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Melody's head was pounding. She'd been at this immigration paperwork all day. Though she was quiet well-read, the never ending documents that detailed rule and requirement one after the other was starting to wear on her.

The door of the apartment opened with a soft click and she looked up, her neck stiff as she turned her head. James was back, grinning at her as he made his way into the kitchen. "You're still doing this?"

"Immigration process is evil," Melody replied, laying her head on the table. "My brain is fried. If anyone comes through that door tonight," she pointed vaguely towards it as she spoke, "and they need a doctor, tell them to leave. I'm not fit to suture a grape right now, let alone a person."

"You're supposed to eat grapes," James remarked. "Not suture them."

"That's because you're not thinking outside the box." The skin of a grape was fragile, easy to tear, the same was a skin graft was. It made for good practice. 

"Whatever you say," there was a hush of paper across wood. "Come on, you're done with this."

"No I'm not."

"I'm declaring a retreat," James said and Melody opened her eyes to see him gathering all the papers together. "You just said your brain is fried and you've been sitting here since ten this morning. It'll be here tomorrow, take a break."

"I need to get this done," Melody said. The sooner this was done, the sooner she could apply for a work visa. 

"I know," James tapped the bottom of the papers onto the table to straighten the stack. "But no matter whether you get this in tomorrow or two weeks from now it's still going to take at least a month for you to get the visa. Take a break."

Melody knew he was right, but even so her pride was stinging at the thought of stopping now. She wasn't as far as she wanted to be, but she was still closer to the end than she was to the start. If she just gave it a little more time...

James sighed and got up from the table, papers still clutched in his hand and that got her to sit up. "What are you doing?" 

He didn't answer right away, but stood up on his toes and placed the stack of paperwork on the top of the cabinets. "You get those back," he pointed to the papers, "tomorrow morning."

"I can climb you know," she remarked, looking at the countertop she could use to give herself the extra height she needed. 

"You're too exhausted to climb and we both know it." James grinned and sat down next to her again. "Besides, I have something else here I think you'll want to see." He slid a thin sort of notebook towards her, the leather cover a bit worn. Melody didn't recognize it and realized that James must have brought it in when he came home.

"What is it?" She tilted her head, curious and flipped open the cover. Inside was a little card and she peered at it, reading the smooth writing. To Mr. and Mrs. Barnes. Melody smiled at the note, wondering just how long it would take for her to adapt to her new title. She flipped through the first page, the material like tissue paper and her curiosity switched to awe as she saw what was behind the page.

It was a drawing, done in black ink but it was more than just that-it was their wedding. She recognized, even in the monochromatic color scheme, the garden where she'd married James. The concrete planters where tropical flowers rested in the night, the twinkling white lights above them, James's hands in hers as they tied their lives together.  Awed, Melody turned the page and was greeted with another drawing. This was of them again, at the ceremony, but closer up. The first one had been drawn from a far-away perspective, so that they and the surrounding area was visible. Now it was a more narrow focus-a close up of her and James and the detail was astounding. The lines in James's metal hand, the  dimples on his face as he smiled and the lone tear that was dropping down his face. She remembered that moment perfectly, the moment she'd promised him her life. The artist had spared no detail when it came to her either, they'd captured the smallest details, from the gleaming bracelet of pearls on her wrist to the length of her eyelashes and the strands of hair that framed her face.

She flipped through the following pages and saw more images still; her and James on the dance floor, swaying to a waltz. Her and Sharon, hugging each other and laughing, Wanda and Scott, eating and talking and even T'challa talking with James though Melody didn't quiet remember that happening.

She looked up from the drawings and back at James, who was watching her with amusement. "Where did you get these?"

"It's a wedding gift," he answered, smiling and flipping to the final page. There was another note there. Curious, Melody peered and read the short, cramped script. Might not be a traditional picture, but I thought you'd like a way to look back at your wedding. There was a break in the short line and then Melody's jaw dropped again as she read the name.

"Steve drew these?" she gasped, looking over at James who was looking down at the sketchpad again. 

"Yes," he replied, flipping back to one of the images. This one of herself, Sharon and Wanda talking at the reception.  "He was always a good artist."

Good was an understatement. Melody had been to an art museum once and felt the work she was holding now could have easily been on the gallery walls. "This is incredible."

James's left hand slid over hers. "I'm sure Steve will be very pleased to hear that."

"I didn't know he was so talented." Melody admitted which was the truth. She had always assumed Steve's strongest skill was his ability to get into high-risk situations. Apparently she'd only been partly correct. While he did have a penchant for that, apparently he had a great deal of artistic ability as well. Not something she would've expected from the super solider by any means.

"He's a humble guy," James pointed out. "Not huge on bragging."

"That's true," Melody agreed. Though she had disagreed strongly with Steve before and was likely to do so again, she did respect him a great deal. Partly for his heroism and strong convictions and partly for his humble manner. Being surrounded by surgeons all the time, it was a refreshing change. "I can't believe he did this," she sighed, touching the image of Wanda's laughing face. Her head was turning in the image, her long, free-flowing hair fanning out behind her-almost in motion. "The details are incredible-and he did all this from memory, didn't he? I never saw any cameras going off."

For obvious reasons, they had not had any photography at the wedding. Too risky considering over half the guests were internationally wanted criminals now. "From memory," James confirmed. "Another hidden talent of his." 

"Does he had an eidetic memory?" She had only met one person with that ability, Stephen Strange. It had been one of the things that had made him an extraordinary surgeon. Even if he was an ass.

"Not that I'm aware of," James replied. "As far as I know, he's just got a better visual memory than most people."

Melody looked at the clock-eight, not very late, but too late to make a social call. "I wish he would've dropped these off himself," she remarked, closing the sketchbook. "I would've liked to say thank you." 

"You can thank him tomorrow."

"True," she glanced at the cover again, recalling the vivid images inside. "Well, now we know why he's been MIA for the last week." Admittedly, Melody had assumed that he was keeping his distance so she and James could enjoy a sort of honeymoon. A considerate act which she would've expected from Steve and was thankful for. However, after the first two or three days had passed the absence had become strange. Now she had a reason for it.

"I already knew, sort of. He told me he was working on something but he wouldn't tell me what."

"Well, gifts traditionally are supposed to be a surprise." 

"Very good," he leaned in, pressing a kiss to her cheek. "You seem to understand presents very well." James drew away and Melody saw his smile. "And what's even more impressive, I didn't have to tell you that."

"I gotten presents before." 

"Presents? As in plural?" His tone was colored with surprise, not that Melody blamed him. 

"Sharon and I celebrated Christmas together when our jobs allowed. And Thanksgiving. She did bring me to a Halloween party once too, but I didn't like that. Too much booze and too many people making poor choices. I got paged halfway into it."

"Of course you did." 

"I had a lot more fun practicing sutures. Way more useful than watching drunk people dance on the bar top."

"Well Doctor," he informed her, a teasing grin on his face. "You're taking the night off. Come on, get up. You've been sitting here all day." James got to his feet and held down a hand to her, which she took.

"Not all day," she reminded him, joints cracking as she got onto her feet.

"I just heard your entire skeleton pop-you've been there long enough."

"Skeletons are too strong to just pop like that. What you're hearing is air bubbles between joints."

"Whatever." James rolled his eyes and pulled her close. "Point is that you need a change of pace. So you're taking the night off."

"Okay, say I do that instead of paper work; what exactly will I be doing on this night off?"

"You," he said, winding his arms around her waist and pulling her to him. "Are going to go and take a shower. After that you're going to throw on one of my t-shirts and we're going to cuddle on the couch and watch Titanic."

Melody smiled at the mention of one of her favorite films. "Why Titanic?" 

"You love that movie, I've never seen it and given the genre, it does seem appropriate for a honeymoon. Anymore questions?" 

"One. Why do I have to wear one of your shirts?"

"Because you look sexy in them." James replied, leaning in and kissing her and she could feel his smile. "Simple." He kissed her once more and drew away, his eyes twinkling with amusement. "Now go and clean up. I'll make some popcorn."

Melody let go of his hand. "Okay." She turned her back to him to hid her grin. James wanted her to be a little sexy then? Well, she had purchased some lingerie when she'd gotten her wedding dress. He hadn't seen it yet and perhaps now was as good a time as any for a debut.

Chapter Text

Sharon slumped forward in her chair, bones feeling more like lead. Three hours, that was how long ago she'd gotten the phone call. T'challa's aircraft had cut down on the time needed to reach New York and the police escort ride to the hospital had made the last leg of the trip fast as well.  And since then, Sharon hadn't left the surgerical gallery in two hours ago. Technically,  family wasn't allowed in, doctors only, but a federal badge opened a lot of doors. Normally, a repair like this wasn't supposed to take that long, but they had to dam

This is the longest night of my life, she thought as she watched the doctors work below her. They'd been at it for three hours now, two of them Sharon had been present for. From up here, Mel looked so small, helpless. Her tan arms made pale by the white lights of the OR and stuck with needles and tubes. The open chest, ribs spread in a gruesome image that Sharon knew she'd see in her nightmares for the rest of her life. She couldn't see the damaged heart, but she knew it was there. How do you do this every day? She wondered, touching the glass, like she could reach out and touch Mel, assure her that she was there. Not that it would matter, she knew. Mel was on general anathesia, she was out cold and given the trauma on her body, that was a very, very good thing. 

Not that she hasn't had trauma before, Sharon thought stomach turning and it had nothing to do with Mel's insides being visible. The scars. She hadn't seen them herself, never knew they existed, but the doctors had asked her about them the moment she arrived in the hospital. Twenty percent of her body was covered in scar tissue. Scars that could only have been created from beatings. From the conversations the surgeons had been having, her ribs only furthered that idea. Old fractures were everywhere. Healed long ago, but as Mel said so many times, the body didn't forget trauma. The markers were always there. You just had to know what to look for. Sharon had always thought she knew that because she was a doctor. Now she knew that she was wrong.  Medical school hadn't taught Mel that, her life had. Sharon clenched her jaw, anger and confusion boiling in her empty stomach. 

Why? she thought, looking down into the OR again, feeling her heart twist painfully in her chest. Both a reaction of fear and pain. Why would you hide that from me? Why didn't you say anything?  You said I was your family, you lied to me. You kept lying to me!  Sharon ducked her head, throat tight and eyes burning with tears. Sharon had always cried when she was angry enough and had always hated it. Now wasn't any different. She didn't understand, not for one moment how Mel could tell her that she was family and then lie through her teeth for years, hiding something so critical for so long and for no real reason. There could be nothing without trust and clearly, Mel had never trusted her. Not since the moment they'd met. 

Sharon's heart twisted again as she glared down into the OR, past the doctors and straight at Mel. How could you do this to me?  Why would you do this to me?  

"Very good Jones," the other surgeon said approvingly, his voice pulling Sharon away from her turmoil filled thoughts. The speaker mounted on the wall allowed students to hear what was goin on in the OR. It had been all Sharon was listening to for the last two hours. She barely understood the attending had been asking. She asumed he was an attending, he'd taken the lead on the operatation. "Your sutures are perfect."

Sharon smiled. Jones she knew, if only by word of mouth. Tucker Jones was Mel's favorite student, the surgeon who she claimed was type three and would become an excellent trama surgeon one day. Mel would be proud of you, she thought, operating on someone you know  and staying objective and thorough, very good. 

"Thank you sir," Jones replied and Sharon could hear the badly suppressed glee in his voice. Not that she could blame him. If Mel was his usual teacher, it was rare he ever heard prasie without it being followed directly by orders, warnings or criticism. "So now we just need-oh shit." There was a shrill beepping sounded through the speaker and the world slowed down. Like Sharon was seeing the world as someone who was superhuman and speeding by. She wasn't a doctor, but she knew that sound. It could only mean one thing. 

No, no, no, please no. She thought the earlier confusion and anger being swept away by fear. Her pain, her confusion over why the person she'd cross an ocean for had hidden so much were nothing. They were gone. Frozen out by panic as the doctor's sharp voices came over the intercom. 

"She's crashing!" There was a shuffle of surgeons and scrub nurses and one of them handed Jones two poles that looked like bolt cutters. "Charge to three hundred." He poised them in the center of Mel's spilt open chest and waited, staring at something Sharon couldn't see. From the speaker, the beeping continued, a long, drawn-out howl that said one thing: death. "Clear."

Sharon stopped breathing, on her feet though she didn't remember standing and waiting for that sound to pick up and change. To enter a rhythm and tell her that Mel was alive. It didn't change and that terrible truth was only further confirmed as Jones cursed. 

"Damn it ,  charge to three fifty."  Another pause and Sharon tried to stay calm, tried to think-the way Mel would if they're places were reversed but she couldn't. She couldn't think about how the attending in that room had gone to school for sixteen years, nor that the other had been someone Mel herself had trained. She couldn't think that all the equipment that they had could help her, that this was a place of advanced science. There was nothing, nothing except that terrible, droning noise that told her Mel's heart had stopped.

Please God, she thought as they shocked her again and it failed. Bracing her hands on the glass and feeling a hopeless sob build painfully in her chest, the OR blurring as tears poured out of her eyes. Please don't take her, she prayed. To God, to Budda or the Man on the Moon she didn't care. Just whatever divine being could bring her back.  I can't lose her. Mel you can't die. You are not allowed to die like this. 

"Charge again," Jones barked. "You do not get to do this you bitch," he growled, "clear."

The droning machine changed, picking up a sharp rhythm, like a dance and Sharon's knees gave out as she knelt on the floor. The title was hard against her bones, painful but she couldn't feel it clearly. She's alive. She's alive. 

"Don't do that again," Jones's voice sounded off again and Sharon laughed, half-hysterical as she realized he was talking to Mel. She agreed with him one hundred percent. She was not allowed to do that again. 

Thank you.  She thought, hearing that reassuring, bumpy rhythm of Mel's heart monitor over the intercom. She wasn't sure who she was speaking to now either. Just whoever had heard her. 

***

Sharon held a cup of coffee in her hand. The paper cup was flimsy and the liquid hot and watered-down. Terrible coffee but at this point, Sharon would take anything. She needed to stay awake. If she fell asleep now, she'd never see anything except Mel's bloody chest, spread ribs and that droning deep that said only one thing. She couldn't take it a second time. She forced down a sip of the watered down coffee and shuddered. Terrible.

"Miss Carter," Doctor Reid said to her in a firm, direct voice. Sharon didn't even try to look at him. She didn't have the strength.  "I need you to listen to me very carefully."

"Alright," she said numb with exhaustion and fear. "I'm listening."

"Doctor Frasier's injuries are extensive. She lost a lot of blood-the result of which has caused her to slip into a coma."

The words reached Sharon like she was hearing them through water. "W-what? But that can't be, comas are caused by brain damage. Mel was shot in the chest." She'd have comas explained to her once by Mel. She'd been helping her study for an exam in medical school."

"That is a common cause," Reid said, "but the condition can also be caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Both of which occurred here, as Doctor Frasier-."

"Mel! Her name is Mel!" she growled. She wasn't a doctor right now. She was a seriously injured patient and her doctor needed to remember that.

"Mel," he corrected, blinking slowly. "Mel went into cardiac arrest during her surgery. The lack of oxygenated blood to her brain caused the coma. We will monitor her condition but for now, all we can do is wait."

That was not what Sharon wanted to hear. "Can I see her?"

"Yes," he said, "but you need to prepare-." His pager with off, a shrill beep and he dug his hand into his pocket, grabbing the small device and looking at it, thick black eyebrows furrowing together. If she hadn't been so tired, the expression would've made her laugh-though he looked nothing like Mel with his russet skin, black hair and prominent nose they were far cry from similar and yet, his expression was one she'd seen hundreds of ties on Mel's face. He scowled and turned his head, "Jones, finish up here. I'm sorry Miss Carter. Another case of mine has taken a turn for the worse." And without further ado, he sprinted towards the elevator. 

Jones looked over at Sharon, his blue eyes warm. "May I sit down?"

"Sure." 

The resident took the chair opposite her, his soft brown hair and pointed chin gave him the look of a teenager even though he was in his late twenties. "The ICU is very overwhelming to most families when they first visit. You can expect that D-Mel will be hooked up to a fair number of machines and IV bags. The fluid we're giving her might make her appear bloated or bruised and you don't need to worry, that is normal."

Sharon tried to breathe. It was difficult with her heart in her throat. "Anything else I need to know?"

"We've done everything we can do for her right now," Jones said, voice gentle and sympathetic. Not anything like Reid had been. "This is the part that we have to wait and in every case I've worked, it has been the most difficult part of the process. You'll want to do something but I am telling you now, there isn't a great deal that you can do. In fact, there's only one thing you can do."

"I've been praying non-stop for the last five hours." She hung her head. She wasn't normally religious but when things were desperate she called on the Man Upstairs and this was certainly a desperate situation. 

