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Burden of Proof

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You set your bag on the rickety table in the corner of your tiny apartment, wincing as you toed your shoes off. You groaned when your socked feet touched the carpet and you yawned, stretching your arms over your head. Your stomach growled, reminding you that you’d forgotten to take Wanda up on her offer to have Vis cook you something before you left the diner. 

Maybe tomorrow.

You untied the apron from around your waist, folding it and setting it beside your bag on the table. You shook your head and put the apron in your bag, to ensure that you wouldn’t forget it. You made your way to the fold-out sofa you slept on and sighed, making a mental note to see if Wanda could trade you some quarters for a few dollars so you could do some laundry. 

You made your way to the tiny bathroom, washing your face and hands before you looked at yourself in the dirty mirror. No matter how much you’d scrubbed—even borrowing cleaning supplies from the diner—the mirror was filthy. The whole place had been filthy, but you’d scrubbed until your fingers bled, painstakingly making your shoebox apartment into a space you were semi-proud of. 

Well... You were proud it was clean. You wouldn’t be inviting anyone over anytime soon, but it’s not like you had any friends to invite. Except for Wanda, who was a Godsend. She was the only one who’d stood beside you through the farce of your divorce, the one who’d offered you a job when you didn’t have any options, the one who’d given you a place to stay until you got back on your feet. She hated that you lived in this rundown building on the wrong side of town, but it was all you could afford, and she and Vis deserved a place to themselves. 

You yawned and stepped away from the mirror, unzipping the gray dress you wore as your work uniform and hanging it over the shower rod. The apartment was too small for a closet. It practically was the size of a closet. You had a couple of boxes that held your clothes—the few you’d bought at the local Goodwill, the few Wanda had collected and washed for you. There wasn’t room in your place to put a dresser—or much at all—and you had more important things to put your money towards than furniture. 

Like the massive attorney and court fees for both you and your ex. He had plenty of money to pay his own fees—and yours too, and not even blink an eye—but that’s not what the judge had ruled. No, the judge had piled the blame on you, despite the mountain of evidence that Brock had cheated on and abused you, thereby nullifying the pre-nup he’d insisted you sign just before the wedding. You’d known the judge would do just that, since Alexander Pierce had always attended the dinner parties Brock had made you host, along with playing golf with Brock every Tuesday. You’d tried to get him recused from the trial, but Pierce—and Brock—had many friends in high places. 

So that was how you found yourself at rock bottom, in an apartment even the roaches turned up their noses at, with an aching stomach and no food in the refrigerator. Well … if you’d even been able to afford a fridge.

You dug through one of the boxes and found an oversized t-shirt, one that advertised the annual Stark Expo from 2010. You pulled it on and smiled as you ran your hand over the faded picture on the front and sighed, pulling the blanket back and crawling onto the lumpy sofa bed. You stared up at the ceiling, until your eyes got too heavy to keep them open. You sighed, your last thought hoping that you’d be able to sleep this one night without dreaming. 

 


 

Steve took a sip of the bourbon, exhaling as he stared out the window at the lights of the city. 

“Got him.”

Steve raised an eyebrow as he looked over his shoulder. Bucky smiled at him, plopping himself on Steve’s plush couch, kicking his booted feet up onto the coffee table and crossing his ankles. Steve exhaled and pointed at Bucky’s feet, but Bucky just shrugged. 

“Who, you ask? That little rat bastard that jumped bail.”
“Not—“
“Yep. Jasper Sitwell. God, even his name gives me chills.”

Steve glanced into his glass, speaking before he took a drink. 

“He wasn’t one of mine.”
“Nah, he was Rumlow’s. That bastard sold his soul a long time ago to be defending creeps like Sitwell.”
“Where’d you find him?”

Bucky grinned. 

“The Jersey Shore. He was meeting up with who he thought was an underage hooker.”

Steve glanced over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow. Bucky just shrugged. 

“Can’t help it if Michelle looks younger than she actually is.”
“Michelle? Not Peter’s Michelle.”
“The one and only MJ. She’s completely legal, Stevie. In the academy now, unfortunately.”

Steve smiled. 

“Just because the NYPD wouldn’t take you—“
“The hell they wouldn’t!”

Steve chuckled, finishing off his glass of bourbon. Bucky sighed, crossing his thick arms over his chest. 

“Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sitwell tries to call you to defend him.”

Steve glanced into his glass and shook his head. 

“He can try.”

Bucky smiled again. 

“There’s my guy.”

Steve rolled his eyes, walking towards the liquor cart, ignoring the blue eyes watching his every move until the silence grew too loud. 

“Don’t you have a boyfriend to go check on?”
“Eh, Clint’s got a big project coming up at work and I’m just in the way.”

Steve shook his head. 

“So you’ll let Clint work in peace, but you come over to annoy the piss out of me?”
“Well, you don’t give me sex on the regular, so…”

Steve made a gagging noise that made Bucky laugh. After a moment of silence, Bucky spoke again.

“I noticed what tomorrow was, and I wanted to come check on you.”

Steve exhaled, setting the glass down on the cart and uncapping the bourbon.

“I’m fine, Buck.”
“How much of that have you been through?”

Steve sighed. 

“Half a bottle. But it doesn’t affect me.”
“I know.”

Steve ran a hand over his face and Bucky stood up, walking over and standing just over Steve’s shoulder. 

“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know it wasn’t.”
“Do you?”

Steve closed his eyes, setting the bottle down on the cart before his hands started to shake. 

“I gave the order.”

Steve’s voice was barely a whisper, but Bucky heard it anyway. 

“We didn’t have to go. We chose to, Cap.”

Steve shook his head and Bucky stepped forward to grip Steve’s shoulder. 

“Sam would kick your ass if he could see you acting like this.”

Steve gave a ragged exhale. 

“Well, he’s not here to see it, is he?”
“Don’t try and pick a fight with me.”

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and Bucky made him turn around, wrapping him in a hug. Steve put his face in Bucky’s shoulder, soaking in his strength until he could breathe again. He nodded, patting Bucky on the back before he straightened and stepped away from him. 

“I’ll be okay. I just … every year, I can’t help but think about him, what he’d be doing.”
“I’ll tell you exactly what he’d be doing. He’d be right here with us.”

Steve smiled as he met Bucky’s eyes. 

“With me or with you?”
“Well, Sam was excellent at straddling the fence. He’d do some legal stuff with you, but I figure he’d spend a fair amount of time on the less than legal side with me.”

Steve laughed at the grin on Bucky’s face, then nodded. 

“You’re right.”
“I know I am.”

Steve rolled his eyes and Bucky tilted his head. 

“Want to crash with Clint and me tonight?”

Steve shook his head. 

“Nah, I’m fine.”
“You gonna call Nat?”
“For what?”

Bucky grimaced. 

“If you have to ask that question, you definitely need to call her.”
“Oh my go—Bucky!”

Bucky cackled as Steve shook his head. 

“We don’t do that anymore.”
“Right, right. That was a one-time booty call.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and Steve punched him in his shoulder. 

“It wasn’t a one-time thing, but we’re just better off …”
“Not mixing business and pleasure?”
“Yes, you ass.”

Bucky laughed, shaking his head as he raised his hands. 

“All right, fine. Whatever you say. I do think it wouldn’t kill you to get laid, but you do you. Oh, wait. Ew. Don’t actually—“
“Stop talking.”

Bucky nodded, closing his mouth. Steve shook his head, a smile playing at his lips. Bucky reached out and squeezed Steve’s shoulder.

“If you need me, don’t hesitate to call.”
“I will. Thanks, man.”

Bucky nodded, squeezing Steve’s shoulder once more before he turned and put his hands in the pockets of his jacket as he waited on the elevator. 

When he was gone, Steve sighed. He made a face when he lifted his hand and turned to walk through his penthouse back to his bedroom. He slid the jacket off his shoulders, removing the cuff links from his sleeves before he loosened the tie around his neck. 

He hadn’t even bothered to get comfortable when he’d left the office. He’d just gone straight for the liquor cabinet. 

He sighed, shaking his head to try and clear it of the thoughts that plagued him. He dropped the tie in the hamper, then unbuttoned his shirt and dropped it on top of the tie. He sat on the bench of the vanity—wondering yet again why he had a vanity with a bench seat in his bathroom—untying his shoes and tossing them out into the bedroom. He dropped his socks and slacks in the hamper, walking into the bedroom in his boxer-briefs. He took in a breath and let it out slowly as he climbed into the California King, moving a hand behind his head and staring at the ceiling. 

He was exhausted, but he knew as soon as he closed his eyes, he’d be back in Afghanistan. He’d be back to that day, when he gave the order, when Bucky nearly lost his arm and Sam lost his life. He braced himself as best he could, finally giving in to the exhaustion, body going slack as he drifted to sleep. 

 


 

“Here, taste this.”
“I’d much rather taste—mmph.”

Steve took a bite before the cupcake was shoved into his face, chewing as he listened to the quiet giggle. He nodded, swallowing and meeting her eyes. 

“That’s delicious.”
“Lemon cake with raspberry frosting.”
“Little sweet, little tart. Like you.”

You rolled your eyes, turning back to the cupcakes you were frosting, smiling when Steve’s hands slid over your hips, his warm chest pressing against your back. He started kissing your neck and you sighed, leaning back into him. 

“My parents will be home soon.”
“Guess we better get it in quick, then.”

You laughed, shaking your head and leaning forward, forcing him backwards. 

“Come on, baby.”
“I have got to frost these.”
“But we—“
“Can sneak away later. I’ve got to get these ready and delivered before it gets too late.”

Steve groaned and you turned to face him, a cupcake in your hand, frosting it as you spoke. 

“I promise I will make it worth your while if you can help me pack these up and deliver them.”
“Who’re they for?”
“Wanda’s mom for her open house.”

Steve sighed, rubbing a hand over his hair. You glanced up from the cupcake, a smile coming to your face.

“I’ll let you touch my boobs.”
“Sold.”

You laughed, setting the cupcake in the box you’d been packing up, closing the lid and walking to him, looping your arms around his neck. You closed your eyes and shivered when his big hands slid up and down your sides, leaning in and pressing your lips to his, speaking softly. 

“I love you.”

Steve smiled as you went on kissing him, and he wrapped his arms around you, pulling you closer. 

“I love you.”

He broke the kiss, smiling down at you. 

“Whoever would have thought I’d fall in love with my tutor?”

You rolled your eyes. 

“Oh, shut up.”
“Just imagine if I’d have been good at English. We may never have met.”
“Oh, we’d have met, Mr. Quarterback. You just wouldn’t have had anything to do with me.”

You squealed as he gathered you up into his arms. 

“Guess I’ll just thank my lucky stars, then.”

 


 

Steve sat at his desk, twirling a pen between two fingers, absently swaying his chair back and forth. He glanced over at the knock on his door and a smile spread over his lips. 

“Hey, you.”

Natasha smiled. 

“Hey, back.”

Natasha walked into the room, looking effortlessly gorgeous in her simple navy blue dress. Her fiery hair was curling gently around her face and she moved with grace, despite the sky-high heels she wore. She took a seat in the chair in front of Steve’s desk, crossing her legs. 

“What’s on your mind?”

Steve pursed his lips and shook his head and Natasha rolled her eyes. 

“You’ve got this pensive look on your face. What’s up?”

Steve sighed, turning his head and glancing out the window. 

“Do you have a one that got away?”
“Doesn’t everyone?”

Steve smiled at that, flicking his eyes back to hers. Natasha smirked at him, shaking her head. 

“That’s for me to know and keep as my secret.”

Steve nodded, and after a moment of quiet, she spoke again. 

“What about you?”

Steve nodded again, staring at the pen in his hands. 

“High school sweetheart.”
“Did you love her?”

Steve nodded, rubbing a hand over his chin. 

“She was my first love. My first … everything.”

Steve bit his tongue as he ran his fingers over his lips. 

“I haven’t thought about her in years, but I dreamed about her last night.”
“What was the dream?”

Steve shook his head. 

“Nothing, really. She was baking; she was always baking something. She was incredible at it. And I was just there, nagging her like I always did.”

Steve shook his head again. 

“It wasn’t anything special, but looking back …”
“All those seemingly ‘nothing special’ moments end up being everything.”

Steve met her eyes, and she smirked at him again. 

“So you’re in here, drowning in nostalgia while we’re all working our asses off.”

Steve chuckled under his breath. 

“Our case load is pretty light at the moment. Want me to go stir us up some business?”

Natasha rolled her eyes. 

“Please. Just one glimpse of you in the Times or on any of the news channels gets our ‘case load’ going. Everyone wants to be defended by America’s sweetheart.”

Steve laughed out loud, shaking his head. 

“America’s sweetheart. That’s a good one.”
“Where is the lie?”

He shook his head again, a smile on his face. 

“Go bother someone else. I’m sure Peter would love a visit with the Black Widow.”

Natasha’s eyes widened and Steve shrugged. 

“You got a nickname for me, I got one for you.”
“A couple little divorce settlements and I’m a deadly spider?”
Little settlements? Nat, you drained the men for everything they had and money they hadn’t even made yet.”

Natasha smiled, shrugging her shoulders. 

“They deserved it.”

Steve nodded, a smile on his face. 

“I’m just glad to be on your team.”
“And don’t you forget it.”

Natasha put both feet on the floor and leaned over in the chair. 

“But I do have one thing I’d like your professional opinion on.”
“Hit me.”

 


 

You set the plates you’d been carrying into the soapy dishwater and made a face as you rubbed your left wrist. You’d found that in working this job, old injuries liked to make themselves known, as if the throb of pain was a reminder of everything you’d been through. You closed your eyes as your fingers massaged your wrist, trying to block out the memory of Brock’s hands coming at you, the feel of the marble floor as you were thrown onto it, the snap of the bone as your wrist broke—

“Y/N?”

You opened your eyes to see Vis standing at the stove, glancing over his shoulder at you. He raised an eyebrow over his glasses when you looked to him and you shook your head, dropping your hands, pushing a smile onto your face. 

“If one more dirty old man smacks my ass, I swear...”

Vis gave a laugh, shaking his head, turning back to the stove.

“You’re still shiny and new to them. Wanda’s threatened to break all their fingers at least once.”
“What is it about men? Why do you like it when we’re mean to you?”

Vis raised his hands, then sighed.  

“I already hate myself for this, but not all men …”

You laughed, and he smiled. He nodded his head towards the front counter. 

“Wanda’s counting up the register if you’re ready.”

You nodded and walked through the kitchen doors and Wanda smiled when she lifted her head and saw you. 

“Hello, lovely.”

You smiled, pulling your tips out of your apron. 

“Hello. Can you spare some quarters? I’ve got to do laundry before you fire me for indecent exposure.”

Wanda laughed, pulling a roll of quarters from her bank bag. 

“No worries, love. Now, I don’t want to tell you what to do, but the less laundry you do, the more tips you may get.”

You shook your head, a smile on your lips and a flush in your cheeks. Wanda bumped your shoulder with her own and nodded towards the kitchen. 

“I put an order in for you and me a couple of Vis’ juicy burgers.”
“Ah, sounds great. Want to take it out of—“
“Don’t finish that sentence. You work doubles every day. The least we can do is feed you.”

You nodded, hoping your face didn’t give away the relief that was all but seeping from your pores. Wanda counted out your tips and exchanged your ones for bigger bills, and you smiled when you slipped the money into your apron pocket. 

“Not too shabby tonight.”

You shook your head. 

“Not bad at all.”
“You okay?”

You met Wanda’s gaze and sighed. You nodded. 

“I’m fine, just …”
“What?”

You tapped your fingers on the counter, watching Wanda count the money. She flicked her eyes towards you and smiled. 

“I can multitask, you know.”

You smiled. 

“Do you remember Steve Rogers?”
“Love of your life Steve Rogers?”

You rolled your eyes. 

“Wanda.”
“Sorry, were you not there in high school?”
“That’s exactly my point. It was high school. Nobody finds the love of their life in high school.”
“Lies. What about Nathan and Haley?”

You laughed. 

“Wanda, they aren’t real people. That’s a TV show.”
“Yeah, but it’s pretty true to life. Don’t start with me.”

