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Eye on Her

Chapter Text

It was freezing, but at this point, it didn't really matter.

Nell was pretty sure they were on the brink of death. It had been close to a week since they'd had a true meal, and even longer since they'd bathed. All she and Malia had been doing was running.

Running as fast and as far as they could.

She wasn't sure what part of Canada they were in, she just knew it was cold and empty. There were trees around. Miles and miles of trees. But she had yet to come across another person, and honestly, that was relief.

"I'm sleepy," Malia whispered, holding her arms out to keep balance as they moved forward.

"I know, baby. We just have to walk a little more and then we can rest, okay?"

"You said that yesterday, and we're still walking," the young girl stated, matter of fact.

Nell smiled. Malia never complained, and she had every right to do so. But she never let people off the hook either. "Do you want me to carry you?"

"No. I can keep going."

Nell brush her hand along the girl's hair lovingly. Samira would be so proud, she thought. Malia is so strong. Just like her.

She sighed, reaching down to grasp the girl's hand. They didn't deserve any of what happened to them. They didn't need to be strong, but it seemed like fate didn't agree. Nell couldn't change the past, but she had made a promise to Samira. She would do anything to make sure Malia was safe.

Anything.

"Nelly, when we stop, can we get-"

A shot rang out in the quiet of the forest, and Nell gasped. Pulling at Malia's hand, she covered the child with her body, immediately dropping to the ground. Malia whimpered softly, but was still. She knew what the protocol was.

"Okay, baby, when I say go, we're gonna get up and run, okay?" Nell spoke, trying her best to keep her voice level. She felt Malia's head nod against her chest, and cradled her closer.

It didn't seem like anyone was around, but as soon as she lifted her head, another shot rang out.

Who the hell is shooting at us? How could they have found us? Nell wondered. An odd mix of anger and fear coursed through her body and she closed her eyes, trying to center herself. Another shot rang out, this one closer, and she knew they were being taunted.

It pissed her off.

"Malia. When I stand up, stand with me, okay? Stay behind me," Nell instructed. Her legs slipped against the snow as she moved to stand, and more shots rang. She ignored them, still rising, and they only got closer and more frequent.

One whizzed past them into a tree and Malia shouted.

"It's okay, baby, I'm here! I'm not gonna let anything happen to you!" Nell assured loudly, gripping her small body from behind. Another shot stuck into the tree and Malia started crying softly. As soon as her tears fell, the earth beneath them shook. Softly at first, then more violent as Malia's fear grew.

"Please! Stop! You're scaring her!" Nell pleaded. The shots continued.

She turned and blocked Malia's body, making sure that if another shot came, it would hit her first. "Malia, I'm gonna hold them off, okay? You run when I turn and you don't stop. You keep going, all right? I'll be right behind you."

Malia nodded, her dark eyes shining with tears. She reached forward to wrap her arms around Nell's neck tightly, sobbing softly into the woman's ear.

"They're not going to hurt you. I promised, okay? They won't. They won't."

"Okay."

Nell squeezed her once more then pulled away and stood. She could see a figure-she guessed a man, but the tactical gear made it difficult to tell-striding towards them, a clear arrogance to their gait.

"Go, Malia! I'll catch up!" She shouted, narrowing her eyes at the figure. She heard the girl's feet crunching into the snow, and took a deep breath. She didn't want to do this. Nell could feel the bile ready to rise in her throat, but she had no choice. It was them or Malia, and she would always choose Malia.

She closed her eyes, and the next second, something dove from the sky, sweeping the figure up from the ground. Nell startled, looking left and right for the shooter. But they, and whatever had taken them, were gone.

"Malia!" she yelled, turning to chase after the girl. Nell ran in the direction she though she heard her go, shouting her name over and over again.

"Nelly!" a small voice rang out, and she turned, following the sound.

"Malia!" she shouted again, not caring how shrill she sounded. When she saw the girl's puffy pigtails she sighed in relief, falling to her knees to hug her. "Malia, thank Jesus. Are you okay?"

"Yes," she replied quietly, nodding against her neck. "The lady with red hair helped me."

Nell's eyes shot open. "Who?"

"The lady," she insisted. "She's right there!"

Nell's eyes followed Malia's index finger. She pointed behind her, and her eyes landed on a woman in black clothing, red hair bright against the white of the winter snow.

The woman strode toward them, her light eyes inquisitive and guarded at the same time. Nell studied her, noting her obvious beauty, as well as the guns strapped to her person. She pulled Malia closer, giving the woman a leery gaze.

"We weren't expecting any neighbors," the redhead stated. Her voice was deep and smooth, and her full lips pulled into a smirk after she finished speaking.

"Who is 'we'?" Nell asked, her own voice tinged with a hint of venom.

"A better question would be who are you?" the woman shot back. Her eyes roamed over them, taking in every detail. "You don't look like you're from around here."

Nell narrowed her eyes and stood slowly. She didn't have to explain herself to a stranger. Especially not one who looked so deadly. She grabbed Malia's hand gently and turned, walking away from the woman without a word.

"Are you lost?" The woman asked, following them. Nell remained quiet, ready to run if she needed.

"We can help you, you know. You look like you need it."

"And you still haven't told me who 'we' is," Nell blurted, and regretted it as soon as the words left her mouth. She didn't want to engage. The fewer people they spoke to, the better.

"I'm Natasha," the woman said, easily, still following them.

Nell scoffed. "Okay?"

"Natasha Romanoff," the woman clarified. At that, Nell halted abruptly. The red hair. The Russian sounding name. Are you an idiot? she berated herself silently. How could you not have recognized her?

Nell turned slowly, eyeing Natasha again. "You're an Avenger."

Natasha nodded, a knowing smile on her face.

"If we go with you, will you promise not to tell anyone you saw us?" Nell asked, her heart swelling with hope.

"I can't promise that," Natasha replied. "All I can do is try to help you, with whatever you need."

Nell stared back at her. She knew she worked with Tony Stark. He had money and they both had connections. Protection. Was it worth it, to go with her? Would it be better for Malia?

"We won't hurt you," Natasha assured softly, her eyes falling to the girl, as if she had read Nell's mind. "We have a safe house nearby. I can take you there and you can warm up. Get some food in you."

"Do you have pizza?" Malia asked, looking up at Natasha with her big, brown eyes.

The redhead chuckled, her face softening as she looked at the girl. "Of course. We can get you anything you want."

"Really?" Malia asked.

"Mmhmm," Natasha replied, nodding as her smile widened.

"Yay! Please, can we go Nelly? I'm so hungry."

Nell looked down at Malia, a wave of shame washing over her. The last of their food had run out a while ago, and before that she had been giving it all to the girl, refusing to eat to make sure Malia was fed. She hadn't failed to notice how her own bones jutted out more from her body- but when she saw how Malia's clothes started to hang, she wanted to cry. Nell didn't care what she had to go through, but she couldn't stand to watch Malia suffer, even if the girl held back most of the time.

She blinked, still feeling unsure. Natasha stared back at her, red hair blowing softly in the wind.

"At least stay the night. If you still don't feel safe, you can leave in the morning. We'll give you some heavier clothes and some food and supplies to take with you. You won't have to sleep out in the cold."

Nell sighed and bit her lip. She was torn. A warm place to sleep sounded amazing. And food, especially for Malia, would be a godsend. But could she really trust Natasha Romanoff? She and her team may have saved the world, but it was no secret what she had done in her past. She wasn't one to judge, but putting her and Malia's life in Natasha's hands was a matter of life and death. What would she do if Nell decided to trust her, even for just one night?

It didn't matter, she decided. If she could feed and clothe Malia, then she would have to take the risk. And if Natasha or anyone else tried to hurt them, then she would keep her promise, no matter what.

"Okay. We'll go with you."

Chapter Text

Nell wanted to take her time in the shower. The water was so warm-the feeling of soap rinsing off the dirt and grime indescribable. Practically orgasmic. But her thoughts always went back to Malia, and she would rush again, scrubbing herself harshly to get out quicker.

Natasha had assured her that Malia would be safe while she showered. Nell watched the girl over her shoulder, munching on a slice of pizza with more restraint than she should have had, considering their situation.

"Don't let her out of your sight," Nell pleaded, though it came out like a warning.

"We won't," Natasha said, eyes sincere. It almost made Nell cave, seeing that look on her face. It had been so long since someone had helped them, had just....been kind, for no reason but for the sake of it. She forgot people could still do that.

The clothes Natasha had given her were a bit too large, but Nell was just grateful they were clean. Everything they had been carrying with them was used and dirty, and even if they wanted to wash them-they'd come across plenty of lakes and streams-it was much too cold for anything to dry outdoors. The safehouse was thankfully well equipped, thanks to Stark Industries, and her clothes, as well as Malia's, were being washed in a state of the art machine.

Nell pulled on the sweatpants and tugged the black hoodie over her head, not bothering to pull it down as she rushed into the hallway. She collided with someone, and bumped back into the wall, the other person barely shifting.

"Jesus," Nell whispered, rubbing her shoulder.

"Sorry," she heard. The voice was soft and masculine, soothing in its tone. She looked up and was met with startling blue eyes. The bluest she'd ever seen. But that wasn't what caught her attention.

There seemed to be a well of anguish etched in them-like no matter what, underneath, you'd always sense the suffering they'd seen. Part of her wanted to immediately ease whatever agony this person had been through, but a bigger part of her wanted to recoil. To run away, and fast. She'd never seen anyone look like that before-and she had seen a lot. Nell didn't know what she was feeling, seeing those sad blue eyes, but she knew it wasn't anything good.

Blinking quickly, and still rubbing her shoulder, she shook her head. "You're fine."

"After you," she heard, but just couldn't met his gaze again. Striding forward, she made her way to the living room, sitting next to Malia. The young girl was clean and smelled of soap, her small body swallowed by the clothes Natasha had found for her.

"How are you? You okay?" Nell asked, stroking her hair. That was another thing she'd promised Samira. That she would brush and take care of Malia's hair. They could be covered in slime or dust or anything, but Nell always made sure to at least rinse the girl's hair with clean water and keep it tidy.

