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A Bridge of Silver Wings

Chapter Text

“A bridge of silver wings stretches from the dead ashes of an unforgiving nightmare to the jeweled vision of a life started anew.”
― Aberjhani, The River of Winged Dreams

“They’re not our prisoners,” Coulson said as Jemma watched Captain America and the man who was apparently the Winter Soldier through the one-way glass.

“Which begs the question, why are they in one of our holding cells?” Jemma asked, as politely as she could. She was already postulating theories and trying to figure out what all this had to do with her, and just her, seeing as she was the only member of the team Coulson had called down to this part of the Hub.

“It would seem James Barnes’ memories have started to return, just like we suspected after we got those reports from the Triskelion,” Coulson said, clasping his hands behind his back in a civilian take on parade rest. “He tracked the Captain down a few days after the Hydra uprising. The two of them have been lying low for the past week, but Barnes’ mental state is unstable to say the least.”

Jemma’s gaze followed the hot mess with shaggy brown hair and three-day stubble as he strolled up and down the length of the cell. He moved with a careless grace, but she wouldn’t be surprised if his nonchalance was an act. Meanwhile, Captain Rogers leaned one spectacularly broad shoulder against the wall and tracked the other man’s movements with his eyes.

The Captain really was as impressive in the flesh as all the murals at the Smithsonian would have her believe. What the museum displays failed to convey, though, was the captivating colour of his best friend’s eyes. Jemma put her multi-skilling abilities to good use by appreciating the exact shade of ice blue while still paying attention to Coulson’s briefing.

“Many of Barnes’ memories are still missing,” Coulson was saying, “both of his former life and his time with Hydra. He suffers from nightmares and delusions, and random objects and events seem to trigger him into assassin mode at no notice.”

Assassin mode. Jemma wasn’t sure she liked the sound of that, especially seeing as she suspected Coulson was about to ask her to get up close and personal with said assassin. Ex-assassin.

“You want me to cure him,” she said, turning back to Coulson.

“I want you to take a look at him and do what you can,” he said, tweaking a wrinkle out of his rolled up shirtsleeve. From what Jemma had observed, Phil’s suit jackets were on temporary hiatus. With so few agents left on the ground, no one was exempt from clean-up duty.

“Captain Rogers is no fan of SHIELD right now, so he must be desperate to have come to us. These men deserve our help,” Coulson said, looking Jemma in the eye. “This is no time for their country to let them down.”

Jemma nodded firmly to assure him she got the message. These men had been through enough, and if she could possibly bring them some peace, she would.

“The cell is part of the deal,” Coulson said, tipping his head towards the secure room in front of them. It was twice as big as their holding cell on the Bus, and lined with the same tessellated material, though in pale grey, not dark grey, which only made it slightly less depressing. The sole piece of furniture in the room was the bed, which wasn’t much more than a metal bench bolted to the wall.

“As long as Barnes stays confined, we don’t tell the government we’re housing their number one Most Wanted,” Coulson continued. “I can’t have him on the loose in here while his behaviour is so unpredictable, not until you say it’s safe.”

From the tightness of his mouth, Jemma got the feeling that threatening Captain America with terms like that had been very difficult for him.

“Find Rogers some staff quarters. I’ve told him he can visit as much as he wants,” Coulson continued. “His level 8 clearance will allow him to come and go as he likes, and he can call the whole thing off at any time. He says the word, the two of them walk out of here, no strings attached.”

“Got it,” Jemma said, her mind already racing ahead, thinking about the scans she wanted to run, the equipment she’d need. She’d spent the last week patching wounds, sweeping up broken glass and fixing electronics with Fitz, and while it was all work that needed to be done, it wasn’t her specialty, not like this. Her fingertips drummed against her thigh as she considered potential treatment regimes.

“The agents watching the Hydra detainees in the other cells on this level won’t be having anything to do with Barnes. It’s up to you and Rogers to see to his needs. If Ward wasn’t with Hand right now I’d assign him to accompany you every time you enter the cell. As it is, your safety will be in the Cap’s hands, so you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

Jemma hoped he was right.

“Keep me updated on your progress. I won’t be able to keep as close an eye on this as I’d like,” he said, the tired lines around his eyes seeming more apparent for a moment.

“You’ve got your hands full. I’ll take care of him,” she assured him.

“I know you will,” he said without hesitation, and with a curt nod, he left her to her task.

Jemma appraised both men once more from behind the cover of the one-way glass before turning on her heel and heading for the lab to get her brain scanner.

As far as life-threatening assignments go, at least this one would be easy on the eyes.

Bucky shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it onto one end of the bed. May as well make himself at home, right? Being penned in already had him pacing, but apparently he'd spent the majority of the last seventy years imprisoned, so what's a little longer? At least in here he couldn't hurt anyone.

Without regular maintenance his programming was degrading. He could feel himself becoming less of a weapon and more of a man with each passing day, but he still had no idea who that man was.

The knowledge that he had committed so many murders roiled through his guts and threatened to make him dry wretch for the tenth time that day. Not all of his victims had been innocent, and most of them he couldn’t even remember, but that didn’t make it any easier to live with. If he dwelled on it for too long the thoughts started to swallow him up, pull him down, like a pit of tar. Sometimes he clawed his way back out on his own. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered. The other times it was Steve who dragged his pathetic ass out of the blackness.

Just the sight of Steve’s face gave Bucky a reason to hold on, even if he didn’t really understand why. Maybe it would make more sense when (if?) he got more memories back, but something deep inside him told him that as long as he had Steve he might just be able to weather the storm of his tormented mind.  If this Simmons guy could bring even a little bit of order to the chaos, though, it would be a hell of an improvement.

As it turned out, Simmons wasn't a guy, but a pretty girl who barely looked old enough to buy her own beer.

"Ms Simmons," said Steve, straightening up as the door slid open. The young woman entered, some sort of device in her hands, and the door slid shut behind her.

"Please, call me Jemma," she said with a warm smile and a pleasant accent.

A pretty, British girl, then.

With a pink cardigan and a ponytail.

She turned her smile on Bucky but almost instantly her mouth became a soft ‘o’ and both perfect brows arched upward.

“The arm!” she exclaimed. She crossed the small room in a few short strides. “I can’t believe I forgot about the arm!”

She dropped the device she was holding onto the thin mattress of the bed and took his left hand in both of hers. “Fitz is going to be so jealous that I got to see it first!”

She brushed her thumb over his knuckles, then turned his hand over and examined the intricate metal plates of his palm, all the while bombarding him with questions about the cybernetic limb’s construction and capabilities. He gave perfunctory answers, trying not to get distracted by the gentle touches of her small, soft hands.

“Look at the articulation!” she murmured, cupping his fingers with her own and squeezing gently so she could watch them curl and uncurl over his palm. He should be offended, he supposed, but it was hard to feel insulted when you were being touched with such reverence.

Bucky cocked a bemused eyebrow at Steve, but the only response he got was a tiny hitch of one shoulder and a more deeply furrowed brow.

Jemma ran her hand up the outside of his forearm, over the elbow and all the way up until her fingers dipped under the short sleeve of his black t-shirt. Her eyes kept going, clearly curious about his shoulder, and probably about how the arm was attached to his body, but apparently asking someone to take their shirt off after only knowing them for ten seconds crossed a line, even for Miss Handsy here.

“Forgive me, that was…” She gave a little shake of her head, finally seeming to realise how forward she was being. “May I continue?” she asked, lifting his hand slightly to indicate her meaning.

“Sure,” he answered, because it’s not like he wanted her to stop.

From that point on she was more restrained, a little more clinical in her examination. “It really is a work of art,” she said, smiling up at him with something like awe.

Steve chose that moment to clear his throat. “Agent Coulson says you’re a prodigy in the field of neuroscience,” he said, and if he sounded a bit dubious, Jemma didn’t seem to notice.

“I’m not really one for labels,” she said easily, releasing Bucky’s hand. “But I dare say I’m the best you’re going to get in the current climate, so I suppose we should get to it. Why don’t you sit down?” she said to Bucky, gesturing to the bed behind him and reclaiming her abandoned piece of tech.

The device wasn’t much bigger than a paperback novel, little lights on it starting to glow as she powered it up.

“I’m just going to take a scan of your brain,” she said, eyes on the back-lit display as she tapped and swiped at it. The device chirped happily at her and she gave him a smile. “Won’t hurt a bit.”

She leaned in and held the beeping, flashing thing over his temple. Out of nowhere a ball of anxiety coalesced in his gut and, like it was operating on orders of its own, his flesh and blood arm snapped out and grabbed her by the throat.

“Bucky, no!” shouted Steve, lurching forward, but in the half second it took him to reach them, the red haze behind Bucky’s eyes was already starting to clear.

He let Jemma go and she stumbled back, coughing.

“Sorry,” he muttered, feeling every bit the monster he ultimately was. “Guess I’m not a fan of tech near my face.”

Incomplete memories of a buzzing sound, a blinding blue light and searing pain skirted the edges of his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut against a half-remembered image of some sort of apparatus over his face and the lingering fear it fuelled.

Steve dropped a heavy hand onto his shoulder. He wasn’t sure if it was intended to calm him or restrain him, but it was reassuring either way.

“That’s—” Jemma coughed again, then took a slow, careful breath. “That’s okay,” she said, which was a stupid thing to say, because even with his messed up moral compass he knew that almost crushing the life out of someone who’s trying to help you was nowhere near the vicinity of okay.

He put his face in his hands, elbows on his knees. “You should leave.”

“No, no, now that we know that’s a trigger for you we can work around it—” Jemma was starting to say.

“Steve, make her go,” Bucky bit out. He couldn’t be responsible for the death of another innocent person. He kept his head down so he didn’t need to see the look of disappointment on Steve’s face. They were both idiots for thinking this could ever have worked.

“Mr Barnes,” Jemma said assertively, and Bucky looked up despite himself. “I hate to burst your bubble, but you’re hardly the scariest thing I’ve encountered since I started working for S.H.I.E.L.D., and you’re certainly not the first person to threaten my life.” The bravado was an act, even if the words were true, but she was putting on a good performance. “Furthermore, whether I stay or go is my choice to make and I’ll thank you to let me make it.”

The hand on his shoulder squeezed gently. “Come on, Buck, let’s give it another go,” said Steve. “We’ll all be more careful this time.”

Bucky didn’t say anything, just sighed wearily, but Steve knew a win when he got one. “What did you mean ‘work around it’?” Steve asked Jemma.

“Well,” she began, some of the earlier light returning to her eyes as the conversation switched back to getting some science done, “that all depends on what exactly prompted the reaction. The lights, the noise, the proximity to his face, the fact that I was standing over him...?” She looked to Bucky for his answer.

“All of the above,” he muttered.

