Actions

Work Header

Whip Crack

Chapter Text

The creature didn’t like where he was being held. It was too warm. And dry. Far, far too dry. And he didn’t have enough room to stretch out his tentacles.

It wasn’t fair. He just wanted a tasty treat. There was this tempting metal thing floating in the deep ocean, and he could hear all the tasty soft things mucking about inside. He thought it would be child’s play to bust it open and have a little snack. Just like those clams he used to eat when he was just a spawnling!

But the soft tasty things inside were strange. Their upper form looked similar to his upper form, but their tentacles were far too few and too short. They moved with such rigidity it was a wonder they could move at all! They must have been some kind of eel though, a close cousin perhaps, because they used electricity to shock the heck out of the creature before he knew they could even do that. He woke up in this dry square little cave.

He didn’t like the cave.

He couldn’t get out of the cave. Not until they opened the door at least. After that, he was confident in his ability to overpower them and be free.

And then she arrived. He thought it might be a ‘she’ anyways based on how much bigger she was from the rest of the eel-cousins, but to be honest, he wasn’t sure. Nor did he really care. Beauty transcended morphology in his opinion, and oh, was she beautiful! Three of her four tentacles were petite, lovely little things, all covered in some kind of black hard algae. But her fourth tentacle was a glorious metal appendage with the image of a bright red star fish emblazoned on the side! Her upper form had brown cilia that flowed down in waves and her eyes were jellyfish blue.

It was love at first sight!

Day after day the eel-cousins brought the beauty to him, and day after day she would unwind a long thin black tentacle extension out of her metal appendage. She spent hours lightly licking him with the soft little knots on the end! It was such sweet torment; to be touched for only brief seconds! She chattered at him like the eel-cousins did, but he knew that true understanding could only come from physical communion.

He wanted to reach out to her so badly, to bridge that gap of understanding, but his progenitor taught him better manners than that. He waited, patiently, for her to close the distance; to reach out with her other limbs and embrace him as a mate should. Until then, he restricted his movements to returning her light caresses, as is proper courtship behavior. He didn’t want to mess up this opportunity! He would happily stay in this dry cave as long as it took to woo her to his side. Escape could wait until after their courtship was complete, and then they could leave together.

But one day his mate-to-be did not return.

One of the stupid eel-cousins came in with its own long black tentacle and attempted to seduce him away from waiting for his love.

Its attempts were pathetic. He couldn’t even feel them! How would it ever seduce a mate if it couldn’t put any force into its caresses? The eel-cousin’s black tentacle flailed about with none of the grace that his beloved showed. He was offended at how they were clearly mocking their courtship.

He missed his would-be lover. He grew restless and debated about renewing his efforts to breach the dry cave. In the end he decided to stay; perhaps his love would return to him in time. Surly she felt the instant connection just has he did?

The eel-cousins came in greater numbers to attempt to mate with him, chittering all the while. This angered him; one could only have a single mate! The bond was sacred and he had clearly already chosen his mate-to-be!

He thrashed around, damaging the little eel-cousins whenever they came too close to him. He even managed to grab a few to snack on for later.

Eventually his metal limbed beauty was brought back to him. He was overjoyed at her return!

But the lovely creature was damaged! Strange red fluid seeped from her face and limbs. He wasn’t sure what that fluid was, but it probably wasn’t good. He had to help her! Heal her, if needed! How could he call himself a worthy mate if he wasn’t willing to aid his beloved in times of scarce food and injury?

Before she could react, he reached his many tentacles out and reeled her in towards his center mass.

She thrashed weakly; whatever was wrong with her must have caused her to panic. He would sooth that away for her. Comfort her in this time of physical hardship.

He gently tasted her with his suckers as he cradled her close. With those soft touches came the mental communication he had been pining for ever since their first careful tentacle grope.

Oh sweet moon, she was filled with so much pain and fear! So much that he sat stunned for a moment. Truly his mate-to-be was a resilient creature, to withstand such suffering.

She chittered slowly at him, and via their mental connection he finally understood her flirty words.

“If you’re going to eat me, please make it quick.” Her voice was quiet and adorable; so light and high compared to his own throat sounds! It must be because it came from such a small chest cave.

Eat her?

Surly this must be a colloquialism.

“Rest easy, my mate-to-be, I will bring you comfort,” he sent back to her via stimulation of her nervous system.

“…what?”

Oh, poor thing! She was disoriented from whatever had happened to her!

“Let me heal you,” he pleaded. “You’re in so much distress!”

He could feel his beloved lean into his comforting grasp. Waiting for her to decide was agony, but he would not force his mate-to-be in any regard. Eventually she nodded and he felt her mental agreement. Her torment was immense.

Healing tentacles worked their way around his mate-to-be.

The black algae that covered her seemed to be removable? Excellent! The more direct skin contact he could get for his tentacles, the smoother the healing would go. His many appendages wormed their way under the algae-coverings and his suckers tasted every inch of available flesh. His two upper form limbs attached to the sides of her head, aiding in the mental connection.

Oh, she was sweet! Salty like home and with a pleasing flesh-tang as well. What a privilege it was to be allowed to taste her! He squirmed in pleasure and rippled his limbs further around his love; his suckers kneading her flesh. She moaned in response. He engaged carefully and sought out the many cuts and breaks to her skin and secreted pleasurable healing mucus onto them.

He…may have gone a little overboard with the healing mucus.

Totally justifiable! She was injured and the mucus would directly stimulate her nerves, blocking out the pain of injuries. And so what if he was feeling a little over protective? His mate-to-be should never be in pain. The very idea offended him.

As his tentacles explored her for more injuries, he noticed she had a fifth tiny tentacle hidden under the hardened black algae coverings! It was rapidly growing in size, though still tiny in comparison to her other tentacles.

He prodded it with one of his smaller arms.

“Oh! That’s, ah! Ah! Oh, please,” she said between heavy breaths and whimpers of pleasure. He felt very smug; his healing mucus was working well. Already he could tell that much of her skin was unblemished again and all of the red fluid had stopped leaking out.

Then that tiny tentacle of hers started producing mucus too, though only a small amount at the tip.

Oh, what a generous mate-to-be this beauty was! She was attempting to share her own pleasure mucus with him, injured though she may be. He swelled with pride and love. She was a good choice for a mate.

He coiled one of his smaller tentacles around his love’s leaking appendage, and coaxed the fluid out of her. It would be rude to force her to exert herself while still recovering from injury, even to produce a gift for him. He was so thrilled to share this with her!

In the mean time, he continued to explore the possible injuries on his beloved’s body. The metal tentacle felt and tasted delightful. He dedicated several of his own appendages to exploring it properly.

But wait! The thin black extended length of that metal appendage had been removed; the part that she had so charmingly flicked at him at every opportunity! They cut off a part of his mate-to-be’s arm!

How dare they! No wonder she was in pain!

A small petty part of him wailed inside. He loved that part of her metal appendage. It licked so delicately against his skin!

It was no matter. He loved her still, and together he would help her re-grow that black flexible length if and when she felt ready for such an event. He marveled at her resilience under the face of such adversity.

As he investigated, his deep probing tentacles discovered an access hole to the digestive system. At first he was cautious about further investigation, but his mate-to-be writhed with intense enjoyment when he carefully probed its entrance. He could feel her mind pleading for him to continue with his examination.

Just to be sure he wasn’t harming her, he slavered more mucus all over the area before he gently inserted one of his smaller tentacles in. The knowledge he would gain of his beloved’s health would be invaluable and she seemed to really enjoy the attention.

Reviewing her responses, it seemed she had been lacking in comforting contact for quite some time. There was a desperate needy quality to her groans that made him want to redouble his efforts. He would heal her and bring her joy at the same time.

He was going to be the best mate ever.

Soon after that her smallest tentacle produced its own glut of mucus. He lowered his mouth to sample the taste.

It was delicious! So full of proteins, vitamins, and minerals! What a gift, what a precious treasure his mate-to-be had bestowed on him! No wonder this tentacle was smaller; it contained such valuable fluids.

As pleased as he was with how happy he was making his mate-to-be, he was completely dismayed to discover how much damage her form had taken over her lifetime. Not only was she desperately underweight, but many, many scars marred her pale glowing flesh. He could feel the echoes of old bone brakes across most of her skeleton and, oh, her mind! Her mind had been terribly damaged by electricity. It was a surprise she could function at all.

His heart ached for his beloved.

“Tell me what creatures attacked you, mate-to-be, I will crush them and we can dine on their flesh,” he crooned to her. He slowed down the motion of the tentacles around her, pausing the healing so she could properly answer him.

“H-handlers,” his love stuttered out. “Punishment for not taming you.” He felt images of the eel-cousins in her mind as well as flashes of a chair that oozed electricity.

He felt dizzy. The eel-cousins were keeping her prisoner, and instead of harming him as they commanded, his beloved dared to court him at every chance. She had uncoiled her most sensitive tentacle near him and danced around with all the stunning beauty of a seahorse in a current. And while winning his heart, she sealed the fate of her own torment. They cut off the sweet limb she used to delicately flirt with him, damaged her flesh, and then electrocuted her mind!

Such an act of love, of dedication…he was consumed with awe and sorrow in equal measure.

Right then and there, he vowed to spend every effort to giving his mate-to-be a life of pleasure and freedom. Any treasure he could find would be hers; the freshest tiny squid to eat, the softest kelp to rest upon. No length was too far to go for the match to his heart muscle.

“Oh my love, my healing mucus can only do so much in such a short time. Will you come with me, away from this terrible place, where I can heal your mind as well as your flesh? You will want for nothing, and swear on my heart muscle that you will live in peace and joy for the rest of your days,” he entreated.

He was so nervous. He’d never asked a potential mate home with him.

“We…we could leave?” She sounded so uncertain. “But. They would find me and then they would recondition me. They always do.”

Misery and fear poured off of his mate-to-be.

“No! No, I swear this. They will never take you from me. I will protect you.” He was adamant. He could do this. The little eel-cousins would never know what hit them.

“Yeah?”

“Always, my beloved.”

His mate-to-be reached out with one of her flesh tentacles and brushed his face tenderly. He could sense the confusion in her as well as the lingering effects of the mucus that covered her. “What’s your name?” she asked.

He smiled.

“You may choose what to call me.”

“How about Steve? You look like you might be a Steve.” She smiled, showing cute tiny nubby little teeth. How did she eat with such dull teeth? He was fascinated. “I…I don’t remember my name, so I guess you can call me what you like, too.”

He thought for a moment.

“Bucky. I will call you Bucky.”

She smiled. “Alright.”

Steve disentangled his limbs around Bucky and let her collect her black algae coverings. Among them was the long thin length of tentacle that had been cut from her metal limb. She picked it up, and flicked it back and forth before coiling it up to rest on her hip.

It didn’t appear to need to be attached for Bucky to use it. Steve felt his heart swell with hope. Perhaps his love wasn’t as damaged as he feared! He looked forward to leaving this place and tangling their long limbs together again as they finished their sweet dance of courtship.

Together, the two of them waited for the door to open and for freedom to be theirs.

And when they left, Steve made sure Bucky took his thin black tentacle extension with them.

 

Steeb Diary Post 1

Steeb Diary Post 2

Steeb Diary Post 3

 

Art is by the wonderful unamedartist, click here to see their tumblr post!

 

Chapter Text

This was the best day!

Not only had Steve’s love been returned to him, but he was getting out of that stupid square dry cave too! His limbs writhed in excitement.

As he expected, the moment the eel-cousins opened the door, Steve was easily able to force his way through.

They kept throwing these tiny stones at him. He…wasn’t really sure why they were doing that. It was impressive how fast the little stones were thrown, he supposed? Whatever they were doing they were trying very hard! His progenitor often reminded him that effort counted for a lot.

Still. He wasn’t above admitting that he took a certain righteous satisfaction in squishing them. They had harmed his mate-to-be; cut off her sweet black tentacle, ruptured her skin, and used their innate electricity to damage her poor brain.

Even more concerning to Steve was that his beloved seemed certain that they would do it again; that no matter where she went, they would follow and damage her. Steve would never tolerate this. Thus, this colony had to be exterminated.

It was for the best, really.

He was also very gratified to discover that his initial assessment was correct; they were very tasty! Not nearly as salty a meat as he was used to, of course, but their flesh held a rich metal tang that he quiet enjoyed.

The abundance of red fluid was interesting. Messy, but enjoyable. Given how dry he was feeling after so long out of water, rolling around in the red fluid seemed like the sensible thing to do. The fluid was viscous, but at this point any hydration would be helpful. Skin care was important.

He was worried about his mate-to-be, though. Every time he offered her food, she declined. She seemed happy enough about the offering, though. Perhaps she was still feeling unwell from all the damage she sustained? She did seem on the thin side. It could be that she was simply used to consuming less; maybe she didn’t even realize how hungry she must be?

He was grasping at crinoids.

…It was very tasty meat.

He would keep trying. Maybe she would regain her appetite later.

---

This was the strangest day.

Granted, the Asset’s current memories only went back a few months so he did not have much to base it against. Still. The point stood. If something like this had happened prior to other wipes, he would have gotten a nagging sense of familiarity about the whole affair.

…Probably.

So he was fairly sure he was correct when he came to the conclusion that he had never been propositioned by a sea monster before.

To be honest, he hadn’t really seen that one coming.

After his first few sessions of attempting to tame the creature his handlers had found in the ocean, the Asset quickly realized two things. First, it was unlikely that he would be able to injure the creature to the extent that his handlers desired. Second, the creature didn’t have any real intent to harm him. They exchanged blows, but it was more like practice fighting. Nothing even got close to a crippling blow on him.

It was strangely satisfying; the constant back and forth between weapon and limb, the speed that pressed even the Asset’s agility, and the blows that tested his endurance. The Asset gave it his all but he was certain that the creature was holding back.

But never once did he get the sense of malevolence; only playful interaction. If a weapon like him could be said to have ‘fun’, the Asset was tempted to use that as the label for their time together.

After several weeks of no real progress toward breaking the creature, the Asset had been taken for standard correction and recalibration. Before he could finish his maintenance and be wiped, though, they brought him back to the creature. Apparently, it had become unstable and was wasting too many technicians. The Asset could sympathize. Sometimes that happened to him too.

But as it turns out, the Asset’s lack of progress with the creature was still preferable to the back sliding that had begun in his absence.

What happened after that…well. The Asset had no frame of reference for it.

It felt really good though.

Really, really good.

Just thinking about it made the Asset shivery. The way the creature had touched him, the way it healed him. It was a totally new experience; a type of ‘good’ that he didn’t even think was possible.

The creature offered to become the Asset’s new handler; it’s ‘mate’, apparently. It had offered food, safety, and a lack of pain. The Asset had been allowed to name the creature, Steve, and in turn received a name.

Bucky.

For all that Steve had done for him and offered to him…the Asset could be ‘Bucky’ for Steve.

Bucky wasn’t sure what being a ‘mate’ to the sea creature would involve, but he was a highly trained operative. He was certain he could accomplish any mission given to him.

Not even a day under the guidance of his new handler, authority level ‘mate’, designation: ‘Steve’, and Bucky was already sure that he had the best new handler ever. Steve always made sure that touch was pleasurable between them. He even asked before starting maintenance on Bucky.

It was surreal.

Maybe Bucky was still in cryo sleep. That would explain it.

Sure, Steve looked a little odd, what with all the tentacles and the sharp teeth, but the guy was a total marshmellow. He hadn’t even beaten Bucky once yet!

Each time they touched, Bucky was surprised by how soft Steve’s limbs were. The little suckers on the underside of each one gripped him pleasantly, too. Every time a tentacle wound around him, Bucky could feel the sincere caring and concern flow out of Steve in waves.

No one had ever been concerned for him before. About him, maybe. But not for him.

It was…sweet.

Bucky kind of liked it actually. No one had ever been sweet to him before this. It gave him a warm fluttery feeling in his stomach. Sort of like the feeling he got right before the electricity spiked on a wipe, except good.

It made his eyes prickle and his throat hurt. He wasn’t sure why.

Bucky found himself smiling as he and Steve made their way out of the Hydra base. Every time another Hydra agent popped out, quick as lightning Steve’s tentacles grabbed them and dismembered them. Bucky barely got a shot off, which was also a novel experience for him.

Each time Steve would offer up body parts for Bucky to consume.

He declined, but it was a nice gesture. He preened a little at the idea that someone had gone out of their way to freshly kill something for him to eat, and his previous handlers had always liked it when Bucky killed stuff for them. It was really swell to be on this side of the exchange for once.

Best handler ever.

Maybe being a ‘mate’ had different rules and privileges than being an Asset?

Further observation was needed.

In the mean time, Bucky was enjoying watching the compound around him being cleansed of life, one Hydra agent at a time. Steve sure did spend a lot of time rolling around in the bodies though. But, well, if this is what his mate wanted to do, who was Bucky to argue?

…He wondered if he should try rolling in the bodies too. Maybe it was a thing mates did together?

While he was considering it, Steve wrapped a small tentacle around his waist and spoke to him.

“Do you think there are any more of the eel-cousins here? Leaving more than one alive may cause them to breed and spread in to another cave structure.” Steve’s commentary floated directly into Bucky’s mind. Happily, each thought was paired with a visual that helped explain what Steve was talking about. Sometimes the words Steve used didn’t always make sense to Bucky. Not surprising, based on how often Bucky had been wiped. His handlers often said things that didn’t make sense to him.

Steve produced a few deep thrumming noises that made Bucky’s bones vibrate. It was an unusually enticing feeling. He kind of wanted to wrap himself up in that feeling. Strange.

Bucky thought for a moment.

“Well. I think we may have gotten them all, but we should probably get rid of the equipment too, otherwise it will just be retrieved by a new set of handlers.”

Steve let out a little shriek and the tentacles frenzied around Bucky for a moment.

“There are more?”

Bucky nodded.

“I’ve been stored at many different facilities, though this is the only one I currently have memory of.”

Steve’s tentacles thrashed with irritation. Bucky could tell he was thinking furiously about what to do next.

“I can rig this facility to detonate and then we could leave here on one of the vehicles in the landing bay,” he offered tentatively. He tried to send along a picture of a quinjet in his mind, just in case the word ‘vehicle’ was unclear for Steve. It was fair to say he was a bit nervous about this declaration. The Asset was not rewarded for offering operational advice, but perhaps Bucky would be.

Tentacles surged around him and he was cradled close as Steve rubbed his cheek against Bucky’s, smearing him with blood. “Yes! Oh, such a clever mate-to-be! Our spawnlings will surely have only the best of advantages!”

Bucky wondered what a ‘spawnling’ was and how he could acquire one.

Still. New operational information had been obtained: suggesting plans for future activities would be rewarded with groping.

Bucky was particularly fond of the groping.

He kind of hoped that once they had left the facility there would be additional groping. And maintenance. Bucky really enjoyed maintenance from Steve.

After a quick detour to activate the facility fail safes, Bucky led Steve to the landing area.

Bucky looked at the quinjet there. And then he looked at Steve. And then looked back at the quinjet.

The quinjet was a small craft; two pilot seats and six seats in the back. While the human-looking part of Steve’s body was only a little larger than Bucky, the tentacle part of Steve looked like it could fill up a dump truck.

Bucky looked at the quinjet. And then looked back at Steve.

Shit.

Before he could overly concern himself though, Steve flowed into the back of the craft and the last trailing tentacle picked up the lowered rear door and closed it behind him.

Bucky stared for a moment. It seems he had briefly underestimated his mate. He was actually impressed.

Steve thrashed about with barely contained glee the moment they took off. Given how short they were on space on the inside, that meant only the last few inches of each tentacle got to wiggle.

“We are flying! Like clouds! Beloved, you are making us fly!” Steve’s face was glued to the glass on the other side of the cockpit from Bucky. He felt the urge to smile again. He did not fight this urge. It was unlikely that Steve would punish him for smiling; he hadn’t so far, after all.

This was the weirdest day, but perhaps it was also a good day too.

Maybe the best good day he had ever had.

--

“Stark.”

“What’s up, Furiosa? Got any crazy aliens for us to fight again?”

“Not quite. Someone or someones just destroyed a high level SHIELD facility in the Midwest. I need you to look into it.”

“Awww Mad Eye, I’m touched. A little surprised though. Don’t you have spies for that or something?”

“Well, ever since the Battle of New York, two of my best spies are living in your tower. I’d appreciate it if you would use your AI to lend them a hand. I get the feeling this one is going to take all the help we can put together. I’m sending over the relevant information now.”

“Oooo, I feel like my consulting fee is about to go up. Any visual on the perps?”

“Just one still image; a man with a metal arm.”

“…Reaaaaally?”

Chapter Text

An hour or so into the flight and Steve was starting to feel sticky. The red fluid had helped ease his skin for a while, but it had quickly dried into a brown unpleasant crust. It suddenly occurred to him that he wasn’t sure where they were headed.

He had faith in the competence of his mate-to-be, though. Surly she would guide them to the ocean as quickly as she could.

But the thought of leaving behind separate colonies of eel-cousins bothered him. His mate-to-be mentioned they might retrieve resources from the cave structure they demolished, so perhaps they might look for Bucky as well.

Steve couldn’t let that happen.

The more he thought about it, the more anxious he became. It was probably fortunate that there wasn’t much room in the metal cloud because otherwise Steve’s tentacles would have been thrashing all over the place. As it was, only the very tips of each appendage could wiggle in irritation.

“We’ll be stopping soon. There’re a lot of lakes around here; we’re headed towards one in the middle of a nature preserve. There shouldn’t be anyone there to bother us. The quinjet will have any supplies we might need.” His mate-to-be cast him a sidelong glance. “If…that’s alright.”

Steve was flooded with relief. His mate knew where they were and had already planned a resting place. He had chosen so well.

“Thank you, beloved! You gift me with your forethought and wisdom.” He wiggled the end of his tentacles at her. “Were there room, I would shower you with the affection you deserve. But…well…” Steve pouted. He wanted to hold his mate-to-be.

The metal cloud was starting to lose its appeal.

“…Maybe after we land?” Bucky asked tentatively. Oh his poor mate! How unsure she still was of his devotion! He would need to rectify this.

Just as soon as he could move.

He wiggled ineffectively again. He felt very, very sticky.

He sighed.

By the time they landed, Steve was far less excited about the prospect of flying. All of his limbs were glued together with a thick red-brown crust. Disembarking was unpleasant. He had to unstick his face from the window.

This was not worth the temporary skin relief.

Steve quickly migrated to the small tidal pool they landed near. While the water formation was large enough that he would have plenty of room to spread out, it seemed so small compared to home. He could still see land on the far shore!

He shook his head sadly. How did creatures live without water stretching to the horizon? Didn’t they feel confined when confronted with only hard earth?

Many large land-coral structures grew up upon the banks of the tidal pool and the air smelled suspiciously free of salt. He was disappointed they were not at the ocean, but they had been flying for quite a while and it was still nowhere in sight. This would have to suffice. His mate-to-be had done well to find them such a private spot that was clear of further eel-cousin infestations. Steve felt honored that she sought his comfort even when options were so limited.

He slid into the water with a happy shriek. Oh the water felt amazing even if it was terribly low on salt and minerals. He thrashed and wallowed and rubbed off all the fetid accumulation that had gathered up after weeks and weeks of not being submerged. It was bliss.

But his mate-to-be did not join him. She simply stood at the shore and watched.

What could be wrong? Why did she not partake in the water’s gentle rejuvenation? He slithered out to gather her into his limbs.

“Mate-to-be, are you troubled? Why do you not submerge?”

His beloved sighed and chittered quietly. “I didn’t know if I was allowed…”

Steve wound his appendages tighter around his mate-to-be. Oh how she had been mistreated, if it had even occurred to her that he might not want her near!

“Of course I would like you to join me! Now and always. Once we have exterminated the eel cousins that entrapped you, we can retire back to the ocean. Oh my beloved, you will love my home cave! I will provide the softest seaweeds for you to brood upon and you will want for nothing!” Steve cuddled his mate-to-be, basking in the image of their future together.

But his mate-to-be was not pleased. In fact she trembled with anguish and her eyes leaked.

“Darling, sweet star of the ocean, what is wrong?” Steve panicked. He did something wrong and now she was upset! How to fix this?

“Steve…I…I can’t breathe under water.” Bucky sank bonelessly into Steve’s coils, head bowed low. “I can’t go with you to the ocean.”

Steve was confused.

She couldn’t breathe water? Like, at all?

“Are your gills damaged?”

“I don’t have gills, Steve. I have lungs. If I stay underwater for too long, I’ll die. I can hold my breath, but only for a few minutes. I can’t go home with you.” Bucky’s body was a study in dejection.

Understanding crashed into Steve; his beloved though he would abandon her. He was horrified.

“No, my beloved! No! I will not leave you. If you cannot go with me to the ocean, we will make our home elsewhere! We can be near water, we needn’t be in it.” He lifted up Bucky’s chin with the end of a tentacle so they could look eye to eye. “I will never leave you. I promised you this. We will make our home in a place both of us can live.”

“…Are you sure?” His mate-to-be looked at Steve from under her luscious eye cilia. He could feel hesitance and, strangely, fear as well. Steve was fiercely glad he had eaten the eel-cousins. Look what they had done to his poor beloved that she expected mistreatment.

“Of course, my mate-to-be,” Steve cooed at her. The smile he got in return filled his heart muscle with energy and light; it was impossible for him not to respond. He gently flicked a tentacle at her nose and said, “Join me in the water. We need not be submerged.”

Bucky nodded and Steve helped her remove the hardened black algae coverings. When she also moved to leave her thin black tentacle on the shore, Steve could not stop the small noise that escaped his throat muscles.

She looked at him, a question in her eyes.

“You no longer wish to stroke me with your appendage,” he pouted. Was she distraught with how it had been disconnected? Was she still in pain?

He really liked that appendage.

Bucky’s eyes widened a moment and Steve felt a ripple of understanding in her mind. She smiled shyly at him.

“I can bring it, if you want?”

Steve sang happily; his thrumming calls echoed around the tidal pool. “Please.” He coiled his limbs around his beloved and pulled her into the water, ever careful to keep their heads above the water line.

Bucky squirmed at the sensation of Steve’s long suckered limbs moving across her flesh. She held on to Steve’s shoulders with her upper flesh limb all while uncoiling her thin black tentacle in her metal limb.

They were too closely bound for the dancing acrobatics they had partaken of in the past weeks, so instead Bucky simply ran the black tentacle up and down Steve’s side, teasing his gills. A small part of Steve’s mind was a bit worried at how limply the lovely thin appendage moved. It clearly had suffered a great deal during its detachment. Most of him, though, reveled in the feel of it length against his delicate sides.

Her fifth tentacle began to stir again, apparently to bring forth another amount of nourishing pleasure mucus. Oh, what a sweet mate-to-be Steve had! She gave of herself so readily! Steve felt very lucky.

But he knew that Bucky was far from whole; her insides and her brain still required healing. And her poor black tentacle! Steve cradled her close to him. He wished he could take away all of the terrible things that had happened to her.

Bucky undulated within the many tentacles coiled about her. “Steve…would you? Please?”

“What do you desire, my beloved. But name it and it is yours.”

“Please,” she chirped quietly. “Please give me maintenance. I…I like feeling you.” Steve noticed that her face and neck were rapidly turning a lovely shade of dark pink. He scanned the area for danger but he didn’t notice anything that might have set off her defensive skin camouflage. Perhaps it was an involuntary reaction? Sometimes his skin changed color without his conscious direction.

He decided to keep aware of the area around them just in case.

Steve sent the feeling of assent to his mate-to-be and began coating her with his healing mucus. Of course he would help reconstruct her inner structures. He moved his upper limbs to hold onto her head; one on the side of her face and the other on the back of her neck. This would allow him better access to her nervous system which in turn would shorten the amount of time it would take to send impulses and secretions directly to the areas of her mind that needed reconstruction.

She moaned and tried to push herself toward him. He rippled his tentacles in contained glee; his mate-to-be wanted to be touched by him! He would never tire of that feeling! Still, she was moving around so much that he had to tighten his grasp upon her to keep her close.

Her frame shuddered around the constriction, but Steve could feel nothing but pleasure and assent in her mind so he continued.

“Please…” she chirped softly. “I need, ah! Ah!”

“All will be well, my mate-to-be,” he hummed at her. It was his joy to give her whatever she might want or need.

Worried that the intense healing on neural pathways may cause his mate-to-be some distress, Steve made sure she was thoroughly coated in his pleasurable healing mucus. He roped his tentacles around her and felt her strain her lower form towards him. He went out of his way to wrap one large tentacle around her delicate black appendage. He wasn’t sure how much feeling she would get out of it, he didn’t sense any nerves there, but he wanted to make sure she knew that every part of her was loved.

Perhaps she would also appreciate assistance with her smaller fifth tentacle again? Steve was happy to comply! He loved that she was so generous with her fluids that even in the throes of healing she strained to give him that precious gift.

“Do not strain yourself, beloved. Though I treasure the taste of your fluids, you’ve no need to expend your pleasure mucus for me.” He rubbed the articulate appendages of his upper form limbs through her gloriously soft brown cilia.

“I want it! Please! Feels good,” she begged.

Steve melted. His heart muscle felt full of magma!

“Anything for you my delightful mate-to-be.” He worked a limb around her tiny strained tentacle and very, very gently rippled his flesh up and down her length. She began emitting soft thrumming noises and pleasure radiated off of her in waves.

Steve preened. He loved giving his mate-to-be pleasure. Their courtship was going so well!

Mind on his task, he deftly sent impulses through his upper form limbs into his beloved’s nervous system and brain cavity, stimulating neural regenesis. He was very careful to ensure that his love felt no pain at all; at the worst she might experience a floating sensation. This was very delicate work and Steve expected it would take many, many sessions to complete the brain tissue regeneration. Whole pathways needed to be rebuilt!

His poor beloved! What had they done to her?

While his upper form was busy healing her mind, he worked one of his other mucus covered tentacles into the lower opening of her digestive tract. While his earlier investigation had given him general information, he was curious as to why she had refused food all day. Perhaps her nutritional system would give him more clues? Steve noticed how her whole frame jolted when he passed a nerve bundle there, so he wormed another much smaller tentacle into that slicked up hole specifically to stimulate that spot.

He did so enjoy giving his mate-to-be joy.

Only moments after that her smaller tentacle erupted with pleasure mucus. Steve gently disengaged from her brain cavity to duck down and drink up the mix of water, his beloved’s pleasure fluid, and his own healing mucus.

Delicious!

Bucky strained against the limbs holding her still and sang louder. Her smallest tentacle remained engorged and quickly began producing tiny amounts of mucus again.

Twice now Steve had missed his chance to revel in the flavorful treat as it was being produced; he would not miss out now! He licked at the swollen tip and increased the speed that his tentacle rippled up and down its length.

Soon another burst of protein and vitamin rich mucus glutted out of her appendage and Steve was there to drink it up.

His eyes rolled back in his head a little. The taste was indescribable! Once her tentacle stopped producing fluid, he brought his movements to a halt and simply held her. He could feel her labored breathing and her pleasure reverberated through him.

This was bliss. Pure bliss.

They stayed wrapped together for the rest of the night and drifted into a deep restful sleep.

--

“What the flying fuck happened here?” Tony said through the comms.

It had been just under two weeks since he got the call from Fury and since then another five facilities had been demolished. The really weird part was they weren’t all SHIELD facilities.

The one he was currently looked at, for example, was officially a paper factory. The ground floor even looked like it could function as one. It was the seventeen floors underneath it that his scanning had picked up that were the puzzle.

Or, at least, what was left of them. As far as his limited diagnostics could tell him, most of it had collapsed on itself. The wreckage was fresh though, it couldn’t have been more than an hour since the fires started.

Barton and Romanoff were scouting the wreckage while Tony attempted to get more comprehensive scans from the air. Banner had stayed in the quinjet; ready if they needed the Hulk. Sam was taking a day off from being Captain America to go do some charity thing or something. Whatever. Who the hell even knew where Thor was. Tony rolled his eyes. Probably off with his girlfriend having fun recounting grand epics of his adventures on Asgard.

Tony wasn’t jealous. He wasn’t. He had important work to do here. Very important work.

He sighed and started another round of scans, this time checking for toxins and radioactivity.

“And you’re telling me one guy did this, Nat?” Barton asked. His signal had him on the north side of the ruins.

“The Winter Soldier is a ghost story; he’s credited with dozens of operations over the last fifty years. Anything from bombings to assassinations. If this really is him, then yes. One guy could easily do this,” she answered while picking her way through a pile of dismembered bodies.

“Think this place belongs to SHIELD?” Tony asked.

“Nope,” both Clint and Natasha responded.

“So why would the Winter Soldier be on a killing spree that happened to include a couple of SHIELD facilities,” Tony mused.

“Maybe he was looking for someone specifically,” Barton guessed.

“No way. This is methodical. He’s got a list of places and he’s going from place to place, checking them off,” Natasha replied grimly.

“Still leads us back to the million dollar question, and since I actually can afford that I’d like the answer,” Tony grumped. He could be back at the tower working on something else. Literally anything would be more appealing than digging through a bombed out pile of bodies.

He was very glad the suit had an air filter.

“Maybe you should ask him yourself. He’s up watching us from that far hill, just under that big tree,” Barton added.

Tony spun around and searched the area Baron pointed out.

“Sonnovabitch,” he whispered. Sure enough, nearly a mile away a tiny dark figure with a shining metal arm was perched under a huge oak; watching them. A small quinjet was parked next to him, just under the branches of the tree.

“Tony, wait,” Natasha called out.

“Too late,” he jibed and sped off to confront the Winter Soldier.

“Shit. Bruce, get ready for takeoff,” she arranged.

“On it, Nat,” Banner replied.

Tony ignored them. He readied his missiles as he sped closer. No sense taking any chances with this guy, whoever he is.

Whatever reaction he was expecting, bored indifference was not on the list. The Winter Soldier remained still and standing as Tony approached. He didn’t even bother to point a rifle at him.

Tony was kind of insulted.

“Be careful, Tony,” Natasha said. “If this guy really is single handedly leveling these compounds you need to make sure you don’t underestimate him.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever mom,” he muttered back to her.

He stopped to hover a short distance from the man. He was in full body black Kevlar with the left sleeve left off showing off a beautiful cybernetic arm. Tony generally considered himself well equipped, but this guy made him look a little weapons-light. Not to mention the Soldier was stacked. Like, ‘could probably punch a bus to death’ kind of built.

Stranger still, this guy didn’t have a mark on him. He had, presumably, spent the morning acting as a human bulldozer, he had pulled apart dozens of people and stacked their bodies into convenient piles, and he still looked fresh as a daisy.

Conclusion: the Winter Soldier probably wasn’t the one doing the killing.

They stared at each other for a moment.

And then Tony noticed the bullwhip on his belt. The rifle, automatic weapons, hand guns, grenades, knives…all that Tony was fine with. Those things made sense.

But a whip? What the ever-loving fuck?

“Hey there, Indiana. Wanna come with us and tell us all about why you and whoever you’re with is blowing up random buildings and making mountains of body parts?”

The Winter Soldier’s brow wrinkled a bit.

“My name is not Indiana,” he replied.

Tony had never wanted to face-palm so much in his entire life. As it was, he thought his eyes would get lost in the back of his head after rolling them so hard.

Before they could talk further, their quinjet flew up and landed on the side of the hill. Natasha and Clint quickly disembarked and joined Tony to stand in front of the Soldier with their weapons at the ready. Tony quietly wondered if the guy was stupid, arrogant, or just had balls of solid fucking gold, because the Winter Soldier didn’t even twitch at the new additions to the party.

“You want to know why we’re destroying these bases.” It was a statement, not a question. “If I tell you, will you leave us be?”

“Now that depends, Catwoman. You gonna give us a good reason? Maybe something other than ‘I’m being paid a whole lot of money to do it’,” Tony snarked.

The Winter Soldier didn’t even twitch. He just thought for a moment and then calmly replied, “They’re Hydra. They captured me after World War II and reconditioned me to be their Asset, and now my mate wants to destroy them all before they can take me back.”

Tony was grateful for the face plate because his jaw dropped.

“Wait, wait, wait, HYDRA? World War Two? Are you fucking kidding me,” Tony exclaimed.

“…did you say, ‘mate’?” Clint asked.

Natasha forged ahead.

“Say we believe you. Now what? We let you go and you keep blowing up buildings until you’re done?” Natasha’s voice betrayed no hint of emotion beyond idol curiosity, though she still held her guns at ready.

The Soldier looked at her. Tony could’ve chilled his bourbon for a year off of the cold vibes coming from that guy. Decades old assassin? Yeah, he could see it. It wasn’t even that the Soldier radiated menace, though he did look menacing as hell. It was more that anyone looking at him could tell he sincerely didn’t give a fuck.

“Yes,” he answered calmly.

“Ha, ha! Look Gabriel Belmont, that’s not gonna happen--” Tony scoffed.

“What if we asked you to come with us,” Natasha interjected.

“What?” Now Tony turned to stare at Natasha.

“It makes sense, doesn’t it? If the Winter Soldier really is killing a bunch of Nazis left over from the last World War, then we should be helping him. If he’s not, then he’ll be with us and we can handle it,” Barton explained. “What do you say, man? Wanna let us help you fight the good fight?”

“Do I get a say in who is invited back to my tower?”

Natasha looked at him.

“Tony…”

Damn it. All she had to do was give him the look.

“Fine, fine, yes. There is room. But I want to look at your arm!”

The Soldier watched the exchange with interest and then tilted his head a bit in thought.

“My mate comes with me. You will not attempt to contain us or track us in any way. You will not attempt to harm us in any way.”

Natasha shrugged. “Sounds reasonable. Tony?”

He grumbled a bit, and then saw his loop hole. Jarvis could watch them and that was as good as tracking. Benevolent observation. Totally fine. Good for everyone!

“Alright, sure. But same for us. No hurting any of us. Or anyone else for that matter. Except the Nazis. We should all be punching Nazis, if, in fact, there are Nazis,” he acquiesced.

“My mate requires a large pool of water with no chemicals in it. Salt water,” the Soldier added.

Tony was losing track of how many times he felt totally blindsided in this conversation. Why did this guy need a pool?

“Why?” Clint looked as baffled as Tony felt.

“Because he likes to swim,” the soldier responded blankly.

He likes to swim. Oh ho! Tony grinned.

“The tower has an Olympic size swimming pool. We can scrub it down and refill it with salt water.” If it helped get this guy to come in without a fight, it was totally worth the expense. It certainly wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d ever done to make the tower livable for his new acquaintances.

“Alright. We’ll come with you. Steve?” The Soldier half turned to look at the tree behind him.

“Yeah, yeah, bring the lover boy on ou-HOLY FUCKING SHIT!”

A thrashing eldritch horror detached itself from the tree and wriggled over to wrap up the Soldier in color-changing limbs. The upper body looked like a man, especially now that the skin was turning a peachy color. Even the hair changed color from mottled green to a golden blond. That part wasn’t so bad. The bad part was everything else. Tentacles of all different sizes writhed around on the ground, several positioning themselves to be a seat for the Soldier to rest on. The creature was absolutely covered in blood.

It grinned at him. Its teeth were razor sharp and bloody.

Holy. Fucking. Shit.

“Steve. These are the Avengers. I was briefed on them before my current assignment. They are known enemy combatants to Hydra. They have offered us a base of operations while we continue reconnaissance and elimination of enemy forces.”

How the fuck.

Where was it even.

What in the fuck?

It (he?) opened its mouth and emitted a noise that sounded somewhere between a ‘skreeeeee’ and whale song.

“They say they’ve got a pool. I asked them to put salt water in it for you,” the Soldier responded.

The tentacles surged around the Soldier, cuddling him up to the creature’s human looking upper body and rubbing their cheeks together. The monster fucking purred and, holy shit, the Winter Soldier fucking smiled. Smiled like he had just been given the biggest bowl of ice cream ever.

“What is even going on,” Barton whispered.

Even Natasha looked a little surprised, and that in and of itself was shocking.

“Guys? Is everything okay up there?” Bruce asked through the coms. “Do I need to come up there.”

Tony blinked really hard.

“Nope! All fine here, Brucie-bear! Don’t come up. That’s a bad idea.” He was babbling. He knew he was babbling.

What the fuck.

“This is Steve. My name is Bucky.” The Soldier turned to look at them as he talked. As much as he could turn anyways, all wrapped up in bloody tentacles like he was.

Which immediately reminded Tony that the Soldier had said this thing was his mate.

“OH! Nooooo! Fuck no! I didn’t need to think about that! Oh my god. I need to find some acid to scrub out my brain with now.”

Natasha just continued to stare ahead, but her jaw dropped a little. “Huh,” was all she said. Clint just sat there stunned.

“Guuuys? You’re sure you’re all fine up there,” Bruce asked again. Tony dimly noted he sounded kind of worried.

“Fine. Absolutely fine. Jarvis, get the pool in the tower cleaned out. Salt water added. I’m outta here. See you guys at the tower. BYE!” He immediately took off towards New York.

Fuck this shit. He was never leaving his workshop again.

--

Octo Camo

Kinkajou's Tentacle Steeb and Bucky

Chapter Text

Steve was so excited.

At first Steve had been hesitant to hide while Bucky talked to these new creatures, these Avengers, but Bucky had convinced him it was the tactically smart move. Just in case they proved to be hostile, Steve could take them by surprise and quickly rend them.

But the other creatures were friendly! They had made allies! How exciting!

Now they were back in the metal cloud on their way to the home reef of the flying metal one. The strange light that glowed in the center of that one’s torso reminded Steve of an angler fish. Perhaps a distant relative? The other two looked like eel-cousins. They must be a mixed species colony.

Steve enjoyed seeing mixed species colonies. Single species colonies were great and all, but a mixed species colony could anticipate and overcome a wider variety of challenges. Easier on the local food supply, too.

The flight was long, but as they drew closer to their new soon-to-be nest Steve was treated to the sight of vast metal land reef; far taller than any Steve had seen underwater. The area teemed with eel-cousins! Bucky told him that the metal angler fish had a whole pillar of that reef as his nest and had allowed the other eel-cousins, the Avengers, to nest with him. From a safety stand point, that seemed wise.

Eel-cousins seemed very fragile.

And tasty.

Steve salivated a bit at the memory of all his tasty meals, but then frowned a bit too. His beloved still wasn’t eating. She seemed no worse for wear, though. Perhaps she only needed to eat one large meal every full moon or so?

Maybe she didn’t like to eat eel-cousins. Perhaps she only ate tiny fish, or perhaps she breathed in microscopic plants on the air. Like a whale. She didn’t seem inconvenienced by it yet, so Steve would hold off until after their nest was built to broach the subject.

Steve was really looking forward to making the perfect nest for his beloved!

They landed their metal cloud on top of the metal angler fish’s reef pillar. Steve was very disappointed to discover that the inside was filled with air and not water. Not terribly surprised, just disappointed. With the way the reef pillar was all enclosed it seemed to Steve like the perfect receptacle for water.

He carefully unstuck himself from the window and pried himself out of the tiny metal cloud. He was crusty again with brown-red crud. Bucky smirked at him.

Steve pouted a little. He knew that rolling in the red fluid wouldn’t be worth getting all sticky again. But it was so fun! And he got so dry while they were out destroying the eel-cousin colonies. The fluids felt nice.

His mate-to-be was kind enough not to say anything about his continued poor choices. Steve felt very lucky.

The walls of the reef pillar chirped at them and bioluminescent lights guided them to a vertical cave with little ledges for Bucky and Steve to flow down. From there the lights guided them to a vast dry cave with a large depression covering most of the space. The air smelled of recently washed away chemicals; enough that Steve’s nose and suckers wrinkled a little in distaste. But a quick tentacle dip into the water that was filling the depression proved that it was fresh salt water; clean but a little light on minerals.

From the looks of things it would still be a while before the depression was filled. When Steve moved to go writhe under the salt water spray, Bucky stopped him.

“No way, pal. You need to shower off first. Don’t want to get the pool all murky, do ya?” Bucky’s words were tempered with a small grin that warmed Steve’s heart muscle. It was so good to see his mate showing a little happiness.

There was very little Steve wouldn’t do to make his beloved smile like that.

He nodded and in short order Bucky had returned with a long flexible tentacle that gushed water. It appeared to be some kind of hollow kelp stalk! Steve was fascinated.

He happily squirmed and flexed and wriggled as Bucky carefully manipulated the kelp stalk to provide maximum water coverage for him. The resulting filthy runoff quickly drained away into little holes in the floor.

This reef structure was very intriguing. He wondered if the whole reef pillar was as porous as the floor seemed to be. That merited further investigation later.

Once Steve felt clean and mostly hydrated, he flowed over to caress his beloved. Though she looked calm, Steve could feel the tension rising off of her.

“Mate-to-be?” he asked quietly.

“It’s. Jeez. It’s stupid. I just. I need to walk around the place. See where everything is, where an attack might come from.” She shook her head, clearly troubled.

Steve beamed at her. “This is a wise move, beloved. Though this reef is held by our allies, it would be a benefit to know where all of the escape holes are.” He paused for a moment and pursed his lips. “I was going to investigate available nesting materials, but I can accompany you if you desire. I know you are sure that these creatures are friendly, but…”

Bucky shook her head again. “It’s fine. My previous handlers gave me a good assessment of their abilities and equipment. Even if they did decide to make a move, I can handle them. Go. Investigate away.” She quirked her lips again in that tiny smile that Steve had come to treasure.

Steve rubbed their cheeks together and nosed at her ear. Bucky brushed her lips against Steve’s lips. A strange gesture, but one Steve found he enjoyed. Then Bucky disentangled herself and left in a much smaller vertical shaft, this one with strange doors that opened sideways on their own.

Steve began his search.

This room was very disappointing for appropriate materials. There were many small structural pockets filled with coarse white kelp leaves. They sapped the water right out of Steve’s skin; he did not enjoy these leaves. But Bucky might enjoy them, so Steve set a few aside in a corner of the room that had no nearby wall or floor openings.

Steve was vaguely irritated that there wasn’t a more appropriate cubby in which to nest. It was all so open.

No matter. Materials first, then construction.

Steve branched out in his search, first evaluating all the openings to this cavern and then exploring where each of them led. The walls occasionally chittered sharply at Steve, but he could get no mental connection from touching the walls. He decided that the chittering must be some type of nonsense noise; perhaps water or maybe wind moving through tiny holes in the structure that gave the seeming of intelligent sound.

There was a great deal of bioluminescence in the walls, some brighter than others. Likely some kind of coral defense mechanism, Steve decided, since brighter colors seemed to be connected to harder to breach caves and cubbies. A few of the closed cubbies and caves seemed to emit some kind of electrical pulse. As tempting as it was to attempt to breech those spaces, Steve was on a mission!

He could always come back later.

There were no large eels or squid in even the darkest of cubbies, though Steve did find some prime nesting material in a few of the smaller pathways. The first such stash of materials he came across he cheerfully raided; it seemed to be made up of lavender kelp leaves both thin and puffy. He didn’t wish to retard growth, though, so he limited his harvest.

The second such stash he came across held similar lavender growths. This one also contained other debris. Steve decided another creature must inhabit these little kelp pockets and left it be.

As he traveled further up the reef pillar, he came across several different cave structures; many of which had a variety of soft kelps stacked in heaps and in small cubbies. He gathered items as he traveled; picking sparingly from each cave so that all the kelp in each forest might flourish.

Each of the layers of the reef structure seemed to have particular types of kelp growth. Some were clearly not to his taste, so he saved further investigation of them until later. Others were far more interesting. Some even held tiny land creatures! He avoided the obvious nesting areas of the other inhabitants; it was only polite.

It was at the very top of the reef pillar that Steve discovered the most lavish of kelps. One cave was clearly the nesting area of one of the other inhabitants; Steve left that one alone. But there were many small storage spaces filled with the softest kelps Steve had ever felt!

These were what he was looking for! Oh, what delight! What joy! His mate-to-be would rest in glorious comfort, as she deserved!

Laden with his new found goods, he returned to their allotted cavern and deposited them in the corner. He was pleased to discover that the large depression was making good progress in filling up to the brim.

If he took a few moments to splash around like the littlest of spawnlings, well. No one would see him.

After that he quickly arranged a nesting place. He still needed to either find or construct something to give them a little more cover, and perhaps make it a bit closer to the water’s edge, but this would serve as a temporary resting area for the two of them.

He experimentally squished down on the many layers of kelp. Far drier than he preferred, but very cushy.

Nice.

And then the wall started to wail shrilly. When Steve investigated, an image appeared of his beloved! She was huddled in a corner of a cave, surrounded by a couple of the Avenger eel-cousins and another strange darker eel-cousin. She had extended one of her longer fangs and was in distress!

Steve screamed his rage at the wall and thrashed in place. Which cavern was she in? He had to get to her!

The wall showed another image, this one was of a side view of the reef pillar. It showed an enlarged picture of Steve and the cavern he was in, and then a red line appeared and snaked up through the image of the reef pillar, leading to an enlarged picture of Bucky in distress.

The walls were communicating! They were showing him where his mate-to-be was! He petted the walls in thanks.

Also, apparently the walls were watching him. Which was. Huh.

Steve shoved this thought aside and made his way to the vertical shaft that Bucky had disappeared into; screaming threats the whole way.

His beautiful Bucky had better be alright when he got there.

--

Sam was pretty happy with how the charity for the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Arlington went. He lived in the DC area for a long time and he was always excited to go back there and help out the locals. Not only that, but it was sort of a Captain America tradition to help out causes for children; it was one he always felt good about upholding.

He was a bit surprised to see Nat and Clint back from the mission when he got home, though. He expected they’d be out for most of the night digging through the most recent bombing site of the Winter Soldier.

Natasha had a huge array of papers spread across the floor in the common room. She looked…well, Sam wasn’t really sure how she looked, but something was off. Clint was sitting on the couch staring into space.

“Hey guys,” Sam called out to them. He made a quick detour through the kitchen for some OJ, and then joined them in the lounging area. “Where’s Tony and Bruce?”

No answer. Clint just kept up his thousand yard stare and Natasha flipped through another picture; it looked like she was rehashing all the evidence from the previous destruction sites.

“Is everything okay?” Silence. Sam was getting kind of worried. Something had obviously disturbed Natasha, which was unusual in and of itself, but Clint looked comatose. What happened while they were out? “Jarvis, status on Tony and Bruce?”

“Sir is currently in his workshop and has requested that he not be disturbed. Dr. Banner is on his way to the common area now,” the AI responded.

“Huh. Alright.” Sam sat down. No one was hurt; so what happened? He silently hoped Dr. Banner would be able to shed some light on the situation.

“Hey Sam,” Bruce waved at him as he approached.

“What’d I miss?” Sam was trying not to go into panic mode, but when the two resident spies were flipped out, there was clearly a problem.

“Well. The mission went fine. I think?” Bruce’s gaze flicked to Clint and Natasha for an instant before he focused back on Sam. “They found the Winter Soldier, and, uh, apparently his boyfriend? And convinced him to come back to the tower. Guy had his own quinjet, so they just followed us. He came peacefully.” Bruce shrugged helplessly.

Sam blinked.

“Wow. You guys found him? What, was he just waiting for you?”

“Yeah, I guess. Seems he wanted to ask us politely to stop investigating. I, uh, didn’t actually get to meet the guy…”

No,” Clint interrupted. His eyes were a little too wide; he was kind of creeping Sam the hell out actually. “You do not get to meet Steve! It’s a bad idea. Very. Very. Very bad.”

“Annnd now you’re all caught up with what I know,” Bruce finished off.

“The Winter Soldier’s name is Steve?” Sam asked. That was a pretty unassuming name for a legendary ghost assassin.

“No. His mate’s name is Steve. His name is Bucky,” Natasha absently stated.

“His mate?” Sam felt like he was repeating things a lot, and yet he still had no idea what was going on. “Seriously guys, what the hell?”

“I was hoping you’d be able to get some information out of them for me. Try your disappointed face on them. I hear it’s very persuasive,” Bruce said with a smirk.

Natasha finally looked up at them. For the first time in Sam’s memory, she looked a little frazzled.

“This is the deal. The Winter Soldier told us that he was attacking facilities belonging to Hydra, the Nazi group from World War II. Apparently they’ve been holding him prisoner up until very recently. His mate is worried that now that Bucky is free, Hydra will try to get him back. So. Clint is in shock, Tony is hiding, and I’m trying to figure out if I’m really employed by a Nazi death cult. No one wants Bruce to see Steve, because Steve is…a little upsetting to look at. We’re not sure if Hydra caused it or something else happened. Bucky and Steve are now in the pool room settling in. There you go. All caught up. Can I get back to work now?”

Somewhere along the line, Sam’s jaw had dropped. “Alright then. Thanks.”

Huh.

“Anything I can help with?” Sam asked.

“I don’t know,” Natasha sighed. “Information isn’t just scarce, it’s invisible. Someone who is very skilled with computers is hiding their tracks very well. I wouldn’t believe the Soldier at all, except we saw the bombed out facilities ourselves. There was obviously something there, but I don’t know how, or if, it connects to Shield.”

“Hydra is Shield,” Bucky stated flatly behind them.

Sam will absolutely deny to his dying day that he jumped three inches into the air and yipped.

For first impressions, Sam was both a little impressed and a little worried.

“Hey man, my name is Sam.” He made sure to put on his VA voice, the one that had served him so well while counseling recently returned vets. Because if anyone in this room looked like a battle hardened veteran, it was Bucky. Huge, hard, and possessing a terrifying blankness that Sam had only seen before in Spec Ops guys after a mission gone bad.

And then there were all the weapons. And the armor.

Holy shit.

Sam was very briefly grateful that this guy apparently wanted to be friends.

There was something about his face though. He seemed really familiar.

Bucky grunted noncommittally at him and stalked around the room. Checking the perimeter, Sam guessed.

“Happen to have any more details on that?” Natasha asked flatly.

“No,” he stated, and then paused to check sight lines from the large window next to the sitting area.

“No?” Sam queried. That was a hell of an accusation to make without providing proof. Sam could tell Natasha was thinking the same thing.

Bucky paused to look directly at Sam.

“No. Standard post-mission procedure was debrief, recalibration, reconditioning, maintenance, mind-whip, and then cryo. The Chair took everything away before I was put into storage until the next mission. Easier that way. Less chance of malfunction.” Sam’s mouth went dry. The look on Bucky’s face was terrifyingly empty; as if he were talking about the weather tomorrow.

He thought about what kinds of activities would fall under ‘recalibration’ and ‘reconditioning’. And then Sam briefly thought about vomiting.

Apparently this was enough to snap Clint out of his stunned stupor. “How long has it been since your last wipe?” Sam could hear the upset in his voice. Ever since the Battle of New York, Clint had struggled with what he was forced to do. Hearing what happened to Bucky was enough to make a burning fount of rage pile up onto all the other mixed emotions Sam was feeling; he couldn’t imagine how it made Clint feel.

“Around six months.” Bucky shifted his gaze to Clint.

There! That shift of the jaw while Bucky was turning was enough for Sam to recognize the face.

“Holy shit you look just like Captain America,” he whispered in awe.

Heads all around the room turned to him. Clint made squinty eyes at him.

“I’m pretty sure you’re Captain America, Sam,” Clint said dryly.

“No, no. The original Cap. The guy who died in World War II, you know? Leader of the Howling Commandos? Brought down most of Hydra before he was tossed out of a train…” Sam’s voice trailed off as he noticed the horrified looks on Clint and Natasha’s face.

“You said that Hydra’s had you since just after World War Two,” Natasha stated.

Bucky nodded at her. “It was probably around that time, though I recall very little. Steve has been helping me get better.”

“You’re James Barnes,” Sam half asked, half stated.

“Who the hell is James Barnes?” Bucky actually frowned a little at that.

“Jarvis. Bring up pictures of the original Captain America, please,” Sam asked.

“Of course, Mr. Wilson,” Jarvis responded. The glass covering the far wall lit up with pictures and news reels of Captain James Buchanan Barnes.

Captain Barnes was the spitting image of Bucky.

