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She doesn’t have an opinion on Ms. America’s – sorry, Captain America’s new uniform, or new title, or, indeed, newly-reanimated life.

Really.

“It’s just that – Army rankings have meaning,” she says.

“Yes, yes,” Marta answers, patting Bucky on the shoulder with bored detachment. They’ve had this discussion before.

“And she wasn’t a Captain when she was even in the army,” Bucky says. Not peevishly, not at all.

“She had the functional equivalent rank as an Agent,” Marta says, too reasonably. “And you know she wouldn’t have been allowed to be in the actual army anyway, under any rank.”

“Yes,” Bucky says, “I do know my history.” The WAC was nothing to sneeze at, she knows, and she means no disrespect to her own brave foremothers. It’s just –

“You’re just sore she outranks you now, Sergeant.”

“Yes, thank you, Corporal,” Bucky retorts. She thinks about sticking her tongue out at Marta, doesn’t. Marta notices her thinking about it anyway, she can tell. “It’s just –”

“I know, I know, you grew up with the comics,” Marta says.

“I did! And the –”

“And the old uniform was better, yes I know. Bucky, it was strapless.”

“I know,” Bucky says, into her beer. The vowel is long in her mouth, a little begrudging. She does know, it’s just – “I just liked it.”

“So help me god, if you tell me it’s because it’s hotter, I swear I’ll – I don’t want to hear about your pre-teen sexual awakening.”

Bucky lets her forehead thunk to the bar. Her hair falls over her face, which is probably a bad idea, given whatever sticky substance she’s just set her forehead into. “It’s not that,” she says, into the wood. It’s a little bit that.

She pulls back, wipes her forehead. Now the sticky is on her hand, great. Marta shoves a napkin at her. “It’s just – it was powerful, you know? To see a woman who was so –” She looks up, like Ms. – Captain – America is standing right there in front of her. Hands on her hips, red white and blue and a golden halo of hair, slash of crimson across her mouth. Bucky had snuck her Ma’s red lipstick from the bathroom drawer and worn it every day in middle school, slapping it on as she waited for the bus. “So strong, you know? And also beautiful.”

“Hm.” Marta tilts her head, chin on her hand. “Yeah, I s’pose.”

“And then there was her sidekick,” Bucky says, and Marta grins with her. By the time Bucky was a kid, most of the Ms. America comics tried to give Stevie Rogers and Peggy Carter proper male love interests, but the ones from the forties – god. They declared their undying devotion to one another practically every other page. Undying totally platonic passionate female friendship devotion.

“Yeah,” Marta says, with a bit of a sigh.

“I didn’t know what femme was, really, then, but I knew I wanted to be just like that.” When Bucky looks over at her, Marta’s face has gone squishy and soft, like she might be getting weepy. Instead, she tosses one arm over Bucky’s shoulder and kisses her roundly on the cheek.

“She can still be your femme heroine,” Marta says, motioning to the bartender for another round. He nods; she gives him a thumbs up. “Just, you know, wearing more practical footwear for the battlefield.”

“I suppose,” Bucky says. Never let your childhood idols come back from the dead, she thinks.

++

You know, it was one thing, Bucky thinks, when there were aliens invading Manhattan. It’s not that she’s not as angry as any New Yorker at the loss of life, the destruction, the gaping holes where familiar buildings use to be. It’s just that it’s her day off, and something very tall, and very grey, and possessing two very long tentacles has just dropped out of the sky in front of her, and for the love of god weren’t the hipsters doing enough damage to Brooklyn without any extraterrestrial help?

“Uh,” Bucky says. The creature blinks at her. She thinks. They’re in the middle of the sidewalk, in front of some pretentious donut shop, and Bucky can hear screaming like a distant, dull buzzing in her ears. She takes a step back; the creature shifts forward.

Bucky flails around for something to grab, but there’s nothing, and at her movement one of the tentacles whips out, wraps around her left wrist, and yanks her forward.

Oh yeah, she thinks, she doesn’t need a weapon; she has an arm. She twists at the elbow and the servos inside ratchet up; it takes one quick, jerking thrust to the creature’s abdomen to shove it over. Unfortunately, its tentacles are still quite firmly wrapped around her forearm, so she goes with it.

The element of surprise seems to work on this particular breed of tentacle creature, though, and the tumble startles it into inaction for a long moment, its grip relaxing. Bucky jerks her arm away, giving it a good solid punch – her fist sort of sinks in, like she’s slammed it against one of those really nice mattresses made entirely of memory foam – and scrambles to her feet.

She’s thinking run, run away, don’t be a fucking hero even while her gaze casts about for more creatures, for points of exit, and for civilians in peril. Most folks seem to have a little more common sense than she does, though, and have cleared out. There are two more creatures inside the donut shop, but she doesn’t see any humans. One of the creatures prods at a jelly-filled.

Lifting her fists, she grimaces at the creature on the sidewalk in front of her, who seems to have recovered and lumbered back up to standing. It lunges at her; she punches, with that same soft thwack like before, and it snakes one tentacle right around her waist and lifts her off the ground.

She’s barely figured out that her feet no longer touch concrete before she’s flying, flung out away from the creature, and barely felt the air rush by her before she’s –

Bucky wakes to something prodding at her shoulder, and blinks her eyes open to see a face staring down at her. Or, sort of a face: half of it’s blue and there’s an A on its forehead and it’s grimacing like it’s smelling something unpleasant. Bucky blinks again. It’s still there, and it’s still familiar.

She turns her head to the side. Captain America kneels next to her, one hand on Bucky’s shoulder. She blocks out the sun; it glows around her, a halo. Bucky might have hit her head harder than she thought.

“Are you alive?” Captain America says to her.

“Um,” Bucky says. She sits up. “Yeah?” A chunk of metal flings itself out of the sky and skitters across the ground toward them; Bucky scrambles backwards, trying to stand up, but Captain America grabs her forearm and keeps her down, pulling Bucky’s body close to hers. It’s a long moment before Bucky realizes Captain America has her shield out, holding it in front of them. The huff of her breath pants across Bucky’s cheek.

