It hits him suddenly and without warning. Bucky’s halfway through beating the daylights out of a pathetic gang of street thugs when he realizes, with an intimate, sobering awareness, that there’s probably something seriously wrong with him, personality-wise.
Sure, there’s probably multiple somethings, but this one isn’t from his seventy-something-year-long detour as the Winter Soldier, or from being Hydra’s POW and being frozen in cryo-sleep for the better part of a century, or even from serving in WWII and living through the horrors of war.
No, this—whatever it is, personality flaw—stems from long before that, long before he’d ever held a gun, when he’d had no idea how to even shoot one.
Because there’s no doubt that it is a flaw. It’s an irrational and self-destructive behavior that he can’t control. That’s the goddamn definition of a flaw. He has no idea where it came from, only that it’s been an incessant burden longer than he can remember, even if Hydra hadn’t repeatedly wiped his memory.
It’s aggravating, but as hard as he tries, Bucky can’t suppress it. It’s practically suicide to be doing this; to be fighting in the streets, where there’s cameras, witnesses, potential spies, but he can’t help it. It’s something ingrained and inherent in him that he just can’t let small, stupid people get hurt.
And fucking God, is this kid both.
He packs a punch, that much is obvious, but it’s also blaringly obvious that he’s never been in a real fight before, and has no idea how to pick his battles. Sure, he’d taken these thugs by surprise, but that only gave him so much leverage, since he somehow failed to notice the guys were fucking carrying.
Bucky wasn’t going to intervene. He really wasn’t. The whole point of being in hiding is that you lay low, and after the Project Insight disaster in DC, and Hydra and Steve Rogers trying to hunt him down, Bucky had been laying as low as humanly possible.
He wasn’t going to intervene. But then that asshole pulled his gun from his pocket, pointed it at the kid’s head, and the kid fucking froze, rooted to the spot in his ridiculous blue and red pajamas.
The guy went to pull the trigger, and so help him God, Bucky intervened.
He knows exactly how stupid it is to be fighting in the open like this, especially with his arm, but it comes in handy (no pun intended) for stopping bullets from being fired into kids’ brains. All he has to do is palm the muzzle. After that, the guys are no threat, and he takes them down, one by one, until they’re just a pile of unconscious punks littering the back alley.
Bucky can feel the kid staring at him, and knows instantly that he should book it out of there, before he gets a clearer look at his face, but then he hears a loud, high-pitched, “Uhm—h-hey!” And against his better judgement, Bucky turns around, returning the kid’s wide-eyed stare.
“I gotta go give this back!”
Bucky looks at him, confused, and then sees the tattered, brown, leather wallet the kid has tightly gripped in his ridiculously-gloved hands. He looks back up at the kid’s face, keeping his own expressionless.
“Those guys—” the kid starts, voice quivering. He’s afraid. “They beat up this dude and stole his wallet. I-I gotta go give it back, but—could you wait here?”
Bucky wasn’t planning on verbally answering the kid, but even if he was, he doesn’t get the chance before he’s lifting his arm and shooting—something—out of his wrist, aimed at the top of the building beside him, and then he’s lifting off the ground with a powerful jump.
“I’ll be right back!” He shouts, swinging on—whatever that is—and flinging himself onto the roof.
What the fuck.
Of course, Bucky doesn’t wait, and the moment the coast is clear, he’s vanishing into the darkness of the alleyways and heading home to his apartment.
Him and his fucking character flaws. What difference does it make to him, if one kid gets shot trying to play hero? Saving some tiny idiot with superpowers that he doesn’t know how to use is not worth the risk of giving away his location to Hydra, or to Steve.
But he’d done it anyway.
He pulls the brim of his cap lower to hide his face, stuffing his gloved hands (one with a hole in the palm now, thanks, kid) into the pockets of his jacket. It’s finally starting to get warmer now, not that the cold had even touched him. Still, he’s grateful the snow is gone. He didn’t want to have to steal a pair of boots, and these sneakers did a lousy job of staying dry over winter.
He notices a “Dog Walker Wanted” flyer stapled to a telephone pole and snags it, pulling out his shitty burner phone. The flyer advertises ten bucks a walk, twice a day, Saturdays and Sundays.
An extra hundred and sixty dollars a month would almost land him in the green. Bucky texts the number, trying his best to upsell himself, before sliding the phone back into his pocket and continuing his way home.
It’s the shithole part of Queens, but it’s the only kind of apartment Bucky can afford with his stolen ID. It’s a small studio on the second floor, noisy asshole neighbors above and below him, but it’s been almost a year now, and even though it’s gross, he’s strangely fond of it.
He knows he shouldn’t be. He has to be ready, every minute of every day, to leave it behind without a drop of hesitation. He just keeps hoping that he won’t have to. Which is stupid, because of course he will—sooner or later, someone will find him. It’s only a matter of time.
Hoping otherwise is foolish, but as Bucky has realized today, somewhat painfully, he is deeply flawed.
He climbs the stairs to his balcony, to his battered and decaying front door. The stairs are handy because they’re loud and creaky, and he can hear almost anyone climbing them to get to his door. It’s the closest thing to security this dump has.
He pulls his key out of his pocket, and almost fucking drops it when a shrill and cheerful voice calls out, “Hey!”
Bucky whips around faster than the eye can see, knife in hand and ready to throw at whoever’s behind him, and he barely—seriously, barely—manages to stop himself from imbedding the thing into the stupid, pajamas-wearing, shrimp of a walking death wish’s forehead.
“Whoa! W-Wait!” The kid hollers, hands up defensively. “It’s just me!”
He lowers the knife, only a little, not wanting to give the kid the wrong impression that getting stabbed in the face is completely off the table.
“Sorry for asking you to wait,” the kid says. Christ, how old is he? He sounds like an eight-year-old girl. “It took me longer than I thought to track that dude down, but he was super grateful! He said to tell you thanks for helping me get it back.”
The kid’s tone is sincere, but it’s almost impossible to take him seriously through the ridiculous, bug-like goggles strapped to his face.
“I wanted to say thanks, too,” the kid continues, nervously, when Bucky doesn’t say anything, “you totally saved my life. I—I wasn’t expecting that guy to have a gun, and—and I would be, y’know, really dead right now if you hadn’t helped me, so, y’know—thanks. I seriously owe you.”
Bucky honestly couldn’t be less interested in carrying on this conversation, so instead of responding, he re-pockets his knife and turns back to unlock his door. The kid spies his metal hand glinting through the hole in his glove, and openly gawks at it, obvious even under his stupid get-up.
“It was so cool how you blocked that shot!” He gushes, inching forward a step. “That bullet didn’t even put a dent in your hand! Where did you get that, by the way? If you don’t mind me asking, I mean. It’s so cool! And, like, indestructible! Is it Stark Industries? I didn’t even know they made prosthetics.”
Pointedly leaving this whole conversation one-sided, Bucky opens his door and steps in, turning around, fully intending on shutting the door in the kid’s face.
“Hey,” the kid says, tone disgustingly hopeful. “Could you teach me how to fight like you?”
Bucky stares down at the stupid, ugly goggles, lets his irritation show plainly on his face, and firmly, coldly says, “No.”
And slams the door.
He hates the smell of moldy leaves, soaking wet and half-decomposed when the snow on top finally melts. They cling to everything, to his shoes, to the bottom of the legs of his pants, to the shitty, old rake. He’ll have to leave his shoes outside on his balcony when he gets home so he doesn’t track this gross mess all over his floor.
Still, it’s better than snow. People had stared at him funny when he shoveled driveways in a light jacket and sneakers, but no one’s staring at him now. He’s finally dressed seasonally-appropriate.
He’s glad the season’s changing; walking home in cold, wet shoes every day had been the fucking worst. No wonder people were willing to pay for someone else to shovel snow for them, it sucked. But even still, it’s not like he could go out and get a real job, and rent and food money had to come from somewhere.
Besides, honestly, the menial work isn’t so bad (when his feet stay dry, anyway). The days go by quicker when he’s got his hands full, and the work is mindless, lets him shut down until it’s all done and he can get paid and go home.
He keeps busy. It helps every day go by more smoothly.
Bucky scrunches his nose as the smell of rotten leaves wafts up into his face, bending over to tie the garbage bag, full of them, up. It smells like shit and death, but at least that was the last bag, and he’s done now. He carries the bags of leaves to the yard-waste bin, takes the rake back to the shed, and knocks on what’s-his-face’s door to tell him he’s finished.
“Yard looks great. Thanks, Jimmy,” says what’s-his-face, a friendly, older gentleman. “Here you go.” And hands him two twenty-dollar bills.
“Thanks,” says Bucky. “Got my number, case you need more work done?”
The man smiles, “I’ll call you. You take care now,” and shuts the door.
Pocketing the money, Bucky makes his way to the sidewalk, heading home. He’s relieved it’s not a motel day. The motel’s owner gives him close to minimum wage, but it’s always the grossest, shittiest maintenance jobs he has, the jobs no one else will do. Sometimes he hates having to take every job he’s offered, but then again, he gets to eat almost regularly. He really can’t complain.
He needs to land at least three more medium-sized jobs to clear rent this month, so today won’t be an eating day. His stomach whines at the thought, but Bucky ignores it, choosing instead to take a long-ass nap when he gets home.
His stomach rumbles angrily, but the idea of resting his tired body lifts his spirits, at least until he climbs the stairs to his door.
He knows how to walk up the steps so that he’s utterly silent, but still, somehow, the kid sitting by his door whips his head up when Bucky reaches the balcony. Bucky doesn’t know how the hell he heard him or, more importantly, who the hell he is.
“Hi!” The kid says, beaming at him as he stands. The voice is unmistakable. The height—or lack thereof—and scrawniness are unmistakable, too.
Bucky looks the kid over, somewhat surprised that he looks so… normal. Not nearly as insectoid as Bucky had imagined. He’s definitely young, though; too young to be inciting thugs to shoot him in the face. The floppy brown curls and baby-face do absolutely nothing for the vigilante gig he’s pursuing.
“What do you want?” Bucky says, as unfriendly as he can manage. The kid’s face reddens, and he looks away, down at the floor. Nervous.
“Well, I, uhh—” he stutters. Only when he’s feeling insecure, apparently. He had no problem running his mouth about Bucky’s arm a few nights ago. “Just saying ‘thanks’ the other night didn’t feel like enough, so, I, uhh—” he lifts a white, plastic shopping bag, stuffed almost too full, the sides stretching and threatening to tear. “I thought I could thank you with dinner?”
Bucky stares at the nearly-overflowing grocery bag, then at the kid’s face, who looks nervous, but tentatively hopeful, the corners of his mouth barely threatening to quirk upward.
“Kid,” Bucky says, less hostilely, “I am way too old for you. Aren’t there any other boys in middle school you can crush on?”
The kid’s face goes apple-red, all the way to his forehead. “It—it’s not like that!” He shouts. “I’m not—and besides, I’m in high school!”
“Good for you,” Bucky drawls, moving past the erupting mountain of embarrassment that used to be a teenage boy to unlock his door. “Doesn’t change the fact that I’m not interested. Now get lost, I got enough going on without having to worry about changing my address to escape from pint-sized stalkers.”
“Okay,” says the kid, and the disappointment practically pours out of him, heavy like a waterfall and just as audible. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to—uhh—make you uncomfortable, or anything. But—” he reaches into the bag and shuffles some things around, pulling out a clear plastic box of cookies. “Will you take these? I really just wanna do something to thank you. I mean, you saved my life.”
Bucky looks at the outstretched hand, holding the box of cookies out to him—at the bulky bag of groceries gripped tightly in the kid’s other fist—and finally at the sad-but-still-slightly-hopeful look on the boy’s face.
“What else you got in there?”
The kid’s face lights up like Coney Island on opening night. Inwardly, Bucky groans.
For someone who practically begged to cook him dinner, the kid is laughably lost standing in the middle of Bucky’s kitchen.
Part of him takes pity on the kid, but a bigger, pettier part of him enjoys the almost dumfounded expression on his face as he stands there, the bag of groceries deposited on the counter, looking around Bucky’s studio apartment like he’s never seen the inside of a building before.
He takes in Bucky’s sparse and threadbare furniture; the tattered loveseat against the wall, the thin and creaky mattress on the floor—Bucky’s backpack, stuffed with all the clothing he has, lying at the head of the bed where he’s been using it as a pillow. His one ratty, fleece blanket pulled tightly over the mattress, a habit he can’t seem to break. The uneven barstool with its splintering wood, pulled up against the island counter, the shade-less floor lamp in the corner that flickers even with a new bulb in it.
The kid’s gaze shifts back down to the bag on the counter as he starts pulling the items out. Vegetables, pasta, chicken breasts, a bottle of unnaturally-blue liquid that says “Gatorade,” whatever the hell that is. The kid spreads everything out on the standalone counter and then stares down at it, unsure of what the next step is.
The pity wins out, and Bucky takes a semi-reluctant step further into the kitchen. “What were you planning on making?”
“Uhh, well,” the boy starts, cheeks darkening a little, “I don’t—I’m not really sure? I kind of just grabbed a bunch of stuff I was hungry for in the store…”
Of course he did. Bucky sighs. “Well, it looks like we’re having chicken pasta and fried vegetables,” he says, bending down to the cupboard with its missing door, pulling out his one pot and his scratched-to-shit frying pan. “Why don’t you start boiling the pasta, and I’ll fry the chicken?”
He hands the kid the pot, who looks down at it like Bucky just gave him a live grenade. Then he stutters out a high-pitched, “O-Okay,” placing the pot on the stovetop and scooping up the box of noodles to read the directions. He doesn’t look up from the box as he fumbles to turn the element on.
Bucky honestly doesn’t know whether to laugh or groan.
“You have to put water in it first.”
Face red as a lobster, the kid’s mortified expression morphs into sheepishness, laughing embarrassedly as he swipes the pot from the stove. “Oh! Y-Yeah, duh!” He laughs. “I’ve, uhm, I-I’ve never really done this before, so…”
“Really.” Bucky says, voice drenched in sarcasm.
Which still manages to go completely over the kid’s head, somehow.
“Yeah, I, uhh… just never really learned how, I guess,” the kid starts filling the pot, then stops, pulling it away from the tap. “Uhm, how much should I…?”
“About halfway,” says Bucky. “A little more if we’re cooking all of it.”
The kid does so, placing the pot back on the stove and adding the noodles, and then puts the too-large lid on top.
Bucky takes up the other burner, starting on the chicken. “Dice up the vegetables while you wait for that boil,” he says, “there’s a knife in the drawer, but be careful, it’s duller than it should be.”
The kid obediently pulls the knife out and begins lining up the vegetables to be chopped. He doesn’t ask for a cutting board, not that Bucky has one anyway, and besides, it’s not like the countertops aren’t already cut to shit. Bucky leaves him to it, turning back around to focus on the chicken, and a couple of moments go by in silence before it’s ruined with a loud and shrill, “Ouch!”
“I told you to be careful,” Bucky says, without turning around. The kid tries to mutter an apology, but it’s broken up by a whine of pain. Bucky sighs again and turns. “Let me see.”
The kid is clutching his hand up to his face, trying to hide it, but there’s blood dripping copiously through his clenched fingers. Bucky curses under his breath and snatches the boy’s wrist, pulling his hand forward to get a look at the cut. His finger is sliced just above the knuckle, and while it’s not very long, it’s deep enough that Bucky can pull apart the skin, which earns a loud yelp of pain from the kid.
The blood runs faster in a heavy stream. He’ll need stitches. God fucking damn it.
“How the hell did you cut yourself this bad with that shitty knife?” Bucky demands, pulling the kid to the bathroom so he can stifle the flow of blood with a wad of toilet paper. He sits the kid down on the rim of the bathtub and kneels in front of him, holding the paper against the wound in a tight fist.
“Super strength,” the kid mumbles, staring at the white toilet paper as it turns red and wet. “I was having trouble with the potatoes, so I tried to push harder and the knife slipped.”
“Your fingers never should have been in the way of the knife in the first place,” Bucky chastises in a stern tone. It’s too risky to take this kid to the hospital himself. Too many people, too crowded. He’ll have to send him alone, which the kid will probably bitch about.
Well, too bad. He should have thought of that before he wasn’t careful, like Bucky told him to be.
“I’m sorry,” the kid says, voice quivering slightly. He looks down at his lap in shame. “It was my first time, so… I didn’t know.”
“It should be common sense. How old are you?”
He blushes to the tips of his ears. “Uh, fourteen.”
Bucky suppresses the urge to groan, and says instead, a little less coldly, “You’ll need stitches.”
The boy starts, almost knocking their knees together. “What? N-No I won’t.”
“The cut’s too deep to heal on its own, kid. It won’t stop bleeding if you don’t get it patched up.”
“It—uhh, it—” he stutters, “—it already has.”
Bucky looks up at him, one eyebrow raised. “What?”
“Here, lemme—” the kid says, wiggling his hand out of Bucky’s grasp. He gently peels the wet paper from his finger, holding it up for Bucky to see.
The wound is still deep, but not deep enough that the blood is pouring out of it. Bucky stares, grabbing the boy’s hand to inspect it more closely, watching as the wound heals before his very eyes.
It puts his accelerated healing to shame, and Hydra had been pretty adamant about making sure they had the best. Who the hell would turn a fourteen-year-old kid into this?
“Who are you?” Bucky says, staring into the boy’s large, wide, brown eyes, not bothering to mask the suspicion and mistrust in his voice. The boy stares back at him with an almost overwhelming amount of open honesty.
“Peter,” he says, voice soft. “Peter Parker. But, uh, when I go on patrol, I’m Spider-Man.”
“Who do you work for?” Bucky tries, hand tightening around Peter’s wrist. The boy grimaces, and Bucky eases up, just a smidge.
“Nobody,” Peter says, leaning back under the weight and intensity of Bucky’s glare. “I—it’s just me.”
“You were born like this?” Bucky says, dubiously, shaking the wrist in his hand for emphasis.
Peter shakes his head, but doesn’t try to pull away. “It was an accident.”
“Who caused the accident?” Bucky persists.
“Uhm, me? I guess?” Peter bites his bottom lip, sheepishly. “I was careless in a lab and I got bit by a radioactive spider.”
“A…” Bucky starts, then stops, dropping the boy’s wrist from his hand. He leans back, gaping and unable to help it. Of all the things he expected this runt to say, that was not one of them.
Christ. Being a top secret Hydra agent would be more fucking believable.
“You—” Bucky tries again, then ducks his head, pinching the bridge of his nose with his metal hand, feeling the tickle of a headache beginning to serpentine its way up. “Okay,” he says, “well, that explains the name, I guess.”
There’s a beat of silence, and then Bucky feels the pressure of something moving against his metal hand. He pulls it away from his face, sees the kid running his fingers over the back of his palm, tracing up and down each digit in wonderment and reverence.
“Who are you?” Peter asks, gently.
Bucky doesn’t say anything right away, a little taken aback by the sight of this kid mapping out every inch of his hand like it’s a work of art. If only he knew what a weapon it really is, the things he’d done with it. He pulls his hand away, and Peter looks back up at his face.
“Bucky,” he says.
Peter beams, and it’s that same Coney Island smile, overwhelming in its intensity. There’s something almost familiar about being looked at like that, but Bucky can’t remember where from.
“Nice to meet you, Bucky,” Peter laughs, and then his expression falls, eyes darting upward in frantic shock. “Oh, crap! The pasta!” He cries, practically leaping over Bucky to rush to the kitchen.
Bucky listens to the “Ouch, ouch, ouch!” of Peter trying desperately to stop the pot from boiling over with his bare hands, and can’t help the disbelieving grin that stretches across his face, head lowering to try and hide his amusement, though Peter isn’t even there to see it.
Somehow, they manage to save dinner, and Bucky finds himself feeling pleasantly confused, sitting next to the kid on his shitty mattress, as they pick away at their mismatched plates of food.
Gatorade, it turns out, is pretty damn good. Bucky hummed appreciatively when he took his first sip, and Peter grinned at him in that “I told you you’d like it” sort of way. Bucky had half a mind to flick him for it, the little punk.
The noodles are a little too floppy and the vegetables aren’t cut quite small enough to get cooked all the way through, but Bucky doesn’t mind, and neither does Peter, who finishes his entire plate so fast that Bucky wonders if he even tasted any of it.
Plates empty and piled next to them, they sit comfortably, sharing the box of cookies and Gatorade, Peter rambling on the entire time.
“So I lifted my hand like Iron Man, right, like I was gonna shoot a blast out of my palm and take him down, but then a blast actually appeared! And then Iron Man was there, in his suit and everything, and he said, ‘Nice work, kid’ and then took off! It was the best moment of my entire life.”
“And this was before you got your powers?”
“Oh yeah,” Peter laughs. “This was at the Stark Expo, years ago. I was pretty little back then.”
Bucky huffs. “Haven’t gained a sense of self-preservation in all those years, huh?”
Peter grins, but his face burns red in embarrassment. “I guess not.”
“At least you have super-healing now,” Bucky says, then adds, almost absentmindedly, “I wonder what he would think if he knew you actually grew up to start fighting crime.”
Peter’s eyes widen until they almost bulge out of his head, a mix of excitement and alarm. “I don’t even know what I would do,” Peter says. “He’s, like, my idol. But I guess—I mean, like—it’s not like he’d even recognize me. It was years ago and—and I had that mask on…”
He leans back, a whimsical smile gracing his features. His tone is light, airy, totally wistful. “Aw man, if he did, though? That’d be awesome. That’d be the new best day of my life, easy. No contest.”
The kid straightens up after a minute, resting his elbows on his knees again. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m not doing this so I can, like, meet the Avengers or anything. I mean that’d—that’d be amazing, but—I feel like, with what I can do, I’m obligated to try and help people, you know?”
A somewhat faraway look crosses Peter’s face then, his smile faltering. It lasts for a moment, but then he chuckles, shaking his head avertedly. “Though I guess, it all totally would have been a waste if you hadn’t saved me the other night, huh?”
Bucky hums, agreeing. “Hard to bounce back from a bullet in the head, kid, even with your healing abilities. If you want my advice, next time, don’t freeze up.”
“I guess I just…” Peter says, pausing to reconsider his words, “…got scared.”
“You had a gun pointed in your face. If you didn’t get scared, you’d be an even bigger mutant.”
Peter laughs, looking over at Bucky with mock-indignation on his face. “Thanks,” he says, sarcastically, though he giggles again.
Bucky shrugs, not letting the smile that’s threatening to appear show.
“It’s getting late,” the kid bends down, grabbing their plates, “I should, uhm, I should go,” he says, taking them over to the sink. Bucky watches him rinse them off, then says, “Don’t bother. You brought dinner, I can clean up.”
“You had to do most of the cooking though,” Peter says, smiling shyly, “but okay. I’d stay and help, but the longer I do, the less time I’ll have to patrol, so…”
“You do that every night?”
Peter nods, fidgeting with the sleeves of his hoodie. “Yeah, well, I mean—crime’s not gonna take a break just because I do, right?”
He has a point, but the irrationally over-concerned part of Bucky pipes up to remind him that Peter is a kid—a small kid. Superpowers or no, the deeply flawed part of him protests that Peter has no business trying to fight anyone, let alone criminals with guns, who won’t hesitate to shoot a tiny punk in pajamas, even if he is only fourteen.
It’s none of his business. Just like it wasn’t any of his business the other night, or all the other times a runt with no common sense tried to take on more than they could handle.
But it seems to be a universal truth of those runts, that there’s an inherent goodness inside each one of them, Peter most of all, so much so that it’s blinding on the kid’s face when he’s shown the smallest hint of praise.
Peter, apparently, isn’t the only one who can’t sit back and do nothing.
“Hang on a second,” Bucky says, stalling Peter at the door as he slips his shoes on. Bucky heads to the bathroom and roots around in the medicine cabinet, finding the half-assed first aid kit he’d thrown together all those months ago.
He comes back out and holds his hand out to Peter. “Here,” he says. “Careful, it’s sharp.”
Peter, curious, holds his palms up, and blinks confusedly when Bucky places the small sewing needle in his hands.
“Keep this in your sleeve,” Bucky says. “Or in one of your gloves, if you can sew it in so that it won’t constantly prick you. Just make sure you can touch your finger to it in a heartbeat.”
“How come?” Peter asks, lifting the needle like he’s never seen one before.
“This is how you learn not to freeze,” says Bucky, taking the needle and holding it up in front of the kid’s face. “The next time your mind blanks out like that and you can’t move, poke yourself with this. Lightly, but enough that it hurts. The pain will release the flood of adrenaline you need to get yourself moving.”
He goes to set it back down, Peter lifting his hand to take it. “You need it to be somewhere on your outfit that you can reflexively pierce yourself with it almost absentmindedly. Think you can do that?”
The question snaps Peter out of his little daze, and he nods, enthusiastically. “Yeah, totally! That’s really smart!”
Peter pulls his shabby, old wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and slides the needle into it.
“Thanks, Bucky,” he says, righting himself again. “Uhm, I had a lot of fun. Sorry I bled all over your bathroom and almost flooded your kitchen with pasta water.”
“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Bucky says, surprised with himself when he realizes he means it. “Dinner was good.”
“Yeah,” Peter agrees.
A moment passes, and then it stretches on. Bucky waits, because it’s obvious there’s something else the kid wants to say, but when he doesn’t, Bucky sighs, putting his metal hand on his hip.
“Spit it out.”
Bucky frowns. “You’re still here for a reason, so out with it.”
Peter’s gaze lowers to the floor, and Bucky’s momentarily taken aback by the utterly humiliated look that passes on the boy’s face, a cross between petrified and completely ashamed.
“Oh, God,” Bucky groans. “You actually are crushing on me, aren’t you?”
“No!” Peter says, almost loud enough to be a scream. His face turns the darkest red Bucky’s seen so far, covering every inch of his exposed skin and creeping down his neck below his hoodie. He looks up at Bucky utterly mortified, then sees the smirk that Bucky can’t wipe from his face, and his embarrassment ebbs away into an unimpressed glare. “Jerk.”
“Hey,” Bucky teases with a shrug, still smirking, “I’m going to assume that’s what you’re blushing about until you tell me otherwise.”
A childish pout settles on Peter’s face, but then he lowers his eyes to the floor again, taking a big, deep breath. “Well… uhm…” He rustles his sleeves again, bites his bottom lip, then finally seems to steel himself.
“I don’t wanna be, like, pushy or anything, and—I-I understand if you don’t want to, really, I totally get it, but, uhm… well, I—I was just thinking, y’know, maybe we could do this again?”
Peter looks up, makes the briefest eye contact with him, and then lowers his gaze again.
“I don’t really have anyone I can talk to about this stuff with,” the kid finally confesses. “Nobody knows about it, ‘cept you. And I, uhh—I could bring dinner again sometimes? I know I can’t cook, like, at all, but I can help? Or try, anyway?”
Finally the kid looks up at his face and holds his eyes steady, bracing himself for Bucky’s response. He tries his best to look nonchalant, but fails miserably—Bucky can plainly see the tension around his eyes, in his jaw, the quivering of his lips as he forces his mouth to stay straight.
Bucky wants to sigh. This had been the last thing he’d wanted. And sure, with an inconsistent income, money’s tight and food is, more often than not, a luxury, but that doesn’t mean he’s thrilled by the idea of some kid spending his lunch money on buying him dinner.
But he realizes, that’s not what Peter’s asking for, not really. The other night, he’d asked him to teach him how to fight. He’d shown up with a bag of food, unannounced, attempted to cook for him even though he has no business being in a kitchen ever, and then stayed long after the food was done, eating cookies on an old lumpy mattress with some guy he doesn’t even know.
Pre-Hydra Bucky Barnes probably spent time with people just for the sake of doing so all the time, but post-Hydra Bucky never has, not once. This little stint is the first time Bucky has ever spent time with someone just for company.
It hadn’t been so bad, when he really thinks about it.
“I don’t see why you would want to,” Bucky sighs, “but yeah, kid, we can do it again.”
The smile that breaks over the kid’s face hits him right in the chest, brightening the room.
Yeah, it isn’t so bad.
Hey guys! Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the first chapter of this new story. I'm super excited for this one; it's going to be roughly 100k words of pure, fluffy Dad!Bucky & Son!Peter goodness, spiced with romance and some Iron Man hero worship.
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Chapter 2: Home
Hey guys! Before you start reading I'd just like to say—wow. I am completely blown away by the support and enthusiasm for this story. I am so incredibly grateful for all the sweet comments, kudos, bookmarks, and even those who simply read the first chapter! Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy this next installment.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It turns out, when Peter said he would bring dinner again sometimes, what he actually meant was every day.
Bucky isn’t mad when Peter knocks on his door the next day. Surprised, maybe, but it’s hard to be mad when he opens the door and that little face is beaming up at him, Peter’s joyous, high-pitched voice calling out, “Hi!” in a bubbly squeak that startles both of them.
The kid’s cheeks go red, and he clears his throat, embarrassed, then tries to rein in his enthusiasm. “Brought dinner,” he says, in a slightly lower register.
Bucky glances down at the bag of groceries in the kid’s hand, just as heavy and packed as yesterday’s had been. Then he spies the strap of a backpack hanging off the kid’s left shoulder, and wonders why he didn’t just put the groceries in there, before he steps aside, letting him in.
“What is it this time?”
“Well I, uhh, I forgot to ask you what you like yesterday, s-so…” Peter smiles, tentative and shy, “I got hot dogs and fries, and some more Gatorade, and there were these, like, cupcake-type things in the bakery aisle? I don’t know exactly, they have this weird French name, but they looked reeeally good, so I got those for dessert.”
Peter sets his backpack down by the door, and judging from its size and weight, it’s stuffed full—presumably with schoolbooks. Well, that explains why he didn’t put the groceries in there, anyway. Bucky watches him place the bag on the counter, before he turns to look up at him. “I probably should ask now, before I forget, but, uhm, what do you like?”
Bucky blinks. Honestly, he doesn’t know. When he picks up the necessities, he’s mostly looking at price tags, mapping out what will get him the most nutrition intake with the longest shelf life under his budget. The only things still left in his cupboard are a jar of peanut butter and a package of rice crackers.
“I’m not picky,” he tries, offering a shrug. “I’ll eat anything. Can’t go wrong with a good sandwich and some fresh fruit, though.”
Peter’s eyes light up. “Oh man, if you like sandwiches, then I gotta take you to Delmar’s sometime. He has the best sandwiches in Queens. He toasts them and then they just, like, melt in your mouth and—” he pauses, cutting himself off, and gives Bucky another sheepish look. “Uh, sorry, I’m kind of rambling. Are hot dogs okay?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, opening the bag to inspect the kid’s purchases. “You lived in Queens your whole life?”
“Manhattan till I was five,” he says, picking up the package of hot dogs to read the instructions on the back, “Queens ever since. What about you?”
“Born in Brooklyn,” Bucky replies, bending down to grab the pot. He doesn’t want to lie to the kid, but telling the truth isn’t exactly an option, so he follows up with, “Lived a lot of places in between.”
“That’s so cool!” Peter gushes, smiling widely as Bucky hands him the pot. He fills it with water and adds the hot dogs before placing it on the burner. “Honestly, I don’t really know if I ever want to live anywhere else. I mean, I love Queens. I guess that’s normal, but I don’t really have an urge to find somewhere else, you know? But I do wanna travel, for sure. I really want to visit Europe someday—oh! And New Zealand! It has these crazy mountain ranges that look like they’d be so much fun to photograph, but honestly, the idea of flying over them kind of makes me nervous.”
Bucky’s not really sure which part of Peter’s excited spiel he should comment on. He takes a moment while he prepares the fries to bake in the oven, and then finally goes with, “You’ve never flown before, I’m guessing.”
Peter laughs like he’s embarrassed, though Bucky can’t fathom why. It’s not like fourteen-year-olds are expected to be world travellers or anything. “That obvious, huh?” He says, lightly stirring the wieners with a fork. Bucky doesn’t get the chance to reply before Peter asks, “Did you always plan on coming back to Brooklyn?”
No, he didn’t. He’s spent most of his life not even remembering that he’s from Brooklyn, let alone planning on coming back to it. But he can’t say that, not to this kid, so instead he gives a noncommittal, aloof shrug and says, “Brooklyn’s always been my real home.”
Peter smiles, warmly, like that’d been the answer he wanted to hear. Bucky’s not sure what to make of that. “Yeah, that’s how I feel about Queens, too.”
There’s a beat of awkward silence, neither one of them really knowing what to say. He figures he should engage again, ask the kid something about himself, but the only thing Bucky honestly wants to know is why this kid is here, making dinner in his crappy, cheap apartment. He doesn’t get the chance to ask, though, because as he’s quickly learning, silences don’t really last around this kid.
“Hey, can you speak Spanish?”
“Yes.” He doesn’t bother mentioning the other five languages. It would just raise more questions, and the less questions the kid asks, the less he’ll have to lie to him. “Why?”
“I, uhm, I’m taking Spanish in school,” Peter says, “I’m pretty good at it. I mean—I get decent grades in it, but, I have this oral presentation coming up and, well, I have no one to practice with at home, so—I’m worried I might not do as well on it, and it’s kind of stressful, ‘cause, I—I really need to maintain my GPA—”
“A whiz kid by day and a superhero by night, huh?” Bucky says, cutting him off. He doesn’t miss the happy little gleam in the kid’s eyes at being called a superhero. “I know what you’re gonna ask, kid, and it’s fine. If you’re gonna hang around here anyway, you might as well do something productive and get your homework done.”
“So—” says Peter, timidly but full of hope, “so—it’s okay if—I mean—you’ll—?”
“Yes,” says Bucky, desperate to stifle the kid’s stammering, “I’ll help you practice.”
Peter smiles with such earnest gratitude that it almost feels out of place, like Bucky had offered him something much more valuable than to just help with his homework. He looks up at him like Bucky just made his biggest dream come true or something, like Iron Man had personally asked him to join the Avengers and come live with them at the tower. It floors Bucky, because he has no idea why something so small would mean so much to him, but then again, he doesn’t really know this kid at all, does he?
Peter mutters a quiet thanks, still smiling to himself as he finishes boiling the hot dogs. Bucky watches, observing him, trying to figure him out. There’s so much about this kid that he just doesn’t understand.
Sure, the kid is almost glaringly small for his age, but he isn’t hideously disfigured or anything. He’s got the plain, boy-next-door look to him; unassuming and approachable, an average appearance that’s pretty much swallowed up by the sheer wholesomeness that he radiates.
He’s got some brains, if he’s getting decent grades, but is probably smarter—or at least more hardworking—than he’s letting on, if he’s spending so much time worried about his GPA. He may not be showing off his super strength every chance he gets, but he’s still in good shape, with a lean-but-firm build that he can’t quite hide beneath his clothes.
His shoes and backpack are new, so he’s likely got a family providing for him, and mix that with the friendly demeanor, the smarts, the athleticism, the blinding wholesomeness and that downright endearing, childish head of messy-but-manageable curls that he somehow hasn’t outgrown yet, and Bucky is totally lost, staring at this kid with such honest confusion that he’s grateful Peter hasn’t turned around and noticed it.
Because it doesn’t make sense. Yes, the kid is short. Yes, he’s awkward, and shy, and has a secret double-life that he can’t tell anyone else about, but none of that explains why, of all places, he’d want to be spending his evenings in this shithole of an apartment, cooking his own dinner if he’s got parents who would do it for him at home, asking a complete stranger to help him with his Spanish when he’s probably got friends at school he could study with—who he could be spending time with, if he’s so damn lonely.
He frowns. Beneath his sweater, Bucky feels a familiar, uncomfortable twinge of pain that spreads through his pectoral muscle near the metal plates of his implant, like it has been all winter. He flexes his metal fingers, trying to ease the ache that crawls up his neck, and focuses his gaze back on Peter, obliviously draining the water from the pot, careful not to let the boiling water touch his hands. Bucky looks down at his left hand, stares at the metal shining through the hole in his glove. He still hasn’t taken it off from this morning.
It doesn’t make sense. There’s nothing wrong with this kid. He could be anywhere with anyone right now, so why, of all places and people, is he here with him?
He almost asks, but then Peter turns around, grinning, handing him a plate topped with food, his face brimming with pride, and Bucky can’t bring himself to. He’ll find out another time, he decides. In this moment—Peter smiling up at him, looking like there’s nowhere else he’d rather be—the reason doesn’t matter. It can wait.
It’s already a shitty morning when Bucky is rudely awoken by the quiet, incessant buzzing of his phone across the room. He drowsily rolls off his mattress to retrieve it and is immediately assaulted by the biting chill of his apartment. Beneath the newspapers taped over the windows, Bucky can see that the glass is so chilled it’s begun to ice over.
He grumpily grabs his phone and answers the call. “Hello?”
“Hi, Jim,” says a man on the other line. “It’s Robert Mitchell calling. Hope I didn’t wake you?”
From the sound of his voice, it’s pretty obvious that he had, but Bucky lies anyway. “No, it’s fine. Need work done?”
The old man chuckles, in a jovial, grandfatherly way. “Straight to the point, huh? You mentioned last time you were here that you have some mechanic experience. Well, my car wouldn’t start this morning. Think you could take a look?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, flipping open his notebook and grabbing a pen. Clearly he’s done work for this guy before, but he won’t remember who he is until he sees his face. “What’s the address?”
The man cracks a lame joke about old age and memory loss before he tells him. Bucky promptly says that he’s on his way before hanging up.
It’s while he’s getting dressed that he notices something’s wrong. His left arm is moving slower, heavier than it usually does. It only did this twice all winter, when the temperature dropped into the 20’s. It’s cold today, but not that cold. Bucky frowns, rotating his shoulder, trying to see if he can pinpoint a kink in the mechanism, but nothing glaring stands out; the whole thing is just a bit slow to respond.
It’s going to be a pain in the ass trying to do engine work with his arm acting up. Bucky’s frown deepens, his mood souring further.
It worsens even more when he opens the door and sees that the sky is abnormally dark and full of dreary rainclouds. He’ll either have to spend money he doesn’t have on busing or taking the train there, or get rained on and have to work all day in wet clothes in this frigid temperature. Bucky glowers, sending the sky a spiteful glare, and turns to lock his door.
He grabs the doorknob with his left hand and tries to squeeze gently, but his entire arm seizes up, locking his fist around the handle in a crushing grip. “Fuck!” Bucky curses, grabbing his wrist and manually applying pressure on his palm, releasing his fingers. He pulls his arm away like it’s deadweight, and the knob cracks and falls right off the door, hitting the balcony with a heavy, metallic thump.
God fucking damn it.
Taking a deep breath, Bucky closes his eyes and represses the urge to just say fuck this and go back to bed. He can’t turn down this job; he needs the money. With Peter bringing him dinner every day, he actually has enough saved up for rent this month, but now he’ll have to take this job just to afford a new goddamn door handle.
He lets his head slump forward until his forehead rests on the door, eyes shut, taking several big, deep breaths. It’s just a shitty morning, he reminds himself. He still has to face the day. He can fix the doorknob, his clothes will dry. He’ll just have to be more careful about using his left arm from now on, that’s all. He can’t afford to go back to bed.
Things will suck for a few hours, and then he’ll be home, cash in hand, dry and warm in his apartment, most likely with a cheerful kid talking his ear off and a hot meal in his stomach.
Bucky tries not to get his hopes up, but that encouraging thought gives him the little push he needs to toss the broken handle inside before determinedly trekking to work in the rain.
The job doesn’t go bad, per se, but the cold and dampness wreak havoc on his already-malfunctioning limb, and though fixing the car should’ve only taken him two hours max, it bleeds on to nearly four before he finally gets the engine started. He’s forced to cut a deal with the old man because of it, but at least the guy says he’ll be sure to call Bucky again the next time he needs work done.
The rain is still falling by the time he leaves to head home, but it’s light and cold, closer to sleet than rain, and thankfully not quite as heavy and solid as snow. It isn’t falling hard, but the freezing moisture sticks to Bucky’s hair and clothes and makes the muscles around the metal plate in his shoulder ache painfully.
He’s almost all the way home by the time he remembers the fucking door handle.
Bucky grunts, frustrated, wet, and more than ready for this whole day to be over. He turns on his heel to head to the nearest hardware store, ruefully thumbing across the bills in his pocket. He’ll have to take the subway to get there, there’s no way around it.
He doesn’t have much time. It’s already the afternoon, and Peter will—probably—be showing up soon for dinner. He’d rather get the handle replaced and get showered and changed before he does, because the last thing he wants to do while he’s soaking wet and miserable is entertain a hyper teenager.
But because the universe has decided it hates him today, the train he gets on is held up for almost an hour when the one in front of it breaks down, and by the time he gets to the store, buys the right kind of handle, rides the train home and walks back to his apartment, the sun has set and the temperature has dropped at least another five degrees.
It’s cold, dark, and rainy, and Bucky is convinced that if Peter did come by today, he left when he realized Bucky wasn’t home. There’s no way he would hang around on a shit day like today, with no way of knowing if or when Bucky would be back. Bucky sure as hell wouldn’t.