“No fucking way,” Clint whispered. Sam agreed. How was that even possible?

“The super soldier serum. I thought it was just an old army story. Are there any pictures of him pre-service? Something to compare and contrast? Did Barnes have any family or descendants? Maybe Bucky’s a relative?” Sam asked. More photos flooded the glass panels; everything ranging from old school group shots to a few candid pictures. Pre-service James Barnes was fit, but wiry; nothing like the mountain of muscle that Bucky was. But the face was the same, even if Bucky’s gaze held more weariness than was comfortable.

Bucky had moved toward the pictures on the wall. He reached out a hand toward a childhood picture of James Barnes with his best friend, a little blond kid named Steve Rogers. Their friendship was legendary. A lot of accounts from the Howling Commandos stated that Steve Roger’s death was part of the reason James Barnes joined the service.

“Stevie?” Bucky gasped. He started to breathe hard and his eyes grew to the size of saucers. He reached his left hand toward the picture and then stopped to stare at it, seeming to suddenly notice it was made of metal. “What? They took it! Who-?” He looked wildly around the room and pulled a knife out of nowhere. “Where am I? Stay away from me!”

Sam was on his feet and holding his arms out empty handed to show he was unarmed. He could see in his peripheral vision that both Natasha and Clint pulled weapons.

“Hey man, you’re alright. We’re friends here. Nothing bad is gonna happen, we’re all just talking,” Sam soothed. Shit shit shit shit shit. Whatever was going on with this guy, the pictures had just sent him into a dissociative episode. Pictures Sam had asked to show him. Sam winced.

Bucky backed himself against a wall and crouched down, eyes still wild and unfocused and knife held up in front of his face defensively. “Stop. Please. I don’t want it! Please,” he cried. Sam noticed that the knife was in his right hand, and Bucky had curled himself around his left side. Protecting it.

Sam had never felt more like a fuckup.

“Jarvis, get Steve up here!” Sam called out. If anyone had a chance of talking Bucky down, it would be his boyfriend.

No!” Natasha and Clint chorused.

“I have already alerted Steve to the situation and he is on his way,” Jarvis replied.

“Bruce, get out of here,” Natasha ordered, but Bruce was already gone. He must have walked out the moment it looked like Bucky was beginning to have problems.

The tower groaned and shook and Sam heard a terrifying screech echo up the elevator shaft.

Well...that wasn’t good.

Where they under attack? Could this day get any more royally fucked?

Sam really should know better than to ask himself that question, because the answer was always, always yes.

“Clint, put the gun down. Clint, put it down! You do not want Steve to see you holding a weapon to Bucky,” Natasha hissed. She had already followed her own advice and had laid her sidearm on the floor in front of her.

Sam was wishing he hadn’t left the shield in his room before coming up to the common area.

The elevator doors began to open but were quickly shoved open to their full width by enormous black tentacles; the metal crumpled like tin foil from the sheer force of it. More and more tentacles surged into the room carrying with them a man-like figure. It took Sam a moment to realize that the tentacles and the man were the same creature.

Somehow, Sam couldn’t really dredge up the energy to be surprised. Of fucking course a tentacle monster had just crawled out of their elevator. What even was his life?

The creature coiled itself around Bucky and screeched again. Bucky struggled in his arms for a moment before going limp with his head rested against the creature’s shoulder.

And then the creature looked at them.

Fuck.

They were gonna die.

In the blink of an eye they were all wrapped up in several layers of tentacle. But rather than being crushed to death as Sam had assumed they would be, the tentacles just held them firmly. The grip wasn’t even painful, which was shocking in and of itself. He just couldn’t move. Sam could feel the displeasure radiating off of the creature.

He could literally feel it, like he could feel heat from a fire.

The horrible thrumming cries from the creature continued, but now Sam could understand what they meant. The creature was projecting the meaning of his vocalizations right into Sam’s head.

“How could you! You hurt her! My beloved, my mate-to-be, my delightful star of the ocean! We are allies and the moment we are separated you do this? Bucky said that you were good, but look at what you’ve done! She is in so much pain!” Disapproval was thick in the air. “What brilliant heroes this reef has to offer.”

“Steve. Stevie. It’s alright. They didn’t mean any harm. It’s just my messed up brain, is all. It’s not their fault,” Bucky mumbled from the crook of Steve’s shoulder. He had somehow managed to worm his metal arm out of the tentacles and was holding Steve’s upper body close to him. “They were just trying to help me remember.”

The monster continued to glare at them and wrapped his two human-looking arms around Bucky, resting the hands in Bucky’s hair.

Wait.

The monster was Steve, Bucky’s boyfriend. Mate. Whatever.

Awwww hell no.

“Were they? Did they ask you first before they tried to jog your memories? Or did they just spring something on you and wait to see what would happen?” Steve bared his teeth at Sam while he screeched.

Now Sam really felt like shit. He should have known better. He worked with vets all the time, and he would have never sprung pictures of potentially repressed memories on one of them. He should have asked first. Hell, he should have least gotten to know the man for a few minutes.

“I’m so sorry,” Sam apologized. “You’re absolutely right. We, I should have taken a moment to think about what I was doing before I sprang stuff on, your, uh, mate.” He tried to project how sincere he was through whatever connection they had going.

Some of the black color leeched out of Steve’s tentacles; they turned a rosier peach color and his hair turned a golden blond. His screeching turned into a sing-song thrumming grumble.

“Well at least you own up to it.” Steve nuzzled Bucky’s hair and continued to glare at them.

“Steve, what they did worked. At least a little.” Bucky’s voice cracked and he looked up into Steve’s face. Tears were pouring down his cheeks unheeded. “I remember Steve, the fella I named you after. Not much. His smile. The smell of his paints. He was so good, my Stevie. So good. I think I loved him. I. I think he might have loved me too.”

“Bucky…” Steve sang softly to him.

“You’ve got his kind heart. That’s why you seemed like a ‘Steve’ to me,” Bucky choked on the last word and clung to his mate. Steve just tightened his grip on him and they sat huddled together.

The tentacles that were wrapped around Sam loosened a bit and he started to work on squirming free.

“I am honored to carry your first mate’s name. Come. I’ve built you a nest from the softest kelps available in this reef. Let us go rest. As for the rest of you,” Steve leveled a glare back at Sam, Natasha, and Clint. “Try to think before you act next time. You won’t enjoy what happens if you don’t.”

Steve flowed out of the room with Bucky en tow. The two of them slithered down the empty elevator shaft. Steve pointed a tentacle back at the Avengers and glared at them until they were out of sight.

Sam opened his mouth to talk, but couldn’t quite make his brain work enough to come up with something to say.

“Did we just get the ‘I’m So Disappointed In You’ talk from a tentacle monster?” Clint asked.

Sam just turned to look at Clint and shook his head, jaw still hanging open.

Natasha sat there with her nose scrunched up and asked, “Did Steve call Bucky ‘she’?”

--

Bucky felt like his brain had been shoved through a sieve. He hurt. The little bits he had picked up from looking at those pictures milled around the static that normally inhabited his mind.

He’d had several maintenance sessions with Steve in the past two weeks. While each session gave him more little bits of memory to work with, that process was nothing like what happened today. Instead of a careful rebuilding of mental connections where the information just slides into place, these new memories felt ragged and sore. They were jumbled. Hard to get a fix on.

Steve held him close and Bucky was so damn grateful for it. All those arms wrapped around him anchored him to his body. It felt like them kept him from flying apart.

He didn’t even notice the journey back to the pool room, but he did notice the corner Steve curled them both in to once they got there. Cushions and pillows lined the floor and the lower third of the walls they were next to. Various cloth items were layered in; anything from shirts to sheets to curtains.

Bucky picked up what appeared looked like black silk smallclothes. He held no memories at all of clothing like this, not from the bits Steve had helped him recover from his time as the Asset, nor from those painful shards that had be jogged loose this afternoon.

The cut appeared to be for men, but the side panels and parts of the back were sheer lace.

Is this what non-Assets wore?

They were very soft.

He rubbed them against his cheek, relishing the softness. Steve twitched with pleasure around him.

“You like the kelp leaves,” Steve said. He was radiating smug happiness.

“Yeah. I really do,” Bucky replied.

Steve helped him out of his armor and weapons, carefully setting them aside; accessible if needed, but out of the way. Bucky buried himself in the silk and tentacles; he held onto the black smallclothes and gently petted them. It was strange, but soothing.

The tentacles undulated against him as they situated themselves. Bucky eventually ended up nicely wrapped up with Steve draped over him, hands running through his hair. Waves of calm and happiness emanated from Steve and Bucky soaked it in.

Bucky could feel his mind settling; feel the new memories losing some of their sharp scrambled quality. He might have slept, or maybe he just drifted. Either way, he hoped they could stay like this for a long, long time.

Bucky’s eyes were leaking again, but he couldn’t say why. He rubbed the silk into his face again. The Asset wasn’t allowed soft things, but it looked like Bucky was.

“Steve,” Bucky whispered.

“Yes, beloved?”

Bucky didn’t know how to express how grateful he was, how happy Steve made him feel. Steve seemed to understand, though. He drew Bucky closer to him, rubbed their cheeks together, and crooned quietly.

A knock rang out from the stairwell.

Steve and Bucky looked at each other and then looked at the door. Bucky grabbed a knife and his Skorpion submachine gun.

Sam Wilson, designation: Avenger, sub-designation: Captain America, opened the door to the stairwell and poked his head through.

“Oh! Damn. I, uh, wow. That’s. Um. Look, I can come back later…” He averted his eyes from where Bucky was still partially wrapped up in Steve’s arms.

“Why? You’re here now,” Bucky responded. As he began to dislodge the tentacles so he could stand up, Steve moved to help him. He ended up being picked up completely off the floor and set on his feet just in front of the nest.

Sam approached; he had some kind of dish in his hands and he was very studiously not looking at Bucky.

“So. Look, man. I didn’t mean to spring that stuff on you this afternoon. So. Um. I made you a cake. As an apology,” Sam said.

Bucky studied the spongy looking yellow mass in the dish. It looked sort of wet and had strange yellow fibrous looking rings embedded in it. There were unnatural looking red spheres within each fibrous ring. He could feel the puzzlement rising from Steve through the connection the tentacle around his waist provided.

Bucky wasn’t sure what to do with it. Was it a bomb? Sam didn’t seem like the kind of person to give someone a bomb, but, well. You never knew. It looked a little wet to be plastic explosives.

Was it an acid sponge? Sometimes handlers gave him presents; usable items that would reinforce his conditioning. But Sam wasn’t a handler; he shouldn’t be giving Bucky an acid sponge.

Sam didn’t leave. He just waited them out. Bucky finally gave up and said something. He didn’t think he would be punished for speaking up. He was starting to wonder if there would ever be punishments again.

“What is it?” Bucky asked.

Sam glanced hard at him, and then quickly averted his eyes again.

“What do you mean, what is it? It’s a pineapple upside down cake, man.” Sam frowned.

Bucky rallied. Sam had no authority to punish him.

“What does it do?” he asked.

“You eat it. It tastes good,” Sam replied. Now he looked at Bucky and Steve full on and his voice filled with concern.

Sam looked Bucky up and down and winced.

Bucky looked down at himself, puzzled. He did not require maintenance at this time. Thanks to Steve, all visible physical injuries had long since merged into the network of scar tissue that laced his frame.

Sam appeared to be in distress.

“Are you well? Do you require maintenance?” Bucky asked.

Sam just looked at him with sad eyes.

“No, man. I’m fine. Here. I brought some forks. Why don’t you give it a try?” Sam pushed forward the dish and forks.

Was this allowed?

Next to him, Steve thrashed a little in excitement.

“I have never had cake! What is a fork? Can we try some now?” Steve asked. His thrumming song echoed around the pool room.

To free up a hand Bucky tossed his knife into a nearby wall and then he grabbed one of the offered forks. He took the first bite himself, just in case it was an acid sponge.

Holy hell!

This was.

Cake was amazing.

His eyes rolled back a little in his head. He quickly grabbed another forkful and offered it to Steve, who made funny faces while he chewed. The very ends of his tentacles twitched in a way that Bucky knew meant Steve was thinking hard.

“It’s…sort of sweet? Not like any fish or kelp I’ve ever eaten.” He licked his sharp teeth and crowded Bucky. “Can I have another bite?”

“Yeah, yeah, hold your horses,” Bucky laughed.

Sam just held the pan as the two of them made short work of the rest of the cake; a tiny smile on his face.

After that last bit of pineapple juice had been scraped up by fingers and tentacles, Bucky looked at Sam and asked, “Will there ever be more cake?”

“Yeah, man. I’ll make more cake another day. We can make it a weekly thing. Cake Day. Make all the Avengers bring their favorites.” Sam smiled at them. “Just…wear some clothes next time?”

Bucky processed this and decided this was a satisfactory mission objective with acceptable parameters. He looked at Steve, who was practically vibrating in place in excitement at the prospect of a weekly Cake Day.

“Agreed,” Bucky replied.

Sam saw himself out and Bucky curled back up with Steve in their nest. It had been a busy day; new base of operations, new memories, cake. Again he was struck with how much better each day was from the last.

It was those pleasant thoughts and the emanating satisfaction and pleasure from Steve that lulled Bucky into sleep.

Chapter Text

Bucky woke up the next morning feeling quite a bit better. He was all wrapped in layers of soft silk and warm tentacle. It was comfortable and safe. Now more than ever every morning felt like a reward.

Bucky wasn’t sure what he did to deserve it, but he was really happy to have it.

Steve was still sleeping next to him. He made the cutest little crooning noise every time he exhaled. Bucky readjusted his knives so he could snuggle closer. After that he just relaxed and soaked in the feelings emanating from Steve.

As far as Bucky could tell, Steve was dreaming. Little flickers of partially formed thought floated across their connection and disappeared before Bucky could get a good hold on them. Every once in a while Steve’s skin would change color in his sleep.

After a while Steve opened his eyes and blinked sleepily.

“G’morning,” Bucky said with a little smile

“Pleasant waking to you my beloved,” Steve cooed at him.

The tentacles coiled tighter around him for a moment; Bucky relished the feeling of being safely held. Nothing could harm him while he was wrapped in Steve’s limbs. Steve rubbed cheeks with Bucky. Without really being sure why he did it, Bucky tilted his head to press their lips together.

A little fragment of a memory filtered through. A kiss. This was a kiss. People did this when they cared about each other.

Bucky could feel the curiosity and pleasure from Steve. A little shiver of relief went through him. This was allowed. They kissed for a while, gently, chastely, until Bucky reluctantly pulled away.

“Maybe we should track down the Avengers? Look into the next Hyrda base we need to destroy?” By now Bucky knew that Steve wouldn’t hurt him for asking questions or making tentative suggestions.

It was a heady feeling, to be able to do these things unchecked.

Steve sighed and said, “Perhaps.” He looked at Bucky from under his eyelashes. “I was hoping we could continue our courtship. We haven’t had a chance to dance together since we left the small square cave.”

Bucky did miss their play; the back and forth between whip and tentacle. It was all the thrill of a pitched fight and none of the recalibration and reconditioning afterwards. Bucky had never before found his superior in strength, but Steve was that and more.

He found himself wondering about the whole courtship thing though. Was it just a different kind of conditioning? If so, what was he being conditioned for?

“Steve…” Bucky hesitated. Dimly remembered flashes of electricity and blood shivered across his skin.

The tentacles rippled around him; trying to soothe him, he thought.

“Beloved, you need never fear me. I will never harm you. You can say anything you wish to me; I will never punish you for it.” Steve gazed earnestly at him and cupped Bucky’s jaw with one of his human-looking hands.

Bucky could feel how honest Steve was being; pluck the sincerity right out of his mind. He took a shaky breath.

“What happens at the end of the courtship? Are you going to wipe me?” Bucky’s voice was barely a whisper.

“No. No. Never. I will never take your memories away; all that I do is to rebuild them.” Bucky took a huge shuddering breath and then nodded. “The courtship will continue until you are well enough; both for your mind to withstand the bonding and for you to truly decide if you wish to bond at all. I have already decided. If you will have me, then I would happily swim beside you until the oceans dry and the moon falls. If we come to accord, then we will do the First Bonding ritual and after that we will be mated for all the rest of our breaths.”

Steve smiled a little sadly and added, “Though we have courted a while, there is no obligation. You can choose to remain separate from me.”

Bucky’s eyes started to leak again.

No! I don’t want that! I like staying with you!” He pushed his metal arm out of the tentacles and used it to pull Steve closer. “No. I want to stay with you. You make me feel like I’m a person.”

“You are a person. You’re the best person.” Steve rested their foreheads together.

Bucky closed his eyes and melted into the touch. They sat entwined for a moment before Bucky pulled back again.

“So. Courtship, huh?” He smirked a little. Steve grinned in response.

“Would you dance with me, beloved? Unfurl your delightful black tentacle and lick me with it once again? I have missed your touch with all my heart muscle.”

Bucky smiled and nodded. The tentacles unwound a bit and he sat upright. Looking around he noticed the part of the nest he had burrowed into contained a rather large quantity of those silky smallclothes. Other less soft, but significantly plusher, clothing was littered through out the area.

He picked up a piece and held it out to Steve.

“Are these for me?”

“All the kelp I have gathered is for your pleasure, beloved,” Steve answered easily.

Bucky hummed for a moment.

“Should I wear these?”

He could feel Steve’s surprise. “Wear them? Like the black hardened algae coverings you often don?”

“Yeah. These things are all wearable like my armor is.” He moved the garment in question around. It, too, was another example of those strange silky smallclothes; except this item was deep purple and had ruffles on the rear panels.

“They seem very flimsy; they wouldn’t offer much protection at all. Though…I suppose they are very soft…” he murmured.

He rubbed the cloth in between his fingers. It was so soft he felt the need to rub it against his face.

Bucky really liked soft things, now that he was allowed to like things.

Steve made a chirping, growling sound and straightened his back. “I’ll protect you. You don’t need some algae to do it.” He sniffed.

Bucky let out a quick laugh.

“So I could wear what ever felt nice?” Bucky was genuinely curious. This was unprecedented.

“Absolutely. Wrap yourself in the softest of kelps, if you desire it. You will hear no complaints from me.” Steve beamed at him.

Bucky made a thoughtful noise and shrugged. He wasn’t sure if he would like the soft things all over; something about it made his brain itch. But maybe it would be worth trying just one piece? He could start small and build up to more.

He eased on the purple smallclothes. They were tight; tight enough that he had to carefully position his genitalia. Bucky craned his head around to look at the frilly bits in the back. All the floofy things made his rear look particularly large.

To be honest, he felt a little silly.

And then Steve ran one tentacle tip through the frills and suddenly he didn’t feel silly at all. He felt nice. Maybe a little warm though.

“These are very different from your black hardened algae coverings,” Steve observed.

Bucky nodded. As much as he liked Steve running a tentacle through those ruffles, the garment was just too small to wear with comfort. The back panels left a significant portion of his flesh hanging out of the back and the front was little better. He wriggled out of it and dug around for something else to try.

He found another garment, this one had even less material on it than the purple ruffled piece. Bucky was sure it wouldn’t fit. But…it was a lovely peach color. The same color of Steve’s tentacles when he was in a good mood.

Bucky thought about it for a moment. He would not be punished for trying it on. He could even take it off if he stopped wanting it.

The allure of wearing Steve’s color overpowered the certain knowledge that the little piece of clothing wouldn’t fit. He shimmied into the smallclothes.

Interestingly, they were wide enough in the waist, but there was only the tiniest scrap of material in front and behind. No amount of repositioning of his genitalia could make the little bit of fabric hold everything in. The material in the back continually crept into the cleft of his ass; readjusting the hem line did not help keep it in place.

Bucky sighed. He really liked the color.

Steve leaned in to run a finger along the front panel of the garment. Bucky bit back a groan and suddenly the smallclothes were exponentially more uncomfortable.

“Are they not supposed to cover your fifth tentacle?” Steve sounded puzzled.

“Yeah. Yeah they are.” Bucky’s shoulders slumped.

“The color is attractive. It speaks of safety and comfort.”

Bucky nodded. That was a good way to put it. Black was for missions, but peach? Peach seemed like a happy color.

During his readjustment of the front panel of fabric, his metal hand tore a little hole in the material. He couldn’t stop his spine from tensing or his breath from going shallow. Is this when he would be punished? Bucky risked a glance up through his lashes at Steve and bit his lip.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rip it,” he whispered. He felt his eyes begin to water, though he couldn’t have explained why.

Steve just smiled and ran a soothing tentacle down his back.

“It does not matter, mate-to-be. More can be harvested. I am not upset.” Bucky could feel the truth in those words and he relaxed.

Bucky breathed deeply. He was alright. Steve wasn’t mad. He could damage these smallclothes in any way he liked and he wouldn’t be punished.

Careful examination proved that there was no way he’d be able to pull the smallclothes off without damaging them further. In the end he simply ripped the little scraps of cloth off.

After a few more minutes of digging around, Bucky found another piece of smallclothes he wanted to try on. The panels suggested a fair amount of coverage, though the material wouldn’t extend down the legs at all. Much like the black smallclothes Bucky had found the previous day, these seemed to be cut for male proportions.

The material, though, was softer than anything Bucky had ever felt, as light as a spider web, and a deep cobalt blue. Little red stars randomly decorated the blue surface and the edges were lined with a very small strip of white lace.

Something about the color combination set off flickers in the back of Bucky’s mind, but when nothing further came of it he pushed the feeling aside.

He really liked the blue and the little red stars matched his arm. The garment slid on easily; the fit was snug but not uncomfortable. Bucky twisted around to see how the back fit. Just the barest hint of flesh hung out of the back hem. He walked around a bit to test their movement.

There was no pain, no irritating rubbing against his genitalia. The fabric did not self-adjust in unpleasant ways. Bucky smiled a bit and straightened.

“The colors of the ocean suit your flesh tone well, Beloved,” Steve said smiling.

Bucky’s face became warm and he ducked his head a little. He wasn’t used to being complimented on coloring choices.

Or any choices for that matter.

He fetched his whip and ran its length through one hand; he’d have to find some kind of leather conditioner for it. The material was looking a little worse for wear. Bucky swished the end through the air a bit and then looked expectantly at Steve.

Steve grinned widely back at him; sharp teeth on display and limbs thrashing all around.

An enormous grin split Bucky’s face and he cracked the whip.

--

Bruce stirred honey into his tea and observed Sam, Clint, and Natasha across the breakfast table. All three of them were in various states of distress.

Natasha looked angry; or as angry as anyone ever saw her. Her brows had a slight wrinkle in them, her eyes were pinched a little, and she was very effectively and forcefully stabbing every piece of fruit on her plate. Spread out across the table in front of her was reams of paperwork with Shield’s logo on the top of each page.

Clint sat huddled around his coffee carafe as if it were a hot, bitter teddy bear. The coffee was normal but the pose wasn’t.

Sam had deep bags under his eyes and a permanent frown.

Tony was still MIA. Happily, Jarvis had relayed that he was making sure that Tony at least got semi-regular meals; even if they were just smoothies.

The tower looked like it got hit with an earthquake.

Bruce frowned. As much as he appreciated that his teammates were looking out for him, this walking on eggshells crap needed to go. He couldn’t help them if he didn’t know what was going on and he was certain that an unexpected surprise would bring out the Other Guy faster than anything else.

“So. Are any of you planning on filling me in about what happened yesterday?” he asked pointedly and then sipped his tea. Today he picked an oolong tea from the WuYi Mountains in China. Delicate fruity notes and a light sweetness offset the faint taste of wet stones; minerals the plants soaked in from the mountains around them.

He liked the duality of the brew; sweet and sharp at the same time. It was a clean flavor.

“Turns out Steve’s I’m Disappointed In You face is worse than Sam’s,” Clint responded.

Bruce raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t worry about it, Bruce. We’ve got it handled,” Natasha said.

Bruce ran his tongue over his teeth. He could feel the Other Guy stir in the back of his mind and flutter in his chest. Neither one of them liked to be pushed off. He took a sip of his tea and focused on the flavors.

“You realize that’s not sustainable, right? Eventually I’ll meet this guy no one wants me to meet,” Bruce stated.

“Man’s got a point,” Sam said.

“It’s not worth the risk right now. We just need to get this Hydra thing taken care of and then they can be on their way,” Natasha responded primly.

“Uh huh.” Sam didn’t look convinced.

Bruce sipped his tea again and mulled things over. He tried a different tactic.

“Should I bother asking why the tower’s been trashed and my cupboards have been stripped of all of my pajamas?” he asked the room in general.

Clint groaned. “My vent stashes. He found one of my vent stashes and stole all the pillows! Do you know how hard it is to carry a stack of pillows through a vent?”

Natasha smirked and said, “No, but I bet Steve does now.”

“How did he even get into the vents? The dude is fucking huge! Did he send Bucky to do it? Like, which half of the creepy Monster Murder Mates am I gonna run into next time I’m getting a little R’n’R? I’m honestly not sure which one I’d prefer at this point. Let’s not even start on what’s left of my floor. Half my curtains and a quarter of my clothes were gone when I got back to my room yesterday,” Clint added.

Huh. So apparently Steve was large and monstrous. Interesting. He glanced over at what was left of the common room’s elevator doors, scheduled for repair later in the afternoon, and added super strength to the list of characteristics.

“Same,” Sam added.

“Mine too. And pillows and blankets,” Natasha said. “And half my underwear. Did you fellas get hit with the panty raid too?” She looked pointedly around the room.

Clint blushed, stared into his vat of coffee, and mumbled, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Sam pretended to ignore the question by looking at his phone with focused intensity. Bruce was amused, but he was smart enough to keep that kind of information to himself. Who knows when it would come back to haunt him?

“Any idea why?” Bruce asked, continuing to fish for information.

“He used it all to make a giant floor nest in the pool room,” Sam stated flatly.

Clint groaned and said, “Of course he did.”

“By the way, Cake Day. Next week Tuesday. Bring your favorite,” Sam said.

“We don’t have time for that,” Natasha replied. “We’ve got whatever is going on with Shield to deal with.”

“Uh huh. And our best source of information for that is settling in down in the pool room. So until Bucky’s ready to come up and talk to us, we’re spinning our wheels,” Sam said evenly. “In the mean time, Cake Day.”

Clint perked up and said, “I like cake.”

Natasha just rolled her eyes, but she didn’t argue.

After that the conversation drifted to other things. Bruce finished off his tea and wandered to his lab to think over the problem.

“Jarvis, can you show me some recorded footage of Steve?” Bruce asked, curious about the answer.

“Sir has requested that I not do so, for the sake of the structural fortitude of the building.” Jarvis sounded apologetic.

“Hmm. And what do you think about that?”

“It seems to me that you were correct in your earlier supposition. Meeting Steve is inevitable. Furthermore, I calculate that a surprise meeting with Steve would be far more likely to bring about an incident with the Hulk than a planned meeting would.”

Yes, Bruce thought to himself. If he could get Jarvis on his side than a great deal of possibilities would open up to him.

It occurred to Bruce that even after all of this time the rest of the team had a fairly low opinion of his self control. Taking his overall history into account, that was probably justifiable. Most of that data was front loaded though. In the past two or three years, he and the Other Guy had gotten better and better at figuring out which of the two of them could best handle any given situation.

Based on that, barring an actual outright attack Bruce didn’t think that an incident was likely. With that thought in mind Bruce decided he would head down to the pool room and see what all the fuss was about.

Might as well go and invite them to dinner. It was the neighborly thing to do.

Jarvis spoke up just as he reached the door. “Dr. Banner, are you certain you want to do this?”

Bruce smiled at the door. “It’ll be fine. Probably.” And with that he opened the door and went in.

What he saw was Bucky, nude except for a pair of tight fitting Captain America panties, wielding a long black bullwhip, and locked in some kind of combat with…

…A cecaelia type merperson?

Was that Steve?

He tried to make sense of all the tentacles writing everywhere, but his mind sort of refused to add them up in a coherent fashion. He could feel the Other Guy take an interest.

The two of them were moving awfully fast; exchanging blows back and forth between tentacles and the whip. Neither one of them appeared to be injured. Bruce would be concerned about Bucky, but for the fact that he was laughing.

And the whole underwear thing.

Which was about the moment that Bruce remembered that everyone described Steve as Bucky’s ‘mate’ or ‘boyfriend’.

Fascinating!

What, exactly, were they doing? They clearly weren’t attempting to seriously injure each other, so sparring seemed unlikely. Was this some kind of mating behavior? How would that even work? Did the Japanese know about creatures like Steve already and the rest of the world just passed it off as flights of fancy or ancient myth? That certainly would explain some of the things he knew existed on the internet…

Dozens of questions bubbled up in his mind and Bruce nearly stopped to take notes.

Except that the longer he watched whatever it was they were doing, the more present the Other Guy became behind his eyes. Bruce could feel his skin itch and his heart start to pound.

PLAAAAAY. HULK WANT PLAY TOOO.

Shit.

Time to go. Bruce left before they even noticed him and made his way back to his lab; the offer of dinner completely forgotten.

This required more research.

“Jarvis? Get me in touch with Tony. I’ve got a new research project and I’m guessing it’s one he’s already working on.”

“Yes, Dr. Banner.”

“And let me know if they come out of the pool room whenever they’re done doing…whatever it is they’re doing.”

“Yes, Dr. Banner.”

Time to do some science.

Chapter Text

Rumlow had no idea what the fuck he was looking at.

He did, however, know exactly why he was here sitting in Secretary Pierce’s office. Strategic Hydra bases around the country were being destroyed. According to Pierce, the Asset was gone too.

The only facility that had any surviving security footage prior to destruction was the first one, and that’s only because the Asset’s technicians had followed protocol and uploaded all new data to the server the moment a disturbance started. The other bases weren’t so lucky; they were either slacking on their jobs or communications were hit first.

He was now watching that footage.

“Sir, with all due respect, what the fuck is this?” Rumlow asked after a few minutes. The current video showed the Asset in melee with a…writhing mass of black tentacles? “A whip isn’t part of the standard kit for the Asset. And what is that thing?

Pierce walked around his desk to stand closer to the wall mounted screen that Rumlow was looking at.

“It was captured in the Pacific when it attacked one of our submarines. The Asset was activated and sent to break it and train it after it was deemed too volatile for normal operatives to handle. After several months of no progress the Asset was reassigned. The creature became far more unstable after the Asset was removed; technicians theorized that it had developed some kind of bond with the Asset. So before the Asset completed its deactivation protocols, it was returned to its previous mission. This is what happened.”

At the press of a button, the image on the screen changed. The creature’s cell was liberally coated with dried blood. Body parts lay strewn around; evidence of the creature’s displeasure. The tentacle mass in the corner wriggled in agitation. When the Asset walked in to the room, the tentacle mass shot towards it and enveloped it. The greater bulk of the creature obscured any sight of the Asset beyond that point.

“They stayed like this for an hour or so. After that, this is what happened.” Pierce pressed another button and the screen changed again.

The screen showed the tentacle mass carefully setting a very naked Asset onto the ground. The lighting in the room wasn’t great, but Rumlow would almost swear that there was another man buried in the limbs; its skin inky black like the tentacles around it. The Asset slowly moved around the room picking up discarded armor and weapons, redressed itself, and then sat on a resting tentacle and waited.

“When the cell door was opened to retrieve the Asset, the creature escaped. We have limited information about what happened after that. As far as we can tell, the creature destroyed the facility and left with the Asset.”

Short clips from elsewhere on the base popped up on the screen. Some showed a black mass that moved too quickly to be caught on video. Others showed Hydra agents and scientists being torn limb from limb by tentacles. There was footage of the creature bent over a body; from the movement it looked like the creature was eating the dead agent. One very memorable clip showed the creature piling up dismembered bodies only to then dive into fleshy mound and writhe around.

Jesus fucking Christ. What the fuck kind of monster did these tech idiots dig up?

In nearly every video the Asset walked calmly behind the creature, following it. Docile like a well trained dog.

The screen went black. Pierce grabbed a folder off of his desk and handed it to Rumlow.

“The operatives who originally captured the creature were able to get some limited information on it before it was turned over for further study. That folder contains everything we know.”

Rumlow flipped through the file. Apparently, ‘limited information’ was pretty damn limited. It included a few size measurements, a couple of pictures of very lengthy tentacles attached to a human male upper torso, and a whole lot of bitching about how strong the creature was and how resistant to damage it was. The file also included pictures of what was left of the submarine. Those bastards were lucky to be alive. It looked like after all that they barely got the creature into a secure room before it woke up and became hostile.

He could see why the tech flunkies were so eager to make this creature into another Asset.

“What’s the mission, sir?” he asked.

“We don’t know how intelligent the creature is. It’s possible the creature took control of the Asset and is using its knowledge to hit our bases. Perhaps the Asset just malfunctioned. The creature could be acting independently or it could already be a trained operative for an enemy agency. Regardless, find them and bring them both in. Our priority is to stop the destruction of our bases and successfully live capture the Asset. It’s too useful to waste, especially with Insight being so close to launch. We’ll need it as a contingency to take care of Fury as well as any other high level targets. I’ve included in that file a little extra information on the Asset. This is above and beyond what normal handlers get. Use it wisely.”

“And the creature?”

“Live capture if you can, if not, kill it.”

Rumlow smirked. He loved a good kill mission.

“Sir, yes, sir.”

--

Rumlow had spent the night reviewing all of the gathered intelligence and ended up with a reasonable guess as to where the creature might hit next.

Coincidentally, all the bases that were being leveled were places the Asset had previously been stored.

Coincidence. Sure.

If the Asset had malfunctioned, it was possible that the Asset itself was destroying the Hydra facilities. It was also possible that the Asset had simply been successfully interrogated and was supplying some previously unknown enemy with critical intel. With how frequently the Asset was re-wiped, it shouldn’t have been able to recall that information at all, but clearly something had gone drastically wrong.

Rumlow also decided that there was a good chance that the creature was part of the attacks. It had already demonstrated its destructive abilities when it escaped the first facility with the Asset. If it was an enemy asset, it would make sense that they would use it again. Taking all that into account, Rumlow started to plan.

The surviving agents from the submarine that originally picked the creature up showed that it responded to extreme doses of electricity. So he set up a little trap. He commandeered control of the next most likely target and relocated their communications and security hubs to one of the most protected parts of the base; the central planning and operations areas.

He was sort of pissed he had to do that part at all. Who the fuck is training these people? Yes, it’s a secret base and thus somewhat protected from assault, but access to the whole facilities security measures should not be behind just a single door. If this was the quality of facility defenses in these satellite bases, no fucking wonder they were being wiped off the map.

Hell, Rumlow was tempted to do it himself just to teach everyone involved a lesson.

Maybe next week.

In the mean time, security personnel had their weapons changed out from standard fire arms to ones with heavy caliber armor piercing rounds. Grenade launchers and high caliber snipers were added as well. He reequipped the Strike team with heavy duty electrical weapons, in addition to the mag-cuffs and stun batons they had ready for the Asset.

Then he waited.

He didn’t have to wait long.

Rumlow wasn’t that surprised when his newly installed long range security cameras picked up a quinjet approaching. Once it landed, the Asset and the creature walked out. Or, really, the creature flowed out of what must have been an impossibly small space for something that large and the Asset left once there was room for it to move.

What he was surprised by was the second quinjet that landed just after it; one that Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America walked out of.

Of fucking course. Fury’s little pet rejects.

Fuck. Captain America. It was one of the Asset’s main protocols that it was never allowed to have a mission that might involve Captain America. None of the Asset’s handlers were ever clued in as to why that was. Rumlow didn’t actually care that much, to be honest. It was just another part of the job; he had bigger things to worry about than patriotism induced glitch.

But watching at them interact on the security feed, Rumlow figured the likelihood of general Asset malfunction skyrocketed. He privately thought it must be one hell of a malfunction though; the Asset always had at least one tentacle wrapped around it.

More proof that its brains were glorified scrambled eggs; only good for taking orders. Look what happened to it without a proper handler around.

Maybe the Avengers were somehow controlling both the Asset and the Creature? Hard to tell. From his briefing on Stark, he didn’t think the man had it in him. The Widow and Hawkeye were another matter, though.

Either way that didn’t change his mission objectives; only how difficult they would be.

On the bright side, this base wasn’t a Shield location. If he was spotted he could play off that he was sent here by Shield to investigate a possible enemy infiltration.

From there shit went downhill fast. Even Rumlow coordinating the base’s security forces wasn’t enough to slow down the Avengers. The base simply wasn’t prepared for an aerial assault from Captain America in addition to ground forces.

And that creature was a tank. The armor piercing bullets just bounced off of it; all the Asset, Hawkeye, and the Widow had to do was follow behind it.

The snipers with the .50 cals, though, they were a different story.

Rumlow watched with teeth bared in satisfaction as the creature reeled back after a single shot rang out. The shriek that erupted from it blew out half the cameras in the area and destroyed any microphones they had on the outside of the base.

Rumlow’s feral grin faded as it became obvious that the creature wasn’t dead. From what he could see on the remaining camera feeds, it just looked pissed off. The shrieking got louder and the sound reverberated through the stone walls of the facility, causing little trickles of rock to sift down from the ceiling.

On top of that, a single shot was all the posted sniper got; the Asset had leveled its own Barrett toward the offending shooter and dropped him within seconds. After that Captain America methodically took down every other sniper Rumlow had set up, while the Asset, Widow, and Hawkeye picked off strays.

Once they reached the inside of the facility, Rumlow knew it was over. This facility was lost. The creature somehow managed to disappear into the walls. He couldn’t tell if it was tunneling through them somehow or was just moving too fast for the cameras to pick up. Agents were dropping left and right, and even more worrisome, it wouldn’t be long before his position was compromised. People were outright fleeing their posts.

Cowards. They deserved what’s coming to them.

The lights flickered for a moment and then went out. The red emergency lights popped on, bathing the room in an eerie glow. Unholy keening vibrated through the halls, chased by the sound of human screams as people were literally ripped apart.

There was pounding on the door outside; a camera showed one of the lab techs at the door begging to be let in.

“Open up you bastards! Oh god, it’s eating us, it’s eating us. Let me in!” The tech looked down the hallway just as another screech echoed through the walls, and then he ran in the other direction.

Time to go, Rumlow thought. This base was a wash, but he still had one more ace up his sleep to play before he called this mission a fail. He set off the countdown for the charges in the server room and nodded towards his team.

“Strike, get ready to move. Plan B, follow my lead.”

“Yes, sir,” they chorused. The feral grin returned. They could still do this.

--

Bucky landed the quinjet about a mile away from their target and motioned for Steve to get out. It had been two days since their courtship tryst and the maintenance that followed, but Bucky could still feel the pleasure of it bubble under his skin.

Steve was anxious to continue their extermination of Hydra, though, so when the routine maintenance allowed knowledge of this base to surface in Bucky’s mind, they prepared for an attack.

Bucky was a little nervous about this site; partially because he had started to remember some of the things that happened here. Little flickers of needles and screaming echoed through his mind. He wasn’t really sure what to make of it. They were just more memories of recalibration and maintenance, but for some reason they left him feeling unsettled. He found he didn’t like remembering those things.

He tried not to dwell on it.

Also, this was the first mission the Avengers were joining them on.

It was difficult for him to remember that he was supposed to trust them. Objectively, the Avengers had every reason to help them. But in the deep parts of Bucky’s mind, he feared that they would become just another set of handlers.

Steve wrapped a comforting tentacle around his waist while they waited for the other quinjet to land. Bucky closed his eyes and leaned into it a bit; pleased by its solid weight behind him. Steve wouldn’t let anything happen to him. Another tentacle curled around one of his legs and lightly picked at one of the buckles on his Kevlar armored top. Bucky drank in the calmness and Steve hummed happily behind him.

That was how the Avengers found them when they landed a few minutes later.

“Whoa there. Let’s keep this show kid friendly,” Sam said as he walked out of their quinjet. Bucky opened his eyes and stared at him in confusion. There would be no children at this facility.

And then he got a good look at what Sam was wearing; a red, white, and blue armored flight suit with a winged jet pack strapped on his back and in his arms…

In his arms was a shield. A round shield with a white star on a blue background in the middle of it with white and red concentric circles radiating out from the center, placing the star the center of a bulls eye.

He knew that shield. He knew it.

“That’s…”

Sam looked at between him and the shield and then back again. “Yeah, man. It’s your old shield. It’s been passed down to every new Captain America since you fell off that train in World War Two. A hell of a legacy to live up to.” The moment stretched on for another few minutes. Bucky registered somewhere in the back of his head that Clint and Natasha had joined them on the hill, but the vast majority of his focus was all for that smooth curve of metal.

Sam bit his lip.

“You want to hold it? I mean, I could use it in the fight; if you’re alright with that, that is. But if you want to give it a spin, well. It was yours before it was mine, you know?” Sam said. He held it out towards Bucky.

Bucky lurched forward until he was close enough that he could touch the shining metal. It would be light, lighter than he expected it to be. It would sing when bullets bounced off of it. It would bounce off enemy after enemy only to faithfully return to his hand.

“Howard used to say it was witchcraft,” Bucky whispered. He wasn’t sure where the words were coming from, but he knew they were true.

“Howard Stark?” Natasha asked.

Bucky nodded.

“When I threw it, he said it was witchcraft. It didn’t matter how many times it bounced, or how far it went, it always came back to me. He didn’t stop to think that I had a sniper’s training and a serum enhanced mind. It was easy to do the calculations. To know right where I needed to be to always catch it.”

He traced the white star with a single finger.

“Holy shit. The super soldier serum. It’s actually true then? You’re all jacked up on some kind of super juice?” Sam asked with awe.

Bucky hummed noncommittally. He didn’t actually remember. What was one more experiment stacked under decades of experiments? He traced the circles painted on the shield.

He shoved the shreds of memory away and took a step back. Cool detachment settled over him as he prepared himself for the mission at hand.

Objective: destroy this facility.
Sub-objective: protect Steve. Successful completion of this sub-objective is required for success of the mission.
Sub-objective: protect Codename: Hawkeye, Codename: Black Widow, Codename: Captain America. Escort them to central computer terminal. Acquire further data on Hydra operations.

“Are you ready?” Bucky asked.

The gathered Avengers nodded. Black Widow handed him an ear bud.

“This will put you on our communications line, just in case we get separated,” Natasha said.

Bucky settled the ear piece into place.

Surprisingly, this facility was ready for them. Additional long range surveillance must have been added because shots were fired the moment they got in range. It kind of made sense, considering how many bases they’d destroyed already. Eventually Hydra was bound to start adding security to the remaining bases.

But if Bucky had to be stuck slowly creeping up to an enemy base while under heavy fire, it certainly was a nice day for it. Kinda sunny. Big white puffy clouds. Bucky didn’t really remember many days like this; mostly there was a lot of pain and fear. But Steve would never punish him for enjoying the weather, so Bucky did.

He was a little giddy from the freedom of it.

“So much for sneaking up on them,” Clint grumbled in between shots.

Steve kept a casual tentacle around Bucky’s waist as they moved forward and sent a wordless hum of reassurance to him. He knew how nervous Bucky was about this assault.

Things seemed to be going alright, right up until a sniper got a shot off on Steve. He watched in horror as his mate’s shoulder jerked back from the impact of the bullet.

Before Bucky was even aware of it, he had already taken a shot and watched the sniper’s head explode through his scope.

Steve thrashed around next to him and screamed in pain. The sound hammered through Bucky’s skull and vibrated his very bones. Bucky winced and rubbed the side of his head. Then Steve let out a second even more deafening shriek, this one filled with outrage. Nat and Clint both clutched their heads and twisted in pain.

“Steve! Steve!” Bucky grabbed onto the tentacle still wrapped around his waist and projected his thoughts as loudly as he could to Steve. “Please!”

He wasn’t even sure what he was asking for. Asking for things was still so new. But Steve had never punished him, never denied him maintenance, had never forced him through reconditioning.

Steve stopped with a start, one of his human-looking hands covering his shoulder. Thick fluids of various colors slowly oozed out of the bullet hole.

“Beloved,” Steve sent through their connection. His previous shrieking quieted to the soft thrumming sound Bucky loved so much; Bucky could feel a mix of pain, guilt, and irritation through their connection.

“I am sorry, my mate-to-be. I did not mean to cause you distress. I just had no idea these eel-cousins could sting at such long distances!” Steve sounded absolutely disgruntled.

Bucky snickered at the implied ‘how dare they’.

Clint groaned behind him. “Please never do that again. I could feel it inside my skull. And I think it may have messed with my hearing aids.”

Natasha just glared at them both.

“Are you alright? Do you require maintenance?” Bucky asked. Steve still looked mostly functional, but honestly it was a little hard for him to gauge. Bucky really only had two settings; functional and non-functional. The in-between stuff didn’t make a lot of sense to him.

“I will be fine soon, beloved.” Bucky could tell that Steve was still kind of pouting. It was a cute look.

“You wanna go hunting, doll?” Bucky asked.

Steve perked up hopefully.

“I don’t mind staying with you if you’d like…”

Bucky could see the ends of Steve’s tentacles wiggling with excitement. He felt the urge to smile again. This was happening more and more and he wasn’t really sure what to make of it. They were on mission today, though, so he suppressed the urge.

“I’ll be fine. Go have some fun, catch something to eat. I’ll show these two to the control room.”

A surge of tentacles wrapped around him and squeezed.

Natasha and Clint were firing around them; taking out a few more snipers, Bucky noted.

“You two love birds finished with your heart to heart yet, or are we going to go storm a hydra base?” Natasha drawled in between firing shots.

“…catch something to eat? You’re just joking, right, Bucky?” Clint asked. “Bucky? Bucky!”

Bucky could feel Steve’s rippling pleasure at being allowed free reign to hunt and eat.

“Thank you, beloved! You are the best mate-to-be,” Steve chortled happily while he rubbed their cheeks together. And then he was gone, already so eager to be rampaging through the facility that Bucky barely caught sight of a tentacle tip slipping into a doorway before even that too had disappeared.

“Awwww tentacles no,” Clint bitched quietly and dropped behind a bit of cover before he made another shot. “He was keeping them off of us.”

Bucky didn’t bother responding. He wasn’t really sure if he was supposed to anyways.

It didn’t take them much longer to make it to the base entrance. Steve had cut a nice path through the outer defenses for them to follow through. Sam joined them when they got to the door and the four of them ducked inside.

Despite Steve hurting his shoulder a bit, overall the mission was going pretty well. It was nice and cool inside the base; kind of moist in a way that Bucky was sure that Steve was enjoying. Every once in a while the walls would shake with Steve’s gleeful songs and a scream or two would echo around. There were barely any people to shoot, though Bucky was careful to keep an eye out just in case.

Bucky sort of felt like whistling. He wasn’t sure how he knew he could whistle, but he was certain this was a thing he could do. It was a happy thing; something to be done while taking a relaxing stroll. He didn’t really remember relaxing strolls. He wondered if this qualified.

They made their way through the base, moving at what Bucky considered a leisurely pace. They came across the occasional Hydra agent, but mostly they came across a lot of body chunks. He heard some quiet gagging noises and a few sniffs of disdain from behind him. He wasn’t really sure what the problem was though. Maybe they were poison training today?

He gave it an internal shrug and kept alert.

As they neared what Bucky vaguely recalled was the main control area for the base, they ran into one of the lab technicians. This one wasn’t even trying to kill them. He was just running around, sweating and screaming about some kind of monster in the walls.

Bucky absently shot him in the head and peered around the hallway, taking in the pleasant air and the distant sounds of Steve enjoying his dinner. At some point along the way the generators must have been taken out, because the emergency back-up lights had come on. Bucky liked how easy the soft red glow was on his eyes. So much better than the blindingly cold lights that were always in the labs.

Yeah. This was definitely a whistling worthy stroll.

He gave the activity a quick try; just a little trill to see if he really remembered. Bucky knew he was much, much better with muscle memory than he was with recalling actual events, so he was hopeful about this experiment.

The trill sounded sweet as a bird!

Brimming with satisfaction he tried it again, this time attempting to make something song-like. Next he tried the ‘stroll’ thing; he casually sauntered up the hallway.

“Seriously, man? ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’?” Sam asked incredulously.

Before Bucky could contradict Sam for implying that he was performing at less than peak efficiency, a large heavily armed group burst out of the control room.

Everybody stand down,” Sam yelled before a firefight could start. “Rumlow! What are you guys doing here?” Sam demanded.

“Probably the same thing you are, Cap. Shield sent us to investigate possible enemy infiltration,” the man in front of the group replied. “Who’s this?” He gestured towards Bucky.

He looked familiar.

He looked more than familiar.

Bucky started to feel panic crawl up his spine. They were going to take him back. Steve wasn’t here and they were going to take him back.

“No,” he choked out. Natasha and Clint raised their weapons again after a quick glance over to where Bucky was quietly melting down.

“Bucky. You still with us?” Natasha asked quietly.

“That’s one of my handlers,” he whispered.

The moment he said those words the hallway erupted into violence.

Bucky shoved his panic into a far corner of his mind and concentrated on the fight; something he had done so many times that was easier than breathing. A few shots rang out in the tight space before the Avengers were quickly mobbed by the Strike Team.

Strike knew they had the advantage of numbers and they pressed that advantage every chance they could. Rumlow went straight for Bucky. Bucky drew two knives and used them to parry the stun batons that they were wielding.

Bucky knew he could beat them, even outnumbered as he was. They piled on him and he lashed out, scoring hits in every direction; light wounds for now, but he knew they would add up.

He could see out of the corner of his eye that one of the Strike agents had gotten through Clint’s guard. Hawkeye was lying unconscious on the floor while Natasha and Sam fought standing over him, protecting him. They tossed the shield back and forth between them, using both it and Sam’s wings to block the batons.

And then Rumlow was in front of him, grinning like a fiend.

“Sputnik!”

The world slowed down. Bucky dropped his weapons and slowly shook his head. “S-stop,” he managed to stutter out.

“Bucky!” Natasha shouted.

Bucky shook his head again. He was having trouble focusing.

“Asset, stand down!” Rumlow ordered.

“Bucky, don’t do it!” Sam yelled.

“Steve...” Where did Steve go? Was he dead? A ghostly image of a slender young blond man floated through his head; his little Stevie, coughing himself to death in their shitty tenement apartment in Brooklyn. That was his little Stevie, but there was a big Steve now. He had tentacles and he was beautiful and he was kind.

“It’s not working…”

“Shut up, Rollins, I’ve got this.”

He was so dizzy. Bucky groped around for a knife, a gun, something, but someone kicked him in the face and then he was on the ground. He tried to curl up to cover his face and his ribs, but he was too disoriented.

“Bucky! Don’t listen to them! Get out of here! Get to Steve!” It was a woman’s voice. Natasha?

Steve was here, somewhere. He didn’t have to listen to these people, Steve was his mate.

“It’s supposed to knock him out! What the fuck?”

Shut up, Rollins. Hey Asset, желание, ржaвый, Семнадцать, Рассвет, Печь…”

Oh.

Oh no.

Bucky knew those words. Those were the words that made him disappear.

“Bucky, run!

“Девять, добросердечный, возвращение на родину, Один...”

He struggled to his knees. If he could just get up…

“грузовой вагон.”

The Asset could feel the cool detachment settle over him, the empty simplicity of following orders. All he had to do was obey. He stopped struggling and simply rested on his knees; waiting.

But something was different this time. His real handler wasn’t here. Where was his handler, authority level: mate, designation: Steve?

“Доброе утро, солдат,” Rumlow stated.

Who what this greaseball? And what made him think he could order around an Asset that he didn’t own?

The Asset considered his options. Best to play along for the moment. He remembered what he was supposed to say next.

“Я готов отвечать.”

Ready to comply.

--

The moment she heard Bucky give the triggered response to the random string of Russian words, Natasha knew they were fucked.

One hundred percent totally fucked.

The fighting actually backed off for a moment after that; Strike pulled back and closed ranks around them. They were down a few members, but Sam and Natasha were still grossly outnumbered. Now with Bucky out of the picture too…things didn’t look good.

Bucky, no, the Asset sat kneeling in the hall, stare vacant.

“Asset, stand up,” Rumlow ordered. The Asset did so and then stared off into the middle distance; waiting for orders.

“Bucky, man, you don’t need to do this,” Sam panted behind her. Natasha’s face stung with sweat. Blood dripped down from her hairline and she knew that she’d be black and blue all over come tomorrow. Clint still wasn’t moving. Natasha shoved the worry to the back of her mind; she’d deal with it later, if they all lived.

“It’s not your Bucky anymore,” Rumlow said with a smirk. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with one gloved hand. “It belongs to Hydra. Isn’t that right, Asset?”

The Asset didn’t move. His eyes didn’t even flicker.

“Asset! Who do you belong to?” Rumlow demanded.

“My handler, sir,” the Asset replied.

“That’s right. And what is your job?”

“Follow orders. Protect my handler.”

An absolutely feral smile stretched across Rumlow’s face. “That’s right, soldier. Now be a good dog and kill these two. Get the shield there, too. After we’re done here we’ve got a sea monster to catch.”

Natasha crammed herself to Sam’s side as he tried to cover as much of both of them as he could with both the shield and his wings.

“We’re your friends, Bucky. I’m Sam, this is Natasha. We’re your friends and we don’t want to hurt you. Steve is here and he’s gonna be looking for you soon,” Sam pleaded quietly.

“Don’t bother. He doesn’t know it’s us,” Natasha said.

“You can’t reason with a rifle, and that’s all the As-” Rumlow choked mid-word as the Asset slammed a combat knife through his throat. Time slowed down for a moment as blood spilled out of his mouth.

By the time Rumlow’s body hit the ground three more were dead. The Asset was a blur of black and silver, taking down the Strike team before they even knew what hit them. Natasha and Sam joined in and fired whenever they had a clear shot. It was easier now that none of the Strike members were focused on them.

Faster than Natasha thought possible, the fight was over and the Asset was staring at them blankly. He was soaked up to the elbows in blood and was still holding on to two knives. His face look bruised, but it was hard to tell what blood was his and what wasn’t. Natasha suspected that very little of it was actually his.

Sam dropped to the ground and started doing CPR on Clint.

Natasha looked warily at the Asset. She kept her guns ready, but pointed at the ground.

“Bucky?” she asked.

No answer.

Well that wasn’t good news.

“Natasha I could use your help here,” Sam said in between compressions.

“Little busy here,” she sang back. “Asset?” Still no answer, but his focus seemed to shift to her at least.

Natasha thought quickly.

“Asset, why did you kill them?” she asked.

“They were a threat to my handler,” he responded.

Interesting.

“Asset, who is your handler?”

“Handler is designated: Steve, authority level: mate,” he answered levelly.

“Huh.”

Well. That did explain things.

--

Steve flowed through the tunnels in the eel-cousin’s cave system. He was gonna eat them but good.

He pouted a little as his shoulder smarted. It wasn’t a big wound, but the stinger was still in his flesh. He was going to have to pull it out before he could slather the opening with healing mucus.

It was that stinger that reminded him he needed to be a little more cautious during this hunting trip. Everyone knew that while one stinger was annoying at best, hundreds of them could be deadly. So just in case Steve flowed quietly on the tops of the cavern tubes, making sure that his skin blended in with the areas around him.

These eel cousins were sort of ridiculous in their adherence to only the bottom portion of the cavern tubes. None of them were on the ceiling at all.

Steve just shook his head at it all. Well, it certainly did make things easier for him.

Pesky little things. First they hurt his mate-to-be and then they go and sting him!

He was really happy that the Avenger eel-cousins had joined them on this outing. Bucky seemed a little disturbed by her memories of this place and it comforted Steve to know that she wouldn’t be alone for any length of time while here.

The distant sound of gunfire echoed through the tunnels. Steve knew that his mate-to-be was strong and deadly…but it couldn’t hurt just to go make sure everything was alright.

Just in case.

He picked up an eel-cousin along the way. Maybe his beloved would finally eat something? Steve was still puzzled by her eating habits, or rather, lack thereof. Yes, she shared the cake-thing with him, but that was all he had seen her consume.

