Markov pistol, was tucked into my waistband, safety on. I slung the bag over my shoulder and headed toward the door.

I was in the hall, heading back toward the room I knew had a working phone, when I heard footsteps. I ducked into the nearest doorway, a supply closet, and quietly pushed the door closed. I pulled out my pistol, sliding the safety off. I listened… voices? Shit.

Chapter Text

“What if she left, Steve? We’ve only found four agents so far, all outside the base.”

“Nat’s team is checking the area. Tony and Sam are searching from the roof down while we cover from the ground up. If she’s here we’ll find her, Buck.”

I put my free hand over my mouth to contain my gasp. Bucky? I hesitated. When I heard the steps pass the door to my hiding spot I cracked it open slowly. I saw the backs of two familiar figures and almost collapsed from relief. Bucky! I heard more steps coming around the corner behind us and turned from my boys. A Hydra agent had his gun pointed at them as he came around the corner. As I began to lift my arm, I saw him notice me. He started to change his aim, but he didn’t get the chance. I fired and saw all three shots hit center mass. I lowered my arm and turned. Steve and Bucky were staring at me wide eyed.

Bucky’s eyes locked on mine as we moved toward each other. I felt his arms wrap around me, his face buried in my neck. “Ella, fuck! Doll, I thought I had lost you,” he murmured. “Nice shot, by the way,” he added, pulling back to smooth my hair out of my face. I saw him scan my injuries, his eyes hardening.

“Thanks,” I tried to smile at him, wincing when I felt a sharp sting on my lower lip. Bucky noticed the wince and his jaw clenched. “I’m okay, James. Really. Tired, sore, but okay. You’re here. You being here, still being you? I’m good. Promise.”

Bucky pulled me closer for another hug. I heard Steve, on comms, saying they found me. He moved to stand next to us. “Ella, glad to see you’re safe,” he said, glancing toward Bucky. Bucky gave me another squeeze before stepping back to let Steve give me a hug. He squeezed me, then pulled back to look at me, and I saw his eyes were pained. “I totally could’ve taken that guy, by the way. But thanks for watching our backs,” Steve teased, giving me a lopsided smile. I appreciated his attempt at levity. I gave him another quick hug as I laughed softly.

“I know, Cap. Didn’t feel like being a damsel just then. Thank you for coming to my rescue, anyway.” When Steve released me Bucky handed me a protein shake. I took a sip while he opened an energy bar. “Thank you, Bucky. I found some MREs, but I feel like I need to eat nonstop for a while,” I said, my eyes crinkling with humor. He smiled back, before tensing and focusing behind me. He relaxed again and I heard Tony speak.

“Ellie! Oh thank god,” Tony let out a breath as he stepped over the body of the Hydra agent and pulled me into a tight hug. He pulled back and looked at me, his hand coming up to trace my cheek. “Those motherfuckers. Really? They needed to do this to you? Again? Once wasn’t enough for them? Fucking savages.”

Sam moved up beside us, smiling at me. “Hey Elle. Good to see you’re still with us,” he said softly. He pulled me into a quick hug before stepping back. “I think that guy was the last one,” he said, gesturing to the hall behind him. “Tony and I took down a couple others on our way down, but the base seems to be clear.”

“Nat, Clint, and the twins are meeting us back at the jet,” Cap said. “We ready to move?”

“Clint’s here?!" I frowned "He was supposed to stay home."

“Of course Clint is her, Ellie. You were missing,” Tony replied, rolling his eyes at my surprise. “He insisted on being a part of the recovery team. Nat convinced him to stay home until we got a lead on your whereabouts, but just barely. I’m going to do one more sweep… see if there is any more intel. I’ll meet you guys when I’m done.”

“Okay,” I said, still trying to shake off Clint being back in the field. I took a breath. “Sam, will you stay with Tony?” Sam’s eyes widened slightly, and Tony looked like he was about to protest. I continued before he had a chance. “Considering all that has happened, I’m more comfortable with the buddy system. Please?” Sam nodded. Tony held my gaze for a few seconds before he relented, giving me a soft smile and a single nod. Bucky’s left hand found the small of my back, and he and Steve led me out of the base.

*********

Bucky watched Ella sleep. She was curled against his shoulder, both of her arms wrapped around his arm, like she wanted to be sure he couldn’t escape. She had fallen asleep shortly after they boarded the jet. He had made her finish two shakes and three energy bars before letting her sleep. He was glad he did. She was healing as she slept. The marks on her skin were fading, but Bucky knew he would remember each one. They would haunt him.

Seeing her in the base, her being between him and that Hydra agent. Fuck. It had scared him. Ella had already turned toward the threat when he saw her, and she didn’t hesitate… she eliminated him. Bucky was stunned, but so proud that she defended herself without question. And then she had joked with Steve. Ella really was strong. Stronger than he had realized. She still hadn’t told them how she escaped Pyre. There was time for that once they got back to the compound. For now, Bucky was content to watch her sleep. He tried not to let his thoughts distract him.

