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happily ever after has bite marks in it

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In this story, you have claws.
In this story, happily ever after has bite marks in it.
In this story, you are free and terrifying.
In this story, you get away.
In this story, you bleed.
In this story, you survive.

- Caitlyn Siehl, “In This Story”

 

 

The eyes never disappear.

There’s a part of Bucky that tries to call it paranoia, but that part is the unholy lovechild of wishing the last seven odd decades never happened and a passing desperation to fit into the vague shape of a person as defined by whatever remains of that stupid kid from the 40s. Even on his best days, Bucky ignores that part. On his worst, well – he has greater concerns then, like trying not to find the nearest cliff and fling himself over.

Wouldn’t kill him anyway. He should fucking know.

So it’s not paranoia, and the feeling of being watched sits under his skin like sandpaper. It’s a familiar feeling, one he remembers quite well from those seventy years he wants to curse into nonexistence, but it’s different in ways that he can’t pinpoint because it’s something that defies words and categorization, instead flitting over the edges of sheer instinct.

His first suspects would be – were – Fury or even whatever remains of Hydra, but aside from Romanoff, neither party has anyone who could consistently evade Bucky while continuing to watch him, and she’s somewhere in Europe with her birdman. There’s also the small detail that Hydra would try to contain or kill him, not camp out in a forest in buttfuck nowhere and just watch. Bucky’s even made it easy for them, moving to this sad shack miles away from proper civilization. Granted, it’s as much of a baited trap as he can make it without expending too much thought and energy into it, but that’s never stopped Hydra. It was almost disappointing, those first few months where Bucky spent every waking moment and also every second of restless sleep waiting for a STRIKE team – assuming that Hydra had enough half-decent agents left to put one of those together – to break down a wall or at least the front door.

Then again, Pierce is dead with a pretty bullet hole in his skull, and Carter and her costumed cohorts are hunting down what’s left of Hydra with extreme prejudice, so it makes sense that they have greater priorities than the Winter Soldier, especially one that no longer responds to triggers.

Bucky still doesn’t understand that, was as confused as Rumlow who flung the words at Bucky and watched in slow-dawning horror as they slid off his mind like oil on water, but that didn’t stop him from tearing the fucker into pieces or the subdued elation that bubbles up whenever he thinks of that moment.

Logically, that leaves no one who could stalk Bucky for over a year and get away with it, but no amount of well-reasoned justification can counter the way his hair stands on end when he takes so much as a step out of the cabin. It probes at some deep, animal part of him, one well beyond the instincts cultivated by a brief stint at war and then decades as Hydra’s pet assassin. That doesn’t make it any less unsettling, only more confusing.

It all goes back to that night.

But Bucky doesn’t remember that night. He remembers being sent to kill something, his mind blank and razor-sharp, and he remembers waking up propped against a tree with a name echoing eerily in his skull alongside a thousand scattered memories.

They’re less scattered now and he wears his name gladly, if wistfully, but that night remains an empty stretch of time across the landscape of his mind.

He was told to kill something. Pierce activated him, gave the usual fascist spiel that must have been wasted on a brainwashed piece of work fresh out of cryo. That’s where his memory stutters. Whatever happened, it left Bucky alive and more whole than he’s been since Austria and fucking Zola, with nothing to show for that miracle except a scar on his shoulder shaped like a crescent. It’s thin and silver and aches once every fortnight, but the throb of it is almost comforting, like the vague memories he has of being held against his mother’s chest or being wrapped in the arms of a boy with golden hair and eyes like the sky.

He knows the boy’s name, but he shies away from it, even in his own head.

Point is – he can’t escape the eyes on him, can’t find whoever they belong to, can’t rip them out to earn himself some peace, so he learns to live with it. He’s not scared, is only wary because he doesn’t know not to be, and for the love of the God he lost faith in, he can’t explain why it all makes that primal part of him stir but doesn’t make it bristle or recoil in fear. Even the unease is at the surface-level, made all the more worse because the lack of fear just doesn’t seem right.