But it’s odd, though, how the thought of that is the thing that gets him down the most, out of all the shitty things that have happened today. Despite his best efforts not to, he had gotten his hopes up that Peter would come by—but why is that?
Bucky tells himself it’s because of the free food (even if he does have to teach the kid the most basic, essential rules of a kitchen, like keeping your fingers out of the knife’s way or how to boil water). There’s no reason for it to be anything else. He doesn’t even know Peter, and Peter sure as hell doesn’t know a thing about him. He wouldn’t come around if he did. Especially not unarmed.
But he knows, really, deep down in his flawed soul, that the real reason he’s so disappointed is because… well, he wanted to see the kid.
And that’s a dangerous thing, want. Want has been the thing he’s avoided the most in the last year—almost as much as Steve. Want is unfamiliar. It’s an almost unrecognizable thing to feel. He’s been conditioned—and is still conditioning himself—to only respond to need, to necessity. Eat, sleep, earn money for food and shelter. Those things have been the closest he’s ever come to want, until now. Until Peter Parker showed up, and then refused to stop showing up.
He knows it’s foolish. It’s a stupid, irresponsible risk to take. But he can’t help himself. It’s only been a few days, but he’s become used to Peter’s presence; to his rambling and his bubbliness and the high-pitched sound of his voice. He’s become used to being asked a thousand annoying questions so quickly that he only registers half of them. He’s become used to teaching him Spanish, or even just watching him determinedly work his way through his other homework. He’s become used to the absolutely alien phenomena of someone being happy to see him.
And that’s dangerous. Bucky isn’t used to wanting anything; least of all social interaction, and yet here he is, truly and honestly sad that when he climbs these stairs to his broken front door, Peter isn’t going to be there waiting for him.
He's never felt more pathetic as he begins to walk up the steps.
Or more relieved when he reaches the top, and sees Peter sitting there, waiting, just like he hoped he would be.
Bucky almost smiles, but the relief quickly turns to worry when he sees how wet—and trembling—the kid is, huddled against the door like a cold, neglected dog. His hoodie and jeans are soaked through, and his backpack and the bag of groceries are dripping all over the balcony floor.
“Hi,” Peter says, smiling at him, but Bucky can hear the chattering of his teeth, and hardly notices the smile in the wake of how red the kid’s nose and ears are.
“How long have you been here?” Bucky asks, walking over and crouching down in front of the kid, getting a good look to check for any early signs of frostbite. He notices when Peter presses his mouth closed, jaw tightening, to try and stop his teeth from clacking together.
“Not long,” Peter smiles again. His lips are far too pale. “What happened to your door?”
“It broke this morning,” Bucky says, pulling both of them up off the ground. “And don’t lie to me, kid. You’re freezing.”
At least the kid isn’t too cold to blush. “Sorry,” he mumbles. “I actually, uhm—got here a little earlier than I usually do, so…”
Of course he did. Because today is just an absolute shit day.
Bucky sighs. “I’m sorry you had to wait,” he says. “I had to get a new handle. Let’s go inside and get you warmed up.”
“I have the—” Peter stutters, cut off by his teeth chattering, “—the perfect thing,” he says, shuddering as they enter the apartment, which isn’t that much warmer. Bucky takes the kid’s backpack and grocery bag from him and sets them in the kitchen, before heading to the bathroom to retrieve his towel.
“Oh?” he asks, handing the towel to Peter, and then grabbing some dry clothes for himself from his own bag. “And what’s that?”
“Hot chocolate,” Peter says, smiling, gratefully running the towel through his damp hair. “It seemed like a hot chocolate kind of day.”
Hot chocolate sounds familiar, but Bucky can’t remember what it tastes like, or if he’s ever even had it. “Sounds good, kid. Do you wanna make that while I put in this new doorknob?”
Peter’s brows lift, somewhat surprised. “I’m allowed in the kitchen by myself?”
Bucky can’t help the little smirk that crosses his face. “I think you’re finally ready to boil water unsupervised.”
Peter smiles back, but then his expression falters, just a little. Probably wouldn’t have been noticeable at all, to anyone other than Bucky. “Actually, I…” he says, timidly, “…I could help you? I mean—it’ll go faster if I help, right? And then we can make dinner together, afterwards?”
Bucky blinks, not really sure of what to say. This kid is soaking wet and frozen to the bone, and still, he’d rather stand in an open doorway, freezing his already-frozen ass off, when he could be sitting in a warmer kitchen, sipping hot chocolate? Just to spend a couple of extra minutes with him?
He wants to put his foot down, wants to demand that Peter go boil some damn water before he has to start lobbing his frostbitten fingers off, but—
Damn those eyes are hard to turn down.
He sighs. “Okay, kid, have it your way,” he says, grabbing the shopping bag with the new handle inside, “but I don’t want to hear any whining about how cold you are, got it?”
“Got it,” Peter says, smiling his real smile, the usual one that Bucky recognizes, all warm and bright and happy.
Bucky changes into his dry clothes, and they set to work unscrewing what’s left of the old handle, and then crouch on either side of the door to fit the new one in. Bucky lets Peter take the inner side (even though it’s only slightly warmer) but that means he has to be the one to screw the two sides of the doorknob together while Bucky holds them. Bucky is a little surprised, and more than a little pleased, to see that Peter is much more proficient with tools than he is with cooking utensils.
“So uhh, you, uhm,” Peter says whilst steadily turning the screwdriver, “you ripped the doorknob off?”
“Yeah,” says Bucky, surprised. “How’d you know that?”
Without peeking around the door, Peter lifts the busted-off handle with his free hand, showing the very obvious finger indentations in the metal knob. Bucky has no idea when the hell he picked that up.
Before he can ask, Peter surprises him even further. “Is, uhh—is your arm okay?”
“Yeah, y’know, this…” Peter sets the doorknob down, focusing instead on finishing putting the new one in. “The handprints on it are from a left hand, so… I just thought if, maybe, your hand locked up or something.”
“How the hell,” Bucky says, audibly disturbed, “did someone as smart as you not have the common sense to keep your fingers out of the way when you’re using a knife?”
Peter laughs, an embarrassed, pseudo-offended sound. “I never cooked before!”
“But you do detective work all the time?”
“Yeah, every night! When I’m out protecting the streets from dangerous criminals!” Peter laughs again, and it’s such a bubbly, contagious sound, Bucky has to duck his head and shake it slowly from side to side to resist the temptation of laughing along with him.
If Bucky can’t keep the smile off his face while they finish installing the new handle, well, Peter can’t see it through the door, anyway.
They’re halfway through cooking dinner when the cold and dampness catch up with him. There’s no warning when Bucky’s hand involuntarily clenches around the handle of the frying pan he’s holding, snapping it clean off.
Peter looks up at it, surprised, but not wary like Bucky expected him to be—if anything, Peter looks… enthused. His eyes are bright and shining the way he imagined they were the first night they met, when Bucky blocked that bullet for him.
“Hey uhm, if you want, I could—” he doesn’t even look up from Bucky’s hand as he starts talking, “I could take a look at it for you? I’m—I’m pretty good with tech. Not, like, amazing or anything, but, uhh—I get pretty decent grades in Robotics Lab? And I’m pretty good at figuring things out—I built my web-shooters myself and everything.”
Bucky stills, keeping his gaze down at the stovetop and not on Peter. The thought of him getting a close look at his arm is… distressing. For one thing, he needs his arm—if it got screwed up in anyway, Bucky’s safety would be entirely compromised. His arm is his self-defense.
But it’s not just that. This arm is a dead giveaway to his identity. Even he knows there aren’t any prosthetics out there like his. It’s completely of its own caliber. The more of it Peter sees, the quicker he’ll be able to figure out who he is—and what he’s done.
And that’s the other side of it. This arm… Bucky has done things with this arm. Things that, even if he could fully remember all the details, he wouldn’t want to. He sure as hell doesn’t want Peter knowing about any of it. This arm is a weapon. It was Hydra’s weapon. That’s something he has to keep Peter as far away from as possible.
If Bucky ever manages to do something right, keeping Peter away from even breathing the same air as Hydra will be it.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” he says, chucking the broken handle in the trash. “It just doesn’t like the cold.”
The kid sags, visibly disappointed, but Bucky holds his ground.
It’s for his own good.
It’s a few days later, when the cold snap has thankfully ended and the sun has been shining consecutively, when Bucky is once again awoken by his cellphone buzzing at an ungodly hour of the morning.
Despite the warm light trickling in through his papered-up windows, Bucky can’t quite stifle the grumpy, sleepy tone of his voice when he answers. “Hello?”
“This Jim Barnes?” says a rough, deep-voiced man on the other end.
“Name’s Frank Descartes,” the guy says, gruff and gravelly. “I’m an associate of Robert Mitchell.”
That name is familiar. A guy he’s worked for. The car guy? “You need work done?”
“Manner of speaking,” he says. “I’m Robert’s usual car guy. He says you fixed that busted alternator for him earlier this week? Well, he wanted to get a second opinion, you know, since you don’t have a mechanic’s license and all. Wanted to make sure it was safe.”
“What, he want his money back?”
The guy laughs, a deep, rumbling chuckle. “On the contrary, son,” his tone lifts. He sounds downright impressed. “You did some damn fine work. I’d like to offer you a job.”
Bucky blinks, not quite comprehending what he just heard. “You’re a mechanic, what do you need me for?”
“Not a mechanic, son. I’m a salesman. And I know a thing or two about cars. I help fix up my friends’ rides when they break down, but I charge ‘em about twice as much as you do. I get cars used and cheap off the insurance lot. A 2010 Corolla for two-hundred bucks at the auction. If you can fix an alternator like that, without havin’ to pay for new parts? Son, together we could buy and fix up these salvaged cars and make a killing.”
Bucky’s mouth opens, but no words come out. He isn’t sure what to say. A job would be amazing—life-changing, even, to have a steady income like that. But it’s a huge, volatile risk.
“What do you say? I buy ‘em, you fix ‘em, I’ll sell ‘em and split the profit. That sound fair?”
Before Bucky can say anything one way or the other, the man adds, “Oh and, don’t fret, Robert told me about your situation. I admit I have some old-fashioned respect for veterans. I’ll pay you cash, and we can do weekly payments until you get your affairs in order. I admire a man who doesn’t stay down when he’s kicked, but more importantly, you know your way around an engine, and that’s what I need. So I’m offering you regular hours and a living wage, if you’re interested.”
Christ. Bucky lets himself drop down on his tattered loveseat, feeling overwhelmed. The offer is too good to be true—literally. He’s not even sure what the living wage is these days, but he knows it’d be enough to make rent, and more than that. Food. Furniture. Savings. He could actually build a nest egg. He could put enough away to start over and live decently if he’s ever found.
But it’s a risk. And there’s a reason he hasn’t searched for a steady job with regular hours. Doing maintenance work at the motel and walking dogs on the weekends don’t count; that’s only a couple days a week, if that, with unpredictable hours that are always on-call. There’s hardly any routine there—it’s harder to trace. People looking for patterns or schedules would have a hard time pinning him down with that.
This, on the other hand, a steady job with a living wage and regular hours—that’s practically advertisement to someone who’s looking for patterns. A routine means they’ll know where he’ll be and when. It’s asking to be ambushed. It’s asking to be found.
But damn, the idea of not having to struggle to make ends meet is hard to turn down.
“Can I, uhh,” he starts, then pauses, licking his lips. “Listen, this is an amazing offer, I’m kind of in over my head here. Could I—” God damn, he’s been spending too much time with that kid, even his fucking stutter is wearing off on him. “Is it all right if I think about it? Just for a couple days. It’d be a huge change for me.”
“Sure,” the man (Frank?) says, but Bucky can hear the slightly affronted, incredulous note in his voice, “no problem. I’ll give you my shop number, and you give me a call when you’ve decided, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, reaching for his pen and notebook. “Great. Uhh, thanks.”
He scrawls the number down, his hand shaking slightly, before thanking the man again and saying goodbye. His arm feels kind of numb after he hangs up, and he lets himself flop, feeling drained and scatterbrained, against the armrest.
He knows he should call back and turn it down. But the thought of being able to buy dinner for Peter for a change keeps him from picking up the phone.
By the time Friday rolls around, Bucky still hasn’t talked himself into turning down Frank’s offer.
He starts to a couple of times, but then Peter comes by in the afternoons, and all Bucky can think about while they’re eating and Peter is rambling on is how different this could be if he took the job. What would it be like, eating dinner with Peter from across an actual dining table? Cooking with decent, new utensils instead of a single fork and a handle-less frying pan? Drinking out of actual cups, instead of sharing a bottle of Gatorade?
He hates thinking about it, because none of those things are at all necessary, and he’s pretty sure he’d never feel justified spending actual hard-earned money on them. Not when he should be saving that money for an inevitable escape.
But still, the thought nags.
Because really, if he doesn’t, what’s the point? If his entire life is just going to be about running from Hydra, he might as well end it, for all the difference it would make. If he’s going to stay alive, in this world, he should be a part of it—he should live. He has this home. It’s shitty, but it’s his. There’s nothing wrong with wondering what it could be like if he actually treated it that way.
Well. The fantasy is nice, anyway.
With the warmth and sunshine holding up, Bucky’s in fairly good spirits come Friday afternoon. There were no jobs today, so he spent the day cleaning the place up, taking his clothes and bedding down to the Laundry Land for a wash, and then trying to tune up his arm, though he still couldn’t figure out what its issue is.
When the late afternoon hits, Bucky is more than ready for Peter to show up. Jobless days like these can be pretty agitating, so spending the evening with the kid will be an entirely welcomed distraction. Against his better judgement, Bucky’s come to expect that Peter will come, the way he has been every single day, even in shitty weather.
But 3:30 turns to 4:00 turns to 4:30, and there’s still no sign of the kid. That’s not entirely unusual—Bucky suspects that the kid occasionally stays late after school, probably doing extracurricular stuff. He’s a high school freshman, after all. Maybe Fridays are club days.
When 5:00 P.M. hits, Bucky feels a twinge of something unpleasant, low in his stomach. Peter hasn’t been later than 5:30 once since he started coming. And he had said see you tomorrow last night, as he left. So why isn’t he here yet?
Sighing, Bucky glances around his immaculate shithole of an apartment and decides he can’t spend another stale second in it. He walks out onto the balcony, shoes and hat on, cellphone and keys in hand, before he starts feeling incredibly silly about this whole thing.
Peter’s a kid. A teenager. A likeable teenager. There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have other things going on on a sunny Friday afternoon. Maybe something came up; maybe his friends from school invited him out. It’s not like Peter could let him know if his plans changed—they’d never exchanged phone numbers.
Bucky tries to tell himself that it isn’t a big deal, but a dark, insidious fear looms over his head. What if Peter ran into trouble on the way here? Alone on a Friday evening in New York City? What if he tried to interrupt a mugging or a bank heist or a burglary? He knows Peter isn’t weak, but if the night they met proves anything, it’s that the kid has a lot to learn about picking fights.
What if he picked a fight with someone he couldn’t beat?
Someone with a gun—
—while Bucky is standing here, nowhere nearby to block the shot?
Silliness forgotten, Bucky clambers down the stairs two steps at a time, heading for the street before he can talk himself out of it.
He’ll just walk around for a while, that’s all. Just to get the agitation out. If he happens to run in to Peter on the way then, hey, lucky accident. And if he doesn’t, and Peter’s waiting for him at home when he finishes his walk, he can just say he was at work. And if Peter isn’t waiting—
He clenches his jaw.
As he reaches the main road, all Bucky can think is, I should have said yes when he asked me to teach him how to fight. Just for the god damn peace of mind. His pace is brisk and steadfast as he makes his way down the sidewalk. When I see him, I’ll tell him I’ve changed my mind. It’s not too late.
Anxiety swirls in the pit of his stomach like an ugly, black hurricane. Bucky starts walking faster, until he’s almost jogging, like he can outrun the terrible feeling inside him. His mind is a back-and-forth tug-of-war between you’re being ridiculous, he’s fine, he’ll be waiting for you when you get home, and please, God, don’t let it be too late.
Bucky’s about to start shouting Peter’s name, just to drown the thoughts out, when he turns the corner and sees—well, at first, he doesn’t know what.
The fence beside the sidewalk is eight feet tall and solid wood; a stockade style fence, no doubt built to give the owners the maximum amount of privacy possible in this part of Queens. Bucky’s hyperactive, anxious train of thought is derailed when he turns the corner and sees a kid hanging from the fence, their upper body dangling on the other side, the posts tucked beneath their arms, toes planted firmly on the side to hold them up. Bucky can’t see their face or shoulders on the other side, but he knows who it is instantly. He knows the backpack, the shoes.
The relief almost knocks him on his ass.
“Kid,” he says, coming to stand right next to where Peter is hanging. “What are you doing?”
Peter jolts, lifting his head and peering down at Bucky from the top of the fence. “Bucky!” He says, obviously surprised, before a glowing smile spreads across his face. “What are you doing here?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Bucky says, giving Peter a pointed look. “You spying on the neighbors?”
Peter’s face goes beet red. “No!” He glares, half-heartedly, and then smiles again, a little more sheepish. “I’m just saying hi to my buddy. I always do on my way over.”
“Yeah,” Peter says, lifting one of his hands to reveal the long, dirty, torn-to-shit dog rope he’s holding. “He brings me his toy when I walk by, so I stop and play with him for a bit before I come over.”
On any other day, Bucky’s pretty sure he would find this endearing, maybe even cute, but for the moment all he feels is a massive amount of relief, and a small inkling of irritation.
Peter turns back to the dog and says his goodbyes, before hopping down to the street, smiling up at Bucky obliviously.
Bucky wonders if it’s a bad sign that his irritation immediately vanishes.
“Sorry I’m kinda later than I usually am. I had tutoring today after school,” Peter says, adjusting the straps of his backpack. It’s then that Bucky notices the absence of a grocery bag.
“It’s fine,” he says. “Do you usually hit the grocery store over on 8th?”
The kid smiles, a little nervous and bashful. “Yeah, but, uhm,” he stutters shyly, “I was actually thinking—if you want to—we could eat out today? At Delmar’s? I’ve been craving it ever since we talked about it the other day and—and I think you’ll really like it! I mean, don’t get me wrong, cooking together has been really fun but, you said you like sandwiches? So we could—if you want to?”
The hopefulness in Peter’s smile is infectious, and Bucky finds himself sighing, still coming down from the anxiety-ridden rollercoaster he was riding earlier. Peter probably could have asked him for anything at that moment and he wouldn’t be able to say no.
“Sure, kid,” Bucky says. “Whatever you want.”
The moment Delmar’s Deli-Grocery comes into view, Bucky can instantly see why Peter likes it. Delicious sandwiches or no, the place practically radiates that NYC charm that makes this city so iconic. There’s something so incredibly wholesome and familial about it, even from the outside, that has Peter’s eyes shining the way they do whenever he’s feeling all bubbly and excited. Which, from the moment Bucky met him, has so far been exactly 100% of the time.
The door chimes when they open it, and a friendly-looking older gentleman grins when he sees them. “Mr. Parker!”
“Hey, Mr. Delmar!” Peter says, practically bounding up to the counter. “How’ve you been?”
“Been good, kid, where you been, huh? I used to see you every day, now not for, what, three weeks?”
Peter laughs, in that shy, embarrassed way of his. “Sorry, Mr. Delmar. Just been busy.”
“Uh huh,” Mr. Delmar says, obviously not buying it. He looks over at Bucky, eyes him for a moment, then asks, “So what can I get you fellas?”
“I’ll have a number five, please. With pickles,” Peter says, before glancing up at Bucky.
“Make that two,” Bucky says, hand shooting out to stop Peter from reaching for his wallet. “Kid, no. I’ll get it.”
“Oh, uhh,” says Peter, taken aback. “Are you sure? I don’t mind…”
“Yes,” Bucky insists, lightly flicking him on the temple, making Peter give a surprised laugh. “Make yourself useful and go find us a table. I’ll bring the grub.”
“Okay, okay!” Peter says, laughing, shielding his head from more flick attacks with his arms. “I’m going!”
Bucky can’t help the smile that crosses his face as he watches Peter head for the other side of the deli, sliding the cash over the counter.
“You must be the new foster dad,” Mr. Delmar says to him, snapping Bucky’s attention back. “I’m glad to see this. I haven’t seen Mr. Parker laugh or smile like that in—months. Not since the summer. I’m glad he has you who will bring him here, and not just for the business,” the man smiles, but there’s an edge to it; a tenseness in his face that Bucky can’t quite discern. “The other ones have all been no good.”
Bucky has to actually, physically suppress the urge to gape. “You haven’t seen that kid smile or laugh since the summer?”
“I know. He’s always been so cheerful, but grief will do that. Grief and bad homes. But I can tell, the way he smiles at you, you have given him a good home. I am grateful for that—he needs it more than anyone.”
Bucky doesn’t even know where to begin correcting the man, but he doesn’t get the chance as a tray of sandwiches is handed to him, just as Peter sidles back up beside him. Delmar walks away before he can say anything, so Bucky composes himself and says to Peter, “You find a table?”
“Better,” Peter says. Bucky looks down and sees a fluffy, brown and white cat nestled in his arms. “I found Murph.”
“Well that’s great,” Bucky says, giving Peter a look, “but we can’t sit and eat on Murph, so why don’t you try again?”
Peter laughs, loud and joyous, and Bucky follows him through the store, feeling Mr. Delmar’s pleased gaze on his back the entire time.
Poor Bucky. Guy has no idea what he's gotten himself into just yet... but he will! Thank you for reading, everybody. I sincerely hope you liked it.
Quick note—for those of you who are here for the stucky goodness—I just wanted to let you know that I also have a stucky Sugar Daddy AU in the works that I will be posting in the very near future, and if you're interested, I'd love for you to check it out! If you'd like, you can go ahead and follow me on tumblr to get notified when that comes out, as well as all my other updates! I always post my new chapters there, so if you follow me you'll know exactly when something is updated/posted! Also I'm complete and utter Marvel trash, so feel free to just come hang out with me!
Hope you all had/are having a wonderful holiday season! See you next time!
Chapter 3: I've Got You
Warning for this chapter: mentions of murder, domestic abuse, homelessness and generally angsty things. Please read with caution if you're sensitive to these subjects.
Also, on a happier note, you guys are absolutely incredible, and I am so flattered and simultaneously humbled by your praise and enthusiasm for this fic. Thank you so much for all the comments, kudos, bookmarks, tumblr follows—I love you guys very much, and I hope you enjoy this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
To Bucky’s pleasant surprise, Peter is absolutely right about Delmar’s sandwiches being fucking delicious.
Like always, the kid inhales his so fast that Bucky barely has time to even register it, and when he eagerly tries to go back for seconds, Bucky vetoes it, making him grab a bag of fruit instead. Bucky doesn’t miss the way Delmar smiles at him when he tells Peter to go pick out something healthier than another sandwich.
The kid insists that Bucky chooses the fruit, so they can share the bag on the way home, and they end up passing plums to each other as they walk, finishing off the bag before they’re even halfway there.
Peter rambles the entire time, but Bucky is only half paying attention.
It feels like he’s back at square one with the kid; like he knows even less about Peter now than he did earlier today. Delmar had successfully rewritten everything he thought he knew about this boy.
A few hours ago, he thought Peter was a cheerful, well-adjusted, overly friendly kid who probably had ulterior motives. Now he has no idea what to think. To learn that there had ever been a time when Peter wasn’t smiling joyfully the way he is now has floored Bucky. And to find out that he doesn’t live with his parents—which means he’s probably getting his money from somewhere else—and that he’s had multiple “bad” homes, as Delmar had called them—well, all of that has made Peter feel like even more of a stranger than he already is.
He supposes some of it makes sense. If Peter has no family, it’s not completely surprising that he’d want to spend his time with a grown-up; someone who has already gone out of their way to protect him. Maybe that part isn’t so crazy, but the rest of it? The money for all the groceries they’ve been eating, not to mention Peter’s new backpack and shoes? The way the kid never stops smiling around him? How he can’t even leave his side for five fucking minutes to find a table, or to make hot chocolate by himself while Bucky fixes a busted doorknob, as if he doesn’t want to spend even a minute alone, if he doesn’t have to?
None of that makes any sense to Bucky.
He knows he should ask. Even more than that, he has the right to know. Peter’s the one who showed up one day and inserted himself into Bucky’s life. He has the right to at least know why.
They take a more scenic route home, walking through a small, grassy park rather than around it. Peter stops to pet every single dog he sees, and one cat, who’s peacefully sleeping on a bench, until Peter trots over and wakes it up to snuggle it. The cat gives him a long-suffering, annoyed glare, but puts up with the nuzzling and the pets, and Bucky feels a weird sense of affinity for its grumpy expression.
“Kid,” he says to get Peter’s attention, still kneeling by the bench and rubbing the cat’s head, his back to Bucky. “Where are you getting the money for all the food you’ve been buying?”
Peter’s hand stills, just for a split-second, almost unnoticeable—but not to Bucky.
“Uh,” the kid starts, obviously taken aback by the question. He glances back at Bucky quickly, makes the briefest of eye contact, then returns his gaze to the cat. “I have a job, sort of.”
Bucky waits, expecting the kid to say something else, but he doesn’t. He just sits there, continuously petting the cat, though slower now, as if lost in thought.
“Oh, uh,” Peter startles, glancing at Bucky again. “I tutor some of my classmates.”
“Wait,” Bucky says, frowning confusedly, “that’s it? You can’t be making that much just by tutoring some kids.”
Peter stands up, dusting off his pants, and smiles at Bucky, somewhat embarrassed. His cheeks go a little pink as he says, “It pays pretty good, actually.”
They start walking again, at a leisurely pace, and Peter keeps his gaze downturned—doesn’t even look up or react when they pass another dog, which makes Bucky’s stomach knot, for some reason.
“I go to kind of a rich school,” Peter says, like he’s admitting something he’s ashamed of. “It’s supposed to be a technical high school for gifted kids, but it’s become kind of prestigious. Lots of rich parents want to be able to say their kids go there, so there’s tons of paid admissions. While there’s still kids like me, who got in by passing the exam, there are a lot more who didn’t, and kind of struggle with the schoolwork.”
If possible, the kid’s face reddens even more, the tips of his ears darkening beneath his curls.
“I’m kind of, well—I’m, uhh, I’m top of my class, in pretty much every course, so—anyway, the administration helped me set it up, for students who need extra help. I guess there are some parents who’re, I don’t know, impressed or something—by my GPA, I mean. So, I tutor some kids one-on-one, before school every day and sometimes after, like today. Their parents pay for it, and since they’re all pretty wealthy people, they pay really well.”
He can tell by the slight change in the kid’s voice that he’s reluctant to admit it, like he thinks Bucky is going to admonish or bully him for being smart or something. His shoulders hunch like he’s expecting to be criticized, and Bucky can’t fathom why.
“You should be proud,” he tells him, resisting the temptation to pat his shoulder. “There’s nothing embarrassing about being smart or working hard, kid. You deserve every cent.”
That, at least, is something Bucky can’t say for himself.
“Yeah, I guess,” Peter says quietly, with a small, subdued smile. “It’s just, I don’t know, some kids at school make a big deal out of it, you know? I kind of have a reputation now, and… I guess I just don’t like to stand out, is the thing.”
“Says the kid who runs around every night in bright red pajamas.”
“Hey!” Peter laughs, his usual expression finally back. “That’s different! How is Spider-Man supposed to scare criminals into not committing crimes if he doesn’t stand out?”
“Is that your goal?” Bucky asks. “To purge Queens of criminals by scaring them all into becoming law-abiding citizens?”
“Nah, that’d never work,” Peter says. At least he’s smart enough to admit it. “There’s always gonna be crime. There’s a lot we can do to minimize it, but at the end of the day, there’s always gonna be people who want to cause trouble and hurt others. So that’s why…” he trails off, looking embarrassed again, “…that’s why, there should always be someone like the Avengers, to defend against those types of people. I can help do that, so… I am. That’s really all it is.”
Something like anxiety mixed with dread constricts Bucky’s chest. It’s a familiar feeling—worry, fear, but also a deep, burning pride and admiration—it reminds Bucky of earlier, running down the street thinking Peter got shot, but it feels even more real than that did. Peter isn’t going to stop. He’s going to go out every night and risk death to protect other people—not because he can, but because they can’t.
Why does he know this feeling so painfully well?
“If you’re going to keep fighting,” he says, pausing until Peter looks up at him, quizzically. “You should at least know how to fight.”
Peter’s eyes widen, a surprised, unbearably hopeful look on his face. He’s about to ask, but Bucky beats him to it.
“I’ll teach you.”
Peter’s nightly routine of going “on patrol” is pretty much exactly what Bucky pictured. The kid dons his costume and takes to the rooftops with his “web-shooters,” swinging from building to building and using his heightened senses to look for trouble or nefarious activity from above.
Bucky observes until the kid is out of sight, staying behind to wait. They’ve picked the highest, barest rooftop they can find—somewhere they’re unlikely to be spotted, but with enough open space to be able to spar freely. Bucky gets warmed up while Peter does his patrol—the kid probably won’t need much stretching, after flying around like that—so Bucky uses the time to work out his less-used muscles, instead.
He hasn’t fought anyone since those thugs, the night he met Peter. His left arm feels a little rusty (no pun intended), the metal creaking and groaning as he practices punching forward with it, so Bucky elects to work on his other arm and legs in its place.
He doesn’t want to use his left arm against Peter, anyway, not even to spar.
Especially when it’s malfunctioning.
He’s worked up a decent sweat by the time Peter comes swinging back onto the roof, pulling off his mask and goggles and grinning at Bucky like he’s excited to see him.
“Guess what!” he says, bounding up to him. “I caught a car thief!”
“Oh?” says Bucky, noting the flushed, glistening skin tone on Peter’s happy face.
“Yeah! He was trying to pry the door open with a crowbar, so I stopped him and he got mad, and he tried to hit me with it, but I webbed him up and some nice lady who saw the whole thing called the cops, so I left a note saying what he did and left him for them.”
Bucky glances Peter over. “Did you get hit?”
“Uhm,” Peter looks down at himself, inspecting his arms, chest, and legs. “I don’t think so? Maybe. If I did, it doesn’t hurt anymore, so it probably won’t even bruise.”
Sighing, Bucky smooths his hair back out of his face. Thank God for this kid’s healing factor.
“So where do we start?” said kid asks, voice bubbling with excitement.
“To start,” Bucky answers, taking a few steps back until there’s a reasonable distance between them, “I want you to try and subdue me, the way you would any regular criminal. Luckily for you, your abilities seem most suited to mid-range distance combat. We’ll work on hand-to-hand later, as that’s most likely going to be a last resort for you. For now, let’s just focus on taking down and incapacitating an opponent. I want to see how you move.”
“Got it,” Peter says, pulling his mask and goggles back on.
“All right, then,” says Bucky, taking a defensive position. “Come at me.”
All in all, Bucky’s fairly impressed with Peter’s abilities.
It’s obvious the kid has spent countless hours learning and mastering his techniques, and on top of that, he’s a fast learner. His mobility—given his speed and super strength—is nothing short of incredible, and he’s quick-witted and light on his feet, not to mention resourceful. Bucky almost has a hard time believing this kid hasn’t spent his entire life playing superhero.
He doesn’t make it easy, using his own superior stamina and reflexes to dodge and counter every attempt to web him up, but Peter keeps pace with him pretty evenly throughout the battle. They do end up sparring a little bit hand-to-hand, and while Peter’s strategy seems to mostly consist of, “do every conceivable action besides punching” for some reason, his method of knocking his opponent back to gain some needed distance is well-practiced and efficient.
He’s a novice, but the potential is overwhelming. Bucky almost feels a little daunted.
The fight is won when Peter successfully immobilizes his right arm, as Bucky hesitates on countering an incoming assault with his left, leaving Peter open to web his legs and torso, too, essentially gluing him to the rooftop floor.
“Woo!” Peter cheers with a little hop, arms held up in victory, before he groans and sags down to his knees. “Ugh, crap, I’m so tired.”
“Yeah. Good fight, kid,” Bucky says, severing the webbing around his right arm and shoulder with a sharp, mechanical tug with his left. “I have a pretty good idea of what we need to work on now.”
“Uh, here, lemme help,” Peter says as he clambers over, removing his mask again, then kneeling to help tear away the webbing around one of Bucky’s legs while the man does the other. “Uhm, sorry I went kind of overboard. I’ve never had to fight that hard before, so I, uhh…”
“Don’t sweat it, kid,” Bucky says, peeling away the last of the webbing from his clothes and standing up, then extending a hand to Peter. “You did good. And you were able to take me down without trying to murder me in an adrenaline-fueled frenzy, so bonus points there.”
Peter’s face twists with an almost comical amount of alarm. “Is—is that normal?”
Bucky shrugs. “Fighting, even for pretend, can bring out the animal in some people. But you have good instincts. That’s important.”
“Well…” Peter starts, alarm lifting and a shy, somewhat confused blush settling in in its place. “Uhh, thanks, I guess.”
He gives Bucky a small smile, but there’s an edge to it; a torrent of emotion in the boy’s eyes that he hides by turning his gaze back down to the floor.
There’s clearly something Peter doesn’t like about what Bucky just said—something that’s worrying him, weighing him down. For a moment, Bucky wonders if maybe the kid is more scared of getting hurt than he’s let on, but he doubts it. Peter’s admitted to being afraid before and didn’t seem ashamed to do so, so it must be something else.
He’s pretty sure he knows what.
“You kept a level head and didn’t, for even a second, forget your own strength,” Bucky says, tone even and assuring. “You know you’re stronger than most people, and could easily win every fight if you stopped worrying about hurting others, but you don’t. You hold back, even if it puts yourself in danger to do so, because it’s the right thing to do. You need to trust yourself, Peter. You don’t want to hurt people. You need to trust that, when it really matters, the part of you that cares more about protecting others than about winning fights will be the one in control.”
Peter smiles at him, the worry ebbing away, his eyes shining for a moment before he lowers his gaze again. Something—else?—crosses his face, an expression Bucky can’t discern, midway between fond and sad; content and concerned.
“You too,” the boy says, almost too quiet for him to hear. “The same goes for you, too, Bucky.”
Bucky blinks, brows furrowing. “What?”
“Earlier,” says Peter, unsurely. “I only won ‘cause you didn’t want to hit me. I know I’m a kid, and you’re gonna hold back because of that, but I don’t think that’s why. I—I think you’re scared, too. Of hurting me. But you’re the same as I am, so you need to trust yourself, too.”
The kid smiles again, warmer, looking up at Bucky with such unwavering faith that for a moment, Bucky thinks he’s going to be sick. What the fuck am I doing, he panics, staring into Peter’s huge, dark, affectionate eyes. I shouldn’t even be talking to this kid. What the fuck have I done?
Unaware of his internal turmoil, Peter heads over to where his backpack is sitting and starts pulling off his costume, stuffing it into the bottom of his almost-too-full bag.
Hoodie and jeans back on, he stands up, slinging his backpack over one shoulder before turning and grinning at Bucky again. “Hey, you hungry? There’s a pizzeria across the street that’s still open. My treat?”
This has gone too far, Bucky’s mind pleads at him, desperately. You’re not who he thinks you are. You need to end this, right now, before he finds out.
When he doesn’t answer, Peter walks back over to him, glancing around the rooftop in the direction Bucky is hopelessly staring in.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Peter says, gesturing to the piles of strewn-about webbing, clumping and congealing across everything as a result of their fight. “It’ll dissolve in a couple hours. Faster if it rains. We won’t get in trouble, I promise!”
You’re dangerous. You know the way things are now won’t last. Get this kid away from you, before something happens that you can’t control. You can’t control it. You can’t control it. You’re going to get him k—
A hand, gently wrapping around his metal one, snaps Bucky from his thoughts as he glances down in surprise. The boy’s hand softly laces with his left one, coaxing it open from the tight, groaning fist it had clenched itself into, giving his fingers a slight, reassuring squeeze. Bucky can feel Peter’s palm, thin and so, so small, sitting delicately in his fist, holding his fingers, the skin warm against his metal digits.
“See?” Peter says, quiet and still smiling, gently squeezing his hand again. “It’s okay.”
Bucky can’t say anything, can’t respond to the absolute certainty in the boy’s voice, how sure of himself—of Bucky—he is. How the fuck can this kid trust him this much so soon? Bucky isn’t even confident he won’t kill himself some days, let alone other people.
But this kid is. He’s sure. He trusts him.
Maybe Bucky can trust him, too.
“Come on, let’s get pizza!” Peter beams, putting his other arm through the strap of his backpack. “I’m starving!”
He starts heading for the door to the staircase, his usual, bubbly, oblivious self, and then stops when he notices Bucky still hasn’t moved. He looks back at him, eyes bright, and opens his mouth to say something, when a strong gust of biting, cold wind sweeps across the rooftop and hits both of them. Bucky hardly feels it, but Peter starts visibly trembling, instantly wrapping his arms around himself and burying the lower half of his face in the collar of his hoodie.
The sight has Bucky moving before he even realizes it, grabbing Peter’s hood with his metal hand and sliding it over the kid’s head, which he then gives a short, gentle pat.
“Okay, kid,” he says, letting go and heading for the door. “Pizza it is.”
Bucky doesn’t get much sleep that night.
Between thinking something awful happened to Peter when he didn’t show up, to learning that the kid doesn’t live at home, to the unsettling realization that Peter is under some very damaging delusions about Bucky’s character, not to mention the all-consuming fear that he is directly putting a child, who trusts him implicitly, in harm’s way, well—to put it lightly, yesterday had been a long fucking day.
He goes about his usual Saturday activities, passing time until he has to walk what’s-her-face’s dogs. Peter asked last night if he could stop by a little earlier today, since there’s no school, so Bucky wants to go and get the job over with as soon as possible.
It’s minute forty of a sixty minute walk, Bucky coming around a corner in the sidewalk with one dog leashed to each arm, when he almost runs straight into a kid. Not just any kid, his—no, the kid.
“Whoa!” Peter says, jumping back to avoid colliding right into Bucky’s chest. “Hey, Bucky!”
“Kid,” Bucky says in lieu of a greeting, pulling on the leashes when the dogs rear up to sniff at the boy curiously.
Peter gasps, face lighting up like the sun. “Oh my God, who are you guys!” he exclaims, dropping to his knees and trying to pet both dogs, who begin lavishing him with excited, wet kisses. Ugh. "What’re their names?” he asks, looking up at Bucky from under a canopy of dog tongues.
How the hell should he know? He doesn’t even remember their owner’s name.
“They’re dogs,” he tries, hoping that that’ll satisfy Peter, but knowing that it won’t.
He is right.
“Dogs need names, too!” Peter huffs, grabbing the bigger dog’s collar and looking at the tag. “You’re… Tessa,” he says, grinning, and then reaches for the other dog’s tag, too. “And you’re… Dodger. Nice to meet you guys!”
“Kid,” Bucky tries again, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice. “They’re dogs.”
Bucky sighs, pulling on the leashes again when Peter tries to stand up, to give him room. He notices the kid’s backpack seems completely full again—but he didn’t have school today, right? So it’s most likely not full of books. Not to mention, they’re decently far away from Bucky’s apartment. Groceries, maybe?
“What are you doing here?” he asks, not bothering to mask the confusion in his voice.
Peter glances up at him, a familiar, sheepish blush spreading across his cheeks. “Killing time.”
Bucky frowns. “Until what?”
“Until…” Peter says, then stops, giving Bucky a shy smile and a shrug. “Uhh, I just thought it’d be rude to come over too early, I guess.”
His frown deepens.
Why didn’t he just wait at home?
“Whose dogs are these?” Peter asks, before Bucky can voice his own question.
“Just a lady that needed someone to walk them,” he says.
Peter’s eyes light up again. “Can I help you walk them?” he practically begs, his eagerness palpable.
Bucky hands him the leash for the bigger dog—Tessa, apparently—and Peter grins like Bucky just gave him a bar of solid gold.
“This is awesome!” he says, falling in line beside Bucky. “Come on, Tessa!”
He doesn’t tell Peter to curb his enthusiasm, somehow unable to hold on to his earlier grumpiness, watching the kid ramble at the dog the same way he does to Bucky. Tessa, for what it’s worth, is a much more gleeful listener than Bucky is, though eventually Peter tires of repeatedly asking her, “Who’s a good girl?” with not-exactly-varying results.
“So, uhm,” Peter says after a while, on their way to return the dogs. “I don’t know if you’re interested, but, I brought some movies? I figured that might be more fun than me just babbling all night like usual. I know you don’t have a TV, so I brought my laptop, if you want? I borrowed some DVDs from this kid at school—his name’s Ned, I really like him, we get along really well—anyway, he let me borrow his Star Wars collection. Do you like Star Wars?”
The safest bet when talking with Peter, Bucky’s learned, is to just answer the last question asked during his excited spiel, and then wait for him to repeat any other questions he decides he needs answered, when he inevitably re-asks them. “I don’t know.”