"Yeah. I had four pizzas! I ate them all!" Malia exclaimed happily, legs bouncing against the sofa.

"Good job, baby!" Nell praised, hugging her close. After going without food for so long, she had to encourage Malia to eat as much as she could. She wasn't sure how long they'd would be at the house, or when their next meal might be.

Natasha joined them in the living room, handing a warm mug to Nell. Sitting on the arm of the sofa, she watched the pair, a myriad of questions obvious in her gaze.

"Thank you," Nell stated, nodding once. She sipped the liquid, and her whole body loosened at once. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had a nice cup of tea.

"Of course," Natasha replied. "Do you want to eat something? The fridge is stocked, have anything you like."

"Maybe later," Nell said. "I've gone so long without food that I think I don't know how to feel hungry anymore. I just wanted to make sure Malia was fed."

Natasha nodded back at her, an inscrutable look seeping into her features. Someone entered through the front door suddenly, and Nell did everything in her power not to jump. She looked at Natasha quickly and noticed how the woman's eyebrow quirked, but she said nothing.

"Did you find out who he was?" she asked the man instead, turning to him.

The man huffed, brushing snow off of his gear. "Nah. He wouldn't talk. I just handed him off to Fury so he could deal with him."

Nell blinked, trying to be cool. She wasn't sure who the man was either, but she guessed he was after her. That was clear as day. They didn't need to know that though.

"Who's this?" the man asked, eyeing them with a slight smile. Nell was quiet, turning to Malia to hug her closer.

"We have some guests staying with us," Natasha shared, her tone saying much more than her words. Nell watched as Malia stared up at the man with shy eyes.

"You're the Falcon," she told him, pointing at him. He laughed, nodding as he walked toward them. He knelt in front of Malia, resting his arm on his knee.

"That's right," he told her. "You can call me Sam, though. What's your name?"

"Malia," she responded softly, and Nell felt her body tense. She didn't want to be so restrictive with the girl. Malia had the right to interact with people, be a normal kid. But it scared her-the more people they met and trusted, the easier they would be to find. She only got more nervous when they were joined by another figure, the very same person she'd bumped into in the hall.

"Malia? That's a cool name," Sam told her.

"Thank you," she said. "You're my favorite Avenger. I want to fly too."

"Aw, thank you, Malia! Maybe when you get bigger, you'll be the next Falcon. I can even train you, if your mom gives you permission," he said, nodding towards Nell. She didn't bother correcting him. She could only dream of having a daughter like Malia, and she knew she could never replace Samira. But if Sam's assumptions meant divulging less, then she would let him assume.

The girl giggled at his words, and Sam raised his hand to give her a high five. Nell watched them, a small smile on her lips despite her bubbling anxiety. Sam stood again, his eyes drifting to Nell silently before he turned.

"'Sup, Buck?" he greeted the other man, patting him on the shoulder. He said nothing, only hummed and nodded at Sam.

She'd read about him too. Bucky Barnes. Another former assassin. He definitely looked the part, with his dark, flowing hair and intimidating build. His arms were covered at the moment, but she could still see his left hand, large and metallic. Her eyes were glued to it, the way it moved just like any other part of his body. His laconic speech patterns also didn't help matters much. Everything about him looked and felt....lethal.

"This probably won't make you too happy to hear," Natasha began, "but I couldn't find a 'Nell' when I ran a search on you."

And she was right. It didn't make her happy at all that she ran a search. But Nell couldn't blame her. She was kind enough to share the space with them. Of course it made sense to at least try to figure out who they were.

"It's Eleanora. Nell is just a nickname," she confided, lowering her gaze.

"You're name isn't Nelly?" Malia asked, looking up at her. She turned and smiled at the girl, kissing her temple.

"It is, baby, but only you get to call me that."

"Oh! Okay," Malia said, nodding at her.

"Eleanora," Sam repeated, walking into the room again. He was in a gray t-shirt now, boots still tracking snow on the floor. "That's pretty old school."

"My dad loved Billie Holiday," Nell informed him.

"How come he didn't just name you Billie?" Sam asked.

"Well that would be too obvious, wouldn't it? Any true Holiday fan would know her real name," she quipped.

This feels weird, Nell thought. Too normal. Too...friendly. she was just waiting for something bad to happen. For one of them to pull out a gun and try to shoot at them, or tackle them to the ground. But they didn't. They just....were there.

"Touché," he replied, shrugging. "So, what's your story, Eleanora?"

"Nell."

"Fine. Nell. What's your story?" he asked again.

She blinked, biting the inside of her cheek. Her eyes went from Sam-his face warm and open, despite the slight mistrust she could sense from him-to Bucky's shoulder, to Natasha's ever curious gaze, and back to Sam.

"We're-" Nell cleared her throat. "We're just trying to start over."

"In the Canadian subarctic," Sam stated, crossing his arms over his chest. The muscles bulged under his smooth skin and Nell stared.

"Yeah. It wasn't cold enough for us in the States," she cracked. She heard a huff behind Sam, and looked up. Bucky was shielding his mouth with his right hand, trying to hide his smile.

"And the sniper we ran into? Was that just a coincidence?" Natasha offered. Nell could tell that she was trying her best not to sound too sassy, but some of it was slipping through. She didn't take it personally. They didn't know each other, and trusted one another even less.

"I don't know him," she stated.

"But he was after you," Sam replied.

"No, I-"

"No, that wasn't a question," Sam remarked. His tone was even and civil, but Nell was tense once again. "He was. I was watching you all. It was like he was teasing you. You were his target."

Nell pinched her temples, trying to hold back the tears threatening to spill.

"I'm just trying to keep her safe," she said under her breath. "I'm trying to keep her alive."

No one spoke after her comment. The air felt heavy, and Nell just wanted to lie down, sleep away all the stress and anxiety coursing through her veins.

"Who's after you?" a soft voice asked. Bucky.

Nell shook her head, still not meeting their eyes.

"We can help you. We can protect you. But you have to tell us something, Nell," Natasha urged.

"If I'm barely scraping by to keep her safe, what makes you think you can do it? You don't know what you would be up against."

"We've been up against plenty," Sam assured, his tone now determined. "If someone is hurting you two, we can stop them. We'll have you're back. That's what makes us think we can do it."

"Let us," Natasha joined him. "Let us help you. That's what we're here for."

It was quiet again for a long time. Nell felt Malia's hand rub against her back soothingly, and she leaned into the girl.

"They can keep us safe, Nelly. No more running. And pizza!" she whispered.

Nell laughed softly, wiping her cheeks. She looked up, her vision still kind of blurry from the tears.

"Who's after you?" Bucky asked again, his voice still calm. She couldn't really make out his features, so she braved a look at his face. Nell sighed, and hoped she wouldn't regret this.

"IGH. It's IGH."

Chapter Text

She woke suddenly, heart beating a thousand miles a minute in her chest.

Where am I? she wondered. Blinking, her eyes took a few minutes to focus. The modern furniture was unfamiliar, but what worried her more was that she had no idea where Malia was.

Nell sprang up, panting, and then closed her eyes. She was at the safehouse. She met Natasha and Sam and Bucky. They helped her. They were safe.

For now.

She rubbed her eyes, then peered into the hallway to make sure it was empty before exiting her room. Malia was just a few doors down and it wouldn't hurt to check on her. Nell knew it was late, because most of the lights were off, and it was quiet.

Pushing open the door, her confusion morphed into dread when she saw the empty bed. Nell rushed into the room-pulling back the covers, then checking the closet, and finally looking under the bed.

A whimper slipped past her lips.

Where is she?

Nell sped to the bathroom, only to find it unoccupied as well. She was about ready to pull her hair out when she found her own room still empty. Then she heard it.

She stopped, held her breath. There it was again.

Laughter.

She pulled the door frantically, following the faint sound. Past the living room, in front of another door, the giggling was louder. She grabbed the doorknob, almost tripping down the staircase, and stopped in her tracks.

Malia held a long jump rope in her hands, a big smile on her face as she struggled to move it around her frame. Next to her stood a shirtless Bucky, easily maneuvering an even longer rope. The girl tried mimicking his swift movements, laughing up at him every time her rope tangled.

Nell wanted to cry in relief. She plopped herself on one of the steps, dropping her head between her knees.

"Nelly!" Malia called, and she raised her eyes, wiping the few tears that had flowed. Concerned shifted across the girl's face, and she gently placed the rope on the floor to walk toward the staircase. "Nelly? Are you okay?"

She nodded, leaning her cheek into Malia's hand. "Yeah, baby. I'm fine," Nell sniffed softly. "I just didn't know where you were, and I got scared."

"She couldn't sleep," Bucky informed her, his workout paused. "She followed me in here, so I gave her a rope."

Nell turned her head toward Bucky. Her eyes went no further than his neck, not wanting to risk meeting his gaze a second time. They drifted across his chest, lingering on his glistening skin, before resting on the ground.

She nodded once, acknowledging she heard him, and stood abruptly. Tucking her hands under Malia's arms, she lifted the girl, wrapping her own forearms under her small legs securely. Nell turned without a word and started to climb the staircase.

"Sam put a code on all the doors and activated the locks on the windows. We'll know if she tries to leave, or if.." Bucky trailed off. She stopped moving. Nell knew what he was going to say, and silently appreciated the fact that he didn't. He was at least kind enough not to bring that horrid thought to the forefront.

"Okay," Nell replied evenly, her back still to him. "Thank you."

She began climbing the stairs again slowly, Malia's face nestled in her chest. "He doesn't talk a lot, but I still think he is nice."

"You shouldn't bother them, Malia. If you can't sleep, just come to me," Nell stated, trying hard to keep the edge out of her voice.

"I wasn't. I was just sitting and watching and he gave me the rope. He didn't say I was bothering him."

"He wouldn't say that to you. He wouldn't want to hurt your feelings."

"But when I said I was going to ask you if I could use it, he said you were sleeping and we shouldn't wake you up. He said that it was okay."

"So if a stranger says it's okay, you go ahead and listen to them?" Nell asked, placing her on her bed.

