Chapter 1: Elizabeth Hill
Name: Elizabeth Dreamer Hill
Nickname: El. Ellie. (Most) Pony Girl (Sam) Lizbeth. Little Lizzie (Maria)
DOB: June 15th, 1993
Age: 23 (2016/2017)
Cast: Amber Marshall
Matthew Hill – Father (Estranged) (Sebastian Roche)
Amelia Hill (Formerly Arnette – Mother (Deceased))
Annabeth Serenity Hill – Older Sister (Mary Kate Olsen)
Gabriel Justice Hill – Older Brother (Sam Claflin)
Mallory Hill – Niece via Gabriel (Jessica Amlee)
Daniella Coûteaux – Mallory's mother (Emilia Clarke)
Lawrence Hill – Grandfather (Russell Crowe)
Margery Hill – Grandmother (Deceased)
Francis Hill – Aunt (Deceased)
Maria Hill – Cousin (Cobie Smulders)
Jack Cooper – Close friend and colleague (Rival Love Interest for Bucky) (Henry Cavill)
Liberty – Elizabeth's treasured and most often used horse. Usually used for training others that wish to learn. She's very soft tempered, calm and friendly.
Moonlight Midnight – Elizabeth's competition horse. Will not allow others to ride him, he can be rather boisterous and stubborn.
Treasure – White mare that only has one eye now after a bad infection was Gabriel's horse before his accident.
Home: Red Oak Equestrian Rehabilitation Centre (Most commonly known as Red Oak)
Red Oak is located outside the town of Hudson, Alberta in the Alberta Rockies. It's 600 acres of woodland, grassland, and rivers. It has been in the Hill Family for six generations. It was originally a working cattle ranch but Matthew had other ideas. He and Amelia transformed it into a haven for abused, recovering and frightened horses.
Elizabeth was born to a French-American mother and a Canadian father, both of whom were well known and very talented in the riding and training world. Her father made a name for himself in the Rodeo circuit and her mother was a National Champion Eventer (Once tipped for the Olympic team, but gave it up to have her children).
Matthew and Amelia moved to Red Oak shortly after their marriage, helping with the failing family ranch. They worked hard to restore it. Eventually turning it into a place of rest and recovery for humans and horses alike.
They eventually had three children, Gabriel, Annabeth and Elizabeth who were raised with a deep love of horses and the environment.
After the death of Elizabeth mother in a tragic car accident when she was 4, (An accident that permanently disabled Gabriel, leaving him to forever need the use of a wheelchair), her father disappeared, heartbroken, abandoning her children. From then on Lawrence took to raising the three of his grandchildren by himself.
Elizabeth followed in both her parents' footsteps and began training and riding horses and is considered to be a promising young trainer and competitor, though she competes rarely she shows real promise.
Lawrence hired Dr. Jack Cooper, an English psychiatrist who specializes in PTSD in veterans, and the ranch plays host to vets from all around the world, who aids in the recovery of the people whilst the family concentrate on the horses. (Jack has a crush on Elizabeth)
Elizabeth is a very caring and very warm individual. She takes the welfare of her horses and those under her charge very seriously.
She, like her siblings, took the death of their father extremely hard, and she still finds it difficult to talk about.
Elizabeth lives and breaths horses and ponies. She speaks fluent French and knows some German, Italian, and Spanish which she's picked up over the years from veterans and visitors to the ranch.
Pairing: Bucky Barnes
Annabeth x Sam Wilson
Gabriel x Daniella (Maybe with a little flirtation with Nat)
Chapter 2: Prologue
Steve Rogers regrets many things about his life, of the way it turned out, of thing that could have happened, but what happened to his best friend, Bucky is right up there near the top of that list. It's why he is determined to give Bucky something better than the Raft. Secretary Ross is pushing for Bucky to restrained and locked up for the things he did whilst under the control of Hydra, it's not all on Bucky, very little of it is on Bucky actually. The things he did he did so when he had no free will, just as a gun does not have free will. But there are those within the Avenger Compound that agree, or at least don't want Bucky here. Tony is one of them. He stands in front of Steve now. Steve has tried to talk them all around to letting Bucky stay here with him, with them but Tony is being the most stubborn, or the most reasonable given the circumstances.
“Look, he killed my parents” Tony reminds Steve. “And you can't expect me to live with him....at least not right now...I literally found out last month, it's unreasonable”
“So you're not saying never?” Steve asks, Tony lets out a breath through his nose.
“I'm not saying never, just not right now” Tony admits. “I need some time....I'm not a monster, I don't want to see people put up in the Raft, even him....okay, just get him to take the Ranch” Tony sighs. “I've heard good things about the work they do with recovering veterans, with PTSD victims....” Steve nods and places his hands on his hips. “Steve, you can't ask me to be all buddy-buddy with this guy”
“I know” Steve agrees and clears his throat. “I know” he repeats softer and then lowers his arms. Tony hands over the paper file to Steve who takes it.
“Red Oak” Tony offers shooting Steve a look. “It's better than the Raft deal Ross is offering” he adds and then walks away, Steve takes a breath and looks down at the folder before opening it.
Bucky sits in the small rec room, empty save him, no one but Steve, Sam and Natasha are willing to be anywhere near him at the minute, not that he minds, he prefers his own company right now. It's probably for the best too. Just in case. He's not exactly the best of company. The tv is on silent but plays an old black and white movie he doesn't care to recall the title of. Steve knocks on the door frame and Bucky turns his head slightly, showing that he's aware of Steve.
“Hey” Steve greets, Bucky nods.
“Steve” he counters and then turns forward again.
“So I spoke to Tony” Steve starts, Bucky hums a little. “He has a solution to our.....living issues, something better than the deal Ross is offering you” Bucky raises an eyebrow as Steve approaches him.
“Oh?” he asks turning to his friend. Steve sets a few of the papers from the folder on the coffee table in front of Bucky.
“It's a place called Red Oak Equestrian Rehabilitation Centre” Steve explains.
“Horses?” Bucky asks.
“Agent Hill recommended it” Sam offers stood behind Steve, in the doorway now, watching them, Bucky pulls the printouts closer to him so he can read them.
“This is the better choice” Steve assures Bucky. “It was Red Oak or solitary on The Raft” he adds, Bucky nods a little, he understands that Steve did all he could to keep Bucky here with him, at the Avenger compound but with Tony and Ross angling for his head on a pike it must have been difficult to get even those options. Steve and Sam share a look before Sam nods and walks away leaving the two super soldiers alone. “Buck” Steve starts.
“Yeah, I heard” Bucky whispers with a nod. “Where is this,” he asks. “Place?” he screws up his nose slightly.
“Well...it's in Canada” Steve admits, Bucky looks up and raises an eyebrow.
“Canada?” Bucky asks quietly. Steve hums and nods.
“Yeah. It's a family run place near the mountains...Alberta, I think”
“You want me around civilians?” Bucky asks. “A family?”
“They deal with people like you” Bucky shoots Steve a look. “Okay, not exactly like you....” Steve corrects. “But soldiers that have PTSD and trauma and disabilities....” Steve sits next to Bucky and pulls the papers closer, he sighs a little letting his eyes scan over the page. He's a city boy and this place looks like it is in the middle of nowhere. Steve notes his expression. “Look, a month trial, just give it a month,” Steve tells Bucky who groans.
“A week” Bucky counters.
“A month” Steve sternly argues.
“You can't go up” Bucky scolds. “That's not how it works” Steve raises an eyebrow. “That's not fair” Bucky grumbles sinking in his seat.