The metal clatters against the shield and falls to the ground. Captain America holds them like that for another long moment, crouched together with her body curled around Bucky’s.

“I think it’s done,” Bucky says. It’s a stupid thing to say; her mouth is stupid. Captain America cranes her neck, looking over her shield, and then pulls away. As she stands, she sticks out one hand to Bucky, and barely blinks when Bucky clasps it with her metal hand.

Are you alright?” Captain America says.

Bucky glances down at her hand, gives a little wave. “Already had this,” she says, with an awkward laugh. Something passes over Captain America’s face before she snorts, shifts into an easier posture.

“Fuck,” Captain America says. She never said that in the comics. Her glance flits up and down Bucky. More down than up, really; she must have eight inches on Bucky in both height and breadth. “I thought you were dead, lying there like that.”

“Um,” Bucky says. She’s not dead, but her mouth doesn’t seem to be working. “I thought you were smaller,” she says, then clamps her mouth shut, horrified.

Captain America laughs, rubs the back of her neck. “I get that a lot,” she says. “The comics weren’t really – accurate.”

“It’s okay,” Bucky says, immediately. “It’s good – uh – I mean, I like it – um –” Shut your mouth, Barnes, just goddamn stop.

Captain America laughs again, though. Bucky wants to be swallowed up. By the earth, by Captain America’s broad-grinned mouth; she’s not sure.

“Listen, uh –”

“Bucky.” She swears Captain America raises an eyebrow at that, but she doesn’t say anything. Bucky’s well aware that it’s a stupid-ass nickname for a grown-ass adult, but answering to Jacomina is quite frankly out of the question.

“Bucky. The fight’s mostly over, but I’ve got cleanup to do. Can I help you get to a paramedic check point?” They’re in an alley behind what used to be the donut shop, before the entire building turned into the pile of crumbled bricks in front of her. Bucky’s not sure if the tentacle-creatures did that or the Avengers, and is pretty sure she doesn’t want to ask.

Bucky thinks of saying yes, and my ankle’s twisted, and do you think you could just carry me, but she’s a goddamn soldier and she has some dignity. “I can find my way. You go, you know, keep saving the world.” Captain America laughs again, either because Bucky’s hilarious or because she’s got a nervous social tic. Bucky can guess which.

“Take care of yourself,” Captain America says, giving her a little nod as she turns to jog away.

Bucky watches her go. Maybe the new uniform’s not so bad after all.

++

She flips on the news as soon as she gets home. Not many casualties this time, and they’re injuries, not deaths. The camera switches from the news anchor to a press conference, cutting in on a fairly glorious frown on Captain America’s face.

She’s answering a question about damage – contained within two blocks, regrettable but reparable, Avengers Initiative will lend manpower to the cleanup efforts, etc. Bucky’s watching her face. Her frown never fully disappears, making itself known in the set of her mouth and the creases between her eyebrows. There’s a smudge of dirt on her jawline and a gleam of sweat at her temples, where it darkens her close-cropped hair to a dull bronze.

In the old news reels, it had always been up in neat victory rolls, and in the comics a floating miasma of gold. Now it’s half-buzzed, a nice tight fade up the sides, and short on top. In disarray, like she’s run her sweaty hands through it. There’s not a trace of makeup on her face.

Bucky’s own lipstick has rubbed off, she’s sure. Every inch of her is dusty; she can feel grit grinding between the plates of her arm when she flexes her fist. Raissa’s gonna love that; good thing Bucky has a check-in appointment already scheduled.

The news cuts from a shot of Captain America rubbing her forehead in frustration to one of a tentacle-creature stuffing jelly donuts in a gaping gash that must be its mouth, then finally back to the earnestly wide-eyed hosts debating if the creatures were invading in order to take control of the planet’s sugar supply and how that possible weakness could be exploited. Bucky blinks at the screen, thinking that if their goal was world-wide sucrose domination, they might have sent more than half-a-dozen creatures, then switches to last night’s Daily Show.

Leaving the TV playing, Bucky makes her way to the bathroom. She turns the shower on hot, lets it steam up the room while she takes a piss. There are a lot of army habits she finds hard to break – if her goddamn body would let her sleep in later than seven just one morning a week, she’d weep with joy – but she refuses to take a shower shorter than ten minutes and less than lobster-pot hot now that she has a working hot water heater all to herself.

Before she gets in, she peers at herself in the mirror, then grabs some makeup remover wipes. As she figured, her lipstick is mostly worn off, cracked color in the corners of her mouth all that remain. Her mascara has migrated to below her eyes now, and the tips of her winged liner have dissolved away. When she blinks, her eyes still water with the remaining grit stubbornly stuck below her lids. As she wipes away the remnants, she realizes this of course means she met Captain Fucking America looking something like a feral racoon. Not that she’s opposed to a good smoky eye, mind, but there’s sultry and then there’s looking like a teenage emo assassin.

She tosses the wipe away, her face now the only part of her without a fine coating of dust. Running her fingers through the roots of her hair, she feels for broken skin and tender places. Sure enough, there’s a bruise right at the back of her head. It hurts when she probes at it, but there’s no clotted blood. Her hair’s a tangled mess, but she’s got some deep conditioner that will help with that. Her undercut, too, could use cleaning up, but that’ll have to wait until she won’t just gum up her clippers with grit.

As she showers, a little puddle of dirty water forms when the old plumbing can’t quite keep up with the muck sluicing off her. She ignores it, works conditioner into her now-clean hair, twists it up, secures it with a clip. The water pounds hot on her skin, working away a little of the tension she carries in her left shoulder and pectorals. With a handful of soap, she rubs at the joining of metal and flesh. It’s the only part of the design that’s crude, the only part foisted on her by the cruel choices of enemy combatants that she still bears. The rest she had some slight say in the making, but apparently even Stark couldn’t figure out a way to disengage the shoulder mount from her flesh, bone, and nerves.