"He's not a stranger, he's like the Falcon and the red haired lady. He is a good guy. And he knew you were tired. A good guy wouldn't care if you were tired, and he did. He let me play jump rope with him and he smiled at me, just like Falcon and the lady did," Malia insisted, lifting her eyebrows. She only did that when she thought she was completely right about something.

Nell scratched her temple. That first time she ran into Bucky, he certainly wasn't smiling, so it was hard to imagine him doing it at all. The image of his eyes-so distressed, so ready to push away any perceived threat-would be forever burned into her brain.

Guilt started to worm its way into her chest, because she honestly didn't want to judge him. He'd gone through so much-much worse than both of them-so the least she could do is be a bit empathetic. Her own eyes were probably starting to look pretty similar-it was just frightening being on the receiving end of it.

She sighed and gave Malia a small smile. "Okay, okay. I see your point."

The girl gave a satisfied nod, then tilted her head. "But Nelly, how come one of his arms is shiny?"

"He was hurt, a long time ago," she told Malia. Nell kissed her temple, tucking her into the blankets.

"Why? What happened?"

Nell sat on the edge of the bed. "You know how those bad men who took your mom are after us?"

Malia nodded.

"Well, he was taken too."

"The same bad men took him?" Malia inquired, yawning.

"No, these men are different. But still bad. And they tried to make him bad too, but they couldn't."

"Why?"

"Because he is a good guy, like you told me. And he had someone who loved him, so even though the men were hurting him, they tried their best to save him," Nell whispered to her. "They loved him just like I love you, and just like your mom and dad did. When someone loves you, they do anything they can to protect you."

"I like his shiny arm," the girl said, eyes half closed.

Nell smiled, giving Malia one last kiss before quietly exiting the room and closing the door. She proceeded down the hall, passing an open door. Bucky stood inside the room, removing the blue wraps from his hands. His lips were faintly quirked upward.

He must have heard what we said, Nell guessed. She looked down and quickly made her way to her room. She closed the door and climbed under the covers, hugging the pillows tightly.

Despite the things she told Malia, She got a weird feeling whenever she'd been around Bucky the two days they'd been at the house. He was huge and unnaturally quiet, stalking around like some kind of jaguar. Nell was okay around Natasha and Sam-both of them a bit more amiable. The redhead was quite humorous and teasing, clearly intelligent but in a subtle way. Sam was so down to earth, so warm. And handsome too, if she was being honest. But Bucky....

He just threw her off.

I'm just being biased, Nell chided herself. It wasn't fair to punish him because he was quiet and less outgoing. Maybe he just needs time.

Nell's thoughts keep wandering until the next moment, she woke again suddenly, the sun's rays shining into the room.

The clatter of dishes and running water could be heard from the kitchen as she stretched. After making her way to the bathroom, she followed the smell of pancakes, and found Sam and Malia at the stove, flipping them in a pan.

"Hungry?" Sam asked, guiding Malia's smaller hand.

Nell nodded sleepily. "What time is it?"

"11:30," Natasha replied behind her, zipping up her coat. There was a bag next to her as well.

"Are you leaving?" Nell asked her.

"Just me and Sam. I got a call from Tony to help on another mission, and Sam has to follow up on the sniper. He's gonna take over looking into IGH for now until we can both come back."

"Oh," Nell responded. "Okay. Well, we can go then."

"Of course not," Sam said, handing her a plate. "We'll be back as soon as we can. And we aren't throwing you out. Buck will still be here to watch out for you two while we finish this mission."

Wonderful, Nell thought, unease pooling in her stomach. She winced, feeling bad that she was still having those not so positive feelings.

Sam nodded past Nell's shoulder, and she guessed Bucky had joined them. She turned slowly, glancing at him before looking back to Sam. He was looking down at his mug, pouring coffee into it. As silent as ever.

"We don't want to inconvenience," Nell stated.

"We said we would help you. You can't run forever. That's not fair to her," Natasha said, motioning to Malia. "Or you."

Biting her lip, Nell nodded. "Okay."

Natasha was right again. It wasn't fair. But it was the life she accepted. If it meant staying alive, she'd run off the edge of the earth. The Avengers were a powerful, connected team, and as much as she wanted to stop-to just rest, finally-Nell knew what kind of world she lived in. Sometimes people got lucky, and sometimes they're given a bad draw.

She wanted to trust them. She wanted to believe in them. Nell just didn't know if it was worth it.

"Eat," Sam urged, nudging his elbow against her. She gave him a small smile and walked toward the table. Bucky was sitting in one of the chairs, scrolling through his phone as the steam curled up from his mug.

Nell hesitantly took the chair across from him. He paused, his eyes flicking up to watch her as she sat, but he said nothing. Her body was tense, and she wished some sort of sinkhole would open up beneath her or an earthquake would hit and swallow her whole so that she wouldn't have to make any awkward small chat with him. Where was Malia?

"I'll check in periodically to see how everything is going," Natasha said behind her, and Nell turned. The small girl was at her side, a plate of pancakes drowning in syrup in her hands. Thank fuck, Nell thought. Malia could at least speak enough for the both of them.

She stood and Natasha grasped her forearms gently. "We're gonna do everything we can to help you. You won't have to run anymore."

"Thank you," Nell said, nodding slightly. Natasha gave her a small smile, then gently stroked Malia's head. She nodded at Bucky before turning to leave. Nell watched her go.

I really hope she's right.

She sat again, glancing at Malia as she daintily ate her breakfast.

"Mister," the girl piped up.

"He has a name, Malia," Nell said, taking a bite of her food.

"Well, I don't know what it is," she whispered to Nell, as if no one could hear her.

"Well, you should ask him then," Nell whispered back, playing along.

"Okay," Malia whispered. "Mister, what's your name?"

Bucky had been watching them the whole time, a smirk fixed on his mouth. "It's Bucky," he told her.

"Bucky," Malia repeated, nodding. "Bucky, can I have an arm like yours when I grow up?"

Nell squeezed her eyes shut, embarrassment crawling up her nape like slippery fingers. "Oh my god, I am so sorry..." she began. This is not what she meant when she asked for a reprieve from the small talk. Malia could be curious and at times it was endearing. But right now, Nell's brain was screaming for the sinkhole to appear.

Bucky chuckled, setting his phone on the table. "It's fine," he murmured to Nell. "You don't really need one. You already have two arms of your own and they're still growing."

"Yeah, but they're not shiny like yours. I want a shiny arm," Malia explained.

"Well, we can find some paint and make it shiny. Maybe even add some glitter," he indulged her.

"But will it move like yours does?"

"Not exactly like mine. But yours does move. You just can't see it."

"Why not?"

"Malia, please," Nell told her. Her entire face was hot from how embarrassed she was and she really needed her to stop with the inquisition. "I'll explain it all later."

Bucky looked at her, smiling for the first time. "It's really okay. I don't mind." He placed his left arm onto the table, pulling up the dark sleeve of his shirt. "You see these plates?"

Malia leaned forward, watching his index where he pointed, and nodded.

"These are kind of like my muscles. So when I move, they move one after the other." Bucky flexed his arm, and each of the metal plates shifted in consecutive order. "Your arm kind of does that too, but it's a bit smoother. It's more connected."

Malia stared at his arm, saying nothing. Then she met his gaze. "I still want a shiny arm."

Sam's laughter rang from behind them, and Bucky laughed softly as well.

"What?" Malia asked, smiling as she continued to eat.

"Nothing, baby," Nell told her, stroking her chin. She glanced and Bucky and he was watching her, his lip curved still. His eyes didn't look as tortured as they did they first time she saw them. But they were still blue. That vibrant blue.

Nell blinked and looked at her food, adjusting her posture.

Maybe he just needed time, she assured herself.

Chapter Text

"Is he going to come back?"

Nell looked at Malia, a sad smile on her face. "Of course he is, baby. He's helping us. He just has to go work for a little bit. Figure out how he can keep us safe."

Sam had left later that afternoon, the very jet that picked Natasha up that morning hovering in front of the house to get him. He'd waved back to Malia, who tried hard not to pout as she watched the man leave.

"But why can't he do it here?"

"Well, he has to meet one of his bosses. They asked for him, and he can't just be like, 'No, sorry, I don't feel like it.' Being a superhero means being responsible. Isn't that why he is your favorite? Because he is so good at his job?"

"No," Malia stated, pulling a face. "He's my favorite because he has wings."

Nell laughed softly, pulling the covers over the girl.

"And because he reminded me of Daddy."

She froze for a second, but recovered quickly. Sam and Devon both had straight, bright teeth that shone when they smiled, and trusting eyes. Something squeezed tight around her heart at Malia's words, but she tried her best to ignore it. Instead, she made sure the pillows were sufficiently fluffed.

"Yeah, I can see that," Nell agreed. 

Malia yawned softly, covering her mouth. "Can we make pancakes again tomorrow?"

"Maybe. You have to promise to eat all your veggies if you want pancakes again."

The girl squinted and twisted her mouth to the side. "Okay. Maybe then. I'll see how I'm feeling."

Nell chuckled. "You are such a funny girl," she told Malia. "Love you."

"Love you, Nelly," the girl whispered back. She kissed Malia on the forehead and retreated from the room, closing the door gently. Nell then walked into the bathroom, feeling across the wall for the switch.

She found the brush they'd given her and uncovered the top of the toothpaste tube, somehow managing to spread a long glob of it onto the t-shirt she wore.

"Shit," she whispered, rolling her eyes. "Why don't you just empty the whole thing on yourself?"

Nell shook her head, wiping at the mess and then running her hand under the water. By the time it was completely clean, about three quarters of the front of the shirt was drenched. She stared at the dark splotch in the mirror, the material clinging to her skin uncomfortably. Spitting the foam that gathered in her mouth into the sink, she shook her head again at how careless she'd been.

Nell wiped her lips harshly and grabbed the hem of her shirt, pulling it over her head. She turned to grab the brush and paste and put them back in their respective place. When she went to leave the bathroom, Bucky was standing at the door, a curious look on his face.

"Fuck," Nell hissed, clutching the wet fabric to her chest. She backed away from him, feeling a bit vulnerable in just a sports bra.