“You’ve never seen Star Wars?” Peter gapes, looking at Bucky with nothing short of complete indignation. “Oh, my God, we have to watch them! I mean—if you want to!”
Bucky smiles, and doesn’t bother to hide it. “Sure, kid.”
“Let me get this straight,” Bucky says, staring at the small laptop screen in front of them, resting innocently on Bucky’s shitty barstool. “The second movie is actually the fifth?”
Peter laughs, wedged beside Bucky on the dingy loveseat, taking another bite of their homemade sandwiches. “Episodes one, two, and three are prequel-sequels. They come first, but were made after.”
Bucky frowns, watching the screen with a puckered brow. “So they made episode four first?”
“Uh huh,” Peter grins, clearly taking way too much amusement in Bucky’s confusion. “Weird, right?”
The kid bursts out laughing, curling up until his head almost touches the armrest and his knees are pressed up against Bucky’s left arm. “I know, right? I don’t know what they were thinking.”
Bucky can’t agree more. Confusing timelines aside, the movies are actually pretty good. Bucky’s impressed by the special effects—which insults Peter, for some reason, who resolutely insists that they can’t hold up to modern day movie magic and that they didn’t age well—and that leads to the admission that Bucky’s never actually seen a movie before, which startles Peter almost out of his seat.
“Never?” he asks, eyebrows raised almost all the way to his hairline. “Not even before you left Brooklyn?”
Bucky can tell that he’s said something wrong—something abnormal, that Peter’s suspicious—but how the hell was he supposed to know how common it is to watch movies? It’s not like Peter made a big deal out of him not having a TV or a computer in his apartment.
“Maybe I did,” he tries, not bothering to hide the confusion in his voice. “A long time ago. If I did, I don’t remember.”
That seems to relax Peter, and the boy smiles, getting an excited gleam in his eyes. “Oh, man, do you know what that means? There are so many awesome movies I gotta show you now. Like—oh my God, you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings either?!”
He barely even has a chance to shake his head no before Peter’s ranting again. “We have to watch it! Next time. For sure. Oh, but wait, we might need to spread it out—there’s only three movies, but they’re each four hours long, so we’ll need pretty much a whole day to binge them.”
“Hell, kid. Where do you find the time to sit and watch a twelve-hour-long movie?”
Peter grins, shrugging with one shoulder as his cheeks go a little pink. “Before I became Spider-Man, I used to have lots of free time, actually. Movies and video games were pretty much all I did.”
“Hmm,” Bucky says, not knowing what else to say. He doesn’t exactly know what video games are, and he doesn’t want to alarm the kid any further by asking.
A couple peaceful moments of silence go by, Peter focusing entirely on the laptop; Bucky more looking at the movie than watching it. It’s entertaining, but he isn’t at all immersed. While the costumes and fake spaceships and glowing laser-swords are cool, Bucky elects to mostly just observe the video onscreen with a safe level of detachment.
Predictably, Peter breaks the silence first. “Hey, are we gonna train again tonight?”
“Yes,” Bucky says, without looking at him. “We’ll train every day, until I’m certain you can properly defend yourself.”
He expects Peter to give a typically-excited response, something akin to, “Oh, cool!” or, “Wow, okay, that’s awesome!” or, “Oh my God, I can’t wait!” or something equally hyper and childish. He’s used to Peter being overjoyed over everything, no matter how small, so when no response comes, and Bucky looks over and Peter is staring at him, wide-eyed and perplexed, Bucky mentally hiccups for a second.
“What?” he asks, mirroring Peter’s confused expression. “What’s wrong?”
Peter’s mouth opens but no words come out, and he closes it again, frowning. Seeing the usually-talkative kid so lost for words throws Bucky for a loop—was it something he said?
“It’s just…” Peter finally manages, voice quiet and tone—sad…? “It’s just, I’m, uhm—I’m surprised, I guess. That you would want to do that. I feel kind of—uh, I feel bad that I’ve been coming over so much. Imposing, I mean. I-I’ve been coming over every single day, and I know that that’s kind of rude, so I was gonna apologize and come over less, but… I didn’t want to. I like hanging out with you, and I don’t have—” he cuts himself off, eyes widening as though surprised, then immediately starts talking again, faster.
“So I just—I don’t know, I was working up the nerve to start coming by less often, ‘cause it must be annoying having me here all the time, so hearing you say you’ll train me every day took me by surprise, is all. Sorry.”
“Kid,” Bucky says, slow and even, compared to Peter’s frantic rambling. “You’re not imposing.”
Peter’s voice is quiet and timid, and sounds more childlike than Bucky’s ever heard it. “Really?”
“Look at me,” he says, more firmly now, twisting around to mirror Peter’s position on the loveseat, facing the boy with his back pressed against the armrest, one leg folded on the seat, while Peter’s are curled up protectively to his chest. “Do I seem like somebody who would lie to make a person feel better?”
“No,” Peter answers quietly, shaking his head.
“Exactly. If you were annoying me, I’d tell you. I don’t mind that you come by every day, kid. Really.”
Peter smiles, but it’s forced and short-lived. His eyes begin to slightly mist over—and Bucky isn’t at all prepared for that. The movie comes to an end, music carrying through the small speakers and into Bucky’s mostly-empty apartment, as the two of them sit and stare at each other, until Peter lowers his wet gaze down to his feet.
The video ends and the music stops and silence fills the room, Peter not saying a word as he holds back tears, and Bucky doesn’t know why. He doesn’t know why his company—his company, of all people—means so much to this kid, doesn’t know what Peter could possibly be gaining by spending time with him, besides a sizeable chunk out of his savings, doesn’t know anything about Peter, really, who he is or where he came from or why he’s crying.
But he wants to.
He wants to ask, but he waits, letting Peter compose himself first. When his eyes are mostly dry, Peter finally looks back up at him, no doubt intending to say something, probably to apologize, but Bucky speaks first, before he can.
“Where are your parents?”
If Peter’s surprised by the question, he doesn’t show it. His expression is unreadable, gazing past Bucky like he’s seeing through him. When he answers, his voice is detached, sounds like he’s been crying way harder than he really has.
“They died a long time ago.”
Bucky waits, hoping Peter will say more, but the boy remains uncharacteristically quiet, curled up against the armrest. Normally he’d let it go—has no real desire to pry—but he wants to understand, needs to know where this kid came from, how he ended up here.
“Peter,” he says, surprised by the gentleness in his own voice. The kid looks up at him, eyes wide and dark and so, so unbearably filled with grief. “Tell me what happened.”
The kid swallows, taking a deep breath and tightening his arms around his knees for a moment, before he exhales and sags further into the couch.
“I was born in Manhattan,” he says, quiet and soft. “When I was five, my parents left for a work trip, and their plane crashed. I don’t remember them that well, honestly. I don’t even think I’d know what they looked like if I didn’t have photos.”
Bucky listens, still and silent, lets the kid talk at his own, unhurried pace.
“My aunt and uncle took me in. May and Ben. They raised me, and even though they weren’t, I considered them my parents, you know? They were there through everything. And they were amazing. They went through a lot to make sure I was taken care of, and we—we were always really happy.”
He doesn’t miss the fact that Peter’s using past tense. Bucky’s throat begins to feel like it’s closing up.
“Last summer…” Peter starts, then stops himself, his eyes welling up again. “You know how I said, I go to a rich school? One of my dad’s old friends—kind of an old colleague, I guess—he’s this rich scientist, and he offered to write me a letter of recommendation to help me get in if I did some work for him. Mostly just mindless lab work, to be honest. I think he just wanted an extra pair of hands he didn’t have to pay for. Anyway—that’s where I got bit. By the spider.”
He looks down at his hands, staring at them like he’s expecting them to look different than they usually do. When he speaks, his voice is so rife with despair that Bucky doesn’t even recognize it. “I knew something was wrong pretty much right away. All my senses were suddenly heightened to a crazy level, not to mention I was stronger, faster—I wanted to tell my aunt and uncle, but I couldn’t. They really wanted me to go to this school, but they didn’t approve of me accepting Mr. Osborn’s help—my uncle really disliked him, for some reason—so I couldn’t tell them what happened.”
Pressing himself deeper into the corner of the armrest and the back of the couch, Peter wraps his arms around his curled-up legs again, practically folding himself into a ball. “Right before school started…” he says, tears overflowing from his eyes, running down his cheeks in wide, fat streams. “My aunt and uncle went on a date. I was at home, and… something was wrong. I know now that it’s because of the spider bite, but I have this, like—this sense, I guess. I get a feeling, like when there’s danger, or something isn’t right, and that night—I—”
He takes a shuddering breath, hands fisted in the denim of his jeans as he desperately tries to keep himself from sobbing. Bucky feels rooted in his seat, frozen solid to the core. He knows what the end of this story is, but he’s silently begging to be proven wrong.
“Something was wrong,” Peter says, nearly a sob. “I knew something was wrong. I could feel it. I ran all the way to the restaurant where they were having dinner, and—there were all these cops and ambulances, and they tried not to let me through but I ran past them, and—there they were, just… lying there, beside our car. Someone shot them. Police said it was a mugging. My aunt’s purse and my uncle’s wallet were gone.”
Peter lets his head drop, resting his forehead on his knees as he cries, silent and unnoticeable, save for the trembling in his shoulders. Bucky’s heart feels cold in his chest, like it’s pumping ice through his veins instead of blood. He doesn’t know what to say. All the grief Peter’s felt in his short life, losing his parents—twice—not to mention the changes his body went through, all by himself, dealing with that and God knows what else, on the heels of burying the two people he loved most in all the world.
Taking another deep breath, Peter lifts his head, his face completely red and wet from crying, and he wipes at it with the back of his hoodie’s sleeve, breathing through his mouth as he sniffles, trying to regain his composure. He doesn’t look up at Bucky, keeping his gaze fixed on his knees, eyes tired and darker than Bucky thought possible for the kid.
“I’m in foster care now,” Peter says, almost a mumble. “My aunt and uncle paid a small fortune to get me into that school, so I’m really lucky that I’m still able to go. It’s kept me going. That and being Spider-Man. I know that if—if May and Ben were alive, I know they’d—May would want me to stay in school, and Ben, if he knew about my powers, he’d want me to help people, so—so I have that, to do right by them. To make sure I make them proud.”
He didn’t want to interrupt, but the memory of what Delmar said—about Peter having “bad homes”—comes to mind so strongly that Bucky can’t stop himself before he says, “Your foster home is willing to pay for that expensive school?”
Peter finally looks up at him, eyes widening at the question, before he glances back down and stares at his lap with a frustrated frown.
“No,” he almost whispers, quiet and sad. “That’s what I’m tutoring for. My aunt and uncle paid the fees for this year, but I—I need to save up for next year’s.”
Bucky frowns back, eyebrows knitting together. “Kid, if you need to save money for your school fees, why are you spending so much on food all the time?”
Peter glances at him, frown falling away and a look of confusion replacing it.
“Because…” he says slowly, like he isn’t sure what Bucky meant, “I gotta eat…?”
Bucky’s frown deepens. “Why don’t you just eat at home?”
Something flashes across the kid’s face—apprehension, maybe, or maybe even anxiety—but either way, he looks momentarily fretful, like he doesn’t want to answer that question.
Eyes narrowing, Bucky leans forward, disturbed. “Are they not feeding you?”
Peter purses his lips together like he’s trying to keep himself from talking, then curls tighter into himself and says, “It’s just—it’s a long story.”
Bucky lets his expression soften, trying to sound gentle and reassuring. “It’s okay,” he says. “You can tell me.”
He can see the hesitation in the kid’s eyes, in his body language—whatever it is, Peter obviously has reservations about telling him, but eventually he sighs and looks back down, always afraid to meet Bucky’s eyes when he’s nervous.
“The first couple of homes were the worst ones,” he says, audibly reluctant. “They were—there were a lot of bad things going on. They were… abusive, I guess. I tried to defend myself, but I never wanted to use my full strength, because then I’d hurt people, and—and they’d find out I wasn’t normal. So I just took it and then tried to tell my social worker. But the thing is, they never believed me, because I have super-healing and the bruises and stuff were always gone by the time I tried to get help.”
Bucky’s left hand trembles along the back of the couch, the nerves in his shoulder plate misfiring from the force of the sudden rage that torpedoes through him. He grasps his metal wrist with his right hand—as subtly as he can, so as not to interrupt Peter—and presses his thumb along the underside of his left wrist, to manually release the unexpected flood of furious energy that shoots down his limb.
Peter, thankfully oblivious, keeps talking.
“I didn’t stop trying to get someone involved. There were other kids in the first home, I wasn’t the only one. I tried to protect them, but that just meant being the punching bag while—”
He grips the back of the loveseat so hard, he can feel the wood beneath the cushions start to splinter beneath his metal fingers.
“—still not being able to prove there was any abuse. Eventually, after this happened a couple of times in a couple of different homes, they just labeled me a ‘problem case,’ and, well—my social worker basically told me, if I keep causing trouble, they’re gonna move me out of Queens, and that means I’d have to switch schools. I can’t let that happen, so, I just—I haven’t really stuck around this new place.”
Bucky’s anger lifts, abruptly and jarringly, as he finally figures out the thing he’s wanted to know the most.
Peter has nowhere to go.
“It’s not a regular foster home,” Peter says, still keeping his gaze averted. “It’s more like a halfway house, but for problem kids like me. It’s an all-boys residence, but it’s way, way too overcrowded, and there’s food served, but never enough—eating means someone else goes without. There aren’t even enough beds, a lot of kids just end up sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags, and—I don’t know. I just… can’t stand being there. I know I should be grateful to have shelter at all, but—I don’t want to get in anymore trouble and end up having to leave my school. So I’ve just been staying away. The lady who runs the place hasn’t even noticed. I think she thinks I ran away and didn’t care enough to report it. I’ve been living out of my locker at school and my backpack, mostly, and sneaking into the gymnasium at night.”
“Kid,” Bucky says, voice sounding as wrecked as he feels.
Peter cuts him off. “I know, okay? I know it’s wrong, and I should go back and just—keep my head down, but, it—it just stresses me out so much, I’m less scared of being caught breaking into school than I am of staying at the halfway house.”
“Kid,” Bucky tries again, firmer now, though Peter doesn’t even seem to hear him.
“I’m sorry. I really am. I promise I haven’t been, like, trying to take advantage of—of how nice you are to me, or anything. I know I’m being pretty greedy and kind of selfish, I get it, I just can’t—I can’t explain what it’s been like, to be able to come here and hang out with you and eat, like, actual meals, and walk dogs and talk and—and I don’t know, I’m sorry for latching on to you like this, I know it’s not cool, and it’s weird but, I just feel so safe when I’m here with you, and I haven’t felt that in months, and—”
His hand is moving before he can stop it, gripping Peter’s much smaller hand and holding it firmly in his metal fist. Peter shuts up, looking between Bucky’s face and their hands, his eyes tracing each finger and knuckle of Bucky’s prosthetic with wide, curious eyes.
“Look at me,” Bucky says, pleased with how tender his voice sounds, given the furious hurricane whirling within him. “You can’t live in your school, kid. And there’s no way in hell that I’m letting you go back to that fucking prison. You can stay with me.”
Peter reels back in a flinch, surprised and stunned. “What?”
“I said,” Bucky repeats, emphatically, “I’m not letting you go back to that place. No way in hell. You can stay with me, Peter.”
Peter’s disbelieving expression makes him look nearly half his age, his big, brown eyes wide, and wet, and dark.
“Really?” he whispers.
“Yeah, kid, really,” Bucky says, and smiles at him. “You can stay with me.”
He wants to reassure him further—wants to tell him, you can take the loveseat, we’ll grab some more furniture, I’ll take care of you, I promise, but he doesn’t get the chance, because the next thing he knows, he has a lapful of crying teenager, Peter’s thin arms wrapped tightly around his neck, nearly crushing him in an almost-bruising hug. Peter presses his face hard against Bucky’s chest, trying to muffle the sobs pouring out of him, and Bucky sits, somewhat at a loss, not knowing what to do.
Peter clings to him, desperately, and there’s something terribly familiar about this feeling—of small arms, around his neck, holding on to him. As if by muscle memory alone, his own arms come up and wrap around Peter, too, cradling him against his chest and hugging him there.
He lets a foggy, distant memory of holding someone like this take the reins from him, letting his body do what it wants to do, and he ends up pulling Peter fully into his lap and rocking him gently, one hand on the back of his head and the other over his spine, cuddling him in a firm yet gentle hold. Peter’s hands stay fisted in his shirt, his slight frame trembling under the force of his tears, and Bucky just lets him, carding his metal fingers through the boy’s messy curls, and then pressing the lower half of his face to the top of Peter’s head, tenderly.
“It’s all right, kid,” he whispers against the boy’s hair. “I’ve got you.”
It takes some time, but eventually, Peter falls asleep like that, his vice-like grip in Bucky’s shirt finally loosening as he nods off. Bucky waits a little longer, until he’s sure the boy is sound asleep, and then carefully maneuvers him off his lap and onto the loveseat, smoothing down his hair as the boy curls up, laying his head gently on the armrest.
Bucky grabs his thin, fleece blanket off his mattress and tucks it over Peter, smiling unreservedly when the boy buries his face all the way up to his eyes underneath it. With one last, gentle pat to his head, Bucky stands up, grabs his cellphone and notebook, and steps out onto the balcony.
He isn’t expecting an answer—it is Saturday night, after all—but now that he’s gone and taken on this responsibility, he really can’t afford to wait any longer.
By the time the answering machine picks up, Bucky knows exactly what he’s going to say.
“Hi, Frank, this is Jim Barnes. I wanted to call and say that I’ve made up my mind, and if you’re still interested…”
He looks back through the doorway, at Peter, curled up and sleeping soundly.
“I’ll take the job.”
And with that, Part 1 of this story comes to a close. I'm sorry this chapter wasn't as fluffy—I promise there isn't going to be tons of angst in this fic. If it helps, the next chapter is going to heavily feature some real father/son bonding moments for Bucky and Peter, haha.
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Again, thank you so, so much for reading, everyone. It means a lot! I hope you all enjoyed this chapter!
Much love! <3
Chapter 4: These Days Together With You
There's one scene in this chapter that features an evil dude attempting to do a super gross and evil thing, which leads to some minor T-rated violence as he gets swiftly and justifiably Liam Neeson'd by an angry dad.
If you're sensitive to the topic of a sexual predator attempting to be a sexual predator and then getting his shit fucked up for it, please use your discretion for this chap.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Peter wakes up, hours later, Bucky is sprawled out on his mattress, not really trying to sleep, simply resting in the dark and quiet of the apartment.
“Hey,” Peter says, voice roughened by sleep and from crying so much earlier. Bucky looks up at him from the mattress on the floor and takes in the boy’s disheveled look; the bedhead, the tear tracks on his cheeks.
“How you feeling?” he asks.
Peter stretches, arms and legs hanging off the ends of the loveseat, before he relaxes again and blinks up at the ceiling, considering. “Thirsty.”
Bucky smiles, reaches over and grabs the not-quite-empty bottle of Gatorade they’d been sharing earlier. “Here,” he says as he tosses it up to the loveseat, impressed by the effortless way Peter catches it.
A few minutes of silence goes by after Peter drains the bottle, and it feels alien to Bucky—as familiar as he is with his apartment being quiet, Peter can’t seem to stand silences—though, maybe he just isn’t a morning person; one of those people who needs extra time for their personality to manifest after they first wake up.
The silence stretches on, both of them staring up at the dark ceiling from their respective sleeping surfaces, until Peter quietly breaks the hush by whispering, “Did you really mean what you said?”
Bucky turns to look at him, and Peter rolls over on his side, curling up and gazing at Bucky with his big, dark eyes that look black from the lack of light in the room.
“Yes,” he tells him, keeping their gazes locked together. “I meant it, kid. I know this place is a dump, and it’ll be cramped, but we’ll make it work. You can keep tutoring and save for your school fees, and I’ll handle the rest. I took a full-time job earlier.”
“You did?” Peter asks, visibly surprised. “I mean, that’s—that’s awesome, congrats! What, uh, what kind of job is it?”
“Mechanic,” he replies, stretching out himself, wincing slightly when his left arm falters, the kink in the metal disrupting his movement. He notices the worried look Peter gives him and says, before the kid can ask if he’s all right, “Helping this old man fix up old beaters so he can sell ‘em. I’m just hoping he has some bikes on that lot of his.”
“Bikes?” Peter repeats, his interest piqued. “You mean like—like motorcycles?”
Bucky smiles. “Yeah,” he says, and doesn’t bother to mention that the ID he swiped was a motorcycle license—or that that wasn’t exactly an accident. “Been a long time since I’ve been able to get my hands on a bike.”
“I’ve never been on a motorcycle,” Peter says. “What’s it like? Isn’t it scary?”
“Nah,” he shrugs, still smiling. “Have you ever ridden a horse?”
“Like… a real one?”
Bucky shoots him a salacious look, sniggering a little under his breath. “No, I mean one of those wooden sticks with a horse head on the end. Yes, a real one, you punk.”
Giggling, Peter nestles further into the couch, pulling the blanket tighter around him. “No, I haven’t. Uh, why?”
“Riding a horse and riding a bike aren’t really similar at all,” Bucky says, “but if you’d been on a horse before, you’d know what to expect after riding a bike. Your legs will hurt like a bitch. Unless you do it often, you’ll be walking funny for the next couple days. It’s not nearly as bad on a bike as it is on a horse, though. But you’re a shrimp, so even a bike would probably make your thighs cramp up the next day.”
Peter listens, watching him curiously from where he’s lounging on the loveseat as Bucky talks, with a look on his face like he’s simply enjoying listening to the man speak. Then he says, “I think I’d rather ride a horse than a bike, personally.”
Bucky grins, unsurprised. “Really? You? The kid who pets every single animal he sees? I’m shocked.”
Peter grins back, turning over onto his back and gazing up at the ceiling again. “I can’t help it. I like animals.”
Peter closes his eyes, and Bucky glances at him, waiting to see if the kid will fall back asleep or not. He lies still and absolutely quiet, willing his own body to relax enough to drift off, watching Peter mindfully breathe in and out as he attempts to make himself go to sleep.
After a while of neither one of them successfully nodding off, Peter opens his eyes again, glancing over at Bucky as he says, “I can’t sleep.”
“I can see that,” Bucky replies.
“I need to go on patrol,” says Peter as he sits up. “I just—I’m too restless. I gotta go check things out.”
Bucky frowns. “It’s pretty late,” he says, the barest hint of sternness in his tone.
Peter looks back up at him, midway through standing up from the couch. “But…” he starts, unsurely, glancing down at the loveseat and then turning his pleading gaze back to Bucky. “…It’s Saturday?”
In spite of himself, Bucky can’t help the smile that spreads back across his face, helpless in the wake of the kid’s somewhat-pouting expression.
“All right, all right,” he says as he stands up also, grabbing his jacket, gloves and hat from the floor beside his mattress. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll go with you, you can patrol, and then we’ll do a little training after to make sure we burn all that energy you have, so we can come back and get some sleep. Sound fair?”
“Yeah!” Peter beams, slipping his backpack on over his hoodie and then donning his shoes beside Bucky at the door.
They find a new rooftop in a different part of Queens, switching it up so that Peter can patrol a different area each night, and to avoid making a pattern, though Bucky doesn’t tell Peter about that part of it. Peter steps into his Spider-Man outfit, attaches his web-shooters to his wrists, and says, “Okay, I’ll be back soon!”
“Just a short patrol,” Bucky says. “Just an hour. I don’t want you screwing up your sleep schedule.”
“Okay,” Peter says, and Bucky can hear the smile in his voice.
He watches the kid swing off the roof without a single fear of falling, and casually leans forward on the railing so he can keep watching until Peter is out of sight.
When the boy is gone, Bucky lets himself sag, lets the tension leave his muscles as he drops most of his upper body onto the railing, hanging his head exhaustedly. What the fuck is he doing? What is he going to tell Peter when Hydra—or Captain America—finds him? And what will happen to the kid then? Peter has already made some pretty big sacrifices just so he could stay in Queens; pretty safe bet he wouldn’t be willing to drop everything and run away with Bucky to Romania if they were ever found.
But what, then? Would Peter choose to stay here, all alone? Go back to living in his school and having no one, the same as Bucky? Living off of gas station food and forgetting what it feels like to have a home? Could he do that?
There’s no point in trying to convince himself anymore that he isn’t attached now—he knows he is, knew it that day when Peter was late getting home from school, when all Bucky could think of is how badly he needed the kid to be all right. He cares for Peter, and he wants this; he wants to give the kid the best home he can, wants to make sure Peter has somewhere safe to go and someone looking after him, even someone as fucked up as he is, because damn it, for everything that is shit in his life, he won’t let this be shit, too. He’ll find a way to do right by this kid. He has to.
Accepting Frank’s offer had been a step—at least he’ll be able to provide food and shelter. But what about his plan? What would Peter want, and worse, how the fuck is Bucky supposed to ask him? He can’t tell him who he is. Worse than Peter being scared of him, he could become a target for Hydra if they found out he had information on Bucky. And if they found out about Peter’s abilities…
A sharp, metallic crack snaps Bucky from his thoughts. He glances down and sees his arm fisted tensely in the roof’s concrete railing, the metal groaning and bending unnaturally as it squeezes the concrete like playdough. Bucky has to manually dislodge it, and spends the rest of the hour trying to maneuver his arm back into its usual position, untwisting it from its bent angle just in time as Peter lands gracefully beside him.
“Pretty quiet night,” he says, then notices Bucky holding his arm and quickly adds, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” says Bucky, letting his arm drop to his side and hiding the slight discomfort he feels when it doesn’t hang as straight as it was previously. “It’s just being temperamental again. You good?”
Peter doesn’t look convinced, eyeing him worriedly even as he says, “Yeah. Stopped a Grand Theft Bicycle, scared off a couple of sketchy loiterers, and caught some lady’s houseplant when she accidentally knocked it off her windowsill.”
Bucky grins, reaching over with his right hand as Peter pulls his mask off and ruffling his already-unruly curls. “The hero this city truly needs.”
Peter’s eyes light up. “That’s what we should watch next! Batman!”
“Tomorrow,” says Bucky, leaving no room for argument. “We still have some training to do before it’s lights out for you, pal. How would you feel about a race?”
Blinking, Peter scans the rooftop, confused. “Here?”
“No, I was thinking we could hit the park on the way home,” he replies, not missing the warm look in Peter’s eyes when he says home. “If anyone asks, we can just say we’re training for a marathon.”
“At 1:30 A.M.?”
Bucky shrugs. “It’s more believable than saying you’re Spider-Man and you can’t sleep.”
Peter laughs, shooting Bucky a mock-glare before he pulls his regular clothes out from his bag and begins changing into them. They head to the park between here and their apartment, stopping at the entrance and surveying how empty and dark the wooded area is as Bucky glances up at the sign beside the trail.
“The trail is just under two miles long,” he says, reading from the sign. “So if we do five laps, that should be enough to burn some energy.”
Peter nods, already stretching his legs, arms and back as he stares down the pitch-dark path. “What are we racing for?”
“Loser does five-hundred push-ups.”
“Ugh,” Peter groans, before grinning up at him playfully. “In that case, you are so going down.”
Bucky scoffs, returning the playful expression on the kid’s face with a raised eyebrow. “Yeah, we’ll see about that, pipsqueak. On your marks…”
Bucky doesn’t hold back, and feels no shame about doing so. After all, the whole point of this is to tire the kid out enough that he can sleep. He has no qualms about using his enhanced speed; and besides, Peter has enhanced speed, too.
But Bucky’s used to sprinting long distances, used to running—to chasing and being chased—and while Peter’s in good shape, he clearly hasn’t had to sprint like this outside of gym class. Bucky loses him in the first thirty seconds, and by the time he finishes all three laps, Peter is a solid two minutes behind him and is dead on his feet when he comes jogging around the corner.
Panting and exhausted, the kid leans forward and rests his hands on his knees, heaving in big gulps of air as his chest lurches.
“That—” he gasps, completely out of breath, “—sucked.”
“It’s about to suck even more,” Bucky grins. “Drop and give me five-hundred.”
“Hey, those were the stakes,” he says, a shit-eating grin spreading across his face. “Loser does five-hundred push-ups, so down you get.”
He can’t help but burst out laughing at the absolutely pathetic whine Peter makes when he collapses down on the ground, exhaustedly getting into position and begrudgingly pushing himself back up as he begins to count. He goes steady for a solid ten minutes, before his movements become completely sluggish and half-assed, until he finally drops flat on the ground, gasping.
“I’m dying,” he pants.
“Come on, you still have seventy to go,” Bucky says, but he can see that Peter’s eyes are hardly staying open, that they appear unfocused, blurry in the wake of his exhaustion. Bucky kneels down in front of him just as Peter closes his eyes, passing out.
“Come on, kid,” Bucky says as he gently lifts Peter up, turning and pulling him up onto his back in a piggyback, holding him by his legs. Peter’s arms dangle from Bucky’s shoulders, before they tighten sleepily around his neck, just scarcely tight enough to hold him up. “Let’s get you home.”
Peter is well-and-truly asleep before they even make it out of the park, the embodiment of a deep, well-earned, relaxed sleep, warm and comforting against Bucky’s back.
Everything is completely different, living with someone.
Bucky knew things wouldn’t be the same, but it still surprises him just how different things are. The meager possessions Peter had stored around his school fill Bucky’s otherwise-empty apartment and make it feel like a completely different place; the books, clothes, school projects spread around everywhere actually make it look like someone lives here, instead of just squatting in it.
His days are different, too, after starting his job. Frank is an older, bald, black gentleman who, blessedly, doesn’t try and force Bucky into small-talk or casual conversations, instead leaving him alone to work in the garage behind his dealership, an arrangement that suits Bucky just fine. Sharon, Frank’s wife and the dealership’s receptionist, is a little more eager to get to know and befriend him, but thankfully Frank is always nearby to intercede on his behalf.
The Monday to Friday routine he and Peter have worked out is convenient and domestic, and leaves Bucky feeling like he’s in a completely new place in his own home. They wake up and have breakfast together, take turns making their lunches to take with them (although Bucky ends up doing it quite a bit more often than Peter does) and then they head out, Bucky walking Peter to the train station before he gets on his own bus.
In the evenings, Bucky gets home a solid hour after Peter does, and typically finds the kid on the loveseat or at the counter doing his homework, or, on the rare days when he doesn’t have any, watching movies on his laptop. Peter begs him to get internet in the apartment, but Bucky refuses—can’t say yes, even if he wanted to—so sometimes, the kid leaves a note saying he went to the nearest café or library to use their Wi-Fi, and that he’ll be home before dinner.
Dinner, unsurprisingly, is the one thing in Bucky’s life that hasn’t changed. It was already a domestic occurrence before Peter moved in; now, the only thing that’s different is they have more money and typically make bigger meals. Peter actually gets to eat his fill, and it pleases and upsets Bucky in equal measure—happy that he can finally satisfy Peter’s hunger, and angry that Peter was ever allowed to go without for so long in the first place.
On the weekends, Bucky still walks what’s-her-face’s dogs (usually with Peter tagging along), and still helps out the occasional caller for some cash on the side, and does some work at the motel when they need him to. He doesn’t have to anymore—Frank pays him enough for rent, food, and savings combined—but he pockets the extra cash and uses it to make sure Peter has everything he needs—like another backpack, for example, since the kid had his stolen again.
Or, sometimes, he uses it to treat them to some take-out, like tonight. Peter had been begging him for the last straight week to take him back to Delmar’s, so when Bucky brought in an extra eighty bucks on the weekend, they made plans to meet at Delmar’s today for some much-deserved sandwiches.
Given that Peter gets out of class earlier than Bucky leaves work, he’s probably already there, waiting for him, no doubt pestering Delmar in that plucky, good-natured way of his that always brings a smile to his face. Bucky gets off at the bus stop two blocks away and starts trekking to the sandwich stop, eyes scanning the streets as they always do, his cap pulled low, his jacket undone for the gradually-warming weather, only his left hand gloved.
He spots Peter from a couple hundred yards away, across a busy street, standing outside Delmar’s store innocuously in his bright red hoodie. Bucky smiles to himself, watching the kid peer into the busy rush of afternoon traffic, searching the crowd of pedestrians for him.
The smile falters when, almost as if appearing out of nowhere, an older man walks up to Peter and begins speaking to him, a large, overly-friendly smile stretched across his face. Bucky moves, making a beeline for them, intently watching the changes in Peter’s expression from across the street—the look of curiosity morphing into his usual, compassionate smile—before, to Bucky’s incredulity, the man turns and begins walking down the street, Peter following behind him.
Maybe they know each other, Bucky silently hopes. He’s a smart kid, he has to know better than to go off with strangers, he starts to think, before mentally kicking himself—Peter obviously doesn’t know better—if he did, he never would have latched on to Bucky the way he had in the first place.
As he impatiently waits for the light on the crosswalk to turn green, he keeps his eyes on Peter’s back, until he and the man he’s trailing after turn a corner, disappearing from sight.
“Shit,” Bucky curses, rudely maneuvering through the flock of pedestrians as he crosses the road, marching down the sidewalk in Peter’s direction with more force than he normally would; typically preferring to move stealthily, to blend in, to walk without being seen, but his nerves won’t let him, urging him to stomp after the two of them almost aggressively, his unease billowing. Something doesn’t feel right.
Bucky turns the corner, peering over the heads of the people littering the street, searching anxiously for Peter’s red sweater or the man’s balding head. He pushes past the people in his way, ignoring the outraged comments, serpentinely winding through the crowd, using his muscular build to his advantage, to incite others to make way for him.
There’s no sign of Peter or the man—where could they have gone? Bucky makes it to another intersection and turns down each road frantically—they could have gone anywhere, but if the man has evil intentions as Bucky’s dreading, he would have chosen the emptier road.
Bucky turns down the quieter, narrower road that leads directly into an industrial complex and begins agitatedly checking the alleyways separating each warehouse building, checking behind everything that would seem like a good place to hide behind if you didn’t want to be seen, which is everywhere in this complex, given how deserted it is, all the workers having gone home for the day.
He checks everywhere, and is just about to turn around and head back to the crossroads when he peers down the last alley and sees them—Peter, lifting a heavy toolbox into the back of a pick-up truck, the man on the other end, clearly having no idea that Peter could easily lift it himself.
Bucky pauses, relief and something like embarrassment flooding him. Maybe he was being too—overprotective? Peter is a good kid who does nice things for people, and if some guy needed help loading his toolbox into his truck, who is Bucky to tell Peter he can’t help?
He decides to go back, to wait for Peter outside Delmar’s, when it happens.
They finish securing the toolbox in the truck, and the man closes the gate while Peter wipes his hands off on his jeans. But then, the man turns to Peter and places his hand on his arm—too low, too close to his elbow, a position that makes Bucky’s nerves spike again—and then he’s crowding Peter against the truck, leaning into him, saying something, though they’re too far away for Bucky to hear.
Hit him, kid, Bucky internally screams, as the man grabs Peter by the shoulders. Hit him! But Peter doesn’t, he doesn’t fight back, he just stands there, unmoving. Why isn’t he moving?!
And then Bucky sees his face—wide brown eyes, terrified, his whole body shrinking in on itself, plastered to the side of the truck where he’s frozen in place, and Bucky is charging toward them as fast as he can, his arm already vibrating angrily in his sleeve, murderous rage erupting within him. Peter’s legs are shaking, his small body boxed in by the man’s larger one, one hand pinning his shoulder to the truck, and the other, reaching for his belt—
Bucky slams into the pervert with a lethal amount of force, grabbing the wrist of the hand that’d been undoing Peter’s belt and snapping it, a clean break, feeling the bone beneath his metal fingers completely separate into two pieces.
Moving too fast for the man to even comprehend, Bucky releases his broken wrist, and instead, grabs him by the throat, slamming him into the side of the warehouse and squeezing his windpipe tight enough to muffle his screams of pain before they even have a chance to escape.
The man tries to gasp for air, tears of agony immediately leaking from his bloodshot eyes, and Bucky tightens his grip, almost crushing the man’s throat in his metal hand, lifting him off the ground until they’re eyelevel.
“Listen to me, you piece of shit,” Bucky snarls, vehemently, leaning in close to the man, glaring out all of his raging, searing fury with his pale, cold eyes. “I just broke your wrist. If you ever, ever, in your life, touch him—or any other kid—ever again, then next time, it will be your neck.”
The man sputters, pawing at his unmovable metal arm with his uninjured hand, gasping and shaking in his grip. Bucky steps back and throws the man to the ground, letting him scream out loudly in pain as he tries to catch himself on his broken wrist.
Seething, Bucky briefly considers taking the rest of his anger out on the man, his arm still thrumming with the barely-contained desire to beat him to death, so powerful that Bucky’s entire body is shaking, his shoulders quaking with the effort of holding his arms back, of keeping himself from killing someone in front of Peter.
Before he can even turn around, Bucky feels a small, trembling hand cautiously brush against his metal one, and he looks down and sees Peter’s soft, pale fingers wrapping around his larger silver ones, giving his hand a reassuring squeeze, even though Peter is shaking, too.
The violent energy vibrating in Bucky’s arm is siphoned out of him like gasoline, evaporating into the air around them. Bucky looks up at Peter’s shocked face, white as a sheet, and barely stops himself from pulling the kid into a bruising hug.
“Kid,” he starts to say. “Are you all r—”
Peter surges forward, wrapping his arms around Bucky’s middle and clinging to him, burying his face in his chest. Bucky hugs him back automatically, not even thinking about it, his own hands shaking until they can feel Peter—unharmed, alive, I made it in time—against their palms, holding him tightly against his chest.
He takes Peter by the shoulder and leads him out of the alleyway, out of the industrial complex, back to the main road and toward the direction of their apartment, his arm still around the kid’s shoulders, hugging him to his side protectively, refusing to let go of him until their door is shut.
“Peter,” he says, when the boy flops down bonelessly into the loveseat. He stands there awkwardly, hands clenching and unclenching into fists, not sure where to even begin when Peter looks up at him. “Listen, what happened wasn’t… it wasn’t your fault, but you need to be more careful. You can’t just—just follow strangers around, whenever they ask you to. What if I’d gotten there too late? Why didn’t you fight him off?”
Peter pulls his knees up to his chest, wrapping his arms around them, and looks down, ashamedly. “I… I didn’t want to hurt him.”
“He was assaulting you, kid,” Bucky says, incredulously, sinking to the floor in front of Peter so they’re closer to eyelevel. “You’ll fight purse-snatchers and car thieves, but not someone who’s trying to—to—”
“That’s different!” Peter says, hugging himself tighter. “When I fight criminals, that’s not me, that’s Spider-Man! That guy, he—he said he’d seen me before, at Delmar’s, and I was stupid and told him my name, and—if I fought him, and he realized I wasn’t, y’know—realized I have superpowers, then what? I’m a mutant runaway foster kid! If the government found out about me, they’d ship me off to that air force base in Nevada, where they keep all the aliens and the mermaid!”
“The—okay, hold on,” Bucky says, gently grabbing Peter by the arms to thwart his frantic ranting. “First of all, kid, no one is going to take you anywhere. I’d never let that happen, okay?”
Genuine, unrepentant fear fills Peter’s eyes at that, and he whispers, in a trembling, childlike voice, “You promise?”
Bucky takes the boy’s head in his hands, keeping their gazes locked together. “Yeah, kid, I promise. I won’t let anyone take you anywhere that you don’t want to go. I said I’d take care of you, yeah? So listen to me.”
He leans in slightly, speaking slowly and clearly to emphasize his words. “I don’t ever want you to be scared of defending yourself, Peter. I’m not going to tell you not to help someone who asks for it—because you probably wouldn’t listen, even if I did—but you can’t hold back if someone attacks you. You have to protect yourself, too, you have a responsibility. And, listen, if there are consequences? Then we’ll deal with them together. You aren’t on your own anymore, Peter.”
Peter gazes back at him, nodding once, a small, aborted movement that ends with tears rolling down his cheeks. Peter closes his eyes, lowering his face, and brokenly says, “I-I was… I was so…” he sobs, holding himself, sniffling as the tears come faster. “He tried to…”
“Shh, kiddo, hey,” Bucky says, sitting beside him on the loveseat and letting Peter burrow against his chest, wrapping his arms around him tightly, his left hand carding through the boy’s hair. “It’s all right, you’re all right. I’ve got you.”
He’s all right. He is. I made it in time.
Peter presses against his side and chest, hugging him back tightly, sniffling as his sobs and tears die down. “I left my backpack at Delmar’s,” he confesses quietly, voice slightly muffled.
Bucky sighs, rubbing his forehead. “And let me guess, it’s full of homework you need to complete before tomorrow?”
“Well,” Bucky says, giving the kid a couple reassuring pats on the back. “I guess we’re getting sandwiches, after all.”
When Bucky gets home from work, he immediately knows that something is wrong.
And that something isn’t the fact that he’s drenched down to the bone from the onslaught of rain; no, it’s that when he opens the door and steps inside, dripping copious rainwater all over the floor, Peter isn’t there—and there’s no note on the counter, where he always leaves them when he goes out.