There’s shit he can do about it, except maybe hide in the cabin for the rest of his who-knows-how-long life, but even if Fury, Romanoff, and Carter weren’t conspiring to make that impossible, Bucky’s own head would. As it is, he’s just glad he’s got miles of uninhabited forest to run amok in when the walls start closing in.

It’s funny how comfortable he is in the forest. James Buchanan Barnes was a city boy through and through. The Winter Solider went where he was told, did as ordered, and always went to sleep in a glorified icebox.

Bucky as he is, a Frankenstein monster made of a mishmash of memories and experiences, feels at home among trees that swallow the sunlight and wolves whose howls shake the forest on moonlit nights.

That night was spent in a forest too. Sometimes, he wonders if it matters, but he doesn’t wonder too long.

 


 

The sudden absence of it is so jarring that he doesn’t register it at first, not really, knowing only that something’s wrong.

It takes Bucky a while to figure out that something’s finally right, or supposed to be, and that it doesn’t make him feel as good as he half-heartedly imagined it would.

They’re gone, the eyes on him. Bucky steps out of his cabin for an early morning walk slash perimeter check, and that curious animal inside of him stays quiet. He knows something’s changed and doesn’t understand what until he’s halfway through his usual route.

Then he sees the wolf.

His first impression is that it’s huge. And it is, gigantic even when sprawled on its side. The color is no less unnatural, a warm, bright gold that can’t even be called tawny. Bucky’s caught glimpses of wolves around, seen flashes grey and brown and the occasional black, but this – this is something else. He’s pretty sure that wolves aren’t supposed to come in this color or this size.

Then its eyes flash open, and Bucky’s staring at the sky.

 


 

It’s stupid.

That long-dead boy from Brooklyn had golden hair and pretty blue eyes, but he was tiny and sickly; a spitfire from his first breath, with more rage than his spindly limbs could contain.

This a fucking wolf, big enough to give Bucky pause and try to remember if Hydra experimented on animals, but his Swiss cheese brain clearly doesn’t give a fuck.

The name Bucky’s been running from is suddenly ringing in his head, and it’s only sheer shock that stops it from leaving his mouth.

His memory is a liar – and that ain’t fucking news, but it hits harder now than it did when he looked at Natalia Romanoff and saw the child he trained and the woman he shot layered on top of one another like a blood-stained kaleidoscope. Doesn’t make sense that it’s harder to look into some animal’s eyes and violently drown in memories of the exact shade of Steve Rogers’ eyes.

Not the blue of the sky, though that’s close as you get to putting words to it. The reality of it is brighter, deeper, and Bucky remembers – can’t help but remember – the way those eyes would turn hot and molten and hard and icy and a million things in between, remembers how it felt to be looked at by a boy like that. They throw around fancy names these days for all shades of all colors under the sun and then some, but Bucky can look at this and only think Steve.

His chest constricts, breath burning, and that’s familiar too, only in all the wrong ways. Steve Rogers always stole the breath right out of Bucky’s lungs, but he was real then, flesh and blood, smart mouth and clever hands, incandescently alive.

Now, he’s a memory half swallowed by a mind that knows more of death than it ever did of love.

The wolf whines, high and mournful, and Bucky jolts like lightning raced up his spine.

He smells the blood before he sees it, his senses snapping back to reality. The wolf didn’t lunge for his throat while he was off in his own head, and the reason is clear once he looks over it properly. There’s a large gash along its side, the fur at the sides red with blood that’s both fresh and dried. It’s an ugly wound, deep and jagged, bits of flesh protruding at the sides. The wolf doesn’t make another sound, but its breathing is heavy and labored. Bucky doesn’t look at its eyes again, but he imagines them clouded with pain and has to push the image away before his helpful brain turns that ferocious snout into a pale, sharp face.

He could just leave. He’s got no medical know-how except basic first aid and the limits of his enhanced physiology. He sure as hell isn’t equipped to deal with a giant injured wolf who’ll probably bite his head off is he tries to help. It’s not like the damn thing will be able to tell that Bucky’s not trying to hurt it. Injured animals are dangerous. Humans too. He’d know.