Bucky had heard Tony say that Hydra had done this to Ella *again*… he knew she had been through something with Hydra before, but something like this? How did she manage to be so… light? So soft? Even after going through something like that at their hands. Bucky was in awe. Ella stirred in her sleep, squeezing Bucky’s arm. He pressed his lips against the top of her head and breathed her in. She relaxed against him with a sigh. His Ella.

*********

I woke surrounded in warmth. The sun bathed the room in a gentle light. I let my eyes drift shut as I snuggled into the warmth, feeling it pull me closer. My eyes popped open and I turned, wide-eyed, and saw Bucky. He sat up, a concerned look on his face. “Ella, you’re okay. I’ve got you,” he said, pulling me to him. I took a deep breath.

“I’m not dreaming?”

Bucky chuckled lightly. “No, doll. You aren’t dreaming. I can pinch you if you like?” he offered, quirking an eyebrow as he smirked.

A slow smile spread across my face. “The last thing I remember is sitting with you on the jet.” I looked down at myself. “Apparently that was a while, not to mention a change of clothes, ago.”

Bucky blushed and leaned back against the headboard. “You were sleeping so soundly. Don’t worry, Nat and Wanda cleaned you up a bit and put you in comfortable clothes. I stayed outside the room until they were done.”

I smiled as I curled up against his chest and felt his arms come around me. “I figured Nat was behind the clothes,” I said, gesturing to my ‘Smash the Patriarchy’ t-shirt. “She loves this shirt. She’s always threatening to steal it. And you didn’t have to leave, you know. I like having you close. I sleep better when you’re close.”

“Don’t get me wrong, I want to see you… all of you. But only when you’re the one showing me, doll,” he grinned. His smile faded as he looked me over. “You okay?”

I opened my mouth to say I was fine, but I hesitated. “I… while I was there. When Pyre had me… he shot me. He shot me in the chest. I was dying. But I healed it, I tried not to heal myself… tried to just let go, but I couldn’t stop it.”

A pained look crossed Bucky’s face, and he held me tighter. “Ella…”

I shook my head. “Please. I need to get this out. I… Pyre, he saw the proof of my power. He saw that I healed the gunshot wound. And he thought, rightly so, that I wasn’t letting myself heal fully. He threatened me… with you. He said they had you, that they controlled you again. I was so angry. And *so* worried about you. I felt my power reaching out, and before I even thought about it, I grabbed his hand. Bucky, my power… my wounds,” I shuddered. I had to take a breath before I continued.

“I inflicted them on him, Bucky. All of them. Even the gunshot wound, the one I healed. I didn’t just kill him, I killed him with my power! I don’t know how… I don’t know…” I faltered. I pressed my face into his chest, breathing him in. I felt his lips on my hair again.

“I have you. I’m here. I know how it feels… having something you don’t understand inside of you. I know how scary it can be. But I’m thankful, Ella. Without your power he might still have you. He could still be hurting you. So I’m thankful you were able to use what is inside of you to stop him. Permanently. We’ll figure the rest out, yeah?”

I nodded, lifting my chin to look at him. “Thank you, James. Just… thank you.”

“Always. So, you hungry? The whole team wants to sit down for a meal, if you’re ready, that is. They all want to see you.”

“I’m starving,” I sighed. “And I want to see everyone… I just…”

Bucky nodded. “I’ll be there the whole time. Steve will, too. If you feel overwhelmed just tell us. We can always bring food back here. They’ll understand.”

Bucky was right. I knew he was, I just still felt so raw. I felt like I needed to hide from everything for a while. I took a deep breath. I could do this, though. It was better to get it over with. “Okay, let’s do this,” I said, sitting up.

Bucky smiled as he stood, offering me a hand.

Chapter Text

Bucky lingered close as everyone greeted me with hugs and concerned looks. Steve scanned me, obviously noticing that my wounds had all healed. He forced a smile on his face before squeezing my arm and stepping back to speak softly with Bucky. Vision kept space between us, but told me he was glad I made it back safely. Natasha gave me a tight squeeze. She whispered in my ear that Bruce was glad I was safe before pulling back. I jolted in surprise at her words, then quickly schooled my expression at her look of warning. Bucky seemed engrossed in his conversation with Steve, but I knew he noticed my tension when I felt him gently rest a hand on the small of my back. Nat noticed his reaction, and kept glancing between Bucky and I as she moved to talk to Wanda in the kitchen. I felt their eyes on us as they spoke.

I tried to ignore them as Clint wrapped me in a bear hug. I tapped on his shoulder when the oxygen deprivation got to be too much, and he released me looking apologetic. His eyes were wet. I tried my best to smile at him, feeling tears sting my eyes. Before I had a chance to give into the tears, Tony entered with Pietro and Sam, bring in takeout bags. Tony noticed that I was barely holding it together. “Enough fawning over Ellie, let’s eat!” Tony boomed, winking at me. I gave him a grateful nod as everyone headed to the table.

Everyone was gathered around the table, passing around Chinese takeout containers and filling our plates. I was sitting between Steve and Bucky, who were both adding food to my plate as well as their own. I had just started on my second veggie egg roll when Tony cleared his throat. The table settled down as he stood to make a toast.

