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under the bandage

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Bucky Barnes sat resting in the hospital chair. His mind was both quiet and whirring at the same time, the beeping of the hospital machines both serving to keep him awake, and lull him into the sterileness of the room. He hadn’t liked it here, and he hadn’t enjoyed it from the moment he’d stepped in the place. The environment was too controlled, the walls too bright, and everywhere he looked just reminded him of the times that he’d spent in the hospital with Steve all those years ago, horrified that the little punk wouldn’t pull out of the Scarlet Fever, or the flu, or whatever illness had happened to land him in a bed this time. This time though, Bucky wasn’t here for him.

He turned, looking at the archer in the bed, Clint’s arms wrapped in layers upon layers of bandages, attached to monitors he couldn’t even begin to read. His abdomen was half-sliced open, covered in sutures from the emergency surgery he had to have, and his head...Even hours ago, Bucky wouldn’t have been able to tell you who the man was, and maybe it was his eyes hallucinating, but the swelling seemed to be going down. His heartbeat was beating steady - that much Bucky knew, from the constant beep...beep...beep… of the monitors - and though it was slow, it was present.

It was a miracle.

Bucky’s thoughts started to spiral downward the second he’d looked at him. Clint was in bad shape, Bucky knew, and this man had seen torture. He knew the tube in Clint’s throat and the pulse-ox monitor attached to his finger and the IVs in both of his arms were supposed to help; but all that Bucky was reminded of was time when Steve had brought his mother here, hit with TB, and just couldn’t shake it.

That couldn’t happen to him.

Gentle footsteps entered the room, and Bucky found himself torn from his thoughts, looking up to meet the love of his life, who was looking concerned down at him. No matter how much Steve tried to remain solemn, Bucky knew how to read the emotions on his face. He always did.

“How is she?” were the first words out of Bucky’s mouth, and though his brain was playing catch-up, his words weren’t hesitant at all.

Steve took this as an invitation to enter, and he moved, pulling up the chair that had been left against the wall hours prior, and sitting beside him. “Sam’s trying to get her down to the cafeteria, get her something to eat.” Bucky’s question just couldn’t be answered.

“That’s good,” Bucky nodded. “She needs it.”

Steve nodded, and looked down to the snack he was holding in his hand. “I….I brought you something. It’s only a bagel, but I thought it was better than nothing.” He ripped off a piece of the bagel for himself before offering the entire bagel to Bucky, who accepted it gently.

“Thanks, Steve.” Bucky gave Steve a soft smile, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t hide the fear in his eyes, or the quiver in his voice. Bucky knew Steve had to be feeling the same, but it was one thing to feel fear, and another to acknowledge it. If he acknowledged it, didn’t that mean there was a reason for him to be fearing for Barton’s life? That he really might not ever make it out of the hospital bed?

Buck -”

Steve’s hand on Bucky’s shoulder jolted Bucky out of his thoughts. His hand was warm, and Bucky still was getting readjusted to the idea of touch. Steve must have realized this retroactively, and he apologized, leaning to try and keep the man’s focus. “‘M sorry.” He murmured, fighting back tears and fear of his own. “You okay?” But even he knew that was a question that Bucky didn’t want to answer.

It was a long moment before Bucky spoke again, his eyes trained on the bed only a few feet from him, watching Clint’s chest rise and fall with the hiss of the machine. That was helping him breathe, because he couldn’t breathe on his own. The doctor’s explanation to Natasha - and to the rest of them - was still fresh in his mind, even if everything else took a little bit longer to dig to.

“Steve-” Bucky spoke, his voice small. Steve shuffled, only a little, and held Bucky’s shoulder tightly. “He jumped in front of a grenade for her.”

Steve had to take a breath.

“He fell seven stories from that window in the tower. Probably broke his spine, both of his arms...he’s got a machine breathing for him for god’s sake….”  

The monitor’s beeped rhymically in the silence it took Bucky to formulate his next sentence.

“He had time, to scream out a warning. To get Natasha behind him, and he...he stood there. He stood there, and let a grenade blast him to smithereens -”

At the rise of intensity in Bucky’s voice, Steve straightened, trying to get Bucky’s attention once more, and prevent another attack, though Bucky had only curled in on himself, and let out a small breath.

“And somehow…” he whispered. “He was still breathing in the time it took to get him here.” Bucky looked down at his lap, and had to fight not to pull on his fingers like he was used to. The metal arm wasn’t something he was completely comfortable yet. “Clint fucking Barton - the man who broke his arms while playing a game of tag - was still breathing by the time we got him here. How does that happen?!”

Steve was already fighting tears, and he knew his wavering breath would show.  “I’m happy that it did.” Steve admitted. He was always the kind of guy to try and look on the bright side of things, even if it was impossible. Even if he knew, deep in his bones, that the chance of coming back from something like this was slim to none, because he knew more than anyone that the odds didn’t matter, and that the team - god, he couldn’t even begin to think of what would happen if Barton didn’t make it.  “I don’t...I don’t know how it happens, or why, even. But sometimes, these things just...do. Sometimes the universe just decides to flip on its head. To give Clint enough time to call out to Natasha. To make sure the blast didn’t throw him back at an angle that would have caused his head to hit Tony’s granite. To make sure we could get him here.”

“But it’s not fair- ” Bucky interjected. For the first time since he had been here, he had started to shed tears. “It’s not fair that this happened to him! To them! Why the hell would someone even do that in the first place?! I don’t understand , Steve! I just don’t GET IT! ” Bucky slammed his fists down in his lap. Steve moved hastily to try and stop him, but it was to no avail.

“Bucky…. Bucky -” Steve called out, trying to meet Bucky’s gaze through tears of his own. “I know, I know. It shouldn’t have ever happened. Not to him. Not to Tasha. Not to us, not to anyone-” Bucky’s body was trembling by now, and Steve did what he could to hold him steady, and be the presence he knew Bucky needed.

“No, it shouldn’t have!” Bucky’s voice cut through the air like ice. “He shouldn’t even have to be here, she shouldn’t have to be here, you shouldn’t be here, hell, I shouldn’t even have to be here! He can’t-”

It was clear now that this commotion wasn’t just private anymore. The nurses were starting to stand at their stations, doors from other rooms were being opened, and other hospital staff rushed toward the door to make sure there was no breach of physical safety. And, if Steve listened hard enough, he swore he could hear the panicked, shaky voice of a certain redhead as what was going on, and the panicked, quick footsteps that accompanied it.

Steve went to cut Bucky off, but he just couldn’t get a word in. All he could do was hold him, and let him scream, and hope, and pray, that Clint Barton would end up alright. For Clint himself, for Natasha, for the team, and for his Bucky, whose scream once more shook the too-white-walls of the hospital room.

“I can’t lose him too!”  

This was going to be a long, long night.