"Well that's good too," Jones said. "Doesn't hurt to have the extra help. I wouldn't mind having Him in the OR with me." He smiled, a flicker of his mouth and he leaned forward in his seat, lacing his hands together and giving Sharon a stern look. "But other than that, you need to take care of yourself. Get some sleep, eat a meal and shower. Basic stuff."

"I can barely drink coffee," Sharon remarked dryly, staring at the cold coffee in her cup. "How am I supposed to do that?"

"You'll do that, because that's what Mel needs from you. When she wakes up, she's going to see you and we need to keep her as calm as possible. How calm do you think she'll be if she sees you looking like the Walking Dead?" Jones had a knowing look on his face and Sharon smiled in spite of herself.

"She'd yell herself hoarse." 

"Exactly," Jones approved, nodding at her. Mel had said once, that Jones had promise but had to learn distance. It seemed like a lesson he had finally learned. "So just promise me you'll take care of yourself while we wait, okay?"

"Okay." She nodded. "Can I go see Mel?"

"Of course," he said kindly, "I'll take you there. Follow me."

"Thank you," she said numbly, getting to her feet and following the young surgeon down the white, sterile hallways of the hospital towards the Intensive Care Unit. The walk was not that far in actual distance, but to Sharon it felt like forever as hundreds of thoughts swarmed like hornets in her mind.

Meland the scars. The damage the doctors had found on her ribs during surgery. Abuse. That was the only way they could've gotten there. Sharon had met Mel when she was seventeen years old and Sharon eighteen. She'd had no boyfriends of serious relationships in all the time that she'd known her. None save Derrick but he wasn't a suspect. He couldn't be. The wounds were old. Too old for him to have created them. This had been before Derrick. Domestic abuse, Sharon would've bet her entire paycheck on it.  Mel refused to talk to her mother, Moira, citing that she'd bee a drunk. Alcohol brought out tempers in some people and so did grief. Put them together and it wasn't a far-fetched possibility that Moira had been behind the abuse her daughter had suffered. The time after John's death and before Mel had cut contact with her fit. It was enough time to create this sort of damage. It would explain why Mel hadn't talked with her in almost ten years.

Yes. That fit. But what if I'm wrong? She thought as she stepped into  an elevator and the doors slid shut. I thought she was suicidal before, but that was wrong. That wasn't what she was hiding. Not even close. The thought stung- she'd been very, very wrong. Mel hadn't hurt herself. Someone else had done it. Sharon clenched her hands into fists, nails digging painfully into her palm as blood roared in her ears. I don't know who did this, but I swear to God they're not going to get away with it. 

"Just up here," Jones said, "please remember, she's not going to look like herself right now, but that doesn't mean anything serious is happening,"

"She was shot and fatally injured," Sharon said flatly. "Do you have a different definition of serious?"

"I mean nothing is adding to the situation at this moment," Jones clarified, leading her to a glass door which slid open as they arrived. Sharon raised and head and all the advice Jones had given her before went out of her mind. 

Mel's eyes were closed, like she was sleeping, but she wasn't. Her skin was bruised and swollen, just as Jones had warned her. Her hospital gown lose, showing the dressing and the stained skin around it from the antiseptics they'd used to clean her skin before cracking her chest. The sleeves were short, revealing her right arm where a long white scar was carved down it. Too precise to be an accident.  A clear tube was forced down her throat, her chest rising and falling along with a metallic hiss of a ventilator. A machine forcing air in and out of her lungs, an artificial life. 

Oh God, Sharon thought, eyes glued to Mel, wide with horror and trembling. She saw Jones's mouth moving but she couldn't hear him. Her scream was too loud.

Chapter Text

"It was incredible," Melody gushed, her face glowing with delight while Bucky leaned in the doorway of the bathroom, smiling but still not entirely sure what she was talking about. Though he'd become far more versed in medical terminology since meeting, falling in love with and marrying Melody, some things were still beyond his understanding. 

"Okay, slow down and repeat that in English?" 

Melody huffed, apparently she didn't see what was confusing about her explanation. "With the use of modern technology, OB specialists can detect birth-defects and deformities in unborn children. For example, spinal bifida, which was what this kid had. So, once we see that a surgeon  who specializes in this sort of work can actually correct the defect while the child is still inside their mother."

"Why didn't you just say that the first time?" 

"I did say that."

"No, you said 'a neonatal surgeon can go in and use a fetoscopic technique to close the  malformation'." Bucky corrected. "And to the average person, that's gibberish." 

Melody shrugged. "Well however you say it fact is-that is pretty freaking awesome!"

"Yeah," Bucky agreed, stepping into the bathroom,"it is pretty amazing." He wound his arms around her waist, feeling the soft texture of her robe under his skin and he bent his neck so that he could kiss her cheek.

"What was that for?" Melody laughed, hands locking over his as she looked at him in the mirror.

"I'm just happy you're home."  It had been seven months since the wedding and their lives had changed. Entering a new sort of normal. Melody was working again, teaching and operating at South Central Hospital and that meant they spent some weeks apart, but now, thankfully, she'd gotten three days off back to back and was spending that time all at the compound which was fine by Bucky.

He saw her smile in the mirror, the expression radiant, even in light of her ten hour shift at the hospital before coming here. "It's good to be here," she said, tightening her hold on him for a brief moment. "I missed you." She nuzzled into him a moment, sighing contentedly. "It really was an incredible surgery. I don't do many peds rotations, so I rare that I get  that close to an infant, let alone one that isn't even born yet but wow." Melody smiled again, the expression reaching her bright green eyes. "It's the closet thing to a miracle that I've ever seen."

"Yeah," Bucky muttered, no longer feeling entirely happy as guilt twisted his insides. What she was describing was in fact a miracle-but not one she'd get to experience for herself, not with him. Free of Hydra or not, Bucky was still a criminal with a lot of power people who wanted him dead or wanted him as a weapon. Putting a kid in that mix was  a recipe for disaster. "That incredible." 

"Still couldn't do it for a specialty though," Melody said, wrinkling her nose and apparently oblivious to the turmoil that was starting to infect Bucky.  "The salmon scrubs would drive me crazy."

"Salmon scrubs?" Bucky repeated, temporarily drawn out of his guilty thoughts. "Like the fish?"

"The color," she corrected. "The OBGYN doctors and nurses wear them and I hate that color."

Bucky shook his head and kissed her throat. "Glad you chose specialties based on the color of the scrubs you get to wear." He released her, "Go and take your shower. You can tell me more about the surgery later."

"Why don't you join me?" she offered, eyes twinkling and a sultry smile on her lips. "I'll wash your back if you wash mine?"

Bucky's chest tightened, his guilty thoughts trickling back into his head. "Not tonight," he said with what he hoped was a noncommittal shrug. "I'm just too tired."

Melody turned on the shower, hot water spraying across the tile floor. "Alright." 

Bucky shut the door behind him as he left and then he sighed to himself as he made his way through the apartment and flopped onto the bed, drained though he'd been perfectly fine about ten minutes before. Seeing Melody smile, light up as she described how she'd felt seeing an unborn child so close had been hard for him to hear. The joy on her face had been incredible, but it had hurt Bucky a little, knowing she'd never be able to experience that joy for herself. Knowing she'd never be able to have a child of her own because of him. He'd never thought about it a great deal, as the topic had never come up between them, but now, seeing the wonder and joy on her face as she described the child she'd seen, the reality was hitting Bucky like a truck. He laid like that for a while, guilt twisting his insides as he tacked the word "children" onto the ever-growing list of things he'd never be able to give Melody. This one bugged him a lot more than the others. 

He felt the mattress shift and turned his head to see Melody climbing into bed, her hair wet and her expression contemplative. "So," she said, turning onto her side. "Are you ready to tell me what's bugging you?"

"Who said anything was bugging me?" 

"No one had to say anything," Melody replied, shifting so that she was closer to him and grabbed his hand. "Are you worried I'm going to add another specialty?" she asked. "Because I'm not. The training is extensive and I don't have the time for it. What I have right now is enough for me." She squeezed his hand and Bucky sighed. 

"It's not about your job," he said, finally, looking away from the ceiling and at Melody's face. With phantom limbs, he reached out, touching her face with his free hand. "You were so happy, talking about how incredible it was to see how human an unborn child was and it just got me thinking about how you won't get to experience that for yourself. How I can't give you a child." His throat got a bit thick as he said that and Melody sat upright, frowning at him.

"James, that doesn't matter."

"I have a hard time believing that," he replied, shutting his eyes as he felt Melody run her fingers through his hair. "That's a lot to give up." 

"I can't have kids."

Bucky opened his eyes, heart dropping into his stomach. "What?" he repeated, dread creeping through him. Had John done that to her? The level of cruelty involved certainly sounded like him...

Melody laid down again, curling up against his side. Bucky could feel her shaking breaths. "Having a child means sacrifice," she whispered, "choosing them above everything else-including my career." Her hands curled into fists on his chest. "I don't know if I can do that, if I can choose them and if I don't know the answer," her voice strained and Bucky's heart twisted painfully as he saw tears in her eyes. "Then I don't deserve to have a child."

"Melody," Bucky drew his arms around her, "you'd be a wonderful mom." He was sure of that-she never failed at anything when she put her full efforts into it. She'd do whatever it took to be a good parent. 

"I want to believe that," she whispered, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand. "But I can't take that risk. I will not risk having a child and making them feel like they will never be more important to me than my job. I know what that feels like and I can't put someone else through it."

"You wouldn't," Bucky told her, stroking her hair, hatred burning through him this time not directed at John, but Moira. This wasn't John's cruelty talking, it was Moira's inability to chose her daughter until it was too late to matter. "You're not your mother. You'd do everything for your child."

"Our child," she corrected softly, looking up at him with a heartbroken smile. "It'd be our child."

Bucky felt the same smile form on his face. "Our child-you'd do everything for them." 

"I'd be a huge pushover," she laughed, "he'd look so much like you I'd never be able to say no."

"He?"

"Whenever I pictured our children, all I could see was a little boy who looked like you."

"Not exactly like me though," Bucky corrected, a similar image forming in his mind of a small boy with his dark hair but modified slightly. "He'd have your eyes and I have no doubt he'd be crazy about you. He'd think his mom had the coolest job in the world. He'd want to be a doctor, just like you."

"Maybe ortho," Melody mused, tracing the lines in Bucky's metal hand thoughtfully. "Because he wanted to build his daddy a better arm."

"What a kind boy," Bucky muttered, trying to ignore the way his eyes were burning when she said 'daddy'. He'd always thought someone would call him that someday, now that dream was dust and ashes. 

"He's like you that way." Melody whispered, laying her head against his chest. Bucky felt tears wet his shirt. "He's so much like you."

He ran his human fingers down her back, chest tight with grief. "I'd want to name him after Steve," he told her. "Is that okay?"

Melody laughed, the sound was broken. "I hate the name Steven, but I could settle for it as his middle name. Fair?"

"Better than Buchannan," he remarked and she laughed again.

"I like the name Jacob."

"Like the patient you had once," Bucky recalled. "The one who kept calling you Doctor Bluebird?"

"The very same."

"I like it," Bucky told her, "Jacob Steven Barnes." The name sounded good on his lips, solid and strong. The same thing he'd once hoped his son to be. He held Melody a little tighter, feeling a tear trickle down his face and onto his pillow. 

"We'd be a family," Melody said softly into his chest, clinging to him. "A happy family."

"Yeah, we would be." Bucky kissed her temple, "Go to sleep," he advised, "dream about him for a little while." It'd be the closet thing either of them ever came to their son. 

Chapter Text

"She's not okay Steve," Bucky said softly. "She's very, very far from being okay."

His tone was grave and it sent a shiver down Steve's spine. He didn't know all the details about  Doctor Frasier's life but the few he'd gleamed from Sharon after she'd been shot were horrid enough. 

"Is there anything-" He began, but was cut short as the apartment door opened and the same woman they were talking about appeared. She looked sick, pale and close to collapsing. Steve half wondered if he should get up and get her laying down on the floor to avoid injury.

"Hey," she whispered, her voice hoarse. "Steve, not that I'm unhappy to see you but," she breathed deeply, "would you mind leaving us for a while? Please?" She met his gaze and Steve noticed that her eyes were red and gleaming with unshed tears. That unsettled him a little, he'd never seen that woman cry before. Nor had he really thought she had the ability. Every time he'd spoken with Mel, she'd always seemed so hard, walled up and closed off. Tears contrasted directly with that image he'd once had. Seeing it was strange, it made her far more human than Steve had once thought. Whatever happens next, he thought, getting to his feet instantly. This isn't something I have a right to see. If Doctor Frasier had hit her breaking point, Steve didn't have the right to be there and watch. She didn't need a former patient and a perfect stranger, she needed someone who knew her, someone she trusted and that was Bucky.

"Mel," he said, nodding at her as he passed. Knowing what she'd done for him, saving his life after DC and what she'd done for Bucky soon after, Steve wanted to pay it forward if he could.  He doubted it would happen, but he at least wanted to try. "If there is anything I can do for you-."

"Thank you, that's very kind," she said, speaking far too fast and with a voice that was far too high. Steve sensed her breaking point wasn't far off and practically fled, closing the door firmly behind him.

Son of a bitch,  he thought, shaking his head as he walked down the hall. This is a complete mess. Sharon had always spoken highly of Doctor Frasier, loved her like a sister and would never hear an ill word against her. Now she knew that she'd been wrong, that her beloved friend had been hiding a huge secret from her. Steve felt a little smug at that, knowing he'd been right that the surgeon had been hiding something but he felt terrible that Sharon had to learn that the hard way. She'd been betrayed, just like he had been by her and now, twice over. By both Mel and himself.

I'll go check on her,  he decided as he approached the apartment. Just to make sure she's okay and if she wants me to leave I will. I can crash on Sam's couch for a few days. Give her some time to herself. 

With his course of action in mind, Steve opened the door and entered the apartment cautiously. "Sharon?" he called, shutting the door behind him. She was on the couch, legs curled up to her chest, her face pressed against her knees. No crying, so that was something as far as Steve was concerned. "Hey," he sat down on the far cushion, giving her plenty of space. "I know I'm probably one of the last people you want to see right now and you've got every right to feel that way. I lied to you, whatever my intention was and it was wrong and I'm sorry. So be mad at me, kick me out if you want, but I just want you to know that if you need me, I'll...I'll  be here if and when you decide you want me around. So yeah, I uh, just wanted you to know that." 

Steve got onto his feet, face burning. Not for the first time in his life, he wished he was a little more like Bucky. He'd always been good with words. He was about to take a step towards the door, fully ready to crash on Sam's couch but Sharon called after him.

"Steve."

He turned his head, wincing internally as he heard how soft and brittle Sharon's voice had become. It wasn't like her at all. "Yeah?"

She lifted her face up, resting her chin on her knees. Her cheeks were flushed and blotchy. She'd been crying. "You were right."

That wasn't a sentence he was used to hearing from her. "What?"

"You were right," Sharon repeated, chest heaving as a tear trickled down her face. "You were right about Mel. I should never have trusted her. You were right all along." She laughed, the sound bitter as she wiped her fingers across her face. "I won't hold it against you if you want to gloat."

Steve sat back down, this time sitting closer to Sharon. This didn't sound like a dismissal to him. "Why would I want to gloat about something that's upset you?"

"Because I hurt you too?" Sharon offered, sniffling. "I lied to you about Bucky."

"I lied to you about Mel." Sharon winced as he said the name and Steve made a mental note of that. Mentioning Doctor Frasier was a bad idea. He'd have to avoid that for a while. "We both lied and we both tried to do what we thought was in the best interest of someone who was in a bad place and needed help. We're even." He sighed as he saw a few more tears run steadily down her face. He'd only seen Sharon this upset once and it had been at Peggy's funeral. He was just as helpless now to comfort her as he'd been on that day. "I'm sorry. And I promise,  I won't lie to you again. If I have something I can't tell you, I'll just tell you that it's not my story to tell. Fair?"

"Fair," Sharon agreed, giving him a weak smile but it faded in a matter of seconds. "I don't think I can handle another person I care about lying to me. Not after this." She took a breath and her whole body shuddered and Steve had the strong feeling she was trying very hard not to cry.

You took your sweet time to kiss her, Bucky's voice sounded off in his memory. Don't make the same mistake twice. "I do care about you Sharon, a lot." Steve took a deep breath. Facing down Nazi's Hydra agents, aliens and robots he had no problem with but trying to say 'I love you' to Sharon was terrifying. Yes, that made perfect sense. "I love you."

"What?" Sharon looked at him dully and Steve realized he hadn't been heard. He sighed and grabbed at whatever was left of his courage.

"I love you," he said again and he saw Sharon's eyes widen. This time she'd heard him. "And I know this is not the most ideal time to tell you that, but I want you to know anyways." He gave her an awkward grin. "So if you're still mad at me, you at least know I haven't stopped caring. And that I won't stop caring, no matter what we're arguing about the next time we fight."

Sharon laughed again. "Hope we can get a bit of a break before then. Fighting with you is exhausting." 