“Ellie-bell, it’s good to have you back home. I’m not going to get mushy on you, but I couldn’t just let the moment pass. Here’s to you. And to the things that don’t kill us – they give us unhealthy coping mechanisms and a wonderfully twisted sense of humor.”

There were a few chuckles and ‘here-here’s as we toasted. I rolled my eyes as I sipped my beer. Tony may be a bit ridiculous, but that didn’t make him wrong. As our meal continued, I could feel the air thicken with all the unasked questions. I knew everyone wanted to know what happened, but it just felt… overwhelming. I caught Steve shaking his head minutely at Tony before they both glance at me. I sighed. Enough. It was time to rip off the band-aid.

“Okay. I know you guys are curious. Tony is practically vibrating with it. I only ask that you let me get through it all, once, without interruptions. Then I’ll answer any questions as best I can. Deal?”

“Ella, you don’t need to…” Steve started.

“I can wait. Promise,” Tony broke in, looking apologetic.

“No, I want to get it over with,” I replied. Once everyone settled I took a deep breath and started at the beginning. I told them about waking up, having been drugged, not knowing where I was. I glossed over the worst parts of the ‘testing’, not wanting to think about it too much, myself. I’m sure I would have to relive it enough in nightmares, I didn’t want to give voice to it. No need to spread the pain.

I stared at my glass as I spoke, dimly aware of Bucky’s hand on my leg, and Steve holding my hand. My voice broke a bit when I told them about Pyre shooting me. I explained that I had tried not to heal, but I couldn’t stop. I felt them glance at Bucky when I mentioned Pyre’s threat of the Winter Soldier. I paused, not sure how to explain what I did to Pyre. I felt Bucky squeeze my leg lightly, giving me comfort.

“This next part… I don’t know how to explain it, except to just say it. I… I grabbed onto his hand… and I felt my power reach out. I could tell it felt… different. I couldn’t tell how, until my wounds started appearing on him. I kept pushing my power into him, until I saw the gunshot wound open up on his chest.” I heard noises of surprise, but kept my eyes on my glass.

“I… I’ve never done anything like that before… I didn’t know it was possible. I don’t know if it’s repeatable. I mean, I took down two Hydra agents the same way, but at that point I was running on adrenaline. I just wanted to survive. I just wanted to make it home,” I finished quietly. I put my hand over Bucky’s squeezing it gently.

Sam broke the silence that followed. “You did what you had to do. That’s what matters. I’m glad you made it home.” I felt myself relax slightly at his words. The others made sounds of agreement. I looked around the table, seeing looks of concern and relief, but no one looked repulsed. I relaxed further.

“Well, I for one think it’s pretty badass. I’m proud of you Ellie Bellie. Really,” Tony said, grinning at me. “And I’m all for any power that lets you defend yourself.”

I looked at my hands. “I just… my power is supposed to help people, not hurt them. I’m glad I was able to get away, but… it just feels… wrong.”

Wanda stood and came to me, wrapping her arms around me from behind and speaking softly in my ear. “Elizabeth, your mind, your power… I can feel that it has changed, but only in strength. It does not feel ‘wrong’ to me… just different. And different does not mean bad, true?” I leaned back into her embrace and nodded. She gave me a squeeze before returning to her seat.

I finished my beer and another was set in front of me, startling me. I looked up and Pietro winked at me before darting back to his seat and saluting me with his own fresh beer. I grinned at him and mouthed my thanks. Everyone was breaking back into smaller conversations, and I was relieved not to be the center of attention any longer.

*********

Bucky followed Ella off the elevator, watching her square her shoulders and brace. He let his hand hover over the small of her back, watching as she pasted a smile on her face and greeted everyone warmly. Bucky tuned everyone out but her, watching closely for any indication that it was too much for her to handle.

Steve moved to stand next to him, and Bucky turned his attention toward his friend while still observing Ella. “How’s she holding up? Did she sleep well?”

Bucky nodded. “She slept deeply, it seemed restful. She’s holding it together, but I can see the guilt she’s feeling. She hadn’t taken a life before… and now she’s taken more than one. It’s weighing on her.” Bucky noticed Ella tense and placed a hand on her back, feeling her relax into him. He glanced between her and Natasha before returning his attention to Steve.

Steve grimaced, studying Ella’s profile. “I hate that she knows how that feels. I would take it from her if I could.”

“Yeah, you and me both,” Bucky sighed. “Steve? Tony said something… about Hydra doing this ‘again’… did they torture her before? Is that what her ‘run in’ with Hydra was? What you saved her from?”

“Buck… It isn’t my story to tell,” Steve sighed.

“I’m not asking for details, just give me a yes or no… I need to be prepared if… when… Ella shares it with me. I don’t want her to have to worry about *me* when she opens up.”

Steve studied him for a minute before nodding. “Yeah, Buck. They tortured her. She doesn’t call it that flat out, but it is absolutely what they did. And she didn’t break. They hadn’t had her long when we got her out the first time… but it was long enough.”

Bucky let out a breath, fists clenching. He was distracted from his anger when he heard Ella’s breath hitch. She and Clint were looking at each other, both seeming on the verge of tears. Bucky was going to intervene when Stark did it for him. Damn… as annoying as he could be, Bucky couldn’t help but be grateful to Stark for looking after Ella. And doing so in a way that didn’t draw attention to her or embarrass her. Bucky owed him.