He makes the mistake of looking at its eyes again, can’t help it even when he knows it’s idiotic. The effect is no less intense, but he limits it to a contained shudder and slams a wall into the memories that threaten to erupt. Not the fucking time. It’ll never be the fucking time.

The wolf’s eyes follow him as he crouches, slow and careful, but it doesn’t even growl. There’s intelligence in its gaze and less pain than expected, or maybe Bucky’s just shit at reading animals.

“Hey, buddy,” he says, voice a low croon that he hopes to high hell is soothing. “You don’t look so hot.”

The wolf blinks. No shit, it might say except it’s an animal and doesn’t understand shit except that some weird-smelling guy is trying to cozy up to it while it’s bleeding to death.

“I’m gonna have to sedate you, aren’t I?” Bucky says, lips curling as he realizes that he’s already made up his mind. “I want to help you, buddy, but I’d like to do it without losing a limb. Might just grow back.” He waggles his metal fingers. “They did a lot of shit after they got this on me. But let’s not take the risk.”

The wolf blinks again. Bucky’s reminded uncomfortably of how dry humor twisted the contours of Steve’s face.

 


 

There’s morphine in his cabin, part of the mini hospital he crammed into the cabin in a fit of paranoia. It’s come in handy, though mostly for self-sustained damage than anything other people did him. It’s just that Hydra’s tendency to leave his injuries unattended unless they were life threatening, concerned the arm, or affected his mission has left him with the need to take care of even minor scrapes with a level of care that he used to reserve for–

Bucky nips that thought in the bud, resigned and infuriated in equal parts by how a combination of fucking colors on a fucking animal opened the goddamned floodgates he was so careful to keep shut.

It takes him ten minutes to run to the cabin and back to the wolf, supersoldier speed used without reserve in fear that the wolf will somehow vanish by the time he returns. It’s unlikely, he knows, but if life has taught him anything, it’s that world is strange, senseless, and deeply fucked up.

But it’s there, blending oddly well into the greens and browns of the forest despite its size and blinding color. Bucky knows its watching him from the moment he’s visible, but he takes a moment – pretending he’s cataloguing its injuries and thinking up a plan of attack – before he meets its eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he says plainly, readying himself. It can’t understand him, but he continues anyway. “I promise I won’t hurt you. But I gotta do this.”

He lunges.

It’s strange how the wolf doesn’t put up much of a fight. It twitches when he moves, even makes a low, rumbling sound at Bucky’s sudden proximity and the harsh sting of the needle, but by the time he has empted the syringe and leaps back, it’s quiet and still. It’s eyes are still open, still on Bucky, and he meets them squarely until, between one breath and the next, they close.

The whole thing takes less than two minutes.

Bucky looks at the syringe.

“I used too much, didn’t I?”

But the wolf’s still breathing, deep and heavy, and it doesn’t so much as twitch when Bucky creeps closer. He didn’t notice in his mad dash to sedate the thing without losing a chunk of flesh, but now, he has no choice but to see how fucking huge it is. It’s like someone took a normal wolf and gave it the supersoldier serum.

Now there’s a thought.

It’s also one that feels entirely plausible the longer Bucky stand there and looks at the sheer mass of the thing.

His attention catches on its bloodied hide, and he mentally smacks himself and moves to the small bag he took from his cabin, stuffed with the medical supplies he thought he’d need and his tablet.

This place really shouldn’t get any kind of cell reception or internet data, but Carter gave it to him, citing a favor Anthony “I am Iron Man” Stark owed her, and Bucky found it easier to just take the damn thing and get the fuck out of dodge rather than stay to tease out the threads of guilt and obligation and who-knows-what-else that made up Carter’s feelings towards him. She’s an eerie mix of soldier and spy, and it catches him off guard in ways he doesn’t like.

When he feels like admitting it to himself, Bucky acknowledges that he’s just unnerved by how they’re practically the same age and how she came so close to saving him from Zola’s tender ministrations. He’s pretty sure the same lies at the root of her issues with him. He just doesn’t want to touch either bundle with a ten foot pole.