You giggled, shaking your head. She shut the cash register and turned to face you. 

“Why are you thinking about Steve?”
“I have no idea. I haven’t thought about him for years, but I dreamed about him last night.”
“Seriously?”

You nodded, and Wanda leaned closer. 

“Sexy dream?”
“Stop it.”

You smacked her shoulder and she laughed. 

“What was the dream about?”

You shook your head. 

“Nothing special. I was making cupcakes for one of your mom’s open houses.”
“Oh, I forgot about how much you loved to bake.”

You smiled sadly, glancing towards the kitchen. 

“I haven’t done it in so long.”
“Really?”

You nodded, that uneasy feeling you’d grown accustomed to making itself known in your gut. 

“Brock was so … consumed with his appearance. I made him a pie one time and he completely freaked out. Said I wanted to make him fat, and then no one would take him seriously and he’d lose his job, and it would be all my fault.”

You left out the part about the bruise on your hip that stayed there for months after he threw you across the room. You shrugged, shifting your weight, ignoring the phantom pain in your leg. 

“After that, I stopped baking altogether. I tried to focus on healthy food until he hired the nutritionist/chef.”

Wanda blew out a breath, leaning in and hugging you. It jolted you at first, the gentleness of her touch, the easy way she showed affection. You still weren’t used to human contact in a non-harmful capacity, but you relaxed into her touch as Wanda stroked your hair. 

“I’m so sorry you had to go through that.”
“Wanda, it’s okay. It’s over now.”
“Thank God.”

She leaned back, taking hold of your arms and staring into your eyes. 

“He’s never going to hurt you again.”

You nodded, making yourself smile. Wanda nodded back at you, giving your arms a gentle squeeze. 

“So tell me more about this dream.”

You shrugged, walking around the counter to sit at one of the stools. 

“There’s not much to tell. I was baking, he was bothering me, like he always did.”

You smiled, then sighed. 

“It was nothing, but everything all at the same time. It was one of the last times we were together, one of the last times I ever felt … happy.”
“Why are you dreaming about it now?”
“That’s the question on my mind, too. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to feel happy again?”

You and Wanda turned at the sound of the bell in the kitchen window. Two plates of burgers and fries appeared a second before Vis poked his head through the window and smiled. 

“Order up, ladies.”

 


 

After you sat at the bar and devoured the burger Vis had made for you, you swept the floor. Wanda, despite your protests, insisted on mopping, and she would periodically hop across the wet floor to take a bite of her own burger. That only happened twice before Vis walked out of the kitchen, taking the mop from her hands and dropping a kiss to her mouth, ushering her to the seat beside you. When she’d taken a huge bite and was working on chewing it, you nodded towards the man pushing the mop around. 

“He’s a good one.”

Wanda smiled as she nodded, glancing over her shoulder at him. She was still smiling when she looked back to you and she shrugged. 

“He is. I know he’s a bit older than me, but … I’m happy with him. He makes me feel safe. Not to mention what an amazing cook he is.”

You gave a soft chuckle, taking a bite of one of the fries left on your plate. 

“I don’t know what that’s like.”
“What?”
“Feeling safe.”
“Oh, honey.”
“No, it … it’s okay.”

You reached over and laid a hand on Wanda’s arm. 

“I was under Brock’s thumb for a long time. Now I can see what that meant. What he did to me. But it’s over now. I’m still picking myself up and dusting myself off, but I’m here, and not with him. He’s Maria’s problem now.”
“Better her than you.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth.”

You lifted your water glass, clinking it against Wanda’s. You took a sip as the phone started to ring, and Wanda made a face before she leaned over the counter to answer it. 

“Thanks for calling The … May I ask who’s calling?”

She made a face, covering the mouthpiece of the phone and meeting your eyes. 

“It’s Maria Hill. She wants to talk to you.”

You blinked, mouth dropping open before you nodded. Wanda handed you the phone and you straightened your shoulders, trying to prepare yourself to talk to the woman you once considered your best friend. 

“He—Hello?”
“Y/N, it’s Maria. Look, I have a few of your things put aside that I think you’d like to have.”

You blinked again. That was not what you were expecting to hear. 

“Really?”
“Yes. If you could run by here, you can get it. Brock’s working late tonight and this might be your only chance.”

You nodded. 

“Yeah, I … I’ll be right there.”
“The door’s unlocked. Just come on in.”

The dial tone sounded in your ear and you blinked before handing the phone back to Wanda. She set the phone in the holder, then spoke softly. 

“What is it?”
“Maria said she put some of my stuff aside and I can come get it.”
“Really?”

You nodded. 

“I thought Brock threw all of my stuff away.”
“Guess not. What do you think it is?”

You shrugged. 

“Maybe some clothes. Or maybe some pictures. A few of those little knick-knacks that were my mom’s?”

Wanda nodded. 

“Let’s go.”
“Oh, I can’t ask you to—“
“You didn’t. But I can’t let you take a bus over there this time of night.”

You sighed. 

“No, it would be better if I went alone, I think.”
“What if Brock’s there?”

You shook your head. 

“Maria said he’s working late. That means he won’t get in until sunrise, if he doesn’t just sleep in his office.”

Wanda bit her bottom lip, then shook her head. 

“Let Vis and me drive you. He won’t mind.”

You smiled, reaching over and gripping her hand. 

“Wanda, I’ll be fine. I promise. I’ll call you just before I leave there.”

She sighed. 

“I really wish you’d let me get you a phone.”
“Wanda—“
“It’s just so convenient! And you can pay me back whenever. No rush.”

You exhaled. 

“I’ll think about it.”

She smiled. 

“Plus, it would give me peace of mind whenever you’re in that rat-trap apartment you stay in.”

You laughed. 

“It’s not that bad.”
“Don’t lie, baby girl.”

You finished off your water, setting it on your empty plate. Wanda waved you off when you tried to take the plate into the kitchen. 

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll take care of it. Just be careful.”
“I will.”

You leaned over and kissed Wanda’s cheek, then gathered your stuff together. You waved to Vis and walked across the street to the bus stop, sitting on a bench and smiling as you looked down at your hands. 

 


 

You stared up at the front door of the house you used to live in, taken aback again at how big everything was. It was too much space for just you and Brock. 

But then again, your marriage was hardly ever just you and Brock. 

You shook your head and twisted the knob, pushing the door open. 

“Maria? It’s Y/N.”

You didn’t hear anything, and you closed the door behind you. You walked around the first floor, but your search for Maria and/or your things came up empty. You made your way up the marble staircase, going for the library that Brock had turned into an office. You’d always loved the library, and as soon as Brock kicked you out, he renovated it.

The door was closed and you knocked twice. 

“Maria? Are you in here?”

No answer and you sighed. You should have asked her where she put your things, instead of just barging in like this. You had a feeling that what you were looking for was behind this door, because Maria had known how much you loved the room. You knocked again, then turned the knob. The room was dark, and you patted your hand over the wall, making a face when you felt something wet against your hand before you found the light switch. 

Your mouth dropped open and your blood ran cold at the sight in front of you. Every surface was splattered with varying shades of red, the pristine white carpet was soaked a dark maroon, and just a few feet away from you in an office chair, eyes glazed over and staring at nothing, was your ex-husband with a jagged cut across his throat that was still oozing blood. 

Brock was dead. 

You started to cover your mouth with your hand, glancing down and seeing the blood on your palm, looking up and seeing a smear from where you’d turned the light on. You pressed your lips together and staggered out the door, turning your back to the gruesome sight and urging yourself not to vomit. You stopped when you reached the stairs, breathing a breath of relief when you saw the policeman a few steps below you, gun raised.

“Thank God. I don’t know what—“
“Don’t move.”

He spoke calmly and clearly, with authority. You went still and he slowly nodded. 

“Raise your hands in the air. Keep them where I can see them.”

You did as he asked, shaking your head. 

“I just got here. My friend said the door was open and—“
“It’s in your best interest to stop talking right now.”

Your eyebrows furrowed and you shook your head as he kept his gun trained on you, turning his head to speak into his shoulder. 

“This is Officer Rollins, requesting backup at—“

His voice suddenly went fuzzy as he repeated your former address. You shook your head, feeling your legs start to grow weak. 

“I—I’m sorry, what—“
“I thought I told you to stop talking.”

You nodded, glancing around.

“Ca—can I just—“
“Don’t move!”

You flinched at his harsh tone, closing your eyes. You tried to take in a deep breath, but panic was wrapping itself around your body, slowly squeezing. Your eyes flew open at the next words from the officer’s mouth. 

“We received a call that there had been a murder at this residence.”

You nodded. 

“I j—just found him.”
“Oh really? Then how’d you get blood on your hands?”

You glanced at the hand you had raised by your head, your voice coming out as barely a whisper. 

“I just turned the lights on.”

The man shook his head, eyes cold, gun still trained at your chest. You could feel your body begin to tremble and you spoke as calmly as you could. 

“I need to sit down, please.”
“Don’t fucking move or I swear to God I’ll shoot.”

Tears came to your eyes and you shook your head. 

“I just—“
“Didn’t I tell you to stop talking? Shut the hell up!”

You let out a sob, gasping as the house was suddenly flooded with police officers and a S.W.A.T. team. You flinched as officers flew by you, doing your best to stay still and calm as voices overlapped and chaos ensued. You closed your eyes and tried to breathe, eyes flying open when your arms were suddenly wrenched behind your back. You yelped as handcuffs were placed around your wrists, tightened so tightly the metal bit into your skin. You tried to look back, to see who was touching you, but you were pushed forward. A pair of arms righted you when you slipped, gasping at the thought that you were going to fall down the marble stairs. You were pushed forward again, but this time, you took a step, forcing your panicked mind to focus on getting down the stairs in one piece. The blood was rushing in your ears, blocking out all sounds, until you were outside. 

You squinted your eyes at the brightness of the flashing blue lights of the police cars lining the street and the driveway. You continued to walk forward, shaking your head as you grew closer to one of the patrol cars, as your brain finally registered that the person behind you was speaking. 

“Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”
“What?”
“Do you understand these rights as I have read them to you?”

You shook your head, turning to look at the officer behind you. She was a woman close to your age, blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun. The golden nameplate on her chest read S. Carter. You felt like everything was moving in slow motion as you shook your head again. 

“What’s going on?”
“Did you hear anything I just said?”

You shook your head and she narrowed her eyes. 

“You’re under arrest for the murder of Brock Rumlow.”

Chapter Text

Bucky strolled into the precinct, rolling his eyes at the uniformed officers huddled over their tiny desks, furiously writing. He whistled a tune as he walked to the desk, tapping on it and glancing around. When no one appeared, he tapped the bell more than once with a little more force than was needed, smirking when one of the uniforms glared his way. 

He furrowed his brows when no one came to answer the bell and he glanced at the watch on his wrist. 

“It’s two in the fucking morning. Where the hell is everyone?”

A female officer walked by, arms full of files. He stepped into her path, holding up his hands at the glare she shot him. 

“Where is everyone?”
“Who are you?”
“Bucky Barnes. I’m a bounty hunter.”

She popped an eyebrow and he rolled his eyes. All the damn cops looked down on him, and he fucking despised them for it. He shook his head. 

“Look, I just need to talk to—“
“Well, we’re all busy, okay?”
“What happened?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss—“
“Jesus Christ.”

He turned away from her, shaking his head. 

“Everybody toes that company line, don’t they?”
“Excuse me?”
“I know how it is, sweetheart. What, somebody try to rob a bank? Mugging in Central Park? Protest gone wrong in Times Square again?”

She clicked her tongue, tilting her head. 

“Murder on Park Avenue.”

Bucky’s eyes widened and she nodded. 

“Thought so.”
“What?”
“You used to be a cop, didn’t you?”
“We don’t talk about that.”

She smiled, shaking her head, stepping closer to him and pitching her voice low.

“You didn’t hear this from me.”

He nodded. 

“Brock Rumlow’s dead.”
“What?”

She nodded. 

“The D.A.’s on his way, but there’s no ferries from Staten Island this time of night. Everyone’s in an uproar.”
“You got a suspect?”
“Interrogating her now.”
“Her?”

She nodded. 

“Ex-wife. Found her with blood on her hands. Seems pretty open and shut to me.”
“Rumlow had an ex-wife?”

She nodded again. 

“Divorce was kept pretty hush-hush. We heard that she violated their pre-nup, since Brock was from old money, and she got nothing in the settlement. Sounds like pretty good motive to me.”

Bucky nodded, whistling low. 

“Damn.”
“My thoughts exactly. You should probably come back another day, when it’s not so chaotic.”

Bucky nodded, and the woman walked away. He tapped his fingers on the front desk again, then turned to leave. 

“—won’t answer a damn question because she’s crying so hard. Tried to tell the bitch that we’ve got her and there’s no way she’s getting out of this, but she just keeps crying.”
“I remember Rumlow talking about her. Said he had to teach her how to dress and everything. I don’t even know why he married her in the first place, if he had to force himself to fuck her.”

Bucky let the officers walk past him before he glanced over his shoulder and made sure they hadn’t noticed him. He looked around the room, but with everyone up in arms, he found himself alone. He made his way to the back, to the interrogation rooms, stopping outside one with the blinds partially open. 

A woman sat there, hands bound behind her back, head bowed. Her body trembled, shoulders shaking with every breath she took. Bucky glanced around, shaking his head when he didn’t see anyone. He quickly picked the lock on the door, stepping into the room. 

The woman didn’t move, and Bucky felt a tickle at the back of his neck. He walked closer to her, tapping a finger on the table, but she never looked up. 

“Hey, are you okay?”

No answer. Bucky rounded the table, crouching in front of her when the woman didn’t move. He moved his hands to cup her face, cursing under his breath. 

“Shit. Can you hear me? Hey. Come on, sweetheart.”

Her eyes were staring at nothing, not focusing on Bucky despite him being only inches away. He reached for her wrist, closing his eyes as anger bubbled inside him as he realized her hands were still in handcuffs. He let the anger fester inside him as he saw the blood where the cuffs had dug into her skin and he methodically picked the lock, freeing her from the cuffs. 

He gently moved her arms to hang by her sides and began massaging her wrists, smiling when she winced in pain. 

“There we go. Come back to me.”

He kept massaging, moving his hands to her shoulder and manipulating her arm in the socket. She gasped and he nodded. 

“Come on. You’re alright. Come back to me.”

He moved to the other arm and she gasped, trying to pull her wrist from his grip. 

“Hey, it’s okay. It’s okay. I’m here to help you.”

She blinked, moving her eyes to meet his, blinking a few more times. He nodded, smiling softly. 

“Hey there.”

She didn’t speak, just blinked. Bucky kept the smile on his face, keeping his voice gentle. 

“You back with me?”
“Wh … what happened?”
“I think you kind of blacked out. You were here, but … you weren’t really here.”

She nodded, eyes moving over his shoulder to stare at the wall. 

“I remember walking in here. I remember them asking me questions. And then … I don’t know.”
“It’s okay. Can you tell me what happened?”

She met his eyes, her own wide. Bucky shook his head. 

“What?”

She swallowed. 

“No one’s asked me that.”
“What?”

She shook her head, looking down at her hands in her lap. Bucky licked his lips. 

“What did they ask you?”

Her voice was soft as she stared at her hands. 

“Why did I do it? What was I thinking? Would I prefer the chair or a firing squad?”

She sniffled and Bucky squeezed his eyes shut before he moved a hand to her lap, letting his hand rest there, his fingertips gingerly touching hers. He pitched his voice low. 

“Where’s your lawyer?”

She lifted her eyes to his and he smiled. 

“Is he talking with the officers? On the phone?”

She shook her head. 

“I don’t … I don’t have a lawyer.”
“Excuse me?”
“I don’t have one. I can’t—“

She swallowed, closing her eyes as more tears slipped down her cheeks. Bucky moved his hand to link his fingers with hers and she gave a sob. She shook her head and met his eyes. 

“I can’t afford a lawyer.”
“It’s alright. It’s okay. They’ll appoint a lawyer for you. It’s your constitutional right. Who did they call?”