Bucky and Steve kept looking at each other over Ella’s head as they filled her plate with food. He saw her lips twitch when she noticed what they were doing and it filled him with warmth. He saw her take a veggie egg roll and proceeded to pile three more on her plate, winking at Steve.

Bucky tensed when she said she’d share her story with them. He didn’t want her to feel pressured. He was relieved when Steve, and even Tony, tried to let her off the hook. Of course Ella soldiered on, anyway. He placed a hand on her leg, trying to provide any comfort he could. He watched her profile as she spoke, staring at her glass. He was aware that all the attention was focused on her. Steve was right, she glossed over the torture, never calling it that, and avoiding all details. He had seen the evidence on her skin, though. Bucky felt himself growing increasingly tense as she continued, then Ella placed her hand over his at her mention of home, and he relaxed with a soft sigh.

Everyone seemed surprised at the new facet of her power, but they seemed to know that acceptance was more important than their curiosity at this point. Bucky was relieved when Stark spoke words of encouragement. Wanda seemed to sway her the most though, and for the first time since they stepped off of the elevator Bucky felt Ella fully relax. Okay, so he owed Wanda a debt now, too. Totally worth it.

Dinner was finished, and everyone had been talking amongst themselves. Bucky listened as Clint bragged to Ella and Nat about Cooper changing his truck's oil, without help, giving Ella credit for teaching him such a useful skill. Nat added that she taught him how to throw a punch, and Ella laughed at the expression on Clint’s face, before agreeing that throwing a punch was a useful skill, too. Steve and Sam were discussing whether to delay their morning run, and Bucky put in that he wanted to join them whenever they did go.

When Ella stifled her third yawn in as many minutes, Bucky looked at Steve, who nodded. “Okay, Ella. I know you think eight is a bit early for bed, but I think you need to get some rest,” Steve said, softening his Cap voice, but leaving no room for argument. “Bucky and I will head up with you… we’ll see everyone in the morning.”

Bucky saw Ella look between he and Steve accusingly before her lips twitched and she nodded. “Yeah, I could probably use some sleep. Thank you all for dinner… and… everything.”

*********

I held back a laugh when Steve and Bucky not so sneakily joined forces in an attempt to get me to call it a night. I looked between them before deciding to give in. To be honest I was feeling tired and a bit overwhelmed. I probably needed to decompress a little bit. I gave Clint a hug goodbye, since he planned on heading back to the farm before dawn. He promised to check in on me. He turned to Bucky and Steve, telling them to take care of me. When they promised, he joined Nat on the couch. The boys escorted me back to our apartment.

I was kind of scared to sleep, so I suggested we put on a movie. The guys shared a knowing look before agreeing. Annoying know-it-alls. They were just lucky that they were so fucking cute. Bucky sat on one end of the couch and Steve sat on the other. It was left up to me to pick a movie, since it was my idea. Christmas was still months away, but I decided we’d watch Die Hard anyway.

When I approached the couch, Bucky pulled me down between him and Steve. I rolled my eyes and settled in, tossing a pillow on Bucky before laying down and kicking at Steve until he lifted my feet into his lap with a chuckle. I was surrounded by super soldier. No safer place to be. Bucky started playing with my hair. As if that wasn’t relaxing enough, Steve starting rubbing my feet. Perfection. I was out before Bruce Willis lost his shoes.

Chapter Text

I thrashed against my bonds, kicking and fighting. Free… I had to get free! I had to save him! I fought harder, knowing it wouldn’t be enough. Pyre laughed, I touched him… then his chest opened and blood gurgled from his mouth. I was free… I ran. Bucky! I found him and wrapped my arms around him. Then I watched as the wounds covered his body… his chest opening. His eyes pleaded with me as he fell to the ground. I stared at the blood on my hands. Then I screamed.

“Ella, your safe, your home!”

“Doll, it’s Bucky, you’re having a nightmare, come back to me. Steve and I are here. Come on Ella, wake up dollface.”

I tore myself away from them and huddled in the corner, crying and gasping. Bucky stood and Steve reached out, placating. “Ella…”

“No! Stay back!” I cried, cringing back. “I… I don’t want to hurt you!”

Steve froze. Bucky moved toward me, slowly, but deliberately. “Ella, doll, you aren’t going to hurt me. I promise.”

I shook my head quickly. “No! I did! I hurt you! I killed you!”

Bucky paused. “No… I’m here, I’m safe. Can I show you?” he asked, stepping forward slowly and reaching out to me. I felt his right hand on my forehead, pressing my hair out of my face. I let out a ragged breath.

“Bucky?”

“Yeah, doll. I’m right here.”

“I saw you… I saw you die. I… I killed you… I touched you and you died!”

“No, sweet girl. It was just a nightmare. A fucking bad one from the sound of it, but I’m right here,” he said, pulling me to him gently.

I reached out hesitantly, curling myself around him. When he wasn’t hurt by my touch, I collapsed into him, sobbing.

“Shh… I got you. I’m right here, Ella. You’re safe,” he murmured, and I felt his left hand press against the back of my neck, the metal cooling me.