"Sorry," he told her, in that same tone he'd used the first time.

"Y-you gotta..." she began, waving her hand in the air to emphasize her words. "You're gonna have to make some noise, bro."

"I forget," Bucky explained, blinking at her. "It's the....training. Became second nature."

"Right. I feel you," Nell said, nodding. She knew he didn't really mean training. It was the brainwashing. The torture. The things he was forced to learn and endure.

She draped the shirt over one shoulder to cover herself more. "Just knock next time or something, you're gonna give me a stroke."

Bucky chuckled under his breath, turning sideways to give her room to pass. "All right."

His eyes were glued to the slope of her neck as she glided past him, and she furrowed her brow as she walked back to her room. Nell smacked her forehead when she realized why Bucky was staring.

Her tattoo.

She'd let Samira design it when they were in college. It was a large abstraction of what oxytocin would look like. To anyone else, it might just seem like a whole bunch of ribbons woven together at random. But Samira chose it because they were family, Nell recalled her saying. That they'd always be bonded.

It sounded corny to Nell when she heard it at the time, but she got the tattoo anyway. She'd been much more spontaneous in her youth, before everything happened. And she hadn't known then how right Samira was.

Nell tugged on the black hoodie Natasha had given her when they arrived, not even bothering to put on another shirt. She dropped into the bed as thoughts of Samira and Devon floated through her head.

She thought she'd only closed her eyes for a second, but then she was springing awake, the bed shaking under her violently.

"What?" Nell whispered groggily, confused as to what was happening. She'd left the door open and could hear Malia crying down the hall. Jumping out of the bed, she ran toward the girl's room.

The entire house was rumbling at this point, and she looked behind her when Bucky opened his door.

"What's happening?" he asked softly, the outline of his body shaking back and forth in the dark. She tried to make out his features, but with the rumbling and the lack of light, it was useless.

Nell ignored him and turned back to open the door. When she tried to walk in she was blocked.

"Malia," she called, pounding against the air. The motion made her hand bounce back, like she'd just smacked a piece of plastic. "Malia, wake up!"

The girl was still crying and whimpering, shuffling back and forth under the covers. Nell grunted in frustration, hitting the air harder. It was starting to hurt.

"Malia! Wake up!" She yelled louder. "MALIA!"

At that, everything stopped moving. Malia startled awake with a small gasp. Nell ran into the room finally and climbed on the bed, hugging the girl fiercely. "It's okay. It wasn't real. I've got you, you're okay."

Malia panted, the tears still rolling down her cheeks. Nell wiped them away gently, finding her eyes in the darkness. Bucky appeared suddenly, a glass of water in his hand. She took it from him and scooted back so Malia could sit up.

"What happened? You haven't had a nightmare in a while," Nell said, handing her the cup.

Malia swallowed it easily, gasping when she was done. "I had a dream about Mama and Daddy."

Nell sighed, biting her lip. "Okay."

"I had a dream that the Falcon was trying to save them from the bad guys but he couldn't. And then they took him too."

She tried not to look at Bucky, who still stood above her. "I'm sorry, baby. That's awful. But you know that won't happen, right?"

"How do you know?"

Because they can't be saved anymore.

"Because we wouldn't let that happen," Bucky said softly, kneeling at the edge of the bed. Nell watched him, observing how close his leg was to hers.

"Are you sure?" Malia asked.

"I'm positive, sweetheart," he said confidently, giving her a smile. Malia returned the gesture, though Nell could just barely make out that she still looked unsure-and more than a little sad- through the veil of darkness surrounding them.

"Do you want to come sleep with me?" Nell asked, pulling her own leg closer to the bed.

"I'm okay," Malia said quietly. She tugged the blankets up to her chin and turned to her side, facing away from them. Nell stared at her back for a few moments and finally stood, feeling exhausted and resigned. Bucky followed her lead, walking behind her. She looked back once more before grabbing the knob, this time leaving the door ajar.

She walked down the hall toward her room, but felt a weird sensation prickling at her back. Like someone was watching her. She looked back again and Bucky stood there, arms crossed over his chest.

"What?" she whispered.

"Are you gonna tell me what the hell just happened, or am I gonna have to guess?" he whispered back, sounding none too pleased.

"She had a nightmare, I literally just said that like two minutes ago," Nell replied, bristling at his tone.

"So why couldn't you go into her room to wake her up?" he pushed, walking toward her. "What was stopping you? And what was with the fucking earthquake?"

"Look," Nell started, taking a breath. He was close again. She resisted the urge to back away from him. "Malia's....special, okay? She can do certain things. I don't like to make her feel weird about it, so we don't bring it up unless she wants to."

"Does that happen every time she gets scared?" he prodded.

"No," she insisted, putting her hands up. "No. Only...when she feels like she's in real danger."

"She's a kid," Bucky said in a flat voice. "Everything is real danger to her."

Nell rolled her eyes, even though she was pretty sure he couldn't see her very well. "She's smarter than she seems for her age. And I have it under control, okay? It's not like she's shifting tectonic plates in California every Tuesday at noon."

Bucky didn't back down, moving in front of her to block the doorway. "Is she..is she a mutant? Like those Xavier kids? Was she born with powers?"

Nell huffed loudly, frustration clawing at her chest. She wanted to shove him out of the way, but knew he would barely budge. This was exactly why she did want to come here. Sooner or later someone was going to find out, and she didn't want them prying into Malia's life. Or worse, painting her as some sort of freak of nature.

"Yes. She is. Just don't use that word around her, all right? I don't want her to feel like she's abnormal just because she has powers."

"So what are you telling her then? She has to realize sooner or later what she's capable of. Who she is."

Nell grabbed the doorknob, sliding around him. "Don't worry about it, okay? She knows who she is. And I've got it."

She closed the door, making it very clear that she didn't want to talk anymore. Another grunt escaped her lips. Why did this have to happen?

At least it was only Bucky who had witnessed anything. She knew if the others had been present, it would have been impossible to dodge their likely incessant questioning.

But that didn't mean that they wouldn't find out anyway. Considering how pushy Bucky had been just now, he'd probably tell the other Avengers soon. Nell had to find a way to keep him quiet.

She'd only gotten maybe a handful of hours of sleep before the sun was rising again. Bucky exited his room as soon as it was light out, this time leaving the house. Nell ducked under the window, watching as he made his way into the woods with a large gun in his grip.

Lying back down on the bed, she stared at the wall, trying to calm herself down. They can't find out, she kept telling herself. As soon as Bucky returned, she was going to talk to him, convince him to keep him mouth shut.

Malia rose a while later and entered the room, plopping herself next to Nell on the bed.

"Hey, honey," Nell greeted her. "How are you feeling?"

Malia shrugged wordlessly, pursing her lips.

"You know if you're feeling scared you can talk to me, right?"

The girl nodded, silent still. She lowered herself next to Nell and faced her, bringing her arms up for a hug. Nell pulled her into her chest tightly, rubbing circles into her back.

Half an hour later, Nell heard the locks at the front door deactivate, and her heart sped up.

"Malia, I have to talk to Bucky about something, okay? Will you stay in here?"

"Am I in trouble?" she asked.

"No, of course not. But he will be if he doesn't listen to me."

Malia giggled softly, and Nell gave the girl a smirk before she walked into the living room.

Bucky stood against the sofa, removing the ammunition from his gun. If she thought he looked intimidating before, his all black clothing and heavy weaponry only made things worse.

"Hey, I gotta talk to you about something," Nell started, keeping some distance between them. Bucky only raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to speak.

"You can't tell anyone about what happened last night."

His eyes lowered, as if he was thinking over what she just said. Then he shrugged. "You can't ask me to do that."

"I'm not asking," Nell insisted. "I'm telling you not to. You really can't say anything."

Bucky stared back at her, completely still. "Or what?"

Nell's eyes widened.

"What are you gonna do if I say something? Use Malia against me?"

Nell's lip curled in disgust. "I would never do that. And you're a fucking asshole for even suggesting it."

"She could hurt herself, you know that, right? Or you. Or someone else. You can't just ignore the fact that she has powers," Bucky told her, his voice infuriatingly calm.

"I'm not ignoring it," she spat.

"Then what was last night?" he asked, standing up straight. He was at least half a foot taller than her, but she wouldn't let that affect her right now. "What happened? Why is IGH chasing you? Is it because of that? Because of her? Do they want her?" 

Nell wanted to tackle him to the ground-make him shut up and stop asking so many questions. But Malia appeared suddenly, walking toward them. She wrapped her arms around Nell's waist, eyes still looking sleepy.

"I'm hungry, Nelly," she stated.

"Okay, baby, I'll make you something to eat," Nell replied quickly, trying to sound normal. She strode past Bucky, as if he wasn't even there. But he reached up, grabbing her bicep. It didn't hurt, but she knew that if he wanted to, he could crush her bones into dust.

"We're not done," he whispered, and Nell jerked her arm away. She gave him a nasty glare, and walked forward, feeling beyond irritated.

Chapter Text

What a motherfucker.

Nell lied on the bed, still fuming and avoiding Bucky at all costs. She could hear Malia talking to him in the living room, which only served to piss her off even more. It wasn't like she could control whom Malia did or didn't speak to, but heavens did she want to.

She really, really wanted to.

Nell hated the fact that Bucky was starting to grow on Malia. It was obvious in the way the girl constantly chattered and followed him around the house. Nell hated it because mostly she herself couldn't stand him at this point. At first she though she was just being paranoid. She was wary of most people, and after getting one good close up of Bucky, she'd been more than spooked. But after their conversation this morning-the way he barely reacted and was so flippant about her taking advantage of Malia making her want to scream-she couldn't bear to even look at him, and not out of fear.

What would it cost him to keep his mouth shut? She was trying to keep the girl alive, for goodness sake! Why couldn't he just help her do that?

What the fuck is his problem? Nell wondered, punching her pillow.

She tried to nap, but it was no use. Her veins felt electric, so souped up on rage she thought she would combust. Another voice-muffled and deep-drifted in from the living room. She assumed it was Natasha, calling to check on them like she said she would. Nell sat up slowly, crawling off the bed conspiratorially to try to catch whatever information Bucky was about to share.

