There was something wrong.
You couldn't put your finger on it, but you knew it was there. A deep ache somewhere inside that makes gulping so difficult. You just lay there. Eyes wide open, staring at nothing in particular. Your mind the closest it comes to being absolutely blank. Quiet. It's like zoning out from within zoning out in the first place. The covers were half on you and half off and you felt a chill in the air, but you couldn't muster the courage to fix the blanket yourself. Outside the windows, you could see light snow falling over the city's skyline, softly and so slowly. You wanted to concentrate on the snow but the dulled noise of the traffic outside that poured in through the slightly ajar balcony door made you feel so irritable for some reason. You wanted to shut it full and draw the curtains— maybe not all the way through because you want to watch the snow but... you simply didn't have the strength for it. It was like a stagnant settling air of hopelessness and all you wanted to do was stuff your face in the pillow and cry but that wasn't going to happen any time soon. You don't have the energy for that, for a good stupid cry.
"I think I'll just..." you contemplate, "I think I'll just lie here" and you close your eyes... not realizing when you'd fallen asleep again.
It was late in the afternoon when Bucky came back from his mission. You heard the lock turn and the door shut again, and it could just as easily be an intruder. But you knew it was him. You could tell from the quiet, almost noiseless thud of his feet on the hardwood floor. It's not something one can catch for the first couple of weeks, when it's still a little short of falling into a pattern... but it had been over two years now, and at this point it's just something you get used to, being able to tell the sounds, the quiet thuds, as he took off the boots and carefully placed them inside the shoe cabinet, the easy swooshing of his arms as he walked, the casual sloppiness with which he let his duffel bag fall on the couch, the soft sound of the balls of his feet as it got closer and closer and closer, he was just at the turn of the doorway, at the threshold, any time now—
"Hey…" the familiar voice rings in the room and for a second it fills you with so much warmth that it makes you want to cry. But you can't move. You just stare at the window, trying to count the snowflakes as if that mattered.
You think for a second he just stands there and worries if you am dead or sleeping, you want to say "hi!" to him and hug him close and just sink into him and never let him go, but... you don't think you have the strength for it, your body simply won't comply. You turn your head and greet him with as good a smile as you could… but you guessed he could tell.
"Hey..." his voice is softer now, as he walks over to you, "how're you feeling?"
You contemplate that for a second, or maybe two or maybe a whole minute and then finally sit up and say, "I don't know…" You don't want him feeling burdened with your gloomy stupid thing so you try to make it better, "what do you want for dinner?" You ask cheerfully, but it deceives no one. Your voice sounds so hollow. Even to you.
He has one knee on the bed, but his weight is supported by his palms which are now also rested on the bed, his face arguably close to yours. His eyes scan your face carefully, sympathetically. He knows what it's like and the last thing you want is to make him feel double of what it's like.
"Do you want to go out?" You ask him, persisting still.
"Do you?" he enquires encouragingly, as he softly tucks a stray strand of hair behind your ear with his metal arm.
"I don't know, do you?" You answer honestly, you really didn't know, "You were on your mission, what was that like?" you ask, to keep the conversation flowing.
"Oh it went great! Contrary to Plan A we didn't have to hurt anyone fatally to rescue the young woman and her son. Dr. Chow is checking up on them now, I think they'll be okay. A bullet grazed the woman's thigh but it barely grazed her, she'll live... Maybe with a scar but... She'll live."
"Wow, I'm really glad they're okay." You say, honestly, even though you don't think your voice conveys it. Geez, you think, I sound so fake right now.
You are not intent on making eye-contact with him right now, so you avoid his gaze as subtly as you can. You think he can tell. He doesn't force you to look him in the eye. He takes off his jacket and flops down on the bed, one leg folded, another touching the floor.
He smiles encouragingly and slowly reaches forth, so as to not startle you, and he takes your hand in his, "Nat and Clint had the wildest bet today, and would you believe that, Clint won." He says as he studies your palm, doodling comforting circles on it with his finger.
"What? Shut up! That never happens!" You say, your eyebrows automatically rise because you were genuinely surprised, "how?"
