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Steve didn't get it, not at the moment, not for years afterwards, what Bucky meant when he grabbed the shoulders of his shirt as if the wind howling past the tent would knock him over if he didn't, and said, "Oh God, they turned you into a weapon." 

The sentiment fled as the sun rose, but if Steve tried hard enough he'd be able to catch Bucky looking at him with a look on his face halfway between concerned and angry, caught in his own thoughts that he refused to share with him no matter how hard he tried. (It went away by the time Bucky noticed Steve had caught him looking.) 

 

He only comes close to understanding when he's sitting at an empty bar, alone at a table with a bottle of whiskey that started out full. He hears the soft click of heels on the wood and reaches forwards for the bottle, taking a drink and putting it back down. 

"I can't get drunk." He says, voice raw; either from crying for hours, or from the whiskey. Peggy sits on the edge of the table and looks at him for a second before putting her hand on the side of his neck. There's a part of him that knows it's supposed to be consolatory. 

"I'm sorry," She says, and he clenches his jaw, hands balled into fists on his thighs. "Steve, we have to--" 

He knows where it's going. "I'm not going to stop until all of Hydra is either dead or captured." He says it with vitriol so strong is burns his tongue, and there's a flicker of understanding there, is that what he meant? That thought alone makes his lip start to tremble again, and Peggy must catch it because she pulls him into a hug and lets him cry ugly, full bodied sobs, into her chest. He probably ruins her dress, but she doesn't say anything about it. 

 

He gets it, fully, finally, when he's standing in the middle of the street, staring at the shattered mask on the pavement, then up to the face it was covering. Bucky? he says, but what he means is oh god, they turned you into a weapon.

"Who the hell is Bucky?" He says, and it's him, it has to be him, Steve would recognize those eyes even if he were blind. Steve takes a step forwards, and Buckywhothehellisbucky dodges a missile, and then he's gone. 

Steve stands there for a second before falling onto his knees, scraping the shit out of them. "You okay?" Natasha asks, breathless, clutching her bleeding side. He doesn't have time to answer, and he doesn't think he could even if he did. 

 

He has enough common sense to understand that he has to get the chip in the helicarrier, even if Bucky is standing in his way, though fighting him, even if only defensive, goes against every grain in his body. 

"You're my friend," He says, entirely too much blood coming up with it, running hot and slick down his chin and neck, where Bucky's metal hand is intent on crushing his sternum. 

"You're my mission," Bucky yells, angry, lethal in a way Steve doesn't recognize. He feels his nose break and his first rib protest wildly. 

"Then finish it," He wheezes, and takes in a rattling breath. "Because I'm with you 'til the end of the line." 

That must strike a chord somewhere, because Steve watches his eyes go wide through blurred vision, and the weight leaves his chest, and then he's falling, passed out before he hits the water. 

 

He wakes up in a hospital room without his shield, but with Sam sitting in one of the chairs in the corner looking bored out of his mind. Steve smiles a little before he passes out again. 

When he gets home he finds his shield sitting propped up against the wall of his living room with a post it on it labeled Steve, and not even seventy years could change that handwriting. 

It's a fumble to get the words out to Sam, finding himself on his proverbial knees saying even when I had nothing I had Bucky, and Steve knows Sam well enough to know that he had a hell of a lot of skepticism tucked behind the placid agreement, when do we start.

Though, Steve thinks that Sam's the only one that really understands.

So they look, using Natasha's data dump as a field guide, leaving no stone unturned. They don't find anything, always two steps behind, breaching covert Hydra bases to find the bodies lined up, all shot execution style, the computers scrubbed and files burnt. A few days later, new Hydra information gets leaked to the public--he gets Tony to try and trace it, but it comes up inconclusive, routed through hundreds of proxy servers and VPNs and other words Steve doesn't really understand. It's like following a ghost in more ways than one. 

Sometimes Steve gets the feeling that there's eyes on him, but try as he might, he can never find them. (They disappear a few months later, and he finds himself missing them.) 

 

*

There are no more commands coming through his earpiece, is what he notices three seconds before he rips it out, crushing it under the heel of his boot. He ducks into an alley, pulling out one of his knives and rolling his sleeve up far enough for him to be able to wedge the blade under the skin of his deltoid cap and dig out the tracking implant. He throws it into a dumpster, and then, "Hey man, you okay," up behind him, he turns and grabs the other in a headlock, eyes glazed over. A choked out, "Take it easy," and then he drops his grip like he's been burned, stumbling backwards in the dark. 

His instincts kick into gear as he realizes that he's a wanted criminal and it's broad daylight. So he sticks to shadows and alleyways and finds himself the nearest empty-looking building, climbs up the back fire escape, and crawls in through a window. 

There's nothing except a decrepit couch in the middle of the room, but he still does a sweep, locking and re locking the door three times before shoving the couch against the wall with the best vantage point and ducking behind it.

He sits with his back against the corner, knees up to his chest, gun resting over them, for so long that he loses track of time, eyes flicking from the door to the window methodically. 

The building is quiet, he notices, once his fight or flight has simmered to just a baseline amount of anxiety. He does recognize the thrum of water and power through it, so he takes a chance, standing up and exiting his little corner of sentry. His shoulder is not infected, but it is throbbing. He goes over to the tiny bathroom, staying out of sight of the window, and turns the faucet. It takes a little, but clear water runs through it, eventually. 

He takes a seemingly inconsequential look at the toilet when it hits him, a wave of nausea so strong he keels over, jaw narrowly missing the edge of the toilet bowl as he grabs it with shaky hands and throws up a stomach worth of bile. 

"Shit," He says, out loud and to himself, when the back of his neck goes clammy and his vision goes blurry. "Shit." He repeats, and passes out on the floor. 

 

He loses track of how many times he wakes up only to throw up and pass out curled in the fetal position again. But this time when he opens his eyes, there's no tunnel vision, and though he's weak and dehydrated as hell, he can at least sit up without vomiting. 

So he tucks his head under the faucet and drinks (too fast at first), enough that his throat doesn't feel like it's sticking together when he breathes. He supposes the next order of business is getting in the shower, which is little more than a square of tile with a pipe sticking out about shoulder height off the wall. So he peels his sweat stiff clothes off and turns the shower on, getting under it, cold water be dammed. There's no soap, but he scrubs at his skin until it's raw and smarting. 

It's enough to kickstart his rational brain again, and he makes a list of things he absolutely needs before he does anything else, the first being food, the second being a change of clothes. So he takes to the fire escaping and scopes out an apartment that looks inhabited, silently opening the window and dropping into the kitchen. He grabs a banana and two protein bars, and a set of clothes from the closet, hoping they'll go both fit and go unnoticed, and leaves as quickly as he came. 

He eats the protein bar all at once and then promptly throws it up again, so next he opts for half of the banana, taking it slow enough for his body not to betray him. Once that proves successful he eats the rest of the banana and a quarter of the protein bar; he feels a little queasy, but nothing that suggests imminent vomit, so he counts it as a win. 

The next thing he needs, realistically, is money, so he waits until it's dark and straps all of his gear back on and takes a second to orient himself before heading to the business district. His memory is crap when it comes to anything but mission details, so it's easy to find the base and enter unnoticed. Whatever the Widow did must've caused real disarray, because there are only three agents in the base. He shoots all three of them in the back of the head, and then goes to work. 

 

He checks himself into a motel after buying two extra sets of clothes, a backpack, and a box of the same protein bars he found out he's able to stomach. He pays in cash and the clerk doesn't even give him a second look, just putting a key on the counter and scrolling through something on her phone. 

The hyper-vigilance is the last to leave, and he doesn't sleep the first night he's there. 

Two days later, he finds himself wanting to go to the museum. Want is something that is slowly coming back to him, the first of which being a cheeseburger, which he threw up nearly immediately after he ate it. This one seems like less of a disaster, so he changes into his civilian clothes, leaving one knife strapped to each thigh and one in the pocket of his jacket, and heads to the Smithsonian. 

It's there that he sees himself, or the ghost of someone that looks like him, rather, immortalized on film. He reads the glorified epitaph quickly, feeling his breathing quicken and his heart start to race. Movement catches his eye and he turns to the next panel that shows a video of him (Bucky?) and the man on the bridge talking, laughing, in another life. He finds himself standing as close as he can to it, watching it on loop, wondering if that's actually him, and if it is, why he can't remember what they were talking about. 