He smiled and grabbed her hand, heartened when she didn't draw away. Brushing a kiss across her palm, Steve spoke up again. "What happened?" He knew pieces of the answer already  but wanted to give her a chance to talk if that was what she needed. Sometimes just being able to talk things out helped to make sense of them. He'd discovered that during his two year search for Bucky. 

Sharon made a soft noise of objection. "I don't want to talk about it. I don't even know how I feel about all this.  I don't know if I want to scream, cry, break something, eat an entire tub of ice cream or have a reunion with my old friend Jack Daniels and get rip-roaring drunk." 

"Whatever you want to do," Steve told her as more tears soaked his shirt. "I'm right here. And I don't think I have any whisky  here, but I'm sure Sam does. I can track it down for you."

Sharon laughed again, crying harder than before. "I don't want to drink right now. Then I'll just have to deal with a headache on top of all this."

Steve wasn't entirely sure what "this" was but he didn't ask. Whatever Doctor Frasier's flaws, she had been right about forcing people to talk before they were ready. It never worked. He wasn't going to press Sharon, he was going to let her come to him on her own. "Then what do you want?" he asked. "Is there anything I can do?"

"I want you to hold me for a bit." Sharon said softly. "I just need you to be here."

Steve pulled her closer so that she was leaning against his chest. He had a feeling that was more comfortable than his shoulder. "I can do that."

Sharon settled into him and she closed her eyes. "Thanks. Steve?"

"Yeah?" he asked, stroking her hair. That was something Sharon liked when she felt bad. Steve had discovered that when she gotten the stomach flu. He'd taken care of her then, he wasn't sure whether or not that counted as a first date.

"I love you too."

 

Chapter Text

Melody's head was pounding so at first, when she heard the knocking, she wasn't sure if it was the pulse of blood in her skull or someone at the door. Finally, when she realized that it was indeed someone at the door and got up to answer. She expected it was Sharon or Wanda. Her wedding was in three days and they'd been working together nearly nonstop to pull the even together. 

"Oh hi Steve," she said, stifling a yawn. "James isn't here, he's in the lab with Shuri. She wanted to check out the sensors in his arm. Make sure it was done properly."  She'd met T'challa's younger sister once, albeit briefly and was quite impressed with the young woman's talent. She sort of reminded Melody of herself at that age. Young, brilliant and ambitious. 

"I know," Steve said, giving her a quick grin. "I'm here to see you, can I come in?"

Melody tried not to look so surprised. "Um yeah, sure."  She held the door open farther so he could enter and shut it behind her. "Sorry about the mess," she apologized. The apartment had sort of turned into a storage facility over the last two days and the kitchen table was littered with twisted strands of white lights, as well as a pair of white flats. She had yet to get a dress to go with it, but she and Sharon were going to take care of that item tomorrow morning. 

"This isn't so bad," Steve shrugged. Melody had a feeling he was being more polite than truthful. "Mind if I sit down?" 

"Of course," Melody plopped on the far side of the couch as Steve did the same on the other side. "So, what's up?" She managed to keep her gaze on Steve, but it was a near miss. His presence unsettled her, normally, most of the time Steve spent around her was merely de-facto rather than intentional. 

Steve crossed his arms. "Well, I've wanted to talk to you for a while, one-on-one. Just haven't been sure of how." He took a deep breath and shifted again, his arms coming out of their folded position and lacing his fingers together.  The super soldier took a deep breath and ran a hand through his hair. It had gotten longer since she'd seen him last. "I know I don't know you very well, but I'd like to speak frankly with you."

"Go ahead."

"This last few weeks have been a giant mess."

"That's an understatement," Melody said before she could stop herself and she winced internally. "Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt."

"It is a bit of an understatement but I don't believe in coarse language, not in this situation anyways." He sighed heavily again. "I saw the news coverage Mel, I saw the interview your mother gave. I know what happened to you." 

"How much do you know?" Melody asked. He was Sharon's boyfriend and James's best friend, the odds that he knew the truth were pretty high. She wasn't going to offer more information if he didn't know but she wasn't going to outright lie either. She was done with that. Sharon was right, she needed to start trusting people. And Steve, a man who was undeniably type three seemed like a good place to begin. 

"I heard the story about how Bucky shot your father," he replied. "And that's the only story I need to hear." 

His use of the word 'story' didn't escape her notice. He hadn't been told outright, but Steve knew the truth about John's death. Melody smiled, but there was no happiness in the expression. "I see."

"I can't begin to understand how horrible it must have been for you, growing up like that. I'm very sorry you had to go through that."

Melody drew her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her knees. Phantom pain shot across her back and chest. "There's no need to apologize, it wasn't your fault."

"And it wasn't yours either." Steve shot back and he gave her a soft smile. Kind and understanding and yet it still made her feel sick to her stomach. "I know why you did what you did, lying to Sharon and God knows how many other people for so long. I want you to know that I know why you did it, but there's a few things I'm still unclear on. I'd like to get some answers, if that's okay."

"Ask," Melody replied through numb lips. "But I can't promise an answer."

Steve shifted on the couch again, leaning back against the cushions. "Why'd you help Bucky two years ago? That was a pretty big risk to take."

At least he's starting off easy. "You know the phrase, 'he who saves one life-?'"

"'Saves the world in time'," Steve finished. "I know the expression. What's that have to do with Bucky?

"I want to believe that it's true," she told him. "And that's why I can't walk away from someone who's injured, not if there's a chance I can help them." 

"Bucky wasn't injured."

"Not all wounds bleed Steve."

His smile flickered. "You thought you could help him with Hydra because of what your dad did to you."

"He was many things," Melody said, hearing a sharp edge to her voice. "But he was never my dad." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Sorry, I don't mean to be so harsh."

"I misspoke," Steve said softly. "I'm sorry. But is that why you thought you could help? Because you know what it's like to go through something like that?"

"There were parts I could understand," Melody answered. She'd never been brainwashed and forced to kill people but she did know what it was like to be treated like less than a human being. "So I thought I had a better chance than most at helping him."

"Bucky told me he wasn't receptive to the idea at first," Steve commented. "How'd you stay so patient with him?"

"Because people lash out when they're wounded like that. You're angry at everything, it's all bottled inside and tearing you apart and you just..." Melody trailed off, unsure how to properly describe the feeling. It had been a large part of her life for a long time before she'd worked out some of  her larger issues and learned to cope. "You want to let it out," she said finally, "somewhere just to lessen the burden, even if it's just for a second because you're so damn tired of carrying it around."

"Thanks, for being so patient with him. I know it couldn't have been easy but I know it helped him. So thank you."

Melody shrugged. "He did more for me than I did for him." 

"Well," Steve remarked, "I guess that sort of brings me to my next question."

"Which is?"

"You've known Sharon for over a decade and you never told her."

"That's not a question." 

"Bucky told me you had a hard time, being back in that house and you had a bad night and he saw, but you still could've done something differently. You could've told him to beat it or keep his mouth shut if he wanted to stay, but you didn't. You told him the truth instead, why? You'd known him for what, a few months? You trusted him but not Sharon and I don't really get why." 

Melody's right hand drifted to her ring without her even having to think about it. "You already know that I was taking a huge risk hiding James like I did and he knew it too. I used that as leverage, to guilt him into staying quiet." She winced, that sounded horrible, but it was the truth. One piece of it anyways. "It was the only thing I could do. By then, I cared about him too much, cared in a way that was not the least bit professional and that's why I didn't just tell him to leave after I lost it. I couldn't just leave him."

"You told him because you knew he'd never say anything. He owed you too much to deny you that."

She nodded. "Exactly."

Steve ran a hand down her face. The sound of his whiskers scratching his palm filled the quiet air. "You really hurt her, Sharon I mean. And I don't say that to make you feel guilty, I'm just.." Steve grunted then and turned to face her directly. "I don't know how to talk to you," he said flatly. "I don't get you. But I need to, I mean you're about to marry Bucky in the next two days. We're going to be in each other's lives so I need to learn how to talk to you. I'll apologize in advance for how often I'm going to screw up."

"I'll second that," she replied. Melody often blundered in social conversations. It was a problem. She'd made improvements over the years, but there were always new mistakes to make. "I know how badly I hurt her. And I'll never forgive myself for it. Sharon deserved better from me and I let her down in the biggest way possible. I can't even begin to tell you how lucky I am that she forgave me. She could've cut me out of her life for good and it would have been very well deserved."

"Yeah, it would've." She grit her teeth against the sting of his words. Thinking it herself was one thing, hearing it from someone else was another. "Where you ever going to tell her?"

"I don't know," she answered. "I wanted to tell her, and I know that sounds like a lie, but I'm telling the truth. I did want to tell her, I was just terrified of what would happen if I did. It was always like that, as badly as I wanted to tell her was as bad as the fear."

"Given how she initially reacted," Steve said after a long pause. "I don't think it was an irrational fear on your part. It makes sense that you were scared." His blue eyes were sympathetic rather than vindictive, which Melody felt would have been justified given how he felt about Sharon and how badly she'd hurt her. "After you told her, when she told you to go, you stopped talking for two weeks. Why?"

Melody felt the echo of the old wound she'd gotten that day. "I spent the first third of my life being beaten on an almost daily basis. I had my skin ripped open by whips and metal buckles,  I was hit so hard my bones broke, I've been strapped down onto tables and had blades running down my body-."

"You don't have to tell me that," Steve said quickly and Melody saw he had gone very pale.

"Sorry," she apologized. "I don't mean to be morbid. I'm just saying that I have a very high pain tolerance. I can take a lot, more than the average person. But," she breathed, trying not to cringe as the memory of the pain grew stronger. The dim memory of a hand reaching into her chest, cracking her ribs and tearing out her heart. "But when I saw her face, when she told me to leave and I hit my limit. Nothing I had ever gone through before  was anywhere near as painful as that moment was. And..." She swallowed hard, "I was afraid if I opened my mouth, I'd never be able to stop screaming." Steve's eyes widened and Melody continued in at a much faster pace. "How I reacted wasn't Sharon's fault, that was all on me. I don't blame her for any of it. I might have done the same thing if I'd been in her place." She took a deep breath and released her legs, allowing them to stretch out onto the ottoman. They were starting to cramp up.  "Any more questions?"

"No, not right now." He gave her a smile. "I suppose I'll let you go for now, you must be tired. Been pretty busy lately, planning a wedding and all."

Melody laughed. "Honestly Sharon has done most of the work. She knows more about this stuff than I do. Wanda's been great too, she's got a good eye for color which is very helpful. I have no idea how to do that either."

"Really?"

"All I wear are scrubs and lab coats." Melody shrugged, "And when I'm home I wear sweatpants and sleep. i have no idea how I'm going to pick out a dress tomorrow."

"Can you even get a wedding dress this late? I thought it took months in advance."

"So did I, but Sharon told me that it is, you just have to buy a sample out of the store and all it does is limit your choices. Kind of happy about it, I've never even worn a dress so having a smaller pool to chose from is probably a good thing. Keep me from getitng overwhelmed."

Steve laughed and Melody shot him a look. "Sorry,"' he waved his hand. "But it's a bit ironic. You cut into people's chest and sew their organs back together without a problem, but shopping for a dress, that's 'overwhelming'." He snickered again, covering his mouth with his hand.

"Okay, you have a point but in my defense, I  understand human anatomy and surgery, I don't understand fashion." Another thought struck her then, another area she was lacking in and was now feeling the loss as her wedding approached. "I don't know how to dance either. Which I'm now realizing is a problem." She frowned and crossed her arms. "Weddings have dances."

"I can teach you," Steve offered, smiling at her. "I'm a pretty good dancer. I can't say that you'll be an expert, considering we have three days, but it might help." He shrugged, "If you want to learn that is."

"I'd like that," she admitted. It'd be nice to be able to dance with James and not step on his toes. "Do you have any time tomorrow?"

"Noon work?"

"Yeah, it does. Where?"

"My apartment."

"Okay," Steve grinned and got to his feet. "I should go, it's late. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye." She whispered as he left, door shutting behind him and she closed her eyes. The conversation had been a little strained and some of the questions painful to answer, but even so, Melody was proud of herself. She'd taken a few steps today, towards trusting Steve Rogers. It wasn't a huge leap, but it was something. More than she would've tried if it had been two months ago and that felt pretty good. A small step forward, but she was still moving forward nonetheless. 

Chapter Text

It started small, Sharon realized. Just a lunch here and there where Mel's quick hands beat her to the check. Then it had gotten bigger, a set of dishes she'd admired one day while window shopping with Mel but hadn't been able to afford showing up at her doorstep and addressed to her. The card had been from Mel, listing it as an early birthday present and so, Sharon had been able to swallow her discomfort and accept the present. It had been a one time event. But now this was over the line and Sharon was trembling with rage as the mechanic wiped the grease off his hands.

"Yeah," he repeated. "The bill's been taken care of, should run fine right about now." He handed her the keys which Sharon took, pasting a smile onto her face but it felt more like baring her teeth and she pocketed them and stomped up from the garage of her apartment to the elevator, seething. This was way over the line. She thought, grinding her teeth. Calling a mechanic to come to my apartment without my consent to replace my old transmission and then footing the bill is not okay

The doors dinged and slid open and Sharon stomped her apartment, fully intending to get on her phone and give Mel a piece of her mind. Yes, she'd just become an attending and yes, she had every right to be proud of that accomplishment but flouting her newfound wealth like that went way past pride and right onto unbearable arrogance. Yes, Sharon had her struggles at times, espionage wasn't exactly a six figure salary but even knowing that, it didn't help to be reminded of it by her surgeon best friend.

Sharon grabbed her cellphone and hit Mel's contact. As she'd expected, she got voicemail. It was noon, Mel was probably in surgery.

"You've reached Doctor Melody Frasier, I cannot answer the phone right now, please leave me your name, number and a brief message and I'll get back to you when I can." The low beep sounded and Sharon tried to get a handle on her temper.

"Hey Mel, it's me." She began, still trembling with anger. "Come over after work today, we need to talk." Sharon decided that last minute, angry as she was now, she knew she'd say something hurtful to Mel and didn't want to do that. She had a tough exterior but Sharon knew it just protected a fragile heart. Sharon had to try being calm and explaining how rude Mel was being when she flaunted her success like that. Mel wasn't the sharpest when it came to acceptable social behaviors. Perhaps she had just been frightened that Sharon wouldn't be able to make her rent if she had to fix her car. Or maybe she'd intended it as a loan and had forgotten to tell Sharon that. She shook her head and set the silent phone down. Mel wouldn't have forgotten to tell her it was a loan. That was business and that had always been a strength of hers.

Mel, Sharon thought venomously as she made her way back to tiny bathroom, hoping the hot water would calm her down. For a surgeon, you're an idiot. 

***

Several hours later, sitting on her couch and trying to focus on a book, a knock sounded at Sharon's door and she happily discarded the novel. It hadn't been holding her attention anyways. Stay calm, she reminded herself firmly as she peered through the hole and saw Mel in the hallway. I don't want to start a fight with her over this. Not yet anyways.

Sharon opened the door and Mel beamed at her though the circles under her eyes suggested she hadn't slept in a while. "Hey, I got your message." Mel stepped through the door and kicked off her sneakers and deposited her worn black winter coat and purse on an old coat wrack Aunt Peggy had given her when she'd gotten her first apartment. 

"Yeah, I'm glad you came." Sharon said as Mel flopped onto the couch and pushed her blonde hair from her eyes. The strands weren't greasy so at least she'd showered recently. "We need to talk." She sat on the opposite side of the couch and crossed her legs, one under the other. A variation of the Lotus pose which Sharon had found relaxing usually. 

Mel sat more upright, suddenly more alert. Her pale eyebrows drew together on her forehead and her mouth thinned into a line. She was worried, she wore the same expression whenever her pager went off. "What's wrong?"

"A mechanic came here today," Sharon said, curling her hands around her ankles to stop them from shaking. "He brought back my car and when I asked how much I owed him, he told me the bill had already been paid. You know anything about that?"

Mel's expression relaxed. "Did he not do a good job? I asked around and heard he was good at what he did. Is your car not running properly?"

"No, my car's fine." And it was, she'd taken it out to run to the store and the transmission ran smoothly now. "Did you pay the mechanic?"

"Yes."

"Mel, that isn't okay."

Mel titled her head. "Are you angry?"

"Yes."

"Why? You were really worried about the repair and making rent and it's not like it's a huge expense for me-."

"Yeah I know that!" Sharon snapped, some of the anger she'd felt this afternoon rearing it's ugly head. "And it's really annoying that you keep reminding me how well you're doing." She tried to dial back her harsh tone and took a deep breath. "First it's all those lunch dates we went on, you keep picking up the check and then it was those dishes-."

"That was a birthday present," Mel interjected.

"It was still extravagant," Sharon pointed out. "And now you hired a mechanic to fix my transmission-."

"He replaced it. You can't fix a transmission when they stall, you have to-."