Maybe she just preferred to kill her own meals? He made sure the eel-cousin he dragged along was alive, just in case. His beloved was still so tiny. She would never get to laying size if she didn’t feed properly.

Not that brooding over a clutch was the end-all, be-all of a bonding! Steve was certain he would love her regardless of whether or not they ended up with a nest full of eggs. But if she did form a clutch, or tried to do so before she was at the proper weight…

The thought was a little worrisome.

Well. That was a long ways away. They still needed to finish their courtship and bonding, after all.

And if in the mean time Steve attempted to slip her a little more food, just to make sure that she was happy and cared for, of course! Well. That was all to the good.

Steve didn’t even want to think about what might happen if his progenitor came to visit and saw that his mate-to-be wasn’t eating. Not only would he be in trouble, but he’d have to fend off his progenitor from meddling too much with his beloved.

It was fine for him to keep offering food to his beloved; that’s what mates did. One of Steve’s fondest hopes was that his mate-to-be need never feel the pangs of hunger. But no one enjoyed being harassed by their mate’s progenitor, especially about their weight.

He wasn’t even really sure that his progenitor knew that he was courting.

Probably for the best, all things considered.

He picked up a second eel-cousin, just in case the Avengers were hungry too. It was always good manners to share.

Come to think of it, he hadn’t really seen them eat anything either. Maybe they gained nourishment from the Sun, like kelp? He couldn’t help but feel like it would be a breach in etiquette to ask; sometimes feeding was a deeply personal activity. Steve was very sure he didn’t want to offend anyone, especially his mate-to-be.

When he finally found his beloved, though, things looked wrong.

The Avenger with the purple algae coverings was on the cave floor; Steve wasn’t sure if it was even breathing. The Avenger with manta ray flaps was on the ground rhythmically pressing its limbs to the fallen one’s chest cavity. The one with brilliant red cilia on its head stood in between them and his mate-to-be.

Oh no.

His mate-to-be looked damaged again. Her glorious moon-pale skin was discolored and red fluids leaked from her mouth. Her algae were soaked in red fluids; soaked so much that Steve briefly wondered if she had decided to roll a little in the abundance of fluids scattered around in pools.

She was standing wrong, too. Steve couldn’t place it.

What had happened?

He dropped the slightly twitching eel-cousins and wrapped his tentacles around his beloved.

“Mate-to-be, what has happened?” he cooed.

But Bucky didn’t react. She didn’t wrap her limbs around him, nor did she brush her lips against his cheek.

“Ready to comply,” she said. Even her voice sounded wrong. The sounds scratched in weird ways along her vocal chords.

“Beloved?” he asked tentatively.

“Ready to comply.”

He lifted his upper limbs and held onto her head, delving into the neural pathways to see if her mind had sustained damaged. While he investigated this, he snaked a limb out to wrap around the eel-cousin with the red cilia.

“What happened here?” he demanded. Privately, he suspected he was being a bit harsh; he was just so worried! All of the healing that his beloved’s mind had been doing in the past few weeks had been disrupted. How did this even happen? Did the enemy eel-cousins use their wicked electricity on her again?

Steve mentally tentacle slapped himself for leaving her alone for any part of this outing. He knew she was worried about this place and he left her alone anyways. He felt like he had failed as a mate.

The red-cilia bearing Avenger chittered at him. “This isn’t your fault. Hydra had him conditioned to respond to trigger words. They say the words and his mind resets to an obedient state.”

As kind as the Avenger was trying to be, Steve knew that had he been there the eel-cousins wouldn’t have lived long enough to say these ‘trigger words’. But the information was useful at least. He could see where these trigger things had embedded into his beloved’s mind; how they disrupted the natural healing that Steve had been speeding along.

It wouldn’t take nearly as long to reconnect those disrupted connections as the process had when he first started healing Bucky. He started the mental repair right away and then slipped a couple of tentacles under her algae coverings so he could begin to assess any other damage.

“Thank you for looking after my mate-to-be.” He spared a moment to give an earnest look at the red-cilia bearing Avenger.

“No problem. He helped us out…rather unexpectedly too, given the circumstances,” it said wryly. Steve could feel the pain, fear, and incredulous shock coming out of it in waves. His beloved came first, though. Perhaps after he had healed Bucky he would tend to the Avengers.

“Don’t mean to interrupt whatever it is you’re doing over there with the tentacle monster but I could really use your help, Natasha,” the manta ray stated. The red-cilia bearing eel-cousin moved to join it. Steve kept a single tentacle on it just in case he needed to speak to it again.

Beyond that, Steve ignored them and continued to quickly repair Bucky’s disrupted connections. He could feel his beloved relax in his limbs. His other tentacles found a great deal of further damage all over her body, though none of it seemed serious; minor lacerations and fluid leakage. Nothing a little healing mucus wouldn’t fix fairly quickly. After another minute or two, his beloved’s whole body shuddered.

“Steve?” she asked. “I…uh…think I killed some people for you?” Oh sweet moon, she was so confused! And yet, even in her fugue state, she sought to gather food for him. His heart muscle swelled.

He looked around at all the dead eel-cousins and was both honored and worried; honored because she had hunted so well for him and worried because of the damage she clearly had taken. These trigger word things must have provoked her provide instincts.

Again he was struck with how courageous she was. He could not have dreamed of a better mate.

Steve smiled and rubbed their cheeks together. “Yes my beloved, I am here. Thank you for your gifts. I will relish consuming them.” He started to secrete the pleasurable healing mucus onto her external wounds. She moaned a little in response.

The whole process was interrupted by a little limb gripping one of his tentacles. It was the manta ray.

“Hey. What are you OH MY GOD RIGHT HERE IN THE BASE? No. No. We are not doing this here. We need to leave. Clint is breathing again, but he got hit with way too many volts. We need to get him some real medical attention as of yesterday.” The manta ray tasted of fear, adrenaline, and desperation. Steve’s heart muscle went out to it.

He wrapped a tentacle around the manta ray as well as the unconscious eel-cousin on the ground. The one on the ground was alive, but the voltage had damaged the neural pathways in its brain. Steve moved tentacles under the purple clad eel-cousin’s algae, but before he could get very far Bucky grabbed his jaw with her beautiful metal tentacle and forced him to look at her.

“Critical wounds only. No other maintenance,” she growled.

“What? But…it is injured?” Steve was honestly bewildered. Why was his beloved upset?

“You are my mate. I will not share.” Steve was taken aback for a moment by the determination in his beloved’s mind. And then understanding dawned and his heart muscle melted into goo.

His beloved didn’t want his appendages on anyone else, for any reason. His mate-to-be was feeling possessive. Steve felt like he was glowing with love.

“Wait. What’s going on with what now? And also, hell no. No sharing. None. I am not doing that and Clint is not conscious to agree to it.” the manta ray demanded.

“You need not worry, my sweet ocean star. I am yours as you are mine,” he thrummed quietly as snaked a few more tentacles under the fallen eel-cousin’s algae.

“Hey! What did I say! That is not okay, man,” the manta ray complained.

“Relax,” Bucky growled. “Steve’s tentacles can heal. I told you he’s been helping me, right?” She squirmed a little closer to Steve’s torso and patted one of the tentacles coming out of her algae.

The manta ray blinked hard.

“When you said he was helping you this is not what I expected. Like. At all. How does that even work?

Steve could feel such intense distress coming from it. It was leaking red fluids too. He wanted to help, but considering how negatively the manta ray was acting so far he wasn’t sure if it would be welcome.

He cuddled another tentacle around the manta ray.

“Do not be troubled. My healing mucus will aid the lavender eel-cousin; it will feel no pain,” Steve assured them.

The red cilia bearing eel-cousin looked back and forth between them. “Uh huh. I’ve got a job to do, you’ve got this right, Sam?” it asked before turning around to walk away, not even waiting for a response.

“No. No no no no! You are not leaving me here! Natasha!” the manta ray called out.

“Sorry! We need intel! Good luck, Cap!”

“Nat! Natasha! Don’t you leave me here!”

Steve ignored them in favor of continuing to spread healing mucus over his beloved’s torso. She moaned and arched her back, though this didn’t stop her from glaring at Steve.

“You keep your limbs on his upper body only, you hear me?” she asked heatedly.

“If you desire it then I will do as you say, my mate-to-be,” Steve replied. Her request left him both very confused and completely charmed. He wasn’t sure why it mattered but he was happy that she felt so passionately about him sharing his attentions.

He made sure that the tentacles wrapped around the purple clad eel-cousin were only on its upper torso, though he removed the algae coverings there to make the healing easier. After that he slathered healing mucus over the electrical burn he found on its side.

That’s when he noticed the purple clad eel-cousin’s fifth tentacle under its algae coverings; it was swelling.

Suddenly his beloved’s possessiveness made sense. She was afraid that he would accept the gift of fluids from this stranger!

With this new understanding he rushed to comfort his mate-to-be, snaking more tentacles under her algae coverings and seeking out her fifth tentacle specifically. It was already partially engorged and the moment he touched it, it swelled again to its full size.

“Do not concern yourself, my beloved. I’ve no interest in that eel-cousin’s fluids. Your gift is the only one I desire,” he thrummed happily at her

Steve knew he had said the right thing when an enormous smiled graced her face and happiness and pleasure radiated off of her in waves.

“Oh my god. Tell me you aren’t doing that here. Please don’t do that here. That’s for private time, guys. Come on…” the manta ray rambled. Steve ignored him. He already had his tentacles full tending to both his beloved and to the fallen Avenger.

Bucky moaned again and pulled Steve’s face close to hers so they could rub lips together. This was still strange, but oh so delightful!

“Awww nooo, with the blood all over. Why?” the manta ray cried.

The healing on the purple clad eel-cousin was going very quickly. The damaged it sustained, while significant, was still from only a single injury.

Though Steve did note that this eel-cousin’s body seemed weaker than his mate-to-be. It took more mucus to seal the wound and more effort to mend those burnt nerves than it would have for a similar injury on Bucky.

Again, he was filled with pride. What a strong mate he had chosen.

The purple clad eel-cousin began to stir and let out a whimpering noise. The healing was very intense. It would feel better soon, Steve was certain.

“Clint, when you wake up you owe me so much beer for watching this to make sure you don’t become a bad hentai extra. I’m never gonna unsee this,” the manta ray grumbled.

Steve’s tentacles could taste the first few drops of precious fluid from Bucky’s fifth tentacle. He quickly ducked his head down and gently removed it from under its algae coverings. His eyes rolled with pleasure as he licked its rounded tip; eager not to miss a single drop.

Oh, such sweet fluids! His beloved was the most generous mate he could ever ask for!

“Hooo-leeeee shit. That’s. Wow. With the teeth right there. Dude. Dude. I’m just gonna. Look at the wall. Yeah. Wow. Wooow. Nat, if you’re on comms, don’t come back yet. Just. Trust me. Don’t. Or better yet. Please tell me you’ve got what we’re here for and we can leave. I’d really like to leave now. Natasha?”

Steve very carefully rippled the suckers of one tentacle up and down his mate-to-be’s exposed smaller tentacle and spread around the pleasure mucus that had dripped down from her torso. Bucky’s metal limb threaded into Steve’s cilia. There was no pressure added to Steve’s head but he could feel her limb trembling; the strength of his beloved’s appendage kept in check by her will alone.

It took only a few more licks for her fifth tentacle to erupt with those delectable pleasure fluids. Steve cooed with ecstasy as he licked the little limb dry while his mate-to-be panted above him. He could tell that the wounds that marred her flesh had totally disappeared and much of the damaged from those trigger things had been reversed.

Steve coiled his limbs around his mate-to-be and held her close.

No matter what had happened that day, they would be alright.

--

Clint felt amazing.

Like, the most amazing he had ever felt. Once one considered his long career of dubious and dangerous missions with sometimes even more dubious medical supplies available, that was really saying something.

He tried to stretch lazily, but he couldn’t move his arms. Weird. He shook his head and tried to focus on the room around him.

Clint’s mind came to a screeching halt.

He was covered in tentacles. Wet, sloppy, really great feeling tentacles. On his bare chest and arms.

Tentacles which lead to Steve, who was absolutely covered in smeared blood and wrapped around Bucky.

Bucky, who was half naked, writhing, and also covered in blood and goo coated tentacles.

After a moment his eyes settled on Sam, who only had a couple tentacles wrapped around him; dry one’s at that.

Sam just gave him a panicked look and said, “Man, I swear, this is not what it looks like. Steve was just healing you, I promise. I stuck around during this whole nasty business to make sure he didn’t do anything weird. To you, anyways. I made sure all he did was heal you.”

Sam took a long breath and held it.

What. The. Fuck.

“Please tell me that he healed you,” Sam asked quietly.

Clint raised his eyebrows. He blinked several times. The scenery did not change.

This.

What.

How.

Natasha!” he yelled.

Chapter Text

Bucky barely noticed that Clint was yelling for Natasha somewhere off to the side of him; he was too comfortable wrapped up in Steve’s limbs.

While it was probably a good thing that Clint was functional enough to be speaking at all, Bucky couldn’t help but feel a little put out that he had to share Steve’s attentions. Steve was so generous with his maintenance; it made Bucky worry that the Avengers might take advantage of him.

That and the idea of his mate’s tentacles all over someone else’s vulnerable points made him want to growl.

It would be fine. Bucky would just have to make sure that Clint didn’t get any bright ideas. Steve didn’t need another Asset, he had Bucky. Bucky was the best Asset.

These thoughts jangled uncomfortably in his mind. Just a few minutes ago he was certain in the knowledge that he was the Asset and only the Asset, but here he was thinking of himself as Bucky again.

He cuddled closer to Steve and sighed. The painful echoes those words made in his skull were already fading. Steve would never hurt him; would, in fact, help him get better. They would be alright.

An explosion sounded off from somewhere else in the facility.

Bucky looked around.

“Time to go boys,” Natasha piped up over the comms. Steve released Clint and Bucky from his tentacles and they both quickly put their gear to rights.

“Oh my god,” Clint whispered. “What even happened here? Sam. Sam. Did they--?”

“Yeah. Oh yeah. They really did,” Sam whispered back.

“…Oh my god. Did I--?”

“No. No you just got a hug. A wet hug. That made you feel better. After you got hit with that supercharged cattle prod. Which, by the way dude, we need to practice on your hand to hand after this. No more getting hit with cattle prods.”

Natasha jogged up to them just as another explosion sounded in another part of the facility. After that they all raced out of the building, Steve bringing up the rear. They reached a safe distance just as the rest of the building went up in a rather impressive display of ordinance.

Bucky approved.

He paused to watch the building burn; the coiling smoke and roar of the flame was oddly satisfying. The rest of the Avengers took a moment to watch with him.

Mission success.

“Did you get what you needed?” he asked the rest of them.

“I donno,” Natasha responded lightly. “The servers blew before I could complete the download. I might have to drag Tony out of his blanket fort to help decrypt what I was able to find.”

The four of them watched the fire for a moment longer. It was mesmerizing; the heat of the flame, the crackle of old beams burning, the wet ripping of flesh behind him…

As one, the rest of the Avengers got a strange look on their faces; a tilt to the head and a squint to their eyes, as they tried to place that last sound.

Clint turned around and yelped, “HOLY SHIT what the fuck!”

Steve was behind them steadily munching on the members of the Strike team. He paused mid chew to stare at them, a bit Rumlow’s liver still hanging out of his mouth. “What?” he asked, sending the thought through the smaller tentacles he had snuck around everyone’s ankles. He slurped up the last of that bite and straightened a bit.

“You brought them with us?” Bucky asked, a little confused himself.

Steve flowed over to where Bucky stood and wrapped his now much bloodier tentacles around him and said, “Of course, Beloved. You hunted for me, gifted me with this fine meal. How could I leave it behind? What kind of mate would I be if I disregarded what you worked so hard to provide?”

Bucky’s eyes stung a little. He felt light and fizzy, but his throat hurt too. He wasn’t sure why. He hugged Steve close and whispered, “Best mate ever.”

Steve thrummed his pleasure.

“No. Hell no. No. No. He is not eating people. Tell me he is not eating people,” Sam said off to one side.

Bucky glanced over to them. They looked horrified. He looked at the pile of bodies and then back at the Avengers.

“What?” Bucky asked. If they didn’t eat their dead or use the corpses for experiments, what did the Avengers do with those they killed? Leaving bodies around was a great way to get discovered, tracked, and then tortured by enemy agents.

Steve leveled his most disapproving look at Sam. “It is wasteful to not consume what you kill.”

Clint’s jaw dropped.

Natasha blinked very slowly, opened her mouth to speak, closed it again, and then turned and walked to the quinjet.

“No. This is not a matter of conservation,” Sam said. “There are other things to eat! We do not eat people!”

Bucky and Steve shared a confused look. Steve thrummed a wordless question at Bucky. He shrugged.

“Bucky, how do you not have a problem with this!” Sam was nearly yelling now.

The angry sound of his voice put Bucky on edge. It made him want to drop to his knees and put his hands behind his back. He forced himself to stay upright, but he couldn’t help but drop his gaze.

“All evidence of activities must be erased, especially bodies. Leaving traces of mission activities only invites a lengthy reconditioning session.”

“Awww Bucky no,” Clint whispered sadly.

“Alright, that is fucked up, but no. Absolutely not. No reconditioning, whatever the fuck that is, and absolutely no more eating people! There are other ways to cover your tracks!”

Bucky’s breath hitched and his shoulders tensed. He wished he had his muzzle on. It’s easier to not react when he could just pretend he doesn’t have a mouth. His eyes stung.

Steve’s quiet thrumming turned into more of a hiss-growl and his tentacles writhed around him. His skin quickly turned smoky black and several limbs wrapped around Bucky; trying to protect him, he thought.

“Uh, Sam? You maybe want to, uh, tone it down…?” Clint was pulling on Sam’s arm, though he never took his eyes off Steve and Bucky.

“No, no I really don’t! This is WRO—“

Before Sam could finish his sentence, Steve raised a tentacle and squirted thick black ink all over him. Clint jumped backwards several feet to get away from the spray.

“We do not need you. You can get in your metal cloud and go back to your reef,” Steve growled.

Sam doubled over, nearly retching. “UG! GUUUAH! Blegh! In my mouth! Uggg, it burns! Why does it burn? Euuughhhek!” He started spitting over and over again and tried to wipe the substance off of his face.

Clint made a face. “Bro, be glad you had your goggles on.”

Bucky stood very still. That was always the safest course of action when the people around him were arguing. He wanted to kneel very badly, but Steve’s tentacles were holding him up. The metal arm recalibrated on its own. His face was wet. Why was his face wet.

Sensing his increased distress, Steve surged around him; coiling up his black limbs tight around Bucky’s trembling form.

“Enough! Go! You’re upsetting my beloved!” Steve thrashed menacingly and bared his teeth.

Natasha walked back out of the quinjet with a bottle of water and promptly dumped it over Sam’s head.

“Sam, go clean up in the jet. Clint, help him out.” She waited for the two of them to walk off before turning to look at Steve and Bucky. Bucky had buried his head in Steve’s shoulder while Steve absently petted his hair.

They were all arguing. Bad things always happened to Bucky when his handlers argued.

But he didn’t answer to the Avengers. And Steve wasn’t his handler. It was hard to keep that in mind, though, when everything in his body was telling him that reconditioning and experimental maintenance were on the way.

“Bucky, no one here is going to punish you. We don’t do that. We will never do that. Regardless, Steve wouldn’t let anyone harm you. Alright?” She calmly waited for him to answer; her hands down, no weapons visible, and far enough away that she wasn’t in attack range.

Bucky felt himself relax the tiniest bit as he tried to talk himself down. She was right. They weren’t going to do anything. They couldn’t do anything to him anyways. He was safe. The waves of calm love and concern emanating from Steve went a long way towards making him feel stable again.

After a few deep breaths, he turned his head toward her and nodded. He still couldn’t quite look her in the eye, but he wasn’t ready to fall down anymore either. He took that as a win. Steve’s tentacles loosened a bit and paled out to a slate grey color.

“Steve. I understand that things might be different where you’re from, but for us eating the flesh of your fallen enemies is very taboo. That’s one of the reasons Sam was so distressed.”

“But--” Steve visibly held back the words and reconsidered what he was going to say. His tentacle tips wriggled with agitation.

“We would be happy to provide fresh meat for you at the tower so you don’t have to eat people while out on missions.” Natasha was the perfect picture of poise and grace.

Steve heaved a big sigh. “I will not consume eel-cousin flesh while near you Avengers.” His gaze sharpened for a moment. “But if I happen to consume a few mouthfuls while out hunting alone or with Bucky…”

“Then we wouldn’t be around to stop you,” Natasha replied.

Sam’s squawk of outrage echoed through the comm in Bucky’s ear. Both Natasha and Bucky ignored it.

Steve looked pleased at this admission and his tentacles paled out further to a more pinkish hue.

“We’re going to get out of here. Meet us back at the tower whenever you’re done.” With that, Natasha turned and walked away. After a few minutes, the Avenger’s quinjet took off and headed off towards New York.

Bucky sagged in relief. Then he started to shake a bit.

He was alright.

There were no orders for reconditioning. No fire or acid or electricity or water tanks.

Hydra almost had him. They used the words and they nearly took him back, but Steve was there and everyone was safe.

He was alright.

Steve held him through it all, murmuring endearments into his mind.

After a while, Bucky pulled away and looked at the pile of Hydra bodies around them. He walked over to what was left of Rumlow. The body was still mostly intact; Steve hadn’t gotten far before he was interrupted.

“Does it bother you when I eat them?” Steve asked timidly. He seemed almost afraid of what Bucky might say.

The very idea that Steve might be worried that Bucky would reject him was anathema to him; he quickly moved to give Steve a hug.

“No. Never, doll. Nothing about you bothers me. Eat every one of these guys you want.” Bucky tossed a glance over at Rumlow’s gutted corpse. A slow burning spread through his stomach the longer he looked at it. Flickers of pain and terror floated through his mind; memories that hadn’t quite been restored yet. “Especially that one.”

Steve rubbed their cheeks together again and thrummed happily.

Once Steve ate his fill, they tossed the leftovers into the building fire and flew back to the tower.

--

Breakfast the next morning was a subdued affair.

To be honest, Clint was still pretty freaked out about the whole ‘waking up wrapped in tentacles’ thing. Sam looked equally shell shocked, though for different reasons no doubt. Little blotches of black ink still clung to the creases of his skin and his eyes were red and puffy. Natasha was poking viciously at a tiny laptop, and looking grimmer than ever while doing it too.

The only one who seemed at all excited about the day was Bruce.

“He’s been eating the Hydra agents?” Bruce asked excitedly.

“Uh huh,” Sam answered.

“I wondered how they were keeping him fed. He must burn through a ridiculous amount of energy, and with those teeth it seemed fairly unlikely that he was a herbivore. And when you consider the sheer amount of plant life he’d have to eat in order to keep up his energy…well, it makes sense that he’s a meat eater.”

Bruce was rapidly taking notes. The rest of the table’s occupants just stared at him and blinked.

Clint just shook his head. Unreal.

“Any idea how much on average he eats, or how often?”

The grinding of Sam’s teeth was audible to Clint; impressive considering that even with hearing aids Clint’s auditory pickup was a bit sketchy.

“No, man. I didn’t.”

Something about Sam’s tone must have finally tipped Bruce off that this line of conversation wasn’t a popular one. He switched his gaze to Clint.

“And you said he healed you? I was looking at the stun baton you brought back with you; the amount of voltage on that hit should have killed you, or at least done severe neurological damage.”

Clint just shrugged. “I donno, bro. I was fighting, and then I was out, and then I was awake and feeling great. Horrified, but great.” He hugged his jug of coffee close. It was his only true friend. It would never betray him.

“That’s amazing,” Bruce breathed. “I wonder how he makes that work?”

“It was not amazing, it was freaky!” Clint whined and clung closer to his drink. “And what’s worse is now Bucky thinks I’m a threat!”

Natasha snorted.

“Hey! The struggle is real! That guy is scary as shit! You’ve seen his murder glare! And the way he plowed through that base? What the fuck was that? The dude was like a freight train! He is gonna kill me in my sleep!”

He clutched his coffee carafe closer to his chest. If he was going to die, he would die with his one true love close at hand.

“If he was that angry, wouldn’t he have killed you in your sleep last night?” Natasha didn’t even bother looking up from her laptop to snark at him.

“He’s just lulling me into a false sense of security,” Clint whispered at her and looked around the room with suspicion. “Who knows when he’ll pop up?”

Natasha just rolled her eyes a little and ignored him.

They just didn’t get it. Bucky was scary as fuck.

“Clint, would you join me in my lab? I’d really like to run some tests…”

“Yeah, sure, Bruce,” Clint replied. He felt totally fine after the whole taser thing, but it was probably a good idea anyways.

After all, safety in numbers.

But as the day wore on and no ex-assassin murder machines popped up to try and stab him to death, Clint started to think that maybe Natasha was right. Maybe everything would be fine.

That night he actually got to sleep fairly quickly; soothed by the thought that whatever was going on with Steve and Bucky, he was firmly Not Involved.

--

Clint was warm.

Warm and sleepy.

Bed. Right. He was in bed. Soft, warm, cuddly bed.

Why did he wake up?

He wiggled a little in his blanket nest and cracked open his eyes. The room was still pitch black; still the middle of the night, then.

The door wasn’t open. No alarms were going off.

Huh.

Must have been nothing.

Clint shrugged a little and turned onto his other side, snuggling in to get comfortable enough to go back to sleep.

As soon as he turned over though, he saw a pair of dull red lenses glowing in the dark, not more than a couple inches away from his face.

A metal hand brutally slammed onto his mouth, both holding him down and covering up the shriek that spilled out of his throat. Something pointy was being held to his neck too.

Okay, this looks bad.

“I am the only Asset that Steve needs,” Bucky’s voice growled out at him.

Oh shit. It wasn’t just that Clint got a little tentacle action. Bucky thought that Clint was in competition for Steve’s Favorite Assassin!

Fuck the hell NO.

“You will not proposition my mate again.”

Clint felt like crying. How the fuck did Bucky even get into his room! He had Jarvis set his security settings to the highest possible! Why were there not a dozen alarms going off right now?

He shook his head back and forth as fast as the metal hand would let him.

No! Absolutely no! He had no interest in tentacles, no matter how good they felt! Nope! Not even a little bit!

“There is no need for you to spend any more time with him outside of missions.”

He shook his head some more. Nope! Not gonna happen! Not even a little!

Oh, sweet Natasha, maybe she would avenge his death? He’d like wild roses at his funeral and fresh sprigs of mint to ward of the smell of death…

“Do you understand?”

Clint nodded furiously. No problems here! Absolutely!

The red lenses dimmed out and disappeared into the pitch black of the room, and then the arm and the pointiness at his neck were gone.

“Jarvis, lights!” Clint yelled as quickly as he could.

But the room was already empty.

“Jarvis? Why didn’t you sound the alarm!”

“…I’m afraid I’m not sure why I should have? I have no record of any disturbance in your rooms.” Jarvis sounded very apologetic and no little bit confused.

Clint felt his eyes grow as large as saucers.

“There was no one here?”

“Not that I am aware, Clint. Should I sound a general alarm and search for intruders?”

Clint took a few deep breaths. It was just a dream. It had to be just a bad dream. Jarvis would know if someone broke in. Not even he or Natasha could get around the Tower without Jarvis knowing about it.

“Nah, J. I think it’s fine. Musta just been a dream.”

His heartbeat slowed down and he ran one hand through his hair.

It was just a dream.

Stupid tentacles. Freaking him out over nothing. He shook his head.

But when he turned around to fluff his pillow, he noticed there was a single bullet left of the pillow next to his.

.50 Cal BMG. The same type Bucky would use for his Barrett sniper rifle.

Clint didn’t keep this kind of ammo in his room. At all.

It wasn’t a dream.

He spent the rest of the night with the lights on, bundled up to his nose in blankets, and with his eyes wide staring at the corners of the room.

--

Steve was officially concerned.

Bucky was acting awfully strangely since their last adventure out hunting eel-cousins.

Part of that could, of course, be contributed to the disruptions in her neural network due to those trigger things. Though Steve was able to undo most of the damage they inflicted relatively quickly, he worried about lingering effects.

For one, Bucky seemed very cuddly; more so than usual.

Not that Steve minded it! No, Steve enjoyed being cuddly very much! But Bucky had an edge of worry to her that Steve found unsettling. She wouldn’t let Steve out of her sight the first night they returned to the angler fish’s large reef structure.

Understandable. Their last hunting trip was upsetting.

But she also seemed to be having trouble concentrating. Steve caught her focus drifting off from time to time while they were speaking.

Even more concerning was her lack of speed and strength during their courtship dancing that day. For the first time in all the moons that they had been courting, Bucky missed a step in their dance.

Steve tried to approach her on the subject as they lounged together in the salt water near their nest.

“Beloved…” he thrummed at her.

“Hmm?” she roused herself to look at Steve. He admired her beautiful form as they floated along. Their limbs flowed freely in the warm water and all of her tentacles drifted gently entwined with his. She was so beautiful without the algae to impede the clean lines of her form.

Her appendages seemed so delicate like this; listing gently in the still waters. Steve never wanted to stop caressing them. How lucky he was that such a ravishing creature wished to court him!

“Beloved…are you well? You seem…distracted, since our hunting trip yesterday.”

Steve felt her emit a tiny wave of surprise and then a flash of guilt and chagrin. “It’s nothing,” she mumbled.

“My sweet ocean star, if it is causing you distress then it is worth my attention,” Steve crooned.

Bucky briefly smiled gratefully at him, and then cast her eyes downward once more.

“Yesterday. With Clint. You wouldn’t… I mean. He’s a marksman. One of the best in the world. Maybe even better than I am at shooting, though likely not at a lot of other things. I. I would understand if you wanted to… If he…”

Steve interrupted her before she could get worked up further.

“Oh my beloved mate-to-be, are you concerned that I might lose interest in you?” Bucky’s skin turned a brighter shade of pink and she nodded.

Steve’s heart went out to his beloved. She was so worried about their courtship that her defensive skin colors were activating! He hastened to reassure her.

“No! Never, beloved! I only desired to keep it from dying, a service I would gladly offer any of our allies. Though its fifth tentacle swelled for me, I would never have accepted. You are my one and only, my forever.” Steve coiled more of his limbs around her; sending her comfort and love.

At the mention of the eel-cousin’s fifth tentacle, Bucky tensed and narrowed her eyes. But after a moment of Steve holding her, she relaxed and held him closer.

“Steve?” she whispered after a moment.

“Yes, mate-to-be?”

“Thank you.”

Steve couldn’t help but think that though she said, ‘thank you’ what she meant was, ‘I love you’.

He sighed in happiness.

But throughout the rest of the evening and into the next day, Bucky remained restless. Several times in the night, she wandered out of the nest. “Checking for threats,” she said.

Steve decided that she must still be concerned about the other eel cousin.

Well. He would just have to go make sure that it knew that Steve was uninterested in another courting partner.

So while Bucky was out patrolling around the reef, Steve decided to go hunt down that lavender eel-cousin.

He was pretty sure that the last time he saw it was in the smaller air shafts…

--

Clint wasn’t leaving his nest in the vents. Fuck that shit.

Yes, he knew that Steve or Bucky had been there already to pillage pillows, and yes it was probably Bucky because there was no way Steve was fitting through here…

But at least here he could see everything in both directions. There were only two ways to get at him and clear lines of sight down both vent shafts. There was nothing to hide behind and no way Clint could be snuck up on.

He had a small store of jerky, a case of energy drinks, and his phone games. There was no reason to ever leave.

After several hours of settling in, there was a vibration in the duct walls.

Weird, but not unusual. Despite how well the labs were insulated, telltale signs of the occasional explosion or Hulk breakout could be felt throughout the tower.

And then the vibration happened again.

And then it got stronger and the whole duct started to rattle a little.

An unholy keening sound echoed through the vents, loud enough to make Clint’s hearing aids squeak.

He slammed one hand into his ear a couple of times, trying to get the damn thing to reset; all the while attempting to scramble away from the direction of the vibration.

Just as he was about to turn a corner in the vent, he looked back.

He shouldn’t have looked back.

The very tips of a few tentacles had just curled their way into view.

Clint poured on the speed, shimmying away through the cramped space as quickly as he could. How the fuck did Steve even fit into the vents? The dude was huge!

“Sorry, Steve! I really don’t want to talk! Bucky please don’t kill me I swear I’m trying not poach dude,” Clint yelled back over his shoulder as he made his escape.

Another ear shattering screech echoed up to him. Clint had no idea what Steve was trying to say but the dude sounded pretty damn frustrated, that was for sure!

Clint totally knew that feel.

He scurried faster and prayed that the vents would hold both of them up.

--

Sam sat in the common room, with his head tossed back over the arm of the couch and his feet propped up lying across the cushions. It had been a damn long two days.

Three days, if he counted the day of the Hydra base attack.

He didn’t really want to count that day because that day seemed like an event all on its own.

Sam had spent nearly every waking moment since they got back scrubbing like a mad fiend. Whatever the fuck was in that ink did not want to come off.

And it burned. Oh did it burn.

Soap and water helped a little, but after that he had to resort to other fun home remedies.

Oatmeal and calamine lotion to help stop the burning. Those worked distressingly well. Distressing, because he looked like a damn idiot covered in oatmeal and pink crud.

Getting the actual color out of his skin was more of an issue.

He tried regular soap, industrial grade soap, baby oil, Vaseline, tea tree oil, rubbing alcohol, hairspray, and window cleaner. He even briefly considered turpentine, and then common sense kicked in.

But after a stupid amount of scrubbing, he was clean.

Abraded, sore, and tired as hell, but clean.

He had a lot of time to think about what happened. And, yeah, Sam was pissed as hell.

Right up until Natasha showed him some of the footage that taken from the outside of the quinjet when Sam got sprayed. At first he thought she was just mocking him, which made him even more pissed off.

And then he got a good look at Bucky.

As soon as he started yelling, Bucky started freaking the hell out. It looked like he was having a full blown panic attack.

Again.

Sam did it again.

Damn it, he was supposed to be good at this stuff.

Granted, he was still pissed as hell. He had every right to lose his shit over Steve eating people. That is the height of not appropriate. But…Natasha had a damn good point. How the hell was Steve even supposed to know that? The dude didn’t even seem to know what humans were.

Not to mention Bucky. Man, what the fuck did Hydra even do to that guy?

All that death and blood and gore and not even a blink from him. The way he moved, how quickly and easily he could kill…it was unreal. Absolutely unreal. And how fast he took down all of Strike? Sam had trained with those guys, he knew how good they were, and Bucky made them look like windup toy soldiers.

But Sam gets pissed and he breaks down into tears? And not even normal tears. No, that might have been sort of sane and reasonable. No, he broke down into the kind of tears where you don’t even blink to wipe them away because you’re worried you might get hurt for moving.

God, Sam felt like shit.

Now that he was all clean, his whole plan for the day revolved around sitting there on the couch and trying to figure out how many cakes he’d have to bake Bucky to make both of them feel better.

At some point during the day, Natasha had dragged Tony in and shoved a cup of coffee and a plate of food at him. Sam listened in with vague interest.

“I’m fine. This is hardly the longest amount of time I’ve locked myself in the workshop. And, hey there, sea monster living in my tower? I feel like I’m justified in hiding out,” Tony bitched.

Natasha rolled her eyes.

“Get over it Stark, we’ve got bigger problems. Bucky--”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Hydra, back from the dead, first Captain America, Jarvis has kept me in the loop. Still not sure why I care.” He froze for a moment and then took another drink of his coffee. “Except for that whole Hydra thing. That I care about. Deeply. That’s a bad thing.”

“Which is why you’re not in your lab.” She slid a thumb drive at him from across the kitchen counter. “This is everything I got from the last base. The servers blew before I could get everything and some of the information was damaged. I need you to fix it.”

Tony blinked at her.

“Fix it. Just like that.”

Natasha smiled at him.

“Yeah. Most of it is encrypted, too. One I can’t break. You can do that, right?”

He scoffed. “Of course I can do that. Give me, like, twenty minutes. You didn’t need to pull me out of the lab for this. You could have asked Jarvis to do it.”

“Funny, Jarvis said you would be better suited to doing it. Now eat. Pepper will be pissed if you fall over from malnutrition.”

Tony’s face puckered and he mumbled something like, “traitor” under his breath, but he leaned on the counter and applied himself to the meal all while popping the thumb drive into a nearby port.

“Bring it up, J,” he mumbled around part of a sandwich.

“Of course, sir.”

Sam leaned over to take a look at the holographic images that sprang up around the kitchen island where Tony and Nat stood. Tony looked tired as hell, but not as bad as he could have been considering how long he’d been in his workshop.

Tony dropped the sandwich and started typing on a digital keypad that appeared on the counter. Sam didn’t really follow most of what he was talking about with the AI, but whatever it was seemed to have something to do with unlocking the information on the drive.

“…well it’s a good thing you looked at this here. Jarvis was able to run interference for you.”

Natasha just stared at him.

“Yeah. Trying to access this, whatever this is, set up some kind of trace. Some shitty kind of trace, that is. And it looks like there is an encryption. Oooo a kind of sexy one at that…”

Natasha hummed a bit in response.

Sandwich totally forgotten, Tony began to type furiously.

“Oh they’re smart, but not as smart as meeeee,” he sang.

After a few minutes of furious typing, the holograms around Tony and Natasha exploded into file visuals.

“Boom! Like magic,” Tony said triumphantly. “Jarvis, help us sift through this crap. Look for anything interesting.”

“I’m already working on it, sir.”

The files began to sort themselves; a few of them came to the forefront and flipped open. Several of the ones in front had Shield logos while others were decorated with the Hydra skull. Many had no identifiable insignia at all.

But there were photos. Lots of photos and a whole ton of what looked like computer code.

“Shit…” Tony mumbled.

Sam stood up to join them at the counter. All three of them started flicking through the suspended file images.

“Bucky was right. Holy shit…” Sam said. “These go all the way back to the cold war.”

Natasha shook her head and pointed. “They go back farther than that.”

The file she was pointing at had two pictures on it; one was of Captain James Barnes, right before he shipped out to the European Theater. He had a cocky smile and a jaunty tilt to his hat. He looked so damn young.

The second was of the same man, his face frozen behind an ice covered window, his metal hand raised up, and eyes wide.

With a single poke, the file spread open.

“Боже мой,” Natasha whispered.

A lot of the writing was in what Sam assumed was Russian and German, but there were pictures.

There were a lot of pictures.

Sam felt very, very sick.

“Well, I’m never eating again,” Tony said into the silence.

Sam couldn’t help but agree. How the hell did this dude even survive this stuff? It was far worse than watching a train wreck and somehow just as hard to look away from.

When Tony brought up a picture of Bucky strapped into some kind of metal chair, he paused. It looked like Bucky was screaming around a bite guard and there was some kind of metal halo wrapped around his head.

“Natasha? Jarvis? Can you translate?” Tony asked. “Maybe if we can find out what they did to him, we can help.”

“I’m afraid the files here are incomplete. I can find no mention of what this device does, only that it was referred to as The Chair,” Jarvis responded apologetically.

“The Chair took away memories,” Bucky said.

Every single one of them nearly jumped out of their skins; Tony and Sam also let out undignified squeaks.

Bucky was standing right behind Sam, looking up at the files suspended in the air. He was still dressed in his full armor; still covered in weapons. Sam was really starting to wonder about that.

“Sweet Jesus, Indy, wear a fucking bell or something!” Tony exclaimed.

Bucky just tilted his head and looked at Tony in mild confusion.

“Is that what you meant by ‘mind wipe’?” Natasha asked.

Bucky nodded. “I don’t remember much, but Steve is helping me rebuild what was taken.”

“Why would they take away your memories?” Sam asked.

“More importantly, how is Steve helping you?” Tony added.

“Emergence of personality was malfunction,” Bucky said to Sam matter-of-factly. “Malfunction could result in deviation from mission parameters. It took many years of recalibration, reconditioning, and experimental maintenance for my previous handlers to reach the conclusion that regular application of The Chair was required for optimal Asset performance.”

Sam suppressed a shudder.

“Again, how is Steve the Sea Monster helping you recover from decades of electrical lobotomies?” Tony asked. Natasha poked him in the side. “What? It’s a valid question!”

“Steve heals me when he performs maintenance,” Bucky replied.

Silence reigned for a moment as they all exchanged significant looks.

“Wait. Does he literally fuck you better?” Tony asked in awe and then horror. “And if he does and that’s maintenance... Holy fuck I need a drink.”

Bucky ignored them and lazily flipped through the files; his expression giving away nothing. Sam noticed that either Jarvis or Tony had whisked away Bucky’s file. Given how he reacted to pictures of the past earlier, that was probably a wise move.

Natasha looked at Sam and raised an eyebrow and then looked to Bucky. Sam tried his best to put the words, ‘the fuck do you want me to do’ into his answering look. She looked more pointedly at him and then at Bucky.

He sighed.

“Bucky...is, uh, Steve’s maintenance like Hydra’s maintenance?” he asked.

The look he got could have peeled paint it was so acidic.

“…Right. That’s a ‘no’ then. That’s good. I think.” Sam thought for a minute. That…actually did make him feel a little better. At least it lowered the possibility of sexual abuse.

God, Sam hoped there was no sexual abuse. This was fucked up enough as it was. He took a breath and tried again.

“Hey, Bucky. You know that Steve isn’t your handler, right? You don’t have to do whatever he wants you to.”

“Sometimes I think he is. It’s hard to remember that he’s my mate and not my handler.”

Sam winced.

“We need to…you can’t just…argh.” Sam really wanted to bang his head against a wall. “It’s probably not a good idea for you to stay with Steve. I’m worried that you don’t know how to say no to him.”

Nowhere in Sam’s VA training was there information on how to talk to a brainwashed assassin POW about his potentially abusive and non-consensual relationship with a telepathic tentacle monster.

What even was his life?

Before Sam could even blink Bucky’s metal hand was around his throat; not squeezing yet, but there.

“You will not attempt to take him from me,” Bucky growled. All of a sudden he had gone from mildly threatening to completely fucking terrifying. Both Natasha and Tony moved away, but Sam held up his hand at them; placating them he hoped. Bucky wasn’t hurting him. Just warning him.

“You’re free to do whatever you want here. No one is going to make you do anything. But Steve shouldn’t be able to make you do anything you don’t want either.” Sam projected calm as hard as he could.

Bucky dropped his arm and rolled his eyes at Sam.

“Steve can hear my thoughts. He can feel what I’m feeling. All of this,” he pointed at the files suspended in the air. “I couldn’t say no. There wasn’t the option. The mind wipes made it so I couldn’t think no either. But Steve? He always makes sure that I’m thinking yes. He only wants what I want.”

The joyful crooked grin that graced Bucky’s face was a bizarre flashback to the man he must have been in the 30’s and 40’s. “Steve, he’s all aces.” And just like that, the smile was gone again and Bucky was back to being blank and serious.

Natasha shrugged at him.

“Seems like he’s got a handle on things,” she said.

Tony had opted to completely ignore them in favor of sifting through files and absently nibbling on his sandwich.

“Just so you know, man, if you ever want to talk or, I donno, need help with anything, you can come find me, okay?” Sam told Bucky.

He was reluctant as hell to do so, but someone had to be there for the guy. Like it or not, Sam was the most qualified to help Bucky through anything that might come up from his time with Hydra.

Sam did not feel qualified. Not even a little.

“And whenever you want to talk about that metal arm of yours, you come find me,” Tony added. “The sooner the better because that beast looks sexy as hell. But not in an ‘I want to fuck you’ kind of way because, though you are smoking in that Kevlar gear, I’m pretty sure Steve might squish me, so nope. Sexy in an ‘I want to touch your arm’ kind of way…”

Before Bucky could respond, a heavy thump came from the ceiling above the room. This was followed by a faint, “Awww vent, no…”

A faint ‘skreeeeee’ could be heard from somewhere in the walls, and suddenly the thumping started moving horizontally across the ceiling.

Sam squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe he could go back to bed after this.

“Steve! Buddy! I swear! It was only a platonic hug…tentacle cuddle…thing. It meant nothing to me! Not in a bad way! I value you as a teammate! Please don’t let Bucky catch us!

Another series of very large thuds began following the first set around. The walls thrummed with the sound of Steve’s entreating cries.

The first set of thumps started to move faster.

At this point the ceiling was trembling so violently that little bits of plaster were sprinkling down.

The second set of thumps sped up as well. A series of curses spilled out as the sources of the two ceiling thumps collided.

At which point the ceiling fell through, revealing Clint tangled up in Steve’s tentacles; both of them looking a little confused by the sudden lack of air ducts around them.

They both struggled for a moment and then Clint noticed who else was in the room and he froze.

“Bucky. Friend. Pal. This. This isn’t what it looks like. I swear,” Clint said and held up his hands in the air. Not that it helped at all; Steve was still loosely tangled around him.

The moment Steve saw Bucky he burst out into a huge smile, shrieked, and snaked a tentacle around Bucky’s ankle.

Bucky, on the other hand, just stared at Clint.

In a flash Clint was down the hall and nearly to the stairs, with Bucky two steps behind him. Everyone else just stared as a faint, “This isn’t what it looks like I swear!” drifted back to them.

Steve looked at the now-empty path to the stairwell and then looked back to Sam, Natasha, and Tony. He waved the end of a few tentacles at them, and then he was off after Bucky and Clint.

No one moved long after the last screech faded away.

“Tony, you still up for that drink?” Sam asked.

“Yup! Two triples coming right up. You in, Ms. Rushman?”

Natasha just sighed.

--

Bucky let Clint escape.

After all, he really only wanted to scare the man. Since terror was his goal, he kept up the chase for a long time, always allowing Clint enough wiggle room to escape and always herding him towards areas with only one good feasible egress.

There were a few tricky moments; Clint was a very competent agent.

If Bucky was being honest with himself, he wasn’t feeling his best either. Weakness plagued his limbs at odd times and his balance was off. He thought it might be time for more maintenance.

He brightened a bit at this. Bucky could ask Steve for maintenance and Steve would say yes! He did not have to wait for his body to fail him, nor did he have to beg.

Steve would always give him whatever he needed; that thought alone was unimaginably comforting.

The whole chase had given him time to think though. Lashing out at Clint felt good, but it probably wasn’t wise.

If he was going to kill him, it should have been done the night he snuck into Clint’s room. Easier that way. Since he obviously wasn’t going to kill Clint, he had to seriously analyze how much effort and energy should be expended.

And…maybe he had to consider he wasn’t being fair to Steve either.

Bucky didn’t really know how to deal with this. He’d never had to share handlers or mates before. He wasn’t sure what the protocol was.

Sam was a valuable and formidable asset, unlikely to pose a threat to Bucky, and had also offered to talk about things.

Bucky would go talk to Sam.

--

Steve quickly lost sight of Bucky and the lavender eel-cousin in the twisting passages of the angler fish’s reef. Their small size made them quite nimble; something Steve would normally be pleased by, but at the moment it was sort of frustrating.

He heaved a great sigh and flowed back to their nesting area.

He was really hoping that he could get things sorted out with the lavender eel-cousin. Based on Bucky’s reaction though, there were still some miscommunications.

All that squeezing through those small air passages coated Steve’s skin in a fine layer of dust and grit; the salt water tidal pool next to their nest was a much appreciated distraction from his current troubles.

Once in the water though, he found he still couldn’t settle. He swam over to one of the walls on the deeper end and tapped it in an attempt to summon the spirit of the reef.

Sure enough, a portion of the reef lit up with bioluminescence. A square of light blinked twice; the same number of times Steve tapped on it.

The spirit of the reef was with him.

“Spirit, may I ask your council?”

The lights blinked at him.

“Spirit…my beloved is distressed. She fears another’s interference in our courtship. And though I have reassured her that nothing will ever sway my interest, still she play aggressor towards other eel-cousins.”

The reef blinked again, this time bringing up two different pictograms. One was of the tiny soft algae covering that Bucky favored and one was of larger pieces of kelp. Steve poked at the one of algae; this caused pictograms of a large variety of algae shapes to appear. He continued to prod around the pictures as he talked.

“I thought that engaging the eel-cousin would be wise. After all, then I could explain the situation and it would know that its courtship attempts were futile. But maybe I should have just ignored it? Perhaps Bucky is reacting to my attention towards this strange eel-cousin?”

In the past week living at this reef, Steve discovered that if he poked a single image enough eventually it would rotate colors. If he poked a specific color, the image would flip between having a green circle around it or a red x over it. If he indicated the green circle with a tentacle slap to the wall, then in a day or so the item that he indicated would appear at the door to their nesting room.

The spirit of this reef was truly a wonder.

Steve sighed glumly. It was a joy to commune with the sacred spirit of this place and choosing algae for his beloved was a delight…but he was troubled. He didn’t want another creature’s ill-placed affections to upset his mate-to-be.

“Do you think perhaps it is an instinct thing?”

The spirit responded with soothing colors and low tonal sounds.

He mulled it over. Instinct often made even the calmest of situations tense. Steve himself had experience things of this nature.

“If it is instinct, there is only so much that my Beloved can do to fight it. And after that hunting trip, no doubt she is still a bit disoriented. Perhaps that has made her more susceptible to the capricious whims of those instincts.”

Steve leaned against the reef and stroked its smooth side with a few tentacles. He was very comforted that the spirit was here with him, supporting him in his time of distress. It was impressive that he was living in a structure that had such a kind and noble guardian. If only his progenitor could see him now…

“Perhaps the best thing I can do would be to discuss it with her. Ask her what I can do to make things easier for her, and again reassure her of my intentions.”

Soothing half-language sounding babble emanated from the wall. It reminded Steve of the wordless cooing that a progenitor might comfort its spawnlings with.

His heart swelled. The reef spirit had adopted him as a spawnling. In addition to the safety of its deep caves, it also was trying to provide coverings and comfort.

Steve wished he could speak with the reef spirit, to tell it how grateful he was. Instead, all he could do was hug his many tentacles along its smooth walls and sound out his gladness to the world.

“Thank you, oh great guardian, for listening to my woes and guiding my spirit to the answers I seek. I honor you.”

With that, Steve thrashed a bit more in the water and then settled in to wait for his beloved’s return.

They would be able to work things out and Bucky would regain her peaceful demeanor. He was sure of it.

--

Clint fell out of the ceiling vent into Natasha’s living room, only to land face first in front of her. She was sitting on her couch, legs crossed, petting her black cat, Liho. Some kind of Russian soap opera was playing on the TV behind where he fell.

“…hi, Tasha.”

“Hi, Clint. I see you escaped Bucky.” Natasha continued to skritch her kitty’s ears; Liho didn’t even bother to look up to see what all the noise was about.

“…Yeah.” Clint pulled himself upright and collapsed on the couch next to Natasha.

Today had sucked.

He stared at the TV.

Dr. Orlov’s evil twin brother, Sasha, had just impersonated him and was currently wooing the doctor’s on-again, off-again lover, Tatyana.

“You wanna talk?” she asked after a few minutes.

Clint sighed.

“I get why he’s freaked out. The dude literally has nothing except Steve. And a trunk full of knives hidden on his person. But. Like. I don’t want Steve.” He ran his fingers through his now very-dusty hair.

“Don’t you?”

Clint glared at her. She just raised an eyebrow at him.

“Seriously, Clint. I know you. Is it really Bucky you’re worried about?”

Yes, Natasha, it really is!

“Or is it the fact that being wrapped up in Steve’s arms was the best you’ve felt in a long time.”

Clint opened his mouth to argue. And then closed it again.

They really did feel good. Like, unbelievably good. It was like being safe and warm and comfortable and also ridiculously horny all at the same time. A full body blow job. With dozens of mouths.

To be honest, he had kind of been avoiding thinking about the ‘tentacles’ part of waking up surrounded by tentacles since it happened. But now that he was thinking about it, it was hard to stop.

“Steve’s telepathic and empathic. What you’re thinking about right now, he could feel. And what he knows, likely Bucky knows.” Natasha gave him a pointed look.

“Well. Shit.” That had literally never even occurred to him. If Bucky knew how Clint was feeling when he woke up, then no wonder the guy was concerned.

Liho stretched and repositioned herself for a better angle for petting.

Another episode flew by and it seemed Sasha had actually fallen for Tatyana and together they were set to confront Dr. Orlov and declare their undying love for one another.

“…I am pretty worried about Bucky though. Dude is scary as hell,” Clint finally said.

“If he had wanted to kill you, he probably would have while you were sleeping. He’s just using scare tactics.”

Clint sighed and said, “He really is just anxious I’ll take Steve away from him.”

“He’s being pretty nice about it, too.” She smiled at him.

He found himself smiling back.

“True. Better than the first time we met, right?”

They shared a grin. They had both come out of that encounter barely alive, with several bullet holes, stab wounds, and broken bones between them.

Clint reached over to pet Liho. She just slit open her golden yellow eyes and glared at him. He carefully drew his hand backwards.

“So what are you gonna do?”

He sighed.

“I have to go talk to them; both of them. I need to let Steve know that no matter what he may have felt I’m not…I won’t try to get in between them. It wouldn’t be right.”

“Unless they invite you in,” she added.

“Unless they invite me in and then fuck yes tentacles, oh my god Nat it felt so good! Like being licked all over all at once. God. No wonder Bucky’s into that.”

“If they say yes, pics or it didn’t happen,” she replied with a smirk.

--

Sam was sleeping when Bucky made his way into Sam’s bedroom.

Unwilling to start their conversation off on a bad note, Bucky decided not to wake him. The safest way to get his attention would be to just wait for Sam to notice him. On the rare occasion where Bucky was allowed to speak to others in the past, this tactic had served him well.

Unexpected disturbances usually ended in extended recalibration and reconditioning, and even though Steve never subjected Bucky to those things it seemed wise to not tempt fate.

So Bucky sat motionless in the chair next to the bed. He made sure to turn on the dim reflectors in his goggles so that Sam would know he was waiting for him.

It only took a half hour or so for Sam to wake up and after he finished screaming he seemed very interested in talking with Bucky.

“Bucky? Sweet Jesus! Jarvis, would you turn up the lights, please? Thanks. Oh my god, what are you doing here?”

“You said I was allowed to talk to you.”

Sam dropped his head into his hands and groaned. “Yeah, man. We can talk. Do you mind if we go into the living room? Maybe get a cup of tea?”

Excellent.

This talking thing was looking up.

Rather than responding, Bucky simply moved to go stand in Sam’s living room. Since Sam knew he was here, he went ahead and took off his goggles and stowed them in one of his many pockets.

He stood patiently as he hear Sam get up and rummage around in his bedroom for a few minutes; grumbling the whole time about, “why the fuck did I think this was a good idea.” After that he migrated to the kitchen where he rummaged around in there for a few minutes and grumbled about, “the fuck time is it anyways do people in this tower ever sleep?”

Eventually he joined Bucky in the living room carrying two heavy blue mugs filled with a steaming hot liquid. He handed one to Bucky and kept one for himself and then sat down.

Bucky stared at the mug.

What was in it? It was brown…and vaguely sweet smelling. He couldn’t catalogue any obvious poisons from the smell alone, but that was hardly conclusive.

Sam sighed. “Sit down, man. Relax. That’s tea with a little bit of honey in it. I’ve got the same thing. You can drink it, if you want. It’ll taste good and make your throat feel nice.”

He took an extremely tentative sip. Bucky raised his eyebrows in surprise. This was not as pleasing as the cake, but was still very enjoyable. The smell was strange; almost floral, but with a hint of something green in it.

It was very enjoyable to smell. Bucky noticed that the smell changed depending on how close his nose was to the liquid.

Bucky suddenly realized that he may have spent too long investigating the mug. Sam didn’t look angry though; in fact he had a little smile on his face.

Suddenly self-conscious, Bucky took a seat on a chair across from where Sam was seated.

It was very novel to be able to sit in furniture that wasn’t The Chair.

“So what did you want to talk about, man?” Sam asked.

Bucky pursed his lips. He took a minute to try and organize what he wanted to say. Confusion led to recalibration.

“Clint reacted to Steve’s healing,” he stated. This was the crux of his problem.