"He's a looker isn't he?" An older lady says, coming up to stand next to him. "That Barnes is, too." 

"What," He says, blankly, startled. She turns to look at him, and he takes a panicked step back, knowing that he must look a little too similar to the picture there. "I'm sorry," He chokes out, and all but runs out of the exhibit, pausing behind a pillar to catch his breath before straightening up and walking out, lost in the crowd. 

He locks himself in a bathroom of some nondescript gas station and braces his hands against the wall. There's graffiti there, something vulgar, but he realizes he can't read it because his eyes are welling up with tears. But the Winter Soldier doesn't cry. He takes a gasping breath as the thought hits him: he is not the winter soldier. 

 

He leaves Virginia a month later, getting cabin fever and a healthy dose of paranoia about staying in the same place for too long. He heads west, finds a house in dreadful disrepair for sale in Wyoming, and pays in cash. The man who owns it looks at it warily, eyes wide and a little nervous as he just nods and grabs the stack from him. "I don't want my name on anything, I just want to be left alone." He says, and the man raises his eyebrows in surprise. 

He ran background; Jack Willis, 84, ex Military, owns a cattle ranch thirty four miles south west of the location, three kids all of whom are away at college, wife:deceased. He's ninety-eight percent sure he's not Hydra; if the background check wasn't enough, he broke into his house and did recon and found nothing damning. Jack's dog did look at him curiously, and old brown and black thing lying on a bed near the fire place, but didn't do much but flick it's ears forwards in curiosity. 

"Alright, son." He agrees, finally, and grabs the cash. "Just between us, it's yours." Jack says, winking, and he decides he likes him. 

"What's your name anyway?"

"Grant," He says, without a second thought.

Jack holds a hand out and he eyes it before grabbing it with his right hand and shaking it. "Whoa there, that's a strong grip."  He just smiles weakly. "Be careful with the geese in the back, they're mean fuckers." 

He just nods and walks out of the little office in the barn, and walks stiffly over to his car--a piece of shit red pick up, but it blends in, and it runs, so he can't complain much. 

The cabin is in the top ten places he's had to sleep in, closer to the bottom, but definitely not the worst. It has a big bay window in the back of the house, which he avoids until he can find curtains, though it was part of the reason he chose this place. He doesn't know exactly why that matters. 

There's a tiny house across the tiny lake that worries him, but the lights stay off, and he doesn't see anyone come in, or out, so he figures it's alright. 

It takes him two weeks to be able to sleep for more than four hours in a row. 

 

He gets a toolkit and a TV and sets up wifi, because that's normal. Plus, he needs it in order to set up any sort of surveillance and security systems around the property. He also buys monitors, and cameras and a healthy amount of spray paint and wires and zipties. The giant wall of guns on the far side of the store catches his eye. He can't be too surprised; he is in the middle of rural Wyoming, after all. Not much to do here but shoot at shit. He opts for getting a hunting knife instead. 

The cashier doesn't even bat an eye at his varied purchases, just bags all of them while chattering about her horses, or something. She does raise an eyebrow when he pays for all of it in cash, but goes right back to her amicable small talk as she counts his change out. 

 

It's eerily quiet in the Wyoming wilderness, he discovers. So he takes to turning the TV on and playing it on a low volume just so he doesn't go completely insane. He finds the Food Network the most interesting and least triggering. 

 

He's fixing a particularly leaky part of the roof over the kitchen when he sees a truck rolling up the drive, he's sure that inside the sensors he set up along the entrance of the driveway are lighting up like a parade. He recognizes it as Jack's truck, so he doesn't panic, but he does reach for the glove on his belt and slides it over his left hand, making sure his sleeve is tucked into it.

"Grant!" Jack yells once he's out of the car. "You know what yer doin' up there?" 

"Yessir," He answers, pulling a stunted nail out of a rotted piece of wood. 

"Well, you get down here, I need'a ask you somethin'." Jack says, and he sets the hammer down before jumping off the roof. Jack looks at him slack jawed before shaking his head and fixing the hat on his head. "Oh the wonders of bein' young," He mutters to himself and then looks up. "You good with animals?" 

He blinks. "I don't know, sir." 

"Well, you're boutta find out." Jack says, a pleased little smile on his face under his white mustache, and he walks back to his truck, opening the door of the cab, letting out a dog. It's all golden brown and white, but there's no white around the eyes, so he assumes it's younger than the one he saw at Jack's house. It's wearing a piece of fabric around it's neck that has some sort of bird on it. 

"What," He says, taking a step back when the dog trots over to him. 

"She's smart as a whip, that one. She's a pit-retriever, and I can't take her, but I couldn't just leave her at the shelter, you know." Jack says, whistling for the dog to come back to him, which it does, obediently sitting at his feet and licking his hand. 

"Okay?" 

Jack shrugs and gives the dog's ears a rub. "Figured you could use some company. She ain't got a name yet, so." 

"I don't--" He says warily, but Jack's already getting back in his truck. The dog stays where it is. 

"You take care of yourself Grant, don't work too hard." Jack says, winking and sticking a hand out the window in a wave as he manages a three point turn, and then drives off the property, leaving him alone with the dog. 

"What the hell," He says, and the dog tilts it's head to the side, tongue lolling out of it's mouth. "I'll be damned," He says when he realizes that the dog is cute. "Alright, come on, dog." He says, and starts back towards the house, pleased to see that the dog follows behind him happily. 

He grabs a bowl and fills it with tap water and sets it on the floor. The dog stands up and laps it up happily. "You stay here." He says, and the dog's ears flick forwards in acknowledgement. He finishes the roof before it's dark, and goes in to make himself dinner when he realizes that he doesn't have any dog food. 

He makes the drive down to the market, and stands in front of the aisle labelled  dog food for a solid ten minutes before sighing exasperatedly and grabbing the bag that has a dog that looks similar to the one at his house and pays for it, cash. 

He eyeballs a scoop and pours it into one of the same bowls he eats out of, setting it on the floor as he eats his own dinner (food isn't extravagant yet, but rice and chicken beats bananas and saltines any day). 

When the sun goes down and he gets into bed, the dog jumps up and curls into a ball at the foot of the bed. He stares at it, and it must notice because it looks up at him, ears flicking. "Alright." He says, resigned, and lies down.

(He wakes up with the dog lying next to him, it's head over his stomach.)   

 

He goes back to the pet store a few days later, the dog walking happily beside him as he gets the laundry list of things the internet told him that a dog needed. A little girl waddles up the them and says "Hey mister, can I pet your doggie?" He can't figure why not. Her mom come finds her later, scooping her up and giving him an appreciative once over before saying 'sweetie you can't just pet pitbulls'. It makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up and he can't help himself when he snaps 'she's a mix.', leaving the mom and her kid standing alone in the aisle.

So now the house is more the dog's than his, even though he hasn't given it a name yet. He doesn't know why that stone refuses to turn. But it comes when he whistles, so he figures a name can wait. 

 

He's fixing the washing machine when the news catches his ear. Something about a floating city and the Avengers, and robots. He changes the channel before his throat can close completely. 

 

*

 

"I can't keep doing this," Steve admits, quiet, in the dark room of the med bay. He can move his toes now, which is a good sign, he supposes. 

"Sir?" Friday says, a single blue light on the ceiling. 

Steve doesn't answer right away.

"Said I can't keep doing this. I need--I need," Panic creeps up his throat and he hears the heart rate monitor speed up. He tries to take a few gasping breaths, though his lungs still aren't playing for the team yet, before nurses rush in and see what's wrong. "I need a vacation. Permanently." Steve chokes out right before his heart rate spikes too high and two nurses rush in to give him a sedative. 

 

His spinal cord is mostly okay now, the doctors say, but his range of motion is still very poor, caveat of the nine pins holding his back together. Tony talks him through the EMS and all of the strengthening exercises he's supposed to do, but he also includes a written version, which Steve would much rather read. 

"You're sure about this?" Tony asks, and Steve nods. 

"Yes." 

"It's the middle of nowhere, Cap." 

Steve shrugs, wincing a little. "S'what I need. For now, at least." 

 

Four days later, he's pulling up to the podunk little house at the edge of the lake in a car that is much too flashy and self driving for his taste thanks Tony. It gets him a lot of stares from the locals. 