She shook her head again, and Bucky blinked, keeping his molars clenched together to keep from screaming. He spoke in a much calmer tone than he was feeling. 

“Before they interrogated you, did they ask if you wanted your lawyer present?”

She shook her head, and Bucky spoke again. 

“Did you know you could have a lawyer present?”
“I didn’t know I could have one at all. I don’t have the money for one. I don’t have—“

She hung her head, exhaling a shaky breath. Bucky nodded, giving her hand a squeeze. 

“Did you do it?”

She lifted her head and met his eyes. 

“What?”
“What they’re saying you did. Did you do it?”

She shook her head. 

“I found him in the library. It used to be my favorite room in the house and he whitewashed it, turned it into an office.”

She lifted the hand Bucky wasn’t holding. 

“I turned the light on, and his blood was on the wall. I didn’t even know.”

Bucky nodded, giving her hand another squeeze before he let it go and stood to his feet. He pulled his phone from his pocket, big hands trembling as he unlocked it and pressed on the screen until a call went through. He held the phone to his ear, pacing slowly as he listened to the ring. He hung up when the voicemail sounded, then dialed again. This time, a sleepy voice answered. 

“You better be fucking dying.”
Get up, get dressed, and get your ass down to the precinct.”
“Did you get arrested again? Christ, Buck, I swear—“
“I’ve got a client for you.”
“What time is it? It’s—Bucky, it is three in the morning. We have an on-call lawyer for shit like this.”

Bucky swallowed as he looked at the woman at the table. He turned his back to her and lowered his voice. 

“She’s in trouble. Big trouble, and she needs the big guns. Not your on-call lawyer. She needs you.”
“Who is it? And what did they do?”

Bucky licked his lips. 

“Brock Rumlow was murdered tonight and I think this woman’s being framed for it.”

The line was quiet for a moment. 

“Are you shitting me?”
“She was practically catatonic when I found her. They interrogated her and scared the shit out of her. She didn’t even know she could have a lawyer, and all she keeps saying is she can’t afford one.”
“Fuck.”

Bucky could hear rustling on the other end, taking it as Steve crawling out of bed and getting dressed. 

“If Rumlow’s dead, the shit’s about to hit the fan. It’s too early for the ferries to be running, but I guarantee Fury’s on his way there.”
So beat him here. Forget the three-piece suit and just throw on some jeans.”
“Give me more credit than that. How is she?”

Bucky nodded. 

“Her hands were still cuffed when I got in here. Probably wouldn’t hurt to have them looked at, since they were practically purple before I picked the lock.”
“Picked the … Bucky?”
“What?”
“Who let you into the interrogation room?”

Bucky didn’t answer, and Steve cursed so colorfully Bucky pursed his lips and nodded in awe. 

“There’s cameras in all of the rooms and not one person has tried to enter in the almost hour I’ve been with her.”
“If this hurts her case—“
“I’ll give you permission to kick my ass. Just get here now.”
“I’m on my way.”

Bucky hung up his phone and smiled when he saw her scared eyes staring up at him. Bucky knelt beside her and nodded. 

“My friend is a public defender.”
“A lawyer.”
“A lawyer who works for people like you.”
“I can’t pay him.”
“You don’t have to.”

She looked down at her hands again and Bucky rubbed a hand over his mouth. He started to speak, closing his mouth when she whispered, a small, sad smile on her lips. 

“I’m not the biggest fan of lawyers.”

Bucky kept his voice low like hers. 

“Did I hear right? You’re Rumlow’s ex-wife?”

She nodded. 

“What’s your name?”
“Y/N.”

Bucky nodded. 

“I’m Bucky Barnes.”
“Nice to meet you.”

Bucky smiled, lifting a hand to gently move some hair from her face. He tried not to react when she sucked in a breath, able to tell from the look on her face that she was trying hard not to flinch away from his touch. 

He’d never gotten a good feeling around Brock Rumlow, and being with his ex-wife for less than hour proved to Bucky that his gut instinct about the man had been right. She’d clearly been abused, and Bucky was determined to get to the bottom of everything. 

“Okay, we’re … hey. Who the hell are you?”

Bucky stood up, a sneer coming across his lips when the man before him rolled his eyes and sighed. 

“Barnes. Who let the rats back here?”
“Cross. Son of a bitch.”

Detective Darren Cross let out a laugh. He crossed his arms over his chest, a menacing smile on his face. 

“Who let you back here, Barnes?”
“Doesn’t matter.”
“Well, you’re free to go, so you should probably hit the road before we find a reason to throw your ass back in a cell.”
“Kinda par for the course tonight, ain’t it, Cross?”

Darren raised an eyebrow and Bucky picked the handcuffs off of the table and threw them at him. Darren fumbled the cuffs, then looked back to Bucky. 

“What the hell is this?”
“Those are the cuffs one of your officers put so tight on this woman it was cutting off her circulation.”
“Well, we always try to protect ourselves from dangerous suspects.”

Bucky gave a hard laugh. 

“‘Dangerous?’ Get real.”
“You didn’t see what she did.”
“Oh, so she confessed?”

Darren shrugged his shoulders. 

“She didn’t have to.”
“Really? Whatever happened to ‘innocent until proven guilty?’”
“Well, when you’ve got blood on your hands at a crime scene…”
“Where’s her lawyer?”

Darren raised an eyebrow and Bucky grinned. 

“Oh, please tell me you interrogated her without her lawyer present. Please give me a reason to kick your self-righteous ass.”
“It’s none of your concern.”
“The fuck it’s not. You remember due process, right?”

Darren rolled his eyes and Bucky clenched his fists to keep from lunging for the other man’s throat. Bucky shook his head and pointed towards the woman cowering at the table. 

“The state I saw her in when I first came into this room is nothing short of police brutality, and I can bring the wrath of God and everyone else down upon you with one phone call. You know I can, Cross. Give me a reason to do it.”
“How? By calling your boyfriend?”

Bucky grinned at the way the man spat the word at him. And the way Darren’s eyes widened after he spoke just egged Bucky on more. 

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Police brutality, homophobia, what else can I add to the list? Clint’s been itching for a big story and by God, here’s one.”
“She killed the city’s ADA! We’re not going to treat her like a queen.”
“Doesn’t give you the right to treat her like a dog! Hell, I wouldn’t even chain a dog up the way you did her. Kiss your fucking badge goodbye, Cross. You’ll be lucky if they’ll let you walk through the doors when we’re done with you.” 

Darren took a step forward, stopping when the door opened. He rolled his eyes, the breath leaving his lungs when he saw who was standing there, briefcase in hand. 

“Gentlemen. Is there a problem here?”

Steve raised an eyebrow and Darren pushed a smile onto his face. 

“Counselor, I don’t recall asking anyone in this office to give you a call.”
“That’s precisely the problem, Detective. Did you interrogate my client without an attorney present?”

Darren sighed. 

“It wasn’t an interrogation—“
“Did you tell her she could have an attorney present?”
“I wasn’t the one who read her—“
“Did you tell her she could have an attorney period?”
“I didn’t read the Miranda rights to her.”

Steve smiled.

“So you’re telling me you arrested her without reading her her rights, interrogated her without an attorney, and didn’t bother to grant her constitutional right to an attorney?”

Darren sputtered and Steve shook his head. 

“Let me talk to my client while you go grovel with your boss to try and save your own ass, okay?”

Darren turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Bucky huffed across the room. 

“Self-righteous prick.”

Steve huffed a laugh, nodding his head at Bucky as he set his briefcase on the table. 

“They read me my rights.”

The men looked to the woman who’d kept her head bowed even now, hands folded together in her lap. She nodded, not taking her eyes from her hands. 

“The lady officer read me my rights when she walked me out of the house. I was kind of panicking, so I didn’t really hear her, but she did read them to me.”

Steve pursed his lips, then nodded. 

“Well, Cross could have double-checked.”

Steve sighed, pulling out a chair across from her, sitting in it and taking a notepad and pen from his briefcase. 

“I’m Steve Rogers. I’ll be your attorney for now, until we get a game plan going. Can you tell me your name, for starters?”
“Steve?”

He lifted his head, pen in his hand, poised to write on the pad. He met her eyes and his face went slack, all the color draining. 

“Holy shit.”

The pen fell from his hand as he stared at the woman across the table. Bucky’s eyes darted from her to him and back again, seeing the confusion on both of their faces. 

“Uh … can I interrupt?”

Steve blinked and Bucky whistled until Steve looked his way. Bucky raised his eyebrows in question and Steve shook his head, looking back across the table.

“Y/N?”

She nodded and Steve shook his head again. 

“How …”

He just shook his head and she smiled softly. 

“I know.”
“What are you doing here?”

Her voice was soft. 

“Wrong place, wrong time?”

Steve couldn’t help but smile at that, then blinked, shaking his head again. 

“So you … you’re Brock’s ex-wife?”

She nodded, looking back down at her hands. Steve ran a thumb over his bottom lip. 

“Was the divorce amicable?”

She gave a harsh laugh. 

“For him.”

Steve glanced to Bucky, who raised an eyebrow as he lifted his shoulders. Steve swallowed, then looked back to her. 

“Can you tell me about it?”

She lifted her head. 

“My divorce?”
“All of it.”

She smiled. 

“A lot’s happened since high school, Stevie.”
“Oh, there it is. High school. Oh wait—oh my god. You’re Y/N?!”

She blinked, confusion on her face as she looked to Bucky. Steve shook his head, closing his eyes as Bucky covered his mouth with a hand. 

“Holy shit. Holy shit.”
“Can somebody fill me in?”

Steve shook his head. 

“Later. We’ve got more important things to worry about right now. The biggest being getting you out of here.”
“Can you?”

Steve met her eyes again and she swallowed before she spoke. 

“Can you get me out of here?”
“I’m going to try.”

She nodded. 

“That guy was saying I was never going to see the light of day again. He was going to make sure of it.”

Steve sighed, and Bucky spoke up from across the room.

“That guy’s an asshole. Don’t take anything he’s saying to heart.”

She nodded and Steve reached for his pen, picking it up and poising it over the notepad again. 

“Let’s see what we can do tonight.”

 


 

 

Bucky stayed with you while Steve made his rounds doing … whatever it was he did. You stayed in the uncomfortable chair they’d all but thrown you into hours earlier, but at least your hands weren’t cuffed anymore. They’d taken your mugshot and done your fingerprints when they first brought you in, but Bucky was the one to lead you to the bathroom—the men’s, but you didn’t really care and he loudly threatened to disembowel anyone who tried to say something—and let you wash the blood and ink off your hands. He let you walk around the interrogation room, smiling when you looked at the mirror, checking your reflection before your cheeks flamed and you quickly looked away. 

“No one’s on the other side.”

You glanced towards him and he shrugged. 

“They may not like me, but they trust me.”

You nodded. 

“You work here?”
“Sort of. I’m a bounty hunter.”

Your eyes widened and he smiled. 

“I used to be a cop, but …”

The smile drifted from his face and he shook his head. You nodded, fingers reaching out to touch the bars on the frosted window. 

“I used to be a lot of things.”
“Like what?”

You smiled. 

“I wanted to be a pastry chef. I was a pretty good baker.”
“‘Was?’”

You swallowed. 

“It’s been a long time since I was near an oven.”
“Brock didn’t have one?”

You didn’t even realize how you immediately straightened your spine at the mention of his name, and Bucky narrowed his eyes. You licked your dry lips and spoke softly. 

“He had two. Top of the line. Bought them and had them installed just to spite me, because he knew how badly I wanted to bake. He wouldn’t let me touch them, and the one time I did …”

You shook your head, moving a hand to your lower back. You lifted your foot and rolled your ankle in a circle before setting your foot back on the ground. Bucky managed to keep his voice steady as he spoke. 

“Did he hit you?”
“Yes.”
“More than once?”
“All the time.”
“Son of a bitch.”

Bucky ran a hand over his face and you crossed your arms over your chest, walking back to the chair and sitting in it. 

“I’m sorry.”

You smiled as you looked at the man across the table from you. 

“Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.”
“You didn’t deserve that.”
“No one deserves that. But it’s over now. I got away.”
“How did you?”

You glanced at the table, then back to him. 

“I swear it was an act of God. I saw him kiss my best friend—well, who I thought was my best friend, a coworker of his. And when I asked him about it, he slapped me. A cop happened to see it and wouldn’t be paid off. He wouldn’t let it go, and I jumped at the chance he offered to help me get away.”

You shook your head. 

“I had tried for so long, and I’d just given up. But that day, it … it just seemed to fall into my lap.”

You took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. 

“I never did get a chance to thank that cop. He saved my life, and I don’t even think he knows that.”

You sighed. 

“I’m sure Brock made sure he got transferred to Siberia or something.”
“Worse. San Francisco.”

You and Bucky turned to the door, where Steve was standing. He had a soft smile on his face as he walked in. 

“Scott Lang was the cop who helped you. He was a friend of mine, told me about how he helped you get away. I didn’t know it was you, because he didn’t give me a name.”

Steve shook his head. 

“If I’d known …”

He glanced down at his feet and you licked your lips. 

“They transferred him across the country?”

Steve smiled. 

“No, he transferred himself. Turns out, he had a little girl he didn’t know about. Scott was a bit wild in his youth, and he couldn’t stand not knowing his daughter. Soon as his ex called him, he started the process to transfer.”

You smiled, nodding your head. Steve cleared his throat and stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. You looked up at him and he squeezed Bucky’s shoulder before he turned to you. 

“There’s going to be a hearing in an hour.”

You blinked a few times, but nodded, and Steve continued. 

“The judge is going to decide whether or not to grant you bail.”

Your heart sank, and you looked down at your hands. Bucky and Steve exchanged a glance that went unnoticed by you and Bucky gently tapped on the table. 

“You okay?”

You shook your head. 

“I don’t have any money.”
“You don’t have to pay the bail in full. We know a good bondsman who will work with you—“

You shook your head. 

“I don’t have anything I could use as collateral.”
“What about your divorce settlement? Brock came from money. You must have gotten something out of that.”

You squeezed your eyes shut, shaking your head. 

“No, the judge—“

Your breath caught in your throat and you gave a pitiful, quiet whine you couldn’t hold back. 

“The judge was a friend of Brock’s and I didn’t get a penny. I’m actually paying all the legal fees for the both of us and I don’t … I can’t even buy food.”

Steve couldn’t take his eyes off of you, watching as you lifted your elbows to the table, covering your face as you sobbed as quietly as you could. Bucky glanced up at him and Steve shook his head, walking to you and turning your chair, crouching in front of you and taking your hands from your face. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped your tear-soaked face, then held both of your hands. 

“Look at me and listen.”

You did as he asked, noticing the lines beside his blue eyes that hadn’t been there the last time you’d seen him. Steve stared at you, giving a shake of his head. 

“I am going to do everything in my power to get you out of here.”
“I don’t want to go to jail.”
“I know, baby. And I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen. But these guys … the judges and the D.A., they’re going to try to throw the book at you. They’re out for blood, and I’m going to try my damnedest to save you.”

Bucky covered his mouth with a hand as he pushed away from the table, walking to the far corner of the room. You shook your head, voice shaking. 

“I’m scared.”
“I know. But I need you to trust me.”

You nodded. 

“I do.”
“When we go in there, let me do all the talking. You stand when they tell you, but don’t say a word. Anything you say can be turned against you, and we’re working against the current here as it is.”

You nodded, and Steve gave your hands a squeeze. 

“I’m going to get you through this. I promise.”

You hung your head, giving a shaky exhale. Steve glanced over to Bucky.

“It’s early enough that Natasha should be up. Give her a call, and get Clint here, too.”

Bucky nodded and you looked to him. 

“Can you … can you call the Scarlet Diner? My friend Wanda owns it, and I … I’m supposed to be there.”

Bucky nodded again, and made his way out of the room. Steve gave your hands a squeeze before he stood up, slowly pacing the room. 

“Tell me everything you did last night.”

You swallowed. 

“I worked all day at the diner. They close at ten, and I stayed to eat and clean up. Maria called—“
“Maria?”

You looked up at him. 

“Maria Hill. She was … I thought she was my best friend, but she was having an affair with Brock. She moved in after I moved out.”