The water’s hot; it sends up a pink flush to her upper chest, her belly, and makes her feel like she’s breathing in something good and heavy, something healing, with each steam-sated breath. She scrubs up under her armpits, at the tender skin and soft, dark hair, and the ragged seam between flesh and metal. It gets sore up there, the skin too delicate to have formed the harder scar tissue that reaches over her shoulder and trails across the top of her breast. No skin broken today, thank god, but there’s a bruise there in the hollow of her armpit that she knows will smart later.

Ignoring it for now, she scrubs down her sides and across her belly, lifts one foot then the other to clean her calves and behind her knees. Her jeans took most of the dirt, so she’s not so bad from the waist down. Clean now, she brings the flats of her palms up her body, feeling the heft of it against metal and flesh. She’s settled into a twice-weekly gym routine and a Wednesday night yoga class that helps keep her shoulder from binding up; outside of the regimentation of the army she found that she didn’t actually like pushing her body that hard every day.

She does like that her body’s sensations offer themselves up predictably, most of the time. The burn of stretching her muscles hard, of holding a pose a little longer each week, reminds her that she’s in control of how far she pushes. Gentle scrubbing on the open plates of her arm sends a familiar tickle to her brain as the sensory inputs engage, muted but not-unpleasant, and a delicate prickling makes its way down the core of her body as she draws her hands across her breasts.

The first time she got herself off again, 16 months after she got back, she’d cried, right there in in the shower, sat on the floor of the tub and let the water beat down on her. The doctors had told her all of the side effects of both PTSD and the pills she was taking to help it, had told her that her body was working hard to heal, to hold itself upright, to mitigate the pain that was there and to not feel pain that wasn’t. Her appetites, her desires, might take a while to return, they’d said.

She hadn’t expected to be so numb. Like someone had wrapped her in gauze, muffled her nerves. God knows she can live without sex with partners, but there had been some dark moments when she had wondered if she’d ever inhabit her own body again. If she’d ever not feel like a stranger jangling around in trembling hands and too-tight skin.

Her appetite came back around the same time as her libido, and her new routine has given her a pleasing sort of give to her flesh, a soft abundance to her inner thighs, a low curve to her belly. Underneath the solid pressure of her left hand, particularly, her body is yielding, delicate.

Pulling the detachable showerhead down, Bucky spreads her legs, bracing her feet against the edges of the tub. She’d installed it when her range of motion and endurance to stay standing through a whole shower were both limited, but she had not needed to think twice about keeping it around. She’s resolutely not thinking about Captain America, not at all; it’s just that her mind maybe wanders her ex Abby, who rock climbed and could pick Bucky up and fuck her against a wall. If she thinks about how someone could probably do that even better, maybe holding her up with just one hand, if they had superhuman strength, well, it’s her goddamned fantasy.

It’s hardly creepier than having rubbed one out on a regular basis to the image of comic book Captain America when she was twelve, or to Julia Stiles in that one movie that came out when she was sixteen. Probably. Bucky’s not sure about the masturbation-creepiness scale. Maybe it’s a little above pubescent fantasies of a mostly-fictional illustrated character, but surely somewhere below what it would be if she and Captain America were actual friends. Definitely below building a sex robot that looks just like her, or something.

Angling the pulsing jet takes a moment’s finagling, but then it’s hitting just right, a little to the side of her clit, and she lets herself just think about the building pressure and the ways her thighs start to tremble, and not about the heavy weight of Captain America’s arm and shield slung over her back, of Captain America’s breath in her ear.

She comes quickly, with a gut-clenching force that has her falling forward to catch herself with a palm to her knee. She likes that about her body, again: its ability to respond, with her controlled dose of anti-depressants lower than it was at first, her birth control pills discarded with the army-environment-induced fear of sexual assault she never quite let herself dwell on. She almost never thinks about hands bracing her chest down and sawing through her poisoned flesh anymore, except sometimes in her nightmares.

Fumbling the showerhead back into place, she lets her hair back down, feeling the slick slide of conditioner sluicing down her back. Her hair’s long again, falling to hit just past her shoulder blades, just beyond the jagged edges of her metal shoulder joint. Right when she got home, that long winter spent in her childhood room under her Ma’s too-watchful eyes, she’d cut it all off. Three tours keeping it back in neat French braids, twists pulled back from her temples, or low, tightly coiled buns, and when she got out of the hospital all she could feel was the tackiness of blood sticking the strands heavily together anytime she tried to comb it out.

She thinks maybe one of the nurses cleaned her up, when she was still out cold from the surgery to salvage what little they could of her shoulder, in blissful dreamless sleep after a month’s waking nightmare. All she remembers is waking up with her dark hair clean and braided neatly, sitting on one shoulder like a rope, and smelling the wretched-dark copper smell of blood.

So off it had gone, and she’d walked around not with the greasy punk dyke look she’d cultivated for two brief years in high school, but like something haunted. A jagged, uneven buzzcut and eye sockets sunken and dark like old bruises.

Running her fingers through to the ends, Bucky teases out the tangles from her little betentacled dance. It feels hard-won, every inch: two long years of every kind of therapy, of learning to move again with a whole chunk of herself missing. She’d almost said no to the Stark Industries prosthetic trial; all the work learning to live in her body again left the thought of messing with the precarious balance she’d wrought almost untenable.

Stepping out of the shower, Bucky looks at the hazy outline of her body in the fogged-over mirror. Like this, her shoulders look nearly symmetrical, two bulky shapes with no differentiation between flesh and chrome. With her flesh hand, she wipes the mirror clear.

++

Flexing and twisting her wrist, Bucky opens the plates up in her arm, then rests her fist on the table. She doesn’t love this part – before she can work on the arm, Raissa must disable Bucky’s main sensory input circuit, so that it doesn’t hurt like a son of a bitch as she pokes and prods and tightens things. That part itself doesn’t hurt; it’s just a little switch. But having the arm hanging there, limp and senseless, sends her mind too far back. To the feeling of dead-weight meat dangling from her shoulder, in the first days of her capture. It had hurt more than she thought anything could hurt, when the bomb first took everything below the elbow. Somehow after that, her system redirected while the flesh started to corrupt, gangrene eating away, and for days all she felt was the dull pain of its hanging weight, interspersed with lightning-sharp flashes of agony.