Walking is painful and still slow, but he makes it out of the car with his luggage in one hand and a cane in the other, and up the front stairs of the house. He has to stop, lean against the doorstop, and catch his breath, and then he gets out the keys, his right hand still a little weak, and opens the door. 

When he gets to the bed he's lightheaded and his vision is blurry, so he dry swallows three pain killers even though he's supposed to take them with food, and is out like a light. 

The cabin may look rundown, but trust Tony to have made it extremely secure and too high tech for Steve to actually care about. The important thing is that the security is top of the line, so Steve can afford to just laze around while his spine puts itself together again. Apparently not even the serum can fix eight shattered vertebrae and a fractured femur and all of his internal organs overnight. 

By the first week in, he's a little more comfortable with walking, and can manage the walk down the the lake without wanting to double over in pain. On his third walk he's lucid enough to notice the other house across the water. He gets a vague memory of Tony telling him that he had a neighbor, that he refused to sell or even meet with Tony when he anonymously put in an offer. There's nothing in him that has the desire to drive much less walk across the lake to go investigate, though he does notice that the light turns on, only for a few hours, right after sunset. 

He's drinking tea out on his back porch in the dark, after one of his mandated video scans with a doctor to make sure everything is still fine (it is) when he sees the light flick on, and the hazy outline of a human appears on the porch, followed by a dark streak that beelines towards the water. Steve hears the distant splash, and the even more distant dumb dog. 

That makes him sit up, and he strains to hear something, anything again, but as soon as they came, he hears a whistle, more splashing, and then the light flicks off. His heart thunders in his chest, and he leans back against the chair. He's on a lot of medication, and is liable to be making things up. That's all it is. 

 

 

 

Jack comes by once in a while with his old dog, who's tail stands up straight behind it in a semblance of a wag when it sees the other dog. They play in the yard while Jack tells him about life on the farm. It's nice. 

"What's her name?" Jack asks, and he just looks at the dog, rolled onto it's back in front of the older dog, begging for it to play. 

"Name?" 

"Yeah, her name." Jack says, looking at him weird. He just blinks. "Aw come on now, Grant, you ain't given her a name?" 

He looks back over at the dog and shakes his head. "Not so good with names." He says, honest. 

Jack hums, looking at the dog for a while. "Just think of something, you know, don't gotta be thoughtful. Can't just go 'round calling just her dog now, can ya?" 

He frowns a little and whistles. The dog turns over onto it's feet and shakes off before trotting up the stairs and sits at his feet before sitting up and putting its front paws on his lap. "Valkyrie." He says, his hands on her neck, and the name feels familiar, important, though he doesn't know how. 

"Alright." Jack says, looking at her and nodding. "Valkyrie it is." He gives her a pat.

 

Something about that must've been a trigger, because his subconscious periphery is filled with images of chapped lips and hard elbows, and the smell of paint and later but still the same, redwhiteandblue-- He bends over, elbows on the counter and takes a breath. Valkyrie sits up from where she's sitting on the couch and whine-barks at him. He takes another breath. "I knew him." He says, pitiful, an affirmation of something he knows as well as his bones. 

Valkyrie doesn't say anything, why would she, she's a dog, but she does tilt her head at him and paws at the back of the couch. 

 

The light in the house across the lake turns on, and he feels all of the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. 

Valkyrie whines and presses her nose to his thigh, making him snap out of it and look down at it. She sits and tilts her head, fixing him with a calm gaze. "What?" He asks, and she just yawns. Well that's a good sign, he figures if something were wrong, the dog would tell him as much through her behavior. He crouches and puts both hands on either side of her neck. "You're a good dog." He says, and her ears flick up, lips parting in one of those goofy looking smiles. She licks his face, and he scrunches his nose up, but smiles anyways. "Let's go play in the lake." 

The lake makes the dog's fur wet and stinky and her paws get covered in mud and water-gunk, but she gets happy and yippy and tries to eat the splashes, so he indulges it. It makes him smile, too. The baths afterwards are his favorite, though the tub ends up covered in dog fur despite how closed cropped it is and he has to towel her dry before they can go to sleep. There's something humanizing about it. 

 

 

 

 

Steve can make it to the mailbox now, which is no small task, since it's nearly half a mile down the dirt driveway. There is, predictably, no mail other than the newspaper, but its a worthy exercise and it lets him procrastinate his physical therapy exercises. Walking counts, right? 

His phone rings when he gets back into the house, and he slides to answer even though there's no caller ID. Only three people have this number, so he's not worried. "Hello?" 

"Steve!" Natasha says excitedly from the other end. 

"Tasha," He says fondly, throwing the paper on the counter and going to sit at the kitchen table. 

"How's retirement?" She asks, and he laughs a little opening his sketch book to where he left it last night. 

He shrugs and looks over the drawings; a few of the lake, some of the mountains, some dogs, a whole lot of Bucky. "Boring. But I s'pose that's what I need, huh?" 

Natasha snorts. "Yeah, Steve, you of all people needed boring." She's being sarcastic, he knows this. "Anyways, the only person that knows your exact location is Tony, which, I have no idea why they'd trust him with that, but how much you wanna bet I can find you within a month?" 

Steve smiles and twirls the pencil in his fingers, albeit a bit clumsily. "You need some boring?" 

"Nah, just need something fun to do." She says, and though he can't see her, he knows the wicked smile on her face. 

"Alright, amuse yourself. I gotta go though," He says, feeling exhaustion creep it's way up his back to around his neck. 

"Go take a nap, old man." She says, playful, but Steve knows her well enough to know she cares. 

 

Today, he'll make it around the lake. Or, he'll try. His back doesn't hurt so bad anymore, but lots of movement just makes him tired, and tiredness exacerbates pain. Or something. He's got another few months before the pins have to come out, so he figures he might as well spend some of it outside. 

It's September, so it's not too cold yet, but the flowers are still blooming. So he grabs his sketchbook and a pencil, and his abhorred cane just in case, and walks out the back. 

 

 

Someone is sitting about five hundred yards from his back porch. "What is he doing," He mumbles to himself, peeking out the window to eye the man. He's just sitting in the grass near some flowers. If he squints he can see that he's holding a book. There's a part of him that panics a little, but Valkyrie scratches at the back door to be let out. Besides, if the man were on some sort of recon, then he would have seem him move his mouth, or gaze skyward, or be wearing a watch, but no. He's just sitting there. With his book. 

Valkyrie whines again, and he sighs, standing up and walking over to the door. "Alright, Val." He says, and opens the door. She rockets out to the yard and sniffs around before peeing and then running back up to him, circling his legs and then running off in the direction of the man, looking behind her all the while to make sure he's following. "I'm coming, dog." He mutters, laughing a bit and continuing the walk. 

 

A dog trots up to him and snaps him out of his drawing induced haze. "Hey there," Steve says, closing his sketchbook and setting it on the ground next to him before extending a hand for the dog to smell. It sniffs his hand curiously and then gives it a lick before sniffing at his face, tail wagging happily. "Where's your collar, sweet girl, hm?" He asks, reaching a hand out to smooth over her neck, and she takes the opportunity to put her paws up on his chest, knocking him onto his back and lick his face. 

"Val, you leave that man alone!" A voice--Bucky?--calls out across the field, and Steve scrambles to sit up, his back all but screaming at him. He looks over to where the voice came from and he's still a little too far away, and he's wearing a long sleeve shirt, and his hair is longer, but it's him. Steve knows it better than he knows his own name. "Val!" He calls again, and the dog licks Steve's arm one more time before running over to him. 

He's close enough now for Steve to make out his face, and yeah, it's definitely him. He stands up, wincing a little and he stops in his tracks. "Bucky?" 

 

Bucky?

He swallows and looks over to where Valkyrie is chasing her tail a ways away. He tucks his shaking hands into his pockets. 

"Sorry," He says, taking a step back. "She likes people." He clears his throat and takes another step back. 

The man wipes his hands on his jeans and opens his mouth before closing it again. "Not much like her owner, huh?" He forces a smile. 

"No," He says before whistling for Valkyrie. She emerges from some bushes and trots right past the man to put her paws up on his thighs. He's not one to let her, but this is an exception. "Don't...get lost." He says, and turns on his heels before walking back to his house. 