A muscle in Steve’s jaw clenched. 

“Maria Hill, the paralegal that works for the D.A.’s office?”

You nodded, head moving slowly when the words registered with you. You leaned forward, putting your face in your hands again. 

“Oh my god.”

Steve ran a hand over his face, then shook his head. 

“Why did she call you?”

You moved your hand to cover your mouth, holding it there for a few seconds before you spoke again. 

“She said she had a few of my things that I could come by and get. She said Brock was working late and I knew this would be my only chance to get the things I couldn’t take with me when I left.”

Steve nodded. 

“Then what?”
“I left the diner and took a bus to the Subway, then rode as close as I could to Park Avenue before I walked the rest of the way to the house.”
“This was after ten, you said?”

You nodded. 

“Probably closer to midnight.”

Steve took a pen from his pocket, clicking it and making a note. When he was finished with his furious scribbling, he met your eyes again. 

“Then what?”
“Maria had said the front door was open, so I walked inside. I called out, but no one answered. I walked around, trying to find the stuff she’d told me about. I didn’t find anything, so I went upstairs. The library had been at the top of the stairs, and it was my favorite place in the house. Brock had renovated it as soon as I stepped out the door.”

Steve nodded and you went on. 

“I knocked, but no one answered. I opened that door and it was dark. I felt along the wall for the light switch and touched something wet.”

You closed your eyes, stomach roiling at the memory. You shook your head, the next words barely audible. 

“There was blood all over the walls. All over everything. Brock was in a chair in the middle of the room, and he … he was …”

You squeezed your eyes shut and shook your head. 

“I started out of the room, to … I don’t know. Call 9-1-1, I guess, but there was a cop on the stairs. Jack Rollins, one of Brock’s friends. He pointed his gun at me, said they’d been called because there’d been a murder.”

You shook your head again, looking to Steve. 

“He was dead when I got there, but no one believes that. They saw me there and … that’s it.”
“Okay. Okay, just breathe.”

Steve sat at the chair across from you, holding a hand across the table. You moved a shaking hand to rest in his and he nodded. 

“Breathe.”

You did as he said, closing your eyes as he rhythmically squeezed your hand, giving your whirling brain something to focus on. You shook your head, opening your eyes and meeting his. 

“I can’t afford any of this.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“How can I not? Every penny I make goes towards the legal fees, and if I’m a minute late with a payment, Brock makes sure they tack on a late fee. I can’t afford clothes or a nice place to live or—“

You pulled your hand away from Steve, putting it over your stomach. You took in a breath, letting it out slowly. 

“If I don’t eat at the diner, I don’t eat. I think Wanda knows that, so she doesn’t make me pay. I got some clothes from Goodwill, but somehow Brock got a copy of my receipt and they added on an extra payment due of exactly that amount. So I don’t buy anything anymore. I don’t have credit cards or a bank account. I only have cash, and somehow they still know exactly how much I have.”
“Easy. Take it easy. Just breathe.”

You sobbed as you closed your eyes, and Steve moved to kneel in front of you again. 

“Listen to me.”

You hung your head and he gently rubbed your arm as he spoke. 

“I’m not going to make you pay a thing. Do you understand that? I’m a public defender. You don’t have to pay a public defender. Y/N, Brock is gone. No matter the circumstances, he can’t hurt you anymore. Leave the rest of it to me, okay?”

You lifted your head, staring into his eyes, the pools of blue somehow still familiar after all the years. You slowly nodded and Steve stood just as a knock sounded at the door. The two of you watched the female officer that had read you your rights step into the room. 

“They’re ready for you.”

You stood on shaky legs and Steve slid his notepad and pen into his briefcase. The officer walked to you, an apologetic look on her face. 

“It’s protocol.”

You noticed the handcuffs she held and you nodded. You started to put your hands behind your back and Steve made a noise. 

“Front.”

The officer looked to him and Steve shook his head. 

“She doesn’t deserve to be shackled at all, but look at her wrists from where you cuffed her before.”
didn’t cuff her. Rollins did.”

Steve shook his head. 

“Cuff her hands together in front of her stomach where I can see or don’t cuff her at all.”
“Mr. Rogers, with all due respect, you’re not a cop. You’re not really the one in charge here.”
“Miss … Carter, is it?”

Steve leaned in to read her name tag, then straightened. 

“I haven’t worked much with you yet, but if you stick around, that will change. Do us both a favor and try to stay on my good side, will you? Cuff her hands in front, and that’s the last time I’m saying it.”

The officer stared at Steve, then blew out her breath. She took hold of your arm, wincing when she saw the bruises and torn skin where the cuffs had originally been placed. She blinked a few times, placing the cuffs higher up your arms, above your wrists. 

“I’m sorry about that.”

You nodded, glancing at your shackled hands, the cuffs tight enough to stay in place, but not enough to hurt you. You met Steve’s eyes and he nodded to the officer. He took your arm, walking beside you as you started down the hall. He pitched his voice low, just enough for you to hear him. 

“Brock was rumored to be the front-runner to take over when Fury retired, so this will be a media freak show. Microphones and recorders are going to be shoved into your face, but don’t say a word, okay? Bucky or someone on my team will help get you through it if I can’t. Do not trust anyone and remember that anything—absolutely anything—you say can and will be used against you. So don’t say anything at all.”

You nodded, eyes widening when you and Steve rounded the corner to a passel of reporters. Cameras flashed, momentarily blinding you as voices could be heard all around, yelling questions at you, asking for statements, for clarity, for comments. Steve held out an arm, pushing the crowd back as he led you into the small courtroom. 

Thankfully, the media wasn’t allowed in, save for one reporter in the back row. Steve lifted his chin when he saw the man, and the man smiled, holding up his hand with only his thumb and pinky finger extended. You noticed the hearing aids in his ears, and you met his eyes. He looked to you, giving a single nod. You just blinked and walked where Steve was leading, stopping behind a table. Steve leaned over. 

“Judge will be in just a moment. Fury’s right behind us.”

You nodded. You’d met Nick Fury many times, and even though he was Brock’s boss, you couldn’t help but like the man. You didn’t really trust him, mainly because he was a lawyer, but the two of you had shared many a conversation at your dinner parties. 

You figured the easy relationship you’d shared was over and done with now. 

“Don’t look anywhere but straight ahead. Any facial expression can be taken into account.”

You cast your eyes down, because that was how you were comfortable. You’d gotten used to staring at the floor during the first year you and Brock had been married. You heard the door open and felt your breathing speed up, the raucous questioning dying away as Fury walked in, the door closing behind him. He shook his head as he walked to the table across from the one where you and Steve were. 

“Damn vultures.”

He nodded to Steve, laying his briefcase on the table. The judge walked in then, without the fanfare of the bailiff announcing or any call to order. You let your eyes drift up from where you’d had them cast at your feet and you felt a chill slip down your spine. 

Alexander Pierce. 

White noise filled your ears as black spots danced in front of your vision. You were going to jail. There was no question now. Alexander had loved Brock like a son and now … he’d make sure Brock’s killer would pay. Despite the fact that you weren’t the one who had killed Brock, Alexander hated you, and you knew he wouldn’t hesitate to punish you in the most sadistic way he could. 

“Y/N!”

You blinked hard, glancing around, not knowing when you’d sat down. Steve was kneeling before you with the reporter beside him, both with worried looks on their faces. Fury was standing behind them, eyebrows furrowed, mouth set in a line. You lifted your hands, remembering only when your movements were constricted that you were handcuffed. You swallowed, taking in a few shaky breaths. Steve’s voice was barely audible, and you wondered if the reporter could hear him even with the hearing aids. 

“Are you okay?”

You slowly nodded, speaking just as quietly as Steve had. 

“Pierce was Brock’s best friend. He’s the … the judge that did our divorce.”
“What?”

Steve glanced over his shoulder, seeing Pierce pull a pair of glasses into his face, reading over some pages in front of him. 

“How could he preside over the divorce with such strong ties to it?”
“He’s a judge.”

Steve lifted his shoulders. 

“Doesn’t mean he’s above the law.”
“I don’t think he knows that.”

You and Steve looked to the reporter, who gave you a smile and patted your leg. 

“Don’t worry. We’re going to help you.”

Steve raised an eyebrow, and the reporter nodded to him, leaning in and whispering something you couldn’t hear. Steve slowly nodded, grasping the man’s hand, the two of them standing up before helping you. 

“Everything okay, counselor?”

The sound of Pierce’s voice sent chills down your spine. Steve nodded, helping you to stand to your feet. 

“Yes, your honor.”
“Does your client need medical attention?”
“No, sir. She’s just had a long night.”

Pierce snorted. 

“I’d say. Well, let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Y/N Rumlow, you stand charged with the murder of ADA Brock Rumlow. How do you plead?”

You looked to Steve, who leaned in to whisper that you had to be the one to say it. You swallowed, speaking as clearly as you could, voice shaking despite your efforts. 

“Not guilty.”

Pierce nodded, looking to Fury. 

“The people are fine with bail. Ms. Rumlow doesn’t have the means to attempt to leave the county.”
“Already checking over her bank statements, Fury?”

Fury glanced across the aisle to Steve, a wide smile on his face. 

“You don’t think I’ve checked every step she’s made in the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours, Counselor?”

You closed your eyes at the feeling of your head starting to spin, the roiling of your stomach at the fact that your life was no longer your own, if it ever was. Even after getting away from Brock, someone was still checking up on you. 

“Easy.”

You kept your head down, flicking your eyes towards Steve. You weren’t even sure he’d spoken, but it calmed you slightly. Pierce sighed from his spot on the bench, then nodded. 

“Bail is set at five million dollars.”

Pierce lifted the gavel as your mouth fell open. Five million? You barely had five dollars in your possession. There was no way you could come up with even ten percent for the bail bondsman. Steve raised a hand before Pierce could lower the gavel. 

“Five million? Your Honor, that’s a bit excessive, don’t you think?”
“Excessive? How much does your colleague’s life amount to you, Counselor?”
“Your Honor, Ms. Rumlow has no record. Not even a parking ticket. All of the evidence against her is circumstantial—“
“That’s for the trial to decide, Mr. Rogers. This is a bond hearing. Five million, or she can be remanded until trial.”

You closed your eyes, swallowing hard at the thought of going to jail. At least there you’d have meals and a place to sleep. A tear slipped down your cheek and you went to wipe it away, remembering too late that your hands were cuffed as the rattle echoed through the courtroom. You let your hands fall and sniffled, silence filling the room for a beat before Steve turned back to the judge. 

“What about monitoring her through house arrest?”

Fury gave a laugh. 

“Brock Rumlow’s ex in house arrest is like one of the Kardashians being put under house arrest. Where’s the punishment?”
“She doesn’t live anywhere near Brock. She lives at …”

Steve shuffled through his papers, reading off your address. You glanced over to see the look of disgust on Fury’s face, followed by the furrowing of his eyebrows as he spoke under his breath. 

“Staying there 24/7 would be punishment.”

Pierce shook his head. 

“No, if she’s to be under house arrest, it will have to be in a nearby hotel. Something local, where officers can drop by unannounced to check in with her.”

Your body started to tremble and Steve shook his head. 

“She won’t be able to afford that, something I know you know, Fury.”

Fury nodded, and Pierce sighed. 

“If she’s unable to meet the court’s orders, she will be remanded until trial. You know the law, Mr. Rogers.”

He lifted the gavel and Steve cried out. 

“Wait!”

All eyes turned to him and Steve licked his lips, then looked to the judge.

“Release her into my custody.”

Your eyes widened and Steve pointed towards you as he spoke. 

“My penthouse is mere blocks from here. You can put the monitor on her, do the drop-in visits. I’ll clear my schedule where I’ll be able to keep my eye on her 24/7 to satisfy the court.”

Clint sat at the back of the courtroom, unable to do anything but blink. He’d spent most of the trial furiously writing, but this stopped him in his tracks. Fury blinked, exchanging a look with the judge before he held up his hands. 

“The people are satisfied with that.”

Pierce narrowed his eyes at Steve, then sighed. 

“Do not make me regret this, Counselor. The defendant is to be remanded into the custody of Mr. Rogers until the date of her trial.”

He lifted the gavel, speaking once more before letting it fall. 

“Along with bail being set at five million dollars. Court is adjourned.”

You looked to Steve, shaking your head. 

“I can’t pay that. I don’t have five million dollars. I don’t even have the ten percent—“
“Hush.”

You closed your mouth and he started putting papers into his briefcase. 

“Let me take care of that.”
“Steve—“
“There’s a process we’ve got to go through to get you released. Come on.”

He shut his briefcase and took hold of your arm. You started walking with him, stopping when Clint stepped into the aisle. 

“Hey, man. Can I get a quote from you?”

He looked over your shoulder, seeing Fury talking with Pierce, leaning in and hissing at Steve. 

“What the actual fuck are you thinking?!”
“Can we do this later, and somewhere a little more private?”
“Well where exactly do you suggest, because your bachelor pad is soon to be not so much anymore!”

You cleared your throat, making both men turn to you. You flicked your eyes over your shoulder towards the judge and Clint huffed out a breath. 

“Fine. But I’m coming over later and you know hell’s going to be coming with me.”

Steve nodded as Clint stepped out of the way. The two of you started walking again, and when you went to open your mouth, Steve shook his head. 

“Not a word until we’re out of this place.”

You nodded, moving closer to him as the two of you pushed through the door to the courtroom, the flashes of the cameras and the yelling of the reporters filling your senses while you tried to focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Chapter Text

Steve glanced up from the table he’d been using as a desk as the door to the conference room flew open. Steve took in a breath, leaning back in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest as he watched Bucky walk in, pace for a moment, then lay his hands on the table across from Steve. 

“What in the goddamn hell were you thinking?”

Steve sighed, letting his arms uncross. He shook his head and spoke in a low voice. 

“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I panicked.”

Bucky’s blue eyes went wide and he shook his head. 

“So … what? You thought that up right on the spot? Just pulled it out of your ass and the judge went along with it?”
“I couldn’t let her go to jail, Buck. And there’s no way she could have paid a five million dollar bail.”
“But Pierce tacked that on anyway.”
“Yeah, I’m taking care of it.”

Bucky’s eyebrows nearly hit his hairline. He leaned forward, inches from Steve, hissing the words in a low whisper. 

“Tell me you’re not paying her bail.”
“Buck—“
“Tell me you’re not paying bail for your client who just happens to be your ex-girlfriend.”
“Of course not.”

Bucky stayed where he was, lifting one eyebrow. After a moment of intense staring, Steve sighed as he acquiesced. 

“Tony’s paying it.”

Bucky sat down in the chair across from Steve, putting his face in his hands, and Steve sighed as he shook his head. 

“He’s doing it anonymously, as a favor.”
“Yeah, because that won’t be suspicious at all, right? Of all the people, you’re getting your brother to pay her bail?”
“He’s doing it anonymously and who else do you know who has five million just laying around?”

Bucky shook his head. 

“You don’t need the whole five mil. Just ten percent.”

Steve shook his head. 

“No, Pierce made a stipulation where it had to be the whole amount. He’s got it out for her and I don’t know why.”
“Pierce and Rumlow were really close. Maybe that’s why?”

Steve nodded. 

“Well, I’m determined to find out.”

Bucky nodded, and Steve picked up his pen, tapping it on the table before looking to Bucky. 

“So how long was it after court was adjourned that Clint called you?”
“About three and a half minutes.”

Steve smiled, glancing away and exhaling. Bucky licked his lips, leaning back in his chair and crossing his ankles. 

“You still love this girl?”

Steve shook his head. 

“I haven’t seen her in fifteen years, Buck.”
“Evading the question.”

Steve lifted his shoulders. 

“I don’t know her anymore.”
“So you’re just not sure if you still love her.”

Steve rolled his eyes and Bucky straightened in the chair, turning to tap his finger against the table. 

“This is the girl you kept a picture of in your gear through every tour we did. You wrote her letters and drew her picture on goddamn napkins and scraps of paper and even in the sand that one time.”
“I was a lovesick teenager.”
“We were there for eight years, Cap. You grew the fuck up faster than any of the rest of us. That’s how you got to be a captain at such a young age.”
“And what about you, Sarge?”