The first arm they put on her was little more than a claw, iron-heavy and blunt. A cudgel. It, too, had felt like something she was dragging along; the sensory input was nowhere near as sensitive as what Stark has been able to jerry-rig into the fused base of her shoulder.

Raissa gets it turned off; Bucky grits her teeth against the tremor of nausea that passes through her. “I’ve been reading that book you suggested last time,” Raissa says, in an obvious effort to distract her.

It sort of works. “The one with the Vikings?” They have a shared love of dense historical fiction; the more like a brick a book is, the better. “What do you think?”

Raissa starts to talk, and Bucky forces herself to listen, if not to the content then to the cadence of the words, sounds placed one after the next. Raissa’s good at every part of her job, and Bucky knows she lived through some shit herself, before her family moved to the US from Rwanda, so she gets it. The way Bucky’s mind doesn’t so much wander as violently jump from here, in the fourteenth floor lab of Stark Tower, to the second story of a gutted-out building somewhere past Karbala, and back in a matter of seconds.

Once they get in a groove, though, things start to settle. Her mind finds itself, here in the lab listening to Raissa’s voice, answering her occasional questions.

“Did you try to take a bath in dirt?” Raissa says at one point, wrinkling her nose as she uses a tiny brush to clean the internal mechanism of Bucky’s bicep.

“I got picked up and thrown by a – a tentacle thing.”

“A tentacle thing?”

“I didn’t catch its name, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Raissa pauses, looks up at her. “The incident last week? In Brooklyn?”

“Yeah, why?”

“I just didn’t think there were any civilian casualties, that’s all.”

“I was fine! I walked it off. Captain America –” helped me, she starts to say, but then a voice behind them says, “Yes?” and Bucky nearly jumps off the exam table.

“Sorry, sorry!” Captain America herself says, circling the table quickly so she’s in Bucky’s line of sight. “I shouldn’t have – Jesus, I’m sorry. I’ve got an appointment with Marco, but I shouldn’t have just barged right in.” Then she tilts her head to one side – her forehead creases up, and in the bright, clear light of the laboratory, her eyes are brilliant blue – and says, “Bucky,” like she’s pleased.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, does a little wave.

“It’s good to see you,” Captain America says, earnestly, like she means it. Bucky wonders if that’s just the way women spoke in the 1940s, like they’d never even heard of a lie. Captain America does that up-and-down look again, like she’s taking in every part of Bucky in one long pass, and Bucky tells herself not to flex her abs. She does anyway; if she’s going to get caught shirtless by Captain Fucking America, who, as it turns out, is a gorgeous, goliath butch of a women, when wearing her oldest, rattiest sports bra, she may as well make whatever effort is left to her.

Internally, she’s cursing her own practical nature and the amount of lubricant Raissa has to use when servicing the arm; she has plenty of shit-hot bras at home, lace and strappy and mesh and some with very tastefully placed cutouts and some with cutouts that are not tasteful at all but make an impression. But instead she’s worried about decency in a public space and the damaging effects of lubricant on silk and satin.

“I look better than this normally,” she says. Captain America’s eyebrows lift, and she cocks her head. “I just mean,” she says, “when I’m not covered in –” she gestures to the arm, which Raissa has returned to vigorously poking and is pointedly not saying a word. Captain America herself is wearing a plaid shirt buttoned to the throat and textured brown trousers, her oxfords sharp and shined and her hair clean, golden bright and combed off to one side. Her sleeves are rolled up; Bucky tries not to look too hard at her forearms.

“Yeah, you looked much better covered in dust,” Captain America says, eyes wide and bright, and for a moment Bucky thinks she’s just as fucking bad at this as Bucky herself is, and then her grin breaks open and her lashes sweep down. Shit, Bucky thinks. That was the gentlest teasing she’s ever received in her life, and somehow it’s still twisted her gut up in knots.

“Rude,” Bucky says, thinking of racoon eyes and trying not to flush bright red. “I’m just saying, you watch out; next time we meet I’ll actually be, you know –” she gestures again, this time to the general sort of face-hair-torso area – “done. You won’t know what hit you.”

Bucky’s smile is dazzling, she’s been told, and goddamn it, she has eyes and a mirror, she knows it’s good, and when she turns it on her honest-to-god childhood hero, Captain America actually opens her mouth, closes it, looks away, looks back, and says, “I look forward to it.”

Bucky is actually going to die, right here. “Yeah,” she says, “you do that.” Jesus fuck.

“Marco’s lab is two doors down,” Raissa says mildly, like there’s an awful lot she’s not saying.

Captain America coughs; her cheeks pink up. “I get a little turned around in here,” she says, giving Raissa a bashful smile. She glances at her watch. Bucky wonders if she’s reluctant to leave. “I’ll see you around, then, Bucky.”

Bucky gives her a sloppy little salute, the type that’d get her ass chewed out if she were around anyone who still cared about army protocol, and says, “Cap.”

“Jesus,” Captain America says. “Steve, please. Stevie if you gotta, but most folks call me Steve.”

“Steve,” Bucky says. It feels kind of precious in her mouth. Steve nods, taking a few backwards steps. She’s still grinning even as she turns to leave.

“Well, that was embarrassing,” Raissa says, and twists a screwdriver into Bucky’s elbow.

++

A month later, Bucky’s on her way home from work when the D line stops in the middle of a tunnel. A chorus of sighs oscillates through the car as they wait for an announcement about how long it will be. Bucky pulls one earbud out, lifting her gaze from her book, and it’s only because she’s looking up that she notices three different guys with three identical briefcases moving to open them all at once.

The nearest one is two seats down. Dropping her book to the ground with a bang, Bucky swings herself up using the rail and smashes her hand down on his, where he’s fumbling open the briefcase. Wrenching it away from him, she throws it at the second guy, across the aisle; it clatters against his case and they both fall to the ground.