He locks the door behind them and lets out a shaky breath, stumbling forwards to the counter, bracing his hands against it. He closes his eyes and that brings on a comic strip of flowers on a gravestone, a chunk of snow pressed to a bleeding nose, a chocolate bar broken between friends. Then boots in mud, a train, a train, the train-- falling, metal against flesh, a car crash, the man on the bridge coughing up blood saying--

He doesn't realize he's fallen onto his knees until he feels Valkyrie licking his face, whining softly. He takes a labored breath and holds onto her neck for a few before sitting back into his ankles. She whines and puts a paw on his leg. "I know, sweet girl." He says, soft in a way he didn't know he had in him. 

He stays there for another minute and does some recollecting: the man sitting in the flowers had a beard, the man on the bridge did not. The man in the flowers favored his right leg, the man on the bridge didn't. He wishes, fleetingly but not for the first time, that his brain wasn't a stick-and-poke disaster. 

Valkyrie licks his face, and he sighs. "Alright," 

 

 

It's another sleepless night then; insomnia like he hasn't felt in months, the fire crawling under his skin like he's being punished for forgetting something important. He sighs and sits up, feet touching the cool wood floor. Valkyrie lifts her head in confusion as he stands and walks out of the room to the kitchen. 

He stops in front of the back facing window, the one that looks over the lake and drew him here in the first place. He thinks in a different world where his hands were made for anything except killing, it'd be a nice place to sit and draw. That tugs on something in the back of his brain, a pulley attached to nothing. He rolls his neck to try and get rid of it, and pours himself a glass of water. 

He goes back to stand in the open arms of the window and thinks, first, that he should get blackout curtains, and second of the man in the flowers. Something about him is excruciatingly familiar--if his brain were worth a nickel he'd say he looked like the man on the bridge. The correction to the name comes a second later. This one has a beard, however. He does his best to try and superimpose the two (three) versions that flit around his brain with no orbit, and all that does it give him a headache. 

He finishes the water, sighs, and casts a pointed glare in the direction of the house across the lake through the curtains, invisible in the rural darkness, and goes back to bed. 

 

Steve wrestles with the thought of calling Sam for a solid hour and a half, before exhaling and putting the phone down. If Bucky really is out here, then it's for a reason. Hell, why else would he choose a random cabin in the middle of the Wyoming wilderness if he didn't want to be left alone. It's a cruel twist of faith, he thinks, being less than a mile from him and not being able to do anything about it. 

Steve six months ago would've kicked down the door and taken no prisoners; Steve now can't even make it a mile without needing to take a breather. He thinks Bucky would call it karma for being such a reckless shit for his entire life, and isn't that a stinger. 

He rubs his eyes before taking a breath and walking into the bedroom to finally get around to using the fancy EMS Tony gave him. 

 

He decides he hates his hair. It hangs too long around his face, making the hollows of his face look darker. It brings back painful memories of black grease paint and a mask. So it's then, with shaky breaths that he grabs one of his knives and hacks off the offending locks. Its harder to cut the closer he gets to his head, but when he's done, he looks much more like a person than a ghost story. He meets his reflection's eyes and blinks. He looks a lot like one James B. Barnes (born March 10, 1917). There's a lump in his throat that wasn't there when he started, and he takes a step back. He wonders if this is all that separates the man in the flowers from the man on the bridge. 

 

He goes back out to sit by the lake a few days later. Not that anyone asks, but Steve's really just going because it has a better view of the mountains. Certainly not because it's right next to Bucky's house (Bucky?). 

He's breathing heavier than he likes when he sits down, but no one's around to notice, so he doesn't harp on it. He flips through his sketchbook, past probably too many half-drawings of Bucky, and lands on the spread he started a few days prior. It's hard to not stare at the cabin, but he manages. 

 

The man is back in the flowers. He glares at him through the window, frustrated, curious, but then just goes back to fixing the floor in the room next to the kitchen. It's a few hours of easy, mindless work. When he passes by the window, the man is still there. He's moved now though, sitting closer to the lake. He eyes the sky, dark and angry, pregnant with the promise of a storm, and then looks back at the man. He seems oblivious to the incoming rainfall. 

He sighs and wrestles with what to do; there's a big part of him that tells him to just walk away, that bringing this ambiguous might-be memory into the house is asking for a pipe to burst. There's an even bigger, more visceral part that yearns to march right out the door and grab him by the back of the shirt, even put him over his shoulder and carry him inside before he gets wet. Cold rain and bad lungs don't go together. He doesn't know why that's relevant, but he thought of it anyways. 

He looks at Valkyrie where she's sitting on the ridiculously big bed he bought her from the pet store, chewing on a tennis ball. "Wanna go outside?" He says, and her ears prick up before she bolts to the door. Her tail catches her eye and she chases it for a second. He laughs and wipes his hands off on his jeans before opening the door and letting her out. 

Predictably, she sniffs at some plants before squatting to pee, and then jumps full on into the lake. He watches her swim around for while leaning against the doorjamb. He's debating whistling for her when she gets a little too far into the middle of the lake, but then she makes a sharp turn and makes a landing right in front of the man, shaking off and trotting right up to him. He watches as a smile breaks his face, and it hits something right behind his chest. Like gravity, he finds himself walking over. 

Curiosity may kill this cat. 

 

The dog's soaking wet and muddy, but Steve can't help but let her try and climb into his lap and lick his face. 

"I'm sorry," Bucky (Bucky?) says, walking up to him. "She thinks she's a lap dog, Val, get off.

"No, it's alright she--" Steve starts, his hands in the wet neck scruff fur, but his words get caught in his throat when he looks up. And this time, without a shadow of a doubt, he's sure it's Bucky. His mouth falls open and he clears his throat. "Sorry--you look like someone I used to know." 

Bucky crouches next to him and eyes him like he's trying to decide if he knows him or not. "I know," Bucky says, cautious, and Steve's heart rate soars. "I'm not...the same." 

Steve's eyes water and he feels his bottom lip tremble treacherously. "That's alright." Bucky's dog licks his face. "Neither am I." He looks up at him, and gets hit by a painful wave of nostalgia disguised as nausea. 

"It's gonna rain. And you have a cane" He says, and Steve has a feeling he missed the first part of that sentence. 

"What?" 

"I asked if you wanted to come inside." He says, and looks down at the ground before standing up. He holds a hand down to him. Steve looks up at him and for a second thinks he's dreaming. 

"You sure?" 

"No, but I'm asking anyways." He says, and Steve cracks a smile, and takes his hand. The metal is, surprisingly, warm to the touch. He winces a little as he stands. He bends over to grab his dumbass cane, though he doesn't think he'll need to use it. "You gonna make it, or do I need to carry you?" 

"Jesus," Steve says, laughing a little and resisting the urge to shove him. "Yeah, I can make it." 

Bucky raises an eyebrow and takes a step forwards. "Alright, you just tell me if your knees call it quits."

"God, I missed you." Steve says before he can stop himself. Bucky's shoulders tense for a second before they go lax and he looks over his shoulder, presumably at his dog, who is rubbing her face into a patch of grass. "Sorry," 

"S'okay." He he says, quietly, before whistling and starting off to the house. 

He slows his strides so that Steve can keep up with him, and it gives him painful deja vu. 

Lo and behold, as soon as they make it under the awning of the back porch, it starts to rain. "Huh," Steve says, looking out at the downpour. "You were right." 

"Come on, before you catch a cold." He says, and Steve watches as he frowns a little, as if he knows that piece doesn't fit in this particular puzzle anymore, but steps inside anyways. Steve does as he's told, walking into the warm cabin and setting his cane down against the wall. 

"How long you been here?" Steve asks, looking around the bare but still lived in room. 

"Few months, I think. Maybe more. Probably more." Bucky says, closing the door and taking his shoes off. Steve looks down at his own boots and toes them off. "Time, at the beginning, was a bit fuzzy." He says, and it makes Steve want to cry. "Real non-linear." He adds, and walks over to the front door, checking to see that it's locked before walking back into the kitchen. "How 'bout you? Fury send you to spy on me?" He asks, and Steve can't tell if he's joking or not. 

"No," He says, setting his sketchbook on the counter. "Fury's retired. I'm retired." 

Bucky raises an eyebrow. "That's not like you." 

Steve's heart skips around the fact that he remembers enough to know that and he smiles. "Well, when you get nearly cut in half by a sentient asshole robot, you tend to get your paradigm shifted." He says. 