Sam let his head fall backwards onto the cushion behind him.

“Please tell me that you didn’t sit in my room like a creepy stalker and wake me up with your spooky ass red glasses just so you could ask me about your weird love triangle.”

Normally, Bucky probably would have ignored Sam’s request. Sam was not his handler; Bucky did not have to comply. And it was hardly the strangest thing he had ever been asked, or told, to do. But Bucky was here bothering him with this talking thing, and Sam asked nicely.

“I didn’t sit in your room like a creepy stalker and wake you up with my spooky ass red glasses just so I could ask you about my weird love triangle.”

Sam started knocking his head rhythmically against the cushion.

“…Sam. What is a love triangle?”

Sam stopped to look at Bucky for a moment, and then went back to knocking his head against the cushion.

After a few minutes he said, “You know what? Don’t worry about it. It’s not important. Alright. So. You’re upset that Clint reacted to Steve’s healing. What do you mean, he ‘reacted’?”

“He was aroused. Steve noticed it.”

Sam rubbed his temple and muttered. “I am doubly not qualified for this crap.” He closed his eyes and took a deep break. “Okay. So Clint reacted. He was unconscious for most of that tentacle healing stuff. Do you think he was in control of his body at that time?”

Bucky thought about it.

“It seems unlikely.”

“But you’re still worried that he might be interested in Steve,” Sam said, though the statement sounded almost like a question the way he said it.

Bucky nodded.

“Have you considered talking to Clint about it? Seeing what his intentions are?”

A thread of possessive irritation ran through him. “We’ve discussed it.”

“Uh huh. In a totally non-confrontational way, I’m sure.”

“But,” Bucky added hesitantly, “I’m not sure it’s a good idea to keep talking to Clint about it.”

Sam gave him a dry look. “No. Probably not. It’s really good that you recognize that, though.”

“It doesn’t seem fair to Steve.”

Sam closed his eyes again. “Of course it doesn’t.”

“I’m…not sure why though.”

Bucky sipped at the strange liquid in his mug. It did soothe his throat, but it made his stomach ache. His malfunction was growing; maintenance would have to happen soon, otherwise his functionality might slip from operational standards.

It was a very tasty liquid.

“Is it possible that this doesn’t feel fair to Steve because you’re not trusting Steve to make the decision you want him to, concerning your relationship?”

He puzzled over that for a minute.

“What do you mean?”

Sam sipped his drink. “Relationships are about trust, on both sides. You have to trust that no matter what Clint does, Steve will be faithful to you.” He paused for a moment and then said, “If that’s what you both want. Either way, you need to talk to Steve about it. Talk to him about your concerns, figure out together what you both want, and then trust him to follow through on what he says he’s going to do.”

Bucky considered this. What Sam was saying made a great deal of sense.

He huffed out a breath.

This ‘relationship’ stuff was significantly more difficult than simply dealing with regular handlers. On the other hand, it was significantly less painful, too.

He stood up and watched his cup while the dizziness passed.

“Thank you, Sam.”

“No problem, Bucky. I’m going back to bed now. Go talk with your tentacle buddy, and please, lock your door before you start doing whatever it is you’re going to be doing with him. No one needs to walk in on that shit. And stop scaring Clint!”

Bucky nodded and headed back towards the nest.

When he got there, Steve was waiting for him, nestled among the pillows of their nest.

In the several days they’d been living there, Steve had managed to find enough random building materials to cobble together a little alcove to wrap around three quarters of the nest. So when Bucky approached that end of the pool all he saw was a spill of cloth, the ends of several tentacles, and Steve’s head laying out of the alcove; watching the door.

As soon as Bucky was in sight, Steve surged out of their nest and tangled their limbs together.

“I missed you, beloved,” he crooned.

Bucky sighed happily. No matter what else happened, this was so much better than he ever expected anything could be.

He pulled back a bit so he could look Steve in the eyes.

“Steve…I’m sorry I’ve been weird about Clint. I just hate thinking that you might want a different mate. Or asset. Either. Both.”

Steve nuzzled his jaw. “I understand, beloved. Know this: I will never return another creature’s advances. You are my chosen mate-to-be. No matter what happens. I know this is difficult for you, though. What can I do to make this challenge to our courtship easier?”

Bucky was overwhelmed. He could feel how genuine the question was; how much Steve wanted to do right by him.

“I’m an idiot. Of course you won’t do anything with Clint. I’m just. I can’t…” He squeezed his eyes shut and held on tighter.

“You’re afraid.” Bucky ducked his head tight into Steve’s neck; hiding. “You needn’t be. I love you.”

Bucky’s eyes were watering again and his head felt light.

“Steve. I think I need maintenance,” he choked out.

“I’ve got you, beloved. Anything you need, I will aid you with, always,” Steve murmured to him.

Just as Steve’s tentacles began to slip into Bucky’s armor, there was a pounding knock on the door from the stairs.

They both turned to look. Bucky did remember to lock the door behind him, so he was confident that whoever was rattling on the other side wouldn’t get in.

An image popped up on the nearest wall; it was a view of Clint banging one hand against the other side of their door. Audio was piped in along with the video feed.

“…there guys? It’s Clint. Um. So. I just wanted to talk? Bucky, I swear I’m not gonna try and steal Steve from you. But. You know. If you were down with it. Uh. We could. Maybe work something out with Steve? Guys? …Are you there?”

Bucky and Steve looked at each other. Steve turned to the wall and sent out a tentacle to poke the image; a green circle appeared on top of the video feed. He poked it again and a red x appeared on it. Steve slapped a tentacle next to the wall and the feed with the red x flashed, and then disappeared.

Steve thrummed with satisfaction.

Bucky was a little confused.

“The guardian spirit of this reef is kind,” Steve responded smugly, and then continued to undo the buckles on Bucky’s Kevlar.

He grinned and took out his whip.

Chapter Text

SOMEWHERE IN ANOTHER DIMENSION:

Bucky handed the remote to Steve; he was fucking done messing with it. So far the damn thing had taken them to several different alternate universes; forcing them to interact with different versions of themselves.

One might think that after seventy plus years of Bucky being a slave to Hydra and Steve being an ice cube under the North Pole, the two of them could catch a break.

Apparently not.

It had taken nearly two years after Insight for Bucky and Steve to be reunited. During that time, Bucky was busy in Romania trying to remember what it was like to be a person and not a weapon. Steve was busy ineffectively attempting to hunt Bucky down, with a side trip to stop robots from destroying the world.

Eventually Steve found his way to Bucky’s Bucharest apartment and convinced him to come back to New York. One or two uncomfortable conversations after that and Bucky and Tony were on relatively good terms too. Hell, they were even all living in Avengers Tower.

And then this dimension hopping crap popped up.

It wasn’t all bad, since it was sort of the catalyst for bringing Steve and Bucky together again. And it did mean that Bucky had the satisfaction of hopping to another world where he could personally murder everyone in Hydra who had ever hurt him.

But now he, Steve, Clint, Tony, and Sam were all stuck in a weird round-robin alternate reality road trip; going from one clusterfuck to another. Every time they pressed the button on the remote, they all got sucked into a different version of the world.

‘Sucked’ was the correct and operative word, because every single one of these worlds was a pain in the ass. They ranged from dangerous to deranged, with very few positive exceptions.

From what Bucky could figure out, where they ended up depended on a bunch of factors; anything from what they were all thinking, what they said as they pressed the button, and if the place they were hopping into needed them. Already they’d saved the other world versions of themselves several times. Touching vibranium made the jump smoother.

Each trip through the portal was hell though; especially for Bucky. With all that vibranium in his arm, it seemed to draw the most amount of power from him out of everyone in the group.

They were all thoroughly fucking tired of it. Bucky knew he wasn’t the only one who just really wanted to go home.

Steve looked around and repositioned his shield.

“Everyone, hands on the shield. Bucky, group hug with the arm,” Steve said. As much as Bucky hated touching everyone else, he wanted to get home more. Group hug coming up.

They all shuffled forward and arranged themselves in a tight huddle.

“Everyone think happy thoughts,” Clint added.

“Focus on being home and safe in the tower,” Steve said.

Nods all around. Steve took a deep breath and pressed the button on the remote.

The air around them ripped open and they were gone.

--

They landed in a scattered pile on a carpeted floor.

Bucky groaned. They needed to figure this shit out soon because these portals were fucking killing him.

“Intruder alert,” Jarvis said above them.

It took a whole second for the implications of that voice to filter through. If they were in a world with Jarvis, they still weren’t home.

Fucking fuck.

“Yeah, no shit, dude,” Clint responded.

Bucky finally looked up. They had indeed landed in what looked like Avengers Tower, if the view out the window said anything. Based on the large table and couches positioned around, it was the common room. But not their common room.

If they had gone home, the common room would have been a several story tall glass monstrosity; sleek and modern. This place looked warmer, cozy almost, with thick carpeted floors and plush comfortable furniture.

Seated at the communal table was this world’s version of Sam, Natasha, Bruce, and Clint.

That was when Bucky realized that the Clint who had spoken to Jarvis was this world’s version of Clint. And this world’s version of Clint looked like he just dragged himself out of a weeklong bender. The dude wore a ratty t-shirt with a purple target on it, sweatpants that had seen better days, and was nursing a whole goddamn carafe of coffee.

Other Sam also looked like he hadn’t slept in a week, though he sat huddled around only a single cup of some hot liquid; tea maybe? “Sure. Why not,” Other Sam said in the most unimpressed voice he had ever heard come out of Sam’s mouth.

Other Bruce was a surprise since Bucky had yet to meet Bruce in their world, though he was aware of the man’s existence. Following the trend, Other Bruce was leaning on one fist and looked like he was about to face plant into some yogurt and granola.

To Bucky’s total lack of surprise, Other Natasha looked fresh and ready for the day. She sat primly eating a bowl of fruit.

More groans echoed around Bucky as the rest of his group pulled themselves up off the ground.

“Time travel?” Other Sam asked with a raised eyebrow.

Their Sam shook his head and slowly climbed to standing. “Naw, man. Dimensional portal.”

Other Sam just blinked slowly and said, “Of course. I should have guessed.”

Bucky shook his head to clear it and looked over his group. Everyone seemed a little whip lashed, but alright.

Steve put rested one hand on his shoulder and whispered, “You okay?” Some of the previous trips had been particularly hard on Bucky.

He nodded. This wasn’t bad. And at least it looked like they had landed in friendly territory.

“Want some coffee?” Other Clint asked. “I mean, not mine, but Tony hasn’t come out of his robot lair long enough to get his, so it’s fair game.”

Steve pursed his lips. “You guys are taking this pretty well,” he said.

Other Natasha shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the weirdest thing we’ve seen.”

Other Sam squinted at them. He stood up and walked over to Bucky, looking him up and down.

“What?” Bucky growled out. He did not like this guy moving in on him.

Other Sam blinked again and then briefly looked sideways; considering something. When he looked back to Bucky he gave him an even more dubious and appraising look.

What?” At this point Bucky was starting to actually get edgy. A little jolt of adrenaline tingled up his spine and he could feel the rest of his group tighten in around him; preparing for the worse. His hand twitched toward a knife.

“It’s just…you’re so tiny,” Other Sam said apologetically.

Bucky gaped. Clint and Tony both nearly fell over laughing behind him. Bucky glanced over to Sam. He had slammed a hand over his mouth to keep the snickers in and he was doing a shitty job of it. Steve was trying manfully to keep a straight face, but his eyes danced with mirth.

“Oh my god I want to treasure this moment forever. Someone just called the Winter fucking Soldier tiny,” Clint gasped out.

Bucky couldn’t stop the growl that came out of his throat. The snickers and laughing intensified.

“I think I probably know who most of you are. Bucky, Clint, Sam, and Tony. I don’t know who you are, though. Sam Wilson.” Other Sam held out a hand to Steve.

Bucky’s group got really still, really quickly.

“What do you mean you don’t know me?” Steve asked quietly.

Other Sam squinted at him and then rubbed his eyes. “Look, man, I don’t mean to cause offense here. It’s been a long week and I’m not really at my best, but I’m pretty damn sure we’ve never met.” He walked back to the table, sat down, and went back to nursing his drink.

Steve shook himself.

“No. No, it’s alright. It was just surprising. In every other world we’ve been to, there’s always been another version of me. My name is Steve, Steve Rogers.”

The whole group at the table froze and looked at Steve up and down.

“Did you say, Steve Rogers? As in Captain James Barnes’s best friend growing up?” Other Bruce asked.

Captain James Barnes?” Bucky asked.

“Yeah?” Steve answered. He wandered over to the table. Other Sam waved him into a chair, eyeing Steve’s shield as he sat down. The Other Avengers settled back into staring at their breakfasts while the rest of Bucky’s group sat down.

Bucky thought about hanging back. He didn’t like the idea of sitting down and leaving his back open to who knows what.

Although, given some of their previous trips, this place at least seemed to be not-so-bad.

In the end he wandered into the kitchen to get that coffee Other Clint talked about. And if he used that as an excuse to get a little bit of a look around, that was all to the good. He listened with half an ear to the conversation going on.

“So. I take it that James Barnes never made captain in your world?” Other Bruce asked.

“No. That was me. Bucky was my sergeant,” Steve replied. “Can I ask… what happened to the Steve Rogers here?”

“History books say he died of complications of pneumonia in the winter of ’40 – ’41, just before James Barnes joined the army. I take it in your world you signed up together?” Other Sam asked.

“Something like that.”

Bucky shuddered for a moment. In all of the dimensions they’d been to, he’d wondered what would have happened to him in a world without Steve. It looked they were gonna find out…assuming they ever got to see this world’s version of himself.

As he looked around, he noted that nothing seemed at all out of place. Everything in the common room was set up to entertain live-in residents. The view of the city looked normal as well. No crazy spaceships. Nothing on fire. Statue of Liberty was still there.

Bucky ground his teeth a little. Why the fuck did they show up here?

When he sat back down at the table with two cups of coffee in tow, one for him and one for Steve, Clint and Tony looked at him hopefully.

“What? Get your own,” he scoffed.

Clint pouted and Tony smirked. Both got up to get their own drinks.

Other Sam and Other Clint both blinked at Bucky again. He was starting to get really tired of their weird looks.

“Wow. Tiny Bucky is sassy,” Other Clint remarked with a smirk.

“Fuck you, I am not tiny,” Bucky replied. This was such bullshit.

The Other Avengers all smirked.

Bucky ground his teeth. “I swear to fucking god if anyone says anything about being cute I will start planning headshots.”

“I think you’re pretty cute, Buck,” Steve grinned at him.

Bucky wanted to grumble very badly, but Steve saying how much he adored him was never not going to be awesome.

“What I don’t get is why you all are not more concerned about us. We could be anyone. Just because we look like you doesn’t mean we aren’t here to kill you.” Bucky glared around the table.

Other Bruce raised his free hand and said, “Hulk.”

Other Sam pointed at the ceiling and said, “Jarvis.”

Other Clint just raised his jug and said, “Coffee,” as if that actually explained anything.

Other Natasha speared a strawberry, tilted her head in acknowledgement, and then said, “Steve.”

“Steve,” the rest of the Other Avengers chorused back in wide-eyed agreement.

This world was officially really fucking weird.

“I thought you said your Steve died in the ‘40’s?” Tony asked as he walked back in with caffeine in hand.

“It’s complicated.” Other Sam grimaced.

“But seriously, Steve would wipe the floor with you all if he thought you were a threat to Bucky,” Other Clint added. He tried pointing at them with his carafe of coffee, but just ended up spilling some onto the table. “Awwww coffee, no.”

“Dude, how are we even the same person?” Clint asked as he sat down.

Other Clint just shrugged and ignored the spill.

Back on point, Steve asked, “So there’s another Steve?”

The Other Avengers nodded.

“Yup,” Other Sam said. “He’s Bucky’s mate.” He looked at the cup of coffee that Bucky had brought Steve. “Are you two, uh, together? Is that a thing where all Buckys everywhere have a Steve?”

Bucky blinked at the wording. And then blinked again as that filtered through.

“Wait. You mean your Bucky found another dude named Steve to be with? Was that just a coincidence, or did he go out of his way to make that happen? Because that is kind of fucked up,” Bucky stated.

Bucky suddenly felt an itching at his back.

In a blink, Bucky was turned around, standing, and with guns drawn.

The person behind him was the Asset; Bucky as he would have looked when under control of Hydra. He was wearing full tactical gear and was covered with weapons, though he didn’t have the muzzle on.

Bucky was so fucking grateful he wasn’t wearing the muzzle.

This version of the Asset was fucking huge too. Bucky was a couple inches shorter than Steve and this guy topped Steve’s standing height by at least an inch or two. He was a little broader in the shoulder, too, though his tactical gear hung limply off of him.

Some of those weapons he was bristling with were pointed right at Bucky’s head, but the Asset looked completely unperturbed. He just stared blankly.

Bucky shivered. He remembered what that was like. It wasn’t that there was nothing going on behind those eyes, it was that he wasn’t allowed to show that any of it.

“He asked me to name him. I named him Steve,” the Asset said.

“Holy shit, this is the first time anyone has ever seen him walk into a room,” Other Clint said with awe. “He’s usually just there. Dude, Tiny Bucky is a badass.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that he was face-to-face with a more nightmarish version of himself, Bucky would have fucking reached across the table to punch Other Clint in the face. As it was, he turned his face just enough so he could glare at him out of the corner of his eye.

“Oh snap, murder glare is universal. Check,” Other Clint muttered.

Steve’s hand was on his shoulder. “Easy,” he murmured.

Neither the Asset or Bucky moved.

“If you’re with Hydra, Steve will know. He won’t let you take me back,” the Asset remarked flatly.

Nausea filled him up and he dropped his arms. The Asset eased down his as well.

“Fucking no one is gonna take you back to Hydra, you hear me? Those bastards won’t lay a hand on you,” Bucky snarled. The Asset just continued to study him. Bucky jammed his guns back into their various hiding places and sat down with a thump. He still couldn’t quite put his back to the Asset, but sitting down sideways seemed okay.

“They’ll come for me. They always do,” the Asset said almost gently and then slowly holstered his gear. “Steve says he can stop them. I…hope he can.” That last line was said quietly, like he was afraid to admit he had a hope.

The words were like knives right to Bucky’s heart. He knew what that was like. He knew it.

“If anyone can, Steve can. And we’re gonna help. You don’t have to do this alone,” Other Sam said.

This is what Bucky Barnes looked like with no Steve Rogers. Hydra’s perfect weapon. Bucky wanted to shoot something very, very badly. Or vomit. Or both.

“How long have you been away from them?” Steve whispered.

Never taking his eyes off of Bucky, the Asset responded, “We have been residing with the Avengers for one week. Steve and I escaped mission assignment and confinement three weeks ago. It has been nearly seven months since my last standard operation resolution protocol.”

Bucky shuddered.

The Asset dragged his eyes towards Steve and his eyes widened in shock.

“Stevie?” the Asset rasped out. He raised one hand to touch, but stopped before he could move more than a couple inches.

“Yeah, Buck.” Steve’s smile was pained.

“I thought you were dead.”

“I thought you were smaller.”

An awful laugh bubbled out of Bucky as flickers of their escape from Azzano played behind his eyes.

The Asset just stood there, frozen, one hand barely stretched out toward Steve.

The thing was, Bucky couldn’t even find it in himself to be jealous. Just really fucking sad. This had happened in their travels, too. They’d run into another version of themselves that needed comfort, and inevitably someone always stepped in. Steve loved Bucky, and would do anything for him, any version of him; and Bucky, Steve. This little jaunt through the multi-verse had proved that in several irrefutable, and sometimes horrific, ways.

No one moved and after a moment Bucky realized why.

“You’re allowed. It’s alright. You’re allowed to have this,” he said wearily. Steve nodded emphatically.

The grateful look that the Asset shot Bucky confirmed his suspicions. He tentatively wrapped Steve up in his arms, tucking Steve’s head into the crook of his neck. Two fat tears ran down the Asset’s cheeks, though he didn’t bother to acknowledge them. Bucky hid his head in his hands. He didn’t want to see this.

“I’m so sorry, Stevie. I---I think it’s my fault you died,” the Asset whispered. “I think I remember. It’s fuzzy, but I think I remember. You were so sick and it was so cold. I tried to keep you wrapped up. If I had just worked another shift at the docks, I coulda got us a little more food. Another blanket. But all I could do was hold you.”

Memory flooded Bucky once again. The winter of ’40-’41. Their apartment was cold enough that standing water would freeze solid in a matter of hours. The coughing had gotten so bad that they’d had a priest come by to read Steve his last rites, but in the end Steve pulled through.

“It’s not your fault, Buck. You did everything you could.”

When Bucky looked up, Steve was rubbing the Asset’s back in slow circles.

After another long moment, the Asset pulled away and gave Steve a much clearer look. “But you’re not him, are you?”

Steve shook his head sadly. “No. We’re from another world; one where I made it through that winter. Got better.”

The Asset nodded; disappointed, but accepting. Bucky knew what that was like, too. Good things didn’t happen to the Asset and anything that might look like something good would always be a lie.

“It’s strange. You’re like a mix of my little Stevie and my big Stevie.” The Asset tilted his head in consideration.

Other Bruce sat up straighter. “You’re right. They do look a lot alike! How is that even possible? We never thought to cross reference our world’s Steve Roger’s features with big Steve’s features. I mean, Steve-downstairs’ picture. Why would we? Now we have you as another data point, though...” Other Bruce pursed his lips and drummed his fingers against the table. “Jarvis, get Tony. We need to add this to our research. Maybe this will shed some kind of light on how Big Steve came to be.”

The Asset looked at Other Bruce and just barely quirked an eyebrow at him.

Steve and Bucky cast a worried glance at each other. Nothing that Other Bruce said boded well. And ‘Big Steve’? If the Asset was so much larger than Bucky, how big was this world’s Steve? And if this world’s Steve Rogers died, why did the Asset’s current Steve look like him?

Bucky was desperately hoping that the answer to all those questions wasn’t Hydra.

“I’m afraid Sir is busy going through the recently discovered Hydra files. He has asked to not be disturbed,” Jarvis answered apologetically.

“And that is significantly more important than comparing Steves,” Other Natasha added acidly.

“Wait, Hydra files?” Tony jumped in.

Other Natasha eyed him and said, “Yes. With Bucky in the wind, it’s come to our attention that Hydra is still alive and well and likely deeply infiltrated into Shield. Tony and Jarvis, and earlier Bruce as well, were going through the files we got from a base we raided a couple of days ago. We’re hoping to find out who exactly who’s in charge and what they’re up to.”

The feel of the room took on an edge of tension. Hydra was still here. Bucky rubbed his eyes for a moment. Of course they were still around. Didn’t the Asset just say he thought they would take him back?

“Have you guys heard of Project Insight?” Clint asked.

“Shit, wait,” Tony interrupted. “You said your Tony is looking over the files? Hey, J, what happened to Howard and Maria Stark? Are they still around?”

“Howard and Maria Stark passed away in a fatal car accident on December 16th, 1991,” Jarvis responded.

“Double shit. I need to go talk to your Tony.” He made a beeline for the elevator and was gone.

Everyone just kind of stared in his wake.

“Huh,” Other Sam said.

“Yeah that’s not ominous at all,” Other Clint added in.

“You have no idea,” Clint said under his breath.

When he realized why Tony left, Bucky felt sick. If Other Tony was looking through the Hydra files, there was a good chance that he was going to find out that the Winter Soldier killed his parents. That was nearly guaranteed to end in shitty for everyone involved.

Clint looked at Other Bruce and asked, “Hey, you’re a science guy. Why aren’t you all over this whole multi-verse portal thing?”

“Tony and I discussed it once. Even got so far that we mocked up a few models. In the end we decided it would be too much of a risk. Too many factors involved in the jump and nearly impossible to safely test it. Not to mention there was that whole power problem. Although…if you guys got it working properly?”

Bucky snorted. “It’s really, really not.”

“Huh. Well then. I’m sure Tony and I will both be willing to help you out if you’re stuck,” Other Bruce responded.

“After we make sure that the government isn’t being controlled by a Nazi death cult,” Other Natasha added in.

“Right. That,” Other Clint said.

But before Bucky could comment on that, Sam asked the Asset, “Hey man, what’s with the whip? Is that standard equipment for you?”

The Asset had already pulled away from the hug, but seemed loath to leave Steve’s side.

“Steve likes it when I use it on him,” the Asset responded blankly.

Bucky’s jaw dropped and he was not the only one this time. Steve had turned the color of a tomato.

“Ya’ll need to remember to lock your damn doors. No one needs to walk in on that shit,” Other Sam grumped and then sipped his drink.

“Holy shit,” Clint whispered.

“I know, right,” Other Clint said with audible envy.

“He what?” Steve choked out.

“It’s how we met. Hydra had captured him. They gave me the whip and ordered me to break him for conditioning. Turns out he really liked it.” The Asset shrugged.

Everyone looked at Steve, who turned even more cherry red.

“That’s. I’m not. I mean, it’s fine, but just not---” Steve stuttered.

“Before we left the base we were being held in, Steve asked me to keep it. Bring it with us.” He ran his metal hand over the whip’s coiled length.

Bucky didn’t even know what to say. All he could think of was this fragment of a long past memory. Something about an alleyway and another fist fight and saying, “Sometimes I think you like getting hit.”

He didn’t think his Steve really did like that sort of thing, but now he kind of wanted to ask. But from the look on Steve’s face, this was the last thing he wanted to be asked about.

“…Are you well, Stevie? Do you require maintenance?” The Asset furrowed his brow a bit in concern.

Before anyone else could react, Other Sam jumped in and said, “Don’t do it!”

Other Clint was hard on his heels with, “Do it!” There was a long pause as everyone stopped to stare at Other Clint, who looked unrepentant.

Bucky noticed that the Asset was giving Clint his version of the murder glare. It was a pretty effective look. He suddenly had a better understanding of how other people saw him.

“Should I even ask?” Steve looked at the Other Avengers with no small amount of concern.

Other Natasha shrugged. “Our Steve can heal people with his limbs. It’s…a little unsettling though.”

“And amazing,” Other Clint added dreamily.

Bucky was starting to get really concerned with the strange wording them kept using about this world’s Steve.

The skepticism must have been obvious on their faces because Other Bruce explained further. “Spontaneous rapid neural and cellular regeneration. We have no idea how he does it.” He looked kind of hopeful for a moment. “So…if you do happen to want to get some maintenance done, and Steve is offering, would you mind wearing some diagnostic equipment?”

A growl threatened to spill from Bucky.

“Holy shit, double murder face,” Other Clint muttered.

Steve turned to the Asset and said, “I really appreciate the offer, but I’m good for now.”

The Asset nodded and then went back to looking at Bucky. “You’re not with Hydra. How did you get away?”

“Steve,” Bucky said quietly. Through all the fighting and running, that one word pretty much covered it. Without Steve, Bucky never would have gotten out. “Same for you, huh?”

A quiet hum was all he got in response. After a moment, the Asset said, “We’re pretty lucky, you and I.”

To say that Bucky was floored would be an understatement. ‘Lucky’ was something that happened to other people, unless bad luck was what was under discussion. In which case, hell yes, every Bucky they’d encountered was fucking plagued with bad luck.

“How the fuck do you figure that?” he asked incredulously.

“We have Steve.” And then the Asset smiled, sweet and happy. “Hard not to feel like we lucked out with that.”

The crazy part was he was right. Bucky wanted to object, but in the end he found that he felt the same way.

“Yeah.” He huffed out a laugh. “Yeah, I guess we did.”

“Want to meet my Stevie? He gives great hugs.”

Other Sam choked on his drink and spent the next minute or so hacking up a lung. Other Natasha looked distinctly amused.

“I’m not really the hugging kind. But, sure, let’s meet your Steve,” Bucky replied warily.

As they stood up to go, Other Sam grabbed Sam, “No. Trust me, just no. And you,” he pointed to Other Clint, “can just sit right down. Let’s not test this new found truce, shall we?”

Other Clint settled back down into his seat and pouted into his coffee jug.

“You know what, I’ll stay here with Sam. You kids go have fun,” Clint said. Steve and Bucky cast one more worried glance at each other, and then they followed the Asset out.

Right before the elevator closed behind them, Bucky could hear Other Natasha say, “So. You mentioned something called Project Insight?”

A few quiet moments passed in the elevator before Steve asked, “Where are we headed?”

“The pool room. Steve is probably swimming,” the Asset responded.

After that the elevator ride down was quiet. But the more Bucky watched the Asset, the more he was starting to think something was wrong with him. He almost seemed to be swaying a bit in place.

There were other worry signs too. The way the Asset focused on each person a little longer than he needed to. How loosely his tactical gear hung off of him. The brief pauses before he moved.

Something was definitely up. What, exactly, that might be, Bucky wasn’t sure. Not enough information yet. Or maybe he had the information, but it just wasn’t clicking right in his mind. Rather than force it through, he decided just to let things stew for a bit.

At the very least, meeting the Asset’s new Steve would be enlightening. The Other Avengers had thrown off enough weird comments that Bucky was pretty damn certain that this guy must be profoundly strange.

The bright side was that even though this world’s Steve seemed to have something crazy going on with him, it wouldn’t be that bad.

A nasty memory from one of their previous dimension hops threatened to surface and Bucky quickly shoved it aside. Whatever was going on here, it wasn’t that. It wouldn’t be that. This Steve was a healer. He couldn’t be a monster.

When they got to the pool room he was a little surprised to taste the tang of salt in the air. He’d never heard of an Olympic size salt water pool, but, well, there it was. Off on the far side of the room, a corner of the open space had been segregated off with stacks of furniture and…rocks? The make-shift walls sheltered a little cul-de-sac that overflowed with sheets and clothes.

Barring that, the room looked empty.

Bucky cast a glance at the Asset and then did a double take as he realized the Asset was stripping down.

“Uhmmmm…” Steve let the sound trail off.

“Stevie?” the Asset called out. “We’ve got visitors!”

Nothing happened.

A tingling itching feeling snaked up Bucky’s spine. This world’s weirdness was going from ‘sort of concerning’ to ‘really fucking concerning’ very quickly.

The Asset moved over to the edge of the pool and laid out his gear on the floor. When he stripped off the armored top, Bucky realized what was wrong with him.

In all the time that Bucky had been with Hydra, they never fed him; not like a regular person would eat anyways. Feeding tubes during the post-cryo warm up or nutrient packed IVs during missions, but never food. It took Bucky more than a month to realize that he needed to regularly consume calories to stay functional and most of that was due to an elderly neighbor who insisted on having him over for dinner.

And here was the Asset, three weeks away from Hydra and he was skinny; far skinnier than a man of that size should be.

The Asset wasn’t eating. Maybe didn’t remember that he should eat, or didn’t think he was allowed to eat.

Fucking fuck.

It all made sense. The pauses before he moved were probably dizzy spells. Focusing on one person was likely to make sure the room wasn’t swimming around. Or hell, maybe he just didn’t have the energy to focus on more than one person at once. He was swaying in place because he was about to fall over. The physical discomforts of starvation would be ignored.

Bucky wanted to hit his head against a wall. How the fuck did no one notice this?

He sighed.

Of course no one noticed. Why would they? They would be staying at arm’s length, just like everyone did around Bucky.

So the real question was why hadn’t this world’s Steve figured it out?

When the Asset took off his pants the question of eating and food completely fled out of Bucky’s mind because holy shit.

“What are you wearing!” Steve sputtered.

The Asset looked at Steve quizzically and then looked down at the lingerie he was wearing under his armor. He sported peach bikini cut panties with little red strawberries patterned across the fabric and delicate white lace trim lined the edges.

He looked back to Steve with concern.

“Soft things?” he answered hesitantly. “Steve said… he said I’m allowed to wear soft things, if I want to.”

Steve turned the color of his uniform boots and just gaped.

Now the Asset started to look even more concerned. His back drew up ramrod straight and his arms and head dropped. Bucky knew that pose and he knew where it was headed.

Fuck.

The Asset thought he was going to be punished.

He cuffed Steve on the side of the head. “Quit your gawking. He can wear whatever he wants.”

A flash of understanding lit up Steve’s face and he quickly turned to reassure the Asset. “Absolutely, you can. They, uh. Look real nice on you.” He was still blushing like crazy.

The Asset peeked up from under his long hair and tentatively smiled. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. Very nice.”

Bucky was pretty sure that any moment now Steve was going to burst into flames. Bucky was kind of right there with him on that.

Because wow.

But…to be honest, the panties didn’t look half bad on the Asset. Pretty, even. And very soft. The warm colors reflected nicely on the Asset’s pale skin, giving him a little bit of a glow. It was a strangely cheerful contrast to all the scars. Quite a lot of scars actually; a fair bit more than Bucky had himself.

What the fuck was he thinking? Bucky shook his head. This world.

Just then the water started to roil behind the Asset. Long peach colored tentacles slithered out of the water and wrapped around the Asset, lifting him into the air. In a flash, Bucky had his guns out and ready.

More and more of the glossy appendages flowed out of the pool and onto the deck; coiling, wriggling, exploring, and inching closer and closer to Bucky and Steve.

The tentacles were attached to the upper body of a humanoid form; a well built man with pink-ish skin and golden blond hair.

“Stevie!” the Asset cried joyfully. The tentacle-man grinned with a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and let loose a loud screech that echoed around the pool room.

Holy.

Fuck.

And in a tiny part of the back of Bucky’s mind, the only part that still seemed to be functioning, all he could think was, huh, he really does look like Steve.

--

Steve was having a fantastic morning.

Last night’s discussion with his beloved Bucky went exceptionally well. Steve was able to feel how threatened and worried she had been about the whole courtship challenge. He was honored that she was able to share her concerns with him.

In turn he was able to reassure his sweet ocean star that their love was in no danger. No one would ever replace her in Steve’s heart muscle; not the lavender clad eel-cousin, not anyone.

Bucky could feel his devotion through their mental communications and thus no longer felt the need to chase the lavender eel-cousin away. But in turn, Steve decided that he would not attempt to convince the lavender one that its advances were unwanted; he would simply ignore them altogether. Since his beloved was content with the situation there was no need to intercede further.

After their talk, they raised their limbs once again in the sweet ritual of courtship. Bucky’s beautiful metal limb flashed in the dim reef lights and her long black tentacle licked so deliciously at Steve’s skin.

Ah, the delights of the flesh!

The only dark part to the whole evening was his beloved’s increasing weakness. Steve didn’t know what to do. She missed several steps in their courtship dance and Steve could feel through his tentacles that she was having dizzy spells.

Perhaps she was sick? Maybe this was why she wasn’t eating? Were these symptoms to something more sinister?

Panic briefly rippled through Steve. What if she had laid eggs while they were held against their will by the vile cave dwelling eel-cousins? If she had, then her body would be instinctively attempting to forgo eating. But did that mean they left eggs at that cave structure?

If they did, would she even know? The vile ones had damaged her brain so badly!

Steve settled himself. It was unlikely that she had clutched recently. He would have noticed the body changes in her in the beginning weeks of their courtship. Besides, what’s done is done. The cave structure they were held in was destroyed and they wouldn’t be able to search it anyways. All he could do now was make their new nest as comforting as possible.

And perhaps do another search for food.

The red cilia bearing eel-cousin stated that this reef could provide any food they needed, but Steve had yet to see any around. Maybe they kept schools of feeder creatures pooled in a side cave?

Regardless of all those worries, it was a new day! He sweet ocean star was out patrolling the reef that morning, so Steve decided to go in search of food and building materials. Today he would look in a new direction; towards the land floor.

He reached the base of the reef as the sun was just painting the sky pink, though the neighboring reef structures blocked its rays from reaching the clear walls of the structure he was in.

This cavern was different than the ones farther up in the reef. For one, the moment he emerged into the cavern, a couple of eel-cousins gave a mighty war cry and then raced out of the reef structure.

Curious.

Steve decided that perhaps they needed to rally their spirits before the hunt. He noticed this often with the vile eel-cousins he hunted with his beloved.

Two eel-cousins remained in the reef structure. They bore very similar algae coverings of dark blue, though their skin colorations were quite different. One was as pale as moonlit jelly and the other sported healthier, darker tones.

He wondered if the pale one spent a great deal of time in crevasses. Or perhaps caves. After all, his beloved was moon-pale, too, and they met in a fairly dark cave system.

It seemed as if the dark algae clad eel-cousins were going to intercept him, but then the song of the guardian spirit of the reef called out from the walls and stilled their movements. His chest cave swelled with joy; the spirit was truly kind to watch over him!

Steve waved at the eel cousins in a friendly manner and went about his hunt.

To his vast delight, there were a number of very choice looking boulders lying about the cavern. As he inspected them, though, he noticed that they were very securely wedged into the cavern floor. It seemed like the root of the rocks had lithified in place. They must have been placed there a very long time ago.

Or perhaps the spirit of the reef melded them in place? If so, it might not be wise for Steve to disturb the rock’s arrangement.

He carefully checked around. They looked as if they were placed at random. None of the surfaces looked worn from use either.

“Oh great reef spirit, I ask for your guidance once more!” He waved a few of his tentacles entreatingly toward the upper portion of the structure. The tall emptiness of the cavern echoed with his song. It was a pleasing resonance. Steve spared a moment to think longingly of the deep watery caverns of home.

The half-language babble of the spirit answered him. Steve grinned in delight.

“Spirit, guardian of all who dwell here, caretaker of every kelp and eel-cousin, honored provider of comfort and safety, I wish to ask permission to relocate these rocks. Please, fair spirit; grant me a sign of your continued favor!”

Cooing melodic nonsense burbles emanated from the walls around him. The spirit sounded encouraging as ever; Steve took this to mean that the migration of the rocks would be no issue.

It took very little work to dislodge the boulders from the ground; with just a quick twist they popped right out of their place on the cavern floor. With these new construction materials safely gripped in his tentacles he continued to explore the area.

To his vast excitement, he discovered a little clear pool with brightly colored fish swimming in it! Perhaps this was one of the many stores of food that the red-cilia eel-cousin alluded to.

Strange selection of fish though, if that was the case. They were all so tiny. Perhaps this was just a nursery pool?

The more Steve thought about it, the more it made sense that the feeding fish would be smaller here. After all, the eel-cousins themselves were all much smaller than Steve was. They must need to consume less flesh in order to stay active.

Perhaps these would be just the thing for his beloved!

Steve stuck a few tentacles into the pool to gather up some of the small treats. And if one or two of those little fish happened to end up in Steve’s mouth, well, he was just testing them. To make sure they were safe.

And delicious.

Just as Steve was about to leave, he considered the coral growing in the pool. It would be nice to transfer some of that to his own tidal pool. The blank bare stone that formed the tidal pool’s walls was sort of depressing.

But how to transfer them?

Perhaps it would be wisest just to make a second trip. There was no sense in overloading himself and risking damaging the delicate corals.

Decision made, Steve carried the fruits of his labors back to the vertical shaft leading to his tidal pool, waving a few tentacles at the dark-clad eel-cousins as he went by.

Bucky would be so pleased with these new additions to their home!

--

Tanya O’Malley had been a Stark security officer for a few years now, so she was used to a few strange things happening. It was just part of the job when you worked in the building that housed the Avengers.

So it wasn’t a complete surprise when at balls’o’clock in the morning a giant twisting ball of tentacles erupted out of the stairwell.

Alarming, yes, but actually surprising? Only sort of.

“Derek! The Alarm!” she shouted to her partner as she ran to get in between the eldritch horror and the early-bird office workers that had begun fleeing out of the building.

The pinkish-tentacle monster oozed towards them. It had the upper body of a man, and, oh god, that man was smiling like a crocodile; sharp teeth and all. Tanya’s mouth dried out, her ears buzzed, and she started to think about how grateful she was that Stark had a good benefits package. No matter what happened, her family would be taken care of.

Before the creature could come any closer, Jarvis spoke through the lobby’s speaker system. “Please stand down Ms. O’Malley, Mr. Stern. The creature in front of you is a guest of Mr. Stark’s. I assure you, he means you no harm.”

Upon hearing the AI, the monster smiled warmly and waved a few tentacles at them, and then slithered off to look at the lobby decorations.

“What. The. Fuck,” Derek whispered.

Tanya just shook her head. This job just kept getting weirder and weirder.

They both watched in stunned silence as the creature investigated the decorative boulders placed in various spots in the lobby. When it opened its mouth, the most horrific screeching sound erupted from it and made the glass windows rattle.

Jarvis responded with what sounded the industrial remix of whale song.

Both Tanya and Derek looked on with wide eyed horror as the creature began ripping the boulders right out of the cement with ease; boulders the size of motorcycles. Then it just carried them right along with it, trailing those huge ass boulders behind it like a toddler would drag his school backpack.

It absolutely wasn’t surprising at all when it shoved its head into the huge saltwater aquarium that lined the seating area. Limbs flooded the tiny water enclosure until the fish had no room to move. Some were dragged out and eaten and others just stayed coiled in the ends of tentacles. Tanya was sort of surprised that the tank didn’t break outright.

After it was done, the tentacle monster wriggled right back into the stairwell, waving absently to them as it wandered by. The boulders scraped through the doors, bending the frames out of shape as they were forced through.

“Huh,” was all Tanya could think of to say. She was pretty sure she should be doing something, but all she could do was sit and stare at the path of destruction across the lobby. “Well that was…”

“Yeah,” Derek responded, looking equally stunned. “Yeah. Wow. So that awful shrieking we heard last week…”

“Uh huh.”

“…So, do you think Stark made that thing, or do you think they found it somewhere?”

“Dude, I don’t even want to know. My life is weird enough.”

Tanya rubbed her eyes, ordered more coffee to be sent over from one of the cafes, and then cracked open the work order request form on the Starknet portal.

It was gonna be a long day.

--

It took a few hours of shifting things around back and forth, but eventually Steve got the boulders situated perfectly along the lining to their nesting cove.

All he needed were just a few more rocks, and maybe some coral as well, and he’d be able to solidify the walls. He was careful to leave extra space for an egg chamber. No doubt his beloved would like it to be the most secure area of their nest.

Steve warbled in delight at the thought of his sweet ocean star curled up happily over a thriving clutch!

Assuming that his beloved even wanted to lay a clutch. He had to admit that she might not.

This actually didn’t distress him over-much. Not every couple needed to lay. Either way, Steve wanted to make sure that everything would be prepared just in case Bucky did desire spawnlings. He would much rather over prepare than under prepare.

And besides, even if they decided not to spawn that didn’t mean that their close allies wouldn’t spawn. Having an egg room might be useful in case the Avengers needed an extra tentacle to comfort little eel-cousins.

He glowed at the idea of it. Steve had often been told that he had a bit of a caretaking streak. Upon reflection that was entirely accurate.

Steve wasted a little time before his beloved returned by slowly floating after the fish he transferred from the nursery pool into his tidal pool. The ones that didn’t survive the trip were placed carefully aside for his beloved to eat, and the rest were now exploring the vast emptiness of their new home.

There definitely needed to be more coral in this tidal pool. He carefully considered transfer plans for later that evening.

By the time Bucky had returned from her patrols, Steve had actually started to doze off a bit. As satisfying as their courting was earlier, the hunting expedition on top of their dancing left him a bit tired. He was startled awake by the sound of his beloved’s soft song above the water.

When he breached the water he was blessed with the sight of his dearest mate-to-be divested of her hardened black algae coverings and standing comfortably in the soft peach algae that Steve had chosen for her.

Seeing her clad in the item that he picked out himself made his heart muscle swell so large it felt as if it might burst!

“Beloved!” he screeched happily, wrapping her up in tentacles and rubbing their cheeks together. “Beloved, come see! I added to our nest---oh! We have guests.”

The new eel-cousins...sweet moon!

One of the new eel-cousins looked just like his beloved!

Both seemed incredibly distressed, too. Steve moved to comfort them, wrap them in his limbs and greet them, but the moment his tentacles moved closer, the one that looked like his beloved spat little stones at him from her hands.

To be honest, Steve felt a little hurt by the rejection.

“Wait. It’s fine! This is Steve. Steve, these fellas are traveling from another world. I guess they got dumped here? But they’re also Steve and Bucky? Just a different world’s version of us.”

Steve narrowed his eyes. He wasn’t quite sure he understood what his beloved was trying to say.

The travelers still looked wary; the one with the golden cilia had moved to cover both of them with its shell. Through his mental connection with his mate-to-be, Steve was able to understand what they were saying.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me. That is your Steve?” the one who looked like his beloved stated.

“Are they alright, sweet ocean star?” Steve murmured. “They look ill.”

“Steve can talk to you both, but he needs to touch you to do it,” his beloved said.

“No. Fuck no,” his beloved’s twin stated.

“I’m a monster here, too, huh.” The golden cilia bearing eel-cousin twisted its mouth bitterly; it looked like it had more to say but in the end just stalked off.

“Steve! Wait!”

But the golden eel-cousin was already out of the cavern and in the vertical climbing shaft.

Steve’s heart muscle went out to the golden eel-cousin. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but he wished he could fix it. From the look on his beloved’s face, she felt the same way.

Eventually, his beloved’s twin turned back to look at them. Her claws were displayed aggressively and she had positioned herself at the ready, though she looked less tense than she initially had.

“He’s not like them, you know,” his beloved chittered softly at his small twin. “Like Hydra? Steve doesn’t.” She took a breath. “He’s never hurt me. He doesn’t send me on missions. He tells me I’m a person.”

It was in that moment that Steve realized that his beloved was afraid. The rejection of these specters from another realm had hurt more than just Steve; Bucky, too, was distressed. What she was afraid of, he could only guess.

He coiled more tentacles around her and rubbed their cheeks together, cooing wordless comfort.

“And the maintenance?” the twin asked after a long pause.

“It’s not like the Chair. He brings stuff back, makes the static go away. What you’re seeing when you look at him? How is it any worse than anything we’ve seen with Hydra? And it ain’t about that anyways. I named him Steve because he matched my little Stevie on the inside; all heart and fight and hope.” Anger flooded through his beloved and she practically spat out her next words. “But don’t you dare go thinking you’re world’s Steve is better than mine just because he looks a little more like the old Steve Rogers.”

Steve felt another great surge of affection for his sweet ocean star. Here she was speaking on his behalf, defending him against this look-alike.

Mates fight for each other, no matter the opposition.

“Beloved,” he crooned. Oh what a wise choice for a mate! Even if he never saw the ocean again, never swam in the dim expanses of home once more, it would be worth it to always be near his mate-to-be.

She was a treasure.

His beloved’s twin thought for a moment and then cursed. She rubbed her eyes and then resettled herself so that only a single talon remained extended. Her other appendage she held out to Steve.

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. We’ve already run into a world where the Steve there was,” the twin choked, “wasn’t what he looked like on the outside. Logic stands to reason that maybe your Steve is more than he seems, too.” She shook her hand at him. “Go on. Grab hold, before I regret this more than I already do.”

All of Steve’s appendages wiggled in joy! His beloved’s impassioned defense had won the other over. Not only was she physically puissant, but she was willing to use her voice, her force of will, to turn the tides of a situation.

Steve couldn’t be more pleased or proud.

He reached out a tentacle and wrapped it around the twin’s limb.

“Greetings, lovely one. What may I call you?” he asked quietly. Steve could feel how anxious and threatened his beloved’s twin was feeling. It was all he could do not to wrap her up into his limbs along with his own sweet ocean star and comfort them both.

They were so alike, so damaged in some of the same ways and yet different as well. While it wasn’t unusual for clutches to have near identical offspring, this seemed…off. There were shades to the neural pathways in the twin’s mind that were very curious.

Steve looked deeper, twining a second tentacle around the twin’s outstretched appendage.

The similarities were just more than just a strong resemblance; they were exactly alike! This wasn’t just a sibling of his beloved, it was his beloved!

She was more healed in some ways than Steve’s sweet ocean star, but not at all healed in other ways. And there was a…a tang to the flavor of her neural system; a fractional difference in vibration.

This was one of the fabled realm swimmers! This must be what his beloved meant; this look-alike was Bucky from another vibrational plane of existence.

Steve was in awe. There were legends of such travelers, of course, but never had he seen or met anyone who had seen or met a true realm traveler before, not physically anyways.

In that moment Steve felt his love for Bucky stretch and grow to encompass this version of his beloved as well. While Steve was dedicated to his courtship with Bucky, he knew that these two were the same being in every way that mattered and Steve would love both of them.

And he would always care for his sweet ocean star, no matter which realm she came from. If he could aid her in any way, he would. He could feel his beloved approve of his feelings on the matter and his joy doubled. Bucky understood and felt the same way.

Steve let comfort, care, and inclusion flow through their mental connection.

“Wow,” the realm traveler said. “That’s. Wow.” She blinked a few times. “James. Call me James. Easier that way.”

“James. I am honored to join limbs with you,” Steve replied. “Will you stay with us in our nest? I can feel how tired you are from your travels; it saps the very strength from your bones. I would keep you both safe, in comfort and ease while you recover.”

He hoped she would say yes. While James’s mind was far more recovered than Bucky’s was, Steve could still feel burrs and voids in the connections there. It pained him to see any version of his beloved so injured.

“And what does that entail?” she asked. Surprise, tenderness, and suspicion all radiated from the realm traveler.

“Healing, if you want it. Our limbs would entwine and I would drench you in pleasurable healing mucus so that you would ride on bliss while your body and mind mend. The evil words that infest your memories could be purged of their poison. Many of the scars that still mar your frame could be soothed. Your energy would be restored and at a much faster rate than it would otherwise.”

“And if I didn’t want healing?”

Steve smiled. “We could simply bask together in peaceful comfort, for there is no safer place than nestled within my tentacles. I would guard your rest so that you may truly be at your ease. I am fierce. None would dare disturb you and you could arise later, rejuvenated.”

She was tempted, Steve could feel just how badly she was tempted, but in the end she began to pull away. “I need to think about it. And find Steve. Make sure he’s not workin’ himself into a rut with this. And we need to talk with the Avengers here about a few things anyways.”

He nodded. It was a little disappointing, but not wholly unexpected. His beloved wrapped a comforting metal limb around his neck and cuddled closer.

“Whatever you decide will be well with me, sweet realm swimmer.”

James blinked again and then shook her head. “Right. Meet us up in the common room for dinner tonight?”

All at once Steve was very excited. “Is it Cake Day? Will there be cake again? The manta ray cousin made us cake some days ago and it was amazing. I had never eaten such a thing! Beloved! There might be cake again!” The very tips of his tentacles quivered with anticipation. “You enjoyed the cake, too, didn’t you, my mate-to-be?”

His sweet ocean star visibly perked up at the idea and she nodded vigorously; Steve could feel just how happy the thought of Cake Day made her. Steve was overjoyed! Even if his beloved wouldn’t eat anything else, surely she might have a bit more of this ‘cake’ substance.

“…Right. I’ll make sure there’s cake. Just come ready to eat,” the realm swimmer stated.

It was with great regret that Steve allowed her to disentangle herself from his tentacles. After she glided out through one of the vertical air tubes, Steve turned his attentions toward his beloved.

“My sweet one,” he said with a happy sigh. “Swim with me?”

Joy and pleasure radiated off of her and she nodded.

Together they sank into the tidal pool. Steve luxuriated in the feel of the salt rich water on his skin. He gently slid a tentacle into the top of his beloved’s algae covering, wrapping it around her appendages only to poke out the bottom. A shiver moved down her spine and Steve could feel her contented joy at his actions.

Once in the water, the algae she was wearing had become somewhat see-through. Steve could clearly make out the bulging outline of his beloved’s fifth tentacle trapped within the covering. Lovely.

“You are so beautiful, my mate-to-be,” he crooned. As they floated he was careful to keep their heads above water so that his sweet ocean star would not be put under undue strain.

She snuggled even closer to him, resting with her head on his chest. After a while she said very softly, “Thank you.”

“For what, fair one?”

“For wanting to help them. The other me and his Steve. For not being jealous of me wanting to help them too.” The words were barely a whisper against Steve’s chest cavity and he could sense how tentatively they were spoken.

He replied with a mental burst of love.

“Oh my sweet ocean star, she is but another aspect of you. We all share a bond that goes beyond this world and into many, many others. I vowed to never see another’s pleasure outside of our courtship, but I would aid this other version of you as much as I am able.” A small worry entered his mind. “But only if I have your blessing to do so.”

Bucky smiled at him and gently twined the end of her metal limb around one of his tentacles. “Yeah, absolutely. It’s just. I see them and I see what we could have been; me and my little Stevie. I want them to be happy and whole.”

Truly his beloved was one of the most generous and caring creatures Steve had ever met! Her words made his heart muscle swell.

“Then we shall do what we can to make that happen.”

Perhaps it was chance that these realm swimmers had arrived, but perhaps it was the Tides of Fate that had drawn them all together instead.

His progenitor always said it was wise to attentive to the currents in the Tides. One never knew what they might bring.

Tentacle Steeb and Bucky

Chapter Text

Whip Crack Cover Art by agoldenplum
Lovely Cover Art by agoldenplum
--

 

The moment they had fallen into this weird ass world, Tony had wondered what they were gonna need to do to get out of it. That did seem to be the trend, after all.

After a couple of their most recent trips, he had even started to wonder if they weren’t there to help fix themselves as much as they were their other-world counterparts.

He shoved that little tidbit to the back of his mind. The moment he heard that this world’s Tony was going through Hydra files, he knew what he had to do.

The workshop wasn’t exactly what he expected, but it was close. It reminded him of some of the plans he had drawn up incase Bruce had wanted to stay at the tower full time. Not only was there a large fabrication area and several workbenches for robotics projects, there was also a huge portion of the room dedicated to biological testing devices and equipment.

At the moment, it was completely trashed.

Whelp, looks like he found the files, Tony thought.

“Whaaat the fuck,” Other Tony said. He had half a suit on and looked just about as shitty as Tony remembered feeling when he found out the truth about his parent’s death. “Jarvis? Want to explain? Because I’m pretty sure I haven’t started drinking yet.”

“Hey there, sport, not a hallucination. I haven’t had one of those since that crazy night in Prague, so I’m hoping you’re on the same page with me with that.” Tony wandered forward obliquely, getting into chatting range but trying not to crowd. He didn’t want a repulsor in the face.

Other Tony just blinked at him.

“It appears that this is a version of you transported here from another dimension, sir.” The AI’s smooth British accent was more comforting for Tony than he cared to admit. Vision was amazing but he missed his AI, who was as much a son to him as a flesh and blood child could have been.

Tony grinned at Other Tony and shrugged.

“Okay, one? Creepy. And two? What the fuck? When did this happen and why wasn’t I informed?” Other Tony asked.

“I notified you when they arrived in the common room, but I’m afraid you were busy destroying the autoclave.”

What a sassy, sassy AI. Tony smiled proudly.

“Yup. Made a remote that rips through space and time. Some other dimension’s Tony fixed it. We were trying to get rid of it. It didn’t really like that so instead it’s making us recreate Sliders. Don’t make it a thing. You, sir, just found the Winter Soldier files.”

He kept his slow walk around the lab, poking at things as he went.

“What do you know about that?” Other Tony asked.

A quick glance proved that Other Tony had at least dropped his gauntlet. Nice. Progress!

“I know that something similar happened in my world. And I want to make sure you aren’t gonna do anything you end up regretting.” Tony gave him(self?) the side-eye.

Other Tony ripped a piece of his suit off and threw it across the room. “That thing isn’t a person. That thing is a gun, loaded, and ready to fire. You don’t leave guns around where anyone can grab them and use them.”

“You’ve got the files. Did you see what they did to him? And for how long?” Tony asked. He pulled himself up to sitting on one of the work desks and gave Other Tony a look.

Other Tony just glared at the ground and worked at stripping off a gauntlet.

“Seventy years, they had him. Jarvis? Bring up the pictures?” A glowing holo-display hovered near them both. With the wave of a hand, Tony scrolled through the pictures. He winced. A lot of them were things he’d already seen but there were a few new ones too, and from the looks of things this world’s Barnes may have had a worse deal. Something he didn’t think was possible before right now.