“Just...” Steve starts and takes a deep breath. “With this place...you get fresh air, you get to work with horses, you're basically a free man, no chains, no bars...green landscapes”
“Can I leave?” Bucky asks, Steve sighs.
“Can I leave?” Bucky repeats. “Go into the nearest town? Where even is this place in Canada?” he asks flicking through the pages.
“We're working on it” Steve answers. “For now, you will be confined to the ranch and it's land...but it's a lot of land. 600 acres. Plenty of roaming space” Steve picks up the pages and flips through them. “And look” Steve turns a page to Bucky. “They have goats, you like goats” Bucky glares at him.
“Stop talking to me like I'm five” Bucky scolds.
“Then stop acting like it” Steve argues back. Bucky rears back a little and huffs.
“I hate horses” Bucky snaps with a growl, Steve shoots him a look.
“No, you don't” he argues. “You're indifferent, okay, just...man up and take the r and r with the damn ponies” Bucky grumbles under his breath. “This could do you some good” Steve whispers to his friend. “I know things have been awkward for you here at the facility with...Tony” Bucky grinds his teeth slightly, awkward is so far from the word he'd use, things with Tony have been borderline explosive since Steve brought Bucky to live with them less than a month ago. “Some time away could do you both some good” he pats Bucky's shoulder then stands to walk away leaving Bucky with the information on the Ranch. He has to admit it doesn't look terrible, he's just being bull headed because he is finally free and people are still telling him what to do and where to go. He takes a breath and then lets it draw out of him as he wrinkles his nose. It is better than the alternative.
Chapter 3: Chapter One
Steve leans in the doorway to Bucky's room as Bucky rummages through his wardrobe, an open duffel on the bed. Neither says anything for a moment, Bucky just yanking things, his things, a few things he's collected the last few weeks, a few things Steve's given him, a few things he's stolen from Sam. He should probably give them back now. Steve yawns, exhausted, he's spent the last few hours trying to straighten out a contract with Ross and Tony, making sure that they can't back out of it when they feel like but also so that Bucky has his own set of rules to abide by, just in case anything was to happen. Plus Ross wasn't 100% on board with the whole free reign thing so Steve had to convince him that it was a better idea. Bucky glances to his friend, notes the worried and concerned lines to his face, Bucky stands and turns towards Steve.
“I literally own two shirts” Bucky complains, Steve smirks a little. “What do people wear to these things anyway?”
“Dungarees” Steve teases, Bucky shoots him an unamused look.
“Don't even joke” Bucky scolds, Steve shakes his head and sits on the end of the bed as Bucky worries the shirt in his hand. “Steve, what if this doesn't help me?”
“Then we'll think of something else” Steve assures him. Bucky sighs and shakes his head.
“Maybe we should have just agreed to the Raft” He points out. “How much is this costing anyway?”
“It's actually cheaper to send you to Canada then it is to lock you up” Steve argues softly. Bucky looks down at the shirt in his hands, it's his red henley, too many memories are attached to this shirt, he should probably just get rid of it now.
“So I know you said a month” Bucky starts. “But how long is it really?”
“They're talking about a year” Steve answers. “For starters” he whispers hoping Bucky hadn't heard it.
“For starters?” Bucky asks, Steve nods and looks to him.
“If..if it goes well, they want it to be permanent”
“Permanent?” Bucky whispers, his heart sinking slightly at the thought of being away from Steve for the rest of his life considering he's just got him back.
“I won't let that happen” Steve argues quickly. “Okay? I'm going to fix this, some of the things they're asking of you are ridiculous” Bucky raises an eyebrow. “It's nothing” Steve mumbles.
“Obviously is” Bucky counters raising an eyebrow but Steve doesn't take the push.
“Did you look at the pages?” Steve asks, changing the subject, Bucky sighs and nods, Steve's just trying to not worry Bucky over this, and Bucky has to trust him enough to fix this.
“Yeah, I did, it seems nice enough....” he answers, and he's not lying, it does seem like a nice place, he's just not sure it's for him. He's a city boy born and bred, he's not really sure how he's going to cope out in the wild like this. Part of him wishes he'd done more of the camping thing when he was a kid, got out there and done more country stuff. Bucky sits beside Steve resting his elbows on his knees. “You know, it's not Canada I have a problem with” he admits. “It's....”
“I know” Steve assures him, interrupting him softly.
“I just got out of Hydra, I just got you back....” Bucky starts.
“Hey, at least I can visit” Steve admits, Bucky frowns.
“You wouldn't've if I'd been locked up?”
“No” Steve answers. “No one would have...” Bucky takes a breath.
“Oh,” he realizes what Steve did for him, and how hard he must have fought for this. “Okay,” Bucky whispers.
“Red Oak is going to be good for you” Steve adds. “I can feel it”
“We'll see” Bucky counters nudging Steve a little. “Thanks” he adds. “For..fighting for me”
“You're my best friend” Steve assures him. “What else was I going to do?” Steve's eyes drift to the shirt in Bucky's hand. “We can go and get you a whole new wardrobe if you're worried, a few more shirts, jeans or something” Bucky hums.
“Nah” he argues. “I'll be fine....” he shrugs a little. Steve nods a little. “Eventually” Bucky whispers.
Steve walks with Bucky into the garage of the compound, both carrying duffel bags in hand. It's been a long couple of days, Steve, Tony and Ross fleshing everything out with this whole deal thing, Bucky packed up his stuff, Steve promised that the things he didn't take would go into storage and looked after. Bucky also spent the time he could with Steve, if he's not going to be seeing him every day. Steve takes a deep breath and pauses in his steps before he turns to Bucky as he stops with him, Bucky's eyes search Steve's eyes before it settles in his chest.
“You're not coming” Bucky realizes.
“I wish I could” Steve answers. “But that's one of the things I agreed to”
“Yeah” Sam agrees walking towards them. “They're worried about the two of you running off like lovers in the night” he teases moving to Steve's side. Steve rolls his eyes amused but Bucky glares at Sam.
“Then who's going with me?” Bucky asks looking back to Steve.
“Me” Maria Hill offers approaching them, she's dressed down, gone is the Shield suit, in their place jeans, plaid and biker boots. She crosses her arms over her chest and pops her hip out a little. It's the most relaxed she's revealed to them. She's not going as Agent Maria Hill. But just Maria. Sam whistles teasingly and Maria rolls her eyes a little.
“Look at you all normal and stuff” Sam teases, Maria looks to him.
“I still have my gun” she reminds him. “I can still shoot you”
“I'll hold him down” Bucky grumbles.
“Alright,” Steve warns. “Let's not get riled up” Steve holds out the duffel bag and Bucky frowns at him. “I got you a few shirts, some jeans, a winter coat....” Steve offers with a smirk. “I know you said you were fine but...” Bucky takes the bag.
“Thanks” Bucky whispers grateful that Steve still did this even when he told him not to, Bucky just didn't want to be a burden on his friend, after everything else.
“I know you like your henley so I just....got a few different colors...” Bucky smiles and nods.
“This is why people think you're together” Sam points out motioning between the two of them, Maria nods in agreement. Bucky huffs annoyed.
“Let's just go,” Bucky tells Maria who nods and heads towards the jeep behind them. “We're driving?” he asks her.
“Yeah” she answers. “The jet will draw too much attention” she offers. “We'll take turns” Bucky turns to Steve and shoots him a look, Steve and Sam just smirk at him.
“Have fun” Sam teases, Bucky narrows his eyes at him and then turns and follows Maria.