Sharon rolled her eyes. Whatever the vocabulary, it didn't matter. The meaning was the same. "I know that! Do you have any idea how much money that costs? Even for a used one?" Mel's face reddened and Sharon's heart dropped. "You bought a new one?" A used transmission was about eight hundred bucks, a new one could cost anywhere from four to eight thousand dollars. 

Mel ducked her head, long hair hiding her face. "I didn't think it was a big deal. With a new transmission, it wont' have any issues right away that could cause trouble."

"That's not the point!" Sharon snapped. "It's humiliating to keep having you remind me how rich you are. So just stop it, okay?"

Mel drew her legs up to her chest, shrinking. "I'm sorry."

Sharon felt a pang of guilt. For all Mel pretended, she was very sensitive and Sharon had a feeling her sharp words had hurt her feelings. "Hey," she scooted over to Mel and wrapped her arm around her shoulder. "It's okay. I just... I let it build up, this has been bugging me for a while and I should've talked to you sooner rather than explode on you like that." Mel didn't reply for a moment, but Sharon knew she would.  She just needed a moment to collect her thoughts. That was pretty typical of her after a disagreement. Or at least a disagreement that wasn't over the course of treatment for a patient. Those she navigated with and had no problem. Finally, after five minutes, Mel looked up, chin resting on her knees and her eyes closed. Her pale eyelashes were quiet long, casting shadows over her cheeks.

"I do well for myself," she said finally and Sharon cut her off.

"I know that," Sharon said softly, rubbing her back. "And I'm not telling you that you should be ashamed of that. I'm just saying that you should be more thoughtful of the fact that other people aren't."

"I do well for myself," Mel said again, apparently not hearing a word Sharon had said. "But it's just me." She opened her eyes and sighed. "I'm just me."

"What?" Sharon spoke fluent Mel, but this was throwing her for a loop.

"I'm alone. My dad's dead, my mom's half in a bottle, both sets of grandparents are dead and my colleagues respect me but they don't like me."

"That's not what we're talking about here," Sharon said, putting a bit of force behind her words. Yes, Mel's life had some tragedy but that didn't excuse being so thoughtless. 

"Just give me a minute, I have a point."

Sharon didn't see how talking about dead fathers and grandparents tied into flaunting wealth but she stayed quiet.

"I'm a successful trauma surgeon and by the time six years are up, I'll probably make about four hundred thousand a year." She shrugged, "It's a good salary and I'm very lucky and I know it. I'm thankful for it, but...Money doesn't mean anything if you don't have somebody to share it with." Sharon felt her heart climb into her throat. Mel... she thought, her earlier anger ebbing away as she realized it wasn't thoughtlessness and arrogance that put a new transmission in her car. "I have so much and no one to give it to. No one except you. You're the only one I can share all this with." Mel swallowed hard, "I wasn't trying to hurt your feelings, I just..."

"I know," Sharon sighed, leaning down and resting her head on Mel's shoulder. "And I won't tell you that you have to stop. But I need to set some boundaries, okay?"

"Okay, tell me."

"One," Sharon ticked it off on her finger, "let me pick up the tab every now and again. I want to treat you sometimes too."

"Noted, what else?"

"Two, if you're going to get me something, try not to splurge so much. The extravagance makes me uncomfortable. And three,  if you're heart is set on doing something big, you have to tell me first. You can't just spring it on me. Are we clear?"

"Clear," Mel confirmed, yawning.

Sharon laughed. "How long was the shift this time?"

"Not long, twelve hours."

"Twelve hours?" Sharon rolled her eyes. Only Mel could think a twelve hour shift was short. "Wow, that's a real breeze. Just a walk in the park."

"I had back to back surgeries," Mel protested. "This one woman came in with severe abdominal  cramping. Thought it was just PMS but it was her appendix. That thing was so inflamed, close to bursting I'm sure. But we got it just in time."

She wrinkled her nose, trying not to gag as the image of a faceless girl on an OR with her stomach cut open."That's disgusting."

"Yeah but removing it was awesome! The race against the clock is fun!"

Sharon shook her head. "I can't believe you'd consider that a good day." 

"No one died. That's a very good day." Sharon could hear her smile. Only a surgeon could consider cutting out organs and hacking off limbs as a good day at work. "Sharon?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't yell at me."

"Why would I do that?"

"You said no surprises. Now please remember I did this before you told me that."

Sharon sat upright, no longer so relaxed and fixed Mel with a stern look. "What did you do?" she asked, images of the Bahamas and other far too expensive gifts flashing across her mind.

"Well first, I guess I should tell you that I left you everything in my will. If anything happens to me, you inherit everything I own. My apartment, the house-everything I've got. And no, I'm not dying." She must've seen the fear on Sharon's face. "I've the picture of health, but I run an ER. I know how fast that can change. So I just want my things in order in case that happens. So everything goes where I want it to and there isn't any big legal mess to sort through." 

"Okay," Sharon breathed again. "Thanks for the warning. Now I'll have more incentives to kill you." They laughed and inwardly she  was relieved. That wasn't nearly as bad as she was expecting.

"And-."

"There's an and? What's 'and'?"

"Please remember I did this before we talked about the whole boundaries thing."

"Mel," Sharon said tersely. "What exactly did you do?" Mel wouldn't look her in the eye and mumbled something ."Mel, spit it out already. Whatever you did is reversible, right?" 

"I set up a trust fund."

"You did what?"

"Not for you!" Mel added hastily, two pink spots appearing high on her cheeks. "For your kids."

Sharon hung her head and gripped her hair, trying to breathe normally.  "I don't have kids. I don't even have a boyfriend right now!" 

"I know that, but you do want them someday right? You told me you did."

Sharon sat upright, still reeling. "Yeah, yeah, I do want kids someday, but Mel, that's really-."

"I can dissolve it if it means that much to you," Mel told her, shoulders drooping forward. "I can transfer it back to my name."

"But you don't want to," Sharon noted. Last time she saw Mel look this disappointed she'd lost out on a spot in a surgery to separate conjoined twins. Taken out from under her by a senior attending who decided at the last minute they wanted in. 

"No, I don't. And I didn't set it up to undermine you and your would-be husband or to remind you of how much money I have. I just don't want your kids to have to drown in debt just so they can get an entry level job. I just want to make sure they have a good start when they get out in the real world because the real world is very mean."

Sharon burst out laughing then. "Very mean" didn't even begin to cover it. It didn't cover the cruelty of Steve Rogers being forced out of the ice and into another conflict. Nor Agent Colson being dead at the hands of Loki. Or Aunt Peggy and the fact that her memory was starting to do. Very mean barely scratched the surface. Sides aching, she gasped for air and rolled off the couch, the worn carpet harsh against her skin as she giggled. "Sharon?" Mel questioned, "are you okay?"

"Yeah," she wheezed, clawing her way back onto the couch. "That was just funny, because it's true." Sharon settled back onto the couch. "You can keep the trust open for the kids."

"Really?"

"Yes," Sharon said, unable to keep the smile off her face as she saw Mel beam. "But from now on, you have to talk to me about these things first." While she appreciated where Mel was coming from now, it still didn't change the fact that they needed some boundaries. 

"I will, promise." Mel opened her mouth to say more, still smiling but the loud gurgle of her stomach cut her off and Sharon crossed her arms, watching the guilty expression flit across her face.

"Did you eat today?" And when Mel hid her face in response, Sharon got her answer. "Mel Frasier I have told you time and again-!"

"Emergency appendectomy trumps bad turkey sandwich from the cafeteria."

Sharon rolled her eyes and got off the couch to grab her purse. "You know," she said, digging out her cell phone. "Despite being a doctor, you have a terrible standard of personal care! You haven't eaten all day and you probably haven't slept in eight hours either. Seriously Mel," she dialed the number, fixing her friend with a stern look. "You have to take better care of yourself."

The ringer cut off and an employee answered her. "Roni's pizza, how can I help you?"

"Hi," Sharon greeted, "I'd like to order a large pepperoni pizza and some garlic knots."

"Delivery or carryout?"

"Delivery," she answered and then provided the address.

"Great, that'll be out in thirty minutes." 

"Awesome thanks." She hung up the phone and placed her hands on her hips. "In case the conversation didn't clue you in I ordered pizza."

"And garlic knots." 

"Yes and garlic knots because you, Doctor, need to eat something other than coffee." 

"Leave the coffee out of this."

"You cannot live on coffee," Sharon said, "and this is my treat so back off the delivery guy when he shows up."

"Yes ma'am." Mel rolled her eyes, smiling again as she yawned and stretched out on the couch, eyes closing. She wasn't even aware of it and Sharon bit her lip to stop her laugh. Moving slowly, she got off the couch and adjusted Mel so that she was laying more comfortably on the cushions and then grabbed a blanket off her chair and draped it over her. Through it all, Mel was fast asleep and Sharon shook her head.

You're hopeless, she thought, grinning as she grabbed her wallet and withdrew a twenty. Completely hopeless.

Chapter Text

"What are we doing?" James asked, his chest heaving as his fingers curled into the hem of the overlarge shirt Melody was wearing. His fingers were icy as they brushed against her but it wasn't uncomfortable. It was electric and heat radiated out from the contact, spreading across her skin like a virus.

Melody's heart started to beat hard in her chest as she leaned into James, lips brushing his ear. "We're picking up where we left off." Fear twisted her stomach at the thought of what it entailed. The scars, the twisted tissue that made her avoid mirrors whenever possible. Sharing that made her feel weak, but it wasn't overwhelming. The feeling of James's so near her was much more potent. Her fear was cheap beer but James was well-aged whisky. She knew which was going to win and she stopped thinking. Melody let go of James's hand and pulled off her shirt, then her bra, breathing hard as his gaze settled on her. "I think I was about here," she managed, trying not to look away from him as his eyes roamed over her disfigured body. "And if I recall correctly," she grabbed the hem of his shirt, "this was missing too."

Melody slid it up his chest, his hard, lean muscles pressing back against her skin as his spine arched. Her breath hitched in her throat as she looked at his bare chest. Melody had seen her fair share of barely dressed men, but it had never been like this. She'd always been cutting them open with ten blades and suturing them back together but she didn't have to do that now. All she had to do was enjoy the view.

James's lifestyle had left his body chiseled, like a sculpture, each pectoral muscle shaped perfectly. HIs abs, six of them clearly cut into his stomach, smooth skin hot under her touch as she rested her palm over his chest as she leaned down, a hot flush spreading across her skin as she kissed James and gave into another impulse she'd been holding back for six months. She opened her mouth as they kissed, tracing her tongue over his lips and she was rewarded with a shiver from James. He might have tried to do the same to her, but Melody wasn't going to grant that chance. Not yet anyways. She still had a few more things she wanted to do.

Melody broke away from his mouth, kissingis chest, flicking her tongue over his nipple and grinning at his sharp gasp when she did, his cold fingers digging into her back and it sent a wave of heat over Melody's skin, where it started to concentrate between her legs as she moved lower still, sliding the waistband of his jeans down where she caught a glimpse of his pelvis, cutting a sharp V and disappearing into the line of his boxers. Pelvis's are not supposed to be this attractive, Melody thought as she brushed a kiss over the shape and James gasped, raising his hips involuntarily. 

"Melody," he moaned hands sliding off her back and curling around her breasts, pressing against the soft tissue and Melody resisted the urge to moan herself as he teased her, one arm leaving her chest so that he could hold her tighter. "We should move," James told her, his face flushed and his lips swollen from their kisses. "Before we go any farther, I don't want you to feel trapped."

Melody felt a smile flicker across her face as she kissed him again. It was ironic to her that despite how hard and lean every inch of James seemed to be, his heart was excluded from it. That piece was gentle. "If I'm with you," she told him as she broke away. "Then I have nothing to fear."

James's lips twitched and something Melody couldn't name was resting in his blue eyes. Damn, she loved looking into those- so blue, like the ocean on a perfect summer day. James kissed her again, softly and rested his forehead against hers. The gesture was sweet, a sort of intimacy Melody had seen between patients and their partners but never felt herself. "You're not on call are you?"

She laughed. "Not today," and she had no intention of being interrupted by work again either. She grabbed her cell and pager, silencing both. West Memorial could survive one day without her. James's arms wrapped around her the moment they were out of her hands, shifting her off him and laying her back against the couch cushions and hovering over her. His muscled chest heaved as he hovered over her  as his hand drifted across her skin, caressing skin and scar tissue which made desire and anxiety ripple through her as he deftly unbuttoned her jeans and pulled them off her, slowly and Melody shivered as the same feeling coursed through her again, more intensely than before as her legs came free and the heavy fabric fell onto the floor with the rest of their clothes. Her underwear soon followed and her heart dropped into her stomach.

I'm naked.  Melody looked away from James then, fear seizing her as his hand moved up her leg. She had nice legs, but just like her pretty face, it wasn't enough to balance out the scars. That's why no one had ever seen her completely undressed, no one wanted to see that.

"Melody," James's murmured, drawing her away from her thoughts as he shifted his position, bending down over her, hand caressing her thigh and moving slowly upward and Melody's thoughts blurred as his mouth traveled down her throat and onto her breast, tongue swirling around the nipple, hot and wet over her skin.  A moan escaped between Melody's teeth as her spine arched involuntarily, heat throbbing between her legs as he brushed another kiss over her sternum, touching the scar and then repeating the gesture on the other side which earned the same reaction. She could feel his smile as he moved lower, onto her stomach where he kissed her again and Melody's lower body clenched, heart racing with anticipation but it wasn't alone. Fear and confusion crowded in her mind as well. How can this be happening? How can you kiss me like this? Like you want me? 

"Melody," the stubble on his cheek scratched at her skin. He muttered something else, to low for her hear and his fingers danced down her legs as he moved, climbing up so they were face to face again, sort of anyway. "Why aren't you looking at me?" His voice was soft, hurt and Melody winced.

"It's not you, it's me. I...I don't feel comfortable without my clothes on." 

"Melody," James's fingers touched her face, "look at me." She did as he asked, trying to ignore the queasy feeling in her stomach as she did. He was looking intently at her, his fingers absentmindedly tracing along her cheek. "You don't have to do this. It's okay if you want to stop."

She sat upright, holding James's face. "No! That's not what I want!" Melody kissed him again, the contact making her burn as his lips claimed hers; soft, and eager. She knotted her fingers into his hair and his mouth opened in a gasp of pain but she took advantage of the situation and slid her tongue into his mouth, tasting him and she heard him moan at the intrusion. Or maybe it was her. She had no idea all she knew was the she should've kissed him like this a long time ago. The slippery dance of their tongues colliding was heady-driving the anxiety from her mind as James pulled her tight against him and she felt his erection press against her and she moaned again, grinding her hips against his. 

"Melody," James grunted, fingers digging into her back, forcing his weight on her so that she was laying down again, but this time he wasn't hovering over her, he was laying on top of her. He was heavy, but she didn't mind in the least. The knotted tissue of his muscles tense against her, his arms a strong, holding her tightly to him was too pleasurable to complain about. James broke away, devouring her jaw and throat with kisses and Melody craned her neck, panting as need drove through her body, more potent than any drug she was aware of. He kept saying her name, over and over again, English mixing with Russian as he nipped at the skin of her throat. The gesture stung but was soothed almost instantly with a kiss and Melody clung to him, robbed of speech and just needing him. The throbbing heat between her legs was getting out of control and she was sure she couldn't wait anymore. 

"James," she managed, breathless and moving against him again. "James, please."

His hands were on her hips, stilling her. "Do you have anything?" he said, words half broken by hard breathing. "I don't have-."

"I'm on the pill, we're fine."

James gave her a roguish grin. "Don't know what that's supposed to mean but I trust you." His lips were on hers again, his weight shifting to that they were pressed more firmly together, she could feel the taught cloth of his boxers against her thigh and the hard mass of his erection pulsing against her and it was completely maddening. Melody reached for him, hooking her fingers into the waist band and forcing the garment down. A process made slightly more difficult given how close they were and how aroused he was, but eventually, that made it onto the floor as well.

We're both naked,  Melody thought as James leaned into her again, pressing closer but not yet inside her and son of a bitch she was ready for that. The wet spot on the cushions was more than indicative and she was pretty sure James's knew it as well as she did. "Please," she whimpered as he kissed her lips again, slowly but not pressing forward like she wanted.

"You have to look at me," he told her, nose brushing her face. The intimate gesture sent flutter through her stomach. "I want to see your face when..." He mumbled something and Melody smiled.

"What?"

"When I make love to you," he said, blushing a little. The expression was something Melody normally found very cheesy but it was cute when James said it. 

"Okay," she whispered, touching his face. Her insecurities could go to hell, James was more important. She'd made the mistake of looking away once, of letting them, letting John win. She'd never do that to James again. 

His hand drifted down her leg, curling around her knee before hoisting it over his waist. The motion was slow, deliberate and his eyes never left her face as he moved, pressing against her and Melody gasped as she felt him enter her and he stiffened above her which was the complete opposite of what Melody wanted.