“Okay.” She drew the word out as she thought for a moment. “Okay,” she said again, more decisively. “This time I think you should be standing,” she said to Bucky, “so you feel more in control. I can turn the scanner’s sound alerts off, that’s not a problem. I can’t turn the lights or the display off but you won’t be able to see them if I’m standing behind you. Captain Rogers, I’d like you on distraction duty, if you’d be so kind.”

Steve nodded and Bucky wondered how a little thing like her got so good at giving orders.

“On your feet, soldier,” Steve said, hauling him up.

Not that Bucky didn’t still have reservations, but Jemma’s plan sounded worth a try, and at least now she was going into this with her eyes open. He moved far enough away from the bed that Jemma could position herself behind him. Steve stood right in front of him, for which Bucky was grateful. This is how they should have done it the first time, with Steve as far in the line of fire and Jemma as far out of it as possible.

“Hey, I learned a new version of Rock, Paper, Scissors the other day, I’ll show you,” Steve said, and they were only five rounds into a subdued game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock when Jemma announced the scan was all done.

“Nice work, gentlemen.” Her smile was a reward in itself.

“What happens next?” Steve asked as the three of them turned to face each other.

“What happens next is that I go back to my lab and analyse these results in more detail,” she said. “But the good news is that memories can’t actually be wiped, just blocked, and I have high hopes that some targeted delta-ray therapy will be able to remove those blocks. I’ll start on your oldest memories first,” she said to Bucky. “I can’t guarantee a few of the more recent ones won’t come unstuck in the process, but it sounds like that’s happening regardless.”

Bucky clenched his jaw at the thought of some of those more recent memories.

“I’ll need Fitz to help me make some modifications to my equipment first, so we’ll start the treatment tomorrow,” she continued. “I also want to bring your hormone levels back to something more closely resembling normal brain chemistry. Some of the levels are dangerously low and others are off the charts. I imagine it’s a result of the way they were manipulating your biochemistry each time you went in and out of stasis. Your moods will become much more manageable once we start a program of stabilising injections.”

She eyed him warily, but there was a grin lurking behind it. “How are you with needles?”

Chapter Text

Bucky didn’t have a problem with needles, which was a good thing because an hour later Jemma returned with half a dozen of them. She administered them without incident and spent the rest of the day back in the lab analysing the scan results and mocking up design specs.

Good old lab No. 12. It had always been their favourite when they were stationed at the Hub before taking their assignment on the Bus—bright and airy, lovely big holotable in the middle of the room, conveniently close to the street level exit and therefore the Starbucks across the road—so it had only taken about two seconds for her and Fitz to decide to move back in while the Bus was undergoing repairs.

She was just putting the finishing touches on the schematic for the delta-ray emitter when her phone buzzed with a text from Fitz.

Thought I’d be done by now, these circuit boards hate me. Shouldn’t be much longer.

It was already close to dinner time, but once Fitz arrived there wouldn’t be much more work to do to have the device ready for tomorrow.

Jemma tapped out a quick reply—Impossible, you’re unhatable. See you soon—then laced her fingers together behind her back and extended her arms in a stretch. Time for a cup of tea.

She went over to the corner of the lab where the tea fixings were kept (because tea was essential to science—to everything, really) and turned on the kettle. She found herself reflecting on the more dramatic parts of her day as she located a clean cup and popped a teabag in it.

There was no question she’d been properly terrified when Barnes had grabbed her by the throat, but there was also no question that he hadn’t done it intentionally. She would have compared the look in his eyes right afterwards to a beaten puppy, except for the fact that his torment extended to much greater depths.

And yes, perhaps she’d been channelling May’s bravery instead of her own when she gave her little ‘you’re not the first to threaten my life’ speech, but she wasn’t going to let Barnes’ concern for her safety prevent him from getting the help he needed.

The kettle gave a dull click as it came to the boil and she poured the steaming water into the mug. She jiggled the teabag absently as she wandered over to the screen that displayed the security feed from the cell.

One of the advantages of the cell from a scientific perspective was that she could keep a close eye on her patient. In the interests of honesty and transparency she’d informed both men earlier in the day that she would be making intermittent and discreet use of the surveillance footage.  There were multiple camera angles, all looking down from various corners of the room and giving her a clear full-colour live image.

Camera 1 showed Steve manoeuvring a mattress from crew quarters through the door of the cell. She hadn’t realised he intended to sleep in there, but she supposed she wasn’t really surprised. If she was in his position, and it was Fitz who’d been taken from her and returned again, she wouldn’t let him out of her sight either. 

It took her a little longer to find Bucky. She forgot all about jiggling the teabag in her cup when she spotted him on camera 3, dragging his shirt over his head and stepping into the shower cubicle.

Fortunately—unfortunately?—the camera angle only showed from the waist up, otherwise she would have shut off the feed immediately. Probably. Yes, yes, she definitely would have. Most likely.

As it was, she now found herself with an unfettered view of that glorious cybernetic arm, including the shoulder, which had been hidden from her view until now.

Sixty seconds, she told herself. She was just going to look for one minute, for science, and then she’d turn off the feed.

The jets of water bounced off the metal, making it even shinier than before. She recalled how it had felt under her fingers, smooth and cool, but somehow thrumming with life. She already knew about the painted red star from the patchy footage that had come out of the Triskelion attack. It was the seam with his skin, the interface between biology and technology, that she was most interested in.

The skin adjoining the metal was a network of crisscrossing scars, an ominous reminder that the scientists who attached the limb were more concerned with functionality and efficiency than the welfare of their patient. Those pale pink lines were a testament to the pain he must have endured. She hoped that was one of the memories that was still hidden, and that it would remain so.

She was hypothesizing about how the top of the arm was attached to his clavicle and scapula when her gaze drifted from the robotic limb to his muscular back and the water sluicing over it. He tipped his face up into the spray, the muscles of his torso rippling beneath tanned skin as he soaped up his chest, and the whole effect was more than a little hypnotic.

It had definitely been longer than a minute.

“Unprofessional, Jemma,” she chided herself when she finally turned off the feed.

The tea in her mug was dark, but not unsalvageable. She fished the teabag out and threw it in the trash, then turned back to the huge holoprojection of Barnes’ brain that was floating over the table.

As much as she wanted to monitor any emotional or aggressive outbursts via video, she also wanted to respect Bucky’s privacy. From what she understood, it had been decades since he’d been treated with even the most basic level of human decency.

Sometimes she got a bit caught up in the science of a thing and forgot to respect the individual at the centre of it. She hoped her enthusiasm over his arm earlier in the day hadn’t been interpreted as such. The last thing she wanted was to make him feel like a lab rat again.

She gave him a good thirty minutes to finish his shower and get dressed before turning the security feed back on. When she looked again, he was lying on the bed wearing only S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue black sweatpants, hands behind his head and well-defined torso on full display.

"Not helping, mister," she murmured idly as she admired the definition of his abdominal muscles. At least he seemed relaxed, which was the result she’d been aiming for with those injections.

“What’s not helping?” asked Fitz, his gaze snagging on the giant translucent brain in the middle of the room as he came through the door.

“Fitz!” She mashed the button to shut off the feed. “You’re here, good!” she said, recovering quickly, because she was smooth like that. “I need your help with something and you’re never going to guess who it’s for.”

Bucky was sitting on the edge of the bed nursing a coffee when Jemma arrived the next morning.

“Glad to see you’re making yourselves at home,” she said, setting a tray of syringes down on the square  white table Steve had pilfered from the staff quarters he’d been assigned. He’d also brought in two matching chairs, a few books, and the mattress he’d slept on, which was pushed into one corner. “Coulson will be glad to hear you’re getting settled in.”

Bucky might have put up a bit of a protest about Steve sleeping on the floor in the cell rather than off in some cushy room, except that the thought of facing his night terrors on his own left him feeling slightly nauseous.

Steve moved their breakfast dishes out of the way to make more space for Jemma’s tray. For whatever fortuitous reason, Hydra hadn’t bothered to infiltrate the catering contractors who ran the staff cafeteria, so the procedure was that Steve would go and pick up their meals three times a day.

“Good oatmeal this morning, wasn’t it?” Jemma commented, and Steve nodded amiably.

“Just a shame about the coffee,” Bucky said, lifting his mug slightly.

That got him a nose wrinkle of sympathy. “I hear you.”

She picked up a small metallic disk, the only thing on the tray that wasn’t a syringe, and held it up for him to see. “This is your very own personalised delta-ray emitter. No beeping, no flashing, and designed to be placed on the back of the neck,” she said with a triumphant smile.

Bucky found himself returning the smile, or at least a heavily subdued version of it. Maybe because this was the closest he’d come to getting actual treatment since going AWOL on his captors, maybe because her enthusiasm was infectious, or maybe just because she was so damn cute.

No pink today, but somehow she managed to look just as young and innocent in black. Her hair was in soft waves around her face, a pretty frame to an even prettier picture.

“Shall we give it a go?” she asked, not that there was really any question.

Bucky stood up, turned around, and used the hand not holding his mug to move the hair away from the back of his neck.  Steve stayed close as Jemma approached—no one wanted a repeat of yesterday—but it proved to be unnecessary.

Bucky felt the brush of her cool fingertips against the warm skin of his neck, and a gentle pressure as she applied the device, but nothing else.

“I don’t feel anything,” he said, letting his hair fall and turning back to face her.

“Good,” she said matter-of-factly, “you shouldn’t. We’ll start with twenty minutes twice a day and see what memories we can shake loose in there.”

“Is there anything we can do to help it along?” Steve asked, folding his arms.

“Talking,” Jemma said, nodding. “Recounting memories you know are in there that haven’t returned yet, try and get those synapses firing.”

“Synapses?” Steve repeated, a glint in his eye. “That’d require brain cells. I don’t like our chances.”

Bucky was about to call him an asshole, but at the last second another word sprang to mind. “Punk.”

The smile Steve gave the floor told Bucky everything he needed to know. This was something he’d done before, something he used to do.

“Jerk,” Steve muttered through his smile, bumping Bucky’s shoulder with his own before heading over to his mattress on the floor. He sat down, using the wall as a back rest, and picked up the novel he’d started the night before.

At first Bucky couldn’t place the origin of the exchange, at least not beyond a general feeling that it was something that had happened on multiple occasions, but then some more specific images began to coalesce around the words.

Night time. A fair. The smell of roasted nuts, the dull roar of a meandering crowd. “The day I got my orders?”

“Among other times,” said Steve, still smiling at his book like he was being warmed from the inside out, and damn did it feel good to see that expression on his face. Steve had been there for every delusional outburst, every nightmare, of the past week, sticking by a friend who barely even remembered him. It was more than a relief to see Steve feeling like he was getting back a bit of the guy he once knew.

“Steve from Ohio…” Bucky said, a smile creeping across his face.

“Steve from Ohio,” Steve repeated, grinning.

“Looks like those delta rays are working already.” Jemma was grinning too, though with the excitement of innovation instead of nostalgia.