“And behave” Steve yells after him. “Remember they're human beings......” Bucky shoots a glare over his shoulder at Steve who fights his own smirk.
“Oh, they're going to eat him alive” Sam teases. “But, hey, at least they have goats” Steve does now laugh, Sam joining in with him.
Chapter 4: Chapter Two
Bucky wakes to Maria's hand on his shoulder shaking him, he glares at her a moment before realizing that she's not being mean, or aggressive towards him. He stretches and takes stock.
“Sorry” he mumbles and sits up. “Is it my turn again?” he asks.
“Yeah, there's a town up ahead, figured we could stop for something to eat, stretch our legs....” She explains.
“Sounds good” he agrees stretching his legs. “Where are we?”
“Kenmare” she answers “North Dakota....after this we'll be crossing the border” he hums a little. “Can I ask you something?” she asks him, he turns to her and raises an eyebrow. “Why did you agree to this?”
“To the road trip with the stranger? Or the pony R and R?” she shrugs.
“Both” she offers.
“Well figured horses were better than bars and it's not like I had any choice in traveling companions.....no offense” she shrugs.
“None taken” she assures him and then turns off of Route 52.
Bucky rolls his shoulders as he stands at the jeep, the walked, they picked up food and now they're about ready to get back on the road. Maria shrugs out of her jacket and throws it into the back.
“Ready?” she asks him, he nods and climbs into the jeep as she does. He turns over the engine and then reaches for the radio and then wrinkles his nose at the country tune that starts to play. He moves to turn the station but Maria stops him. “Leave it” she scolds pulling her hand back.
“You're a country fan?” he asks her, Maria hums a little and shrugs.
“I kind of grew up on it” she admits opening her sandwich in her lap. “My mom was a country singer” she adds, Bucky looks to her.
“Seriously?” he asks, she nods.
“Yeah” she chuckles. “Grandmother was too” she adds. “It's literally two extremes with my family” she looks to him. “Music or horses or both”
“You don't talk about yourself with the others” he points out. “So why are you telling me?”
“Red Oak” she starts. “It's my home” she admits, he glances to her. “It's where I grew up.....the people that live there, they're my family. So you'll probably hear all this from them anyway” she turns to him. “Look, these people, they're not....” she pauses and frowns. “You meet a lot of people with Shield, and I'm guessing with Hydra too” she looks down. “My family is nothing like them, any of them....they're good people...real good people”
“You must miss them” he offers. “Being all the way down in New York”
“Yeah, I do” she answers. “But they always pushed me to do what I wanted. My grandpa especially....no matter how ridiculous” Bucky raises an eyebrow.
“So how did you get into Shield?” he asks. “Is that just something they have on careers day at high school?” she snorts and shakes her head.
“No” she answers. “I was a Mountie first” He glances to her. “You know the Royal Canadian Mounted Police?” she asks, he nods. “Busted some drug dealer years back, turned out it was something bigger than just drugs, and then Fury turned up on the doorstep, thanked me for my help and offered me a job” she smiles. “I mean, it was the best decision I made but driving up here....”
“Made you realize how much you miss it?” he asks, she nods.
“What was my point again?” she asks.
“You were talking about your family...” he explains.
“Right...Anyway...You hurt them in any way” she starts. “And I will shoot you. I will shoot you in the ass” He glances to her, she's serious, he nods.
“Okay” he agrees quickly. “Rather like my ass” he mumbles, she snorts.
“It is one of your finer qualities” she teases.
“One of?” he asks. “Implying there is more than one”
“Oh yeah,” she answers. “You should hear the recruits talking” she points out. “Mostly about your thighs” Bucky looks down at his own thighs.
“My thighs?” he asks under his breath. Maria nods and picks at her sandwich. “I don't know how I feel about that” he looks to her.
“Yeah, it must suck being objectified for the way you look” she comments shooting him a look, he nods a little.
“Fair enough” He understands what she means by that, and whilst it's not him, or Steve, he knows it happens. “My thighs are glorious” he then points out, she smirks and shakes her head.
El stands on the porch watching the sun set behind the barn, she takes a deep breath breathing in her home, the air starting to get warmer as they come out of winter and into spring. Anna sets her chin on El's shoulder and hugs her from behind.
“It's so quiet” Anna points out, which is followed by the sounds of the cows, the chickens, the pigs, and the horses, El smirks. “I meant human noise” Anna corrects herself.
“You just miss having hunky soldiers to ogle at” El teases poking Anna' cheek and then touches her camera around her neck. “Or take photos of” Anna smirks back and shrugs, she will not lie to her sister. “It's just till the housing is complete” El adds. “And hopefully on time, we'll have full cabins for the summer”
“Just in time...” Anna teases. “Suns out guns out, right?” El snorts and shakes her head.
“You need a boyfriend” El argues. “Or a girlfriend....” Anna shrugs and kisses her sister's cheek.
“I got an engagement shoot to get ready for” She states and heads down the porch.
“Now?” El asks checking the time, Anna hums.
“They both work and this was the only time they could do it” Anna admits. “I don't mind....” she turns and heads across to the building she calls her studio. El watches her go, Anna loves her job, the photography, the people. Considering the rest of the family went the horse or music route the photography was a surprise from Anna, not that it matters, she's damn good at it and they support her just as they do El with her horses, Gabriel with his sharp business mind and Maria with her 'secret' stuff, they know she works for the government just don't know what capacity. It's part of why the family works the way it does despite how different the set up is. El rolls her shoulders and leans against the post at her side, arms folded gently across her chest.
“You'll catch your death out here” A soft voice scolds behind her before a blanket is wrapped around her shoulders, she hums a little and turns to face her 'savior'. Jack Cooper. Tall, broad, handsome. He's been around since she was 16 and he was fresh out of medical school, he's arrived at Red Oak to do his residency training under the last psychiatrist they had staying here, Dr. Melrose, kind older man that sadly passed away a year ago in his care home. After Jack had finished his training Dr. Melrose had left and made sure that her grandfather, Lawrence took on Jack in his place.
“I'll be fine” she assures him but pulls the blanket closer to her. “Where are you going?” she asks noting the overnight bag in his hand.
“I have a meeting in Calgary in the morning,” he tells her.
“But we have that new ranch hand that's supposed to arrive tomorrow” she reminds him, he nods.
“I know, I'll be back before lunch” he assures her brushing her hair behind her ear, his eyes soft as he smiles at her before he walks towards where his car is parked, she takes a breath and then heads back into the house behind her. Jack glances back just in time to see her disappear inside, he sighs a little, aware she may be a little oblivious to his infatuation. He shakes his head and unlocks his car.
Chapter 5: Chapter Three
Bucky settles the red oak first, it's tall and beautiful and starting to bloom again, he stares up at it as Maria pulls their bags from the trunk of the jeep. It's so quiet here. Bucky looks around, it's too human quiet here. No cars. No shouting or honking. A goose honks in the distance. No car honks anyway. He closes his eyes and takes a breath. Steve might have been right about this place. He can already feel the stress of the compound leaving him, he doesn't feel threatened or cramped. Maria shuts the trunk and moves towards Bucky, but her attention is stolen by a flash of yellow plaid moving towards her.
“Mallory” Maria whispers recognizing just who is wearing the bright yellow dress, she's so much bigger than the last time she'd seen her, it makes Maria realize just how long it's been. Maria drops the bags as Mallory jumps towards her, Maria grunts catching Mallory who wraps her arms around Maria's neck tightly.
“Auntie Sparkles” Mallory greets warmly. Maria wraps her arms around the girl and smiles.