"What," Bucky deadpans, and Steve just sighs before rucking up his shirt a little and revealing the pink scar that wraps around his stomach right above his bellybutton and up his spine. "Jesus Christ," He says, walking over to take a closer look as if he can't believe it. "You--you," He seethes and grabs his face. 

Steve hates himself for recoiling at the touch, and just as soon as it's there, it's gone, his hands balled into fists at his sides. The room is suddenly filled with seven decades of stolen time. 

Bucky clenches his jaw and takes a step back. "I'm going to give Valkyrie a bath." He says, and turns on his heels, walking down the hall. Valkyrie follows him, her paws leaving little wet spots on the wood behind her. Just like that, the moment is gone. 

Steve just stands there in the kitchen, alone with his thoughts for a few minutes before making it over to the couch. It looks like it's seen better days, but sitting beats standing. The rain on the roof drowns out the sound of the faucet running in the bathroom, but Steve strains to listen anyways. 

About fifteen minutes later, a slightly damp Valkyrie trots out of the hallway and onto the cushion by the corner, digging at it for a second before rubbing her face and then her entire flank on it. Bucky emerges a few seconds later, wiping his hands on his towel. He looks less troubled, and Steve finds himself smiling at him. He's got no doubt that he has the dopiest, fondest look on his face ever. 

"She's real cute, Buck." He says, and Bucky looks over at him. 

"Yeah," He agrees, and throws the towel onto the counter. "She's smart." He says categorically. 

Steve nods and watches warily as Bucky rounds the couch and sits on the opposite side of it. It's silent for a few minutes save the rain, until Bucky clears his throat. "Sorry. This is weird." 

Steve shakes his head. "It's not--" 

"Steve," He says, and Steve goes quiet. "It's weird. I just--you were just sitting out there. In my flowers. For hours. And it was going to rain and you--you have bad lungs. Or you did. I don't know--the order of things is all..." He gestures vaguely at his head. "Mixed up." 

Steve's lip starts trembling again. "I used to." He says, and Bucky looks at him. "Before--before the war." 

Bucky nods, as if that fits his timeline. "You used to be smaller." Steve nods. "Your mom's name was Sarah." He adds, ball rolling, and Steve is unabashedly crying, now. "You used to put newspapers in your shoes." Steve sniffles, and Bucky looks over at him. "I read about you in a museum." He says quietly, by way of explanation, and Steve smiles. 

"Did you?" 

Bucky nods. "Read about me, too. What kinda name is Buchanan, anyways?" 

Steve laughs at that, and when Bucky smiles at him, Steve's sixteen again. "You're okay?" 

Bucky thinks about that for a second before nodding. "I'm not actively murdering people or getting tortured, so...yeah, mostly." 

"Buck," Steve starts, but Bucky just rolls his eyes. 

"I'm fine, Steve, look at me, having a conversation with you without trying to kill you, like an adult." He's smiling, and Steve supposes he should smile, too. So he does. They look at each other for probably way too long to be considered normal, but then again Steve figures nothing about them could be considered normal. 

"Tell me something," Buck says, finally, bringing one leg up onto the couch, turning so that his chest is facing Steve. That gesture in itself is enough to make him want to start crying again. 

"Like what?"

He shrugs and leans against the armrest. "Something true." Valkyrie must notice the gesture because she stands up, shakes, and jumps up onto the couch, lying between Bucky's legs, resting her head on his knee. 

Steve thinks for a second, rifling through the plethora of memories before picking one. "You taught me how to dance after we went to see Casa Blanca for the second time." He says, smiling. "You tried to teach me how to do a dip and you almost dropped me and I didn't talk to you for like, a week." 

He looks up to see Bucky looking at him thoughtfully. If he tries he thinks he could call it fond, but he doesn't want to reach. "I don't think I remember how to dance." 

"That's okay." Steve says, his throat catching a little. "I can teach you." 

Bucky looks up at him and smiles. "You can barely walk, punk." 

Steve grins and shrugs. "Sometimes you gotta run first." 

Bucky smiles, a little exasperated, and laughs. "I missed you," He says, putting a hand in his hair and shaking his head, still smiling. "Even when I didn't know you, I missed you." Steve makes a little pained sound and Valkyrie looks up at him and tilts her head before stretching out far enough for her front paws to touch Steve's thigh. 

Bucky clears his throat. "I'm gonna make dinner. M'fraid I can't eat anything too exciting yet but, uh--" 

"S'okay. The meds I'm on don't really agree with anything exciting." Steve says, and Bucky smiles at him. "D'you need help?" 

He gets up from the couch and walks over to the kitchen and fixes Steve with a look that' enough to make his knees wobble even while sitting down. "Nah, you can just sit there and look pretty." 

Steve blushes so suddenly and fervently that he has to look away. He misses the confused look that parades itself across Bucky's face for a fleeting second, like he's not exactly sure where that came from. 

 

There's a TV in the room, though by the looks of the remote on the mantle, it doesn't get used often. Steve asks if Bucky cares what they watch and he says no, but then after a minute of considering says I don't want to watch the news or war movies. Steve figures that's fair; he's not a big fan of war movies, either. So he looks through Netflix (which, he needs to ask how Bucky went about deciding that he wanted an account int he first place) until he finds something that sounds harmless enough. He's never seen an episode of The Office, but he's heard Sam talk about it enough to know that it's just harmless satire. 

He goes back to grab his sketchbook before sitting back on the couch, putting himself at an angle where he's able to still see Bucky and balance the book on his thigh. He's too engrossed in drawing him chopping an onion to realize that Bucky's been paying attention to the TV, because he laughs. 

"This is a stupid show." He says as he turns to put the vegetables in the pan. He's smiling, though. 

Steve looks at the TV and shrugs. "Sam likes it." 

"The bird?" Bucky says, nonchalant. Steve can't help the choked out cackle. Bucky turns to look at him, faux confusion on his face. "He's not a bird?" 

Steve can't answer, because he's in both stitches and tears. It must cause a scene, because Valkyrie comes up to him and sniffs him, her tail held up straight behind her. 

"You're freaking my dog out, can you relax?" Bucky says, amused, and Steve manages to catch his breath. 

"Sorry, yeah, t-the bird." He says, and a few last giggles escape him. Valkyrie whine-barks at him, and he puts a hand on her head. He realizes then that he hasn't laughed like that in far too long. 

 

It's not until much later, after they've eaten and once Steve's asleep stretched across the couch that Bucky gets an overwhelming sense of deja vu. It's like he's watching a black and white picture of someone he used to be, lying on a shitty twin mattress with an arm looped around one of Steve's thighs, his head resting against his stomach. 

"What're you looking at?" Steve mumbles, eyes still closed, and Bucky nearly jumps out of his skin. 

"Sorry I thought,--Jesus, sorry." He says, and Steve laughs a little, sleep rumbly from deep in his chest. 

"If you wanna kiss me so bad, James Buchanan, you better just do it." Steve says, finally opening his eyes to look at him. 

Bucky has a feeling he's heard it before--it's too familiar for him to not have. "I don't--I mean, that's not, uh." He stutters, and Steve just raises an eyebrow at him. Hell, maybe he does want to kiss him. He's never been one to back down from a challenge (or at least he doesn't think so). So he sets his jaw and walks across the small living room, unabashedly falling to his knees at the edge of the couch and grabbing Steve's face. 

He thinks for all of his years lost, that the kiss would be clumsy and awkward, but save the little pleased and surprised sound from Steve, it's like falling into old habits. So much so that Steve's pulling him up onto the couch by the back of his shirt, hands on his chest pushing him back so that Steve's sitting across his thighs. 

And this--this he knows like the back of his hand; some things can't be unlearned. 

Steve pulls away, taking a breath that borders a gasp. "Jesus," 

"No, just me." Bucky says, and Steve's grin comes with an eye roll. Bucky's hands are under his shirt, and his thumb is brushing the raised edge of the scar around his middle. It makes him think. "You said you have to take meds?" 

Steve hums a little and kisses him again. "Just for pain." He says, face in the rise of Bucky's neck. Bucky hums and rubs his thumbs into Steve's skin a few times. "S'fine, Buck, I promise." 

"Why do I feel like I've heard that before?" He says, and Steve bites his bottom lip, sheepish. 

"Cause you have." He admits, and laughs. "I don't have to take 'em. Just if it hurts." 

"And does it?" He asks. "Hurt?" 