She didn’t save him; maybe he was never meant to be saved, never meant to go back to Brooklyn and his ma and that shitty apartment he shared with the only person he’s ever called home.

“Fuck,” he breathes, forcing the fingers of his flesh hand to loosen around the tablet before he crushes it. All that matters is that it works, and that it’s safe, not because of Carter promise but because Bucky took apart the whole thing in all ways possible and gleefully abused each iota of his technical skills to make sure it’s damn well secure.

Then he settles down a respectful distance from the sleeping wolf and opens YouTube.

 


 

In the end, it’s a mixture of videos and helpful blogs that help him shave the fur, cleanse the wound, and stitch it up. Bucky wants to say it’s not all that different from patching himself up after slicing his leg open on one of his own knives one particularly bad night, but it’s a fucking gigantic wolf he’s dealing with so he doesn’t really bother lying to himself.

It’s weird as all hell.

He feels oddly satisfied once he’s done, pleased that the bleeding has stopped. It also looks like even the faintest strain would rip the sutures apart, but there’s not much he can do about that. At least the wolf is sleeping for now. Maybe, if he keeps some food within easy reach, it’ll stay there rather than try to leave and hurt itself in the process.

He runs slower this time, glad to have something to do other than fret over an unconscious wolf. He tries to let his mind go blank like he usually does, but that proves about as impossible as forming any concrete thoughts. His head flits from image to image, and Bucky chews his lips raw at the mental parade of gold and blue.

When he returns with a big slab of frozen meat, the wolf doesn’t seem to have moved. Bucky’s still careful as he sets the meat within easy reach of its jaws. He leaps back when black nostrils flare, but there’s no movement other than that. He inches back, slowly setting down his mixing bowl and filling it with water. He’s not thrilled at the thought of making the long trek back to civilization for another bowl, but the wolf needs it more than he does and damn if he’s using it afterward. Hydra might have handled him with all the delicacy of a wrecking ball, but Bucky’s got standards dammit.

He’s aware that he’s done all that he can short of hauling the wolf to properly equipped authorities. But first of all, the damn thing is too big for even Bucky’s serum-enhanced strength to handle, and secondly, his sympathy for some animal he’s met is not enough to override the very valid concerns that make him strive to keep his location and existence as much of a secret as possible.

But he doesn’t leave.

The tree’s not the most comfortable perch but he’s honestly had worse. What’s important is that it’ll let him keep a close eye on the wolf from a safe distance. He settles in as much as he can and opens the kindle he brought along because he didn’t quite manage to fool himself into thinking he would just leave the animal be. The overly convoluted story about two aliens and a human navigating a relationship while running from space pirates does a decent enough job of keeping him occupied.

 


 

It’s well past afternoon when the wolf stirs.

It comes to with a trembling sigh, big blue eyes slitting open. There doesn’t seem to be any lingering confusion from the drugs, and its gaze doesn’t so much as linger on the food and water before unerringly finding Bucky on his tree. It feels cowardly to look away so Bucky doesn’t, meeting those thrice-damned eyes head on even when they make his ribs feel two sizes too small. The big lug blinks, puffing air in a way that would pass as a snort on a person, and finally turns its attention to the meat like a normal carnivore.

Bucky’s relieved when it doesn’t tear its stitches while eating and only grimaces a little when it laps at the water from the bowl.

Honestly, it’s a little suspicious how well everything’s turning out, especially considering how he’s the farthest thing from a veterinarian. Hell, he’s not even your garden variety animal enthusiast. But if he’s starting to suspect random injured wildlife of ulterior motives, then he figures that’s paranoia well past reasonable provocation, so he shuts down that line of thought and lets himself be relieved that the wolf will live to see another day.

Bucky still doesn’t leave, remaining on his tree, alien threesome forgotten in favor of staring at the wolf. It stares back languidly, and Bucky’s half-convinced that it’s still a bit drugged. The hell does he know though. Maybe this is standard lone wolf behavior.

He doesn’t think so, not really, but he doesn’t linger on it.