“I’ll get her a water,” Steve mumbled, his voice thick with concern.

Bucky lifted us from the floor and carried me back to the couch, sitting down with me in his lap. I pressed my ear against his chest, listening to his strong heartbeat and the steady sound of his breathing. He was okay. I clung to him tighter.

“You sure she’s okay?” I heard Tony’s voice as the door opened.

“Yeah, it was a nightmare, but she’s okay,” Steve replied softly.

“Let me know if she needs anything, okay?”

“Of course, Tony. Get some rest.”

I heard the door close and then Steve was next to us. “Here Ella, try and sip some water,” he said, perching on the couch next to us.

I reluctantly pulled away from Bucky’s chest, sitting up and reaching for the water. “Thank you,” I said after I took a sip. Bucky was making slow circles on my back as I drank. Steve took the bottle when I handed it to him, recapping it and setting on the table.

“You think you’ll be able to sleep more, Ella?” Steve asked, studying me.

I glanced to the windows and noticed that the sky was lightening. Early morning. I shook my head. “No… I don’t think I can. Not yet. Is Sam running with you this morning? Maybe I can go, too.”

Bucky nodded. “Steve, Sam, and I planned to go in a couple hours, but I bet Sam wouldn’t mind starting a bit early.”

“Yeah, Ella. I’ll see if he’s up for it, and if not we can go, the three of us, yeah?” Steve replied, standing. I nodded and Steve held out a hand to help me up.

---

Sam chuckled and shook his head as the super soldier duo lapped us again. We were on the outdoor trail that circled the compound. I knew that I was slowing Sam down a bit, but he didn’t seem to mind. “Sorry you had to get up early. You know I’m not usually a morning person. I just needed to… well. And I know I’m slowing you down…”

“It’s worth getting up a bit early to have someone to run with, Ella,” Sam cut in. “I swear, those two. Steve is a great running buddy, but it would be nice if I could keep up. I don’t mind matching your pace.” He glanced at me. “You wanna talk about what had you up so early?”

I sighed. “Nightmare. A bad one. This change in my power… I feel out of control.”

Sam nodded. “You just got back from a traumatic ordeal… nightmares come with the territory, unfortunately. Now, as far as power goes I’m no expert. Maybe today, if you’re up for it, you can work with your power… see if you’re still able to use it how you want? It might help you prove to yourself that you’re still in control.”

I nodded, seeing the compound coming back into view. “I’m not sure how to go about that, but thanks, Sam. Really. How about I make you breakfast?”

Sam perked up at the offer. “Magic pancakes?”

“Sure,” I laughed. “Whatever you want.”

---

I set a plate of pancakes in front of Sam as Steve and Bucky came into the kitchen. He grinned and rubbed his hands together, making me laugh.

“You guys gave up early,” Steve teased, grabbing a couple waters out of the fridge and handing one to Bucky.

“I blame Ella. She distracted me with offers of magic pancakes,” Sam said between bites. Steve and Bucky replied at the same time…

“I love magic pancakes!”

“What are ‘magic’ pancakes?”

Steve and Sam turned to Bucky. “You haven’t had Ella’s magic pancakes?! Sucks to be you,” Sam said, attention returning to his plate.

“They’re really good, Buck. The batter has vanilla and cinnamon… and there are chunks of cream cheese and strawberries. You have enough to share, Ella?” Steve asked, giving me puppy dog eyes.

“I made a huge batch of batter, so there should be plenty,” I replied before turning back to the griddle. “Bucky gets the next stack, though, since he’s never had them.”

“Alriiight,” Steve said with a sigh. I looked over my shoulder at him and he grinned. “Let’s get washed up, Buck. It’ll be a few minutes…”

I took a sip of coffee as I waited to flip the pancakes. I was trying to figure out how I could practice my power, not to mention the new facet of it, without anyone getting hurt. The only real ‘practice’ I had with my power was more like on the job training than anything. Discovering my limits and testing them. First at the hospital I worked in before my first run in with Pyre, then on missions with the team. It didn’t have the potential to hurt anyone… until now. By the time I finished the stack of pancakes, I still hadn’t come up with an answer.

I plated them up and turned to the island. Steve and Bucky had settled on stools, one on each side of Sam. Sam had almost finished his first stack of pancakes. I smiled when I noticed that Bucky had chosen the stool closest to me. I set the plate in front of Bucky. He met my eyes with a small smile. “Thank you. These look delicious.”

“You’re welcome, Bucky. Starting yours now, Steve. Sam, are you going to want seconds?” Sam nodded, but before he could speak, Natasha joined us.

“He doesn’t get seconds until everyone gets a plate, isn’t that the rule?” Nat asked, shuffling into the kitchen and pouring a cup of coffee. “I haven’t had magic pancakes in forever!”

“Yes, that’s the rule. I didn’t think anyone else was joining us,” I said, grinning at her. “We should see if anyone else is going to join us… I may need to make more batter after all. Did Clint leave already?”

“Yeah, early this morning,” Nat replied. “He’ll be sad he missed your pancakes, though.”

“Pietro isn’t back yet… he was… *out* last night,” Wanda said as she joined us, sliding onto the stool next to Steve. “I believe Tony is in his lab, though.”