"Everything is good," she heard him say, which made her roll her eyes. Yeah right, dickhead.

"I went around east first, and then circled back. It was pretty dead, honestly," he replied. "Any word from Sam about the sniper or IGH?"

Nell pulled a face. He was really gonna do it? Just like that, he was gonna tell Natasha what happened?

"Okay. I'll see what she says," Bucky stated, releasing a deep sigh after he spoke. He said goodbye to Natasha and hung up, which made Nell even more suspicious.

"Hey, Malia, wanna make a bet?"

Leave her alone, you piece of shit.

"Okay. I don't have any money though," the girl told him.

Bucky laughed. "That's okay. This is more to see if I'm right, and I feel like I will be."

"Right about what?"

"I bet you that you can go down stairs and jump ten times in a row with the jump rope."

"I can do more than that!" she exclaimed, and Nell laughed, despite herself. Malia was always up for a challenge.

"I don't know about that. You were kind of struggling last time."

"I can! I know I can. I'll prove it,"

"Okay. Look, here's my phone. Record yourself and then come and show me."

"You're not gonna watch?"

"No way. I'm just gonna distract you. You have to do this on your own. It's your first mission as a Pre-Avenger."

"A Pre-Avenger? I didn't know you could be a Pre-Avenger."

"Oh, yeah. You have to train really hard, so you should get started."

Nell heard Malia's footsteps as she made her way to the gym in the basement. A few moments later, Bucky walked down the hall, stopping in front of her room. He knocked softly on the door and Nell pulled it open immediately. She didn't care if it seemed like she has just been standing there. He'd scared her plenty of times by doing the same thing.

Bucky looked completely unperturbed though, blinking down at her. She said nothing as she crossed her arms, staring daggers at him. I can't believe I ever tried to give him a chance, she thought. He fucking sucks. He doesn't need time. He needs his ass kicked.

"Natasha called," he informed her.

"Okay," Nell replied, rolling her eyes impatiently.

"Still nothing from Sam about IGH."

"Not surprising. They try their best to keep hidden."

Bucky stared at her then, impassive, but she could see one of his hands forming into a fist. She tried not to smirk at the fact that he wasn't as unaffected as he liked to come off.

"Anything else I can do for you?" Nell inquired.

Bucky inhaled audibly, pursing his lips. "I'm not gonna tell Natasha or Sam about what happened," he began. Nell opened her mouth to speak, but he held up his palm. "Yet. But you're gonna tell me everything you know."

She shook her head incredulously. "So that's what I get?" Nell asked, throwing her hands up. "An ultimatum?"

"That's not what I said," Bucky sighed, running his hands through his hair.

"Are you serious? It's either I tell you everything and I'm fucked because you know, and that puts us in danger. Or you tell everyone else everything you saw and I'm still fucked because everyone knows, and we're still in danger. That's sounds like an ultimatum to me," she spat."Like, do you know what an ultimatum is?"

He sighed again, rolling his eyes. "It's not an ultimatum. I'm just trying to work with you here. You don't know what I'll do, or what's gonna happen. How are you so sure that you're fucked if you tell us anything? We said we would help you."

"I'm alive," she replied, leaning forward. "And so is Malia. You know why? Because I keep my fucking mouth shut."

"Really?" Bucky asked, his tone dripping with sarcasm. "Then how did the sniper find you? Because you're in the middle of fuck all Canada, and he still got you."

Nell stared at him, breathing hard. She wanted to smack him. "IGH will not hesitate to take us. I need to be as far away from them as I can. No one can know where we are, or even who we are. I need to keep Malia safe."

Bucky closed his eyes, looking exasperated. "But that's my point. You don't have to do that. If you just talk to me, we can make sure you don't need to run. Malia can have a normal life. She can just be a kid. And she deserves that. So you need to talk. We're not gonna sell you out or anything, and I'm not the enemy here, okay? I'm on your side."

"You could've fooled me," she retorted.

Bucky's eyebrows lowered and his lips shifted into a flat line. "I'm not the one who walked in here with some kind of vendetta," he said lowly, sounding a little angrier this time.

Nell scrunched her face. "What are you even talking about?"

"Since you stepped into this house, you've treated me like I was some sort of pariah," he said flatly, tilting his head at her. Nell's features scrunched even more and her mouth was agape, waiting for him to explain himself. "Don't give me that look. You think I haven't noticed? They way you ignore me when I'm around, or give me nothing but attitude when you do decide to talk?

She scoffed. "That is so ridiculous."

"Is it? You barely even looked my way when you got here, and when you finally decided to acknowledge my existence, you acted like I was the one trying to hunt you down."

"Oh my god, shut up," she said, scoffing again. "I don't even know you, and you expect me to trust you just like that? Get over yourself."

Bucky shook his head, smirking down at her. "You're just proving my point by saying all of that. I'm not expecting you to trust me. But some civility wouldn't kill you, you know."

Her heart was beating too fast, and the smug look on his face was only infuriating her further. She needed to get away from him.

"What's the code to the door?" Nell asked suddenly, exiting the room.

"What?" Bucky asked, following her.

"I need to get out. I need some air," she told him, not meeting his gaze. "What's the code?"

"It's two degrees outside, you can't-"

"The cooode," she said again, louder, gritting her teeth together.

Bucky huffed once more. "Look, I'm just trying to-"

"Give me the fucking code!" Nell shouted, her body jerking in frustration.

Bucky blinked. He closed his mouth, then exhaled harshly through his nostrils. "24179."

Nell marched to the door, punching it in aggressively. It blinked red and she grunted, stomping her foot. She got it on the second try and pulled the door open, slamming it closed just as quickly.

The wind immediately bit at her, the clothes she wore completely inappropriate for the climate. Bucky hadn't been lying when he said it was two degrees. It felt like fewer, but she really couldn't give a fuck at the moment, even if she tried.

Nell paced through the snow like a restless hound. The sensation of wet socks would normally bother her to no end, but she was so angry. She felt like she could throw up. How could he say those things? He had no idea what she was thinking. He fucking scared her half to death every time he was near. She wasn't about to admit that to him out loud, but for him to think she was being intentionally rude or dismissive really pushed her buttons.

She wanted to punch something. She wanted to fight Bucky, even though she knew she would lose.

Why was he doing this?

Nell kept pacing, not even stopping when the door opened.

"Nelly?" she heard, and looked up. Malia stood at the entrance, a worried expression on her face. "I heard yelling."

"Go back inside, honey. It's cold out here," she told her.

"Are you okay? You don't have your jacket on," Malia stated, walking forward.

"I'm fine, baby, just go inside," Nell insisted, turning to walk her back in. A sudden wave of nausea hit her and she groaned, doubling over. She breathed in deep lungfuls of cold air slowly, hoping it was nothing.

"Nelly?" Malia asked again.

"I'm fine," she assured, lowering her head. She waited a moment to gather herself and then stood. As soon as she was upright, Nell wanted to vomit, so she immediately sat, not caring if her clothes got soaked.

"Nelly, you don't look okay," Malia said slowly, apprehension clear in her tone.

"I am," Nell stated, trying to convince the girl. She got on all fours, knowing how ridiculous she looked, then stood, with her hands on her knees. "See? I'm  fine."

Malia gave her a dubious look. "Mmm. Okay. Let's go inside then, I'm cold."

"Okay," Nell agreed, rising to her full height slowly. She took a step forward and the next minute, all she saw was white, her name fading on Malia's lips.

Chapter Text

The first thing she could feel when she came to was her face. It was itchy, and hurt a little bit.

Nell shifted a bit, realizing she was lying on the bed. The last thing she remembered was being outside. Fuming. Malia saying it was cold.

And then white.

Bucky entered the room, a glass of water in one hand and a bowl in the other. She stared at him, remembering she was furious with him, but was too weak at the moment to actually summon any anger.

He set everything down on the nightstand and took a seat on the edge of the bed. Nell frowned, and moved away. She was weak, but at least had the strength to put some distance between them.

"You fainted," he told her, looking slightly concerned. She only blinked, trying to swallow and then realizing her throat was too dry. Looking to her right at the glass of water, Nell raised her arm to reach for it, but Bucky got it first, holding it out to her. She sat up and took it from him, chugging the water greedily. Her brain felt like a sponge, expanding and clearing as soon as she swallowed the liquid.

"Are you eating enough?" he asked, watching her carefully. Nell pulled the glass away, wiping her lips. Bucky lifted his arm up and tipped the bottom with his index, urging her to finish it all.

"I'm eating," she replied hoarsely. She set the cup down on the nightstand again, clearing her throat softly.

"Are you eating enough?" he asked again, emphasizing the last word. "You're dehydrated. That's probably why you fainted. I haven't seen you eat a full meal-"

"What are you, watching me or something?" she cut him off. "I told you I'm eating."

"Yeah, actually, I am watching you. I'm supposed to be keeping you safe," he replied, his tone slightly condescending. Then he exhaled, closing his eyes. It was a while before he spoke again.

"When I, um...when I escaped...I had a hard time eating too. I was too scared to eat. Too mad. I didn't even know who I was, so food was the last thing on my mind."

Nell observed him silently. Bucky's brow was furrowed, and though he tried to look stoic, there was a slightly pained expression morphing into his features.

"Eventually I got hungry, though, and then I couldn't stop eating," he said, a slight chuckle in his voice. "I don't think they fed me much when...you know..."

Nell still said nothing.

"Anyway," he continued. "You have to take care of yourself. It's not really fun having PTSD, especially when you still feel like you're in danger."

At that, she looked up, face confused. "Pardon?"

He looked her in the eye, his gaze steady. "It's pretty obvious. Lack of appetite. Irritability. Pessimistic outlook. And I'm sure you're barely sleeping, right?"

"Since when are you a doctor?" Nell asked defensively.

"I'm not," he replied. "But like recognizes like."

She stared at him. Nell didn't know much about PTSD so she really couldn't argue. And if Bucky Barnes of all people recognized the symptoms, it didn't seem that ludicrous that she could be dealing with it.

He grabbed the bowl off of the nightstand and held it out to her. She took it from him, holding it carefully.