Too slow for three, though; when she stands, the third guy has a handgun pointed at her. Someone is screaming.

“Hey, now, fella,” Bucky says, in the voice she’d use to coax in a feral cat. He snarls a little; feral cat indeed. “It doesn’t have to be like this.” She wishes Marta were there; she was always their negotiator. She’d be halfway to figuring out what he wanted right now, while Bucky’s just figuring out if there’s any bullet trajectory that doesn’t end in disaster. They’re in a tin can, so basically no.

“Get out of my way, lady,” the guy says, pointing emphatically with the gun. He takes two steps towards her, now doubt intended to be intimidating. Bucky keeps her hands up, tries to inch forward a bit without seeming like she’s moving. She waggles her fingers, and sees the moment his eye catches on the metal, and lunges forward.

She has the gun out of his hand before he figures out she’s moved. His fist creaks a little in her metal hand, and his eyes go wide with pain. “What’s the plan, then?” she says.

Turns out, their car is the epicenter but there are men stationed all along the length of the train. “Anyone else know how to use a gun?” Bucky says, after borrowing ties from a couple of businessmen to restrain the men’s wrists. A teenager who is clearly trying to keep an over-awed look off his face lifts his hand tentatively, and a short woman about Bucky’s mom’s age nods and comes closer. No one else wants to be heroes today, it seems, so Bucky will take them.

She stations them on either end of the car and cautiously cracks open one of the briefcases. There’s an electrical device inside, but no explosives or chemical weapons she can see, thank god.

“What’s this do?” she says to the trussed-up guy closest to her. He glares back at her, jaw gritted shut. “Suit yourself,” Bucky says, and cracks the butt of his own gun down on the inner side of his knee. He cries out; the few people still close to her edge further away.

He doesn’t speak, though, and she’s lifting the gun again when the whole train car rocks to one side then settles back on the tracks, trembling slightly. The guy summons up a self-satisfied grimace and says, “That.”

A panicked murmur rises up around her, but Bucky’s mind narrows in on the shiver of pain that passed through her, and then abated into an uneasy nothingness. She tries to lift her hand; can’t. That must mean it was electromagnetic, whatever that wave was, because it’s fried the servos in her arms. It’s just a chunk of beautifully-designed metal now. Her stomach drops.

“Hey, lady, there’s something happening,” the teenager says from the far end of the car. He’s looking through the window into the next car. Bucky hauls herself to standing again, feeling the off-kilter weight of her dead arm pulling her sideways.

In the next car, everyone’s down on the ground, and a guy with another identical briefcase makes his way down the center toward Bucky and the kid. “Get down,” she says. He drops to a crouch next to her, the whites of his eyes enormous.

Bucky tucks herself against the wall beside the door, watching his progress and holding her stolen gun aloft. He’s to the door of his car, reaching for the handle, when something flies in from behind him and slams into his head. He falls, and there’s Captain America, catching her shield and affixing it to her forearm and looking grimly satisfied.

+

Bucky sticks around after they’re all topside, helping where she can then making statements with the police and SHIELD. She finds that her gaze follows Captain America’s movements around the evacuation zone; once everyone’s out and the culprits have been shuffled into a not-at-all-ominous black SHIELD van, she mostly mills through the panicked crowds of people, stopping to check in and talk, taking a knee to look a kid in the eye, calling over EMTs for folks with minor injuries.

The SHIELD agent interviewing Bucky keeps glaring at her, then at her arm, then back at her face suspiciously, as though she’s not totally convinced by Bucky’s matter-of-fact recounting. Maybe she thinks Bucky should be more panicked, breathing hard and freaking out a little. Maybe Bucky should be, but her heart beats calm and steady and the only thing wrong is the ache in her shoulder at hefting the unresponsive weight of her arm.

Poking at her tablet, the SHIELD agent flips it around to take Bucky’s fingerprint. The slightly paranoid side of Bucky hesitates, but it’s not like the U.S. government doesn’t have every bit of information they could possible gather on her already, given her multiple tours and her frequent presence at the V.A. As the agent leaves, giving her a last up-and-down glance that Bucky’s not sure is annoyance or interest, Captain America saunters up.

Well, she’s holding her shoulders a little too stiffly for a saunter, but there’s a little swagger to her step, to the way she hefts the shield onto her back as she approaches. Bucky follows the stretch of her arm, the way her torso twists just a little, and squares up her own shoulders, resolutely keeping her back away from Captain America’s view.

At some point in the process of taking down three guys single-handedly, and then defusing a potential disaster with actually only one hand, Bucky’s pencil skirt split up the back. Right up from the kick pleat nearly to the zipper, no doubt showing an unseemly amount of Bucky’s pantyhose-clad ass. She thinks about unbuttoning a couple more buttons on her blouse as a distraction, but Captain America’s definitely keeping her eyes on Bucky as she makes her way across the grass, and there’s only so obvious Bucky’s willing to be.

Bucky does, mostly, like her job. Bookkeeping isn’t the most interesting work she’s ever done, but she has a head for the numbers and the firm she contracts with works with a lot of veterans, so they were understanding of those days when Bucky needed to stay home and muffle the outside world underneath her duvet. But they do require business casual, and Bucky usually goes even more conservative on early days with new companies, which means horrors like pantyhose and sensible pumps. She’s only wearing one pair of earrings and they don’t even dangle.

Captain America – Steve – stops in front of her, cocks her head to one side. “I heard what you did,” she says. She sounds – she sound admiring, jesus.

“Just doing what needed to be done, ma’am,” Bucky blurts out, because she’s a moron and watched Josh Hartnett say that to Julia Stiles way too many times when she was sixteen and susceptible to the romance of doing something bone-headed just so a blonde would look at her with amusement. Come to think of it, she might not totally be past that. “It’s from –” she starts, then shakes her head. “Never mind. Do we know what they were doing?”

“Bank robbery, actually. Coordinated EMP bursts to take out their security, then up through an entrance they’d found through old subway service tunnels.”