Steve shrugs. "Not so much." 

Bucky tries to remember what pain like that felt like, but instead he just gets a whole lot of nothing. Maybe getting put in an ice chamber did some good things for his arm. Who knows. "Sounds like you're lying." He decides he should be the responsible one here, since Steve seems intent on doing the exact opposite.

Steve huffs and sits back. "Buck, I took a big enough hit to retire. 'Course it fuckin' hurts. Just not bad enough to have to regularly take medication." He says, crossing his arms. There's a stubborn set to his mouth, and boy does Bucky recognize that. 

"Alright." He resigns, a metaphorical white flag of truce. "You need me to walk you home?" 

Steve's eyebrows lift. "Fuck no. I'm not going anywhere. You can show me where your room is, though." He says, and Bucky blinks. "If that's okay." He adds, quiet and unsure. 

Bucky thinks for a second, and then shrugs. "Can't see why not. It's not like we've never done it before." He says, and Steve beams at him before leaning forwards to wrap his arms around Bucky's shoulders, his face pressed into his neck. "You gonna get off?" 

"No," Steve mumbles, and Bucky laughs, doesn't know why he was expecting anything less. 

"Alright," He says and sits up, taking Steve with him. He gets his arms around his thighs and stands up easily. Steve crosses his ankles behind his back. 

"Goll-y Sergeant Barnes, you sure are strong." Steve coos, and Bucky snorts. 

"I'm not above dropping you." He cautions, and Steve laughs, still clinging to him like a koala. Valkyrie follows them down the hall, her nails clicking against the wood. Bucky has half a mind of just dropping Steve onto the bed, but he remembers the scars, and thinks better of it. 

"Seems you are above dropping me." Steve says, leaning against the wall and looking up at him, eyes wide as saucers, like he's trying to wide angle the scene and memorize every detail. 

Bucky narrows his eyes at him but pats his cheek anyways, standing up and making to walk out of the room. Steve catches his wrist. "Where are you going?" He asks, panic eking into his voice. 

"I'm just gonna let Val out." Bucky says, and Steve takes a breath before nodding and letting go. 

It's dead quiet outside when he does it, the rain having stopped about an hour ago. In foresight, he grabs a rag, and waits in the doorway. The rectangle of light from inside only gives him a narrow field of vision, but if he strains, he can see the outline of his dog out in the grass.

He scoops her up easily in his left arm before she walks into the house, wiping each of her paws, shutting the door behind them with his foot. She wiggles a little and he just kisses her forehead before setting her down, where she shakes, takes a few laps of water, and then takes off down the hallway, no doubt to go lie on Steve. She likes him.

Bucky smiles as he locks the backdoor and switches off the lights, checking the front door to make sure it's locked, and then ducking into the pantry turned security office and checking the cameras. Everything seems normal; no alerts except a squirrel or two. He checks them again, and the hair on the back of his neck finally goes back down. 

He turns off all the lights and finally walks into his bedroom, where he finds Steve lying on his side with his face in Valkyrie's neck and his arms around her. She lifts her head to look over at him, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth before she squirms a little. He holds out a hand, stay, and she does, flopping back down onto the mattress. Steve makes a pleased little sound and pushes her face farther into her fur. 

It's painfully endearing, and Bucky feels an unnamable feeling spread through his chest and out to his hands, well, one of them, anyways. 

 

It's dark and quiet when Steve speaks up. "Why'd you name her Valkyrie?" 

"Dunno," Bucky says, honest. "Just came to me. Why?" 

It's quiet again, and he feels Steve move on the bed. There's enough space between them now, Val having moved to the end of the bed, as per usual. He feels a hand touch the inside of his forearm, feather light. "That was the name of the ship. That I...landed. In the ocean." 

"That you kamikazed into the ocean," Bucky corrects. Steve lifts his fingers. 

"You fell and I followed." He says, voice like ice cracking in water. 

Bucky turns to his side and in one motion grabs Steve by the back of the neck and pulls him close. His hands go around his middle, and it's so familiar Bucky wonders how he ever forgot it. 

"I woke up and you were gone you were dead and I--I had to just figure it out." Steve says, muffled, his hands digging into the line of Bucky's spine erectors. "And then y-you came b-ack, and," He takes a breath, crying in earnest now.

"Steve," He says, a plea, or maybe a prayer, what's the difference anyways. He puts a hand on the back of his neck and tries to hold him tighter, tries to put too many years worth of apologies into his touch. 

"They made you into a weapon," He says, angry, fingers touching the mass of scar tissue around his left shoulder. 

"There is no they anymore." Bucky says, resolute, and Steve sniffles. 

"Doesn't make it alright." 

"No," He agrees, and Steve sniffles again before pulling back so they can look at each other. Steve puts a hand on his face, thumb running over his cheekbone softly. 

"Do you think this time it'll stick?" He asks, and Bucky doesn't understand. He asks what he means, and Steve just smiles. "You and me." 

That same unnamed feeling surges up through his chest, tidal wave unstoppable. "God, baby, it better." 

 

 

 

Steve hasn't gone home except to get his pain medication in over two weeks. Bucky thinks it's a good thing that they're more or less the same size now, so they can just share clothes. He tries to think of how it would've played out if Steve were still tiny, and all he gets is an image of collarbones sticking out from the too big collar of a jacket, and he can't think straight for the rest of the day. 

The first time Bucky goes out to get food and other such necessities, he does it alone. The second time, he figures they're in the middle of nowhere enough to go out together. Though he does don a hat and shove a beanie over Steve's head. He also hands him a pair of fake glasses, and as soon as he sees him in them, he takes them off. 

"Hey," Steve says, frowning. "You don't like me in glasses?" 

"No," Bucky says stubbornly, wiping the lens with his shirt. 

"Ah," Steve says, resting his chin on his shoulder and kissing his cheek. "You like me too much in glasses." 

"Shut up," Bucky says, putting them on himself, making for the door. "Can't be inconspicuous when you're lookin' like that. No one out here is that cute." He says, and Steve beams at him before leaning in for a kiss. 

 

"You know, I might like you too much in glasses, too." Steve says once they're in the car, and Bucky nearly pulls a very illegal u-turn. It's only the thought of the pitifully empty fridge that makes him stay on the right side of the road.  

 

He leaves Steve to pick out the food stuff, tells him he'll meet him in the car, and goes one block over to the little art store he scoped out a few days before. It's quaint, but he figures something is better than nothing. 

"I don't know if it's all right," Bucky says, showing Steve the new sketchbook and pack of absurdly expensive markers he got him once they're home. The look Steve gives him is worth it's weight in gold. He ends up dragging a chair over to the big window and so Steve can sit there drawing for hours, and it makes sense then, why he was so drawn to it in the first place. 

 

"I wanna go swimming." Steve decides, loudly, and at the sound of that, Valkyrie's ears prick up. Bucky looks out the window into the October night sky, and laughs. 

"Sun's not even out." He says, and Steve crosses his arms. 

"So?" 

"So, the water's probably fucking cold." Bucky says, clipping the stems to the flowers Steve got them earlier. 

"So what," Steve says, flippant, and takes his shirt off. "I'm goin." 

Bucky looks over at him and rolls his eyes, grabbing a vase and filling it with water. "Enjoy swimming in the gross lake by yourself." He puts the flowers in the water and sets the full vase on the counter. The flowers feel out of place in the otherwise bare house, but he still likes them. 

"I will," Steve says, and Bucky does a double take as he shimmies out of his sweats so he's just in briefs, and walks right out the back door. It snaps shut behind him before Val can make it through and she barks impatiently at Bucky. 

"Jesus," Bucky says, mostly to himself, and grabs two towels out of the linen closet before walking out to the porch. He doesn't let Val through, because he does not want to deal with both a cold and wet Steve and a cold wet dog. It takes a second for his eyes to adjust.

Sure enough, Steve's already waded out to the middle of the lake, ducking under water and then coming up to float on his back. "Will you please come back inside?" He calls, and Steve laughs. 

"No, I'm enjoying myself." He says back, and Bucky sighs, rubbing his eyes before systematically undressing down to his boxers and marching out to the lake. It takes a second to steel himself before he walks in, the water pricklingly freezing against his skin in a way that's a little too familiar. But Steve is wading towards him now, and that's enough. 