He was piqued by your relatively enthusiastic response, and folded his legs as he properly sat on the bed, "so they were arguing about how the quinjet is fast enough to defy gravity for even a split second—"
"That's ridiculous" You scoff, not waiting to let him finish, "that's not possible"
"That's what we ALL SAID!" he exclaims and smiles the biggest grin, and it feel like that warmth is liquid and it flows through his generous palms into your unresponsive hands, it's the kind of warmth that makes you want to be happy, to borrow some positive energy from the person and just.. Keep it. For keepsakes.
But it's never really that simple, is it.
"Then what happened?" You persist, ignoring the heavy grey as it tries to creep back into you.
"Well, Clint wanted to demonstrate and prove it and Natasha was TOTALLY against it."
"What did you do? What did Steve do? Did you guys talk him out of it?"
"well, Steve and I are both a little enhanced, so we were apprehensive, it was an interesting prospect," He smiled sheepishly as you side-eyed him, signaling your disapproval, but he went on, "but Clint wanted to fly the quinjet full throttle and then spin it midair, upside down the whole works"
"I think sometimes Clint forgets he's only human"
"it's like two extremes of the spectrum for him," Bucky shakes his head fondly, "either full human and complaining and slacking for weeks on end, or these unbelievable feats of stupidity, take your pick"
You chuckle at that analogy, "Okay so …what did you do?"
"Well Tony was very keen on testing it because it's his quinjet" he shrugged, "and he was absolutely sure that no harm would come to us or anything"
"Also he's wearing a fucking suit so he doesn't have to worry either way"
He snickers at that comment, "Tony would rather die than have the Avengers die of a mid-air flight incident. Steve and I withheld votes. It was two against two, Tony and Clint all for it, Bruce and Natasha all against it. Steve changed his mind and voted against it." He eyed your apprehensive nod and pulled himself closer to you, "So did I."
"That's smart. You're pretty smart, Bucky Barnes."
"Well…" he grimaces mischievously, "turns out it didn't matter."
"Well... Tony was very confident and he wanted the quinjet to do the mid-air stunt: we've been through worse guys, come on! It's only a little fun! He said."
You didn't respond, raising your head a little as you followed the story as they formed on his lips, and he understood that it was his cue to go on, "Nat signed and told Clint that he owed her his dog Lucky if they died and it was then that Clint realized how high the stakes were."
"Wow, so he backed off?"
"'Cold day in hell before Lucky loves anyone as he loves me' he said confidently and then the mad lad absolutely went for it" At this point Bucky is all laughs and his metal arm is around you. One would think it'd be cold but it's really not. It's not burning hot either, it's a comfortable temperature of warmth… in a metal—a concept even two years hasn't familiarized you with. At that second, you couldn't imagine what it must feel like without having that arm around you.
"Holy shit Barnes, were you gonna die on me?" You clutch his shirt with your other hand, tightly in your fist. Your eyes widened in what was a small expression of the extreme fear you felt at that unimaginable possibility.
"Of course not!" he laughs and catches you off-guard as he kisses your forehead. I think he knows how afraid I am of losing him, the voice in your head tells you. "Turns out the quinjet can take not only one spin but at least three. Well... at least three until Bruce threw up so Clint had to stop."
"You guys are wild" You concluded, shaking your head. "I hope Bruce is okay."
"Yeah he's totally fine." He waved his hand absentmindedly, waving the topic away.
"Anyway," he said, "you still want to go out?"
"I don't know, seems like a lot of work getting dressed and going out for food." Your shoulders slumped without your permission and very smoothly, his hands went to your shoulders and gave them a tight comforting squeeze.
"How about we order takeout instead?" You asked
"Or I could cook us something?" he suggested.
"Oh?" your eyes went wide, "you think you can cook after that extreme roller coaster ride you just took?" You teased him.
"I want to" he sat up and pecked you on the cheek, "what do you feel like eating?"
"What is the chef's special?"
"Uh.. Hold on to that thought, I'll be right back" he says and dashes to the kitchen and you can hear him rummaging through the fridge, "uh… there's some mozzarella cheese in here, and onions and garlic, some veggies.. Do you want some pasta?" he shouts from the kitchen
"Do we have pasta?" You said a little louder than your normal voice, however not loud enough to float to the kitchen, but he heard it. He always does.