Bucky put his mug on the corner of the table and sat back down on the bed. “You’re a miracle worker, kitten,” he said warmly, meeting her eyes. The endearment slipped out without him even thinking about it.

“Mr Barnes,” Jemma said, turning back to her syringes and trying to hide her self-conscious smile, “that sort of language is hardly appropriate for the workplace.”

He leaned back on his hands. “So you want me to stop, then?” he said, the corner of his mouth tucking up in a smirk.

“I didn’t say that,” she said, pink lips quirking as she held up a syringe filled with clear liquid and checked the dosage.

He let his smile grow wider, because this—flirting—felt familiar, like muscle memory. He could only imagine it was something he used to do a lot, and one look at Steve and his amused ‘here we go’ expression confirmed it.

The bloom of warmth in his gut from seeing that flattered smile on her face was like a drug, and in an instant a dozen pretty faces appeared behind his eyes, like he was skimming through the pages of a book. Blondes, brunettes, redheads; coy smiles and warm curves under his fingers—real fingers, not cybernetic ones. Dinners and dancing and goodnight kisses, or more than kisses, if he was lucky.

This little gem of information about himself was like a puzzle piece out on its own. He didn’t have the pieces that connected to it, but at least he knew where this one went, and with any luck the adjoining pieces would be found in time.

“Now,” Jemma said, a twinkle in her eye as she approached him with the first needle, “lie back and think of England.”

Chapter Text

Overall, Jemma considered day one of Bucky’s treatment to be a success. The results of his scans and blood tests were all trending in the right direction, and according to both him and Steve, his moods were already a little more stable than they had been previously.

Day two, though, didn’t go quite so well. Jemma was working alone in the lab when she heard a wordless shout through the computer speakers. She snapped her head towards the security feed just in time to see Bucky pin Steve against the wall of the cell with his cybernetic arm. Bucky raised his other arm like he was about to punch Steve with it, but it landed so far wide of its target that Jemma could only assume Bucky was already regaining control of himself.

His fist smashed into the near-indestructible hexagonal wall tiles next to Steve’s head, and Jemma winced in sympathy as his knuckles came away bloody. The arm across Steve’s chest went slack and Bucky’s head drooped forward, hair falling over his face.

Jemma gathered up her medical supplies to the sound of Bucky’s rasping breaths and Steve’s gentle, reassuring words.

“It’s okay, Buck, you’re okay. You didn’t hurt anyone,” Steve said over and over as Bucky slowly calmed. Once it looked like everything was under control, Jemma headed to the cell.

She got the all clear from Steve through the intercom first, then went in to patch up her patient. Steve acknowledged her with a nod as she entered, his brow furrowed with weariness more than worry, which reminded her that he’d been dealing with these aggressive outbursts for a good week already.

Bucky was sitting on the side of the bed, shoulders hunched and jaw clenched. His dull glare, partially obscured by a tangled curtain of hair, remained fixed on the opposite wall as she sat down beside him.

“Ouch,” she commented lightly as she reached for his right hand. He let her take it but made no response, and her attempt at levity was left hanging awkwardly in the ebbing tension of the room.

She decided it was probably best to skip the small talk and just get on with the job at hand. She felt carefully for broken bones (amazingly there were none), cleaned away the blood and sewed up the split skin over his knuckles.

It certainly made things easier that he never fought her ministrations, that he let himself be ‘handled’, but it spoke of something darker, of a man who’d had no right to his own body for a long time, a great bear that was long ago tortured into submission and had learned there was no point in fighting back. Jemma tried not to think about it.

He maintained his silence throughout the process, but she liked to think the sullen edge to it was slowly fading. She noticed at one point that their legs were touching where they sat next to each other on the bed, even though she didn’t remember moving that close to him or feeling him move closer to her. She was probably being ridiculous, but she fancied he was leaning into her touch, being soothed by it, even. There was a biological precedence for it. The body released endorphins when a person was touched, and Bucky’s endorphin count was quite low, so it made sense that he would unconsciously seek out that type of stimuli.

She still thought she might be imagining it, but she slowed down a little in her work, became a bit less clinical in the way she touched him, and left her thigh resting comfortably against his. None of it was overt enough for Steve to notice from where he sat close by in one of the plastic chairs, but maybe it would make some small difference to Bucky.

He still hadn’t made eye contact with her, but that morose stare had softened into something tired and sad that made Jemma’s chest ache a little bit. She was almost tempted to tuck his hair behind his ear and kiss his cheek in a gesture of support. She settled for a gentle squeeze of his forearm, which finally made him look at her, and she took advantage of the opportunity to give him a small reassuring smile.

She applied some of her yet-to-be-FDA-approved all-round healing ointment, wrapped the whole hand up, and wasn’t surprised when he refused the sling she offered.

When she stood up, her leg went cool in the place where Bucky’s had been flush against it. “Let me know if there’s anything else you need,” she said to both men, then made her exit.

Bucky remained fairly subdued the rest of the day, but in a way that felt closed off, not relaxed. Jemma wished there was something she could give him, but his daily injections already contained the maximum dose of mood-stabilising medications.

A quick flick through the security footage the next morning revealed that Bucky had woken in distress several times throughout the night. ‘Woke distressed’ was the terminology she used in her log, at any rate. ‘Woke in abject fear’ was possibly more accurate. After the second time Bucky had woken both himself and Steve with his screams, and the way Steve had sat with him and soothed him in a tone suitable for a terrified animal until Bucky’s harsh breathing slowed and his fingers stopped twitching, Jemma couldn’t bear to watch any more.

When she switched back to the live feed, the hard night behind them was written on both men’s faces; Bucky’s especially, dark rings evident under heavy lids.

She was hesitant to just swan in with her tray full of needles as usual, so she pressed the button for the intercom first. “Good morning, gentlemen. Alright if I make my morning rounds?”

“Not really in the mood to be poked and prodded, kitten,” Bucky drawled, and Jemma was glad to see that despite everything else, some of his personality and wry humour had returned. Also the ‘kitten’ bit. For some inexplicable reason she really liked it when he called her that.

“Okay, not to worry. Perhaps a bit later then,” she said, and took her finger off the button.

Later wasn’t really ideal though. It was best that he receive the injections at the same time each day if at all possible. She tapped a fingernail against the counter as she thought for a moment, then grabbed her purse and headed for the door.

Twenty minutes later she was standing outside the cell holding a cardboard tray of Starbucks coffees and a bag of donuts from the place across the road. She nudged the panel next to the window with her elbow, turning the one-way glass to two-way so they could see her.

Both men looked up in surprise as what must have looked like an opaque wall shimmered into transparency. Jemma bit her lip and smiled hopefully, trying her best to look endearing.

It must have worked because Steve’s mouth quirked in amusement and a smile of defeat spread over Bucky’s face.

Steve looked at Bucky. “What do you say?”

The next sound out of Bucky’s mouth was practically a groan of want. “Let the woman in!”

Chapter Text

With each day that passed, Bucky moved a couple of steps further down the road to recovery. There was the odd step back again, but for the most part he was doing well.

The process of unblocking his memories was working out as Jemma had hoped, with many of his early memories having returned and not too many so far from his Winter Soldier missions. He still had some mood swings, but no more delusions, and he hadn’t tried to hurt anyone in over a week now.

Jemma was steadily reducing the hormone levels in his daily injections as his own endocrine system resumed its normal functions, and she was planning to talk to Coulson tomorrow about moving Bucky out of the cell and into some staff quarters.

She had supplied whatever she could get her hands on to keep Bucky and Steve entertained, but she was getting the impression they were both pretty over being cooped up in that small space. They passed the time reading, watching movies, playing cards, even working out and sparring, as much as the dimensions of the room allowed.

Bucky’s recovery was at a point where Steve now felt comfortable leaving him on his own for a few hours at a time. Jemma didn’t have the first clue where he went when he did, but on one occasion he returned with Agent Romanov and Sam Wilson, the man who had helped take down Project Insight.

“Bucky, please meet the friends of mine you tried to murder,” Fitz said conversationally as they overheard the stilted introductions through the security feed from the cell. He and Jemma were sitting at the counter in the lab replacing a heat sink on a transducer. The Hub was in a much better state than it had been after the Hydra attack, but there were still a few systems not yet operating at full capacity.

“Bit awkward,” Jemma agreed. She reached past him to mute the audio and give Bucky and his guests some privacy. “He’s nothing like that anymore, though.” She switched her hyperspanner on and directed it at one of the welds on the old heat sink. “His progress has been amazing. I’m fairly certain that at this point, even if something triggered his programming, it’s degraded beyond the point of being able to control him anyway.”

“But you don’t know for sure, do you?” said Fitz, stopping what he was doing to look at her with his patented Fitz Is Concerned About Simmons face. “Just don’t let your guard down, alright?”

The hyperspanner’s laser beam stuttered. She turned it off, tapped it against her palm and turned it back on again. Now probably wasn’t the time to mention that she’d been into the cell without the Captain present several times in the last few days.

“Okay,” she said easily, giving the spanner another go.

She mustn’t have sounded convincing enough because Fitz was still looking at her. “Promise?”

While Fitz had been even more excited about the cybernetic limb than she was, Bucky had been in a somewhat less receptive mood the day she’d taken Fitz in to meet him. As a result the two of them didn’t get on as well as she might have hoped.

“Promise!” she insisted, jostling him playfully with her elbow until she got a little smile out of him. She dropped the faulty tool she was holding onto the counter. “This spanner’s busted. I’m going to put the kettle on,” she said, getting up. “Cup of tea?”

Now that his visitors had left, Bucky was lying face down on the bed, generally trying to ignore the weird feeling that had come from sitting down and attempting to make idle conversation with people for whom he still had an active kill order. The decaying programming presented as little more than a faint buzzing in the back of his mind so it was easy enough to ignore, it was just... weird.

The glass door to the cell slid open to admit Steve, who had been showing their visitors out. “Have you seen the news?” Steve asked, brow furrowed.

Bucky glanced at the untouched tablet on the table and shook his head. He pushed himself up off the bed and swiped a bottle of water off the table, unscrewing the cap and taking a drink as he waited for Steve to share whatever he had to say.

“There’s been an earthquake in California,” Steve said, coming to a halt in front of Bucky. He crossed his arms over a chest that was deflated by the worried hunch of his shoulders. “Dozens of people trapped, maybe hundreds. They could use my help, but...” he fixed his troubled eyes on Bucky, “just say the word and I’ll stay.”

Bucky calmly screwed the cap back on the bottle. “You kidding? Of course you should go, I’ll be fine.”

“You sure? I can be back within a few hours if you need me—”

“Yeah, yeah, calm down, hotshot, you’re not that indispensible,” Bucky said, and some of the worry lines on Steve’s face eased into a small smile.

He pulled Bucky in for a quick, firm hug. “I’ll be back in a few days.”