He wades out far enough for the water to reach his chest, and then swims the short distance to where Steve is. "Knew you'd end up getting in." He says, smug, and Bucky goes to say something, but before he can, Steve's pushing on his shoulders hard enough to get him underwater. 

He comes back up a little panicked, but Steve's laugh brings him back to reality. Bucky spits the water in his mouth at his face. "You got lake water in my mouth," Bucky pouts. "Disgusting." 

"Aw, come on." Steve says, his smile coming out with it. He swims up close to him and plants a kiss on his jaw. 

Bucky turns to look at him and thanks whatever god there may be for his enhanced eyesight. He kisses him for real. "Your lips are turning purple." Bucky says categorically, and Steve smiles. 

"Warm me up, then." He says, looping an arm around his neck and kissing him again. It's nice for a second, and then something brushes Bucky's foot, and he winces. 

"Nope, something just touched me, I'm fucking getting out." He lets go of Steve and beelines for the shore, hearing Steve laugh and follow. "Gross, we're going to have to shower." He pouts, shaking his hands dry as he walks to the porch, grabbing a towel and pressing it to his face. 

"Can think of worse things than that." Steve says, coming up behind him and grabbing the opposite edge of the towel. Bucky looks at him and shoves him towards the door, half annoyed, half endeared. 

 

It's later when they're in bed, washed warm and pliant that Steve says, "Thank you." 

"For what?" Bucky mumbles, scratching his fingers absently through Steve's hair. 

"Swimming with me." 

Bucky smiles and kisses his forehead. "Sweetheart, where you go, I follow." 

(Steve wakes up the next morning with a stiff back, and Bucky tries to refrain from saying i told you so. That's what you get for swimming in cold water when you've got metal in you, serum be damned. He asks if Bucky hurts anywhere, after all he's more metal than man, but seventy years is a hell of a long time to get used to something. Steve pouts about it for the rest of the day.) 

 

Steve's making pancakes--or at least he's trying. Bucky thinks the batter looks too thick, and Steve, defensively asks what the hell he knows about pancake batter. Bucky just shrugs. "Watched a lot of food network." 

"Stop trying to backseat cook. Go sit and be pretty, or whatever." Steve says, shooing him away. 

Bucky smiles and pointedly Does Not Move from where he's standing behind Steve's shoulder. "Baby, let me help." 

Steve sighs and hip checks him. "Can you just let me do this for you?" Bucky blinks, drops a kiss to his shoulder, and nods. "Thank you. Now get out." Steve says, but at least he's smiling now, so Bucky kisses his cheek, and walks out of the kitchen. 

Steve, within a few days of taking over the cabin, rigged the TV to be able to play music from his phone. The nuances of how exactly Steve learned that escape Bucky, but he figures having a genius playboy philanthropist with an AI as a friend has it's perks. That's how the TV is playing soft ambient music now, it's called LoFi, Steve had explained. Bucky doesn't know what that means, but he likes it. 

He almost misses the beep of his driveway's security sensors, but he goes to check them anyways, relaxing when he sees Jack's truck pulling in. 

"Hey, Stevie, someone's comin'." He says, and Steve looks at him. 

"What? Who?" He holds the whisk as if it's a weapon, and Bucky smiles. 

"It's just...a friend, I suppose." He says, and yeah, that feels right. "Bought the house off him, actually. Kind of. He comes by sometimes, think he's lonely." Bucky says, and it dawns on him right then and there that that's the very same reason Jack gave him Valkyrie all those months ago. He looks over at where she's lying on her back, her legs askew in the air. "Gave me Val, too." 

"Sounds like a real stand up guy." Steve says, fond. "We should invite him in for breakfast." 

"It's two in the afternoon." Bucky rolls his eyes at him just as he hears the tuck sputter to a stop. Val must hear it too, because she rolls onto her stomach and walks up to the door. "You know, maybe you should go put those glasses on." 

"Buck, do you really think your eighty-something year old neighbor is gonna recognize me?" He says, back turned to the door as he pours batter into the skillet. 

Bucky sighs and grabs them off the coffee table before putting them on the kitchen counter. "Put them on." Steve raises a defiant eyebrow, but does as he's told, for once. "Thank you." Bucky says, and turns to open the door as there's a knock on it. 

 

Jack doesn't even do a double take when he sees Steve standing in the kitchen, just rattles something about how there's supposed to be snow in the next few days and that they should get some salt for the road. Bucky smiles and pats his shoulder. "I appreciate you comin' out here, but you coulda just called." 

Jack raises a bushy eyebrow at him. "I would have, Grant, but you don't have a phone, now do you?" Steve snorts from the background, and Bucky makes a mental note to absolutely not kiss him later. 

Bucky just smiles. "That's fair." 

Jack smiles and puts his hat back on. He tells them to take care of themselves in proper old man fashion, and that if they ever get bored, he could always use two strapping young men (his words) around the ranch. 

Bucky smiles and walks out to the porch to see him off down the drive. "You know," Jack says, walking down the steps and then turning to look up at him. "A smile suits you." He says, and Bucky feels his face go hot. Jack winks at him and just gets in his car. 

Bucky watches a little dumbfounded from the doorway as he drives away. Inside, Steve produces two stacks of pancakes and leans his elbows on the counter. "You think we should tell him that we're technically older than him?" 

Bucky laughs and sits at the counter. "These look good." He makes grabby hands at the syrup and pours it over his pancakes generously. 

"And you didn't believe in me." Steve says, faux-hurt, and rounds the edge to sit next to him. "So, Grant, huh?" 

Bucky just nods, mouth full of pancake. 

"That's my middle name." Steve says quietly, and picks up his fork. 

Bucky looks over at him and his previous note to self gets thrown away when he leans forward and gives him a very sloppy, very syrupy kiss. 

 

(The nightmares are a caveat of fighting for so long, though Bucky tends to take his in stride and sit motionless and silent in bed until the sun comes up and he can put himself to good use whereas Steve wakes up either shaking or full-bodily sobbing, enough to wake Bucky up, too.

Except when Bucky wakes up feeling like he's covered in blood and Steve finds him in the bathroom, scrubbing too hard at his hands--usually he gets there before it starts to bleed for real. 

It's hard, and it's ugly, but he thinks that having someone else that understands makes it a fraction easier.)

 

Bucky's lying half draped over Steve's stomach when the perimeter alarm beeps angrily from down the hall. "Fuck," Bucky mumbles, and Steve groans from under him as he sits up. 

"S'just a bird, or something," Steve rationalizes as an attempt to get him to stay in bed. 

He's probably right, but Bucky's paranoia won't let him leave it. "I'm just gonna go check." He says, and Steve pouts but lets him go. He rubs his eyes as he walks to the little office, his body slowly waking up with him. He finds the monitor that corresponds to the farthest perimeter point lit up, but there's no bird or squirrel near it that would otherwise cause it to turn on. That's the first sign that something is wrong. "Steve?" He calls out, and frantically rewinds the feed. there's nothing except a brief flash of light in the early hours. 

Steve's in the doorway when he stands back up, holding out a pair of pants that Bucky quickly puts on. "What's wrong?" 

"I don't know." Bucky says, opening a drawer and pulling out a knife. There's a loud whirring, like helicopter rotors, as he walks out. "Fuck," He says, looking over at the cameras again. The alarms are all flashing, but there's nothing on the monitors. "Go back in there," Bucky says, grabbing Steve's arm, who just looks at him defiantly. 

"Absolutely fucking not." He says, standing his ground and setting his jaw. 

"Fine," Bucky says, angry. "Go over there then," He whispers motioning at the back door. Steve nods and takes up position there, back pressed to the wall. Bucky slinks along the wall to stand next to the front door, reaching above it to draw a hidden knife, and then lifting the windowsill slightly to grab another one. Steve wonders fleetingly what he plans on doing with three knives. 

Something heavy touches the ground, and then there's three loud steps, and then his front door is getting blasted back. Bucky leaps to action, jumping the intruder and driving a knife into the neck, and another into the side. 

"Jesus fucking christ," It says, angry, pushing him off. "What the fuck, Barnes? Are you kidding me," It says, and Bucky blinks, shocked that it knows his name. He switches his knife hand. Valkyrie growls spectacularly behind him. 

"Tony?" Steve says, surprised, from the back. Bucky turns to look at him as he walks from the back door to the front. "What are you doing here?" 