Bucky rolled his eyes. 

“This is not about me, Counselor. This is about you and the hole you’re digging yourself.”
“Hole or grave?”

Bucky exhaled when Steve met his eyes. Bucky shook his head, then leaned closer. 

“You know I’m here. Anything, anytime, I’ll back your play.”

Steve nodded, a smirk on his face. 

“‘Til the end of the line?”

Bucky smiled, propping his elbow on the table and reaching a hand out. Steve smiled, reaching out and clasping Bucky’s hand. Bucky nodded. 

“‘Til the end of the line.”

Steve nodded as the smile slid from his face. He gripped Bucky’s hand tightly, and Bucky nodded again, the smile gone from his face as well. Bucky started to speak, but Steve shook his head, glancing down at the table and speaking low. 

“Not here.”

Bucky nodded, letting go of Steve’s hand and sitting back in his chair. 

“Do we need to go see about her?”

Steve shook his head. 

“Did you meet Officer Carter?”
“The chick?”

Steve gave Bucky a look and Bucky smiled. 

“Yeah, I met her. She’s the one who gave me the rundown on Y/N when they first brought her in.”

Steve nodded. 

“She’s sticking with her while they process everything. Promised she’d get her to me in one piece with no more bruises.”

Bucky nodded, crossing his arms over his chest. 

“That Rumlow did a number on her, didn’t he?”

A muscle in Steve’s jaw ticked as he gave a terse nod. 

“Sure appears that way.”

Bucky watched Steve pick up his pen and write on the legal pad in front of him. Bucky licked his lips, keeping his eyes on Steve. 

“How long were they together?”

Steve shook his head. 

“She hasn’t said yet. I’ve got to sit her down and get the full background. Or else get Natasha to do it, if Y/N’s not comfortable with me.”
“Why wouldn’t she be comfortable with you?”

Steve smiled, not taking his eyes from the legal pad. 

“A lot’s changed in fifteen years, Buck.”
“Clearly.”

Steve lifted an eyebrow, flicking his eyes to Bucky. Bucky shrugged, shaking his head. 

“That woman in there is nowhere near the little spitfire you used to talk about.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“What happened between the two of you, anyway?”

Steve blew out a breath. 

“I don’t have time to regale you with stories of my glory days, okay? I’ve got a murder trial to prepare for, a client to establish trust with, not to mention how I’ve got to figure out what the hell actually happened last night.”

Bucky pursed his lips and nodded slowly.  

“Right, right. You’ve got a full plate. But hey, lucky for you, you’ve got a clear schedule and a top-notch babysitting job while this whole fiasco goes down.”

Steve stopped writing, swallowing hard, that muscle in his jaw ticking again. Bucky rolled his eyes, pushing himself out of the chair and to a standing position. 

“Unclench, will you? You’re not in this alone. I’m on it, Clint’s on it, maybe we can get this chick cop on our side. Not to mention … oh, did I forget to mention what’s waiting at your place right now?”

Steve glanced up, eyebrow raising. Bucky bounced his eyebrows, a shit-eating grin on his face when it finally occurred to Steve. Steve sat back in his chair, closing his eyes and wincing. 

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit.”

Bucky laughed, barely restraining himself from clapping with glee. Steve put his face in his hands, cursing again before he slapped his hands against the table and stood up, gathering his things into his briefcase. 

At the sound of a quiet knock at the door, the men turned. You and Officer Carter stood there, and you fiddled with the strap of your purse that was over your shoulder. Steve nodded towards you. 

“Ready to go?”

You nodded, and Officer Carter stepped into the room. 

“Someone will be coming by your place tomorrow morning. I don’t know the exact time, but …”
“You wouldn’t tell me if you did.”

She smiled and nodded, and Steve gave a single nod. He stepped around the table, holding out a hand, noticing the way you tried hard not to flinch. Officer Carter put her hand in his and he gave a firm shake. 

“Officer Carter, thank you for all your help.”
“It was no trouble, and please. Call me Sharon.”

You glanced to Bucky, pressing your lips together in an attempt to hide your smile when he rolled his eyes. Sharon turned and left the room, and Bucky spoke up, voice high-pitched and grating. 

“Please, call me Sharon.”

Steve shook his head. 

“Don’t start.”
“She’s the one who started it. Blatantly eye-fucking you right here in front of me.”

You giggled, pressing your lips together again to stop the sound. Steve met your eyes and you immediately glanced away. He swallowed, grabbing his briefcase from the table as he walked around it, coming to stand beside you. 

“Come on, let’s get—“

He laid a hand against the small of your back in order to lead you from the room, and you gasped, clutching your purse tighter, flinching hard away from him. Steve stopped talking, stopped moving, and Bucky closed his eyes as you shook your head, eyes wide and lips trembling. 

“I’m s-sorry. I’m so sorry, I just — I-I’m sorry.”
“You’re fine. It’s fine. Don’t apologize.”

You stared at the floor, quick breaths making your chest heave. Bucky’s heavy boots stepped into your line of sight and you stared at the frayed ends of his laces before he crouched down, forcing your eyes to meet his. 

“You alright?”

You gave a jerky nod of your head and he held out a hand. Your hand shook as you moved it, holding your breath as you laid your palm against his. 

“Breathe.”

His voice was soft and gentle, and you nodded, giving a shaky exhale. He closed his hand around yours, slowly tightening his grip as you focused on regulating your breathing. Bucky straightened, and you fought the urge to tug your hand back, noticing how he towered over you. 

Brock had towered over you too, something he’d often used to his advantage. 

“Breathe, sugar.”

You nodded as you did as he asked, closing your eyes. 

“You’re safe now, Y/N. Whatever happened to you before will never happen again.”

Tears came to your eyes at that, praying that he was right, that little voice inside you that sounded so much like Brock laughing, sneering, saying there was no way someone like you would ever truly be safe. You gave an almost silent whine, a gasp leaving your lips and your eyes flying open when Bucky’s nails dug into your hand. You blinked up at him, and he smiled. 

“I’m sorry. I could see you slipping into your head again and I didn’t know how else to stop it. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

You swallowed as you shook your head. You blinked, looking down at your hand. You took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, looking up and meeting his eyes. You blinked a few times before speaking softly. 

“He never touched me without some malice behind it. If we were in public and he touched my back, it meant I was in for it when we got home.”

You swallowed, shaking your head. 

“Even now, I can’t just accept ‘normal’ touches. Wanda’s gotten to where she’ll hug me and I try so hard not to flinch. I thought I was getting better—“
“Hey, don’t.”

You looked to Bucky, who smiled as he shook his head. 

“Healing happens at weird paces. Letting Wanda hug you is one thing. Steve touching your back without knowing what that used to mean is completely different.”

Your eyes widened. You’d forgotten that Steve was even in the room. You glanced over your shoulder to see him standing with one arm around his chest, the other arm propped onto it, his chin resting on his fist. You swallowed. 

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded, grabbing his briefcase again. 

“Come on. Let’s get out of here while we’ve got the chance.”

You nodded, and he side-stepped you to walk out of the room. You closed your eyes and Bucky stepped up beside you. 

“I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet there’s a throng of reporters out there. I’ll do my best to shield you, but I’m going to have to touch you to do it, okay?”

You nodded. 

“I’m fine if I can know it’s coming.”

Bucky smiled and nodded, pointing towards the door, in the direction you should go. You ignored the faces of the officers you and Bucky walked by, shifting your eyes to the floor and trusting Bucky to lead you. 

 


 

 

Steve unlocked the door and pushed it open, holding it for you to walk inside. Your eyes widened as you made your way through the door, mouth dropping open just a bit. Steve cleared his throat, closing the door behind you. 

“I know it’s not as big as you’re used to, but…”

You gave a soft chuckle. 

“My apartment could fit here in the foyer.”

Steve nodded, tossing his keys onto a side table. 

“Well, it’s not Park Avenue, but it’ll do.”

You swallowed, a cold sensation coming over you as your mind comprehended what Steve meant. You gave a nod, watching as he glanced down at his briefcase. He lifted his head and nodded towards the hallway. 

“I’ve got a lot of work to do, so … make yourself at home.”

You slowly nodded, fiddling with your purse strap before speaking in a shaky voice. 

“Can I … do you mind if I use the phone?”
“They didn’t give yours back?”

You swallowed, looking down. 

“I don’t have one. Couldn’t afford it.”

Steve slowly nodded. 

“Go ahead. I’ll be down in my office if you need me. Fourth door to the right.”

You nodded without lifting your head, closing your eyes when Steve sighed and walked away. You licked your lips and lifted your head, willing yourself not to cry. You turned the opposite direction from where Steve had gone, finding a large sitting room. 

The decor was masculine, warm somehow, and everything you’d expect from Steve. You set your purse on an end table, walking to the wall of floor-to-ceiling glass, staring at the skyline, the view of the Hudson. You glanced down, the cars on the street below looking like tiny toys, immediately feeling your head spin. You laid a hand against the cool glass as you closed your eyes, then slowly sank to the floor, sitting with your back to the windows and your legs crossed, wrapping your arms around your torso. 

You were fine

This wasn’t the house you shared with Brock. This wasn’t the cold marble mansion that had been your prison. This was a warm place with a view. You could look out the windows here. You were allowed to look out the windows. You didn’t have to do anything to earn it, and there was no way you’d be punished if you did something wrong. 

You didn’t know when you’d started rocking back and forth, or when the tears had started, but with your eyes closed and your mind churning, you missed hearing other footsteps enter the room. 

“Mrs. Rumlow?”

You gasped as your eyes flew open, as a woman in a dark blue dress knelt in front of you. 

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

You blinked, slowing your rocking, taking in the beauty of the woman before you. She had dark hair that curled away from her face, dark eyes and painted red lips. She had a gentle smile on her porcelain face and you blinked as you tried to remember where you were. 

“You’re in Steven’s penthouse. He brought you here just a few moments ago. Do you remember that?”

You slowly nodded, soothed by the gentle tone of her British accent, loosening your arms from around yourself. You looked around, trying to regain your bearings and the woman spoke softly, resting her arms on her knees. 

“I’m Margaret Carter. Peggy. I’m a friend of Steve’s.”

You nodded. 

“I’m also a psychiatrist.”

You smiled, looking down at the floor. 

“He must think I’m crazy.”
“No, he doesn’t.”

Peggy moved to sit beside you, stretching her legs out in front of her. 

“Before we get started, let me say I don’t care for the word ‘crazy.’ Too many negative undertones. I don’t think you’re crazy, nor does anyone else in this apartment.”

You looked over and met her kind eyes. 

“There are a lot of people here?”

She smiled. 

“Right now, yes. Some of Steve’s coworkers and friends.”
“Because of me?”
“Because Steve is doing his job and we’re all here in support of that. We usually have these pow-wows whenever he gets a new case.”

You nodded. 

“Bet he doesn’t usually bring them home, does he?”

Peggy pursed her lips. 

“Well … usually not.”

You smiled, looking down, stretching your legs in front of you. Your dirty shoes seemed so out of place next to Peggy’s high heels, and you swallowed as you closed your eyes. 

“Will you tell me what’s wrong?”
“So much I can’t put it into words.”
“What about right now, right this second, what made you close your eyes and retreat into yourself?”

You kept your eyes closed, giving a shaky breath. 

“My shoes.”
“What about them?”
“They shouldn’t be here.”
“Why not?”
“Because they don’t fit next to yours.”

Peggy blinked, then bent her knees, unfastening her heels and slipping them off. She looked to you and nodded, and with shaky fingers, you untied your shoes and slipped them off. You looked over to see Peggy smiling at your bright purple toes. You couldn’t help but smile, too. 

“My friend Wanda insisted we have a slumber party last week. She painted my toes for me.”
“I like them. Purple is a bold choice.”
“Wanda picked it.”

She nodded and you gave a shaky breath. 

“I need to call her. She’s probably—no, I know she’s worried. I need to let her know I’m okay.”
“Yes, of course.”

Peggy pointed towards the phone and you stood up, walking to it and lifting the receiver. You dialed the number to the diner, closing your eyes at the sudden rush of tears that came when you heard Wanda’s voice. 

“Thank you for calling the Scarlet Diner. This is Wanda. How can I help you?”
“Wanda, it’s me.”
“Y/N! Oh my god!”

You heard her muffled shout for Vis, a few seconds before she was back on the line. 

“Honey, my god. Are you okay?”

You nodded, blinking back tears. 

“I’m okay.”
“Are you sure? God, it’s been all over the news.”

You closed your eyes and shook your head. 

“I’m okay. It’s, uh … it’s a long story, but—“
“Where are you? Are you still at the courthouse? Someone named Bucky called me earlier and … Y/N, he said a lot of stuff I don’t know whether or not to believe.”

You swallowed. 

“What did he tell you?”
“That Steve Rogers is your lawyer. Your Steve Rogers from high school. And that you were going to trial already?”
“It was a bail hearing.”
“Well, I’m guessing they granted it, if you’re calling me. Oh, wait. Oh my god, is this your one phone call?! Do I need to pay your bail? I’m sure I could put the diner up as collateral—“
“Wanda, no.”

You closed your eyes as you couldn’t hold back the tears anymore, at the thought of your friend willingly putting her livelihood at risk for you. 

“I promise I’ll tell you as soon as I can.”
“Just … are you alright? Tell me that.”
“Yes.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’m safe and I’m not in jail.”
“Where are you?”

You glanced behind you at Peggy, who was nonchalantly walking around the far side of the room, trying not to listen to your conversation, but you knew she was anyway. You looked back to yours and Peggy’s shoes in the middle of the floor and you licked your lips. 

“I don’t know if I can tell you. But I promise I’m safe. Please don’t worry about me.”
“You can’t ask that of me. If you need anything at all, you call me. It doesn’t matter what time.”

You nodded, closing your eyes. 

“I’m sorry I’m not at work.”
“Just hush about that. You’ve always got a place with me. You know that, right?”
“I do. I love you, Wan.”
“I love you, bunny. Stay safe.”

You hung up the phone and gave a shaky exhale. 

“Are you okay, darling?”

You shook your head and looked out the window at the darkening sky. Peggy followed your gaze, crossing her arms over her chest. 

“Looks like rain.”

You nodded as you crossed your arms over your stomach, walking to the window. 

“I love the storms.”
“Do you?”

You nodded again, stopping in front of the glass. 

“The way the sky just opens up and … rages, for no reason at all. How something so beautiful can be so destructive.”

Peggy watched you, as you stared out the window, the way your eyes widened at the first burst of lightning. After a moment, you looked back to her and she gave you a smile. 

“Do you think we could talk a moment?”

 


 

 

Steve stood outside his office door for the longest time, knowing—and dreading—what was behind it. He finally squared his shoulders and exhaled, opening the door and raising an eyebrow at the scene before him. Peggy was there, touching his shoulder as she exited almost as soon as he’d walked in. He watched her go, then turned back to the group before him. 

“You called Peggy?”
“Thought it might be a good idea, considering.”

Steve nodded at his sister-in-law, and Pepper pushed her chair back from the table. 

“Should we have coffee?”
“Have you lost your goddamn mind?”

Pepper sank back into her chair.

“We’ll wait on the coffee.”

Natasha stood up from her chair, shoes clacking on the floor as she slowly rounded the table, repeating herself. 

“Have you lost your goddamn mind?”
“Nice to see you, too. Thanks for getting here so early.”
“Cut the shit, Steve. Right now.”

He set his briefcase on one of the tables, reaching up to yank his tie loose. Pepper glanced at her husband, who had sank into his chair, an amused smile on his face as he watched the scene unfold. Steve turned to Natasha and tossed out his hands. 

“I panicked.”
“You panicked?! Steve, you brought an accused murderer into your home—“
“The judge ruled—“
“At your suggestion!”

Natasha shook her head, fiery curls shivering around her face. 

“What the fuck were you thinking?”

He turned to her, and they both turned to the door as there was a knock on it. Bucky stuck his head in, a wide smile coming over his face when he saw Natasha and Steve nearly nose-to-nose.

“Oh, good. We haven’t missed the fireworks.”