“He killed our mom. Choked her to death. There is a fucking video!” Other Tony yelled, throwing the last of his suit off and pointing at a screen where the footage was being replayed.

Tony stood up and walked close to him, but he made sure to pitch his voice low and serious.

“And how many innocent people did our weapons kill?” Other Tony just stared at him, slack jawed. “And what about Bruce? You gonna murder him for everything the Hulk did? All the cities he destroyed? All the people he hurt? What about Natasha? She killed a whole lot of innocent people with the Red Room. Or maybe Clint? Hell, he was a freelancer before Shield picked him up. You gonna kill him too?”

Silence was thick on the air as they stared at each other, just inches away.

Tony kept up the assault. “How are we any better than him? The answer? We’re not. He didn’t even have a damn choice. Not like the rest of us did.” He grabbed a nearby holo-image and pulled it towards them. “See this? It took years, decades to get him this way. Look at what they had to do to turn him into their weapon. Remember those three months in the cave? Seventy. Years. Think about that.” He waited a beat just to let that sink in. “We got out. Barnes didn’t.”

Other Tony dropped his gaze, mouth twisted bitterly.

“He deserves the same second chance we all had. You want to take someone out? Why not go after the people who ordered the killing? Those are the people who are really responsible.”

With that, Tony tossed the tablet aside and gave Other Tony some space.

He wandered the lab for a moment, looking at all the half demolished works in progress. Something sparked off to the side. Dum-E and U beeped tentatively at him. He waved ‘hi’ to them.

“The people responsible…” Other Tony said.

“Yup,” Tony responded, popping the ‘p’.

“You know who ordered it.”

“I know who ordered it in my world. Could be different here, although I’ll be honest, so far I’m seeing a lot of similarities.” He cast a glance over to Other Tony, who was leaning on one of the work tables right in front of the displays of Barnes’s torture.

“Give me a starting point,” Other Tony said.

“Obadiah Stane, Arnim Zola, and Alexander Pierce.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Stane, yeah, he was a money grubbing bastard, but Pierce? The undersecretary to the World Security Council? Son of a bitch!”

Tony’s mouth twisted into a mean little grin and he made jazz hands. “Surprise!”

But Other Tony was already completely ignoring him in favorite of frantically typing on a keyboard embedded in a table.

“Jarvis, I need everything you have on those three people. Like, yesterday. Stane is dead, but let’s see if his name pops up in these files. And Pierce. Fuck. That’s a thing. We thought that Hydra was inside of Shield somehow, but Pierce? We’ve got to get some kind of confirmation. There’s got to be trail. No one gets that high up without leaving some kind of mark.” Other Tony rambled to himself.

It was sort of surreal to watch this from the outside.

“Move over powder puff, let me help.” Tony hopped onto another keyboard and started running adjacent searches, specifically looking for any of the malicious coding that Zola was involved in.

“After we’re done with this, you and I need to have a talk about this dimension travel crap,” Other Tony muttered.

“Uh-huh. Whatever you need mini-me.”

“Mini-me? We’re the same size.” Both of them paused for a moment. “…Are we the same size? Everywhere?”

There was some intense scrutiny on both ends. Right about the time that they started unzipping their pants, Jarvis interrupted with, “Sir, Ms. Potts is on the line.”

“Shit,” they both said.

“Are she and you---?” Tony asked.

“Eeee, yes. Yes we are. Shit. My lab.” Other Tony looked mildly panicked. He cast a glance to Tony. “Are you and Pepper---?”

Tony waggled his hand side to side and said, “Ehhhhhh? Sort of?” all while trying to zip up his pants at the same time.

This was hardly the first time he’d needed to do this. He was talented at multitasking. It seemed Other Tony was too, because they both got their pants situated before the video feed popped up.

“Sirs, she’s insisting I patch her through,” Jarvis interrupted.

“No, no, J, don’t! Tell her I’m busy, that there’s somethi-oh hi, Pep! I was just thinking about you!” Other Tony frantically typed at his keyboard, carefully pulling the Hydra files out of line-of-sight. Seemed he didn’t want to traumatize her, an idea that Tony totally agreed with. Everyone already had enough nightmares, no sense in spreading more around.

“Tony, why is it that---. Tony. Why are there two of you standing there?” Pepper looked prim, professional, and beautiful.

God, Tony missed her. He really wanted to get home.

“Long story. It’s under control. Nothing to worry about. What can I do for you?” Other Tony said, still madly typing away.

“No. No I think I really want an explanation on this one. Did you clone yourself? Because I am certain I told you to stay away from cloning.” Her voice was calm but her eyebrows said, what the fuck.

“Hey, Pep! I fell in from another universe. We’re fine. Shouldn’t cause paradoxes. Don’t think so anyways. I promise not to take Other Me out for an all night strip club crawl,” Tony said with a wave towards the screen.

“Even though that would make a really interesting threesome. I’ve never tried twin-cest as one of the twins…” Other Tony mumbled.

“Right?” Tony responded to him under his breath. “Who wouldn’t want to try---”

“Alright,” Pepper interrupted. “You know what? Whatever this is…I’m sure you’ll fix it. Is this part of why Avengers Tower is on today’s cover of TMZ?”

Both Tonys sat in silence for a moment. They exchanged a worried glance. Dum-E beeped in the background. Something sparked off to the side.

“Noooo?” Other Tony said. “I’m kind of worried now, but what was on the cover of TMZ?”

She gave him a dead eyed stare and simply held up a newspaper to the camera. The cover had a huge picture of the outside of the tower lobby. Large tentacles could be seen filling one of the windows. Some of them held large boulders.

“Oh,” Other Tony said.

“Oh?” Pepper responded. Tony winced. That was her I am very Not Amused face.

“Yeah. It’s fine. That’s just Steve. He’s a friend. Totally harmless.” Other Tony did that thing where he looked to the side and made a face.

Shit. Tony knew that face. He made that face when he was fudging the facts a bit.

“Uh huh.” From the sound of Pepper’s voice, she knew that as well.

“Wait. That’s Steve? Like, Bucky’s Steve?” Tony asked.

“Surprise,” Other Tony said quietly and made low-key jazz hands.

“Holy shit.”

Pepper was tapping her fingernails on her desk and pursing her lips. “You’re certain this isn’t going to be a problem.”

“…No?” Other Tony smiled encouragingly.

She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed.

“Fine. I’m increasing the fund allocation for Tower repairs. Just. Please don’t let your new houseguest eat anyone.”

God, she was so beautiful when she was tired and fed up with his bullshit. The ache for home intensified.

“Soooo. Before you go, would you be interested in a twin-cest threesome with me and me?” Other Tony looked hopeful. “I’m betting he’s good in bed.”

“I absolutely am. You will be so amazed and impressed,” Tony vowed solemnly.

A short laugh bubbled up out of her and she shook her head. “Goodbye, Mr. Stark.”

“Goodbye, Ms. Potts,” both Tony’s replied.

After the screen went blank, Tony looked at the other him. “So that’s Steve. Holy shit.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

Over all, Tony was pleased. He knew that Other Tony would probably brood over the whole Winter Soldier assassination thing for another few days, but at least now his mind was working on the real problem instead of gearing up to kill off a fellow abuse victim.

Having come to the decision not to harm Bucky in his own world, it had still taken him this whirl wind dimension hopping trip to realize just how much he still shunned Bucky. Hand in hand with that was the realization that his reticence and suspicion were deeply damaging. Bucky never said a word about it, but Tony now realized that Bucky saw it just the same. Maybe even felt he deserved it.

Tony didn’t want that for this world’s Bucky. He couldn’t change how he’d acted in the past but he could help this world’s Tony make better choices. This little conversation was a good first step.

Good deed for the day: done.

Other Tony rubbed his eyes for a minute and yawned. “Coffee. Time for coffee. Jarvis can continue to dig up info on those names while I caffeinate.”

“Agreed. This day needs way more go-juice. Do you have an espresso machine?”

Other Tony scoffed. “Are you sure you’re me?”

They both cackled and headed towards the elevator.

--

Bucky left the Asset and this world’s version of Steve in the pool room with a little more haste that was probably needed.

That was…

That was bizarre.

As huge and as terrifying as the tentacled Steve was, the moment one of those wet limbs wrapped around Bucky’s arm he knew that he had nothing to be concerned about. So much sincerity and love emanated from this world’s Steve that it was impossible for Bucky to believe that he was really in danger. Not only that, but the waves of acceptance and caring fed a hunger that Bucky didn’t even realize was there.

At the same time, it seemed equally impossible to lower his ingrained defenses and skepticism. Having someone, anyone, inside his head like that made his skin crawl.

“Jarvis,” he asked as soon as he was in the stairwell. “Where did my Steve head off to?”

“Sergeant Barnes, Captain Rogers is on the roof. Shall I alert him that you are on your way?”

“Nah, thanks though.”

He took the stairs double and triple time.

He found Steve leaning on a railing looking out over the city, shield slung on his back and head low. Bucky stood next to him, shoulders touching but quiet. They stood there for a long while.

“So. Was he…” Steve said eventually.

“Like that other Steve?” Bucky knew he would know who he was talking about. “No.”

Steve’s head jerked up in surprise. “Really.”

“Yeah. If the Steve from the Triskelion was all empty inside, I think that this world’s version must have gotten all of that guys goodness plus some. Maybe to make up for his looks,” Bucky mused.

A bitter not-laugh escaped from Steve’s mouth and he dropped his head again.

“I’m serious. He’s so fucking earnest I want to shoot something.” He waggled the fingers on his left hand absently; feeling the mechanisms recalibrate. “Prob’ly a good thing too. The Asset---”

“Don’t call him that,” Steve said, though his voice held no real heat.

“Shoe fits though, doesn’t it?” Bucky shook his head. “Like me right after Insight, but worse because there was no Steve Rogers to help break through the conditioning.”

Steve winced.

“But…that thing, this world’s Steve, he’s helping, right?” Steve finally asked.

“Yeah. I think he is. When it was me…” Fuck it was hard to talk about this. “When it was me, every time I saw you or thought about you, it was like a crowbar in my mind. It wedged open cracks and more memories flooded in. The Asset here doesn’t have that. But the Steve here is some kind of healer, I guess. He can rebuild damaged connections in the brain.”

He couldn’t look at Steve for fear of what kind of expression he might find. Shock, probably. Maybe envy. Hell, he didn’t know. Didn’t want to know. Especially not for this next bit.

“…There’s more. This world’s Steve mentioned that he could…do some things. Mentioned something about removing the ‘poison from evil words’ in my mind.”

Bucky swallowed the bile the rose in his gorge. The silence from next to him was telling. He grit his teeth.

“Trigger words, Steve. Conditioned responses to specific words, designed to bring a malfunctioning asset under control or immediately make one mission ready.”

He didn’t want to talk about it, but what this world’s Steve was offering was near miraculous. Bucky didn’t know anyone in their own world who could take out trigger words. Probably wouldn’t trust anyone who said they could either.

After what he’d seen in the pool room, though, he was more inclined to entertain the idea. The way this world’s Steve felt and projected those emotions was telling, not just with his mind and touch, but with every bit of how he moved, too. It would be difficult to commit to a lie that thoroughly. Not impossible, sure, but difficult.

Then there was how he interacted with the Asset, who was in his own way just as transparent. Maybe not for the Other Avengers, but Bucky could read him like an open book. They were just too similar.

There was a heavy silence from Steve as he decided what to say. Bucky focused on the world around him. Anything but the man standing next to him.

“Do you have…?”

A big puffy cloud floated overhead, casting them both briefly in shadow. Pigeons flew from rooftop to rooftop. A steady breeze teased his hair.

“I don’t know. It seems likely.”

They stood together in silence for a while; Bucky trying not to get lost in his own head and Steve no doubt drowning under an ocean of guilt.

Bucky took a breath and ignored the taste of rubber that lingered in his mouth and the ghostly echo of voices he couldn’t place.

He took a breath and looked down over the railing...which was about when he noticed something odd nestled in the top of the A that made up the tower’s signature glowing sign.

“...Is that a nerf gun?” Bucky said flatly.

Startled out of whatever mental pit he’d tossed himself into, Steve glanced at Bucky out of the corner of his eye and then craned his neck down to take a look.

“Yes?” He sounded as confused as Bucky felt.

“What the fuck is wrong with this world?” he breathed out.

“It’s purple...maybe it’s Clint’s?” Further examination revealed that there was a bag of energy drinks and a purple fleece blanket shoved in between the sign and the building wall.

Bucky pinched the bridge of his nose. “How are those two even the same person; our Clint and this world’s?”

Steve opened his mouth to say something, then shut it and just shook his head. They both got quiet again.

“I want you to be there,” Bucky said out of the blue.

“What?”

“I’m gonna get this world’s Steve to check me over. I can’t afford, we can’t afford for me to have active triggers in my head. But I need you to be there, just in case…” Bucky couldn’t finish the thought.

His instinct not to trust was being overridden by his overwhelming need to protect Steve. If someone else had the keys to his brain, Steve would never be safe. Bucky would never be safe.

“You’d really let someone else mess with your brain? You’d let...that thing do it?” Steve sounded incredulous.

The Asset’s words floated back to Bucky; he saw the truth in them.

“It ain’t fair to judge him on how he looks, Steve. He’s taking care of the Bucky here, better than anyone else ever has. Ever in his whole life. They’re good for each other. If you’d have stuck around you would have seen it, felt it, too.”

Bucky let his gaze turn hard as he stared Steve down. It wasn’t much of a stare down; it only took a second for Steve to flush bright red and duck his head. He nodded.

“I. Yeah. Alright. Whatever you need, Buck, I’ll be there,” Steve said quietly.

“Good.”

Steve absently ran one finger across the railing they were both leaning on.

“There’s another problem, too,” Bucky said, eager to change the subject even though this one carried its own weight of dread. “The Asset isn’t eating. I don’t think he remember that he has to. Or maybe he thinks he isn’t allowed. We need to talk with the rest of the Avengers here and make sure that they’re willing to step in and help him out. Maybe remind him that it’s okay.”

Steve’s hand clenched and Bucky was fairly sure he could hear teeth grinding. “You don’t think they know?”

“Did you notice anything wrong before he took his shirt off?” Bucky raised an eyebrow at him.

Steve just half shrugged and waved a hand at him, gesturing for him to go on.

“The Steve here…” Bucky groped for words. “I don’t think he knows anything about humans, otherwise I think he would have already been stuffing the Asset with more food than either of them could carry. And the Avengers...they aren’t gonna get close enough to tell, not before he collapses. And trust me, that would be a shitshow all around.”

It was left unsaid just how Bucky had figured all this out. They both knew it was from experience.

“We’ll talk to them before we go,” Steve said. Bucky knew that tone of voice; it was the tone that screamed fall in line or move out of the way. That was Steve on a mission.

Bucky smirked.

“No time like the present. I promised the squid-you cake, so we need to go make that happen.”

Steve just stared at him. “What. How. Nevermind. Let’s go.” He sighed and pushed himself away from the railing. Before they could move on, he stopped Bucky with a hand on his elbow. “...You’re sure about this.”

It was as much a question as it was a statement, and one that deserved a thoughtful answer. Bucky wasn’t always great at being earnest, but for Steve he could at least shoot for honest.

“No. But I think it’s necessary.”

After a long moment, Steve nodded; resigned but accepting.

“Let’s go get some cake.”

--

Sam watched as Tiny Bucky and Human Steve wandered off after Regular Bucky. Big Bucky?  Sam thought to himself. Maybe Captain Barnes, like Jarvis calls him? He puzzled about it for a second or two longer before disregarding it as unimportant.

“So. You mentioned something called Project Insight?” Natasha asked their visitors.

Visitor Sam winced and rubbed the back of his neck. Visitor Clint looked darkly amused. Well that was weird.

And honestly, a bit creepy. Sam was used to Clint being a bit of a goofball. Kind of a walking disaster, if that could ever be said of a world renowned assassin and special ops agent.

This guy, though, he was put together in a way their Clint never seemed to be. His clothes were tidy and mostly normal looking; Sam didn’t see a single arrow image on him. Not even their Clint’s signature purple bullseye; a motif that secretly always made Sam want to yell, “Really?”

He didn’t want to judge too quickly though. After all, the visiting Bucky and Steve were something else. Aside from the drastic size difference, Tiny Bucky moved and acted like his own person. Sam didn’t really realize just how ridged their Bucky was until he saw this new version.

Three weeks. Bucky had only been free from seventy years of torture and brainwashing for three weeks. There were bound to be some issues. Given what little Sam had seen of the files already, he had wondered if Bucky would ever recover. But this dimension hopper version brought him some hope.

Tiny Bucky was prickly, sarcastic, and suspicious as hell, but those were all better than the terrifying blankness that was a regular feature of their Bucky.

And Steve Rogers. In the flesh.

Wasn’t that a trip.

“Project Insight is Hydra’s end game plan. Or at least it was for our world,” Visitor Sam said. “Three helicarriers loaded with an algorithm designed to identify and eliminate any potential threat to Hydra, and all done at max range.”

The stunned silence that greeting that information lasted for a solid minute.

“What the fuck,” Clint breathed.

“Jarvis?” Natasha said.

“Already looking into it, Ms. Romanov,” the AI responded. “I’m beginning keyword searches already, narrowing the fields of what Mr. Stark has already been looking through.”

“Any of you heard anything about this from Shield?” Bruce asked, his yogurt and granola long forgotten.

Natasha, Clint, and Sam all shook their heads.

“Fury would know, though,” Sam mused.

“In our world, Fury did know,” Visitor Clint said grimly. “Knew and helped facilitate it. He wasn’t Hydra, but he still thought that floating death carriers was the solution to World Peace.”

From the sound of his voice, Sam suspected that Visitor Clint had a bit of an axe to grind.

“Prying secrets out of Fury is like trying to melt a glacier by licking it,” Natasha said. A tiny frown played across her face. That was more emotion that she usually showed, but to be fair this was an unusual situation.

“The code in that thumbdrive…” Bruce wrung his hands for a moment, thinking. “That could be this algorithm you’re talking about. We should be talking to Tony about this.”

“Mr. Stark is currently speaking with, ah, Mr. Stark. I’ll inform them of the situation as soon as it is prudent.” It was times like this that made Sam wonder just how sentient Jarvis really was. The kinds of judgement calls it, he, made on a regular basis were impressive to say the least.

“Is there anything we can do right now?” Sam asked.

“Barring hunting down Undersecretary Pierce or Director Fury and demanding answers they no doubt won’t give, we’re already doing it,” Natasha said.

That left a foul taste in Sam’s mouth. He was a soldier so he knew what waiting was about, but it absolutely sucked to have this information and be unable to do anything.

“Keep in mind, just because it happened in our world doesn’t mean that it’ll happen here,” Visitor Sam said. “I mean, signs point to yes, but you never know.” He shrugged and looked faintly apologetic.

Clint stared at him, drained the last of his coffee carafe, and staggered towards the kitchen area. Visitor Clint watched him go and just shook his head, eyes wide and jaw slightly dropped.

“How…” he whispered.

“Dude, don’t even front. I’ve seen your rooms,” Visitor Sam mumbled at him.

Sam snorted.

After a few more moments of silence, Sam said, “So that’s Steve Rogers, huh. He’s big.”

Visitor Sam and Visitor Clint both grinned.

“Right? Didn’t used to be, though. All bird bones, deadly diseases, and genetic disorders until he got the serum,” Visitor Clint said.

“Wait, serum? You mean the super soldier serum? It’s real?” Bruce nearly knocked over his granola in his haste to sit up straight; his eyes alight with glee.

“...Yeah?” Visitor Clint exchanged a worried look with Visitor Sam. “That stuff is History 101 for us. Steve had too many health problems growing up. The Army wouldn’t take him. So instead, he got signed up for some kind of wacky science experiment with Tony’s dad and Dr. Erskine, and poof. Super soldier. What, Project Rebirth didn’t happen here?”

“Wow,” Bruce breathed. “There were rumors of some kind of super soldier serum, but those details were never made public. When Captain Barnes became Captain America, everyone just assumed it was a propaganda stunt. Right up until he went AWOL and rescued a bunch of POWs.”

“Bucky has the serum,” Natasha said flatly.

Bruce nodded excitedly. “Seems pretty likely. I mean, I suspected, but this! This tells us a lot! I wonder if he’d be willing to let us get some blood samples…”

Sam found himself sharing the same horrified look with Visitor Sam.

“Ha ha, if your Bucky is like ours, good fucking luck with that.” Visitor Clint’s shoulder shook a little with laughter but his face didn’t have a happy look on it.

Clint took that moment to wander back in with a fresh carafe of coffee and add his two cents. “Yeah, no. Bucky would probably murder you. Or, I mean, try to. Hulk. Prob’ly not gonna happen. But you know what I mean.” He sat down and laid his head on the table top, narrowly missing the spilled coffee puddle from earlier.

“That also assumes that Steve would let you get close to him,” Sam said with no little bit of saltiness. “For the sake of all of us, I’m gonna veto this until Bucky’s a little more stable. I do not want to see if you getting inked is enough to bring out the Hulk.”

Bruce pursed his lips, but nodded and slouched back into his chair.

“...And by ‘inked’ you mean?” Visitor Sam asked.

Sam glared at the rest of them, daring them to say anything. Clint was still face down into the table, Bruce looked too disappointed to object, and Natasha just smirked at him.

“Nothing. We mean nothing by that,” Sam said firmly and sipped his tea. It was cold. Goodie.

This day sure was starting out right.

“Uh huuuh,” Visitor Clint said. “Sure. We’ll go with that.”

“That’s good, though, that your Steve is looking out for Bucky.” Visitor Sam sounded thoughtful. “He looks like he needs it. Our Bucky, we never saw him that bad. Well. I mean, I did, but that was when Steve and I were on the wrong side of him as the Winter Soldier. But that’s not the same.”

Natasha raised an eyebrow and managed to look mildly impressed. “You fought the Winter Soldier and won?”

Visitor Sam snorted.

“I fought the Winter Soldier and got one of my wings ripped off and then tossed out of a helicarrier. Steve fought the Winter Soldier and...sort of won. Survived is probably a more apt word.”

Sam went cold. Being ripped out of the sky like that was something he didn’t even want to consider.

“Anyways. Our Bucky’s been out for a while. We never really saw him right after he escaped from Hydra,” Visitor Sam said.

“Wait,” Sam said. “Your Steve got that super soldier serum, which implies that your Bucky didn’t, and he still tore apart your EXO suit and threw you off a ship?”

Now that was a terrifying thought. If that’s what their Bucky could do, what was the super soldier version of Bucky capable of?

Visitor Sam shrugged.

“As far as we can tell, our Bucky got a shitty version of the serum back in World War Two when he was a POW. Explains why he survived.”

Sam covered his face with one hand. The shit this guy went through...apparently it happened everywhere. Even in other universes. He took a deep breath and reminded himself that it was too early to start drinking. No matter what Tony said.

As if summoned by his thoughts, both Tonys took that opportunity to rejoin them.

“Get everything worked out?” Visitor Clint asked.

“Yup. Coffee break. Espresso. Whatever.” Tony wandered straight into the kitchen and started up the machine.

“What, exactly, did you have to talk about?” Natasha asked.

Visitor Tony sat down and waved dismissively at her. “Some old file crap. Nothing big. Totally handled. We’re all fine. But more importantly...” He turned to Visitor Clint and Visitor Sam. “Dudes. The Steve here is a giant tentacle monster.”

“...what?” both Visitor Sam and Visitor Clint asked in unison.

“I shit you not. He was on the cover of TMZ. Apparently made a mess in the lobby and the local press thought it was the villain of the week.” Visitor Tony’s eyes were wide and he was nodding.

“You are shitting me,” Visitor Clint said.

“I am not shitting you. Not even a little.”

“So when you were talking about getting inked…” Visitor Sam looked between Sam and Bruce.

Sam rubbed his eyes with both hands and then leaned into them a little bit, resting the weight of his head on them. He did not want to see if Natasha was smiling.

“Yeah, word to the wise, don’t threaten this world’s Bucky,” Clint mumbled from the table top. “Also, don’t proposition Steve. Bucky takes offense.”

What?” Visitor Clint asked.

“I know, right?” Clint grumbled. “It’s not fair. It’s flattering. Like a compliment. And he’s got all those tentacles. No way Bucky is using them all at once. They could spare a few.”

Sam sneaked a look up only to see Visitor Clint staring with his jaw dropped. He was working his mouth like he should be talking, but no words came out. Visitor Sam sat frozen with his eyes wide and Visitor Tony just looked a bit gleeful.

“Sooo, Legolas, should I be buying you some specialty toys in a certain shape or…” Visitor Tony said, dragging the last word out dramatically.

“Tony I will shoot you. I will shoot you and then Pepper will light me on fire but it will be worth it.” Visitor Clint’s voice came out a bit strangled.

Sam stood up and went to make himself some more tea. The teasing and threats continued behind him as he rifled through their stash of tea boxes.

Ah yes. Soothing Chocolate Mint Rooibos. Perfect.

He set the kettle on and took out a large brewing pot. Today was looking like it was going to be a Whole Pot kind of day.

--

By the time Bucky and Steve had made it down from the room and rejoined everyone in the common room, both Tonys had returned and were loudly comparing the relative pros and cons of various tentacle shaped dildos.

“Huh. Looks like everyone else got read in,” Bucky quietly snarked. Steve huffed out a small laugh.

“Look at this one!” Other Tony gestured at a display on the wall that featured several bright blue fake tentacles. They were all the same basic design, only varying in size, and each one was standing up right, tentacle pointed straight up in the air and slightly curving near the end. “It comes in small, medium, large, extra-large, extra-extra-large, and customizable.”

Both Tonys waggled their eyebrows at Clint, who looked briefly at Natasha’s fruit but she held up her fork in warning and he backed off. Seizing his only alternative, he grabbed some of Other Bruce’s granola and threw it at the Tonys. Bruce just raised an eyebrow and shoved the whole bowl towards him.

“It’s sort of disturbing to me that you’d rather face the Other Guy than Natasha,” Bruce said dryly.

Clint just shrugged and threw another handful at Tony, who neatly dodged the volley and causing it to splat on the floor behind him. “Awww yogurt, no,” Clint said sadly. Other Clint just snickered from his face down place at the table.

Sam looked like he was trying his best not to burst out laughing and Other Sam looked like his day was already a thousand hours long.

Honestly, Bucky was grateful for the repreve. He could feel Steve unwind next to him; the stress from their jump and the meeting in the pool room trickling away in the face of the ridiculous scene in front of them.

“Hey! Tiny Bucky is back! Did you get any of that pleasure mucus?” Other Clint had turned his head sideways so he could leer at Bucky as they approached.

“I will shoot you. Don’t think I won’t,” Bucky growled.

“Tiny Bucky! Oh my god my life is complete,” Other Tony wheezed.

Tony grinned, slurped a bit of a green smoothy, and then chased that with a shot of espresso.

“How are you even still alive, man,” Sam mumbled to Tony with a side-eye towards his drinks.

“Jury’s out.” Tony shrugged and took another drink from his smoothy.

While Bucky was thrilled to death that this dimension didn’t seem to be completely fucking awful, the lunatics here might drive him into a murder spree anyways. He closed his eyes briefly and took a breath, then sat down at the table.

“So there’s something we should all talk about,” he started.

“Oh my god, is this the break up talk?” Other Tony whispered. Other Natasha reached across Other Clint to jab him in the ribs, quick as a viper. “Ow! Rude.”

“Your Bucky…” He struggled for words.

Maybe he shouldn’t bring this up. Maybe he should just talk directly to the Asset. Then he thought of himself just after Insight. Even after he figured out that he needed to eat he still forgot most of the time. He bit the bullet.

“You all need to do group meals,” he said finally.

“We do have group meals,” Other Clint responded, finally prying his face off the table. He gestured around the table with his now much-fuller coffee carafe. “This was us, eating a group meal before you all fell onto the floor.”

“You need to make sure that your Steve and Bucky join you for those meals.” Bucky licked his lips. “Hydra didn’t feed the Asset. They used feeding tubes and IVs only. The way his memory is shot, chances are good he doesn’t remember what food is or that he has to eat it. Or maybe that he’s allowed to eat it. Your Bucky is starving to death and he’s got no clue what’s going on.”

Shocked silence settled over the table.

“You’re shitting me,” Other Tony stated flatly.

Bucky shook his head.

Other Sam just dropped his face to the table top. “Oh my god I hate Hydra so much.”

“But, this world’s Steve---” Sam started.

“No. Oh no. We are all so, so lucky that isn’t working out. Steve does not need to be helping Bucky with that,” Other Clint said with a wince. The rest of the Other Avengers nodded along with similar looks of horror on their faces. Steve raised an eyebrow at them.

“Besides,” Bucky said. “I only talked with the guy for a few minutes, but it’s clear he doesn’t have the first clue about how humans work.”

Other Sam straightened up and nodded to himself. “Right. Today was supposed to be Cake Day anyways. We should get something ready for him. He hasn’t been with Hydra for three weeks. Jesus. No food for three weeks. His stomach’s gonna be screwed. Bruce? What should we get for him to eat?”

“If he’s got the bastard Nazi serum like I do, he’ll be able to eat most things with only an upset stomach regardless of how long he’s been without.” Bucky shrugged.

“We were actually just talking about that,” Other Bruce said. “Given the size difference between the two of you and from comparing our different times lines, it seems likely that Captain Barnes got the serum. All that’s sort of lost knowledge here, though.”

“And that’s the full serum,” Clint added. “Project Rebirth serum.”

Bucky raised his eyebrows. That would explain why the Asset was so much bigger than him. Steve went from being five foot four and ninety pounds soaking wet to the picture image of the perfect male figure. Stands to reason it could take the old pre-war Bucky and make him even larger.

“Dear old dad had a lot to say about Captain America,” Other Tony said with a bitter twist to his mouth. “But he never liked to talk about how that all got started. Just about how it all ended. He refused to believe that Barnes died from that train fall, but anything else was impossible. Never could get anyone to look for the body during the war, and never found anything after it was over.”

Other Tony tapped his fingers against the table while he mulled things over. After a moment he slapped the table. “Holy shit, dad knew. If he knew that Barnes had this super soldier serum than that would explain why he was so damn adamant that the fall wouldn’t kill him.”

It was left unsaid that Barnes could have been spared his fate if Howard had just been allowed to look for him. From the looks on everyone’s faces, they could all read in between the lines on that one.

“Well if he’s got anything like my serum, it won’t matter what he eats,” Steve said. “After I got out of the ice, I ate like crazy. No issues. It drove the Shield doctors nuts.”

“The ice?” Other Sam asked.

There was an awkward pause.

“I was, uh, kind of frozen in the Arctic at the end of World War Two,” Steve said dryly. “Just got found a couple years ago.”

“Jesus Christ,” Other Tony whispered and then drained his espresso cup with a grimace.

Bucky could see that Steve was holding himself back from saying anything more. The tilt of his chin, the cast of his eyes; they all spoke of his need to downplay what he’d been through. A natural reaction for Steve. But Bucky also knew that Steve didn’t want to start making comparisons because inevitably someone would realize that seventy years in ice was bad, but seventy years with Hydra was worse. Now was not the time for the Who’s More Fucked Up game.

Besides, Bucky knew that he, and probably this world’s version of him, would win that game hands down. It was not a thought he relished and a subject he knew Steve was loath to bring up, even in passing.

Time to drag the conversation back on track.

“At least we know that nothing will upset his stomach. Now all we have to worry about is bad associations, and quite frankly there’s nothing we can do to predict that.” Bucky drummed his fingers on the table in thought.

“Our Steve is pretty good about helping with that kind of thing,” Other Sam said. “It’s, uh, happened before. If Bucky gets to a bad place then Steve can remind him where he is and at the very least keep him from hurting anyone. Or himself.”

Clint swiped Other Bruce’s napkin, leaned back in his chair, and started wiping the yogurt off his hand. Other Bruce just raised his eyebrows at him, saying plainly without words, really?

“You all are so lucky that your Bucky has a Steve to help him out, even if he is a tentacle monster,” Clint said.

Other Natasha nodded. “Even if he had gotten away from Hydra without Steve, which does seem unlikely, who knows where he would have ended up.”

More nods and a shudder or two all around the table.

“It might be best if someone helps keep him to a meal schedule. Maybe ask Jarvis to remind him to eat something once in awhile?” Bucky chewed on his lip. “Nothing more than that though. Even odds that he’ll follow anything you say that sounds like an order but pretty soon that won’t be the case. After that, anything that sounds like an order is gonna be met with a knife in the dark.”

Other Bruce frowned. “But we wouldn’t---”

“Oh?” Bucky’s voice dripped with disdain. “Maybe not on purpose, or with ill intent, but it’s easy enough to order someone around when you’re not thinking about it. Easier still when you’re doing it for their own good. Trust me on this. I fucking know.”

“He’s right,” Other Natasha added.

Both Clints nodded.

“God, I was a twitchy bastard after the whole Loki thing,” Clint said. Other Clint twisted his mouth in distaste. “Anyone so much as breathed a command in my direction and I was out the door. Or worse. I don’t want to think about what your Bucky would do.”

Other Bruce grimaced. “Yeah, good point. We’ll keep an eye out.”

“We should recruit your Steve to help. If he’s anything like our Steve, he’ll be all over making sure Bucky is well fed,” Sam said, causing Steve to turn bright red. He did not deny it though, much to Bucky’s vast amusement.

There were several more winces from the Other Avengers as a whole.

“Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” Other Tony said. He waved his hands at the weird looks he got. “Hear me out. All we have to do is explain exactly the types of foods that Bucky needs to eat and how often and mention that Bucky might feel better if he wasn’t eating alone. Jarvis can stock one of the walk-ins with fish for Sir Squidly and then we won’t have to worry about him eating people.”

“Oooh good idea,” Other Natasha said and there were nods from the rest of the Other Avengers.

Bucky’s brain stuttered to a screeching halt.

“Wait,” he said quietly. “He eats people?”

The look of sympathy and exasperated horror that Other Sam gave him was extremely worrisome.

Other Natasha just scoffed. “It’s fine. He was only eating Hydra agents.”

“Natasha. Those were people. People we knew. People we worked with,” Other Sam hissed at her. He leaned forward and stabbed at the table with a pointed finger for emphasis. “That is not okay.”

“People who helped brainwash and torture Captain America for seventy years.” She looked pointedly at him.

“Hold on,” Clint said. “Who did you know that he ate?” He blinked hard and then whispered, “I cannot believe I just asked that.”

Bucky stood up and walked a few feet away to stare out the window. This was the guy the Asset was clinging to? What the fuck was wrong with this world?

“Pretty much all of Strike,” Other Clint said with a shrug. He took a sip from his coffee jug and burped. “They had it coming.”

“Good. Fuck those those guys.” Sam sounded a bit pissed. Bucky didn’t blame him.

And once the initial shock wore off, he found he didn’t much care. They did have it coming. Rumlow was one of his old handlers. Hearing that this world’s version of Steve ate him whole made Bucky smile. It was probably a good thing that he was looking out a window. No need for the locals to see that look on his face.

He quickly masked his expression and turned around just in time to see Other Sam’s look of betrayal towards Sam.

“What, man? I’ve got no sympathy for them.” Sam crossed his arms over his chest.

“Does he eat other people? Non-Hydra people?” Tony asked.

“Not that we know of, and that includes Jarvis looking,” Other Tony said. Tony shrugged and slurped his smoothy, unconcerned.

“And he promised not to eat more of them when we’re around,” Other Natasha added. “So we need to provide him with some kind of food anyways.”

“Sounds legit to me,” Clint said. Other Sam blinked hard at him. “What? It could be so much worse.”

Truthfully, Bucky was actually a little disappointed he wouldn’t get to see that in action. Watching Alexander Pierce getting eaten alive by Tentacle Steve sounded like a fun afternoon. Ah well.

“Speaking of eating, should we start planning dinner?” Steve asked wryly.

The Other Avengers just stared at him with varying degrees of shock and distaste.

“You are so much more fun now that Barnes is back.” Tony chuckled. He stood up and made wavy hands at Other Tony and Other Bruce. “Come on. We have science to do. Leave food things to people who actually have a clue about it. Aces in their places, and god knows I should never be around a stove, not for anyone’s health and well being.”

Steve and Bucky both snorted in amusement as they filed out.

Other Sam sighed. “Alright. I promised cake of all different kinds. Jarvis? Can we get some deliveries set up?”

Bucky took his seat again and watched the group bicker over what to serve, a little smile on his face.

--

Steve floated through the tidal pool; his many limbs entwined around his dozing beloved. He cradled her form near to the surface so that she would have no issues breathing in her relaxed state. A few of his free tentacle ends lazily lifted out of the water, letting water droplets cascade down onto the surface of the pool before he submerged the limb and lifted it again.

The fact that his delightful mate-to-be was sleeping again was mildly worrisome. Her weakness was showing more prominently and the bones of her chest cave could be individually counted.

He sighed.

The situation was awkward. Steve wanted to protect her, but he wasn’t quite sure what was wrong. Or, really, if he should even bring it up. For all her signs of physical distress, his beloved seemed happier than ever. Her disinterest in consuming flesh was concerning.

Steve was starting to wonder if there was something wrong with his offerings. Perhaps his beloved didn’t want to offend him by speaking ill of his efforts despite her displeasure. Or perhaps this was a normal part of the eel-cousin life cycle.

Feeding was such a sensitive subject, though. To broach the subject could imply that he wasn’t confident in her abilities to sustain her own life. This kind of thing just wasn’t done and he desperately didn’t want to insult her further. Regardless, soon he would have to speak with her on this matter. He couldn’t watch her waste away without trying to help.

As they slowly circled around the surface of the tidal pool, Steve thought of another matter that they needed to discuss, though this one perhaps more urgently.

He stroked a lazy tentacle up and down her lithe form, taking care to stop and gently caress each limb.

“Beloved,” he thrummed.

Bucky stirred a bit and blinked lazily at him; a slow smile growing across her features as she awoke.

“Mmmmm?” She grabbed the end of his roving tentacle with her metal limb and brought the tip to her mouth; gently she pursed her lips against it. Strange, but pleasing.

“Beloved...I have been considering the healing that might need to be done on your twin, the realm swimmer.” She continued to purse her lips against his tentacle tip. It was very distracting.

“Yeah?” The feel of her breath upon his wet limb was surprisingly delightful. He would have never expected dry air currents to be pleasing. From the slight quirk of her lips, Steve could tell that his mate-to-be could feel his interest in the action and was satisfied with her efforts. What a fascinating creature he had chosen to court!

“From the brief look I was able to obtain of her inner systems, the realm swimmer has much less current damage than you do and much of it is in her mind. However if she agrees to the healing, I will need to spend a great deal of time building the foundations for future recovery and neural connection regeneration. After all, chances are very good that we will only have this one opportunity before the Tides of Fate send her back from whence she came.”

His beloved shifted in his grip so that she was on her side, facing his upper form and leaning against his chest cave. Ah, it felt amazing to have her there, tucked under his chin, their limbs entwined. How lucky he was!

Steve hesitated a moment, feeling this subject might be delicate.

“My sweet ocean star...you were greatly distressed when I wrapped my limbs about the lavender eel-cousin. I do not wish to upset you and I would never do anything I knew you disapproved of, but it seems likely that I may need to be very close with the realm swimmer for a great deal of time. How…” He fumbled for words for a moment.

“You need to know how much maintenance is okay,” she said quietly. Her form stilled in contemplation, though Steve could feel no upset from her. On the contrary, tiny ripples of interest emanated from her mind.

He nodded in relief. She understood what he was asking.

She squirmed a bit in his embrace and his limbs adjusted around her. He could feel her fifth tentacle swell a bit in his grip; he added a second tentacle to the one that was already wrapped under her soft algae covering.

“This is probably gonna sound weird but...I don’t think I mind. You said it, right? He’s just another aspect of me. Different, sure, but. I donno. Hard to be jealous of myself. And I want to help him. I see a lot of myself in him and you make me feel so good. I. I wouldn’t mind sharing that with him.” She shifted again, this time just undulating along the bulk of his body, letting his suckers readjust up and down her form. “And. Uh. I sort of like it.”

Steve could feel the blood heat rising off of her face and her skin turned deep pink. At this point he was fairly sure this wasn’t a defensive color change, although based on the feel of mild embarrassment coming off of her, he couldn't be certain.

“Beloved?” He projected his mild confusion in hopes that she might explain what had flustered her so.

“Thinking about you giving him maintenance. It’s. Uh. I like thinking about it.” Her fifth tentacle enlarged again and she shivered in his hold. “I don’t know how he’d feel about it, or if his Steve would mind, but thinking about you all wrapped up around him. Yeah. I like that.”

A slow grin split Steve’s face and he purred with excitement.

“You would like to see me encircle her with my appendages?” He pitched his voice lower and pressed their bodies closer together.

His mate-to-be released a tiny breathy whine and nodded. Pleasure was building inside of her; to feel it grow without the addition of any pleasure mucus was both fascinating and satisfying. If talking about how he would heal her twin would give her joy, then Steve was thrilled to do it. Not only that, but Steve wanted to see how far he could swim her towards ecstasy with this.

“I would hold her so carefully, my beloved. My suckers would slip under her algae and caress her tenderest parts, tasting and kneading her into relaxation.” He undulated his limbs around his mate-to-be, wringing another soft moan from her plush red lips. Heat radiated off of her body and she strained against the tentacles wrapped around her.

“Hnng. Taste. How would he taste?” Her voice was rough and she strained against his limbs to reach for her fifth tentacle, still covered by the slick pink algae and bracketed by two of his own appendages. Curious, he let the tentacles covering her upper limbs loosen so he could watch what she would do.

“She would taste like you, all salty and sweet and with a bright metallic tang,” he hummed. “There would be a slight vibrational difference in her most basic elements, tingling along my senses, proclaiming her to be Other.”

His beloved bit her lip and carefully cradled her fifth tentacle in her flesh appendage, gripping it though the thin peach algae covering. First she held the small engorged limb at its base with her fingers wrapped around the ends of the tentacles that rested there. Then she carefully dragged her end digits up its length, causing it to swell a bit more. She finished the movement by curling her limb over the blunt end of her fifth tentacle and rubbed slow circles over where the fluid opening would be underneath the algae. A light breathy sigh released from his beloved’s mouth as she rolled her body into the touch.

Steve shivered in delight. He wanted to taste every part of her, run his suckers and his teeth over every length of her soft skin, so alluring were her movements. Each twitch of her spin drove Steve to distraction.

The little bit of water between them heated up, made warm by a sudden increase in Bucky’s body temperature. This had happened during other healings, so Steve was not concerned.

Although this wasn’t really a healing, though there were shared activities taking place. Perhaps it was a side effect of the usage of her fifth tentacle? Maybe the increased temperature was necessary for creating that delightful nutritional fluid that her smallest limb produced?

Regardless, it was thrilling to be near one whose core heating changed so rapidly! Steve was in awe of how dynamic his mate-to-be was.

“My limbs would coat her form in healing pleasure mucus, making her skin sing and her head tip back in joy. With each shift against her flesh, a tiny cooing sound would ease its way out of her.”

Bucky nodded at him and Steve could feel the yesss that sailed through her mind. So complete was the sentiment that her very bones must have vibrated with the surety of it. Slowly and carefully, she let her appendage slide down her fifth tentacle and began constricting it upwards, coaxing the nutritional fluids out. A soft hiss vibrated through the water with each stroke of skin against the smooth algae that still lay between the limbs.

Steve debating about using his tongue to aid her efforts. As much as he loved lapping up her delicious fluids, this seemed like something his beloved wanted to try herself. Besides, he did need to keep talking. His mouth was a little busy.

Instead he shifted one of the appendages that was wrapped around the base of her fifth tentacle to gently undulate the flesh sack that resided along the underside of her small limb. Steve still was not completely certain what that sack was for, but it seemed that it was just as sensitive to his beloved as her fifth tentacle and the entrance to her digestive track. Certainly stimulating it caused her nerves to flare and her back to arch in appreciation.

“Her fifth tentacle would swell, for she is a generous soul just as you are, my beloved. So eager to share her nutritional fluids and so kind! Oh, my beautiful mate-to-be…” Love and appreciation for his beloved swelled in his heart muscle and Steve couldn’t stop himself from rubbing his face along her chest cave. Bucky’s flesh arm stroked through the cilia on his head as she cooed.

“Yeah, doll,” his beloved rasped out. “He’d be so good for you. Hot and hard and ready. You’d treat him good, too, wouldn’t you. Touchin’ him just the right way.”

Steve practically purred at the praise from his beloved. Her confidence in his abilities to bring health and happiness to the realm swimmer was both humbling and awe inspiring. He nodded quickly against her skin, eager to express how happy her words made him.

“Oh yes, my sweet ocean star. Each crevice of her body would be properly explored and slathered in pleasure mucus. My many limbs would help ease that glorious fluid out of her fifth tentacle. If she allowed it, I would carefully lap at its dripping end for I would not want a single drop to be wasted. Carefully I would ease into her digestive track as well, first with a single tentacle, but then with more; as many as would bring her pleasure. My suckers would catch upon her entrance and she would shake and tremble with each inward and outward undulation.”

With the tentacles that were wrapped around his beloved’s lower limbs, he spread her open, creating room for more of his body and appendages to rest there. His short upper limbs cradled her hips and Steve nuzzled her flank, eagerly eyeing her engorged fifth tentacle. He licked his lips.

He could tell that his beloved was deeply thrilled and excited to be able to bring her nutritional fluids to fruition by herself. There was a faintly illicit flavor to her feelings, a tiny thrill of excitement that spiraled her sensitivity higher. Steve puzzled for a moment over what those feelings could mean, but was quickly distracted by how the water around her torso was beginning to taste of her impending release.

The rubbing of her appendages sped up and the hand on Steve’s cilia clutched a bit tighter. She did not force his head in any direction, though he would gladly have moved to her whims. It simply tightened as if she were clinging to him. He arched a bit into the sensation, pleased that she wanted to hold him close and buzzing on all of the pleasure streaming through her system. Her high pitched breathy coos became more frequent and synced up with her writhing.

“Perhaps the two of you would embrace during the healing, my limbs holding you tightly so that your swollen fifth tentacles could rub and mingle fluids.” They both shared a shudder as they considered that thought.

The milking movement on his beloved’s limb gained an increased urgency and she struggled harder against the firm grip he had on her hips. Steve shifted his limbs all around her minutely, just enough to disengage and the reattached his suckers to her flesh, kneading her and leaving red little marks in their wake. He knew they would fade quickly, but while they were there he enjoyed the patterns on her delicate skin. Almost like camouflage.

Again he noted how luminous his beloved’s skin was; the pink flush that had appeared on her face and chest cave made her glow. Beautiful.

He curled inward so that his head rested on her torso, his face mere inches away from the blunt end of her fifth tentacle, and unable to contain his desire for its taste.

“Oh, mate-to-be, how I would delight in tasting you both. Licking that dripping fluid as it mixed between you while my tentacles pleasured you both, bringing both healing and love to your damaged tissues and nerves.”

He slipped another tentacle under her algae, this time to gently caress her digestive tract opening. It would be painful for him to enter her without the mucus, so he refrained. An increased spike of pleasure coursed through her and the scales on her metal limb shifted. It only took two more rough strokes from her flesh limb to release thick bursts of nutritional fluid into the mesh of her algae covering. Her ragged cry echoed around the cavern and her upper flesh limb slowed its clutching strokes; each movement designed to work as much fluid out as possible.

So generous! Steve swooned a bit, both from her pleasure and also from his heartfelt joy and awe.

Steve carefully licked the seam of the algae where her thick fluids slowly seeped out. He was very aware that without the pleasure mucus to block her pain receptors and overload the pleasure centers, her sensitive flesh would be easy to overstimulate.

He continued to lap and suck his way across the sheer algae, at first avoiding her fifth tentacle, but then slowly nuzzling up the still engorged length of it. His beloved thrashed a bit in his grip and chittered brokenly.

“Oh my sweet ocean star, you are everything to me. My beloved,” Steve thrummed into her flesh. Movement from the many limbs not wrapped around his mate-to-be had been keeping them afloat, but now they also slowly flushed the over-heated space between their entwined bodies with cool water. His beloved’s deep shuddering breaths kindled magma in Steve’s heart muscle; he had brought her such joy that her body trembled with it. He keened with satisfaction and pride.

“Steve,” she begged softly, though for what Steve was not sure. Both of her upper form appendages held onto his head cilia, not tightly, but enough so that Steve could feel the strength in them.

“Tell me what you want, my treasured mate-to-be. Let me please you.” Steve rubbed his cheek against the soft algae covering. Her mind was awash with pleasure but the nerves around her fifth tentacle also seemed tender, fragile even. This had been the first time she had released her nutritional fluid without the overwhelming pleasure that Steve’s mucus provided and her mind was awash with the conflicting signals.

She thrashed her head back and forth, unable to articulate her needs. Sensing her confusion and growing panic at the strange sensations, Steve rested his head on her upper chest cave and gently removed his limbs from her still twitching fifth tentacle. Then he very carefully cradled her form, cautious to keep his tentacles to where her nerves were the most stable. The need to hold her and give her a few points of contact to be grounded by was great, but he was unwilling to put additional stress on her already overtaxed senses. He projected comfort, safety, and peace with every limb and then he waited, content to let her body and mind calm themselves at their own pace.

He hummed reassuringly as her heavy panting breaths slowed and deepened. After a few minutes she flexed her appendages and let her metal scales shift. Steve could feel her nerves settle and her mind clear. A sudden rush of gratitude flooded into him from her.

That glorious metal limb touched Steve’s chin and lifted his eyes to meet her’s. A tiny awed smile played on her coral red lips, though the twist of her cilia face ridge accented the slight confusion that emanated off of her.

“The first part, that was good. But. After, it was…” She shook her head and winced.

“Intense?” Steve tentatively suggested. She nodded, grateful for his articulation.

“Yes. It’s not usually like that.” There was a tiny thread of worry that twisted in her mind.

“My mucus overrides your body’s ability to feel pain, not only blocking the pain receptors in your nerves but increasing the pleasure compounds that are released. So you were feeling your fluid release as it would normally happen, unhindered by my healing secretions. The increase in your sensitivity was very impressive.” Steve really was impressed. Her nervous system’s dynamic sensitivity was both startling and fascinating. What a delightful being she was!

She released a relieved breath and the worry disappeared from her mind.

“You. You stopped. Waited for me to feel better.” Her voice was soft and rough between them, barely a whisper; as if she could not quite believe it.

Steve couldn’t stop the soft smile that grew across his face. “Of course, my sweet ocean star. You were unsure.”

“Steve…” Her smile spread a little wider and he could feel the surprise and joy that welled up within her. Quick as a flash, she flung her upper limbs around him and crushed him close to her, cheeks rubbing together. “Thank you. Thank you.”

“Beloved.” Steve cooed happily. “Whatever you want, my mate-to-be, and only when you want it.” He held her tightly and slowly propelled them through the water, both of them taking comfort in their tight embrace.

It wasn’t too long before his lovely mate-to-bed drifted off to sleep again. Normally, he would expect her to be up and patrolling the land reef before the eel-cousin meeting time. Her weakness was truly starting to affect her.

Whatever was damaging her had gone on long enough; he couldn’t stand to see her in such a debilitated state. He twisted his now ashen tentacles restively, working the problem over in his mind. Despite how much he wanted to allow her to choose if she wanted his interference or not, he felt he would at least have to ask her about the situation, sooner rather than later.

Steve agonized again for a moment. He should respect her privacy, but he also needed her to know that he was willing to help and support her through any trouble. If she didn’t want to talk further about the issue after that, he would respect her decision.

Still, their talk could wait until she awoke again. No doubt she needed her rest.

Several hours later, the guardian reef spirit cooed softly at them and displayed a picture of the eel-cousin gathering chamber. The moment the reef spirit made its presence known, Bucky roused herself.

After a quick rub of her lips upon Steve’s cheek, the two of them moved to their nest so she could dry off and redon her hardened algae. As she reattached the coverings, Steve puzzled over how to bring up such a delicate subject. He was concerned for her health, but desperate to not intrude upon her privacy.

Bucky looked through her selection of detachable fangs and began to conceal her favorites deep in her algae.

“Spit it out,” she said. Steve paused and opened his mouth. There was no food in it at the moment, nor rocks or shells to spit. He closed his mouth and scrunched up his face in confusion. “You’re worrying about something. Just tell me and we can deal with it.”

Steve smiled a bit ruefully and nodded. What a delightfully perceptive mate he had chosen! “Beloved, your form has been growing weaker as the days have past. You do not consume flesh. Your steps falter while our limbs lick each other.” He curled himself around her and looked into her eyes. “I very much do not wish to intrude upon your privacy, but I am worried. How can I help?”

She blinked at him and then looked down. Steve could feel the conflicting emotions within her; mild concern, relief, and confusion. To his everlasting joy, she leaned upon his limbs while she contemplated her answer. Whatever was wrong, she had not taken offence at his audacious and meddlesome inquiry.

“I don’t know. I am malfunctioning, but I don’t know why,” she eventually responded. “The maintenance still feels good and my memories are still returning, but there’s something missing.”

Steve clicked his teeth in agitation. Even his sweet moon didn’t know what the problem was. How frustrating. He released a long low cry.

“Perhaps if you ate some flesh? I would happily hunt for you, my mate-to-be. We could go hunting the Hydra eel-cousins without the Avengers, and I would bring you the freshest of meats.” He felt sort of foolish for bringing up so simple a solution. No doubt she had already thought of it, but he needed to ask and offer for his own peace of mind if nothing else.

She shook her head and patted one of his limbs. “I know you would. It means a lot of me that you offer me kills. I used to do that for Hydra.” She looked up at Steve through her eye cilia and smiled shyly. “It’s pretty nice being on the receiving end of those gifts now. But I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be eating them, though…” Her brows quirked. “...I’m not sure why. Either way, I’m glad that you can eat them.”

The smile that slowly grew upon her face and the joyful appreciation that emanated from her warmed Steve to the core, as if a thermal vent had opened up in his heart muscle. He rubbed their cheeks together.

“So beautiful,” Steve hummed softly, “inside and out.”

Bucky gathered Steve’s limbs in her own and held them close, pressing her lips to the nearest coil. The trill of peace and love echoed back and forth through their connection, calming them both despite the sensitive subject.

“Do not fret, my Beloved. We will find a way to bring you back to health.” Steve was determined. He knew they would find a way and he let her feel his dedication.

She breathed out quickly and nodded, comforted. “Thank you.”

“Will you come to me if you experience more issues? I do not know if I will be able to help, but at the very least I will be able to comfort you in your distress and guard you if you are weak.”

Once again a smile lit up her face and she practically glowed in relief. “Yes, please. I am still functional, but I am not as efficient as I should be. And you always make me feel so safe.”

Now it was Steve’s turn to beam. “Come. The Avenger eel-cousins and the realm swimmers are no doubt waiting for us above.”

Bucky bumped their heads together, another strange gesture that left Steve a bit puzzled. Still, he felt the affection in it and knew it was kindly done. “Yeah, sure. Lead the way, Stevie.”

Steve allowed his mind to focus on the night ahead and his tentacle tips wiggled in excitement. They were going to have cake and it was going to be amazing.

--

“I’ve informed Captain Barnes and Steve that it is time for dinner,” Jarvis announced to the group in the common room. “They’re preparing to leave and should be here in a few moments.”

“Thanks, J,” both Tonys said. They looked wryly at each other and then continued to set out bottles of drink at the kitchen island. The rest of their group and the Other Avengers worked around the common room setting up the buffet table. Steve and Bucky were working with the Sams to help transfer the fresh cooked food to the table and the Clints were unloading the stuff they had delivered. Other Natasha and Other Bruce were laying out plates and utensils.

Steve was dubious about this whole dinner thing, and for a number of reasons. Despite everything that Bucky had said to him, it was still pretty hard to see those tentacle and sharp teeth and come up with anything other than ‘monster’. Then there was the whole touch telepathy thing. Granted, he didn’t have Bucky’s, or even Clint’s, terrible experience with people messing with his head, but he was still extremely leery of the idea of anyone poking around in there.