"Are you okay?" James asked, biting his lip and looking nervous. It was such a boyish expression and oddly adorable. 

"I'm fine," she frowned. Melody couldn't recall feeling this good in almost thirty years. "James, I'm fine." She raised her hips and watched as  his expression changed, the worry vanishing and morphing into pleasure as his jaw tensed and his eyes half-closed and Melody grinned. "I'm fine," she raised her hips again and James moaned. "So shut up and come here."

James growled and his expression morphed again, turning into something primal and sexy. His hand tightened on her leg and he grinned. "Whatever you say." And he pulled away, but only for a moment before he thrust into her again and a jolt went through Melody, her nerve endings firing off at the movement and her spine arched without her direction. Melody moaned at the sensation and  she hooked her other leg around James's waist, right as he moved again and it was everything as her nerves fired, coiling inside her like a spring and waiting to be released. They moved again, James biting and kissing her neck and shoulders and speaking rapidly in a mix of English and Russian. The only word she could properly identify was her name, Melody, repeated over and over as he moved with her and it was all she could do just to hold on, nails digging into his muscled back as that spring inside her tightened further, preparing for release and God, she was close. 

"Say my name," he growled, breath hot in her ear, hand groping at her hip to drive them closer together. Melody was pretty sure it was impossible and tried to say something but her speech was lost as she met  James's upward thrust with one of her own and she drew even closer to the place where only pleasure existed. "Say it," James's demanded again and this time, she found her voice.

"J-James." He thrust into her again and Melody whimpered, clawing at James and probably hurting him but he made no complaint. She kissed his throat, gasping for air as he moved inside her and God, she was so close. "James, James please!" One more thrust and Melody shattered. The coil inside her released, endorphins flooding her mind and overwhelming her as she reached orgasm. The strongest high a person could reach without the aid of drugs and as she collapsed back onto the couch, breathing hard she wondered why anyone would even bother. This was intense enough as it was.

James's cried out above her, the words lost on her and he collapsed on top of her, breathing just as hard as she was. "Wow," he said, voice raspy as he rolled off her and Melody found herself laughing, 'wow' barely covered it. James hand slipped over her waist, loosely which confused her. Super solider or not, there was no way in hell he was able to have sex again, not right away. It was a biological impossibility.

"James," she managed, breaths still uneven. "What are you doing?"

"I want to hold you."  He panted, breath tickling the back of her neck and his fingers trailing over her side absentmindedly. "That okay?"

Melody sighed, turning her neck so she could look at James. His eyes were half-closed, chest heaving as he caught his breath. He's beautiful, she thought, and he's mine. She still didn't know how that was possible, but now, as she laid in his arms Melody decided not to question it just then; it wasn't a question she needed answered.

Chapter Text

Sharon sprinted along the concrete path, soles of her sneakers slapping against the stone. The soft notes of pianos, violins, cellos and whatever else played in orchestra's  blared loudly in her ears. Normally, she found that music calming, but nothing calmed Sharon anymore. Not since two weeks again. The Day had been horrible, her world had been a rug under her feet and then torn out from under her, leaving her whirling as she tried to regain her balance. She was still trying to regain her balance. 

She turned another corner, trying to concentrate on the soft tones of the flutes in the song but it didn't do any good and her mind wandered again and movement caught her eye and she slowed. Apparently she wasn't alone in the gardens, Bucky was there too. Dressed in a faded pair of cargo shorts and black t-shirt, a bright orange flower in his hand. She hadn't seen him in months. Truth be told, she wasn't eager to change that but his eyes followed her and Sharon couldn't just run off like she hadn't noticed him. It was rude and childish.

Sharon pasted a smile onto her face and hit pause on her iPod. "Morning Bucky."

"Morning," he replied, eyes leaving her face and voice low. "What are you doing here?"

"It's a good morning for a run," Sharon  said, tucking her earphones into her pocket as she took a step back from Bucky. Something was radiating off him, a cold sort of anger that she didn't want to get close to. She didn't think he'd hurt her, but still, the feeling made her uneasy. "And apparently you don't share that view."

"It's been a long day," Bucky said, still not meeting her eye. 

"It's not even seven in the morning," Sharon said. Whatever had happened, it could've easily accounted for his bad mood. Maybe the lab had tried again, tried and failed. That'd be enough to put anyone in a terrible mood before the sun was even over the horizon. Poor guy, Sharon thought. She wanted to say something to comfort him, but with that cold anger radiating off his being, she had a feeling it would just set him off. Sharon had learned already, that sometimes people didn't need a reassurance, they just needed someone to vent to.

"Doesn't matter," he muttered, taking a few steps towards her on the narrow path. "Please move Agent Carter," Bucky said. "I need to get going." Sharon's sympathy came to a hard stop in her chest; Agent Carter, not Sharon. Impersonal and cold.  She stood aside, insides squirming painfully as she realized she read Bucky wrong. It wasn't the lab bothering him, it was...Mel. Sharon swallowed hard, the very thought of her name sending her mind into  a storm was fragments of what Sharon thought she had known and what the truth whirling around as she tried to sort through it. Mel was a surgeon. She'd taken the Hippocratic Oath; a vow to do no harm. An oath that served as her creed but it couldn't be. She'd broken it. She'd done harm and done it without any remorse. Without feeling and she did that in and out, every single day as she cut into people's bodies, not viewing them as human beings, but puzzles to be solved. 

"Sharon?" The sound of her name drew her away from her storm of confusion and pain and she turned to look at Bucky who'd stopped walking despite his earlier insistence that he had somewhere important to be. "Did you ever love her? Melody, I mean."

Hearing the name spoken aloud was like a fist squeezing her heart. Did she ever love me?  Mel had told her of often, but she'd also told Sharon she valued life while hiding the fact that she was guilty of first-degree murder. "What kind of question is that?" she asked softly. Sharon had always loved Mel, it had been easy. Seeing the scrawny seventeen year old kid who was so smart, wanting so badly to become a doctor because all she wanted was to help others and still so alone. It had been easy to care. Easy to care until Sharon learned that everything she'd ever thought to be true about Mel was a lie. How can she help others when she looks at them without feeling a damn thing?  If she can kill another human being and have no remorse?

"I'm asking if you loved her," Bucky said, voice thick like he was trying to hold back tears. "Because with what you did to her, I honestly can't tell."

What I did to her? Sharon thought, outrage pouring through her as she crossed her arms. Her hands always shook when she was mad and that was the last thing she wanted to deal with now. "I didn't do anything wrong." Sharon had done nothing here, this was on Mel. Mel had done this to both of them. She was the one who lied, she was the one who claimed to value life while being perfectly capable of ending it. 

Bucky apparently didn't feel that way. He spun around, jaw clenched and breathing hard. The anger wasn't cold anymore, it was blazing, an inferno. "I would disagree Agent Carter," he spat out the words like they were the worst swear words known to man. "You stole federal files on me for Steve, you stole equipment from evidence-those are all crimes. You broke the law and when you were asked, you lied about it. That's wrong, isn't it? Or are you just a hypocrite?"

"That is not the same thing!" Sharon shot back, adrenaline spiking her blood. She'd broken the law yes, but to stop a SWAT team from filling the man in front of her with bullets. To stop HYDRA's most elite death squad from been unleashed and wrecking havoc. Sharon had something wrong in the eyes of the law, but from a purely moral standpoint, she'd done the right thing.

"But it is," Bucky disagreed, glaring at her.

Sharon pinched the bridge of her nose and tried to breathe deeply. Annoying and hard-headed as Bucky was being she could see the reasons behind his actions. They'd been hers once, Sharon had done the same to him, after the lab when Mel had been attacked."Be angry at me if you want, everyone picks sides in something like this, but don't you dare tell me what I've done and what she did are the same thing. They aren't." 

"You've killed people too," Bucky reminded her. "Or have you forgotten?"

"Yeah, I have killed people," Sharon said and they haunted her dreams on some nights. Ghosts of dead men. She'd never forget them. "But I never plotted to do it. I had seconds to act or a civilian, an agent or I would've wound up in a body bag. I never wanted to kill them but I had no other choice. It was heat of the moment, life or death and I never lied about it either." That was the key difference between her and Me. "I confessed, I accepted the consequences of my actions and I dealt with them. Melody didn't. She lied, she lied for years-." 

"And given the reaction she's gotten, can you blame her? John deserved what he got, he was a monster who beat his wife and daughter, he didn't deserve to live."

Monster. The word stopped her cold, she'd heard it before, years ago and applied to a man Mel had operated on. She could still see his mugshot in the news headlines and the faces of the three women who's throats he'd slashed. Michael Rollin, "Back-Alley Butcher" serial killer who'd terrorized Boston for months before being caught. Sharon laughed, feeling a bit crazy. Maybe she was. "You know, I've heard that before. Eight years ago when Mel was operating on a serial killer."

"What?" Bucky's anger seemed to fade, overwhelmed by confusion. Apparently he'd missed the news coverage.

"Eight years ago, a prison inmate was brought to West Memorial, a serial killer. 'Back-alley Butcher' is what the press called him," Sharon told him. "He escaped the death penalty on the insanity defense but the other inmates didn't like him. One day they jumped him and he got hurt, needed surgery. Every other surgeon passed on it, all for the same reason: they didn't think he deserved to live. I agreed with them, frankly but Mel still took the case anyways. She saved his life and to this day, he's still alive in solitary." 

"Is there a point to this?" Bucky growled. "I have places to be."

"She took the case and I didn't get it. I didn't get how she, being a member of society and a woman could save his life. So I asked her. I told her that he didn't deserve to live, know what she said?" Bucky didn't answer, but that was answer enough for Sharon. She glared at him with cold blue eyes. "She said; 'it's not my job to decide that'. She told me she was a doctor, not an executioner." Another lie. Mel had been an executioner before she'd become a doctor. The tool she'd used to kill was the same one she used to operate. Some dark place inside her mind where emotion didn't exist. A place she'd visited looking at Sharon, the woman Mel had claimed to love and value over everyone. Her family. She'd looked at her own family without feeling a damn thing. A pang shot through her heart and Sharon tensed against it, trying to dull the sting. "I hunt down monsters, men who have no regard for life and have no remorse about taking it as they see fit. And now I know Mel is like them."

"No she isn't." Bucky said instantly, eyes flashing again, confusion gone and anger back in it's rightful place.

"But she's not sorry that she killed him, she's only sorry for what it might do to her." Sharon took a deep breath, trying to ignore the burning sensation in her eyes. She would not cry now, not in front of Bucky. "But she's not sorry that she killed him, she's only sorry for what it might do to her."

"Why should she be sorry?" Bucky growled, hand clenching and the flower stem snapped in half and fell pathetically onto the ground. "You saw what he did to her-I heard you screamed. Bet that did wonders for her self-esteem."

Sharon winced, the vivid image of the scars filling her mind. The pale white, puckered skin that covered her entire back. If Sharon lived to be as old as Peggy, she'd never be able to forget the horror of that-the way it only said one thing: pain. "I know he was a monster," she said slowly. "I know that. I have no illusions about what he was." And Sharon was sure she'd never be able to hear his name again without feeling complete and utter disgust. But even so....She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. "But you can't kill another person, even a person who barely deserves the title and feel nothing. They're still human beings and whatever they are, you don't just get over it like it's nothing. It's not nothing." 

Sharon knew that perfectly. She could still see the glossy eyes of Andrew Zola; a young man who was trying to complete the work of his great-grandfather. He'd been trying to steal S.H.I.E.L.D. files and had taken another agent hostage. Sharon had shot him, ended him and though it had been the right thing to do, it had also been difficult to cope with. Andrew Zola had been a monster, dangerous and had to be stopped. But he was still a human being, if only just. "Killing another human being is a hard thing to live with, no matter what, even if you know you had no choice or would do it over again the same way, But Mel doesn't feel that way, she doesn't care. There's nothing." 

"That's not true," Bucky said quietly, shaking his head. "She can feel remorse Sharon, just not over a man like that. She's a smart, always has been. And that's why she killed him."

"How'd you make that leap?" Sharon asked, equally as quiet. "When you found out she'd plotted a successful murder before she turned thirteen?" 

"Because he almost killed her," was the flat reply and Sharon's heart stopped, the dull drone of a heart flat-lining screaming in her mind and bringing her back to the OR gallery where Melody's heart laid visible to her eyes.  The moment she'd died. "There's a scar on her life side, shallow it's a stab wound. John stabbed her. Her lung collapsed and she couldn't breathe. That's what pushed her over the edge. She knew she couldn't keep going like that, sooner rather than later, she knew he'd go too far again and her luck would run out. Maybe it wasn't a heat of the moment situation, but it was life and death and she was smart enough to know it. She took a path that ensured she'd live, she took her fate into her own hands because she learned to fear people. Her own mother wouldn't fight for her, how could she believe a stranger would?"

Sharon said nothing, mind whirring into overdrive. She could see that little scar, one inch down and half an inch across. She could see it when it was new, shallow and red, Mel with blood bubbling on her lips, trying and failing to breathe. Sharon had been there once herself, ten years ago when she'd been stabbed by a sleeper agent and hadn't been able to go to the hospital for fear of being followed. It had been like her body was on fire, the worst pain physical pain she'd ever felt as she gasped for air.

"And you say that you don't get to walk away after killing someone and you're right about that," Bucky snapped, oblivious to the turmoil rolling around in Sharon's head. "But Melody didn't get to walk away. She became a doctor, she threw herself into saving lives to prove to herself that she wasn't like him. That she wasn't a monster. Don't you dare assume that she got to walk away from it, because she didn't." 

Bucky turned away from her, scoffing and apparently fed up. He walked away and Sharon should've let him go, but she couldn't. Sharon wanted to open her mouth and yell at him. To say she knew exactly how Mel had thrown herself into medicine. She'd seen her stacks of antimony textbooks, covered Mel up night after night when she fell asleep between the open pages, reciting organ systems and structures inside until they were cemented in her memory. Sharon had heard Mel curse as her hands went numb after hours upon hours of practicing sutures. She'd seen her neglect her own needs, operate on little sleep, forget meals because Mel's first and only concern was that her patient was cared for. That they were alive. Sharon had held her when she cried as the losses came, the people she'd fought like hell to save and her best effort hadn't been enough. Mel hadn't just thrown herself into saving lives, she'd made it her life. Sharon had watched it happened, she'd had a front row seat. That had been the thing that had been driving her up the wall since That Day. She'd watched all that happen and then been told by Mel herself that she'd murdered a man, plotting each step of the murder carefully to avoid being caught and to ensure her victim would never survive and even now, twenty years later feeling nothing over it. It didn't make any sense and Sharon had no idea how to tell which was the real Mel and which was the persona she'd put on her entire life.

But when she opened her mouth, she didn't say any of those things. Another question rose up instead and left her lips. "Is she okay?" she asked, recalling Steve's darkened expression each time he left Bucky's apartment. "Steve told me she hasn't said much since...since she and I saw each other." But Steve was different, a protector through and through and Sharon could easily see Steve being purposefully vague to shield her from pain. Bucky wouldn't do that; he'd be honest.

Bucky stopped cold, shoulders hunched and head hung. He didn't look angry anymore, just exhausted. "She hasn't said anything, no matter what I've tried, she won't talk to me."

"She won't talk about me?" Sharon wondered aloud. Was it that easy for Mel to cut her out? To turn off the love she'd supposedly carried and just forget about it? The thought hurt more than  Sharon wanted to admit. 

"No, she won't talk, period." 

"What?" Mel was catatonic? How was that possible?

"She's in pain," Bucky said it like it was the most obvious cause in the world. "And I've seen her in pain before Sharon, but it's never been this bad." Bucky took a deep, shaking breath and Sharon wondered if he was trying not to shout. "She's a survivor, she's lived through hell, but you, you're what broke her."

"I didn't-." Sharon tried but Bucky wasn't willing to listen anymore.

"You broke her, Sharon and whether or not you meant to do that is irrelevant." He shook his head again and began to walk away, this time Sharon didn't even think to stop him. The impulse was gone.

I didn't break her , she thought as Bucky vanished behind the corner. How can I? I don't even know her well enough to have that kind of power.  The same mix of confusion, anger and pain swirling inside her like a storm. Sharon felt her eyes burn again and her hands trembled. She was done with running. It was time to go to the gym, she needed to hit something. Or possible open a bottle of whisky. She'd decide once she got back inside. 

Chapter Text

Sharon pressed her head against the damp tile of the shower, hot water pouring down her back. I should go, it's the right thing to do. The lab had finally done it, they'd gotten the hardware out of his head and he had his mind back to himself again. Steve, Sam, Scott, Clint and Wanda were going over to surprise and celebrate with him over it. Sharon had been invited along as well and she knew she should go, but she didn't want to even though she knew she ought to. Sharon had nothing against Bucky, even though their last couple of conversations had been more like battles. It wasn't him she wanted to avoid, it was Mel.