“F.R.I.D.A.Y.? Can you let Tony know that I’m making magic pancakes, if he wants to join us for breakfast?”

“Certainly,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. replied. After a minute she continued. “Mr. Stark said that he will be down momentarily, and that he calls next stack.”

“Actually, I’m next,” Steve said, crossing his arms.

I laughed. “Since there are so many of us, I may start doing short stacks, just to be sure no one has to wait too long.”

Bucky sat back from his empty plate. “Those are the best pancakes I’ve ever had. Amazing, Ella. I’m with Sam, I would love seconds…” Bucky said, when Nat raised an eyebrow, he hastily continued. “Once everyone else has had some, I mean.”

“Of course. I’m glad you like them,” I said, smiling over my shoulder at him. I set a short stack in front of Steve as Tony entered the kitchen area sipping a cup of coffee.

“I had dibs,” he complained, settling at the island between Nat and Wanda.

“Actually, I did. Then Nat and Wanda. You’re last,” Steve replied around a mouthful of pancake.

“I don’t mind waiting a bit longer,” Nat sighed when Tony pouted. His lips twitched and he turned his pout to Wanda.

“Tony, Wanda has never had my pancakes,” I said as I placed a plate in front of her. “I’ll start yours now, it won’t take long,” I added as I refilled Nat’s coffee.

When Tony and Nat both had pancakes, I offered a second helping to Sam.

“Uh, Ella, aren’t you going to have some?” Sam asked, looking confused.

“I will when everyone else is done. I’ve already had a few as I’ve cooked. The first pancake, of course… and any that have come out a bit funky,” I explained, shrugging.

I handed Sam a plate and turned back to the griddle before continuing. “So, I’ve been thinking about this new aspect of my power. I’m… a bit scared of it, to be honest. Sam suggested maybe trying to practice with it… see if I can control it. I can’t think of a way to do that without hurting someone, though.”

Everyone was quiet for a few minutes. Wanda spoke first. “Well, there isn’t anything that says you can’t practice… on a small scale at least. Give yourself a small cut, and try to replicate it on a volunteer. Then if it works, try and heal it. That way you can look for differences in how each power feels.”

I shook my head. “I don’t want to risk hurting any of you. What if I can’t stop it at a cut? It’s too dangerous.”

Natasha snorted. “Really, Elle? Come on. I think any of us would readily volunteer if it means letting you feel more in control. And I for one would love to see this new power. Not to mention it could make it easier to bring you into the field… knowing you could protect yourself.”

“We know you would never hurt us intentionally, Ella. But this new power… it’s obviously worrying you,” Steve said, glancing at Bucky before meeting my eyes again. “I think it’s worth the risk. I heal quick, even without assistance. Let us help you.”

I looked at everyone, feeling thankful but overwhelmed. Before I had a chance to reply, Bucky spoke. “Ella, we can deal with this after breakfast… for now, eat and relax a bit, yeah?”

I felt a bit of the tension leave my shoulders and I nodded.

Chapter Text

Natasha looked at Bucky, watching the conflict on his face. After a minute of him not replying she spoke again. “I wouldn’t have suggested this, but she isn’t making any progress. We need to give her… a little push. I don’t want Elle to be vulnerable. The best way to ensure that she can protect herself is to develop this new power. Come on, Barnes. I know you want Elle safe.”

Bucky looked at Natasha, before turning to check Ella’s progress. She was still just standing next to Steve, her hand on his. Just standing there. Fuck. “Okay,” Bucky relented. “I’m still not sure it will work, but let’s give it a try.”

“Oh, it’ll work,” Natasha replied, a smirk curling her lips.

*********

“I’m trying, I swear! I just… I can’t do it,” I sighed, stepping back from Steve, frustrated. We were in the gym and the team was trying to help me with my power. I was feeling more secure in my ability to heal. I had no trouble healing Tony when he cut his finger himself. Trying to inflict damage, though? On Steve - or any of my makeshift family? That was proving to be a problem. Bucky had pulled Nat aside when she tried to ‘pressure’ me into hurting her. I knew she wouldn’t hurt me, not really, so it hadn’t been as ‘motivating’ as she hoped. They were just out of earshot, and seemed to be bickering. I sighed again and glanced at the others, who I could tell were trying to be patient.

Pietro was braiding Wanda’s hair as she perched on the bench watching me, his hands moving uncharacteristically slow. He had been so excited that I saved him pancakes that he had insisted on braiding my hair for me, to help me relax. He had been braiding Wanda’s hair since they were children, so he was amazingly good at doing intricate braids. I had made him promise to teach me later.

Vision had shrugged when logic failed to convince me to use my power, and he left the gym soon thereafter. Tony and Sam stood nearby and seemed to split their focus between Steve and I, and Nat and Bucky. Steve put his hand lightly on my shoulder, giving me a small smile. “You’ll get there, Ella. And you won’t hurt me. I have faith in you.”

I took a breath to reply when Steve tensed, looking over my shoulder. I turned and saw that Nat had her gun pointed at Bucky. What the actual fuck?