"It's chicken noodle. I made it yesterday," he informed her. Nell hated chicken noodle soup, but she wasn't going to complain. It was homemade and she did need to eat.

Bucky pulled a spoon from his pocket and handed it to her. She nodded in thanks, swirling it in the broth absentmindedly. "Where's Malia?"

"Napping," he told her. "She was pretty scared when you were out, but I told her you were okay. That you just needed to eat."

Nell nodded again, slurping a little of the soup. It was actually good, full of herbs and chunks of chicken. She took in bigger spoonfuls, hesitating around the noodles. They were her least favorite part.

"I wasn't always such a bitch, you know," she stated suddenly, chewing on a piece of chicken.

"I didn't say you were a bitch," Bucky said, his lip quirking.

"I know. You probably thought it, though. Lord knows I was thinking worse things about you."

He laughed. "I know you were. I don't take it to heart though. We think and say a lot of things when we're angry."

Nell nodded, running her tongue over her teeth. "I'm sorry. I didn't use to be like this. I just...all I care about is Malia now. She's become my world. I don't know what I would do if they got her. I can't let that happen."

Bucky nodded, meeting her gaze. "What were you like?"

Nell snorted. "I was kind of irresponsible. I did not have my shit together. Samira-Malia's mom-she was the responsible one. I took every opportunity to party. I mean, I did what I needed to do. I wasn't a fuck up or anything, but I was hitting the bare minimum as an adult. Once all this shit went down, I kind of had to snap out of it."

He was silent after she spoke, watching her intently. "I'm not trying to piss you off or anything, but..I know that...when I was on the run, it may have helped to have someone to rely on. I may not have realized it at the time, and I don't blame you for not trusting anyone. I didn't either. It seemed like the safest option. But...it is hard. And lonely. You don't have to take the world on by yourself. I wish someone would have told me that when I was on my own. So I'm at least gonna say it to you."

Nell had finished all the soup, leaving a few bits of noodles. She set the bowl back down, actually feeling normal again. Her first instinct was to shut herself off, and avoid talking anymore. But it was obvious that Bucky was trying to connect with her. He was trying to be kind, and she hadn't exactly returned the favor, as he pointed out earlier.

"I really don't care what happens to me," she started, staring at her hands. "I need to be alive for Malia. She is all that matters to me. More than anything. I can't make you promise to dedicate yourself to her like I did. All I can ask for is a chance. She needs a chance at a normal life. I'm just trying my best to give her that."

Bucky stared back at her, his eyes soft. All he did was nod, but she knew he understood what she was saying.

"I'll tell you what I can. Some things might make me uncomfortable. But I'll try," she told him.

Bucky smiled. "Okay."

"So what do you wanna know?"

He huffed, leaning his forearms on his legs. "Well, start with last night. What happened?"

Nell sighed. "Malia has powers, and she was born with them. Her parents didn't have them, so we were all surprised when we found out."

"How did you figure it out?"

"She was two," Nell divulged. "We were all at a park and a fly or something landed on her. She got scared, and when I went to pick her up, she knocked me over."

Bucky looked up at her. His brow was pinched in confusion.

"Officially her powers are 'seismic and forcefield control'. Though she can't really control it yet."

"So she can cause earthquakes and create forcefields," Bucky said, biting the inside of his cheek.

"Basically. We don't know the extent of her powers, but that's pretty much it. She really doesn't know how to use them yet, so I don't think she tries, and I don't push her."

He nodded again, looking at the door. "And you?"

"What about me?" she immediately asked.

"What can you do?"

"Nothing," she said, her voice level. He looked at her again, his body completely still, like he was trying to catch something. "You don't believe me?"

"You're really just running to protect Malia?" he asked, tilting his head.

"I mean, I've made it pretty obvious that she is the only person I care about," Nell said.

"But..." he began. He sounded so unconvinced. "The way you talk about IGH. It's real. Real fear. Like you know them."

"Yeah. Samira told me. I saw it with my own eyes, what they're capable of. It is real fear."

Bucky still stared, silent for a long time, and she tried to remain composed. "But you'd be dead by now."

"What?"

"If IGH is a scary as you say, you'd be dead by now. Malia can't control her powers. And that sniper who was after you, I'm sure he wasn't the first. There's no way you made it all the way out here without some sort of ability."

"You made it," she pointed out. "You survived two years on your own."

"I was enhanced," he stated, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I know how to fight. I know how to use a gun. I know plenty of things I'm sure you don't. Unless you were trained?"

Nell was starting to get nervous. The skin under her arms was starting to prickle with sweat, even though it wasn't even hot in the house.

"Were you enhanced somehow? Did they experiment on you?"

"No," she blurted, looking away.

"And no one was helping you, right?"

"No."

"So it's not adding up. The only thing that makes sense to me is that you have powers too, just like Malia."

Nell was trembling now, trying her best remain calm. Bucky tried to meet her gaze, and she refused to look up at him. He scoffed lightly, and she swore it sounded triumphant, like he knew he'd figured something out. Nell didn't want to lash out at him again, but her body was tense. She was ready to snap.

"Show me," he whispered knowingly, leaning in closer. Bucky was so close she could feel his breath across her face. Nell's eyes flicked to him dangerously, though she remained completely still. He waited, searching her face for any change or movement.

She watched as he tried to take in another breath. His chest moved, but she knew there was no air traveling into his lungs. Turning her head slowly toward him, she kept watching as he struggled to breathe.

They stayed like that for a while, her observing him as he tried to take in any air he could. His eyes started filling with tears, and she noticed a vein at his temple protruding. The noise his throat was making sounded sick; not exactly gagging but something close to it. Bucky's face was confused and turning red, his eyes wide and alarmed. She watched him still, tilting her head as if she hadn't a care in the world.

The next minute he could breathe again. He doubled over, sucking the air into his lungs greedily. Bucky gasped, rubbing at his chest, and looked up at her.

"What did you just do to me?" he questioned.

Chapter Text

"What the hell was that? What did you just do?"

Bucky was still gasping for air, staring at Nell with an edge of fear in his blue eyes.

"You wanted me to show you. So I did."

He looked around the room, still breathing hard and clearly confused. She hadn't meant to scare him that much. He just looked so...cocky that he'd figured it out. It would be a lie if she said it hadn't pissed her off a little bit. So she decided to fuck with him.

But maybe she took it too far.

"I..." she started, biting her lip as she began. "Sorry. I just-I got a little tense, and-"

"It's not just Malia they want," he realized, looking her in the eye. "It's you. They want you, too."

Nell closed her eyes, nodding.

"Why?"

She swallowed, hesitating. A lump formed in her throat as she thought about telling him everything. This isn't a good idea, her brain said. You're putting yourself in danger.

Bucky sighed, turning to her again. "Okay. Start by explaining your power," he said, clearing his throat. "What was that?"

She licked her lips. "Atomic manipulation and transmutation," Nell heard herself say, tone practically robotic. She'd heard them say it so many times that it was like a brand on her brain.

"So....you can, what, pretty much control atoms?" he asked.

"Anything with matter," she agreed. Move them. Stop them. Synthesize molecules. Separate and break them down...."

He nodded, brow furrowed deeply. "What did IGH want to do with that?"

Nell swallowed again, feeling the tears prickling in her eyes. "They, um.....they were experimenting on people. And sometimes, they just...couldn't get the results they wanted," she explained. She was trying really hard not to cry. She could hear the screams in her head. The agonized wails and the pleading. It was making her sick to think of it all again.

"They wanted me to...they wanted me to help them....with the experiments. Um, if...if something wouldn't take, if a patient would reject a serum or something...uh, they thought that I could, um...like, force it. Like, make the experiments work. They thought that....like, if I could control atoms and stuff, then I could just make anything work."

"Can't you?" Bucky asked, looking perplexed.

"I'm a mutant," Nell insisted. "Not a god. I can't control nature like that. And what IGH was doing isn't natural. Even if I wanted to do something to that degree, I don't have the right. I'm still human, and so were those people. They didn't want that."

Her eyes were desperate, she knew, because Bucky was giving her the most sympathetic look she'd ever seen on him. He understood exactly what she was saying.

He lived it.

"I can use my powers better than Malia can, but I still don't know exactly everything I can do," she informed, wiping her eyes. "I-it's...I don't use them often."

"Are you scared to use them?"

Nell looked down, sighing heavily. "I didn't know....I didn't really understand what happened the first time I used them."

Bucky watched her, listening carefully.

"I was with this guy, and....uh, I thought he was a friend, but..."

"He wasn't," Bucky finished for her, nodding in understanding.

Nell shook her head. "We were at some party. He got too drunk, and didn't like that I didn't want to be touched....like that. Not by him. I just was...it wasn't a good night. I was kind of high and paranoid and stuff. And I just didn't want him. He was getting aggressive, so somehow, with my fried brain, I decided to leave."

She paused, swallowing hard.

"He followed me. It was dark and he chased me into an alley. Started ripping my shirt and I just lost it. I was screaming and crying, hoping someone would just come and help me."

Her eyes were glassy again, but there was barely a tremor in her voice as she continued. "I remember yelling at him to stop. Really loud. Like, so loud my throat hurt. And then he just," she waved her hands in the air, "disappeared."

Bucky frowned. "What? How? Where did he go?"

Nell met his eyes, the memory making her feel completely hollow. "I..I tore him apart," she revealed. "I was so angry and afraid of what he was going to do that my mind just forced him apart. Every single inch of him, just split apart in a second."

Bucky was still looking at her. She thought he would have some sort of horrified expression on his face-look at her like she was a freak or a monster. But his eyes were still understanding. Still sympathetic.

"I literally made him explode, right in front of me. I was covered in his blood. I could taste it in my mouth."

He took in her words, gazing at the floor.

"That wasn't your fault. Not really," he told her, and Nell immediately scoffed.

'I know you're trying to be kind, but let's face facts here. No one forced me to do it. My mind killed a man. I did that. And now IGH wants me to make more people suffer."

"You're not a bad person because you did that," Bucky insisted, his voice as calm as ever. "I know this sounds really dismissive, but shit happens. You didn't know. Would you have killed him if you knew you had powers?"