Bucky glances around the room, looking for signs that anything is misplaced as he changes out of his wet clothes, hanging them to dry on the bathtub’s curtain rod. He snags his towel and begins patting himself down as he looks around, but everything looks the same, down to the microscopic detail. Peter’s backpack isn’t here, which means he never made it home from school, but today isn’t a tutoring day, and the kid’s never forgotten to tell him where he was going before.
But maybe there’s a first time for everything; maybe he was just overwhelmed by all of his schoolwork and needed the internet as soon as possible, and rushed out without writing a note? Maybe he didn’t want to get wet and is waiting out the rain somewhere, with no payphones nearby to call Bucky’s cell? Or something happened, an accident or crime that needed Spider-Man’s attention, and either way, he’ll walk through that door any minute, wet and hungry and home safe?
Pacing, Bucky desperately tries to stomp down on the nagging thought of maybe he won’t. This doesn’t feel like the last time, when that creep lured Peter off the streets, no—this doesn’t feel like impending dread; it’s just the uncertainty of it, that’s all. Bucky can’t plan or coordinate a strategy when there’s this much uncertainty, and that worries him.
Because Peter’s fine. Of course he is. He’s probably petting a dog somewhere, standing directly under the darkest raincloud and not caring one bit that his clothes are completely soaked through, because there’s a dog happily wagging his tail at him. That’s what it always is, whenever Peter’s late; he got sidetracked with some kind of animal, and is off petting it someplace he shouldn’t be.
Or maybe… he isn’t. Maybe Peter isn’t late on accident; maybe he’s late on purpose. Maybe he realized, somehow, who—what—Bucky is, and took off? What if he figured it out? Maybe watching him nearly kill that pervert tipped him off, or else frightened him into finding another home, or even choosing to remain on the streets? If Peter found out about him—about Hydra, about where his arm came from, what he’s done with it—is this what he would do? Just… disappear one day, with no notice?
Leaning against the back of the loveseat, Bucky stares at the window—not through it, because the newspapers are still taped over the glass—and listens to the heavy rain, his mind racing, switching back and forth between calm and panic, never staying on one long. When he can’t sit still anymore, and can’t stand waiting around, worrying, for even one more second, Bucky grabs a dry sweater and turns to the door, just as the sound of footsteps reaches his ears, and then the door is being pushed open, revealing a soaking wet, panting Peter, clutching a soaked cardboard box.
“Hi,” Peter says between pants, smiling, something shy tinting his expression. He steps inside and shuts the door, water pouring off the box and dripping from the bottom of it, puddling beneath his drenched shoes as he stands awkwardly in front of the door. “So, uhm… don’t be mad.”
Bucky eyes the box suspiciously, before turning his gaze toward Peter, raising one eyebrow at him questioningly. “Well, that’s a good sign.”
Peter smiles, nervous, and slowly kneels down to place the box very gently on the floor. “Could you please hand me my towel?” he asks, and Bucky nods and goes to retrieve it for him.
“Thanks,” Peter says, and to Bucky’s surprise, he doesn’t start drying himself off, no—he spreads the towel out on the floor, opens the box, reaches in and pulls out—
“Oh hell no, kid, no, no way.”
“I don’t wanna keep them!” Peter protests immediately, setting the tiny, shivering kitten down on the towel with exceptional care, then reaching back into the box.
“I found them in an alleyway,” Peter says, and Bucky leans over and peers into the box, sees another three baby cats curled together on top of the soaking cardboard in a tiny, shivering pile. “I think with the rain and the traffic, I was the only one who could hear them crying. Somebody just dumped them in a box! There was a note that said, ‘free to a good home,’ but they’re clearly not old enough to be taken from their mom yet, and besides, their box was filling up with water! They would have drowned if I just left them!”
Bucky kneels down beside Peter, watches him move each kitten slowly onto the towel and gently rub them with the corners of it to try and dry them off.
“Kid, we can’t have pets here,” he says, regretfully, hating the way Peter’s face tightens.
“I know,” the boy says. “I promise I’m not trying to keep them—just until the rain stops! I ran around for a while trying to find the closest animal shelter, but they were soaked and cold and I was worried they’d get sick, and—just until the rain stops? Please? I’ll take them to the closest shelter I can find!”
Bucky sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose to stifle the budding headache he can feel growing behind his eye sockets. “Just until the rain stops,” he says firmly, giving Peter a pointed look. “And you’re cleaning up after them if they make a mess.”
“I will,” Peter says, smiling, gently picking up the bundle of kittens in their towel and moving them into the living room.
“Dry off before you touch anything,” Bucky says, grabbing one of his already-dirty shirts and using it to wipe up the puddle on the floor. Peter obeys, changing into dry clothes and hanging his wet ones next to Bucky’s in the bathroom, before snatching the shoebox he’d been using as a pencil holder and emptying it into his backpack.
Peter sets the shoebox on the loveseat and gently places the kitten bundle into it, rearranging the towel so it’s sufficiently filling the hard bottom of the box.
“Look at them,” Peter coos, eyes practically twinkling with awe. “They’re so tiny.”
“They are,” Bucky agrees, coming over to glance into the box again, before flopping down tiredly on his mattress. “What do you want to have for dinner?”
“Wanna hold one?”
Bucky blinks, lifting his head slightly to look across the room at Peter, gently holding one of the kittens out to him in his palms. “Huh?”
“Come on, look at him, he’s so cute!” Peter urges, grinning, trying to beckon Bucky back over with the little ball of fur. “Hold him, you know you want to!”
Bucky glances at the kitten. It looks small in Peter’s hands, which means it would be even tinier in his, and that’s just asking for trouble. Especially with his arm not functionally properly one-hundred-percent of the time… not to mention, they look so fragile. He has no business being anywhere near them.
“No, kid, I don’t think so,” Bucky says, sitting up on the mattress and scooting back to lean against the wall. “I’d hate to accidentally… It’s just, it’s not a good idea.”
Peter’s smile falters, his hands lowering slightly, like he’s surprised that Bucky said no.
“You won’t—it’s okay!” he says, reassuringly, adjusting his grip on the kitten and holding it back out again. “You won’t hurt him, I know you won’t!”
Unintentionally, Bucky winces, hating the level of trust and faith in Peter’s tone, his confidence in him, in the idea that Bucky won’t hurt things, when all he’s done is hurt things his entire life.
“I can’t,” he says, closing his eyes to block out the sad look on Peter’s face. He doesn’t want to disappoint or upset the kid, but he’s not the gentle, benevolent person Peter thinks he is. He doesn’t want to harm anything, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do it, anyway. That’s something Bucky knows very well.
He feels the mattress dip as Peter crawls onto it, but Bucky keeps his eyes closed, not minding if Peter cuddles up to him—at least he knows that Peter isn’t mad.
He’s a little surprised when the kid gently cups the back of his left hand, and completely shocked when something light and small and moving is placed in his open palm, weirdly warm against the cool metal.
Bucky’s eyes shoot open and he looks down, anxious at the sight of the small, damp, black kitten squirming gently in his hand, quietly mewling. Peter holds the back of his hand in both of his, tightly, but gentle, also.
“See?” he says, looking up at Bucky’s face, then back down at the kitten. “It’s okay. You can touch him.”
He can feel Peter’s grip on his hand—the strength, keeping his fingers open, keeping his arm from malfunctioning, and Bucky hesitantly raises his right hand and brings it down beside the kitten, letting it nuzzle its face against his fingers with its unbelievably soft fur.
Holding his breath, Bucky gently runs the backs of his fingers down the kitten’s spine, petting it, scared to apply too much pressure, but enthralled with the somehow—relaxing?—sensation of holding the small creature, of feeling it move and breathe in his hand, its tiny heart beating against his metal palm, sending the vibration all the way up into his body.
Bucky leans further down, looking closer, continuously stroking the kitten until it starts licking his fingers, trying to suckle on the ends of them. He pulls his hand back, letting Peter hold onto his fingers with one hand while he gently lifts the kitten with the other, taking it back over to the box.
The kittens all meow when Peter sets the fourth into the box, and he smiles down at them lovingly and starts petting them all with both hands, his expression so fond that it makes Bucky’s chest clench. He wonders, idly, if that’s the same face he makes when he looks at Peter.
He glances down at his left arm, at the familiar grooves and indentations in the metal, and realizes, dully, that that had been the first time—ever—that his left hand had held something, something alive and vulnerable, without the intention of hurting it. The hand that had taken all those lives, that’d been Hydra’s weapon, a tool for evil, had just innocently held a living thing for the very first time.
Lost in his thoughts, Bucky doesn’t notice Peter’s return until the kid reaches out and gently touches his left hand again, grabbing his attention. Bucky looks up at him, analyzing his face, confused by the myriad emotions he finds there. Peter looks soft but determined; cautious, and yet somehow confident. There’s affection in his eyes, but there’s also apprehension—but most of all, Peter looks completely devoted.
“Let me look at it,” he says, softly, squeezing Bucky’s metal fingers for emphasis. “Let me help you. I can fix it.”
Bucky searches his eyes, wary, but the unwavering faith he finds there—in himself and in Bucky all at once—tramples down on the temptation to once again say no, to pull his hand back, to glove it so Peter can’t even see it.
Instead, he lets Peter hold onto it, lets him turn it over, inspecting it, and with a deep breath he bites the bullet and says, “Okay.”
Peter’s face breaks into the widest, brightest grin Bucky’s ever seen. He’s up off the mattress in a flash, rummaging through his backpack to fetch his assortment of school project tools, and then rushing back over to him and settling down beside Bucky, like he’s scared the man will change his mind if he takes too long.
He pulls off his sweater and lets Peter take his arm, lets him get his first real, close-up look at it, watching as wonder and excitement and admiration all cross over the kid’s face. Peter turns his arm this way and that, figuring it out, looking for where to start, and Bucky lets him, lets him get close, lets him trace curious fingers over the red star.
He watches Peter work, observes the smooth motions of his hands as he examines Bucky’s arm, as he uses each tool with expert precision, operating on his prosthetic like a surgeon, with the rapt expression of someone very different from the bubbly, clumsy teen Bucky knows. He sits still and quiet as he watches Peter fix his arm, the sound of rain hitting the balcony filling their apartment all evening long.
I promise that Bucky is just as sad that Peter can't keep those kittens as you guys are.
Thanks for reading!! I'm sorry for the super long wait, you guys. I got hella busy these last few months.
If you're interested in reading more of this story, I wrote a short excerpt (featuring Steve!!) here that you can check out, and yes, I realize the irony of writing fanfiction for my own fanfiction, lol. If you'd like to see more excerpts, or to get updates about when I post, or to just come say hi and hang out with me, here's the link to my tumblr.
Thank you again everyone! Until next time!! <3
Chapter 5: The Inevitable Goodbye
Just want to give all of you a quick and sincere thank you for all the love you've shown this story so far. I can't even express how grateful and flattered I am by all your kind words. <3
Thank you so much for everything, you guys!! I hope you enjoy this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’s well into late spring, on a warm, sunny afternoon when Bucky arrives home from work and finds Peter, sitting abeyant on the loveseat, waiting for him. He can tell the second his eyes land on the kid’s face that something is up—his backpack, sitting prominently on the floor between his legs, seems jarringly out of place, almost religiously so.
Peter looks up at him when he enters and smiles, but there’s tension there, around his eyes and mouth; a nervousness in his expression that makes him look different and strange. “Hi,” he says, and his voice, at least, sounds as it always does—relieved. “Welcome home.”
“Thanks,” Bucky says, biting down on the impulse to immediately demand to know what’s wrong. “Did school go okay?”
“Yeah,” Peter replies, leaning forward slightly, overtop his bag. “It’s just… this note.”
“What note?” Bucky asks, moving in closer and watching as Peter unzips his bag, retrieving a folded, crumpled-looking sheet of paper. He hands it to Bucky somewhat hesitantly, his eyebrows furrowing.
“It’s a… permission slip.”
Bucky takes it, opening it with a confused look in Peter’s direction. “A what?”
“A permission slip,” Peter says again, pointing to the address typed in bold letters at the top of the page. “We’re supposed to go to the Smithsonian in DC at the end of the month. We need our—our parents to sign the forms, saying we can go.”
Bucky’s eyes dart over the page, hesitating on the line marked Parent Signature. He looks down at Peter’s face, feeling dread and apprehension swell at the hopeful look in the boy’s eyes.
“Please? I changed homes so many times this year, they won’t even think twice about it, I doubt they’ll even look at it too closely! And if they do, they could just—just call you, right? And you could say you’re my guardian and that it’s okay if I go?”
“Peter,” Bucky starts to protest, but the kid gives him the biggest, shiniest begging eyes Bucky has ever seen.
“Please? I really wanna go. I haven’t been able to go on any high school field trips yet. Please? I’ll use my own money and everything!”
“I can’t sign this,” says Bucky, hating the words as they leave his mouth, hating the crushed look on Peter’s face even more. Peter slumps his shoulders, as defeated as an extinguished fire.
“We can’t—we shouldn’t leave a paper trail of this, okay? It’s too risky. It would be really bad if people found out you’re living with me. You know that.”
“But—” Peter starts, but Bucky cuts him off, sternly, putting his foot down.
“I’m not signing anything,” he says, keeping his tone unapologetic, though he feels it radiating in his chest. “And that’s final.”
Peter looks wounded, lowering his head slightly as he gives a short nod. “Okay,” he says, as miserably as Bucky feels. “I understand.”
“Good,” Bucky says, handing the form back to him, and then ruffling the boy’s hair fondly. He wants to apologize; wants to tell Peter everything, tell him that every second they spend together is one second closer to being hunted down, that any connection linking them together is a bullet pointed at Peter’s head, but he doesn’t. He’s not ready to tell Peter anything, not any of it—least of all how dangerous it is to stay with him, though he should have months ago, the moment he showed up on his porch.
Bucky’s elbow-deep in the engine of a 1998 Toyota something-or-other, standing next to Frank in the garage behind his dealership, his shift nearly over, when his cellphone starts buzzing incessantly in his pocket. It’s a crappy burner phone that doesn’t have caller ID, so Bucky keeps his eyes on the bolt he’s tightening as he puts the phone to his ear and answers it.
“Hey,” Peter says on the other line, amidst a sea of other voices and sounds; the chatter of kids filling a narrow hallway. “Uhm, I was wondering—can I go to a friend’s house tonight?”
Bucky stops, his brows furrowing slightly. “Who?”
“Uh, my friend Ned? The one I’ve been telling you about? He’s letting me use his phone. He, uh, he lives here in Midtown. He invited me to spend the night and hang out and stuff. Can I?”
A familiar tendril of uncertainty creeps its way up Bucky’s back, to the nape of his neck. He purses his lips, grateful that Peter can’t see the unsure expression on his face. “You can,” he says, slowly, to make sure Peter is paying attention. “But I need his address and contact information. And you don’t have anything with you to spend the night with, do you? No toothbrush or change of clothes?”
“Yeah,” Peter agrees.
“Okay. So, you can spend the night, but I want you to head home first. Grab what you need, and leave me a note so I’ll know where you’ll be and how to get a hold of you. Sound fair?”
“Yeah,” Peter says, and Bucky can hear the warm smile in his voice, the thinly-veiled excitement. “Thanks. I’ll, uhm, I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?”
“Yeah,” he says, keeping his tone even. “Have a good night, kid. Be good.”
“I will,” replies Peter, softly. “Bye.”
Bucky hangs up, gazing at his phone for a moment before he pockets it. This will be the first time in—God, how many weeks—months—has it been since Peter came to live with him? The last of the snow was just melting, that night they met, and now the days are long and bright and getting hotter with each passing one. And this will be the first time in however-long-ago-that-was that Peter won’t be there when Bucky gets home; that he’ll have gone an entire day and night without seeing the kid.
Next to him, Frank shifts his weight as he clears his throat, and when Bucky glances up at him from under the brim of his hat, the man is eyeing him, calculatingly. “Who was that?”
“My, uh,” Bucky hesitates, mind going blank. Shit. What the hell is he supposed to say? Oh, nobody, just a runaway foster kid I’ve been secretly and illegally taking care of, not to mention endangering, since I’m technically on the run. There’s no semblance of the truth that Bucky could tell Frank that wouldn’t raise questions or alarms in the man’s mind, so Bucky says the next best thing, the most believable lie he has. “That was my kid.”
Frank looks surprised, his dark eyes widening until Bucky can see every speck of copper in his irises. “Shit, Barnes. I had no idea you were a father.”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, swallowing thickly. “Just got the one.”
“How old? Boy? Girl?”
“Boy.” He keeps his head down, but not to hide his shame—he isn’t worried about Frank seeing the lie on his face, he’s worried he’ll see the pride; the inexplicable burst of admiration he feels at telling someone about Peter for the very first time. “He’ll be fifteen next month.”
Frank grunts, returning to his task of refurbishing the interior seats with a slight nod of his head. “Tough age. You had ‘em young.”
“Yeah,” says Bucky, ducking his head behind the car’s hood. “But he’s a good kid. He’s amazing. He’s wicked smart—an honor student, actually. And he stays out of trouble. He’s nothing like me.”
“Hell,” Frank says, leaning over and giving Bucky a one-eyebrow-raised look. “That’s the first time in the three months you been here that I’ve seen you smile, Barnes.”
Though a part of him tries not to, the rest of Bucky breaks out in an honest, wide grin, brimming with pride.
“I’m lucky to have him,” he says.
The conversation fades, and eventually, Frank leaves him to his work and returns to tend the dealership. The rest of Bucky’s afternoon goes by smoothly, but as he makes his way home, an odd sense of misplacement takes over him. It’s a terrifying thought; the realization that, though he spent a year living in his apartment alone, knowing that Peter isn’t going to be there has stopped it from feeling like home.
But the closer he gets to the apartment, the more that lost feeling twists and changes into something worse, something darker. By the time his building comes into sight, Bucky feels almost sick, weighed down with dread and an ominous foreboding that coils in his stomach like an oily serpent. It lasts all the way until he pushes his door open, and then Bucky knows exactly what’s wrong, as soon as he sees it.
The standalone counter dividing the kitchen and the rest of the studio is bare, save for his journal, opened to the newest page with a pen resting on top of it. Bucky’s stomach drops at the sight.
Heart pounding, Bucky moves forward until he’s resting his hands on the counter, as if needing to see it up close to confirm his suspicions. The page has a name, an address and a phone number written on it—Ned Leeds—in Peter’s usual messy print, and there’s nothing off about it, nothing of note, and yet Bucky feels sick at the sight.
Peter has no way of knowing just how sensitive the information inside of this journal is. He probably only ever saw Bucky use it as an address book, a list of contacts. He doesn’t know that the first hundred pages were all dedicated to him; to figuring out who Bucky Barnes is, mapping together the scattered remnants of his past self.
But he must know it, now.
He doesn’t know if it’s just the anxiety; the swirling, insidious idea that one day, Peter would find out everything about him, would learn this terrible thing that Bucky wants so badly to protect him from, but Bucky can feel his heartbeat hammering inside his chest. Peter knows. He knows Peter knows—he can feel it, deep within the chasm of his torso. Peter knows about Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. He knows about the Howling Commandos. The first half of this journal is just scrawls and scraps of memory in fragments; pieces of events as they came to him, hastily scribbled down in the middle of the night before he lost them. Memories of the war and of Steve and of Brooklyn and his entire life before the fall. And on some pages, just the word hydra written over and over again, carved into the paper viciously when all Bucky could do was sit and seethe and grit his teeth at the memories that tried to consume him, but he never wrote them down, never gave them tangible form, and for that, Bucky has never been more grateful in his entire life.
Peter might know about James Buchanan Barnes.
But he doesn’t know about the Winter Soldier.
But still. He has to—he has to make sure Peter is all right; has to quell this roiling anxiety in his chest. He knows this raging storm inside him won’t die down until he hears Peter’s voice, until he knows the boy is all right. He pulls out his cellphone and dials the number Peter scribbled on the page.
An unsure, adolescent voice answers on the second ring. “Hello?”
“This Ned Leeds?”
Bucky doesn’t bother sweetening the tone of his voice, though he can tell the kid is a little unnerved by his gruff baritone. “I’m looking for Peter,” he says.
“Oh!” the kid exclaims, nervousness instantly gone, to Bucky’s confusion. “You must be Peter’s dad! He said he’d be giving you my number.”
“Uh,” Bucky blinks, taken aback. “Yeah. He there?”
Now Ned’s the one who sounds confused. “Uh, no, he—he said something came up? He said he’d be over later.”
Bucky’s fist clenches, the metal clanking as it knocks together. His stomach drops in the wake of the anxiety rearing its ugly head once more. “Did he say where he was going?”
“Uhm, no, sorry,” says Ned in a somewhat slow drawl.
Frowning, Bucky sternly says, “When he shows up, tell him to call me,” and then goes to hang up, his thumb stilling over the button for half a second as Ned happily calls out, “Okay, I will. Bye Peter’s dad!”
Bucky hesitates, then hangs up with more vitriol than really necessary, his stomach flipping at the strange mix of emotions coursing through him.
He has to find Peter.
He turns, searching the room desperately for any hint or clue where Peter would have disappeared to. He finds nothing, so he breaks for the door and leaves the apartment behind without a second thought, making for the closest spot where he thinks Peter might be; the nearest neighbor with a dog.
Peter isn’t loitering outside the neighbor’s fenced yard, or hanging over the side of any of the other ones nearby. He isn’t at Delmar’s, pestering the cat or talking the old man’s ear off. He isn’t at the park, or running the trails that serpentine behind the freeway, and he isn’t swinging through buildings by his webs, brazenly obstructing criminal activity in the early afternoon rush.
Bucky heads back to the apartment when his search brings up nothing, but Peter still isn’t there, and there’s no sign that he has been since Bucky first came home. Bucky slumps, tired, defeated, his mind going numb even as his body rages like a hurricane internally, worry and fear and anxiety all festering together in the hungry pit of his stomach. Ned still hasn’t called him, there’s no sign of Peter anywhere, and he’s out of ideas of where the boy could have gone.
He hangs his head in his hands as he sits on the couch, the emotional turmoil almost turning to numbness as exhaustion sets in. What if this is it? This day that he knew, from the first moment he let Peter into his house, was a long time coming? What if this is the day he has to say goodbye to Peter Parker?
For comfort more than anything, Bucky lifts his head and glances around at Peter’s belongings—the bag of clothes (that Bucky made him fold), the books, the DVD cases—the pile of loose pieces of paper, old homework and notes and tests marked with bright red “100%”s on them—the Spanish test Bucky helped him study for, speaking to him in Spanish the whole evening as they made and ate dinner and the training after, remembering Peter’s wide, bright grin a few days later as he bounded through the door and lifted the test for Bucky to see, so proud of that 100%. How proud Bucky had been of him that day, how his chest felt warm and light in the presence of that smile.
Bucky lifts the test from the stack—wanting to believe, more than anything, that Peter will forgive him for the lies, or at least give him the chance to explain before he decides to leave—when he sees it, below the Spanish test among the stack of papers, the sheet with a big, bold Smithsonian Institution printed on it.
His hand stills, and then he reaches for the paper and lifts it up.
It’s the permission slip.
Bucky reads it again, once, twice, then a third time, before he feels his chest tighten once more, and he sits back on the loveseat and lets the form rest limply in his lap. Peter kept it, even though Bucky refused to sign it—couldn’t sign it, even though he wanted to. And he did. He did want to. He wants nothing more than for Peter to have this; a home with someone who can give him things like this, opportunities, experiences, things that Bucky is too afraid to take part in, knowing that he is willingly endangering this kid’s life more and more every single day.
And even still, Peter kept it, as if throwing away that opportunity had been too difficult, even though Bucky had blatantly refused it to him.
A coldness seeps through him then as he realizes where Peter has gone. Peter would want to see it with his own eyes. He would want to know; would want to confirm the things he read in Bucky’s journal for himself. Bucky stands, phone and keys in hand as he exits the apartment. He heads straight for the bus stop, but even as he walks, doubt fills him.
Maybe this—this inevitable goodbye—maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. Maybe this is a chance for Peter to find a real home. A real family. Someone who could actually adopt him, who could sign permission slips for him, could give him all the things Bucky can’t.
Maybe this is the sign that it’s time for Bucky to let Peter go.
Even with that thought plaguing him, Bucky continues moving. He catches the long bus to DC, to the Smithsonian—watches the sun dip lower and lower as he continues searching the crowds for Peter, seeking him out amongst the horde of pedestrians in the street, filing in and out of the museum in long, wide lines.
Bucky searches every room and hallway open to the public three times. He loops back around to the Howling Commandos display over and over again, hardly even sparing his own exhibit a glance as he scans benches and counts heads looking for Peter.
But there’s no sign of him here, either.
Defeated, Bucky makes his way out of the institution, fully intending on calling Ned one more time and trying to find a bus back to Queens when, by chance, he glances across the street and sees a sign.
It derails his attempt at giving up, and Bucky spins on his heel and jogs across the road, dodging a honking car dismissively as he keeps his eyes fixed on the sign. Below it, a walking trail leads from the sidewalk into a park, and Bucky heads down it unhesitatingly, some strange, magnetic pull guiding him through the trees, his anxiety calmed for the first time in hours.
The trail curls around and leads to a wide, open park, benches lined along the perimeter of a long field, filled with people playing fetch with their dogs. Bucky sees him as soon as he steps off the trail.
There’s a bench several yards ahead of him, just off the side of the path, bathed in the same orange light that covers the whole park as the sun sets. Bucky watches Peter, sitting sullenly on the bench, his face in profile, gazing down at a panting dog that seems to be contentedly keeping him company, absentmindedly petting the dog’s head as he stares down at the grass, his eyes dim and downcast as he sits, lost in thought.
The sight of Peter—sitting there, having come to DC all alone to find the truth, only to have ended up here in this roadside park by himself, sitting and watching the dogs play, undoubtedly petting as many as he can, while the thoughts eat at him, while sunlight beams through the canopy and paints him in the reds and yellows of sunset—it strikes Bucky deeply; a basic and very instinctual need to protect this kid, at all costs, Hydra be damned, Steve Rogers and the Avengers be damned. The sight of his kid alone on that bench hits Bucky and fills him with so much love that all earlier thoughts of not being good enough for Peter are drowned out. He knows he isn’t good enough. Peter deserves everything and Bucky can’t give him more than what’s at his table, but he’ll raze this whole world to the ground before he lets anyone ever hurt this boy.
Bucky approaches slowly, and the dog jumps up and runs off as its master calls it away. Peter looks up as he watches it go, and then his eyes land on Bucky, and he sits up straighter and blinks owlishly up at him as the man approaches. Bucky gets close enough that he can clearly see the gold of the sunset reflecting in those large, dark eyes, and then he stops.
“Peter,” he says, practically a sigh, not bothering to hide the relief in his voice in the slightest.
“Bucky!” Peter says, bewildered. “How did you—why are you—what are you doing here?”
“I came to find you,” he says, though part of him wants to scream, I’ve been looking for you everywhere. “I called Ned.”
Peter sinks further into the bench, his shoulders hunching, sheepishly. “I’m sorry,” he says, eyes downcast. “I didn’t—I was going to go to Ned’s, I just… I needed to come here first, is all. How did you, uh, how did you know where I was?”
Bucky frowns, clenching his metal fist as he debates what to tell him, but he doesn’t even know where to begin.
“I found the permission slip,” he says.
Peter’s cheeks redden slightly, though Bucky can’t fathom why he would be embarrassed. Peter looks up at him shyly, then back down to his lap and says, “Yeah. I, uhm—I’m sort of bummed I can’t go on the field trip, so, I, uh, I thought, hey, it’s Friday night, I could just go now and… wa—wait, but, uhh, how did you know I was here?”
He gestures at the park around them, and Bucky almost wants to smile as he says, “I saw the ‘Dogs Allowed’ sign at the park entrance from across the street and knew that, if you’d seen it too, then you would be here.”
Peter smiles, warm and somewhat flattered, before something more serious flashes across his face and he ducks his head again. Bucky sighs, stepping forward and taking a seat beside the kid on the bench, watching the park steadily empty as the sun finishes setting.
“Kid,” he says quietly, after a long moment. “I know why you came here.”
“W-what, uh, what do you mean?”
“Cut the crap,” Bucky says, not unkindly, leaning back to rest his metal arm on the back of the bench, turning so that he’s half-facing Peter. “You know what I mean. I know you came here for the Howling Commandos exhibit. I know you read my journal.”
Peter’s head snaps up, turning to Bucky with wide, panicked eyes, his skin paling even more with the sun now hidden completely beyond the horizon. Bucky can see the slight tremble in the kid’s legs, and then Peter frantically says, “I’m sorry, Bucky, I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I swear, it—it was an accident, I just thought it was an address book, I didn’t mean to see anything, but then—th-then I saw that photo of you and—and I wanted to just ask you, and I should have, but then I thought, what if I’m just being stupid and suspicious and—but that photo was of you and I couldn’t understand, I still don’t understand how you’re—but—please don’t be mad, please, Bucky, please don’t be mad!”
“I’m not mad,” Bucky says, but the panicked look in Peter’s eyes doesn’t fade, so Bucky reiterates, “Hey, kid, I mean it, I’m not mad. I just…” he sighs, feeling his shoulders sag slightly at the realization that he doesn’t know what to say. “Here’s the thing. If you’re going to stay with me—”
He feels the boy’s body stiffen like he’s been turned to stone, and when he glances over at Peter and sees the wetness pooling in his eyes, Bucky stops short, confused by the small, trembling sound of Peter begging, “Please, Bucky, I—please—” And then the next thing he knows, Peter’s whole body is wracked with trembles and the tears are streaming from his eyes. “I won’t do it again, I promise, I promise I won’t do it again, please—”
Bucky almost can’t understand him through his heaving sobs, and then Peter looks back up at him with his wide, dark, wet eyes, and Bucky’s heart drops into his stomach, as heavy and cold as if it was turned to stone when Peter says, “Please don’t leave me! Please, please don’t, I’ll be good, I promise, so please don’t leave me, Bucky, I want to stay with you!”
“Hey,” Bucky tries, panic in his own voice, though Peter doesn’t stop crying until Bucky takes him by the shoulders and shushes him gently. “Hey, hey, kid, calm down, shh, it’s all right, I didn’t mean it like that, hey.” He takes Peter’s head in his hands and shushes him again, and then says, once the boy’s sobs have died down a little, “I’m not leavin’ you, kid. What I meant was… if you’re going to choose to stay with me. And I only mention that because—look, here’s the thing, Peter…”
Bucky sighs, letting the kid go and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees, wearily. He resists the urge to duck his head, exhaustion and unease filling him.
“I owe you an explanation. I know I do. But here’s the thing, Peter, I…”
His jaw clenches, and Bucky wrings his hands together and does lower his head now, bracing himself, so terrified of saying what he knows needs to be said. What he should have said months ago.
“It’s not safe with me.”
Peter goes rigid again beside him, and Bucky can see the boy’s hands and knees start to shake, no doubt on the cusp of begging him again, so Bucky continues, before he gets the chance, “I’m being hunted, Peter.”
He can feel the kid’s eyes boring into the side of his head, and Bucky has to try very hard to resist the urge to turn and meet his gaze. He clasps his hands together to keep himself from gripping the wooden bench too tightly and says, “I’m just going to be honest with you here, kid. There are some really bad people after me. There’s a reason I live the way I do, and it’s not just because I was born in 1917. I’m on the run.”
He does turn to look at Peter now, and stares straight into his eyes as he continues, his voice deceptively calm in contrast with the anxiety coiled in his gut, “Every minute you spend with me, you’re in danger—”
“I don’t care about that—”
“Let me finish,” Bucky urges, and Peter quiets down, his face twisted with worry. “There’s no ‘if’ about whether or not they find me. It’s a ‘when.’ And that ‘when’ is going to end in a fight… to the death. You’re in danger just knowing me, let alone living with me, kid. And if I tell you everything about where I was for that seventy years—I can’t. I can’t do that, Peter. I’m already putting you at too much of a risk. If they find out you know, they’ll go out of their way to take you out. I can’t let that happen.”
He looks back down at his hands, feels the hard, solid metal of his left fist cradled within his right beneath his glove, squeezing the palm, still half-expecting to feel the blood coursing through it, even now.
“If I was a better a man…” he starts, swallowing thickly, clenching his hands. “If I was a better man, I would send you away. Before they find us. I’d take you somewhere you could have the life you deserve, and then disappear as far away from you as I could get.”
Bucky hazards a glance at him, sees the tears running copiously down his cheeks once more, and sighs, continuing, “But I said I’d take care of you,” he turns to face the boy, laying a hand on his shoulder, comfortingly, “and I’m gonna. Honestly, kid, I’m in this too deep now. I’d never get another good night’s sleep if I didn’t have a way of knowing you were okay. And I can’t shoulder that.”
He moves his hand from Peter’s shoulder up to his face, cupping the back of his head, making sure Peter is looking up at him through his still-crying eyes. “So until you decide you want otherwise, you’re staying right here with me, kid. I’m not leavin’ you, even though I should, and I can’t tell you the truth, even though you deserve to know it.”
Peter brings his hands up, starts wiping his cheeks off and catching the tears that keep falling from his eyes with the backside of his fists. He breathes in deeply, trying to get himself under control, his sobs dying down.
“I’m sorry,” he says again, mournfully. “It’s just—I’m always thinking that I’m gonna lose this someday. This—us. I’m so—” he sobs again, curling forward slightly as the words leave him, “I’m so scared all the time that something’s gonna take this away. That you’re gonna—you’re gonna leave, or… that… I’ll lose you, too.”
He looks up at Bucky, and Bucky feels a sharp, painful stab of guilt and heartache at the genuinely terrified look on the boy’s face.
“After my aunt and uncle died…” Peter almost-whispers, a little calmer now, “I kept… I kept wishing someone would… help me. I know that sounds dumb, ‘cause I have these powers and everything, and I know I’m old enough to take care of myself, but I just… I was so scared, and I felt so alone. And then every place they sent me was—I… I just started feeling unsafe all the time. I felt like I was going crazy from how scared I constantly was.”
Peter stops trying to wipe away his tears, falling too fast for his hands to keep up with.
“And then… then I met you. And you did help me. You actually—you cared, and you were there for me, and I—I latched on, ‘cause for the first time in so long I didn’t feel scared anymore, and now we live together and I get to feel like that all the time, but—I’m also so panicked, I feel like the rug is going to be pulled out from under my feet. I feel like I’m going to wake up one morning and I’ll be back in foster care, getting thrown around or starved or just completely ignored, and… and you… won’t be there.”
Bucky wants to reach out, wants to say, That will never happen, I won’t let that happen, but doubt stops him, foaming up like an impenetrable wall between them. He can’t predict the future; can’t stop things that are out of his control, but in this moment, the temptation to say whatever he has to to make Peter stop crying is almost unbearable.
“When I opened your journal—when I saw that photo of you, from the war, and read that stuff you wrote, I—I thought, this is it, this is the rug being pulled out. I finally found a home and now I have to lose it again, because he’s going to Romania and that’ll be it, he’ll be gone and I’ll be alone, and I hate that I’m so scared of being alone, but more than that, Bucky, I… want… to stay with you. I wanna stay with you, in our home, making dinners and watching movies and training and going to Delmar’s, and walking Dodger and Tessa on the weekends and going to Laundry Land and talking in Spanish. I love that, I love all of it, I love living with you and being a family and I’m scared.”
He drops his face into his hands, his small, narrow shoulders heaving as he sobs into them. Bucky reaches out, is about to lay his hand on the boy’s shoulder again and pull him into a hug when Peter cries, “Please don’t leave me, please, Bucky, don’t… I don’t wanna lose you!”
He pulls Peter forward with both hands, wrapped securely around the boy’s back, and holds him tightly against his chest as Peter sobs into his jacket. Bucky embraces him, practically pulling him into his lap as he ducks his face against the top of Peter’s head and adamantly assures into his hair, “I won’t, Peter, I’m not, I’m not leavin’ you. I promise I’m not.”
Bucky holds him firmly, subtle rocking him in a gentle, back-and-forth motion as the kid gradually quiets, devolving from gut-wrenching sobs to softer ones, interrupted by hiccups and sniffles as he tries to take deep breaths through the onslaught of tears.
“Hey,” Bucky says quietly, once Peter has settled down enough to hear him. “Listen, Peter, I meant when I said that you’re sticking with me for as long as you want to. And if… when the time comes that I have to leave New York… you can come with me. I want you to. But I know that that’s a lot. It’s not exactly a fair trade, I get that. But I’m not going to leave you behind unless you want me to, okay? We’re in this together, like you said. Family.”
Peter hugs him tighter, and Bucky rests his cheek a little more fully against the boy’s hair. “I won’t lie and say things are going to stay like this forever. I wish they could, but I know that, eventually, I’ll have to keep moving. It doesn’t have to be Romania. We can go somewhere else—maybe Argentina. Somewhere they speak Spanish, so you could still get around on your own. Somewhere densely populated where we could lay low and start over. We’ll figure it out.”
“What about—” Peter says, but it’s muffled against Bucky’s chest, so he leans back slightly and tries again. “What about the Avengers? Captain America is—he’s your friend, right? Can’t they help us?”
Bucky tenses, unsure of what to say in response to that, Peter’s big, dark eyes gazing questioningly up at him. He swallows, then clears his throat to try and quell the unease that seems to be boiling over, like a volcano shooting lava up into his mouth.
“It’s not that simple,” he tries, furrowing Peter’s brows even further. “Listen, kid, the guy you read about in that museum, the one that used to be Steve’s friend… that ain’t really me. I mean, it is, but I’m not—shit. What I mean is, Steve and I aren’t what you think we are, and the last time we saw each other, it wasn’t… We aren’t friends. Worse than that, I’m pretty sure he’d lock me up if he ever found me. I can’t ask for his help.”
Peter frowns, worry and confusion all mixing together on his face as he asks, “Why would Captain America want to lock you up?”
Bucky sighs, hugging Peter back against his chest so he doesn’t have to look at those wide, pleading eyes or feel like he’s lying straight to the kid’s face. “It’s one of those things I can’t tell you,” he says, apologetically.
Peter’s quiet for a moment, then sniffles one last time, wipes his face on the sleeve of his hoodie and says, “Okay,” with a small nod against Bucky’s chest.
The tension leaves Bucky instantly, and he sags into the bench, his arms loosening around Peter before he tightens them again, worried for a split-second that he’ll let the boy fall. The boy snuggles in, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath as the tension seems to leave him, too.
Then Peter sighs and says, in a quiet, sleepy mumble, “I’m hungry.”
Bucky smiles, leaning his head back and staring up at the black night sky. “Yeah, me too, kid. It’s late.”
“I was s’pposed to go to Ned’s,” he whines, going even limper in Bucky’s arms, as if on purpose. “But I’m so tired.”
“It’ll take us most of the night to get home anyway,” says Bucky, sitting Peter up and then straightening himself out, stretching his back as he stands from the bench. “Use my phone and call him, see if you can’t go over tomorrow night. Speaking of, instead of take-out this week, I’m buying you a burner phone. No more of this hide-and-seek crap, kid. I’m too old.”
“Sorry,” Peter says again, with a shy smile. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I didn’t think you’d find out at first, but then… when I was sitting here, all I could think about doing was going home. I hadn’t decided whether or not I was going to come clean and ask you, or if I just wanted to see you and take advantage of everything while I still had it when you showed up.”
Bucky wants to say, You don’t have to take advantage of anything. I’m not going anywhere, wants desperately, more than anything, to reassure him and do everything—say anything—to make him feel safe and secure, but he knows better. He knows that there are very few things in life that he can actually control; that even if he and Peter had been completely normal people, brought together by the simplest, healthiest circumstances possible, there are some things in life that aren’t certain, promises that can’t be kept.
But Bucky swears on every fiber of his being that this will be the one thing that isn’t taken away from him.
“Going home sounds like a great idea, kid,” he says, ruffling Peter’s hair and then taking him by the shoulder and steering him out of the park. “Let’s grab some food and hope we don’t miss the last bus. If we do, I’m making you jog back to Queens.”
Peter laughs, slinging his arm around Bucky’s waist in a side-hug. “That would take, like, three days.”
“You’ll be grateful for all the training we’ve been doing, that’s for sure.”
Bucky smiles as Peter laughs again, and ruffles the kid’s hair affectionately one more time, giving his shoulder a comforting squeeze, feeling the small, warm, breathing body against his side and reveling in it, this assembly of bones and blood that has all come together, culminating into this thing that Bucky loves with all his heart.
Thanks for reading! Hope this one was worth the wait.
I feel super bad posting this slightly-angsty chapter in the wake of IW, but... If it makes you feel better, the next few chaps are going to be super fluffy??
Feel free to follow me on tumblr for updates, excerpts, chapter sneak peeks, and occasionally some funny oc.
Thank you again!! <3
The trip back to Queens is done mostly in silence, Peter becoming quieter and quieter the later it gets, growing tired and more sluggish after the long day he’s had and the emotional conversation that came after.