"Uh... Okay, we don't have pasta, sorry. I could run down to the grocery store and get us some right away?" he says as he peeks through the doorway. His beard was a little grizzly, from not having shaved early this morning when his call came, and his hair somewhat out of place. He rested one hand tentatively on the doorframe as he peeked in.
That was probably the first time you made eye-contact with him. His eyebrows were slightly raised and his eyes were a little wide, you couldn't tell the colour from this distance but you knew they were blue like the ocean, comforting like waves lapping against your feet. There was something so soothing about them, something that felt like an irrevocable grip, not a tight forceful grasp, but an earnest reassuring hand holding yours, holding you. It felt like home. The tightening in your throat was getting stronger, and something softened in his eyes when they met yours. You wanted to talk to him in a voice that was normal that was easy. Instead, your throat was so tight you didn't think you could speak at all. You wanted to go home.
You croaked out one word, as best you could, but it didn't come out above a broken whisper.
It felt like when the waves are about to crash on the shore but that moment of calm when they are barely inches above the ground. You could hear the cracks widen, the strings coming undone, holding back gets even more difficult with every passing breath and at this point, you could feel a dam about to break inside you.
And then it did.
He is upon the bed in an instant, and he wraps you in his arms and holds you as you start sobbing. You can't even remember what for, or why, but they're just there. Wet tears that cough to dry tears and break into wet tears again. He lets you bury your face in his chest, holding you tightly, grounding you to him.
"I'm so sorry" You keep whispering against his chest, "I'm so sorry" Funnily enough, you don't even know what you're sorry for, you just are. You just feel so sorry for being this, for putting him through this, for making him miserable, making him worse, you could only make a thousand apologies against his shirt now almost completely wet with your tears.
"It's okay, its okay" he whispers back reassuringly into your hair, "I got you" And somehow that makes you break down even worse, "I got you" he keeps repeating as he softly rocks the both of you back and forth, kissing your forehead in between.
"I'm so sorry" you keep saying like a broken record, and he lets you weep, you don't even know why. He doesn't ask questions, he doesn't sly away or abandon you, he just sits and lets you weep, lets you get it all out of your system, as best as you can… and for that reason, you suppose.. It is a bit cleansing. It is only when you am all out of tears that you sit noiselessly on the bed, still rocking back and forth, still holding on. Your fists are full of his now wet shirt and your eyes are dry. You just sit there, together, and you think you start to fall asleep. But your legs had fallen asleep already and it felt really uncomfortable and you stirred a little, breaking the silence, the constant rhythmic movement, despite not wanting to. You wanted to stay in that moment forever, but… it's not fair to him, you thought. And you stirred.
"heyyy.." he says tenderly, and plants a wet kiss on your forehead.
"I am so sorry" You repeat. Again. Having estimated that the worst has passed, he just places a finger over your lips and shushes you, "what are you sorry for, you little dork?"
"I wouldn't know where to start" You start, "for being… this, for burdening you with this, like you don't have enough problems of your own already, I don't even know what this is and it just… catches me unawares sometimes, I'm so sorry I am tying you down, you deserve better" At this point you can't even look into his eyes.
He playfully bonks your head with the tip of his fingers, "oh my god is that what I sound like?"
"When I say these things to you, that you deserve better, that I am just a stupid old man, a very dangerous, semi-stable 100 stupid year old man and that you can do loads better than me, specially without my endless baggage and all of those things, is that what I sound like?"
He doesn't wait for you to answer, "Point is, you are not holding me down, you are not burdening me… with anything. I like being tethered to you. I like binding myself to you. It's… cozy. It's home." He smiles and takes a breath as he kisses your forehead, "Hey, I know what it feels like. When you hit those lowest of your lows and you can't even understand or define why. It shouldn't have to be like that, but it is. And it's okay. I know it sounds preachy but it really is. I've got you."
"And I've got you." You snuggle your face into the crevice of his neck, "I am always here for you when you need me. Seriously, Bucky. I don't care if you're a stupid old man—which you aren't. You're old, not stupid—" he chuckles at that comment and you can feel the laugh in the depth of his soul, resonating in his chest, "I love you all the same. If not more. And I always will. I'm sorry I put you through this. "
"Oh shut it, I love you. I like being here for you and I am here for you. You're not putting me through anything, you understand?" he cups your face in his hands, "it's okay. Some days are more difficult than others. But I've got you. And you've got me. I think we'll be fine." His eyes focus directly into yours, relying, confiding, "I trust you."