“Go save some lives,” Bucky said, waving him out the door. “I’ll look after this place while you’re gone.”

The door slid closed behind Steve and the locking mechanism engaged with a muted clunk.

Bucky took a deep breath and put the water bottle back down on the table so he couldn’t crush it in hands that wanted to ball into fists.

He’d be fine. It was just a few days. Sure, it would be boring as hell, but his nightmares were nothing like they used to be and he no longer needed someone around with Steve’s strength to make sure he didn’t hurt anyone. Hopefully.

He forced himself to take another slow, deep breath. Everything was going to be fine.

“Macaroni cheese,” Jemma announced as she came through the door carrying a tray with two bowls on it. She’d taken over Steve’s food delivering duties while he was away. Two bowls meant she was joining him for lunch, just like she had for dinner last night and breakfast that morning.

“It’s the lunch lady,” Bucky commented, countering his smart-assery by pulling a chair out at the table and waiting for her to sit before taking a seat himself.

She narrowed her eyes at him, but it was good natured. “I have two PhDs, I’ll have you know.”

“You know, that doesn’t surprise me one bit,” Bucky replied as they started in on their pasta, knees practically touching under the tiny table.

They ate in relative silence for a bit, and it was only when Jemma pulled the black elastic hairband out of her hair and held it out to him that he realised he’d probably just tucked his hair behind his ear three times in as many minutes. There was one piece in particular that kept falling in front of his face.

“Would you like a hair band?” she asked.

He hesitated, not that he could say why. Maybe because he didn’t have a memory of ever using one before. Maybe because it felt strangely intimate to be given something she was just wearing, even if it was only in her hair.

“It’s fine, I have plenty more back in the lab,” she said, misinterpreting his hesitation.

“Thanks,” he said, taking the hairband and pulling his hair back into a rough ponytail. The movement felt familiar enough, so maybe he had done it before. “I guess it’s still going to be a while before I can get to a hairdresser.”

 Apparently Agent Coulson had immediately shot down any suggestion of Bucky moving out of the cell and into regular quarters before Steve returned. Bucky couldn’t say he blamed the man.

“I could cut it for you,” Jemma offered, gently shaking her own hair out around her shoulders.

She often wore her hair out, but it was always smooth and straight or in perfectly arranged waves. The slightly tousled look she sported now stoked his desire more than anything else had in he didn’t know how long.  Suddenly his brain was offering up images of his hand sliding through her tresses in the moments before he kissed her, of how her hair would look spread out beneath him on a pillow, or when she woke up after spending the night beside him.

He covered up his rush of hormones by eyeing her sceptically instead. “And I should trust you why?”

“Because I’m a woman of many skills,” she informed him between mouthfuls, “and one of those skills is cutting hair. I do Fitz’s all the time.”

“Fitz?” said Bucky. “That boyfriend of yours who keeps giving me death stares?”

“Oh, he’s not my boyfriend,” she assured him. “He’s just protective.” And it was probably just his imagination that made it seem like she said it a bit too quickly, the way girls did when they wanted you to know they were available.

She left with their dirty dishes once they were finished lunch and returned twenty minutes later with scissors, a comb, a couple of towels and a few other items.

“I’ll wash it for you first,” she said, dragging one of the chairs over to the sink on the other side of the room.

“What are you trying to say?” Bucky asked in mock offence, strolling after her.

“I’m saying that hair is easier to cut when it’s wet,” she said matter-of-factly. Then she added, a glint in her eye, “And that you’re a filthy hobo.” She urged him towards the chair with a gentle tug on his arm. “Now sit.”

He smirked, but he did as he was told, sitting in the chair that had been positioned so his back was to the basin. He tugged her hairband out of his hair and put it around his wrist for safekeeping. There was something comforting about the gentle pressure of the elastic snug against his skin.

“Head back,” she instructed, placing a rolled up towel between the edge of the sink and the base of his skull as he tipped his head back. “That’s probably not the most comfortable position, sorry.” She gave him an apologetic smile as she set out the rest of her equipment.

The mild discomfort of holding an awkward position was of little consequence to him. As a sniper he’d had to stay perfectly still for hours on end, so this was nothing in comparison. The challenging part was sitting there with his throat exposed, soft underbelly unprotected.

He had no fear of Jemma and her dainty pair of scissors, it was something more instinctive and less specific buzzing through his veins. Perhaps it was the remnants of some sort of self-preservation protocol, but before he was an assassin he was still a soldier, so maybe it was just a combination of instinct and training.

He laced his fingers over his stomach like he didn’t have a care in the world and looked up into the face of the person who was responsible for pretty much everything good in his life right now.

“So how did a girl like you learn to cut hair?” he asked, because it gave him something else to focus on, and an excuse to watch her while she worked.

“My sister is a hair dresser.” Bucky heard her turn on the faucet and a few moments later he felt the warm glide of water over his scalp. “I memorised her study guide one afternoon while I was helping her prepare for her exams. There’s a lot of chemistry in hairdressing, you’d be surprised.”

Once his hair was wet, the sound of running water stopped and he heard the plastic click of the lid of the shampoo bottle. Bucky’s eyes slid closed as she began to massage the shampoo into his hair. The light scrape of her fingernails over his scalp felt so good a soft ‘mmph’ escaped him before he could catch it.

“Feels good, doesn’t it?”

Bucky opened his eyes to see her smiling a gentle, enigmatic smile at him as she worked the weightless mass of lather through his hair.

He closed his eyes again and suppressed a goofy grin. “The fifty-cent cuts from the barber on the corner had nothing on this.”

The scalp massage was so heavenly that it took him a minute or two before he noticed the way she was leaning lightly against him. Her stomach, hip and thigh pressed softly against his shoulder and arm as she worked.

He kept his eyes closed and focussed on how good it felt to have another human being so close, and a pretty, girly one at that. He drank in the heady, comforting warmth that seeped into him from every point of contact.

He could smell her perfume from here, something sweet and fruity, and it felt like all his senses were overflowing with Jemma. She was so close he could slide a hand up her thigh, maybe cup her ass. Not that he would. If his newly returned memories were serving him correctly, he was usually a lot smoother than that, and in any case, he had no plans to put the moves on her.

Just because she returned his harmless flirting didn’t mean she was interested in anything more. A girl that smart and beautiful and kind must be turning down men left and right, she didn’t need to resort to the likes of him, a brainwashed WWII vet with more blood on his hands than could ever be washed away. She was all he had until Steve got back, he couldn’t risk making things weird between them. The best plan was to just enjoy this while it lasted.

She rinsed his hair and lathered it up a couple more times, taking her time on the last round to give him a serious head massage. She pushed her fingertips through his hair and over his scalp with a pressure that had him biting the inside of his lip to keep from moaning in pleasure.

She rinsed his hair a final time, towelled it dry and instructed him turn his chair around so he was facing the mirror.

“Just a trim, or shall we chop it all off?” she asked as she combed it out.

“I don’t know, what do you think?” he asked.

“Oh, don’t ask me, I have ulterior motives,” she said, a sly grin pulling at one side of her mouth. “I actually find long hair on a man very attractive.”

“Long it is, then,” he said, letting her see his cocky smile in the mirror.

She broke his gaze and, though she was still smiling, he swore she was blushing just a little as she set to work. Before long he fell into the rhythm of it, the way she pulled the comb through his hair almost to the ends, followed by the staccato snip-snip of the scissors.

She was about halfway through and he was just thinking about how there were worse ways to spend an afternoon, when she said, “What do you think you’ll do once you’ve finished your delta-ray treatment?”

Bucky caught sight of his own expression darkening in the mirror. “I don’t know.”

He’d been contemplating this himself and kept coming up empty-handed. His place had always been at Steve’s side, but Captain America could hardly have an ex-Nazi assassin as his right-hand man.

In an attempt not to be a complete tool about it, he tried to force out a few more words. “I don’t know... where I fit in the world anymore.”

Jemma was beginning to look like she regretted asking the question. She stayed quiet and he was glad; he didn’t need her false optimism.

They finished the haircut in silence.

Chapter Text

It was the evening of the day after the haircut and Jemma had finally stopped dwelling on the way she’d been such an impressive buzzkill the afternoon before.

She’d just wanted to give Bucky a haircut, make him feel good, distract him from the interminable boredom of the inside of that cell, and she was succeeding, as far as she could tell, right up until she asked that stupid question about his plans for the future.

It had slipped out before she’d even thought about it.  She’d simply been following a train of thought that had led her to the realisation that she’d be sad to see him go, and her mouth had betrayed her with a question that had obviously upset him... in a manly, brooding kind of way.

She didn’t have the first clue what he should do next either, and she felt like she knew him too well now to just pat him on the shoulder and say ‘I’m sure you’ll think of something,’ like one would a sophomore who still didn’t know what career path they wanted to pursue.

Instead, she’d shown up at dinner time with two plates of tacos and a laptop loaded up with Firefly, a show about a group of people who didn’t necessarily fit neatly anywhere else in the universe, but who found a home and made a life together on board a little spaceship called Serenity. She’d simply told him she wanted to show him her favourite tv show, and they’d sat side by side on the bed and eaten their tacos in silence as they watched.

Maybe he got the point she was trying to get across—that there’s a place for everyone somewhere—and maybe he didn’t, but by the time the pilot episode was finished he was picking leftovers off her plate and making fun of her for dripping salsa on her sweater, so she figured they were all good again.

She’d stayed away from the cell for most of today as she tried to walk the line between assuaging his boredom and cramping his style. She’d dropped off one plate of spaghetti bolognaise an hour ago and returned to the lab, where she was now working by herself on some electronics repairs for Fitz and waiting for Skye to arrive with the sushi they’d ordered out for.

The team had been so busy with their various projects, getting the Hub up and running again, not to mention the slow resurrection of S.H.I.E.L.D., that none of them had seen as much of each other as they normally would on the Bus, and Jemma was looking forward to her dinner date with Skye.

But as she kept one eye on the cell’s security feed she started to question her decision to give Bucky some space.For ten minutes before going to sleep he’d just sat on the edge of the bed playing with that hairband she’d given him, stretching it around his fingers, plucking it gently and twisting it over on itself. Poor bugger must be bored out of his brain.

He was asleep now, his hair splayed out on the pillow and the dark line of her hairband standing out against the pale skin of his wrist.

There wasn’t strictly a need for her to have the live cctv footage on anymore. The only results she was still recording was his daily bloodwork, and she’d given him a phone so he could call if he needed anything, so she told herself it was just out of habit that she tended to leave the feed on whenever she was in the lab by herself.

She usually turned it off when others were around—for Bucky’s privacy, of course, not because it was possibly a bit inappropriate of her to have it on in the first place—but Skye and her bag of sushi snuck up on her too quickly.

“You didn’t tell me he was hot!” Skye exclaimed over Jemma’s shoulder.