He stays till the sun’s down and only faint moonlight trickles between the trees. It was a full moon recently, he remembers. There are times when this forest feels brighter at night than during the day.

“Don’t die,” he tells the animal, feeling foolish but not enough to stop. “Would be too much to hope you’ll stay here till tomorrow. S’fine. I can track you. Seriously though. Don’t fucking die.”

He keeps it in his sight until the trees obstruct his view, but it takes a long time for him to shed the weight of its gaze.

It feels familiar.

Bucky’s dreams that night are restless; dark, lunging shapes and flashes of gold.

 


 

He sleeps in, partly because it was almost dawn by the time his sleep deepened into something deserving of the name and partly because he fucking can. Even then, it’s the persistent rumble of his stomach that prompts him to roll out of bed at noon, cursing supersoldier metabolism not for the first time. He amuses himself with the thoughts of Carter – graceful and elegant even when drenched in the blood of her enemies – demolishing a meal that could feed five people. It pulls a smile out of him, though the niggling sense that she’d make even that seem refined never fades. Bucky doesn’t manage anything of the sort, attacking his steaks with little more poise than yesterday’s wolf.

To his credit, he does put up a token effort to talk himself out of searching for it. The chances of it being where he left it are slim, and even that allowance is for the possibility that it’s dead. But he’s tracked more elusive prey through worse terrain for far less pleasant purposes.

He dreamed of Steve last night; not a memory, just a dream. He was there when Bucky came out of cryo, stroking his hair and telling him he was safe. His smile was kind in a way the real Steve never managed. All his kindness was in his hands, his eyes; his mouth was always harsh lines and bitten words.

It’s not the first dream Bucky has had of Steve since his memories returned. It won’t be the last. But it is the first he’s allowed himself to dwell on once the last vestiges of sleep left and the reality where Steve was a ghost – precious but no less dead for it – reasserted itself.

He can’t even escape the name anymore, like thinking it once gave his head free rein to languish in a thousand old regrets.

He blames the wolf, its damn gold and blue.

He’s still gonna go look for it because he’s an idiot like that. He arms himself with a few knives, just in case, and grabs the medkit he prepared yesterday. He makes it one step past the front door and almost keels over from a heart attack.

The wolf lifts its head from where it’s lying across Bucky’s porch like an oversized rug. Its tail starts wagging.

 


 

“What the fuck?” he asks his door, staring blankly at the wood. The medkit is on the floor and there are knives in both his hands. He doesn’t recall doing either, but he’s used to weapons materializing in his hands when he’s startled. There are many reasons he’s not fit for public.

Still. What the fuck.

He slides one knife back into its sheath and uses his left arm to edge the door open. The wall of gold on the other side is not a surprise, but a little jolt goes through him anyway.

“What the fuck?” he asks again, this time at the wolf casually lounging at his doorstep. The damn thing lets out a sound that can only be called a whine, too shrill and pitiful to be coming from a creature so big.

And Bucky’s an idiot with a death wish so he opens the door wider. Sure, there’s a knife in his flesh hand and his left is a weapon all on its own, but that doesn’t make it any less stupid. It’d serve him well if the wolf leapt for his throat but of course, it doesn’t.

It wags its tail like an overgrown puppy and gently nudges the dead deer bleeding into Bucky’s porch. Its eyes are big and blue and guileless as it looks at Bucky like it wants a pat on the head and be told it’s a good doggo for dragging a freshly killed deer onto his porch.

Again, what the fuck.

 


 

Bucky goes back to bed.

The wolf doesn’t try break down Bucky’s door to get to him, but it also seems to have no plans of going anywhere any time soon, so after fifteen long minutes of a staring contest that thoroughly kills the few fucks Bucky has left for the day, he decides this is Future Bucky’s problem and stalks off to bed. A knife ends up embedded on the wall in the process, joining its many, many sisters. He doesn’t even bother stripping or disarming before collapsing face first on the lumpy mattress and waiting – praying, even – for sleep to take him.

And because he wants it so damn much, of course it doesn’t happen.