“Mallory” she repeats twirling the girl slightly. Bucky watches them, rather liking seeing this side of Maria, he heard the stories about her from Steve and Sam and Natasha and he knows how good of an agent she is, but here, already, there is no Shield to her at all. She sets Mallory down and looks over her, she looks so much like her mother in that dress.
“Dad said you were coming to stay for a few days” Mallory offers. “I've missed you” Maria smiles and crouches down to her level.
“I've missed all of you as well” Maria admits softly. “Where's Grandpa?” she asks. Mallory raises an eyebrow. “Great-grandpa” Maria corrects herself.
“In the barn” Mallory motions to the red barn across from where they stand. “He said something about something and....”
“You weren't listening?” Maria teases, Mallory shrugs and smirks.
“I'm going to tell Dad you're here” Mallory then states already running towards the family house. Maria turns to Bucky who raises an eyebrow.
“Mallory” Maria offers Bucky. “She's my cousin's kid”
“And...” he clears his throat. “Auntie Sparkles?”
“Never, ever repeat that” she threatens him, Bucky nods and holds up his hands, she shoves his bag at him. “Good” he takes the bag from her. “Before we go any further” Maria stops Bucky. “They don't know I work for Shield” she admits. “They know I work for the American government but....” he nods.
“I won't say anything” he promises her, she nods an takes a breath.
“It's safer this way” she adds. “For them”
“I understand” Bucky assures her. “You do what you can to keep them safe” she nods again.
“Like I said” she starts. “They're good people”
Maria speeds up the closer to the barn they get, her poorly hidden excitement at seeing her family again evident. Lawrence is leaning on a small table reading from a newspaper, waiting, Maria smiles seeing him stood there in all his cowboy glory. He always reminds her of those old western films, the hat, the jeans, the boots. He scratches at his face before looking up sensing her eyes on him.
“Maria” Lawrence whispers seeing her stood there, the sun behind her, she smiles back and waves.
“Hey, Grandpa” she whispers back before moving to him, Lawrence sets the blanket over the stall door and then opens his arms for her, Maria falls into his chest and lets him wraps her up in his arms. Her grandfather means everything to her. Bucky lingers behind her, in the doorway, rather than interrupting. This is a rare moment, for him to witness the great Agent Hill among her family, a softer version of her. Maria pulls away from Lawrence. “This is Sargent James Barnes” Maria motions to Bucky. “He's the friend I called about...”
“Right” Lawrence nods and moves towards Bucky, holds out his hand. “Lawrence Hill” he offers. “I own and co-run the Rehabilitation Centre”
“Nice to meet you” Bucky greets. “Thanks for letting me....stay”
“What are we looking at here?” Lawrence asks Maria, but his eyes remain on Bucky. “Navy? Air Force?”
“Army” Maria answers for Bucky.
“Well we've had our fair share of veterans from all the factions” Lawrence assures Bucky. “Normally we'd house you in the bunkhouse but it's currently undergoing renovations”
“I'm sure it's great” Maria assures him. Lawrence's cell phone starts ringing in his pocket, he sighs and pulls it out.
“I have to take this” he motions with the cell phone. “Lunch will be ready soon” He offers Maria before walking away. Bucky turns to Maria once Lawrence has left the barn.
“James?” he asks. “Army? Did you tell them anything?”
“No” she answers. “They don't need to know about the Winter Soldier stuff” she points out as she leads Bucky up to the loft of the barn. “The Doc” she adds. “He'll have had the full file sent to him, so he'll know, but you need some time with people treating you like a normal human being” he glances to her as they enter the loft.
“This place has a doctor?” Bucky asks, she shrugs and moves to lean against the dresser against the wall letting Bucky have a look around the room.
“Psychiatrist” she answers. “The physical work isn't the only tool for healing here” he hums a little sitting on the end of the bed, Maria pushes away from the dresser. “I'll let you unpack and get settled....” she glances to her watch. “Meet you at the oak tree in half an hour?” she asks, he nods.
“Yeah, sounds good” she nods and then leaves him alone in his new room. Bucky lets out a breath and looks around. It's simplistic. Bed. Desk. Wardrobe. No tv. No computer. There are, however, a pair of gloves, thick and hardy, set out on the dresser along with some sort of emergency handout. He raises an eyebrow and opens it. What to do in the event of a bear attack? He reads, his eyes widening slightly. He flips the page: Wolf attack. And another; Cougar attack. “What the hell” he whispers a little, this is supposed to be a place for rest and recovery and they're talking about bears and things that can eat him in his sleep.
Bucky tucks his hands in his pockets as he leaves the barn and heads back towards the Oak tree. It hadn't taken him long to unpack his things, the few pairs of jeans, the henley's from Steve, the winter coat which he will probably never use given that its spring and he's hoping Steve will have figured something else out by winter. There were a few hoodies too, his toiletries, socks, etc. The usual. The emergency booklet he'd flicked through had given him a reason to worry, he honestly can't stop thinking about the idea of bears visiting this place. People. Hydra he can deal with but animals the size of the Hulk, that might be a slight exaggeration but seen as he's never seen a bear up close he has nothing else to base it on.
“Bears?” Bucky asks as he approaches Maria sat under the oak tree, she pushes herself up to meet him.
“Don't go and get your panties all in a twist” she teases. “We've never had a bear attack here, they just have to hand them out, just in case...” she smirks amused. “You can't be afraid of bears” she points out.
“Urm well yeah” Bucky mumbles. “Humans are predictable....animals less so” he explains as they head towards the main house.
“Like I said” she starts. “This place has never had a bear attack” she promises him. Bucky shrugs a little and sighs.
“If there is one I'm blaming you....and Steve” Maria chuckles a little heading up the porch, Bucky close behind her. “And definitely Sam” he mumbles to himself.
Chapter 6: Chapter Four
Bucky flanks Maria as she pauses in the doorway to the kitchen, watching her family potter on in the kitchen. Bucky's eyes shift, landing on two girls across the kitchen. Two sisters. And they are so clearly sisters. But his eyes are on the youngest of the two of them. She's beautiful, stood there just next to a window which lets in the light at just the right angle to illuminate her blonde hair. They're talking over bottles of beer whilst smiling and giggling away to one another. Gabriel, their oldest brother is sat in a wheelchair but he gives off a sense of being taller despite it. He's listening to his sisters talk next to him, a soft smile on his lips. This family seems so light, so fresh. Bucky feels dirty even looking in on them. A tall fellow, strongly built but still with an air of intelligence about him, steps up behind the youngest blonde, placing his hand on the small of her back, she turns and smiles at him before turning her attention back to her sister. Maria clears her throat and the room turns to her and Bucky.
“Maria” Anna moves first, setting her beer down to approach her cousin. The bond so clear between them all is
“Nice to have you back,” Anna tells Maria as she hugs her.
“Nice to be back” Maria admits warmly whilst waving to El behind Anna's back, El waves back. “Hey, El”
“Maria” El greets back. Maria pulls away from Anna as Bucky shifts at her side, uncomfortable and feeling a little out of place, being here with her family. Maria turns to him and pulls him closer to the family.
“James, this is literally everyone,” Maria tells him. “You've met Mallory and my grandfather” she motions to them and then to the three siblings gathered together. “Cousins; Gabriel, Anna, and Ellie...El..whichever..” Maria teases with a wink at El who rolls her eyes softly. “And Jack...” Jack lingers closer to El. “He's the in house head doc”
“Psychiatrist” Jack corrects. “As you are well aware, Maria” he teases, El snorts a little. “Not head doc” Maria shrugs and folds her arms over her chest. “But nice to see you again”
“Hmmm, you too” Maria then motions to Bucky. “As I was saying, this is James, your new whipping boy”
“Hey” Bucky looks to her and shoots her a look.