“Natasha, let’s keep the arguing civil, please,” Tony said, the casualness of his words contradicted by the anxiety in his voice.

Bucky moved to knock Nat’s arm away, but she kicked him back and held her aim. I focused on the hand that was gripping the gun, everything else blurring in my periphery. I blinked as Steve started to move to intervene, but he stopped when Nat gasped and the gun fell from her hand. Even at a distance the thin trail of red was evident on her hand. I saw Bucky relax and Nat grin before the black crept into my vision and I felt a tickle on my lip. Then I felt myself begin to fall.

---

The first think I heard was the arguing. Why were they being so loud? Didn’t they know I was trying to sleep? I blinked awake and saw Steve and Tony facing off with Bucky and Nat. Sam smiled at me, hovering nearby, but giving me space. Pietro helped me sit up as Wanda wiped under my nose. Wait, weren’t Bucky and Nat fighting? I saw a towel wrapped around Nat’s hand. No way. I couldn’t have. Shit. “What happened,” I whispered.

Wanda and Pietro exchanged a look. “People being assholes,” Pietro grumbled.

Wanda rolled her eyes. “It seems to have been a ruse… Natalia pretended to pose a threat to Bucky, in an attempt to… encourage you to use your power.”

“They… they tricked me?” I asked, confused.

Wanda nodded, her lips curled in distaste. “They did. And while it doesn’t excuse their behavior, their little plan worked. You not only used your power, but you did it without physical contact. It was quite impressive. Unfortunately pushing yourself so far so fast caused you to lose consciousness. And a nose bleed,” Wanda explained, showing me the tissue she had been holding under my nose.

I just stared at Wanda as her words sunk in. It was shocking that I had used my power at all, much less against a teammate… against Nat. And at a distance? That was… well I didn’t think it was possible to use my power without touch… the healing at least. I thought the inflicting wounds would follow the same rules. Apparently, I had more to learn than I realized. But that was a thought for later… for now? I felt raw.

I looked back to where Nat and Bucky were trying to defend their actions to Steve and Tony, who were evidently pissed. I didn’t know whether to be angry about the manipulation, relieved that I didn’t do more damage, or embarrassed that I was that predictable. Not to mention the shock of waking up this way. Fuck. I felt tears welling in my eyes. Shit. I hated crying. The twins were looking at me, faces showing everything from pity to concern. One thing I did know? I was *really* fucking far from okay.

Wanda leaned in and whispered something to Pietro. I noticed for the first time that she looked pissed. Like uber pissed. Then in a blink I was in Wanda’s room. Pietro set me on the bed and raised a finger. Another blink and Wanda was sitting next to me.

“Thank you, Pietro. I think Elizabeth needed out of there just then.”

I nodded, feeling the tears spill over as I bit my lip. “Thank you,” I whispered.

“I’ll let you talk. But I am here if you need anything, even just transport. What they did, it was wrong, but at least you know you can use your power without endangering anyone, even when stressed,” Pietro said, smoothing his hand softly over my braid.

“It does not excuse their behavior, but if there is any good to come from their manipulation, it’s that,” Wanda agreed. She squeezed her brother’s arm, and he nodded. With a final reassurance that we would let him know if we needed him, he left, shutting the door softly behind him.

*********

“What the fuck was that, Romanoff? You do realize she just got back from being taken, not to mention tortured *again*, right?! What would make you think that was a good idea at this stage… or, I don’t know, at all?!!”

“I did what needed to be done, Stark! She needs to be able to protect herself! I won’t just sit around when I can help her keep herself safe!”

Bucky looked at his feet and took a breath as Tony and Nat talked over each other. Steve was just looking between him and Natasha, being uncharacteristically quiet. Bucky had been so proud of her when she used her power to protect him.

Then he saw the look on her face just before she passed out. Watching her fall… not being able to reach her. Pietro had. He had eased Ella to the ground. The twins had taken up positions guarding her while Tony and Steve confronted him and Natasha. It had burned, watching others care for her. He felt the guilt welling up in him. His intentions were pure, he wanted Ella safe, period. But the road to hell, and all that.

Steve shook his head as Natasha and Tony finally seemed to be losing steam. “Buck, I get that you want her safe… I do. But that isn’t the way. Forcing her hand like that… it was wrong.”

“Wrong is an understatement,” Wanda cut in. Bucky’s eyes cut to were Ella had been, only to find her gone. “Pietro brought her to my room. She awoke to this argument and was overwhelmed. She is upset about what happened. You will leave her alone until she says otherwise.” Wanda’s eyes fell on each of them in turn. “All of you. Do you understand?”

Bucky nodded, watching Steve do the same. Natasha nodded after a brief hesitation, leaving Wanda to glare at Tony. Tony shook his head. “I’ll give her space right now, but I can’t promise I won’t check up on her later.”

Wanda nodded curtly before reaching out to Pietro. Bucky watched as he whisked her away. He looked back toward Steve. “It wasn’t my intention to hurt her, Steve.”

*********

Steve clenched his fists. He knew he needed to make his feelings clear. This was not an ‘it’s okay’ type of mistake. He had to lay it out for them.