Especially after some of the other versions of themselves that they’d encountered. One in particular that he didn’t want to think about; vowed, in fact, to try to never think of again. A version with his bright smile and nothing but rotting evil inside. His gut twisted at the very thought.

But Bucky said this world’s version was an alright guy...person...thing, and the Other Avengers seemed to mostly agree.

This world’s Bucky was a bit bewildering too. His Bucky was right to call him the Asset, even though it brought back so many bad memories from Insight. Huge, quiet, and devastatingly dangerous, the Asset was an intimidating package.

He blushed bright red, grateful that his back was to the group as he scooped mashed potatoes from a pot and into a serving bowl. Steve had to admit, the extra large, extra dangerous package was pretty appealing. He blushed a little harder at the mental image of the Asset in those silk panties and hoped that Bucky wouldn’t notice.

Pretty underwear for men was a thing that Steve had never considered prior to this jump, but now that he’d seen it he sort of couldn’t stop picturing his Bucky in a pair.

It felt like his face had lit on fire from the sheer amount of blood that had rushed to his cheeks. Steve resisted the urge to bang his head against the counter top. This was not what he should be thinking about.

As uncomfortable as it was, the sea monster with his face was probably a safer line of thought. At least that wouldn’t leave him with a rather obvious bulge in his pants. He shook his head.

Get it together, Rogers, he thought.

“What’cha thinkin’ about, Stevie?” Bucky whispered into his ear, causing Steve to jump in place from surprise.

“Nothing!” he squeaked. He cleared his throat. “Nothing. Just thinking.”

A look out of the corner of his eye showed Bucky with a shit-eating grin on his face. “Uh-huh. Just those hot potatoes got you all red, huh? It’s got nothing to do with what the Asset was---”

Steve shoved the full bowl at him and grumbled, “Go put this on the table.”

“Sir, yes, sir!” Bucky laughed as he wandered away.

Other Sam raised an eyebrow at them and traded the empty potato pot for a smaller one with gravy. When Steve wasn’t forthcoming with explanations, Other Sam looked towards Bucky who had paused to talk shit with the Clints.

“Dude, it is so strange to see him laughing,” he said.

Steve quickly sobered. He scraped the last bits of gravy into a large serving pitcher. “Your Bucky will get there. Don’t worry.” Other Sam cast him a dubious side-eyed look. “He will. He survived this long, he’ll recover too.”

After another glance over the to the table, Other Sam looked at Steve and asked, “Was your Bucky like ours? I mean, when he first got out?”

Steve winced. “I don’t know. He was on his own for a couple years before I found him again.”

“Huh, really? Well. Actually. I don’t know why I thought you two might have been in a similar situation to our Bucky and Steve.” Sam shook his head. “Silly of me. Of course what happened to you two was different. It’s just, there seem to be a lot of similarities.” He shrugged and handed Steve a pan of rolls to put in a basket.

Their years apart had worried the hell out of Steve, but it was what Bucky had chosen. He needed the alone time to piece himself back together and didn’t want Steve there to influence it. While that did sting a bit, logic also forced Steve to admit that Bucky was likely also worried about being punished for what Hydra made him do, or being recaptured again.

He thought back to earlier that day with the Asset’s calm resigned belief that Hydra would come for him and find him.

“Hey, man, no need to look so bummed,” Other Sam said with a nudge to his arm. “He’s here with you now and it looks like you guys are doing good.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Steve said. A brief smile pulled at his lips and he glanced back over to Bucky and the Clints. And then he blinked really hard because their Clint was firmly holding back Bucky who had a rather large knife pointed at Other Clint. The impending knifing didn’t seem to deter Other Clint from whatever the altercation was about, because he stood there unconcerned, waggling his eyebrows at them.

Other Sam noticed where his gaze landed gave a deep sigh. “Clint…I swear to god, our Bucky just stopped chasing him through the tower and now he’s gone and pissed of yours.”

Steve raised his eyebrows.

“Clint! Quit antagonizing the small scary cyborg or I will get Jarvis to cut off your pizza supply,” Sam yelled, at which point Bucky turned his murderous glare towards Sam. Both Clints started snickering. “I’m, uh, gonna go make sure Tony has enough, uh. Drinks.” And then he beat a hasty retreat.

“I hate you all,” Bucky grumbled loudly. More quiet snickering came from back behind Steve, where Sam was filling a sink with hot soapy water.

A distant inhuman shriek echoed up from the stairwell.

“Sounds like Steve and Bucky are on their way up,” Other Clint said.

The sound got louder. A quick glance around the room showed a complete lack of alarm from the Other Avengers as well as, oddly enough, Bucky.

“...That’s not concerning at all,” Tony said flatly.

“You get used to it,” Other Natasha responded with a shrug.

“Disagree,” Other Tony said. “Very disagree.”

A swarm of peach colored tentacles flowed out of the stairwell doors, carefully pushing them open and spreading into the common room, wriggling around everything they encountered. The Asset and Tentacle Steve’s upper body followed; the Asset once again fully armed and armored. Tentacles lovingly wrapped around most of his body and held him close.

“Holy shit,” Tony whispered.

Right?” Other Tony whispered back.

The rest of the travelers just stared in shock. Even Steve looked on with a bit of astonishment and he’d already seen Tentacle Steve earlier that day.

Dexterous limbs reached out to wrap around the Other Avengers, though they paused in front of the dimension jumpers. The Asset was carefully set down so he could stand on his own, though two or three limbs stayed wrapped around his waist and legs.

“Steve would like to know if he can touch you,” the Asset asked. “He needs contact in order for you to understand what he’s saying. Normally I think he would have just done it, but this morning it seemed like that wasn’t okay?” He glanced at Bucky and Steve, actually looking a bit worried. Tentacle Steve grinned at them all, showing off a mouth full of sharpened fangs, and waved a few tentacles at them in what was probably supposed to be a reassuring manner.

It was not terribly reassuring.

Steve looked over at Bucky. A single tentacle raised up in front of him and waited, gently swaying a bit. After a moment’s consideration, Bucky grabbed the end and it coiled its way up Bucky’s arm. The room filled with Tentacle Steve’s deep hum of satisfaction. One by one the rest of the dimension hoppers grabbed a tentacle. The last to hold out was Steve.

He didn’t want to. He really didn’t want to. It was probably irrational, but just looking at this version of himself made his gut twist. At the same time, he knew that Bucky wouldn’t allow any touch he wasn’t sure of. A few moments passed as Steve considered.

Rather than making a big deal out of it, the Other Avengers just went about their business.

“Dinner is ready,” Other Sam said, and waved the Asset over to the table. “We’ve got all kinds of stuff. I made another pineapple upside down cake for you two, since you liked it so much, and we’ve got everyone else’s favorites, too.”

A brief flash of surprise sped across the Asset’s face before he smoothed the reaction out. Tentacle Steve nudged up behind the Asset, gently herding him towards the heavily laden dining table. Another deep quiet hum filled there room and Tentacle Steve grinned harder, clearly excited by the mention of cake.

“Dude, this is so weird,” Clint said. Sam and Tony nodded.

Steve bit back a grimace and held out his hand to the tentacle in front of him. He had already promised Bucky that he’d join him to keep an eye on the mental healing that would probably take place later tonight. Might as well bite the bullet and try out communication before then.

“Greetings realm swimmer, my delicate twin.” Tentacle Steve’s voice echoed in his mind in time with the strange hums and whale-like calls. The voice in his head sounded a lot like how Steve’s actual voice did. But what was stranger was the feeling of care and welcome that seemed to radiate from the tentacle around his wrist. The jagged tooth smile that was directed at Steve was only mildly disconcerting, especially when paired with all the sensations that he was emanating.

It was such an unusual feeling that it took a moment for Tentacle Steve’s words to filter through.

“Delicate?” Steve scowled. A few quiet snickers were hastily stifled before Steve could see who they came from.

A wave of reassurance came from Tentacle Steve. “Do not worry, sweet twin of mine, I know you are capable of far more than it might seem. Size and number of limbs are not everything. Your heart and spirit are vast, and I’ve no doubt that you can reshape the very currents of the world.” Tentacle Steve smiled at him and another limb snaked around to gently caress Steve’s back, a gesture that reminded him of how his Ma used to comfort him after a particularly hard day at school. The snickering got louder. Bucky in particular looked like he was about to burst with the effort of keeping his laughter contained.

Steve opened his mouth to object, and then closed it again. Bizarrely, he did actually feel comforted, but for what he wasn’t really sure. That sensation warred with the vague feeling that he should be offended.

“Yeah, don’t worry about the number of your limbs, Steve,” Tony called over to him with a grin. “I can help graft a few more on to you if you need. It’ll be great!” More laughter erupted.

“Shut up, Tony,” Steve grumbled and found his seat at the table. He did not sulk. Or brood. He sat down with dignity and drank his water.

They had decided earlier that the Asset might feel more comfortable if he was sandwiched between the Steves. Since the whole point of this encounter was to convince him to feel at ease enough to eat, every little extra bit of help they could get with that was worth pursuing. Bucky waved the Asset over to the chair next to Steve. A large space was left open on the other side so that Tentacle Steve could ‘sit’ at the table with them.

The Asset and Tentacle Steve both looked at the rest of the group with mild confusion, but it was the Asset who spoke first.

“He is smaller than you,” he said slowly, “but I think my little Stevie Rogers was even smaller than that.” He stared hard at Steve. “Your heart sounds fine, and your breathing is okay. Did you get better? Or were you never sick?” The metal arm recalibrated, something that Steve knew was a nervous tic for his Bucky. The Asset cast a wary look behind him, checking the room’s sight lines. Tentacle Steve nuzzled his shoulder and wrapped several limbs up and around the backside of Bucky’s chair. Protecting his flank, Steve realized.

That gesture alone went a long way towards convincing Steve of the creature’s good intentions. He took a breath and forced himself to relax. Again, comfort flowed out from Tentacle Steve’s limbs.

That was the weirdest thing.

“Yeah, I used to be a lot smaller than this. I did get better.” Steve tried to smile reassuringly.

The next few minutes were a chaotic mix of people passing dishes, piling up food onto plates, and handing drinks around. Cake and various cuts of fish were placed in front of Tentacle Steve and Bucky filled up a heaping plate for the Asset. The Tonys got everyone a drink. Steve was a little concerned about the alcohol content of them because he could smell the potency of the drinks over the scent of all the food.

He envied them a bit. A little bit of booze to take the edge off would have been much appreciated right about now.

Once all the food was served, there was a long pause as everyone looked at the Asset and Tentacle Steve. The two of them shared a confused glance and then looked at everyone else.

Several moments passed as everyone stared at each other.

Finally, Bucky leaned forward to look at the Asset from the other side of Steve. “This is food. You eat it.” His tone was matter-of-fact, as if he were explaining the weather. Tentacle Steve looked excitedly at what was on the Asset’s plate, even poking it a bit with one tentacle. Steve suppressed a wince when he considered what substances might be on that tentacle.

“I do not understand,” the Asset said after a confused look at his plate. He looked back at Bucky. “Please restate mission parameters.”

The gut wrenching disgust returned, but this time for a different reason. It was bad enough to see anyone like this, but the knowledge that his Bucky went through this, too, and did it all alone made Steve want to both puke and rage at the same time.

“Beloved,” Tentacle Steve cooed. “If this is eel-cousin food, perhaps it would be worth trying?” The worry that came from him was a palpable thing. The Asset continued to stare at the plate.

“This isn’t a mission and this isn’t punishment. It’s not part of reconditioning either,” Bucky said, not unkindly. “It’s routine maintenance. You need to eat at least four thousand calories worth of nutritional foods every day to maintain base functionality. More than eight thousand a day will help keep you at optimal performance. There is no upper limit. You can eat as much as you want to.”

Listening to Bucky speak so clinically about it made Steve’s heart hurt. His Bucky didn’t talk this way, but he must have once. It seemed likely that he was trying to explain things in a way that the Asset would understand.

Understanding flickered across the Asset’s face. Even still, the slight concern didn’t go away. After another half minute or so of him staring at his plate, the Asset flickered his eyes around the group and then went back to looking at the food piled in front of him.

Bucky let out a very quiet sigh and said, “You’re allowed. You can eat this, and anything else you want, any time you want.”

Those words hit Steve like a punch to the chest. His heart hurt, actually physically hurt. His Bucky had been alone, staring at food somewhere, wondering if he was allowed. Guilt swamped him, though he tried to head it off. He would have been there if he could have, but Bucky didn’t want it. Instead, he wanted to be alone while he relearned how to be a person.

From the looks of everyone else around the table, he wasn’t the only one affected by Bucky’s statement of permission. Winces and a few terrifyingly blank looks spread across the room.

The Asset nodded and began mechanically eating. Tentacle Steve chirped happily next to them, the tips of his many limbs all wiggling in joy and practically glowing with satisfaction. That seemed to be the cue for the rest of the group to start digging in too.

Steve wished he could ask Bucky about his experiences. He might have tried if they were alone, but he definitely wouldn’t in front of all the other versions of themselves. It was too personal and the possibility of Bucky reacting badly to his questions was too real.

A tentacle wrapped up his leg and gave him a gentle squeeze. “Eat, sweet realm swimmer. All will be well.” Comfort and safety radiated from his counterpart’s tentacles, soothing Steve a lot more than he expected.

Suddenly he realized how those projected feelings must seem to the Asset. All the pain and confusion, the fear of Hydra and of himself, the panic and misery from thinking about or reliving his past deeds...this version of Steve could be there to reassure and ground him. Even when all else failed, the Asset would always be able to feel his Steve’s love and respect. There would never be any doubt that the Asset was treasured.

Just for a moment, Steve wished that he was a sea monster, too.

 

Tentacle Steve by chaosdraws

Tentacle Steve by chaosdraws

I love the hearts! Look how happy he is! <3

 

 

Steve and Bucky by riddleinacapitalm

Tentacle Steve and Bucky by riddleinacaptialm

The little hearts! Ahhhhh!~

Steve and Bucky Birthday

Steve and Bucky Birthday by sealcat

This lovely piece was done many months ago around Bucky's birthday, but I totally fell behind and didn't managed to get it uploaded into the fic at that time, so here it is now!

Chapter Text

Bruce had to admit, dinner was going a heck of a lot better than he thought it would. The dimension hoppers had settled in fairly well and brought with them some leads on the Hydra situation. Bucky was methodically eating his way through a plate piled high with various foodstuffs and if he seemed to be approaching the task with methodical focus, well, they could work on that. Best of all, Steve was in the room and interacting with everyone and not once had the Other Guy threatened to come out.

There were a few close moments, sure, but apparently since Steve and Bucky weren’t actively doing anything overly physical, the Other Guy wasn’t interested in joining.

Want play, a voice grumbled in the back of Bruce’s mind.

Maybe later, big guy, Bruce thought back at him. I’ll talk with Steve about it. Maybe he’d like to play, too.

As if summoned, Steve looked up from his rapidly disappearing pile of sashimi grade tuna and looked right at Bruce.

“You are split!” he chirped through the mental link forged by the tentacle around his ankle, a phenomena that Bruce was quietly dying to study in the lab.

The quiet chatter from around the table tapered off. Not surprising. The verbal component of Steve’s method of communication was a little on the ear-piercing side.

Bruce nodded. “Sort of.”

A second tentacle joined the one already on Bruce’s leg. Curiosity and wonder radiated off of Steve. The effect was fascinating.

“Greetings to you both, then, and my apologies for not addressing each of you sooner.” Steve bowed his head a bit in consternation and patted Bruce’s leg.

“It’s alright.” Again, Bruce could feel Steve’s genuine distress at the faux pas. It brought a little smile to his face. This was not the usual reaction, thought nothing about this situation was run of the mill. “Most people don’t. The Other Guy stays...inside, most of the time.”

Steve’s lower jaw stuck stubbornly, causing Visitor Bucky and Visitor Sam to laugh. “Oh my god, Steve, look,” Visitor Bucky said, elbowing Visitor Steve. “He’s even got the same expression as you do when your about to get pissy over Injustice.”

Visitor Steve just rolled his eyes. “Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, pal.”

“Seriously, they aren’t even the same species. How do they look so much alike?” Visitor Tony asked in a whisper. His gaze flicked back and forth between the tall, blond, and very human Visitor Steve and the writhing mass of tentacles that was this world’s Steve.

“I know, right?” This world’s Tony responded. “Especially since we know that Steve Rogers also existed here in the 40’s. How did the squidbilly here end up looking so much like a kid from Brooklyn?”

Steve blithely ignored them in favor of continuing to stare grumpily at Bruce. “It is unfair that others disregard your mind-twin. Both of you deserve respect and acknowledgement.” His tentacles thrashed a bit in irritation. “Unless...the two of you wish this?”

That was...surprising. Touching, too, though Bruce ruefully conceded that Steve would have none of the negative associations with the Other Guy that most regular humans harbored.

It seemed the Other Guy thought it was a nice gesture, too, because there was a stirring in the back of Bruce’s mind.

Hulk like squid man. Hulk say HIIIIIIIIIIII.

A brilliant smile crossed Steve’s face. Wow, those teeth looked sharp. “Greetings Hulk! It is a great pleasure to speak with you.”

The stirring turned to a churning. Bruce closed his eyes and started to regulate his breathing, forcing his heartbeat down to a smooth steady pace. After a bit more grumbling, the Other Guy slipped deeper into their mind, a little put out, but not really interested in coming up unless there was smashing to do.

“So, hey there, pal. You, uh, might not want to encourage Hulk to come out,” Visitor Clint said.
“Not that we don’t love Hulk, because we do! It’s just when he comes out he usually really wants to fight and right now we’re trying to eat, you know?”

Bruce breathed through the explanation. When he opened his eyes, Steve was looking at him in puzzlement. Bruce nodded in agreement but said, “We’re fine. But yeah, maybe we’ll do formal introductions another time.” This seemed to satisfy Steve because he nodded and went back to swallowing the fish with distressing rapidity.

There was a small collective sigh of relief from most of the humans in the room.

“So the helicarriers are where?” Natasha said to the visitors, clearly getting back to a conversation she had been in the middle of before the potential Code Green.

“Under the Potomac right next to the Triskelion,” Visitor Clint said in between bites.

“Bullshit.” Tony pointed his fork at him. “The Potomac only goes a hundred feet down at it’s deepest. No goddamn way they’ve got a helicarrier under there. The metro is under there.”

“Right?” Visitor Tony looked almost indignant at the whole idea. “Whoever cleared that through appropriations was a fucking genius. Jesus, just think of how much material they had to ship in to the hangers to build the damn things.”

Visitor James snorted. “Pierce was a bastard, but he was a smooth one.” A dark look came over him and the plates on his metal arm clicked under his shirt. “He died too quick.”

There was an awkward pause as everyone ruminated on that comment.

“J, we got anything on our Pierce yet?” Tony asked.

“I’m afraid not, sir. Nothing in the files obtained from the Hydra base and only legitimate Shield related appearances in the files you stripped from the helicarrier during the Chitauri invasion.”

“There has to be something,” Visitor Sam said.

Natasha shook her head. “If he’s smart enough to get on the World Security Council, he’s smart enough to cover his tracks hard. We might have to do a lot of digging.”

“Or we might be barking up the wrong tree,” Clint added. “I mean, clearly there’s a bunch of similarities between our worlds, but not everything lines up.” He looked pointedly at Steves.

Visitor Steve was still finishing off a plate of food. He really was an impressive specimen; tall, built, and with a ridiculous shoulder to waist ratio. While the Steve from this world was certainly impressive, too, it was in a very different way. Tentacles wriggled all around the room and he hummed quietly to himself as he took bites of pineapple upsidedown cake.

The accident that transformed Bruce into the Other Guy was based on some scavenged research into a super soldier serum from way back in WWII. Looking at Visitor Steve, Bruce couldn’t help but wonder if things would have turned out the same he’d had all the information available.

But if he had succeeded, then General Ross would have been able to manufacture super soldiers. The idea of that madman in charge of something so powerful left Bruce cold. Maybe things didn’t turn out so well for him, but they could have gone much, much worse.

Mid-movement, Bucky dropped his fork and sat back in his chair, gaze focused downward.

Before anyone could say anything, Visitor Bucky raised a hand to forestall any questions. “It’s fine. It’s just a lot.” He turned to Bucky. “No one is going to punish you for not finishing. You can eat however little you want.”

A thread of tension eased out of Bucky’s frame and he nodded. Steve curled a tentacle around Bucky’s shoulders and hummed wordlessly. Feelings of comfort and safety actually radiated out of him. Bucky took a slow breath and relaxed further. He looked up at the group, present in a way that he hadn’t been while he was eating.

Strangely enough, Bruce felt a...lessening. For a moment, he couldn’t pinpoint it. Then it hit him; he was feeling Bucky’s anxiety and when it ramped down, he felt it go away. If it weren’t for the fact that Bruce was already so attuned to his own distress, he might not have even noticed it. Something about Steve’s tentacles connecting them all allowed for a type of sympathetic empathy. Clearly, Steve could project his own feelings, but could he project other’s feelings too?

Bruce practically itched for the need to get some kind of measurement on that. Could it even be measured with the equipment they had? Was it some type of actual neural connection or was it an innate psychic ability? What was the range limit? Did it have something to do with his telepathy? And how did that work?

While Bruce was desperately trying not to pull out his notebook and start taking notes, the conversation had gone on around him.

“...seriously, how are we gonna find out?” Clint asked. “Again, it’s not like we can go ask Fury. Stark’s already tapped everything that can be tapped.”

“All the stuff that’s Hydra specific would be on its own grid,” Visitor Bucky said in between bites.

“Maybe inside Faraday cages, too, if they’re paranoid enough,” Tony added. “I mean, look at the specs of that last base we raided. There’s a reason Stabby and Squidly have been going in person to wipe them off the map.”

“Because we were without additional long range resources?” Bucky asked, brow wrinkled in confusion.

“Because eel-cousins are delicious and we might as well harvest what we can while we’re eliminating their toxic colonies?” Steve looked just as puzzled as Bucky.

“...Nooooalright that does make sense.” Tony’s eye twitched a little. “And here I thought it was because you were digging through the relevant local files.”

“Also, please never talk about eating humans during dinner time,” Sam said, and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Seconded,” Visitor Clint added with a raised hand.

The rest of the visitors all kind of blinked and exchanged sidelong glances. Steve pouted a bit, tentacles poking at his food sadly.

“Aww, doll.” Bucky leaned in towards Steve and gently knocked their shoulders together. “Don’t worry. We won’t always be out with the Avengers. We’ll go out and kill some Hydra, just you and me, and then you can eat however much you want. You can even roll in the bodies, and I know how much you like to do that.”

Steve lit up, face bright and happy, tentacles thrashing and coiling in place. His human-like hands grabbed twined with Bucky’s and a deep, soft thrumming filled the room. “Oh beloved! Really? You would not mind?”

“Wait, did he say roll in the bodies,” Visitor Tony asked in a horrified whisper.

“Yuuup,” Sam replied, voice pitched just as quietly.

Bucky quirked his lips in amusement, which, honestly, was far more than Bruce was expecting. Already this was way more emotion that he’d ever seen Bucky display before. “Why would I mind? You’re my best guy. Gotta treat your best guy right.” And like that, the smile was gone. Bucky’s face twisted in confusion and his gaze drifted to the side. “...I think? Is ‘best guy’ like designation: mate?”

There was some quiet coughing off to the side as Visitor Bucky choked on a bite of food. The rest of the table shared similar looks of disbelief mixed with horror.

Happy shrieking filled the air as Steve crushed Bucky close. “I think that it must be, beloved. I am blessed to have such a wonderful mate-to-be. May I ask, though, what is ‘doll’?”

A deeper frown crossed Bucky’s face as he thought it through. “I don’t remember. I think it’s supposed to be nice? Like when you complete post-mission protocols without becoming erratic. Or when programming doesn’t break down mid-upgrade.”

Visitor Steve winced hard and Visitor Bucky just dropped his fork and rested his face in his hand. The rest of the group had somewhat similar reactions, though less pronounced. Bruce just felt deeply sad and profoundly angry. It was a quiet smoldering, something he could bank for later. He pushed it away with the rest of his rage and let himself calmly sip some tea. There would be time for letting it out later.

“No,” Visitor Steve said firmly. “No, ‘doll’ is from before Hydra. It’s a term of endearment. It means something pretty, something to be treasured. My Bucky used to call women ‘doll’ all the time.” His face was doing that jaw-sticking-out thing that Visitor Bucky commented on earlier, though the expression was mixed with pain.

Curious, Bruce tried to focus in on that expression, tried to feel through the shared mental connection. He thought that maybe there might be something to feel, but it was hard to tell. There was a lot of emotional ‘static’, he thought. Probably from the connection to so many people all at once. If Steve had conscious control over this type of feedback, it would make sense for him to dampen the effects while so many individuals were connected.

He really wished he could get just a few tests in. The things they could learn…

Bucky looked skeptically at Visitor Steve, one eyebrow just barely quirked up. His focus shifted inwards for a moment, but soon shook his head in confusion.

“It’s okay if you don’t remember,” Visitor Sam said. “This kind of thing takes time to sort out. You’ll get there, though.”

But the look of confusion on Bucky’s face was just replaced with more terrifying blankness. He still seemed aware of his surroundings, though, so whatever was going on it couldn’t be too bad. Maybe mild dissociation, Bruce mused. Bucky and Steve stayed cuddled up together, so either way Bruce wasn’t really concerned. He was confident in Steve’s ability to keep Bucky, and the rest of them, safe.

“How soon can we burn all of Hydra to the ground,” Sam whispered, head tilted back so he could stare at the ceiling.

“Working on it,” Natasha whispered back.

“So I have a terrible idea,” Tony said, voice echoing a bit loudly in the room, drawing everyone’s focus.

“Tony, no.” Sam leveled his best Captain America Is Sternly Warning You look at him.

“Tony, yes!” Visitor Tony grinned. “Whadda got, evil me?”

“Excuse you, I think you know that between the two of us, you are the more evil one.” He almost looked offended, but Bruce could see amusement in the way his eyes crinkled.

“What! Who was it who just had the terrible idea---”

“Tony!” Natasha interrupted before the bickering could spiral. “What’s your plan and why is it terrible?”

That little hint of amusement dropped off Tony’s face. “We want to know how deep Hydra goes here, right? But Jarvis and I have come up with a big fat nothing on the Maybe Big Bad, Pierce. I mean, we could keep searching, and we will if this fails, but beyond this point any additional information is gonna be a bitch and a half to get. Pulling teeth. But you,” he pointed at Visitor Bucky, “have a personal grudge against the Pierces of the universe. That implies some personal contact. I say we show some video feed of this guy to our Bucky and see if it jars anything loose.”

Silence.

It...wasn’t a terrible plan. Except for all the parts where it was a terrible plan.

“Tony...you know what happened the last time we tried to jar Bucky’s memory with pictures.” Sam didn’t sound disapproving anymore, mostly he just sounded worried.

“Past experience shows mixed results. Buckster seemed pretty fine with pictures of the stuff we got from your last raid.”

Which...was also a good point, Bruce had to concede.

“It’s got the benefit of being a fast way to check if we’re barking up the wrong tree,” Natasha said, head tilted in thought.

“And has the negative of potentially spurring a traumatic episode,” Sam countered.

“It might not even work,” Visitor Sam said. “The Pierce here could be a part of Hydra, but just never interacted with the Asset.” Bucky’s arm recalibrated, but otherwise he stayed still, seemingly unperturbed by the name. “I mean, Bucky. All this depends on if your Bucky ever met Pierce.”

“But if he did, and Bucky remembers, we’ll know right away and we can immediately start counter measures.” Tony pointed his fork at Visitor Sam for emphasis.

Visitor Clint pursed his lips and looked at Visitor Bucky. Visitor Steve just stayed silent, though he was clearly worried.

“Pierce was one of my main handlers,” Visitor Bucky said quietly. “For a long time. But that might not be the case here.” He glanced at Bucky. “Do you remember Handler Pierce?”

“That name does not sound familiar, but some of my handlers did not have personal designations.” Per his norm, Bucky was the perfect picture of calm.

“Yeah. The big ones. I know.” Visitor Bucky sighed. “Lukin. Karpov. Zola. The old ones never felt the need to get their names involved. They were ‘master’ or ‘sir’ and that was all. Why bother when it was just going to get wiped away by the Chair anyways?” If his voice was a bit bitter, well, Bruce couldn’t blame him.

Bucky just nodded. “Show me the pictures.”

A couple of grunts of protest erupted from around the table, though Bruce noted that Visitor Bucky and Visitor Steve were conspicuously silent.

“Bucky, you don’t have to,” Sam said. “This is a long shot and on top of that, it could really mess you up.”

Bucky paused to consider things. He glanced at Steve.

“Whatever you wish to do, my sweet ocean star, I will support you. Should you become distraught, I will wrap you in my limbs and shower you with love and comfort until you come back to yourself.” Steve smiled encouragingly at him. “Whatever pain these images may hold for you, you will not face them alone.”

Again, Bruce felt a distant thread of tension ease. Bucky took a deep breath and nodded. He turned to look at Tony. “Show me.”

“Jarvis, you heard the man. Bring up some footage of the good Under Secretary Pierce.”

One of the walls briefly glowed as a projected screen was brought up. It was footage of Pierce at some kind of press conference.

The moment Pierce’s face came up on the wall, Bucky went rigid, eyes wide and breath coming out in short pants.

“...this project will influence everyone in the US, and even the world. Together, we can build something better, for everyone. Thank you, no more questions.” With that, Pierce walked off the stage, moving in the direction of the camera.

Bucky jolted upright and flung himself backwards, ripping away from Steve’s tentacles and out of his chair, breaking it as he crashed down onto the floor. He scrambled backwards on his hands and feet until his back hit the wall, whispering, “no no no no no,” the whole way.

Tentacles coiled up around him, but Bucky pushed them off, eyes rimmed white with fear and chest heaving. Bruce could feel the Other Guy start to stir in his mind, but Bruce reassured him.

Nothing bad going on here. We’re safe.

PUNY MAN SCARED. SMASH WALL MAN!

There’s no danger. He’s upset, but he’ll be okay. No one is going to hurt him here.

Not hurt? Looks Hurt. Feels Hurt.

Bruce arched his eyebrows in surprise. The Other Guy could feel the emotions through their connection with Steve, too. Perhaps even feel them more acutely, considering that Bruce himself barely felt the sting of panic across their mental network, and he was watching for it.

His brain is hurting, but Steve, Squid Man, is gonna help him. It’ll be okay.

The presence grumbled and then retreated, religating himself to silently observing in case things changed and something needed smashing.

“Beloved,” Steve crooned softly, and moved his upper body to be next to Bucky. Again, he tried wrapping Bucky up in tentacles and again they were shoved off. Bucky shifted up onto his knees, hands held behind his back and head bowed.

“Ready to comply.”

He was visibly shaking, trembling so hard that his hair shook with it.

Again, though this time much slower, Steve gently wrapped Bucky up in his tentacles. Bucky didn’t resist this time. He just knelt there, frozen.

“Beloved. All is well. You are here, with me, in the feeding cave above our nest, with the Avenger eel-cousins. Nothing will harm you here. You are safe.”

“Ready to comply.” Bucky’s voice was softer, higher pitched, and it cracked on the last word. Tears dripped down his face and onto the limbs beneath him.

More tentacles slowly coiled around, until there was hardly any part of Bucky’s body still visible. Steve cradled his face with his human hand and touched their foreheads together, all the while quietly thrumming reassurances.

A small eternity passed before anyone spoke up. It was Visitor Bucky who finally broke the silence.

“Well, Fuck.”

Bruce had to admit, that did pretty much sum things up.

--

The Asset shivered with terror.

There were people in the room. Handlers. Spectators. Important figures in Hydra, checking up on their investments. There was talking around it, but the Asset couldn’t make out the words. The current head handler was here, authority level: Sir, designation: Sir.

Punishment was coming. Sir liked to oversee punishment, even after the Asset had become a lesser weapon. Especially after that.

It had taken a great deal of focused recalibration and reconditioning, but the Asset had once again become the Fist of Hydra, their most perfect weapon. But the process had been...memorable. Even the Chair couldn’t take away the spine melting, all encompassing fear the Asset had from that time, though the details of exactly what was done were still lost in a fog.

This is what made the standard post-mission processing seem like a relief, a pleasant interlude before the blessed relief of cryostasis. Even normal punishments and recalibrations didn’t hold a candle to what happened when Sir showed up.

And here the Asset was again.

Sir. Walking towards it. Ready to start the procedures. Ready to reset a badly malfunctioning weapon.

Because, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the Asset was malfunctioning. Worse than had ever happened before, it was sure. Now there would be only suffering, where the Asset wouldn’t even be allowed the luxury of death.

“Beloved. Beloved, you are safe. Nothing will harm you. I am with you.”

It didn’t know the voice. (The voice was familiar. He knew that voice.)

There was only fear and pain and the certain knowledge that all transgressions would be purged from its systems. (There would be soft things and groping and cake.)

It was bound (held, cradled), ready to submit. There were no other options. Only compliance. (False.)

“You are safe. You are well. You are my mate-to-be, my sweet ocean star, and I will let no one harm you.”

Warmth began to register around it. It was warm. Why was it warm?

A deep hum vibrated through its bones, soothing it. The sound chased away the terror and the chills, little by little.

Light bled into the room. Sir wasn’t in sight. He was here but he wasn’t in sight. Panic tried to claw back up its spine.

“Your tormentor is not here. Only our allies, the Avenger eel-cousins and the realm swimmers.”

It blinked and shivered, trying to make sense of where it was. Who was talking to it.

“I am Steve. You know me. I’m your mate-to-be.”

A bit more of the fear faded, but the shivering got worse. It sagged in its restrains.

No. No restraints. Arms. It was being held.

“That’s right. I will hold you as long as you desire it.”

The world tilted for a moment, and then things started to make sense again.

Steve. He was with Steve in Avengers Tower. They had a nest filled with soft things. Nothing hurt.

He took a deep shaky breath and sagged into Steve’s arms. He was Bucky. Hydra was far away and he was safe.

“Steve,” he said.

The brilliant smile he got in return warmed him to his toes. He was warm all over. Which was only more confusing for him, because he was shivering like mad.

“That’s right, beloved,” Steve crooned. “All is well.”

Bucky blinked and rubbed his eyes, Steve’s limbs adjusting easily to accommodate his movement. His arm kept recalibrating. Everyone was staring at him, looking concerned. Maybe some reassurances were in order.

“It’s fine. I’m functional now.” Mostly functional. Well within functional parameters, anyways. He was still weak and off balance, and his torso felt oddly bloated. The feelings of calm and safety that radiated off of Steve went a really long way towards making him feel steady.

No one around him looked reassured.

He tried to make sense of what had happened, but his brain still felt muzzy. Sort of like what happened after the trigger words had been spoken.

“Looks like we got our answer,” Stark said grimly.

Bucky didn’t understand why everyone was so upset. The experiment was successful. Intelligence was acquired. A quick glance around the room showed him that the only casualty was the chair he’d been sitting on. Were they angry about the chair?

“Are you all sure you can’t just let Octo-me eat Pierce?” Little Stevie Rogers asked. Bucky took an instant dislike to the face that he was making.

“Seriously,” Small Bucky added. “I’d probably pay to see that.”

“We’ll consider it.” Sam gave them both a dry look.

Something about how the dimension hopping version of Bucky was positioned looked off. Others might not have picked up on it, but Bucky could see himself reflected in Small Bucky; he knew what to look for.

“You were surprised by this,” Bucky asked him. “You expected a reaction, but not this reaction.”

Small Bucky raised his eyebrows for a moment and then looked down at the floor. “Yeah. Pierce was dead by the time I got free, so I never ran into him again. But for months afterwards every time I saw a picture of him I’d think of the Chair. Mission debriefs. Pierce’s stupid speeches about how much progress we were making.” His eyes flickered towards Bucky. “You had something worse though, didn’t you?”

Bucky shuddered hard and closed his eyes. Flashes of his time with Sir sped by, sharp edged and incoherent. But they didn’t catch hold. Steve was here and Bucky was safe. There would be no punishments.

It took him a minute, but he finally said, “The Chair was a relief. It meant Sir was done, and experimentation, reconditioning, recalibration, and maintenance were complete.”

“Don’t call him sir.” The tone of Small Bucky’s voice made Bucky straighten in surprise, his anxiety suddenly ramping up again. “No, shit. Sorry, you’re fine. It’s just...it’s easier to give them a different label. Easier to start reacting the way you want when you start calling them what you want, too.”

Steve hummed deeply and nodded in agreement. A couple of tentacles petted Bucky’s hair until the tension drained out of him again.

“What your beautiful twin says is accurate.” He gnashed his teeth for a moment, clearly searching for words. “The mind is like a soft clay seabed. Run a tentacle over it, and a groove forms. The more times you run the tentacle over that same spot, the deeper the groove. Eventually the groove will become so deep that the tentacle will not deviate from its path easily. This only perpetuates the problem, as the more often a tentacle moves through it, the deeper the groove becomes, which makes it harder still to move somewhere else. Your experiences are like that tentacle, forming deep channels in the soft clay of your mind. Familiar pathways, familiar reactions to certain stimuli.”

“Oh my god, how does a sea monster even know this?” one of the Starks whispered to the other.

“I know right? It’s driving me insane,” the other whispered back.

Bucky nodded. That made a lot of sense.

“But the mind is a wonderous thing, beloved, and yours especially.” Steve grinned widely, love and awe flavoring every word. “Like clay sea floors, no groove is permanent. You can shape your own mind to react as you’d like. Changing how you think about something goes a long way towards shifting your mind’s reaction to something. For most this would be a long and arduous task. Not impossible, but possibly difficult, depending on the person.”

“But I’ve got you,” Bucky said with a soft smile.

That earned him a happy string of chirping. “Oh yes, my sweet ocean star. Always, and I will help you any way I can. But you also have yourself. Your body and brain are astounding, and I am certain you would eventually recover on your own.”

Bucky looked over at his double. “Like you.”

“Yeah, kid. Fuck Hydra. They can’t keep us down.” Small Bucky grinned viciously at him and Bucky found himself returning the expression.

It didn’t last long though. Between the stress of the group meal and the flood of sense memory that the images of Sir…Pierce had drug up, Bucky was starting to feel like he was edging towards a collapse.

“Steve. I think...I think I am about to become non-functional.” He shook his head. For the first time in many days, that didn’t cause a wave of dizziness. Unfortunately, it also didn’t help clear out the fog in his head either.

The tentacles around him tightened for a moment and Steve rubbed cheeks with him. “We will go rest.”

“Would you...I mean, I would like maintenance.” His cheeks became hot, though why he couldn’t say.

Steve grinned. “Of course, beloved. I treasure every moment shared with you, our tentacles entwined, fluids---”

“Okay, that’s enough of that, take it to the pool room, guys,” Sam said loudly, interrupting Steve’s line of thought.

“Oh my god are they really going to---?” Visitor Clint asked.

“Oh yeah,” Clint replied. Something about his tone of voice made Bucky glare at him suspiciously, but it was hard to keep that in mind when Steve’s limbs were already carefully working under his tactical jacket.

Rather than bothering to untangle themselves, Steve just lifted Bucky off the ground and started to flow out of the room. Before they left completely, Bucky stopped him with a thought. He turned to look at Tiny Stevie Rogers and Small-him.

“You two coming?”

Both Starks and one of the Clints snorted and giggled. Natasha leaned over to thump one of them on the back of the head.

Small Bucky looked at Tiny Stevie Rogers for a moment and chewed on his lower lip. Then he looked pointedly at Steve. “You sort of implied you could take out trigger words in my head. Is that what you two are going to go do now? To go work on your Bucky’s mind, the same way you’d work on mine?”

“Yes, in addition to other things.” There was some sniggering around the room. Steve paused and wiggled the tips of his tentacles in thought. “You wish to see it done before you agree to anything.”

Small Bucky nodded.

“Oh my god ohmygodohmygod. This is how orgies start.” Stark’s eyes were wide. He looked like he’d just completed a perfect two mile away headshot.

Small Bucky glared at him while the rest of the group snickered and groaned.

“Orgies. What is that?” Bucky asked.

A loud thump rang around the room as Sam’s face collided with the tabletop. “Please go. Go to the pool room and lock the door behind you. I’m begging you. I don’t want to see this again.”

“Wait, ‘again’?” Visitor Sam asked.

“Come on,” Tiny Stevie Rogers said, and shooed Bucky and Steve out of the room.

Which was very alright with Bucky. He had long since had his fill of dealing with so many people at once. All the talking and eating and listening…

Pretending to be a person was exhausting.

--

There was a moment of silence after the Steves and Buckys walked out.

“...did you ever think about selling video of this to Japan?” Visitor Tony asked.

Sam rubbed his temple and winced. Because of course that’s the first thing another version of Tony would think of.

“Yes, but someone vetoed me before I could get it set up.” Tony glared at the ceiling.

Figures.

“I know that the concept of personal privacy is somewhat shaky for you, sir,” Jarvis said dryly, “but happily you have me to remind you.”

“You’re not watching them?” Natasha asked.

“I do monitor the pool room for indications of distress, but no, I do not record their private time.” Jarvis managed to sound both prim and slightly offended. Honestly, Sam was a bit impressed with his delivery.

“Probably for the best,” Visitor Sam said. “Hard to trust people when they’re constantly watching you.”

“Chances are good Bucky expects to be constantly watched.” Natasha downed her drink in one go and waved over a refill.

“Maybe now, but eventually he’s gonna figure out that he doesn’t want that,” Visitor Clint said.

“Doesn’t matter anyways.” Tony sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Guy’s managed to find enough hidey holes in the walls that I can only keep track of him half the time.”

Clint shivered and clutched his coffee. “No vent stash is safe.”

“So. How long do you think they’ll be down there?” Visitor Sam asked, still kind of picking at his plate. So far everyone had just ignored Bucky’s broken chair. It was hardly the first time furniture had been broken during meals, though past incidents usually involved Thor.

They’d get to it later.

“Dude, trust me when I say you do not want to go looking for them too soon.” Sam gave Visitor Sam a look, the one that said I say this for your own good.

Clint pouted into his coffee and Natasha smirked. Bruce just shook his head and said, “They’ll probably be up in the morning.”

“Good.” Visitor Tony rubbed his hands together. “Our device should be just about recharged by then. We’ll collected Barnes and Noble and be on our way.”

“Do you need us to help out with that, by the way?” Tony asked. “Bruce and I kinda looked into the whole idea a while ago. Didn’t really do much with it.”

“Nah. I wouldn’t mind using the lab though.”

“Why not. Bring the bird bros, too. Might as well make sure no one gives into the temptation to go looking for a little octo-nooky.” Tony winked lasciviously at both Clints. They both glared at him, but Sam was guessing they were glaring for different reasons. “Come on, Brucie! To the Science Cave!”

Before Visitor Sam could follow them out, Sam held up his hand to stall him. “If you wouldn’t mind, would you stick around and give us a run down on everything you remember about your world’s Hydra? Clearly there are some differences, but it would give us a place to start looking.”

Visitor Sam just grinned at him and Natasha. “Hell, yeah.”

“Excellent.” Natasha smirked.

Things were looking up.

--

Steve had his beloved Bucky gently cradled in his limbs. Though his heart muscle ached from the pain and fear that she had endured during the group feeding, the sight of her finally consuming foodstuffs filled him with so much joy that he thought he might burst.

He could feel that she was still unsettled. No matter. Soon they would be in their nest and he would be able to set her to ease. It was very possible she might not want to feed again any time soon, but just in case he grabbed a container of cake before they left the feeding cavern.

To share, of course. For emergencies. Cake emergencies.

As soon as they arrived in the tidal pool room, Steve immediately flowed over to their nest and placed Bucky in the center, carefully arranging the kelp in a pleasing manner around her. The realm swimmers followed along, but were hesitant to come into the nest. There were shades to their emotions that made Steve feel rather self-conscious of his efforts to provide a home.

A small sting of anxiety mixed with offence grew within him.

Granted, the nest wasn’t complete. The walls were still under construction, and there was nothing overhead but the natural cave roof. And it was true, there were no decorations to be had anywhere.

But they’d only been there for a few short days, and the inner nest was soft as could be. The best the reef could offer, for his beloved’s pleasure. Steve thought he’d made great progress.

He pouted a bit.

Clearly sensing his distress, Bucky unfurled her beautiful black tentacle, its slender form glinting in the soft bioluminescence in the walls. Quick as the retracting tentacles on a feather duster worm, she snaked her limb around his neck and drew him in.

“It’s fine, Steve. I love our nest. They don’t like it, they can fuck off.” Though the words were spoken to him, Steve knew that they were directed at the realm swimmers. His chest cave filled with magma and his limbs wiggled happily.

“Ah, my beloved! How lucky I am! So ready to defend both me and our home, even from other versions of ourselves.” He cradled her face in his upper limbs and gently pressed their foreheads together. “Truly, you are a wonder.”

Her cheeks dusted pink and she radiated slight embarrassment and pleasure.

Chagrin radiated off of the realm swimmers. The twin of his beloved ducked her head and the tiny version of himself bared his teeth in dismay.

“Sorry,” the eel-cousin Steve said bashfully, and the smaller, more delicate Bucky nodded as well. “It looks lovely. We were just surprised.”

Steve’s heart muscle melted a little. New things were often quite shocking. He sympathized. Reaching out with more tentacles, he carefully reeled them into the nest.

His beloved began stripping off her algae. The moment that Steve realized her aim, he lent a few tentacles to aid her. All of her hardened outer algae was removed, but by mutual agreement the deep sea blue algae that fit snugly over her fifth tentacle was left on.

Her fangs got placed nearby, within easy reach of her resting place. Steve knew that this would help set her at ease. The rest got placed along one of the walls, convenient for redonning but out of the way of roving limbs, and the harvested cake-filled-shell was placed right under it.

He teased tentatively at the realm swimmer’s algae and sent the feeling of questioning at them.

“Wait,” the Smaller Bucky said. Steve immediately relaxed his hold upon her, sensing her discomfort. “I’m gonna need you to step me through what’s gonna happen here.”

Steve nodded. Her anxiety was a palpable thing and he redoubled his efforts to radiate calm. That worked out splendidly, as his own sweet ocean star, his beloved, was still shivering from the after effects of their feeding session.

“First I will explain what is to happen. Then I will show you on my beloved…” A sudden worry hit him. Maybe she would not want them to watch?

But before Steve could become anxious about this, his Bucky nodded. “You’ll see. Steve takes care of me. And…” Again her face darkened and she cast her gaze downward. This time Steve noted that she did feel more than a bit worried. Defensive colorings, definitely. He wrapped her in another tentacle and cuddled her close. Nothing would harm her in their nest. “...I wouldn’t mind if you watched.”

Bubbling happiness filled Steve up to the brim. He could tell they were both thinking of their time spent together earlier that day, how they both relished the idea of joining limbs with the realm swimmers.

“It is as my sweet ocean star says. You are welcome here, sweet one.” Steve quickly gauged the realm swimmers. Both were sceptical, but still interested. Given how badly the Small Bucky had been injured, and how negatively she had reacted earlier to the idea of physical contact, Steve decided to give them a more thorough rundown of the healing process.

“The healing primarily consists of three, well, four, parts,” he said. “First, is the touch component. I will wrap you in my appendages, upper limbs on your head and neck. This gives me better access to your nervous system, which will make the healing go smoother and faster. I could do the work from just a single limb touching any part of your skin but...it would be more dangerous for you and somewhat harder for me .”

“It doesn’t hurt,” Bucky added hastily. “Nothing Steve has ever done to me has hurt.”

Steve could feel the slight lessening of tension in the realm swimmers at that knowledge. Trust his beloved to know just the right thing to say!

Small Bucky nodded. “That sounds...well. It sounds unpleasant, but doable. What else?”

This part would be trickier to explain. It wasn’t something Steve had ever needed to put into words before, so he took a moment to sort his thoughts.

“The mind stores memory in many different ways. Long term, short term, things learned from experience or those that were taught by hear-say. The type of information and how you learned it changes where in the mind and body that information is stored.” He trailed a tentacle over his beloved’s black shining tentacle, still wrapped around his neck. A sad little coo erupted from him. He loved her slender appendage, but still mourned the damage she had taken. “The body holds memories, and traumatic and damaging things are stored in your nerves. The body feels them in a different way and can have trouble accessing them. They can come out unexpectedly. It can be painful. Upsetting. As you’ve seen. This is why I use healing pleasure mucus for helping with the repair of nerve damage as well as other types of physical damage.”

“...Healing pleasure mucus?” A vague sense of alarm emanated off of Small Bucky, though her voice only reflected a slight amount of disbelief.

Steve nodded. “A fluid my tentacles can secrete that does many things. First, it encourages the natural healing process, seals wounds, and purges those wounds of infection. Second, it blocks the pain receptors in the nervous system. It also floods the system with compounds that increase feelings of pleasure, safety, and enjoyment of touch, smoothing the healing process.”

Small Bucky opened and closed her mouth for a moment. Steve was slightly concerned. If it weren’t for the fact that he knew his beloved had no breathing issues outside of water, he would have been tempted to ask the Small Bucky if she was having respiratory issues.

“Oh my god,” the eel-cousin Steve said quietly, eyes wide. “You healed this world’s Clint. So you wrapped him up in tentacles and then covered him with...slick. Slick that made him feel good all over. That’s why he’s so...interested.”

“Holy shit, no wonder this world’s Tony keeps giving him crap for this.” Small Bucky shook her head and radiated a mix of alarm and awe. She looked at Bucky. “And this happens every time he heals you.”

She nodded and sighed happily.

After a moment’s consideration, Small Bucky waved an appendage at them. “Go on. You said there’s more.”

“Indeed. Usually when I heal my beloved, it is at this time that I more thoroughly investigate her frame for injury. She---” The words caught in his throat for a moment. His beloved had already experienced all the suffering that caused her scars. Being upset over it wouldn’t undo the damage. “She has been badly damaged for a very long time. With application of mucus and direct stimulation of her nervous system and the surrounding damaged tissues, I am slowly rebuilding her body’s strength.”

Something tickled against his senses. He looked down at where his beloved was nestled into his side. Much of her lower body was covered in his tentacles, but he could feel her fifth tentacle begin to stir under her algae, and that beautiful defensive coloring from earlier had spread down her torso. Her small nubby teeth worried at her lower lip as she gazed at him from under her cilia.

Overwhelming joy filled him. Look how lovely his mate-to-be was, how much pleasure his speaking could bring.

“Wait. Wait, you ‘thoroughly investigate’...with the tentacles, er, limbs, that are covered in that feel-good-juice?” Eel-cousin Steve’s voice seemed a bit strained. The realm swimmers exchanged looks.

“You know, I know everyone was kind of hinting at the tentacle sex, but I didn’t really believe them,” Small Bucky said somewhat incredulously.

“Oh no,” Steve said firmly. “There is no mating. We are waiting until after my beloved is completely healed, and after our courtship and bonding are complete, to discuss reproduction.”

Now there was only a sense of utter disbelief from both realm swimmers.

“But---” Eel-cousin Steve began. “This world’s Sam said…”

But Small Bucky just held up a limb, staving off the words. Her eyes were wide as sand dollars. “Just let him finish. I need to hear the rest.” She directed her attention back to Steve. “Ok. No sex. So what is it that does happen ? Anything else going on here that I should know about?”

“Well…” With this, Steve puffed up a bit and preened. “This last bit isn’t necessarily needed, but my ministering pleases my beloved, and it is my great honor to nurture and build that pleasure as much as possible.” He sighed happily. “And, lucky being that I am, my sweet ocean star often deigns to share her own fluids with me. Such a delicious gift!”

With that, his Bucky pulled on her long black tentacle, dragging Steve’s face close so that they could rub their cheeks together. He wrapped even more limbs around her and basked in the sensation of her overwhelming affection.

This was bliss.

“Yeah. Tentacle sex,” Eel-cousin Steve said quietly.

“Yup. Looks like it.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.”

Steve could tell there was still a great deal of shock and anxiety emanating from the realm swimmers, but for the moment he ignored it in favor of holding his beloved. There was clearly some confusion going on with them. Steve really wasn’t sure how they thought that spawnlings could be created from acts that didn’t involve eggs. Perhaps the beings in their realm reproducted by clonal fragmentation? Either way, he didn’t feel the need to educate them right that moment. His beloved had been through a great deal that day, and Steve was anxious to comfort her further. From the way she clung to him, she seemed to feel the same way.

Before they could become too tightly entwined, Steve felt a tapping on one of his limbs. With a small hum, he let his limbs retreat a bit and he focused his attention on the realm swimmers.

“So.” Small Bucky paused for a moment, clearly choosing her words carefully. “So the, uh, pleasuring part is extra? That’s not a thing that needs to happen? Because I am one hundred percent sure that I’m not interested in experiencing, uh, the full service plus happy ending.”

Steve and Bucky shared a momentary look of confusion at her wording.

“What he means is no, um, mutual exchange of fluids,” Eel-cousin Steve supplied.

Steve noticed that now both the realm swimmers were sporting altered color patterns, their faces flooded with pinks and reds. Curious. Maybe it was a standard eel-cousin skin feature?

“The mucus feels really, really good,” Bucky explained. “Better than anything I’ve ever felt in all my time with Hydra. Although, earlier today Steve and I---”

“Kid, I do not want to know.” Small Bucky raised up a hand. She sighed. “Ok. So the mucus is gonna make me want to get off.” Steve wondered what surface she might be on top of that fluids would encourage her to get off of it, but they were on dry land so perhaps she was worried about slipping.

Bucky furrowed her brow in thought. “Your Steve is staying, right? Just have him hold on to you. Let my Steve work on healing and your Steve can help you feel good.”

Both realm swimmers just stared at them, jaws open.

It was a little concerning.

“Is that how it worked with Clint?” Small Bucky asked.

Bucky shook his head and scowled. “Nah. The idiot went and got himself tased with a stun baton calibrated to take me down. Steve kept his tentacles to the wound, so Clint just woke up all healed and...interested.” The last word was nearly spit out.

“Right. Because of the mucus.”

Bucky nodded.

There was a long pause.

“I think we need a few minutes to talk this over first. Before I agree to anything.” Small Bucky was already disentangling herself from Steve’s tentacles, and quickly eel-cousin Steve moved to follow.

“Take all the time that you need, sweet one,” Steve said.

The two realm swimmers wandered off to the other edge of the tidal pool cavern and made soft noises at each other.

Steve turned to his beloved and grinned. At last, he would be free to heal her. She seemed to sense his line of thought, because she surged forward in his grip and gently pressed their mouths together.

After a moment, his beloved pulled back, a small frown on her face. “Steve…”

Though her face was grave, there was no sense of upset coming from her beyond the shakiness leftover from their feeding session. Rather, there was only the feeling that she was considering something of great seriousness.

“Yes, my sweet ocean star?”

“The other me doesn’t want you to touch him more than you have to. I think I understand where he’s coming from. Before you, the...the maintenance was…” Her eyes glazed a bit and she shivered. Steve snuggled her a bit closer, and got a quick half smile for his trouble. “I didn’t realize that maintenance could feel good before you. He’s probably worried. Experiencing maintenance from a new handler can be stressful. Sometimes erratic behavior happens. You’re not his handler, but he’s bound to be anxious. I would be too.”

Steve nodded. That did make sense. Though Small Bucky was more advanced in her healing in many ways than his beloved, Steve could still see she was deeply affected by her past injuries.

“So. I was thinking...maybe we should show him what maintenance is like without you pleasing me? That way he’ll know exactly what to expect.” Bucky looked up at Steve tentatively.

The generosity of his beloved was without measure. That she would volunteer to forgo her own enjoyment, simply to set her realm swimmer twin at ease was both touching and inspiring. His chest cave swelled with pride. Such a quality mate-to-be!

“Yes, that sounds like a good idea,” Steve said smiling. Bucky relaxed and smiled back, relief and pleasure pouring off of her. He ran his limbs up and down her frame, “Oh my sweet ocean star, you deserve all the tenderest squid to eat, the softest kelp to rest upon! Your kindness is a treasure.”