Jemma was quite proud of the way she managed not to jump a foot in the air. “Hello to you, too,” she greeted her friend drily as she pushed the tools and disassembled parts to the side to make room for their dinner.

Skye pulled out the stool next to Jemma and wiggled herself into it. “Does he always sleep with his shirt off?” she asked, enthralled.

“Yes,” said Jemma, and damn it, she replied too quickly, didn’t she?

“So you watch him every night, then?” Skye said, eyes dancing as she unpacked their sushi.

“It’s for science?” Jemma tried, a guilty smile creeping onto her face as she took the lids off the plastic containers Skye set out.

“Sure it is. Tanned, muscle-y science.” Skye grinned mercilessly as she tore open a sachet of soy sauce. “So you gonna do him?” she asked, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“Skye!” Jemma whacked her on the arm with her chopsticks. “That would be highly inappropriate, he’s my patient.” Finding him attractive and putting the moves on him were two entirely different things. “Besides, after all the poor man’s been through that’s got to be the last thing on his mind.”

“Horseshit. There isn’t a man in the world who could be around you and have that last on his mind,” Skye informed her around a mouthful of avocado roll, “even the gay ones. Sexual healing, Simmons, it’s a thing! There’s a song about it and everything.”

“How very scientific. Can we please change the subject?” Jemma begged, turning off the surveillance feed.

Skye pouted, but she relented, and the conversation turned to other topics, like the work Skye was doing on the facility’s computer systems to try and repair the last few holes in their defences, and how it still felt totally weird the way the once-busy halls of the Hub were now so eerily quiet.

“Don’t forget what I said about your sexy supersoldier,” Skye said once the sushi was gone and the resulting debris had been cleared away. “Sexual healing, sexual,” she sang as she sauntered out of the lab, hips swaying to the tune.

“You’re the kind of friend my mother warned me about!” Jemma called after her, but with an affectionate smile.

She didn’t know how much later it was that she fell asleep at the desk, but it was after 1am when she was woken by a muffled shout.

She lifted her head from where it was pillowed on her arms and looked around the room, but as the fog of sleep cleared it became obvious the sound had come through the computer speakers.

The screen in front of her felt over-bright to her sleep-clouded eyes, but as her pupils adjusted the image of Bucky sitting up in bed, human hand over his face, came into sharper focus.

As she looked down at him through the high angle of the camera, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and scrubbed his face with both hands. His shoulders rose and fell in the pattern of the slow, rhythmic breaths she’d taught him to take when his anxiety was getting the best of him. She hated to think what sort of nightmares could provoke that sort of response in him.

Normally Steve would comfort him when this sort of thing happened. She didn’t know what Steve did exactly, he just seemed to sit with Bucky, occasionally murmuring things that were too quiet for the microphones to pick up, until Bucky seemed ready to attempt sleep again.

Tonight Bucky would have to make do with the Jemma Simmons formula for chasing away nightmares, not that she had the first clue what that would entail. Except tea. Always tea.

She made two cups and carried them to his cell, her footsteps echoing softly through the empty halls with their muted after-hours lighting. The lights in Bucky’s cell were subdued as well, making the room feel cosy rather than simply small.

Bucky was sitting with his elbows on his knees and his hands hanging between his thighs as he stared at the floor through a messy curtain of hair.

His haunted eyes looked up in surprise as she entered. “What’re you doin’ here, kitten?” he muttered.  “’m fine.”

“I know,” she said simply, choosing not to point out the slight tremor in his fingers as she pressed a warm mug into his hands.

She sat down a short distance away from him on the bed and took a sip from her own mug, making it clear she wasn’t going anywhere, until eventually he stopped staring at her and took a careful mouthful of tea. The deep breath that followed sounded a little too much like a shaky sigh for Jemma’s liking.

“Would you like to talk about it?” she asked tentatively.

Bucky just shook his head and continued to dutifully sip his tea.

They sat in silence for a while. Jemma hoped fervently that it was a comfortable silence, but she wasn’t entirely convinced. She tried to think of helpful things to say but nothing seemed quite right. She doubted he wanted to hear facts about the frequency of nightmares in PTSD sufferers, and surely any story about a nightmare of her own would sound utterly trivial in the face of whatever horrors had just awoken him.

By the time he finished his drink, both his hands and his breathing had calmed. She stood up to put their empty cups on the table and as she did so he lay back down and rolled over to face the wall.

“You should go to bed, Jemma,” he said tonelessly, his eyes still wide open like he had no intention of going back to sleep himself.

She may not know exactly what his mind had shown him that was so horrendous it sent his biometrics into a tailspin, but she did know the feeling of being afraid to shut your eyes again lest the demons return.

She hesitated, her eyes tracing the tense set of his bare shoulders, then she lay down next to him and tucked herself against his back. Throwing any last vestiges of caution to the wind, she slipped her hand under his arm and pressed it lightly to his chest.

“Didn’t mean my bed,” he grumbled, sliding his hand over the top of hers and lacing their fingers together.

“I know,” she said for the second time that night.

Jemma passed a few minutes counting the strong, steady heartbeats under her palm before Bucky said, “Roll over?”

She turned onto her other side and he did the same, putting the metal arm around her waist and pulling her in close until she could feel the firm, warm shape of him all the way from her shoulders to her heels. When he released a soft, contented sigh, his breath ghosted over the sensitive skin underneath her ear.

It was only when his thumb rubbed over the bump of her hip bone once, then twice, that her pulse took off like a hummingbird’s wings.

She hadn’t been meaning to make a move on him, but what if he thought she was? Or what if he was about to make a move on her regardless? She’d assumed all the flirting was just a bit of harmless fun, that he couldn’t possibly be serious, but perhaps she’d been wrong.

What if he was just about to kiss the side of her neck? Or slide his hand up and cup her breast through her shirt? She suppressed a full-body shiver at the thought of those cybernetic fingers roaming to more intimate places.

Would she stop him? She probably should, if for no other reason than the fact that they were in full view of multiple security cameras, any one of which her boss could access at any time.

The hand on her hip moved to splay over her stomach and she stiffened in anticipation.

“Relax, kiddo, I’m not about to take advantage of you,” he murmured.

At those few simple words, a small part of her shrank in on itself as she realised just how much she wished he would. Damn Skye for putting these thoughts in her mind! Or in the forefront of her mind, at least. She’d been perfectly happy flirting and idly fantasising, but now apparently she had a full-blown crush.

She released the breath she’d been holding. “Hadn’t even crossed my mind.”

She waited until the hand on her stomach had gone lax with sleep before slipping away.

Bucky watched his blood as it slowly syphoned into Jemma’ syringe. With all the samples she needed to take, they had this process down to a fine art.

She withdrew the needle. “All done,” she announced.

She straightened up and flipped her hair back over her shoulder. The movement sent a waft of perfume in his direction and he casually filled his lung with it. Being a human pin cushion may be getting a bit old, but he didn’t think he’d ever be done with having Jemma in his personal space, no matter what the reason.

After falling asleep curled around her last night he’d had the best sleep he could remember in a long time. While he was sticking to his resolve not to touch her like that—he needed her too much to risk screwing things up (hell, he liked her too much to risk screwing things up)—he was more than happy to be on the receiving end of whatever physical contact she was inclined to provide.

“Hopefully we won’t have to do too many more of these. Your endocrine system seems to be almost back to normal,” Jemma said as she labelled the small glass vial of his blood. She sat back down in the other chair and set the vial carefully on the table in the opposite corner to where the dishes from their bacon and eggs were stacked. “Although I was thinking,” she said, picking up her tea and crossing one leg over the other, “we should keep in mind that once you’re out of this cell you’ll be exposed to a wider range of stimuli, which could potentially trigger any latent Winter Soldier programming.”

She took a sip of her tea and Bucky nodded, because the same thought had already occurred to him. While the quiet monotony of the cell had been the ideal place to allow his programming to degrade with little risk of it being triggered, he was possibly experiencing a false positive of sorts regarding that aspect of his recovery.

The real test would come when he stepped back out into the noise and chaos of the modern world, but he figured if he could sit down with Natasha and Sam without having an uncontrollable urge to end them, anything else would probably be manageable.

The phone Jemma had given Bucky buzzed once against his thigh and he pulled it out of the pocket of his S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue sweats.

“Text from Steve,” he told her, not that she wouldn’t have guessed that already. She and Steve were the only ones with the phone number. “They’ve wrapped up the search and rescue phase and are moving on to clean-up. He’ll be back in a day or two.”

“Lovely! You must be sick to death of only having me to talk to,” she said, with her ‘I’m pulling your leg’ grin.

“Yeah, it’s been a real trial,” he smirked, leaning forward and putting his forearms on the table.

Both of their smiles were cut short when the building around them shuddered in time with a distant boom. Bucky sprang to his feet, hand already reaching for a weapon that wasn’t there. In the silence that followed the blast, the glass vial of his blood rolled off the table and tinkled harmlessly to the floor.

Jemma abandoned her tea cup and rushed to the glass door of the cell. It beeped stubbornly when she tried to unlock it. “Lock-down mode,” she said, turning back to him with wide eyes. “We’re trapped in here. Even if I had some tools, it would take...” 

She was already fishing her phone out of her pocket when it began to ring. She put it on speaker as she returned to Bucky’s side.  “Fitz! What’s going on? Are you alright?”

“It’s Hydra, Jemma!” came the urgent words of the kid on the other end of the line. “They’re attacking. Where are you? Are you hurt?”

“No, no, we’re fine,” she assured him hurriedly. “But we’re trapped in Bucky’s cell.”

“Jemma, you’ve got to get out of there, or take cover or something,” Fitz insisted. “They’re heading in your direction. We think they’re here to break out the Hydra prisoners. I’ll—”

Fitz’s voice dissolved into whiny static, then the signal cut out altogether.

“They’re jamming communications,” Jemma said, the arm holding the phone dropping to her side in defeat.

Bucky strode over to the door and looked as far as he could down the hall in both directions. Nothing yet, but if they were coming he’d be ready. He could feel the adrenalin coursing through his system. Every fibre of his being bristled with the need to snap some Hydra necks.

The building rumbled with another blast and the red-tinged fog of his programming crept in at the edges of his vision, trying to reassert itself. His mind filled, unbidden, with scenarios, probabilities and attack strategies. Mentally he shoved it all aside until it was just a dull roar coming from the base of his skull. He didn’t have time to go on autopilot, he had to keep Jemma safe. If he tapped out now he could only imagine what his body would do without him

He swept his eyes over the cell, but there was really only one option for cover. “Under the bed,” he ordered.

Jemma looked up in surprise from where she was ineffectually working at the door mechanism, but did as she was told.

He got down and crawled in after her, crowding her close to the wall. He lay parallel to her and inspected the base of the bed above them, which was essentially a metal shelf attached to the wall. Hopefully if any bits of building started to fall in on them he’d be able to hold it in place with the cybernetic arm and prevent Jemma from being crushed. Or, if Hydra agents broke into the cell, he’d at least be between them and her.