The kid dozes on the bus ride home, falling asleep against Bucky’s side while protectively clutching his backpack. Bucky lets him, lets him take a quick nap to recharge and get back some of his energy, but wakes him when they’re halfway home, before he can completely ruin his sleep schedule. Or his neck, for that matter.
“Kid,” Bucky repeats, jostling Peter a little harder. “Peter, come on. If I let you sleep anymore, you’ll be up all damn night.”
“Hmmuhhh,” Peter groans unintelligibly, trying to burrow his face in Bucky’s side, but the man sighs and plucks him off his jacket like an aggressively-clingy chimpanzee.
“Nooo,” Peter whines, collapsing pitifully in his own seat. “I don’t wanna, I’m tired.”
“You’ll be up at 4 A.M. if I let you sleep any longer,” says Bucky, not letting the amusement he feels tinge his voice, doing his best to sound stern with Peter giving him that exaggerated puppy-eyed look.
“Ten more minutes?” he begs.
“Five more minutes?”
“One more minute!”
“Why don’t you tell me how school was?” Bucky says instead, knowing that the best way to wake Peter up is to get him talking. “Did you get your English review back yet?”
Realizing that this is one battle he won’t win, Peter sighs and straightens up in his seat. “Yeah. I did okay on the essay part, but Mrs. Bernstein gave me another entire booklet of multiple choice questions to practice for the final. That’s what me and Ned were originally gonna do at his place.”
Bucky nods, recognizing the slight change in Peter’s tone that means he’s found something the boy is excited to talk about. “What else did you guys have planned?”
That does the trick, and Peter livens up as he sets off on a long-winded rant about all the things he and Ned have in common, the things they’ve talked about doing, how excited he is to see his new friend’s place and “geek out” over his supposedly impressive collection of electronics.
Peter brightens up enough to keep talking through the rest of the bus ride, managing to stay awake until they make it back to Queens. But he quickly grows tired again as they begin walking back to their apartment from the bus station, and Bucky has to slow his pace so the boy can keep up with him, Peter getting quieter and quieter until he stops talking altogether.
“Almost home, Pete,” Bucky says, wrapping his arm around the kid’s shoulders. “Come on, keep talking. You said this Liz girl was peeved you turned down joining the Decathlon?”
“Not really peeved,” Peter mumbles sleepily, teetering as part of him seems inclined to lean further into Bucky’s side, seeking warmth. “I think she was mostly disappointed. But Ned says he’ll join if I do.”
Bucky’s hand tightens on Peter’s shoulder blade. He hates that the boy can’t have everything his heart desires, that they don’t have the money for Peter to join as many clubs as he’d like—that Bucky wouldn’t be able to sign his approval, even if they did. Peter is so deserving of all those things, and it eats away at Bucky to know that he can’t provide them, that his best will never be close to what Peter should have.
To know that Peter is about to ask him if he can join the Decathlon, and Bucky will have to tell him no, again.
Bucky lets his arm slip off of Peter’s shoulder, quietly sighing. “Yeah?”
“What’s Captain America like?”
Surprised, Bucky raises an eyebrow down at him, taken aback. “What?”
Peter glances up, meets his gaze, his expression eager and awake and starry-eyed. “I mean, is he—y’know, is he really… Captain-y? Like, all serious and bossy and stuff? Or is that just when he’s out on missions? Is he bigger in person?”
“We’re about the same size,” Bucky says, glancing around them anxiously, making sure no one is close enough to hear. “Why?”
“Oh, uh,” Peter says, blushing slightly. “No—no reason, I just, uhm, I was just wondering. Since he’s, you know… Sorry. I thought that—since it’s not really about your past and all—I thought you wouldn’t mind. Sorry.”
Bucky sighs, lowering his gaze to the sidewalk as he feels Peter deflate beside him. “I don’t mind,” he says tentatively, feeling guilty. “He’s actually… a lot like you.”
Peter perks up, surprised and intrigued in equal measure. “What?” he exclaims, eyes wide. “Like me? How?”
Smiling, Bucky gives his head a small shake as a chuckle rises in his throat. “A good sense of right and wrong, and a crappy sense of self-preservation.”
“Do you miss him?”
Bucky almost stumbles, shooting Peter a quick look to see the boy gazing up at him, curiously, but with something warm and sympathetic coloring his expression.
“You guys were best friends, right?” Peter asks, quietly. “Even if you had a fight, or… whatever happened, it still must be hard not being friends anymore, right?”
Fists clenching, Bucky turns away from Peter, stares straight ahead as they walk, trying desperately to keep his face neutral. “Yeah,” he says, voice layered with more emotion than he’d like. “I’ve had to get used to a lot of difficult things in this century, but…” he swallows, his throat feeling like it’s closing up. “Being without Steve has easily been the hardest.”
Their lives begin to feel both much calmer and way more hectic at the same time as late spring turns to early summer. Peter only has a few more weeks until summer vacation, and spends most of his free time studying to prepare for finals, when he’s not patrolling the streets or being dragged into a training session.
Bucky is hard at work at the dealership, and also at trying to solve his latest and most daunting dilemma: Peter’s birthday. With the boy’s fifteenth only days away, Bucky still has no idea what to do—or if he’s even within his rights to do anything. He doesn’t even know if Peter wants to celebrate it, let alone how they should.
But he’s been working overtime while Peter puts in extra hours tutoring at school, and the money he’s saved up from doing so sits secretly under the floorboards in their apartment, waiting for Bucky to make up his mind.
“Well, what does he like to do?” Frank asks him, in response to Bucky openly lamenting about being shitty at picking out gifts. “Get him something you know he likes, and he’ll be more touched to learn that you pay attention to him than by how much money you spent. Kids are sentimental like that.”
Bucky’s hand stills on the wrench he’s holding, halfway through tightening a bolt. Frank is right. He hasn’t even met Peter, and yet he just gave Bucky the perfect idea of what to do.
It’s the middle of the evening by the time Bucky leaves work, and he makes several stops on the way home, picking up everything he needs for the plan. When he’s a few blocks from their apartment, Bucky pulls out his cellphone and dials Peter’s number.
“Hello?” the boy answers on the second ring.
“Hey,” Bucky says, a smile rising to his face at the sound of Peter’s voice. “You at home?”
“Um, yeah,” Peter says, a little distractedly. No doubt with his head still shoved in a textbook. “What’s up?”
“You’ve been at school all day,” Bucky says, glancing up at the park sign next to him. “And probably studying since you got home, knowing you. You should take a break. I’m on my way home, come meet me at the park.”
“Uhh, okay. The one on 2nd?”
“Yeah,” Bucky says, already moving to leave the park entirely. “Ten minutes?”
“Okay,” Peter says again, a little more cheerfully. “See you soon!”
“See you soon,” Bucky says, then hangs up and darts across the street to the other side, heading back to the apartment the long way, the way he knows Peter won’t be heading.
He feels slightly guilty about misleading the kid, but there’s no way he’ll be able to stash his purchases in the apartment without the kid seeing him if he’s at home. Bucky hefts his bag through the front door and makes quick work of lifting the loosened planks of wood that cover the kitchen, revealing his bugout bag, his savings, his old journals, and his gun.
Bucky carefully lays his items amongst his other hidden sundries and closes the floor back up, before quickly and purposefully exiting the apartment. He takes a shortcut back to the park, and stops at an ice cream stand by the fountain in the middle before heading to the bench where he knows Peter will be waiting.
Peter sees him almost immediately from down the path, and jumps up from the bench, eyes wide and smile wider, bounding up to him, so happy to see him, like always.
“There you are!”
“Sorry,” Bucky says, grinning, handing Peter a cone. “There was a line.”
“It’s okay,” Peter assures, taking the ice cream from him eagerly. “Thanks, this is awesome. What’s the occasion?”
“The occasion is we’ve both been working hard, and if you stick your head any further into one of your textbooks, I’m going to lose you in there.”
“Ha ha,” Peter says, trying—and failing—to look unamused, his smile widening even more as he gratefully takes a lick of his ice cream. “This is great,” he says, with a sincere, appreciative look that he gives to both Bucky and the cone in his hand. “I’ve missed doing stuff like this lately.”
“Yeah,” Bucky agrees, taking Peter by the shoulder and leading him back over to the bench. “Me too, kid. And speaking of, I wanted to talk to you about Saturday.”
“Oh, uhh,” Peter glances back up at him. “Because—because it’s my birthday?” he asks.
“No, actually, the rodeo is in town and I think you should audition.” Bucky eyes him, smirking at the flat, unimpressed look on the boy’s face. “Yes, because it’s your birthday.”
“We don’t have to do anything,” Peter says quickly, in a somewhat bashful tone. “Ned invited me to spend the night if I don’t have other plans.”
“I was thinking we could go somewhere,” Bucky says, pleased by the excited glint Peter gets in his eyes. “You can invite Ned. We can go to that planetarium you said you wanted to see, and then I thought of taking you to Coney Island.”
Peter’s whole face lights up, his brown eyes shining, his back straightening like he can barely contain himself. “I’ve never been able to do Coney Island!”
“What?” Bucky asks, confused. “What do you mean?”
Peter gestures down at himself, face reddening. “Before I was, y’know… before I ‘changed,’ I was always really, uh, wimpy, I guess. I was pretty frail and weak, and I couldn’t do a lot of stuff. I got sick easily and had respiratory problems, and my aunt and uncle were always afraid I’d, like, pass out on the rides and fall to my death or something. So I’ve been there, but all we really did was walk around and eat food, and we couldn’t stay long, because the heat got to me.”
Bucky stares straight ahead, mind reeling, completely floored to learn that Peter is so like Steve, so uncomfortably similar to him, that Bucky genuinely wonders if there’s some way the two could be related, and how the hell he ended up with another Steve after seventy years of no Steve at all.
Peter, oblivious to Bucky’s inner tangent, continues gleefully rambling. “But now I could actually go on the rides! And walk around the park for longer than twenty minutes! Are you sure you don’t mind if I invite Ned? I think that’d be a lot of fun!”
“I’m sure,” Bucky says, giving him a fond smile. “And tell him it’s my treat.”
“Really?” the boy asks, a bit sheepishly. “But, I mean—shouldn’t we—are you sure it’s okay? We need to be saving up, right? Can we afford to be, y’know… wasteful like that?”
“It’s not a waste, kid,” Bucky says, still smiling, feeling warm from the sun and the joy on Peter’s face. “It’s good to have celebrations now and then,” he reaches over, gently ruffles the kid’s hair. “And we have a lot to celebrate.”
The temptation to put his palm flat on top of Peter’s head and push down until the boy is forced to stand still is almost too great for Bucky to overcome, as the two of them stand waiting at the train station.
Peter is an uncontrollable ball of energy, pacing and tapping his feet to the sidewalk, drumming his fingers against his thighs, bouncing his leg up and down randomly. He seems lost in his own world, childlike glee painted all over his face, continuously interrupted by the brief glances he sends over the crowds of disembarking passengers, waiting for his friend.
Bucky regards him silently, equal parts daunted and impressed that the kid is so excited for their big day.
“Remind me to never give you caffeine,” he says to Peter, which snaps the boy out of his enthusiastic jittering.
“Sorry,” Peter grins, not really looking all that sorry. “I can’t help it! This is so awesome!”
“I’m going to make you ride the Cyclone,” Bucky promises, almost to himself. “That should wear you out a little bit.”
The kid laughs, his face changing into a playful expression. “It can’t be any worse than swinging from webs every night. I think I can handle it.”
Before Bucky can disagree with him, a friendly, high-pitched voice calls out, “Peter!” from across the terminal.
They both turn to look, and watch as a portly Asian kid lightly jogs up to them, smiling and waving. “Hey!”
“Hey, Ned!” Peter smiles to his friend. Bucky looks between the two kids and notices, to his genuine surprise, that Ned is actually somehow shorter than Peter, even if only by an inch. “Thanks for coming!”
“Of course! Happy birthday. And thanks for inviting me,” Ned says, before turning toward Bucky and craning his neck to look up at him. “Oh uh, thank you too, Peter’s dad!”
Peter goes very still and very pale, staring at Ned’s face incredulously before chancing a nervous look up at Bucky. Bucky plays it cool, swallows the same lurch in his stomach he got the first time Ned called him that over the phone, and says, smoothly, “You’re welcome. Peter’s told me a lot about you.”
Peter laughs a little, awkwardly, and the strain in his voice is palpable as he tries very hard to act normal. Ned doesn’t seem to notice it at all, and hands Peter a brightly colored gift bag with a cheerful, “This is for you!”
“Oh, uh,” Peter blinks, surprised. “Wow, thanks! You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“Actually, I totally did,” says Ned, pointing at the bag. “I got you your own, so you won’t have to borrow mine three times a month.”
Peter lifts a confused brow, then reaches into the bag and pulls out a familiar box. “Ned!” he exclaims, face breaking into a wide, disbelieving grin. “I don’t believe this, this is awesome!”
He turns the box around so Bucky can see, angling it so that the harsh train station lights aren’t reflecting off of its glossy finish, allowing Bucky to read the bright yellow Star Wars Box Set title printed on it.
Still grinning, Peter gives Ned a one-armed hug around the neck, patting his back. “Thanks, man. I love it.”
“Figured it was appropriate, since we’re hitting up the planetarium and all.”
“Speaking of,” Bucky says, grabbing the boys’ attentions as he points at an approaching train. “That’s our train.”
Bucky contentedly lets Peter and Ned lead the conversation, more than happy to simply listen to them ramble and debate as they make the journey to the planetarium. It’s interesting, watching Peter interact with someone else, someone his own age, someone who is just as bubbly and talkative as he is. Some of the things Ned says make it feel like Bucky’s lugging around two Peters, so many parts of their speech patterns are the same—not a surprise, given how much time they spend together.
Peter and Ned steadily grow more hyper and excited the closer they get, to the point that they practically dash off the train when it arrives at their stop. Bucky leisurely walks off after them, earning an eager and slightly impatient, “Come ooon!” from Peter when he notices how far behind them Bucky is.
So just for the fun of it, Bucky smirks and says, “Actually, wait here. I need to head to the bathroom.”
He has to bite down on the bark of laughter that threatens to escape at the “are you kidding me” look on Peter’s face as Bucky turns and heads down the terminal hallway, giving the boys a small wave as he does.
He spends a little extra time at the sink in the bathroom, making sure his hat is pulled down over his forehead and his sweater isn’t slipping low enough around his neck to expose the metal plate that makes up his entire left shoulder. The black glove covering his left hand isn’t exactly inconspicuous, but it’s not as memorable as the bare metal of his prosthetic would be.
With his facial hair growing in thicker—the perfect halfway point between stubble and an actual beard—he feels a little more confident venturing into somewhere as crowded and busy as Luna Park, at least for one day. He knows he’s capable of hiding in plain sight if he has to, if it comes to that.
Satisfied that he looks about as far from Sergeant James Barnes as he can get, Bucky makes his way back down the hall, toward where he told Peter and Ned to wait, but stops just before the mouth of the hallway, picking up on Ned’s voice from around the corner.
“Dude, you were right,” Ned says, sounding oddly awestruck. “Your dad is so freaking cool.”
Bucky leans against the wall, out of sight, surprised and—embarrassed—when Peter laughs and gushes, “I told you!” the pride overflowing from his voice. “You don’t even know, Ned. He’s, like, the coolest person I’ve ever met.”
“Not to mention jacked,” says Ned, making Peter laugh. “Seriously, man, his biceps have biceps. How much does he work out?!”
“I dunno,” Peter tries his best to sound oblivious, Bucky can tell, but the kid really sucks at lying. “He does do this one awesome thing, though. We go for jogs and stuff in the evenings, ‘cause—‘cause he’s helping me get better at—fitness, for gym class. And so sometimes we’ll do training exercises, but we’ll be out in public without any equipment, so—he can do a bicep curl while lifting me.”
“Awesome,” Ned practically sighs, speaking under his breath like he’s completely blown away. “Man, you’re lucky. You got the coolest foster dad in New York City.”
“Yeah,” says Peter, and the sincerity in his small voice tugs at Bucky’s heart. “I know. I know exactly how lucky I am.”
“Do you…” Ned starts, but pauses, as if not sure how to frame his question. “Do you… think he’ll, like, adopt you…?”
Bucky goes very still, subconsciously holding his breath as he plasters himself against the wall. Peter is quiet for a long moment, and Bucky’s mind races at what the boy will say; terrified of what he might hear, even if part of him wants to hear Peter say it.
“That’s what birthday wishes are for, I guess.”
The rest of the day goes smoothly, but it goes by in a haze for Bucky. Peter and Ned seem to have a good time, laughing and joking as they explore the vastness of the universe and the known vacuum of space from inside a giant, dark dome. The boys make a nerdy game of quizzing each other about planetary trivia, challenging each other in that timeless way boys do, but with a friendly, supportive atmosphere to it, both of them smiling and congratulating each other whenever one of them gets a question right.
Bucky lets Peter drag him over to all of his favorite displays, the ones he’s most fascinated with, the NASA demonstrations and models and the astrophysics presentation, chattering endlessly about stars and space travel and, surprisingly, only mentioning Star Wars a dozen times or so.
But try as he might, Bucky is only half paying attention, guiltily recalling the gifts he has stored back at their apartment, beneath the floorboards, knowing now that it’s not what Peter is wishing for, and that it’s the best Bucky can do, and hating that those two things aren’t the same. He’ll need a lot more than a stolen ID to ever give Peter what he really wants, and the idea of that seems so much like an unreachable fantasy that it weighs on Bucky, heavily.
The weight doesn’t lift as they leave the planetarium and stop for lunch, and doesn’t lift as they commute to Coney Island, but oddly, as they step through the entrance to Luna Park, and Bucky glances over at Peter and sees the pure, unrestrained excitement on the boy’s face, as bright and glowing as the flashing lights on the rides around them, he finds some semblance of confidence.
Peter deserves everything he wants and more, and Bucky will probably never be able to give him anywhere close to that, but there are things he can do for him, things only he can do for him.
And if this thrown-together mess of a life is enough for Peter, then it’s enough for Bucky, too.
His resolve renewed, Bucky makes good on his promise and leads the boys straight to the Cyclone, patting Peter’s shoulder reassuringly as the boy blinks owlishly up at the rollercoaster.
“They’ve changed it,” Bucky remarks, gaze contouring the giant structure. “When I was your age, I swear this thing was held together with duct tape and dental floss.”
Ned laughs, but Peter glances up at him, like he isn’t sure if Bucky is kidding or not. “Oh yeah,” Bucky tells him, nodding solemnly. “This thing was a deathtrap. The only people who ever rode it were young, dumb guys daring each other to take the risk.”
“Maybe we should go on the Ferris wheel instead…” Ned suggests limply, taking a subtle step back away from the line-up.
“Nope,” says Bucky, taking both kids by the shoulders and walking them straight to the back of the line. “Rite of passage, boys. Today, you become men.”
“Why can’t we just go through puberty like everyone else?!” cries Ned, forcing a laugh out of both Bucky and Peter, especially when the woman in front of them turns around and looks at Ned like he’s some raving lunatic.
“It won’t be that bad,” Bucky assures.
And he’s right.
As far as he and Peter are concerned, anyway.
“Wanna go on the Ferris wheel next?” Peter gently asks his friend as they exit the ride, whose pale, sweaty complexion vaguely reminds Bucky of the last time he forced someone onto this thing.
“Hhuunngh,” Ned groans in response, and Bucky fetches a bottle of water for the poor kid from the nearest food stand.
“Here,” Bucky says as he hands the bottle over. “If you want to just sit still for a little while, there’s a couple of benches over by the petting zoo.”
Predictably, Peter whips his head up and fixes Bucky with that thrilled, sparkly-eyed look of his. “Petting zoo?”
After Ned settles his stomach relaxing on the bench, and Peter gets his fill of playing with a herd of goats and a warren of rabbits, the three of them continue their tour of the park, Ned handling the less-extreme rides much better than he did the Cyclone.
They stock up on greasy, overpriced fair food and snacks, Peter wanting the full Coney Island Experience on his first “real” trip to the park. They walk around and play games as they eat, and Ned is consistently impressed with Peter’s knack for winning the rigged carnival games.
By the end of it, both Ned and Peter have their arms full of ugly, cheaply-made stuffed animals, and Bucky ends up carrying Peter’s gift bag from Ned and their drinks as they make their way out of the park. A man walking with three younger children makes eye contact with Bucky, gestures to all the crap he’s carrying while his kids are only holding their ice cream cones, and gives him a friendly, “What are dads for, hey?” as they pass each other, nodding to Bucky’s own full hands.
The trip back to the station where Ned has to transfer trains to get home goes by smoothly, and the boys say their goodbyes with a hug and another thank-you from Peter. Ned waves at Bucky as he gets off the train, calling out, “Bye, Peter’s dad! Thanks again for inviting me!”
Bucky waves back, and then the doors are closing and the train is moving, and he slouches appreciatively into his seat, Peter following suit, leaning against his shoulder as he fiddles with the spindly arms of his hideous monkey stuffed animal.
“Thanks for today, Bucky,” Peter says with a contented sigh, relaxing further against his side. “I had a lot of fun. This is the best birthday I’ve ever had.”
“I’m glad you had fun, kiddo,” Bucky says, lifting his arm and wrapping it around Peter so he can snuggle into him. “But it’s not quite over yet. I have another surprise for you.”
“Really?” Peter asks, looking up at him with surprise. “But… what—we did so much today?”
“Day’s not over yet,” Bucky grins, unable to hide his own bubble of excitement that swells inside of him. “We’ve still got your patrol and then training, after.”
Peter groans, turning his face into Bucky’s arm and hiding it in his sleeve. “Do we have to do training today? I think not falling off the Cyclone should count.”
Bucky chuckles, patting the kid’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, kid. Today’s a little different. It’ll be fun.”
“It’s a surprise.”
Peter accepts that answer until they get home, and then Bucky has to essentially kick him out to get him to stop asking questions.
“Go do your patrol, and when you’re done, meet me on the rooftop of 11th and 31st, okay?” Bucky says, setting Peter’s disturbing zoo of stuffed critters on the loveseat, next to his Star Wars box set.
“Okay,” Peter says, but he eyes Bucky and the room curiously, the gears turning beneath that mop of curls to try and deduce what the surprise is. “I won’t be long!”
“Sounds good, kid. Be safe.”
“You too,” Peter says, slipping his mask and goggles on and waiting until the coast is clear off the balcony before he deftly leaps onto the roof, and then he’s off.
Bucky pulls the gifts out of the secret cavity beneath the floor and places them in an empty garbage bag, slinging it over his back to carry easily as he makes his way to their rendezvous location.
It’s not much of a wrapping job, but the air of mystery and surprise will still be there when Peter opens the bag, he supposes. Bucky sets the bag down by the edge of the rooftop and then sits patiently on the railing, waiting.
He doesn’t wait long, seeing Peter come flying from blocks away. Peter lands eagerly on the railing across the roof from him, and slips off his mask as he bounds up to Bucky, eyeing the bag curiously.
“Hi,” he says, stopping in front of Bucky and the garbage bag lying at his feet.
“Hey,” Bucky smiles, warmly. “You ready?”
Peter looks up from the garbage bag and nods, excitedly. “Yep!”
“All right, then. Open it.”
Peter gives him one last quizzical look, before he bends down and lifts the mouth of the bag. Bucky smiles at the puzzled expression that crosses Peter’s face as he reaches in and pulls out a wooden bat.
“Are we…” he starts, hesitantly. “Are we gonna start weapons training now or something?”
“No,” Bucky chuckles. “There’s more inside the bag, keep going.”
Peter does, and opens the bag as wide it can to reveal the old ball and the two worn-down mitts.
“Baseball?” he asks, confused, looking up at Bucky with one eyebrow raised.
“Yeah,” Bucky says, smiling again. “I thought I could teach you how to play. Work it into the training regimen, now and then. And since summer vacation is almost here, you’ll need stuff to do all day. Going to the batting cages and trying to go a few rounds without breaking anything would be good practice at concealing your strength. We can practice on the diamonds in the meantime.”
Peter picks up one of the leather gloves, turning it over in his hands, running his fingers along the stitched seams, reverently. “This is awesome,” he practically whispers, then looks up at Bucky and grins, that beaming smile that Bucky loves so much, and jumps to his feet so he can surge forward and wrap his arms around Bucky’s neck in a tight hug.
Bucky hugs him back, warm and securely. “Happy birthday, Peter.”
“Thank you,” Peter says into his shoulder, arms tightening. “For this, and—for today. I’m really excited, this sounds like a lot of fun.”
“Yeah. So am I, kid,” Bucky says, giving him a pat on the back and then letting him go. “This stuff is in good condition, but it’s still used, so it doesn’t really matter if one of us accidentally uses our super strength and shatters the ball or something.”
Peter stills for a moment, an odd look flashing across his face, but then it’s gone, as quickly as it came. Bucky opens his mouth to ask what’s up, but Peter holds the glove out to him and asks, “Can we play now?”
The hopeful tone in the kid’s voice interrupts Bucky’s plan of asking, and the man smiles and takes the glove, ruffling Peter’s hair with his metal hand. “Sure thing, kiddo.”
Bucky collapses exhaustedly on the loveseat when they arrive back home, and Peter is quick to follow, sprawling on top of his sleeping bag beside the man, knocking most of the stuffed monstrosities to the floor.
“Hey, uhm,” Peter starts a few minutes later, a little nervously. “I’ve been wondering something. I know it’s not—I know you said, you can’t talk about what—what happened after the war, but—I just wanna know, you’re… you’re like me, right?”
Bucky blinks, brows furrowing slightly in confusion as he turns and looks at the boy. “Like you?”
“Yeah, you know… enhanced.”
Frowning, Bucky turns his face away in hopes that Peter won’t see the way his jaw has tightened at the question. This isn’t exactly the conversation he wants to be having after the great day they had, and certainly not on a day that’s supposed to be about celebrating Peter, but—
He sighs, giving the boy a small nod, not wanting to open his mouth and say something he can’t take back, give the kid too much information, put him even more at risk.
“I knew it,” Peter whispers, his eyes wide and full of admiration. “I knew you were a superhero.”
Bucky huffs a humorless laugh, more caught off guard than anything, and bows his head slightly as incredulity fills him. “I’m no hero, kid.”
“But—you’re enhanced,” says Peter, insistently, voice soft and unwavering. “And you’re—you were friends with Captain America, and he’s, like, the ultimate superhero. And your arm—”
“None of those things make me a hero,” Bucky says, swallowing thickly. His nerves feel like they’re on fire, burning uncomfortably from listening to Peter sing his praises, without knowing anything about him at all, how wrong he is, how backwards. It fills him with immense guilt and even more shame, to know that he’s lying to Peter by omission, letting the kid believe he’s a better man than he is, that he’s good.
That he’s like Peter.
The kid seems to pick up on his discomfort, and says, more gently, but no less adamantly, “You save people, that’s what makes you a hero. Isn’t that why you joined the Howling Commandos?”
Unintentionally, Bucky tightens his hand into a fist, leaning forward to rest on his knees. Things like this are the hardest to remember; how he felt about things, decades ago, his drives, his motivations. He’s spent so many years thinking only in facts, in events and their outcomes, choices and their consequences. The result of joining Steve’s team as his Sergeant, and not the cause, the reason lost to him, now.
He doesn’t know how to answer Peter, so he sighs and gives him the half-truth, a cop-out. “I don’t know.”
Peter regards him quietly, observing him in that soft, sincere way of his, wise beyond his years, his dark eyes searching Bucky’s face as if reading him, as if he can tell how the man is feeling just by the sight of him.
“Do you regret it?” the boy suddenly asks, gently, his voice small but still endlessly curious. “Following Captain America, I mean.”
Bucky stiffens. Deep down, some ancient, slumbering part of himself roars to life with a determined and deafening no, so insulted by the idea that he could ever regret following Steve anywhere.
But the rest of him, the “newer” parts of himself, the pieces that have been forcibly assembled to make him who he is now, instead of who he used to be, all come together and mourn, angrily. It’s not regret, but it’s just as insidious, just as overbearing, more akin to sorrow and shame. To despair.
The only thing Bucky regrets is surviving that fall.
He sighs, unable to bring himself to look at Peter. “A lot of good people would still be alive if I hadn’t,” he admits, then instantly wishes he hadn’t, knowing he’s opened the floodgate for Peter now, invited him to ask for clarification, getting closer and closer to the truth, about him, about Hydra.
But Peter says nothing for a long moment. Then, unsurely, like he doesn’t know if he should or not, he looks up at Bucky and says, very quietly, “I wouldn’t.”
Bucky turns and looks at him, struck by the implication of what the boy just said, and Peter gazes back up at him with his dark, hopeful eyes, so unbearably trusting. Panic wells inside of him with a devastating force, knowing that Peter is right, that if Bucky hadn’t been there that night, that guy would have taken Peter from him before Bucky even met him.
Agony spears Bucky open right through the middle, at that thought. What would have happened if he hadn’t been there, if he’d gone down a different street that night, not even turning his head at the sound of a gun firing a few blocks away, if he had minded his own business and gone straight home, not caring at all for the child he had just lost, without even realizing it.
That if he didn’t have this arm—this thing that used to only be a weapon of Hydra—he might not have been able to save this kid.
He never would have known Peter at all.
Peter picks up on the lost, speechless discourse surging through Bucky, like he always does, and tries to give him a reassuring expression, his smile gentle and comforting as he says, “Even if bad things happened to you… even if you did bad things… that doesn’t make the good things you’ve done any less good, Bucky. It doesn’t make you any less of a hero.”
Bucky shakes his head, wanting to change the subject, but the guilt and the shame and the desire for Peter to know that he’s wrong about him are too much, and he closes his eyes with a depressed sigh. “I see a lot of things when I look at myself, kid,” his voice deepens, grows rougher, spiteful in spite of himself. “But I don’t see a hero.”
Peter’s voice is small and sweet and a little sad.
When Bucky meets his eyes this time, Peter smiles at him, shyly, his expression soft and full of love. Anguish and a fierce, unbreakable feeling of affection for this kid next to him fills Bucky, and he lays his metal hand on the boy’s shoulder and pulls him in, wrapping it around his back, holding him to his chest.
I’ll never let anything happen to you, Bucky mentally promises him, his hand tightening in the back of Peter’s hoodie as he hugs him tighter. His eyes clench shut, trying to keep the emotions at bay, scared that if he gives in now to the temptation of letting Peter see him fall apart, he’ll never be able to go back. He has to hold it together, not just for himself, not for his own survival, but for his child.
He’ll do anything to be the hero Peter needs him to be.
Not shown in this chapter: Bucky proving to Ned he's capable of doing a bicep curl while holding a teenager, which leads to him walking around Coney Island with Peter on one arm and Ned on the other, curling them like dumbbells to the confusion of the general inhabitants of Brooklyn.
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Until next time!
Chapter 7: And The World Is Watching
Hey guys, once again I'd just like to say—thank you so damn much for the love you've shown this story. Every comment, kudos, bookmark, tumblr message—you have no idea how much they mean to me, and I am so incredibly grateful for all your support! I had no idea this guilty-pleasure fic would be this insanely popular, hahaha. You're all amazing!
I hope you enjoy this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Tighten your grip more. If you swing too loose, the bat will fall right out of your hands.”
Peter listens, repositioning his hands on the grip, looking back and forth between the handle and Bucky as the man waits to pitch. Bucky idly tosses the ball up and down with one hand as he instructs Peter into the right position, coaching his stance.
“Relax your shoulders,” Bucky says, catching the ball again. “You won’t be able to swing very wide if you’re all hunched up like that.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing,” Peter grimaces, glancing behind Bucky at the rest of the park, filled with people enjoying the warmth and sunshine, just as they are. “I feel like I’m holding a rocket launcher. What if I hit somebody?”
Bucky smiles, crouching into his own stance to prepare to pitch. “You won’t, because you’re going to concentrate on controlling your strength and keeping the ball in the field. Right?”
“Right,” Peter says, sounding anything but confident.
“You can do it,” Bucky assures, winding up the throw. Peter braces himself, bat at the ready, and Bucky focuses on pitching it to him gently at the barrel height of the bat. The kid swings, and the familiar, wooden clap of the bat hitting the ball resonates between them.
Peter raises his hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he stares out into the field, searching for the ball. “Oh, crap, where did it go? Did it leave the park?”
“Not… quite,” says Bucky, biting his lip to stifle a laugh as he gestures to the ground, two feet in front of Peter. “I think you were concentrating a little too much, pal.”
Peter gapes down at the ball incredulously, then gives Bucky a disbelieving, pouting frown that does make the man laugh out loud, this time. Bucky steps forward and picks up the ball, giving Peter a comforting pat on the shoulder as he says, “It just takes practice, kid. There’s nothing wrong with holding back, but learning to control how much of your strength you’re using at any given time will come in handy, trust me.”
“So do you think I’m ready for my Yankees audition?”
“With a swing like that? Yeah, actually.” Bucky grins, pre-emptively. “I’m sure you’ll ace it.”
Peter groans, covering his face with his hands like Bucky’s joke caused him tangible, physical pain. Bucky laughs again, ushering Peter back into place as he steps back to prepare for another pitch.
“Just work your way up,” Bucky tells him as he winds up another throw. “Swing the bat just a little harder this time, and a little harder the next time, until you find the right amount of force to get some distance without breaking anything. We’ll worry about accuracy and trajectory later.”
“Got it,” Peter nods, and this time, when he hits the ball, it actually does get sent flying—not exactly home run material, but at least Bucky has to actually move to go and pick it up again.
“Hey, uhm,” Peter starts, hesitantly, waiting patiently until Bucky walks back over with the ball. “So, uhh… I only have two exams left until school is over, and then, uh—well, next week is the graduation ceremony, and they’re—they do this awards thing where they give medals to the honor students from every grade, and I, uhm, apparently I’m going to get two, f-for having the top marks in both my grade and the school overall, so…”
Peter looks up at him, shyly, face red in embarrassment, or nervousness, or both.
“I was wondering if… you’d come? To the ceremony?”
Bucky stops, ball in hand as he gazes down at Peter in surprise. The kid’s cheeks redden further the longer Bucky stares at him, until Bucky snaps out of it with a slight shake of his head, frowning as he says, “What are you saying, kid? Of course I’ll be there.”
Peter blinks, eyes widening with his own surprise as he blurts, “You—really? You don’t mind?”
“You know I don’t really like crowds,” Bucky admits with a slight shrug. “But this is a special occasion. You’ve worked really hard, Peter. You deserve to get recognized for that.” He hands Peter the ball, patting the top of the boy’s head once his hands are free. “Besides, someone’s gotta be there to scare off all those creepy, rich parents who are probably going to stand there, throwing money at you, like that will somehow make their own dumbass kids smarter.”
Peter laughs, leaning in to Bucky’s side with his ball and bat in hand as Bucky puts an arm around his shoulder, leading him out of the park and back toward their apartment.
“Are you sure your boss won’t mind? I mean, it’s during the day, so…”
Bucky huffs a small laugh. “I thought Frank’s wife was chatty, but ever since I told him about you? Guy doesn’t shut up about it. I don’t think he totally believes that you actually exist. So if I told him I needed the afternoon off for your graduation, I think he’d be thrilled.”
The kid giggles again, his eyes lighting up brilliantly beneath the sunshine as he says, “Hey, I can finally show you my school! Our robotics lab is really awesome. I can show you the prosthetics display we have!”
“Just as long as you don’t try and add me to it,” Bucky jokes, dropping his hand from Peter’s shoulder and giving him an affectionate flick to the back of the head, instead.
True to Bucky’s word, Frank doesn’t mind at all that he asks for the afternoon off to attend Peter’s award ceremony.
“You tell him congratulations for me,” his boss says as Bucky dons his sweater to leave. “And tell him to stop by sometime if he’s got nothing to do during the day. I wanna meet him.”
I can tell, Bucky internally laments, giving his boss a polite nod as he says, “I’ll let him know. See you tomorrow.”
Frank says his goodbyes as Bucky leaves, making the journey to Peter’s school in record time, unable to slow his pace as his nerves and uncertainty flare up. He knows a big, affluent high school graduation isn’t exactly the likeliest place for him to run into trouble, but still. Knowing he’ll be surrounded by strangers on all sides sets him on edge, as it always does.
The ceremony is held in the auditorium, packed with parents, students and faculty alike, all crowding around the large stage that takes up most of the gymnasium floor as the bleachers are filled wall-to-wall with parents holding pamphlets. Bucky chooses the corner closest to the exits to stand in, his back to the wall so he can survey the crowd before him, more for peace of mind than anything; the last thing he wants is for an unexpected, harmless surprise to trigger his shaky nerves and ruin Peter’s big day.
He positions himself so that there’s no way someone could sneak up on him, while still ensuring he can see the stage, and then he waits. Presenters come and go as the ceremony progresses—the principal, the guest speaker, the student body representative—all giving samey, feel-good speeches that earn polite, scattered applause among the audience. Finally, a woman takes the microphone and begins to announce the awards for the honor roll students, and of course, because Peter is incredible and Bucky is incredibly unlucky, the top award is saved for last.
He is pleasantly surprised, though, when halfway through announcing the freshmen awards, Ned’s name is called and the boy proudly walks across the stage, waving the medal hanging around his neck to his family waiting for him at the bottom of the ramp. Bucky claps for him, smiling, but an odd feeling of dread swirls inside his stomach as he watches Ned step onto the gymnasium floor and get swarmed by his adoring family, all hugging and praising him as cameras flash incessantly all around them, Ned beaming as he’s cherished from every angle, without any hint of doubt.
The kid deserves it, of course he does, and Bucky is glad to see the kind of loving environment that surrounds Ned, but his heart also aches painfully at the sight, knowing that Peter deserves that, too, and that Bucky can’t give it to him. It won’t be the same, Peter stepping off that stage to find only Bucky waiting for him, no gifts, no photos, no downpour of praise; nothing that every single other kid here will get, not all of them as deserving of it as Ned, none of them as deserving of it as Peter.
Bucky swallows the indignation in his throat as he slowly makes his way down the aisle of the bleachers, spying Peter off to the side of the stage, preparing to step onto the platform and receive his awards. Bucky stops several feet from the bottom of the ramp, out of the eyes of all the cameras pointed to it, and waits as the announcer beams and sings Peter’s praises admiringly, grinning as she recounts what a pleasure he is to have in class, how he has earned these awards of excellence with the highest honors.
To Bucky’s shock and satisfaction, the woman’s speech is actually met with enthusiastic applause from behind him, and even from some of the students in front of him—all clapping as loudly and as proudly as he is as Peter walks across the stage to receive both of his medals, blushing furiously as both the announcer and the principal warmly congratulate him.
A helplessly-wide grin spreads across Bucky’s face as Peter starts descending the ramp and sees him, the kid’s eyes lighting up, the way they always do for him, when he spots Bucky in the crowd. Peter grins back, his tie endearingly crooked, tangled in the straps of his medals as he bounds down the ramp, headed straight for Bucky.
But before he can so much as put one foot on the gymnasium floor, Peter is surrounded by people on all sides, all talking at once, trying to shake his hand, take his picture, shove business cards at him with unchecked enthusiasm. Bucky loses sight of him behind the wall of determined strangers—parents, most likely—who have Peter boxed in against the bottom of the stage like he’s a celebrity.
Bucky starts moving forward with the intent of carving his way through the obnoxious mob that has his kid cornered, when another camera flash in front of him halts him in his tracks. He freezes, watching as photographers move closer, snapping photos of everything surrounding Peter to try and get the best shot. The group of adults finally give him a little room as Peter maneuvers through them, searching for Bucky, and a stab of shame hits the man right in the gut.
Peter looks overwhelmed, face flushed and senses undoubtedly inundated by all the commotion around him. He looks very different from the boy who was smiling at him only minutes ago, and Bucky grits his teeth, cursing himself for letting Peter get bombarded like that, just because he was too unnerved to step in front of a flashing camera.
Relief floods the kid’s face when he sees him again, and Bucky stays rooted in his shame-filled corner as Peter beelines for him, effectively dodging another attempt to steal his attention with a polite, slightly frantic, “Oh, uhm, I’m sorry, my—my dad’s waiting for me,” as he ducks underneath another hand handing him a business card.
Bucky releases a tense breath when the cameras don’t follow Peter over to him, and he takes his hands out of his pockets and opens his arms wide as Peter surges forward into them, wrapping his own around Bucky’s center and squeezing him, his frantic heartbeat thudding wildly against Bucky’s abdomen.
“I’m so proud of you,” he says as he holds the boy tighter, feeling his slight form sag gratefully into his chest, the stress leaving his small body as Bucky wraps him securely in his arms. “You did great, Peter. I’m so damn proud.”
Peter’s face is smushed against his chest, so when he replies, the words come out as a muffled mess that he’s pretty sure are supposed to be, “Thanks, Bucky,” before Peter pulls back, happy and exhausted and finally looking a little calmer.