“I know,” Steve sighed. “But Buck, using how she feels about you against her like that. Especially right after Hydra had taken her a second time. She isn’t a soldier. She isn’t a spy. Her heart is open. She cares more than anyone I’ve ever met. Even after she was taken from her home the first time… the life she enjoyed, the hospital where she felt she could really help people. All that taken from her? And on top of that, she was tortured. They had her three days, and the image of her when I found her? I’ll never forget it. And you know what? She got up and made us breakfast the first morning she was able, as a thank you. She joked with Bruce, she braided Thor's hair. She took Tony's shit, and gave it right back. Ella found out Clint signed, and went out of her way to sign with him. She explained her *many* pop culture references to me, and never lost patience if I didn't understand.”

Steve’s eyes cut to Nat. “She heard you complaining about the coffee, and made some special for you. And continued doing it every morning so you wouldn’t have what she called ‘mediocre bean water’. Even after being taken from her home and tortured, even surrounded by our odd group… assassin spies, a hulk, a ‘god’, an old man that had been trapped in ice, and a crazy billionaire. Even with all that Ella was still… light. She just smiled, and cooked, and pulled us all closer together with her pure heart.” Steve looked at his friends, his team. Nat was chewing her lip, avoiding his gaze. Sam was looking at the ceiling, his arms crossed. Tony was looking at Steve, nodding. Bucky had a fist against his mouth, his gaze trained to the floor. All of their eyes were wet.

“And she was taken again. Tortured again. She wakes up from a nightmare this morning, worried about Bucky and me. Worried she would hurt us. Jumping at the chance to get up and run with us, and then making us all magic fucking pancakes,” Steve bit out, clenching his jaw. “And instead of making her feel safe and supporting her, you manipulated her. You used her heart against her. I know you both meant well. I do. But I am beyond disappointed.”

*********

With that Bucky watched as Steve walked toward the door, yanking it open without another glance at them. Sam shook his head and followed. Tony looked between him and Natasha, shaking his head. “What he said,” Tony muttered, before heading to the door.

“Fuck,” Bucky bit out, glancing at Natasha.

She nodded, wiping at her eyes. “You can say that again.”

*********

“How was I able to do that? At a distance, I mean. I can’t heal without physical contact.”

Wanda tilted her head at me. “No? Have you ever tried?”

I thought about it. I guess… “No, I guess I haven’t really had to. Anyone I’ve healed has been close enough to touch… and I sense injury better with contact… but I do sense it without. I honestly never considered it.”

She nodded. “That is understandable. You used your power how you did, and it worked so there was not a reason to try and change it. I would be curious to see if you could heal without touch, though.”

“Me, too,” I whispered, nodding. Then my thoughts caught me again and I was silent.

Wanda scooted closer to me on the bed, folding her leg under her and turning toward me. After a moment of silence, she took my hand and pulled it into her lap. “I know how you must feel… but you also must know that it is likely they did not see the harm in the deception. They trust you, and they were secure in the thought that you would not injure either of them… not really. It was simply an attempt to unblock you… to let you tap into that power without stopping yourself. They didn’t realize how it might make you feel to be manipulated in such a way.”

I looked up at her and nodded. Her explanation made sense. And I honestly couldn’t put my finger on why exactly I was having a problem getting over the situation… it worked. That’s what should matter. What did matter. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but feel a bit betrayed. Maybe it was them using my feelings for Bucky in such a way? To force my hand. Especially knowing what that had led to when Pyre used Bucky against me. I mean, I saw the logical side of it… threat to him was what helped me reach the power to begin with. But logical or not? It still *hurt*. I felt so torn. I rested my head against Wanda’s shoulder and sighed. She ran her hand over my hair, petting me. I relaxed into her as she hummed. When she felt the rest of the tension melt out of me she spoke again.

“Will you try something for me? You can refuse.”

I sat up and blinked. “What would you like me to do?”

She lifted a hand. “Try now, without the audience… just a small cut. You need to know you can, without the ‘motivation’ of a loved one in danger.”

I paused then nodded. I held out my hand and she set hers in it, palm up. I focused on her hand and made a small cut on her thumb. She gasped, then smiled at me. I did the same on all her finger tips. Her smile grew. She stood and moved across the room. “Would you like to try and heal them?”

I grinned and leaned forward. I started with her thumb, focusing my attention on it and trying to push my power into it. It just… it didn’t seem to flow like it should. I continued to try and push as I closed my eyes and took a breath. I imagined my power as a pale blue light, floating over to Wanda and circling her hand, healing any injury it touched as it moved. When I opened my eyes the push was smoother, and slowly I saw her cuts begin to close. When they were healed Wanda and I grinned at each other.

“How do you feel?” Wanda asked, sitting next to me again.

“It definitely takes more energy,” I started, stifling a yawn. “But it’s good to know I can. I’m not sure I’d be able to heal anything big that way… but it’s still really freaking cool. I wonder if the…anti-healing? I’m still unsure about what to call it. But I wonder if it is limited at a distance.”

Wanda thought about it for a minute. “Well, I know you won’t want to try anything large on one of us, but maybe on the next mission? And until then practice small at a distance. Both injury and healing. Build your endurance.”

I nodded. I could work on it.