Clint walked in behind Bucky, waving to Tony and Pepper, taking a seat at the table. Natasha turned and pointed to him. 

“Everything in this room is off the record.”

Clint rolled his eyes. 

“It hurts that you think you have to say that.”

Natasha turned back to Steve, green eyes blazing. 

“Since we’re all here, you better get to explaining what in God’s name happened this morning.”

Steve licked his lips, reaching up to untie his tie, then unbutton the top few buttons of his shirt. 

“Bucky called a little after three. Said there was a woman the police were interrogating without a lawyer.”
“And you didn’t bother to ask—“
“Can I get through my own goddamn story, please?”

Natasha held up her hands, walking to her seat at the table. When she was seated, legs and arms crossed, Steve picked the story up again. 

“He said she was being accused of murdering the assistant D.A. and the questioning was happening less than legally. He didn’t tell me her name, just that he thought she was innocent.”

Natasha closed her eyes, letting her head fall back. Steve shook his head, throwing out a hand toward her. 

“You weren’t there! You didn’t see what they were doing to her, how they were treating her!”
“Since when do we take cases based on a bounty hunter’s hunch?!”

Natasha turned towards Bucky. 

“No offense.”

Bucky nodded, and Natasha turned back to Steve. 

“I get he’s your friend—“
“He’s my best friend and I trust him with my life. If he believes something’s not right, then something isn’t right. And I knew he’d been right the second I walked into the precinct.”

Pepper held out her hands when Natasha started to speak, and Natasha quieted down. Pepper lowered her hands and nodded to Steve. He took in a breath, speaking again. 

“Darren Cross was arguing with Bucky, and I knew then that shit was hitting the fan. Anytime Cross can push the boundaries, he will. He didn’t even tell her she could have a lawyer.”
“They didn’t Mirandize her?”

Steve looked to Pepper and tilted his head. Bucky sighed and spoke up. 

“Cross didn’t. Another deputy did at the scene, but Cross knew he should have told her she could have a lawyer present.”
“He doesn’t have to tell them that. He can interrogate as long as they Mirandize. That’s the whole “anything you say can and will be used against you” bit.”

Steve blew out a breath as he looked at his brother.

know that and you know that, but she didn’t. She didn’t know a lawyer could be appointed to her.”

Natasha snorted. 

“The day a Rumlow needs anything ‘appointed’ to them—“
“She’s not a Rumlow. Well … not technically.”

All eyes turned to Clint, who reached into his bag and pulled out a small stack of papers. 

“Most of the divorce proceedings were retracted, but it’s there. She’s a Rumlow in name only, and Brock had filed a petition to demand she change her name. She didn’t get served with the papers yet, though. They were supposed to be served …”

Clint dug through the papers before he found what he’d been looking for. 

“Here. In three months?”

He said the date and Steve turned to him. 

“What day?”

Clint repeated himself and Steve hung his head, whispering under his breath. 

“Bastard.”
“What?”

Tony raised an eyebrow when Steve looked to him, and Steve sighed. 

“That’s her birthday.”

Pepper’s eyebrows raised as Natasha’s eyes narrowed.

“And how do you know this?”

Steve licked his lips, taking in a breath, letting it out slowly. He looked to Natasha and spoke calmly. 

“Because Y/N Rumlow is my high school sweetheart.”

Natasha blinked while Pepper fell back in her chair. Clint turned wide eyes to Bucky, who pursed his lips and nodded. Tony leaned forward, one hand on the table. 

“Y/N?”

Steve nodded, and Tony moved a hand to cover his mouth. 

“Shit.”

Steve nodded again and Natasha stood, making her way towards him. 

“So what you’re telling me is that you’ve brought your old girlfriend to play house with you while the rest of us try to prove she didn’t kill her husband?”

Steve looked to Natasha with fire in his eyes. 

“Good to know you still uphold that whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ shtick.”
“Don’t even start with me when you’re the one who took the case that could bring everything we’ve worked for crashing down.”

Steve gave a hard laugh. 

“Are you fucking with me right now? You think this—“
“You didn’t ask not one of us if we should take on this case. You just did it because you’ve got some broken-hearted nostalgia over this girl—“

Natasha sucked in a breath when Steve was suddenly in her face, and Bucky and Tony jumped to their feet, rounding the table and standing on either side of Steve, each of them laying a hand on his shoulders. Steve towered over Natasha, shoulders heaving, self-control on a hair trigger. He swallowed, taking the slightest step back, speaking in a low, but deadly tone. 

“Don’t you dare even begin to think you know anything about this case, this girl, or my past. If you don’t want to be a willing participant in this, there’s the door. Feel free to get the fuck out.”

Steve pointed towards the door, and Natasha took in a breath as she stepped back, smoothing a hand down her dress. She turned and walked to her chair, sitting down in it, crossing her legs. Bucky patted Steve’s shoulder, while Tony did the same thing on the other side. Steve looked to Tony, who nodded at him. 

“You good?”

Steve swallowed and nodded, and Tony moved his hand against Steve’s chest. 

“Take a walk.”
“I don’t need to—“
“I think I we could all use a minute.”

Steve stared into Tony’s dark eyes, then nodded. He turned and left the room, walking halfway down the hall and stopping, turning and putting his hands on the wall, hanging his head. 

“Steve?”

He closed his eyes at the sound of the soft voice, shaking his head as Peggy walked over to him. 

“Come now, love. Talk to me.”
“I can’t do this.”

He dropped his hands, turning to face her, anguish in his eyes. 

“Why did I think I could do this? Why did I … the minute I saw it was her, I should have ran the fuck out of there.”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, of course I didn’t.”
“Why not?”

He raked his hands through his hair, speaking in a low voice. 

“Because I’ve still got some high school schmuck’s view of her and I can’t shake it.”
“I don’t believe that for one second.”

Steve lifted his head, meeting Peggy’s dark eyes. 

“You’ve a hero complex, that’s for sure. Look at the profession you’ve chosen. The cases no one else wants, the clients who’ve lost hope. And you swoop in and save the day like some kind of superhero. This case is no different. This girl needs you, needed some hope in the darkest moment of her life, and there you were.”

Steve shook his head. 

“You don’t know our past, Peg.”
“Then tell me.”

He swallowed, shaking his head as he lowered his eyes. 

“I can’t.”
“Why not?”

He glanced back down the hall and Peggy smiled as she gently rubbed his shoulder. 

“If you think I can’t stand to hear of you loving someone else, well …”

Steve smiled, lifting his head and meeting her eyes. 

“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”

He sighed. 

“A lot has changed in fifteen years.”
“And not just for you.”

He met her eyes and Peggy nodded. 

“You need to keep in mind that Y/N hasn’t just been sitting around, pining after you for all these years.”
“She married Rumlow.”
“While that may be true, I do believe there’s more to that story. And if you don’t mind, I’d like the chance to talk with her, see if I can help her some.”
“Of course, Peg. Anything.”

She nodded, both of them looking up when a crack of thunder sounded. Steve looked back towards the sitting room and Peggy smiled. 

“She’s alright.”

Steve met her eyes and Peggy clasped her hands together in front of her. 

“She said she enjoys a thunderstorm.”

Steve nodded, looking back towards the sitting room when another clap of thunder rolled. 

“You’re welcome to check on her.”
“No, I … I trust you.”
“Steve.”

She laid a hand on his arm, smiling at him again. 

“Go check on her.”

He nodded, lifting Peggy’s hand to his lips before he walked towards the sitting room. He stopped just before the doorway, straightening his shoulders. He stepped into the room, eyes darting from corner to corner, until he saw you in front of the wall of windows. He took a tentative step inside, just watching, seeing the moment you straightened, glancing over your shoulder at him. You relaxed just the slightest bit, and Steve put his hands in his pockets as he walked towards you. 

He kept a reasonable distance, and you kept your arms wrapped around your torso. You jumped a bit when a flash of lightning appeared and Steve broke the silence between you. 

“Are you cold?”

You shook your head, rubbing your hands up and down your arms. 

“No, I’m okay.”
“I want you to be comfortable here, since you’ll be staying for a while.”

You nodded, and he shrugged his suit jacket off, draping it over your shoulders. You moved a hand to touch the lapel, rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger. The silence settled over the two of you again, and you watched the rain come down before you spoke again. 

“So your … your friends must have a lot to say, huh?”

Steve’s eyes widened as he nodded, and you gave a soft laugh. He looked to you and lifted a hand to rub at his chin. 

“Natasha, she’s a coworker of mine. She had plenty to say.”
“Not good, I’m guessing.”

Steve shrugged, his powerful shoulders moving under the white button-up shirt he was wearing. 

“She doesn’t know the whole story.”

You nodded, looking over your shoulder when he spoke again, softer. 

“Neither do I.”

He lifted his head, meeting your eyes. You sighed. 

“What do you want to know?”
“Everything.”

You swallowed, and he closed his eyes, a sharp exhale leaving his lips. 

“Sorry, that … I didn’t mean for that to come out. I will need to know as much as you’re willing to tell me, but we don’t have to do it right now.”

You slowly nodded, letting out a sigh. You looked back to him and saw him watching you, the two of you suddenly at a loss for words. 

You jumped at the crack of thunder, pulling Steve’s letter jacket closer around you, curling closer to his side. He smiled as he looped his arm around your shoulders and shoveled another handful of popcorn into his mouth. 

“Look, the good part’s coming up.”
“The last time you said that, I looked just in time to see that guy get his head chopped off.”
“Jason’s a sneaky bastard. What can I say?”

You rolled your eyes, jumping again when the thunder rolled, sounding closer than it had before. You lifted your head from Steve’s chest and looked at the TV, gasping and looking away just as the masked killer appeared on the screen again.

You’re the bastard, Steve Rogers. You knew I’d look right at the bad part!”

He cackled, leaning forward and setting the popcorn on the coffee table, maneuvering you around where you were fully in his lap. He wrapped his arms around you and you gave a happy sigh as you were surrounded in warmth. 

“I’ll protect you from the storm, babe. And Jason. And any other bad things.”
“You promise?”

Steve smiled. 

“I’ll never let anything hurt you, princess. I promise.”

You lifted your head, closing your eyes as his lips found yours. You gave a sigh, moving your hands to cradle his face, sliding off of his lap and laying back on the couch, sighing again when he settled on top of you. 

You blinked at the flash of lightning through the window, breaking your eyes from Steve’s. You blinked again, blood rushing in your ears, warming your cheeks. You closed your eyes and pulled his jacket tighter around you, breathing in the scent of him. It wasn’t like what you remembered, the sporty, clean scent you associate now with high school football players. No, this was darker, woodsy, manly. 

A glance behind you confirms what you already knew. The carefree kid you remembered is gone. In its place is a man carrying weight on his broad shoulders, weight that you’re responsible for bestowing on him.

You swallowed, shaking your head. 

“I’m sorry.”

Steve’s brows furrowed. 

“What?”
“I’m sorry.”
“For what?”

You blinked back tears and shook your head, turning from the window. You sucked in a breath when Steve was suddenly in front of you, and you didn’t flinch away when he lifted his hands, showing them to you before taking hold of your arms, his jacket a barrier between you two. His voice was low, steady. 

“You don’t have to apologize to me. You haven’t done anything wrong.”

Your eyes met his, unable to look away. He shook his head once more, stepping even closer to you. 

“You’re safe here. I don’t care how long it takes for that to sink in. I’m not going to hurt you, and I’m not going to let anyone else hurt you.”

You looked down, just standing there and breathing until Steve let go of you. You stepped back from him, tear-filled eyes meeting his. 

“That’s what you said before.”

He narrowed his eyes and you shook your head, slipping his jacket off your shoulders and holding it out to him with a shaking hand. 

“I believed you back then. But I … I can’t believe that anymore.”
“Y/N.”
“I’m sorry, Steve.”

He shook his head and reached out for you, both of you turning when a throat was cleared. Bucky stood in the doorway with Pepper beside him. He looked to you and motioned with his head. 

“Pepper and I were going to show you to your room, if that’s okay.”

You nodded, sniffling and lifting a hand to wipe your cheeks. Steve let his arm fall back to his side, taking the jacket from you and turning his back to his friends. You hurried to Bucky and he whispered to Pepper, stepping back as she led you out of the room. When they were gone, Bucky moved forward, making his way to Steve. He shook his head and stepped away, voice trembling. 

“Don’t touch me right now. Please.”
“What can I do?”

Steve shook his head, balling the jacket up in his hands and throwing it towards the wall. He moved to lay his hands on the countertop in front of him, hanging his head.

Chapter Text

The room Pepper showed you was huge. The four-poster bed had to be a king, covered in pillows and blankets and decorative pieces. There was a desk against one wall, a huge picture window across from the bed, and your own bathroom. You just stood in the middle of the room and stared for the longest time. Looking around at the display of wealth, something you’d been used to during your marriage. Now, though, you couldn’t help but feel … dirty. 

As soon as Pepper left, you went into the bathroom. You couldn’t stop the gasp that came at the spacious room, the claw foot tub near the walk-in shower, the long marble countertops with the spotless mirrors and bright vanity lighting. 

You looked at yourself in the mirror that went up at least a foot taller than you were. Your hair was a tangled mess even in the ponytail you usually wore when you worked. Your skin was pale, ashen almost, and your eyes were dull. There were dark circles almost like bruises under your eyes, and your wrists and right behind your eyes were absolutely throbbing now. 

The exhaustion slammed into you like a freight train, like the events of the day—and night, and now the next day—were all hitting you at once. You turned from the mirror and poked your head into the shower, twisting knobs until water flowed from the faucet. You undressed and left your clothes in a pile on the floor, stepping into the shower and putting your face in the lukewarm water. 

Lukewarm felt like heaven, because most of the time, the hot water at your apartment was nonexistent. 

Pepper had explained that the bathroom was stocked with essential toiletries, much like a hotel, and you used the shampoo/conditioner combo without a second glance. You scrubbed your body with soap twice, refraining from collapsing on the shower floor in the tears that were stinging the backs of your eyes.

You stepped out of the shower and grabbed one of the fluffy towels from the towel rack, wrapping it around your body. You found an unopened comb in a plastic package in one of the drawers, painstakingly dragging it through your tangled hair before digging through the drawers again and finding a toothbrush and toothpaste. You brushed your teeth twice, scrubbing just because you could, and finished with mouthwash from a tiny bottle you found sitting beside the sink. 

You walked into the bedroom with the towel still around you, swallowing when you realized that your work uniform was the only clothes you had with you, the only ones you’d have since you couldn’t leave Steve’s apartment. You wouldn’t let yourself think about how you were essentially a prisoner, stuck living with a man who could barely look at you. You sighed and turned towards the bathroom, stopping when you heard a gentle knock at the door. 

“Y/N? It’s Pepper. Can I come in?”

You tightened the towel around you, then nodded. Feeling like a fool when you realized that you were alone and Pepper couldn’t see you from her side of the door, you spoke again. 

“Yes.”

She opened the door a crack, closing it behind her, holding a bag in her hand. 

“You figured out the shower?”

You nodded, glancing down at the towel. Pepper walked towards the bed, setting the bag onto it. 

“I thought about it after I left. I tried to make sure Tony put easy to use equipment in these rooms. Sure, fancy’s pretty, but if you can’t figure out how to turn it on…”

She shrugged and you smiled as you wiggled your toes in the plush carpet. You blinked, then looked up to her. 

“Tony?”

Pepper nodded, leaning back against the bed. 

“Tony owns the building.”

Your eyes widened and she nodded again. 

“He owns it, I decorated it. With Steve sitting here at the top of the hill, it’s a family affair.”

You smiled, trying hard not to think of Pepper and Tony’s wedding. They’d gotten married right after you and Steve graduated high school, and it had been the social event of the year. You even remember being introduced to Brock that night, and how everything slowly spiraled out of control shortly thereafter. 

“Y/N?”

You blinked and looked to her, seeing the soft smile on her face. She didn’t ask, something you were immensely grateful for, and instead motioned to the bag on the bed. 

“I spoke with your friend Wanda. She gave me your sizes and I just ordered you a few things to get you through the night and into tomorrow.”