“Huh.” It’s maybe a little anti-climactic after tentacle-beasts who apparently had been a terraforming scout party, disappointed with the lack of some vital space element in Earth’s soil. Not disappointed in Earth’s jelly donuts, though.

“Garden variety,” Steve says, shrugging up her shoulders. “But you still – you were – I mean, that was – brave,” she concludes, blinking a little owlishly at Bucky through the mask of her helmet.

Bucky blinks back. “Uh, thanks,” she says. “Training kicks in, you know?”

“Yeah,” Steve says, then, “Iraq, right?” Which maybe means she looked Bucky up, which – jesus, she knows about her time in Karbala, about – it made the news, it comes up when you google Bucky’s name: Hero POW home after months of torture. It might just mean she did research on which wars the U.S. was in when she woke up, though.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, shrugging her shoulders. Or, rather, shoulder: the arm’s still limp at her side, heavy and motionless. She sees Steve notice, watches an almost imperceptible grimace cross her face, and Bucky feels an old familiar flash of anger. She doesn’t need anyone’s pity, least of all an all-healing super-soldier’s.

But Steve doesn’t say anything about it. Instead, she brings her hands to her cheek, unsnaps the chin guard of her helmet. Her hair is mussed when she cracks off her helmet, like in the press conference after the tentacle-things invaded. She shoves one hand through it, pushing it off of her forehead; Bucky tries not to stare. Fails, probably.

Steve looks like she’s about to say something painfully earnest or encouraging, so Bucky blurts out, “I cut all my hair off when I first got back, too.” It’s probably not the same, she thinks; Steve’s trying to fit into the new world, while Bucky was trying to cut herself out of it.

Nonetheless, Steve gives her a little smile, bashful, and tips one shoulder up. “I wore it short before the serum,” she says. “Not like –” she points to her head, where one sweat-darkened strand escapes over her forehead – “but out of the way. It grows faster now and, well, they had a look in mind for Miss America.”

“Huh.” Bucky’d never really thought about that. In the comics, Ms. America – Miss in the earliest days – had fashioned her costume out of a dress uniform and an old, torn flag picked up off a battlefield, turning out a striped skirt that got shorter by the decade and a blue blouse with a big white star. Later, she’d show up in the bustier that a teenaged Bucky had spent an awful lot of time considering.

“I’m a master of the French braid,” she says, finally, “but I always thought those big victory rolls looked impressive.”

“All Peggy’s handiwork, I’m afraid,” Steve says, and for one childish moment Bucky feels jealous of the nonagenarian former SHIELD director for the sweet, private little smile Steve gives, but then Steve follows it with, “but I bet you’ve got great hands.”

Bucky’s brain might stutter a little. “Um,” she says. “I’d show you, but I’m down one at the moment.” She tilts her head to her left arm, grimacing a little.

“Oh, shit,” Steve says. “Do you need help – can I call someone?”

Bucky shakes her head. “I should be able to restart it, once I’m able to get up in there.” The reset’s tucked up under the plates of her inner biceps, protected from most blows but also currently covered by her only-slightly-stained business casual oxford blouse. “Then I’ll head in for maintenance later this week, just to check it.”

“At the Tower?” Steve says. Bucky hopes she’s not imagining hope there, in the little interested tilt to Steve’s head.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, nodding, just as someone shouts, “Steve-o,” from across the crowd.

They both turn to see a guy waving a bow above the crowd. Bucky’s pretty sure it’s gotta be Hawkeye, though she can only just see a flash of blond hair.

“I’d better –”

“Yeah,” Bucky says. She should get home, anyway. She can take the N or Q or whatever’s running instead if they’ve still got the D blocked off.

“Maybe I’ll – see you,” Steve says as she’s turning to go, and yeah, there’s definitely some hope in her words.

++

Raissa makes time to see her the next day; the reset allows her arm to function with a limited range of motion, but there’s at least one or two connections knocked out of joint, because her ring finger twitches for hours. Raissa, predictably, wastes no time in making a put a ring on it joke and then asking if she’s planning to see anyone special at the lab that day.

“It’s not like that,” Bucky says. It is like that; she cursed herself all the way home for not asking for Steve’s number. That is, if Captain America is allowed to give out her number.

Bucky tugs her tee-shirt up and off, dragging it down the sluggishly-responsive hunk of her left arm. She’s almost glad when Raissa lifts both eyebrows sky high at the sight of her bra, because it distracts her from the swooping nausea that’s been making its way through her gut all morning. She’s pretty sure it’s from the weight of the arm, not her current presence in Stark Tower.

“Sure it isn’t,” Raissa says. She looks pointedly at Bucky’s breasts, clad in a violently neon blue bra that’s just the decent side of sheer. Bucky smiles, shamelessly flexing her chest; her cleavage looks great. “You’re insufferable,” Raissa says, lifting Bucky’s arm to rest on the table so she can get to the under-arm panel.

“I just like to look good,” Bucky says, wincing a little as Raissa wrangles open the control panel.

“Yeah, those ratty muscle tees you usually wear for me, such a sight,” Raissa says dryly, voice coming from below Bucky’s armpit.

“It’s only because I know you’re happily married,” Bucky says. “Don’t want to tempt you away.”

Raissa hums, unconvinced, then twists her screwdriver across a connection that makes Bucky’s whole hand tighten into a fist. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” she says as Bucky wills bile back down her throat. They both hate it when Raissa’s repairs trigger involuntary movement, the violent lack of control sending Bucky’s heart skittering and that moment of harm, however unwillful, going so against the aid Raissa intends with her whole being. Theirs is a fully consensual prosthetic-arm-induced relationship, Raissa had insisted the first time they met, with Bucky nearly trembling out of her too-skinny frame at the thought of yet another set of hands digging inside her.

“It’s okay,” Bucky says, after a long moment’s break. “You can keep going.”

Fifteen or twenty minutes later, Bucky’s fingers have started moving independently again. She waggles them, just for the sheer pleasure.