She wiggled happily in place, gently leaning into the limbs that encircled her. This managed to rub her increasingly engorged fifth tentacle against one of Steve’s appendages, causing them both to click and groan. Steve smiled ruefully.

Bucky just quietly laughed at him, sensing right away what was causing him distress. “Later, doll. You can lick me up after maintenance, if you want. Put your tentacles inside of me.” She bit her lip and writhed again in his grip. “I’d like that. A lot.”

“Anything you desire, my beloved.”

“Best mate ever.”

Steve sighed happily.

--

Bucky nearly dragged Steve out of the weird ass pile of blankets and underwear and around the half-complete wall. A stifled giggle and a low humming followed them out, encouraging Bucky to move a little faster. In moments they were off in a far corner of the pool room.

They both just sort of stared at each other for a minute. Steve looked like he was about to say something, and then a particularly loud groan echoed from down by the cave-nest. He snapped his mouth shut so hard that his teeth clacked, face fire engine red.

“So. That’s happening,” Bucky said with as much aplomb as he could muster.

Steve nodded, and eyed the tentacles sticking out of the nest. They wriggled and thrashed. Happily, whatever was going on was conveniently hidden behind the makeshift wall.

For a minute they both just stood there and processed the situation.

“Well. I guess it could be worse?” Steve’s eyes were still glued to the other end of the room.

Bucky snorted. “Yeah. I suppose.”

The irony of it was sort of killing him. The trigger words, hell, everything Hydra did to him was buried under a mountain of painful half-memories. Now to get that shit out of his head, he’d have to sit through the opposite. Overwhelming pleasure.

He struggled for a bit, trying to come to grips with the idea that this ‘healing pleasure mucus’ would be another thing forced on him. It brought up a foul taste in his mouth.

“You don’t need to do it. We can wait till we’re home and we’ll find another way.”

Now Bucky had those earnest puppy dog eyes trained on him. Damn Steve and his perceptiveness.

“It’s just…” Bucky shook his head. “Pain, I’m used to. Everything has a cost in pain. But this? I don’t think I know how to deal with someone threatening to make me feel good.”

Steve curled a hand around his waist and drew him in, pressing his lips to Bucky’s forehead. “It’s not a threat. Just a side effect. You’ll feel really good. He didn’t say anything about you being compelled to act on it.”

That...was true. It also perversely made Bucky feel a hell of a lot better about the whole thing. If he still had a choice about what to do, well, that was the important thing.

Worth clarifying though.

“I don’t want anyone, or anything, forcing me to do anything,” Bucky said, jaw clenched stubbornly. “I’ll ask. I’m not losing my mind again. Not if I can help it.”

Steve leaned back just a bit. Before he could go too far Bucky grabbed onto his sleeve. It was stupid, but Bucky was anxious and Steve being close was nice.

“And if you do still decide to go through with it, how can I help?”

That was so perfectly Steve all over. No limits on his involvement, no reservations, not even a hint of judgement. Whatever Bucky needed, Steve would be there.

Fuck. What did he ever do to deserve that kind of devotion.

Then he remembered who he was talking about. Steve never met a wall too high to climb, a job too dangerous to do. Or, apparently, a recovery tool too weird to try out.

Bucky huffed out a short laugh and shook his head. “Sit with me. Talk to me.” He paused and thought about it. “I’ll let you know if I need more.”

“And if you do?” Steve’s tone was neutral.

A muffled moan sounded out from the nest, followed by happy clicking and thrumming.

“You know, I don’t think they’ll care what we do. I’m…not as uncomfortable with the idea as I expected to be. I’m not keen on them being involved, but I don’t really care if they’re there.”

He side-eyed Steve and raised his eyebrow, questioning.

“Ha. I’m not opposed.” That bright red was back on Steve’s cheeks again and there was a small smile lingering on his lips. After only a moment, his face turned serious again. “But I’m gonna need you to be explicit here. I need to know exactly what you’re okay with me doing with you before you get under the influence of some weird sex slime.”

Bucky nodded, though with only half of his attention on Steve. The thrumming and clicks had grown a bit louder and were punctuated by a sigh here and there. Peach colored tentacles curled around at the entrance to the nest.

He had to admit, he was really really interested in seeing what was going on in there. Also worried. And sort of horrified. But curiosity was starting to win out.

With effort, he dragged his mind back to the question. “Hands and mouths only,” he said after some thought. He reached up and ran his fingers through Steve’s hair and grinned ferally at him. Lovely thoughts of their time spent in the actor’s world came to mind, causing heat to pool in his gut. “I certainly enjoy fucking you, and you fucking me is something I might have some interest in too, but maybe not when a tentacle monster is involved.”

“Alright,” Steve said with a laugh. Bucky could see how his pupils got a little wider, though, so he could tell Steve wasn’t totally unaffected by Bucky’s statements. “You ready?”

He nodded. “Might as well go see what all the fuss is about.”

Bucky took a moment to rub his eyes, and then headed back over. Right before they turned into the nest, Bucky paused to take a few breaths. Humming and sighs of pleasure were accompanied by the slick sound of wet flesh moving rhythmically.

I’m really gonna do this. What the fuck, me.

But the idea that Hydra would never again have their hooks in him was pretty damn alluring. No getting tossed back into being an obedient slave after a couple of whispered words.

This was worth it. Not like it would be a hardship. Just...maybe kind of weird. Okay, really fucking weird. He spent a moment deeply wishing they were all home already.

He turned the corner, with Steve right behind him.

The Asset was still wrapped in tentacles, but to Bucky’s surprise, there didn’t seem to be any actual penetration going on. While a few tentacle tips were gently rubbing at the waist band of the Asset’s panties, none of them actually dipped in.

His skull was cradled in Tentacle Steve’s human hands, their foreheads touching. Semi-translucent fluid covered his chest and all the limbs wrapped around it. A single large tentacle wrapped around his legs, looking more like it was cradling him than actually holding him in place. The bullwhip was still casually looped around Tentacle Steve’s neck, its end trailing off the back and wrapped up in its own glistening tentacle. They were both smiling, eyelids heavy, and gaze locked. The Asset was breathing like he’d run a marathon; probably would have been squirming around too, but he was held fast by tentacles.

As soon as they approached, Tentacle Steve wrapped dry limbs around both of their waists.

“Greetings realm swimmers,” he murmured to them.

“You’re not...uh” Bucky sort of gestured vaguely at the Asset’s lower body. He was seriously expecting something deeply pornographic, rather than just the slippery heavy petting that was actually going on. Not that he necessarily wanted to see that, but after their pre-mind-fuck negotiation, that’s sort of how he thought the Asset’s healing sessions went.

They clearly sensed his confusion, because they disentangled a bit to look at him. Now the Asset really did squirm in place, and it was very obvious that he was hard as a rock under his lace lingerie.

Bucky was seriously starting to consider his wardrobe choices. A quick glance over at Steve told him that Steve was thinking the same thing. Interesting.

“You wanted to see what it was like,” the Asset said. “New maintenance routines can be distressing. I know how that goes. I thought we’d try to make my experience as close to what yours will be as possible. That way you’ll know exactly what to expect.” His voice was a little breathy, but a lazy smirk was on his face. So, relaxed and happy. Completely opposite from the shivering, terrified mess that he was at dinner. Bucky had to admit, even if the ‘healing tentacles’ thing was total bullshit, at least the Asset could have this. Tentacle Steve clearly adored him, despite the vast differences between them.

The fact that the Asset thought about Bucky’s comfort actually went a long way towards setting him at ease, even if the phrasing about ‘new maintenance routines’ made him shudder a bit. It was clear that the Asset was still able to think, still able to choose. It also helped that the Asset was right; it really was a bit of a relief to be able to see the exact process in action.

“You can borrow a knife or a gun if you want. There are a lot of times I wish I’d been armed for new maintenance.” The Asset gestured to his array of knives on the floor.

“I got that covered. Thanks, though,” Bucky said and shook his head. Then he glanced back and forth between Tentacle Steve and the Asset. “So have you guys started? It...kinda looks like you have.”

The Asset nodded.

“Indeed,” Tentacle Steve said. “I’ve coated much of her frame in my healing mucus, and I am monitoring the flow of electrical impulses in her central nervous system.”

Tentacles shifted around and the Asset arched in place, moaning. “Feels good. So good, Stevie.”

“Beloved,” Tentacle Steve cooed, and licked some of his own fluids off of the Asset’s chest.

Jesus.

That should not be as sexy as it was. Heat started to pool in his gut and his body tightened up all over. Watching Steve’s face licking another him… Now he was sort of wishing that he hadn’t made a point to say no to the pleasuring part. The idea of watching his twin be fucked by several different limbs, all belonging to a Steve, was unfairly hot.

That’s about the time that he realized he could actually feel how much both of them were enjoying the experience. It was sort of heady, made a little sharper by the fact that Bucky normally got off on making sure his partner was feeling good. Having that immediate feedback, even if he wasn’t actively involved in what they were doing, was hitting a lot of buttons for him.

“Fuck,” Steve whispered next to him.

All Bucky could do was nod.

A few tentacles gently plucked at the hem of Bucky’s shirt, snapping him out of his staring for a moment. With a little internal shrug, he pulled it off and then took his boots off for good measure. He felt a little bad wearing his dirty shoes on the clean clothing of their nest, even if it was mostly towels and lingerie. Steve followed suit next to him, and then they both settled in to watch.

“My mucus is strengthening the damaged skin and muscle fibers in my beloved’s frame,” Steve said absently, and then stroked slightly slimy tentacle down the full length of the Asset’s body. Slowly but surely, he moved his human looking hands around the Asset’s head and neck. Little, gentle caresses that left trails of slick and caused the Asset’s eyes to flutter and his breath to come out in short pants. “Through careful stimulation, I am rebuilding my sweet ocean star’s damaged connections. Part of that is making sure that all the surrounding tissues are healed and properly accessing memories as they should. Part of it is seeing which elements are causing my beloved pain and soothing them…”

Bucky shook his head in astonishment. If Tentacle Steve was actually doing what he was saying...that put him on the same scale as the most advanced neurosurgeons in the world. Probably better, considering the precision that he was working with.

Which was great, but it didn’t do much to distract him from the blissed out look on the Asset’s face, or the sheer pleasure that was being pumped through their mental connection.

“Can you feel what he’s doing?” Bucky asked, hoping the Asset wasn’t so out of his mind that he wouldn’t be able to answer.

“Mmm, sorta.” The Asset’s voice slurred a bit and he let out a soft whine. “Everything feels really good. Safe. Body doesn’t hurt. Not even the arm. Head feels...floaty. Sometimes---” He squirmed again and Tentacle Steve licked another stripe up his chest. “Ah, Stevie, yes. Wait...” As soon as the Asset said that, Tentacle Steve pulled back his head back, giving the Asset some room. “Trying to talk here, doll. Sometimes memories slid into place while Steve is working. But they don’t hurt. Feels like a key going into a lock. It fits.”

In Bucky’s experience, very few memories had fallen into place like that. Some did, but many forced themselves into the front of his mind, blunt and painful. Like glass shards in his head.

“Even the bad memories?” he asked quietly. Those were always the worse, because they lingered. Days and weeks later he’d get caught up in something awful he’d done, or something done to him. Guild and rage and a whole mix of things he couldn’t readily identify all crammed in to his head together. Now, months and months later, it was a lot better. Sometimes he still felt like the Soldier, but he was starting to feel like Bucky more and more.

With that question, though, the Asset just cast him a confused look.

Bucky stared back, eyebrow raised.

Then it hit him. ‘Bad’ wasn’t a useful qualifier for the Asset because what Bucky had come to learn was ‘bad’ was still just ‘normal’ for the Asset.

Fucking fuck. Three weeks. Just three weeks out of Hydra’s grasp. The Asset was probably just now starting to realize that there can be a life without constant pain. Given what happened at dinner and the number of scars on the Asset’s body, it was probably fair to say that the Hydra of this world were a bit heavier handed than those in Bucky’s world, too.

He very briefly wished that their dimensional portal remote was working properly, like it used to before they went and fucked things up by trying to destroy it. Bucky had used it once to murder every Hydra operative he knew of in someone else’s world, and he’d happily do it again.

Tentacle Steve looked at him curiously.

Right. Empathy.

He shook his head. “Not important.”

The next half hour or so proceeded about the same way. Tentacle Steve gently ran his fingers around the Asset’s head and down his neck, chest, and spine. Every once in a while, he’d lick the Asset somewhere or touch foreheads with him, or rub their cheeks together. Comforting little touches that the Asset seemed to approve of greatly. For his part, the Asset mostly squirmed a bit and moaned from time to time, content to let his lover do whatever he wanted. Steve and Bucky watched, and Bucky tried not to reach down and jerk himself off.

That was a losing battle right there. From the look on Steve’s face he was having the same problem. At one point Bucky had caught Steve adjusting himself in his pants.

“What?” Steve whispered a bit defensively. “Seeing someone who looks just like you kept on the edge of coming like that…Fuck.” He shook his head.

Bucky smirked in response, but he nodded. It really was a sight. Weird, though. After all the world’s they’d been to, seeing himself makeout with someone else was still odd.

Hot as hell, but odd.

“Doesn’t help that we can feel how much he likes it,” Bucky replied. Steve nodded, eyes wide and gaze once again locked on their counterparts.

Eventually Tentacle Steve lowered his hands. “Done, beloved. You did so well. So beautiful, my sweet mate-to-be.”

The Asset sighed deeply and smiled. A single tentacle reached down the front of his panties, causing the Asset’s hips to jut out and punching a hard moan from him. After just a few strokes, the Asset was coming, body tight, and clinging to the tentacles he was still wrapped in. After working him through his release, Tentacle Steve ducked his head down and slid the come soaked blue lace down. Carefully he worked the Asset’s cock up out of the fabric and then licked it clean of all the fluids covering it. Each little lick was accompanied by a happy chirp and hum. Then he licked and sucked at the fabric, long tongue lapping at the stains on the sheer dark blue fabric. Once he was all finished, he tucked the Asset back into his panties and cuddled up to him.

Holy shit.

“Mmmm. The healing went well beloved,” Tentacle Steve cooed softly. “Later, perhaps, I will investigate your digestive tract and we can exchange fluids again. If you want to.”

“How’d I ever get so lucky to have a fella like you,” the Asset responded with a smile. “Yeah, I’d like that.”

Now very explicit thoughts of that were running through Bucky’s brain and it was not helping his situation out one bit. It was his turn to try and self-adjust a bit.

“Oh my god, I hope Tony never looks through my internet searches from now on,” Steve whispered next to him.

“I’m sure Friday can keep a secret. There are toys, right? The guys were looking at toys upstairs.” Bucky was a goddamn world renowned assassin. He was pretty sure he could buy some questionably shaped sex toys without alerting the Avengers.

Tentacle Steve and the Asset turned to look at them.

“Are you ready, sweet one?” Tentacle Steve was already reaching out with additional limbs, but stopped right before wrapping them around Bucky.

“Yeah, you know what? No pants. Steve, off. I don’t even care right now.” Bucky stripped off the rest of his clothes while the Asset grinned. As soon Bucky was nude, tentacles started to slowly coil around him.

“Jesus fucking Christ, we are going to have the weirdest fetishes when we get home.” Steve sounded two parts horny, one part rueful.

The moment that slime touched Bucky’s skin it was like fireworks had raced up his spine. A powerful wave of pleasure filled him up, soaking in from his skin down to his bones.

“Ohhhhh fuck,” he said quietly, and then reached out to grab on to Steve. “Behind me. Holy fuck, yes.”

Steve settled in behind him, Bucky perched in between his legs and leaning back on his chest. Bucky could tell the moment that Steve felt that healing mucus, because he let out a gasp like he’d been sucker punched in the gut. Both of them were hard and leaking precome; Bucky could feel the little smear of wetness from Steve on his lower back. Well, he could right up until Tentacle Steve readjusted his limbs, coating more of his body in that sex slime.

No fucking wonder the Asset was so damn enthusiastic. Holy shit, it was like drowning in ecstasy, the touchy feely illegal drug kind, not the existential kind.

Tentacle Steve settled his torso in front of him, fingers trailing delicious fire up Bucky’s torso and onto his neck and face.

“Sweet one, I am about to begin. This may take a while, as I want to set up a strong foundation for future healing. When we are done, the vile words will not cause your mind to regress, though they may still cause you some distress. But your natural regeneration will build on the work we do tonight, and as time goes on, the amount of distress you will experience in the face of those vile words will diminish.”

Well that was pretty neat. Even if Bucky wasn’t already covered in happy-juice, he would have been really on board with hearing that plan.

It was odd, how much Tentacle Steve looked like his own Steve. Their eyes were the same damn shade of bright blue, though the skin color and hair color was a bit different. Both had those lovely plush lips and that sweet little smile.

He gave Tentacle Steve a nod, and got another soft smile in return.

And then his mind was soaring, carried away on a vast wave of euphoria. Distantly, he could tell he was straining against the tentacles that held him, desperate for something to grind up against.

“Stevie,” he choked out. There was panting in his ear and then Steve was nibbling up and down his neck and it felt fucking amazing. Hands wrapped around him from behind as Steve cuddled him close. “Touch me Steve, please. Oh fuck, this feels so good.”

“Love to hear you beg, Buck,” Steve said behind him, voice sounding rough as gravel. One hand trailed through the slick on Bucky’s stomach and then slid down onto Bucky’s engorged cock. A long low moan ripped out of him as the mucus on Steve’s hand lit up his skin. All that spine tingling pleasure nearly melted his brain and he bucked and jerked into Steve’s tight fist.

Steve started to pump his cock, slow languid strokes that teased him from root to tip. He curled his fingers around the head, rubbing that pleasure mucus into his slit, causing Bucky to nearly scream. The tentacles held him still, though, so the best he could do was thrash weakly in their grip. Then Steve’s other hand slid down to tease Bucky’s ass, gently rubbing mucus into his tightly furled hole.

At some point he must have closed his eyes, because all he could see was black and stars. He struggled to angle into either one of Steve’s hands, but he was held too firmly. Bucky needed it. He needed it so fucking bad.

“Steve, please.”

“Anything for you, Buck.” One thick finger breached his hole. Smooth and coated in that slime, there wasn’t even a twinge of discomfort; only toe curling pleasure. His breath was already coming out in heavy pants and his heart was pounding. Everything was hot and good and holy shit he was not going to last long. From the grinding Steve was doing on his lower back, Steve wasn’t far away from coming himself.

A second finger got shoved inside him, making Bucky arch up against the limbs around him and utter a truly embarrassing sound. After only a couple more pushes in and out, Steve found just the right spot to hit inside of him and suddenly he was crying out and coming all over them. He twisted and heaved in place, moaning as the pleasure rolled over him. By the time it was done, he was almost crying.

But rather than the normal feeling of post-orgsam oversensitivity, Bucky felt a muffled bone deep contentment mixed with bliss. Steve’s hands were still on his cock and in his ass, but they’d stopped moving, just holding him, keeping him wrapped up and filled. The image of that hit him like a ton of bricks and he reflexively twitched his hips again.

That was about the time he realized he was still hard. Very, very hard.

“Oh fuck,” Bucky whispered, suddenly realizing that this could go on indefinitely. “Oh my god, this--- How long?”

“There is still much to do, sweet one,” Tentacle Steve murmured. His human arms cradled Bucky’s head and they were close enough to share breath. Safety, pleasure, and comfort radiated from all around, putting him at ease while working him up at the same time.

A shudder of anticipation raced through him and Steve cursed quietly in his ear. Then a third finger rubbed around his rim and gently squeezed in next to the other two. Bucky writhed and groaned at the sensation of being filled. He suddenly regretted that he’d asked for hands and mouths only.

Bucky briefly considered the fact that this could conceivably go on for hours. Maybe the whole night. Just the thought of it made his cock twitch and drip a steady stream of precome down Steve’s fist.

Oh my god, this is gonna be the world that kills me, he thought. Then Steve started moving his fingers again, and Bucky’s eyes rolled back into his head.

--

Bucky laid back in Steve’s limbs and watched his mate settle in to heal Small Bucky. He was still coated in the healing mucus, so everything was tingly and good. A few of Steve’s limbs still cradled him as well, something he was very grateful for.

Watching Small Bucky and Tiny Steve Rogers hold and caress each other was just as beautiful as he imagined it would be. Each little twist and gasp made his genitals swell in the tight confines of his smallclothes.

He was a bit torn though. Earlier that day, Steve seemed quite pleased when Bucky had taken himself in hand. It had been a revelation, bringing himself pleasure, making his body do what he wanted it to do. There were no orders, no rules, and no punishments. Steve’s soft coos had coaxed him through the experience, and he was grateful.

But now here he was, watching the very thing he was fantasizing about earlier, and he wasn’t sure what to do. Was he allowed to touch himself again? After all, it wasn’t Bucky’s turn for maintenance. He’d already had his go at it, and Steve had even licked him clean afterwards.

Time ticked by, syrupy and slow, measured only by Small Bucky’s moans and Tiny Stevie Rogers whispered words of encouragement. Bucky grew more and more restive; a smoldering pleasure clawed at his insides and made him want to do something. Anything.

He couldn’t keep still. He had to keep still. This wasn’t his turn.

When Small Bucky’s genitals began to spurt fluids for the second time, encouraged by Tiny Stevie’s clever fingers, Bucky couldn’t stop the small whine that escaped him.

It almost went unnoticed. Small Bucky was still lost in the bliss of healing and Steve was deep in Small Bucky’s mind. But then Tiny Stevie looked right at him, eyes raking up and down Bucky form.

He swallowed nervously and hunched his shoulders; worry nagged at him. Bucky made a noise. Interrupted their maintenance. Maybe this is what would net him punishment.

But Tiny Stevie just smiled at him, a slow, sly smirk that warmed Buck to his toes and made his genitals shift of their own accord inside the blue lace. The movement caught Tiny Stevie’s gaze and his smirk widened. He licked his lips, then looked at Bucky’s hand, then his groin, then back up to lock gazes with him. Then he raised a single eyebrow, questioning.

Breath caught in Bucky’s throat. Tiny Stevie was giving him permission, asking him why he hadn’t started touching himself yet. Encouraging to share in their pleasure, too.

Bucky wanted to grin, but he held back. Maybe he was misinterpreting things. But the look gave him enough courage to slowly move his hand towards his smallclothes. He didn’t dare reach them inside, just gently rested it on top.

Tiny Stevie’s eyes crinkled with pleasure and he nodded encouragingly.

That was definitely permission. Relief raced through him and he found himself smiling. Very carefully, he reached into his small clothes and grabbed hold of his genitals firmly. He was leaking a bit already. Bucky spared a moment to wonder if Steve would still want to lick him clean after Small Bucky’s maintenance was done.

As good as it was to touch himself again, he still felt nervous under Tiny Stevie’s gaze. He tugged and groped himself, briefly wishing that he possessed even part of the grace that Tiny Stevie’s hands seemed to have. Those strong, beautiful fingers slid up and down Small Bucky’s genitals. It looked so natural, so elegant, how each little twist and curl made Small Bucky shake and sob.

When he looked up again, Tiny Stevie Rogers was still looking at him, eyes heavy lidded, cheeks red, and teeth gnawing on his lower lip. Tiny Stevie glanced at his own hand on Small Bucky’s groin. He slowed down his stroking to take one long slide up Small Bucky’s genitals, root to tip. Then he glanced at Bucky’s hand in his small clothes, and looked up to Bucky’s face, one eyebrow raised.

Instruction! Tiny Stevie Rogers was showing him what to do. Excitement bubbled up inside of him and he did his best to recreate the move. One long, slow stroke up his protruding genitals. It felt so damn good, he wanted to pant and scream. Instead he swallowed hard and looked back at Tiny Stevie, silently pleading with him to continue.

Tiny Stevie grinned and nodded. A flood of pride and pleasure filled Bucky up and he trembled in place, waiting to be shown the next move.

Tiny Stevie repeated the first gesture, but instead of releasing at the top, he thumbed over the little slit there that was steadily dripping fluids. Small Bucky moaned hard and flexed his muscles, trying to gain purchase to move but failing.

When Bucky tried the same move, he, too, felt like he wanted to slither around in place, though he limited himself to simply tossing his head back. He panted hard for a moment. Everything throbbed around and inside of him. This was so much better than just touching himself. The fact that Tiny Stevie was showing him what to do, teaching him how to better please himself...it made his eyes tingle and his throat burn.

Bucky felt...worthy. Pleased and happy and proud. He was doing well, making himself feel good. Tiny Stevie was happy with him. Bucky could feel how happy his Steve was with everything that was going on; the pleasure was coming out of his tentacles in waves. Small Bucky was both being pleased and healed as well.

Right then, Bucky didn’t feel like a weapon. He felt like a person. Like they were all people, just being together and making each other whole.

He gave himself another experimental stroke, this time not bothering to stop the small cry that it caused. When he looked up, Tiny Stevie was smiling at him again and whispering something in Small Bucky’s ear. Small Bucky looked over sharply at Bucky, but a wide grin broke out on his face before Bucky could even think to feel anxious about it.

This time Tiny Stevie stroked Small Bucky’s genitals top down, finishing with a little grope to the sack at the base there. Throughout the whole movement, they both watched Bucky’s reaction. Small Bucky flexed and strained into the movement, trying to roll his hips but failing due to the hold on him. It was beautiful. He was beautiful, strong and smooth and gloriously alive. The sight of it made Bucky’s breath stutter for a moment. Small Bucky saw the movement and grinned even wider, eyes dark and predatory.

Under that encouraging gaze, Bucky gave it a try. Oh, that was magic! It made Bucky want to flex every part of him, right down to his toes. That was delightful, so much so that Bucky did it two or three times before he nodded back to Tiny Stevie to continue.

Back and forth they went, sharing and learning different ways of touching. Each one was as gratifying as the last, and Bucky committed them all to memory.

Pleasure inside of him slowly spooled up. He was close, hot all over and feeling like something was going to break, but in the best way possible. Steve must have been able to sense it too, because the limbs around Bucky’s body rippled and tightened. Bucky let out a soft whine and closed his eyes a moment, gathering strength for that final push.

When he looked up, Tiny Stevie had that sly smirk again, in between licks and nips up and down Small Bucky’s neck and ear. Again, he whispered something to Small Bucky, who let out a pained whine and nodded furiously. Then carefully, Tiny Stevie shifted one of Small Bucky’s legs over his own, using that leverage to spread Small Bucky wide open, leaving his red puffy hole exposed. Pleasure mucus and Small Bucky’s own fluids had been rubbed all around it, so much that it was practically dripping out of the loose, open passage. Then Tiny Stevie worked four fingers into Small Bucky’s slicked up ass, shoving them in and out. He started slowly at first, and then faster and faster. Small Bucky twisted, gasping hard with every thrust and eyes closed in pleasure, until he finally screamed and spilled his fluids all over them both.

The sight of it was enough to tip Bucky over, breaking the dam inside of him and causing his own fluids to come out in thick spurts. He rubbed himself through it, working his flesh as Tiny Stevie had shown him until he lay boneless in Steve’s limbs, completely spent. A he lay there gasping, he heard Tiny Stevie cry out in pleasure as well. Bucky barely clocked their writhing movement through his heavy eyelids.

Everything was soft and floaty again, and soon Steve was cuddling up next to him. Dimly he felt Small Bucky and Tiny Stevie Rogers tucked in beside him, each one of them wrapped in tentacles and surrounded by the softest fabric in the world.

Some of that soft smooth fabric worked its way across his skin. Steve cleaning them up, he suspected.

That was the last coherent thought he had before drifting off into a deep peaceful sleep.

--

The healing went splendidly. Steve couldn’t be happier. The realm swimmers and his beloved were all comfortably asleep, their muscles rejuvenated and relaxed, their nerves calm and revitalized. Everyone had been carefully bathed in damp kelp.

He briefly wished he’d had the foresight to gather a few more supplies for them before they started. A bit more than just one shell’s worth of cake. Perhaps a few of those tasty liquids, too.

No matter. Once they were a bit more recovered from their healing, Steve would go in search of fine treats for them. Perhaps in a few hours he might rouse his counterpart to keep watch on over their mates while Steve foraged.

That idea had merit, but for now Steve settled in next to them with a pleased sigh, making sure to keep the bulk of his body between them and the entrance to their nest. Certain that no one would disturb their rest, he snuggled close and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

Whip Crack Cosplay

Lovely art/cosplay is by Whattheshitrogers, click here to see their tumblr post!

--

Something insistent nudged at Steve’s side. He groaned and curled inward.

“Nnngg, not time to get up yet,” he mumbled. There was another prod to his side. “Bucky, no. Sleep.”

A quiet hum of amusement made his eyes fly wide open. Not Bucky, he thought.

“No, realm swimmer. Our beloveds are both still resting.”

Steve rolled over to see Tentacle Steve lashing the tips of his many limbs in good humor, a small smile on his face. Sure enough, both Buckys were still asleep, curled up in various towels, sheets, and loose piles of lingerie.

He rubbed his eyes and sat up.

“What’s up?” Clearly there was a reason that Tentacle Steve woke him. Based on the lack of alarm emanating through the psychic connection forged by the tentacles, it probably wasn’t a serious issue. Because of that, Steve tried to keep his voice low. It wasn’t often that his Bucky slept well and Steve was loath to wake him unnecessarily. He noticed that Tentacle Steve had removed all of his limbs from the Buckys as well and was keeping his vocalizations to a low thrum, probably for the same reason.

“The healing process takes a great deal out of the body. Soon, they will awaken, and when they do they will be hungry. Will you guard the nest while I go hunting?” Boundless joy radiated from Tentacle Steve at this declaration and he grinned wide, showing off all of those very pointy teeth.

He blinked through the explanation and rubbed his face, trying to drag his thoughts into a semblance of order. Which was about when he realized he was still naked. Not only that, but his clothes were buried somewhere in the piles.

Of course.

“Wait, do you really think we need to stand watch?” On reflex, Steve glanced towards the nest exit. Everything looked normal. Or as normal as things seemed to regularly run here, anyways.

“Often times, no. But the past day has been extremely trying for my beloved, and she is has been weakened from lack of food and years of mistreatment.” Tentacles shifted restively around the nest area. The coiling action reminded Steve of someone wringing their hands. Tentacle Steve shook his head and looked at the Asset. “Then there were the healings, too, and on top of that there are many new beings in the upper levels of the reef. It is probably foolish of me, but I would feel better if they were looked after while they slumber.”

Steve puzzled for a moment over the ‘new beings’ comment, until he realized that Tentacle Steve was talking about all the dimension hoppers. He had to admit, he’d be a bit concerned too. It was surprisingly touching that Tentacle Steve trusted him with both the Buckys safety, although given the telepathy maybe it wasn’t too surprising.

“Yeah, that makes sense. I bet there are plenty of leftovers from dinner.” He furrowed his brow and thought for a moment. While he tried to think through the situation, he also began to rummage around for his clothes. Or at least something that would fit him and maybe wasn’t see through. “That is what you meant by ‘hunting’ right? Because you don’t actually need to go kill anything. There’s plenty of food up in the common room.”

If anything, that seemed to amuse his counterpart, because Tentacle Steve just ruefully grinned. “Yes. As enjoyable as it would be to have fresh flesh to enjoy, so far I have not seen viable hunting grounds in this reef. The Avenger eel-cousins vowed to supply us with meat, so I plan on returning to the feeding cave to investigate their stores.”

Well that was a relief. The last thing Steve really wanted was to be presented with a dead Stark security guard. A second worrying thought came to mind, and that was being presented with a pile of frozen squid. “Jarvis can show you what’s worth getting.”

“Ahhh! You mean the guardian spirit of the reef!” Tentacle Steve’s limbs thrashed a bit and he let out a long hum. “I wish I could speak to that noble guardian, but…” He shrugged.

Which, once Steve thought about it, that made sense if Tentacle Steve’s primary mode of communication was telepathic.

“Jarvis, can you hear me?” Steve asked.

“Yes, Captain Rogers. How may I be of service?” The AI’s voice was quiet and both Buckys slept soundly through it. Good. They needed their rest.

“Squid-me is gonna go to the common room for some food supplies. Is there a way you can show him what to grab? Something that us humans can eat and probably lots of it, if I know all of our apatites.”

“It would be my pleasure, Captain.”

Apparently, Tentacle Steve caught the meaning of that exchange through whatever bizarre mind powers he had going on. He gave Steve a full body caress with one of his larger limbs and radiated gratitude, a gesture that left Steve shivering in kind of a good way. Then he was off, flowing over to the stairwell and out of the room.

Steve rummage around a bit more, careful to not wake either Bucky. Just in case, he kept one eye on the exit.

For a while he had absolutely no luck on finding non-see-through underwear, but during the search he found a pair with convenient ribbon bows tying together strategically placed holes. Steve’s skin flushed hot for a moment while he considered that, but he reluctantly set them aside. As much as he wanted to spend all morning getting fucked by Bucky, now was probably not the time.

He did briefly consider stashing that particular pair away in a pocket before they left, though.

Eventually he found his and Bucky’s clothes stacked on top of his shield and shoved in a corner. His underwear and pants he put on right away, but the rest he waited on. Getting fully armed up seemed a bit like overkill, especially with both Buckys still naked in their lingerie cocoons. Steve grabbed the rest of their gear, keeping it on hand for later, and settled in to wait.

The sound of softly trickling water echoed in the vast room. Soft blue LEDs lit up a a walkway around the pool, giving off more than enough light for a super soldier to see clearly. Aside from that everything was dark. He watched the dim reflections of the waters surface on the ceiling and mulled the days events around in his head.

This world, this version of him, were strange. Very strange. Certainly not as dangerous or upsetting as some of the previous worlds they’d been shoved into, but still kind of a trip. Well, at least not dangerous to the dimensional visitors. From what Steve could see, both Tentacle Steve and the Asset were just as deadly as any version of them. But from everything Steve had seen, this world’s Asset needed every advantage he could get. He couldn’t help but think maybe it was good luck that this world’s Steve was so formidable.

Something was bugging him about the evenings interactions though, and he couldn’t quite place it. Steve tapped his fingers against his knee and stared at the Buckys. Two sets of dark hair spread across multi colored towels, both breathing slow and deep.

While he thought about it, the Asset began to stir. Tension hummed through him, but after a quick glance around he spotted Steve and relaxed. While he did nudge a few of his knives closer, he didn’t look particularly alarmed.

Nor did he bother putting on any clothes, much to Steve’s discomfort. Not that he minded if the Asset wanted to be nude. The problem was that all that skin on display was making it difficult not to think about the ‘healing’ session from earlier that night. He briefly questioned his earlier choice of not to try on a pair of the soft silk underthings. Just thinking about how they might feel against his cock was absolutely not helping him whatsoever.

Steve waved hello at him and the Asset gave him a small smile in return.

“Your Steve is off getting some food,” Steve said quietly, still hyper aware of waking up Bucky. The Asset nodded and stretched. Steve absolutely did not watch him arch his back and writhe in place, working out the kinks of their post-healing sleep. After a moment the Asset slumped back down on a pile of silken underwear, boneless and relaxed.

“I hope he brings more cake.”

The quiet wistful comment made Steve snort with laughter. “Jarvis will show him what’s good to bring. We could ask him to point out more cake to your Steve?”

“Easily done, Captains,” Jarvis said quietly from just a single speaker in the ceiling above them.

“Thank you, Jarvis.” Steve always tried to be polite to Tony’s AIs. One never knew when they might decide that humans were running things too inefficiently.

The Asset nodded as well, eyes cast up towards the ceiling.

Silence stretched between the two of them, though there wasn’t any awkwardness to it. Eventually the Asset spoke up.

“You look good, Stevie. I’m glad you got better.” There was a small curl to his lips. It wasn’t quite the look that the old Bucky Barnes would have given, but there was a shadow of it there. Steve couldn’t help but smile back.

“Thanks, Buck.” He bit his lip. The thing that was nagging in the back of his head finally solidified. “...Hey. Can I ask you something? You don’t need to answer if you don’t want to.”

“I can’t say that I’ll remember what you want to know, but sure, Stevie. Ask me whatever you want.”

The Asset looked so relaxed, drowsy and at ease. Steve desperately hoped he wasn’t about to ruin it.

“Your Steve…” He rubbed the back of his neck. There wasn’t any delicate way to say this. “When he was stepping us through the healing earlier tonight, he kept calling you ‘she’?”

The Asset stared blankly at him.

Steve tried again. “So. Uh. Are you? A ‘she’? Should we call you ‘she’, too?”

When Steve had gotten out of the ice, he’d gotten a crash course on modern gender issues. He would be the first to admit he wasn’t anywhere near an expert, but he knew that sometimes folks didn’t necessarily identify with what people might expect from their biology. Just because his Bucky and the Asset shared similar physical characteristics didn’t mean they shared similar genders.

He briefly wished Sam was here. Or Natasha. Either one of them would have been a million times better at navigating this particular discussion.

“Oh.” The Asset nodded in sudden understanding. “You can call me whatever you like.”

Steve frowned. “You don’t have a preference?”

“Well…” The Asset hunched down a bit and bit his lower lip. His metal arm recalibrated up and down. Steve let him take his time with the answer. The last thing the world he wanted to do was push the Asset before he was ready. “It’s probably inappropriate to call me ‘he’ or ‘she’. I’m a weapon. Weapons don’t get gender. But. Well. Steve never does that. He treats me just like a person.” The Asset flickered his gaze around the room nervously. Breath caught in Steve’s throat, like a vice on his lungs, so the only sounds in the room were the soft drip-drip of water in the pool and Bucky’s deep slumbering breathing. After curling a little further inward, the Asset surreptitiously palmed one of his knives. He looked up at Steve through his lashes, anxiety written in every line of him. “I like it when Steve treats me like a person.”

Holy shit.

Steve ached inside. A million different things tried to bubble up; anger, protectiveness, sadness. He swallowed it down. This Bucky didn’t need his upset. In fact, the longer Steve took to answer, the tighter the Asset held himself.

“Good,” Steve finally said. “Your Steve should treat you like a person. Because you are a person.”

Some of the tension flowed out of the Asset.

Which was about when Steve realized that the Asset expected to be punished for enjoying being treated like a regular human being. It took everything he had not to climb over the lingerie piles and hug the life out of him.

“Bucky.” Steve took a breath and gathered his thoughts. He had to get this right. “You are a person. And you get to choose how people address you. If you want to be male, female, both, neither. ‘Him’ or ‘her’ or something else. You get to choose. I’m sure your Steve will respect that, just like I would. Will.”

The Asset mulled this over for a minute or two. A small frown played on his lips, but at least his body had lost its fearful stillness. “Do I...do I have to choose? Right now?”

“No, Buck. Take your time.” Steve smiled encouragingly at him. At least he hoped he was being encouraging. Fuck, it was hard to tell sometimes. “Just let your Steve know. Talk to him about it. And if anyone ever calls you something you don’t like, you’re allowed to tell them not to. Doesn’t matter who it is.”

That earned him a snort and an eyeroll.

Maybe he deserved that reaction. After all, if he’d said the same thing to his Bucky, he might have gotten stabbed. His Bucky was volatile, dangerous at the best of times; a fact that never failed to turn Steve on a bit. But the Asset…

It could just be that the Asset was just so fresh from being under Hydra’s control. Steve couldn’t help but think there was more to it, though. Something in the way Hydra treated him, maybe.

“You don’t know a lot about weapons, do you Stevie? You own a thing, you can call it whatever you want.” The look he got was both pained and amused.

Shit and fuck.

“Bucky. No one owns you.” It was a struggle to keep his voice even. To not let his anger bleed out on the person he was trying to reassure. Fucking Hydra. His hatred for them could fuel a thousand suns.

All he got was a shrug. “My Steve stole me. Just because my owners aren’t here doesn’t mean they’re gone. My Steve says he can keep them away, can stop them from taking me back.” The Asset’s gaze turned wistful. “I hope he can.”

Fuck it.

Steve crawled over to the Asset, getting as close as he dared. He reached one hand out, but when the Asset flinched, he froze. “Bucky. Your Steve won’t let anything happen to you. The Avengers here will help, too. You’re a person, not a weapon.”

The Asset looked at him, eyes wide and watery and with the ghost of a smile lingering on his lips. “Damn, Stevie. You really are a sweet talker.”

Pain lanced through Steve’s heart. He hurt. Upset and sorrow lodged themselves in his chest. It was like asthma all over again. He dredged up the best smile he could and said, “Just telling you the truth, Buck. I bet your Steve says the same things.”

“Ha. Yeah. He’s a sweet talker, too.” The little smile on the Asset’s face grew into something warmer, more solid and alive.

They sat together in silence for a few minutes. Eventually Steve shuffled over so that he could lean close to the Asset. As close as he could anyways. The moment Steve felt the Asset tense up, he backed off. Just the proximity might help, even if he couldn’t wrap the Asset in a hug.

If this was the best he could offer, Steve would still take it.

Everything he’d seen in this world floated through his head again. How everyone here interacted, when they did interact, anyways. He’d kind of gotten the impression that Tentacle Steve and the Asset weren’t very social, even by his Bucky’s standards and that was really saying something.

Then he ran over everything Tentacle Steve said about the healing process. All the while, his Bucky slept soundly next to them. The slow measured draw of his breaths was settling. Peaceful.

“But seriously, though,” Steve said. “It kinda sounded like your Steve might want kids someday. So. Um. Maybe you should talk to him about that? It doesn’t really seem like he has a good understanding of humans. In any respect. You might have to clear a few things up with him.”

That was the most diplomatic way he could think of to try and bring up to the Asset that his sea monster lover might have some biological incompatibilities with him. Or maybe just general misconceptions. He side-eyed the Asset just to see how that went over.

The Asset just raised his eyebrows for a moment and then furrowed them together. After thinking it over, he nodded. “You might have a good point there. If we’re gonna steal some children, we’ll have to talk about that. I mean, at the very least we’re gonna need enough weapons so they each can have their own.” He looked at Steve and nodded sagely. “Kids like to have their own things.”

Steve covered his face with his hands.

He was gonna have to talk to this world’s Sam before they left.

--

Steve chirped and hummed happily as he flowed up through the vertical reef shafts.

Everything was going splendidly. His beloved rested peacefully with the two realm swimmers, all of them guarded by Steve’s own eel-cousin twin. It might have been a wiser idea to send Eel-cousin Steve off to hunt; after all, as an eel-cousin himself, he would know exactly the kinds of foods to collect for them all.

But his progenitor would have a fit if she caught tides of Steve sending a nest guest off to gather food while he lounged around with his beloved. And rightly so! What a discourtesy to force a visitor to hunt, and in an unknown reef too!

Not only that, but despite their acceptance of Steve’s healing abilities, he could still tell that both the realm swimmers were hesitant to put their trust in him. Eel-cousin Steve in particular had a strong protective streak towards Small Bucky.

Steve could sympathize. He liked to stay close to his beloved as well. The best place in all the world was wherever Steve could wrap his limbs around his sweet mate-to-be.

But needs must, so a hunting Steve went. Besides, he was very eager to investigate eel-cousin foods. Not only had they proved to be very interesting, both in texture and flavor, but finally, finally, his beloved was eating. Soon she would be well and strong and happily sated.

It made every part of Steve want to wriggle with joy.

About halfway up the reef’s vertical shafts, Steve felt a low vibration ripple through the structure he was on. He paused to sample it more thoroughly.

This was different from any other of the reef’s normal fluctuations. It came from deep below, very, very faintly humming up the bones of the structure. It didn’t feel like an earthquake either, not even one from very far away. Those were quite easy to recognize by their duel pulse waves, the compression vibrations that traveled through the earth and water and the sheering vibrations that only traveled in the sea floor.

No, this was a steady low hum.

Curious.

“Oh great reef guardian, I wish that we could speak plainly. Surely you know of this strange echo in your caverns.” Steve chittered with frustration, teeth clacking in annoyance.

Well. It couldn’t hurt to investigate. Shouldn’t take too long. Only a moment or two and then Steve would head back up to the feeding cavern to hunt.

Decision made, Steve flowed downward, every once in a while pausing to get a better feel for where the vibration was coming from. As he descended, the air grew a touch more chill and there was a moistness that he thoroughly enjoyed. The eel-cousins might enjoy their tall, dry reef hollows, but the dark and the damp felt delightful to Steve.

The farther down he went, the more concerned he became about the vibration. This reef naturally hummed in several different ways. It shivered with energy, moaned with trickles of water, and gently swayed at its proud height. There was also the constant deep thrum of the reef’s heart buried deep under its stalk.

This new vibration was none of those things. In fact, the farther down he went, the greater sense of direction Steve got from it. It seemed to be coming from the side of the reef’s roots.

Perhaps it was a parasite attempting to drill into the reef, like a shell borer? The very idea had Steve’s tentacles darkening with anger. He moved slower, more cautiously. If there was some sort of infestation under way, he would dig it out.

Maybe it would be tasty.

Soon he came to sealed areas of the reef, places where the reef guardian had closed all portals and warded them with electricity. He could feel the power flowing through the walls of the reef, centered around the sealed cave entrance.

It was tempting to test the strength of the portal with his limbs. Very tempting. He hissed at the wall and writhed while he debated. One tentacle slowly snaked towards the cave entrance, only to be stung. He reeled the limb back, post-haste, and rubbed its smarting end with some of his other limbs.

Finally he raised his limbs to the air and called out. “Reef guardian! I beseech you, please let me pass! There is a thing beyond this portal. I do not know if it is a problem, but please, guardian, let me act as a dutiful spawnling would. Let me investigate and ward off any parasites that might infest our nests.”

He waited, hopeful that his request might be heard.

After several long moments the energy in the walls changed. A red bioluminescence on the side of the portal shifted to a healthy green color, and the seal on the cave entrance cracked open.

Warmth and pride flooded him. The reef guardian would allow his curiosity! He slipped in to the cave. It opened to a vast cavern and what he saw at its center filled him with awe.

Right in the middle of the cavern was the heart of the reef guardian; a vast, crackling sphere of white energy that radiated upwards into towering reef structure. There were no other lights in the cave, save that. None were needed. It’s beautiful glow more than adequately illuminated the entire space.

“Guardian,” Steve said softly. “I am honored with the trust you have given me.” He was. Very much. It was obvious that this was a sacred place to the reef guardian, central to its life and spirit. Even without a clear method of communication, as the guardian shared with the other eel-cousins in the reef, it still allowed Steve access.

It was a humbling thought.

Steve flared out his limbs and bowed in thanks. Songs of praise could wait for later, after he had investigated the source of the disturbance. Until then the prostration would have to do.

Careful as he could me, he edged around the cavern towards the alien vibrations. It led him to the far side of the cave. Still, he had not yet reached it source. It took a little investigation, but Steve found smaller pathways in the reef structure that wound around towards where he needed to go.

As he approached, he was careful to blend in with his surroundings. No sense in alerting his prey, after all.

Soon enough he found the source of the disturbance. It did, indeed, originated from outside the reef. The vibration was quite strong next to the wall and a soft screeching sound could be heard as well. Small bits of dust and debris trickled down from the cave ceiling, an ominous marker for how close the parasites were to eating their way into the reef.

Steve curled up on the ceiling and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long.

The vibrations and screeching increased, roaring to a fevered pitch. Sparks flew into the cave as as the outline of a portal was burned through the reef wall. As soon as the parasite’s fangs poked through the reef wall, the reef guardian lit up the cave and wailed in dismay.

Great grey clouds laden with dust filled the air as the newly carved entrance fell open. An echoing BOOM sounded through the corridor.

Steve wasn’t sure if he was pleased or disappointed that it was only a group of eel-cousins that came through the newly bored opening. He was really hoping for something he could consume. More eel-cousins meant that the Avengers might be offended if he ate them here in their reef. He heaved a silent sigh and waited for them to pool up.

They flowed into the reef in teams of two, until all twelve of them had entered. That was the point where Steve reached down from the ceiling and took hold of the pesky intruders.

It took only the work of moments to break all of their spines. The reef guardian calmed immediately as Steve grinned up at the ceiling. He peered into the newly bored infestation site, but didn’t see any more eel-cousins.

Well, good.

He looked at the bodies. All that red fluid, just pooling there.

Then he looked around. No Avenger eel-cousins to get upset with him. And no trip in the flying cloud later, so he didn’t have to worry about sticking to the windows.

With a slow, satisfied smile, Steve piled up all of the bodies and allowed himself a good roll.

Red fluids. So good on the skin. Soothing, like a mineral rich mud.

Afterwards he looked back up at the tunnel in the reef wall. It didn’t make sense to leave it open, though surely the reef guardian would want to have it properly filled later. As a stop gap measure until that could happen, Steve picked up the dislodged wall slab and leaned it up against the bored out hole. From there he slathered a strongly adherent mucus onto the open seams, exactly as he would seal his own nest walls once he’d finished constructing it.

Now what to do with the dead parasites? It was such a pity that he couldn’t consume them.

Although, that didn’t mean other predators in the reef couldn’t eat them.

Steve thrummed happily while he loaded up his limbs with the corpses, eager to supply his ecosystem with the vital nutrients they all needed to live. It only took but a few minutes to leave them in easily accessible consumption spots.

Once he was finished dropping off his gifts, he made his way back up to the Avengers feeding cavern.

He was in luck, too! Some of the other realm swimmers were already there! Perhaps they could lend him a limb in choosing which foods to bring his Beloved and their nest guests.

Hopefully he hadn’t been gone too long…

--

Both Tonys were still in the lab when the room alarm went off. Red lights flashed around the ceiling and a brief horn sounded, startling them both.

“Intruder alert. There has been a security breach in the Arc Reactor sub-levels.”

As soon as Jarvis’ voice came on, both of them were on their feet.

“J, gimme a suit,” Tony said, while Visitor Tony looked on with envy and concern.

But within moments, the alarm was cut off. “Forgive me, Sir, but I think the situation has already been handled.”

“Handled? What do you mean handled?” Tony waved at a screen next to his work desk and a video image came up.

“It seems that Steve noticed something out of the norm, possibly low level vibrations in the walls. He requested entry to the lower levels and ended up camouflaging next to this wall.” The image on the screen was of Steve slowly slithering his way across the ceiling, until he just...disappeared. Blended into the ceiling so perfectly that the video feed couldn’t pick up any difference between them.

“Holy shit, that’s creepy,” Visitor Tony said quietly.

“Right?” Tony shook his head in a mix of amazement and disbelief. “For fucks sake, I think about it every time I need to hit the can at night. Did you know he found a way into all of our rooms? He could be anywhere.”

“How do you even sleep?”

Tony started to laugh, and Visitor Tony joined him after a moment, sharing in the unspoken joke. Because, sleep? Who slept? Sleep was for people without genius level intellect, flying super suits, and a semi-truck’s load worth of near-death experiences.

The video fast forwarded to show a large doorway being cut through the cement. As soon as the doorway fell through, the hall was flooded with smoke and dust. What looked like two teams worth of tactical goons crowded in, and then were promptly beset by tentacles from above.

Seconds later they were all dead.

“Fuck,” Visitor Tony whispered. Tony had to agree. Holy shit, Steve was frightening.

Then they watched as Steve piled up all the bodies and rolled in them, coating himself with their blood, and spraying their fluids all over the hall. After only a few seconds of that, Tony waved a hand and shoved the image away. “Alright, enough of that.”

His stomach lurched and Tony was suddenly very grateful that he hadn’t eaten in several hours.

“This. This is the thing we just had dinner with?” Visitor Tony sounded how Tony felt; incredulous.

“The really crazy part is he’s such a nice guy. Ug. J, tell me he’s not eating them.” Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and wished that he believed in prayer.

“I am relieved to inform you that he is not.”

“Oh thank fuck,” Tony said with a sigh. “I guess just wait till he’s done and, I donno. Do we call Shield? They do clean up stuff like this, but they’re kind of filled with Nazis at the moment. Maybe ask the local spooks if they can, uh, identify any of the remains? I’d like to know who thought it would be a good idea to break into my basement.”

“Might be a good idea to set up some kind of vibration detection for the basement walls. Same stuff that banks have.” Visitor Tony started tapping away at a screen and brought up schematics. “Donno what you’ve got down there now.”

“Given how thick the cement around the basement was, I wasn’t concerned about people tunneling in. Fuck, they’d have had to section off a part of the subway, and then dig up and over. Fuck, alright, new project. ”

He looked over Visitor Tony’s shoulder and started compiling ways to improve his lower defenses. The two of them worked in tandem for a few minutes, mutter notes back and forth. Tony had to admit, it was pretty nice to have another him around to increase the work output.

A thought suddenly occurred to him. “J, anything else coming through that hole?”

“It appears that Steve has re-sealed the door with some type of biological secretion. I will be sure to keep observing that entry point though, in case another attempt is made.”

“Sweet.” Tony paused a moment. “Wait, did anyone else hear the alarm? I’m not gonna have a pile of freaked out soldiers and spies busting down the door here, am I?”

“Protocol demanded that I notify you. However, since the situation seemed contained I limited the alarm to this room.”

Well. That made sense. Tony sighed in relief. Gruesome though it was, at least this was one less problem he had to deal with. Now he just had to figure out what to do with the bodies. Should they call the police? How would he even explain Steve to the NYPD?

Maybe he should just leave the dispatched officer in a room with Steve and let them talk it out. That probably wouldn’t end in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Probably. As amusing as it was to think about Steve answering questions from the Boys in Blue, Tony knew that was a terrible plan. He could almost hear Pepper’s voice in his head telling him, Tony, no.

“Pepper is gonna freak,” Visitor Tony said.

Tony’s shoulders and heart sank at the same time. Visitor Tony was right.

Fuck.

--

“Clint,” Sam bitched quietly. “Why am I awake? It is crazy o’clock in the morning, and we’ve got to go pry Steve and Bucky out of the tentacle sex den in…” He looked at his bare wrist. “Too few hours, so we can portal the fuck out of this place and try to go home.”

“Because I am hungry, and I do not want to go anywhere alone,” Clint answered simply.

Well. Sam could appreciate that. They’d been to enough worlds that the allure of splitting up had long since faded away. Even if this one did seem fairly benign. They’d had nasty surprises before on this trip, and Better Safe Than Sorry turned into a rule to live by.

That didn’t mean he had to be nice about this. Having a safe, comfortable place to sleep was a luxury he didn’t want to waste.

“We might as well eat while we can,” Sam finally admitted as the two of them climbed in the elevator. He slumped against the wall, too tired to even think about standing upright.

Just a few seconds later, the elevator dinged softly and opened up to the common room. A dim light from the kitchen off to the side of the room cast a warm light into the hall. Shadows bounced around as someone shuffled things around.

“Looks like we’re not the only ones who needed a snack,” Clint said quietly.

To Sam’s complete lack of surprise, Other Clint was already at the fridge. One hand held a slice of cold pizza that he was valiantly trying to shove into his mouth, while the other continued to move things around.

“Hey bros!” Other Clint grinned at them, sounding far too cheerful for whatever time it was in the morning. “Want some pizza? Not too old. Still got most of the toppings on it.”

Clint peeked into the offered box and gave it an experimental sniff. “Sure? Unless you’ve got something else to choose from?”

Other Clint looked offended. “Pizza is the food of the gods.”

“Dude, I ate so much damn cold pizza in college, I don’t care which god blessed it,” Sam said, extremely unimpressed. He wasn’t hungry to begin with, but fuck it. They were awake anyways. Might as well eat.

Other Clint shrugged and pointed towards the still-open refrigerator door. “Sam labels everything for us, otherwise we’d have a repeat of The Incident, and no one wants that. Just keep away from ‘Tasha’s and you’ll be fine. And Bruce, too. He won’t get mad at you, but he’ll give you the saddest eyes ever and you’ll just wish the Hulk was smashing you instead.”

Clint snorted a laugh and started pawing through the available selection. Other Clint leaned on the kitchen counter and munched on his cold slice. “So how long have you guys been stuck jumping from place to place?” he asked, in between bites.

“Too damn long,” Sam grumbled.