He still stays in bed for a good two hours because Bucky Barnes has never not been a stubborn son of a bitch, and he spends every second of those hours determinedly Not Thinking of the fucking animal parked out on the porch.

He also Does Not Think of how the gash he stitched up yesterday, which was deep and near fatal and should not have healed enough to let the damn wolf lope about and hunt deer.

Ah fuck.

He stalks right back to the door and flings it open, unsurprised and deeply unamused to find the wolf draped at his feet. One more step and he’d step on it. Bucky shuffles back automatically, some sensible part of him piping up about not losing half a leg, but even as he does it, he knows it’s pointless because the damn thing just whines again, like it’s mortally wounded that Bucky did not instantly and joyfully accept its sacred offering of deer carcass.

“Wolf,” Bucky enunciates slowly, taking a second to appreciate the fact that he’s actually, properly talking to an animal because this is his life now. “Why are you here, what are you doing, and why the fuck is there a dead deer on my porch?”

The wolf cocks its head. It doesn’t wag its tail again, but Bucky somehow gets the sense that it’s a near thing. It nudges the deer, which is also huge but in a normal, big animal way, not the mutant mess the wolf seems to be, and manages to move the carcass an inch towards Bucky.

“No,” he says flatly. “What. No.”

Blue eyes seem to fucking glimmer.

“I don’t need more reasons to question reality,” Bucky tells the wolf, and really, that right there is his life in a nutshell.

Then he sees the gash – or what’s left of it. It was a life threatening wound yesterday and now, all that remains is a patch of furless skin and a thin pink scar at least two inches shorter than the length of the wound.

Bucky just…gives up.

He does go back inside, door open this time because at this point, it would be refreshingly logical for the wolf to try and take a bite out of him. It doesn’t, naturally, and when Bucky checks the date on his tablet, he’s reassured that it really has been just nineteen hours since he left the wolf in the forest. He hasn’t accidentally slept for two weeks or whatever, and the wolf sure as fuck should not be anywhere near healed.

It’s there when he goes back but by that point, he doesn’t expect anything else.

“So. Hydra?”

The wolf growls. The sound makes Bucky’s hair stand on end and his gut tighten, fear twisting his body without quite touching his mind.

“Yeah, pal,” he says quietly. “Me too.”

 


 

He briefly entertains the idea that the wolf is actually a dog, maybe a slightly malformed golden retriever, that looks like it does because of whatever Hydra did. It sure acts the part.

But no, it’s definitely a wolf, just an unnatural one, not just in body but in mind. It’s clear pretty soon that it understands Bucky perfectly well and is one canny motherfucker on top of it.

It follows him everywhere except the bathroom, and he’s mostly convinced that’s only because it knows the bathroom is too small to fit its bulk. Bucky tries, more than a dozen times, to lose it in the forest. Not even the combination of Winter Solider training and his strange new affinity for the forest is enough for him to successfully evade the fucker. And after the third time, Bucky’s certain that even if he does, the wolf will just go back to his cabin and wait for him there. He still keeps trying, but no amount of self-delusion can save him from the truth that after a point, it’s less escape and more exercise. The wolf keeps up with him, snapping its huge jaws at his feet with no intention of crunching down and tackling him so he’s pinned under its ridiculous size for the span of a breath before it leaps off.

It’s fun. It’s a challenge, one that doesn’t trip up anything in his head the way training with Carter or Romanoff might. Because no matter how he frames it, it’s hard to draw parallels between what Hydra had him do and roughhousing with an overgrown hybrid wolf with a weird attachment to Bucky and an unfortunate tendency to try and feed him.

It sulks each time Bucky rejects the animals it drags to his door, like it’s offended that he’d choose frozen meat over fresh kills. It sulks even worse when Bucky firmly closes the door on its face when it tries to wriggle into his bedroom at night. They both know that it could break down the door, even the wall, if it really wants, but it never does.

Bucky doesn’t know what to do about any of this. It’s almost like having a pet except for how it’s nothing like that.

It’s male. He doesn’t name it, doesn’t call it anything but ‘Wolf’ – or ‘Mutt’ on his less charitable days.