"No. Of course not," she replied. "But that doesn't change the fact that I did it."

He laughed, looking down and biting his lip. "Yeah. I've said the same thing to myself."

"You were brainwashed," Nell said, rolling her eyes. "You were a prisoner."

He blinked at her. "And you wouldn't be? If IGH took you?"

Nell closed her mouth, taking a deep breath.

"Sorry. I'm not trying to turn this into some competition," he said, clearly his throat. "How did IGH find you?"

Nell huffed. "Samira. She was working for them."

"Did she know what they were up to?"

"Not at first," she explained. "She was studying at NYU, doing some kind of research, and, um," Nell paused, her heart sinking like it always did when she thought back to those times. "Malia's dad, Devon, uh...he got sick."

Bucky said nothing, only kept looking at her intently.

"The bills were piling up. I was even trying to help them-taking care of Malia, doing what I could, but...they were swamped. Their insurance was horrible and Samira was on the verge of a breakdown. Out of nowhere, some creepy dude found her in the hospital and told her that he could make all the debt go away if she started doing research for IGH."

"And she agreed," Bucky finished for her.

"Yeah. I mean, it was weird, but how bad could it be? And she could pay all the money she owed. So, she started working for them. By the time we figured out what was going on, it was too late. They knew everything about her, it was insane. They had been tracking her somehow, keeping tabs, I don't know. But they knew just about everything there was to know."

"What happened to Malia's dad?"

Nell scoffed. "He died. He was stage 4 lymphoma. And that creepy ass fuck used that to prey on them. When she tried to quit, they threatened to hurt Malia, and she didn't want them finding out about her powers. Since Malia didn't use them much, they hadn't figured it out yet, that she had them. She thought they might use her in some way, create some sort of...thing with her genes. But they were still watching though. All of us."

Bucky was staring at her, but she couldn't meet his gaze. Thinking about all of this, these memories-they were so vivid, like everything had happened yesterday. Nell tried so hard to drown them all. To flush it out of her mind. But they were still there.

"Eventually they found out what I could do, and they said that if I started working for them, they'd let Samira go. She begged me not to accept, but what choice did I have? I wasn't about to turn my back on my best friend. She had Malia, she'd already suffered so much. If I knew they at least were safe, what did it matter?"

"But...what happened then? Why did you run?" Bucky inquired.

Nell's lip trembled, her eyes glued to her fingernails. "They did let her go. As an employee. But  then they made her a patient. They wanted me to help them experiment on her, and when I said no, they did it anyway. They made me watch."

Nell laughed, the sound somewhere closer to a growl. "You know, you hear about Jessica Jones and Luke Cage and all of them and you think, 'Wow. It can't be so bad right? We have superheroes. We have people who use their abilities for good.' You see Captain America and you think, 'Maybe it's a good thing.' But they don't tell you about the people who don't survive. What they look like. What they sound like."

Bucky furrowed his brow. "It's no picnic even when you do survive," he whispered.

"No," Nell agreed, shaking her head. "I still hear her. I still hear her screams. She was just trying to take care of her family. She was trying to help people. Samira didn't deserve that. Nobody deserves that," she said, meeting his eyes pointedly.

Bucky was still looking at her, gaze intense, when Malia suddenly burst into the room. "Nelly! You're awake."

"Hey, honey," Nell said cheerfully, as if the past hour and a half had never happened. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah. Are you okay? Did you eat?" Malia asked her.

"Of course she did," Bucky answered. "I made her soup, remember? And she ate it all."

Malia turned to where Bucky pointed to the bowl, taking a peek. "Good job, Nelly!"

Nell laughed, hugging the girl. "Thank you, baby."

"I'll give you guys a minute," Bucky told her, rising off the bed. He exited quietly, and she watched him, staring at the door long after he'd left. Her hands were still shaking from recalling all of those memories. And now Bucky knew too. Nell only hoped that she wouldn't regret telling him.

 

Chapter Text

Her heart was beating too fast.

It was the middle of the night, but she was wide awake.

Nell couldn't really remember the rest of the evening. She knew she ate more, because her stomach was full. Malia had been chatting about something-she wasn't really sure what-but Bucky had entertained her. She ended up in bed, and then the lights all went out.

All she could hear were the screams. The screams. The screams. The screams.

She sat up slowly, clutching her chest. It was likely that her heart was going to pop out of her sternum, bouncing across the floor in a pulpy, bloody mess.

Rising from the bed, Nell pulled the door open slowly. She wanted to walk to Malia's room, hug the girl tightly, but didn't. She'd literally fainted in front of her. Was it really that smart to  worry her even more?

Looking up, her eyes met Bucky's door. She walked forward carefully, as if trying to avoid a bear trap, and reached for the doorknob. A big part of her was telling her not to-to just go back to bed, that she would be fine. But Nell wasn't convinced that was true. She was positive that if she went back to her bed, the screaming would only get louder.

His room was cooler than the rest of the house, and had that typical boy smell. Skin and soap and that deep, unique thing that clung to their bodies. He was sprawled on his back, lips slightly parted and hair tousled across his pillow. It calmed her a bit, to see him, and Nell felt guilty about being in his room so late. Still, she walked forward until she stood at the edge of his bed.

"Bucky?" she whispered.

He inhaled sharply, and she could see the small sparkle of his eyes in the dark as he opened them quickly. He turned to her, his face both alert and worried.

"What is it? Did Malia have another nightmare?" he asked, sitting up.

Nell shook her head, hugging herself. "I can't sleep. I feel like I'm going to die, Bucky. I can't stop hearing the screams," she whispered, tears slipping down her cheeks.

"No. No, you're not going to die," he assured. His voice was soft and soothing, and he slid to the end of the bed, both of his long legs surronding her own. "I think you might be having a panic attack. That's what it feels like. Is your heart beating really fast?"

She nodded, panting. Looked around the room, trying to find something that would ground her. Make her not feel like her body was about to shatter into a trillion pieces. She knew he was saying something to her, but she wasn't paying attention. All she could see was Samira's face. Her clear, dark skin marred by stitches and holes and red. All that red. Her eyes-once beautiful-now devoid of life. It was the only thing in her mind's eye.

Samira.

Nell crouched to her knees in front of him, sobbing softly as she curled in on herself. "They're gonna find us," she cried. "They're gonna find us and they're gonna hurt Malia and they're gonna force me to hurt people. They're gonna make me kill people."

"Hey, no-they won't," affirmed, moving to the floor with her. She felt him grasp her shoulders, and then he moved his hands to her nape, forcing her head up gently.

"Look at me," he said, wiping one of her cheeks with his thumb. "That's not gonna happen. I won't let it, okay? They won't get you."

Nell sniffled, silent hiccups wracking her body. "I'm sorry," she sobbed. "I'm sorry I treated you like shit. I'm sorry I got you involved. I didn't mean to hurt you, I'm sorry." She kept saying it over and over again, grasping his hands tightly where he held her.

"Come here," Bucky whispered, pulling her to him. He stood, guiding her up with him and leading her to his bed carefully, making sure she didn't lose her balance. He urged her to lie down, tugging the covers over her frame.

When he turned, she held on to him. "Please. Don't leave me alone," she pleaded.

"I'm not," he said softly, rounding the corner to walk to the other side. Bucky lifted the duvet and lowered himself, sliding in next to her. Nell turned to face him, staring to make sure he would stay put.

"I'm here," he soothed, reaching under the blankets to run his hand up her arm in comfort. She could still feel her heart beating, but it was a little less wild, and the soft back and forth of Bucky's hand was already lulling her to sleep. He edged closer to her, his entire body like a furnace, and her eyes started droop closed.

"Sleep," he murmured in her ear. "I'll keep you safe. I promise."

So she did.


Nell shifted, and felt a drop of sweat glide down her neck.

She frowned, though her eyes were still closed. Her face was sticky too.

What the fuck?

Her lids drifted open lazily and she saw muscle. Skin and muscle and lots of it. And she was hot. Rather, Bucky was hot. His body was burning, as if he had a fever.

Nell was tucked in close next to him, her face pressed against his bare chest and a leg thrown over his thigh. She wanted to sit up to cool off, but she was both too embarrassed and too tired to even move. Last night was probably one of the worst nights she'd had in the past few years. But she also managed to sleep so soundly, thanks to Bucky and his fever-like body temperature.

She moved a bit to look up at him, and he shifted as well, gripping her waist tighter. She froze, but thankfully, he didn't wake. Nell watched as Bucky took deep, audible breaths, his eyebrows furrowing occasionally. She noticed how full and pink his lips were, and how his thick eyelashes curled over his cheeks. Despite how large and masculine and imposing he was, there were certain features he had that softened his look, and Nell had never taken the time to notice until now.

Bucky was.....really pretty, she realized.

She stared at him for a few more minutes, catching more things she's missed- the sharp line of his jaw, and his beautiful hair. Once she'd sufficiently proven to herself how creepy she could manage to be, she started shuffling away from him slowly, hoping he wouldn't wake. At the first sign of movement, he gripped her waist again, inhaling deeply.

"You tryna sneak off?" he whispered, stretching languidly next to her.

Nell ducked her head, looking away from his chest so she couldn't be accused of staring. "I didn't wanna bother you anymore."

"You didn't bother me," he told her, his voice deep and raspy from slumber. "You needed someone."

"Yeah, well...I'm sorry," she said again. Nell stared at the ground, her skin still feeling hot. She wanted to crawl back to her room and bury herself under the blankets.

Bucky sighed. She could see him reach his hand up slowly, and she froze again. His hand met her back, and he rubbed it back and forth, just like he did last night. Nell lowered her head, trying to ignore how much she liked it when he touched her.

"I think you're too hard on yourself, Nell," he told her.

It was the first time he'd said her name.

She turned back to look at him though her hair, but said nothing. His blue eyes bore into hers, and she had to look away. Scooting to the edge of the mattress, she stood.

"Thank you," she told him, before leaving. Nell walked down the hall to Malia's room, climbing in next to the girl. She hugged her small body, relief and warmth flooding into her veins at the contact.