Nothing to do now but wait.

“You’re doing good, kitten,” he said, when it occurred to him that she was impressively calm considering the circumstances. Her eyes were a little wider than usual, her breathing a little faster, but she was keeping it together.

“And what about you?” she asked from where she lay on her side next to him, her back to the wall. “How are you doing?” Her brows drew carefully together with her concern.

“Keeping it together,” he said, “I think.”

They heard a spray of gunfire from further down the hallway and Bucky’s adrenalin spiked. His eyelids fluttered involuntarily as the red fog clouded in, feeding him the likely make and model of the weapon based on the sound of it, how many rounds it could hold, and a thousand other tactical details. The more he focused on the fog the harder it was to hold it back.

“Fuck,” he growled, clenching his fists with the effort.

“Bucky, stay with me.” Jemma touched the side of his face as her voice cut through the haze.

He opened his eyes to look at her and found instant relief in it. He kept his gaze focussed on her face as he determinedly ignored the dull whine of the programming at the back of his brain.

“Don’t wanna hurt you, Jem,” he said, trying not to sound desperate. His blood chilled in his veins at the thought of causing her injury, or worse.

“I know,” she assured him, brushing her thumb gently over his cheek. “We need to give you something else to focus on, activate a different part of your brain. I have an idea: it’s a bit unorthodox, but I’m just going to try something, okay?”

He gave a quick nod of consent, and then her lips were on his.

He stilled in surprise, but the red fog was already retreating like a wave on the beach as his senses filled with Jemma: the warm, dry press of her lips, the brush of her eyelashes against his cheek, the gentle pressure of the hand on the side of his face holding him in place.

She drew back all too soon. “How was that?” she asked cautiously.

“Perfect,” he murmured, closing the distance between them again. Her lips parted under his, warm and wet, and if Bucky was going to drown in something he’d much prefer it was this than the crimson fog.

The first flick of her tongue was like solid ground to a man set adrift, and he plunged his tongue into her mouth, desperate for more. She removed her hand from his face so she could wrap an arm around his back and press her whole body against him. He could feel the swell of her breasts firm against his chest, and when she pressed her hips flush against him he felt the blood rush to his groin. It was almost enough to make him forget they were under attack.

He put a steadying hand on the dip of her waist and shifted himself away a few inches. “That might be a little too distracting.”

“Of course, I’m so sorry. What was I thinking.” She said the last bit like maybe she knew exactly what she was thinking, but he didn’t have time to unravel that now.

Bucky turned towards the door at the rolling thunder of several pairs of heavy boots approaching. At the first glimpse of Hydra uniforms through the glass door, the dull buzz in the back of his mind swelled until it was a roar of white noise.

He slammed his fist against the floor in frustration as his vision swam with red.

Jemma forced herself to keep breathing through her fear. She couldn’t be sure who the man beside her was anymore, James Buchanan Barnes or the Winter Soldier.

He was facing away from her with his head hung low, his shoulders rising and falling with forceful breaths. Her mind was helpfully offering up information like the amount of crushing force the cybernetic hand was capable of comparative to the force required to break various human bones, and the resultant figures chilled her down to her toes.

“James?” Jemma’s voice was barely more than a whisper.  It was the last weapon in her arsenal, the hope that his given name might provoke memories of his earlier life to which he could hold fast.

The Hydra agent closest to the door attached some kind of circular device to the bullet-proof glass and within moments the glass shattered and crashed to the floor, shards flying in every direction.

“Hail Hydra!” came the united cry of the half-dozen men outside.

Jemma wondered whether they thought they were simply liberating more Hydra captives or whether they knew they’d just broken down the barrier between themselves and the Winter Soldier. Were they here to take him back?  A stab of horror shot through her heart at the thought of Bucky going back to that mindless, hopeless existence after finally finding himself and his freedom again.

Before Jemma could glean any more about Bucky’s mental state, he was on the move, rolling out from under the bed and rising effortlessly to his feet. He strode across the room towards the door, heedless of the vial of blood lying forgotten on the floor and crushing under his heel. As he passed the table he scooped up a steak knife from their pile of dishes. He tossed it in the air and caught it expertly—before slitting the throat of the first Hydra thug in his way.

He side-stepped the spluttering man smoothly as he fell, following through with a sharp crack to the nose of the second guy, using the metal elbow. The third guy got the jump on him, but the struggle was brief, and he continued to cut down thug after thug with graceful efficiency until he was out into the hall and the floor was littered with bodies.

He left the knife in the chest of the last man to fall, and the next few seconds passed in perfect stillness. The distant booms of weapons fire or explosives or whatever it was had stopped, and there were no more shouts or footfalls coming from the hall.

While Jemma was exceedingly grateful that the bad guys had been dealt with, she still didn’t know who exactly that was standing out there. Surely the Winter Soldier wasn’t in the habit of dispatching of Hydra agents, but what if it was some sort of base level defensive programming that had kicked in that simply fought whatever foe was present, regardless of their allegiance?

As she watched his legs from under the bed, he turned slowly and strode back into the cell, boots crunching through the broken glass that used to be the door. Jemma’s heart was beating with the speed of a field mouse’s by the time he stopped beside the bed.

He kneeled down and held a hand out to her. “You okay, kitten?”

Jemma exhaled through a smile of relief. She nodded and let him help her to her feet.

“Good,” he said, slipping an arm around her waist and pulling her in for one more kiss.

Chapter Text

Once the Hydra attack was over, Bucky helped Jemma pick her way past the downed Hydra agents and out of the cell. They headed for the Hub’s command centre, Bucky moving silently through the halls in front of Jemma and peering carefully around corners, but there were no more Hydra agents to be seen.

The first thing Jemma did when they got to the command centre was a head count. Fitz, Skye, Coulson, May and Trip were all there, and something cold in her chest warmed with the knowledge that her team was safe and well.

“Jemma!” said Fitz, all but running to her side. “Are you alright?”

Everyone else seemed to have forgotten what they were doing and were staring past her at a blood-spattered Bucky Barnes. Jemma’s eye caught the smooth motion of May reaching for her weapon and she threw up her hands in a placating gesture.

“Yes, I’m fine! We’re fine, it’s all fine,” she assured the room at large. “Bucky took down the Hydra agents who attacked us. He saved my life, we’ve got nothing to fear from him.” She put a hand on his arm as if to prove her point, and also because it mustn’t be nice to have a roomful of people giving you the side-eye.

With a nod from Coulson, May re-holstered her weapon.

Fitz turned to face Bucky, his spine straight and his expression solemn. “Thank you for keeping her safe, sir.”

Bucky looked for a moment like he wasn’t quite sure what to do with that, but then he gave Fitz a solemn nod in response. As an afterthought, Fitz dug into his pocket and pulled out a clean, neatly folded handkerchief and held it out to Bucky.

Bucky stared at it for a second, then took it from him. “Thanks,” he said, as he started wiping the spray of blood off the side of his neck.

“Simmons, if you’re up to it, we need you in the medical bay,” Coulson said, already turning back to his console.

“Yes, of course, sir,” Jemma answered automatically. She took a few steps towards the door on the opposite side of the room, then turned back and looked at Bucky. Somehow, despite his cybernetic arm and the blood of Hydra operatives drying on his skin, he still managed to look a little lost as he watched her go.

Fortunately Trip was taking all this in and within moments he was at Bucky’s side. “Mr Barnes, sir, my name is Antoine Triplett. I don’t usually lead with this, but my grandfather was Private Gabriel Jones.”

“Well, how ‘bout that,” said Bucky, shaking Trip’s proffered hand.

“If you don’t mind, we could use your help out in the hall,” Trip said. “There’s a fallen beam stopping us from getting to the north side of the complex. I suspect you could make short work of it.”

“Happy to help,” answered Bucky, and with one more glance at Jemma, he followed Trip out of the room.

Jemma’s first responsibility was triage and medical treatment for the handful of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents injured in the attack. Fortunately there were no life threatening injuries, and when Jemma got the chance, she gave Captain Rogers a call and told him what had happened. Not because Bucky seemed particularly distressed in the wake of the day’s events, just because she thought Steve would want to know.

It was still unclear whether Hydra had been specifically trying to retrieve the Winter Soldier, but Jemma’s guess was that they’d simply stumbled on him by accident while breaking out the other prisoners. Those half dozen men hadn’t been at all prepared to take in someone of the Winter Soldier’s strength.

The rest of the prisoners had escaped and the general attitude among everyone was good riddance to them. It had been wholly unpleasant to have all those holding cells filled with familiar faces, and it was going to be a problem figuring out what to do with the traitors in the long run anyway.

Within hours the Captain was back at the Hub, and by the end of the day Bucky had his own quarters. Aside from the fact that all the cells no longer had doors, confining him at this point was simply unnecessary.

Despite the chaotic scramble to get repairs underway, Coulson had found a minute to toss an authorized access card to Jemma and she’d left Fitz and the mangled electronics they were working on for a whole twelve minutes while she dashed off to show Bucky to his room.

The rest of the day and most of the next had continued at a similar pace as they restored vital systems, and the few times her path crossed with Bucky’s there were always other people around. Needless to say there had been no more kissing, and Jemma didn’t know what to make of the way Bucky continued to act just like he had before: warm, friendly, but like nothing had changed between them. Not like nothing had happened, there was nothing fake in his manner, nothing cold or awkward, just like nothing had changed.  She thought they’d shared a moment, but what she needed to know was whether he thought so too.

The next afternoon, when they reached a point where the most urgent tasks had been completed, she took a break and headed to Bucky’s new quarters. If she could just spend a few minutes alone with him she’d be able to get a sense of where they stood. She thought she might even ask him if he wanted to go out somewhere for dinner, seeing as he was finally free to do so.

She stopped outside Bucky’s door and took a moment to smooth a hand over her hair and press her freshly glossed lips together before knocking on the door. Jemma swore her heart beat at least twice for every second that passed as she waited for the door to open.

The first thing she noticed when Bucky opened the door was that his hair was pulled up into a knot at the back of his head, which was enough to make her knees turn to honey. She’d have to do a search to see if there were any journal articles out there on the effects of men’s hairstyles on women’s libidos. Surely she wasn’t the only one who went into a swoon over a man-bun!

The second thing she noticed was that he was far from alone. Over his shoulder she could see not just Steve, but Sam and Natasha, filling the couch and recliners of his sitting area, each one with a beer in hand.

“Hey,” Bucky greeted her with an easy smile.

“Oh! You have guests,” she said, realising too late that she probably should have started with ‘hello.’

“Yeah, come and join us.” Bucky stepped back to give her room to come in. By this point everyone else in the room was looking at her, and she could literally feel the awkwardness taking over her limbs.