None of that stops him from looking at those damn blue eyes and thinking Steve.

 


 

A month in, and he’s used to it.

His new normal becomes soft whines at his bedroom door in the morning, long runs that leave him breathing hard and grinning, warm fur at his back while takes an evening nap in a clearing, and the terrifyingly heady sense of companionship.

Bucky can’t claim he understands it, doesn’t even really try. Maybe he’s too afraid that if he thinks too much, pokes too much, this new and fragile reality will shatter, and it’ll be just him and his tablet in the middle of nowhere.

He doesn’t even remember when that thought became as unpleasant as it is.

And then the wolf disappears.

He wakes up one morning to eerie silence that takes a moment to resolve itself into the conspicuous absence of another body in the cabin. By the time he’s out of bed and half-dressed on the porch, it’s clear that there’s no trace of the wolf in the cabin or anywhere close by. There are clear signs of its presence last night – the rug in front of the fireplace is rumpled and littered with long strands of golden fur. The bowl of water Bucky leaves out for St – the wolf every night is nearly empty.

It’s almost like it woke up in the morning and, instead of coming to snuffle at Bucky’s door until he woke, it just…left. The front door is slightly ajar; Bucky hasn’t bothered locking it at night since the wolf came.

Bucky forces down his unease. It’s not like he and the wolf were inseparable until then; he never managed to lose it on purpose, but there have been plenty of times when it vanished for hours and returned with a heaving chest and blood on its jaws. It still often dragged its kills to Bucky, only to huff and puff and help itself when Bucky firmly declined the offerings.

It’s just that this is the first time in nearly a month that he hasn’t woken to the wolf. It’s a break in routine. He’ll adjust.

But when the sun’s heading back to the horizon and the wolf still doesn’t show, Bucky stops trying to pretend that he’s not concerned and leaves the cabin in search of it. He’s been jittery all day and part of it’s the missing wolf, but there’s something else too – a quality to the air that sits heavy under his skin. It’s not the first time it’s happened since he came here. The forest gets like this sometimes, growing dark and quiet in a way that can’t be seen or heard, just felt. It’s not just him; the animals act weird too. The birds are too silent, the wolves too fucking loud. Bucky freaked out the first time, spent hours prowling his porch until the howling began. Then he went inside and spent the night with his headphones blaring and knives clutched in his hands.

Now, he just wonders if his wolf was among those that howled its throat raw on nights like this. He knows what’s coming, knows it’s best if he stays inside, but he braves the dusk anyway, sprinting through the forest in search of a telltale flash of gold. The air is charged, crackling sharper the darker it gets, and it pulls at him, running up his skin and down his spine.

Bucky’s heart is racing by the time he has searched all of his and the wolf’s usual spots. It’s not because of the exertion.

He doesn’t give up, keeps looking until the sun is gone and the moon glows almost bright enough to compensate. By the time he’s willing to call it quits, he’s angry and tense and physically incapable of keeping his hands off his weapons.

There’s no sign of Ste – the wolf. None except the howls that seem to chase Bucky back to his cabin.

He collapses in bed and stares up at the ceiling. He doesn’t sleep. The howling doesn’t stop.

 


 

He passes out some time near dawn. He can remember the first hint of light past the window, but when he blinks, it’s clear that it’s well past noon and there’s an ache in his back from where his knife sheath dug into the muscle all night long.

There are no whines beyond his door, none of the sounds that say something large and hulking is trying to be quiet. Steve never let him sleep in this long anyway, distressingly similar to his namesake in all the wrong ways.

Fuck.

Bucky turns his head, trying to summon the will to pry himself out of bed, and finds the bedroom door wide open. He can see the front door from here, and that’s open too. He doesn’t recall closing either last night which isn’t saying much since he barely remembers anything about the run back to the cabin except the soul-splitting howls. What matters is that there’s no glimpse of gold and blue inside or on the porch.