Bucky brushes a lock of curls out of the boy’s eyes and asks, “What do you want to do? Want to hang around here for a bit and say hi to your friends? Or we could take that tour of the school like you wanted. Up to you, kiddo.”
“Actually…” Peter starts, his voice quiet and a little strained. “Can we maybe save the tour for next time? This is all kinda a little much.” He pulls back, rests his hands over his stomach, his face still a little pink. “Plus… I’m hungry.”
Smiling, Bucky ruffles his hair and steers both of them toward the doors without a drop of hesitation. “Whatever you say, kid. Want to stop by Delmar’s, head home and watch Star Wars?”
“Yes!” Peter grins, the medals around his neck shining in the sunlight as they step outside, the same bright, golden light reflecting in his eyes.
The first week of Peter’s summer vacation goes by incredibly fast.
Bucky finds that, with nothing to occupy him during the day, Peter is excessively hyperactive and talkative when Bucky gets home. He goes on longer patrols as Spider-Man, staying out for the better part of the entire day sometimes, but that’s still not enough to burn all of his pent-up energy, so Bucky finds himself training the kid much more vigorously than he was previously. He spends hours making the kid run, sometimes racing him, sometimes just forcing him to build endurance. They spar for hours, Bucky coaching Peter on how to disarm and incapacitate an opponent twice his size, and while Peter shows promise in hand-to-hand combat, he shines most brightly in the training they do with his webs.
“Ready?” Bucky asks, baseball in hand as Peter lifts the bat. The wind is cool and sharp up on the building’s roof, several stories high in the air, the heat of early summer doing nothing to keep them warm now that the sun has set.
Peter tinkers with his web-shooters slightly, then readies the bat as he nods at Bucky. “Ready.”
Bucky aims, building up a substantial amount of force in his arm before he throws the ball. It hurls toward Peter, who hits it with a clean and easy ping, sending it flying across the rooftop and above the road below.
“Come on, you can do it!” Bucky says encouragingly as Peter takes off running, his mask and goggles pulled over his face as he lifts his wrists and fires rapidly after the ball.
He has to swing to the building beside the one they’re on to get close enough to successfully shoot the ball with his webs, and then he lands on the side of the building across the road and begins to scale up it, ball securely in hand as he climbs the side of the structure all the way to the top.
He swings again to return to the building Bucky is waiting on, flipping and landing gracefully in front of the man, holding the ball out to him with a grin that Bucky can discern even from under his mask.
“That was a close one,” Peter says as Bucky takes the ball. “I’m getting faster, though! It didn’t even get halfway to the street.”
“I saw,” Bucky praises with a small smile.
Peter pulls off his mask, grinning. “Still think I have a shot at making Rookie of the Year?”
“If you play for the Red Sox, maybe.”
The kid laughs, walking back over to where he left his bat. They do the same exercise several more times, each time Peter hitting the ball harder and sending it farther and farther to try and see if he can catch it with his webs before it hits the ground, or another building.
He’ll never say it out loud, but Bucky can’t help but feel like he’s playing fetch with a puppy to try and wear it out after it’s been cooped up indoors all day.
Especially because it takes hours of this exercise for Peter to successfully burn off all of his energy, his web-shooters completely drained of fluid by the time he sleepily smiles and says, “I’m getting kinda tired,” when he brings the ball back for what feels like the thousandth time.
“We’ve been at it for hours, kid,” says Bucky agreeably, sticking the ball into his pocket and then bending over to grab the bat while Peter changes into his normal clothes. “Let’s get you home and into bed. I have to be up early tomorrow for work.”
“That Honda still giving you trouble?” Peter asks as he pulls on his sweater, lifting his backpack onto his shoulder as he jogs to catch up with Bucky, already heading for the stairs.
“Nah,” Bucky says as they leave the rooftop. “Got that done, but I’m working on sort of a pet project at the moment. Frank brought in an old Yamaha that I’m fixing up on the side.”
Peter’s face scrunches up in thought. “What kind of car is that?”
Chuckling, Bucky shakes his head slightly as he says, “Not a car, kid, it’s a bike.”
The kid’s face lights up, his eyes growing wide and bright as he excitedly exclaims, “Hey, you wanted one of those! Is Mr. Descartes going to sell it when you’re done fixing it?”
“He might,” he says as they leave the building, stepping out onto the much-warmer sidewalk. “It might not be worth much though, even when I get it road-worthy. It was a scrapyard salvage.”
“I wanna see!” says Peter, still bubbling with excitement. “You said you’d teach me how to drive one someday, right? Can I come by and look at it?”
“Ride, not drive,” Bucky corrects, smiling exasperatedly. “And sure, I don’t see why not. Frank keeps breathing down my neck about meeting you, anyway.”
“Yay!” Peter cheers, no longer sounding tired in the slightest. Maybe he should have made him do a few laps before they left the roof. “Can I come by tomorrow?”
“I’ll be leaving before you get up,” Bucky says, shooting Peter a look, teasing him for how late he’s been sleeping in ever since summer break started. “But when you’re up and about, sure. I’ll be in the shop all day.”
“Okay,” Peter says, burying his face in the crook of his elbow to stifle a large yawn, his burst of energy apparently over with, for now.
Bucky smiles, wraps an arm around the boy’s shoulders, pulls him in close. “Come on, kid,” he says as they head down the street together. “Let’s get you home.”
“So what time is your boy showing up?” Frank asks in his deep, gruff voice from somewhere behind Bucky, who is lying on his back on an old, rickety creeper, mostly-hidden beneath a jacked-up Kia. The man’s voice echoes against the concrete floor throughout the shop, booming even though Bucky’s pretty sure he’s on the other side of the room.
“Anytime now,” Bucky says, rolling out from under the vehicle and squinting as the bright shop lights hit him in the face. “I told him to just swing by when he gets up, but he’s probably sleeping in.”
Frank grunts, giving him an unimpressed look as he checks his watch. “It’s noon already. You run a loose ship, Barnes.”
“He’s on vacation,” he says, defensively, cleaning the black grease off his hands with the rag that’s looped through his belt strap. “And even when he’s not, I don’t need to run a tight ship. Nobody works harder than my kid.”
Frank shoots him a look that clearly says, I’ll be the judge of that, before grabbing the file he came in for from the cabinet and exiting to the door to the dealership. Bucky gives his head a slight shake with a small, tired smile, before pulling out his crappy cellphone and confirming that is, indeed, already noon.
Bucky frowns, but he isn’t exactly worried. After all, he did tell the kid to stop by whenever, telling him he would be at the shop all day. Maybe Peter decided to do his patrol first. Or, more likely, he got sidetracked on the way here by a group of dog-walkers, and is going to show up completely disheveled and covered in hair, and Bucky will have to hose him off before he lets his judgmental boss meet him.
The thought makes Bucky huff a small laugh, and he goes back to work while only half paying attention to the time creeping by. The afternoon drags on slowly as he keeps stealing glances at his phone, wondering where Peter is, if he got caught up in trouble or, most likely, made some new animal friend somewhere and completely lost track of time. Bucky stays calm and unworried until 3:00 P.M. hits, and then the anxiety festers, hot and disruptive in the pit of his stomach.
Sighing, Bucky pulls out his cellphone again and quickly punches in Peter’s number. There’s only a couple of hours until his shift is over, and Peter should have been here by now—and even if the boy is simply planning to come at the end of the day instead, touching base with him won’t hurt. At least Bucky will be able to finish the rest of his day with a clear head and a calm stomach.
But the phone just rings, and rings, and rings. Bucky grips the device tightly in his hand, his anxiety raging. Peter knows better than to turn his cellphone off; he knows there might come a time when Bucky needs to get a hold of him instantly. Why the hell isn’t he answering?
Maybe he’s on the train, reasons the logical part of his brain, hopefully. Maybe it’s loud and crowded and he can’t hear it vibrating in his pocket. But no, that doesn’t make sense—even if Peter was completely overwhelmed by other sounds around him, he would still feel the phone on his person, feel the vibrations through his clothing. There’s no way he wouldn’t feel it ringing—
—which means he can’t answer it.
Bucky grits his teeth, forcing himself to take a deep breath and pocket his phone. He can’t keep doing this every time Peter is “lost.” There are bound to be times when he can’t find or get a hold of the kid—hell, how many times has it happened already, in the few months they’ve been living together? And Peter’s always been fine, every single time. This time will be no different.
He forces himself to continue working, head down and body tense, until only half an hour remains of his shift, and then Bucky gives up, throwing the rag off his belt and making a break for the door. Peter should have been here by now. He should have called to say something came up. Unless he couldn’t.
Hands clenched into tight fists, Bucky makes it halfway across the room to the door when, abruptly, it opens. Sharon, Frank’s wife, steps through and grins widely at Bucky, her face bright and cheerful.
“Jim, darling,” she calls in a singsong voice, stepping aside and holding the door open. “Your son is here!”
The tension turns to lead inside Bucky’s body, weighing him down as all of his muscles grow heavy from the strain leaving them. Peter peeks his head in, shyly, but smiles widely when their eyes meet, stepping through the doorway and heading straight for him.
Bucky has half a mind to demand, where the hell have you been, when the question catches in his throat, his mind blanking for a moment at the sight of Peter’s outfit. The kid is wearing his only pair of jeans that don’t have frayed edges or faded colors; his white, button-down shirt and the deep blue sweater pulled over it are perfectly straight—not hanging off him haphazardly, like his clothing usually does—the sleeves rolled up to his forearms to give the whole thing a spiffier, cleaner look. His sneakers are whiter than usual, as though he washed them.
It’s such a stark contrast from how he normally dresses—old, ripped-up jeans and his usual red, baggy hoodie—that Bucky loses his train of thought for a moment. The only other time he’s seen Peter dressed up was for his award ceremony last week; other than that, the kid never seemed to really care about his appearance, and while the change isn’t necessarily a bad one, Bucky is struck speechless by the sight of his kid looking so… grown up.
“Hey!” Peter greets, still grinning as he stops in front of Bucky. “Guess what!”
From the corner of his eye, Bucky sees Frank join his wife at the door, watching them, but he can’t take his gaze away from the bizarre sight of Peter’s outfit as he numbly asks, “What?”
Peter’s grin stretches even wider, his cheeks reddening slightly. “I got a job!”
If Bucky thought he was speechless a moment ago, the words that just left Peter’s mouth have him utterly blindsided. “You—what?”
Peter gestures down at himself, at his neat, clean clothes, then smiles up at Bucky again. “Yeah. Well, I thought, uhm—I thought being at home all day would kind of drive me crazy, so—I got dressed up and went to Mr. Delmar’s, and asked if he needed any help with the store over the summer. It’s only part-time, but he said yes!” His eyes light up with excitement and pride, his cheeks still tinted pink. “So I’m gonna be helping him for a few hours in the evenings and during the days on weekends, if that’s—is that okay?”
Snapping back to reality, Bucky shakes off the shock and immediately returns the kid’s smile, stepping forward and pulling him into a short hug. “Of course, kid. This is—hell, I’m proud of you. Is this why you didn’t answer your phone?”
Peter’s face pales a little as he pulls back, his eyes widening. “Oh, crap, I—I’m sorry!” He pulls his cellphone out of his back pocket, opening it and pressing several buttons as he says, “I put it on silent while I was talking to Mr. Delmar, ‘cause I wanted to be polite—and then I totally forgot to turn it back up! Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Bucky says with a small, relieved sigh, giving the boy’s shoulder a light pat. “Just… try and remember next time, yeah? You know how I get when I don’t know where you are.”
“Yeah,” Peter nods, eyes downcast and remorseful. “Sorry, B—” he starts to say, and then his eyes dart over to where Frank and Sharon are standing, so quickly that Bucky almost misses it, and he catches himself at the last second, “—Dad.”
“It’s all right,” Bucky says, forcing the words to sound normal, natural, though his chest has gone painfully tight at hearing Peter call him Dad for the very first time. “Hey, come on, cheer up. Your first job!”
“And you just turned fifteen, isn’t that right?” Frank says, walking over to them as he gives Peter an approving nod. “That’s some good work ethic, son. You take after your dad, huh?”
Bucky isn’t sure whose face goes redder, his or Peter’s—but the kid manages to pull himself together and politely says, “Thanks, Mr. Descartes,” as he smiles, sheepishly. “I hope I do.”
Bucky can’t help the fond, warm expression he knows crosses his face at that. God, his kid is the cutest thing in the world. He’s grateful Peter isn’t looking at him and can’t see the undoubtedly-sappy look on his face, but then Bucky glances up and sees Sharon grinning at him, knowingly, and he purses his lips and looks away in embarrassment, so Sharon takes pity on him and says, “Why don’t you show him around, Jim?”
“Oh, uh,” he says, caught off guard, but quickly regaining composure. “Right. Come on, kid. I’ll give you the grand tour.”
“Mrs. Descartes already showed me the dealership,” Peter says as he follows him out of the shop, into the medium-sized wreckage lot behind the building. Bucky shows him all the cars he’ll be rebuilding, the newest ones towed in from the salvage yard, and then finally, the skinny white Yamaha he hid beneath an old blue tarp.
“Wow,” Peter says, running his hand over the handlebars. “It’s kind of smaller than I expected.”
“It’s a thinner model,” Bucky says, steadying the bike off its kickstand as Peter throws his leg over the seat. “Perfect size for you to learn on, actually.”
Peter gets comfortable on the bike, shifting his weight slightly as he pretends to steer the engine-less motorcycle. “Will you teach me someday?”
“Someday,” Bucky assures, letting go so Peter can try and balance the bike upright by himself. “When do you start working with Delmar?”
“Tomorrow,” Peter says as he dismounts the bike. “Uhm, I’ll be gone by the time you get home from work.”
Bucky nods, throwing the tarp back over the bike after Peter sets it on its kickstand again. “You’d better get an employee discount.”
Peter laughs, wrapping his arm around Bucky’s side as the man takes him by the shoulder and steers him back through the shop. “You introduced yourself to Frank and his wife, yeah?”
“Yeah,” says Peter, nodding. “They’re really nice.” His face suddenly goes a deep shade of red, all the way to the tips of his ears hidden beneath his curls. “Mrs. Descartes got really excited when I asked for you. I think you were right—they totally didn’t think I actually existed.”
“What’d I tell you?” Bucky says, scowling slightly, perfectly picturing the way Sharon probably squealed and said something horribly humiliating like Oh, you must be Jim’s baby, to the absolute embarrassment of both of them. “I’m surprised they haven’t asked for a copy of your birth certificate yet.”
Giggling, Peter waits patiently as Bucky cleans up his work area and pulls his sweater on so they can head home. They poke their heads into the dealership to wish Frank and Sharon a good night, and the woman smiles warmly and pats Peter’s shoulder as she invites him to come back and visit anytime. Bucky’s marginally surprised when he looks up and sees Frank nodding, agreeing with his wife.
After their polite goodbyes, the two start heading home, Peter instantly rambling about how excited he is for his first day at his first job. Bucky is quiet and listens, patiently, waiting for an appropriate break in Peter’s spiel to ask, “What time does he want you there until?”
“Uhh,” Peter says, thinking it over. “I think he said until seven or so?”
Nodding, Bucky ruffles the kid’s hair and says, “How about I pick you up and take you out to celebrate?”
Peter’s eyes light up, and then a playful, slightly mischievous smile crosses his face as he says, “But we always go to Delmar’s to celebrate.”
Bucky smiles, affectionately flicking the back of Peter’s head. “Make us dinner to take out, then. I’ll take you anywhere you want to go after.”
“Can we…” Peter starts, shyly, his smile small and hopeful. “Can we maybe head to the park, then? And… play catch?”
Bucky raises an eyebrow at him, but before he can say anything, Peter adds, “Not—not training catch. Real catch.”
“Sure, kid, I got you those mitts for a reason,” he says as he pats Peter’s head again, fondly. “Dinner and then catch in the park. Sounds great to me.”
“Yeah,” Peter says, grinning. “Me, too.”
Sure enough, when Bucky walks into Delmar’s bodega the next night, he finds Peter behind the counter, helping another employee stock the beverage display. The boy looks up as the bell chimes above the door, and grins when he sees him, that familiar, I’m-so-happy-to-see-you smile that Bucky is simultaneously not used to and not sure he could live without, at this point.
Peter says his goodbyes to Delmar and his new coworkers while Bucky orders their dinner, and then they’re on their way to the park, Peter’s mouth going a mile a minute as he joyfully recounts his first day of work, even though it was only four hours. Bucky smiles as he listens, the kid’s enthusiasm contagious as Peter babbles and bolsters about how much he’s looking forward to this new and exciting experience.
“Mr. Delmar said the only thing he isn’t gonna train me on is actually making the sandwiches,” Peter says with a small shrug. “I’m pretty sure it’s because I don’t have any, like, kitchen credentials or anything, but he said if he gave me the recipes to his sandwiches, he’d lose his best cus—”
Abruptly, Peter stops, dead in his tracks, and Bucky turns around curiously, a joke about Peter being grateful that Delmar will never have to witness his lack of cooking skills still clinging to his lips, but it evaporates when he notices the wildly-panicked look on the boy’s face.
“Pete?” Bucky asks, cautiously, reaching a hand out for the boy’s shoulder. “Hey, Peter? What’s wrong—”
Suddenly, the shrill, desperate honking of a vehicle barreling down the highway beside them interrupts Bucky and startles them both, and Peter dashes into the alleyway next to them and ducks behind a dumpster as he starts furiously throwing on his Spider-Man uniform.
“Peter,” Bucky starts, advancing on the kid who runs past him, throwing his backpack and their bag of sandwiches onto the alley floor as he runs after the out-of-control vehicle with a loud and frantic, “I have to help!”
“Peter!” Bucky calls, but he’s too late; Peter webs himself up into the air and starts racing down the highway, swinging desperately after the runaway vehicle.
Shit, Bucky curses, taking off running after the boy, dodging around shocked spectators all staring wide-eyed as the vehicle—a fucking city bus, of all things—heads straight for a crowded, busy intersection, going way too fast, the horn blaring urgently as the bus gains speed, never slowing down, even though its brake lights are on.
Bucky runs behind it, behind Peter, who swings as fast as he can to get in front of the bus, to Bucky’s horror. He can’t do anything but watch as Peter lands on the road in front of the careening vehicle, between it and another car stuck in the intersection, and braces himself as best he can to be hit by the massive contraption full force.
It’s as if time slows down for Bucky in that moment. He isn’t fast enough to get there, isn’t fast enough to stop it or push Peter out of the way as he lifts his hands and catches the bus that hits him head-on, pushing him back several feet from the force of it, effectively pinning him between itself and the car behind him, which doesn’t even rock from the impact, Peter stopping it, just in time.
Bucky can see Peter’s chest heaving from the effort, and the boy flattens both of his hands on the grill of the bus and pushes, creating enough room that he can wiggle out from between it and the car, to the uproarious applause of every pedestrian on all four corners of the intersection.
The sound is like static to Bucky’s ears, though, and he pushes past every single person standing between him and his kid, not caring at all how much strength is behind each desperate shove as he beelines straight for the boy still gasping for breath in the middle of the road.
“Kid,” Bucky calls, desperately, not recognizing the panicked sound of his own voice as he takes Peter by the shoulders, barely restraining himself from ripping the mask off his face, needing to see him, see that he’s okay. “Kid, hey, look at me—are you all right?”
Peter looks up, nodding once, dazed, still too out of breath to speak. Bucky’s hands tighten painfully around his shoulders. He wants to scream; wants to bare his teeth and demand to know what the fuck the kid was thinking, if he had any reservations whatsoever about jumping in front of a runaway bus, but the slight tremble in the kid’s frame diffuses some of his terrified anger, and Bucky heaves a somewhat-relieved sigh and pulls the kid hard against his chest, wrapping his arms around Peter’s shoulders and squeezing, tightly, just to feel his heart still beating inside that small torso, hammering wildly against Bucky’s own.
Peter’s shaking hands come up and fist in Bucky’s jacket, hugging him back, and it’s then that Bucky hears the sea of commotion all around them—the talking, the opening and shutting of car doors, the sirens in the distance that are steadily growing louder. Bucky glances around them and finds the whole world watching, every single pedestrian staring at them with wide, round eyes, almost all of them holding up their phones, pointed directly at them.
Bucky freezes under what feels like a thousand gazes, and Peter chooses that moment to look up, sees the crowd of people all watching them with their phones raised, too, and he flinches backward out of Bucky’s arms, vaulting over the car behind him and then shooting a web as high as he can to swing up off the street and onto a roof, and then he’s gone.
The people all turn in the direction Peter went, pointing their phones and their cameras after him, and Bucky swallows thickly and takes advantage of the opportunity to backtrack to the alley where Peter left his bag, his arms and legs feeling numb as he grabs their belongings and begins the long walk home, alone.
Thank you so much for reading!! Hope you all enjoyed this tamer chapter. Real quick, I'd like to answer a couple of FAQs about this story:
"When is Steve/Tony/literally anyone else showing up?"
Soon!! We're very close to being done the fluffy world-building chapters. If it makes you guys feel any better, I was completely wrong in my predictions back in chapter one for how long this story is going to be—we're only about a quarter of the way through it.
"Is this entire fic just Peter and Bucky doing random shit in Queens?"
Nope but in a few chapters you'll wish it was :^)
"When are you going to update???"
Next chapter is already done and being edited, so hella soon!! If you want to get notified as soon as it goes up, go ahead and follow me on tumblr!
Thank you again, darlings! <3 I love you guys.
Chapter 8: Sick
Thank you so much for all the warm responses on the last chapter, you guys! Here's the next installment. I hope you enjoy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Bucky arrives back home, he finds Peter groaning on the loveseat, a frozen bag of tater tots lodged beneath his shirt, against his ribs. Peter looks up at him when he enters, his expression guarded and worried, and presses the bag harder against his side, which is undoubtedly bruised from where the bus pinned him.
Seeing the kid in pain only derails Bucky for a second, before he feels the same swell of anger from before rear its ugly head with a vengeance. He doesn’t mask the displeased frown on his face as he approaches the loveseat.
“What the hell were you thinking?”
Peter looks up at him, eyes widening slightly at Bucky’s livid tone, and opens his mouth to reply, but Bucky cuts him off, before he can. “I’m not angry at you for helping those people, but fucking hell, kid, we need to work on your gut reactions, if the best idea you had was to jump in front of a moving bus like that. Did you even think before you almost got yourself killed? You didn’t, did you?”
“I did!” Peter protests, moving to sit up slightly, then wincing from the pain in his ribs and sliding back down again. “I did think about it, I—my webs wouldn’t have been strong enough to stop it in time, there was no other choice. I thought that, even if I couldn’t catch it, maybe I could slow it down enough so that nobody got hurt.”
“Except you,” Bucky hisses, the anger bubbling up once again. “You’re damn lucky that you walked away from that with only a couple of bruised ribs, you reckless little fool.”
“I’m sorry,” Peter says, looking apologetic, but also determined, his expression hardening slightly. “For—for worrying you, I mean. But I’m not sorry I stopped the bus.”
“By jumping in front of it.”
“But I stopped it!”
Bucky lifts a hand to his temple and starts gently massaging it to stem the budding headache he can feel coming on. He sighs in frustration, trying to remain reasonable in the face of his anger and fear. “You did, and I’m proud of you for that,” he says, deceptively calm, “but this careless attitude has gotta stop, Peter. I can’t handle it. You have to promise me—no more throwing yourself in front of buses, no more following random strangers into empty alleys, no more confronting criminals carrying fucking guns—it stops right now, you hear me? Or Spider-Man won’t be patrolling on his own anymore.”
“What?” Peter balks, face reddening slightly at the idea. “You’re—you’re gonna follow me around while I patrol?”
“If that’s the only way I can stop you from doing stupid shit? Yeah, you better believe I will,” he says as he sits beside the kid on the loveseat, deeply sighing to try and quell his nerves, the irritation still coursing through him. “Peter, come on, if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me. I’m starting to feel my age from how worried I am about you all the time.”
“I’m sorry,” Peter says again, softer now, and Bucky turns and sees the genuinely regretful look in the boy’s eyes, in his slumped shoulders. “I hate making you worry, it’s just… when I saw those people in that car, about to be hit, I—all I could think was, they need my help, if I don’t do something, they’ll get hurt. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“What about me, huh?” Bucky asks, poking the kid in his other side, the unbruised one, making him giggle and squirm at the ticklish feeling. “If I have to sit and watch you almost get killed one more time, kid, I swear I’m gonna go blind from the stress.”
“Stop—stop tickling me,” Peter begs, laughing until his eyes are wet, clutching his bag of tater tots desperately. “Ow, ow, oww! My ribs!”
“Seriously, Peter, promise me,” Bucky implores, moving his hand up to the boy’s shoulder. “Promise me you’ll be more careful. I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you.”
Peter nods, shyly, then gives him a sheepish smile. “Okay. I promise.”
Bucky smiles back and pats the kid’s shoulder, then releases a long, tired breath, leaning back into the sofa and allowing the tension to leave his body.
Peter is quiet for a long moment, then hesitantly asks, “What are we going to do about the videos…?”
The tension resurfaces in an instant. Bucky frowns down at his lap, keeps his gaze adverted as he says, “I think it’s time we came up with an escape plan, kiddo.”
He watches Peter lower his gaze to the floor from the corner of his eye, the boy giving a solemn nod. Bucky waits to see if he’ll say anything in response, but he stays quiet, lost in thought. He doesn’t blame him. The situation looks bleak.
Realistically, the only people who actually know Bucky and Peter and could identify Bucky from those videos are Frank and his wife, Ned, and maybe old man Delmar—he highly doubts that anyone from Peter’s award ceremony got a good enough look at him to remember his face. So that just leaves Steve and Hydra, hence the need for an escape plan.
“We’re going to assemble you a bugout bag, okay?” Bucky says, turning to look at Peter. “And then start preparing to leave at a moment’s notice. I don’t think there’s any need to jump the gun and skip town right away—maybe we’ll get lucky, and nothing will come of it. But we shouldn’t risk it. Let’s make arrangements now, just in case, so if worse comes to worst, we’re ready.”
“Okay,” Peter says.
“And…” Bucky adds, hesitantly, “in the meantime, kid, you should be a little more discreet when you’re out as Spider-Man. Change up your outfit, stick close to the ground, that sort of thing. We can’t afford to draw attention to ourselves right now.”
Peter frowns, his brows furrowing unhappily. “For how long?”
“Until this all blows over,” Bucky says. “Or, if we’re discovered, then… maybe forever.”
A somewhat crushed look crosses Peter’s face, and he folds in on himself, smushing the tater tots against his side. Bucky regards him quietly, his heart sinking at the boy’s depressed expression.
“I’m sorry, kid,” he says, exhaling. “This is my fault. I shouldn’t have blown your cover like that.”
“No, it’s—it’s okay,” Peter says quickly, maneuvering himself so he can lean against Bucky on the uninjured side of his ribs. “No matter where we are, I can still help people, even if it’s not… as Spider-Man. So—it’s okay, if that has to change. I don’t care about not being Spider-Man if it means I get to stay with you.”
Bucky runs his hand through the boy’s hair, letting him sag deeper against his side with a tired, slightly pained groan, which has Bucky looking down at the wet bag of processed potatoes draped across Peter’s side. “Okay,” he says, with another pat to the kid’s head. “Now let’s take a look at those bruises.”
Later in the summer, on a warm, rainy morning, Bucky wakes as he usually does—early, hours before Peter even begins to stir—and goes about his own morning routine, which mostly involves mentally dragging himself back to the world of the living.
It’s an average morning, at first. Even though it’s warm outside, the downpour of rain makes their apartment feel cooler as Bucky starts preparing breakfast, not too concerned with being quiet, since it’s time for Peter to wake up, anyway. Peter likes to sleep in whenever he can, but on days that he needs to be up early—for school or, like today, for work—he’s usually pretty good about getting himself off the loveseat and into the shower without Bucky having to badger him much.
But not today, apparently. Even with all the noise Bucky doesn’t hesitate to make as he cooks, Peter doesn’t so much as twitch. He pays no mind to the sleeping boy on the other side of the kitchen’s small island counter for as long as he can, but when breakfast is made and the smell of freshly cooked eggs and bacon still hasn’t roused Peter in the slightest, Bucky can’t deny the inkling of worry that settles in his stomach.
He pushes it down until he’s done plating up their meal. Even if Peter is completely exhausted, Bucky knows he won’t say no to a hot breakfast. The kid is always hungry; he’s never once turned down food in all the time Bucky’s known him.
“Kid,” Bucky says, not trying to be overly loud nor overly quiet as he gently shakes the boy’s shoulder, wrapped head to toe in his thick, puffy sleeping bag. “Kid. Hey, Peter, it’s time to wake up. You have work in a few hours.”
The boy doesn’t even move. Bucky can barely see the top of Peter’s head, just the few tufts of hair sticking out of the mouth of his sleeping bag, but he can still tell that the kid is lying utterly still. Almost unnaturally so.
Frowning, he nudges him again, saying a little louder, “Come on, Peter, up you get. Breakfast is getting cold.”
But he still doesn’t move, not even a groan. Bucky feels something like a sharp tack pierce the inside of his chest, his hands moving a little too fast, a little too rough, as he sharply pulls back the sleeping bag. “Hey—”
The words cut off as they leave his mouth, his mind going blank as he sees Peter’s face, as his hand makes contact with the boy’s bare arm. Alarm blazes inside of Bucky, his fingers trembling as he tries once more to shake the boy back to consciousness. “Peter, wake up, you have to wake up.”
His hand recoils instinctively when he touches the boy’s red, flushed face. He’s hot, he’s way too hot—his skin feels like Bucky just touched a lit element. Peter’s eyes are clenched shut, his forehead and cheeks gleaming with sweat, his brows furrowed, as if in pain. Nightmare? Bucky wonders, at first, but no; that wouldn’t be enough to cause a fever like this. Swallowing thickly, Bucky presses his palm to the boy’s face again, cupping it, confirming to himself that he really is that unnaturally warm, literally burning up.
“Peter,” Bucky tries, peeling the sleeping bag away from the kid’s body. “Hey, kid, you feel pretty warm. Wake up, let me look at you.”
When he pulls the bag down to the kid’s waist, Peter hisses painfully in his sleep, curling in on himself and wrapping his arms around his chest, suppressing a light shiver. Bucky gently tries to pull his arms open, kneeling down beside the couch so he can get a closer look at the boy, as if he could physically see what’s causing his fever.
“Don’t—kid, come on, don’t curl up like that, you’re already way too hot,” he pleads, but Peter whines, voice laden with ache and weariness, trying to hug himself again as Bucky pulls his hands away. Peter’s eyes slowly blink open, hazy and unfocused, obscured by his damp bangs. He looks straight ahead, at Bucky—but doesn’t seem to see him, his face twisting in pain as he sags pitifully into the couch.
“Bucky?” he hoarsely whispers. Bucky’s heart drops down into his stomach at the sound of Peter’s voice—it sounds nothing like him. “Cold,” the boy moans, still trying to pull his hands free.
“You just feel cold, kiddo,” he says, softly, letting the boy have one of his hands back so that he can lean down and brush the wet bangs out of Peter’s face, smoothing them back. “You’re burning up. If you get any hotter, you’ll cook your brain.”
Peter tiredly shakes his head, then lays it against the loveseat’s armrest, his eyes slipping closed again. “Please… so cold.”
“Can you eat something?” Bucky tries, not knowing what else to do but keep the boy’s wet hair out of his eyes. “Maybe some hot breakfast will warm you up? We still have painkillers from the bus incident. They might bring your fever down. What do you say? We still have some orange juice too, that sounds good, yeah?”
But Peter doesn’t say anything, and his pained breathing evens out slowly until he’s unnaturally still and silent again. Sighing, Bucky sits up and gives the kid a quick onceover—his face is red, but beneath that, his complexion is almost freakishly pale. His arms are stark white against the navy color of his sleeping bag, so light that every single blue vein is visible. Bucky’s breath nearly stops at the sight of it.
It’s then, he realizes, that something is seriously wrong with Peter.
The first thing he does is call Delmar to tell him that Peter is too sick to come in today. The man is agreeable and sympathetic, giving Bucky a sincere sounding, “You take care of that boy and tell him to call me when he is feeling better, and then I put him back on the schedule, yeah?” before they say goodbye.
The second thing he does is call Frank, though Sharon is the one who picks up.
“Jim, darling?” she asks when she hears his voice. “Now what are you calling here for? Are you not coming in today?”
“Sorry, no, I—” he swallows again, trying to get a handle on the shaky, watery sound of his voice. “I can’t. My kid is… he’s sick, he’s really sick. He needs me.”
The woman gasps quietly, her tone turning a lot less curious and a lot more kind. “Oh Jim, oh no, the poor thing. What’s wrong with him?”
“I don’t know yet,” Bucky says, helplessly, sitting again beside the loveseat so he can feel Peter’s still-much-too-high temperature. “He’s burning up. He’s really hot. And he can’t stay awake.”
“How high is his fever?” Sharon asks, much calmer than Bucky sounds at the moment. He frowns, trying to get a good range of the temperature through his metal hand, but it’s too hard to pinpoint.
“I don’t have a thermometer,” he admits, feeling a stab of shame at admitting that to the woman, what she must think of him. “This—this has never happened before.”
“He’s never gotten sick before?” she asks, the surprise evident in her warm voice. Bucky ducks his head, scrambling to come up with an excuse, a lie—something that wards off suspicion.
“Not since I’ve had him,” Bucky says, and there’s real, genuine guilt in his voice, though he doesn’t know why, but at least it will help convince Sharon. “I wasn’t… around, when he was younger.”
Bucky grits his teeth. There’s pity in her voice, but he knows it’s not for him—it’s for Peter, the son she thinks he walked out on or left—the deadbeat dad who’s only just now figuring this shit out, fifteen years too late, fucking helpless when he should be an expert.
“Listen, it’s going to be okay,” Sharon says, her voice soothing and yet strong, confident and caring all at once. “Do you have any Tylenol or ibuprofen?”
He closes his eyes, trying to remember the label on the bottle of painkillers they still have, what kind they are. Red. Red cap, red sticker on the side—“Yeah, we have Tylenol.”
“Try and get him to take a couple,” she says, calmly. “And make sure he drinks a lot of fluids. If you’re really worried about how warm he is, get him into a cool bath, but not cold, you don’t want to put him into shock. Just enough to help his body fight it.”
“Okay,” Bucky says, swallowing again, feeling ashamed and grateful all at once. “Thanks, Sharon.”
“Of course, darling, don’t you worry. He’ll be just fine. And listen here—if you need us, you call, you hear me? If you need to take him somewhere, I know Frank will be there in his truck in a heartbeat. He adores that boy.”
So do I, Bucky almost says, hating this oppressively awful, helpless feeling. “Thank you,” he says instead, not knowing what else to say.
“Go take care of your baby,” Sharon gently replies. “And call if you need to.”
“I will,” Bucky promises, and then they say their goodbyes, leaving him once again alone, just him and his sick, unconscious kid. He stands, his body feeling a hundred pounds heavier from the stress and the worry, and forces himself to grab a glass of orange juice from the fridge and the bottle of Tylenol from the bathroom.
Their breakfast is cold, but Bucky doubts Peter would be up for eating it, anyway, so he doesn’t bother bringing the boy’s plate over to him with the drink and the painkillers. Peter is still out cold, body practically steaming from how hot his skin is to the touch, and it’s another short eternity before Bucky is able to wake him enough to sit up and try and take the Tylenol.
“Peter, come on, just take this and you can go back to sleep, okay?” he says, holding the glass for Peter with one hand and cupping the boy’s weak fist holding the two small pills in the other, trying to urge him to lift them to his wobbly head. “Just take them, they’ll make you feel better.”
Peter slowly lifts his hand to his mouth, completely out of it, his eyes dull like he isn’t aware of anything at all around him. He sets the pills on his tongue, and sips from the glass when Bucky raises it for him, swallowing with a broken, pained groan.
He collapses back against the armrest, eyes closing immediately, as if just sitting up for those two minutes took all of his energy. Anxiety continues to flood Bucky as he sets the orange juice and the pill bottle on top of the barstool beside the loveseat, within reach, and then begins cleaning up from their uneaten breakfast, his own appetite completely gone.
He’s in the middle of washing the dishes when Peter abruptly gasps, loud and agonized, and Bucky turns around just in time to see the kid lurch off the couch and bolt for the bathroom. The barstool is knocked out of the way in Peter’s haste, sending the glass and the painkillers flying as it is. Bucky watches as broken glass and orange juice pool across their apartment floor as Peter’s sobbing, heaving sounds of throwing up echo from the bathroom.
Bucky has to un-tape the newspapers on the window so that he can open it and let the fresh, cool outside air into the apartment, still damp from the rain. Peter whines miserably as the air hits him, reaching desperately for his sleeping bag as Bucky takes it away.
“Peter, I told you, you’re way too hot for this right now. We need to cool you and this whole place down. Just bear with it, okay?”
“Can’t,” Peter sobs, curling up as tight as he can when he realizes Bucky won’t hand him his sleeping bag back. “Please, I’m—I’m s-so cold.”
Bucky merely shushes him, running a cool, wet cloth over his forehead, despite Peter weakly thrashing to escape from it. He soothingly rubs the kid’s back after, not knowing what else to do as he sits next to the loveseat on the floor, and Peter shifts his entire curled-up, shivering form closer to him and presses against Bucky’s side, seeking warmth.
With a small sigh, Bucky relents and leans further against the couch, letting Peter curl up against him, tears leaking from the kid’s tightly-shut eyes as he trembles from the cold and the pain. Helplessness consumes Bucky as he sits there, gently patting the boy’s back, petting his hair, one arm over him as Peter curls up beneath his arm and presses his fevered body into Bucky’s ribs.
“Are you hungry?” he quietly asks, but Peter shakes his head, just one quick, aborted nod. Frowning, Bucky turns and eyes the bottle of Tylenol beside him, nearly empty now, Peter not able to keep a single pill down, not even just plain water.
Sharon’s advice of getting the kid into a cool bath comes to mind, but apprehension stops him. Peter’s already suffering so much from how cold he feels now, cuddled up against Bucky’s warm body beside an open window in eighty degree weather. He can’t imagine the discomfort he would feel if Bucky forced him into a tub of water that would probably feel like ice to his fevered body.
He files that option away as a last resort, right behind leaving Peter home alone so he can run out and buy some more medicine, and a thermometer, so he can see exactly what it is he’s up against, here. But that option is also not ideal, because for the few minutes Peter has been awake every few hours all day long, he’s not exactly been coherent enough for Bucky to explain where he’d be going and why, and besides, the kid is utterly helpless, not to mention defenseless. Bucky can’t leave him alone, unless he absolutely has to.
Sighing again, Bucky allows himself to pull Peter’s sleeping body a little more firmly against his side, eyes closing as he holds the boy there, wishing he had some way to ease his pain. A distant, angry part of himself deep down rages furiously at the unfairness of it all; if they had been regular people, Bucky could have taken him to a hospital, or a walk-in clinic, or hell—even if only he had been a regular person, he could take Peter right to the Avengers, to Steve, who probably have or know doctors that would be able to help an enhanced kid like Peter.
But he’s not a regular person, and neither is Peter, and it’s unfair but it’s just the two of them, fighting against everything, even their own bodies, now, and when Peter needs his help, it’s up to just him, everything riding on Bucky’s shoulders, because he is the adult and this is the responsibility he took on, and he wouldn’t give that—give Peter—up for anything, but right now, in this moment, Bucky is painfully, acutely aware of just how much weight is on his shoulders.
That train of self-pity is derailed violently when Bucky hears the familiar, rhythmic creak of the stairs that lead up to their balcony outside. He doesn’t recognize the footsteps, but they—both of them—are unmistakably walking up to their front door, one behind the other.
Bucky pulls himself to his feet and quickly throws on his jacket, his glove and his hat, pulling it low, unsure of who could possibly be coming to their apartment. He’s hesitant to open the door when there’s a quiet-yet-firm knock, especially with Peter in this state—if this is an ambush or an attack, they’re fucked, Peter can’t even stand up like this—but Bucky has no way of knowing who might be on the other side, so squaring his shoulders, he tempts fate and opens the door.
And goes totally numb with surprise and shock when he sees Frank and Sharon standing there, hands full of shopping bags, which is eerily familiar, both looking grim and serious, though Sharon smiles sweetly at him when he meets her eyes.
“Heard your boy was sick,” Frank says, while Bucky still struggles to find the words, any words.
“We thought we’d bring you a few things,” Sharon adds, motioning to the bags she’s holding. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Jim, darling, but it sounded like you could use a little help on the phone this morning. And poor Frank was fretting all day.”
Frank gives his wife a surly look, then glances over Bucky’s shoulder, no doubt spying Peter on the loveseat across the room. “Doesn’t look like he’s feeling any better,” the man remarks, gravely.
That does the trick of snapping Bucky out of his stupor, and he looks between the couple confusedly as he stutters, “I—yeah, he—he hasn’t been able to keep any of the medicine down.”