“We prefer the term: ranch hand” El scolds her cousin. “And the only whip involved is the one we use on the horses”
“Not that El uses a whip, even on them” Anna counters grabbing a jug of water from the counter and moves to the table.
“I always find that gentle persuasion works better” El argues with her sister whilst Bucky watches her. “Why smack when you can caress?” she asks. Bucky zones out watching the way her face lights up, the sun soft on her skin.
“I'm right, right, James?” she asks looking to him, he frowns at her and then looks to Maria who smirks.
“I'm sorry” Bucky looks back to El. “I completely missed that”
“I said that a whip is unnecessary” El repeats for Bucky as she leans on the back of her chair. “That soft touches are far more encouraging than a harsh slap” he nods a little.
“Yeah, I can see that” he agrees with her, she turns and sticks her tongue out at Anna who rolls her eyes amused. Bucky might have liked Hydra if they employed that technique, stroke his hair, back massage, it sounds a lot better than getting his memories zapped from his head and getting beat around and stuff. Pretty sure if Hydra were giving out full body massages a lot more people would like them a hell of lot more than they do now.
“Everyone grab a seat” Lawrence states grabbing a bowl from the side. “El, help me with these” she sets her drink down and helps her grandfather set the table with the food. Bucky sits between Maria and Mallory, across from El, Anna, and Jack, Gabriel, and Lawrence each take a head of the table. Food in bowls, chicken, salad, little snack pieces are scattered across the tabletop, jugs of water and glasses to join it. It looks delicious, homely, healthy and comforting. They each go about serving themselves portions of food, Bucky should be wary about how much he eats, though he knows he's going to need to eat super soldier portions, he glances to Marie who holds out the bowl of chicken, she shoots him a look and he takes it from her.
“Take what you need” she whispers. “I told them you've got a healthy appetite, they made plenty” he gives her a grateful look and serves himself some food before glancing to Lawrence.
“So what's with this place, uh, Red Oak?” Bucky asks.
“Land's been in my family for six generations” Lawrence explains. “Well, we used to run cattle, Whiteface mostly”
“Yeah, that's when this place actually made a profit” Gabriel counters.
“Mom believed there were more important things than money” El scolds a little. Anna touches her arm and looks to Bucky.
“Our mother set this place up as a rescue centre for horses” Anna explains. “And eventually people too” she looks to Maria. “Pass the potatoes,” she asks of her, Maria lifts the bowl and hands it over.
“Our mother was like a horse whisperer” El points out with a smile, she doesn't remember very much of her mother but she grew up on the stories from her family, from those that knew her, the videos of her working.
“What, like a horse shrink?” Bucky asks, Anna nods.
“She was famous” Anna answers resting her fingers under her chin to watch him, her eyes fluttering slightly, she does this with every guy or girl that comes through the gates it's nothing new, Bucky blinks though, this is new to him, this version of him anyway, once upon a time he would have revealed in the women giving him attention. Maria smirks at his side. “She could just look at a horse and know what was wrong and what to do” Bucky looks to Maria looking doubtful.
“It's true” Maria assures him. “Amelia had a gift...it was always something else to watch” The room falls silent a little, the grief surrounding Amelia seems so strong still, despite the number of years that have passed by. Bucky pushes the pieces of salad around his plate before turning to Maria.
“How is this going to work?” Bucky asks, Maria glances to him and then nods a little understanding what he's asking.
“After lunch, I'll show you around” Maria answers. “Then we'll come back here for a snack....” she stabs at her food.
“Then you and me” Jack starts from El's side. “We'll have a chat, set up a schedule that will work for what you need” Bucky nods a little, it's not like he has a whole lot of choice in this whole thing.
“Then dinner is here” Maria continues.
“Usually your nights are yours but the rec room is also being redecorated as well” Lawrence explains. “You are more than welcome to use the tv in the family room” he motions behind him. “And I suggest you get a good night's sleep, hard work starts at 4 am”
“4 am?” Bucky asks, he thought Steve was an idiot for getting up that early to go for a run, and Bucky opted to stay in bed for two more hours.
“Yeah, welcome to ranch life” Maria teases at his side.
“With your mornings you have a choice” Anna explains. “Jogging with me or yoga with El, you can alternate mornings, or pick one....”
“Normally they'd be a group of us” El offers reassuring him. “But you are the only one currently staying with us”
“Do I have to choose now?” Bucky asks, El shakes her head.
“No, you can just choose in the morning....” she assures him. “We'll take it easy on you” she teases.
“Speak for yourself” Anna argues with a smirk. “I want to see what those thighs can do” Maria looks down smirking as Bucky blushes a little.
“Anna” Lawrence warns. “How many times are you going to risk sexual harassment before you stop?”
“At least once more, Grandpa” she answers sweetly. Jack leans in closer to El to whisper something in her ear, it draws Bucky's attention to them, El starts smiling softly before she's laughing and looking up at Jack. Bucky knows that look, the one Jack's giving El. Bucky looks away, it feels rude to intrude on that
Chapter 7: Chapter Five
Bucky's decided that the barn loft is actually better than his room back at the facility. Now he can truly relax and take it in. The earthy tones. More warm and welcoming than the grey and black and silver back in New York. The bed is a sturdy double with warm and soft bedding, the wooden frame more friendly than the metal frame back there. It's more comforting, the wood. He takes a breath before he moves to look out the window, from here he has the perfect view of the round pen just in front of the barn, the sun setting behind the ranch. He'd spent the afternoon with Maria or with Jack and he's barely seen anyone else and he won't admit to wanting to either. The family is so fresh and different from the Avengers, from Hydra, there is an inherent lightness to them in their easy smile and warm eyes. He can understand why veterans like it here, the second you're with them it's like everything bad disappears behind a wall of blonde hair and normality. He hears the clicking of a tongue and looks down to see El, on horseback, trotting away from the barn. The horse is something else, something cute and strong and powerful, grey and spotted. He smiles watching her as she smiles, so unadulterated and pure, she really loves the horses. His smile turns into a scowl as Jack, on another horse, trots to her side and watches her warmly as she talks to him, he nods in agreement to whatever it is before the two of them literally ride off into the sunset. Bucky huffs and rolls his eyes. Not that he has anything to huff and roll his eyes at. He's been here a day, one day, and he's already.....not jealous. He's not jealous. At all. He's being ridiculous. He smiles flicking the bobblehead horse on the desk. He flicks open his cell phone as he sits on the end of the bed. It's too soon to call Steve. He closes it again and looks around the room.
Bucky sleeps better than he has in decades, the mattress just the right amount of soft and firm to welcome his slumber, the blankets soft and fluffy and warm. He sits on the edge of the bed and rolls his shoulders, the seam where the metal sits aches slightly but that's nothing new. He still hasn't decided what he's going to choose by the time he wakes up. He thought he would know and whilst jogging is something he knows, he can run, he likes running, this whole thing is supposed to be about healing and doing something different, so he swings back to yoga which might help with his arm.