“You know Stark’s got a new skin polymer prototype developed. He’s looking for testers. It’s much better than the last one,” Raissa says, lifting her eyebrows at Bucky’s unimpressed glare. The last one had been too uncanny valley for Bucky, on just the grey side of corpse-like and a little tacky to the touch. She’d worn the polymer glove over her hand for only a few hours before peeling it off with a slight clench of nausea.

Bucky looks at her hand, moving freely now as Raissa watches the readings it relays to her tablet. There had been other finishes to choose from – if she knows anything about Stark, it’s that he cares deeply for appearances – but the gleaming chrome had drawn her eye immediately. “Nah,” she says. “I’m partial to a bit of bling.”

Raissa smiles. “Don’t say that too loud, or he’ll have it diamond-encrusted,” she says. Bucky’s only met the guy once, at the final fitting; she got the impression that he wasn’t used to interacting with the people his various and sundry foundations help. He’d shaken her flesh hand and poked at the metal one, watched her thread a needle and handle a pen with satisfaction, declared himself a genius, then left.

“Maybe just diamond knuckle-dusters,” Bucky says with a grin. “Or diamond fingernails, since I can’t get a manicure to stay on for the life of me.” She’s imagining it, little glittering tips catching the light, faceted edges leaving light scratches on her own skin, or on, uh, someone else’s. Bucky’s a responsible femme; she already wears a glove to keep from pinching any delicate mucous membranes with the grooves of her joints, so it wouldn’t be a hardship. “Actually, yes, diamond fingernails.”

Raissa’s about to say something – probably a little lewd, too, judging by the way her mouth twists up wickedly – when the lab door opens. Bucky straightens up, mouth going a little dry, but the voice that says, “Jacomina Barnes?” isn’t Steve’s.

“Who’s asking,” Bucky says, craning her head to see a tall woman by the doorway, a narrow, polite smile on her face.

“Deputy Director Hill,” Raissa says, when the woman waits a beat to answer. “What brings you down here? SHIELD have business with the Avengers today?” Her voice is a little pointed; Bucky’s not totally clear on exactly where the boundaries between SHIELD, the Avengers, and Stark Industries lie. By the slight tightness to Raissa’s mouth, she figures those boundaries are a little embattled.

“Dr. Makazu,” the Deputy Director says. “I hope I’m not interrupting.”

“We were just doing the final checks,” Raissa says. The impassive stillness of Hill’s face tells Bucky that she knew that before she stepped foot in the door. In return, Bucky takes her time pushing each joint through its range of motion, giving each stretch a deliberate slowness. By the time she does her last pinkie circle, Raissa is biting down on her bottom lip, clearly trying not to laugh.

“I wonder if I might have a word with Sergeant Barnes. In my office.” Hill doesn’t say it like a request.

“Any reason in particular?” Bucky says, pulling her shirt back on, then lacing up her boots.

“Your file came across my desk this morning,” Hill says. “It interests me,” she adds, and that does surprise Bucky. At her hesitation, Hill tilts her chin a little, the most human gesture she’s made yet, and says, “You’ll be interested in what I have to say, I assure you.”

Well, it wasn’t the surprise she was looking for, but Bucky doesn’t make a habit of ignoring her curiosity, so she tips her chin at Raissa, grabs her bag, and follows Hill out the door.

++

“You do look good.” This time, Captain America approaches her from the side, well within Bucky’s line of sight.

“Damn right I do,” Bucky says. She’s clean and showered, wearing real clothes, and she just got this killer new lipstick, glorious plum perfection in pigmented form. It’s the first real wintery day they’ve gotten yet, too, and winter looks good on Bucky. Layers, you know. She’s even got nice underwear on, a matched set and everything. Not that Captain America’s going to see it, but a girl gets her confidence where she can.

Steve’s grin is wide and pearly white, flashing on Bucky for a moment before she turns her head to look up at the menu.

“What’s good here?”

“You cutting line, Captain America?” Bucky wishes this were her own secret, hole-in-the-wall place, but word’s gotten out about the goddamn perfection of the pastries, and she’s still six people deep from the register, with more behind her.

“How ‘bout you let me order with you and we make it my treat?”

Bucky had been planning on a hot date with a latte, the best almond croissant this side of the Hudson, and that new intergenerational Russian family drama doorstop of a book she’d picked up recently, but she’s not too put out by the change of plans.

“So you come here often?” Bucky says as they find a table in the back corner. Steve holds a whole plate of pastries for them to share, having been unable to decide on just one. She makes a little show of looking around as they sit.

“Last time I was here it was a butcher’s,” she says. Bucky blinks; it’s been a café for at least the past couple of years, since before Bucky got home.

“Oh – you mean –”

“Can’t keep me away, it seems. I guess home is home, you know?”

“Is it hard to see how it’s changed?” Bucky asks, thinking of her own curmudgeonly annoyance each time some childhood haunt is repurposed for an overly-specific twee boutique bakery. It’s been donuts, this past year, and cupcakes before that.

Steve takes a moment, really thinking about the question. “I took the subway a lot, when I first woke up. We didn’t – when I was a kid, it was mostly overland in Brooklyn, and anyway I didn’t always have a nickel to spare – so it was all new. But at the same time –” she shrugs. “People live their lives. They fight, and laugh, and dance. They – they persist.” She looks down at her hands. Bucky’s eyes feel wet. “And not all changes are bad,” she says, looking up at Bucky, eyes bright.

“The internet,” Bucky says.

“Really useful,” Steve agrees. “Vaccinations, those are great,” she says, and Bucky’s read her history books; she knows how precarious Steve’s life was those first two decades. Something clenches a little, in the vicinity of her lungs.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, “god, yeah. Also you can get anything deep-fried these days; that’s really great, too.” Steve laughs, a deep, genuine burst. Bucky would deny being a romantic to anyone who so much as suggested it, but goddamn if she doesn’t want to take Steve to Coney Island and talk about if it’s changed and eat hot dogs and funnel cakes until they feel sick.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” Steve says, looking up at Bucky from under her lashes, hands cupped around her mug. Bucky’s traitorous gut does a little swooping thing.