Sharon didn't think she'd be able to stay in the same room with her. She couldn't even look at her. The water suddenly felt ice-cold as Mel's face swam in her minds eye, heart-shaped, pale, green eyes wide as she whispered those terrible words; "John Frasier didn't commit suicide, I killed him."  The woman she'd known for fifteen years had become a stranger with eight words. The idea of being stuck in a room with her was too hard to think about, let alone actually attempt. Sharon turned off the water and grabbed a fluffy white towel off the hook mounted onto the wall. Wrapping it around herself, she left the bathroom, closing the door on the clouds of steam behind her. 

"Finally," Steve grinned at her, bending to kiss her quickly across the lips. "We need to get going if...You're not coming, are you?" HIs smile faded and Sharon felt a pang twinge inside her chest. Like invisible fingers were plucking at the veins in her heart. 

Sharon hung her head, water dripping off the ends of her hair. "I'm so sorry. I'm thrilled for Bucky but I...I can't see her, Steve. I can't do it."

She heard Steve sigh and then felt his fingers curl underneath her chin. Gently, he titled her face up and she saw he was smiling again, though it contained compassion instead of joy. "It's okay," he bent down again, kissing her forehead and Sharon felt her toes curl. This was why he loved dating tall men, they were the perfect height to give kisses like that.  "I'm sure Bucky will understand."

"I'm sorry," she said again as Steve drew away and ran a hand through his thick blonde hair. As per usual, it was combed back neatly, away from his face. She liked that about him to, it was sort of boyish, a look she felt was cute on him. 

"It's okay." Steve tucked his hands into the pockets of his shorts, "I have to go, if I want to arrive on time for the surprise party."

Sharon nodded. "Go on, I don't want you late because of me. I'll see you soon." She forced a smile which Steve returned, though she was pretty sure his wasn't fake. Steve wasn't good at faking smiles. He sort of wore his heart on his sleeve, another quality Sharon found endearing. Steve walked away at a leisure pace and strolled out the door, leaving Sharon alone and she sighed, slopping over to the bed and sinking down on the mattress as though a lead weight was falling onto her shoulders. A lead weight named Mel Frasier.

Sharon pushed her damp hair back, chest tight as she tried to breathe but it was easier said than done. She was skipping out on a party, a party celebrating a huge milestone; all to avoid her. Was she really that weak? Maybe she was, Sharon sighed heavily and got up, feeling very cold and she dug through her duffle bag, a thing she'd packed in a haste the moment she'd gotten the suitcase telling her where to find her missing friend. Former friend. Yanking out a pair of ratty sweats and clean underwear, Sharon shimmed into both and grabbed a shirt of hers off the floor. She smelled it and when she didn't detect any foul odors, she slipped that on as well before laying down the bed and staring at the ceiling fan as it spun slowly around.

He almost killed her, Sharon thought, the shallow scar on the left side of Mel's body flickering to life in her mind's eye. "He hurt her so badly," the terrible scene of hundreds of scars came to her mind now. Mel had always said she wasn't beautiful. Sharon now knew the reason. If she looked like that, she'd probably say the same thing. "I know why she did it but," Sharon shivered as she saw Mel's blank face in her memory. There was no regret, no remorse, only fear at Sharon's reaction. "You can't just do that. You can't kill someone and feel nothing. You just can't. And you can't be a doctor, let alone a surgeon without valuing life."

Sharon moaned and rolled onto her side, the bed less like a mattress and more like a slab of cement. But Mel was a doctor. She was a surgeon, a great surgeon, one of the best in her field. She was a murderer. She'd murdered a man while he slept, even if he was barely a man at all and felt nothing. She'd planned it out, step by step to make sure she'd never be caught and then lied for twenty years. She probably would've kept lying if she hadn't been shot. Those two things were facts. Solid, strong and unavoidable. Nothing could explain them away. And none of it made sense. Not one moment. Those two things couldn't exist together, a person couldn't value life and be able to take it without feeling anything. That was a direct contradiction. It broke some unknown laws of the universe.  One of them had to be wrong, a lie, a persona Mel put on.

Problem was, Sharon had no freaking idea how to figure out which was which. She'd seen solid proof of both. Twice, she'd seen the cold, unfeeling side of Mel. First when Sharon had laid on the table as she'd shoved a chest tube in-between her ribs and again, years later when Steve laid on her operating table in DC. She'd just thought it was her training at the hospital that had allowed her to do that, to keep her head in a crisis. Now Sharon knew she was wrong. Her residency hadn't taught Mel that at all. It had been her plot to kill John.  And even more frequently, she'd seen Mel value life. She'd saved a serial killer, drunk drivers who'd harmed and killed innocents with their moronic choices, she'd watched her lose sleep to solve tricky cases and God knew how many other people were alive because of her. One of them had to be a lie but Sharon wasn't Sherlock Holmes. She had no way to crack this case, she'd always been good at puzzles, but Mel wasn't one she could solve. She was a puzzle with pieces that didn't fit no matter how many different ways Sharon rearranged them. 

There was only one piece she understood now; the only thing that wasn't confusing. John Frasier hadn't been her father, he'd been a demon from hell. Sharon's stomach lurched as she pictured the scars again. There was no normal skin on Mel's back, it was a miracle she could move her shoulders as well as she could. Mel had spent the first twelve years of her life suffering. That was why she'd killed John. Not out of revenge, or malice, but a primal, desperate need to stay alive. That was the only piece she understood. But one piece didn't make a whole person. Mel was more than the abuse she'd suffered, but Sharon had no way of knowing if the whole was murderous and cold or compassionate and devoted to preserving life. 

At some point, the exhaustion hit her again and her eyes began to drift shut and Sharon fell into a shallow sleep, the puzzle in her head still as unfinished now as it had been three weeks ago. 

Chapter Text

"Maybe I should go talk to her?" Steve wondered aloud. "Wanda was so upset yesterday and Clint already told me she's not feeling much better today."

"She said she wanted to be alone," Sharon reminded him. "Give her some space." She ran a brush through her hair, gathering it up at the back of her head. The tropical climate of Wakanda made her hair a giant mess if she didn't pull it back. "What's she so upset about anyways?"

Sharon watched as Steve crossed his arms in the mirror. "There was an accident yesterday, at the party. Wanda was practicing and..." Steve trailed off as Sharon pulled her hair through the elastic. 

"And what Steve?"

"Mel got hurt," he said the name fast but it didn't stop the pang that shot through Sharon's chest. "Nothing major, just a superficial wound to her leg. Wanda felt awful about it, but she wasn't crying until later. I think that...she might've said something to upset her."

The fact that he'd avoided using her name didn't escape Sharon's notice and she set the hair brush down on the cool marble counter. Steve said nothing more and she knew why, he was waiting for her to offer some insight, confirm or deny that Mel would've done something like that. Once she'd have been able to give a confident answer, now she couldn't. "She might have, I honestly don't know."

"If she did say something," Steve shifted from one foot to the other, or at least she assumed that was what he was doing. The portion of him she could see in the glass was moving in a way that suggested that. "Do you think she would have brought up what happened in Lagos?" He grimaced, "I'm sorry. I know you don't like talking about her, but I don't want to bring that up around Wanda-she feels bad enough without remembering that."

Sharon sighed. "I know, you don't have to apologize. But I can't help you. I have no idea if she would've brought up Lagos." A month ago, Sharon would've been able to said with complete certainty that she wouldn't have done that. That Mel wasn't like her, that even when angry, there were lines she'd never cross. Now she didn't know at all. Mel was still a puzzle Sharon couldn't solve. Even with her extensive knowledge of criminal psychology. But if what Bucky said was true, then how criminal was it really? Was it cold-blooded murderer or an act of self defense? Self defense was Sharon's first impulse, even if it was usually done in heat-of-the-moment situations, the scars carved onto Mel's back were proof of how desperate her situation was. In fact, her actions lined up pretty well with battered women's syndrome. If battered women's syndrome included staging the killing as a suicide and lying to the police, which it usually didn't. And just as the tiny jigsaw pieces of Mel had come together, that was how fast they blew apart. It had been the same pattern for weeks now. She'd get one tiny thing settled before it was wrenched apart again by another piece that just didn't fit.

"Sharon?" Steve's voice brought her back to Earth. "Are you listening to me?"

"No," she answered honestly, tapping her fingers on the counter. "Because I know you're asking me to give it my best guess, but I don't have one anymore. I don't get her, at all. Nothing about her makes sense anymore."

Steve's eyebrows furrowed together and he shifted again. He'd avoided asking about her and Mel's last conversation but she could hear the last of his resolve to stay quiet slipping away. "Sharon," he began and she knew it was gone. "What's going on with you two? I mean, I know she lied-."

"Yeah," Sharon cut across, watching the veins bulging in her neck in her reflection. "Yeah she lied! She lied for twenty years and I always thought she was an honest person. But I was wrong! I also thought she was smart, but I was wrong about that too because no smart person would stand in front of an active shooter, they'd run for cover which she should've done! But no! She gets in the way, gets her ass shot and dies!" She felt a stinging in her palms and heard a clatter as her makeup bag tipped over, spilling the contents onto the counter.

"Dies?" Steve repeated, as Sharon drew her hands up off the counter and saw the skin turning bright red from the impact. "Sharon, she didn't die."

"Yes she did," she said softly, throat tight and eyes burning as the monotone cry of a heart monitor telling her that Mel was dead. "She crashed during surgery, they had to shock her heart three times before they got her back. She died." Sharon hung her head, drawing her arms around her chest, ice cold with remembered fear. 

"Sharon," Steve rand his hands over her arms, his skin was warm but did nothing to dispel the chill. It was freezing her from the inside out. "Is that what you've been so angry at her for? For almost dying?"

"I don't know, yes, maybe. I honestly don't know." She leaned into Steve, needing a moment to be supported, to be weak while someone else was strong. Sharon blinked and felt a tear cut a path down her cheek. Something so simple and it hurt so much. "I stopped knowing her, the day she was shot she became a complete stranger to me and I don't know her anymore. I never knew her, at all and I thought I did."

"You knew her," Steve said softly and Sharon tried to jerk away, anger cutting through the dimly remembered fear and the vivid pain but Steve held fast. "You knew part of her anyways. You can't hang around with someone for twenty years and not learn things about them."

"All I heard from her were lies." But that was a lie. Mel had said she loved coffee and her daily consumption that probably stunted her growth was proof enough of it. Mel said she loved being a surgeon and she spent more time at her job then she had at home. She couldn't cook and she'd proven that time and again when she burned food, started fires in ovens, put salt in a pie instead of  sugar and set of the smoke alarms God knew how many times before Sharon had banned her from using the kitchen.

Steve held her tighter and she felt his chest rise as he breathed in but he never spoke. A rapping sound on the door loosened his grip and there was a soft noise as he walked bare-foot across the floor to answer it. Sharon took the ten seconds of alone time to wipe at her eyes, grabbing a tissue and wiping away the mascara that had run down her face. She returned her makeup to it's case and put it back in it's proper place. Now everything looked normal but nothing was normal. Not anymore. Sharon squared her shoulders and made her way out of the bathroom. No matter what you feel, Aunt Peggy's voice said in her mind. Put on your best face. It was good advice and Sharon intended to follow it now, especially now that she felt the worst she'd felt since Peggy's funeral. I wish you were here, Sharon thought back to the voice. You'd know what to do. You could figure this out.

Sharon walked out, pasting a smile onto her face but it flickered to nothing as she saw who was standing in the apartment. Bucky. He wasn't talking to Steve and his fierce eyes sought Sharon. "Hi Bucky," she said, deciding to be polite before saying the thing that was really on her mind, "I heard about the lab, congratulations."

"Thanks," he said but he didn't seem interested in the topic.

"Do you need Steve?" Sharon asked, "We did have plans this morning, but if you need to go, Steve you can-."

"I'm here for you," Bucky said bluntly. "You need to talk to Mel."

Sharon crossed her arms, gearing up for the fight she knew was coming. "I don't need to do anything."

"Yes you do."

"I'm too tired to do this Barnes," Sharon snapped, her thin patience wearing away fast. "If you're here to pick another fight get out."

"Another fight?" Steve interjected, eyes darting warily between Sharon and Bucky as though they were about to start brawling. 

Bucky ducked his head a moment. "I'm not here for that and I was wrong to talk to you like that. I'm sorry."

Sharon relaxed a little, the tension leaking out of her like air from a punctured balloon. "Then why are you here?"

"Because you need to talk to Mel." Bucky said again, this time meeting her eye. Nothing about his posture was tense now, like it had been in the garden. His shoulders were relaxed, his jaw wasn't clenched and his voice wasn't rough like he was barely winning against the urge to shout.

"I don't owe her anything." Sharon snapped and she waited for Bucky's calm expression to turn into snarling anger, but it didn't. 

"I know you don't," he said softly. "And by every account you could cut her out of your life forever and no would could blame you for doing it." Sharon blinked, that had not been the reaction she had been expecting at all. "If you want her out of your life, decide and do it fast, because this," he threw his newly restored metal hand out, grasping for a word that he couldn't place. "This thing you're doing now were you don't know, you're hurting her and your hurting yourself. If you want her out of your life forever, decide and get it over with."

Sharon's heart slowed in her chest, the terrible memory of Mel's heart giving out and the same paralysis that had struck her that day hit her again. Fainter but still strong enough to knock the breath out of her lungs. No, no, no, no, no!  Sharon lurched forward, passed Bucky and a very confused Steve but she didn't care. She didn't have time to explain. She'd almost run out of time once, in that gallery two months ago she'd run out of time. She hadn't even known it was coming. She wasn't going to wait anymore, for all she knew, if she waited a moment now, something else could happen. Some other crazy accident, like a collapsing building or Wanda accidently sending a wayward arrow at Mel.

Sharon fell against the door, opening it with shaking hands and half-running down the hallway. What am I going to say to her? I still don't know her. She's still a stranger. I'm crazy, I am completely crazy. The smart thing to do would be to walk away, to keep someone like Mel out of her life for good. It'd be easier. But Sharon had no idea what kind of 'someone' Mel was. And  until she knew beyond reasonable doubt that Mel was nothing close to who Sharon had once believed her to be she couldn't let go. 

How can I even talk to her? I don't know how to talk to her anymore. Where do I even start?  Sharon wasn't sure but as she came to a stop outside Bucky's apartment door and twisted the handle, she knew she'd have to figure it out pretty fast.

Chapter Text

Sharon's hearted climbed into her throat as she stepped over the threshold and into the apartment. She could hear the hard pulse of blood in her ears as she saw Mel. She was sitting at the table and still wearing her pajamas. "Hey James," she greeted and Sharon tried to keep the shock off her face. Bucky had said she wasn't talking...Mel's green eyes widened and though her mouth was open, no sound was coming out. 

Sharon took a deep breath, the air said stale and cold as winter in New York. "What did you say to Wanda? She's really upset." It wasn't what she wanted to say but it was the only thing she could think of at the moment. She lnew what she really wanted to say, but she didn't yet have the guts to ask.

Mel looked away but when she answered, her words were clear. "I said what she needed to hear; if she doesn't like it that's her problem."

Teaching; so Sharon's old hunch was correct. Mel hadn't intetionally chewed Wanda out, she'd been acting the same way she did with her students. "She's been crying on and off since last night."  She was stalling, trying to buy time, to work up the courage to say what she needed to say. 

"I gave her some solid teaching whether or not she wants to follow it is up to her." Mel said simply and Sharon clencthed her jaw. Mel's teaching style worked on surgeons, not on strangers. "She's not one of your residents."

"No," she agreed, "she's not." Sharon thought she heard regret in Mel's voice. Or perhaps it was comprehenision, but she didn't know anymore. She couldn't be sure. "And I should have done better but she's still one of the good ones and she'll never reach her potential unless she learns to-."

"What not make mistakes? Everyone makes mistakes! No one is perfect." Mel's statemnet of 'should've done better' implied remorse but it wasn't enough. It wasn't for the right thing. The thing Sharon needed to hear it for. To have the peice that would make everything fit, help her to understand the stranger in front of her. If she could just show Sharon that she regretted her choice, that taking the life of another human being had affected her, then she'd know they'd be okay.

"I didn't mean that she had to be perfect. She can make a hundred mistakes, she can make thousands for all I care. She just needs to stop making the same ones over again. Mistakes are fine, repeated mistakes are not."

Sharon processed that a moment, trying to gather the scraps of her courage so she could get to the subject she needed to talk about. "Is that what John was to you? A mistake?" Tweleve year olds weren't at a level of cognitve fuctntiong where they weren't able to foresee long term conquences of their actions. Perhaps that was how Mel felt now, as an adult. Regretting her choice to kill when another option could've freed her from John and not been so extreme.

Sharon saw Mel's hand curl into a fist on the table. "No. Mistakes are unintentional."