It’s stupid is what it is. He didn’t get attached to Carter or Romanoff even though they both gave him reason to. Carter is the same age as him, ice and all, and for all that she is a hero and Bucky anything but, her desire for a kindred spirit is obvious – obvious only because she lets it be, but that’s fine, better than the alternative. The problem is that Captain America might be a woman out of time, but she is a survivor down to the marrow of her bones; not the kind that lets life sweep her along some inexorable path, but the kind that claws herself to the bank and lives. Bucky is grateful to her for all she did, likes her even, but he doesn’t care.

Romanoff – Natalia, Natasha now – is harder, their history coming together in his mind in shards of blood and death and, inexplicably, love. It’s bittersweet now, but she was a moment of softness in a lifetime of ice and metal. She was a child when he trained her, and if Bucky was not father material, the Winter Soldier was worse, but there was something there anyway, a pale shade of family put together by two broken people. But they took that from him a long time ago and as his memories returned, he was glad she carved her own path, his little spider, but she was a piece of the past he was happy to leave behind.

Come to think of it, he was happy to leave nearly everything behind except Steve.

Figures, doesn’t it?

He should have just gone to seedy bars and picked up reedy blond boys with long fingers like normal dysfunctional people. Instead, he went and bonded with a wild wolf that's about as natural as Bucky.

It’s that rank blend of self-pity and disgust that propels him out of bed in a roll. His foot lands on something thick and soft – there’s a second where he registers it shouldn’t be there, and then a loud yelp pierces his ears and suddenly, he’s on his back on his bed with some hundred pounds of animal pinning him down.

He reaches for a knife, of course he does, but then the familiar blue of those eyes register and he’s blurting “Steve?” before he can help it.

The wolf stills, expression morphing into one that reminds him of all those videos he’s seen of people’s dogs being caught doing something they absolutely shouldn’t be doing.

“You motherfucker,” Bucky breathes and throws his arms around the giant lug that’s crushing him to death.

 


 

Once the wolf’s got a taste of Bucky’s bed, it’s impossible to get him off it.

Again, it’s reminiscent of the original Steve. He also liked to plop on Bucky and lick his neck but for one thing, human Steve weighed all of a hundred pounds and was in no danger of accidentally suffocating Bucky. For another, neck-licking in those days usually led to more fun stuff while here, it’s just wet and gross and wakes him up and generally just makes Bucky want to strangle someone, mostly himself.

He also knows himself enough to know that he doesn’t mind, not really.

He still keeps the bedroom door locked at nights, only Steve is on his side of it now, usually draped along his back like an overly hot, furry blanket. It’s almost infuriating, how comforting Bucky finds it, but only almost.

“We’re gonna have to set some house rules,” Bucky says a week after Steve’s brief vanishing act.

The damn wolf doesn’t even bother raising its head from the steak – from Bucky’s stash because he’s weak to pleading blue eyes that shade whether they come in human or wolf – he’s devouring.

“Steve,” Bucky says, very patiently and only drawing out the name a little. He’s given up on not using it. Ever since his slip up when Steve emerged from under his damned bed, the wolf has refused to answer to anything but Steve.

Steve gobbles up the last of the meat and raises his head, somehow managing to look adorable even with blood smeared on his snout.

“No random disappearances. I don’t know what Hydra did to you–” Steve growls at the name, like always, and shuffles closer to Bucky, and he’d like the gesture more if he didn’t get the feeling the wolf was trying to comfort Bucky rather than draw comfort. Could just be both, but he’s not sure. “I know, pal, I hate them too, but they’re dead and burning so who’s the winner here? Anyway, I know you’re smart, you ain’t even hiding it, so don’t fucking tell me you can’t give me some warning before you take off to do whatever weird wolf stuff you get up to. You get me?”

Steve shoves his wet nose under Bucky’s palm; it would be cuter if it didn’t get blood on him, but Bucky finds it adorable anyway because he’s a sucker. He knows Steve’s agreeing and some blood is worth it.

“Good. And–” He has to pause because he hasn’t really thought past this. Can’t really think of anything that matters. “Stop hogging the covers.”

Steve snorts, butts his snout against Bucky’s hip, and yeah, that doesn’t need any translation either.