Bucky pulls his glove on as he heads down the loft steps, part of him hates keeping his arm a secret from these people, he feels like he should be honest with them, to let them know just how dangerous he is to have around, but he's selfish, and he wants them to ignore his true identity a little longer, he wants them to treat him like just another vet. Leaving the barn he heads towards the house to meet the sisters but he doesn't have to go that far. He sees the two of them together laughing by the oak tree, Anna's hand clutching to her sister's arm as she bends, wheezing slightly with the humor between them. Bucky remembers little of his relationship with his own sister but he remembers laughing, she was always laughing with him and it was always enough to double her over.
“Morning” El greets when she spots him approaching, Bucky smiles and nods.
“Morning” he offers back. She holds out a bottle of orange liquid and a granola bar, he frowns at the bottle.
“It's carrot and orange” she offers. “Just to get you through till breakfast” he takes them from her.
“Thank you” he whispers, touched by the gesture.
“Maria said you like to eat” Anna points out with a smirk. “Fast metabolism or something” she waves off.
“Anna suggested we strap a saddlebag to your back” El teases. “And fill the pouches with food” Bucky smirks and nods.
“Would make things easier” he agrees with Anna who winks at him.
“Please don't encourage her” El whispers warmly as she grabs her yoga mat from the ground. “Did you pick a workout yet?” she asks him.
“I think I'm going to go with jogging” Bucky answers and nods a little. “Today at least...” El nods.
“They always choose jogging first” she teases. “You'll change your mind soon enough” she then walks away, Bucky turns to Anna who smirks at him.
Bucky decides he actually likes Anna, she's bouncy and a little enthusiastic but kind and welcoming and exhausting. He can see why others pull back from jogging, she takes him through hills and trees and rivers and anyone not a super solider would be exhausted and this is before the day actually starts. But he knows why they do it this way, they wear them out, mind, body, and soul so they sleep through the night plus it builds up their physical strength. It's one hell of a place to run though, Steve would love it. He pants a little and takes a deep breath as they stop back at the oak tree. Anna brushes her hair out of her eyes and nods, impressed. Bucky is a little worn out, it's been months since he's had a proper workout, if what he did with Hydra can be considered working out. Even with his serum, he is feeling the effects of the run. El appears from the side of the house and Bucky can't help but stare at her. The way the rising sun hits her body, the sweat glistening against her skin. She smiles seeing them both back.
“How was it?” she asks him, he nods licking his lips before realizing what the hell he's doing.
“It was....good” he answers her, she smiles and looks to Anna who winks back at her sister.
“Breakfast will be in half an hour” Anna offers. “Time for you to shower” she pushes at Bucky's arm, he looks down at her and smirks, she's so tiny and she's trying to shove him along, but he stands firm. “Jeez, it's like trying to get one of the heifers to move” she complains teasingly.
“Alright, I'm going” he offers and walks away from them, the two sister shift closer to one another.
“They don't make them like that anymore” Anna offers El who smirks and shakes her head.
“No” El offers with a loose breath, she smiles. “They do not” she crosses her arms over her chest. “He's like a Shire in human form” Anna pauses slightly to look at her sister and then back to Bucky.
“Oh my God, he is” she agrees with a chuckle. “Definitely some form of draught horse that's for sure” she turns to her sister. "Only you would find a guy being horse-like attractive"
"Horses are strong, smart, passionate, well built and sturdy, reliable......why is being horse-like a bad thing?" El asks, Anna shakes her head and snorts.
"Nothing" Anna answers. "Not a damn thing wrong with that"
Chapter 8: Chapter Six
After Breakfast Bucky joins El in the stables, time to work. El stands holding a hose over a bucket filling it with fresh clean mountain water, Bucky pulls his hair up out of his eyes, it's already got in the way twice on his run and Anna had suggested he wear it up or get it cut, she may be right, but cutting it doesn't appeal to him, he knows that having short hair will just be a reminder of his pre-Hydra life, and that's not his anymore.
“It's their breakfast time” she teases a little. “And you're going to help me”
“That is what I am here for, right?” he asks her. “To be your whipping boy?” she smiles and shakes her head.
“I'll be gentle” she offers back. “Now, come here” she motions to the whiteboard above her, he readjusts his jacket as he moves closer to her. “We don't just specialize in human rehabilitation but equine too” she offers. “So horses will come and go, and some will have special dietary needs.....” Bucky looks up at the whiteboard, eyes scanning over the words. “Don't worry, all the tubs and scoops and boxes are labeled....” she nods to the feed room. “Just in there”
“What does this mean?” he asks motioning to a cluster of numbers at the end of one of the lines.
“Number of feeds a day” she answers. “That's Cookie, she gets fed little and often because she can't digest hay, so she gets a little more grain than the others...” Bucky nods. She touches the board over the numbers. “Most of the others get two feeds, morning and evening and then a bale to nibble on every other day, usually on the days that I work with them....” he nods a little trying to keep up. She motions to another board. “This one is work rota” she explains. “I like to spend as much time as I can with a horse before I send it back to its owner, we usually take on four horses at a time, so I work with two a day and then alternate days....”
“Is it training that you do with them?” he asks. “Jumping or whatever horses do” she chuckles a little, he shrugs. “I don't know much about them to be honest” he admits.
“Not training, it's therapy” she admits. “They come to us with psychological issues, some little things like...fear of water, or fear of a saddle, sometimes it's bigger problems.....” she shrugs. “Most owners work their horses, so if the horse can't work then it has no purpose, they sell it, or worse....”
“So if you can't fix the problem, that's it? End of the line?” he asks. “That's a little drastic isn't it?”
“I happen to agree” she mumbles looking to him, he gives her a small smile. “We wouldn't do that to humans so why do it to animals?” she moves back to the water bucket to see how much water has filled it. Bucky leans against the nearest wall watching her.
“Last night at dinner” Bucky starts. “What upset you?” she huffs a little, having been caught out, then looks to him, he raises an eyebrow back at her.
“You noticed that, huh?” she asks him, he nods, she sighs a little. “Nothing” she answers quietly. “It was nothing” she adds surer turning off the water and moving to grab a feed bucket to fill it.
“Clearly something” he argues, she looks down and then nods.
“Just...my competitor” she answers setting a feed bucket onto the hook in the stall in front of her. “There is this dressage competition this weekend, it's supposed” she rolls her eyes a little. “To be friendly, for charity......But apparently, I have issues with competition of any kind” Bucky smirks a little.
“You take it seriously” he guesses, she snorts.
“According to Anna, too seriously” she admits and then sighs.
“So this competitor....” he pushes.
“We're supposed to announce our music a month before the show” she informs him. “Just so that there are no doubles, so we don't clash, no copies....”
“Reasonable” he agrees.
“Well...She changed it” she tells him. “Three days before the competition” he raises an eyebrow.
“Why does it matter if she changed it?” he asks her, she crosses her arms over her chest and sighs.
“Because she chose my music” she answers, defeat sinking into her, she lets out her breath. “I've been working on this routine for 6 months”
“For a charity show?” he asks dubious, she shakes her head.
“This event was supposed to be a trial run of that routine, I was planning on using it for a bigger show next month, an international show. And now I can't use the same music as her” she mumbles with a sigh. “And I have less than two days to work on something else” she sighs and shakes her head, Bucky takes the bucket from her.
“I'll finish this,” he tells her. “Everything is on the whiteboard, and everything is labeled.....” she watches him a moment. “You've got what?” he asks looking to his watch. “18 hours till Friday night?” she nods a little. “Go and figure something out”
“Why would you do this?” she asks him quietly, he shrugs a little and then walks away to the horse stall at the end, she blinks a little, touched by what he's done, she looks down and then heads to her office, Bucky glances back at her, watches her disappear into the little room off the stables. The horse headbutts Bucky wanting his food, he turns to the horse and raises an eyebrow at it before setting the bucket on the hook.