Nothing. Not a thing. Sharon's throat was thick and she took a deep, shaking breath. "I chase terrorists," she said. "I chase people who have no regard for human life and before that I chased sleeper agents who wouldn't hesitate to wreck havoc across an entire country. They do what they want and they don't feel any regret over it." She wasn't sure why she was saying this, she was rambling, trying to make sense of the thoughts in her head that refused to come together.

"Are you here to arrest me?" Mel asked, "Because I don't advise that, there's no record of my arrival here in Wakanda, you won't be able to explain how you found me without incriminating T'challa and everyone else."

A rueful smile fell involuntarly onto Sharon's face while nausea twisted her stomach. She could see it now, the hint of the little girl who'd murdered a man while he slept. Thinking ten steps ahead. Mel hadn't learned that in residency, she'd learned them when she'd plotted a murder.  It was a disturbing thought. "You thought of everything, planned out every step. How long did that take? Did it start before or after the shooting?" .

"Why does that matter?"

"Because I'm wondering if it took you longer to plan a murder or an escape." Sharon said, the horrible words like cement in her stomach. She didn't want to know the answer but she had to know. If Sharon ever wanted to have a hope of putting the puzzle that was Mel together, she had to know the truth, no matter how horrible it was.

"Murder," Mel said, her voice stiff. Almost like she was annoyed to talk over the matter. "I had to practice my aim first."

"Why?" Sharon demanded. "Was Plan A to be a Sniper and shoot him from behind?" She said that half sarcastic, half serious and she dreaded the answer.

"No, Plan A was exactly what happened. Plan B was more long-distance."

Sharon licked her lips. "How many other plans did you have?"

"One involved poison," Mel's voice was frank, they might have been discussing the weather outside.

This can't be who you are, it can't be. There are pieces that don't fit. "Turn around and look at me." Sharon said, looking down at her shoes and steeling herself for whatever was next. She didn't think she'd like it.

"What?" Mel sounded human this time, confused. Not detached.

Sharon lifted her gaze, resolve filling her. She had to see her face, to monitor her expressions. Body language was better at revealing the truth-it was harder to control than words. "Turn around and look at me. Look at me and tell me that again."

Mel moved, slowly but she met Sharon's gaze. Her eyes, eyes that always had reminded Sharon of a porcelain doll were glossy. Was she crying? "Plan A was to shoot him while he slept and make it look like he did it," she said, reciting as if it was part of a well-rehearsed presentation. Her hands were steady, not fiddling or toying with anything. She wasn't looking away either." If he woke up when I tried, Plan B was to empty the clip into his chest. If I couldn't get the gun, my next bet was household cleaners into his food or drink. I never fleshed that one out since I was able to get into the safe and steal his gun."

Sharon closed her eyes, pain shooting through her and her jaw tensed in response to it. "Nothing," she said, more to herself then to Melody. "Not a damn thing."

"What exactly are you looking for?" Mel asked softly. "For me to tell you it was a lie?"

"No, for remorse." That was all Sharon was looking for, the thing she needed to know that Mel was still the Mel she knew and loved. But it wasn't there. "I wanted to see remorse, but there's none of that in you. Not even a little."

 "I know I should be sorry, but I can't be." Mel shrugged, her eyes were far away and her mouth a thin line. "I hate him. I will always hate him and his death meant that I got to live. I will never regret that."

Sharon tried to keep the surprise off her face, she'd never thought Mel to be capable of hating anyone. Just another thing she was wrong about. She took a deep breath, ready to walk away because there was nothing left of her former friend there to fight for. This wasn't a question that could be answered, a puzzle that had no solution as much as Sharon wished there was.

"But," Mel, took a deep breath and Sharon stopped cold as she saw tears leak out of her eyes and down her sharp incline of her cheekbones and off her jaw and onto the table. "I regret that it had to go that far, I regret that I had to be the one pulling the trigger, I regret that when he died, I did too. Any part of me that believed in people, that trusted others was killed. Whatever was left of the child I was, she died." Her eyes got that far away look again as she said that. As though she was looking straight through Sharon and back twenty years into the past. Back to herself when she was a child. "I wish someone would've protected her. I regret that no one did. I regret that I became the person I am now. I wish I didn't know how twisted I am. But I can't turn back the clock, I only get to go forward and be better than I was."

That's what you tell your students, Sharon thought. You tell them to be better. She'd never known where it came from, now she did. Mel told them those harsh words because she said the same thing to herself since she was twelve. "You saved Michael Rollin, a murderer because you said it wasn't your job to decide if he deserved to die. Was that true?"

Sharon knew the answer before it was out of Mel's mouth. "Yes, I meant that."

"I know you did," Sharon's throat was tight again and warm, salty tears ran over her dry lips.

Mel frowned at her, head titled in confusion. An unconscious habit Sharon had noticed when they'd first met. Something she always did when she didn't understand something. "Then why did you ask me if you knew the answer?"

"Because I don't get it," Sharon said, throwing her hands out of their crossed position, the mixture of confusion, pain and desperation colliding and creating a reaction that was impossible to hold back. "I don't get you. Not anymore." 

"I know," Mel said softly, looking away and more tears streaming down her face. 

"I chase madmen, I chase murderers who kill without remorse. They don't care who they hurt so long as they get what they want. And now..." Sharon stopped talking, no concept of where she was going. She always thought out loud, it helped her process and make sense of problems, but her thoughts were too tangled to put into words. 

 

"And now you know I'm one of them."

"No." That wasn't accurate either. The men Sharon chased were murderers, Mel had that in common with them, but she wasn't one of them. They placed no values on the lives of others, Mel did. But she was also a murderer. That was as real as her respect for life, but they didn't fit. Sharon didn't know how to make them fit.

Mel turned around, hand twisting around the back of her chair. "What?"

"You're not one of them. They kill and they want to. You killed and you had to." Sharon knew that now, she'd known that since the moment she saw those terrible scars. "There's a difference, but," she wiped at her eyes, she was crying again. . "Who are you? The remorseless, no feeling killer or the surgeon who fights to save whoever she can? Which are you? I've been trying for weeks to figure it out and I'm coming up blank." That was the only course of action left open to Sharon, to admit she couldn't do this and that she needed Mel to give her the answers. "I don't know which one you are. I don't know who you are so if you could help me out, that'd be great."

Mel sighed and her fingers tangled together nervously. "They're both me."

"You're not good." But your not evil either. You're somewhere in -between , some shade of grey. Sharon wasn't sure what shade of grey it was, but grey was better than black. 

"I told you that, I told you I wasn't good. I have told you that over and over again-."

"Yeah," Sharon snapped. "And I just thought that your shitty self-esteem coming through. You could never accept a compliment, not like that." She could never accept someone saying she was beautiful either and now Sharon had an answer as to why. John made her feel ugly. Sharon felt her heart sink into her stomach as the reality hit her.

"And now you know why and," Mel took a shaky breath, still fiddling with her fingers.  "I won't try to apologize, I know that I did something unforgivable. I know I hurt you. And I won't blame you if you hate me or-."

"What? Never want to talk to you again?" Sharon asked, glaring at her, as she crossed her arms once more. That was unacceptable. 

"Yeah, that," Mel said her voice soft and strained. "It's okay, I understand."

You don't understand anything!  "You moron."

"Excuse me?" Mel looked completely bewildered. Not that Sharon could blame her, she was pretty sure no one had accused her of that before. 

"For a surgeon, you're a moron." Sharon said and she heard her voice break, hearing that droning sound again in her memory. Only a moron would stand in front of an active shooter instead of seeking cover.

"I'm a great many things, but I am not a moron."

Sharon scowled and put her hands on her hips. Vaguely, she realized she was doing the same thing her mother did and didn't give a shit in the same moment. "Then why the hell didn't you get out of  the way? Why didn't you move when that kid came in?" That would've been the smart thing to do and Mel was smart, so why hadn't she made that choice? Sharon didn't understand and she needed to. Her puzzle was coming together but she still had some pieces she couldn't fit on her own.

"I knew why he was there. I had to stop him, I knew how his story would end if he did what he came to do and I couldn't let that happen. It wasn't too late for him. Someone had to save him."

You would've died, Sharon realized. You would've died to make sure his story didn't end the way yours did. So he didn't have to look at his dark side. "Was that all you were thinking about? Him? Did you even consider that he could kill you?"  He had killed her, even if it had only been for a few minutes but those minutes had felt like a lifetime.

"It was an accident, he didn't mean to shoot me." 

"But he did," Sharon said, the words like glass in her throat. "He did shoot you and you died." 

"No, I didn't. "I was in a critical condition for a while but-."

"No," Sharon glared at her. For such a brilliant surgeon, Mel always failed to grasp simple concepts.  "You did die," she heard her voice break again, saying the words aloud, saying them to Mel was like a punch to the gut. "I showed my badge when I got the hospital and they let me into the gallery. I saw them operate. As soon as they closed, your heart stopped beating. You were dead for five minutes before they could bring you back." It took everything Sharon had to keep from shouting as she reached the end. It was a relief, in a way, around all the pain to say that out loud. To unload these things she'd locked away for months.

"I didn't know that."

Of course you didn't!  You weren't thinking about your life, you were thinking about that kid! You didn't care what it did to you, you didn't care what your death would do to me!  "I watched you die. You died on that table." Sharon gasped as a painful sob tore out of her chest and she threw whatever was left of her pride out the window and ran to Mel. Throwing her arms around her, she buried her face in Mel's boney shoulder and wept. The way she should've done a month ago in that apartment.  "You can't die. I can't stop talking to you, you're Mel." 

"I'm not who you thought I was," Mel said softly and Sharon held her tighter. No, she wasn't the person Sharon had thought her to be, but she had the total picture now; a complete version of Mel that Sharon now understood. "I lied to you, I lied for years."

"Because you were scared," Sharon said, squeezing her eyes shut and feeling tears slither down her face. "You had to fight for your life and saying something meant you could've lost everything you'd worked for." Guilt twisted her insides and she held Mel tighter. "You were scared I'd leave. That's why you didn't say anything. I'm so sorry." 

"Why are you apologizing?"  

"You needed me," Sharon whispered, shame twisting her up as well. Sharon had prided herself on her compassion, but the first time Mel had truly needed it from her she'd failed. "You were scared to lose me and I should've seen that. I shouldn't have told you to leave, I should've told you I still loved you and I didn't. I'm sorry." That would've been all she needed, all they both would've needed. Sharon would've still been angry, but she wouldn't have been trying to piece Mel together for weeks with no success. Mel would've been hurting, but she would've been talking. 

"Sharon," Mel grunted, "I can't breathe."

Sharon realized she was holding Mel in a way that was more akin to choking than hugging. "Sorry," she apologized, rubbing Mel's arms. It was a reflex, she always did that when Mel was upset. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I am so, so sorry." She wasn't talking about her death grip and they both knew it.

"You didn't do anything wrong." Mel replied, swallowing hard as tears ran down her face. "I did. I was a terrible friend to you, I lied-."

"Yeah, I know you lied," Sharon had  spent months agonizing over that fact and done so in two countries and across an ocean on a plane. She was done with that now. It didn't matter. "But you weren't a terrible friend, you were terrified and did what you thought you had to."

"I still did it." 

In that moment, Sharon was reminded sharply of Bucky. "Actions matter," she said finally, "but motive does too. Why you do what you do matters. That's part of us too. Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons doesn't make you a terrible person, it makes you human."

"Is that criminal psychology?" Mel asked and Sharon grinned.

"Part of prosecution,  why someone does what they did can lessen the severity of their sentence." And that would be the reason Mel never saw the inside of a jail, Sharon would make sure of that. She grabbed Mel's hands in hers and looked her square in the eye.  "No court will convict you for John's murder. Not with what he was."

"I'm not going to go to court Sharon."  Mel said and Sharon took a deep breath. There was no avoiding an investigation. Not with the abuse out in the open. The police would never ignore that crucial piece of evidence.

"Mel," Sharon said, adopting the same firm and calm voice she used to question witnesses. "I know you're scared, but I promise, I will get you through this. I have three of the best lawyers in the world on my cell phone. You will never see the inside of a prison for this, I promise."

"I'm not going to court," Mel said again and Sharon had already prepared her 'denial isn't going to help' lecture until she heard the next part. "Because as far as the rest of the world is going to know, I wasn't the one who shot him. The Winter Solider did."

Sharon blinked. "What?"

"James offered to take the credit for what I did," Mel explained. "He's done so much already, one more name can't do any harm to his reputation."

"John's might improve it,"  Sharon remarked, insides flashing hot and cold as she saw the man's face in her minds eye. If she ever saw another picture of him, she'd have fight off the urge to put a bullet through the paper. "But Mel, are you sure about that? The proof of what that bastard was is written all over your body-no offense." She stopped short, realizing that was a terrible way to talk about such a touchy subject, but they didn't have a lot of time. Mel couldn't stay missing forever. "I don't say that to hurt you," she said softly ."I'm just saying there is no denying how desperate your situation was. And Moira is a witness, she can testify to what happened." Mel had a strong case, she'd never be convicted and the truth was better than lying. The thing about lies was having to worry that you'd be caught.

"I doubt she'd do anything in my defense if she knew I was the reason she became a widow. She loved him." How can someone be that foolish? Sharon wondered and it must have shown on her face. "I know, I still don't believe it either, but it's the truth. I'm going with my original plan, I just don't want you to tell anyone else. The more people who know-."

Sharon finished the thought. "The more people could let it slip and ruin your life. I don't think you're plan is the best one." Sharon told her frankly, "but it's your call. I won't say anything." If she couldn't convince Mel to face the jury, she'd at least do her part to keep her cover story where it needed to be.

"Really?" Mel sounded very surprised so Sharon decided to explain. Prove she was really behind this, even if she didn't agree.

"People are alive because you were able to practice medicine and I'm one of them." Sharon wasn't going to forget how Mel's quick thinking had saved her in that kitchen anytime soon. "Take away your license and you can't do that anymore and I really think that more people will die because of it." Anger flashed through Sharon again. "And if he wasn't already dead I'd probably kill him myself." And probably take a much slower route, just to hear him scream and give him a taste of his own medicine.

Mel's eyes got that far off look again. "I think James would've beaten you to it already," she said, giving Sharon a tiny grin.

That was hard to argue. "Fair. Okay so in the interest of security, this stays between you, me and Bucky . That's okay." She gave Mel another stern look. "But that's it, no more secrets. You have to have people, Mel, and you can't have people if you don't trust them." 

"I trust you."

Sharon smiled. She did believe that, but she knew the feeling wasn't returned anymore. She had no idea if it ever would be. "You have to trust more than just me. And Bucky," she added his name as an afterthought and couldn't stop the grin coming to her face. "I still can't get used to the fact that he's your boyfriend," she admitted.  "And I'm still trying to process that, but I've never heard you talk about a guy that way so I am going to be supportive, so long as you are happy and he treats you well." Mel had never talked that way about anyone, not any guy she'd dated in college or even Derrick, who by all accounts was every woman's dream.

Mel gave her a sheepish look and withdrew her hand from Sharon's. "He's not my boyfriend," she said, and Sharon saw the glint of a diamond ring on her left hand. He's my fiancé."

Chapter Text

 

"What happened?" Bucky asked, still feeling ice cold as he sat in the aircraft. "She was with you all day, how could this have happened? You were just sight-seeing!"

T'challa laced his fingers together thoughtfully. "No we weren't. She and I went to South Central Hospital-I wanted to show her what Shuri and I were planning with the simulation there. I was trying to entice her into accepting a position in our  trauma department. I thought seeing the space we would  use for the lab and meeting Shuri would be a good pitch."

Bucky frowned as the jungle flew by around the ship. "I don't understand."

"You want her to stay, don't you?"

"What?"

"I couldn't help but notice how close you two seemed," T'challa said with an apologetic shrug. "I've said nothing to the others, but I thought it'd be easier to be together if you were on the same continent."

The truth hit Bucky a bit slowly, but he saw it now. T'challa knew about him and Melody. "Yeah," he muttered. "It would be." He took a deep breath and refocused. How T'challa had figured it out when neither Steve or Sharon had could wait. "How does that account for what happened?"

"Doctor Frasier got pulled into the ER, another portion of my sales pitch and she was left alone in a trauma room with a patient. He got violent and she was harmed in the process."

"How badly?"

"She suffered a broken jaw." Bucky winced hearing that, broken jaws were excruciating. "I was there when they took the X-rays, but none of her other injuries were that extensive." T'challa sighed, "Though her X-rays showed that she was no stranger to injury." He glanced sidelong at Bucky as he said that, silently questioning but he couldn't answer.  Upon hearing that Melody had been hurt, Bucky hadn't thought of much else. Not even this, not what it would do. The body always remembered trauma. The X-rays would show everything. Oh God, Nightingale. This was going to be much more than a violent outburst and a wired jaw, this was  going to be the very thing she'd been avoiding her entire life. There was a bit of a bump as the aircraft glided down and Bucky got onto his feet, feeling cold again as he saw the looming glass structure of South Central Hospital.