You can almost feel the waterworks hit again but this time it's not the sad ones, they always lurk but sometimes they're not as powerful as other emotions. Momentarily, your eyes have dried out and you felt dehydrated but it didn't matter. His clear blue eyes like the sky from a mountainside, like the ocean far and wide. You knew. And nothing else mattered.
"And I trust you. …I'm sorry."
"Would you stop apologizing, doll?" he scoffs lovingly, "I know it's difficult to just stop, but you don't owe anyone an apology. Least of all me. Do you even know how grateful I am to be able to wake up to you every day? It's like I've lucked out, I can't believe it sometimes."
"That's... That's how I feel about you" You say slowly.
"oh how unimaginable! Two people feel the same about each other!" he mocks but then his tone shifts to a tender warm one as he softly brushes his left thumb against your right cheek, "but oh dear, it is so, so very rare. To find someone, like I found you. Like you found me. And no one makes me feel the way you do, I don't think anyone can. All I want to do is protect you, keep you safe, love you..." he traces off as his right hand dips, as does his gaze— his fingers lightly brushing the lining of your neck, tracing down to your shoulder and your collarbones.
"..In all the right places and the wrong ones" He gently chews on his lower lip, lost for a moment in his own thoughts, but when he looks back at you, he is smiling; a smile that reaches his eyes and makes their nest in their comforting irises. The hole in your chest is not gone but it isn't a gaping, silently screaming monster right now, and for now that's enough. This will do.
You reach out, standing on your knees on the bed as you take his face in his hands and kiss him. Your hands feel a little prickly from his beard but it doesn't matter, you like it a little rough. Your right hand rests against his neck on his collarbone, fingers twirling in his hair, pulling on them very slightly, as your left hand holds his face, tracing the angles and the contours softly with your fingertips. His lips are soft, chapped in some places but perfect nevertheless and he tastes like freshly baked vanilla cookies. His hands wrap around your waist as one hand inches upwards and the other inches lower as he pulls you even closer to him as a growl starts to build is his chest. You giggle as he burps a small pocket of air just as you were pulling away.
"When did you eat vanilla cookies?"
"They were on Stark's counter, I ate only three! I don't know why I'd burp for that!" He says as he scratches the back of his head nonchalantly.
"Really?" You raise your eyebrows, "You want me to believe you stopped at three?"
"Okay fine I ate the whole bowl and they were delicious I don't regret it!"
"Why should you even regret it, soldier boy?" You say as you laughingly plant a soft kiss on the tip of his nose, and he reaches out to bite yours playfully, "except for the fact that you didn't bring any for me!"
"We can ask Friday next time you get an assignment," He says as he ruffles your hair, "whoever is baking those cookies is about to get a very frequent customer."
"I think I'm going to go take a shower." You say as you break the embrace, "Give me your t-shirt I'll put it in the laundry while I'm at it."
"Okie dokie" he agrees and takes it off, "So, are we going to go out for dinner tonight?" he asks as he puts on a dry faded blue t-shirt.
"uh.. I don't know, I think I want to stay in, I really don't feel like going out though."
"Thank god, me neither," he agrees with a laugh as he relaxes, lying back on the bed and stretching his toes, "let's just stay in. We'll order from that Chinese place you like."
"..and watch some Brooklyn Nine Nine while we're at it"
"that sounds perfect, doll. What was the last episode we watched? The one where Kevin was stuck that safe house with Jake?"
"oh yeah, Captain Holt was not taking any chances"
"right! I remember, see ! Not so old a man after all, my memory's better than I thought"
"You're a good man, James." You say as you peck him on the cheek on your way to the shower, "and I love you very much"
A wide grin lights up the love of your life's face, "and I love you." Bucky chimes as he picks up the phone, "I'll get us the food."
And just like that, that gaping hole wasn't really in control anymore.
Not for now, at least. Maybe it will be back again, it always does, and it's never pretty. It's a struggle, but it's going to be okay. For now, that's all that mattered. You had him. And he had you. And both of you had each other.
A faint smile crept up on your face. "We'll be okay."