You blinked, and she motioned for you to come closer. Inside the bag was new underwear, a nightgown, a pair of jeans, and a T-shirt. You stared into the bag as Pepper spoke behind you. 

“We’ll launder the clothes you came in, but you need proper outfits for the trial and whatever else may arise. If you don’t mind, I’ll find you a few options and bring them by, and you can let me know what’s acceptable to you.”
“I can’t let you do that.”

Pepper raised an eyebrow as she turned to face you. You had your head bowed, still focused on the items in the bag. 

“Y/N?”

You shook your head, tears welling up in your eyes again. 

“I can’t afford any of this.”
“You don’t have to. I certainly don’t hope you think you’ll have to pay us back. We’d do this for any client who needed it.”
“But it’s not just any client. It’s me.”

You turned to face her and she stared at you, neither of you speaking for a long time. You tightened your grip on the towel around you and Pepper nodded before she took a step backwards. 

“Let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.”

You nodded and watched her walk to the door. She held her hand on the knob for a long time, and you waited for the moment she would turn around and say something. 

How could you?
Didn’t you ever think of him?
How were you so weak to let a man beat you down to this?

When the door opened and she walked away, the soft snick of the closing door seemed to echo through the room. You dropped the towel and dressed in the new underwear and the nightgown, and you didn’t even bother moving the pillows on the bed. You climbed into it, burying yourself beneath the covers, under a mountain of pillows, praying that would at least muffle the sound of the sobs you couldn’t hold back. 

 


 

 

Steve was pacing the room when Pepper walked back into it, and he turned to face her. Pepper smiled a tense smile, making her way to Tony. He looped his arm around her waist, bending his head to listen to whatever she whispered in his ear. He nodded, then looked to Steve. 

“We’re going to head out. If you—“
“Is she okay, Pep?”

She looked to him and let out a breath, then nodded. 

“She’s getting some rest.”
“What did she say?”

Pepper swallowed. 

“Thank you?”

Steve closed his eyes, lowering his head and letting out a breath. Pepper gave an exasperated exhale and she shook her head as she stepped away from Tony. 

“I’m not doing this, okay? I tried to be nice, but I can’t anymore. What in the hell is the matter with you?”

She stepped to Steve and he raised his head, eyebrows furrowed. Pepper shook her head, gesturing as she spoke. 

“You should have taken off running when you saw it was her. You should have turned this case down flat.”
“How was I supposed to do that? How could I tell her no when she needed me?”
“How could you tell her no ever?!” 

Tony took a step towards Pepper, holding out his hand. She swatted it away, walking closer to Steve. 

“That girl broke your heart so badly you took off for a war zone, Steve. I had to sit for eight years wondering if today would be the day two uniforms showed up at my door with a letter and their condolences.”

Steve closed his eyes. 

“I’m not completely innocent here, Pep.”
“I don’t give a shit about that.”

Steve tried to smile. If there was one thing he knew for sure, it was that Pepper had his back. Right or wrong, she was always on his side. Tony could see his faults and could call him out on them, but Pepper was his cheerleader. She took hold of his arms and he lifted his eyes to hers, watching as she shook her head. 

“I love you, but I don’t think you need to do this. Pass this case on to someone else and get the hell out of town for a while.”

Steve smiled, reaching up to grip her arms. 

“I can’t do that, honey.”

Pepper tilted her head, clicking her tongue softly. 

“There’s still time. You can—“
“I can’t turn my back on her.”
“See, that’s the thing. You can. You don’t owe her anything.”
“I owe her the chance to a fair trial—“

Pepper blew out a breath, turning her back to him, and Steve couldn’t help but raise his voice. 

“There’s been barely one person that’s shown her any kindness in years, Pepper.”
“So that means you’re obligated to?”
“No, it means that if there’s someone out there who deserves to be treated fairly, it’s my job to make sure that happens.”
“No, it is your job to defend your clients and try to keep them out of prison.”

She shook her head as she faced him. 

“I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I’d feel weird if you had a good one.”

She shook her head again, going to him and taking hold of his face. She stared into his eyes and Steve finally smiled, speaking softly. 

“I can’t turn my back on her, Pep. Not again.”

She sighed. 

“I know. I just wish I could keep you from getting hurt again.”
“I’m smarter this time.”

She forced a smile, patting his cheeks before letting him go. She kissed his cheek, then took Tony’s hand and led him from the room. Their departure left Steve alone, and he hung his head, sighing deeply before he walked to the liquor cart and grabbed the bottle of scotch, pouring himself a healthy glass. He drank it down almost in one gulp, then poured himself another glass. He capped the scotch and set it back on the cart, walking to the windows. 

The sun was going down, and the events of the day began weighing on him. He dragged a hand down his face, walking to a chair and sitting down. He took a sip of scotch, exhaling through his teeth before looking down into his glass. 

He’d never in a million years thought it would be you sitting across the table from him. He’d never seen you the way you are now, and it scared him. The girl he remembered was bright and shining, fun, funny, sweet, and loving. The woman he’d been dealing with for less than twenty-four hours was quiet, scared, and damn near shell-shocked. Your eyes didn’t sparkle the way they used to, and even your voice was different. Before, you were borderline obnoxiously loud; now, Steve had to strain to hear what you had to say. 

It worried him, what you must have gone through to become the woman you were now. It honestly made him sick to his stomach when he thought about it, so he tried not to. He tried to focus on the trial, on how he could spin this to prove your innocence. 

It had been a long time since he was innocent himself, something you knew better than anyone else. 

“Do you want some more?”

You shook your head, cheeks and the tip of your nose pink. You licked your lips and handed the plastic cup back to Steve. He tossed it over the side of his truck and you laughed, pushing his shoulder. 

“Litterbug.”
“I’ll pick it up before we leave.”

You giggled, scooting closer to him. He stretched his long body out in the back of the truck, moving one arm behind his head. You snuggled close to his side, laying your head on his chest, smiling when his arm came around you. You stared up at the sky, at the stars twinkling above your heads, smiling when you felt Steve kiss the top of your head. 

“Steve?”
“Hmm?”

You gasped, both of you sitting up when you watched a shooting star streak across the sky. You looked at him, seeing his eyes as big as yours, both of you smiling widely. You both laughed, and Steve reached up to twirl a piece of your hair around his finger. 

“Make a wish.”
“You want to wish upon a star?”

He nodded, and you closed your eyes, trying to think of a wish to make. You laughed when Steve’s lips were pressed against your own, but your laughter quickly died down as the kiss deepened. You pulled back, watching Steve’s eyes slowly blink open, and your breath caught in your throat. His voice was soft, barely a murmur. 

“Are you okay?”

You nodded, reaching out for him. He linked his fingers with yours, giving your hand a squeeze, and you swallowed. Steve shook his head and you squeezed his hand, then leaned in, kissing his cheek before whispering in his ear. 

“I think I know what I want my wish to be.”
“You can’t tell me, or it won’t come true.”

You nodded. 

“I think this one’s coming true whether I say it or not.”

Steve swallowed, speaking softly. 

“What is it, Princess?”

You moved to sit in his lap, where the two of you could look at each other face-to-face. Steve swallowed and you let out a shaky breath. You nodded and he licked his lips, voice barely a whisper. 

“Are you sure?”

You nodded again, casting your eyes down to the plain white T-shirt he was wearing, the way his shoulders moved with every deep breath he was taking. You moved a hand to the middle of his chest, watching his eyes close at your touch, gently shaking your head as you spoke.

“Your heart is pounding.”
“I’m nervous.”

You gave a soft laugh, taking his hand and pressing it between your breasts. He swallowed, shaking his head. 

“Your heart’s pounding, too.”
“I’m nervous.”

He smiled, moving his hands to cup your face. 

“We don’t have to do this. I didn’t bring you out here for this.”
“Oh, Stevie, I know. I just … it feels right.”

He nodded, and you leaned in, kissing his lips. His hands moved to tug your ponytail free, his fingers slipping into your hair and massaging your scalp, making you moan softly. You took hold of his shirt, pulling at it as you moved to lay down, and he sighed, one hand on your hip as you stared up at him. 

“I’m sorry this isn’t somewhere nice.”

You smiled, shaking your head. 

“It’s perfect.”

He smiled, leaning in to kiss you again, shifting back to tug his shirt over his head. You let your hands trace the ridges in his abdomen, moaning his name as he settled his hips on top of yours. 

 


 

 

You opened your eyes, noticing right off the bat how hot you were. You crawled out from under the mountain of pillows, kicking the blankets away, exhaling harshly when cool air hit your body when you were free. You went to the bathroom, splashing water on your face after you washed your hands. You stared at your reflection, groaning when you saw the mess your hair was in, since you’d fallen asleep with it wet. Your face was puffy, eyes slightly swollen from all the crying you’d done. 

You shook your head and wet a wash rag, holding the cool rag to your face and hoping for the best. When you felt the slightest bit better, you walked back into the bedroom, noticing the clock on the bedside table for the first time. 

Two fifty-three A.M. 

You sighed, lifting a hand to your eyes and shaking your head. You quietly made your way from your room back towards the kitchen, just wanting a drink of water. You were distracted by the sitting room with it’s wall of windows, and you couldn’t help but go to one, taking in a quiet breath as you stared out over the city that never sleeps. 

Maybe not sleep, but it does get as quiet as New York City can get at three in the morning. 

You couldn’t help but smile, moving your fingers to the cool glass, staring at the skyline. You heard footsteps behind you and you immediately tensed, closing your eyes and forcing your shoulders to lower and jaw to unclench. It was just Steve. It had to be Steve. Who else would be in Steve’s apartment at three in the morning?

“I didn’t want to scare you, but I think I did anyway.”

You nodded, turning from the window to see him a few feet away, hands in his pockets. He still had on the button-up shirt he’d been wearing when you met him in the police station, but the tie was gone. Now, his shirt was unbuttoned enough that you could see the white t-shirt he had on underneath, and the sleeves were rolled up nearly to his elbows. 

“Have you slept?”

Steve shook his head. 

“No, I … I don’t sleep much.”

You nodded.

“I kind of crashed earlier.”
“Understandable.”

You nodded again, turning and glancing out the window again. You could see Steve’s reflection in the glass, and you watched him walk towards you, then take a step back. 

“It’s a nice view, isn’t it?”

You smiled and nodded. 

“It really is. You can see the Hudson and everything.”

Steve nodded. 

“One of my stipulations for living here was that I had to see either the Hudson or Central Park. I told Tony I’d lose my mind up here surrounded by buildings and nothing else.”

You inhaled as you looked out the window, at the city beneath you. You looked up at the swirling clouds, closing your eyes when you felt dizzy. You moved your fingertips to the cool glass and spoke softly. 

“I shouldn’t have said what I did earlier.”

Steve’s eyebrows drew together. 

“What?”
“About … I just shouldn’t have said anything.”

Steve slowly nodded, rocking on his heels before walking away from you. 

“It’s been a long time. A lot of shit’s happened in fifteen years.”

You swallowed, nodding your head, the words leaving your lips barely a murmur. 

“Yes, it has.”
“Don’t feel like you have to apologize for anything. Make yourself at home.”

You turned from the window, watching him walk down the hallway, jolting when you heard a door slam. You put your face in your hands, letting out a shaky breath before making your way to the kitchen. You took in a breath, staring at the granite countertops, the high-tech appliances, the island in the middle. Tears pricked your eyes when you walked by the oven in the wall, shaky fingers barely skating over the handle. 

You swallowed hard, opening the refrigerator, breathing a sigh of relief when you found a bottle of water. You twisted the top off and drank, carrying it with you as you hurried back to your room. 

 


 

 

Steve winced as he opened one eye, lowering the shades in his office. He rubbed a hand over his forehead, pushing both hands through his hair before letting his head rest in his hands. 

“Rough night?”

Steve snorted, groaning softly. Bucky walked in and sat in the chair across from him, wincing when Steve lifted his head. Steve sighed. 

“That bad, huh?”
“What does the other guy look like?”

Steve smiled, leaning back in his chair. 

“Old friend of ours, I’m sure you remember him.”
“Jack? Jim?”

Steve shook his head. 

“Jose.”
“Oh, Jesus.”
“And he visited after the scotch.”
“Damn, son. You got a death wish?”?
“I did about three hours ago when I was—“
“Worshiping at the porcelain altar?”

Steve groaned, closing his eyes as Bucky chuckled. 

“I got a million of ‘em, so just let me know. Can I get you anything?”

Steve shook his head, moving his hands to his temples. 

“Just a thousand aspirin. Or, you know, a chainsaw to cut off my head to stop the pounding.”
“I got Tylenol, will that work?”

Steve nodded and Bucky stood up and walked to one of the cabinets. 

“You keep painkillers in my office?”
“Not the good stuff, just normal shit. May I remind you, I’ve spent a night or two on this couch?”

Steve nodded, nodding his head in thanks when Bucky handed him four ibuprofen. 

“Lifesaver.”
“I’ll add it to your tab.”

Steve gave him a thumbs up as he swallowed the pills dry, catching the bottle of water Bucky tossed him. 

“Animal.”

Steve swallowed the mouthful of water, then held a hand over his eyes. Bucky sat back in the chair, crossing an ankle over his knee, shaking his head. 

“What brought this on?”

Steve sighed. 

“Y/N was up around three, and I hadn’t gone to sleep yet.”
“Did you talk to her?”

Steve sighed again, leaning back in his chair. 

“Enough to leave her in my living room while I tried to drown myself in tequila. Fucking tequila, Buck. Who over the age of twenty-one does that?”
“Someone who’s looking to black out.”

Steve nodded, closing his eyes. 

“She was standing at the window in this … ridiculous nightgown. I can’t even tell you the last time I saw a woman in a nightgown.”
“Really?”

Steve nodded. 

“Peggy always wore my shirts. And Nat doesn’t wear anything at all, so—“
“More than I needed to know, thanks.”

Steve smiled, then sighed. 

“She was just standing there, looking out at the city, and all I wanted to do was hold her. To tell her that I’d make all of it go away, and all she’d have to do is get that sadness out of her eyes.”

He scrubbed his hands over his face and Bucky licked his lips. 

“You still drunk?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Maybe don’t leave this room until you’re sober.”

Steve groaned, covering his eyes. Bucky sighed, tapping a finger on the desk. 

“Nat’s on her way, ready to get the whole story.”

Steve nodded, pushing his chair back from his desk. Bucky stood, holding a hand to Steve’s chest. 

“Let me take this one, and you see if you can’t get some rest.”
“Buck, I need to be there.”
“Nat can handle this. You know it. Peg’s coming by later, and I’ll sit in earshot where I can tell Nat won’t eat her alive.”

Steve smiled, letting out a breath and nodding. He stood up and walked to the couch in the corner, stretching out across it and tossing an arm over his eyes. Bucky sighed, pulling the door shut as he walked out of Steve’s office. 

He stopped by the living room, where you were slowly pacing in front of the windows, eyes trained out, murmuring to yourself. Bucky cleared his throat and you whirled around, relief coming over your face when you saw him. 

“Bucky. Hi.”
“Hey, doll. How you doing?”

You smiled, nodding. 

“Just … nervous.”
“Why?”

You swallowed. 

“Steve said Natasha was coming by to … rehash history, basically.”

Bucky nodded. 

“They need to know as much as they can to get a good defense going.”

You nodded, twisting your fingers together. 

“I just …”
“What?”
“I don’t know. I feel like it would be easier talking to Steve, but he said he had a headache.”

Bucky snorted. 

“Yeah, he does.”

You nodded, looking down at your hands, pulling them apart and smoothing them down your jeans. Bucky stepped closer to you, showing you his hands. You stared at them, and your hands shook the slightest bit when you set your hands in his. Bucky closed his wide hands around yours, giving them a gentle squeeze. 

“Nat seems scary, but it’s all a front. Make no mistake, when it comes to the courtroom, she’ll chew ‘em up and spit ‘em out without a second glance. They don’t call her the Black Widow for nothing.”

You swallowed and Bucky gave your hands another squeeze. 

“You want her on your team, doll. Trust me.”

You nodded, eyes widening when you heard the door open and shut before the clicking of heels sounded. Bucky smiled. 