“Alright, buddy” he offers softly. “How about I sneak you a carrot or something?”
“They have specific diets for a reason” Anna teases behind him before moving to his side. Bucky glances to her and notes the amusement and tease in her eyes. “Especially this one” She leans on the gate. “He's El's competition horse” Anna offers stroking Midnight's face.
“He's impressive” Bucky points out.
“He's an Arabian stallion” Anna informs him. “Absolute love of El's life” she strokes the horse's neck and smiles. “Grandpa bought him when he was 2, figuring that he could turn him into this....champion horse” She looks to Bucky. “But he was too stubborn and too boisterous to let anyone train him.....didn't like the halter, didn't like the saddle, didn't like being told what to do....” she chuckles and shakes her head. “But El” she breaths amazed. “She just walked right up to him, looked him in the eye and slid the halter onto his face...” She turns to Bucky. “That's when everyone knew” he frowns and shakes his head.
“That she was special like mom” Anna answers. “El's always loved horses, hell, we all have, we grew up with them, horses are literally running through our DNA” Bucky smiles a little. “But El...it was something else for her. Something stronger. And they're different with her” Anna whispers. “Like they see her as one of them.....” he looks doubtful, Anna snorts and smirks. “Wait till you see her riding, then you'll get it” she turns to lean back against the gate.
“Anna” El states moving towards them. “I need your iPod...” she frowns a little. “Gabrielle changed her music to La vie en rose” Bucky glances up a little to watch the two sisters interact. Anna gasps.
“She did that?” she angrily asks pulling her iPod out of her bag. “I can't believe her” She hands her sister the iPod. “What are you going to do?”
“Find some new music and hope I can match the moves to it....” she answers already walking away.
“Well that's just great” Anna mumbles with a sigh.
“It's pretty serious what she did then?” Bucky asks Anna as El walks away.
“El and Gabrielle have been nose to nose competitors since they were 14 years old” Anna answers as she follows him, Bucky moves to the collection of buckets, he grabs one from the side and moves to the feed store. “Gabrielle is a spoilt princess, and she acts like it...And El's worked hard on this....” Anna sighs and shrugs. Bucky glances away to where El has disappeared. Realizing how hard this must be hitting El. “Don't forget that Treasure has added supplements” Anna points out as she leaves the stables, a smirk on her face. Bucky looks down at the bucket in his hand.
Chapter 9: Chapter Seven
Bucky looks up as El returns to the stable, he'd been given the afternoon to work with Anna but she's had to go into town, and Bucky can't leave the ranch, so he chose to spend time with the horses. He knows he complained to Steve about the animals but there is something soothing about their presence. They don't look at him like he's the Winter Soldier. He's just another human to them. He turns, eyes following El.
“Did you get your music sorted?” he asks, she looks to him and nods.
“I think so” she answers. “It's going to take practice to get used to the beat but...I think I can get it done for the weekend” She grabs a blanket from the side and drapes it over Midnight's stall. She glances to him as he watches her. “Do you know much about equestrian equipment?” she asks him. He shakes his head.
“No” he admits.
“Here, I'll show you,” El tells Bucky moving to the tack rack. He follows behind her like an obedient little dog, he doesn't care, he rather likes watching her talk about this, she beams and smiles and loves it so much. She's so passionate and he adores it, it's....inspiring, he wants to do better just being around her, he can understand why there are so many success stories out of this place. They're all so nice. Calming. “Saddle blankets” she motions to them and turns to Bucky. “Basically they go under the saddle...they absorb sweat, cushion the saddle, and protect the horse's back from rubbing and chaffing and stuff” She motions to one. “That is Midnight's” she moves to another. “Liberty's and that one...is Treasures...all the others are a free for all thing...some are different sizes, depending on the horse, we've had some ponies come in and they need a slightly smaller blanket” he nods.
“Make sense” he offers, she smirks at him.
“You're going to forget all this, aren't you?” she asks him, he looks to her and shakes his head.
“Never” he assures her. He doesn't want to ever forget any of this, of her. He's gonna have to suffer through smug Steve but he'll do it, for these memories, nice, normal, mundane memories. He'll take them over Hydra. She smiles softly and looks down before moving on.
“Saddles,” she tells him running her hand over the saddle set up at the side, she'd set it out to polish it later. “There are a few different types of saddle” she starts. “Midnight has four” she pats one of the saddles. “Jumping, dressage, endurance, and stock, basically self-explanatory, but stock is for general riding or the trails”
“Trails?” he asks. She hums and nods.
“There are few around, just safe paths that can be used, good for first-time riders....” she shrugs a little. “Halters” she moves on. “Leather” she points to a group of halters. “Most common, most loved, basic and hardy yet it'll snap if the horse is ever caught up in something...” he nods a little. She moves on. “Nylon” she points out. “I don't use them with Midnight because he doesn't like the smell, but I know that Treasure prefers his” she turns. “Rope...” she points out. “Not much to say about that, rope's rope” she points to another collection. “Breakaway” she explains. “Shipping” she motions to Midnight's one on the wall. “For traveling in the horsebox, and then....grooming, basically it's used to keep the horse attached to a post whilst you're brushing them....” she shrugs. “Pretty simple...really” he nods in agreement. She grabs a halter from the peg marked Liberty and walks to the horses stall, Bucky watches her, letting his eyes linger on the way she walks, so confident and sure of herself around these animals. He's nervous. He really is. She scratches at the horses face. Her horse. Her love. And he can see it in the way she's soft with him. She pats his neck and turns back to Bucky. “Do you want to try?” She asks holding out the halter to him. He shakes his head.
“No” he answers. “I don't want to hurt him”
“You won't” she assures him shaking the halter. “You'll have to get used to doing it anyway” he steps closer to her and takes the halter. “We'll start with Liberty” she moves to another stall. “She's a sweetheart” she unlocks the stall and clicks her tongue, the grey speckled mare follows her out. She motions to Bucky. He hesitates slightly, his thumb rubbing over the leather halter. El looks to him.
“I don't know” he argues slightly. She moves to him and raises an eyebrow.
“You're not scared of her, are you?” she asks him. He scoffs a little.
“No” he argues, she crosses her arms over her chest and raises an eyebrow. “No” he repeats, she gives him a look. “Yes,” he admits. “But it's not the horse” he assures her. She motions to herself. “Not afraid of you either” Just his rapidly snowballing feelings for her. It's not even been two days and he's already lost in basically all of her. “Just...never been around horses before, let alone...touched one”
“You fed them this morning”
“Surprisingly, I did that without touching a single one of them,” He tells her, he is self-conscious about touching them, his enhanced strength, his metal arm, he doesn't want to hurt them, or risk hurting them by underestimating the power behind a pat.
“It's all about trust,” she tells him pushing him towards the horse. “Let her get used to you” Bucky can't think, he can't actually think about anything right now, because she's touching him, her hands on his back, the warmth seeping through his shirt. “Horses are intelligent” she offers warmly moving her hand down his arm to his wrist, wrapping her fingers around it she pulls it up towards the horse, the halter between his fingers. “Let her see what you're going to do....she knows the halter” Liberty shifts her head towards his hand. “See, she knows what to do” El whispers to Bucky. “You got it?” she asks him, he nods and steps closer to the horse, El steps back to watch. Bucky lifts the halter and slips it over Liberty's nose and face, she lets him, her temperament is why she's the perfect teaching tool, she's soft and warm and calm. He does the halter up and steps back, Liberty watching him as he checks over his work then turns to El who smiles at him, proud, it does more for his self-esteem. “See” she starts. “Nothing to it” she offers warmly. His flesh hand comes up and scratches at the horses face. Liberty is not afraid of him. “Horses see things that humans don't” El whispers, Bucky looks to her. “They don't see disability or race or religion.....they see the important stuff, the heart, and the soul...” Bucky smiles softly. How is one human being this perfect? The way she talks about the animals, and the way she thinks about people.