Tony yanks the knife sticking out of the suit's neck and takes his helmet off. Bucky is only a little disappointed to see that he is not bleeding. "What are you doing here, he says." He mumbles angrily to himself and throws the knife on the floor, reaching to his side to pull out the other one. "I just got stabbed! Twice!" 

Bucky crosses his arms. "You blew up my door." He notices that Val is now between him and Tony, her ears pinned back to her head, teeth bared. "Can you take off the suit, you're freaking my dog out." 

"Are you going to stab me?" Tony snaps, and as an answer, Valkyrie snarls so loud it makes Tony wince. 

"Only if provoked." Bucky levels, and Tony sighs dramatically before the front of the suit opens and he steps out. "Easy," He says to Valkyrie, who still looks like she might spring at any given second. She walks up to Tony stiffly and sniffs his leg. She must decide he's no imminent threat out of the suit, because she shakes off and goes back to sit at Steve's side. She still eyes Tony warily, though, and Bucky thinks good dog

"Seriously, what are you doing here?" Steve asks again, looking none too please to see his work friend in their living room. Tony is tiny, Bucky realizes, as he walks up to Steve. 

"You haven't checked in in three weeks, asshole!" Tony yells, and smacks Steve's shoulder. That makes Val growl, a warning. 

"I don't have to check in, I'm retired." Steve yells right back, and Bucky leans against the wall, suddenly very interested in how this will play out. 

Tony sighs and looks upwards as if asking for divine guidance. "You do when you the reason you retired is because you almost died! Jesus Christ almighty, you didn't even have to talk to any of us, you just needed to do a scan with a doctor every so often to make sure that your stupid super body wasn't rejecting the pins that are holding your spine together!" He's really angry now, all the vitriol of a wronged chihuahua. 

Steve looks over at Bucky for help and gets met with an equally disappointed gaze. "Don't look at me, asshole, I'm just as angry as he is." 

"I'm getting it from all sides today." Steve mumbles as Val leaves his side to go sit with Bucky. 

Tony mumbles something in Italian, which makes Bucky laugh, before he turns to Steve again. "All I ask is that you take a break from playing little house on the prairie and go get scanned." Tony all but pleads, and Steve sighs. 

"Alright, I'm sorry." 

"You fucking should be." Tony pushes him again, though it does nothing. Bucky understands the sentiment. "Also, hi." He turns to Bucky finally. "Why are you here? Are you still you know," He points to his arm. "Terminator-y?" 

"Tony," Steve cautions, but he gets ignored. 

"It varies." Bucky says, blasé. 

"Scale of one to ten?" Tony asks. 

"Eight." Bucky says, eyeing the broken door. It was a good door, kept people out. 

Tony shrugs apologetically, completely unfazed, and then turns back to Steve. "Did you know he was here? Is that why you chose Wyoming? I'm not even gonna make the Brokeback mountain joke." He says, and Bucky doesn't know what that is, but by the look of the blush on Steve's face, he does. 

"I didn't know he was here." Steve says, honestly. "Wyoming just sounded out of the way enough." 

Tony rolls his eyes and walks through the living room and kitchen to look out the back window. "Well now that you've finished being cryptic and fucking weird about it, will you please move somewhere more normal?" 

Steve frowns. "Why?" 

Tony sighs and picks up the nearest small thing to throw at him. Steve catches the charcoal eraser, and Tony scowls at him. "Because we miss you. You don't have to like, assemble, but you could come over every once in a while." 

Steve falters, and Bucky realizes with a weird warm feeling that Steve probably never thought of the Avengers as his friends, not all of them at least, as if everyone that meets him doesn't fall in love. Stupid labrador man. He looks over at Bucky and bites his cheek. Bucky just raises an eyebrow. 

"Hel-lo." Tony says emphatically, making them look away from each other. "Can you not do that weird telepathic thing when I'm literally standing right here." 

"You know, you weren't invited in." Bucky says, and Tony just grins at him. "You owe me a door." 

"I'll fix your stupid door." Tony says, walking back over and making a show of picking up half of it and putting it somewhat back into place. "There," He turns to look at him with a smile, and gets nothing back. "Tough crowd," 

"Thanks, I was brainwashed by Nazis." Bucky deadpans, and it startles a laugh out of Steve. 

Tony looks at a loss at the situation. "Anyways, you," He points at Steve menacingly. "Are going to march right back to that house and get your fucking med-scan done." 

Steve opens his mouth to protest, but gets cut off. "I do not want to hear it today, Rogers." Tony says, and yeah, Bucky agrees. Steve sighs erring on just this side of dramatic and casts Bucky a pleading glance. 

"Alright, fine." Bucky says, mostly to himself, and walks over to Steve, Valkyrie trotting behind him happily. "You," He points at Tony, who just points at his own chest as if affronted. "Fix the door." He says. 

 

The walk over is quiet save the crunch of the snow under their feet, and Val's occasional happy barks as she walks ahead of them. Bucky loops his arm through Steve's as they approach the snowed in back porch, and he hears Steve exhale in relief. 

"Thought you were actually mad at me." He says, laughing a little. 

"I am," Bucky says, trudging through the piled up snow and opening the back door. 

"Right," Steve says, walking past him to kiss his cheek and go inside. 

The inside is surprisingly warm, and as Steve switches a light on, Val makes it her mission to smell everything she can. He leaves her to it and follows Steve into what he supposes used to be his bedroom. He sits on the bed and watches carefully as Steve boots up a little tablet and takes his shirt off. Though the scar isn't as bad as it could be, it still makes Bucky wince. 

It's really an easy process, and he can't believe Steve put this off for so long. The AI or doctor or whatever on the other side seems none too pleased with Steve, either. But all systems are go, and the pins holding Steve's spine together are still in the right place and should be due to come out soon. Steve says thank you, and the screen blips off. 

"You really put this off for so long? For what? It took ten minutes." Bucky says, crossing his arms and Steve just rolls his eyes, pulling his shirt back on. 

"If you're gonna yell at me, can you at least do it at home?"

"Is it?" He asks, and Steve gives him a questioning look. "Home, I mean." 

Steve stops at the back door and turns back to look at him. "S'long as you're there." 

Bucky shoves him, but is smiling anyways. Steve takes it in stride, habit too hard to break, and beams at him as he loops his arm around his neck and they leave the little cabin. "So you wanna move back to New York?" Bucky asks, and Steve snorts. 

He takes a second and looks around the snow laden landscape. He thinks the lake might be solid enough to go ice skating on, soon. "Less snow could be...nice."

"You have to get those pins taken out," Bucky reminds, and Steve pouts. 

"Yeah. You comin'?" 

Bucky shrugs. "Maybe covertly. I'm still technically a criminal, I think." 

"Bucky," Steve says, it carries the same angry tone he usually gets whenever Bucky talks about himself like that. "It wasn't your--" 

"Yes, Steve, but I still did it." Bucky snaps, and Steve sighs. He gets the feeling neither of them really want to have this argument, again. It gets confirmed by Steve putting a slightly cold hand under Bucky's shirt so it sits on his lower back. "Maybe standing trial wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Romanova put everything out there so, guess that's on my side." 

Steve stops them both, and Val circles back from where she was walking in front of them to make sure everything is alright. "You're serious?" 

Bucky thinks, and then nods. "Yes." He says, certain. "I don't want to keep looking over my shoulder forever. Plus," He puts his hands on Steve's face. "You're not made for country life." 

"That's not true," Steve starts, but then stops himself. Bucky hopes he remembers the horse incident. "Okay, maybe it's a little true." He resigns and puts his hands on Bucky's wrists. He turns to press a kiss into his palm. 

 

"So we're really doing this, huh?" Steve says, watching from the doorway as Bucky packs everything into suit cases. There's a few days left until Steve's due back in New York to get the pins removed from his back, but Bucky figures a few days leeway can't hurt. He still hasn't exactly figured out how he's going to reintroduce himself to the world as just Bucky Barnes and not The Winter Soldier. So he needs a few days to think. 

"Yeah." Bucky grabs a pile of shirts and starts rolling them meticulously before putting them in the suitcase (Steve's) one by one. "Not sure how, yet." He admits, and he doesn't look up as Steve walks across the room and puts a chin on his shoulder. 

"Together," Steve says, like it's that easy. 

Bucky realizes his hands are shaking only when he reaches up to grab Steve's forearm. Maybe it is that easy. "Yeah, together."