“No, no, it’s fine,” she said with a too-big wave of her hand. “I didn’t mean to intrude. I’ll... come back later,” she said with a polite smile that was probably also too big, and then made her escape.

Jemma quick-marched back to her own quarters, because it wouldn’t do to return to work with flaming cheeks. Fitz would ask her what was wrong and she didn’t feel like explaining that she’d just realised she’d been deluding herself about her place in Bucky’s life.

While Steve was gone they’d spent so much time together that it had been easy to feel like she was the only other person in the world who really knew him.  

She got to the door of her own quarters, swiped her access card and went inside. As if on autopilot, she began making tea, her hands going through the motions without bothering to distract her brain with the details.

Bucky had chosen to stop his delta-ray treatments before any more of his Winter Soldier memories returned, so aside from a few follow-up blood tests there was no reason for the two of them to spend any more time together. He had other people to support him now, people who actually knew what it was like to grow up in another time, to be a soldier, to be an assassin. At some point along the line she’d started needing him, but he no longer needed her.

She was going to ruminate on that for a bit, let her perspective right itself before she threw herself at him again. If she threw herself at him again.

She had two sips of her tea, tipped the rest down the sink and got back to work.

The last hour of the day found Jemma in the lab. It felt oddly quiet and still in there without Fitz or the security feed from Bucky’s cell to keep her company. She was just about to finish up for the day when an unexpected visitor arrived.

“Knock, knock,” said Steve from the doorway.

“Captain,” Jemma smiled, switching off her newly repaired hyperspanner. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I just wanted to stop by and say thanks for everything you did for Bucky while I was away,” Steve said as he came into the room.

“It was nothing,” she assured him.

He cocked a hip against the counter she was sitting at and folded his arms over his chest. “Must’ve been more than nothing, he hasn’t stopped talking about you since I got back,” Steve said with a knowing little quirk of his mouth.

Jemma’s heart leapt in her chest. “Is that so?” she said, playing along with his conspiratorial tone.

“Anyway, the others have left and he said something about a headache or something,” said Steve, with a vague wave in the direction of his head. He wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that it was a bald-faced lie. “So you should probably go check on him.”

“I’ll be sure to do that,” she said with a wink, though she had to open her mouth and really concentrate so that only one eye to close.

 He straightened up with a grin. “Good. Catch you later, Simmons.” 

As Bucky cleared away the empty beer bottles his mind returned, as it did every six minutes or so, to his brief and rather dramatic make-out session with Jemma the day before.

He liked to think he’d kissed enough girls to know the difference between the ones who really liked you and the ones who were just fooling around, and his money was on her being one of the former.

Her soft but fervent kisses had been the perfect distraction to allow his brain to shut out the latent Winter Soldier programming. That, and when she’d said his first name. ‘James’ was what his mother had called him, and the nuns at school. There were so many potent childhood memories attached to that name that he knew if he ever found himself in that situation again, that he just had to remember that he wasn’t the Winter Soldier anymore, he was James. That and the thought of Jemma’s kisses would get him through.

He was desperate for more of those kisses, but she had responsibilities and he wasn’t going to interfere with them, she’s already given him so much of her time. The way her face had fallen when she noticed he had company had all but confirmed his suspicions that she was just as keen for some time alone with him as he was with her.

He hoped she actually would come back later, like she said she would. He was contemplating going to find her when there was a knock on the door.

He opened in and there she was, teeth caught on a smile that was equal parts shy and coy. He grinned back at her, letting more of a smoulder seep into it than he’d previously dared.

He stepped back and ushered her inside. “Good timing, the rabble have just cleared out.” He shut the door behind her and started to step past her towards the kitchenette. “Can I get you something? There’s a couple of beers left from the six-pack Steve brought over, but that’s about all I’ve got.”

“Actually,” she caught his cybernetic hand in hers and he stopped and turned towards her. She traced his knuckles with the pad of her thumb and suddenly he was reminded of the first time they met.

It was only a couple of weeks ago at most that a slip of a girl in a pink cardigan and a ponytail walked into the room, scooped up his hand and started running her fingers over his. After all the time they’d spent together, the Jemma in his memory almost felt like a different person to the one standing in front of him. She shouldn’t, though. She was everything on that first day that she had been every day since: brilliant, beautiful, surprising, amusing, adorably awkward, and completed unphased by what he was or who he’d been.

“What I’d really like,” she said, big hazel eyes looking up into his as she stepped closer, “is another kiss?”

Cutting to the chase, then. That suited him just fine. He tipped her chin up a little higher with a crooked finger as his heart thudded loudly in his chest.

“Anything for you, Jem.” It was supposed to sound smooth, maybe a little husky. At the very least it was supposed to sound like a come-on, and hopefully that was how she heard it, but to his ears the words sounded embarrassingly earnest, because that was the moment he realised he really would do almost anything for her. That was also the moment he realised he was completely, irretrievably gone on this girl.

They may be skipping the small talk, but he wasn’t about to rush this. There was no Hydra this time, no security cameras, no other intrusions, and his last memory of doing this sort of thing was from a long, long time ago, so he decided he was going to take his time and do this right.

He leaned in slowly and paused just before their lips touched, letting the anticipation build. Her eyes were closed and a gentle, knowing smile graced her lips as she let herself be teased. He was close enough to smell the sweet scent of her perfume, and somewhere down below a small hand found its way to his hip. He waited for one more warm breath of hers to ghost over his skin, then he brought their lips together.

What started as a careful press of lips on lips didn’t stay that way for long. She opened her mouth to him, inviting him in with a subtle flick of her tongue. He accepted the invitation, his tongue following hers at an unhurried pace, at least until she wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him in deeper.

He encircled her with both arms and pulled their bodies flush together, letting her take over the kiss for a few moments as he gave himself over to the sensation of all that physical contact. It was like being swept away in a sea of champagne, and he might have let himself drown in it if he hadn’t been so determined to make sure Jemma enjoyed herself too.

He slid his hands up her back over the crisp fabric of her shirt then back down to her waist. As he dropped kisses along her jaw he freed her ponytail and carefully combed his fingers through her smooth, straight hair, then he lightly traced the line of her tie up the middle of her chest with one finger. A tiny sound escaped her throat and she pulled in a deep breath, pushing herself up towards his touch.

With both hands he loosened the knot at her throat and opened the first three buttons of her shirt. She broke away from him just long enough so he could lift the tie over her head and drop it to the floor. When they came back together her lips were on his neck and both hands were up under the hem of his t-shirt. It was like cresting another champagne wave as her warm hands roamed over all the skin they could reach. Her fingers splayed over his stomach, then slid up over his chest, back down and around to press into the small of his back. It felt like she left an imprint of her warmth everywhere she touched.

They found their way to the couch at some point, losing his shirt in the process, and continued making out like teenagers for who knew how long. He could have stayed like that for hours, just kissing her lips and face and neck as her hands fluttered and slid over his skin and through his hair.

It made sense that he would crave human touch—as far as he knew he’d been deprived of it for decades—but more than anything he was hungry for Jemma. His appetite had been whet by all the small touches they’d shared every day as she treated him, and he’d been tamping down his own desire to touch her for so long now that there was an element of pure relief in just being able to run his hands over her.

Perhaps she felt the same, like she was now able to touch him in ways she’d been holding herself back from, because she spent no small amount of time becoming more familiar with his cybernetic arm, tracing its grooves and edges with her fingertips. At one point she laced her fingers through his metal ones and lifted them towards her lips.

“May I?” she asked, her voice husky from so much kissing and so little talking.

“ ’course,” he murmured. He didn’t know what she intended to do, but he didn’t really care. She was more than welcome to whatever parts of him she wanted.

He still hadn’t really had time to process how the arm would play into whatever semblance of a normal life he attempted to pursue from this point on. It felt so much a part of him that it hadn’t really occurred to him yet to be self-conscious of it, but there was no doubt in his mind that most people wouldn’t be as accepting of his prosthetic as she was.

She pressed reverent kisses to the cool metal on the back of his hand, then each finger in turn. The highly sensitive plating relayed every detail to the pleasure centre of his brain.

She turned his hand over and kissed his palm, his wrist. “I was so silly that first day. So rude.”  

His flesh and blood hand rubbed idly up and down her thigh. “You were excited,” he said softly with a smile. “It was adorable.”

The next pass of his hand went a little higher up her leg, his thumb sweeping thoughtlessly down over the inner seam of her trousers. Her breath shuddered out of her and she released his hand so she could pull him in for a hot desperate kiss.

That particular combination of moves hadn’t been intentional, but he was plenty pleased with the result. Blood rushed to his groin as her slick tongue dove into his mouth and her fingernails scaped lightly over the skin of his shoulders.

His fingers fumbled to undo the rest of the buttons on her shirt and she yanked the tails of it unceremoniously out of the top of her pants, not waiting for him to untuck them for her. Responding to her enthusiasm, he slid his warm hand down her chest and cupped her breast through the fabric of her bra.

She moaned softly into his mouth and pushed herself deeper into his palm. He squeezed gently and rubbed the heel of his hand over the spot where the material was hiding her nipple from him, then pushed the offending fabric down out of the way.

He broke away from her mouth, trailing wet kisses across her cheek and down her neck, then pulling away just enough so he could see. He was more than half hard already, but the sight of her rosy nipple and her beautiful little breast took him the rest of the way there. He cupped the weight of it, a perfect handful, and stroked his thumb over the tight bud of flesh at its centre.

She gasped against the side of his neck and threaded one hand through his hair. The other she slid over the bulge in his pants.

Bucky sucked a breath in through his teeth, because even though he was aware that it had been a long time, in that moment every fibre of his being knew it had been far too long, and that this was a situation that needed immediate attention.

“I’m sorry,” she breathed against his neck, sliding her hand up and away. “Was that too much? I know you’ve been through a lot. If you’re not ready for...” She took a shaky breath and pulled back, meeting his eyes and forcing herself to speak in a less evocative tone. “If you don’t want to go any further, I understand.”

 “All I can think about right now is getting more of you,” he said, his voice rough with desire.

She gave a little oh! as he swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bedroom. A bit dramatic perhaps, but he really didn’t care. He set her on her feet next to the bed and pushed her unbuttoned shirt off her shoulders.

His first couple of attempts to unhook her bra were unsuccessful and Bucky suddenly felt sixteen all over again, but Jemma only let him flounder for a few seconds before batting his hands away with a smile and doing it herself.

“You too,” she said, nodding at his pants, so he stripped them off and then helped her out of her own.

He pulled her in for another kiss and didn’t bother suppressing his hum of contentment at feeling so much skin on skin. She slid a hand between them and pressed it over the fabric of his underwear where he was hot and hard. Just that one simple action felt indescribably good, but he was close enough to coming as it was and he still had so much he wanted to do for her, so he eased her back onto the bed before she could do much more.