“You really love them, don't you?” he asks, she smiles and shrugs.
“It's all I've known” she admits. “Not that I mind...they make me happy”
“That's all that matter” he assures her, she nods in agreement, they share a look, she then smirks.
“Would you like to get on?” he frowns at her. “On the horse”
“Oh, God no” he shakes his head stepping away. “That's....nope” she chuckles a little.
“Relax” she teases. “I wasn't serious” he cocks his head. “You've been here two days, you're not comfortable in your surroundings, you don't fully trust us or the horses, they'll sense that...”
“It's not...” he starts and struggles because she is right, he doesn't fully trust them, it's his Hydra mind, even El, despite how much he already likes her, he doesn't trust her.
“We're new” she points out. “We know....you're not the first Vet we've had here, we know how it works....” she touches his metal arm and smiles. Doesn't flinch. Doesn't cringe. He watches her. “It takes time” she shrugs. “Now, I'm going to spend a couple of hours with Midnight, are you going to be okay on your own?” he nods.
“Yeah, just waiting on your sister getting back” he offers.
“If you want” she starts. “You can feed the goats” he perks up a little and glances to her, she smirks at him. “There should be some feed in one of these” she opens a box and pulls out a bag of feed for the goats. Bucky moves closer to take it from her, can see how heavy it is. “Don't go crazy with it” she warns teasingly, he smirks and shrugs.
“I think I can handle a few goats” he offers, she smirks, knows the goats better than him, they're greedy little things that will do anything for food.
“You remember where they are?” she asks, he nods.
“Yeah, I remember” he answers quickly already heading that way, El smiles watching him go, he got all excited over the goats, and according to Maria, they seem to like him just as much. She bites her lip and sighs softly. She's not usually like this with them. Anna is the one that gets all hot and bothered by their guests but El's never met anyone like him. He makes her smile. He makes her heartbeat in her ear. She's never felt this way around anyone, to be honest. Horses have been her entire life, humans haven't really interested her....but he does. She shakes her head. There are rules. Because of Anna. No fraternizing with the vets. Midnight nudges her with his head and she turns to him.
“Alright, big guy” she teases softly.
Chapter 10: Chapter Eight
The next few days, Bucky gets into the routine easy enough, he enjoys jogging with Anna in the morning, breakfast with the family, taking care of the horses with El, he enjoys that the most, he's dealing with Jack, trying to get over that...jealousy at his relationship with El. From what Bucky's seen, it's one-sided and nothing to worry about. Not that he was planning on doing anything for his increasing feelings for El. She just keeps proving herself a better and better person. Warm. Calm. Kind. Passionate. Perfect. Bucky rolls his shoulder trying to ease a slight ache, the joint of his arm aching a little with carrying around bales of hay. He looks up hearing voices.
“Steve” Bucky breathes seeing his best friend with Gabriel and Lawrence, Sam and Natasha stand with them. Steve turns hearing him and smiles. Bucky heads towards them.
“Hey, Buck” Steve greets pulling his friend into a hug, Bucky embraces him back and smiles.
“What are you guys doing here?” Bucky asks pulling back.
“Gabriel called” Steve answers.
“With us being away for the weekend for El's show, Gabriel thought some company might be nice” Lawrence offers. Bucky looks to Gabriel who shrugs a little.
“We know how important bonds of friendship and family are to your recovery, cutting you off from that won't help you” Gabriel explains. “Daniella, she's my ex, Mallory's mother, she'll be here to look after the animals, she's not as comfortable around the vets as we are...so you wouldn't have had anything to do”
“Thank you,” Bucky tells him.
“Actually, you should thank El” Gabriel admits. “It was...her idea”
“It was?” Bucky asks, Gabriel nods. Bucky smiles a little and looks down. Steve smirks a little knowing his friend.
“Some of the others wanted to come,” Steve tells him. “But we figured all of us might be a little obvious and a little overwhelming” Steve whispers to Bucky who nods. “And well, certain people are still a little sore about the whole.....fight thing”
“Understandable” Bucky assures him. “It's not like I expected to even be in the same room as Stark any time soon...or at all” he shrugs. “Just glad you're here”
“You look good” Steve states. “Rested...”
“Well, you were right about this place” Bucky admits, Steve smiles and squeezes his shoulder.
Steve, Sam, and Natasha join Bucky and the family for dinner, it's a full-on affair with a table full of food. Sam hands over a bowl of mash to Natasha who hums taking it. It's been an age since any of them had a real home-cooked meal. Steve sits beside Bucky talking to Anna and Jack. Bucky watches El as she smiles and lights up around these people, it's so rare for the family to meet people that aren't vets or part of the equestrian world. Mallory swings her legs under the table as she eats.
“Do you guys know that Maria, back when she was a tween was a pop star here in Canada?” Gabriel asks, Maria chokes on her drink and then coughs.
“What?” Natasha asks looking to Maria who shakes her head.
“That's amazing” Sam mumbles amused.
“No...that's not...I was not” Maria argues shooting Sam a look, Gabriel nods in agreement.
“What was the song called?” he muses, El smirks.
“Something to do with shopping” She states in agreement. “Or...the mall...or something”
“You both know damn well what it wasn't” Maria warns them and motions for them to stop talking. Anna starts humming to herself with a smirk. Maria shoots her a look. El looks to Bucky who raises an eyebrow at her.
“What was her name?” Gabriel asks rubbing his chin.
“Something birdie” El answers. “Like Wren...or...Finch...”
“Robin...?” Lawrence asks.
“Hey” Maria warns. “Ixnay on the Sparklay” she points to each of her cousins and then her grandfather.
“Alright, fine” Gabriel holds up his hands and shares a look with El who winks and nods. She turns to Anna who nods in agreement with some unspoken code. El looks to Bucky who frowns at her, she winks and smirks.
“Let's go to the mall” El, Anna and Gabriel burst into song. Maria hangs her head and groans covering her face. Sam is laughing so hard he's almost crying.
“I hate all of you” Maria mumbles. Bucky smiles warmly watching the siblings chuckling away. It reminds him of his own relationship with his sister, Rebecca. His smile turns wistful, longing. He hasn't thought about her in a long time. Steve glances to him and then touches his shoulder, Bucky looks to him.
“Just thinking” Bucky answers the unasked question. Steve removes his hand and nods. Steve knows how that feels, to get lost in memories of the past. “So this competition” Bucky starts looking back at El who smiles softly at him. “I'm sure you're going to do great”
“Of course she is” Anna counters. “El is one of, if not the best in Canada” El shrugs a little.
“It's for charity” Lawrence reminds them. “So maybe this time someone could show some restraint” El sighs a little and then shrugs.
“I can tone it down to 90% but that's probably all” She offers. “We all know that Gabrielle is not going to go easy because it's charity, she'll be in it to win, I'll be in it to beat her ass”
“And to raise money for charity” Lawrence adds, El looks to him and smiles sweetly.
“Of course” she assures him. “But mainly to beat her” She and Bucky share a look, he looks down smirking, she chuckles and stabs at her food.