“Oh, no,” Sharon exclaims, her face breaking into a worried frown as she tries to crane her neck to see into the apartment. “Let’s see if we can’t get the sweet thing all fixed up, shall we?”
“May we?” Frank asks, gesturing to the door, and Bucky gives a quick, short nod as he steps inside, letting them enter. It feels—weird, and deeply foreign to have them here, in their home, completely different from seeing them at work, but oddly, he’s not so much nervous as he is grateful. Grateful that he isn’t completely alone in this, that someone else cares about Peter like he does, at least a little.
Sharon sets the bags on the counter and then immediately goes to kneel by Peter on the loveseat, feeling his face with her hands, which makes Peter gasp and flinch away from the cold feeling, her face scrunching with worry as he does. Frank glances around the still-mostly-barren room, polite enough not to voice the opinion that he’s showing very clearly on his face.
“Jim, there’s a thermometer in one of the bags on the counter, would you grab it, please?” Sharon asks, and Bucky is quick to open the bags, finding the thermometer nestled in amongst all sorts of other things—Gatorade, cans of soup, cups of Jell-O, something called “Nyquil”, more Tylenol, cough drops, a hot water bottle, a bottle of orange juice—more crap than Bucky ever would have even considered to grab if he’d gone to the store himself.
He brings the thermometer over to the woman, clearing his throat as he says, “You guys really went overboard, but, thanks. I… I really appreciate.”
Frank regards him quietly for a moment, then says, “We had our daughter young, and she was a real healthy kid, hardly even had a cold till she was four. Then one day, out of nowhere, bam—she’s down for two whole weeks with the flu. We were scared shitless, I’ll never forget it. Couldn’t sleep at all the whole time, worried she was gonna choke in her sleep, or have a seizure from how high her fever was. As a father, I’ll never forget how helpless I felt back then, and we—” he gestures to Sharon, then back to himself, “—we had each other, and my parents, and Sharon’s sister. We had people to help us get through it, and I don’t know where we’d be if we didn’t, ‘cause we were young and stupid and had no idea what to do. So consider this my paying it forward, Barnes. One father to another.”
Bucky opens his mouth to thank the man again, when a quiet, incessant beeping has him turning his attention back on Sharon, who is staring down at the thermometer in her hands with wide, panicked eyes. She quickly darts her head to look up at Bucky and says, “We need to get him to a hospital.”
“Why?” Bucky asks, feeling panic light up like fireworks inside his gut. “What does it say?”
“How high is it?” asks Frank as he steps closer to the loveseat, his expression darkening slightly as he glances at Peter’s delirious, sweat-soaked face.
“It’s 108,” says Sharon, her lips tightening into a distraught frown. “Jim, that’s high enough to cause brain damage. He needs medical attention.”
His jaw tightens as he grits his teeth, feeling his metal arm vibrate slightly from how hard he clenches his fist. He can’t take Peter to a hospital, even if he could afford to. That’s just not an option, without Peter ending up being taken away at best, and Bucky being found at worst.
“Have you tried getting him into a bath?” Frank asks, gazing at Bucky and seemingly picking up on his apprehension.
Bucky shakes his head, not taking his eyes off Peter’s sweltering, shivering form. “He’s been fighting me every step of the way, saying he feels cold. I didn’t want to try that unless I had no other option.”
“Well, your only other option is putting him in my truck so we can take him to the emergency room,” Frank tells him, in a tone that’s compassionate while also leaving no room for argument. “You gotta make a choice here, Jim. He’s in bad shape.”
Nodding slightly, Bucky glances between Peter and the foreboding tub in the bathroom behind him, dreading this, but knowing it’s truly the only choice he has, now. “We’ll give it a try.”
Sharon stands and heads into the bathroom, giving Bucky a warm hand on the shoulder as she says, “I’ll run it so you can feel how cool it needs to be, all right? You might have to do this a few times until he can keep the Tylenol down and his fever breaks.”
“And once it does, you’ll probably have to deal with the reverse problem; he’ll feel warm, but you’ll want to keep him feeling warmer so that he can sweat out whatever’s wrong with him. As long as his fever is low-grade, make sure you keep him hot enough so his body gets rid of its toxins. Hot showers that steam up the bathroom are good for that,” Frank adds.
Bucky nods along again, listening, until Sharon has the tub filled and ready. Bucky dips his hand in, finding the cool temperature actually quite pleasant in their warm apartment, though anxiety fills him again, knowing Peter won’t feel the same way.
“Jim,” Sharon says as he says goodbye to them at the door. “If his fever hasn’t gone down by tonight, I want you to promise you will call us, all right? We’ll help you get him some help.”
He nods again, swallowing, steeling his features. “I promise.”
Frank nods, clapping him on the shoulder. “If we don’t hear from you tonight, you call us tomorrow morning, let us know how he’s doing, yeah?”
“Good man,” Frank says, sparing Peter one final glance as they head out the door. “Go take care of your boy. We’ll talk to you soon.”
“I will,” Bucky says as he watches them leave. “Thanks again.”
And then they’re gone.
Bucky sighs, feeling his insides twist as he shuts the door, just him and Peter again, now, and the truly awful experience he’s about to put them both through. Peter is practically comatose as Bucky bends down and tries to wake him, feeling his burning forehead with even more trepidation now that he knows just how bad his fever is.
“Peter,” he says, whispering without meaning to, catching himself almost speaking too quietly to even wake the boy up. “Come on, kiddo, you need to get up. We gotta get you into the bath.”
Peter groans as Bucky sits him upright, his eyes hardly opening as he allows himself to be pulled up, Bucky intending on helping him walk to the bathroom, but the boy’s legs give out, no strength in them at all, so Bucky bends down and lifts Peter into his arms, carrying him the rest of the way without protest, as if Peter fell back asleep the moment he was allowed to be horizontal again.
The kid’s not able to undress himself, so Bucky helps him out of his clothes, and then picks him up again so he can lower Peter into the tub without the kid falling and cracking his head open. What he expects is for Peter to groan and whine and cry as his feverish back hits the cold water.
But that’s not what happens.
What happens is, Peter jolts like Bucky laid him on top of a live wire, flinching upward like the water shocked him, and then, with a desperation that completely floors Bucky, Peter shouts and lunges over his shoulder, trying to escape, to jump out of his arms and away from the water.
“Hey,” Bucky says, grabbing Peter’s clawing hands by his wrists and holding him still in his now-soaked lap, keeping the kid sequestered between him and the tub as Peter shivers violently in the sweltering room. “Kid, relax. I know it won’t feel great, but we need to cool you down. It’ll suck, but then it will all be over, okay? Just take a deep breath.”
“No, no—” Peter pleads, voice so stricken with exhaustion and delirium that it’s practically a mumble. “No, no I can’t, it’s too cold, I’ll die—”
“If we don’t bring your fever down, yeah, you will,” he says, hating the words as they come out of his mouth, feeling his chest constrict at the implication of what he just said. “Peter, please, I’m begging you. Get in the tub.”
“I can’t,” Peter sobs, leaning in against Bucky’s chest, half-burrowing in his damp jacket, his whole body wracked with trembles.
Closing his eyes and tipping his head back, feeling his small, sick child shake fiercely in his arms, Bucky forces himself to take a deep breath, steels himself, and then lowers Peter into the tub again, pinning the boy’s arms to his chest as he presses down on his shoulder, submerging him up to his neck.
Peter lets out a deafening, heartbreaking wail as the cool water envelopes him, tears immediately leaking down his flushed face as he tries to twist his body, kicking his legs out futilely, not strong enough in his weakened state to put up much resistance at all against Bucky’s strength.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his voice catching on a frustrated sob of his own that seems lodged in his throat, absolutely despising everything about this, the sight of his hands holding Peter down, of Peter’s face soaked with tears, the sound of his desperate crying. Self-hatred and disgust flood inside of him like someone turned on the tap. Bucky ducks his head, anything to block out the sight of his kid’s betrayed face.
You’re hurting him, Bucky pleads at himself, viciously, wildly angry in spite of how hopeless he feels. Stop it, anything would be better than this. Handing him over to the government would be better than this, or to Steve. Anything. Anything but this.
But Bucky smothers that insidious voice, knowing it’s right, but despising every word. I can’t, he thinks, lowering his head fully against the rim of the tub, his hands still keeping Peter’s sobbing body pinned in the cool water. I have to take care of him. He needs me.
Uselessness and frustration well up inside of Bucky. It isn’t fair, none of it. What the hell is he supposed to do? Peter needs to go to the hospital and Bucky can’t fucking take him, can’t afford a goddamn doctor, anyway. He can’t help the kid, can’t do anything except hold his shivering, sobbing body down in a cold tub to try and break his fever, no way to help him without causing him pain.
And worse, he has no way of knowing what’s wrong with Peter or how this happened. Is Peter even capable of getting a virus with his healing factor? Or is his body burning this hot because his healing factor is trying to fight something? Or, worse yet, could this be a result—or a symptom—of his mutation? Could the radiation be causing this? What would happen to Peter if a doctor found out about it, never mind that he’s been living with him? They would take Peter away, Bucky’s cover would be blown, alerting Hydra or Steve or both—and then it would be all over.
But isn’t that the better option if all Bucky can do is sit here, watching his kid suffer?
“I’m sorry,” he says again to Peter, who is silent and half-conscious in the tub now, practically comatose save for the violent shivers still wracking his body. “I’m sorry, Peter, I know it hurts. It’s almost over.”
Peter doesn’t say anything, most likely too consumed by the mind-numbing fever and agonizingly cool water to even comprehend Bucky’s words. Bucky waits until he feels Peter’s muscles loosen slightly—still taut with discomfort from the cold, but no longer actively trying to fight him—to ease up on his hold, leaning back and letting go of Peter’s arms, his left hand slackening to a gentler, more comforting grasp on the boy’s shoulder, helping keep his head upright.
“You’re doing great, kid,” Bucky whispers as he feels the boy’s forehead, the side of his neck. He’s still hot, disconcertingly so—but the water seems to have taken the bite out of his fever, at least a little.
But it doesn’t get any better than that, and Bucky can only stand to see the kid like this for so long before he’s lifting Peter out of the tub and drying him off. Peter falls back unconscious halfway through, so Bucky dresses him and lays him back down on the loveseat, and then sits beside him on the floor, running his hands through Peter’s hair, praying and silently fighting back tears as he helplessly watches, powerless and alone.
By the time the sun has finished setting, Peter still hasn’t woken up once since his bath, still hasn’t eaten anything or kept any medicine down, and his fever has spiked back up to 108 three times, never dropping below 106.
Bucky doesn’t move from his spot beside the loveseat the entire time. He lets Peter curl against his side, unable to bring himself to deny that comfort to the kid, but refuses to close the window or give him back his sleeping bag. Peter shivers constantly in his sleep, made worse by the sheen of sweat that refuses to go away, no matter how many times Bucky runs the cool, damp cloth over his fevered skin.
He doesn’t call Frank and Sharon. Calling them would be the end of everything, and part of Bucky still has hope that this is just some odd fluke, some normal virus that Peter’s body is going overkill trying to fight, or a weird symptom of the radiation that won’t end up being anything more than a mild inconvenience. Bucky has no intention of getting anyone else involved, not as long as he can tend to Peter himself, and the boy’s life isn’t at risk.
But the night creeps by unbearably slowly, and as Bucky sits there in the quiet dark, watching Peter steadily get weaker and weaker, something instinctively desperate inside of him starts to fester. He’s struggled with feeling like he has no right to be anywhere near Peter ever since the first night he met the kid, but now, alone in this stuffy apartment, completely helpless to do anything but hope Peter starts feeling better soon, Bucky is almost paralyzed by how much he feels like a failure.
He can’t do anything for Peter. Maybe no one else could either, but at least a better person would be able to get him looked at, get him some pain relief, if nothing else. All Bucky can do is sit and wait, and watch, and hope, and run his hand through the kid’s hair and shush him when the pain makes him cry in his sleep. Bucky resigns himself to doing that all night long, determined to at least be there, in case that gives Peter any comfort at all, and finally, in the very early hours of the morning, Peter wakes—or, at least, his body does.
“Hey,” Bucky says, quietly, smoothing Peter’s bangs out of his face again. “How you feeling, kiddo?”
Peter blinks at him, slow, unfocused, his brown eyes look black in the dark room. He gazes at Bucky through half-lidded eyes, heavy and weary from the fever still, and squints at him like he’s trying to recognize his face.
“Dad,” Peter whispers, voice rough with disuse, unnatural compared to the high tones of his usual voice. Bucky tries giving him a small smile, feeling his forehead again, noting, pleasantly, that the boy is no longer shaking. “It’s okay, Peter,” he says softly, as he feels both sides of his neck with the back of his palm. “I’m right here.”
Peter whimpers, tears pooling beneath his dark eyes as he takes a small, shuddering breath. “Hey, hey,” Bucky immediately soothes, shushing him again when the kid starts to cry. “Pete, hey, you’re all right, you’re gonna be just fine.”
“Dad,” Peter says again, deliriously, looking at Bucky like he can’t even see him, his vision completely out of focus. “Don’t go. Don’t go.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he says, somewhat confused, trying to comfort the fevered, crying boy. “I’m not leaving, Peter, I’m staying right here with you, until you feel better.”
Peter shakes his head, the tears falling faster, flooding down his cheeks. “Don’t,” he begs, closing his eyes as the tears continue to fall. “Please, Dad, don’t go.”
He lifts his small, trembling hand, finds the hem of Bucky’s shirt, and grabs it with a weak, pale fist, tugging him closer without a shred of strength behind it.
“Don’t get on the plane.”
Bucky pulls back, sharply, his breath catching as he watches Peter’s eyes slowly open, looking straight at him without seeing him. Peter reaches for him again, blindly, whimpering when Bucky pulled away. “Dad—don’t go, don’t leave me here—”
“I’m not leavin’ you,” Bucky whispers, without really hearing it, his head spinning from the realization that Peter’s merely having a fever dream, that he’s not feeling better at all, probably doesn’t even know who Bucky is, right now. He gently wraps his arms around the kid, holding him as Peter lays beside him, his body and mind going on autopilot as the frustration and hopelessness crushes him once again. “I love you. I’m not going anywhere.”
But Peter’s already fallen back asleep, the tears drying on his hot skin, his body no longer shaking as Bucky embraces him in his arms, moving them away from the small, cramped loveseat and onto the mattress instead, screw it—if this is the only thing he can do to make Peter feel better, if this is the only thing he has the power to give the kid, then fine—he’ll hold him for as long as Peter wants, fever be damned.
He still isn’t able to fall asleep, too wired from checking Peter’s temperature what feels like every fifteen minutes, from wiping the kid’s face down with his washcloth, checking his breathing, jolting awake with every small movement, thinking the kid is waking or seizing or worse.
Bucky reaches his breaking point at sunrise.
Peter isn’t getting better, his fever won’t stay down. He can’t keep his eyes open for more than a few minutes at a time, and he still hasn’t eaten or drunk anything, much less kept any medicine down. The exhaustion and frayed nerves finally become too much, and Bucky goes to roll over and grab his cellphone, desperate to call someone—Frank, an ambulance, fuck, he would call Steve at this point if it meant getting his child some help—but when he pulls away from Peter, the boy groans, turns over and slowly opens his eyes, waking.
His brows furrow slightly, and then he looks up at Bucky with his tired but clear eyes, gazing directly at him, seeing him.
“Dad,” he mumbles sleepily, his voice still too rough, but much more like himself, softer.
“Hey, kid,” Bucky says as he leans down, habitually pressing the back of his hand to the side of Peter’s neck. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”
Peter hums sleepily, cuddling into Bucky’s pillow, then looks back up at him and tiredly says, “I feel pretty hot,” as a small smile crosses his face. “And I’m really hungry.”
A laugh startles its way out of Bucky, and he drops the cellphone instantly without a care, relief crashing over him in the best of ways, making him almost lightheaded from the force of it.
“Then let’s get some food into you,” he says, smiling helplessly, not caring about the wetness threatening to drip from his eyes, down his cheeks, finally not feeling useless, for the first time in what feels like the longest day of his entire life.
And with this chapter... the fun begins. I'm sure you all know where this is going already, hahaha.
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Even though Bucky’s the one who made the decision, it still surprises him just how easily he and Peter fall into their new normal.
After the incident of the fever, the rest of summer floats by fairly smoothly. Peter and Bucky adapt to their mismatched schedules—Peter usually working with Delmar in the evenings, while Bucky is home—so the kid takes to coming during the day and visiting him at work, which neither Bucky nor his bosses mind.
In fact, Frank, though he tried to be nonchalant about it, had raised Bucky’s weekly wage after seeing their apartment, although he never admitted that that was the reason why. Bucky didn’t complain when the man had handed him an extra hundred the first week after Peter had been sick; after all, the more money they save, the better shape they’ll be in when the other shoe drops.
But nothing major had really come of the bus incident; not yet, anyway. The local news had covered it—newspapers and televisions and online blogs, according to Ned—but most of the articles focused on the actual heroics, not the awkward hug afterward, though Peter assured him the videos were still permanently floating around online, which means the potential threat is permanent, too.
They’d spent quite a bit of time once Peter was well again making sure their escape plan was airtight. Two bugout bags now lay hidden beneath the floor in their kitchen instead of one, and the maps are drawn and marked and plotted, every necessity packed, but lightly enough that they aren’t weighed down, their rendezvous locations picked, their plan rehearsed and drilled into both their heads, along with backup plans B through D.
That had been one side of their new normal, preparing for the fallout of the bus incident. The other side had been adapting to Bucky’s boss’s newfound interest in his personal life.
It’d been Bucky’s decision, but Peter had been more than eager to go along with it—it wasn’t entirely new, anyway, just more real, now, now that they had spoken of it out loud. Peter’s face had gone slightly red, but he nodded obediently, understanding the necessity of becoming habituated to referring to Bucky as his dad.
Bucky, likewise, had become used to referring to Peter as his son, even in private. The more accustomed to the idea they become, the less likely they’ll be to slip up in front of the Descartes or Delmar or Ned, or whoever they meet when the time comes to move on. It’d been an awkward thing to ask of Peter, but the boy understood his reasoning, and didn’t hesitate to stop calling him “Bucky” altogether.
Which is exactly what surprises him, even now, as the heat of summer bleeds into cooler weather, rain falling most days, the sky filling up with clouds and replacing the blazing sun he’d grown used to. It still surprises him every time Peter says it, how easily the name falls from his lips, how his expression doesn’t change at all when he looks up at Bucky as he comes through the door and says, “Welcome home, Dad.”
Bucky smiles, just as surprised with himself, how he doesn’t even pause before he’s ruffling the boy’s hair and answering, “Hey, kiddo. How’s your night off going?”
“Kind of bored,” he says, leaning back on the wobbly stool, steadying himself, his hands gripping the countertop. “I’ve been scrapbooking all day like a lonely grandma.”
“Well, scrapbooking is what you’re supposed to do on rainy days,” Bucky says as he glances at the page of photos Peter’s assembled—most of them old, from his life long before they met, but some of them are newer, two in particular that stand out; the ones Sharon had recently taken.
The first is of Peter sitting behind the wheel of a junky old Dodge, Frank leaning on the window and pointing at the dashboard, instructing him, smiling a little as Peter raptly stares where the man is directing, his attention stuck. The other is of Bucky and Peter, Bucky’s cap pulled a little lower than usual when Sharon pulled the camera out, his hands in the engine of a car while Peter leans against the bumper, gazing up at Bucky with that familiar, deeply affectionate look in his big, dark eyes.
Bucky loves that photo, loves that Peter wants to preserve it, but its existence makes him almost dizzy with anxiety.
“Pete,” he says reluctantly, tone gentle as he puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t… keep that one.”
Peter glances at the photo quickly, then back up to Bucky, his face pleading. “But, you—you can hardly even see your face in it, your hat’s in the way—please? It’s the only one I have of you and me. I love this photo.”
Bucky sighs, his hand squeezing Peter’s shoulder comfortingly. “I do too, but someone who’s looking for me could recognize me easily, and then they’d know your face, too. It’s too risky.”
“But…” Peter protests, picking the picture up and holding it against his chest, protectively, like he’s scared Bucky will take it from him. “What if I keep it in my wallet? So it’s always on me?”
Bucky sighs, knowing it’s a bad idea, knowing he should tell Peter no.
But he’s as powerless in front of those puppy-dog eyes as he’s always been.
“You don’t let anyone else see it, you understand?” he says, keeping his voice stern. “Even if you have to destroy it to make sure.”
Peter’s face twists, but he nods acceptingly and says, “I promise.”
“Good.” He gives him a fond pat on the shoulder, then nods his head toward the loveseat. “Why don’t you move this to the couch so I can start dinner?”
Peter’s face lights up. “I wanna help!” he says as he stands, clearing off the counter hurriedly so they can continue their nightly tradition of making dinner together, the scrapbooking forgotten.
Identity is a strange thing.
Bucky has suffered from not having one—or, rather, from having one he didn’t choose and would never want—for long enough to know that life can be a tough thing to navigate without an identity you’re proud of, one you want to protect. He’s lived life in limbo, moment to moment, without any goal or desire except survive, and that’s all you’re capable of, without an identity. Without any sense of self.
He hadn’t lived free from Hydra long enough to finish building a new one when Peter came along. He hadn’t made it past the stage of pure, instinctual survival before he suddenly had a child in his home, needing his attention, needing to be fed, protected, loved. He hadn’t yet finished rebuilding Bucky before he was suddenly someone else, someone completely new and foreign—Dad. And that’s the strange thing about identities; how they constantly grow and change, how they’re molded by the experiences we live through.
Bucky had been so obsessively determined to become his own person, whoever that may be. To be a human being and not a weapon, to find who he is, discover himself. It was a need he didn’t have time to focus on over the last year, too preoccupied with the necessities, with finding food, shelter, money. But it kept him up at night, on bad days when he couldn’t get out of his own head, when he was trapped in the void that was his identity-less existence desperately screaming, who am I? Only to have the name “Bucky” echoed back at him, until the word was hollow.
And then Peter came along.
And suddenly, the name Bucky wasn’t hollow anymore. It was him. When Peter would call out to him, Bucky would be filled with the dumbstruck realization of, that’s me. He means me. I’m Bucky, until being called by his own name was normal again, familiar. It made him feel safe, Peter calling his name. It was the security of having his identity back.
But identities change, and it’s strange to Bucky how easy it was to forego Bucky entirely—this thing he had desperately wanted for so long—and trade it for Dad, without batting an eye, without so much as a shred of doubt. He’d been so obsessed with leaving Asset behind. Now, all he can think about is how right Dad feels.
Especially in moments like these, when Peter is dead tired from the extra training Bucky has put him through, pouting and sagging against the park bench with a long, groaning “Daaaad,” that makes Bucky want to laugh from the sheer ridiculousness of how pitiful he sounds. “My legs are killing me.”
“Come on, kid, it wasn’t even that long of a run. How are you so sore already?”
“Dunno,” Peter says, wincing as he tries to stretch his legs out. “They hurt all the time lately. It’s really annoying.”
A thought strikes Bucky, and he gives Peter a surprised look. “Maybe it’s growing pains.”
Peter blinks at him, owlishly. “You think?” he asks, forcing himself to stand up, despite his obvious discomfort. “Am I—am I taller? I don’t feel any taller.”
“Let’s see,” Bucky says, taking Peter’s shoulders in his hands and facing him, his only reliable source of measuring the boy’s height by comparing it to his own. He straightens his metal hand out and lays it flat on top of Peter’s head, surprised when his hand reaches just below his heart. “Well I’ll be damned.”
“Am I bigger?”
“You’re practically a giant,” Bucky says, grinning, ruffling Peter’s hair. “Do you remember how little you were when we met? You were only this big.” He lowers his hand down to just above his bellybutton.
Peter’s eyes widen in disbelief. “Really?”
“Yeah, kid, really. God, I can’t believe it, how did I not notice you sprouting up like a weed?”
Peter grins, mischievous and a little proud. “I’m gonna be taller than you someday.”
“At this rate? Probably,” Bucky says, then frowns down at him. “Kidding aside, don’t. If you grow taller than me I will lose my shit.”
Peter laughs, his sweat-damp curls bouncing from the force of it. He’ll need a haircut soon. “Okay. In that case, maybe I’ll stay just a little shorter. Just for you.”
“My hero,” Bucky smiles, and Peter leans into his side as they begin walking home, his narrow shoulder a familiar and necessary comfort beneath Bucky’s arm.
The strangest thing about identities is how they come to you, sometimes welcomed, often not. Bucky had no say in being the Winter Soldier, had no choice in being given that identity, but the same is true now, of being given the identity of Peter’s dad. He didn’t choose that either, and yet, it’s him, in a way that the Fist of Hydra never was; a whole and consuming rightness that fills and completes him to his very core. The Winter Soldier identity was nothing but a mask Hydra forced him to wear. This, now, being Peter’s dad—this is the identity he found, the one he discovered.
The one Peter discovered, when he found him, though Bucky had been the one looking.
The cold, bracing breeze of a cloudy autumn night rolls over Bucky and Peter like mist over a moor. The city is quiet—quiet for Queens, anyway—and the rooftop is especially frigid as Peter dons his mask and ridiculous goggles, preparing for his nightly patrol.
Bucky observes him, watching as Peter adjusts his uniform, the amateur stitching they added when Peter’s arms and legs began to outgrow the sleeves standing out garishly. Bucky had checked out an old, falling-apart book from the library on how to patch clothing, and they’d done it together, repurposing an old shirt Peter had outgrown completely into patches to extend the sleeves and legs of his Spider-Man “suit.” It looks silly, but Peter’s identity is preserved, and that’s the important thing.
He takes in his odd posture as Peter secures his web-shooters. The boy’s been quiet—relatively, that is—and he seems particularly high-strung this evening, his shoulders tight and muscles twitching as he prepares to swing off the rooftop. Bucky’s expression tightens as he thinks back to the fever of a couple months ago; worried Peter is starting to feel unwell again, the thought of having to relive that awful day turning his stomach.
“Hey,” Bucky calls gently, grabbing Peter’s attention before he can lift his arm to swing away. “You feelin’ all right, kiddo?”
“Huh?” says Peter, caught off guard, as though he didn’t understand the question. “Oh, uh, yeah. I’m okay. Just feel kind of anxious, is all.”
“I can tell,” Bucky says. “What’s up? Is this regular-anxiety, or spider-anxiety? Something happen at school?”
“No, no, nothing like that,” Peter sighs, looking back and forth between Bucky and the cityscape of Queens. “I don’t really know? I’m hoping checking things out will make me feel better. It’s not even that bad, honestly. Just… haven’t felt like this in a really long time.”
“You want to go home, we’ll go home,” Bucky says, reaching over and patting him reassuringly on the shoulder. “And if you need to patrol a little longer tonight until you feel better, that’s fine, too. It is Friday night, after all.”
“Okay,” Peter says, and Bucky can hear the smile in his voice beneath his mask. “I don’t think I want to be out long, though. Can we get McDonalds on the way home?”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to pump all that crap into you if you’re already feeling anxious,” he says, putting on his best “tough dad” face. “But, it has been a while since we went out, so if you’re feeling better after your patrol, then yeah, we can.”
“Woohoo!” Peter cheers, straightening up on the ledge and stretching his arms one final time before he says, “In that case, I’ll be back before you know it!”
“Be safe,” Bucky calls after him, watching Peter leap from the building with a falsely-cheerful, “I will!” that doesn’t convincingly hide the underlying anxiety Bucky can still hear in the kid’s voice.
He watches until Peter swings out of sight. Queens seems peaceful enough tonight; only the occasional siren, short-lived and far away. Traffic is slowly thinning, and Bucky leans over the rooftop ledge and observes the world around him, his own anxiety bubbling low in his stomach, stemming off of Peter’s.
He trusts his kid. He trusts his instincts, trusts that he’ll be safe if he gets in over his head. He also trusts his abilities, and not just because he’s spent the last several months training him every single day—Peter is formidable, and resourceful, and he told Bucky he would be safe and Bucky trusts that he will be.
But still. Peter seems naturally pulled in the direction of danger, by instinct or by fate, it doesn’t matter—something always brings him to the lurking alleyway predators and runaway buses of the world, and it grates on Bucky constantly, knowing he can’t be there every minute of every day to protect his kid, knowing that some of the danger Peter will inevitably face will be his fault, following Bucky just as closely as it follows Peter, the threats that cling to both of them like shadows.
Peter will run head-first into danger and Bucky can’t stop him, just like he can’t stop Peter from one day having to face the danger that will eternally be at Bucky’s heels. It’s the life they’ve chosen, and nights like these are just a small part of the price they have to pay for becoming a family; the occasional anxious night when the danger seems to be looming overhead, in exchange for the life he’s built with the child who has become his son. The life they’ve built together.
He thinks back to the plans they’ve made, the maps they’ve drawn in case they’re separated. All their rendezvous points and contingency plans. It doesn’t feel like enough, even though Bucky knows he’s prepared Peter as much as he possibly could. He lets himself drift to the thoughts he usually tries to stay away from, the unproductive kind, the sweet kind that feel so good when he has them and so painful when he lets them go—thoughts of a different life.
He can picture it, though it’s impossible. He can picture what it would have been like if there had been no Hydra, no radioactive spider. Him and Peter living in a bigger, clean apartment with plumbing that he doesn’t have to fix every single day and a fridge that’s quieter than the metro line. Windows that they wouldn’t have to tape up because they wouldn’t need to hide. Teaching Peter to drive, actually being able to drive the kid to school himself. Camping trips, not looking over his shoulder constantly every time he leaves the house.
He imagines living outside the city limits, in a huge old farmhouse like the one he dreams about sometimes, timelessly beautiful on more land than they’d know what to do with. They could grow their own food, Peter could have a dog. God, how happy the kid would be if he could live that life; how happy Bucky would be if he could give it to him. He pictures teaching Peter how to fix up old cars, owning his own mechanic shop like the one he runs for Frank. He pictures teaching the kid better things than how to break out of choke-hold, Peter having no need of that knowledge at all, Bucky having no need of it.
They can have pieces of that life, he knows. Pieces of a peaceful life, that’s all they get, and he’s grateful for it, even if sometimes all he wants to do is close his eyes and imagine being able to be the father that Peter actually deserves, giving him all the things he wants Peter to have every single time he looks at him.
It’s as he’s wondering exactly when the other shoe will drop that it does. He feels the presence before he hears it; hears the footsteps before he turns and looks.
Peter is the one who felt it coming, but the danger arrives for Bucky first.
“I can’t believe it’s actually you,” the man says. Bucky knows his voice, but not his face, at least not the way it is now, half of it completely covered in grotesque burns. “We thought you’d be halfway across the world by now.”
We, Bucky’s mind echoes, his blood running cold until it matches the frigid temperature of his metal arm. Hydra. He knew it, knew this man was no civilian, even if he’s dressed like one, holding out his arms as he walks across the rooftop after pulling a cellphone from his pocket. Bucky is so tense he can feel his muscles straining.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the video,” the man says, gesturing to his raised phone, even though the screen is blank. “Only saw your face in profile and thought, nah, there’s no way he’d be stupid enough to stay here after the Triskelion shit went down. But I had to be sure.”
Bucky doesn’t move as the man approaches. He assesses him, looking for any signs of a concealed weapon, or worse yet, an ambush. It seems outrageous that a Hydra agent would confront him, alone, unarmed, but the smug grin on the man’s face outweighs Bucky’s expectations, so he waits, caught between making a break for it and subduing the man before he can call for backup.
“I can’t tell you how many times I watched that video while thinking to myself, there is no way in hell I’m watching the asset hug some vigilante punk kid. But color me surprised, Soldier, here I am waiting on rooftops in the freezing cold for Spider-Man to show up for weeks, and when I finally spot him, there you are. I can’t believe my damn luck. Or your stupidity. Did you really think we wouldn’t look for you?”
Jesus, this guy never shuts up. “No,” he says. “And I don’t think you came alone, either.”
“Yeah, well,” the man says with a shrug, still grinning. “Call me overconfident, but this is an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. You see, I more-or-less got demoted after DC. Bosses weren’t exactly thrilled that I couldn’t protect Pierce.” The smugness drops from his face, and his eyes go almost unnervingly cold. “But I don’t have to tell you that Hydra doesn’t tolerate failure.”
Bucky barely manages to suppress the shiver that tries to run up his back.
“So they left me out here, told me my new mission was to scour every inch of the east coast until I found you. And if I didn’t find you, well, I’d better get used to the smell of garbage, because this is where I’d be staying, and I could kiss my position of handler goodbye.”
Beneath the scars and burns, the man’s eyes light up, an expression of manic glee taking over his face. “And now here you are. And after I bring you in, I’ll finally be able to get out of this glorified trash heap.”
Bucky’s eyes narrow, defensive and incredulous all at once. “You really think you can take me down by yourself?”
The man’s smile widens. Bucky feels a sharp, biting panic spear him down the middle.
“I’m not really by myself though, am I?” he says, cryptically. “It’s two against one.”
Bucky doesn’t have time to search for a second opponent before understanding crashes over him. He turns to vault over the ledge, but the man is fast—enhanced-fast. He grabs Bucky by the back of his jacket, and he’s forced to turn and block an incoming blow to the back of his head. His attacker opens his grinning mouth and says, in horridly-fluid Russian, “Longing.”
An uncontrollable tremor wracks Bucky’s body, and he grits his teeth so hard that his jaw aches as he rears back and punches the man hard across the face with his metal fist. The man staggers, blooding spilling from his grinning mouth, and he lunges to deliver his own blow that Bucky narrowly dodges as he half-shouts, “Rusted!”
The man swings again, and Bucky can’t maneuver out of the way in time as his knees buckle, a wash of painfully-cold dread consuming him. He cries out in pain, but not from the blow—his head throbs agonizingly as a blinding whiteness begins seeping from the edges, whiting out his ability to think—
Bucky shouts, gathering all his strength, his rage, his desperation. He forces himself off the ground and charges at the man—if he can just shut him up, he can get away—he has to get away, he has to get home, has to get home to—to—
He drives his fist as hard as he can into the other man’s stomach, and the guy sputters on his next word as he’s sent flying backward. Bucky wastes no time and bolts for the ledge as fast as he can, but his legs give out and he hits the ground hard as the man spits and viciously screams, “Daybreak!”
No, Bucky desperately thinks, begging himself. No, don’t, don’t let him—get up, get up, you have to get up—
He lets out a piercing, enraged scream as the man stands over him and says, “Seventeen,” which earns him a forceful stomp to the back of his head, muffling his screams as his face is smashed into the concrete.
“No!” Bucky shouts, anger and fear filling him, everything else gone, his mind blank, just white white white. “Stop it!”
He can hear the man grinning through the smugness of his voice. “Benign.”
Please, he cries into the blinding white void, feeling his body surrender, in spite of himself. Not again, not again, not again—
“Nine,” the man says, and Bucky screams his desperation as loud as he can, barely able at the last second to stop himself from screaming Peter’s name. “Homecoming.”
Peter, he thinks, desperately, everything else fading out. Peter. Peter…
He feels the inky black tendrils pull him under. The man opens his mouth to speak, the final word hanging from his victorious mouth. He braces himself, but all he hears is a surprised shout of pain.
And then hands on his back. Small, gentle hands, trembling, frantic—
“Bucky!” A voice. A desperate, watery voice. He knows that voice. “Bucky, please, Bucky get up, oh my God—”
He tries to lift himself off the ground, every muscle in his body protesting. His mind is white, he can’t think at all, all of it covered up like snow.
“Bucky, come on, we gotta go—”
“You must be Spider-Man,” says another voice, cold and grating. “Fr—”
He can feel the scream leave his throat, but it’s not his voice he hears. It’s another one, softer, younger, just as desperate. “Stop it!” screams the familiar voice. The hands leave his back, the body moves away. “Leave him alone!”
Pushing as hard as he can against the ground, he manages to lift himself onto his hands and knees. He can hear the struggle behind him, a chorus of strikes and blows and the sounds of bodies hitting pavement. He turns over, trying to see through the haze, the impenetrable whiteness of his mind.
A child and a man.
The child is fast, but so is the man, and every punch and kick the kid dishes out, the man returns, twice as hard. “Sorry, kid,” he says, delivering a kick to the boy that sends him flying into the unforgiving concrete ledge. “But you have something that belongs to me.”
The child gasps and hisses in pain beneath his red mask. “He doesn’t,” he says, getting to his feet. “You’re not taking him!”
The man smirks, an unsightly look that makes his stomach turn. “You think so?” He turns and looks at him, opens his mouth to speak. Fear billows inside of him and he desperately covers his ears, trying to block it out.
“No!” the child shouts again, lifting his hand and shooting a white thread from his wrist that sticks to the man, which he then tugs on, sending him flying into the rooftop’s door. The man crumples with a cry of pain, and the kid uses the moment to run back over to him, frantically urging, “Come on, Bucky, come on.” The child reaches out to him, tries to sling his arm over his narrow shoulders. His body feels too heavy to lift himself off the ground. The child wraps his other arm around his back and pulls him up, effortlessly. “We gotta go, come on!”
The kid’s head snaps up suddenly, and he pushes him out of the way and back down to the ground as the man charges at them, barreling into the child and knocking him down to the concrete, too. The man punches the child hard across the face, then wraps his hands around his throat before he can recover and says, “Just for that, I’m going to have him kill you so slowly.”
The child struggles, trying to rip the man’s hands off of his neck. He sputters and coughs, his fingers trembling as he tugs uselessly on the man’s wrists. “No—” he coughs. “Don’t, don’t—”
“Aww, are you having a hard time breathing?” the man taunts, and removes one of his hands to grab the hem of the kid’s mask instead. “Here, let me help you.” And he pulls it up and off the boy’s face, goggles and all, and tosses it away.
The man studies the kid’s face, then hums and says, “This your type, Soldier?” He looks at him. “Maybe I’ll let you have some fun with him one last time before you slit his throat.”
He shudders. A flare of—something—rage?—rises up in him and bursts. He lifts himself up, forces himself, though his whole body feels as heavy and inflexible as stone.
The child tries to take advantage of the man looking away from him and aims to punch him square across the jaw, but the man is quicker, and he catches the boy’s wrist before it can make contact and slams it down on the ground. “You just don’t want to make this easy for yourself, do you?”
“I won’t—“ the child coughs. He glares defiantly at the man above him. “Won’t… let you… hurt him…!”
The man smiles. He feels that same burst of rage soar up inside of him again, and he forces himself to stand on shaking legs.
“Gonna be hard to stop me,” the man says, grinning widely. “After I do this.”
The man wrenches on the boy’s wrist in his hand and breaks it with a deafening snap. The child screams, loud, long and blood-curdling, and it cuts through the thick white haze clouding his mind as sharply as if he had felt the pain himself. He’s moving before he realizes it, tackling the man to the ground and then pummeling him for all he’s worth, landing brutal blow after brutal blow. The man tries to speak, tries to get the godforsaken words out, but he doesn’t relent and smashes his metal fist into his face again and again, venting every shred of rage and helplessness within him, hits him and hits him until the man’s body goes lax.
He knows he’ll kill him if he doesn’t stop, but he doesn’t stop, too consumed by the blinding whiteness in his head, now filled with the unbearable sound of that child screaming, louder than anything he’s ever heard, overwriting everything else. He raises his hand again, intending on hitting the man’s face until it breaks apart into pieces, but two arms wrap around it before he can deliver the blow and pull him back, off the man’s unconscious body entirely.
The child kneels next to him, face wet with tears as he clings to his metal arm and begs, “Don’t, please, please don’t kill him.” They’re both gasping for breath, and he curls in on himself and stares down at the ground, trying to block the screaming out, but it’s all he can hear, until he isn’t even sure if it’s the child beside him or if the sound is entirely in his head. He grits his teeth and squeezes his eyes shut, and then a small hand is gently cupping the side of his head and a quiet voice says, “Hey, hey, Bucky, look at me. Look at me.”
The hand against his head trembles, and he feels the body next to him move in close, kneeling between his own knees dug into the concrete, a soft voice gently pleading, “Please, Bucky, look at me.”
He feels a forehead press against his own, hears another heartbroken plea. “Look at me…” The hand falls to his shoulder, he feels drops of water fall and land on his metal hand. “Look at me, Dad…”
Bucky looks up, his head lifting until he can clearly see Peter’s face, bruised, battered, utterly soaked in tears. Peter looks up at him and sobs brokenly when their eyes finally meet, letting himself collapse into Bucky’s chest, cradling his broken wrist between their bodies.
“Oh, God, Peter, Peter—” Bucky gasps, shooting up and taking the boy by the shoulders so he can put enough distance between them to look at him. “Fuck, Peter, hey, let me see—”
But Peter shakes his head, refusing to lift it, crying openly as Bucky fusses around him and tries to take stock of every injury he can see, his eyes drifting back to the boy’s swollen wrist again and again. “Peter—shit, I’m so sorry—I know it hurts, you gotta let me see—”
The kid shakes his head again, his sobs worsening until his entire body is wracked with them. Bucky’s never seen him cry like this before; never seen him so consumed by the tears that he'd completely refused to speak. He takes the boy into his arms and tries to soothe him, tries to calm him down enough that he can inspect his injuries, but Peter pulls back, sobs scarcely dying down.