“That’s Ms. Romanoff.”

You nodded, letting out a shaky breath. 

“Relax. Just talk to her like you talk to me. You’ll be fine.”

You nodded again, making yourself smile. You looked to the doorway and swallowed when you saw her, short and slender, legs seeming a mile long in the stilettos she was wearing. Her skintight dress was an emerald green, making her hair seem like fire and her eyes bright. You immediately glanced down at the floor, that old feeling of inadequacy sneaking in and wrapping its claws around your throat. 

“Mrs. Rumlow, if you’ll follow me down to the conference room.”

You blinked, lifting your head. She was already walking down the hall and you swallowed, glancing to Bucky who gave you an encouraging nod before you hurried after her. You followed her into a room and watched as she set her briefcase on the thick mahogany table. She clicked the locks open and nodded to you. 

“Shut the door behind you, please. Don’t want any ears listening in if we can prevent it.”

You closed the door, resting your hand against it before turning to face her. She took a seat in one of the chairs, pulling out a recorder and a notepad, motioning to the seat across from her before clicking a pen. 

“Okay, let’s begin with the other night. Walk me through your evening.”

You walked over, pulling out the chair across from her and sitting, resting your hands on your jeans. 

“I worked at the diner.”
“What diner?”
“The Scarlet Diner, over on 108th.”
“What was your shift?”
“Ten A.M. until closing.”
“And when was closing?”
“When the last customer left.”

Natasha lifted her head from where she’d been scribbling on the notepad, raising one slender eyebrow. You swallowed.

“Official hours are ten to midnight, but that can vary, depending on the customers.”
“And what was it that night?”
“Everyone was gone by eleven-thirty.”

Natasha nodded, scribbling some more. 

“So after work?”
“I was eating with my friend who owns the diner. Wanda.”
“Last name.”

You blinked. 

“Uh, Maximoff.”
“Anyone else work at this diner?”
“Wanda’s boyfriend, Vis. He’s the cook.”

Natasha lifted her head again, setting her pen aside this time. 

“‘Vis?’”
“Short for ‘Vision.’ He’s kind of a hippie. His real name … well, I don’t remember his first name, but his last name is Jarvis. Which, come to think of it, ‘Vis’ could also be short for.”

Natasha stared at you, shaking her head a bit as she picked her pen up and began writing again. You swallowed, looking around the room before Natasha cleared her throat. You looked to her and she nodded. 

“Continue.”

She looked back down at her notepad, and you licked your dry lips before continuing. 

“Um … the phone rang and it was Maria. Maria Hill, she … she was my closest friend, I guess you could say, while I was married to Brock.”
“Why did you word it like that?”

You blinked.

“Because Maria never acted the way Wanda does towards me. Wanda is my friend. Maria … I don’t know. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I guess she was more of an acquaintance than a friend.”
“Well, I don’t know many Rumlows who are all that friendly.” 

You stopped, looking her way as Natasha continued writing. You blinked, trying to tamp down the itch crawling up your spine, slowly rubbing your palms along your jeans. 

“Just keep talking. I’ll stop you if I hear something interesting.”

You felt like you’d been slapped, but you decided to keep going. You knew your voice was shaking, but you tried to remain strong anyway. 

“Um… Maria said she had a few of my things at the house, and Brock would be working late, so if I wanted to come and get the things, that would be my only time to do so.”
“You usually hang out with Maria when Brock’s working?”

You shook your head.

“The recorder can’t pick up movements. Don’t shake your head. Say yes or no.”

You blinked, trying to stay calm at her abrasive tone. Everything in you was wanting to run, to crawl under the table and close your eyes until it all went away, but it wasn’t going to go away. You shifted in the chair, rubbing your palms along your thighs harder as Natasha blew out a breath. 

“Y/N, the more you tell me, the quicker we can get this over with.”

You exhaled, almost immediately taking in another breath. 

“No, I—I don’t see Maria. I haven’t—haven’t seen her since before the divorce.”
“You just said she was your closest friend. Why haven’t you talked to her?”
“Because she moved in as soon as I moved out.”

Natasha lifted her head, eyes wide. 

“Your best friend is living with your husband and you didn’t think that’s something you should tell me?”
“I didn’t—“
“Good god.”

You pushed your chair back from the table, seeing the surprise on Natasha’s face. You were surprised yourself at the sudden action, and you stared at the table as you spoke softly. 

“Ex-husband.”
“What?”

You lifted your head. 

“You keep saying ‘my husband.’ Calling me ‘Mrs. Rumlow.’”
“That’s your name, isn’t it?”
“He wouldn’t let me change it. Even though we’re divorced, he managed to stop every petition I sent to the court to change my name back to my maiden name.”

Natasha leaned back in her chair.

“You really believe that?”

Your eyes widened. 

“What?”
“Why would he give a shit what your name is? You divorced him. What I’m hearing here is that you couldn’t let go.”

You blinked, feeling your body start to tremble. 

“You have no idea what I went through.”
“No, I don’t. All I know is what you’re telling me, and just from these few minutes, I can tell that you can’t tell me the whole truth.”

You felt your heart pound in your chest as you slowly stood to your feet. Natasha sighed, shaking her head as she picked up her pen again. 

“Sit down, Mrs. Rumlow. We’re not finished.”

Natasha lifted her head and you shook yours. She rolled her eyes and tapped her pen against her notepad. 

“We all have to do things we don’t want to do, don’t we? Sit down and let’s get this over with.”
“You think I’m guilty.”

Natasha raised that eyebrow again, giving a slow shake of her head. 

“It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“It does to me. How can you help me if you think I did it?”
“I’m not helping you. I’m here for Steve.”

You swallowed, hands shaking as you all but choked out the words. 

“Does everyone think like you?”
“If you mean do we all think Steve’s lost his mind for taking on your case? The answer is yes. Do we all think the poor little rich girl Brock cast aside is finally getting hers? Well, I can’t speak for everyone else, but …”

You let out a breath, closing your eyes, hearing your heart pound in your ears. Your thighs were aching from where your nails had been digging into your skin, and you could feel the hot tears stinging your eyes. 

“Back to what you were saying before—“
“No.”

Natasha rolled her eyes before she lifted them to you and you shook your head, turning away from her and walking to the door. You opened it and walked down the hall, hearing Natasha call after you, yelling that you weren’t through, and Bucky poked his head out of the sitting room, eyebrows furrowing when he saw you. 

“Y/N? Hey, doll, talk to me.”

You shook your head, tears dribbling down your cheeks when you stepped around him. You stopped at the windows, looking out at the bright sunshine, hand shaking as you reached for the glass, pulling your hand back at the last second. You closed your eyes and turned away from the window, intent on going back to your room to either hide under the covers or drown yourself in the bathtub, gasping when Steve was suddenly in front of you. He looked terrible, his face unshaven, stubble lining his jaw, cheeks, and chin, deep, dark circles under his eyes. He shook his head, speaking softly. 

“What’s wrong?”

His voice was scratchy, throaty like he’d gargled saltwater-coated gravel and you shook your head. 

“I thought you were different.”
“What?”
“I thought you’d be different.”
“Different how?”

The tears came harder and you were helpless to try  and stop them. 

“You don’t see it.”
“See what, Y/N? I don’t understand.”
“You all see the Park Avenue castoff, this … bitch who once lived in the lap of luxury and killed her husband when she got bored.”

Steve shook his head. 

“That’s not what I—“
“No one sees it. No one’s bothered to try and care even just a little bit. I’m going to die in jail and no one even cares.”

Steve reached out and grabbed your arms, and you sucked in a breath as you met his eyes, the normally sapphire blue now like steel. 

“I’m not going to let you die in jail. Do you hear me? I’m here, and I’m going to fight for you until my last breath.”

You shook your head, a sob leaving your lips. 

“Don’t say that.”
“Honey—“
“Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.”
“I do. I do mean it. I promise you, I mean it.”

Steve pulled you in, wrapping his arms around you, and you melted, crying into his shoulder as he held you. You moved shaking arms to hold him, digging your fingers into the thick muscles of his back as he murmured nonsensical things into your hair. 

 


 

 

“What did you do?”

Natasha lifted her eyes to Bucky, shrugging her shoulders. 

“Nothing. I was asking her a few questions—“
“You were fucking interrogating her.”
“This will be the trial of the century, Barnes. She doesn’t need to be coddled right now.”
“She doesn’t need to stand before the executioner, either.”

Natasha rolled her eyes. 

“I’m not her executioner.”
“Yeah, too damn bad, right?”

Natasha’s eyes flashed as she stood to her feet. 

“Look, I didn’t ask to be a part of yours and Steve’s latest charity case, okay? I’m doing what was asked of me and trying to make a damn timeline. I can’t do my job if she doesn’t give me all the facts.”
“You—“

Bucky stopped himself, narrowing his eyes before taking a step back and staring at her. 

“You think she did it.”
“It doesn’t matter what I think.”
“The hell it doesn’t.”

Natasha rolled her eyes and Bucky shook his head. 

“Are you trying to sabotage this case?”

Natasha’s mouth fell open.

“I can’t believe you would say that!”
“Is it a lie?”

She blinked. 

“Of course it’s a lie. I don’t even know this girl—“
“But you’re already digging her grave.”

Natasha’s green eyes glittered hard as stone as she stepped forward, hand raised, one finger poking Bucky in the chest. 

“You have a lot of nerve—“
“Don’t bullshit me, Romanoff. Don’t even start.”

She stepped back from him, shaking her head. 

“I am so sick of the two of you bringing in these … strays, expecting the rest of us to just drop everything and cater to their every need.”
“You can see what this girl means to Steve. Is that why you’re being such a bitch right now?”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed as she looked to Bucky. 

“Drop dead, Barnes.”
“Oh, you’d love that, wouldn’t you?”

Natasha’s voice was pure venom as she spat Russian curses at Bucky. He crossed his arms over his chest, the ex-military language expert in him knowing exactly what she was saying, while also knowing that she knew he understood. When she went quiet, he raised his eyebrows. 

“You done?”

She murmured, in Slovakian, for him to kiss her ass and he gave her a fake smile. 

“You first.”

She rolled her eyes, shaking her head as she made her way to the briefcase, loading up her notepad and pens. 

“She’s never going to make it through a trial. She’s weak and the D.A. will pounce on that as soon as he can.”
“It’ll be Fury, right?”

Natasha nodded. 

“I’ll be shocked if it’s not. That being said, Fury will eat her alive if he’s given half the chance. And her just being on the stand will be that chance.”
“So what are we supposed to do? Toughen her up?”

Natasha gave a hard laugh. 

“Good luck with that.”

They turned to the door when it flung open, a furious Steve standing there. 

“Get the fuck out of here.”
“Steve—“

He bared his teeth at the sound of Natasha’s voice, and her eyes went wide. Bucky calmly stepped between them and Steve gave his chest a hard shove, catching him off guard and making him stumble back. Natasha slowly rounded the table backwards as Steve stalked in front of her. 

“I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with you, but we don’t treat clients like that.”
“Steve—“
“Especially not ones as battered as Y/N is.”
“I was just—“
“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

Natasha was shaking, and all of Bucky’s words to Steve went unheard. Any touch from Bucky was slapped away, calls for reinforcement falling on deaf ears as Natasha ran out of space to retreat and her back hit the wall. Steve stalked forward, stopping a few feet in front of her. 

“Peggy’s trying to pull her out of her shell. I’ve never seen anybody dissociate themselves so fast. And it’s all because of you.”
“Steve, you’re scaring—“
“I’m trying to make sure she doesn’t go to jail and in less than half an hour, you’ve destroyed what little leeway we’d made.”
“You’re scaring me.”
Good.”
“Steven.”

At the unfamiliar tone, Steve turned his head to the door. Peggy stood there, trying—and failing—to hide the look of horror on her face. She blinked, shaking her head. 

“Step back.”

Steve blinked, noticing the nod Tony gave from behind Peggy. 

“Take it easy, Steve.”

Steve blinked again, turning back to see his hands on the wall on either side of Natasha’s head, noticing the way her body was trembling, the abject fear in her eyes. He dropped his hands like the wall had been on fire, stepping back and covering his mouth with one hand. Tony cleared his throat, walking to the table,  gathering Natasha’s briefcase and handing it to her. 

“Let’s let Miss Romanoff go, and we’ll reconvene at a later time, okay?”

Natasha’s hands were shaking as she clutched her briefcase, walking to Peggy and looking back over her shoulder. Steve met her eyes, shaking his head, collapsing into one of the chairs and covering his face with his hands. Natasha blinked back tears, straightening her shoulders and walking to the front door. When it slammed, a shudder went through Steve as Tony and Peggy exchanged a look. Tony swallowed, laying a hand on Steve’s shoulder. 

“You want to—“

Steve knocked the chair over as he stood up, wrapping Tony in an embrace that knocked the wind out of him. Peggy quickly turned and left the room, closing the door behind her as Tony wrapped his arms around Steve, holding him tightly. 

“Easy, big guy. Take it easy.”

Steve shook his head, and Tony patted his back. 

“Breathe, Steve.”

He stepped back, wiping a hand over his face, over his wet eyes. 

“What was that? How could I …”

He shook his head, hand covering his mouth. 

“What would I have done if you hadn’t—“
“Hey, don’t do that.”

Tony stepped in front of him, shaking his head. 

“You didn’t.”
“But I could have.”
“But you didn’t.”

Steve sat in a different chair, and Tony righted the one that had been knocked over before sitting beside Steve. Steve stared at the table, shaking his head. 

“Did you see how scared she was? How horrified Peggy was? What if you hadn’t been here? What if I’d—“
“Don’t go there. You didn’t do anything. Nat’s fine. Peggy’s fine. They’ve both seen worse.”
“Not from me.”

Steve leaned back in his chair, hand rubbing over his chin. 

“I’ve never lost control like that around them.”
“So why do you think you did today?”

Steve swallowed. 

“Y/N.”

Tony nodded and Steve’s voice softened as he spoke. 

“She was in here with Nat and she ran out. I saw her at the windows and it was like … like she was trying to soak it in because it was the last time she’d get to see the City. The look in her eyes …”

Steve shook his head, looking to Tony. 

“She said she was going to die in jail and no one cared. I told her I wouldn’t let it happen and she … God, Tony. She just shook her head like she knew I was lying.”

He licked his lips, staring at the wall as he shook his head. 

“I was holding her when her knees gave out, and we sat on the floor. Before Peggy even got here, I noticed the change.”

Tony’s eyebrows furrowed and Steve shook his head. 

“Her arms fell by her sides and she just sat there. I kept talking to her, asking her things, but she didn’t answer. Her eyes … she was just staring at nothing. It’s like she wasn’t even there.”

Steve looked at his hands and Tony thought for a moment before he spoke. 

“Barnes said that when he found her at the precinct, she was … for lack of a better term, catatonic. He had to work to get her to come back to herself.”

Steve nodded. 

“It was the same thing in there.”
“Thank God Dr. Carter’s here, huh?”

Steve nodded and Tony sighed. 

“You can’t focus on it, Steve.”
“Which part? The part where the girl I used to love is a broken shell of what she used to be or the part where I almost ripped another girl I used to love to shreds?”

Tony sighed again. 

“We’re in a hell of a clusterfuck here.”
“You don’t have to be.”
“If you weren’t so low right now, I’d kick you.”

Steve’s lips quirked into a half-smile and Tony shook his head. 

“We’re family, little brother. If you’re in a clusterfuck, I’m right there with you.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Tony.”
“Well, join the club.”

Steve looked his way and Tony rapped his fingers on the table. 

“Pep was up half the night worried about you.”
“Don’t tell me that.”
“Eh, it’s made up the majority of our life together.”

Steve dragged a hand down his face and sighed, slumping down in the chair and resting his head back. Tony knocked his knuckles against the table. 

“Let Dr. Carter work her magic and we’ll leave you two alone. Try again tomorrow.”

Steve nodded. He closed his eyes and Tony sighed, pushing himself back from the table. 

“Don’t fall asleep in here. Your back will never forgive you.”

Steve snorted, nodding his head as Tony left the room. Steve took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly, opening his eyes and staring up at the ceiling.