"Hi, Nelly," Malia whispered.

"Hi, baby."

"You know what I'm craving for breakfast?"

"Mmmm.....caviar and water crackers?"

"What's caviar?" Malia asked.

"Fish eggs."

"Ew! No. I want pancakes!"

"I never would have guessed," Nell replied, smiling softly.

"Bucky likes pancakes, too, you know," Malia said, rising from the bed.

"Yeah," Nell sighed, feeling embarrassed again. "I'm sure he does."

Chapter Text

"Do you need any help?"

Nell blinked. She'd been staring out of the window, watching the snow fall. It had started up again and was oddly peaceful. The white flakes completely entranced her, allowing some respite from the haunting memories that had come to the surface again.

Turning to her left, her eyes met Bucky's. She lowered her gaze immediately, her stomach doing a flip.

After waking up next to him in the morning, after watching him while he slept (and realizing that he was, in fact, a man-a very attractive, very fit man)-Nell had suddenly been feeling really self-conscious. She recalled how her face had been pressed up to his chest, and how the whole length of her body was tucked right up against his. How he'd gripped her waist tightly, as if to tell her that he was still keeping his promise-I'm still here and I'm still keeping you safe.

Nell kept telling herself it was nothing. That he was just being kind. But something in her mind was blowing that up, clutching tightly to the feeling of warmth and security he'd sparked; getting almost drunk off of it.

A sigh escaped his lips as she faced forward. "You're doing it again," he told her.

She turned back to him, confusion wrinkling her brow. "What?"

"You're doing that thing where your pretending I'm your nemesis or something," he said, raising his eyebrows.

"Sorry," she said again, for what felt like the millionth time. Again, he was wrong, but she didn't want to share the real reason why she was being so strange around him. Taking the plates from his hands, she scrubbed them softly, watching as the water ran down the drain. Bucky was still standing next to her, and she could sense his eyes on her.

"What?" she asked, keeping her gaze on the water. Nell could still feel him staring at her, even though he said nothing. It was starting to make her uncomfortable.

"Remember when you told me that you didn't care what happened to you? That you were only alive for Malia?"

Nell looked down, recalling their conversation. She had said that. And she meant it. Malia was everything. She looked back up at him and nodded. "Yeah. Why?"

Bucky made sure she kept a hold on his gaze before speaking again. "I think you should care," he told her, blue eyes unblinking. "I get you're afraid. Anyone would be in your situation. But...you matter too, you know?"

Nell held her breath. It was the last thing she needed to hear form him. It only made those weird feelings she'd been having since this morning intensify. Her chest seemed to swell at his words, an ache blooming there and traveling through her limbs.

"Yeah," Nell replied slowly, sounding almost distracted. She saw how his eyes changed-worry seeping into his gaze.

"I wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable-" he spewed softly.

"No, no, you're fine," she assured him. "I'm just a little out of it."

Bucky looked unconvinced, the worry still displayed across his features. "Okay," he responded, nodding. "I just wanted you to know."

"Thank you," she replied quietly, giving him a small smile.

"Let's watch the movie!" Malia called from the sofa. Nell shut the water off and dried her hands, silently following Bucky to the living room. Malia had seen the high tech entertainment system the first day they'd arrived and had been messing with the buttons since. The girl had figured out how to search for movies and once she's found her favorite-Coco-she'd begged them to watch it together.

Nell sat right next to Malia, hugging the girl close. Bucky sat on their right on the loveseat, extending his legs over the arms.

"Ready?" Malia asked, pressing play on the remote. Nell watched the familiar, colorful opening credits. For the first time in a long time, she realized, she felt normal. Her panic attack was certainly not something she'd asked for, but somehow it had been cathartic. Like everything that had been building up was starting to seep out of her head finally. While it was unpleasant, at least it was coming out. Her head felt a bit lighter. Clearer.

And she hated to admit it, but whatever she was feeling whenever she thought of Bucky made her optimistic as well. Nell couldn't remember the last time she had had any feelings for another person. And even though they were awkward and she felt like she wanted to vomit and then completely bury herself in a six foot hole, they were at least familiar. She wasn't completely broken if she could be affected by another person-in a healthy way.

She was hyper-aware of Bucky only a few feet from her, and her eyes kept drifting to him as the movie played. Nell could make out a faint smile on his lips as he watched, which made her own lips pull upward.

"The liberties you're taking leaves my cabeza shaking," Malia sang along to the music, smiling up at Nell. She tore her eyes away from Bucky to smile at her, stroking the girl's head softly. After a minute, her gaze returned to him.

She'd watched him almost the entire time, attentive to his every move. How his toes moved languidly in his socked feet. How he shifted slightly to get more comfortable. Her eyes caught the slight wave in his hair, and the way the fabric of his black t-shirt wrapped snugly around his bicep.

Nell was so consumed with her observation of Bucky that she barely noticed the movie had ended. She blinked again, her eyes feeling a bit dry and tired, and she looked down. Malia was breathing deeply, head softly lolling against Nell's shoulder.

"She's knocked out, huh?" Bucky asked, rising from the love seat. Nell nodded, her eyelids fluttering weirdly as she tried to glance at him.

"I'm gonna put her to bed," she whispered to him, cradling Malia into her arms. She nestled her face into the girl's neck, squeezing her eyes shut tightly. Why are you feeling embarrassed? You have no reason to feel that way! Relax! she thought to herself.

Pushing the door open with her foot, Nell placed Malia carefully on the bed, pulling the duvet over her small body to make sure she was warm. She gave the girl a kiss on her forehead, and looked back at her once more before exiting.

She had planned on going to her room, maybe changing out of her clothes and brushing her teeth before sinking into bed. But when Nell passed Bucky's door- which was slightly ajar, the soft light from the lamp spilling out-she paused. There was nothing that she needed to say to him, exactly. But the thought of being near him, being in his bed again-she liked that very much.

Nell approached the door silently, like she had done the night before. But this time, she knocked. A soft yeah? met her ears, and she entered, eyes searching the space.

Bucky was standing with his back to her, wearing nothing but his pajama bottoms. Nell closed the bedroom door softly, and leaned against it, making him turn.

"Hey," he greeted, voice low and smooth. Her heart sped up at the sound, and she starting blinking rapidly again. "You okay?"

Nell swallowed. She bit her lip and nodded.

"You sure?" he asked, facing her full on. He cocked an eyebrow as he neared. "It looks like something's on your mind."

She exhaled and met his eyes. Without thinking, she took a step forward and reached for his neck, standing on her toes to lock her mouth with his.

Bucky's lips were just as soft and full as they looked and Nell savored them hungrily, her fingers massaging his hair. She felt him grasp her waist tightly which only made her kiss him harder.

He pulled away carefully, and Nell chased his lips, opening her eyes when he leaned his forehead against hers. She looked at him as she caught her breath. She wanted to kiss him again. She wanted to do more than kiss him. He was silent as he stared at her, and she lowered herself onto the heels of her feet. She thought he pulled away because he didn't want her, but he was still holding on to her tightly, which she took as a good sign.

Bucky took a deep breath. "You sure?" was all he asked again.

Nell smiled in relief, reaching up to kiss him again. He responded just as eagerly as she did, lifting her up into his arms and turning to lay her across the bed. She wrapped her arms around his neck again as he lied across her, and Nell welcomed him between her legs. Both of his hands roamed all over her and she couldn't get enough of it. Her body was melting into the sheets, and they had barely begun touching one another.

His mouth made a trail from her jaw to her neck, and Nell moaned softly as she writhed under him. Bucky's fingers slid under her shirt, gliding up and down her side, and she shifted under him to take it off hastily. It fell somewhere behind them, and she lied back down, trying to ignore the way his eyes drank her in.

She'd managed to eat more since the time she fainted, but she knew her body was nowhere near what it was before. Nell was used to being strong and full, always active despite her former tearaway habits. Now she just felt gaunt and fragile.

Bucky's eyes still held a touch of awe as he watched her, which made her feel both giddy and repulsed at herself. Attention from males was never something she craved, especially if it had anything to do with her appearance. But seeing how he was looking at her, the softness in Bucky's eyes-it made her heart clench.

He leaned down and kissed her again, and Nell wrapped her legs around his hips. He was the total opposite of her-large, powerful. It made her a little jealous, if she was being honest. But that didn't mean she didn't enjoy feeling his smooth skin under her palm, the hard muscles rippling underneath every time he moved. His weight pressed her into the bed and she relished the feeling, his warmth cocooning her.

"Bucky," she pleaded between gasps. "Make me feel good. Please."

"I've got you," he immediately replied, planting soft kisses on her cheek. "I've got you."

His hand slid under the band of her sweatpants, and her hips canted up to meet him. Nell gasped again as his fingers explored her, eye blinking up to stare at his own. She cried out as he frigged her-slowly at first, then speeding up frantically. Her hips ground against his hand and Nell grasped at him, tiny pinpricks sprouting across her skin.

"Come on," Bucky whispered, kissing her neck as he kept up with his motions. "Let go, Nell."

She dug her fingernails into his arm, shallow breaths mimicking the rhythm of his thumb swiping across her clit. Bucky reached up with his other hand and pulled at her sports bra, leaning down to mouth at her exposed breast. The added sensation tugged at something inside her and she was suddenly coming all over his hand, whimpering and moaning.

He then slid two fingers into her, still keeping up with his ministrations. Nell squeezed around them, gripping tightly, and her body shook involuntarily at the onslaught.

"Ahhh, fuck-hmmmmm," she said nonsensically, eyes rolling back into her head. Bucky slowed his fingers, but still kept them in her. His lips mouth at her skin and he watched her carefully. She was breathing deeply, but managed to open her eyes again to meet his gaze.

Her body felt like jelly. Better than it did when she used to do cocaine and LSD and the plenty of other drugs she'd taken into her system in her youth. If she'd known someone fingering her could make her feel this good, she would have definitely had more sex, instead of getting high and drunk.

Nell huffed, relaxing completely. Her lids felt heavy. Bucky bit at her her softly. She giggled, barely able to form words.

"We're not done yet," he told her, and she grinned.