“Ha. Yeah. Maybe a few weeks?” Clint paused his search to think, fingers ticking off as he counted days. “At least a few weeks. I donno. That’s assuming there’s no time component to how the jumps work.”

“Don’t even say that. Don’t even think that.” Sam wished he was joking, but the last thing they all needed was for them to be thinking about time travel while they were pressing the stupid dimensional portal remote, and thus maybe accidentally sending them back in time.

“Dude. That sucks.” Other Clint sounded pretty sympathetic. “I hope you guys can get back home okay. And…” He fiddled with his pizza crust for a moment. “...For what it’s worth, I’m glad you all are here.”

That was an odd thing to say. Sam furrowed his brows. “What makes you say that? I mean, you all seem to have things pretty under control here.”

Other Clint shook his head. “The stuff with Hydra… bros, that is fucked up. Even if you guys only have information that’s half right. Or even a quarter right, that’s still better than what we’ve got, which is just a giant fucking mountain of questions. Not to mention Bucky…” An unhappy frown crossed his face for a moment. Then it was gone and he was happily chewing on his pizza crust, as if the frown had never been.

And, shit, but Other Clint had a point. As much as Sam gave their Bucky flack for kicking him off a helicarrier and being one dangerous SOB, this world’s Bucky was something else. Dude was fucked up, and in some terrifying ways.

The councilor in him wanted to stay and offer what advice he could. But Sam knew damn well though that just one chat wasn’t gonna have a lot of impact. This world’s Bucky needed some serious long term support.

Hell, if he was being honest with himself, they all could probably use a little long term support.

“Anyways, I’m pretty glad you all are here,” Other Clint said.

“Not gonna lie, this is…one……” Sam’s voice trailed off as he noticed that Clint wasn’t paying any attention to them. Instead he was staring at the ceiling in the main area of the common room. “Clint?”

“Do you guys have christmas lights strung up?” Clint asked.

Both Sam and Other Clint turned to look. Sure enough, there were very very faint blue lines of light, slowly moving across the black ceiling. As soon as their attention focused on them, they brightened up significantly and started moving towards them.

“No. No we don’t,” Other Clint said quietly, eyes wide. “Jarvis? Lights please.”

Just as the lights came on, Tentacle Steve dropped from the ceiling and coiled all around them.

It wasn’t just that Tentacle Steve had dropped out of fucking nowhere and landed right on top of them, in all his massive tentacled glory. There was also his appearance; normally pretty frightening, but tonight it was kicked up to pants-wettingly unsettling. His limbs started out dark red-black with bright blue bioluminescent dots running up the sides, but as soon as Jarvis turned on the light they began to fade into a lighter peach color. This only showed off the fact that he was covered in blood, like some kind of horror movie reject, and grinning like the devil. Holy shit, those teeth looked sharp. And bloody. Was that a chunk of something stuck in there?

Sam absolutely did not scream. Not at all. It was both Clints. Obviously.

“Fuck!” Clint jumped so far back he nearly crammed himself into the open refrigerator.

Sam found himself actually crouched up on the kitchen counter, one arm clinging to Other Clint, who was sitting up there with him. Tentacle Steve reached out and wrapped limbs around them all.

Oh shit, it was cold and tacky from the blood. “Oh, no, no, no, man, you are not doing this,” Sam said in disgust. Oh god, it was all over him now. Noooo.

“What the fuck, Steve?” Other Clint asked. “Who did you murder?”

A deep humming vibration filled the room and satisfaction radiated off of Tentacle Steve. “There were parasites attacking the reef. But worry not, eel-cousins, I have taken care of the infestation.” He shifted around and his maniacal grin turned smug.

“Right. Of course,” Sam said, and then remembered the conversation they all had when they arrived. “Holy shit, this is why you all weren’t concerned when we showed up. Steve.”

Other Clint nodded. “Yuuup.” He looked sadly at the bloody tentacle wrapped around his torso. “Awww shirt, no.”

“But seriously, is there just a pile of dead bodies around somewhere now?” Clint asked, easing himself out of the fridge.

Tentacle Steve shook his head and clicked happily. “I’ve taken the bodies to where they will be most useful. You needn’t worry.”

“And suddenly, I am much more worried than I was before,” Sam said quietly. Other Clint nodded.

“But now that the parasites have been dealt with, I’m here to pick up feed for my beloved and our nest guests,” Tentacle Steve said, peering into the open refrigerator. “It is fortuitous that I find you here. I was hoping you would be able to direct me toward what is good eel-cousin food? We ate many things earlier, and I think my beloved was interested in at least a few of them…”

“Oh thank god,” Other Clint said. “Yes. Oh yes, we can help you.” When Clint raised an eyebrow at him, Other Clint just gestured at the bloody tentacles. “Seriously, it’s such a good thing that Steve asked us for food advice. You,” he pointed at Sam, “get a couple bags. We’ve got extras over there. I’ll grab boxes of leftovers.”

Sam shrugged. Why not? He went to the cabinet that Other Clint indicated and dug around for a bag. The faster they got this done, the faster he wouldn’t be wrapped up in a bloody tentacle.

Although, it was weirdly nice to feel how happy and excited Tentacle Steve was.

Sam shook his head. Man, this world.

“So, like, anything in this refrigerator is gonna be eatable for Bucky,” Other Clint said, point in the refrigerator. “This one is for stuff that’s just chilly. That big one over there is all frozen stuff. Bucky could eat that, but it would need some prep work. Like, fire and stuff. This freezer over here is yours. Jarvis had it filled with frozen raw fish for you.”

All of the tentacles slowed and then came to utter stillness. “For me? There is a whole cold cave just for my food?” Tentacle Steve’s eyes got big around and his skin turned bright peach. There was this trickle of pure joy that turned into a flood of emotion. Tentacles flowed all Sam, wrapping him up tight, and pulling him in towards Tentacle Steve, right along with everyone else.

Sam, Clint, and Other Clint all crashed together, smothered under a pile of sticky red limbs. Whatever groans of dismay that may have been pushed out of them were completely drown out by Tentacle Steve’s happy shrieking. As unpleasant as the embrace was, the need to get away was somewhat tempered by the sheer joy that radiated off of him. It was really hard to be more that just disgruntled in the face of that kind of happiness.

Still.

“Okay, okay. Enough hugs,” Sam said. “We’re very glad you’re happy, but, ugg, oh my god it is shower time after this…” He tried to squirm a bit, but Tentacle Steve’s hold was too firm.

“Agreed!” Clint groaned, one hand still clinging to the refrigerator door handle.

Other Clint just sighed, a super grumpy look on his face. “When is said I wanted more tentacle, i was hoping for the mucus again.”

“Wait, what now?” Clint looked at him, askance.

“It’s so good, I swear to god.” Other Clint waggled his eyebrows at Clint, then he cringed a little at the drying blood on his face.

The limbs around them loosened and they were all placed gently on the floor again. “My apologies,” Tentacle Steve said, humming happily at them. “It is just that I am so touched by your consideration for me! What good allies my beloved has chosen.”

There was a bit of a scuffle as all three of the humans tried to get to the sink at the same time. Clint ended up handing out wet hand towels to each of them, and they all hastily began cleaning up.

“Oh my god, who am I even smeared with right now?” Clint whispered.

“An excellent question,” Jarvis said, surprising them all a bit. “Sir asked that I coordinate with Mr. Barton and Miss Romanov to identify the bodies. There was some question about which authorities should be contacted after that.”

“Uggg, good point.” Other Clint stared at his purple shirt mournfully. He sighed and pulled off the shirt, dumping it in the sink. Then he grabbed a bag and started filling it with leftovers from the fridge. “Like, we might wanna try Shield anyways. I mean, even if they are filled with Nazis, it’s gonna look weird if we don’t contact them. We just gotta get all the information we need first, and then feed them the right stuff. Maybe track how it moves through the ranks, you know?”

While they were busy cleaning up and packing food, Tentacle Steve had wandered over to the walk-in freezer full of fish. Happy clicking and screeches echoed from inside as he investigated what Jarvis had supplied for him.

“Didn’t your Steve say he already cleaned up the bodies, though?” Sam asked. That was about when he noticed the trail of dried blood on the ceiling from where Tentacle Steve had wandered into the room. “Ugg. I hope your Stark has little ceiling roombas or something.”

“We just got that fixed, too. Pepper is gonna be pissed.” Other Clint looked up and scratched his head, then shrugged and went back to filling bags.

Tentacle Steve flowed back over towards them, two or three tentacles filled with various frozen things. Shit, that was a lot of fish. His eyes lit up when he saw what Other Clint was doing. An enormous smile burst across his face and he gave Other Clint a full body caress with several limbs, causing Other Clint’s eyes to glaze over briefly. “Thank you, eel-cousin. I am certain my beloved and the other realm swimmers will be very grateful for your aid.”

“Captain Rogers and Captain Barnes also requested additional cake, if there is any to be had,” Jarvis said helpfully.

Clint laughed, dug around for a cheesecake he saw packed away somewhere, and added it to the bags. “Your Bucky have a sweet tooth? Maybe we should see if ours does, too.”

“Sam has totally converted them to the wonders of cake,” Other Clint said, eyes crinkling in mirth. “Although, Steve. You probably should clean up before you bring the food back to Bucky and them. Like, your Bucky might not care, but I’m pretty sure the other two guys are gonna not be thrilled with that while eating.”

Tentacle Steve raised his eyebrows and a feeling of slight confusion and surprise spread through to them. “That is good to know! I will do this. Maybe take a quick swim before...although my beloved prefers that I spray off before swimming…” There was a deep clicking sound as he thought things through.

Sam blinked and tried to not think about swimming in a pool where people’s blood had been washed into it. “How big is that pool again? Because you might want to put some cleaning fish in there.”

“Olympic size,” Jarvis said. “Recently, Steve has shown interest in adding some tropical wildlife. Perhaps it would be wise to facilitate that further.”

Apparently Steve was following along with what Jarvis was saying, because all the tentacles around them went a bit mad for a moment, writhing and wriggling around in glee. “Yes! Bringing life to the tidal pool would please me greatly.”

“Excellent. I’ll begin adding potential additions to our regular shopping sessions.” Jarvis accompanied this statement with some kind of soothing whale song mix. Tentacle Steve raised several of his limbs to the ceiling and thrummed a response back.

“Wait, you have shopping sessions?” Sam asked, somewhat incredulous. “What do you buy?”

“The noble reef guardian aids me in my kelp gathering,” Tentacle Steve said with a happy snap of his teeth. Fuck, those are sharp teeth. Sam wondered if he had a toothbrush, or if this world’s Bucky kissed him anyways. “I gathered much from the reef structure, but now that most of the larger kelps that we needed for the nest have been harvested, I only search for more thin algaes and softer kelps for my beloved.”

There was a long pause as everyone puzzled through that response. Sam tilted his head sideways, and Clint and Other Clint both stood there with furrowed brows. Other Clint jerked suddenly upwards, eyebrows reaching his hairline. “Wait. Softer kelps? Like all the underwear? Oh my god, are you shopping for underwear for Bucky? Sam said you had a pile of panties, and, I mean, there was all the panty raids, but holy shit! Jarvis, please tell me that Steve has a Victoria’s Secret account.”

Sam tried not to picture Tentacle Steve with a silk stocking on each limb, and utterly failed.

What the fuck was even wrong with this world?

“I’m afraid that purchase histories are private, unless otherwise indicated by the purchaser,” Jarvis said primly.

“Awww come on!”

As Other Clint complained, Tentacle Steve gathered up all the bags and began to flow out of the room. “I must tend to the needs of my beloved and our nest guests, but I thank you very much for your aid in hunting tonight.”

“Sure,” Clint said with a little wave, eyes a bit too wide.

“Any time, man.” Sam waved, too.

“Steve! How much underwear do you buy? Do you have a color preference?” Other Clint called out to him, but Tentacle Steve slithered out of sight and down the stair well.

Leaving a light trail of flakey dried blood.

“Crap, we never asked him about the bodies, did we?” Other Clint stared at the trail of blood, arms crossed.

“It’s probably fine. I mean, Jarvis will let you know where to find them, right?” Clint added.

“...I’m afraid it isn’t quite that simple,” Jarvis said, somewhat apologetically. “Due to Steve’s unique physiology, I actually have some trouble tracking him through the building. Especially when he does not wish to be seen.”

Now Sam really wanted to hit his head against the wall. “You don’t know where the bodies are, do you.”

“I have located eight of the twelve corpses, and I am searching for the others.”

That was just… Just great.

“Oh shit, we’ve got to wake up Natasha, too,” Other Clint said. “Stark wants us to look at the bodies.”

“As it turns out, Miss Romanov has recently become awake and has been made aware of the situation.” The cheerful timbre of Jarvis’ voice filled Sam with dread.

“...Huh,” Clint said.

“Sooooo…You guys interested in a bit of a body hunt?” Other Clint said hopefully.

Sam sighed. He was starting to see why this world’s version of himself looked so damn tired all the time.

--

When they arrived at Natasha’s floor, they found her seated at her dining room table, sipping a cup of tea, and staring into the kitchen.

“Hi, boys,” she said, not even bothering to glance over at them.

Sam peeked around the island counter. There on the floor, right next to a dish of cat food and a bowl of water, were two partially crushed bodies. Both appeared to be adult men wearing tactical gear, their various belts and harnesses still festooned with several weapons. Sitting next to them, carefully sniffing at the tiny puddle of blood under them, was a small black cat.

“It seems like Steve thought Liho could use a little more food,” Natasha said. She tilted her head a bit, though if she was shaking her head or shrugging, Sam couldn’t really tell.

“I’m not sure if I’m impressed that he thought of her, or just worried that he thought she could eat two whole dudes.” Other Clint leaned over the island counter, eye wide and amazed.

“That really doesn’t bode well for how much Steve can eat, if he thinks that tiny cat would need that much meat,” Sam said.

“Maybe he thought there were more of them?” Clint took a quick look around the room, and then pointed up to some smears on the ceiling. “Looks like he came in through the vents. Holy shit, he can fit in the vents?”

“Right?!” Other Clint gestured with both hands, briefly losing his balance on the counter in the process and nearly face planting. “Seriously, it is the creepiest thing when you’re all snug in a vent nest and then the screeching starts coming for you.”

“You’re lucky it wasn’t Bucky.” Natasha smirked at him.

“Duh,” Other Clint said with obvious relief.

Sam pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. If this was what this world’s Sam had to deal with all the time, it was a wonder the dude wasn’t on hypertension meds. “Okay. That’s two down. Ten to go, right? Clint---” Both Clints looked over at him. He sighed. “This world’s Clint. You wanna hit up the vents? See if you can track down where Steve might have gone next?”

Other Clint blinked at him slowly. “I mean. I could. I just really don’t want to.”

Of course.

Sam sighed.

--

Steve hummed happily to himself as he flowed back down towards their nesting room. This had been an extraordinarily productive day! The realm swimmers were sated and healing, the reef had been defended, and now he had much food for his beloved! Food that his beloved would actually eat.

Satisfaction bubbled through him.

Unwilling to awaken his beloved and her twin if they were still sleeping, Steve crept quietly into the tidal pool area. His first reaction was just to drop the food off and dive into the pool to get his limbs clean. He knew that his beloved definitely preferred that post-hunt, Steve clean up with the tiny waterfalls from the wall first.

Steve wriggled a bit in consideration, and then moved over to a side cave, one that held many of the little localized waterfalls. The reef guardian must have anticipated his needs, because as soon as he approached, cool water flowed down from the walls in a delightful spray.

He hummed quietly in happiness. What a gift, to be looked after so!

It didn’t take long for all of the remains of the red-brown fluids to be washed away, and then Steve was on his way back to the nest.

His small eel-cousin twin was alert and watchful, much to his pleasure, and sitting next to his beloved.

As soon as Steve entered the nest, Bucky’s eyes lit up and she beamed a happy smile at him. He immediately wrapped her in his limbs, her beautiful, glorious form warm against his skin.

“Hi,” she whispered to him, the greeting as much a sensation of joy as it was a verbal acknowledgement. Steve thrummed back quietly in response. “Tiny Bucky is still asleep. Should we wake him?”

Sure enough, the small beauty was still deeply unconscious. A quick caress with a tentacle showed that her body was taking this opportunity to mend itself very rapidly. He sent soothing waves of pleasurable happiness at her, ensuring that her dreams stayed sweet, and then he disengaged from her.

“Your twin is well,” Steve said. At those words, he could see and feel the tension bleed off from Eel-cousin Steve. Steve gave him a reassuring squeeze. “The healing was very intense. It would not surprise me if your mate does not awaken for many hours yet.”

He nodded in relief, and eased back into the nest wall. “Midnight snack?” he asked, nodding towards the bags and fish that Steve carried.

Steve writhed happily in response as again the thrill of being able to properly provide for his mate-to-be raced through him. “Yes. The other eel-cousins helped me choose what you might enjoy. There is cake, too! Though it looks different from the delightful sponge that Manta Ray Sam creates…”

He started to unload the bags, carefully placing the soft little shells full of food on the nest floor. Eel-cousin Steve poked at them a bit, choosing a couple and handing them to Bucky. “Here. I know my Bucky likes these. Maybe you will too.”

Pleasure and trepidation rolled off of his beloved in waves as she eyed the shells. She fiddled with the lid of on one of them and stared some more, eyebrows crinkled in worry.
“...Am I allowed?” she finally asked, her voice soft and hesitant.

Steve’s heart muscle broke a little, and he could feel that his realm swimmer twin felt the same way. “Yes. Yes, you are allowed, my beloved. Now and always. You never need to ask.”

He wrapped his limbs around her and cuddled her close, sending all the love and comfort he could to her. It seemed to help, because soon the tension left her frame. She carefully sampled little bits of food, sniffing and then nibbling small chucks with her adorably nubby little teeth.

This, however, did remind Steve that he had a whole pile of fish to consume. After his efforts to defend the reef and then spread the nutrients around to easily accessible feeding areas, he was rather hungry. Hungry enough that his midnight snack was quickly gone, though it seemed that his beloved had already stopped eating.

A tiny shred of anxiety wiggled in his mind. Was she eating enough? Eel-cousin Steve looked like he was still going strong, consuming shell after shell of food. Luckily, the other eel-cousin were generous in their offerings. There was still much food left.

After another moment of consideration, Steve decided not to worry about it. There was plenty to consume, even if his beloved woke later and desired more. And if it turned out that there wasn’t enough, Steve would again be thrilled to go hunting for her.

He hummed happily, careful to keep the thrumming quiet so as not to wake Tiny Bucky, and settled in the nest behind his beloved. It took only a moment to place all the empty shells just outside the nest, to be cleaned and hoarded for later.

His beloved snuggled into his limbs, her gentle affection making his heart-muscle leap and flutter. Steve could feel the slight puzzlement from Eel-cousin Steve, though.

“Sleep, if you can, realm swimmer,” he cooed softly. “The day will come soon enough, and rest is good for the spirit. My limbs will block the entrance and guard us all.”

Carefully, he wrapped up his beloved, caressing and cradling each of her limbs until she sighed with joy. In particular, Steve made sure that all of her most delicate organs were protected. One of his limbs wrapped up even her long, thin, black tentacle and many more wrapped around her tiny fifth tentacle, causing it to swell slightly. He briefly debated about pursuing more pleasure with her, but Steve could feel how exhausted she still was. Maybe once they woke up, they would again share fluids.

Then he settled the two of them together, nestled close and ready to sleep.

All he could feel from Eel-cousin Steve, though, was tension along with a bit of embarrassment. Steve peeked over and saw that his bare face and torso had full defensive colors displayed. How bright they were against his normally pale skin!

“Easy,” Steve said, trying to project as much soothing comfort as he could. “You are safe here.”

Eel-cousin Steve ducked his head and laughed nervously. “Yeah, no. I got that. I’ll just -- finish up here and then get some rest.” He rubbed his face. Maybe that was some kind of self soothing gesture? “Thank you.”

Steve chirped happily back at him, nuzzled his beloved’s neck, and then closed his eyes.

--

Some time later, Steve awoke to the feeling of his beloved gently threading his fingers through Steve’s head cilia. Soft, jellyfish like touches peppered his cheek and neck. He arched into the sensation, adoring each and every one of his beloved’s affectionate displays.

When Steve opened his eyes, he saw that the tidal pool room was still somewhat dim, though the sun was surly up by now. In that low light, he met his beloved’s beautiful blue eyes. Her smile lit up his whole world, and he could feel just how pleased she was to be in his embrace.

“G’morning,” she said quietly, a little smile on her face and her eyes crinkling with joy.

Steve hummed softly back in response, eager to let her feel just how much he returned her love. He eased his limbs around her, minutely shifting his hold on her body, only to discover that her fifth tentacle was already engorged and waiting. A little pearl of fluid lay at its tip, causing Steve to shiver at the taste of it on his tentacles. So good. Oh so wonderfully good.

“My sweet ocean star…” he thrummed quietly at her. “How lucky I am to hold you in my limbs. Tides, you are beautiful.”

A tiny gasp escaped his beloved’s throat as she rolled her body into him. She slid her long black tentacle around his shoulders and back once more, pulling their bodies tightly together. “We need to be quiet. The other two are still sleeping. Don’t wanna wake them up before they’re ready.”

Steve nodded. How kind and courteous of his sweet ocean star! Thinking of their nest guests before her own pleasure.

Healing pleasure mucus dripped from his limbs, and he sought entrance to her digestive tract right away. They didn’t have a chance to explore this pleasure yesterday and Steve was eager to make up for the lack. From how his beloved shivered and writhed, she was just as eager. He slipped the end of one limb inside of her, pleased to note that her systems already seemed to be recovering from their slow degeneration. The food already had begun to help! Just the thought of it made Steve’s core fill with magma and his limbs wriggle in joy.

His beloved was healing, finally gaining her strength back, and he couldn’t be happier.

The limbs that were wrapped around her fifth tentacle tightened for just a couple of heartbeats, softly kneading out a few more drops of that delicious nutritional fluid. His beloved keened quietly and pulled them tighter together.

At that sound, a brief spike of anxiety went through Steve. But a quick glance over at the realm swimmers proved that they were still sound asleep, and relief flowed through him. Steve debated on wrapping a tentacle around them just to be sure, but didn’t want to wake them with the overflow of pleasure between he and his beloved.

She was already so hot, her body temperature soaring high above normal rates and her breath coming out in stuttering gasps. As much as Steve wanted to hear each and every little noise, it would probably be best if her noises were muffled. He snaked a pleasure mucus laden tentacle up her chest, pausing to let his suckers pluck softly at her little nubs in front, and then brought it up to her mouth.

He sent the feeling of questioning towards her. Should she not desire something in her mouth, they would find another way to be quiet. But before he could even start thinking of alternatives, his beloved just grinned, and then opened her mouth wide.

As soon as that limb entered her mouth cave, pleasure shot through their bond and her eyes rolled back into her head. The small tentacle that lived in her mouth cave cavorted and danced with his own limb, eager to smear around and taste the mucus that it was coated in. To Steve’s great delight, he could feel just how much joy she got out of every little suck and nibble.

So versatile, his sweet ocean star! How amazing she was!

The appendage in her mouth opening effectively muffled any sounds she made, so Steve went back to slowly working several limbs into her digestive tract. He started each one at the very small ends, slowly feeling around the opening, smearing his pleasurable healing mucus into her tight passage. One by one, he added additional limbs, moving them together, slowly twisting around inside of her, and rubbing up right against a sensitive nerve cluster there. The more he rubbed that spot, the more clear nutritional fluid she leaked. Clearly, she was producing additional fluids just for him.

Oh, what an unusual treat! What a delight! And how generous of his beloved to realize that he might be hungry after such intense healings, and thus produced extra fluids for him to enjoy. He thrummed quietly against her, caught up in the pleasure radiating off of her and tipsy on feeling how much her body had already mended.

The scales on her hard metal appendage shuddered and chirped, and she urged the tentacle in her mouth in father. As much as Steve enjoyed being wrapped up in her black tentacle, he strained against it to shift his body downward. He wanted to taste her fluids. Oh, how abundantly she was dripping! It would be such a shame to waste! So he teased down her torso, licking and sucking with his mouth and limbs, all to ease the grip her black tentacle had around his neck. Her eyes fluttered closed and her back arched into each little act of worship.

Soon, he was where he desired to be, carefully licking up that steady drip of nutritional fluids. Every slow pulse from the limbs inside of her only increased that flow. How kind she was, to allow him this delicious luxury! In between licks, he hummed praise and reasurances at her.

“Hnnnmmm, so wonderful.” Lick, suck, lick. “So kind and generous.” Lick, lick, lick. “Everything I could ever hope for in a mate. My beloved.”

He tightened up the limbs around her fifth tentacle, as well as the one on her flesh sack underneath. Steve was wary of causing her damage, but the firm grip on her most tender parts only caused the nutritional fluid to flow faster out of her, though it was still clear and weak. It was not yet the full glut that would erupt at the cusp of her pleasure, but it was exquisite nonetheless.

Over and over he worked his limbs back and forth inside of her, building her pleasure until she was nearly frenzied with it. Her body burned into his skin, so overwhelmed with sensation that her defensive colors flushed all across her body. Even her fifth tentacle darkened prettily, its blunt tip turned deep reddish purple. Every one of her limbs was entwined with one of his, every opening filled and tasted.

Surely this was heaven, for Steve could think of no finer place to be, their bodies and minds melded together.

It was impossible to tell how long they stayed locked together, for the whole world had narrowed to the steady thrust, rub, and lick of their bodies against each other. Quiet hums and wet, choked off groans made a lovely counterpoint to the steady sound of slick flesh sliding together and the drip-drip-drip of the water in the tidal pool.

When finally his beloved’s fifth tentacle erupted with fluids, the bounty was so great that Steve nearly didn’t know what to do. Spurt after spurt of thick, rich, white fluids flowed onto him. Though he caught what he could in his mouth, there was so much that his face, neck, and several limbs were covered. It took quite a bit of licking, but he chased each drop with enthusiasm.

Each taste was heaven.

He kept up his limbs ministrations, easing out as much fluid from his beloved’s body as he could. When finally she lay spent, tired and awash with pleasure in his limbs, he slowed his movements to a stop and simply held her. Soft, tiny licks took care of any remaining nutritional fluids. Never would he waste this precious gift that his beloved bestowed upon him, so he was careful to catch every drop.

“So good, Stevie,” she said, her voice a hoarse whisper and her lips still wet with his pleasurable healing mucus. Waves of heavy pleasure washed through her body and she cuddled closer into his grasp.

Steve preened under her praise, and radiated a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness towards her. “You honor me with your fluids, my mate-to-be.”

He was all set to settle back in for a bit more sleep, but the soft coo of the reef guardian interrupted his plans.

When he glanced up, he saw that the realm swimmers were wide awake and staring at Steve and Bucky. Both of them sat with their backs to the wall of the nest, eyes wide and faces bright, defensive red. He reached out a tentacle towards each of them, noting that they seemed unsettled somehow.

“Greetings realm swimmers,” he said, and let his concern flow over to them. “Are you well?”

--

Steve woke up to an elbow in the ribs.

After eating the leftovers that Tentacle Steve had brought to them, he’d cuddled up next to Bucky. Despite the fact that he was a super soldier, after all they’d been through for the past few weeks, even he was run a little ragged. So it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise that he passed right out again as soon as he was given the opportunity.

He scrunched his nose and tried to wave away the offending elbow. If there were a serious problem, the jab would have been much harder, more insistent.

“Steve, oh my god, wake up you need to see this,” Bucky whispered next to him.

Steve rubbed his eyes and refrained from grumbling. There was a low humming next to them. Tentacle Steve, probably. That guy was loud as hell. Steve felt he probably should be grateful that the thrumming was as quiet as it was. What made his eyebrows furrow was the faint squish-squish sounds which were followed by choked off gasps.

He sat up, and stared.

And then stared some more.

Holy hell.

The Asset was getting fucked within an inch of his life by Tentacle Steve. Slick, wet looking limbs were everywhere; in his mouth, wrapped around his arms and legs, several in his ass and on his dick. Hell, one was even wrapped up around the damn whip.

The ones in his ass were thick and twisted together, so much so that it was hard to see just how many limbs were inside him. They thrust all at once, moving as a unit slowly in and out, little dribbles of slick escaping with each outward pull. From the looks of things, they were rubbing up inside of him just right, causing those little gasps of muffled pleasure. Milking him, Steve suddenly realized. Because there was Tentacle Steve, face right over the Asset’s cock, licking up every bit of precome that steadily dripped out of him. Steve’s breath caught in his throat, mouth suddenly dry and face hot just from watching.

Holy fuck.

Before Steve could even figure out what to do with this, aside from being instantly and incredibly horny, the Asset was coming. They must have been at it for a while, because rope after rope of come painted all over Tentacle Steve, to his apparent relish. Steve found himself leaning in, getting a closer look. The orgasm seemed to last forever, too, with Tentacle Steve cooing and working the Asset right through it. Then he proceeded to lick it all up.

Steve licked his lips and swallowed against the dryness in his mouth. His cock was so fucking hard that it rubbed harshly up against the inside of his pants, forcing him to make an effort to sit still. From the way Bucky was hunched over, face flush and breath coming out in short huffs, he was feeling the same way.

“Oh my god,” Steve moaned, and then briefly wondered if he could bribe Jarvis for a recording to take with them.

Bucky nodded next to him. “On one hand,” he said quietly, “I’m sort of sorry we missed most of this. On the other, it’s probably a good thing we did because, fuck, I might never want to leave this world.”

All Steve could do was nod, and watch Tentacle Steve clean up the Asset. His brain was still offline, torn between embarrassment for accidentally intruding on their private time and lust at what he’d seen. It absolutely didn’t help that Steve knew just how good that sex-slime felt. Fuck, what would it be like to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention? What would it be like to fuck Bucky while Bucky was on the receiving end?

He rubbed his mouth and made a desperate attempt to think of something, anything, else.

He failed. Utterly.

Just as he was about to go search out a cold shower, Jarvis chimed in the wall.

“Pardon me, sirs, but the rest of the team is gathering for breakfast. I was asked to inform you and request your presence.”

With that sound, Tentacle Steve looked up, and then spied Steve and Bucky against the nest wall. He curled a tentacle around each of their legs and trilled at them.

“Greetings realm swimmers. Are you well?” he asked, brow furrowing and the mild concern coming off of him in waves. The effect was somewhat dappered by the obvious overtones of satisfaction and pleasure that radiated from him.

After something like that, Steve though he’d probably be pretty damn satisfied too. Fuck.

The Asset lay snuggled up tight to Tentacle Steve’s body, but he cracked open an eye at them and raised his brow questioningly. There was a faint doubling of the satisfaction radiating through the tentacles. It was the Asset, Steve realized, still basking in the afterglow

Steve shook his head and cleared his throat. “Yeah. Yeah, we’re fine. Just, uh. A little distracted.” That was one way to put it, anyways. Steve hesitated to stand up. He was painfully aware that the front of his pants were bulging. While no one else there probably even cared, Steve was still a little embarrassed.

“Shower. Now.” Bucky pulled him up off the floor and dragged him out of the nest, post haste. Steve scrambled to catch up, all while looking behind him at the bemused expressions on both the Asset and Tentacle Steve’s face.

“We’ll meet you upstairs!” Steve called back to them, twisting around in Bucky’s grip.

They hustled into a locker room, the door opening to a little hallway that emptied into wide open showering area. As soon as they cleared the hall, Bucky slammed Steve into the wall, his mouth and teeth already on Steve’s neck.

“Holy shit, that was so fucking hot,” Bucky said in between kisses and nips. His hands were everywhere, grabbing and pinching, making Steve burn up inside. That was about when Steve realized that Bucky was still naked, all that hard, beautiful flesh was right there. Ready to be touched. Probably because Bucky got distracted right has he woke up.

Understandable. Steve fell pretty damn distracted, too.

Steve nodded frantically, and grabbed Bucky’s hips. He slammed the two of them together and grinded the front of his pants into Bucky’s cock, already hard and starting to leak a little fluid. A needy moan fell out of Bucky’s mouth as the rough fabric rubbed against him.

While Bucky continued to kiss and grab everywhere he could, Steve struggled with the button and zipper on his pants. Why had he even bothered to put them on anyways? Seemed silly now.

That’s when he remembered how longingly he looked at the panties. His hands stuttered to a stop and he groaned at the thought of what would have happened if he’d given in to the urge and put a pair on. He’d rip open his pants and there he would be, cock all wrapped up in velvety, soft silk. Like a present for Bucky to open.

His eyes fluttered closed as he replayed that little idea in his mind for a moment.

Bucky growled in his ear and batted his hand away. “Off. Now.” With his metal hand he ripped the fly right open and pulled out Steve’s cock. Those cool plates on Steve’s dick sent a shock of pleasure right up his spine, and made his cock twitch and leak. A full body shudder worked its way up his spine and heat pooled up inside of him. “That’s right, come on, baby.” Then Bucky wrapped those fingers tightly around him and stroked, fast and hard. Steve couldn’t hold back the little moans of pleasure that spilled out of him.

“Bucky…” Steve’s voice was rough and needy. God, they’d only been at this a few minutes and already he wanted to come.

“Wanna fuck you.” Bucky sped up his strokes.

“Oh, fuck, yes! Wait, no!” Steve tried to think around the pleasure building up, but Bucky was doing a damn fine job of milking the thoughts right out of his head. “Don’t have time. Gotta meet up. Oh fuck yes, like that, sweetheart! Gotta-- gotta meet up for breakfast. Fuck.” He reached down and grabbed Bucky’s ass, hoisting him up and urging Bucky’s legs around his waist. Then he spun them both around, slamming Bucky’s back into the wall, forcing a grunt out of him and making Steve bare all his teeth in glee. Finally he had the leverage he needed to properly grind their cocks together, using his enhanced strength to bodily rub Bucky up and down against him.

“Oh, fuck yes,” Bucky said with a moan, his head thrown back against the tile wall. He shifted his hand so he was jerking them both off at the same time, cocks rubbing together. If the cool, now getting warmer, metal of his arm felt good, then the soft slide of their cocks together in that tight grip was absolutely electric. Steve couldn’t stop himself from biting up Bucky’s bared neck, didn’t even want to try to stop. Everything felt too good, too real, like their whole world focused down to the pleasure rapidly growing between them.

“Wish I could fuck you like that,” Steve said, thinking of all those limbs shoved deep inside the Asset. “Open you up wide and just keep shoving more into you, ‘til you’re screaming.” Bucky moaned hard and stroked them faster. “Wish you could do that to me.” He whispering those words right into Bucky’s ear and followed them up with a bite and a lick right on the earlobe.

Bucky cried out and tossed his head. Enough precome was dripping from them both that his hand was nothing but a slick, hot glide up and down their cocks. Steve’s heart thundered in his chest, and he could feel Bucky’s heart beat sync up with him. Everything was burningly hot and so fucking good. He kneaded Bucky’s ass in his hands, reveling in the feel of that soft flesh. On an upward thrust, he spread those cheeks wide, stretching out Bucky’s hole, emphasising what Steve wanted to do to him.

“Yes! Ugh, uhg, fuck yes! We are gonna make that happen,” Bucky croaked out.

Then Bucky was coming on him, his head thrashing back and forth as Steve gently chewed and sucked on his neck. His skin tasted so damn good. Salty and sweet, with just a hint of something else. Something tingly and good that made every nerve in his brain light up. Steve wanted to lick every inch of him. Spend all day just worshiping that body, and getting fucked hard in return.

Just a couple strokes more and Steve’s orgasm crashed over him. Every muscle screamed as he tightened up and came all over Bucky’s hand, all while those clever dexterous fingers coaxed the pleasure right out of him. He bit down hard on Bucky’s shoulder and moaned with every jerk and spurt of come. His head roared and he was breathing hard, like he’d run up all the stairs in the tower.

The two of them sat there, leaning heavily into the wall, panting hard. His hands were still firmly on Bucky’s ass, holding him up. Steve’s eyes were closed, though he wasn’t quite sure when that happened. His chin rested on Bucky’s shoulder, forehead pressed into the wall behind him.

“Fuck.” Bucky started to laugh. “This world, I swear to god.”

Steve huffed out a short laugh, and then chuckled in earnest. Weird as it was, Bucky was right. Not that Steve didn’t want to nail Bucky into a wall at every turn, he did. It was just this world offered the strangest opportunities to make that happen.

“We should probably get dressed,” Steve said eventually.

“I brought you your clothes,” the Asset said behind them.

Steve nearly jumped out of his skin. Happily, though, he did not yelp in surprise. Not only was that a terrible habit to get into, but he also didn’t want to face the inevitable round of teasing that would have happened afterwards. He did crush Bucky’s body close to him, and looked around in alarm.

The Asset stood behind them and off to the side a good ways away, leaning against the wall. He was fully dressed in his tactical gear, complete with weapons, though again he left the muzzle off. At his feet was a pile of clothing, as well as Bucky’s weapons and Steve’s shield. Most of it looked like the clothes they showed up in, though there were a few additions. Steve could definitely see a peek of peach colored lace poking out from the edge of the pile.

A faint whisper of an air current reminded Steve that his pants were shoved down around his thighs and that both he and Bucky were still covered in quickly drying come. Heat blazed across his face. He wasn’t even sure why he was embarrassed. It wasn’t like the Asset hadn’t seen worse just a few hours earlier. It wasn’t like they hadn’t seen worse from the Asset just a few minutes ago.

Bucky must have seen the Asset sneak up on them, because he just glared over Steve’s shoulder. “...Thanks.” There was a short pause, and then he raised his eyebrows and gave the Asset a look. “Do you mind?”

“No.” The Asset tilted his head sideways in confusion. “Do you mind?” The delivery was so deadpan, so innocent, that Steve knew the Asset had no idea why Bucky was annoyed. From Bucky’s sigh, he realized the same thing.

“No. Not really. Go ahead and head up to breakfast with your Steve. We’ll clean up and join you shortly,” Bucky said evenly.

The Asset nodded and then left, quiet as the grave.

Steve sighed and let his head fall backwards. “Jesus. I wonder how long he was standing there.”

“Heh, long enough,” Bucky said with a half-irritated, half-amused laugh, only making Steve’s face burn hotter. He eased down out of Steve’s grip and turned on one of the showers along the wall, stepping into the spray. “We should probably be grateful he didn’t decide to join in.”

Steve stripped off his pants and joined in, eager to revel in the hot water. “Or bring his Steve?”

They both paused a moment to consider that scenario.

“Hrm. Probably good he didn’t. We’d never make breakfast.” Bucky winked lasciviously at Steve, and then looked around for some soap.

It turned out that the shower rooms were fully stocked with various high quality gels and hair products, as well as a half full cupboard of dry towels. As eager as Steve was to meet up for food, it was still incredibly nice to have access to some basic amenities. So even though he knew they were on a timer, Steve tried to get the most out of the copious amounts of hot water available. After all, no telling what kind of world they might get sent to next.

By the time they made it up to the common room for breakfast, the others had already arrived.

Tentacle Steve and the Asset were sitting at the table again. Both were methodically working through a pile of food. In the Asset’s case, it was a massive plate of various breakfast foods, while Tentacle Steve happily tore huge mouthfuls out of half a frozen swordfish.

In contrast to that, Sam, Clint, and Other Clint all looked like they’d been run through the war. Dried blood stained their clothes and lay in flaky patches on their skin. Their eyes had deep bags under them, and each of them clutched a cup of coffee, or a carafe in the case of Other Clint, like it was their last lifeline. Even Other Natasha looked a bit tired, although aside from that she seemed perfectly normal. Other Bruce and the Tonys were picking over various foods laid out on the kitchen island. Other Sam looked on towards the group with sympathy.

“The fuck happened to you two?” Bucky asked, tension ratcheting up his spine. Seeing his teammates covered in blood wasn’t doing Steve any favors either, but based on their body language they were annoyed, not threatened. Still, he approached cautiously.

“This motherfucker,” Sam pointed at Tentacle Steve, “left bodies all over the damn tower.”

Tentacle Steve reached a limb over and patted him soothingly on the back. “I apologize for making you go hunting. If you were hungry and wanted to consume eel-cousin, I would have gladly left more bodies near your resting area.”

Oh. Apparently, Tentacle Steve had slipped a limb onto Steve as soon as they’d walked in the door, because Steve actually understood the soft screeches and clicks. Sure enough, there it was wrapped around an ankle. He wasn’t sure if he should be pleased or disturbed about that.

Maybe both.

“No-- That’s-- Uggggg.” Sam scrunched his eyes closed and took a deep breath.

Other Sam patted him on the shoulder. “Dude, I am right there with you.”

“I’m still kinda lost here,” Steve said, wandering over to pick at the buffet. Well. Maybe more than pick at it.

No way of telling when they might next get a good meal, after all.

“So, a group of guys tried to break into the arc reactor room in the sub-basements last night,” Other Tony said as he wandered over to the table, a plate of food in one hand and an enormous cup of coffee in the other. “But my buddy Steve, he heard? Sensed? Intuited? Whatever. He figured out that they were on their way, and basically murdered them all as soon as they busted in the wall.”

Steve blinked, and then mentally reviewed the previous night’s events. “When…?”

“Mmmmmm. While I was out hunting for our beloveds.” Tentacle Steve snapped his very, very sharp teeth a couple of times and then licked up some of the dribbling blood from the fish off of his chin. “I would have consumed most of the invading parasites right there, but I did not wish to offend the Avenger eel-cousins. Instead I relocated the flesh to where it might do the most good, feeding the other inhabitants of the reef. After all, it would be a shame to let so much food go to waste.”

“Oh my god, he kind of sounds like you, too,” Bucky said under his breath. “Minus the whole...cannibalism thing. Unless there’s something major you’re not telling me, Rogers?” He quirked an eyebrow at Steve and smirked.

Steve mock punched him in the arm and rolled his eyes. “Actually, he kinda sounds like my Ma. Which is sort of messing with my head, now that I think about it.”

Clint just dropped his head on the table and Other Clint cuddled closer to his carafe.

“We’ve spent the morning searching for partially crushed bodies,” Other Natasha said with a dry smirk.

“There were three on the roof. Why were their three on the roof?” Clint asked into the top of the table.

“Ahhh, because there are glorious sky manta-rays that might need to feed. They cluster and coo every time I visit them. Likely because they are still just spawnlings. They’re so small!” Tentacle Steve chirped happily, pride tinged with just a touch of worry radiated from him. “I hope they survive.”

“Dude, those are New York City pigeons,” Other Clint said into his carafe. “They’re gonna live longer than all of us.”

“Especially now that they’ve got all that meat,” the Asset added, with a congratulatory pat on one of Tentacle Steve’s limbs. Tentacle Steve preened.

Everyone else just winced.

“Two in front of the arc reactor, one in Lucky’s dog food bowl, one shoved in the vents in various places, one shoved half-way into the salt water tank in Pepper’s office, one hanging in an elevator shaft, and one in the freezer.” Other Clint sighed heavily and let his forehead fall on the table. A couple of times.

“There are no predators in the cold cave, but I thought it prudent to save some of the meat for a later date. Incase the other inhabitants got hungry quickly.” Tentacle Steve nodded primly and radiated smug satisfaction.

“Of course you did.” Other Tony pinched the bridge of his nose. “Pepper’s fish tank is cleaned up though, right? Because that does not need to be a thing when she gets home from her trip.”

“We relocated the body and Jarvis set up a fish doctor appointment for the tank,” Other Natasha assured him.

“Someone will be arriving this afternoon to make sure the tank is in good condition,” Jarvis said.

Other Tony blinked hard and shook his head. “At least they didn’t get to the arc reactor. Which I assume is what they were going for, and what I’ll be telling Pepper about when she asks why there are now ceiling roombas.”

“In other news, you two look amazingly well rested,” Tony said to Steve and Bucky with a leer, while Other Tony waggled his eyebrows at them.

 

“Oh yeaaah!” Other Clint perked up. “How’d the tentacle treatment go for you? Gimme all the deets.”

“Please do not answer that,” Other Sam said firmly, much to Other Clint’s vocal dismay. “No. I am serious. I already know way too much about whatever happens in the pool room.”

That suited Steve just fine. As enjoyable as last night was, it was also profoundly weird. Not to mention personal. He studiously ignored the burning of his cheeks, and took a seat next to the Asset.

“Why wasn’t an alarm sounded?” Bucky asked, completely ignoring the intrusive inquiry. He slid into the chair on the other side of Steve, a massive plate of food in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

“I notified Sir, but deemed any further alarm unnecessary,” Jarvis said.

“Turns out, Steve had things covered.” Other Tony shrugged. “By the way, thanks Squidly.” He raised his cup towards Tentacle Steve in toast.

Limbs writhed all around them for a moment as Tentacle Steve grinned. “I am happy I could help,” he said. “But to answer your question, lavender one---” Other Sam groaned. “---The healing went very well.”

Steve nodded. “I think we’ll be ready to go as soon as breakfast is done.” He glanced over at Sam and Clint. “And after you two have a chance to clean up.”

“As fun as this has been, Cap’s right,” Tony said. “The remote is charged up and ready to go. We just gotta make it happen.”

Somber silence fell over the table. Despite the craziness, staying in this world had felt almost like a vacation, a well needed rest from all the hardships of their previous trips.

“I miss home,” Clint said quietly.

“Yeah.” Sam slung an arm around his shoulder and sighed. “Time to get cleaned up. We’ll be back soon.” Clint downed the rest of his coffee in one swig, and then the two of them headed out.

Breakfast after that was a quiet affair. Tentacle Steve ate more than seemed reasonable, while the Asset picked at his food. No one wandered away though, even when everyone was clearly done eating.

It should have been nerve wracking, waiting around for the next dimensional jump. But as they all drifted into the sitting area, Tentacle Steve drifted with them, the Asset at his side. There was this sensation of calm that seemed to fill the air. It took Steve a moment to realize it was coming from Tentacle Steve. A low grade humming filled the room as Tentacle Steve whispered a lullaby into their heads, one as bizarre as it was beautiful.

Steve should have been more alarmed at someone projecting into his brain like that, but all he really felt was relief.

Soon enough, Clint and Sam joined them. Freshly cleaned up, though their clothes looked a little worse for wear. Everyone straightened up in their seats, and Steve, Bucky, and Tony moved to stand next to them.

“Well,” Steve said, looking around the room at the Other Avengers. “I think this is it. Thank you for your hospitality. We appreciate it more than you know.”

“Not a problem, Stevie-boy,” Other Tony said with a short flicker of a smile. “You helped us out, too.”

“Jarvis has been sorting through all the information you gave us. You saved us a lot of leg work by giving us a place to start.” Other Natasha nodded at them.

“Thank you for helping me carry all those bodies,” Other Clint said mournfully, still covered in dried blood.

Sam and Clint both laughed.

“Yeah, no problem, man,” Sam said.

“Just payment for all the coffee we drank,” Clint added.

“At the very least, you’ve got one more friendly world on your go-to list.” Other Bruce smiled and shrugged. “So if you ever figure out how to make that thing work right, you’ve got a fall back place.”

Of all of them, Tentacle Steve and the Asset were the only ones to walk over to their group. Limbs engulfed them all as Tentacle Steve clutched them close. Feelings of welcome, fondness, and hope mixed in with a touch of sadness and flowed over them. He embraced both Steve and Bucky with his human-like arms as well.

“Thank you, both of you. I cannot repay you for the care and kindness you have shown my beloved,” he said.

“We’re glad we could help,” Bucky said gruffly, crushing Tentacle Steve close. “Take care of him, would you? Don’t let Hydra take him back.”

“I swear I will not.” Tentacle Steve bared his teeth in grim promise.

“And you already did repay us, by helping me out with my head.” Bucky tapped one metal finger against his temple.

“That was my pleasure.” Tentacle Steve beamed happiness at them. Someone coughed off to the side, but Steve elected to ignore it.

“Thank you.” Steve tried to shove every ounce of how fucking grateful he was at Tentacle Steve. Having those triggers taken out of Bucky’s head and rendered useless was absolutely invaluable. The fact that the whole process was both short and generally pleasant was a hell of a boon, too.

Tentacle Steve smiled knowingly at him, and nodded. When he flowed a few feet away, the Asset stepped forward. He nodded at Bucky, who nodded back, and then turned to Steve. There was an awkward pause as his fingers flexed and his arm recalibrated.

“Come on. You’re allowed.” Steve opened his arms, smiled, and tried to hide the stab of pain in his heart that those words cost him.

The Asset fell gratefully into his embrace. Steve held him tightly. He knew that the Asset would be in good hand...tentacles...with this world’s Steve. He just hoped that things would work out well for them both, and soon. There was still so much the Asset had to relearn. Steve’s heart went out to him, to them both really.

“Thank you, Stevie,” the Asset whispered.

“Any time, Buck,” Steve answered. His eyes stung for a moment and his chest felt tight. He took a breath. “Any time.”

They broke apart and the Asset and Tentacle Steve stepped back, rejoining the Other Avengers on the far side of the room.

“It’s been fun,” Tony said with a wave.

“Huddle up, folks.” Steve held out his shield and Bucky held out his arm. Everyone held on, each one of them trying to get as much touch on the vibranium as they could.

Just as he was about to touch the button that portaled them out, Steve remembered that he didn’t get a chance to talk to this world’s Sam about the Asset and Tentacle Steve. He didn’t think they would actually steal children, but he had wanted to at least give people a heads up.

Well. They’ll figure it out.

I hope.

Steve tried to clear his head as much as he could, and think about home.

Then he pressed the button and they were gone.

--

A flash of light blasted through the room and the air screamed for a heartbeat and a half. Then the dimensional visitors were gone.

Bucky sighed a bit. Strange as it was seeing them, he would miss their company. The way Little Steve touched him…

He shivered.

It wasn’t that he didn’t get a lot of touch from his Steve. He did, and he loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it. It was just that his Steve’s skin didn’t feel quite the same as another human. Bucky didn’t realize just how cool Steve’s body temperature was until he felt the heat radiate off of Tiny Steve. And then there was the texture.

There was this sudden craving inside of him. Bucky wanted, needed, those gentle touches even more. Wanted to be wrapped up and loved on by his mate. Maybe if he worked his body up enough, he’d get a little warmer.

He hoped it wouldn’t make Steve uncomfortable, all that body heat.

“Well. That was… Weird,” Bruce said with a shake of his head.

“Handy, though,” Tony replied.

“Hmmhm.” Natasha looked at Clint speculatively. “Now that we’ve got the tower cleaned up, wanna use those corpses as an excuse to sneak around the Triskelion?”

Clint perked up. “Ooo, good idea. We’ve got some creepy death carriers to find.” He nodded to the rest of them. “I’m gonna clean up and then we’re gonna make the call. Get some agents to grab the bodies and then ride that wave into some high security vents.”

“Good luck,” Sam said. “Keep your comms in and have Jarvis watching. We’ll be on standby if you need extraction.”

Both Clint and Natasha nodded and then walked out.

“We,” Tony pointed to Bruce, “have some science stuff to do, if you’re game. Apparently there’s something about an algorithm? With a creepy dead Nazi AI?”

“Sounds pretty wild. I’m in. Just lemme get some more tea and I’ll meet you in the lab.”

They wandered off, too, talking about numbers or patterns or something like that. Bucky knew better than to try and listen in to the science talk. That only led to electroshock therapy.

Sam looked at Bucky and Steve, arms crossed over his chest. There was a slight furrow to his brow, and he tapped his fingers in thought. Bucky waited him out. It was never a wise idea to interrupt handlers when they were thinking. Or ever, really. Although Sam wasn’t a handler, it was probably still a good protocol to follow.

“How are you two holding up?” he asked.

Bucky tilted his head. Pain levels were standard, though there was an uncomfortable heaviness in his torso. The dizziness that he’d become accustomed to had receded, which was nice. “I am functional. Steve?”

“I am well, though I worry for the realm swimmers.” The very ends of Steve’s tentacles twitched restively, and his skin tone darkened a bit. “I hope they find their way home.”

The vague sense of worry that radiated from Steve was a match for the anxiety that crawled inside of Bucky, too. He nodded, and threw an arm around Steve’s should and hugged him close. “Me too, doll.”

Sam’s gaze softened a bit. “Yeah. I hope they make it.” He looked Bucky up and down, analyzing for combat readiness, perhaps. Then he smiled. “Glad to see you eating, though, man. You’re looking better already.”

A tiny thrill went up Bucky’s spine at the praise. He felt his lips curl into a small smile. This only seemed to please Sam more. Which was nice. And unexpected.

“You know,” Sam continued, “I talked with Jarvis, and we’re gonna have food ready for you here in the common room whenever you want it. We’re not always around, so you shouldn’t wait for us to eat.”

That made sense, although the actual mechanics and purpose of regular consumption of solids were still a bit haze for Bucky. It seemed excessive, both time and labor intensive. He chewed on his lower lip for a moment. “How do I know when to eat?”

“If you’d prefer, I can set a reminder for you,” Jarvis said. “I do so with Sir quite regularly. He has a tendency to get invested in a project and forget that he needs to eat.”

Sam laughed and nodded. “It’s true. Dude will stay in his lab for days if someone doesn’t come pull him out.”

“That is a good idea!” Steve writhed in excitement. “I have no idea how frequently eel-cousins must consume flesh. A reminder would be much appreciated.” He looked guiltily at Bucky. “If you desire it, I mean. If you do not want them, it need not happen.”

The plates on Bucky’s arm shifted nervously. “Are they orders?” he asked. “Do I have to comply?”

“No. Not at all. You get to choose whether or not you want to listen to anything the rest of us have to say, Jarvis included.” Sam’s voice was light, but his eyes were sad. Bucky wondered why.

Still. That was highly irregular. But it did fit with everything else that had happened to him in the last three weeks. No handlers, not here anyways. Choices. So many choices.

It was suddenly all so overwhelming. He just wanted to sit in the nest and hide. Sleep some more, maybe, since he was allowed to do that and Steve didn’t mind.

He nodded. “Reminders are fine, but maybe not for a little while yet. If it’s alright…” He looked at Steve hesitantly. Tentacles surged around him and comfort and love flowed through to him, easing the tension that had wound its way up his spine.

“Whatever you desire, my beloved. Name it, and I’ll get it for you.” Steve rubbed their cheeks together.

Bucky couldn’t help but lean into it and smile. “I know we had a lot of maintenance already today, but would you mind if we did more?”

“Of course, my sweet ocean star. It would be my pleasure,” Steve said with a grin. The limbs all around him tightened for a moment and Steve thrummed deeply, tongue sneaking out to lick his ear. That was absolutely delightful and Bucky couldn’t wait for more of it.

“And maybe more inactive time afterwards? I...I’m functional, but…” Bucky struggled to articulate the problem. He could fight, no question. But the need to sleep dragged at him.

“Dude, from everything you’ve been through, you need some rest,” Sam said frankly. “Like, I know those other guys said you were a super soldier or something, but not eating for so long is gonna wear out anyone. To the point where it’s probably not a good idea for you to go out on any mission for a while. At least a week. Maybe more.” Bucky felt a little alarmed at the prospect of being decommissioned. Sam quickly raised his hands in a soothing manner. “No, no, you’re fine. It’s okay to rest. We got this. We’ll keep you in the loop about everything we find, and then when you’re feeling better you can join in with the Hydra raids again.”

Between Sam’s words and the agreement emanating from Steve, the tension flowed right out of Bucky. He nodded, feeling oddly relieved. There wouldn’t be any fighting for a few days.

They could rest for a while.

He looked sideways over to Steve, peering through his lashes. His lips curled into a smile that he didn’t even bother to stop. Bucky could smile whenever he wanted and no one would stop him.

Steve grinned back and hoisted Bucky up into his limbs.

“Come, my beloved. Let us go retire to our nest.”

The last thing they heard as they flowed out of the room was Sam yelling, “Remember to lock your damn doors!”

--

 

Lego Picnic 1

 

Whip Crack Picnic 2

 

Octo Steve by Ellebeesknees

Octo Steve was one of Lenadraws' (amazing) Inktober arts, and she also made the adorable lego picnic! Check her out on tumblr!