“He—” he tries, coughing from the bruises around his throat and the sobs still trying to bubble up as he speaks. “He was—”
Bucky gently pats him on the back, soothing his blood-soaked curls out of his face with his other hand. Peter gulps down big mouthfuls of air as he tries to quell his sobs, until Bucky has to take the boy’s face in his hands and say, “Come on, baby, deep breaths. There you go. Slowly…”
“He was—” Peter says again, softer now. He sniffles and looks up at Bucky finally, fat tears rolling down his cheeks as their eyes meet and he whispers, terrified, “He was gonna take you away…”
He pulls Peter flush against his chest and holds him, knowing he’s squeezing too tight and not caring. He doesn’t want Peter to see the same terrified, heartbroken look on his own face, wants his child to feel safe and protected in his arms, when really he isn’t, isn’t safe with Bucky at all.
“We need to get you home,” he says after a while, when Peter’s crying has stopped and he’s gone limp in Bucky’s lap. “I need to take a look at you, and we gotta prepare in case this guy told anyone about us.”
“What about him?” Peter asks, his voice sounding as hoarse and battered as his throat looks.
Bucky turns and spares the man a spiteful glance, uncaring for the red accumulation of broken and bloodied skin that used to be his scarred face. He’ll die of his injuries if they leave him like this.
But Peter wouldn’t want that.
“Can you walk? I’ll drop him off outside a hospital and then take you home, but I can’t carry both of you at the same time.”
Peter nods, wiping his wet face off with his unbroken hand as he shakily gets to his feet. “Uh huh.”
They end up leaving the man behind a parked ambulance in the ER parking lot of the nearest hospital, safe enough outside the range of the security cameras, but close enough that the paramedics will see him when they return to their truck. Peter insists that they wait on the neighboring rooftop until someone sees him and wheels him into the hospital, but thankfully it isn’t long before Bucky can finally put his arm around his kid and take him home.
Peter doesn’t say anything as they make their way home, and Bucky assumes it’s from the trauma to his throat and the pain no doubt throbbing in his wrist. It isn’t until they're safely back home and the door is shut and locked that he finds out the real reason why Peter hasn’t said anything the entire way here.
“What…” he starts, voice broken and cracking and filled with pain. “What… happened to you, back there? What did he… what did he do to you?”
Bucky goes very still, gritting his teeth as he debates whether he should tell Peter the truth or not. He knows he has the right to know. But he also knows that if Hydra were to find out that Peter knew about the Winter Soldier, the next time they decided to kill him wouldn’t be on a whim.
“Peter,” he sighs, hating the unsureness of his own voice, hating the words even more. “You know I can’t tell you that. Please… please try to understand.”
The boy is quiet for a long, tense moment, then whispers, “I don’t understand,” the tears evident in his voice. Bucky turns quickly and is struck by the frustrated, almost angry look on the kid’s face, staring dejectedly down at the floor with heavy tears streaming down his cheeks. “I don’t understand any of it. What did he want? What did he mean when he said you were gonna kill me?”
Bucky flinches, unable to stop himself from violently recoiling at the thought. The memory of what that guy said and did is hazy to him at best, right up until he broke Peter’s wrist and pulled Bucky from his trance, but he doesn’t doubt that that guy would threaten Peter with making Bucky torture and kill him. He’d expect nothing less from an agent of Hydra.
He swallows the guilt and despair that fills his chest, and ushers Peter over to the loveseat as he says, “I need to look at your wrist before it heals too much for me to splint it, okay?”
The disappointment and frustration is clear as day on Peter’s face, but he nods his head agreeably and lets Bucky examine and treat his wounds, though he stays silent and reserved for the rest of the night.
He dreams of the farmhouse.
It’s a huge old house that he knows inside and out, though every room is entirely too big, no way they could all fit inside this one building. He moves from room to room, up and down staircases that always lead to the same hallway, searching, searching, searching and he doesn’t know why.
The wooden floors creak and groan under his feet.
At last he opens a door, an old, dilapidated door that screeches from unoiled hinges as he pushes it open. There’s a familiar room inside, but he knows it doesn’t fit, it’s not right. He walks through the doorway between the farmhouse to the apartment on the other side, and knows this isn’t the way he meant to go.
He looks across the room at the small, familiar kitchen; the old appliances, the standalone counter and wobbly barstool. He looks at the barren loveseat and the even more barren mattress on the floor, kids’ books and movies and clothes piled all around them, in every corner of the room. He knows this place. But he also knows it shouldn’t be here.
He tries to leave, but opening the front door only leads to the same apartment, like stepping into a mirror. He goes back and forth between the doorway, desperate, looking for a way out, a way back to the farmhouse, but it’s hopeless, hopeless, hopeless. He opens the door over and over again, but the world doesn’t exist, just this same apartment, the only thing on the other side.
And then he steps inside, and there he is, finally. He feels relief overflow within him when he finally sees Peter, lying there on the loveseat, content and sound asleep. Bucky moves forward quietly, smiling down at the boy and crouching by the loveseat so he can reach out and pull the sleeping bag over the boy’s prone form, covering him.
But suddenly, a hand shoots out, and it grabs his metal wrist in an unbreakable grip. Bucky reels back, but the metal of his arm starts to bend, and he looks and is horrified to see that the hand holding his is broken grotesquely as well, the wrist jagged and crooked like the bone was snapped in half and never healed right.
Bucky tries to tug himself free, but his hands end up wrapped around a small, pale throat, and he pulls back but they won’t come off, no matter how desperately he yanks on them, powerless to do anything but watch as his fingers squeeze, as they tighten, harder, harder, harder—
He screams, desperate and hysteric. No, he begs into the white world all around him, an endless void of it, just him and this slender throat in his hands that he can’t let go of. No, please, don’t make me do it, DON’T MAKE ME DO IT—
He feels arms circle around him, helping to try and pull him off the throat, but he can’t see them, nothing in this white abyss except him. The arms tighten and squeeze, and then his screams slowly morph and turn into a name, repeated urgently and pleadingly all around him, filling his head, until no other sound exists. Bucky, Bucky, Bucky—
He gasps and jerks awake, trying to sit up, but the arms around him pull him back down into someone’s lap and he thrashes, disoriented. Two slender hands pin his shoulders down as a familiar voice begs, “It’s okay, Bucky, it’s okay, it’s me—Dad, it’s me!”
Bucky goes still, chest heaving and skin soaked in sweat. He looks up, sees Peter’s worried, upside-down face staring back at him, eyes wide and concerned as he hugs Bucky from behind with trembling hands.
“Peter,” Bucky pants, reality seeping back to him as he lifts Peter’s hands off his shoulders. “What are you doing, you shouldn’t be putting any pressure on your wrist—”
“You were thrashing,” Peter says, voice still laden with fear. “And—freaking out, I didn’t know if—I didn’t know what else to do.”
Bucky sits up and looks at him, and his throat closes up at the sight. His neck. He chokes at the sight of Peter’s neck, horribly discolored in the dark, like someone covered his skin in black handprints. That wasn’t me, he screams desperately at himself, but it’s too late—the image is stuck, burned into his mind; the image of himself strangling Peter on a rooftop, squeezing his neck until he breaks it.
He rips himself away from Peter and drops his head in his hands as he gasps, desperate for air, fear and guilt and blind, white-hot panic filling him. His neck. He can’t unsee the bruises, the handprints, the realization of just how close his kid came to dying because of him.
“Hey, hey—hey, h-hey, it’s okay, it’s okay—” Peter reaches out to him, but Bucky flinches at the touch, curling in on himself tighter, mouth open in a silent scream of anguish. His neck. His goddamn neck. Fuck. FUCK.
The rush of blood in his ears drowns out Peter’s voice, until the boy wraps his arms around him and holds him, tightly, crushing him against his small chest as Bucky shakes from the panic surging through him. He can feel the scratchy material of Peter’s splint against his face.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, we’re both okay, we’re okay,” Peter repeats, crying. Crying again, because of him. “Dad, Dad, we’re okay.”
“You’re not okay,” Bucky says through gritted teeth, his whole body pulled tight like a bowstring. “You’re hurt.”
Peter tightens his arms around him, and Bucky lets himself be held, though he knows he doesn’t deserve it. Peter could have died, and it would have been all his fault, because he never told Peter just how dangerous he is. That man could have made Bucky kill Peter with his own hands, and Peter would have walked straight into it, not knowing any better.
He can’t ever let that happen.
“Peter,” he says, not remembering the last time his voice sounded so quiet, so lifeless. “I have to tell you the truth.”
Peter goes very still, but he sits there and listens and holds Bucky the entire time, arms occasionally tightening around his neck when Bucky’s voice breaks, accompanied by the sounds of Peter’s sniffles and sob-filled breaths. He doesn’t say anything as they sit together on that mattress, listening to Bucky explain everything about the Winter Soldier—all the horrible things he hadn’t told him in the long months since they became family—and when it’s over, Peter lowers his head until he’s crying into Bucky’s hair and says, “I love you,” and hugs Bucky as tightly as he can.
Bucky brings his own hands up and squeezes Peter’s arms around his neck, reassuringly, then allows a small smile to spread across his face as he says, “Hell, kid, how come you don’t hit nearly as hard as you hug, huh? Pretty sure my neck has dents in it.”
Peter laughs, a quiet, watery sound, and tightens his arms even more, trying to mask the way he’s started to shake as he begins to cry again. Bucky lays there in his son’s arms, Peter’s arms in his hands as he allows himself to be held, and, well—if he closes his eyes and finally lets his own scalding tears run freely down his face, it’s not like Peter is able to see it.
When Bucky peels back the corner of newspaper covering the kitchen window to peek outside, he’s pleasantly surprised to see that the snow that had fallen last night is already melted.
Winter had been short, but this is the third time spring has falsely begun, bringing sunshine and warmth and light rain only to be plunged back into snow the moment people started packing their winter gear away.
Peter hadn’t seemed to mind, as inexplicably enthused about the snow as he is about pretty much everything else. Bucky hopes he’ll never forget the day he came home from work—the sky already black, even though it was only early evening—to find Peter grinning at him from the loveseat, surrounded by paper snowflakes and garlands he’d made himself, hung on the walls and from the ceiling. Peter had been so proud of his decorating, exclaiming, “Surprise!” and then having to explain to Bucky exactly what the decorations represented. They’d stayed up all the way until the end of January.
Bucky doesn’t have any memories of Christmases or birthdays or any other kind of family event like that, but he knows the one he’d spent with Peter would be unrivalled in how much it means to him, even if he did.
They’d curled up together on the loveseat, drinking hot chocolate and watching holiday-themed movies, and in the morning they gave each other gifts—sweaters, funnily enough, both knowing how cold the other had been since winter started and wanting them to be warm. Bucky had saved up and gotten Peter an extremely thick and practical hooded sweater that was double-lined with goose feathers to retain as much heat as possible. Peter had gotten Bucky a red and green and appropriately titled “ugly Christmas sweater” that had Feliz Navi Dad printed on it.
Bucky had barely taken it off all winter.
In fact, the dad angle seemed to be a running theme among the gifts Peter had given him; a few weeks ago, on his birthday, Peter had gifted him a large coffee mug that said World’s Best Dad on it—the only piece of kitchenware they have that isn’t cracked and chipped to shit, so Bucky still hasn’t used it once, wanting to preserve it so it will last, displaying it proudly on the counter so he can see it and smile while he’s making breakfast in the mornings, those quiet moments before Peter wakes.
Those moments have been few and far between since they were attacked.
Bucky had been anxious the morning after he told Peter about the Winter Soldier, worried how the kid would react to him afterward, if things would change between them. Worried about the agent they left alive, about having to tell Peter that they definitely had to relocate now, dreading Peter being hurt by the news. Dreading Peter telling him he’d rather they go their separate ways, in light of learning who—what—Bucky really is.
But none of that had happened.
Peter had brought him water and Tylenol for the splitting headache he somehow knew Bucky had, and sat next to him where Bucky laid on the mattress, his head pounding to the point that it felt like it was splitting him open. Peter had tended to him, worried, but not afraid. Not of him, at least. It was more than Bucky ever dared to hope for.
“Peter,” he had said after a while, voice splintered from the pain blooming deep in his skull. “We screwed up. We can’t stay here.”
Peter had gone very still. “We didn’t screw up.”
“That guy saw your face,” Bucky argued. “He—Hydra. They know who Spider-Man is now. They know you’re a kid, they’ll find you. We should have—” he barely managed to stop himself in time. “—…left him.”
“We couldn’t just leave him!” Peter had said, eyes wide, as if he was shocked Bucky could say such a thing. “He would have died.”
“Peter,” he’d said, tone gentle. “That guy wasn’t a good person.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Peter’s face was equal parts remorseful and stubborn, as if he was pained by the thought of disagreeing with Bucky—of either of them being the cause of someone’s death—but he had held firm, all the same. “We couldn’t just leave him,” he’d said, softly, shaking his head, voice quiet and assured. “It wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.”
Bucky had sighed, part of him wanting to laugh from how incredulous he felt that he could be so completely frustrated and endlessly fond of his kid all at once. He hadn’t particularly wanted to kill the man, either—he’d had his fill of death, of murder. But he also knew that Hydra wouldn’t stop, and the cost of leaving that guy alive was uprooting their life here together completely.
“We can’t stay here,” Bucky had said again, his heart breaking at the sight of Peter’s saddened, lowered gaze. “I can’t let them find you again.”
“But—it’s only the one guy who knows my face. He doesn’t even know my name. Maybe we… maybe it will be okay.”
“Not if he tells the rest of Hydra that I’m connected to Spider-Man,” he’d said. “They’ll target you relentlessly, every time you go on patrol. They’re a huge organization, kid, even I don’t have any idea how many connections they have. We aren’t safe here. You aren’t.”
Peter had been quiet for a long, tense moment. He ducked his head to hide his face from Bucky’s gaze, and then sighed, his chest rising and falling from the deep breath he took. When he looked up again, his eyes seemed defeated and determined at the same time.
“What if I…” he’d begun, hesitating before he steeled himself. “What if… I didn’t patrol anymore?”
Even now, Bucky’s heart clenches painfully when he thinks of that morning, of the look on Peter’s face and the tone of his voice when he had given up everything for the sake of preserving their life together, the broken home they both love so much.
The morning Peter had chosen Bucky over Spider-Man.
Bucky had tried to argue, but he knew, ultimately, it was Peter’s choice. If Peter would rather stay in Queens, at his school, in their apartment—what right did Bucky have to stop him from hanging up his figurative cape? He had never interfered in Peter’s role as Spider-Man before and he never wanted to; if Peter thought it was worth it, Bucky respected him enough to let him have his choice.
But the months since then have been hard on them both, Peter especially. Bucky hadn’t realized exactly how much being Spider-Man meant to the kid; what he got out of it, besides helping people. What that freedom and responsibility and sense of control offered him, after all the time he spent feeling completely helpless in his short life. Bucky hadn’t realized at the time exactly what it was Peter had sacrificed for them, but slowly, he began to see the toll it took.
Peter had been restless. Every time a siren sounded anywhere nearby, he’d get this tense, tortured look on his face, like it took everything inside his small body to stay put, on the ground. Bucky’s heart ached for him in those moments, as often as they were in their crowded city, but there was only so much he could do for Peter.
He tried to distract him, to keep him busy, tire him out as much as possible. They spent even more time together than they had before; Bucky would escort him to and from school now, a little overprotective maybe, but he wouldn’t take any chances of Hydra expanding their search to the school districts. They began to do more “normal” activities—Bucky would take Peter out, even when it unnerved him, to the ice-skating rink and the dollar movie and the family bowling alley four blocks over, even when the costs added up. Peter could only sit still at home for so long before he’d be fidgeting with everything and driving Bucky crazy, so they started going out a lot more, until winter really set in.
That had been hard. The change of season meant less daylight, which meant more time spent indoors, as Bucky was hesitant to let Peter out after dark much anymore—Hydra wasn’t above making a move in broad daylight, but they were much more likely to attack under the cover of night, out of the public eye.
There had also been moments where Peter seemed… down, almost, once winter started. Not overly, not even that noticeably—but Bucky had still picked up on the longing look Peter got in his eyes now and then, the sluggish way he seemed to move around before he left for school and after he got home. “Some people get depressed around the holidays,” Frank had told him when Bucky confided in him. “And he lost his mother, right? Maybe the season is bringing out old grief.”
It made sense, but Bucky hated knowing there was nothing he could do for Peter, no way to ease his grief for his aunt and uncle and his parents. All he could do was be there, and when he sat Peter down and told him they could talk about it if he wanted to, well—the way Peter had leaned in to hug him and said, “I’m okay. You’re here, so I’m okay,” had gutted Bucky completely.
But winter, it seems, is now finally over for good, and with the change of season, Peter also seems to be feeling better these days—more like his usual energetic self, smiling more than he had been in the weeks leading up to Christmas, chatting more animatedly as Bucky walks him to school, Peter smiling and pointing out the different kinds of bird returning from the south.
They have to stop more than usual to pet the random cats bathing in the morning sun, but thankfully, the streets are still relatively empty; Bucky taking Peter to school much earlier than he used to so that he still has time to get to work. They fall into a comfortable silence as Peter’s school comes into view, and when they stop a few yards from the building, Peter gives Bucky a quick hug goodbye and then steps back to head inside.
He doesn’t make it more than a step before Ned is running over to them, waving excitedly like he’s trying to flag down a bus. “Peter! Peter, oh my God!”
Peter stops, sending Bucky a confused, slightly-worried look before he turns back to his friend. “Dude, what?”
“You didn’t hear, did you? About the Avengers?”
Bucky stiffens slightly, his shoulders tensing as Ned stops in front of them, gushing, “Dude, everybody’s freaking out, it’s been all over the news—oh uhm, hi Peter’s dad—there was some kind of, like, attack or something in Lagos. The Scarlett Witch blew up a building full of Wakandan humanitarian workers.”
“Holy crap,” Peter says, eyes wide and face paling slightly. “That’s—that’s awful, do they know what happened?”
Ned shrugs, seemingly not nearly as disturbed as Peter looks and Bucky feels. “Dunno, I guess she was trying to contain an explosion or something and accidentally aimed it the building.”
“How many people are hurt?” Peter asks. His voice is quiet and weighed-down, but Bucky can hear the thread of hope laced in it.
The way Ned shakes his head unravels that thread, however. “They haven’t finished counting the, uh… casualties.”
Peter noticeably slumps, and Bucky reaches out and lays his hand on the boy’s shoulder, not wanting to embarrass the kid by pulling him into his arms in front of his friend and school.
Peter looks up at him, then turns to Ned and says, “Um, I’ll—I’ll meet you inside, okay?” to which Ned nods, bidding Bucky a quick goodbye as he turns and heads for the doors. Bucky doesn’t have a chance to ask Peter if he’s okay before the kid wraps his arms around his middle and hugs him, the tension easing out of his narrow shoulders as he does.
Bucky returns the hug, gently patting the back of the boy’s head as he says, “You be safe, you hear me? And call me if you need to.”
Peter simply nods against his chest, tightening his arms around him.
For the rest of the day while Bucky works, Frank routinely pops his head into the shop to update him on the Lagos bombing, the gruff older man clearly sharing Ned’s love of spectacle, a fact that surprises Bucky somewhat.
It’s toward the end of the day as Bucky’s getting ready to clean up and head out to go get Peter that Frank comes back in, shaking his head exasperatedly, and sternly informs him, “Wakanda’s all up in arms over this bombing thing. They’re callin’ for a UN meeting to talk about putting the Avengers under international government control. It’s horseshit if you ask me.” Frank gestures animatedly with his hands, his exaggerated ranting usually at least somewhat entertaining to Bucky, but the situation now makes his stomach turn. “That bloody terrorist woulda killed way more people if they let him explode on the street. The hell was that girl supposed to do, huh? It’s all nonsense, all this commotion because a kid made a mistake trying to save Captain America’s life.”
A deafeningly loud crr-eeek echoes throughout the shop as Bucky’s arm convulses and involuntarily closes his fist, snapping the handle of the metal wrench he’s holding in half like a twig. Frank shoots him a startled, disbelieving look as the end of the handle goes flying and hits the concrete floor with a suspicious amount of force.
“Christ, Barnes,” Frank says, his tone lacking its usual bite, too stunned. “How the fuck did you do that?”
“Sorry,” Bucky mumbles numbly, his mind racing and his arm still resolutely clenched around the rest of the wrench. “Just—grabbed it too tight, it, uh, it was cracked, anyway. Rusted to shit.”
“Apparently.” Frank glances at the handle tip, his expression still aghast. “Still, that’s some mean grip you got there. Can’t believe your boy’s so scrawny considering all that muscle you’re packin’.”
Bucky only nods, not really listening as he finally gets his fist open. I need maintenance again, he thinks, remembering that it’s almost been a year since that time Peter fixed him up, but then he realizes it’s the tension in his own chest and shoulders that’s making his arm act up, not the hardware. He forces himself to breathe deeply, feels the wires and gears and circuitry calm down slightly in his shoulder plate as the tension releases from his muscles.
“Shit.” Frank comes up next to him, seems to deliberate over laying a hand on his shoulder, then thinks better of it. “Sometimes I forget that you went overseas. Can’t have been easy listenin’ to me yammering on about bombings all day.” Frank’s tone is sympathetic, or as close to as Bucky’s ever heard it, except for the time Peter got sick. “Why don’t you head on home? It’s almost time to pick up your boy, anyway.”
He nods again, his body suddenly feeling heavy, as though his clothes were made of lead. Frank’s concern is misplaced, but he’ll take the invitation to leave for Peter’s school regardless—the sooner he can grab his kid and head home, the better.
They say an abrupt goodbye before Bucky takes off, his chest feeling uncomfortably tight as he makes his way to the school. That was almost Steve. His head feels like there’s a hurricane raging inside of it. Steve almost died at the hands of some terrorist in Lagos.
They haven’t seen each other since Bucky pulled him from the river, since DC, almost two years ago, but that apparently isn’t enough time or distance for Bucky to get a handle on the anxiety that washes over him every time he thinks of Steve. Even the part of him that considers the man a threat—or trouble, at the very least—seemed to seize up at the mention of Steve almost getting killed, as though not even becoming enemies would be enough to undo the years of friendship that Bucky has tried very hard not to let himself remember.
The part of him that still does see Steve as his friend had gone cold hearing what Frank had said. If the news is true, and all those people died because one of his teammates was desperately trying to save Steve’s life, well, the part of Bucky that would still gladly die for Steve Rogers knew instantly in that moment the kind of guilt Steve must be feeling right now, that level of grief. If anyone knows the insidiousness of survivor’s guilt, it’s Bucky.
He grits his teeth and continues walking, head down, shoulders wide. He keeps moving to keep his blood flowing, sending oxygen throughout his body, an attempt to cool the raging anxiety inside of him. What would he have done, if that had been the news that broke this morning? Captain America dies in terrorist attack, or Lagos bombing claims life of Captain America. His stomach knots to the point of nausea. He has no intention of ever seeing Steve again. But the thought of not being able to makes him feel light-headed and ill.
The Lagos bombing is all anyone talks about for almost a week straight, until the king of Wakanda calls for a UN meeting in Vienna to sign the newly-drafted Sokovia Accords.
The world is up in arms over the news, the population seemingly divided in half either in favor of or against the idea. It’s not a huge shock, then, that the Avengers seem divided too, with only a few of them set to attend the meeting in Vienna, as Frank and Ned so graciously informed them. Bucky tries to keep his head down and focus on only the things that matter—his job, and taking care of his child.
Peter is much more concerned with the whole thing than Bucky is, being such an avid fanboy of the Avengers. He spends more time at Ned’s house after school in that one week than he had all winter, pouring over internet news sites together, trying to guess what will happen next. Bucky lets him, but always swings by Ned’s place to pick him up so they can be home before the sky is fully dark. He can tell that Peter wants to stay longer, but the boy doesn’t argue or complain.
In fact he doesn’t say much of anything, as they make their way home. Bucky’s learned that usually means the boy is thinking or worry about something, but he waits before asking; Peter always comes out and says whatever is on his mind eventually, if something’s bothering him. He never keeps it in for long, not from Bucky.
But Peter doesn’t say anything, just continues staring down at the ground as they walk further away from their last bus stop. When they’re almost home, Bucky thinks fuck it and says, “Hey. What’s on your mind?”
Peter looks up, glances at him. “Huh?”
“You’re burning holes in the concrete. What’s up? I can tell something’s bothering you.”
Peter’s eyebrows furrow together, a confused frown. “No—nothing’s, uh, bothering me, exactly.”
“Then what is it?”
To his surprise, Peter’s cheeks actually go a little pink, and he looks back down at the ground. “It’s… not a big deal. Don’t worry about it.”
“Kid,” Bucky says. He places his arm around Peter’s shoulder encouragingly. “Come on, you know you can talk to me. What’s got you all mute and blushy all of a sudden?”
The redness in Peter’s cheeks darkens as he ducks his head. “It’s embarrassing.”
“What, you got a girl in trouble or something?”
Peter gives him a flat, unamused look. “Yes. And now I have to marry her.”
The grin drops from Bucky’s face. “Okay, too far. I am not ready for grandkids.”
“It’s not like you’re too young—ow! I’m kidding!”
“You absolutely deserved that,” Bucky says, flicking him a second time, more gently. “Are you going to tell me what’s actually wrong or not?”
Peter laughs a little, then sighs and says, “It’s just, um… well, l-like I said, it’s not a big deal. It really isn’t, I just—was just thinking—y’know, next week, it’ll be a year since we met.”
Bucky suddenly regrets teasing Peter the way he had. He hadn’t even realized—he wasn’t exactly keeping track of the days of the month, last year, before Peter came into his life. He hadn’t needed to know more than the day of week, back then.
He clears his throat awkwardly and lets his arm drop from the kid’s shoulders. “So what are you thinking? You wanna celebrate?”
“Can we? We don’t have to,” Peter quickly adds, trying to look nonchalant. “I don’t mind if it’s not something big. Even just grabbing a hot dog along the boardwalk would be nice.”
“That does sound nice,” Bucky agrees. “We’ll think of something. We can go out if you want. You need new clothes, anyway.”
Peter makes a face halfway between a pout and a grimace that’s more endearing than it has any right to be. “I say I want to go out and celebrate, and you try and turn it into a practical shopping trip. What gives?”
Bucky laughs. “What’s wrong with being practical? We’re going out anyway, we might as well stop and get you some new jeans.”
“That is such a dad thing to say.”
Peter beams, his fake-pout falling from his face as he laughs and leans into Bucky’s side, his warmth achingly familiar beneath his arm.
Bucky’s halfway through his shift at work when it happens.
He’s just got his latest junkyard salvage up and running, the engine purring like it just rolled off the manufacture line, when Frank throws open the door to the shop and fixes him with wide, panicked eyes. Bucky’s instincts are instantly flaring up, the alarm bells inside his body screeching, when Frank waves the TV remote agitatedly in his grasp and says, “There’s been another bombing.”
For a moment, Bucky has no idea what he’s talking about. “Another—in Lagos?”
Frank shakes his head, his face in shock. “No,” he says. He sounds older from the strain. “In Vienna. The UN meeting. One reporter’s claiming the king of Wakanda was killed.”
“What the hell,” Bucky says, straightening up and giving the man his full attention, noticing just how flustered Frank seems to be by the news. “Same people as Lagos? They targeting the Avengers or something?”
Frank shrugs. “No idea yet. Bomb only went off an hour ago.”
“The hell is this world coming to,” Frank shakes his head, his tone severe. “It’s one thing to try and take down a trained group like the Avengers. But a UN meeting full of diplomats, in a parliament building full of innocent people? That’s one seriously messed up group or individual.”
Bucky doesn’t know what to say. He’s never seen Frank this shaken up before. “Hopefully they catch whoever did it,” he offers, lamely, not sure what it is the man needs to hear. “How’s Sharon holding up?”
Frank’s face softens somewhat at the question. “She always takes these things so hard, you know. Internalizes them. Been that way ever since we had our daughter—she just couldn’t look at death the same way after that, after having Emily. Every person who gets hurt or killed is somebody’s kid, that’s all she can think about. She hears about a child who’s died and she can be down for days after, the thought is just too much to bear.”
“Peter’s the same way,” Bucky says without thinking. “He’s kind like that. He can’t see a death count as just a number, he grieves for every single person as if he knew them. It takes a toll.” He lets his shoulders slump slightly, his body relaxing in a way he isn’t sure it ever has around Frank before, more vulnerable than he’s ever been around anyone, except Peter. “I don’t know how to help him, as his dad, you know? Half of me loves that he cares so much. He’s good, he’s so damn good. I’ve never met anyone who loves people the way Peter does.”
Frank nods, so Bucky figures it’s okay to keep going, and says, “But the other half of me, the half that wants to be a good parent—I hate that he takes it so hard. People die, it happens, and he’s going to have to deal with it over and over again throughout his life. I don’t want him to be indifferent to it, but isn’t that the better of the two options, in the long run? It’ll cause him less pain. He’ll get worn down and burnt out if he keeps taking everything personally his whole life. I don’t want to change him, but I don’t know how to protect him.”
As soon as the words leave his mouth, Bucky feels taut with unease. It’s one thing, he thinks, to admit to himself that he isn’t capable of being the stable, safe caregiver Peter needs—and, more importantly, deserves—but to admit it aloud to someone else, someone who actually is a father, it feels like he’s given the words a tangible form, agency in the real world, as if speaking them has made them true.
But Frank merely nods again, understanding shining in his dark brown eyes. “That’s normal, Barnes. Kids are naive, and it’s hard, as their parents, to find the balance between letting them have their naivety and wanting them to be prepared for the real world. You don’t want to take away your kid’s compassion, and you shouldn’t. He’s a good boy. But he’s young yet, and if you let him, he’ll surprise you by how fast he grows up. He’ll have to face the real world eventually, and all you can do to prepare him is remind him that, for all the rotten people in this world, there are good people too, who are deserving of that compassion of his.”
He can’t help the smile that stretches across his face. “Peter’s… he’s seen rotten people before. He’s no stranger to them. He gives them his compassion all the same. I don’t know where the hell he got that from, but he’s never unkind. I don’t think he knows how to be.”
“It’s easy to say that you’d rather your child be kind than smart,” Frank says, knowingly. “But then you actually watch your kid get taken advantage of for their kindness, or hurt by it, and you find yourself wishing they weren’t so goddamn good-natured, for their own sake. But that’s the selfishness of being a parent, all you care about is your own child’s wellbeing, and while you might not be fond of them acting cold, you’d rather they’d do it to others than have it done to them.” Frank looks at him then, his gaze deep, as if picking Bucky apart stitch by stitch. “But your boy ain’t like that, and neither are you, Jim. You’re overprotective as all hell, but don’t kid yourself. You have the same compassion that he does.”
Distantly, the memory of Peter saying something similar flashes in the background of Bucky’s mind—the kid’s down-turned face, the soft tone of his voice, the wind gusting over them on a cold rooftop. You’re scared too, of hurting me. Peter’s warm, painfully-trusting smile as he looked up at him, then. You’re the same as I am.
“Am I that obvious?” Bucky asks aloud before he means to, earning a bark of laughter from his boss.
“You think I don’t know you that well after working here almost a whole damn year? You’re a complete softy, Barnes.”
Frank smiles again, and pats him firmly on the back as he turns to leave the shop. “Gonna go see if there’s any updates on the news. You want me to keep you filled in?”
“At this point, I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Bucky says, and Frank grunts and fails to hide his smile as he leaves.
As Bucky had predicted to Frank, Peter does take the attack in Vienna pretty damn hard. He can tell when he picks the kid up from school that Peter is more withdrawn, quieter, his eyes downcast and lightless. Bucky takes him into his arms without saying anything, not worried about the onlookers leaving the school—many of the other parents picking up their children appear to be doing the same thing, the tragedy of what’s happened leaving people in need of comfort, the parents needing to know their kids are safe, the kids needing to know they are, too.
They start walking away from the building so Bucky can say, without worrying too much about being overheard, “You all right?” Not that that’s a particularly unusual question, given the circumstances, but he wants Peter to be able to answer honestly.
The kid just nods, his lips pressed tightly together. “It’s just—so wrong,” he says, quietly. “And there’s nothing anyone can do now. That’s the worst part. All the people who just lost someone they loved… there’s nothing anyone can do for them.” Peter’s shoulders hunch slightly, his lower lip quivering. “Ned said that, apparently, one of the council member’s wife also worked in the building. Neither of them made it, they had kids. I keep thinking… what it must have felt like, hearing the news or seeing it online or something, knowing your parents are in there, but not knowing if they’re okay. And then finding out they aren’t. It’s just… it’s all so wrong.”
He tightens his arm around Peter’s shoulders. Someone else was orphaned today. It doesn’t surprise him that that’s what Peter would focus on, agonize over, knowing all too well what that moment must have felt like, even though he claims he can’t imagine it. Bucky knows just how well the boy can relate to that kind of abrupt grief, how familiar he is with that sudden, world-ending loss.
“Whoever’s behind it, I doubt the Avengers will just let this slide. They’re not going to take an attack like this sitting down,” Bucky says, trying to cheer the boy up. ”Maybe they can’t do much for all the grief those people are feeling, but they will be able to bring whoever’s responsible to justice. There’s gotta be at least some comfort in that, knowing they won’t be able to hurt anyone else.”
“Yeah,” Peter agrees, numbly.
Bucky sighs and hugs him tighter, one last squeeze before he lets go. “Have you given anymore thought to what you wanna do on Friday?” he asks, changing the subject—something he actually can do to hopefully make the kid feel better.
Peter shrugs, but his lips begin to quirk upward in a small smile. “I really am fine with anything. We don’t have to go anywhere, I’m fine with just staying in to celebrate. Thought maybe we could pick up pasta and Gatorade and cookies like the first time we had dinner together, if that’s okay.”
“That sounds great,” Bucky says, then feels himself begin to smirk before he can stop it. “I do have an idea for what we can do after, though.”
Peter glances up at him, quizzically. “What?”
He’s full-on grinning now, unashamed. “Well, in a few short months, you’re gonna be sixteen. So I’m thinking, after dinner, I’ll take you over to the shop and teach you how to drive that new Pontiac I just put together.”
The wide-eyed, disbelieving look Peter gets on his face actually makes Bucky laugh out loud.
“Really?” the kid says, seeming momentarily confused, like he isn’t sure Bucky is actually talking to him or not. “You’re—you want to teach me how to drive?”
Bucky gives a half-shrug, still smiling. “We might end up someplace that it’d be convenient if you knew how. Even if we end up staying here for a long time, eventually you’ll be an adult, and you’ll be able to apply for your license without anybody’s permission. If you already know how by then, it’ll just be that much easier.” He gently ruffles the kid’s hair, his gaze fond. “I can’t take you on any roads, but you can learn how to operate the thing and drive around the scrapyard, at least. I’ve, uh, been putting a track together for you.”
Peter’s eyes light up like Bucky just told him he built him his own spaceship or something. “Oh my God! Yes! Totally, yes, I definitely want to!”
“Okay, okay,” says Bucky, laughing again. “Keep up that enthusiasm, it’s better than being scared shitless.”
“Oh, I’m terrified,” Peter says earnestly, and the deadpan in his voice brings another chuckle out of Bucky. “But it’ll be so much fun! I can’t wait!”
“Yeah, kid.” Bucky smiles. “Me, either.”
Friday is a year. A year since they met, since that fateful night Bucky saved Peter’s life from those muggers and then slammed the door in his face. A year since everything changed for both of them, since the disjointed pieces of who Bucky was—who Peter was—found each other and fused together to make something entirely new, two lost, singular entities combining into one family unit.
It feels like both a noteworthy milestone and just another average day all at once. It feels like something they should celebrate, something meaningful that they should honor, and sort of a pointless formality at the same time—after all they’ve been through, everything that’s happened since that night they met, it’s almost a little absurd to make such a big deal out of just one day.
But, Bucky supposes, that’s exactly why they should celebrate it, their meeting each other. To celebrate having gone through everything that they did, for surviving the things that they did. For finding each other. It’s significant just how far they’ve come in one year’s time, how completely irreplaceable Peter has become to him. By the time Friday rolls around, Bucky’s more excited by the idea of celebrating it than even Peter is.
That’s why, when he’s elbows deep in an engine at work, only hours away from being able to leave to pick Peter up, and his phone starts ringing with Peter’s name flashing across the screen, well—Bucky’s grinning before he even answers the call. “Hey, kiddo. You excited fo—”
The unbridled, unmistakable panic in the kid’s voice gives him pause. “Peter? What’s—”
“Dad, Dad, oh my God, shit,” Peter says in a rush, his voice breaking as he fights to get the words out. He sounds like he’s crying. “We’ve got a—there’s—we’re in trouble, we’re in huge trouble.”
“Hey, hey, calm down,” Bucky tries to say, but he’s already throwing down his tools and pulling his glove back over his left hand. “Take a deep breath and tell me what happened.”
Peter doesn’t take a deep breath.
“They think you did it.”
Bucky stops, his face twisting in confusion. His brain doesn’t have a chance to catch up with him before he’s asking, “What?”
“The—in Vienna,” Peter says quietly, hushed, his voice breaking. “The attack on the UN. They think you did it.”
Coldness sweeps over Bucky, chilling him right down to the bone. His own voice sounds far away and alien to him as he asks, “Who?”
“Everyone,” Peter says. The weeping in his voice is obvious, now. “Everyone, the whole world. It’s all over the news, the internet—they have a—a photo, of you, sneaking the bomb in. I mean, it—it’s not you, it can’t be, you were here, but—it’s your face. All the papers and articles are referring to you by name. They’re saying James Barnes, the Winter Soldier, did it.”
Bucky’s teeth clench so hard that his jaw aches from the strain. “Someone’s trying to flush me out,” he says, more to himself than to Peter, his tone numb. “They killed those people to frame me so they could force me out of hiding. It has to be Hydra.”
Peter’s voice is as broken as Bucky suddenly feels. “What do we do?”
Steeling himself, Bucky clenches and unclenches his fist as he forces himself to trample his own panic down, needing to keep both of them moving. They’re well and truly out of options, now.
“Where are you? Still at school?”
“I’m—I just left, I’m on my way home. I couldn’t—I saw the news, and I couldn’t—”
“No, that’s good,” Bucky says. “You get home, grab the bugout bags, and wait for me. If I’m not there in fifteen minutes after you arrive, we go with strategy B, all right? You remember what strategy B is?”
Peter sniffles, then says, “Uh huh.”
“Good. If I don’t make it there in time, you carry on with strategy B. I’ll meet up with you at the rendezvous as soon as I can.”
“Promise?” Peter whispers, crying again.
“Yeah, kiddo, I promise,” Bucky says, no idea how his voice can be so much calmer than he feels. “You know what to do. You’ll be all right. I’ll see you at home, okay? And if I don’t, I’ll find you. I promise.”
“Okay,” says Peter. “I’ll—I-I’ll see you at home. Be safe. Please be safe.”
“You too, kid. Be safe. I’ll see you soon.”
He’s out the door before he’s even hung up the phone, rushing through the dealership urgently when he catches sight of Frank, alone at the front desk, staring fixatedly at the wall-mounted TV.
Bucky’s stomach drops.
It’s exactly as Peter said—the news station is broadcasting a photo of him—of his face—entering the building in Vienna, his name and identity in big, bold letters underneath it for all the world to see. Frank slowly turns around and looks at him, his eyes blown black and wide with shock, his face utterly confused. “Jim?”
Bucky’s surprised by just how badly he wants to explain everything to the man.
But there’s no time for that.
He turns and runs from the room, ignoring the shouts that trail after him, Frank calling his name over and over, but Bucky’s too fast. He has to make it home. He has to make it home before he’s found, before Peter is found—they have to get away, far, far away from everything, where no one who would separate them can find them.
It’s the determination of that thought that keeps Bucky moving all the way back home. He doesn’t stop, not even for a breather; he barely manages to avoid the traffic and other pedestrians as he beelines straight for their apartment. The only thought rushing through his head now is Peter, getting home to him and taking the kid somewhere safe, away from all this mess, until he can figure out what to do. It doesn’t matter where they go. They just need to get away.
Bucky makes it back to the apartment in record time, making it up the steps in quick, boundless leaps, not caring at all for being stealthy now—that can wait, everything can wait until he and Peter are reunited.
He pushes open the door, the wood splintering as he forces it. The first thing he sees is Peter in the kitchen, facing him with wide, terrified eyes, his bugout bag tightly secured to his back and Bucky’s bag clutched desperately in his hands. Peter’s back is against the counters, as far away from the front door and Bucky as he can be in this tiny, shithole apartment.
The second thing he sees is Steve.
Steve turns around and meets his gaze. Neither of them says anything, the room utterly silent, until all Bucky can hear is the distant sound of sirens, steadily growing louder.