He positioned himself over the top of her and pressed kisses to all the pale skin now available to him. He sucked on one pink nipple and gently pinched the other as she moaned, then moved down further to kiss her stomach and her thighs.

The sound she made when he mouthed at her through the already damp fabric of her underwear was shameless, and he didn’t make her wait long before hooking his fingers into each side and pulling them off her.

He stroked her folds with the fingers of his right hand, but after a few moments she pushed them gently away.

“Do you think you could...?” she asked from behind closed eyes as she reached for his cybernetic hand.

He chuckled against her stomach as he ran the metal fingers down the outside of her thigh and then up the impossibly soft skin of her inner thigh. “I get it now. You just want me for the arm, huh?”

“Not just the arm,” she said with a quirk of her lips. “Wait.” Her eyes snapped open and she started to sit up. “In all seriousness, please tell me that you know this is about much more than just the arm.” It was an impressive skill, the way she could talk so fast without actually tripping on any of the words. “I’m not denying that it has a certain appeal, but I would hate for you to think that this is just—” The tumble of words stopped suddenly as her eyes widened, then started straight back up again. “Oh dear lord, unless this actually is just a one night stand, and I’m the one who didn’t realise and has now unwittingly revealed the depth of my feelings...”

He tried not to laugh at her, he really did. He silenced her runaway mouth with kisses and pressed her back down onto the bed. “Don’t worry, kitten,” he murmured against her lips. “I’m pretty taken with you, too.”

Those words didn’t even begin to describe how he felt about her, how much he was grateful for, but if he couldn’t find the words to tell her, then he could at least try to show her.

Before long she was gasping and grinding herself down on his cybernetic hand as he kissed and sucked her nipples. He moved down her body so his tongue could work in tandem with his fingers. The taste of her made him harder still, if that was possible, and it took all his effort to keep his own arousal in check. She made it easy for him to figure out what she liked, at least, her fingers curling in his hair whenever he got it right.

He was working her with a steady rhythm of tongue and fingers when she cried, “Stop!” and tugged urgently on his hair. He stopped immediately and lifted his head, holding his fingers still inside of her. She was a sight to behold, eyes closed and bottom lip caught in her teeth, hair spread out around her on the pillow and breasts rising and falling with quick, shallow breaths.

“So close,” she said, reaching for him.

He withdrew his fingers and she whimpered, pressing her knees together for a moment as he quickly removed his own underwear. Then he crawled up beside her on the bed and opened the top draw of the nightstand, tearing a condom from the strip Sam Wilson had left behind after observing Jemma and Bucky at the door together. He’d have to remember to thank Sam later.

Jemma kissed his shoulder, his neck, his cheek, whatever she could reach, as he tore open the wrapper and put the condom on. Thank god for the way his sniper’s hands stayed steady despite the way he felt like he was about to come apart at the seams.

She parted her legs to him and when he sank inside her she was as warm and welcoming as she had been from the first. He buried his face in her neck as he moved inside her, lacing his fingers through hers and holding on for dear life.

He wasn’t going to last long, and the little sounds Jemma was making had a desperate edge to them as she lifted her hips to meet him, trying to find the right angle.

In one smooth motion he flipped them so she was on top. “Go for it, darlin’,” he said, urging her on with his hands on her hips.

She worked herself on him at a punishing pace—which was fitting, really, because he’d been at her mercy in more ways than one from the very beginning—until she came, her core fluttering around him as she cried his name. He shuddered as his own orgasm swept through him with a blinding force, and as she collapsed on top of him he decided he was never letting her go.


Chapter Text

They dozed side by side for a while, foreheads pressed together, fingers drifting idly over skin, until Jemma’s stomach growled audibly.

“We missed dinner,” Bucky murmured, rubbing a hand over the soft skin of her stomach like maybe he could rub her hunger pains away.

“Actually,” Jemma said, opening her eyes and pulling back just enough so she could see his face properly, “I was going to suggest we go out for dinner, now that you’re a free man.”

“’Fugitive’ would be a more accurate term,” he commented. “There’s no way the FBI’s not looking for me, and this thing’s kind of hard to miss,” he said, with a shrug of the metal arm. “Sorry, kitten, but it’s not like I can just walk into a restaurant and ask for a table.”

“My suggestion wasn’t off the cuff. You may not know this about me yet, but preparation is my specialty,” she informed him with a superior quirk of her brow.

“Oh yeah?” His smile said ‘lay it on me.’

“There’s a delightful little pizzeria on a quiet corner a couple of blocks away. I suggest we pick up a pizza and go and find ourselves a secluded corner of the park where we can eat under the stars. The weather is cool enough at this time of year that a hat, jacket and gloves won’t look out of the ordinary, and there’s a whole wardrobe of clothes for undercover missions you can choose from if Steve or Trip don’t have something you can borrow.”

He rolled on top of her with a grin. “Is the Girl Scout motto the same as the Boy Scouts’?”

“’Be prepared?’ Why yes it is. I know because I was one,” she said smugly.

“Figures,” he smiled, and kissed her soundly.

The air outside was cool and crisp, but in a way that was invigorating, not unpleasant. There were enough cars and people out and about that their presence on the street wasn’t noteworthy, but it wasn’t so busy that they needed to get too close to other pedestrians.

Jemma was just pondering whether Bucky was the type to hold hands when he snaked an arm around her middle and pulled her to his side with an enthusiasm that made her smile. She matched her pace to his so they could walk like that, side by side with Bucky’s arm snug around her waist.

“This is nice. This is... normal,” Bucky said as they walked.

Jemma just smiled, but her heart sang to think of the progress he’d made since she first met him, and that she’d had such a big part to play in it.

They picked up their pizza and headed for the city’s central gardens one block over. They strolled past the rose bushes, the water fountain and a small pond before deciding on a secluded spot within a small grove of trees. They were out of range of the streetlights by now, but there was just enough moonlight to get by. Bucky spread out their blanket on the mossy grass and they sat down and began their night picnic.

The foliage around them sheltered them from the cool breeze and muffled the distant sounds of the city at night, making it easy to forget about the rest of the world. Once they’d had their fill of pizza and wiped their hands with the wet wipes Jemma had brought with her (she was too intimately acquainted with patterns of microbial growth to abide greasy fingers), Bucky settled back against the tree trunk behind him and Jemma lay down and used his thigh as a pillow.

The stars seemed almost dewy in their brightness, obscured only partially by the dark silhouettes of the leaves above them. They stayed like that for a time, trading stories of their adventures, and it was one of those moments where everything felt perfect.

But there was a bittersweet edge to it for Jemma, simply because she had no idea how long this could all last. Her biggest fear was that Bucky would decide the best plan was for him to go to ground, probably in some remote corner of the globe. It would make sense. It would also crush her soul just a little bit.

But there was no point in not enjoying the present simply because the future was uncertain, so she angled her head a little to make the most of the way Bucky was stroking her hair, and continued with her story.

“And so I ran to the next train car to tell Skye and Fitz that our cover was blown, but one of the mercenaries was already there, and he had what looked like a live grenade, so I grabbed him and pulled him against me but it turned out it was—”

The hand on her hair stopped moving. “Jesus Christ, Jemma, you threw yourself on a grenade?”

She looked up at his face. “Well, as I was just saying, it turns out it was actually a…”

He was shaking his head in exasperation, but he was smiling too.

“What?” she asked.

“Peggy Carter once told me a similar story about Steve before he got the serum. I don’t know how I keep ending up with people like you,” he said, like it was a cross he had to bear.

“People like us?” she asked, her lips quirking in amusement. “I have trouble believing there are many other similarities between myself and Captain Rogers. Or any, for that matter.”

“I daresay I could find a couple, but anyway, you were saying?”

She finished her story, and as he told another one of his, she sat up and snuggled in under his left arm, playing with his cybernetic fingers as he talked. Even through the leather of his glove she could tell they weren’t flesh and blood. They were harder to the touch, and she could feel the almost imperceptible clicks of the small articulating plates as they moved.

She was listening to his story, she really was, but she was also remembering how those fingers had felt on her, in her, earlier that night, and when he finished talking she found herself kissing him with an urgency that drew a surprised sound from him. But he responded warmly, opening his mouth to her, and without putting too much thought into it, she went up on her knees and swung her leg over his lap so she was straddling him.

Bucky gave an mmph of appreciation, his hands finding her hips. She slid her fingers into his hair and worked her tongue deeper into his mouth, and when the ache building in her core grew too strong to resist, she shifted her hips so she could press herself against the hardness in his jeans.

Bucky groaned at the contact, but after a few moments withdrew from the kiss with a chuckle.

“This really your thing? Doing it outdoors?” he asked.

“Not especially,” Jemma answered, her breathing ragged. “I just...” she drifted off, her cheeks warming with what she wanted to say.

“What, darlin’? Tell me what you want,” Bucky murmured against her neck, hands trailing over her back.

Maybe it was the husky quality of his voice, or maybe it was the memory of the last time he called her darlin’—just as she was about to come—that prompted her to speak.

“I want to experiment on you,” she whispered in his ear before she lost her nerve. “Test your stamina, your refractory period. There’s also a few positions that I suspect the arm would be particularly suited to, if you’d be willing.”

Bucky was chuckling again. “Willing doesn’t even begin to cover it, but if that’s the case, isn’t it good experimental design to continue under the same conditions as before?”

“I didn’t know you liked to talk dirty,” she said with a grin. “But you’re right, let’s head back.”

It was getting late and the air was cooler on their trip back to the Hub, though they had enough incentive already to quicken their pace.

Jemma got to experience Bucky’s serum-enhanced refractory period first hand and they tested out two of those positions before finally falling asleep. Then, a few hours later, Jemma was able to add slow, sleepy morning sex to her data set.

 She was on the edge of dozing off again when Bucky said, “I know what I want to do.”

“I hope it’s me one more time before breakfast,” she murmured sleepily, pressing herself back against her big spoon.

Bucky chuckled against her shoulder. “Well, that’s a given.” He pressed a kiss to the side of her neck. “But what I meant was, I know what I want to do now that you’ve fixed me.”

Jemma’s eyes opened. She took a moment to steel herself before rolling over so she could see his face.

“And?” she asked. She reminded herself one more time that what she wanted most of all was what was best for him.

He propped himself up on one elbow so he was looking down at her. “I want to keep fighting the good fight. I can’t do it at Steve’s side, not right now anyway, but there must still be things I can do—undercover missions, recon—like Natasha.” He tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear as he spoke. “Agent Coulson’s rebuilding S.H.I.E.L.D.  from the ground up, right? I’m going to ask him if there’s a place for me here.”

The bubble of worry in Jemma’s chest burst into a wave of relief. “That sounds like an excellent idea,” she said, a wide smile spreading across her face.

She wound her arms around his neck and pulled him into a kiss, revelling in the thought that she wouldn’t have to give him up any time soon.

“Now,” she said, hooking her leg around his, “about that other thing you were going to do?”