"She's in recovery now, third floor, I've already cleared the area and she's in a private room." T'challa told him as they entered, Bucky tensing up as they entered. Yes, he'd been given a pretty decent disguise with the beard he'd recently grown and the fact that he was missing an arm but still, being out in public felt weird. Thankfully, the walk to the elevator was brief and once they were up on the correct floor, it was vacant, just as T'challa had told him.

"How can this be empty?" Bucky asked as they walked, "her doctors, the other patients-?"

"Other patients are being housed in the clinic which has shut down for the day and her doctors are here-people whom I trust with my life. They won't reveal your presence here, you have my word."

"Thanks," Bucky said as they approached the room at the far end of the ward. He saw a doctor and nurse there talking softly though their conversation died down as they approached and they greeted T'challa in typical Wakandan fashion, crossing their arms over their chests. The nurse departed not long after leaving them alone with the doctor.

"Hello Your Highness," he greeted with a swift glance at Bucky who tried to smile. 

"Hello Doctor Bello, how's the patient?"

"We were able to wire her broken jaw and reset her shoulder. She should be waking up any second now."

"Can I see her?" Bucky asked and the doctor nodded.  "Of course."

"Thank you," he muttered, skirting around the man and entering the tiny room. The walls were glass, a brightly patterned curtain partly hiding the tiny bed from view. The mechanical beep of various machines made the room sound eerie to Bucky. Cold and alien. Hospitals had not been like this in nineteen forty-five. Pushing aside his discomfort, Bucky stepped around the curtain and saw Melody and she certainly looked like she'd been beaten. A large purple bruise had blossomed on the left side of her face along with a narrow gash. Around her head, three pillows were clustered, he had no idea why but he was guessing it was due to limited mobility. Her right arm was held in a sling. Nightingale, he thought, sitting down in a nearby chair and taking her hand in his, careful not to jostle her IV. The hospital gown had short sleeves and he could see the scar. He had to wonder how many others were spotted when she was prepped for surgery. Probably most of them. 

Her face twitched and she made a groaning noise. Slowly, her eyes started to open, bleary as she tried to focus. "Hey," Bucky whispered, squeezing her hand. "How you feeling?" Melody shook her head slightly and winced, showing the metal brackets across her teeth that held her jaw together. "A patient went a little crazy," he told her, "he attacked you and broke your jaw. I think you had a dislocated shoulder too. Not sure what else, I just got here." Melody seemed more focused now and made another sound. An attempt at speech he was sure of it, but he had no idea what it was supposed to mean. "I'm sorry, I don't understand you." Bucky sighed. "It's going to be okay."

Melody tried to speak again. This time, Bucky had a pretty good idea of what she was saying. Probably something along the likes of 'yeah right' or 'how'? He leaned closer, lowering his voice so only she could hear. "Nothing is going to happen to you, I promise. Just give me some time to think."

"Bucky?" he looked up and saw Sharon staring at them, her face pinched with rage. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"Same thing as you," he replied. "Let's not do this now okay?" 

Sharon's face was quickly going from white to red. "No, we're doing this now," Bucky had to give her some credit her voice was very level considering. "First off, this is crazy dangerous! The wrong person sees you and the international hunt for you comes to Wakanda and it's not going to be pretty."

"I know that."

"And for another," she glared at him, "I already told you back off Mel. This isn't backing off and I already-."

"Ahem," Sharon stopped cold and her wide eyes went to Melody. Apparently, she had not realized her friend was awake. "Mel, are you okay?" She made some sort of sound again, words Bucky couldn't make out and from the blank look on Sharon's face, she was just as lost. "Here," Sharon reached into her pocket and grabbed her cell phone. "Here use this."

Melody let go of his hand and tapped the screen several times and then a robotic voice sounded off. "Sharon, knock it off. I want him here, he stays."

"What?"

Melody tapped something else on the screen again and robotic voice went off again. "He stays." She moved again, this time her gaze shifting from Sharon to Bucky. "Stay," the phone said again and Bucky nodded.

"I'm not going anywhere," he promised. "Not until you send me away."

She smiled again though it looked terribly pained with the brackets and bruises. She tapped a few more words across the screen. "I love you."

Bucky smiled as he heard Sharon's sharp gasp behind him. "I know."

 

Chapter Text

Steve shook his head, "I still don't think this was a good idea T'challa."

"I know it has risk," he said, glancing towards Bucky who was still sitting next to Mel's bed, hand in hers. "But I thought it would be riskier still to leave him behind. What would you have done if it was Ms. Carter in that bed?"

Borrow an aircraft and get my ass here, was his first thought and he had a feeling it would've been Bucky's too. "You have a point," he conceded. "But I'm still worried."

"Whatever happens will happen," T'challa said, "and should the worst come, we will protect him."

Steve smiled. "Thanks, I'd rather have you on my side if it comes to a fight." He'd seen T'challa in combat a few times and was not eager to fight against him again if he could help it. He glanced over at Bucky and Mel again and saw she was moving. Curious, he watched as she slid over in bed and though it was a small space, Bucky crawled onto the mattress next to her, careful of the IVs and wires attached to her. The way he was laying couldn't have been comfortable at all, but the smile on his face as Mel snuggled up to him showed no sign of discomfort. Where he was right then, that was the only place he wanted to be. "How'd you know?" he asked T'challa. "About them? I never figured it out and neither did Sharon."

T'challa smiled. "Seen a great deal of love in my life, got pretty good at recognizing it. And I suppose I didn't have the blinders you and Agent Carter did. I didn't see my best friend, I just saw two strangers who loved each other."

"Still can't believe it," he slid his hands into his pockets, rocking back and forth on his heels. "She never struck me as a very loving person."

"I think it's fair to assume Doctor Frasier's ideas of love are very different from most people."

That put the brakes on Steve's wondering how just how Bucky and Mel fell for each other. He'd heard the doctors talking about Mel. She'd been abused and from the little he'd heard it was horrific. Yeah that would certainly be a way to have very different ideas of love and affection than the general population.  "Have you seen Sharon?" She'd never mentioned any of this to him, so he assumed she was just as clueless as everyone else when it came to whatever Mel had gone through.

"I saw her sitting down the hall a while ago," T'challa said, "you should go to her. I think she needs someone right now."

"I think so too," he glanced down the hall and sure enough, he spotted Sharon sitting down by the water cooler. Steve took a deep breath and walked towards her and the closer he got, the worse she looked. The little he could see of her face was streaked with tears but her face was mostly hidden as she hung her head as though the weight of everything had crashed down on her all at once.

"Hey," Steve said and she looked up and gave him a weak smile. "Mind if I sit down?" Sharon hung her head again which wasn't very encouraging but Steve sat down anyways. "You okay and I've just now realized that it's a stupid question."

"Yeah," Sharon sat upright and slouched in her chair. "It was." She sighed heavily and crossed her arms. "Did you know, about Bucky and Mel?"

"Not a clue," Steve said honestly. "Still processing that one." Mel's past aside, Steve still couldn't think of any two people less likely to get together. 

"You and me both." Sharon shifted and Steve felt her soft hair brush his neck as she rested her head on his shoulder. "I don't get it."

At least he wasn't alone in the confusion and it made him feel less like an ass. "Me neither." 

"I feel like such an idiot-I'm trained to notice stuff like this but I never did here. Not for a minute did I ever think that Mel had been..." Steve heard a break in her voice and slid an arm around her back, he took it as a good sign when she didn't draw away. 

"Don't beat yourself up over it," he advised. "She's smart and she didn't want you to know."

"But why?" Sharon whispered. "Why would she hide that from me? I'm her best friend."

"Maybe she just wasn't ready to talk about it?" Steve offered. Honestly, he had no idea what Mel's reasons for withholding that from Sharon for so long, but he wanted to say something, anything to make her feel better.

"I find that hard to believe," Sharon said and there was a trace of bitterness in her voice. "She told Bucky, so maybe she was ready to talk about it." Just not with me. It was unsaid but they both heard it. 

"I don't think it has anything to do with who you are."

"What else can it be?"

"She loves you," Steve said. He'd wondered before, but now, knowing what he did, he realized what he was seeing had been love, just only love as Mel understood it. "Maybe she was afraid to lose you."

"Why would she lose me?" Sharon demanded, breaking his grip and eyes glinting sharply with anger. "Why would I walk out just because I found out someone beat her?" Her eyes filled with tears saying that aloud, cooling the anger. Steve wondered if this was the first time she'd admitted that truth out loud.

"That's not what I meant," Steve said softly, grabbing her hand. "I mean you've always respected her, thought she was strong and smart. Maybe she was afraid that it would change." He sighed and squeezed her hand and for a moment, he wished he was more like Bucky. He'd always been better at talking to women. "I don't know for sure why she hid so much from you, but since you want to know so badly, why don't you just ask her?" 

"Her jaw is wired shut, every word she says sounds like gibberish to me."

"Then maybe try some kind of code?" Steve suggested feeling foolish for forgetting how broken jaws were treated. "Blink once for yes, twice for no kind of thing. Or something less common than blinking." He realized that wasn't a great tool either, since blinking was something people always did with or without thinking about it. "Just try to get something if you can. I know you, and you'll go crazy if you don't try."

"I know."

Steve squeezed her hand. "Word of advice, if she's not that receptive to talking, don't push her. I tried that a lot with Bucky and it didn't work."

"She's not Bucky."

"Same principle, you're asking her about the worst time in her life and that's not an easy thing to talk about." Steve disagreed with Mel on many counts, but she'd been right about forcing Bucky to talk. While she hadn't been brainwashed, she'd been hurt and that was a painful thing to discus. The only way to get answers was to ask, but pushing didn't get them either. There was a line and Steve hadn't balanced on it for a long time. There was no reason for Sharon to repeat his mistakes.

Sharon tensed a moment before she relaxed. "You're right, I just wish she would've told me herself."

Steve couldn't blame her. He couldn't imagine how much it hurt to learn the truth from doctors instead. "It's okay that your angry with her."

"Who said I was angry?"

"In a situation like this, how could you not be?" Steve replied and feeling bold, he lifted her hand and kissed it. "It's okay to be upset."

Sharon smiled at him again and slid her hand out of his grip, though she did so gently. "I'm going to check on her, you okay on your own for a bit?"

Steve smiled back. "I'll be here." And he watched her as she walked taking notice of the steady pace of her steps, the straight angle of her spine and the set of her shoulders-moving with a purpose, determined and courageous, even though she was hurt. God I love that woman, he thought, and for her sake, I really hope this goes well. 

Chapter Text

Sharon made her way down the hallway, heart climbing into her throat as she neared Mel's room. I can do this, she thought firmly to herself as she stepped past the glass door and saw Bucky laying next to Mel in the narrow bed. He didn't look very comfortable, laying at a sideways angle, legs curled up tightly beneath him and the bedrails digging into his back. Sharon wondered for a moment why he would've done something like that but then she saw his fingers brushing strands of hair from her forehead, the only part of her face that wasn't bruised and swollen.There was nothing obscene about the gesture, but even so, Sharon felt like she was intruding on an very intimate moment.

She knocked on the doorframe, the metal and glass cool under her hand. "Hey."

Bucky looked away from Mel. "Hi," he frowned, "you're still here."

"Yeah," she leaned against the frame and crossed her arms. "Yeah, I'm still here. How's she doing?"

"She's in pain but I finally got her to call a nurse and after she got the morphine she passed out."

Sharon nodded. That made perfect sense, morphine was a powerful drug and Mel barely took Advil. She'd have no tolerance to it at all. "I still don't think you should be here," she told Bucky frankly. "It's dangerous."

"I know," he said softly, "but I'm not leaving." Sharon sighed. She hadn't really expected him to leave but she wasn't going to lie and say she approved of his presence here. It was too big a risk. Bucky took a deep breath, glancing over at Mel again and then back at Sharon. He moved carefully, edging out the narrow bed and grabbing something off the rickety table. "This is for you," he said and he held out some folded sheets of papers which she took. The outside was blank charts, like they'd been stolen from the nurse's station.  "It's a letter from Mel," Bucky explained quietly. 

The papers suddenly felt ten times heavier. "Oh."

"I'm sorry, Sharon."

"For what? Putting her at risk?" That was why Sharon had objected as strongly as she had that day in those gardens. Bucky wasn't a terrible guy, but he was a target for several countries. Anyone close to him could easily get caught in the crossfire-and that was when she didn't include the brainwashing problem. 

"No," he said flatly. "I'm not sorry for that, she knew the risks and she made her own choices. I'm sorry that you're hurting like you are now. I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

Sharon gave him a bitter smile. "Thanks for the sympathy." She held the thick papers closer to her chest and backed out of the room. There was no point in being there when Mel was asleep and she really didn't want to be around Bucky either. She made her way down the hall, careful to avoid T'challa and Steve who were engaged in a quiet discussion. I need to read these, she thought as she looked down at the stack of papers. How many there were Sharon didn't know but it was definitely going to take some time to get through it all. She went a bit father down the hall and then ducked into the restroom. This seemed as good a place as any to be for some alone time and right now, Sharon felt that was exactly what she needed. She locked herself in the farthest stall and unfolded the papers with shaking hands. Mel's familiar, slanted handwriting greeted her though some of it was blotted and smudged. Sharon wondered, dimly if Mel had been crying over this. 

Sharon,

I've never been very good at knowing what other people are feeling and you know that, but even I know how angry and hurt you must be at everything, and I want you to know how sorry I am. I know this isn't a situation where an apology can fix things between us, for fifteen years you've always been honest with me and given me your complete trust with every matter you were legally allowed to impart and I repaid that with fifteen years of lies. I could write a dissertation-length paper just saying that I was sorry and it still wouldn't be enough to repair the hurt I've caused you.

I know my words are no longer enough for you to believe me, the only thing I can do now is prove that I'm telling the truth by backing it up with actions, so here's where I start telling you the truth. I spent my entire life feeding  a narrative, a tragic story of loss and honoring a legacy of a departed father, but I never had a father. Fathers don't beat their daughters and that's what John did to me, along with using me to practice sutures and later, to develop his own. Most little girls dream about becoming president or having a family of their own, I don't really know. I never had those dreams. When I lived in that house, I couldn't dream of any future. The farthest I could look ahead was one day, to stay alive one more day. I know I probably seem vague right now, but I promise that I'm not trying to be, it's just hard to try and put into words what my life was like. I don't think they exist in any dictionary that I know of. So I'm left with this; if you want more details, just come and  ask me, I can show you what happened. 

I know you must be hurt and confused, wondering why I never told you, wondering how I could tell James over you. I want to address that now; firstly, know that I kept James in the dark just like everyone else and had fully intended to do so until circumstances made that impossible. As you know already, he was hiding in my childhood prison (I can't call that place a home, home is supposed to be a safe place) and being back there was hard for me. Harder than I can put into words and eventually, it caught up with me. I went a little berserk and smashed up the kitchen and James saw the whole thing and he saw the scar on my left arm. Apparently, you'd already told him that you were fearful that I cut myself and James took the scar as confirmation that you were right. So I had to correct him, but because I was hiding him the way I was, I was able to more or less blackmail him into staying quiet. I never said the words 'stay quiet or I kick you out'  but the implication was there. I told James because I had to. Not because I love him more than you. I love you both a great deal and in very different ways. He's the only man I've ever loved. I know how crazy that has to sound to you, knowing who James is and every complication that comes with it, but it's the truth. I love him. 

And I love you and I know right now you have to be doubting that given how much I've lied, but that's one of the truths I've been able tell you over the years. I love you and you are my family. Now I can tell you that you're the only family I've ever had; you've taken care of me when I was sick, held me when I needed to cry, were proud when I accomplished anything  and when I didn't come home at night, you looked for me.  Speaking as someone who spent seventeen years without any of that, I can't overstate how much you mean to me. But even so, there are still things I'm not telling you. There are pieces of my story that I can't just write down-I need to tell you myself. So now I need you to wait, wait until I can talk again so you can hear it from me instead of some papers. 

I'm sorry,

Mel.

Sharon set the letter down in her lap and tried to take a deep breath. So John had been the culprit; not a brilliant surgeon and a loving father as Sharon had so long thought but a monster. An animal who beat his daughter. Probably his wife too, Sharon would've bet her entire paycheck on it. In spite of herself, morbid curiosity was taking hold, she wanted to know just how bad it had been. Mel's words suggested it was terrible. 'stay alive one more day' was pretty clear that it had been a severe case but Sharon wasn't a visual person. She had to see something to quantify it and though she feared what she'd see if she asked, she had to know. And then, even if she looked passed that, there was still something else; another few secrets Mel had already admitted to keeping even now. She wanted to know but this was something she'd have to wait on. She recalled Steve's advice from earlier, how trying to force someone to talk about the worst time of their lives before they were ready never worked. Mel wasn't Bucky, but apparently they were more alike than Sharon had believed. They were alike enough to fall in love. How that happened Sharon had no idea, she'd add it to her list of things to ask Mel when the wires and brackets came off.