“Yeah?”

“I was this close to looking up your file to get your phone number. I’m not totally up on twenty-first century etiquette, but I was pretty certain that’d be creepy.”

“As fuck, yeah,” Bucky says. She cocks her head, watches the way Steve’s cheeks turn pink. Jesus. “I probably wouldn’t have minded, though,” she admits.

“No?” Bucky shakes her head, watches the way Steve’s smile spreads wide.

“I do have something to ask you, though,” Bucky says, dropping her voice into a serious timbre. “Do you know if SHIELD has policies about co-workers fraternizing? Because I had a really interesting meeting with Maria Hill the other day.”

++

Six months later

“Why are there so many buckles on this?” Steve tugs the one at Bucky’s waist free, hands moving higher even as she gripes.

“For the aesthetic, Steve. Jesus, it’s like you just met me.” She maybe hasn’t told Steve yet that there’s a quick release to her newly-designed armored vest underneath her left arm, but she really, really enjoys Steve tugging open the full line of buckles when they get done with a mission.

“Yes, yes, darling, you’re the prettiest soldier there is. But goddamn it, I want my hands on you.” Steve pulls the vest away from Bucky’s chest and off her arms with a triumphant little growl, shoving her hands up Bucky’s undershirt to finger her nipples through the lace of her bra. “The way you shoot, Jesus Christ,” she says, biting down on the curve of Bucky’s neck.

Bucky gasps at the harsh scrape of her teeth. “You like that, do you?” Bucky says. It’d been the first time out with a new tranq gun Stark had developed: light as anything and with the sweetest aim. She’d taken down a dozen Druffs in as many seconds. They’re mostly harmless little fluffballs, but they reproduce in seconds and the world really does not need that. In response, Steve groans into her skin, tugs at the hem of her shirt to peel it over her head.

Steve’s helmet is somewhere in the entryway, her hair sweat-darkened and a little greasy under Bucky’s fingers. She doesn’t touch Steve’s suit, instead letting Steve strip her bare right there in the kitchen, shoved up against the counter that neither of them uses to cook.

When Bucky’s shirtless, Steve takes one long second to look at her, predatory grin in place. Her mouth goes a little tender, though, as she cups one big palm under Bucky’s breast, skids her thumb over her nipple, rough through the lace cup of her bra. “I wish you wouldn’t wear underwires in the field,” Steve says, soft enough that Bucky only feels a little annoyance.

“They’re not going to stab me,” Bucky says, and Steve says, “You don’t know –”

“First,” Bucky says, a little sternly, “we can’t all look like glorious butch goddesses in our sports bras, so don’t even. But also they’re a new flexi-polycarbonate something or other. They’ll bend, not snap, under impact.”

“You let Stark design you a bra?” Steve looks horrified, but Bucky leans into her hand a little more, and grins as Steve’s mouth opens then closes, hot flush rising.

“I made sure Pepper helped. That’s French leavers lace,” Bucky says, knowing that will mean absolutely nothing to Steve, but if said in the right tone will appropriately impress her. “And I’m not thinking about Stark when I’m wearing it,” she says, drily. Steve licks her mouth, waits for Bucky to continue. “Mostly, I was thinking of you stripping everything off me but my underthings then fucking me – well, right here on the countertop will do.”

“Yeah?” Steve grins, broadly, and ducks her head down to suck a bruise on the top of Bucky’s breast. “I think I can do that.” She gets Bucky’s trousers unbuckled and shoved down to her knees, groaning as she sees the skimpy lace of her underwear.

“Jesus, Buck. You know, one day your pants are going to rip and the whole world’s going to see your ass,” she says, grabbing a handful herself, thumb sliding up under the cheeky hem.

“What a glorious day for the world,” Bucky quips. She got her boots off at the door before Steve set in on her, thank god, so she’s able to shove her trousers the rest of the way down and cock one leg up behind Steve’s ass. Steve shoves up against her, pressing her ass against the cold edge of the marble countertop, then lifts her with one hand to set her right up on top of it. Bucky grins, spreads her legs wider, lets Steve see how wet she already is.

“Christ,” Steve swears, blasphemous and worshipful all at once. Surging towards her, she shoves her hand between Bucky’s legs, rubs at her through her panties, letting the wet drag of the lace grind against her clit. Bucky tries not to gasp at the way Steve pushes her whole body up against her, fails, panting hard against the stiff edge of Steve’s collar as Steve rubs her whole hand against Bucky’s cunt.

“You’re fucking soaking,” Steve says, “right through your pretty little panties.”

“Got plenty,” Bucky gasps. “I can always change.” She keeps a couple of changes of clothes at Steve’s place, not only for situations like this.

Steve doesn’t let up, doesn’t even pull her panties to the side, just rubs the lace over her clit, rough and hard and everything Bucky’s been thinking of since she pulled them on this morning. Gripping hard at the solid expanse of Steve’s shoulders, Bucky tries to pull their bodies together harder, Steve’s suit rubbing against her stomach, the stiff edges of her star emblem scraping the tops of Bucky’s breasts, the pouches on her belt pressing rigidly against the inside of her thighs.

She’s panting, her throat raw, her every nerve sparking, and Steve’s mouth against her cheekbone murmurs little soft, sweet words, the kinds of things only Bucky gets to know, the things no history books ever got. She comes clinging to the back of Steve’s neck with one hand, the small, bare, vulnerable place just above Steve’s collar so soft under the artificial nerves of her prosthetic hand, and gripping Steve’s hip hard with her other.

“Jesus, Buck.” Steve leans her head against Bucky’s neck, panting like she’s the one who just had all her muscles coiled tight and wrung out. There’s a streak of Bucky’s come across the textured panels on her abdomen. “You were thinking about that the whole mission?” She pulls back, blinking up at Bucky, long dark lashes and big, yearning blue eyes looking nothing at all like the wholesome patriotic mascot history ascribed to Steve Rogers.

“What can I say?” Bucky says, putting her hands on the broad span of Steve’s shoulders, like she’s measuring her up. “I like the outfit.”